May 21, 2012

Teaching The Art of Yoga: Q&A with Tamal Dodge. ~ Shelby LaCroix

Photo by Victoria Davis

Our practice of yoga in the Western world relies heavily on maintaining a sense of balance and cultivating an open heart and mind—especially  in Los Angeles.

Living in a culture that largely views yoga as an aesthetic exercise with great focus on the physical asanas (yoga poses), we often miss the larger picture of yoga philosophy and the understanding of a disciplined yogic lifestyle.

Tamal Dodge, an extraordinarily grounded and well-loved Santa Monica-based instructor, brings the teaching of yoga back to its roots, exemplifying what it means to create a life of honest, devotional practice. He is a unique find in the growing network of teacher-trainers within the U.S. and the multi-faceted experience of his in-class instruction is not to be missed. In his presence, it becomes obvious that every cell of his being radiates the heart-centered teachings of traditional yoga and he’s accepted the responsibility of sharing his knowledge with others.

Having just completed his ninth Yoga Alliance Certified teacher training, he sits down over vegan pancakes and delicious green protein super-smoothies to chat about the art of living and teaching yoga.

Shelby: What’s your earliest memory of yoga?

Tamal: My earliest memory of yoga isn’t any physical thing. It was probably Kirtan, which is a form of meditation which is very much like singing; call and response with mantras. My family was not only the physical practice of yoga, but more predominantly into meditation and spiritual aspects of yoga which is really the root of it all. My earliest memories would probably be doing Kirtans with my family and the people who lived in our ashram.

SL: For people who don’t know your background in yoga, what was it like growing up in an ashram and how has it influenced where you are now with yoga?

TD: As a child, my siblings and I grew up in a family-run yoga ashram. I was born in Hawaii, on the island of Oahu. Wherever my family moved we opened up an ashram—we’d  find a large house and gut it out—there would literally be 20 or 30 people living with us at a time. Everything was on a donation basis, so people would give money if they had it or help out around the ashram—the only thing they really had to do was participate in our meditation and yoga programs that would be happening all day long.

One of the coolest things about living in an ashram was that conversations were always on a deeper level. Even when adults would converse with kids, they would talk about who they were, what their purpose was and why they existed.  It really impacted my life.

When I was a kid I’d never really thought of myself becoming a yoga teacher or anything like that. I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do.

When I was nine or ten years old, my father would tell me, “Yeah, it’s fine to be a student of yoga your whole life but if you don’t share it you’re a thief.”

I thought about that a lot through my teen years—if I don’t share yoga, I’m a thief—what does that mean?

My father was a very inspirational person and he was a huge guiding light in my life. It was after my father passed away that I realized I really wanted to teach yoga—share it and spread it around—and give people the amazing gifts I was given as a kid.

SL: What is your personal practice and how do you feel that influences the way you teach your classes?

TD: It’s funny, when I talk about yoga and when I think about yoga, I don’t usually associate it with the asana stuff, the postures—I usually think of it as meditation, connected with the root word of yoga, “to yoke or unite with God.” So, when I think of my own yoga practice, I always think of all the spiritual things I’m trying to do to really endeavor to create that connection.

SL: How would you describe the experience of your class?

TD: I believe in baby steps.

If you try to run into something headfirst you usually burn out. When people come to my class, I try to think about why they came here. Most come to a yoga practice or yoga class for a physical work out. Not all, but a lot of people do. So I predominantly teach my yoga classes as a physical workout and the last 15 minutes of class is usually very meditative and spiritually based; I’ll talk about yoga philosophy and sing mantras and chants to people in Savasana.

I always end my classes with a food for thought or something that they can practice or endeavor for in their own lives—it’s like giving people a tiny drop out of the ocean with hopes that they’ll want to dive in and swim.

SL: You have just recently completed your ninth teacher training and you have number ten in the works for the fall. Why is it important to you that there are more yoga teachers in the world?

TD: It’s not about the quantity. I mean there might be 50,000 yoga teachers out there. Everybody’s teaching, really, whatever they want.

I think that if you teach yoga, you are taking on a huge responsibility. You are taking on peoples’ physical well-being, because you’re guiding them through intense physical postures, so it’s important that teachers are educated and trained on doing things safely. And, in my teacher training, there is an immense emphasis on yoga philosophy and the yoga lifestyle.

I don’t think that being a yoga teacher is like being a fitness instructor. Yoga is a way of life. It’s something that resides in our hearts–something in our souls that we live and breathe—versus something we just say we do.

When I do yoga teacher trainings, I want to teach people that can greatly impact other people who are out there. I do feel it’s important that there are yoga teachers out in the world that I can certify and hopefully, push in the right direction, so that when they leave a 200-hr yoga certification, they can go out and make a difference to their students, on a deeper level versus the surface aspects—because it’s not longer just about exteriors.

So what I strive and hope to do with every teacher training is to help people to graduate with a deeper understanding and knowledge of who they are, how they can help other people and hopefully, what their purpose is.

You can find Tamal teaching public classes at The Yoga Collective in Santa Monica, CA as well as private lessons, workshops and upcoming teacher trainings. Namaste!


Shelby is a life-lover, pure and simple. As an artist, writer and certified yoga instructor, she is always looking for new ways to cultivate a deeper connection within ourselves as well as between one another through movement and open-heartedness. Life is one big, beautiful mosaic of experience and Shelby just can’t stop smiling!



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Editor: Bryonie Wise

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