The latest blogger for Yoga Journal is none other than yogini superstar Sadie Nardini.
She brings a new approach to yoga that is unique yet steeped in yogic tradition and the fundamentals of anatomy. Most importantly, Sadie stresses being yourself, and finding what works for you on the mat. She is fresh, fun, grounded and approachable to students.
After being gracious enough to answer questions I asked about her association with YAMA, the yoga “talent agency” for YogaDork, she tells me here all about Core Strength Vinyasa and how she came to coin her own style of yoga.
NANCY: Can you explain “Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga?” How do you define the “core” and how did you come to that definition?
SADIE: My teaching revolves around playing at the edges of Sthira-Sukha, or strength and freedom, in order to find that supercharged middle place that helps us shift into greatness—both on and off the mat.
When we can move from an equal balance of stability and mobility in our asanas, we begin to alchemize a powerful third experience that we could call the “core.” Immersing in this state causes a desire—a need, really—to express oneself as fully as possible into the poses, and into life.
The postures revolutionize as they become lighter, more empowering and students find themselves going deeper with full effort—and even he most challenging poses become effortless at the same time. It’s really a rockin’ trip.
I think students are drawn to Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga because it manifests as a fun, dance-like and energetic class that is still mindful, anatomy-based and accessible for all levels. I encourage individual expression and we spend our time together in full empowerment. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that they leave with a beautifully whittled middle, either!
In my view, the core is so much more than the superficial abdominal muscles, however. It has multiple facets and levels, and I teach about all of them. Among these various aspects, I count the abdominals, the deeper core muscles that support the legs, hips and spine, the spine itself, and the highly charged potential energy sources that reside along this core line. In addition, I guide students to move closer to themselves, to seek and find their core truths, and to step into their skin more completely so that they may live from center, as well as do their yoga poses in a way that cultivates this inner relationship.
When we vinyasa, we flow, or link the poses in a way that soothes the body-mind-spirit complex. For me, energy is living, wavelike, and to follow that with organic movements is a hallmark of my style. We’re not going to sit in Warrior Two for 10 breaths—we’re going to dance from Warrior Two for 30. The outcome of a practice that’s built on so many levels at once is to become happily, radically transformed.
It’s my goal in every class to move students from the more obvious outer body into the world of strength and release deeper inside. Life is loud, and so are the quadriceps in a long-held lunge. It’s easy to remain caught in the cycle of drama. But there is something quieter, a more vital link one can make when they go beyond this into their more profound nature. Once I introduce my students to the capacity of their core, they don’t want to practice from anywhere else, no matter what yoga style they choose to do.
My practice is equally a practice of amplifying the benefits in the yoga asanas, and a direct experience of living from one’s unique center. To encourage this, I use a specific set of principles, postures and instruction so that students of any level, style or ability can simply understand how to get there.
I came to this definition of the core by realizing that at all our levels: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and energetic, we have both a superficial and a deeper layer—the obvious, and the subtle.
Many of us exist only at this outside, peripheral place both on and off the mat, and this grasping at external people, places, substances (and our poor lower backs in Plank Pose!) is really only living to cope, not living free.
A predominantly outward focus can cause strain and suffering, illness and destructive habits. Realizing that we do this, and then circling inside for the more drama-free, but ultimately far more effective and constructive experience of being self-reliant, and generating our understanding, compassion, love and creativity first from the inside out makes a whole world of difference in how harmonious and happy we will be walking around from day to day.
So, for me, the core is the counter-balance, the answer to dukkha, or our self-created “bad space.” I prefer to teach the inner life of the core as one major road to sukha or “good space.” Making this core connection lets us be who we are, and who we want to be most of all, in the moment at hand, even if what and who’s outside of us isn’t cooperating–to still be able to create peace and confidence and move towards right actions for each of us– that to me is the core, and it’s everywhere I want to be.
NANCY: Styles such as Ashtanga utilize core and bandhas for lightness, and Anusara talks about alignment and “inner spirals” why not work within one of these styles? What were they lacking in terms of what you hope to share and why feel the need to start your own “style” of yoga?
SADIE: I don’t think of it as much in terms of what’s lacking, since I think most styles of yoga have their benefits, and are perfectly right for the students who love them. Having studied both styles extensively, I honor them both for their power and grace. I think both John Friend and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois are, and were brilliant. As Spock might say, “may their practice live long and prosper”.
I’m absolutely not interested in encouraging students to switch styles and study mine exclusively. My “style” is, I think, a new paradigm, in that I teach students and teachers of any and all styles of yoga how to re-introduce optimal core functioning into whatever practice they do or teach now. They can study with me, teach pure CSV Yoga, but it’s just as effective for an Anusara, Ashtanga or Kundalini practitioner to learn my principles and import them into what they already do to gain even more benefits.
I think that when you transition from a student of yoga, or a teacher of other people’s styles, to someone who is doing her own thing, as I have, you begin to function from a different set of needs.
I need to share my knowledge in a specific way that I did not see being taught anywhere. So, for me, becoming a teacher of any other style would have been inauthentic, akin to John Friend continuing to teach Iyengar’s practice for the rest of his life. We would have missed out on all the delicious loops and spirals, and Grace-full teachings.
I, too, have a different focal point than my past teachers, and the language with which I must communicate it is not something I could remain true to within anyone else’s structure.
As a teacher with her own style—though I prefer to call it a perspective on yoga–I realize that people who start making their own way in the yoga world do so long before they ever explain it to students. It is simply the way they feel inspired to view and express the asanas between them and themselves.
These teachers begin to share what they’ve discovered with others because it speaks so deeply to them, that they then mature into articulating the principles and poses so they might share what is really their glorified personal practice with their students.
In fact, like our clothes, or taste in music, every teacher on the planet has a “style”—their style, or how yoga is expressed through their individual filter. We all come to the mat with a unique set of life experiences that makes our voice the most powerful when we speak from our Satya, the honesty that arises from all the lessons we’ve learned on our personal paths.
Some teachers, like Jois and Friend, and other leaders of the styles we see today, looked so deeply into their way of viewing and doing yoga that they were able to articulate it quite profoundly. And many teachers feel they can envelop themselves in someone’s yoga style, and still find that it speaks for them, as them.
I asked myself early on if any of the current styles could communicate for me, and the answer was respectfully, no. Though I learned, and continue to learn from all modalities, I was strongly, though reluctantly called to share mine as well.
I say ‘reluctantly’, because it’s a hell of a lot of work to get so clear about your core spiritual and physical values that you can distill them into handouts, and teach them in a weekend Immersion, or make a DVD, or write a book, then travel all over to do that.
It’s a lifelong, confrontational process and a steep learning curve. Yet however resistant I was to moving off the mat and onto my computer 8 hours a day to accomplish this, as it turns out, it’s far outweighed by the rewards.
My focus is predominantly on getting students to circle back inside and cultivate the earth-to-core connection; accessing all the energy they can unlock to inspire the heart and generate their own nourishment from the inside out.
My language and instructions, poses and philosophies are built specifically to build these amazing connections in the way I see they can be built. If students and teachers resonate with my ideas, then we become a tribe. Our tribes intermingle, and through these communities, we each gather the knowledge we need to move forward in our own way towards transformation and self-understanding.
In other words, since I’ve become the most Sadie I know how to be, my like-minded kula can find me more easily.
I recognize that other teachers also focus on the core—some quite exclusively, but none quite like I do. Mine is simply another ingredient in the mix, and together all of us nourish different aspects of a student. When someone has a taste for yoga, there are many different and equally vibrant teacher flavors to choose from, just as it should be
NANCY: You emphasize a lot about alignment and anatomy in technical terms. Did you get training in Anusara or Iyengar? Why do you find anatomy/alignment so essential to your approach to yoga?
Are there any anatomy texts you recommend to yogis?
SADIE: I was trained in part by John Friend, among other Anusara instructors, and John was a decades-long student of Iyengar’s method. I’ve always been attracted to those teachers who are steeped not only in energetics, or classical alignment, but also the realistic arena of how the body actually works—and how it doesn’t.
By this, I mean the study of human anatomy, which I feel provides a default setting for the things teachers of all styles are sharing with their students today. If a pose doesn’t meet my safety standards, and I can explain it in terms of what the body actually does and doesn’t do, it’s often easier to accept than if I seem to be directly challenging someone’s lineage or their teachers. I don’t want to make it personal—just anatomically correct.
Anatomy is the great equalizer, at least is has been for me, and my own process of letting go some of the things I was taught early on in favor of ensuring more healthy movement patterns, and uncovering my students’ natural state of balance, strength and ease.
This is really the new frontier of yoga instruction, and It’s the one that’s really exciting me lately, as I can rest in the security of my foundations, and from there, have the confidence to move and play in a way that’s freeing instead of potentially harmful.
I think that as long as yoga teachers are dealing with the human body and its movement, then they should take it upon themselves to learn how it truly works. There is a lot of assumption and urban legend running rampant in yoga classes today, and some of it could cause injury to our students. The instruction (which I heard from three separate teachers last week alone) to “twist from the belly” is one such misleading cue, as it’s the mid-back and higher that twists, not the lower back spine.
I can instantly tell if a teacher has studied, and I mean really studied, their anatomy or not, and since it’s my body that’s at stake, I want to make sure that I’m following someone’s lead who knows how to move it, and how not to.
On that note, some awesome resources for teachers are Paul Grilley’s Anatomy of Yoga DVD, “Yoga Anatomy” by Leslie Kaminoff (watch for his Second Edition coming out in Spring, 2011) and “The Anatomy of Hatha Yoga” by H. David Coulter and Timothy McCall and Scientific Keys Vol. 1: The Key Muscles of Hatha Yoga by Ray Long.
The fact that there are hundreds of books out on yoga poses, and a mere handful about the anatomy of yoga poses says something about the weighted focus we’ve placed on the practice as a more esoteric model, and sometimes, it’s skewed in favor of what we’ve been taught in the past, and we’re maybe not so curious about what else we could learn from our contemporary teachers. I’d like to see that change, and I think it is more and more.
NANCY: You also blend a lot of yogic philosophy/ yoga sutra themes in your approach. Where did you learn these things and how do they enhance what you teach?
SADIE: I’ve been strongly attracted to yoga philosophy ever since I began studying yoga 15 years ago. I now consider my main job description to be a yoga-to-life translator, because I love to invite students into new perspectives on what the ancient yoga ideals could mean in their present-moment experiences.
It’s pretty mind-blowing to realize that the way you practice yoga is how you live, love, and view your life, and if you can shift destructive patterns on the mat, you’ll be more capable of changing things with your relationships, your boss, yourself. We call this vijnana-maya-kosha, and it’s a revolution in your awareness that trickles down to transform all your other levels too. All we have to do is get on that damn mat, again, and then listen to our breath. After 1,000 Down Dogs, or 10, our inner teacher might wake up and whisper in our ear. Then we might experience the spiritual equivalent of an a-ha moment, and spark a revelation that causes us to jettison toxic people, going-nowhere jobs or attitudes that were demolishing our self-esteem. Being available for the breath, and therefore, to your spirit is what keeps me going. Without this conversation, the poses are empty for me, and I wouldn’t be at all interested in teaching them.
The Yamas and Niyamas, among so many other concepts, are rich with potential uses when dealing with intense emotions—the polarities of anger or joy, success or failure, separation and intimacy. They serve as a road map to integrity during just about any center-wavering situation we encounter. And as the Buddha said, none of our teaching becomes truth until someone lives their way into it, and decides for themselves that it works.
Learning how we can use the tools yoga offers us to rock our worlds from the inside out is what most intrigues and inspires me about the practice and actions of yoga. My teaching isn’t worth nearly as much if I haven’t shown my students how to directly apply it to the other 22.5 hours of their day after their 90 minutes of postures are over.
NANCY: What do you say to people who disagree with your pop culture insertions into a traditional practice such as yoga (i.e. Charlie’s Angels pose as a version of Malasana)? Do you feel it’s necessary to move forward, or that yoga is a place where everyone can find their own gig/place/approach?
SADIE: I say “You’d better not come to my classes, then!” Because, honey, we’re going to do a Charlie’s Angel’s Mudra for sure, and probably sing a Bon Jovi Chant, too. And, they’re going to get an earful from me after class should they wish to discuss it.
What’s traditional, anyway? The poses we create today will be considered classical in 100 years. As a philosophy, our practice is thousands of years old, but as far as most of the poses we do today are concerned, about four men made them up less than 200 years ago. Much less, in the cases of Jois and Iyengar.
Even the supposedly set-in-stone practice of Ashtanga looks much different today than it did in Mysore just 50 years ago.
Some of the poses Krishnamacharya created, which formed the basis for our canon of postures, came from Indian wrestling poses, and some of Pattabi Jois’ Ashtanga moves were taken straight from from British gymnastics warm-ups. Chaturanga is a glorified push-up.
Everything, even the yoga postures some yogis view as sacred, and untouchable, came from other modalities or were created in the minds of our teachers. Some of our classical asanas aren’t necessarily anatomically safe for the masses (lotus can be murder on the knees), and yet others were excellent ways to tone the body and promote flexibility.
My view on yoga is this: If those gentlemen could create variations on yoga asana, then so can I. If one has the knowledge to make it a conscious creation that is true to the ideals of yoga, then go for it! The yoga is on the inside, anyway. Our spirit isn’t waiting until we’re done with Waterfall Warrior and move into Triangle Pose to reveal itself.
The unity with Self and Universal energy doesn’t give a rat’s asana what posture you’re in. Your knees might, but Prana is inherent in you. Choose whatever movement form you want—it’s how you practice that makes all the difference.
I do not believe that this or that style of yoga is “the one true path” for everyone–even mine. But I do default to the wisdom of human anatomy, because it’s often the one thing that can erase dogmatic thinking and get teachers to offer variations on their classical poses that might work better for the body.
So, many of my so-called irreverent names or movements like Moonwalk Lunge, Lakshmi Kicks or One Hip Twist are actually steeped in a brew of yoga and anatomy study and contain at their foundations a deep reverence for the principles of healthy alignment, both physical and energetic. I just prefer to make them enjoyable as well.
Even if my Core Poses make people smile, and I hope some of them do, I make sure each asana focuses the students on countering the destructive or tension-causing yoga habits they may have developed, and replace them with healthier movements, generated from their deepest core.
In my opinion, we yogis must be careful not to hang on to the classical asanas with an evangelical zeal, and lose the chance to improve upon them, or invent something new. After all, the classical poses were not classical at the time they were created, and they improved upon what had come before.
For me, just because a pose has been in the yoga world time for a longer time doesn’t make it healthy. And just because a pose is called “Fists of Fire Lunge” doesn’t make it not yoga.
If a position is balanced, mindful, moves energy, allows for the freedom of breath and helps the student reveal their inherent equilibrium of sthira (strength) and sukha (ease)…I call it 100 percent yogic.
Without conscious innovation, our practice will become stagnant and less vital if we’re not allowed to infuse it with the same living creativity and personality that our founding fathers employed all those years ago. So I, for one, am doing my part to keep our asanas alive and (literally) kicking.
Check out Nardini’s Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga videos on her YouTube channel.
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