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Master Teacher: Ellen Saltonstall

Students of Ellen Saltonstall say her enthusiasm for anatomy and yoga therapeutics is contagious, and that no matter what she is teaching they feel simultaneously challenged and enlightened under her guidance. A practitioner of yoga and meditation for over 40 years, Saltonstall is a body therapist and asana teacher with extensive training in the Iyengar and Anusara methods. Her innovative Bodymind Ballwork, a method of self-massage using rubber balls, results in a feeling of lightness and ease in the body, and a quiet alertness in the mind. To quote one student: “It’s like having a massage therapist in your pocket.” She offers yoga therapy webinars and practice videos through, and she teaches nationally and internationally with a specialty in anatomy and therapeutics. She describes her approach to bodywork as a combination of science and artistic expression.

Long time student Joan Rothchild Hardin said, “Ellen is my ideal yoga teacher. She's highly knowledgeable about how to achieve proper alignment of the body in any pose - as well as in life off the mat - and skilled at imparting her knowledge in a generous, kind and humorous way. I was lucky enough to take my first class with her 15 years ago, shortly after 9/11, and have kept returning ever since. When I'm in classes taught by teachers who aren't as careful about alignment, I use what I've learned from Ellen to protect my body from injury and get the most out of poses.”

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

Ellen Saltonstall: My daily practice includes chanting, pranayama and meditation in the early morning and often again in the afternoon, 30-90 minutes of asana sometime in the morning or afternoon, and self-study throughout the day in the form of contemplation of the challenges of the moment. I find that each of these practices keeps me grounded. To me, being grounded means that I respond and act in the present moment in a measured and conscious way, backed by the guidance of the teachings of yoga. Emotional swings do happen, but I watch them, feel them, and try to avoid being swept off-center by those waves. If I didn't do these practices, I would not feel authentic as a yoga teacher. This is what yoga is – self-transformation and growth through regular practice - it's not just a series of fancy stretches. What I say when I teach comes from the inner state and the experience that I attribute to my 42 years of practice.

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

ES: Respect and kindness in both directions in the relationship are essential. Also humility, knowledge and generosity from the teacher and open-mindedness and commitment from the student. I want students to feel comfortable in my class, so I keep the atmosphere informal and interactive. I discourage competition and I encourage cooperation and mutual support.

KK: Which sutra is guiding you and why?

ES: From the Yoga Sutra: 1.12: Control over the mind's fluctuations comes from persevering practice and non-attachment. (translation by Bernard Bouanchaud)

From the Siva Sutra: 1.7: The fourth state of consciousness, the rapturous experience of supreme consciousness, will gradually permeate and saturate each of the other three states of waking, dreaming and sleeping. (adapted from translation by Paul Muller)

From the Pratyabhijna Hrdayam #17: The bliss of consciousness is attained through expansion of the center. (translation by Swami Shantananda)

All of these verses point to the benefit of authentic and multi-faceted practice over a long period of time. My gradually deepening inner state is evidence that these teachings are true and applicable in modern life.

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