We had a really great time with Kim Roberts when she came to visit us at the New Life Foundation to lead a 4-day Mindful Yoga Retreat focusing on ashtanga yoga, meditation, and writing practice. Here, we chat to Kim about how she started teaching, what she loves about it, and how yoga and meditation can help us handle our emotions!
How did you first start practicing meditation and ashtanga yoga?
I discovered them both at the same time, actually, within the same week. I was a graduate student at Naropa University in Colorado. Naropa’s a Buddhist-inspired university so part of the requirement was that we had to maintain a meditation practice. So I was introduced to meditation, and then within the same week, I attended my first yoga class with Richard Freeman, and that was actually for an elective credit, so I actually got credit for practicing yoga. I just was so inspired. I got really lucky with meeting him in my first class and I got so inspired by the whole practice that actually became my focus after a while.
How do these practices benefit ourselves and those around us? So for example, how can they help those who are suffering from depression, or trying to recover from substance addiction, things like that?
The most obvious thing is that when doing these yoga and meditation practices you get into the body. Typically what happens when people get disconnected from their body is that they start going into negative patterns, and when you’re not in tune with your natural rhythms, it’s really easy to go against nature and do things that are unhealthy and destructive to the system. So first you start with the yoga and actually getting into the body, and you start settling the energies. It’s a very systematic approach in the ashtanga system. And you start with the larger energies and gradually with time and practice and effort, are able to settle the energies on a more and more subtle level.Once you start getting into that, then you can start getting into the meditation practice. That’s when it gets really interesting, because once you are able to focus on your mind for a while, then you can start to recognize what your particular patterns are, and once you are able to see that, then you can start to ask yourself, do I really want to keep doing this? But a lot of the times we engage in these negative patterns, in these destructive patterns, because we’re not even aware of what the process is, we’re so in “reaction mode”: there’s a feeling we have inside, we don’t like it, we don’t want to feel it, and so we, quick, hurry, [do] anything, so that we can stop feeling it, and when you slow the whole process down by using these practices, you give yourself a pause. When you start to feel bad, you start to become more aware of the whole process, so at any point along the way, you know, from feeling bad, taking that first step, to doing something to get rid of that bad feeling, to actually engaging in the habit that you know, you think alleviates it but actually doesn’t, you give yourself choices, and you can start to make choices about how you want to respond when things happen that make you feel bad.It also just helps you, on a very simple level, it actually prepares the body, it’s like you prepare the body in a way to handle more and more intense frequency. So it’s like an electrical current. If you have a strong electric current, that’s going through a device that can’t handle it, you’re going to blow the device, and the same is with the body. If your body is not aligned, and grounded, then if you’re experiencing really intense emotions, you might blow a fuse. So that’s why people go crazy, and so if you prepare your body to be able to handle higher and higher levels of intensity, not only does that help you along the spiritual path, but eventually, that is what will help you be able to handle your emotions.
What’s special about ashtanga yoga?
What’s particular about ashtanga yoga as opposed to other forms, is that it works directly with the breath, and you are actually engaging in a pranayama practice – which is a breathing technique – at the same time that you’re doing the yoga postures. So it’s like power tools. It’s like yoga amplified, because you really get much quicker benefits from this yoga practice than you get from any other yoga practice that I’ve seen.
How long have you been teaching, and what do you like most about it?
I started teaching in 1995, on a three month long Buddhist meditation retreat. It was totally by chance, I had never taught in my life, and happily I didn’t hurt anybody, or kill anybody! I loved it, and from that moment, it was just something that I loved to do. I always say that practicing yoga keeps me sane, but teaching yoga keeps me happy. And if I’m not teaching I’m not happy. It’s the truth. There’s something about sharing this practice with other people that just makes my life worthwhile and it might sound a little dramatic to say that, but it’s really true, I have to teach. And the thing I love about it is helping people come to some understanding of themselves, and watching people grow. You know, sometimes I feel like a mother hen watching my little chicks growing up and it’s beautiful, it’s really a lovely process to watch. It makes me very happy.
And the most challenging thing about teaching?
I can’t say there’s a challenge in the actual teaching, because every experience is different and I learn something new from every experience. I don’t particularly have any agenda of how things look in a teaching situation, as long as I can help each person get at least one thing that they can take away, then I’m happy with that. But I suppose the biggest challenge for me in this day in age with yoga becoming so popular, is…well, two things: people coming in with expectations, and not being open to just learning what possibilities are there, and secondly, for me at this point, is actually creating the teaching situation. I’ve been very mobile, nomadic, in my life, and I miss the days when I had an ongoing teaching situation, to really watch students develop. So that’s something that I miss sometimes, and you know hopefully that will be created again sometime soon.
This is your first time at the foundation – what are your thoughts?
I love this place. It’s really, this has been such a gift, because it’s the first place that I’ve actually taught at that combines all of the different things that I’ve done, because I do have the psychology background, and I actually used to work in a place similar to this. I worked in residential treatment facilities as an addictions counselor, and my first job out of graduate school, when I first got my masters in psychology, was in the detox ward, on the night shift. So it was a bit intense. Then I started working in the jails with the DUI offenders. And because of all that work, I started really getting into the yoga and meditation because I had to ground myself to do that work. Then I started seeing that my clients and patients would want to do it, too. So that was a really big turning point for me, to merge all three practices – the therapy, the yoga, and the meditation, and this is the first place that I’ve seen actually put them all together. So I’m thrilled and I really hope I’ll be able to come back some time!