Talking Shop with Beryl Bender Birch
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.
Yoga 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?
BB: Stephen Hawking. He has such a terrific mind.
YJ: What is your favorite food?
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.
YJ: What 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 pPranayama 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 yoga?
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.
Contact Beryl Bender Birch through her Web site at www.power-yoga.com, or call (212) 661-2895.