Here’s a great interview with Sarah Jane Shangraw about the thriving practice of yoga and how it can help you lead a more creative lifestyle. Enjoy!
Art Life: People everywhere seem to be carrying around yoga mats with them! Why are they turning to yoga?
SJ: Yoga has exploded in popularity in the last decade; an estimated 20 million Americans practice yoga of some sort! I think this is part of the reason: In the States these days, life moves fast. Too fast. Both business and personal communications have increased in amounts and speed, with ever-evolving technological devices and networks competing for our attention and encouraging us to check-out and live virtually. People suffer from isolation, thoughtless acquisitiveness, financial insecurity, you name it. I think more and more people are seeking relief from the deleterious effects of modern living, an antidote to overwork and chronic stress. They are finding it in the contemplative practices of yoga and meditation.
Art Life: What is the importance behind breathing and poses in yoga? What links them together?
SJ: Bring your attention to your breath and you are connecting the mind (the agent of attention) to the body (where the physical phenomena of breathing happens). Put simply, the breath is a vehicle for mind-body connection. Dwelling in this connection through mindful breathing generates a great sense of calm and ease. Practiced often, it is revolutionary! Adding deliberate manipulation of the breath — changing the rate and proportion of our inhales and exhales, as in pranayama (breathwork) — we can reset the nervous system and metabolic rates. Indeed, we can use our breath to change our mind states — from agitated to calm, sluggish to alert, depressed to invigorated. Using lengthened and steadied breath in asana (poses) helps you to pace and control your movements (say, in vinyasa yoga or viniyoga) and create the steadiness of mind to stay put for longer static (held) poses. In fact, when you breath mindfully and deliberately, a whole lot seems possible that wouldn’t otherwise seem so.
Art Life: You provide private classes to students at your studio. What are some of the benefits of private classes over group ones?
SJ: No two people are alike — we don’t all wear size 8 shoe and like broccoli — and we don’t all benefit from the same yoga practice. People who are tight in particular areas of the body will become more facile by doing particular stretches. On the other end of the spectrum, people who are extremely flexible can gain more stability by developing strength. Even with pose modifications, a typical group class accommodates a limited range of people. For a truly transformative practice, you need a sequence customized to you, with your history, injuries, vulnerabilities, capacities, and goals. When people come to see me individually, we do some experimenting and find their yoga. I provide them with a sequence they can practice at home, and for long-term students, I adjust it as their capacities change. Make a tailored yoga practice part of your routine and beware: increased health, well-being, productivity, creativity, and happiness result! I’ve seen people change their bodies, attitudes, and lives through yoga.
Art Life: How can yoga assist someone who has a creative lifestyle and/or is in the field of the arts?
SJ: Yoga is vast and varied and includes all sorts of techniques — including physical poses, pranayama, and meditation. It teaches you how to deal with obstacles such as distraction, boredom, and frustration. (Believe me, these things come up routinely on the mat.) And it cultivates focus, concentration, self-awareness, and discipline. It sets you up to bring your best self to your work and life. Some people use yoga as a way to tap into something larger than themselves, but I think just from living awake we acquire within a rich universe of ideas with which to play. Unfortunately, so much of ourselves remains pushed down, hidden, and covered over by habit, conditioning, and societal expectations. Yoga is a process of uncovering what’s there, and that’s a journey that rewards along the way. Approach your art and your life with open awareness and courageous maturity, and the possibilities are limitless.
SJ: Several years ago, when my father was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, which can be inherited, I got scared. I was working at a desk job for too many hours a week, I didn’t exercise much, and my body was getting stiff and my mind chronically anxious. I had to make some changes, I realized, or my life would remain uncomfortable. And I might not have as many fully conscious years left as I thought! From dabbling, I knew that yoga could help bring me some balance and improve my health, and so I threw myself into it.
For more information visit Yoga with Sarah Jane.
Photographs by Robert Castagna