Reflections of A Master Teacher: Abbie Galvin
Abbie Galvin, who has been teaching yoga for 22 years, is informed by her artistic process and extensive training at The Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Institute. She has made commercials, short films for children and young adults, and after-school and specials for teens.
Her two-decade working relationship with Nevine Michaan of Katonah Yoga is rooted in a form of Taoism, that pulls from other disciplines, such as psychoanalysis, literature, religion, math, myth, and music. Galvin opened her own studio, Katonah Yoga Bowery, on August 1, 2016.
Devoted student Lindsey Boisvert said, “Abbie is a consummate teacher. She is assiduous about everyone in the room, their form, their approach to each pose and their grasp of her theory, which is practical, no misty woo-woo here. She is no nonsense, cares deeply and teaches with bold strokes, humor and like a parachute, harnesses everyone individually within the larger group, with a quotient of charisma and warmth. She gets to know her students well, each one’s foibles and strengths and teaches us to adjust each other. Each class is taught like a master class. Her emphasis is on reformation, rehabilitating the body so that we can become more conscious, psychically.”
Kathleen Kraft: What does your yoga practice look like every day?
Abbie Galvin: My yoga practice is a longevity practice. Like any home practice, it changes the orientation of skill-building through class work to personal restoration and self-awareness. The goal of my home practice is to use techniques I’ve developed through asana to support my personal health and well-being, ritualizing my use of time and space in order to train my mind to tune into a more internal conversation.
A longevity practice holds a commitment to spend time alone, participating in a technical
integration of mind, body, and breath. And by ritualized, I mean that I practice the same
sequenced poses, defining, refining, redefining them so that they become more nuanced with a consistent breath, making them more fluid, time more malleable, so that I am like a snail in a shell. I start with a plow and stay for what amounts to about 15 minutes. Then I move to a forward bend, a deeper plow, another forward bend, Buddhist sleep (nidrasana), and supta virasana. I unfold to three wheels followed by a lotus series. Finally, I breathe for ½ hour, using breath techniques from Katonah Yoga’s pranayama sequence.
KK: What are the most important qualities of the student/teacher relationship?
AG: Trust and a love for teaching. While it sounds like a platitude, without trust, there’s no room for honest exploration. A teacher must have the capacity to inspire, lend stability, and to make a student feel safe and accepted. They must be able to enhance their student’s practice and ultimately their life. Students should feel free to explore and use the practice in a way that makes them encouraged without feeling judged or demanded of. Transference between student and teacher is an important aspect of learning and requires teachers to assume healthy and appropriate boundaries while at the same time being warm and available. Loving to teach is the most important, because as soon as one touches another person a currency flows between them, creating a third thing: a real relationship.
KK: What sutra is guiding you?
AG: Sutra means thread, and one’s thread is one’s personal story. The sutra atman, one’s "threading self" is the imaginary main frame running through each of us, articulating one’s third foot, third hand, third eye. It’s the self, the soul. So rather than thinking of a sutra as an
aphorism, or some idea to inspire, one's sutra can be thought of as the self weaving the narration of a life. So Hindu, Taoist, Christian, or Jewish yoga is for insight, for weaving a reality, a story—so while the body is designed to fall apart, the mind doesn't unravel. In developing longevity, one should be open to many perspectives and options, so we are spherical, voluminous, and buoyant, and not just plant food.
That said, my practice of building and teaching good techniques for well-being and insight is primarily rooted in Taoist theory. Taoist teachings follow organic patterns found in nature. So that cycles of the moon, sun, tidal rhythms of the ocean’s waves, or more subtle patterns like our sleep cycle, digestive cycles, or more obvious patterns like seasons, or aging are all part of the natural world whose same waves of insight are found in the body. And because the narrative of our lives is reflected in our bodies, our personal abode, changing one’s patterns physiologically changes one’s psychology. Learning and repeating good techniques leads to insight and personal evolution… change.