Master Teacher: David Michael Hollander
An accomplished visual artist as well as a yoga teacher, David Michael Hollander’s drawings reveal his keen observation of the human body in movement, expression and stillness. For many years he taught art and exhibited his work. Hollander started practicing yoga as a teenager and began to teach in an Iyengar-influenced style under the guidance of
Wanting to offer a safer more open atmosphere that emphasized yoga therapy, meditation and the larger Krishnamacharya tradition, David began teaching Mysore style Ashtanga in his apartment. The program soon moved to New York Yoga and has been at Pure Yoga East since 2007.
Hollander now studies, works on philosophy and chanting with teachers in the
Kathleen Kraft: What does your yoga practice look like?
David Michael Hollander: I practice every day after teaching a busy three-hour session of Mysore style Ashtanga Yoga on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Daily practice has evolved over the years into a sustainable, therapeutic, meditative hiatus from every other part of the day.
I often start by setting up the mat and sitting down to play guitar and sing for a while. Sometimes I am working on kirtans or bhajans but often I also work on Bowie, Dylan or other tunes. There is always a new mantra I’m working on or bit of Sanskrit I’m writing.
Ten or fifteen minutes of focused singing or chanting usually works up a nice first sweat to get me started.
When I begin to practice I take my time and enjoy the subtlety and release of Sun Salutations. Many days I will do extra salutations and always work until I feel my body begin to open and the sweat begin to flow.
I always practice full standing and the first five poses of Primary series, if I have time before I move on to any other series as I find those poses to release the tension of my teaching and giving dozens of assists to others and warms me up for any other sequences to come.
My standard minimum practice is to split at Triryang Mukha Eka Pada Paschimottanasana, move through second series to Eka Pada Sirsasana and end with the closing series. If I have time I will continue deeper into second or move into third from there. Also I often practice variations I have learned over the years from various teachers in the Ashtanga and Iyengar traditions both for therapeutic benefits and to workshop poses that are challenging.
After finishing the asana practice and before savasana, I jump through one last time and take Padmasana (left leg first) and enjoy a sitting practice in that posture for as long as feels right that day. I always take a minimum of five minutes rest at the end but if I’m tired may allow myself to sleep for up to 30 minutes.
KK: How does your art connect to your yoga?
DMH: My drawing and painting are an essential part of the daily practice I do every day. Currently I am creating a new body of work focused on the human figure, compositions of objects, space and light as well as spending as much time as possible communing and meditating with trees. I see artistic or other intellectual pursuit as a vital adjunct to both asana and meditation and encourage every yoga student to find something they love and put effort into developing.
KK: What are the most important qualities of the student/teacher relationship?
DMH: Trust – creating a safe space for everybody to be accepting of themselves and others. Maintaining a space where injuries are kept to a absolute minimum
Effective method – teachers should have the experience and knowledge to assist and guide students whether they are at the beginner, intermediate or advanced level. It is vital to have a grounding in the deeper, practical, psychological aspects of yoga in order to be helpful as things come up in practice. “Teach what you know as it applies to others “
Therapeutic Distance - In my experience its most effective for teachers to be friendly and natural with students but to also have a certain amount of distance, remembering that these relationships are professional and therapeutic.
KK: Do have strong feelings about what a student should look for in a teacher?
DMH: As a student I think it is very important to at first be very discriminating and critical in order to make sure the teacher is coming from a genuine desire to serve students and also has the skill to really be effective. Be on the lookout for egomaniacs! After a initial period of checking someone out as a teacher it is vital to really devote yourself to being a student in order to get the full benefit.
The Yoga Sutra says that some folks are born enlightened but most of us need to do some work on our selves. The three first qualities to get started are: Devotion, that is, feeling like you are embarking on something bigger than your own individual self; Energy - be willing to work hard at the practice, and Memory - Remember where you came from and who you are, rather than trying to lose yourself. Also, avoid dropping back into negative behaviors. Imagine your teacher is always with you.
Eventually the idea of teacher can move into your life as a metaphor. A reflection of the moon in a puddle is the Guru, a bird song in the morning is the Guru, the hard experience that hurts is the Guru teaching a lesson.
KK: Which sutra is guiding you?
DMH: As a general principal that applies to almost every aspect of life I would offer up Sutra 12 from the Samadhi Pada or book 1. This Sutra talks about how it is a balance of effort and renunciation; hard work and letting go; strength and softness, and action without reaction that results in a calm mind and true understanding of reality. I would go even further and say that this understanding of when to push and when to soften is a wonderful definition of wisdom. It is a intuitive intelligence that can guide our navigation through relationships, creative endeavors, business, our asana practice, mediation, the way we pursue our work and everything else. So many problems that arise happen when we push too hard or don’t try hard enough. Each situation that we face in our day to day life offers us another chance to practice the art of Abhyasa and Vairagya.
In the long view this Sutra inspires us to never give up; to continue doing our work without attachment to the results of our work, and to have humility.
KK: Who has been a major influence on your life, your work?
DMH: There are so many teachers, but briefly:
Michael Gilbert, who got me started on the path of teaching publicly many years ago.
Sri K Pattabhi Jois, who inspired me to pursue the path of Ashtanga Yoga in my personal practice and who I experienced teaching deeply physical yoga into his nineties.
Srivatsa Ramaswami, who inspired me to see the vastness and depth of the Krishnamacharya tradition and the profound possibilities of Vinyasa Yoga.
Senior teachers in the Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati Lineage, who over the years have helped me to develop an appreciation of the depths and breadth of the Vedic Tradition. The many years I have spent time at Ananda Ashram and working closely with teachers there have been invaluable for my personal development and my teaching.