Sarah Kohl of Mama Kohl: TGBTS Featured Teacher

Teachers.

Don’t you just love them?

I know I do.

There are those that inspire me and those that make me laugh. Some help me solve problems in my classroom and others that help me solve problems in my life.

I’d like to introduce you to some of my favorite teachers here.

Teachers in studios, classrooms and in the world at large. These are the folks you will see featured in my series of teacher interviews here at Teacher Goes Back to School.

I hope you enjoy these teachers as much as I do!

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Have you met Sarah yet? She’s pretty much the bee’s knees. Equal parts smarts, sass and ass-kicking with a side of mindful beauty. This one writes directly to the heart.

Here’s my interview.

When did you start practicing?

I think I started practicing at birth.  I think we all do.  If you look at babies, they are natural yogis.  We just forget as we get older.  As far as when I officially started, I was 18 years old.  I got “Yoga For Dummies” at a bookstore and learned very quickly that you can’t learn yoga exclusively from a book.  Can you imagine?  It was a hilarious start, looking back, but it was a start!

Why did you start?

Things in my life went totally haywire when I was about 17.  We all have sob stories and mine certainly isn’t unique, but I knew that I needed something to carry me through the mess, something for me to hold onto , something to believe in when everything else in my life had fallen to ash.  It was either that or drug addiction and yoga seemed a better choice (I’m only slightly kidding about that.) I knew I needed to move my body and move my mind and find a way for it to all come together.  I’ve never looked back.

Where did you practice?

At that time, I practiced in my living room, in my yard, at outdoor concerts, in parks, anywhere I could.  I got videos and more books and practiced with friends.  Believe it or not, I was in my late 20s before I actually took an official class, although by that time I had been “teaching” my friends for years.

 How has your practice evolved over time?

Have you ever put a rock into a rock tumbler?  You pick out a rock because it looks pretty cool as it is.  I mean, no one decides to polish up a gross rock.  So you take the rock and you put it in in the tumbler and for a long, long time, weeks maybe, this rock tumbles around making a racket in the machine and all you can hear is this rock.  It’s in your sleep.  It’s vibrating your teeth as you try to eat your dinner.  You’re certain that rock tumbler is following you down the interstate.  It’s EVERYWHERE and you can’t not see it, you can’t not hear the noise – until the day that you don’t. One day, you don’t hear it anymore.  It ceases to be something outside of your life, it is a part of your life, and it blends in.  At that moment, you can take the rock out and notice that it is polished, it is gleaming, it’s a beautiful gem that barely resembles it’s former self.  That’s what my yoga practice has been like.  I thought yoga was cool.  I started practicing and suddenly it was all I could talk and think about.  I banged around creating a huge racket while I tried to figure out what worked for me, what I liked, what I wanted, what I needed.  I tried all sorts of styles, all sorts of teachers, all sorts of everything, continuing to clang around like a rock.  Each trial polished me a little more and I kept hunting, searching, stumbling to create a yogic life until, little by little, over lots of time and lots of honing, I realized that I wasn’t searching anymore.  I wasn’t looking for something I didn’t have.  I wasn’t buzzing and crashing and clanging.  I was living it.  I had found my place, MY yoga, and I looked and found that it’s pretty polished.  Well, as polished as I need it to be for me most of the time, although I do still throw it in the tumbler for a quick buff now and again.

 How long have you been a teacher?

I started teaching my friends years ago.  We’d practice in our living rooms and then drink wine and watch Must See TV.  I officially took training and started teaching group and private classes in 2009.

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Why did you start Sarahasana?

I’ve been a blogger for close to a decade.  My first blog was just a personal blog, dedicated to my brain droppings and stories about my kids and my life and my effort to find my place in it.  I took a break from blogging there and realized that I actually had something to say about something that people were interested in.  I didn’t need to just write to hear my own voice, I could write to evoke discussion, thoughts, ideas, and maybe spread a little inspiration around here and there.  It also became a public way for me to document my journey from just some chick who does yoga to a teacher.  Finally, I was sick and tired of reading almost nothing but flowery unrealistic yoga blogs that made it sound like life was always roses and rainbows and light and cupcakes.  Screw that – sometimes life sucks.  I wanted to speak the truth.  As the years have passed, Sarahsana has become much more than just a platform for discussing yoga.  It’s really a place for me to discuss my life.  My yoga on and OFF the mat, if you will.  Writing is all I know how to do with my feelings and thoughts.  I don’t play an instrument. I don’t paint.  I don’t do interpretive dance (although those who have seen me after a few cocktails might disagree.)  I write.  That’s all I know to do.  I discovered that my feelings and ideas don’t seem to “get out of me” if I’m just writing in a private journal.  For some reason, I have to hit “publish” before they stop the squirrel cage in my head.

Sarahsana is my own journey, my own practice, my own style of finding my way through this life.  It’s the seat of who I am.  The subtitle of Sarahsana is “n: the art of slip-sliding into Samadhi”  It’s not a clear journey.  I make a ton of mistakes.  Sometimes when I slip, I end up closer to bliss.  Sometimes when I slip, I end up in the other direction.  But I keep slipping and sliding, I don’t give up, I keep suiting up and showing up and practicing.

What are your classes like?

My classes are a little unconventional.  I used to teach 5 or 6 classes a week, but due to a family tragedy a little less than a year ago, I’m currently only teaching one class a week. It’s a rather advanced class full of arm balances and inversions, but EVERYONE is welcome to attend.  I’m not big on the final result – I don’t care if you never ever manage to “nail” Astavakrasana.  What I want is for people to try something new, to have fun, to play on the mat.  I want people to explore themselves and their boundaries.  We never know what we are capable of until we try and we likely won’t try unless someone says, “Try it!”  I’m big on safety and alignment, so I tell my students, “This is your practice, not mine.  It’s my job to open the door to you and keep you safe as you walk through as far as you feel comfortable going.”  I laugh a lot in class.  I make irreverent jokes.  I tell it like it is.  I play decidedly “un-yogic” music, whatever that means.  I do mix sutras, pranayama, philosophy, and meditation into my classes, but I want yoga to be accessible to everyone. Yoga doesn’t have to be so damn serious all the time.  I want people to enjoy it.  If it doesn’t feel good to you, it’s not yoga.  My goal is that everyone leaves my class feeling better than they did when they arrived. Come as you are: happy, angry, sad, sore, confused, hungover.  Just show up and I’ll help you leave it all on the mat.

{ed. note: This is why I would take a class with Sarah any day of the week.}

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Do you have a home practice? What is it like? How often? Where? How’d you start and how do you keep at it?

I do have a home practice.  I think all teachers need to have one.  That said, it doesn’t have to be exclusively asana.  I used to roll out my mat and practice in my basement for an hour a day.  As I’ve gotten older and life has thrown me some curve balls, I do roll out my mat regularly at home, but not every day.  These days, my yoga at home is less asana than ever.  I meditate.  I breathe.  I try to find the balance in a shifting world. How do I keep at it?  I check in with myself.  When I find that my life is spinning out of control or that I’m in a funk, I realize that I’ve slipped out of my practice.  Chaos keeps me practicing.

 What’s your favorite pose? Why?

That depends on what day you ask!  Pigeon has always been a personal favorite because it allows me to let it all go and empty my emotional junk drawer.  If I’m confused or having a hard time understanding things in my life, headstands always bring me clarity.  If i’m needing to calm down and let the stress drain away, Supta Bhadokonasana or Savasana are key.

What’s your least favorite pose?

Galavasana, no question.  I teach arm balances and inversions and I love love love them, but for some reason, Galavasana makes me want to cuss like a sailor.  So, of course, I make myself do it often.

Do you have a meditation practice?

Yes!  Oh I would hate to think of how messed up I would be without it.  I’ve been “sitting” for many years now.  I think it’s crucial to our mental and emotional health to learn how to just sit and be with what is.

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What is your favorite blog post? Why?

That’s like asking me to pick my favorite strand of hair.  While it changes all the time, I think my favorite for the past few months has been “Sluts, Shaming, Strength, and Survival: In Which I Piss Off Everyone I Know.”

I wrote it 5 months ago and quite a lot has changed since then (I did meet someone I wanted a relationship with, I did fall in love, I have rethought some of my affectionate ways and motivations, etc.,) but the general ideas behind this post are still strong and true to me.  I will be damned if I’m going to let anyone else shame me or manipulate me so that my life looks the way they think it should look.  No one gets to make that decision for me or for anyone else but themselves.

What other blogs do your read? Why?

I don’t read a lot of blogs anymore.  I used to, but somehow I just drifted away from it.  I love Y is for Yogini, Flying Yogini, Curvy Yoga, your blog, of course, and as far as non-yogic blogs, I love The Bloggess, and Pintester.  If I’m going to take the time to read something, it needs to spark my mind and make me laugh.  All of these do this on a regular basis.

 Who and what inspires you?

Honesty.  Bold, ugly honesty.  You MUST be true to others and to yourself (being true to yourself is often the hardest.)  I’ve often said I’d rather have the ugly truth than a pretty lie.   For that reason, I love Louis CK.  Not only is he wet-your-pants hilarious, he just gets it.  He speaks the truth and says things that we’ve all thought but rarely say.  I find great inspiration in musicians and artists who refuse to be a part of the “machine,” who stay true to their vision and their passion even if it means they will never become hugely popular or incredibly famous.  Mostly, however, I’m wildly inspired by my sons.  They are the strongest people I have ever met.  They forgive so easily.  They love so completely.  They see art and beauty and grace in everything.  They can also speak their mind and fight for themselves in a way that is awe-inspiring.  When I grow up, I want to be just like them.

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Have any questions or comments for Sarah? Please leave them in the comment section below.

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2 thoughts on “Sarah Kohl of Mama Kohl: TGBTS Featured Teacher

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