Who Are You? Michelle Ryan, Ashtanga Instructor

September 24th, 2015 by

Can you tell Michelle portraitme what you do? What is your specialty? 

I teach Ashtanga Yoga, specifically, Mysore style Ashtanga, which is fairly rare in the Yoga world!

How did you fall into this work? Was there a heart-pumping moment that drew you in?

I fell in love with Ashtanga in 1997. I had been doing yoga since ’94, on and off, on my own, and had recently started doing Kripalu style yoga at a local studio. Then, they offered a Power (Ashtanga) Yoga class – and I felt immediately more alive in my body than I ever before. It woke me up. My whole being was infused with energy and joy – and a lot of sweat, because I was really, really in bad shape when I started at age 31, the worst shape of my life. But, I never stopped after that, although having three young children at the time (6 years, 2 years and 4 months) made it difficult for me for many years to truly practice regularly.

How long have you been practicing this technique/modality? 

As I said, since ’97. I added about a day a week every year until I reached six days a week, the recommended amount of practice for an Ashtanga student, around 2003 or ‘4. My kids were all older then – and encouraging me to go to yoga more, as I was “less cranky” when I went regularly!

What do you like most about what you do?

I help people find well-being in their body and soul. I help people find inner strength, and develop perseverance, when things become scary or challenging. The lessons and tools of the Ashtanga practice they develop on their mats can be used in their daily lives – these are: taking a moment to pause in the face of challenge, ground into their being/their bodies, breathe deeply and mindfully, and with clarity address the challenge as it arises, with compassion, equanimity and courage. To just try their best – and try again, if need be. Practice those things, in conjunction with this sensible but, yes, challenging physical posture practice and well-being in body, mind and spirit most definitely accrues.

What is the strangest/funniest experience you have seen or experienced in this work?

ashtanga demo 2 sept 2015It’s not really strange, but actually, affirming and very sweet – I see how we are all connected, how each one of us seems to be an individual externally, but that we all are the same inside:  we are just the little child we have always been – curious, loving, playful, a little scared – but that open, awakened child gets hidden, becomes clouded, more afraid, by our life experiences and conditioning. It’s sweet and fulfilling  to see the fear being overcome and the self empowerment – the awakening to Self, really – that happens when people do this practice for a long, consistent time. And that does happen, again and again. Still, it’s a lot of hard work, and not everyone wants to take the work on. That’s OK. Next lifetime!

Who/what is the single biggest influence in your work?

Not in any order: Nature. My children. My teachers. My husband.

How did you connect with CLINIC?

I was teaching in Florence for many years in a space that we made into quite a beautiful space – but the building was really bad, in a bad location.  I had taken an Ayurvedic pulse reading class in Clinic’s Great room, liked the space, saw that it might work for teaching Ashtanga, even thashtanga demo 3 sept 2015ough it was smaller, and I approached Jen to move my studio to Clinic. It’s been a great fit.

I love that we all co-habit this space with respect and kindness and patience. It’s a good group of like-minded people with the same goals – not only to help others, but also, the help each other find mutual success and fulfillment in practicing our own particular “craft”

What advice would you give to someone starting out in your industry?

Don’t quit your day job! No, in all seriousness, if you think you are going to start teaching yoga, and expect rooms full of people taking your classes, and lots of money, then you will be disappointed. Plus, that’s kind of a co-dependent approach to teaching – I had that desire too, but, it ultimately didn’t work out that way, at least, not at first. I find more fulfillment from teaching now because I approach it as service, as “holding the space” for those who choose to come to practice with me each day, even if it’s just a handful of students. I love every one of my students, know all their names, what they do, who they are outside of class, and am grateful that they choose to practice with me. It takes years to develop rapport and trust in your students and to grow a yoga community.

I have been teaching about 12 years, and have seen many people come and go – I now have about 35 regular students who will bless my life for a time, and then, eventually, move away or move on past my teaching – which I encourage as I am a student, too! Like any relationship, a student/teacher relationship is based on trust – and a bit of chemistry, too. Chemistry is a rare thing, as we all know from the pursuit of human love. So, if you want to teach yoga, actually do your yoga practice, the one that you love, for a pretty long time – say, at least 5 years – every day. Preferably with one teacher with whom you have trust and rapport. Have a true long term relationship with your yoga. It’s from that place, that knowing, that you teach. 200 hours of Teacher Training (TT) just gives you the basics, really – definitely a place to start, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg that you’re learning in most of these trainings! I don’t knock them, I did them myself. But, it’s my own study, with the help of my teachers that I trust and love, that has helped me become a good Ashtanga teacher.

What are you dreams?

I dream that we humans wake up before it’s too late, and let go of the fear of death that leads to consuming so much, taking so much from each other and especially from our planet. It’s very fragile. There will be no spaceships to other worlds to save the human race, folks. This is the only home we have – and we are fucking it up, dirtying it and destroying it, not just for us, but for all the precious and truly rare, perhaps unique, life on it. It is the most precious thing in all of our universe, and yet we squander it and abuse it – and each other. Instead, we need to know that Nature, that the Earth, is our Mother. We have to respect her, care for her, and be stewards of our world, for the world itself, and for future generations of all species – instead of raping her and consuming all her resources right now because we are afraid to live with less, afraid of dying without “having it all.” In our capitalist, consumer, culture, it’s so very hard to fight this urge – this fear-based consumption. I love and want nice things, too! But, I can only change myself, so I’ve been working in my own life to find fulfillment within me vs. outside of me, so that I can tread more lightly on the planet and walk this talk.

What is one thing you do every day for daily self-care?

I spend time in nature, walking or hiking. I read edifying books, voraciously – and I do my yoga practice!

Have you worked with anyone else at CLINIC? Who would you recommend?

I’ve worked with Alicia Hunter, who is an intuitive and excellent massage therapist – and Brooksley Williams, when Valley Ayurveda was here, her treatments were very therapeutic and her Ayurvedic cleanse was excellent – well organized and easy to follow. I would highly recommend both of them, also, because they are lovely, wonderful, intelligent women who also choose to work with me and learn from me, too. As I spend so much time in the Great Room, teaching (about 14-16 hours a week) I always hope to try some of the other practitioners within the group, but never seem to find the time! I will make my way around to it, I promise!


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  1. […] as a yoga collective, AYN is doing some pretty cool things. We’ve highlighted the director Michelle Ryan and now here is Alicia Hunter!  Come take a peek at what’s happening in the Great Room […]

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