Talking Shop with Sarah Powers
Fragrant with incense and warmed by community, a class with Sarah Powers is a blend of yin and yang, Buddhism and yoga. Powers, who has been teaching for 14 years, currently offers classes at Deer Run Zendo in Corte Madera, California.
Yoga Journal: Before you got into teaching yoga, weren't you working on a master's in Transpersonal Psychology?
Sarah Powers: I had decided to do my thesis on comparing the three styles of yoga I was studying—Viniyoga, Iyengar, and Ashtanga. At some point I realized I didn't want to dissect the practice like that, to intellectualize it. I dropped the program, realizing I wanted to teach yoga rather than become a therapist. A while ago I went back to complete my degree. After finishing the first day I again realized I didn't want to spend all those hours studying theories. So I dropped out again. I went back to my yoga practice committed to self-study. I went back to teaching feeling that I can encourage therapeutic inquiry during the practice.
YJ: How did your connection with Buddhism develop?
SP: I became interested in reading literature on the nature of reality through meeting Ty, my husband, at age 18. Over the years I read people like Jack Kornfield, Ken Wilber, Toni Packer, not feeling myself particularly Buddhist—I just liked what they were saying. But when I moved to the Bay Area, I felt ready to challenge my very active, interested mind. I could still my mind temporarily in my hatha yoga, but soon after the practice, the same distracted patterns persisted, the roots of suffering held firmly in place.
YJ: There was a limit to where you could go with postures?
SP: I love hatha yoga, and appreciate how it opens the body, and potentially the heart and mind, but meditation revealed to me the simple beauty of the nondistracted nature of mind-essence, our self-existing clarity, the antidote to delusion—the very essence of what I understand the yogic teachings to be pointing out.
YJ: So you sit every day?
SP: I sit and then do asana.
YJ: How often do you do a long meditation retreat?
SP: Every five or six months I do a seven or 10-day.
YJ: Ty and your daughter Imani often go with you when you teach yoga retreats.
SP: Well, Ty does all the work, both before we go by setting everything up, and during as the host and assistant teacher. I could never do it without him. Imani is home-schooled and an avid reader so she comes and hangs out reading. She doesn't always know what day of the week it is—there is this lovely naivetè.
YJ: There's something very yogic about home-schooling.
SP: Yes. You go with the day as it unfolds. Many kids now are so scheduled, so rushed. We're setting them up for a life that is always busy getting to the next thing. Imani's not interested in meditation or yoga right now, but her lifestyle is very much about being connected with an inner rhythm and understanding the rhythms of those around her.
YJ: You've been working a lot with Paul Grilley's Yin Yoga, where poses are passively held for long timings. How has this work affected your meditation practice?
SP: Having been on meditation retreats before I was doing it regularly and then after, the difference is amazing. My legs are not falling asleep at an hour-long sit. My body's feeling like it's releasing from the core, juicing in a way that it wasn't when I was only doing vinyasa.
YJ: You've been teaching now for 14 years. How has your experience of being a yoga teacher changed?
SP: In the early years I thought I should know it all, and that is exhausting. There's a relaxed ease now. A feeling of having lived on the inside for so long, it's comfortable. And there's more open-hearted joy in sharing with others who are passionate about this diverse path called yoga.
Sarah Powers can be reached through her Web site at www.sarahpowers.com.