yoga community

Student Spotlight: Kate

This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate Tolliver for our Student Spotlight. Kate started practicing yoga with me even before The Yoga Room came into existence. In her candid and introspective interview, Kate talks about why she took the Beginners Series three times, why she took a long break from yoga, and why she now practices yoga every day.

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When did you start practicing yoga?

In 2009. Before you had the studio, I practiced with you at the ballet school [in Round Rock].

I did the Beginners Series 3 times. I think I thought I needed to know the Sanskrit names of all the poses before I could “keep up” in regular yoga classes. I bought a book at Half Price Books and I studied, because I was afraid I wouldn’t know what to do when I went to a regular class. And then I realized that I didn’t actually need to know the Sanskrit names.

I started practicing regularly about 2 years ago.

Why do you practice yoga?

I reason I practice yoga now is different than when I started practicing yoga.

I’m an introvert, and I started practicing yoga because I was looking for a place to feel connected, where I wouldn’t be using up a lot of emotional energy, but I could be connected to other people. And then I started feeling like I was part of a community. The Yoga Room started feeling like my home away from home, like my tribe. I started feeling connected to people who I maybe didn’t really know that well, but I felt really connected.

After that, I decided want to be the boss of my body. That was my next progression. I wanted to be able to be not short of breath, I wanted to be able to tell my body that it can move a certain way instead of feeling restricted, instead of what my body and age were telling me.

And then the other day I realized that The Yoga Room is great, but it’s not home. Home is on my mat. It’s where my mat is and where I am, and when I come to the studio, it’s like I’m opening my home to a community. Like, I’m here, if you want to share this space with me, or if you need your private space. I feel like I come here with an open home, if that makes sense. 

And when I need quiet, introspective time, I practice on my own at home. So I do both [group practice and personal practice].

My reason for practicing has changed so much. At first it was all about keeping up and now it’s more about settling in. Like, this is my body and I belong in here and it’s ok.

What keeps you going?

When I first started, I looked at yoga as a form of exercise. And then I realized that, for me, it’s actually a spiritual practice. And when I approached it in that way, that’s what keeps me going.

I had a sense of longing to belong somewhere. I had never felt like I belonged - in my home, in my place of business. I always felt like an outsider observing what was going on and I was really looking for a sense of connection, which is what I found with yoga. And that strengthened all of the other work I needed to do. It is like coming home, but it’s like… like bringing home to the studio. I don’t know quite how to describe it.

I definitely see a progression as I look back. It started with, I can do this - I can show up where other people are. I can show up and I can do it. And then, I can show up and I can control my breathing. I can show up and I can do a Moderate class. And then I realized that what it was, was that I was comfortable. When I don’t practice, I feel homesick for that space that I’m in when I’m the most comfortable.

What does your practice consist of?

I practice at work on my lunch hour. Three days a week I practice in a private space, and two days a week we have classes.

I practice in the studio usually 5 days per week. So that means that some days I practice two times per day. On those days one of the practices will be stronger and the other will be more gentle or restorative. I try not to do two strong practices per day.

And I conquered a Strong class at the studio! But I realize that your classes and Asha’s classes feel much stronger to me than some of the Strong classes.

Asha helped me solve some of my balance problems. And she offers a lot of encouragement, like, “If you want to take a Strong class, you can do it. You don’t have to move as fast as everybody else does.” It’s good to have permission to slow down.

In the practices I do with you I can feel myself getting stronger. In some of the Strong classes, I feel like the focus is movement, but in your classes we focus ON the movement.

When I practice on my own, the main focus is āsana. I usually do the practice from [the handout from] your class, or some portion of it. I try to do the whole thing. But, for example, the other day I was stressed and I was doing the [core strengthening sequence where we move our arms and legs] because that takes a lot of concentration and I was able to get some stuff out of my head. And then I was like, “I think I’ve done about 20 of these, I’d better move on to something else!” (laughs)

I also have a meditation practice, but I consider that to be separate. I do that when I first get up in the morning. I usually do 20 minutes on a good day. Have you ever heard of Muse? My doctor told me about it. It’s a guided meditation device that gives you feedback. I have a very busy mind and this helps.

How do you maintain your motivation for your practice?

I don’t feel good when I don’t do it, so it’s motivation in and of itself.

I started on a 40 Day Challenge, which was probably really good for me because I’m competitive. I’m even competitive with myself. I was like, “I have to do the 40 days!” And then I realized what I could feel like [with consistent practice]. And then I started recognizing what I felt like when I didn’t practice.

When you walk into the studio you feel like you’re home. Someone here was saying the other day, and I experience the same thing, I hear you chant when I practice at home. The chanting comes with me. It’s cool, in a slightly creepy kind of way. (laughs)

It’s fun when everyone joins in the chanting, even if it’s not something I’m comfortable doing on my own. But I can hear it in my head, so I get to take that piece of it with me when I practice on my own, which is kind of cool.

What part of your practice do you gain the most from?

Gosh, that’s a hard question. I thought I knew right away, but now I don’t know.

Probably when I do [the Krishnamacharya] style practice with you in the studio, followed by when I do that practice on my own, followed by an American-style class. I feel like we have to focus so much in [the Krishnamacharya] style that my mind doesn’t have time to go anyplace else.

What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about trying yoga?

DO IT! (laughs) Just do it! When I first started practicing and really started noticing the benefits, I wanted to share it with everybody. I would bring everybody in my life with me. I was like, “You need to do this!” because I felt it was so incredible.

I think people who think they won’t like yoga, it’s probably because they have busy brains or busy bodies, and I think they’re probably the ones who could gain the most from it. I’d say, just give it a chance, and don’t come with pre-expectations, and it’s ok if you don’t know the Sanskrit names. (laughs)

Anything else you want to add?

I love my home away from home. And my family here. Thank you for having this space for all of us. It’s so communal. It’s our space. I think all the people who come here feel like it’s THEIR yoga studio.

I had such a great time interviewing Kate! I hope you enjoyed reading it. Make sure to say hi to Kate next time you see her at the studio! :)

See you soon!

All the best,

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Student Spotlight: Elizabeth

Today we introduce a new feature of our newsletter - Student Spotlight! Every few weeks we'll feature a different member of our community. I'm honored to feature one of our earliest students today, Elizabeth Bennett.

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When did you start practicing yoga?

Almost 9 years ago. My acupuncturist at the time noticed that I had good range of motion. He asked me if I’d ever tried yoga.

Why do you practice yoga?

Initially I began practicing related to my chronic arthritic condition, I was seeking a means to live inside this body. I sought and found increased flexibility, a release of endorphins. I was SOLD!

I have continued to practice because the breath keeps me present. I enjoy increased agility both mentally and physically, lowered blood pressure, and not being dependent on drugs to control my pain. My practice is spiritual, mental, and physical. I look forward to practicing for the rest of my life.

What kept you going?

I saw results from the practice right away!

My motivation has changed over the years. I think I’m stronger than most people my age. I see that benefit. I see now that, even if everything is going crazy around me, I’m disciplined enough that I can stay on track and lean into what I’ve learned from my practice.

What does your practice consist of?

I practice at home and at The Yoga Room. My practice in the studio reinforces what I practice at home.

At home, I usually start with yoga, then a walk, and then yoga again to wind down. I do yoga in the morning. And I also do yoga at work - not a lot, maybe just one asana at a time.

At work, when I take a deep breath, my assistant asks,”You’re breathing for your health, huh?” Even if she doesn’t practice yoga, she understands.

Do you practice yoga in a private space at work?

I work in a large area and there are only a couple of us in that area, so they do see me do some asanas. I do forward folds throughout the day. They see me do forward folds all the time.

You can do yoga anywhere, even in the grocery store, you can do a tree pose or another standing pose. I take yoga with me everywhere; I don’t even need to have a mat.

How do you maintain your motivation for your practice?

The practice provides its own motivation. I have arthritis pretty much all over my body, and I know that if I do certain postures, I’m going to find some relief.

What’s so fabulous is that I can read my own body. It’s like I’m my own doctor. I know what’s going on in my body and how to address it. If I have a stiff back, I know the forward fold is going to benefit me. Just knowing what to do is such an enormous benefit. It’s like having your own toolkit with you all the time.

What part of your practice do you gain the most from?

Breathing. I breathe at home, at work, and in the car. When I breathe I concentrate on the count - and my count has really gotten much better than when I first started! At first I thought it was literally impossible to breathe consciously. Of course, we breathe all the time, but  conscious breathing was difficult in the beginning.

I have different breathing ratios when I’m sitting and when I’m walking. Sometimes I do alternate nostril breathing, especially if I’m sick or if I have congestion. Breathing consciously really seems to help.

Breathing keeps me focused. I know I can go to my breathing at any time. In the asana practice I connect the movement to the breath. I’m not always that good at it, but I’m consciously aware, and when I catch my mind wandering, I can go back to breathing consciously.

What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about trying yoga?

Be patient with yourself. Be disciplined with your commitment. Your mind will bring your body along. Know that your yoga practice will likely carry over into other areas of your life.

I’m so glad that I found yoga. It’s changed my life for the better. I wish everyone would practice yoga.

Anything else you want to add?

I’d like to convey my appreciation of you, the studio, and the great community you've gifted us all with.  

We love having Elizabeth as part of our community!

Have a great week,

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