A former competitive soccer player, a student of philosophy, and an anatomy buff, Tias Little teaches a unique style that integrates Buddhist teaching with somatic awareness through precise alignment. In workshops around the world and at Prajna Yoga, the New Mexico retreat center he runs with his wife, Surya Little (and their six-year-old son, Eno), he draws students toward the inner dimensions of the practice.
How did you first come to yoga? I was a soccer player in college, and I started to study Iyengar Yoga, using it therapeutically as injury prevention. Yoga appealed to me as a path that embraced both the physical and the mental—I felt that would be the most holistic approach to living a full life.
How has your practice evolved? In my early 20s, I was enamored with Ashtanga Yoga, with how dynamic it was. I took two trips to Mysore to study with K. Pattabhi Jois. But as a teacher, when I saw that people coming into my studio couldn't do the poses, I started to modify them and moved away from that system. Then I studied massage, anatomy, and the craniosacral system. Now my practice is more mindful, sensitive, and a lot more subtle. I don't do as many poses, and I do them with a lot more attention to nuance.
What drew you to Buddhist meditation? When I went to graduate school to study Eastern philosophy, I read about the awakening of the mind. It was clear it wasn't coming out of doing Warrior I. I started to feel positive changes in my mental state from my own sitting practice. So I began working with Buddhist teachers, especially in the Tibetan Dzogchen tradition. The combination of the yoga asana and the teachings of the Buddha dharma is the most potent combination I've been able to find.
You have a unique teaching style, blending asana and anatomy instruction. I have a great love for the structure of the body and the science of anatomy. I have more than 300 images in my PowerPoint presentation, and I always teach with a full-length skeleton and a sacrum model. So, for instance, if I have somebody in Downward Dog, I can place the sacrum model next to their pelvis to show what is happening. I want them to get to experience the lessons in their bodies so it's not just theory.
But you also teach that yoga is more than just the poses... I always tell students that yoga is really mind training, much more so than a physical training. When students ask me, "Do you think you can do the whole yogic path through the postures?" I tell them no.
What is it like running a yoga retreat center with your wife? She's the one-on-one person, and I'm the circus leader, leading the groups. We find a great balance that way. Most students who come through our program do private sessions with her. She has expertise in nutrition and therapeutic yoga. She's the healing force, and I'm the presenter. We both study with the same teacher—Tsoknyi Rimpoche—and we share the same dharma, the same life calling.