As a long practitioner and teacher of yoga, I have been fascinated by what makes people motivated to start a yoga practice and furthermore, what is it that drives them to want to teach? In this series, I am interviewing yoga teachers that I love (for a variety of reasons).
Here is my first interview with Sara Little, an awesome yoga teacher here in NYC. She also has spent time in my other favorite city, San Francisco, so it makes sense to tell her story. Plus she is really into awesome music!
TM: What was your impetus for starting a yoga practice?
SL: I wanted a challenge. Actually, to be perfectly honest, I wanted the most challenging, physically demanding, sweat-drenching kind of yoga right away. As an athlete, I was always looking to push myself harder, and anything less than a heart-pounding workout that left me gasping after 90 minutes wasn’t “worth my time.” And then I found this class in the Mission in San Francisco that introduced me to yoga in a profound way: as I struggled through Down Dogs and Planks and that horrible pose called Chaturanga, I looked on in total awe at the lovely yogis who gracefully flowed through each posture with ease and elegance. And I had no understanding of using the breath to coordinate my body to the flow of movement. Here I was, a lifelong athlete, in great shape, and I couldn’t touch my toes, I couldn’t breathe right, and I couldn’t even allow myself to relax at the end of class in Savasana. I was completely humbled by all of this. But yoga didn’t resonate with me until my teacher told me not to be so merciless with myself. “It’s just yoga,” he said. “No need to get our minds so hardened around what we can and can’t do.” In all my years of exhausting and pushing and stressing myself out I had never heard anything like that. The physical challenge of yoga was suddenly less important: the challenge of changing my perspective, of growing and learning and opening myself up to newness and possibility, that’s what appealed most to me.
TM: What do you love most about teaching and why?
SL: I love that I get to constantly learn from my students. Students think that they’re the ones receiving the benefits of yoga, but actually teachers also receive that gift. It’s such a privilege and honor.
TM: Who are some of your favorite yoga teachers or mentors?
SL: I practice Ashtanga with Eddie Stern, who is at once a calm, gentle creature and a force to be reckoned with at the same time. I deeply respect his experience and authority. Three women writers whom I find inspiring and wise and funny, and also very yogic: Anne Lamott, Judith Hanson Lasater, and Sharon Salzburg.
TM: I know you love to play music in class. What is your favorite of the moment playlist?
SL: Band of Horses: “Life on Earth”
Sleigh Bells: “Rill Rill”
Cee Lo Green: “What Part of Forever”
Dr. Dog: “Shadow People”
Wilco: “The Late Greats”
The Tallest Man on Earth: “The Wild Hunt”
Thom Yorke: “Hearing Damage”
The National: “England”
John Vanderslice: “The Parade”
Bon Iver & St. Vincent: “Roslyn”
M. Ward: “Let’s Dance”
The Great Lake Swimmers: “River’s Edge”
Craig Pruess & Ananda: “Devi Prayer”
TM: What is your favorite yoga pose?
SL: I’ve always been a fan of Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose), because it’s so energizing. It’s also a really fun, playful shape that reminds me of being a kid and tumbling all over the backyard.
TM: What was one of the biggest challenges that you faced in your life that caused the most movement in a positive direction?
SL: Graduating college and standing among my very ambitious friends, who already had careers, apartments, and car payments lined up, and thinking, “I have absolutely no idea where I’m going next.” It took a long time (and a lot of prayer and wisdom and reflection) for me to be okay with that.
TM: What are you working on right now?
SL: Meditation. Sitting quietly with yourself is hard work.
Sara teaches vinyasa yoga – a flowing, powerful, breath-centered practice – in open classes and private sessions. She practices Mysore Ashtanga daily with Eddie Stern, and continues to deepen her knowledge by studying Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. You can view her class schedule here.