Levitating Monkey had the recent pleasure of talking with Yogini, Sara Ivanhoe. When she isn’t teaching at YogaWorks in Santa Monica, Sara is at Loyola Marymount University, working toward a master’s degree in yoga philosophy. A yoga teacher since 1995, Sara has completed teacher trainings with Erich Schiffmann, Yoga Works Studios and Anusara founder, John Friend. Sara has collaborated with Russell Simmons for Yoga Live series, and is the instructor for the Yoga for Dummies series, as well as the Crunch Yoga series.
Levitating Monkey: How did you first come to be interested in yoga?
Sara Ivanhoe: Yoga was offered at my high school, so I began the practice early. It was also part of my studies at NYU, so by the time I had the post- college, “who am I” crisis, yoga had already been a part of my life for almost 10 years. It has been guiding me ever since.
LM: What do you love most about teaching yoga?
SI: Being of service allows me to get off of myself, to leave my own concerns behind and focus on the needs of others. I love how all consuming it is. For me, even when I have a good yoga practice of my own, my mind inevitably vacillates. While teaching, I am completely consumed.
LM: What is the greatest challenge you have overcome because of yoga?
SI: I can’t say “over-come” because it is an evolving process. But I began meditation practices due to early onset insomnia which is pretty rare to have as a child. (Mine started in infancy.) Yoga has not “cured” my insomnia, but it has helped me navigate the ups and downs with greater ease. From what I can see, challenges are often not completely overcome. We would like them to be, but often they sustain and we can’t “fix” them. I think it is important to know that. What we can fix, is our relationship to them.
LM: For those who are not familiar with your style of yoga teaching, in what ways is it different than other types of practice?
SI: I believe everyone’s style of yoga is unique, as is every practitioner doing each style. However, if I were to describe the practice I lead, I would say that I focus more on the flow of the breath and using the asana practice as a tool to direct one towards meditation. Instead of working on more or better or different yoga postures, I like to use the postures to lead the students towards a more internal experience and ultimately towards stillness rather than more movement.
LM: How did you come to collaborate with Russell Simmons on “Yoga Live?”
SI: Russell was looking for a teacher that could bring the ethereal aspects of yoga to a broader audience. He saw what I had been able to do with Yoga for Dummies and reached out to me. Working with him was great, he is a dedicated practitioner.
LM: You are one of the rare few certified by the Green Yoga Association to teach Yoga and Ecology, can you tell us a bit more about this initiative?
SI: There is much we don’t know about the origins of the asana practice, but many theories believe that it began as a sort of “earth worship”, as evidenced by the use of animals and other facets of nature. The Green Yoga Association not only affirms this in the yoga practice, but unifies yogis in ensuring that the yoga practice is supporting the planet. They do this by certifying studios in “being green” and organizing ecological projects.
LM: Can you talk to us about Bhakti and your contribution to the film “Women of Bhakti?”
SI: Bhakti is the practice of unconditional love. While Bhakti may take the form of mantra recitation, deity worship or ecstatic movement, it does not need to contain any of those things. It is simply LOVE- as a practice. The idea is that whatever we practice, that is what we are getting good at. If we practice criticizing ourselves, we will get good at that! The more we accept ourselves as we are in this moment, we spread the idea of self-acceptance to others. The more we accept ourselves as we are, the more we accept others as they are, it is the source of peace on the planet.
LM: Can you tell us about your upcoming plans to matriculate in LMU’s, (Loyola Marymount University), Master’s Degree in Yoga Philosophy program? What does the coursework look like?
SI: I am just completing my first year of the program and it is way more challenging than I had anticipated! What distinguishes this as Master’s level study, is that we are looking at many of the texts in their original language, Sanskrit. While in many teacher training courses we read the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras or the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, in this course, we read them again, but do our own translation. It is only in this way that we can derive the true meaning of the text, and not rely on someone else’s interpretation. This facet of learning the language has been incredibly challenging for me. However, reading these texts again in this way, makes me wonder how I ever thought I knew anything about them!!!!! For years I felt that I was not challenged enough in my life, I am not having that problem now- ha!!!!
LM: What are some of the biggest challenges you notice with students new to yoga and how do you help them overcome these concerns?
SI: The biggest challenge for beginners and long-time students is the same. We take ourselves too seriously! Yoga is meant to remind us that we are “not our bodies”, that we have a body, we need to take care of the body, we can achieve liberation in this body- but that it does not define us, that we will drop it someday. Most of us that pick up the physical practice of yoga, work on perfecting the body, perfecting a pose. I believe this is headed in the wrong direction. It is important to practice and honor the body, but not to be attached to its ever-changing whims.
LM: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
SI: The best advice that was ever given to me was from my friend Krishna Das, the famous Kirtan Wallah. I had been asking him for life advice, and to give me a practice. I wanted some mantra, some tapas I could work on to “be more spiritual.” He told me that the practice I really needed to be doing was the practice of accepting myself as I was in this moment.
That instead of working on how to “fix” myself, I should work on being ok with the imperfect self that existed now. It was such a mind- bender. I had thought I was supposed to be working on letting go of anger, forgiveness, detachment from material objects, or the more popular “manifest more material objects” that seems to be swimming around in “conscious” circles today. Instead, he showed me that if I could love the self that was angry, if I could be okay with the self that held a grudge- the unconditional love of that self, would be the magic that melted it all. I have not become good at this! But whenever I have a glimpse of it, I find that it puts the people around me at ease…
LM: Can you tell us a little bit about the work you are doing with Weight Watchers as a Yoga Spokesperson?
SI: Weight Watchers wanted to create a program that would be user-friendly and appeal to people in an area that were not already familiar with yoga. In this project I did the opposite of all of my studies! I use no Sanskrit (except the word “yoga” of course), and try to keep all of the directions simply and light-hearted. Between this and the Yoga For Dummies series, I have had great opportunities to share yoga with people whom I will never meet. It is so rewarding!
LM: Before we end, is there anything you’d like to say or share with all the Yogis of the world?
SI: I love that yoga has become so popular! While it is easy to bemoan the form that yoga has taken today- let’s suggest that yoga knows exactly what it is doing. Yoga has adapted over the years to meet the needs of the current culture- and it is doing that now. It does this in order to survive. Celebrate its many forms, and find the one that works best for you!
About Sara Ivanhoe:
Sara Elizabeth Ivanhoe is the Yoga Spokesperson for Weight Watchers, most recently releasing the “Weight Watchers Yoga Starter Kit.” She began teaching in 1995, shortly after graduating with honors from New York University. She has completed the Yoga Works teacher training, a specialized Therapeutics program and is also certified by Erich Schiffmann in his Freeform Style. Sara Ivanhoe is the instructor for the “Yoga for Dummies” series, the “Crunch Yoga” series as well as the collaboration with Russell Simmons “Yoga Live.” She had an extended run on Fit TV with “All Star Workouts” and on Exercise TV with “Yoga on the Edge.” Sara was a regular on Vh1’s “Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Rehab” and has been featured on all the major news channels. She is highlighted in the acclaimed documentary “Titans of Yoga” and “Women of Bhakti.” Ivanhoe is one of the few teachers certified by the Green Yoga Association to teach Yoga and Ecology. In addition, Loyola Marymount University has awarded Sara a Certification in Yoga Philosophy. She is currently getting her Master’s Degree at LMU’s Inaugural Yoga Philosophy program and serves as Student Senator of Bellarmine College. To find out more about Sara Ivanhoe, visit her website.