Thursday, July 14, 2011

Teacher of the Month: Emily Wolf

By Rebecca Merritt

Emily Wolf’s devotion to her practice and beliefs is contagious. Trust me when I say this is one bug you want to catch. If we all remember to breathe, practice and clear our minds – as Emily teaches – we will live more content lives on and off the mat. Her asana classes are challenging, perfectly balanced, and help us become the yogi we all strive to be.

Emily is a home-grown New York Yoga teacher. Her classes incorporate Ashtanga traditions, meditative focus and philosophy. She recently earned her Doctorate in Counseling Psychology, focusing on how to incorporate yoga and meditation to Western psychotherapy. She is also a member of the 200 Hour Teacher Training Faculty where she teaches Ashtanga, Meditation and Lineage.

You can check out Emily’s classes at the New York Yoga Hot Studio on Thursdays at 6:35pm and Saturdays at 11:00pm.

When did you first discover yoga?
I discovered yoga in 1999 after I had come to an emotional, spiritual, and physical bottom. Yoga slowly became part of a healing process for me. I really took to the spiritual aspects of it. I had studied it academically, and was very interested in religion, especially Eastern religions, but was never able to connect at a practice level. Once I started in asana classes, the meditation and Eastern philosophy all became a personal experience instead of an intellectual one.

How long have you been teaching?
I have been teaching since 2005. I did my training at New York Yoga with David Hollander and Michael Gilbert.

What makes your class unique?
My classes are based on my own practices which come from Tibetan Buddhism and the Ashtanga asana tradition. My experience as I’m teaching is like a meditation, which I hope I convey that on some level. I also try to integrate philosophy – my classes are not necessarily all about the asana. The asana is essential but it is just the vehicle.

What is your favorite pose to teach?
Any inversion; I like turning everything upside down.

What is you favorite pose to practice?
Right now, Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel pose). There’s heart opening, it’s invigorating, and it’s a little bit of inversion so everything’s kind of upside down. I can easily walk through the world with a closed off and self-protected stance. Urdhva Dhanurasana is a deep opening and is opposite of that. It reminds me to open my heart and be vulnerable.

Best advice for beginners?
Just breathe. Do not worry. In the words of Pattabhi Jois, “Practice and all is coming.” Just keep coming; take it slowly.

Best advice for more advanced yogis?
Don’t take yourself too seriously. We have to stay inspired, keep close to our teachers and those who inspire us. When the practice gets dry, when it feels complacent or dull or boring that’s when we really have to show up and find the enthusiasm again. Go back to the teachings and your teachers to get inspired. Do not give up. This is a lifelong process. We have to continue to keep stepping up. That doesn’t necessarily mean advanced postures. That means going deeper.

What is your biggest yoga pet peeve?
When I find myself getting competitive and when I see my students get competitive or comparing themselves to others. The comparison and critiquing is a dangerous mentality we can all fall into.

Reader Questions…

How do you incorporate yoga and meditation into your daily life?
It is important for me to set aside time for formal asana practice and meditation on a daily basis. No matter what happens in any given day, I commit to my practice and connect to something bigger than my self, like an anchor that I can rely on. Buddhist meditation is not just basic mindfulness, concentration or "clearing the mind," but rather includes contemplations and practices to engage in throughout the day. I find that EVERY time I'm angry, impatient, agitated, bored, needy, fearful or any destructive emotion, it is an opportunity to grow, transform it, and apply Buddhist practices/contemplations. Every encounter with my self and the world is an opportunity to practice.

How has Buddhism affected your practice?
Buddhism informs every part of my life. I was first interested in and studied Buddhism before starting a yoga asana practice, so I guess you could say it's been the foundation of the practice. I've been very focused recently on ethics and karma in both Buddhism and the yoga sutras, and I would say that directly impacts my practice. In a nutshell, every single thing I do, think, say, and put in my body matters, and has positive or negative consequences. If I am kind to others and rejoice in their good merits and efforts, then I feel the positive emotions rather than competitiveness or jealousy. If I tell little lies and live dishonestly, my mind will be swirling with guilt and fear of being found out and it's nearly impossible cultivate stillness and probe into deeper meditations.

What are you passionate about besides yoga?
It's like a response... I love being outdoors, biking, running, etc. Service to others is also really important for me, giving to others what has been so freely given to me. I am only at this point in my life due to the kindness of others. I'm also deeply passionate about my bulldogs Boris and Nugget! Peanut butter and ice cream and my husband are ranked up there pretty high too...

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