In celebration of the Summer Solstice and International Yoga Day, we are sharing a conversation with one of our evaluators, Dr. Sandra Sheppard, who decided to take up yoga instructor training during quarantine.

1. How long have you been practicing yoga?

Turns out, much longer that I initially realized. As my current yoga practice deepened and intensified, I began to re-experience lessons taught to me by my Steffi Nossen Dance instructors. I started at age four and spent thirteen years in that modern dance school, even receiving an invitation from Steffi herself to join the company. I am aware of those lessons in my body every day, even so many years later. In yoga classes, I discovered the roots of my dance lessons in the subtleties of breath, in the conscious and patient moving into, sustaining, and moving out of an asana (pose), in the ability to locate myself in my body and locate my body in the spaces I inhabit. I was also exposed to yoga through PBS. Shout out to public television! I learned very basic, grounded Hatha Yoga from Lilias Folan and her pioneering yoga program Lilias! Yoga, and You. However, I would have to say that my ‘practice’ was inconsistent at best; active when I discovered a teacher I liked (Rodney Yee), inactive when life or other forms of exercise were distracting me.

2. What inspired your decision to become certified as a yoga teacher?

Eddie Haskell, master of grounding and inhabiting spaces.

I had reached a pain point in my life that required making a significant change in my behavior that my mind could follow! Toxic employment had become the center of my life and anything mindful was at the fringes. I made a plan to resign that included five months of preparing myself and my staff but the toxicity forced me to reduce that plan to thirty days. Unknown to me was that letting go of that job when I did, made me available for a CCNY position that opened up just as suddenly. CCNY provides a robust organizational model for life-work balance and I felt encouraged to reorganize my life with mindfulness at the center and work at the fringes. Making a commitment to 200 hours of yoga teacher training was my way of replacing ‘talking the talk’ with ‘walking the walk.’ For the first time in years, work had to be arranged around non-work hours. Also, I’m a firm believer in ‘teaching’ as the best way to ‘learn’ and I’ve always become a teacher of things I’ve learned: challenge courses [Sandra was Director of the Ropes Challenge course at YMCA Camp Weona for two years], lifeguarding, social work, swimming, etc.

Eddie has a fishbone to pick with toxic workplaces.

3. What do you wish you’d known when you first started learning yoga?

This significance of fascia. The research in fascia is new and astounding. I think it supports what dancers and rock climbers and swimmers have implicitly ‘known’ all along but really understanding the function and role of fascia makes teaching yoga so much more useful in daily life– way, way beyond simply executing an asana.

4. What do you love most about yoga?

The ongoing discovery of how integrated movement and strength can create a more powerful sense of location in your own body, and location of your body in the world around you. The integration process engages breath, fascia, muscles, nerves, thoughts – and encourages understanding familiar movement (a.k.a. the way we always do things) so that we can develop novel movement (a.k.a. developing new ways of doing things), I love being challenged to answer questions like: Do you have the patience to find (something) in this pose? Can you isolate the movement of (body part) to help your body come to a new opinion (painful vs. not painful)?

Meowdified Cat Pose. Blocks optional.

5. What do you find most challenging about yoga?

Funny, as much as I love teaching, I find home practice to be terribly challenging! I like being led by an instructor. From a short but powerful list of ‘mentors’ I’m filling teaching categories with examples of their work, i.e., Matt Sanford provides inspiring opening sequences, Kaisa (not a yogi) provides inspiring warm up sequences, Carrie provides inspiring isolation sequences, Adrienne provides inspiring peak pose sequences… jigsawing their examples together (with credit, of course) is helping me find and grow the kind of yoga teaching spontaneity that I possess in other disciplines.

6. Where would you like to be headed following certification?

Two destinations: Yogis in Service here in Buffalo; and adaptive/universal design teacher training with Matt Sanford in Minneapolis.

7. Which teachers (of yoga or not) have inspired you and how will you bring that to your personal and shared practice?

  • Matt Sanford who turned his paraplegia into a powerful yoga teaching model; supporting his movement, taking his classes, reading his book, earning his certification
  • Kaisa who turned debilitating body image issues into creative and inspiring movement lessons; practicing her methods
  • Carrie Jacobson who uses co-ownership of East Meets West Yoga here in Buffalo to support community development; following her innovative path to yoga as a detour (it’s a real thing, YogaDetour™)
  • Adrienne who has used her social platform to provide years of FREE grounded, integrative, well-informed yoga practice (Yoga with Adrienne); practicing her 30-day journeys, listening to her public speaking, making her yoga mat spray (so delicious to smell)