American Senior Iyengar teacher Carrie Owerko is hosting a ten-day yoga retreat called Uncovering Roots in Infinite Space here in New Zealand from Friday, February 24, 2012 to Sunday, March 04, 2012.
YLB spoke to Carrie to find out more about her journey into yoga, and the retreat. See the end of the interview for booking details, and a special discount for YLB readers.
1. How did you get into Yoga?
I first began doing yoga when I was working for a movement theatre company in NYC.
My director had given me a book about theatre and dance in India. This was after we had seen an amazing performance of Ariane Minouchkines’ Les Atridesat The Brooklyn Academy of Music, where the greek chorus was comprised of dancers using movements based on Indian Kathakali. I was mesmerized.
And this, along with an interest that had been sparked by Gerzy Grotowski’s descriptions of how he utilized yoga to train his theatre company ignited my initial interest.
I went on to study movement in depth and became a Laban Movement Analyst, but my personal yoga practice (which I had developed at that time) continued to be the place where I came home to myself; therefore, I decided to dedicate myself to the practice wholeheartedly.
2. When did you know it was going to be a life-long exploration?
I have always had a strong practice samskara (to use yoga language), or an strong inclination to migrate toward disciplines requiring daily practice.
For as long as I can remember I have found solice in time alone, with an art (physical or otherwise) and the participation my own body/mind. I was attracted to the idea of practice even as a child. So the discipline of yoga addressed this inclination and gave a form to what had been happening, in some small but growing way, already.
3. Why Iyengar? And what’s it been like studying with Iyengar and his family over the years?
I came upon Iyengar Yoga after I had been studying some other styles of yoga for some time. I was (at first) put off by all the props. And, as much as possible, I still like to practice with minimal props. But I really loved how the Iyengar teachers were such strong task masters. They swept in, gave me a belt, aligned my body, quieted my mind, imparting knowledge and teaching me a form—an approach that, ultimately, has given me freedom.
When in Pune, India, I have studied primarily with BKS Iyengar’s daughter, Geeta, and son, Prasahant.
Geetaji is brilliant. She has a way of unpacking the practice so that everyone, absolutely everyone, is awakened. She requires your attention and efforts 100% of the time. She requires that you constantly question yourself and your actions, and that you practice to your fullest potential.
Prashant, however, is a bit of a rebel. He has his own unique line of questioning, and imparting knowledge when teaching asana and pranayama. But, as with his sister Geeta, it is about always learning how to wake up and be truly present.
4. Is there a right way to do a yoga pose, and if there is, how do we know what that way is?
I do not feel that there is a right way to do a yoga pose.
What we do develope is viveka, or discriminative discernment. We increase our capacity for awareness.
One of my favorite anatomy/dance teachers, Irene Dowd, once said that,
“There is no right image, right way or even right movement. There is only a way of functioning that is both unifying and expansive for you at this moment. Furthermore, this way of functioning will change continuously throughout life. Plasticity of mind is what makes movement possible at all.”
Plasiticity of mind is really a key concept here, and in yoga practice in general. We can so easily become stuck, stagnate, and set in our ways. To me yoga is about cultivating a radical presence, and a radical opening of the heart and mind.
5. You mentioned in your YogaDork interview that you’d like to see Donald Trump practicing yoga. Why is that?
In an interview that I did recently for The Yoga Dork, I was asked about which celebrity figure would I like to see practicing yoga.
I said Donald Trump because I think that he (and all of us, actually) might benefit from being less reactive and overly sensitive to the stuff of life and the comments of others.
Yoga helps us learn to pause, breath, and be less reactive. We also learn to cultivate that aspect of ourselves which is similar to the desciption of the Lotus flower in the Bhagavad Gita. The lotus lives its life in the water and yet the drops of water roll off its leaves without ever really wetting them. I find this metaphor (and many of the metaphors expressed in The Bhagavad Gita) very poetic and inspiring.
6. I loved your article Reflections Taking Support and Sharing the Dance. You take a concept from the practice of asana and apply it to life, and relationships in particular. This seems to be a skillful part of truly teaching yoga. Is it something that you were “taught” by your own teachers, or something that’s evolved out of your own practice?
I have found that my asana practice teaches me how to be in relationship with the different aspects of myself. It also helps me in my relationships with other beings. It is about communion. And I have learned many valuable lessons in my asana, pranayama, and meditation practices that have directly and profoundly affected my relationships off the mat or the cushion. And vice versa.
Yoga has helped to integrate what I percieve to be the different aspects of myself into an integrated whole. I have learned this from my teachers, but I feel like yoga teaches yoga, and the practice itself is the best teacher.
7. What inspired you to host a ten day retreat in New Zealand, and what’s the intention behind the retreat?
When I travel to teach and share this subject that I love, I am always a bit nervous, because I am going some place new, meeting new people, getting out of my comfort zone, and encountering the unfamiliar. I think of this as a good thing.
I enjoy meeting people from diffent regions who are also engaged in this process of inquiry. I like learning about how they may be thinking about things, or experiencing things, and exploring the subject.
At the core there is a shared common experience, but there are so many ways each of us can be asleep in our lives, in our practices, and in our relationships. And we learn about ourselves when in relationship with others. And yoga is about about waking up and being present.
One need not travel to distant lands to engage in this process of awakening, but it is a fun way to do so. And it is good to get out of one’s comfort zone and familiar surroundings time and again. It can ignite certain aspects of the learning process.
I have always wanted to visit New Zealand.
The fact that it is, literally, on the other side of the world, and is filled with some of the most spectacular scenery to be found anywhere on the planet is more than enough reason. But the folks that I have meet from both Australia and New Zealand are some of the warmest and friendliest people I have ever meet, especially when studying in Pune where you can meet people from all over the world.
My intention in doing this ten-day retreat is for those of us participating to have an opportunity to go deeply into our practices, to dive deeply into the inquiry, into ourselves, and to begin to uncover a little of what is soft and true and sits at in the heart of us, at the very core of our being. And to have an opportunity to traverse this inner landscape, but also to traverse some beautiful outer landscapes. And learn from each other and with each other. But most importantly, to celebrate and integrate our practices in this vast land of relationship.
We are offering NZers a 1-off special price of USD 3000 for two people to attend at Awaroa. It’s a substantial discount from the published prices ($NZ 1890 for four nights at 4-star Awaroa Lodge, 8 classes with Carrie, all meals and return transfers from Nelson.)
It will be an intimate affair and the chance for yogis of any discipline to deepen their practice and spend some quality time with Carrie and a wonderful group of students who are coming from around the world. Register here, and enter the code LUNCHBOXYOGA to claim your discount.
More on Carrie:
Carrie Owerko has been practicing yoga for many years and is a core faculty member of the Iyengar Yoga Institute of NY. She holds a Senior Intermediate I teaching credential and serves as an assessor for the Iyengar National Association.
She travels regularly to India to study with the Iyengar family and has had the honor of co-choreographing and performing in “Live-Light on Life,” a tribute to the life and works of B.K.S. Iyengar at New York City Center during his 2005 National Book Tour.
Before devoting herself to the art and science of yoga, Carrie earned a BFA in Dance and Theater from Loretto Heights College and became a Certified Movement Analyst from the Laban Institute. She has spent years dancing, performing and exploring movement for communication and expression.