In Tasha’s words…
I grew up in a spiritual family. My father began his yoga study in the early 1980s with Colleen Swantner in Port Townsend, WA. After seeing her perform an Ashtanga yoga demonstration at the Hasse & Company Sail loft, he knew if he could do a fraction of what she was doing it would change his life. I think that was a turning point for him. He went on to pursue a yoga teacher training in the Ashtanga system with Baba Hari Daas. Colleen was given the “nod” by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. In the earlier years of his teaching, the “nod” was the sign of teacher certification. I suppose it was natural for me to become interested in yoga. I continually study with Colleen who still teaches in Port Townsend.
I learned Ashtanga yoga from Colleen and Dad. Ashtanga tends to be rather rigid, but because Colleen taught in a small community with students of all ages and levels, she had to adapt and modify the practice for all kinds of bodies. She welcomes props and mixing up the sequence to benefit the needs of her students. Her approach feels soft, yet still firm. She loves the small community and intimate class sizes found in Port Townsend compared to the larger student followings of some of her peers.
I do love the Ashtanga system, but I’m also interested in sustainability. The strict Ashtanga sequence isn’t appropriate for everybody. So how do we modify? How do we make it applicable to older people, to younger bodies, to anybody who comes to it? Because of Colleen, I learned early on that props are good. She taught me that, Ahimsa or kindness comes first. You don’t need to spend all day trying to get into the pose. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, it’s got to feel good. It’s not worth it if you’re going to bust your knee getting into a pose. After all, our yoga practice is just a metaphor for how we walk around in the world.
As a child, I practiced quite a bit, but as a teenager I lost interest. Then, in my 20s I returned to the mat while living in New York. I think it was an instinctual need to find a quiet space amidst the chaos of an urban environment.
There was a hot yoga studio near my house; it was there I learned the Bikram sequence in a room heated to the upper 90s. Soon thereafter I started to want the internal heat and familiarity of Ashtanga Vinyasa. I think hot yoga is great, and I think the yoga “boom” is great; it gets a lot of people to the mat. Yoga ultimately helps you though your day; I love it.
That same studio had some Vinyasa classes and an Ashtanga teacher there who was a student of Chuck Miller and Maty Ezraty’s. Their approach is Iyengar based Ashtanga. I was really blessed to meet Mary-Beth Garutti because she brought a feminine approach to the more masculine based Ashtanga system.
I completed my undergraduate degree in photography at Parsons, which is a part of the New School University. Shortly after I graduated in 2007, I was attracted to a teacher training program that was held at the studio where I was practicing at the time. My family was very supportive, which enabled me to follow my intuition. From there, I started teaching in New York.
I had never really thought of myself as a teacher. I’m an introvert, so it’s kind of foreign for me to put myself out there, but somehow with practice it gets easier. It’s the same when I first started chanting in Sanskrit. I’m not a vocalist, so at first it was intimidating. But, I think that chanting is healing and powerful, and I have learned that it doesn’t really matter what you sound like, just making sound can move you.
In Ashtanga, there’s a traditional invocation and a traditional closing chant. Lately, I’ve been focused on the closing chant, also known as the Mangala Mantra, because the translation feels so universal and timely. (Some chants are a bit more esoteric.) This is an English translation from Sanskrit:
May all be well with mankind
May the leaders of the earth protect in every way by keeping to the right path
May there be goodness for those who know the earth to be sacred
May all the worlds be happy.
I’m also quite focused on Bandhas, or internal locks. They’re energetic and muscular places in the body that restrict or direct the flow of energy or prana. I believe they are very important because they make your asana practice stronger when linked with the breath, and they support a healthy spine. Bandhas overlap with the chakras along the shushumna, so they relate energetically to the subtle body and the subtle anatomy.
You may have heard of mula bandha, uddiyana bandha, or jalandhara bandha. Some people say it takes about ten years of a daily 90-minute yoga practice to learn to engage mula bandha throughout, but you can practice uddiyana bandha which supports the lower spine, and jalandhara bandha which lengthens the entire spine. Uddyiana bandha is one of the easiest to learn because you can physically see when the navel is drawn in and up. On the topic of Bandhas I should say that I don’t recommend mula bandha and uddyana bandha during pregnancy.
I believe yoga helps people in endless ways. We all come to the mat for different reasons. Now I practice because I believe it makes me a better parent. If I am calm and grounded no matter what else is going on, I can be more aware of my child’s needs. This ability to be aware in the moment is so important with kids, because they are so moment to moment.
Pranayama, for example, is great for its calming abilities. Sometimes, when I am feeling anxious, I can breathe it away. One of my favorite techniques is to visually imagine my anxiety leaving my body with every exhale. And it works. Sometimes it takes a few breaths, but if you get butterflies, you can exhale them out towards the ground.
In my personal practice, I always come back to Ashtanga. I have the primary sequence memorized, so it becomes a moving meditation. I don’t consider myself an Ashtanga teacher, as that would require a fairly rigorous amount of training to be certified. But, I do love how grounding the practice is. It frees up the mind.
My artistic life is also a grounding practice. My mother was an artist, a commercial flower farmer and a jeweler. While my dad inspired my love for yoga, my mom encouraged my creativity. I fell in love with painting before photography, so the two overlap visually in my work. In most of my recent paintings I paint from memory to create a feeling of a place. I like to invoke memories from the photography and abstract the landscape to change the perspective.
As a yoga practitioner and an artist, I can tell you, there are definitely similarities between these disciplines. For one thing, they are both very organic. In yoga, you may have a parameter or an image of a pose, but when you get there it may look totally different. Maybe you mastered yesterday, but today your body says, “no.” The same is true of art. It takes is a lot of self-acceptance, openness and patience.
Even my daughter said, “Mom, there are no mistakes in art.” A five-year-old! I don’t know where she picked that up. But it’s a true statement, and it’s true for yoga, too. There are no mistakes in yoga and there are no mistakes in art. We learn from everything. And it’s beautiful. Both are beautiful, and both are healing too.