11 May Off The Mat: An Interview With Susie Robinson
Welcome to Off The Mat, a student spotlight series where we interview experienced practitioners about how yoga has equipped them for (and had an impact on) their non yoga lives. Today we sit down with Susie Robinson:
1. What type(s) of yoga do you practice? How often? Has that cadence changed over the years?
I started practicing yoga for the first time in college. I was attending the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and a friend invited me along to a class. The studio was called Center For Yoga and it offered 60 minute hot vinyasa classes set to music. I practiced 3-5 times a week; it helped me feel more confident about my body, ease my nerves amidst exams, and become a member of a close knit community. When I moved to NYC after college, 5 years ago, I took my first Bikram Yoga class and haven’t stopped practicing Bikram ever since. Over these years, some months I am able to practice 4-6 times a week. Other months I practice much less. It’s difficult to pin point why the cadence changes. Contrary to what I’d assume, I’ve been able to practice consistently in the busiest chapters of my life and have been able to join work-study programs to practice more when money is tight.
2. Can you tell us a bit about your life when you’re not doing yoga?
It’s a lot easier to pin point what happens when I’m practicing less frequently. I lose appreciation and recognition of my body, fear the heat and looking at myself in the mirror, stop drinking as much water & eating mindfully, struggle to manage my anxiety & depression, am more reactive & self-conscious, and am way less grateful & present. It’s clear the less I practice, the harder it is to return to the room and the worse I feel and function in my life. I have stopped resisting or fighting this cycle because doing so keeps me suffering and stuck. Instead, I’ve learned to accept that the gift of yoga is available to me as long as I show up to my mat.
3. What skills have you learned on the mat that have been applicable to the rest of your non-yoga life?
Sometimes the only way out is through. 90 minutes can feel like an eternity, especially when I’m feeling off, hungry, stiff, or preoccupied. But shavasana always comes if I make a conscious effort to stay until the end of class. Similarly, I face challenges in my family life, romantic relationship, and career. Avoidance does not help me overcome them, however, persistence, bravery, and patience can.
Also, form over depth. I tend to want to rush to get to the perfect expression of poses without recognizing that a strong foundation is worthy of acceptance & praise. Similarly, I tend to overlook the people & things I have in my life and minimize my accomplishments & talent. I want to have more & be better right away, forgetting that there’s time to improve my postures and my life and that maybe right now, it’s time that I accept that I’m enough just as I am.
4. Can you think of any memorable moments in life when you thought to yourself, “Wow, I’m sure glad I’ve done yoga to help me through this experience”?
Getting through graduate school, planning a wedding, supporting my dad through his battle of cancer, starting a new job, and going through a break-up. I’m surprised that my answer to this question includes both painful and happy moments. I think it’s related to the reality that yoga helps me regulate feelings of sadness and happiness. It helps remind me that every emotion is temporary, the only constant is change, and that my breathe is always available to help and guide me.
5. How has your yoga practice evolved as your life has evolved?
I am able to practice with more compassion and less judgment. I am able to recognize and accept that I will forever be a beginner. I have less of an obsession/compulsion relationship to attending classes and am therefore able to compliment my Bikram practice on off-days with long walks, nights out dancing, and flows that I make up from my living room. I continue to carry a million bags with me that carry my yoga clothes and shower stuff, and I continue to allow myself to cry and smile when I feel moved to do so in a class. I don’t see those two things changing anytime soon 🙂
6. If you could invent your own style of yoga, what would it be? (Assuming no budgetary constraints and a guaranteed target market of eager students!)
1) Yoga helps those of us healing physical injuries and mental illnesses. Many yoga teachers I have had over the years indirectly speak about mental health issues during their classes but do not use terms like anxiety, depression, mania, or addiction. As a group and individual psychotherapist in NYC at this time, I would love to merge psychotherapy with yoga at some point in my future. I think it could really help decrease the stigma surrounding mood, personality, substance use, eating, and other mental health related disorders. Stay tuned!
2) Yoga in the dark. I enjoy closing my eyes in vinyasa classes. I also enjoy taking unguided/silent Bikram Yoga classes. They help me tune into my internal experience of the practice.
3) Naked yoga classes take place at a studio in Chelsea. I’d love to build up the courage to attend. I think it would help me access feelings of freedom and continue learning how to love & accept myself.
Scott Ginsberg is the author of 43 books, a TEDx speaker, the world record holder of wearing nametags, and the author A Year in Hot Yoga: Daily Meditations for On and Off the Mat. Scott is a Community Leader at Yoga Tribe Brooklyn, where he is a daily practitioner and the Managing Editor of their award winning blog. Learn more at www.nametagscott.com