A teacher's spirit — Anastasia Smith
By Rosa Anderson - Jones
How did you become interested in yoga-based practice?
My mother was a devoted yoga student long before I was born. She trained and became certified as a yoga instructor when I was a child and opened a yoga studio in the small town on the east coast of the USA where we lived. She's had a huge influence on my interest in yoga. Growing up, I watched her unroll her yoga mat in our living room and practice her breath work and postures almost every day.
After I left home, I regularly attended classes at an Iyengar-style studio near my university. Iyengar-style means holding yoga postures for a time with a strong focus on body alignment. I loved the studio and its owner--a former physical therapist with amazing knowledge of anatomy a fierce sense of humor--so I decided to train with him. It was the best decision!
How have your views changed on the practice?
When I was in my early 20s practicing yoga was a grounding practice for me. My life as a university student was totally unbalanced and hectic, and I loved the strict discipline and predictability of the Iyengar-style yoga practice.
Now, eight years since training as a yoga teacher, My primary goal is to help students feel balanced, strong and present in their bodies through yoga practice, but I recognize there are many different ways to get there. I've done workshops with dozens of fantastic yoga teachers and since become certified as a prenatal yoga instructor while pursuing my passion for yoga and women's health.
At this point, I love combining elements of all my trainings and offering these to students in a variety of classes whether that's slow, deep stretching, static holds of challenging postures, mindful breathing exercises, or athletic vinyasa-flow style of yoga.
What do you love the most about teaching yoga-inspired workouts?
A yoga-inspired workout is one that demands you have an internal experience while exercising. B.K.S. Iyengar--the father of Western yoga practices--said (more or less) that the body lives in the past, the mind in the future, and the breath in the present. So, yoga uses a physical experience of postures with awareness of breath to settle the mind. But this mindfulness take on fitness can be used in any kind of workout.
If we pay attention to our bodies while we use them (rather than running through our to-do lists, or holding our breath just to "push through" the last repetitions), the physical and mental results are remarkable. It's amazing! I bring this to all the classes I teach and to all my personal workouts.
Biggest misconceptions about yoga?
This is such a great question. Teaching yoga at a barre studio or a gym (rather than a yoga studio), means I interact with a lot of yoga newbies, which I love. People always say to me "I can't do yoga, because I'm not flexible." But this is simply not true.
You don't have to spend your life feeling tight and inflexible in your body. And a yoga class is not meant to mock you for that! My yoga classes are meant to give students a path toward more mobility while cultivating a sense of ease and strength in their bodies. You do what you can, and it's important not to take yourself too seriously. A sense of humor is key! So I guess this is the other misconception...that yoga is a very serious practice for very serious people only.
What benefits you the most from yoga, and why can’t you live without it?
I live with a chronic health condition, type 1 diabetes, and practicing yoga keeps me in the present and well in my body. Anyone living with chronic illness knows that getting through day-to-day can feel like a mental marathon. Who knows what kind of a basket-case I'd be if I wasn't practicing yoga and mindfully exercising throughout my week? When I was in a serious car accident last year, I lay in my hospital bed and practiced deep, yoga breaths from the moment I gained consciousness. When I could get out of bed, I went straight to the floor with a heap of pillows to practice all my stretches. I totally credit yoga with the successes in my recovery.
No matter how we feel about our bodies throughout our days, it's such a miracle to be living in them! Yoga is my gratitude practice back to my self. It's key to my mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing.