Justin Ritchie wants to extend the post-yoga-class-serenity into each moment of the day. To boost awareness, he encourages his students to feel more and think less. In his classes at Laughing Lotus, Mang’Oh and Crunch he may experiment with diaphragm breath work, or a chanted mantra. He’s now offering a new style of teaching that’s called the Constant Yogi which calls on a variety of mindful practices with the intention to connect deeper into life. YogaCity NYC’s Elysha Lenkin sat down to learn more about Justin and his latest endeavor.
Elysha Lenkin:What brought you to yoga?
Justin Ritchie: I first started these practices through meditation. Many years ago I was a stock broker and couldn’t sleep for the life of me. I was very intense all the time. I would lay my head down at night, and it couldn’t stop -- I couldn’t sleep. The only thing I knew about meditation at the time was that it was a practice of quieting the mind, and that’s what I needed. So I looked up on the internet how to meditate, found a great article, and it worked. In 6 weeks I had very little trouble sleeping and after 6 months I never had trouble sleeping again. Through my gym I had found my way into a yoga class, and as soon as I took the class I understood (after years of meditating) it is like meditation, but with your body as well. So it stuck and I ended up taking more classes, and I eventually started going to a yoga studio full time.
EL: What led you to teaching?
JR: The more I found myself in yoga and meditation, the less my job made sense at a deep level. Being a stockbroker was fun and entertaining, but for all the wrong reasons. It brought out the worst in me. It brought out the aggressive side and the manipulative side of me. I started to make decent money at it, and realized that either I was going to have to give it up , or probably not be able to turn that sort of mentality off because I was having trouble turning it off already in my personal life. So I just up and quit one day.
EL:Now, several years later you’ve developed a new teaching style called Constant Yogi. Where did this idea come from?
JR: This idea of being a Constant Yogi came a couple years ago when I broke my left hand and had it in a cast for a month. Towards the end of this month I made eggs for six people, one handed. I made them sunny side up, over easy and basically made this really fancy breakfast. As I plated the last bit of food I realized that I had done it way better and more efficiently and cleaner than I ever would have done it with two hands. So I thought to myself, why did that happen? Why am I better at life one handed than I was two handed? And it was because I paid such close attention the entire month to every little action. So I thought to myself, okay what if we do that not just when we’re handicapped in some way, but all the time? What if we approach our yoga practice like that? An off the mat kind of yoga practice at creating a sense of depth and awareness and connection with the external world all the time.
EL:What compelled you to share Constant Yogi?
JR: There’s a lot of yoga out there where you can go for an hour or so, and you can deepen into your body, deepen into your emotions and feel connected to your breath, and you’ll feel great after class. While I do want to be able to provide that for people, I also want to be able to provide that in a deeper way over the long term. In a way they can learn to find it on their own-- without me as a yoga teacher, or without going to class. To take their practice off of the mat and have it be a constant sense of awareness, a constant tapping into breath and emotion and their experience of life in the world around them.
EL:What does a Constant Yogi session with you look like?
JR: Usually it involves one 90 minute private yoga lesson a week which will be a physical practice or body / energy work. We move a bit slower in my Constant Yogi sessions and focus on where the energy is moving and where the breath is.
So being aware in an energetic sense, I’ll work with Constant Yogis, and I’ll say, okay it looks like you’re collapsed here in your body, if we bring energy and breath and awareness to that point what do you feel emotionally? Can we create a physical practice or an awareness practice or a mantra that’s going to work on that particular part of your body, energy, and emotions to help open you?
So I mentor people in their own personal practices. We’re pinpointing the practices to specifically work with what’s going on in each individual being.
It will also involve journaling. Together we determine what to journal about --whether it’s their physical practice, or meditation or mantra practice with me, or their own personal triggers and how they came up that particular day and how they dealt with them. A lot of times they’ll do their journal, and email it to me and I’ll help them to notice patterns and suggest other sets of practices that might be helpful. Nothing is off limits to Constant Yogi. It’s about what the particular person needs, and what’s going to open them the most.
EL: It sounds therapeutic.
JR: Yoga was intended, at first, as an art of healing. If you read the Yoga Sutras, for instance, very few speak about the physical practice. All the rest talk about the mind, and they say the whole point of yoga is to quell the fluctuations of the mind. A lot of times those fluctuations are caused by emotions, by our pasts, or by the future. I always tell people that I’m not a therapist. I’m not a licensed massage therapist. The only thing we are doing is determining the yogic approach to any and every situation that you may find yourself in. Are you present. Are you aware? Are you connected between your mind, your body, your emotions your spirit and your breath? And if you’re not connected in on any of those levels, what’s preventing you? Is it an emotional thing? Is it a physical thing? Is it a result of your external circumstance or is it a result of your internal world?
EL:How does the student teacher relationship compare here to that in a group class?
Justin teaches open classes at Laughing Lotus, and Mang’Oh, and Crunch. Please visit constantyogi.com for more information.