May 16, 2011

Recipe for a Lovable Yogini.

Nardini at the 2011 NYC Yoga Journal Conference

I have an admission.

If you haven’t already figured it out, I am not immersed in yoga culture.

I go to yoga class, I work on my asanas, and I have teachers that I like. But none of my friends do yoga on a regular basis, and I don’t follow favorite teachers around the country or even subscribe to a certain podcast.

So this weekend at the New York Yoga Journal Conference, I would walk in completely uninformed, at the very most having read a short bio. I just wanted to do some good yoga, to stretch myself intellectually and physically. The last thing I expected was to come away with a girl-crush. (You know, like, “I totally want to be her friend!”)

You actually are probably familiar with who she is: Sadie Nardini.

When I walked into Nardini’s class at the Yoga Journal conference, I started to get an inkling that she was a very big deal. She was set up in one of the largest room, with rows and rows of fit and young women (plus a few men) sitting respectfully on their mats. I was soon to find out the secret sauce to her magic.

(P.S. Ele got a shoutout from Nardini before she got started. Thanks!)

Start with a base of charisma and integrity. It was a pleasure to interview Nardini. She has a way of putting you at ease, but without politicking around your questions. She’s not a diva; she gives respect to everyone around her.  Come on, how can you not love a celebrated yogi who ends a practice with chanting Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer”?

One part down-to-earth voice. It is neither the sickeningly sweet yoga voice (when one syllable slides into the next in a long “hmmmm”) nor the authoritative bark. She sounds like a normal woman, talking about her passion. Well, maybe a woman at a party after having a cocktail (she is enthusiastic!). But still, just a friend, like you and me. Apparently, she’s like that all the time. She doesn’t just “turn on” for class or appearances.

Three parts challenging flow. Her instructions were clear and uplifting. Not long after starting I was already dripping sweat, and had done more crow poses than I’ve done in a month. And yet, there was never a point where I gazed at her in bewilderment, silently asking “Why are you doing this to me?” It was accessible, and lovely.

A cup of freedom from endorsements. That’s not to say she won’t be a representative for a brand in the future. But she isn’t afraid to turn down offers of money to endorse products she doesn’t use or believe in. So when she says she loves a prop, mat, or sweet leather-like yoga pants with rainbow zippers, you know it’s coming from a genuine place.

A dash of a bangin’ bod. Of course Sadie’s mass appeal lies in her accessible and buoyant personality. But come on, most of the women in that room were probably thinking – unconsciously or not – “If I can look like that, I will do whatever you say.” Incidentally, she mentioned in the middle of class that she lost 40 pounds when she moved from focusing on the outer body to the inner core. Take note, ladies.

Fold in a way with words. “Instead of life coming in, can you come back at it?” She weaves a story in between the yoga of life, asana, and biology and pulls them together with a tight stitch. Like today, when she explained the connection between building your core in class, and being able to withstand and thrive when life throws you challenges. In contrast to another class I took, where I started zoning out 10 minutes in, her introductory talk was clear and compelling.

Layer a striking style. You know what I’m talking about: those cropped bangs and rich red hair, with kohled eyes.

Top with adoring assistants and helpers. “It’s fabulous,” says her personal assistant of working for her. “There’s no other way to explain.” The petite Elizabeth shows her commitment by commuting two hours every day from Princeton, New Jersey to the City to work for Nardini. Two other teachers, including Corti Cooper and Ame Wren (sometimes called the best teacher in Boston) were there to adjust and help the large class. “She’s always like, ‘rock your thing, just do your thing,’ says Cooper, “And that’s it.”

I am not an authority.

Listen, I don’t know ish when it comes to yoga celebrities. Maybe she really is a diva in private. Maybe everyone knows she sucks except for me. But honestly, I just know that I took her class, I met her, I talked to her, and it is a crying shame she doesn’t have time to teach in NYC anymore. I want to be cynical, I really do. But I just can’t!

From left: Corti Cooper, Sadie Nardini, Ame Wren, Elizabeth Lemoine, and Mama Nardini

Things heat up.

After the class ended, and Sadie was done taking pictures and chatting with all the students who wanted to talk with her, she posed with the teachers and her assistant for pictures, then plopped down on the floor to talk with me out in the hallway. Periodically teachers and the conference director would stop by to make plans or rehash their party the night before at the hotel’s piano bar.

In the past year or so, Sadie’s career has gotten more and more demanding, as people like me discover and fall in love with her. I was fortunate enough to meet her in person, but she has fans all over the world who consume her videos and writings on yoga. So yeah, her life has become a little crazy.

Along with her assistant Elizabeth, Nardini also gets help from her mother, who pitches in to keep her life organized and makes good use of her photography skills. But even with the help, Nardini is still getting acclimated to her popularity. The number of invitations she’s been getting has risen, and last year she found herself exhausted from all traveling.

“It was a really steep learning curve,” she says. “I said yes to everything, because I wanted to experience everything. I did way too much.” Now she plans to stick to the big-city venues and avoid satellite cities, and spread the love a little more efficiently through more videos and writings, which can be accessed by thousands, as opposed to 40 people in a studio.

Another characteristic of fame is that it can take her two hours to work through a small venue like the Yoga Journal Marketplace, as she runs into people she both knows well and has never met before. “The more I put myself out there, the more weird things happen,” she says. “People come up to me and say my words back to me.” She relates it to what she imagines a music artist feels like the first time people sing along at a concert: flattering, but not quite normal yet.

I ask even she ever feels frustrated with life. “Oh yeah! I want to do everything. When I have to tell myself, no, I get really frustrated.” Like recently when she got back from a week at Kripalu and got sick and lost her voice. She takes her commitments seriously, so she hated to have to cancel a planned event.

So like any good yogi, she’s learning from the experience. Yesterday she slipped home between sessions and took nap. “I’m trying to eke out spaces of restoring. It’s up to each person to take the time to renew. Because no one will do that for you. They will take all you have to give.”

What is next?

She’s got a few retreats coming up, like a wine and yoga retreat in Tuscany. Watch out for more videos hitting the web soon. She might be teaching a few classes at Laughing Lotus in NYC. And she’s working on a book which she plans to call, “The Practice,” which is slated to come out next year. What will it talk about?

“Whip your asana into shape in 28 days,” she says.

Sadie is one of Elephant’s most popular writers.
Read her most recent article
Are you a Superficial Yogi?
To see all of Sadie’s articles,
click here.

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