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Interview with Lanita Varshell, Yoga Instructor
Lanita Varshell is the owner and founder of A Gentle Way Yoga & Joyful Movement Center in La Mesa, California. Lanita has been a Yoga Practitioner since 1995. She teaches Yoga Classes, offers healing Yoga Therapy in Private Sessions, and offers wonderful Gentle Yoga Women's Retreats. Her Studio, A Gentle Way offers classes to people of all sizes, but has become a leader in plus-size yoga training. So good, they even train others to become Certified Yoga Teachers. Read on to learn more about Lanita and A Gentle Way yoga.
Moe: How did you discover Yoga?
Lanita Varshell: My life and my health had fallen apart. I was in a terrible marriage; I had lost my first business and did not know who I was anymore. I had terrible Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, back pain, 100 pounds overweight, and many other health issues. I had two small children, and I could barely get out of bed each day to take care of them. Since I was physically unable to hold down a full time job, I was volunteering at a "Positive Thinking Center" a few hours each day while my daughter was in Kindergarten, and taking my small son with me. It was there I was contacted by a Gentle Yoga teacher that wanted to promote a workshop at the Center. That never happened, but she kept contacting me and bugging me to come to one of here classes. I had no desire. I never thought I could do yoga. I finally went, about six months later, just to get it over with and prove I could not do it so she would not keep bothering me.
Moe: Did you see immediate benefits?
Lanita Varshell: YES! During my first class, I cried all through the class. Not because it was hard or it hurt, but because I was feeling my body, really feeling it, and for the first time, ever perhaps, making a body, mind, spirit connection. This was the most gentle, loving way of moving my body I had ever experienced. It was like a very slow moving, meditative dance. It was fun to know that there were things I could do gracefully and easily. I knew that night that I had to dedicate myself to this movement to "save myself," or I would soon be 400 pounds, in a wheelchair, and have no life at all. I knew that night that I was being called to teach this, and to show other plus size women that they could do this too. I thought it was crazy - ME?? Teaching YOGA?? But it was a call I knew I had to listen to. My Teacher knew it also. She came up to me that night after class and said, "I always knew that I was going to train a plus size Teacher and you're IT!" That was over ten years ago, and it was the best decision I ever made.
Moe: Why A Gentle Way? What does it offer women, specifically the plus size woman?
Lanita Varshell: I knew that I had to offer yoga in a place and a way that would attract and not intimidate people like me. The plus size, health challenged and even alot of "average" women I spoke with who HAD tried yoga usually did not stick with it because they felt intimidated in a room where everyone else moved so easily, or where a Yoga Teacher really could not just comprehend what it felt like to live in their large, inflexible, or pain ridden body. Our Center is a safe, nurturing place for women. I always teach my classes catering to the level of the most beginner or health challenged student-up, so that everyone feels successful. Even the Students that can do more physically are finding a deeper release and lasting changes (without injury) in learning to slow down and "relax into a pose." At each class you are encouraged to do only what your body is willing and capable of doing that day, to stop and rest whenever you need to; to not look at or compare yourself to anyone else in the room.
Moe: It has taken a long time for Yoga to come into the plus-size community. Why do you think that is?
Lanita Varshell: (Boy do I have alot to say about this one!) I contribute this to both the industry (yoga and exercise communities), and the Student for two different reasons which I will explain below.
First, yoga has been primarily done by those already pretty fit, already taking care of themselves. The fit come to yoga because they are searching for flexibility (which traditional exercise doesn't usually provide), or something "deeper within" that they are not finding in traditional exercise. The books that have been written and most of the classes offered have been primarily for those already fairly healthy, and not size challenged. So the plus-size and health challenged have not felt comfortable in this environment. When there are 20 people in a class that CAN do a traditional pose without help, and you are the only one that can't, it is very discouraging. You either have a teacher that ignores you completely and doesn't even try to help you, so you walk out (maybe injured), incredibly humiliated, and never go back, or you have a Teacher who does stop the class to help you "get into the pose" or some form of it, while the "fit" have to wait and sometimes even send their feelings of impatience and "what are YOU doing here?" directly into your energy field. It takes a brave, brave soul to keep showing up in these settings. Some do, have, and by sticking to it have achieved great benefits and the respect of most of their fellow Yoga Students.
Secondly, those who teach yoga and own Studios and Gyms must keep making a living and bringing in income to keep their places open, and I'm sorry to say that the Plus Size and Health Challenged have the reputation of starting things, and then stopping, not keeping at it or showing up on a regular basis for things that require "taking care of themselves." I CAN talk about this, because I WAS one of these people. It takes alot of work, follow-up, bugging, and a big heart to help shift people's habits. It takes people who are passionate about helping others learn "a new way of being." AND it takes dedicated Students.
Moe: What would you say to get a plus-size person to give yoga a try?
Lanita Varshell: The time has never been better for a Plus Size Student to try yoga. Many GOOD Teachers have begun to see the need to slow-down, and modify what they have been taught. There are several different "styles" of yoga that are getting more and more popular, that are much easier for us to do than alot of the more well-know styles which are fast and intimidating. Shop around for a Teacher that you connect with, and if you can afford it have a private session with them first to make sure they teach in a way that you connect to before you join a group class, or a least have a phone interview session first.
Moe: We have readers from all over the world. For people who can't make it to your classes what three tips would you offer them for starting or enhancing Yoga practice?
Lanita Varshell: 1. Try out all the different Teachers, Classes, and Styles in your area and see which Teacher and Style you feel "drawn" to. I have an Article I can email you upon request on "How to find the right Teacher."
2. Commit yourself to just ONE weekly class or private session for 6 weeks, and show up to it, no matter what. Make it the most important appointment of the week, the time you take care of yourself. Don't try to do too much too soon. Really GET that there is NOTHING more important than taking care of yourself. Anything you're giving to others is "empty" if you are not keeping your cup full.
3. Don't convince yourself that you have to "find" 60 or 90 minutes everyday to do yoga. Yoga is a combination of: conscious breathing, conscious movement, and deep relaxation. Set a timer and get up after an hour of sitting to stretch for 5 minutes. When you are waiting in a line or at a red light, breathe consciously through your nose and follow the breath through your body. Take quiet time to relax with distractions, (especially TV). Take 2 minute seated Meditations, and work your way into longer periods where you are just with you, taking care of you, discovering you, from the inside out.
Moe: Not only do you teach people about yoga but you teach others how to teach. Where do your students come from?
Lanita Varshell: Some students are fellow Yoga Teachers that have never been taught modifications or those who are looking for a more gentle approach to yoga. Others are my yoga students who want to take their practice deeper, whether they use the training to teach later or just to help them along on their path to expansion, growth. Some people have "heard" of me already by word of mouth, others come off my Ad in Yoga Journal Magazine. Others through their own Internet Search.
Moe: Can anyone become a teacher?
Lanita Varshell: Anyone who is willing to commit themselves to the practice of yoga, and an initial 200 hours of training can become a teacher. I love seeing larger and health challenged students like me becoming teachers. It lets others know what is possible, and that you don't have to "look" or be perfect to help and teach others.
Moe: What words of wisdom would you like to part with?
Lanita Varshell: People come to yoga for different reasons. Some students come to yoga looking for health, and in their search for health they find their true selves (spirit). Others come looking for a spiritual connection (to make sense of who they are and why they are here), and they find health. Many come for a "fit" body, but they soon realize yoga is really about controlling the MIND, and as we learn to harness the energy of the mind we change our body and our life. Yoga says most of us are allowing our minds to control our lives instead of the wise one within you - the spirit you leading the way. So yoga is not about losing control of your mind, but gaining control of it. Lovingly teaching it how to work with our body and spirit. And when you are living out of all three areas, body, mind, and spirit, you are having a WONDERFUL life experience; despite your life challenges, weight challenges, health challenges.
Thank you! Many blessings to each person who gifted ME with taking the time to read this article!
Visit A Gentle Way online.
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