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May 12, 2006

Margi Young 4

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 discussed yoga and exercise. In Part Three, we chatted about living the yoga life. Today, we talk about yoga and the arts.


2B: I'd like to ask you to compare the various roles you've played. What was dancing for you? Physical bliss? Fun-fun-fun?
MY: I think it was fulfilling a dream.

2B: You had ballerina dreams?
MY: A lot of little girls do. Something about the physicality and the openness of their bodies and being able to be on tippy-toes ... And I loved the music. I always liked people who were interested in dance, so I loved my dance friends. The people for the most part are good. You spend a lot of time kvetching about the choreographer, and how rough your life is. (laughs) So you bond over that.

2B: How about the artistic and expressive things?
MY: I just always thought it was really superduper fun.

2B: What's it like being a dancer by comparison to being a choreographer?
MY: When you're a dancer -- well, dancers are like the paints. And the choreographer is like the painter.

2B: What's the experience like of being the paint?
MY: In the beginning, for many years it was just great to be told what to do. I had so much respect for the people I worked for. And the more physical the dance is the more exciting the experience is. But I got to the point where I didn't want anybody to tell me what to do anymore. I felt my ideas were far better than anyone else's ideas.

2B: "I want to be in charge!"
MY: Exactly. That's when I decided I wanted to be a choreographer, because I wanted to put out my own ideas. It's a really different ballgame.

2B: A lot of actors like lending themselves to a project, and almost blinding themselves to everything else happening around them. Was that part of your enjoyment?
MY: I did enjoy it. It's almost the same thing as when I go to a yoga class. When the teacher says, "Do you have any requests?", I never have any requests. I'm more like, "Tell me what to do." There's something so relaxing about that. As far as being a dancer, you're told when to be where. It's relaxing, it's easy.

2B: Someone else is taking care of all the grownup stuff.
MY: Yeah. It was fun until it wasn't fun.

2B: When you started making dances did you miss the dancing?
MY: No, I sort of lost my desire to dance. Though not to perform! There was so much satisfaction watching your work onstage -- just to see what I'd slaved over, putting it up with lights and costumes and props.

2B: Is the pleasure and creativity of being a choreographer physical or mental?
MY: For me it was mental. I was interested in telling stories, not in abstract patterning. I didn't want people to think, "Modern dance, that's really weird." I wanted to give them something to talk about. So it was very mental for me. I would lie in bed trying to figure problems out. Also choreography can be like a little competition in cleverness. I finally got a little tired of that. I was trying to get more cutting-edge, more strange ... I just got so tired of it. In yoga I'm doing something that's 5000 years old, and I don't have to be "creative." I trust my creativity in my own way, but I don't need to rack my brains about how to be new and different.

2B: How does being a yoga student compare to being a dancer?They're both physical, they both have a lot of movement, they both have some aesthetic qualities.
MY: Yoga and dance are so different for me. Yoga is so much about spirituality, and about joining your mind and your body. When I take a yoga class, usually afterwards I don't even know what happened. It's practicing being present. When I leave, it's over, it's totally over. I feel open in my body and my mind, and I'm not sure exactly how it happened.

2B: A lot of civilians seem to get surprised by yoga. They think, "Wow, I didn't know I was looking for this, but here it is." Does yoga surprise dancers in a similar way?
MY: I think dancers tire of dance. I know for myself I got so much happier when I was doing yoga. It's not about presentation. It's about evening out your mind and evening out your personality.

2B: Is the absence of "performing" important?
MY: My yoga teacher once said, "Give up the habit of performing."

2B: How did that hit you?
MY: It knocked me over the head when he said that! But I do love performing. If dance were only about performing, I might still be a dancer. But it's also getting to the studio, rehearsing it one more time ...

2B: So, in a word, dance vs. yoga --
MY: In every dance studio there's a mirror. Dance is very external, while yoga is internal. When I first started thinking about yoga I was doing a lot of dancing. I was very out there and extended. And I would practice yoga and I'd feel with myself and with my breath, and not extended.

2B: Why are so many yoga teachers former dancers?
MY: It's a natural evolution. It�s not only the physical thing. Dancers get exhausted, and they get sick of projecting themselves out there all the time, and getting shot down.

2B: What kinds of dancers go into yoga and what kinds go into Pilates?
MY: It's probably what you're interested in and connect with. For me, Pilates is interesting but not nearly as deep as yoga. Yoga has pranayama, meditation, all those aspects. Pilates ... How long could you be a Pilates teacher? I don't know. But I know people who are really into it. Someone was telling me today about some Pilates teachers who have made it into a total art.

2B: I'm always struck by the way you shape a class. I feel like I'm sensing a choreographer at work, yet it has to be very different than putting shows on.
MY: It's very different, because you're dealing with people and their own experiences. You're not trying to get people to do your experience. Oftentimes there's a thing where yoga students feel like they've fallen in love with their yoga teacher. My whole thing is I'mteaching you how to love yourself. I'm teaching you to figure out howto be strong and aligned. It can seem like you love me, but it's really just a little confusion.

2B: At the same time, you're the conductor in dance and the conductor in yoga class.
MY: It's still very different. As a choreographer, you're moving people to create your vision. In yoga, I couldn't care less how anyone looks in their poses. I want their alignment to be clear so the nadis and channels are open so of enlightenment happens to come it will stay! (laughs) But it's really about giving people a way to explore their own selves. I never know who's going to walk in the door. So it's often about dealing with personalities and people who might have an aversion to me or who might be skittish. A lot is about dealing
with personalities.

2B: That's not true in dealing with dancers?
MY: It's not a very personal relationship you have with your dancers.

2B: Is the appeal of teaching the same as choreographing? And vice versa?
MY: It's similar. Being the director of the situation. Being a dance teacher, I felt like I was I was helping people get clean technique. You're trying to get people to take direction, to learn how to work with qualities, to know how to be clear and open. Versus when you choreograph, when you get to take those hopefully clear and open people and meld them into whatever weirdness or funness you can imagine.

2B: How about aesthetics? There are some spiritual qualities in art, and some aesthetic qualities in yoga. Are they just weighted differently in the two different fields?
MY: For me, dance was always about trying to create something different. And yoga is about doing the same thing over and over and over again. There's nothing innovative about yoga except that it changes every day.

2B: Is that a bore?
MY: It just is. (laughs)

2B: What kinds of satisfactions do you get from teaching yoga?
MY: I love watching a class in shavasana [ie., "corpse pose," aka "lying flat on your back and relaxing at the end of class"] and seeing people get so quiet. I know that people have a million problems in their lives and that they feel frenetic. So it's great to watch the magic of yoga grab hold. Even as they walk into class at the beginning you can see it happening. They've already begun a journey into quietness. To be the conduit for people to be moving from their mental hamster-wheel to a more quiet place is wonderful.

2B: What do beginners come to yoga expecting?
MY: All different things. Some come looking for weight loss. Did you think you'd lose weight?

2B: I probably did. Now I'm so mellow from yoga that I don't care what I weigh.
MY: And maybe flexibility. That's probably expectation #1.

2B: Are they looking for an exercise system?
MY: Yes. I think there's also an underlying curiosity about something else, but they don't want to admit it. Hmmm. What I just said, that's the buzz. The buzz is that people come to yoga to get thin and flexible and strong, and then they stay for spiritual reasons. But I don't know if that's totally true for my students. I think a lot of them come for stress relief. Which is funny. Yoga itself is potentially stressful. Staying in Warrior II as long as I make them do it is, anyway. But people come for that. And then the spiritual thing evolves.

2B: Why do so many more women than men study yoga?
MY: Well, I compare it to dance. And there are many more men doing yoga than dance.

2B: It was funny the handful of times I went with The Wife to Pilates. There were even more women vs. men than in yoga.
MY: So where are the men? At the gym?

2B: I guess. I do run into more men at Bikram yoga. Maybe because it's sweaty and dumbass and there's nothing spiritual about it.
MY: Did you like it?

2B: I loved it. How have you reacted to Bikram?
MY: I didn't like it. It seemed strange to be in a room that hot to me. It smelled bad and people were grunting and the teachers ... One thing I like about Om is that we're encouraged to make a human connection. We don't go in with a plan, or if we do we still take our cue from what we see. In Bikram there's a script. They're not connecting with people at all. And the sequence doesn't feel good to my body.

2B: I took The Wife to Bikram a couple of times. She said, "This isn't yoga, this is a strange calesthenics class in a sauna."
MY: She nailed it! But I do like sweating.

2B: But why so many more women than men?
MY: Is it not macho? Is it too feminine?

2B: But what's feminine about it?
MY: I don't know.

2B: Maybe guys don't like classes.
MY: That's true.

2B: Does the spiritual side make it look girly? Certainly if you look at the magazine Yoga Journal, it's very girly. I recently wrote a letter to the editor about it. I told her that her magazine is so pastel and color-coordinated that it looks like an ad for feminine hygiene products.
MY: You're so right. Pink and yellow. It used to be a better magazine. It bothers me that the pictures of asanas all look so perfect. Because yoga isn't about perfect. It's about putting in the effort. If I was in charge of Yoga Journal every picture would be blank, because it's not about how you look, it's about what's going on for you and how you feel. You can't capture that in a photograph.

2B: You're really good at getting people to experience whatever it is they experience. Maybe that's also hard for guys. We don't experience things internally. Maybe it freaks boys out.
MY: Maybe it does. And maybe more men do Ashtanga, where it's more physical, and they don't make you turn around and look at yourself, especially at the beginning.

2B: Language is another thing I wanted to get into. You pull images out of the air that are amazingly apt --
MY: Thank you!

2B: For a lot of people, the verbal part of the mind isn't the same as the physical part, and a lot of people have trouble narrating what they're doing as they do it. You keep the words coming. Is that hard?
MY: It's easy.

2B: Was that true in choreographing too?
MY: When I was choreographing I felt stuck all the time. Verbally and physically. I was always between a rock and a hard place. I wouldn't know what to do or what to say. But I always liked to teach. It's fun for me to direct people. There's so much fear of failure as a dancer or a choreographer. But with yoga, if ten people walk out of the room and they hate me, that's ok, they can hate me and go somewhere else. Besides, something happened.

2B: What do yoga beginners tend to wrestle with at first?
MY: People are so different. Some people, like you, sink into it easily, and you connect with your body. Other people, maybe super-intellectual people, just don't connect with their bodies. It's mysterious to some people.

2B: It's odd that people like that would come at all.
MY: It is, but maybe they just know that they have to get out of their head somehow. But most people can connect pretty well with their bodies. I think it might be a New York thing. We walk all the time, and we're always dealing with getting places. And Om may have a reputation for being pretty physical. I rarely get frail old people or people who are in really bad shape. It's amazing to me how many people come in and do a good job in their first Basics level yoga class. But there is a lack of awareness most people have when they start. People don't know where their ribs are, or people have never thought about their breath before. It can be amazing to see people experience their breath for the first time.

2B: It's sweet to see people learn how to take a yoga class.
MY: There's a lot of etiquette!

2B: Can you get to a point as an advanced yoga person where there isn't much more to learn?
MY: I don't know. I haven't gotten to that point. I got to the point with modern dance where I didn't need to go to teachers any more. I could do my thing. But as it stands right now in yoga, I still have a lot to learn.

2B: For example ...
MY: It's interesting to let your mind move into yourself, for me, and to let all of the chitter-chatter go away. Or at least to notice it. That's what's most interesting. But I'm not quite sure what happens to me when I practice yoga. I remember I used to go see an improv comedy show every Sunday night. I'd leave it and I wouldn't remember any ofit, but I loved it. I was so enthralled -- yet I couldn't remember any of it. There's something about being so present, so with-every-moment, and then the next moment it's gone. That's what really affects me. I never know quite what affects me or how. But it's interesting on that level.

2B: Isn't dancing about being present?
MY: It is about being present. But it's such a different mindframe.

2B: What's the difference?
MY: Dance is about performing, and yoga is not about performing.

2B: In one of the first classes I took from you, you gave us a little talk. Some of the people in the class were trying to make their poses very beautiful and graceful, and you eased us out of that. You told us that yoga isn't about self-expression, and that we could look at class as an hour and a half without the obligation to be self-expressive. What a lovely thing to hear. America often seems to be urging us to express ourselves, express ourselves, and what if you need a break from that?
MY: It's interesting that it's hard to turn off. But it's also a relief. Sometimes in shavasana they tell you to relax so much that you no longer have an identity. And that's interesting, to give up your identity. To see what that feels like -- not to be you in the world, but just to be in the world.

2B: What is it about yoga that makes many people feel more tranquil and happy? Or what has it been for you:?
MY: I don't know exactly, but some of it might be just getting space from the rest of life. Now most of my life is yoga-related. But back when I started, life was like this, and yoga was like, "Time to unplug from my various activities." And it feels so good. The endorphins get kicked up in your body.

2B: It's not just meditating, but it's not just going to the gym either.
MY: Interesting, no?


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.

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


Maybe I'm missing the boat here--but I must say honestly that I get the same sense of peace and tranquillity from doing my simple stretching exercises, which I don't have to pay anyone to demonstrate for me! I'm very flexible MINUS religion, philosophy and all the rest of it (and my 2 best friends are dancers). ANY exercise, including a long walk, will make you feel that way.
Yoga is a bona fide New Age cult in America and that's what I dislike about it. It's a celebrity status symbol, like what Madonna has tried to make Kabbalah into.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on May 13, 2006 7:32 PM

Well, er, as a real live raised-as-a-Hindu-by-Indian-parents person, let me say that yoga isn't necessarily the center of most the lives of Hindus I know. It's an excercise and it's a discipline that started in a culture and as such, is a part of that culture, religion and all. The New Agey-ness is an American marketing phenomenon: don't let that deter you from the benefits of yoga. You can find all kinds of teachers and classes and not all of them are of the annoying hippie type. I used to go to the Yoga Circle in Chicago and I found that very straightforward and more about the poses and practice than anything too New Agey, as it were. My teacher was Christian as it turns out - I suppose it's the same as a Christian reading about another religion just to know about it and to be educated. Anyway, I found that my legs loosened up a lot with yoga which is great when you have MS (as I do). I also liked the focus on breathing and balance. And the quietness. Gyms are so loud, everything is so loud here in Boston, the street noises, the voices, the honking (coupled with the bad driving) that I just crave silence. No ipod strapped to my head, thank you very much.

Not currently doing a yoga class, I have a personal trainer I go to in this place which only trains people privately. It's quiet and personalized (duh), which I love. But, I'll probably start up my practice again, at home. Oh, and it's raining now and so quiet here just before all the traffic starts up for the day. If I were to just listen to the rain, and breathe quietly, and focus on my breathing, and just be, well, that would be yoga, too. Like I said, don't let the flashy Western marketing and faux-spirituality of the hippie-lite fool you. It's just a practice.

Posted by: MD on May 14, 2006 7:48 AM

Oh, I was responding to Winifer Skattebol, not implying anything negative about Margi - I've enjoyed the interviews and think it would be wonderful to attend a class by her! Yeah Margi. I just totally get the negative feel some classes give off - it can be a bit earnest and make-believe if you get the wrong teacher.

Oh, and a question for her. Do you know of any poses that are particularly good if you are having issues with balance and energy level? Thanks.

Posted by: MD on May 14, 2006 7:57 AM

An interesting interview. I did Yoga for a year, liked it, but stopped for unrelated reasons. Reading this made me want to start doing Yoga again.

Posted by: Paul Worthington on May 14, 2006 10:40 AM

Thanks, Michael and Margi. I've really enjoyed this whole interview. It's got me thinking about yoga again and curious to see what's available in my area.

Posted by: claire on May 14, 2006 4:40 PM

Thanks again for another wonderful interview about yoga. And thank God for yoga teachers like Margi! When I first started yoga it was in an intensely competitive class -- and I just got discouraged. But reading Margi makes me realize that it isn't about perfect poses, but about getting to know and love the limits of your own body.

Posted by: heather on May 15, 2006 6:41 AM

You got it Heather. A great teacher that I studied with, Richard Freeman, addresses his students as those "blessed with tightness" or "cursed with flexibility." People without physical limitations feel less and therefore have less to wrap their minds around; and the purpose of yoga is to experience our lives through our physical experience.
My #1 most frustrated student is a woman with so much openness that she feels numb.
The times when I have an injury or feel extra stiff is when i can most deeply connect to myself, take care of myself and connect to yoga.

Posted by: margi on May 16, 2006 1:03 AM

I enjoyed the interview quite a bit - I'd taken a Kripalu yoga class almost 10 years ago from a wonderful teacher and a few months ago started going to a class - only this time I'm living in Japan. My comprehension isn't great and that's part of the challenge - what I find so interesting is the way that my body knows what it should do next, even if I don't necessarily understand my sensei's instructions. I'm so happy to have started again - I'd forgotten how yoga changes my physical actions in subtle but enjoyable ways - I feel like my movements (walking, bending, etc.) are less jerky and more fluid. It's a beautiful feeling.

Posted by: Sarah on May 22, 2006 6:51 AM

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