In our Reflections of Master Teachers series, Kathleen Kraft interviews J. Brown this week, who has been developing techniques to teach people how to practice yoga in a deeper and more fulfilling way for more than twenty years.
In 2007, after more than a decade as a popular teacher at various schools in Manhattan and Brooklyn, J. Brown founded Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, in order to provide a home for a yoga practice that adapts to the needs of the individual. Drawing on the tradition of TKV Desikachar, J.’s breath-centered practice inspired him to coin the phrase "Gentle is the New Advanced," which is also the title of his new online workshop. He also has a popular new podcast, Yoga Talks, in which he covers a wide range of topics from the business to the philosophy of yoga and just about everything in between.
Long-time student, Rachel King said, “His instruction was exactly what I needed. He modified poses to suit my body, rather than asking my body to conform to some 'ideal' pose. He encouraged me to develop a personal home practice so that I might enjoy yoga’s benefits every day. My pain disappeared and I began to sleep again. The effects were so powerful that I wanted to introduce others to it. I enrolled in J.’s teacher training program. Now a teacher, I am grateful to have the chance to introduce students to the benefits of J.’s therapeutic, breath-centered approach.”
Kathleen Kraft: What does your yoga practice look like every day?
J. Brown: My yoga practice starts by waking up in the morning. I usually do a little bit of computer time before I shave and jump in the shower. Then, I have breakfast and if our youngest daughter is not being too demanding, my wife and I can talk a bit. After that, I usually head to the center where I might do a little bit of breathing and moving (maybe 10-15 minutes) before I have to teach my first class. I teach 1-3 in a day. I sometimes practice with students. I'd say that once or twice a week, I steal a good 60-90 minutes for a fuller practice. But 10-15 minutes is the daily routine. I don’t separate my practice from my life or from my teaching. I see it all as one seamless process.
KK: What are the most important qualities of the student/teacher relationship?
JB: Honesty, transparency, and mutuality. With all the massive shifts that have transpired in the yoga world over the last five years or so, a teacher’s ability to be transparent and set appropriate boundaries is more important than ever. Folks are less interested in someone acting as their spiritual guru and are looking for someone they can have a real connection to on an interpersonal level. This is happening in lots of areas of the culture, not just yoga. Brand names associate to corporations more than individuals. People have become put off by corporate signatures, and only the authentic and personal is able to pierce through the white noise of our social media feeds. Whereas yoga started to adopt the corporate models of other industries for a time, now there is a need to return to the teacher/student relationship as the basis for the business of yoga as well.
KK: Which yoga sutra guides you?
JB: It’s the one in the 4th Padah that essentially says that in all we do we should do it sweetly. After more than 20 years as a professional yoga teacher, I have come to the determination that, on some level, it doesn't really matter what poses you do or in what order or for how long.
Nor does it matter much in the grand scheme of things what I am or am not doing in my broader life situation. More and more, I find that it is the quality with which I am doing things that shapes the outcomes more than the things that I do. It’s true in my practice, my relationships, my teaching, my writing, and in my perceptions. Engaging in all matters with sweetness has proven to be the best thing I can do.