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Reflections of A Master Teacher : Carrie Owerko

This week we meet Carrie Owerko, who has been teaching Iyengar Yoga for more than 20 years. A Senior Intermediate Iyengar teacher, Owerko has performed in and co-choreographed many yoga demonstrations, including Live: Light on Life, performed at NYC's City Center during BKS Iyengar's national book tour in 2005. Before studying yoga, Carrie worked as a Movement Analyst after having completed her studies at The Laban Institute in NYC. She has spent years exploring human movement, meaning and communication.

Jenny Aurthur, a long-time student of Owerko’s and teacher said, “Having already practiced for 10 years, I'd never met a teacher like Carrie; she is curious and constantly learning. She encourages her students to find out for themselves rather than be spoon fed the answers. Carrie teaches with a unique joy and playfulness. Without her, I would not be the teacher or human being I am today.

Kathleen Kraft: What does your yoga practice look like every day?

Carrie Owerko: Practice is my playground, my refuge, my home. I never miss a day of it. Ever. Of course there are times when it has needed to take a different form due to life's circumstances, but it is as essential and nourishing as eating and sleeping.

I like to practice for a few hours in the morning--that will include a combination of contemplative practice, breath work and postural practice. But some of my favorite practice times occur directly after I have taught. I try to leave time (at least a few times a week) after teaching group classes or workshops for an exploratory creative practice that has been inspired by questions or impressions that may have come up while teaching. I find the process of teaching to be such fertile soil for deepening and expanding the inquiry into this body/mind/breath relationship. It is as if the encounter and interaction with the students primes my body/mind for a different type of investigation—for the love the questions that come up when engaging with the students through the practice. These questions are like rich fertilizer for further investigation. So I make sure to make time and space for these types of practices. And that time is especially ripe after teaching.

KK: What are the most important qualities of the student/teacher relationship?

CO: Because the teacher student relationship can be complex, I think that some of the most important qualities to cultivate are trust, and a sense of mutual respect. It is helpful if both teacher and student have a genuine spirit of inquiry, openness, and curiosity.

I try and encourage students to investigate, explore and learn to think for themselves. Just because a teacher says that that there is a "right way" to do to something doesn't make it true. I try to teach students to look at context--to look yet again and again. There is no end to looking. I don't want them to automatically believe something is right or true just because I say so. This is a relationship where dialogue is essential, where both teacher and student are willing to stay actively engaged, curious, open and committed to process.

KK: Which yoga sutra guides you?

CO: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are a rich fertilizer for practice, for example, Sutra 1.39."Yatha-abhimata-dhyanad-va." This sutra can be very liberating. BKS Iyengar translates it as follows: “Or, by meditating on any desired object conducive to steadiness of consciousness.”

This sutra can resonate for so many because as Georg Feuerstein writes, "Any object whatsoever can serve a prop for concentration as long as it is found to be of practical expediency." In other words, the path of practice is open to anyone and everyone, regardless of circumstances. It's all useable. Use what is arising, or choose what you will--anything can serve as tool or prop to steady, and ultimately liberate, the mind.

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