When Lisa Rotell's loyal students pack into her Iyengar Yoga class, they know they will endure a challenging physical experience. Upon leaving, they will have come in contact with the spiritual aspects of yoga.
Athletic and graceful practitioner, mindful and authentic educator— Lisa shares her discerning wisdom with crystal clear demonstrations, serendipitous commentary and personal attention. There are no distractions— no scripts, notes, playlists...only the sound of her voice and your breath.
With a no-nonsense approach, Lisa states, “I am the conduit to deliver the teachings of yoga to students. This allows each student to have their own direct experience.”
Originally trained as a fine artist, she holds a BFA degree in textile design and worked in both the interior design and luxury goldsmith industries before yoga became her greater passion. Lisa creates visual metaphors for her students to understand shape and direction. Her expertise in asana form is very precise and she unifies her classes despite each student's physical condition or maturity.
Iyengar Yoga is based on the teachings of the yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar (1918-2014) who began teaching in Pune, India, in 1936 at the age of 18. Up until the age of 95, he continued to practice, teach and inspire students all over the world. His daughter, Geeta, and his son, Prashant, are also accomplished teachers and authors of yoga texts.
The Iyengar family’s teachings are deeply grounded in the yoga sutras of Patanjali, an ancient summation of the path of yoga considered to be at least 2,500 years old. B.K.S. Iyengar’s intense practice and seventy years of teaching have produced significant innovations in the teaching of the art and science of yoga.
In Iyengar Yoga, the search for a developed consciousness begins with physical awareness. In each posture, every part of the body is acted upon with intent and precision. Yet Iyengar Yoga goes beyond the physical being to embrace emotional and spiritual growth. As students learn to extend awareness to each part of their body, they begin to explore the limitless potential of the mind and the soul. The two quests of the physical and the spiritual are not separate but parts of a complementary approach to self-realization and enlightenment. “The practice of Iyengar Yoga continually deepens,” Lisa states, “bringing greater happiness and meaning to life.”
Summer of 2013, Lisa travelled to Pune, India and had the great fortune to study with Geeta and Prashant Iyengar and observe Mr Iyengar practicing and living his life at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI). I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Lisa about her experience in India as well as her personal endeavors:
LR: My personal practice varies from day to day, depending on my schedule. In addition to my teaching, I aim for a two hour personal practice. There is always a pose or two that I'm working on. I get in moods where I practice the same pose or category of poses repetitively. It is my process to go deeper and penetrate to the next layer of myself.
The Iyengar method leads you to meditation within the postures. My pranayama practice happens at different points of the day, but mostly early evening.
LR: I began my training in 1994, when the styles of yoga were not as distinct as they are today. Nevertheless, after completing Vinyasa training, I immediately began looking for stillness.
In 2003, I started practicing at The Iyengar Yoga Association of Greater New York (IYAGNY) and I knew immediately that this was the method that would carry me through the rest of my life.
LR: The late Mary Dunn and James Murphy.
Mary's teachings were poetic. She spoke with such beauty, delicacy and warmth. Her classroom experience made you feel like you were the only one she was speaking to. Mary used to say, “I practice yoga for the joy of setting aside the practical demands of life and learning more about peace and the art of being." I credit Mary Dunn for inspiring me to become an Iyengar teacher.
James Murphy is currently my primary teacher and mentor. I've been studying with him since 2007, and I am certain his effects will last a lifetime.
LR: Preparation for certification is layered and intense. The training is rigorous and requires lots of focus and time. It includes studying anatomy, yoga philosophy, physiology, and most importantly, refining teaching skills and in-depth study of asana.
The testing process is a three part exam that takes place over a weekend: a written exam, a demonstrated practice based on specific poses and finally a teaching practicum.
LR: As soon as I took my first step into India, I was greeted by the immediacy of the environment. It requires your full attention as it invites your senses into the depths of the unfamiliar, but it returns fully and whole heartedly.
Many times I felt I was inside a novel or a fairy tale as rickshaws, cows, elephants, camels, and monkeys became a part of my daily life. Nothing can prepare you for the contrast, the chaos, or complexity of India. The vibrant colors, which were of endless appeal became a point of focus for me.
The people as a culture are endlessly fascinating: extremely awake and calm. A plethora of sensory delights await and invite you without any pre-requisites. India meets you exactly where you are and takes you where you need to go.
LR: The Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune, India (RIMYI) was established by BKS Iyengar in 1975. For nearly forty years it has been the hub for Iyengar Yoga teachers, from all over the globe, to study directly with BKS, his daughter, Geeta, and his son, Prashant. As long as I can remember, I have dreamt of this experience. Waiting for many years, the time finally came for me to take a month off of all the things that defined me: mother, wife, teacher, and instead, focus on learning, being, and growing.
The main hall is a symphony of activity, not unlike the streets of India. Rimini is an octagonal space which represent the 8 Limbs of Yoga. It is alive and awake drawing you into all it’s offerings. The layers of history, faith, and dedication permeate the atmosphere calling to mind such places as the Sistine Chapel.
The Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune, India (RIMYI)
The foreground was the Institute where I spent the majority of my day. Six days a week I had a two hour class in the morning where I was taught directly by Geeta or Prashant Iyengar. Geeta's presence enveloped my cells and woke me up to the many parts of myself. An outstanding teacher who unifies each and every student into the tapestry of her teachings. Prashant is equally compelling. He is a collection of thought provoking aphorisms bringing the yoga sutras into a live and tangible form. Many times I left his class in a complete state of being. I question just how many poses and instructions do we actually need when there is a teacher like Prashant. Each class was deeply compelling.
At other times during the day, I observed classes —another aspect of learning— and practiced amongst the 150 international students who arrived that month to study. There were set times each day where we could practice in the main hall. BKS practices everyday alongside all the students and teaches Abhijata, his grand-daughter, who is being groomed to take a very important position in the lineage. It was an honor to be in that space. Being at RIMYI woke me up to the many parts of me that were dormant.
Many concepts you learn about the spiritual path are put into a live and tangible form when you travel to India. One must be present, awake, calm, forgiving, disciplined, expect the unexpected, nothing is where you think it is, you must uncover, look forward, backward, right, left, on top, underneath, and mostly, inside yourself. Their teachings shifted me mentally, emotionally, and cellularly. They re-worked, re-wired, and re-conceptualized my ideas of a yoga practice.
LR: Mr Iyengar is a living example of yoga. His home is at RIMYI, so he is very present. Everything is transparent. I observed him during his daily activities such as reading the newspaper at his desk. During instruction, Mr Iyengar is present to observe and ensure the teachings are precise. In addition, he was in the practice hall practicing alongside of us every day. I was incredibly grateful to spend a month with the Iyengars.
LR: I thought that I would be relieved by the quietness, however, it was unsettling, disarming. There is a “puffiness” to the culture. There is a layer of consumption to everything, from inanimate to animate. In addition, I saw how luxurious yoga is in America and how yoga studios cater to their students.
top: Eka Pada Rajakapotasana III (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose III) middle: Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose) with Tzahi Moskovitz, Yogathon 2013 Iyengar Institute of N.Y.C. Photo : Liam Cunningham bottom: Padmasana (lotus pose) using Priti blankets. Photo: Maxwell Hudson
LR: My favorite is the new Priti Cloud Ten Mat Topper. I love how smooth, soft and clean it is and how easily it folds in a gridded fashion. I also own the Quilted Cloud Nine Blanket. It is multi-dimensional: the whole family uses it for lounging around, sleeping and for my personal practice. It got us through the long winter this year!
LR: I think a lot about shape and how this relates to my fine art background and how I can join these two interests. I also am focused on how to be a better teacher and how I can improve my communication.
Lisa taught at the Iyengar Institute in Manhattan and Brooklyn as well as studios in New Jersey.
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A special thank you to Lisa for her dedication, patience and kindness during this interview.http://priticollection.com/pages/educating-how-blankets-assist-with-asana-and-protect-your-body