Sarah Deming — writer, fighter, teacher

Mind, body, spirit — yoga is a holistic experience for many. But did one element or another first draw you to the practice? That is, were you seeking to settle your mind? Have greater physical flexibility? Explore your true, spiritual nature?

I don’t know if I believe in past lives, but I knew yoga was for me before I ever tried it — so, even though it was the physical aspect that drew me, there was a spiritual element to it

How about now: does yoga feed your mind or your body or your spirit more, or are those elements more in balance than when you started?

my practice has mostly shifted to Pilates, so when I choose to do yoga, it’s usually because I’m seeking longer, deeper holds or a more meditative experience

How long did you practice yoga before you started teaching it?

I took my first yoga class in college about 30 years ago and got certified about a year later

When you’re teaching regularly, can you lead classes too often? How many times a week, and a day, might be too much?

at my peak as a freelancer in NYC, I taught 15 classes a week, which was verging on too much with the subway commutes — when you’re teaching that much, you have to warm up properly — it’s also important to develop your verbal cuing skills so you don’t burn out your body demonstrating everything

now, my friend and I run Knockout Pilates in Brooklyn — when you’re teaching a lot of Pilates sessions, the key is to be mindful of the way you’re changing springs and handling the equipment so you don’t strain your wrists or back — I’m almost 50 now — the older you get, the more you have to take care of your beautiful body!

Do you have a preferred yoga style?

it’s more about the teacher than the style for me — I’ve learned a lot from good teachers in Iyengar, Astanga, Kundalini, and Kripalu yoga — recently, I discovered the Anti-Gravity Yoga Lab run by a wonderful teacher named Christopher Harrison — you hang from hammocks, and the traction feels wonderful on my spine

When you were starting out, what came easiest and what was more challenging?

I was always flexible in forward and backward bends — inclined plane was very hard, as were inversions — I have short arms and legs so had trouble binding in twists and still cannot wrap my legs and arms in garudasana

From your experience as a teacher, can you generalize about what comes easiest for beginners and what is more challenging?

this is a huge generalization but men often struggle with forward bends and anything involving hip mobility or hamstring flexibility and women often struggle with upper body strength poses like chaturanga — everyone struggles with remembering to breathe during difficulty

What are the more difficult poses for beginners to execute?

headstand and plow are challenging for beginners to do without a feeling of compression in the neck — I also see a lot of lumbar compression in up dog if students haven’t learned to access their abdominals — in general, I think the sun salutation is taught too quickly without enough attention given to the transitions and to shoulder safety if jumping

What have been the greatest benefits of yoga for you?

it’s given me awareness of the power of my breath and has allowed me (as basically an atheist Jew) to cultivate a feeling of devotion

Apart from yoga, do you practice other techniques of mindfulness or meditation?

I sometimes sit at a Zen center in Brooklyn and have done a few Vipassana silent meditation retreats — I was lucky enough to study Sanskrit chanting back in the day with the amazing Vyas Houston and still play my harmonium and chant when I’m feeling blue

Outside of a yoga session, do you ever just strike a pose and stretch? If so, which pose(s) and where?

Ragdoll throughout the day to release my back — Malasana to stretch my hips and ankles while I wait for the subway — I always hide out back by the bathroom on planes and do various asanas to the amusement of the flight attendants

If I gave you an expenses-paid yoga retreat, where would you go?

again, it’s about the teacher for me, not the place — I’d follow Patricia Walden anywhere she went

—interview © Marshal Zeringue