Updated: Sep 19, 2021
This month we have a very special Yogi of the month interview with our Senior Iyengar Yoga Teacher, Julie Anderson. Find out when she started practicing yoga, her favourites poses and the benefits they provide plus some of her Iyengar Yoga book recommendations and lockdown discoveries.
Here is the transcript:
Jo: Welcome everyone to our yogi of the month interview and my name is Jo Mitchell and I am a teacher at Yoga on Tay and I'm very excited to introduce to you this month's interviewee which is Julie Anderson, the boss and senior teacher at Yoga on Tay and I'm very interested to hear her answers to our 'Yogi of the Month' questions. Welcome Julie!
Julie: Thank you and thank you kind of because this was a very unexpected turn of events when Marieke, Jo and I were discussing who should it be next and the tables turned!
Jo: Well I'm interested to hear so I'm going to get straight into it and ask you Julie when did you start yoga?
Julie: I started yoga in 1979 at the age of 15. There was a local class where I grew up in Balerno. The local class was in Currie the next village and my Mum clearly wanted to go but she didn't want to go herself so she took her two daughters along and that was the beginning.
Jo: What do you remember about that first class?
Julie: Now that's an interesting question because I realised that question was going to come having been part of the setting of the questions and you know really I cannot remember but I remember the feeling of thinking oh this is interesting and I can do it and I feel good for doing it and I want to go again and again and again.
Jo: Was that an Iyengar Yoga class that you went to?
Julie: No I didn't meet Iyengar yoga until four years later so by that time I was 19, so very much the teenager out and about in town and I would pass the Bruntisfield centre in Edinburgh. There would be this wooden hand-painted sign outside the front of the Iyengar studio and you know this man in Natarajasana I though that looks really authentic, that's traditional yoga oh maybe one day I'll go. It took me a while to summon up the courage because it looked like really proper and serious. I summoned up the courage and I never looked back, that was the yoga for me.
Jo: Do you remember anything about the first Iyengar yoga class that you were in at the Iyengar Yoga center in Edinburgh?
Julie: So I had a scientific background as I'd started a physiotherapy course and I went on to do biological sciences so I had, at that point, a basic education in human anatomy and physiology. In this yoga class and although it was an eastern tradition, it referenced exactly as the body functions and so it made complete sense for me. It was a meeting of East and West in the body so intellectually it satisfied me, it ticked the boxes but also physically because although you get people who are mind orientated intellectual maybe or the dreamer side of the mind. For me I'm an inner body person. I live in the body and through all these years of yoga I have got to mind but it was the initial connections and communications, I can turn it this way and it does that and I have to be get this alignment here. I had to start to think of it in a way that made sense but it felt great too.
Jo: What would you say yoga gives to you? What is it that makes you continue to practice?
Julie: Well I think it's just that journey, that exploration of body through the body to the mind, with the breath is an endless pursuit. It makes me feel good. This will come in a later question that maybe its not that easy to get to the mat, for all sorts of reasons but whenever you practice whether it's a five minute practice or a class practice or hours of practice, the absorption in the pursuit in the activity, it just enthrals me. Of course that enthusiasm doesn't come across quite so much because I've been doing it so long but the love of the yoga, the love of the practice is so much deeper now.
Jo: As a new teacher starting off it's quite difficult to communicate to a beginner the depth of the practice that's available, should you want to and it is a lifetime pursuit but it's quite difficult to communicate that at the beginning when you are doing the basic standing poses and how to move and how to find the asana.
Julie: So I'll reach to the conveniently located yoga books behind me and i think it's summed up so nicely in this book The Tree of Yoga where Mr Iyengar talks about just doing these standing poses and the simple things, the seeds are planted and for your tree of yoga to grow does take a lifetime. You may never get to the fruits, you'll be lucky if you get the buds and leaves but that's okay, that's my sort of response to what you said I had no idea? It was for me. It was in the moment and of course it is meant to be in the moment isn't it.
Jo: So have you got any favourite yoga poses?
Julie: Well I knew this question was coming and I thought this is not a good question. I've just been listening to Desert Island Discs on the radio. I'm thinking we actually need a little bag to take away with us you know if we're going to survive this journey so I have several favourite poses because there's nothing I don't like. I don't think there's ever been any poses that I don't like, in all honesty. I can say that there's many poses I can't do but I enjoy the working around them towards them.
So one of the first poses that I really loved was Anantasana or Lord Vishnu's couch. I fell in love with the name before even taught the pose and and I still just love the the sublime balance of being on your side where you can still fall over lying on your side you know I think that's very interesting. It's so well named for what it is and and I've naturally got quite open hips so the fact I can lift my leg and extend it over it feels feels nice that's what people like so Anantasana is up there.
One pose that I also say in the class quite often is Ardha Matsyendrasana so the Half Lord of the Fishes which is seated twisting pose and I like it for well the physical shaping of it but actually to perform it well you have to breathe well and it really educates you in breathing and softening that diaphragm. I like that engagement so that's also up there. If we're going for egos Natarajasana because I think you've mentioned this in some of the interviews that we go to class with Ali Dashti online. For anyone who's not sure what pose that is it's the trademark I think yes the trademark goes with Mr Iyengar and he's standing on one leg catching his other foot behind him so I'm now approaching that pose and it's maybe not good for my ego that I'm able to approach it but at least I'm not doing it like a donkey so that's good!
Jo: I appreciated Ali's teaching of it too and actually how different to do that pose to catch the foot and be leaning forward and it's a totally different pose but to actually have the spine upright and the backbend action, it's completely different. You see on Instagram and Facebook, there are so many people doing that pose leaning forward. It's so different. That pose is so amazing but it's very different with the spine upright.
Julie: Well to the Iyengar eye, it's poorly executed, in their world of more gymnastic type yoga, the fact they can get to this supposed end point and of a photogenic pose, you know that's up to them. We follow a very disciplined school of yoga and that for me is one of also the attractions about it and looking after your body is part of your practice. Non-violence begins with the practice really and so I think that's important. I'll just have one other pose in there
Jo: yes your favourite poses!
Julie: because as you can see I am a fiery person so quite a lot of raja and so people like me need a bit of quietening they love all the zazz but actually so Kurmasana where you retreat into your shell and learn to stay in a deep forward bend so that is up there with the top pose. It's probably quite good for a desert island.
Jo: Thank you Julie very educational, your descriptions of the poses and what they offer. I've learned a lot there thank you. Now I know you said there are no poses that you dislike and I understand why you said that but are there any ones that you would describe as least favourite or is is that a non-question?
Julie: It really is, you know in all honesty it's a non question because if I attend class, there's just nothing I go oh no I can't stand that, I can't do that, I don't like that. I think okay that's what it is and that's where we go so I truly, honestly and and I can't recall really feeling like that about poses. There's ones that are hard, have been hard but the actual not liking of them, not wanting to do them.
Jo: Have you got any tips for establishing a good home practice?
Well that's also a good question soon as we have so many home practice sheets on our website. I think it starts what's what I will say in class when I've got beginners classes you know because they start to feel they're put I'm here I am I'm slouching in my chair and uh so what happens if you're in the car or you're preparing in the the food for the home and suddenly you start to stand up a bit more and you adjust your shoulders and you use a moment while the kettle's boiling to stretch out in Uttanasana. That's what I say to people in class, it starts to become part of your life. You think I need this stretch, this turn, at this point in time and so the practice in the first instance is quite informal and I think if you find yourself doing that, that's great. Then there's this side where because it is educational that's why we have a yoga school in the Iyengar system and and then you start oh maybe I should do it a bit more formally so you get your mat out. Initially when you're quite new and you don't know what to do so you try just whatever comes to mind and if that's all you do and the mat goes away that's fine but more often than not that leads into I'll just try this oh and I liked when we did that in class and and then it starts to build. And I think by the time I was doing teacher training that's when I would definitely set aside time to practice. For an hour or two a day and I have to say in all honesty not seven days a week. Even when you go to the mother institute in Pune, they don't encourage practice seven days a week. Sunday is closed you know part of the practice is also rest and reflection. But really the best practice and this does happen I'm sure you've had it yourself where you start off you know you've got a bit of time but you don't have a time limit and two or three hours just passes. It's fantastic.
Jo: I think I would love having that amount of time. I do find exactly that though that yes the time when you go and you practice and you don't have a time limit and you're not being interrupted the time does just pass. This sounds such a luxury having all that time I guess that's just me with my busy family life to have all that time. That's why teacher training was so good. It gave you the time, it marked it out and you had to get there, you had to practice and you had to prepare. Now being out of teacher training, I think I miss a little bit of that as well I mean it felt like a lot at the time but it was so great.
Julie: Oh you've re-prioritized your time at this point but don't worry there's more exams Jo!
Jo: Exactly this is it there's always that!
Julie: Mr Iyengar on that note of home practice for the people listening to this, he he used to say to his Indian students, there will be days you don't feel like practicing but you still you go to your mat, your corner of the room or whatever it is you do and you just sit down and think " this is where I would practice, this is what I should practice. I'm acknowledging the fact that I have yoga in my life but today I'm not connecting with it so that's it, the practice is over". He's not saying you have to actually do 10 hours a day. He might have done that but we don't have to do that.
Jo: The final question is what do you enjoy about coming to class?
So as a teacher, what do you get from coming to class? Obviously you do a lot of preparation in the run-up to the class but the actual being together and I guess this is quite pertinent now as we're just on the cusp of coming out of zoom and coming back to the studio?
Julie: Well I think whether I'm the student in the class or the teacher, it's ultimately about connection. I am really so excited that we're going to be in the studio. We've worked well with the Zoom and I've attended via Zoom, people attend Zoom with me and it's kept the yoga community alive for those who are prepared to work with that, but the actual real connection is with the people. So whether it's with the teacher so that the way they react and respond communicate with you will be very different when that energy of two human beings in the same space. If I'm attending class it's between the peers, there's an energy of sharing this practice and sometimes you gee people on and people are supposed it's just a really important. In the past I had never, I would never thought that was the most important thing but the connection is important. You need to be with other human beings, like-minded to some extent and if you think back to the history of course, it was a very close connection between the teacher, the Shikshaka and the pupil, the Sadhaka so I think we've come back to appreciating that.
Jo: Definitely isn't it the things that we've all learned and maybe things we took for granted and then lockdown has just stripped quite a lot back and you see the things that are really important.
Julie: That connection the outside connection with others I think helps guide and steer us so sometimes you're learning from the teacher, sometimes you're learning from your peers and that is part of the internal process because it is of course a mind game as well.
Jo: Yes great Julie nice is that is through all our questions is there anything else that you'd like to cover or that you feel we've missed?
That's okay! I did write down the questions now the specs have to go on not the clicky ones that everybody knows so well. You know you could answer these questions in many different ways at different moments in time and this is it, in this moment, these are the answers. I think the message is there it's clear that we both have yoga in our lives and and we have many people that share that with us, you know in our classes. So yeah I hope that comes through, we have a great system, we have superb teachers. I'm not talking about myself here. I mean generally, collectively, the dedication that Mr Iyengar and Geeta in particular and now Prashant as well, have put into taking this really classical art, science, philosophy and making accessible in the modern day. We are so lucky.
Jo: Yes very fortunate and I do feel Iyengar Yoga as a global system or a system that is available globally, across the world. Lockdown and our big migration onto Zoom has just been amazing and connected these teachers, these amazing teachers that you wouldn't have access to, you know you would be lucky if they did a workshop once a year in your country and now we can access them, you know it's been fantastic the way that the menu of available workshops is just completely multiplied and it's a it's really amazing. I've never been to Pune but I've had access to all these amazing teachers because of lockdown. It's been one of the silver linings of it.
Julie: Absolutely I think that's an important part of yoga too, is to think well so many people say oh there's been this terrible lockdown, all the bad things about it but actually you know open your minds to all the positive things things that would not have happened otherwise so that's in the yoga context perfectly put.
Jo: Julie thank you okay very much for your time that's been wonderful our Yogi of the month for May.
Julie: Thank you very much Jo. Thanks for doing it so well.
Thank you for watching or reading our Yogi of the month interview. Please sign up to receive updates from us at Yoga on Tay or join us for a class