Author of Power Yoga (Simon & Schuster, 1995) and wellness
director of the New York Road Runners Club, Beryl Bender Birch codirects
The Hard & The Soft Astanga Yoga Institute in New York.
Journal: When did you first do yoga?
Beryl Bender Birch: When
I was a child, I had this conscious abstract longing for God, for
knowing God. I had conversations with God and imaginary animal friends.
As for asana, my first class was at UCLA in 1971.
YJ: Did you
plan to be something other than a yoga teacher?
BB: Oh yes, a
physicist and chemist. I tried to major in chemistry for a good
percentage of my college career until I had to give it up for
comparative religion and philosophy.
YJ: If you had to choose
another career, what would it be?
BB: Probably a cosmologist or
an astrophysicist. I have always had a longing to “see” or to “know” the
point where physics and metaphysics merge.
YJ: Who has influenced
you the most in your yoga practice?
BB: Norman Allen,
Krishnamacharya, Krishnamurti, Pattabhi Jois, Patanjali, Huston Smith,
Matthew Fox, Charlotte Joko Beck…
YJ: If you could take one
person you do not know out to dinner, who would that be?
Stephen Hawking. He has such a terrific mind.
YJ: What is your
BB: Kale. I grew up in the Garden State and we had
an enormous garden. I was crazy for all the bitter greens. And very,
very good red wine.
YJ: What’s your teaching philosophy?
BB: Practice. I don’t ask people to do anything I don’t do; I
don’t believe you can teach anything you don’t practice.
is your practice routine?
BB: All day every day. I do my asana
practice in the morning for up to two hours, unless I’m teaching, and
then I fit it in wherever I can. I do Pranayama and dharana in the
mornings and evenings for up to one and a half hours.
YJ: How has
your yoga practice changed over the years?
BB: How hasn’t it
changed? It just keeps changing.
YJ: Do you set goals for
yourself in your practice?
BB: No…Well, to be more present, to
be more mindful.
YJ: Can you give an example of how that works in
your everyday life?
BB: I think if you’re a practicing yogi, yoga
is your everyday life. You don’t have to bring it in. You are just
working to be present. It will probably always drive me crazy that my
husband squeezes the toothpaste against the grain, but I have
aspirations to get beyond that. This is it. This is your life, you know?
There are no better moments.
YJ: What is the most baffling
question you’ve ever been asked, by a student or anyone else, about
BB: Is samadhi possible?
YJ: What do you do at the
end of class while your students are lying quietly in Savasana?
BB: I do a little prana dharana [prana concentration]…I try to
feel what’s going on for them, and lead them into mindfulness. And if
that doesn’t work, then I read the newspaper or catch up on my sleep.