IYCWM Student Spotlight – November 2021

By Published On: November 4th, 2021

One of the many gifts of being an Iyengar teacher is that you are fortunate to build meaningful relationships with students. One in which you can share the vastness of this beautiful practice and how it can help us support one another as we strive to be the best we can be. Andrea is one such student that brings an inner strength, honesty and deep commitment to the mat each day. Her thoughtfulness and willingness to face challenges as well as her openness in sharing the ups and downs inspires everyone lucky enough to be around her. Enjoy meeting one of IYCWM’s bright lights!

Tell us a bit about yourself… Hello! I am grateful to call the ‘Happy Valley’ my home.  My family moved to Florence about 7 years ago. I am originally from the area, but spent a brief period of time living in California. I work as a school adjustment counselor at Northampton High School.  I love the part of my job where I get to connect with adolescents and I struggle with the part of my job that is filled with meetings and paperwork.

A little known fact about me… My husband Rob and I eloped in Las Vegas about 22 years ago.  We incorporated a quick trip to city hall in the middle of a weekend climbing trip to Red Rocks.  Instead of wedding rings, we both have the same tattoo on our left forearm.

What led you to Iyengar yoga?  To IYCWM? My yoga journey feels like  a long and winding road- I’ve tried so many styles of yoga. However, other styles always left me wanting something more.  It wasn’t until I began attending Iyengar yoga classes, with the attention to alignment, philosophy, and high caliber of teaching that I found my “home”. It goes without saying that Susan Elena’s teaching and dedication to her students is truly a gift. I am also a bit of a frugal homebody, so the fact that IYCWM is a 5 minute bike ride away is a bonus.

    How long have you been practicing yoga? 21 years! I canʼt believe it myself sometimes! I remember my first “yoga” class at a womenʼs gym in the high desert of Southern California- the teacher actually taped posters of “sex symbols” like Magnum PI and James Bond on the ceiling so we wouldnʼt be bored when we were supine! I am only slightly embarrassed to be admitting this here. Around the same time, I received a book about yoga from a friend and began practicing on my own.  I found a tiny Kripalu yoga studio and began the path…

What keeps you on the mat? Practice is a privilege to me, something I am grateful for. It soothes me and helps keep my mind and body balanced. I learn things about myself. And, as I age, I can’t see how I would live without its immediate and long lasting benefits.

What keeps you off the mat? All the distractions.  I suppose feeling tired and “busy” are the biggest culprits.

What poses do you love? Restorative poses are my favorite. I am also always trying to address tightness in my upper back due to scoliosis.  This might look like Supta Tadasana with cork blocks under my head and thoracic spine, Supta Padangustasana 1 and 2, Supta Virasana, Gomukhasana, Sirsasana, a variation of Marichyasana 3, and supported Setu Bandhasana. Ask me tomorrow, I may have an entirely different answer.

What poses do you find challenging? Each and every active pose when Susan Elena is teaching it- and I mean this in the best of ways. In my own practice- Virabhadrasana 3 and Urdhva Danurasana are at the top of the list.

What do you like to do when you are not doing yoga? Spending time with family and friends, dog walks, reading, movie night with my family, and occasional visits to the rock climbing gym or climbing outdoors.

How has practicing yoga impacted your life? I truly believe Iyengar yoga has improved my physical strength and well being in a way that directly contributes to my emotional well being. I look at aging differently. I love thinking about how finding alignment in the body directly contributes to living a fully aligned life.  While I feel indebted to women writers (Holly Whitaker, Laura McKowen, and Annie Grace to name a few)  who preceded me in my path to sobriety, I know that the discipline acquired through yoga practice supported the journey.

How does yoga show up in your everyday life? The sutras add to my understanding of this world and my role in it. The asanas show me where my gunas are on a given day/ practice.  While I am not quite into daily meditation and pranayama practice, I feel hopeful in watching it slowly develop over time and seeing how it helps me slow down.

We euthanized our elderly dog Truman just two days ago.  I emailed Susan Elena as it was a class day for me.  She encouraged me to do what I needed to do.  I considered taking the day off, and then reconsidered.  She has seen me through so many events in my life and every time I have felt held and supported.  While in class, in a supported backbend, she encouraged me to move to child’s pose as the back bend might be too intense.  And, she was right.  I felt the expansiveness in a way that was too much for my grief.  So I changed poses and then immediately noticed the shift in emotions, in my mind/ body.  This continued throughout class.  By the end of the class I was feeling lighter, my body/ mind had shifted and worked with the grief.  I felt comfortable telling my cohort (my yoga folk- we’ve been a cohort for years now) what happened, and I knew they would also hold and support me.  This to me, is one example.  I was able to extend the gifts of her teaching into my practice the next day and continued to witness the benefits of the practice.

How has the pandemic changed your daily life?  Does your yoga practice help you in any way? I am a quiet introvert at heart, the pandemic increased that tendency. It also made me a bit more grateful for human connection. I suppose I feel that my yoga practice helped in ways I described in the above two questions.

What has it been like to become part of a virtual yoga community where you do not know some of the other students? The virtual yoga community aids me in understanding how important yoga practice is for everyone- may everyone maintain a practice that benefits their life and well being in the way this practice does for me.

How does this yoga community contribute to your practice? We are not all the same, and yet we are all committed to this work.  I feel gratitude for the acceptance, challenges, and inspiration through other’s curiosity and introspection.

How has the switch to online classes during the pandemic affected your sense of community? How does it help stay connected? How does it fall short?  Made it larger?  Feel gratitude that we are able to remain in contact and connected though we cannot physically be together?  And, there is nothing like hearing a group chant “Aum” together, or physically assist one another, or communally honor the divine within each of us.

What do you think about the future of hybrid yoga classes – some people in person some online? The nature of our world is to change.  I never would have guessed this change, but here it is! I will gladly share a “Namaste” through the screen or together!


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