Amanda and I met at Prema Yoga, her studio in the heart of Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Originally the parlor of an 1890's brownstone with architectural bones of classic Brooklyn, the studio feels both grand and intimate. Vaulted ceilings, cascading vintage saree curtains and a pink venetian glass chandelier grace the space with a surprising femininity. Geranium oils and books are genuinely offered in the corner. A Walt Whitman quote, jotted on the entrance blackboard reads, "I am larger and better than I thought. I did not know I held so much goodness."
Having interviewed many yoga teachers, I've noted than many are multi-talented in the creative arts. Amanda is no exception.
black and white images by Cyrus Marshall
Gradually, Amanda veered away from dance and into film and television, but on the other side of the camera; she became a casting director for film and TV. She began to practice yoga at that time and did her training. Once she became pregnant with her first daughter, she gave up casting altogether and felt the pull to teach yoga full time. After Vinyasa training and many years of practicing and teaching, Amanda partnered with Lesley Desaulniers and opened Prema Yoga Brooklyn, which means "divine love" in sanskrit.
Amanda and I chatted about many things, including her lifestyle, personal practice, how she inspires her students and balances work with family:
AH: Vinyasa was the very first style of yoga that I experienced once I stopped dancing. I’ve studied and still continue to study many different styles and methods, but I consider Vinyasa to be the heart of my practice. The asanas themselves have structure and precision and the flow of the practice in between the shapes embrace connection of parts to a whole. There’s a circular fluidity that is very liberating and meditative for me. Vinyasa Krama literally means, "to place in a special way through a precise sequence of events." That is how moving into a pose informs the trajectory of the pose and what follows.
Nothing is arbitrary, just like the many sequences that form our day. How we walk to work, how we prepare to sleep...it all feeds into each other.
To add that extra level of accountability to the practice is exciting to me. We can move into a shape with precision, get clear about the alignment, and then let it breath. We then move out of the pose with the breath as our guide, and then move into the next. I get out of my head where I tend to reside and into my heart, from thinking to feeling.
AH: I think there are many ways that people teach and practice and interpret Vinyasa. It's a term that encompasses so much these days and has so much variety according to the style, the teacher and where it is taught. I've seen classes (and I’m sure I taught them at one time!) where creativity trumped alignment, or when 10 or 11 poses are taught on one side before there is any form of symmetry or relief. I do not teach more than 3 poses in a row on the same leg because there can be too much pressure put one joint. Now that I'm in my late 30's, my body is speaking back loudly to me. I want this practice to be viable long-term where my joints aren’t getting overly stressed, where today’s practice doesn’t inhibit tomorrow’s. My body still craves the fluidity and challenge of Vinyasa. So I practice and teach moving multiple times side to side within a sequence. I focus on creating enough space for the transitions to have depth and grace and I let my breath really inform how I move. The deeper and more resonant my breath, the slower my movement. I always leave extra time for restorative, yin and supported savasana to complete my practice, so I don’t finish feeling depleted. Movement is just as important to me as the ability to sustain and grow a shape. And the way I love to practice encompasses both.
AH: I’ve always been a huge fan of making use of props and support in my classes and my own practice. Why not get as much space, freedom and insight as we can to breath deeply and fully? Props can reign in the amount of endless over-efforting we tend to expel in our practices and lives. When we use the wall, we are getting instant feedback and traction. Our ability to access and tune into proper alignment and engagement is fantastic. When I get the time to actually go to a class, I tend to go to Iyengar classes which I love for precision and stillness, the feeling I get of really tuning in from the inside out. My wall class that I now teach at Prema came out of my Iyengar studies combined with my dedication to my Vinyasa practice. It has all the components of a Vinyasa class but you are using the support of and creating a dialogue with the wall during the duration of the class. It's wildly fun and full of information and accountability, all the things that I love.
AH: We are in the middle of completing our first 200 hour Teacher Training. This fall we began to incorporate Seva (selfless service) into the training and more so in our Advanced Training. If we can't take all the work that we are doing on ourselves and turn it outwards to come from a true place of giving, then we are not practicing yoga. We have joined up with local organizations and volunteering our time and donating resources that can help long term. We have targeted animal rescue groups, senior centers and the homeless, 3 populations that often cannot speak for themselves. My long-term goal is to make Seva just as prominent at Prema as asana and meditation are, that we have daily slots that people can sign up for to go and volunteer in any capacity and that we will be eventually starting our own charity to service these communities.
AH: I get up in the morning early enough so that I have what I think will be enough time for a meditation, asana and chanting practice if I'm lucky. Of course, in a house with 2 small kids, I never know whether it will be 90 minutes or 10 minutes. I put my meditation practice first because I know that is what I truly need each day. It is a gift I give myself to sit, in stillness, connecting to my breath and my heart. It has been hands down one of my best resources and tools as a parent. I was raised in a house where there was a lot of heightened reaction and meditation has helped me practice responding as opposed to reacting. It has helped me to cultivate space between impulse and action. Between what I might be conditioned to say or do and what I actually say or do. Meditation helps me notice and pay attention and, in that, there is softness.
AH: Ahhh, balance. It's a never-ending push and pull. Between teaching, owning a business, being a mother and wife and finding time for my own practice and personal growth, it's a lot of give and take. It's been a lesson for me to begin to say no to things I actually really want to do or be a part of. I've had to really discriminate what gets my time and attention because it all can't get it in the amount it should. So, in order to be truly present for it all, I'm beginning to get better at being clear and getting real. I also have self check-ins where I really stop and ask myself multiple times a week how things are going, what can I do to shift things to support myself and my family. It's actually so helpful to stop and take that pause to assess. Pauses, the space between, just like in asana are crucial for contemplation, reflection.
AMANDA HARDING is proud to be the co-owner with Lesley Desaulniers of Prema Yoga Brooklyn where she teaches weekly Vinyasa flow classes as well as private/corporate clients across NYC & Los Angeles through her company, Karuna NYC. She is the creator of a program 'Yoga on Set' which provides weekly yoga sessions to the cast and crews of NY based film and television shoots. Currently one of Lululemon's Brooklyn Ambassadors, she has been featured in Vogue, Origin Magazine and holds yearly sold out retreats to such locales as Tulum, Costa Rica, the Berkshires, Australia and more. Heavily influenced by Tibetan Buddhist philosophy as well as the Bhakti yoga tradition, Amanda teaches an Ashtanga-influenced vigorous yet mindful and creative class incorporating the fluidity of dance and music/chanting with heavy emphasis on alignment, breath, patience and fun. Her wish is to impart to her students the many gifts she has received through her ongoing practice and studies – a greater sense of authenticity, inner peace, strength, compassion and, most of all, service to others.
movement between poses in yoga, typically accompanied by regulated breathing.
a method of yoga in which movements form a flowing sequence in coordination with the breath.