Carla Ardito, an emotional-energy teacher, is the voice of Breathing Lessons, an award-winning app she created that uses animation to illustrate mindful respiration techniques. Carrying a favorite book, The Body Never Lies, Ardito arrived 10 minutes early to meet YogaCity NYC’s Ann Votaw, in a Union Square cafe, and immediately set her at ease with her wit and terrific head of brown hair.
Ann Votaw: I read your Huffington Postarticle about “tight asses” contributing to poor breathing. I was just at the farmer’s market trying to ungrip my butt by the peaches.
Carla Ardito: [Laughing.] It’s hard, isn’t it? Most of us don't often, if ever, check in with those muscles, and they are the cause of much anxiety in the bodies. The muscles and nerves around our heads and hips are associated with our fight-or-flight response.
AV: Why did you develop an app?
CA: One of my students got off blood pressure medicine while working with me. She kept telling me, “You have to make an app.”
AV: How do you work with your students?
CA: I’m just there to help them process emotions. I do a lot of visualization. I work with students anywhere from two to five years. I see about 15 a week. I teach a lot of yoga teachers. I also get a lot of artists.
AV: What’s your philosophy?
CA: My one professional statement is that anything problematic that happens in the present is a repeat of something that happened in the past that didn’t get resolved. It’s meant to be worked out in order to feel better and let yourself love more. In 30 years, I’ve never seen this fail.
Here’s an example: My husband and I were driving in Rhode Island when a turtle was crossing the road. The turtle stopped traffic. I went out and snapped photos. My husband and I were laughing. Then everyone started honking.
I got back in the car, and my husband was mad at me and wouldn’t talk about it. For me, I was upset because my mother used to freak out, which made me feel uncared for. For my husband, he felt frustrated he couldn’t make everyone happy. We were both reliving our childhoods.
AV: You have a son, do you think about these things with him?
CA: Yes. He’s 20. Swami Satchidananda at Integral used to say that the most yogic thing you can do is to have a family and make it work. When you are a parent, you often get to heal some part of your childhood. Then you have to continue the work because parenting can't heal us completely. We’re attracted to the people who make us face our issues. It’s the real law of attraction.
AV: Say more on that.
CA: It’s about to get confusing. I learned this from my teacher Julie Motz who explains the science behind what I noticed in my practice.
AV: Go ahead.
CV: All of us have preferences to one of the four undesirable emotions: fear, anger, sadness, and need. These four emotions have corresponding desirable emotions. They are: excitement, desire, relief, and love. My body is used to being afraid, but it doesn't like to surrender to sadness. Because I am comfortable with fear, I am equally comfortable with excitement, but because I block sadness, I don't get much relief. People who favor desire and anger are uncomfortable with need and love. It's all about balance.
I can’t decide which one you are, excitement-fear or desire-anger.
AV: You’ve been assessing me?
CV: I was watching your eyes when I talked about mothering, so I'm guessing that much sadness is unprocessed. Because I am excitement-fear, I am married to relief-sadness.
AV: Discuss fear.
CA: It’s good to be fearful in a dark alley at 3am, and it's good to admit that someone feels unsafe to you in a relationship. But if we are fearful at times when we could easily label the situation "exciting," then that’s the object of yoga, to learn why.
Some people have to allow themselves to feel afraid and let things be explosive before they can get unstuck and open-up to compassion. But you don't need to, and shouldn't do so, in real life. Everything can be worked out in your mind because what the mind sees happening, the body processes. It's a beautiful design of the psyche that allows for healing the body because it puts mind and body in sync.
AV: I love that.
CA: I ask students to imagine a beloved child crawling into a painful situation from their past. It makes students weep because in this way they can easily see that the child is them. Allowing anger and protective thoughts can relieve tightness in the chest and create more blood flow, better health, and more love. Love is when I see you’re a little fucked up, but I am able to love you anyway because I can trust myself to protect myself, even from you. But if we haven't worked out our childhoods, we don't trust ourselves.
AV: How does our past play in our present?
CA: Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen once blew my mind when she said, "The egg that made you was in your mother when she was in the womb of your grandmother." We inherit trauma in the womb. To me, many diseases are the result of deep wounding we inherited.
I ask students to visualize their grandmothers taking care of their mothers. If this doesn’t work, I ask them to pick another woman, from a book or a movie. Then my students weep and let go. I’ve seen my students transform beautifully. I’m honored they trust me.
To learn more about Carla Ardito, visit her website, or download her breathing app.