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8 Yoga Teachers on the Women Who Inspire Their Practice

Because community is everything.

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No one practices alone. Whether you’re participating in an online class, embarking on a retreat, or attending a flow in person, when you practice yoga, you’re part of a larger, supportive community of those who practice alongside you—and paved the way for you.

This International Women’s Day, we asked our contributors to share with us the women who play an influential role in their yoga practice. Their responses will make you feel inspired—and grateful for the women who are a part of your own practice.

Our contributors on the women who inspire their practice

Honoring her family’s ancestry

“I’d like to honor my family’s incredible teacher in our Indian community in Florida. She teaches an entire community with such profound depth of knowledge of our yogic teachings, stories, and practices—in fact, her family’s name and ancestry convey that they are ‘versed in the Shastras,’ or spiritual teachings. She identifies herself not as a ‘guru,’ a word which is often used as a blanket term for ‘teacher’ in Yoga when there are actually many kinds of words for teacher in Sanskrit (just like in English) such as an ‘upadhyaya.’ I offer my sincerest thanks, because it is from her generous and wise sharing of traditional teachings and being a resource for me that I can write and teach about yoga with precision and cultural honor.”

Rina Deshpande

Supporting the next generation

“Soon after becoming a mother, I remember finishing my practice while my three-month-old daughter slept next to me. I had this visceral feeling that my whole purpose was to instill in her a knowing of her own worth. That moment continues to inspire my practice as a yoga practitioner, a teacher, a woman, and a mother. My wish for my daughter as she grows into a girl, and then a woman, is for her to know her worth, not in comparison to anyone else, but as an unshakeable felt sense. The more I can cultivate this for myself, through yoga and other practices, the more my daughter will feel it too. I have a deep well of gratitude for all the teachings my daughter has gifted me.”

Pranidhi Varshney

Creating community amidst hardship

“The past three years have been difficult. Through it all, my friend and yoga teacher Rachel Allen (YogaSong) has shown up for me, and many, in such a loving and compassionate way. During the pandemic, she created a caring community of yogis practicing yoga on Zoom (many of us know what that has been like), but what makes Rachel’s classes special is her authentic nature, her music (during meditation and Savasana, she plays the harmonium, harp, and guitar while singing), and her gentle asana instruction. She has called into this community the names and faces of Black people murdered by police, those who died from COVID complications, spiritual bypassing, and those suffering in other ways. This is the seva. With the world beginning to open up, her YogaSong community will remain steadfast, as she has been fully dedicated to yoga—on and off the mat.”

Pamela Stokes Eggleston

Passing on wisdom–on and off the mat

“Touré Akela, Althea Lawton Thompson [and] Leana Marshall. All three women are yoga and meditation practitioners, YTT leaders, and wellness practitioners. They have taught me a lot about the yogic practice and shared practical wisdom in life.”

Danny Fluker

Embodying Dhāranā

“My person would be Arundhati Roy. She is an Indian author, actress, peace activist, yoga practitioner, and political figure who was best known for the Booker award-winning novel The God of Small Things (1997), [as well as] for her involvement in environmental and human rights causes and advocating for those systemically rendered voiceless. She really embodies Dhāranā for me—the skill of focusing our attention on a single thing. On getting inside a moment and story. [One of her quotes is:] ‘How to tell a shattered story? By slowly becoming everybody? No. By slowly becoming every thing.'”

Susanna Barkataki

Introducing the practice

“I owe everything to a Swiss b-girl (breakdancer) and yoga teacher Olivia Sweetrock. We were both in our early 20s, working in a Manhattan restaurant, and she always showed up so happy and light after practice at Dharma Mittra’s studio, where she also worked. She invited me to class, began to share yoga books, [taught] me, and really ignited a love of the practice in me. I’m so grateful for Olivia’s yoga mentorship and friendship. It’s a story of one woman passing along something of value and beauty to another.”

Sarah Herrington

Giving humbly and authentically

“To acknowledge a woman like Amanda Noga has a ripple effect to the appreciation for all women, mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, and yoginis. As a woman I see her shine, walk, and speak her thoughts with grace in a world that doesn’t fully appreciate or respect a women’s impact on everything she touches… Simply by being true to herself and living to her fullest every day has inspired and taught me so much. Her lessons [to me] haven’t come from any lectures or read from a book, but by seeing her in action and every step that she takes. For me it’s yoga in action.”

Marc Laws II

Developing a new method

“The first is Alison West. She influenced me by opening my eyes to different ways of working through articulation and the subtleties of that… [Additionally,] Bonnie Cohen. What struck me was her subtle approach for articulation. And with this, a sense of wonder and sensual approach to being present, to self exploration, that made it personal, made my practice personal. This has stayed with me to today. Another woman that had an influence on me as a yoga teacher is Bobby Clennell. Her book, Props and Alignment, helped me to understand leverage and balance, using yoga walls and multi sized blocks. I started taking her classes at the Iyengar Institute and through working with her, I learned the balance between alignment and hyper flexibility. This was important for people of size, and instrumental in my developing the Buddha Body Yoga method.”

Michael Hayes