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May 12, 2006

Margi Young 3

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A few days ago I introduced Margi Young, a wonderful yoga teacher who, before turning to yoga, was a dancer and a choreographer. In Part One of my interview with Margi, we talked about how Margi found her way from dance to choreography to yoga. In Part Two, we talked about yoga and exercise. Today, we talk about living the yoga life.


2B: You're flexible, you're in touch with your body, and you're strong. Most of us aren't in that kind of state when we come to yoga. Yet you seem to know exactly what's going on inside another person's body, even one that isn't remotely like your own. How do you do that?
MY: Past lives? I don't know.

2B: Do you recognize it as a strength?
MY: I do recognize it's a strength, and I can sense that I'm intuitive like that. But I don't know how I do it. I just feel like ... I don't know. I see it. I see people. I understand that they're trying, and that there's a limitation there. And I have a tool bag of ideas to help people.

2B: Were you super-empathetic as a dancer and choreographer too?
MY: It's a different mind-frame. If you aren't good at dance class, then you really are a loser. But I do feel good at knowing what yoga students are experiencing. My boyfriend, for example, is very physical and very good in his body. But he can't imagine that someone else wouldn't be. He can't imagine that you couldn't fold forward and touch the ground like he can.

2B: I'm struck by the way your classes have a theme and they take on a shape. But it doesn't feel like you come into it with a script.
MY: I think it may come from my dance training. I can very easily put together a basic yoga-class sequence. Once in a while I might plan something. But mostly I see who's there, and I take in the vibe of the room, and stuff comes out of my mouth when I open it.

2B: You're very verbal, and many dancers aren't.
MY: To be a good yoga teacher you have to be verbal. It's not about showing, it's about guiding. It's about language.

2B: There's a lot of cuing.
MY: A lot. One of the exercises you do in teacher training is write down the alphabet and write down verbs. A, ascend. B, blossom. And then use those words in teaching a Sun Salutation. It's very much about developing language. We would bore ourselves to tears if we didn't come up with fresh language to describe things. A teacher trainee watching my class asked me, "Do you get sick of saying, 'Deepen your breath, roll to your right side'..."But there are different ways to express it.

2B: Yoga language is a hoot too. "Invite yourself to..." It's kind of corny, but you kind of understand why it's being used too.
MY: That language "invite" and such really come from Cyndi Lee [the woman behind Om Yoga, where Margi teaches]. It might have something to do with her Buddhist training.

2B: Who else have you taken from? What other styles have you tried?
MY: Ive tried everything.

2B: Iyengar?
MY: I study a lot of Iyengar yoga. I go to the Iyengar Center once a week and study with a teacher named Kevin Gardiner who's a genius. These days, in most classes, I can easily grasp the ideas that the teacher is expressing. But the way Kevin describes the body and the mind is mysterious to me, and that is the yoga. That is what draws me in. "The laminal layers of your lungs connect to --" I'm baffled the whole time, but I love it. And I also go once a week to a teacher I've been going to for eight years named Genny Kapular. I completely adore her. She teaches out of her loft in SoHo. And when I think I'm just a yoga teacher, it's so banal and stupid, I go to her class and she takes teaching yoga to an art form. She's so poetic and so intelligent about the body, and she ties it into all kinds of things. I'm incredibly thankful for my teachers, and Iím very inspired by them.

2B: What do people get out of Iyengar? People really flip for it.
MY: People really flip for all styles -- for Ashtanga, for Bikram. I think Iyengar ... Well, first the teachers are all trained up the wazoo. You can't go wrong if you go to the Iyengar Institute. Teachers have trained for at least two years, and many have been to India to study with Mr. Iyengar. All the teachers are excellent.

2B: A friend who is an Iyengar devotee says that when you do Iyengar, all other yoga looks sloppy.
MY: That's true. I think my students at Om are not-sloppy. But compared to Iyengar it's true, we're a little sloppy. Om takes the Iyengar alignment into Vinyasa yoga.

2B: What was Ashtanga [AKA "Power Yoga"] like for you?
MY: It was so hard. There were so many Chaturangas. So many jumping-throughs. It was really tough. And the sequence is the same. I took it once from Pattabhi Jois in the Puck Building. As far as I could see, the theory is "Do it." Do your Chaturanga, do your Up Dog, and you'll do it wrong, and then one day you'll magically do it right. So it's a very different approach. You do it, you struggle through it, and one day you might get it, if you don't wind up in the hospital.

2B: How about Anusara?
MY: I studied with John Friend, who is Mr. Anusara. I love the way the practice feels. It feels really good, all the spirals, the sequencing of the class, and the way the poses are designed. But I don't like the language. Most of the Anusara people use John Friend's words. Swan-diving over is "Bow to Yourself." "Open your heart." It's a little flowery and repetitive for my taste. But John Friend is a charismatic man. He also has a way of bringing people into interesting poses better than anyone else I've ever met. But it's a little too happy for me. There's lots of hugging.

2B: How hardcore a yoga person are you generally?
MY: I practice the postures, meditation, and pranayama [breathing exercises]. I read about it and take classes. The overrriding ethical principles -- ike not hoarding and not stealing -- chime in my mind.

2B: The yamas and the niyamas.
MY: Right. Definitely challenging for me, like not to take a pen from the front desk. But now I notice when I do it! So those kinds of principles have seeped into my life. I'm too much of a foodie to not eat meat. But I have enormous respect for vegetarians.

2B: And the thought counts for a lot!
MY: When I cook for myself I don't eat meat. But my boyfriend, he's achef and he's into food.

2B: Chefs sneer at people who don't eat meat.
MY: Right!

2B: Have you gone through phases of deep involvement with traditional yoga and not-deep involvement with traditional yoga?
MY: I spend a lot of time at Om. And Cyndi Lee, she enjoys life. She drinks and she eats meat. She's a New Yorker teaching yoga, and leading a yogic lifestyle within the parameters of that. But I don't think it resembles a traditional yoga lifestyle.

2B: Is the distinction between traditional and American yoga much discussed by yoga people?
MY: There's a lot of discussion about it. Maybe a little less now that it's getting more settled. I love Iyengar yoga, and I study it the way Iyengar teaches it in India. But it's maybe not traditional. In traditional yoga they used to put dental floss up their nose and pull it out their butt. It was a big ritual.

2B: Are you tempted by astrology, ayurveda, all those things?
MY: I'm interested in some of the treatments. Massages with four hands ... That thing where they run hot oil over your third eye ... I actually got the hot-oil treatment once. I was on a yoga retreat on Turks and Caicos. I started getting this treatment. I was in a room, and there was construction happening right beside me. And I live with so much constuction in New York --there's always something being worked on on my block. It was like bang, bang, bang, and this oil was being poured over my head. And I said, "You gotta stop!" So that was the end of that treatment. But I imagine in the right setting it would be wonderful. The third eye is such a sensitive, spiritual place.

2B: Do you read yoga philosopy?
MY: Yes.

2B: Does the intellectual/philosophical side of yoga mean anything to you?
MY: It means something to me because a lot of my life is about yoga. And then there's the whole meditation aspect of it.

2B: Are you a regular meditator?
MY: I take a meditation class on Thursdays. I've been taking it every week for a year. The assignment is to meditate every day for ten minutes. And I find it challenging.

2B: That's hard to believe.
MY: I have discipline problems.

2B: But you're a yoga teacher. You've been a dancer.
MY: I love to be around people. When I'm with them I can do yoga or meditate. But when I'm by myself I want to read, or check my email, or sleep, or watch TV.

2B: Solitude can be hard.
MY: I love a certain amount of solitude. But I prefer to practice with a sangha.

2B: Iíve gotten a lot out of meditating, but it can feel awfully disembodied. Yoga somehow connects you with your body and releases you from your body at the same time.
MY: Yeah!

2B: I do a Basics class with you, and afterwards I'm thinking, "Wow, I never hit this kind of state with meditation, despite years of effort."
MY: As you do more yoga, your body opens, and it becomes less necessary to do all of the yoga poses. You're moving towards stillness, the ability to sit for long periods of time. For many people, as they get older and they keep practicing yoga, yoga gets to be less about jumping around and more about practicing fewer poses, getting still, meditation and breath. It isn't about getting high. It's about relating to our looney lives with a healthy attitude. The yoga poses can be like distractions from dealing with your mind. They're an easy way to meditate.

2B: Is there something wrong with easy?
MY: I love easy. But it's, you know, different. I remember eleven years ago or even five years ago, not being able to sit with any comfort. I find more and more I can sit meditation-style for half an hour, 45 minutes. But it took my yoga practice to get the strength in my back and the openness in my hips.


Many thanks once again to Margi Young. Margi teaches at New York City's Om Yoga center: Om Yoga's website is here. Margi's own website is here.

Come back tomorrow for Part Four. I'll be asking Margi about yoga and the arts. And please feel free to ask questions in the Comments sections on these postings. Margi has promised to drop by and join in. When else will you get the chance to ask a top-flight yoga teacher whatever you care to ask?



posted by Michael at May 12, 2006


I am one of these people that would probably get nothing from Yoga. I am not knocking it, but trying to be honest about myself.

I have been going to Therapy (Psychological, not Physical) for years because of my anxiety. And I have gotten nowhere. Again, I am not knocking Therapy, millions use it everyday.

So, my question for Margi is: For the people who drop out or for the people who never get past the "new-agey" feel or the "I-Feel-Stupid-Doing-This" phase, what would you recommend for them?

Also, have you ever heard of any connection between Yoga and Somatic/Body-Oriented therapies?

Usually these therapies are used for treating Trauma.

This new Body-Oriented therapy has been gaining steam, and credibility, lately and for anyone unfamiliar, here are a few popular books on the issue: Waking the Tiger, The Body Remembers and The Body Bears the Burden.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on May 12, 2006 12:58 PM

Hi Ian-
I can't understand how one can jump to "i will get nothing out of it" without diving into it first. One yogic lesson is to open doors and be curious.

Also, it is unfair to draw conclusions without first the experience. Anything new-agey really gives me the creeps too. Michael...correct me if i am wrong, but the yoga i teach is not touchy feely or new agey. Sure, there is the occasional quiet music, or a wish for all beings to experience equanimity, but shy of that I wouldn't put it into the category of "new agey." I moved away from California for a reason.

"I feel stupid" is another story. You may feel stupid. But why? I hope this doesn't sound new-agey, but what a blessing to have breath and a body to connect to. If others are judging you, (they won't because their focus will be on their experience, and wondering if you are judging them) it is that person who is at that moment BAD AT YOGA!!!

If you feel stupid in yoga, you probably feel stupid in other parts of your life and that isn't helpful to you or anyone. So your whole yoga practice would be to catch yourself feeling stupid and LET IT GO. and then a minute later if it comes back to you take a HUGE breath and let it go. And it will come back, and you will...... Yoga is about mastering your mind so that your life can be fulfilling and productive and you can therefore turn around and help others.

Especially restorative yoga and breath work has done wonders for people who suffer from anxiety.

If you so desire, I would be happy to connect you with a student who has an anxiety disorder under control by yoga.

Also, a good friend and yogi, Karen Ginzberg does Gestalt therapy which is very body oriented.

Posted by: margi on May 12, 2006 11:23 PM

FWIW, yoga has done wonders for my mood. I'm normally pretty cheery, but yoga has introduced a lot of new ease into my system. I'm much more patient, more easygoing, and more indulgent. Which is also to say: less curt, less prone to snap, less likely to feel cross. Where with exercise-exercise, I used to pound (or exhaust) a certain amount of anxiety and impatience out of my system, yoga has been more a matter of learning how to let it go. Interesting that there are a lot of very effective techniques for doing this!

If I can be allowed to probably overthink this: I think that part of what makes yoga so effective (at least if you're someone who takes to it) is that it's so immediate. It's about you and how you relate to your physical system -- hard to get more immediate than that. You learn a great combo of being-firm crossed with letting-go -- relaxation within effort (I'm probably stealing all my terminology here from Margi, btw). And because you experience it on such an immediate level (just you and your body), you can find yourself carrying what you've learned out into the way you relate to the many layers around you (you and how you treat your schedule, your work, your friends, your projects, your family, your ambitions, your apartment, etc). I find myself much less prone to try to force outcomes, and much more prone to showering a situation with warmth and attention, and then seeing how things go. I find it a lovely way to get by.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 13, 2006 11:22 AM


Paul Grilley teaches a form of yoga called "Yin Yoga" (to distinguish it from the more athletic "yang" yogas like Bikram, Ashtanga, Iyengar), one of whose purposes is to transform the body precisely so as to be able to sit in meditative postures for extended times, something Grilley claims that yang yoga styles are not particularly good at. Are you familiar with Yin Yoga, and if you are, do you find Grilley's claims convincing? I ask because my primary interest is not in mastering Bikram's sequence or the various series of Ashtanga, but in being able to sit in, say, siddhasana or padmasana and really be able to enter pratyahara without various bodily discomforts dragging me back to my day-to-day achey-and-painy reality. And there's a Yin Yoga class available in my home town.

I ask because you mentioned in the interview that your "yang" practice (I'm guessing that does truly characterize at least some of Om Yoga) has enabled you to adopt and hold the classic meditative postures.

Posted by: PatrickH on May 13, 2006 6:30 PM

I think Yin Yoga could help you. My understanding is that is about stretching fascia, connective tissue and ligaments, which would help your seated posture. Paul Grilley has done some fascinating work in the anatomy department and I would say he quite knows his stuff. Again, I would encourage you to give it a try and see how it 'sits' with you.
If discomfort in your seat is the only thing that takes you out of a state of pratyahara when you meditate, i would suggest sitting in a chair.

Posted by: margi on May 13, 2006 10:08 PM

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