DA: I embarked upon my mind-body journey at 18 years old in Shanghai learning Tai Chi… and things unfolded from there. I was introduced to yoga just a few years later … and now I’ve been teaching yoga for over 20 years. Throughout my journey I’ve been fortunate to continuously study with amazing teachers from many different wisdom traditions (yogic, Buddhist, Taoist, and more), teach over 100,000 students, maintain a private yoga therapy practice, go to graduate school in physiological psychology, lead wellness workshops in corporations, and develop InnerYoga. I began by teaching yoga in San Francisco in 1994. I’ve been at Yoga Tree for almost 15 years. Now I am using InnerYoga principles and practices in my work at MIT to bring transformation to the culture of educational and workplace environments. It’s been a great adventure so far!
YT: What is the path that has helped you develop InnerYoga?
DA: During the recession of 2008, not only was the economy in chaos but, so were my students. They desperately needed to learn practices to support their well being in the face of the unstable personal and economic realities that they were experiencing. I offered my private clients a growing array of inner yogic tools for just this purpose. I recognized that I could transform the work I was doing one-on-one into an approach that could be offered to large groups. And so I did. The students affected by the crash of 2008 inspired me to formally develop InnerYoga and offer it to the public.
YT: What is InnerYoga?
InnerYoga is an approach to living your yoga on and off the mat from the inside out. It teaches you how to attune to and support your inner landscape, align with reality courageously and meet the inevitable challenges and opportunities of life with your greatest capacity.
The four foundations of InnerYoga – awareness, kindness, breath and ease –infuse every aspect of the InnerYoga approach.
YT: What do you mean by “inner landscape?”
DA: The inner landscape is the field within which sensations, energy, emotions, and thoughts are experienced inside you. It is also the home of your unchanging essence – the innate goodness and luminosity that is always within you.
YT: What is a typical InnerYoga class like at Yoga Tree?
DA: Enter an InnerYoga class and you are entering into a sanctuary of self-care. You will be guided through a gentle experience that emphasizes the four foundations of InnerYoga, aligns you with your current reality in body, heart, and mind and utilizes selected practices from a variety of wisdom traditions to bring greater harmony and ease to your whole being.
You are likely to do a series of passive poses – some comfortable (restorative poses), some intentionally uncomfortable – designed to stimulate specific pathways of energy in your body for therapeutic benefits (Yin Yoga). You may do some active slow flow, basic qi gong, or alignment-oriented static poses. Throughout the class you will be supported in cultivating a continuity of presence, kindness, and courage amidst all the conditions that arise within your inner landscape. Most people don’t feel “high” after class, but rather grounded, integrated, balanced, and spacious with a deep sense of well being amidst whatever challenges they are facing.
DA: InnerYoga is for anyone who wants to cultivate embodied presence – at the most basic level as well as the more advanced. The public classes are definitely very accessible and supportive so you can come, whatever your condition, enjoy a wonderful experience, and discover many tools to ground, calm, and generally support your self. What distinguishes InnerYoga public classes from most others is that they invite you to cultivate a true depth of yoga from the inside. The public classes are beneficial to all levels of practitioners. I frequently hear from long-term yogis that InnerYoga has taken their practice to a whole new level and that they are bringing this awakened capacity to other styles of yoga that they do that are more vigorous and fast-paced.
YT: Who else teaches InnerYoga at Yoga Tree?
DA: Monique Haan, Heather Baker, and Rhani Lee are wonderful InnerYoga teachers. Between the four of us we are at Yoga Tree Valencia, Stanyan, 6th Avenue, and Corte Madera. An InnerYoga class is happening in SF now daily with the exception of Saturday. Monique, Heather, and Rhani are graduates of the first ever 200 hour InnerYoga Teacher Training program (2013), and all three of them mentored extensively with me as well. Their InnerYoga classes are lovely, and I recommend them highly.
The word ‘Inner’ sounds a lot like meditation and mindfulness practice. How is InnerYoga similar to meditation? How is it different?
Meditation and mindfulness are integral components of InnerYoga, however, InnerYoga also includes an emphasis on and practices for embodiment, self-care, and psycho-spiritual growth that extend beyond the cushion and a mindfulness practice.
YT: You are now a Visiting Scholar at MIT. Why did they invite you? What are you doing there?
DA: I am bringing the InnerYoga principles and practices to the MIT Media Lab where I am developing wellness solutions for the workplace and embodiment curriculum for schools (k – 4th grade so far). My mission is to transform these settings, where we humans spend so much of our time, into cultures in which self-care and embodiment practices become as common as taking a coffee break.
I am working on a variety of projects there – tools and curricula for the children and the teachers that are integrated seamlessly into the school day, trainings for the teachers as well as the parents. We are cultivating a new normal in terms of how we relate to our inner landscape, the conditions that arise around us, and with one another.
My role in the lab is also one of leadership coach. I am doing a lot of one-on-one InnerYoga-based work with key players. I’ve been doing coaching since 1994 so this isn’t new for me, but it is very exciting to be applying the work I’ve done for so long privately with people within the context of an organization.
I was invited because the head of the Social Computing lab at MIT is very familiar with the potent benefits that InnerYoga offers. He was my private client for many years while working in a high level position at Google.
The work I am doing in terms of transforming the culture of workplace environments is particularly exciting to me. I have a great team at the lab that is supporting my vision. Stay tuned for more on this in the months to come!
YT: MIT is a major hub for scientific research. Are you researching the benefits of InnerYoga at MIT?
DA: Yes! Currently we are doing a proof of concept study and in the next few months we will begin a more formal study looking at the impact of some of the InnerYoga off the mat tools on parents. There is a lot of opportunity for research that we are just beginning to explore.
If a student wants to go deeper into InnerYoga, study it further, how can they do that?
This year I am offering a series of InnerYoga workshops at Yoga Tree, Valencia. They are happening almost monthly. Each workshop is designed as a 3.5 hour long deep inward journey. Some of the workshops are passive and some include active yoga done with an InnerYoga approach and InnerYoga principles of alignment. You can find descriptions for each workshop on the Yoga Tree website. By purchasing all 8 workshops at once you get a very deep discount – essentially 8 for the price of 6. I did this to make it financially feasible to attend all 8 since I am not offering an InnerYoga 6 month Immersion in 2015. The first of this series is this Sunday, February 1st!
When available, the InnerYoga 6 month Immersion is the best way to dive more deeply. The next one starts in early 2016. It meets just one weekend per month for 6 months and is focused completely on self-care. In this immersion you get to learn the InnerYoga approach very methodically and integrate it into your life and onto your mat. It offers a wealth of information yet requires no formal homework so it is very self-paced.
There are additional InnerYoga offerings you can find on my website – livingInnerYoga.com and lots of InnerYoga videos I’ve filmed on GaimTV.com.
I also continue to offer coaching individually when I have space to add new clients.
YT: How can one become trained to be an InnerYoga teacher?
DA: To become an InnerYoga teacher you can take the 6 month immersion described above. It is the first part of the teacher training. The second part of the teacher training is 8 months – meeting 1 weekend per month. It asks quite a lot of the student who wants to be certified. There is an abundance of homework and practice teaching with feedback to make sure that you are deeply embodying the InnerYoga approach as you teach it. The teacher training is a beautiful evolutionary journey. About half the students do it simply to continue to feel the support of the InnerYoga program in their lives. The other half complete the training and become InnerYoga teachers.