Born and bred in the United States, Melissa now calls New Zealand her home.
You may have caught her on TV One’s Good Morning Show, distilling her wealth of yoga knowledge and understanding down into a five minute snippet digestible and accessible to the daytime TV audience.
It’s something that takes considerable skill, but Melissa was brought up immersed in yoga and spiritual practice.
She’s used to translating traditional practices for a contemporary world – without losing the authenticity and power of the original source.
1. What style of yoga do you practice and where do you teach?
MYOGA is a fusion, a collection. Over the years of studying various styles and working with students, I have pulled out some key tools that I feel make the deeper, more traditional postures and kriyas more accessible to the modern body.
I teach in my studio, Powa Centre, at 1 Marion St, Wellington and also at various gyms around Wellington plus on TVNZ’s Good Morning Show.
2. How did you come to yoga?
When I was 7 my mom did her Massage Therapy training at Kripalu, which was still an ashram in Pennsylvania.
I did yoga, meditation and Danskinetics. We were also practicing Nichiren Buddhists, so I was accustomed to chanting and devotion on a daily basis. At 16 an aunt introduced me to Kundalini yoga.
I’ve always been a big mover and have tried nearly every sport and dance there is. I was a competitive runner and when my sacro-iliac joint suffered from running, I eventually shifted to yoga. Now with the integrated strength and awareness of yoga, I have started running again after 20 years of believing I would never run again!
3. When did the yoga bug really get you?
It’s been a gradual, growing relationship with yoga from an early age. The fact that it has become a vocation for me is still startling. And yet, it’s so completely aligned with my values that it makes perfect sense as well.
4. How has yoga transformed your life?
On a physical level I have metamorphisized from a gangly thing into more of a graceful gangly thing!
I have changed my feet from low arches and super-narrow, to broad toed and strong arches.
I have regained the childlike flexibility yet coupled that with greater strength then I’ve ever had. And that physical empowerment radiates and interlocks with the mental, emotional, spiritual and social. The byline or tag line of MYOGA is Freedom to Unfold. That is what I have experienced and that is my intention in teaching—empowering you to empower yourself to unfold into your individual greatness through awareness.
5. What is your home practice like?
Initially it took a while to become regular.
I’ve always been a self-starter and quite independent but the consistency of my personal practice/sadhana grew slowly.
About 14 years ago, I was doing it maybe once a month and then it evolved to once a week and then I committed to a daily practice about 10 years ago. However, at that time, I didn’t have to work so I had this incredible opportunity to spend hours exploring.
Now, I’d say that, having gained that foundation, that centre, my practice is much more malleable to what’s needed at the time. And what’s important to me is that I am yogic, not that I do yoga. So if I treat someone with disregard but practice religiously every day, what’s that worth? I’m much more interested in taking the practice off the mat—about being the yoga practice in this crazy world!
6. When people ask you, “What is Yoga?”, what do you say?
Actually, most people don’t ask that question. They often ask what style I teach, but I soon realized that most people don’t have broad experience in yoga so I was literally speaking another language when I began to rattle on about what I do.
What people do seem to have is extreme ideas of what yoga is—either they believe it’s about tying yourself in knots (perceived as impossible, so why do it?) or it’s about sitting still for hours on end (perceived as a waste of time, so why do it?). What’s true for most people is far less extreme and my intention in teaching is to bring the yoga to the people—to make it accessible and enjoyable. After all that’s what yoga is—union.
So I’m constantly intrigued and challenged by the riddle of how to wake people up to how the body, breath, brain and spirit are always in dialogue. It’s just that we’re either not listening or half-asleep most of the time.
7. What can people expect from one of your classes?
My classes are relatively small to ensure that each person is held in the space. I teach in a circle to engender community and diminish hierarchy.
Regardless of the experiential level (Basics, Multi-Level or Challenge) of the class or the focus that we have (7 Seasonal Series or points of focus over the course of the year), there is a general arc from tuning/checking in through to warming up, intensifying & then integrating.
I encourage people to make requests at the start of the practice to underline that MYOGA is your yoga and to create a climate of growing awareness of what changes in you from day to day.
8. What do you love most about teaching yoga?
Empowerment/evolvement and communion/community are what I’m about. MYOGA stands for Manifest Your Own Greatness through Awareness. Yoga is one of the most effective ways of supporting that journey of awakening.
Teaching is an honour. I used to lull my cats to sleep when I was little and teaching yoga reminds me of that practice of leading clawed creatures gently into a trusting space where they can relax—of holding space for people, who normally have their hackles up to the world, to soften and strengthen within their own skins.
9. What do you wish everybody knew about yoga?
That you’re stronger than you think. Or more flexible. Or more capable. Yoga is so widely known as a physical practiceand that is certainly the best way of seeing its effects because they’re so visible. But this practice in the body is essentially one of “yogah citta vrtti nirodha” as Patanjali writes—of calming the fluctuations of the mind. And it’s the mind that so often limits us, even though the spirit is limitless.
10. What role do you see yoga playing in our world?
Having been involved with yoga, in an ever-increasing capacity, for the past 30 years, I’ve seen a tremendous shift in people’s perceptions of yoga. I was such a freak growing up in America, eating lentils and tofu & chanting and staying in tee-pees. Now yoga is mainstream, which has its advantages and disadvantages. (People need to be discerning when choosing a practice to suit them—I always tell people to shop around if they’re new to yoga.)
This practice is about unification. If we are to survive, to not destroy ourselves/our planet, it will come about through unification.
In recent centuries, we as modern humans have been fearful of being overtly spiritual. Spirit, in its origin as a word, relates to our ability, our willingness, to take the life-force into our bodies – our ability/willingness to InSpire. In these times, we can no longer afford to tiptoe around Spirit, fearing its cousin religion.
It is time to reconnect to spirit through the elements, through our ability to moveand breathe and support one another as a community, local and global.
MYOGA is dedicated to this endeavour. How can we evolve and empower humans to repair the hoop of life and to walk in beauty in this world?
We can start in small ways, by recognizing our own manifest, yet often untapped, power to grow outside of self-imposed limits. By empowering individuals in a community context, we grow together as a culture that values not only the individual, but the web of the world that supports and interlocks with the individual.
In the words of Lao Tzu:
If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself.
If you want to eliminate all of the suffering in the world,
then eliminate all that is dark & negative in yourself.
Truly, the greatest gift you have to give, is that of your own transformation.
11. Anything else you’d like to say?
If you’d like to see me in action, check out the TVNZ spots from 2009 on my blog.
MYOGA responds to the seasons by shifting focus in the chakra system & asana practice every 6-8 weeks.
There are 7 Sadhana Series through the course of the year that can be experienced in a 40 Day Sadhana practice or in any of the Multi-Level or Challenge classes during those 6-8 weeks.
The Basics Series classes give someone new to yoga the tools necessary to feel more fluid & comfortable taking part in Multi-Level or Challenge classes. Additionally there are often specialized series that we offer on the Chakras or Kundalini Yoga or the Yamas/Niyamas.
Pregnancy classes are ongoing & Family Yoga classes are run in 4-6 week series.
12. And finally, how do people find you?
My website may answer a good few questions, but if you’d like to connect, please call or write in. Or better yet stop in and check out a class – the best understanding of yoga comes from experiencing it for yourself!