January 24, 2011

Karen Lo | January Yoga Instructor of the Month

San Francisco-based instructor Karen Lo is the business manager of The Yoga Loft and a UCSC History of Consciousness doctoral candidate. A multi-disciplinary dancer, Karen teaches innovative Vinyasa classes influenced by the classical Iyengar tradition and John Friend’s Universal Principles of Alignment. Her primary hatha-yoga teachers include Tony Briggs, Geoffrey Roniger, Jane House, and Marni Sclaroff. Her background in the culinary-arts world has shaped her approach to teaching and life. As Karen says, “When people come together and are fed, regardless of whether it is yoga or a fantastic meal, magic can happen.”

Tell me about your own, personal journey with yoga.
For a long time, my life was dually-focused: My very passionate, fiery love affair with dance and my academic hunger as a doctoral student. These two parts of me fit together, but were not integrated. It was only when I came to yoga that these contrasting aspects of my life joined into a single practice that satisfied my intellectual curiosity, while allowing me to be embodied.

My relationship with yoga is committed, intimate, and also mature. I definitely have ups and downs, but my frustrations and challenges are complemented with love, compassion, and a soft place to fall when I’m having a difficult time. Every time I come to my mat, I find out something new about myself and my practice and am humbled.  I am so incredibly grateful that I was able to find my way to yoga, and that it found its way to me!

Describe your approach toward the art of teaching yoga.
We all need nourishment, for our minds, bodies, and souls. In yoga, we have an opportunity to feed all three within one practice.  This nourishment assumes many forms. It might simply be taking the time to breath—-filling our bodies with air, light, and the energy of this beautiful world we’re fortunate to live in. It also invites us to explore our darker side—-looking head-on at our insecurities, unlearning patterns we no longer need, and healing wounds that have haunted us for as long as we remember.

This is all part of nourishing ourselves and taking time to be in our bodies. By really getting comfortable in our own body—-learning to understand our body rather than trying to escape it—-we discover that it’s actually our best teacher. So, yes, my classes are very alignment-based and I really believe in thoughtful use of anatomical principles to heal our bodies—-but that’s just part of the story.  There’s so much more that we can find in our practice; it’s an infinite tool for feeding our mind, body and soul.

Speak to making a living as a yoga instructor.
Making a living as a yoga teacher is yoga in itself. In a city where there are so many talented and well-trained yoga teachers, you really have to stay true to yourself in your classes while also being aware of the business side of yoga. The reality is that you have to market yourself, because if no one knows who you are or what you’re about, they’re not likely to come to your classes.

It’s part of the irony of being a modern-day yoga teacher.  I’ve come to the realization that it’s possible to market yourself without compromising your principles.  You have to be creative, dedicated, and stay centered—-just like in every asana.  Patabhi Jois said it best: It’s the responsibility of the yogi to teach yoga.

What other pursuits and activities turn you on?
Food! I’m a foodie and the decade that I spent in the restaurant industry has fueled my passion for food and magic.  It’s part of the idea of nourishment.  A beautiful plate feeds your eyes, a lively smell tickles your nose, and delicious food feeds all parts of you.  Magic can happen when you share a meal—-whether you’re gathered with friends, family, or even strangers. It’s the amazing thing about food culture.

Dance! I’ve seriously studied ballet, modern, jazz, and even hip-hop. I’ve recently taken up swing dance. I find every opportunity I can to dance, even if it’s alone in a yoga studio, my living room, or even sitting on the bus. It’s an amazing form of self expression. I think that many of us are taught to suppress our natural inclination to dance at an early age, when in fact, there’s a dancer in all of us, dying to get out.  I don’t believe in “I have two left feet.”

Karen Lo teaches Yoga for People Working on Their Feet and Vinyasa Level 1-2 at The Yoga Loft in San Francisco. (Photo Credits: Abigail Wick)

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