Yoga, as you know, is all about union—something that’s severely lacking in our country right now. This month’s cover model, Tiffany Russo, a SmartFLOW Yoga teacher trainer in the Los Angeles area, reminds us how our yoga practice can help us all stay grounded and cultivate community again.
Carin Gorrell: In your YogaWorks bio under “Why I practice,” you say: “To reconnect with my most truest me.” Who is your “most truest” you?
Tiffany Russo: I’m this bright-eyed, playful, cheery girl who just wants to explore life; I’m constantly curious, always wanting to learn. But at the same time, there’s got to be some good laughter and some sort of beach scene that goes along with that—I’m an LA girl, born and raised.
CG: You study with Annie Carpenter and teach her yoga system, SmartFLOW. Why does it resonate with you?
TR: SmartFLOW is a practice that asks you to pay attention—not just to the alignment of the poses but to who are you every time you arrive on your mat. The poses stay the same; it’s how we respond to the poses that is actually the practice. SmartFLOW plays with the edges: How far can you move in a direction and still have a sense of center, a sense of self, a sense of return?
CG: Annie’s your mentor. Why is having a mentor so important for continuing to learn after completing a teacher training?
TR: I definitely believe in having one teacher. It doesn’t matter who the teacher is or what her style is—it’s a sense of community, of “we are one.” Having [access to] someone who has years of experience teaching and looking at how the body moves is something to learn from. One of the reasons I love Annie is because she’s still a student—she’s still learning, and she inspires me to continue to be curious.
CG: Speaking of community, America’s sense of community has really been worn down recently. How can yoga help us?
TR: The practice of yoga brings a reminder that right now, in this moment while we’re breathing, everything is OK. It also helps us manage our reaction into a response: We’re paying attention to our breath so that we can respond appropriately, and hopefully that’s from a place of kindness and compassion.
CG: Is meditation a part of your yoga practice?
TR: Gosh, yes. I meditate at night when I finish my day. It’s my time to get still, to find the pauses between the thoughts, so that my mind can get quiet and wash free. Then, when I do go to bed, my mind isn’t racing.
CG: What’s your favorite pose and why?
TR:Camel Pose. I love the sense of the grounding that you need in your legs: The more you’re rooted in your feet, the more length and space you have to open up. I feel so rooted, and yet so ready and spacious.
CG: Do you have a mantra or words of wisdom that you live by?
TR: I have a tattoo on my arm from Yoga Sutra 2:33: Pratipaksa Bhavanam, which means the “cultivation of the opposite.” Patanjali said it’s taking a negative and making it a positive. I think it’s also that moment when you can pause and choose to make a shift. That’s yoga—if you can pay attention enough to pause, you have a strong sense of your foundation, and you can blossom and grow from there.