Teacher Feature: Andrea Harris
TBY Teacher Feature
(Andrea Harris photographed by Reid Sanders)
Interviewed by Julia Jonson
It seems almost everyone has that memorable first moment when they discovered that yoga has this distinct way of making you feel at home in your body. Describe your first foray into yoga.
I wish I could accurately describe that first experience … I know so many people who have the story of cautiously trying yoga for the first time, instantly falling in love and never forgetting that moment. That was not me. I was a dabbler in and out of yoga for many years. I loved the way it made my body feel. I was annoyed by the discipline and the stillness that was so far out of my comfort zone. We had an on and off relationship for a long time. I was familiar with the poses, I was physically strong and always looking to enhance that physical strength. I basically showed up and left knowing I did just that. Until the day it became something more. There was a sense of agitation and friction that reached far beyond what my muscles could do. I found myself, for the first time in years, asking myself questions. Questioning the ways I could contribute to my own happiness. Realizing that there is a strength much deeper than physical that I could tap into. I wish I could remember the exact date, I’ll go with 9 years ago, but I’ll never forget the moment. I was a student in this studio. I remember exactly what I was wearing. I remember walking out as a completely different person.
You’ve had a mothering experience like non-other having two sets of beautiful, identical twin girls! How has your yoga journey guided you in your day-to-day activities as a mom and beyond.
It is such a crazy experience to be the mother of 4 girls, 2 sets of twins. I’ve been that person for so long that I forget how weird it is! I wasn’t born with the patience of a saint, or the organizational skills one might need to happily navigate this fun journey! I honestly think that’s why I was gifted with this plethora of double trouble. I was forced to learn things that I didn’t even know that I was supposed to know. My yoga practice strengthens all of them. While it’s not always easy, I have a better handle on patience. I’ve learned to breathe through the toughest moments. I’ve learned to embrace the chaos, and see the growth in every challenge. There’s never a moment (and I have two 20 year old girls now…) that I don’t have faith in the path that’s constantly unravelling in front of us.
When you teach, you’re clearly tapping into the deeper art and science of yoga. Explain, as both a student and teacher, why you feel delving into yoga philosophy is just as important asana practice.
I honestly do not know how to teach yoga without philosophy. I remember starting out, I would take jobs at gyms and health clubs. They would have these rules about all the things you couldn’t talk about. They were all of the things that yoga is actually about. So, what I was left with was the precise number of inches your hand should be from your foot … then a whole lot of awkward silence. Yoga literally means “yolking.” It’s the unity of body and mind. I am just incapable of removing the mind/spirit aspect. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are such a beautiful guideline. They have no dogma, expect no allegiance, they just say the most simple, philosophical truths. These truths appeal to almost every human being. Why not use them to unite not only our own minds and bodies, but each to everyone else sharing the same space?
Vinyasa … this word takes on many meanings in a classroom setting. Describe how this is part of your teaching style and how music goes hand-in-hand with the flow you create.
Vinyasa means to flow. It means we have the ability to move through and connect one moment to the next. It means that nothing exists in isolation. I am such a fan of that concept that I love to take it to the next level on the mat. There are not just poses. There is not just philosophy. There is not just music. There’s a constant flow between all. Something is always moving. Whether it’s internal rhythm or external rhythm it’s flowing. I am insanely mindful of the playlists I make. I understand that for many, music and lyrics can be a distraction. I choose the music because I want the lyrics to be heard, and the rhythm to be felt. It’s always my hope that it enhances and energizes the asana, but even more so, deepens the philosophy.
Speaking of music, you have a really fun and memorable way of celebrating the Grammy’s each year. Do tell!
Ah, yes the Grammys! So, I did this my first year teaching. I had no intention of creating a tradition, I just put together a class based on my extreme passion for music. Everyone loved it, and basically made it an awesome thing I do every year now. It’s my favorite!! I have such a passion for music, and I have such a passion for seeing people from all walks of life, all different genres, and all different beliefs come together and celebrate something that unites us all. It’s like the Olympics of music. My post-grammy playlists are so so so fun. That makes the energy and asana that much more fun!!
I know you to be quite the study bug when it comes to schooling yourself on yoga. How has this been an integral part of inspiring you to keep growing as a teacher?
I am such a big nerd when it comes to expanding my horizons. I diligently read real books in an age when no one actually has to get a real book anymore. I love the ritual of cracking the spine, smelling the pages, and then diving into someone else’s point of view. I am more often than not reading about struggle and resolution. I am always fascinated by the routes through which people find strength and peace. Whether I’m reading an in-depth study of the chakras, or a fictional depiction of love and loss, these insights always find a way onto my mat.
You are an interesting person and you have both a remarkable and kind way of viewing the world. I’d love a snippet of your thoughts on why there is such a surge in yoga’s popularity in the West.
Wow, that’s a super high compliment and a deep question all in one! I honestly think that at some point, we just want to give in to our primal craving of using our amazing physical bodies, access our amazing mind, and give in to our desire to just relax sometimes. When you separate these things, it becomes so over complicated. We’ve made it so hard. If you’re physically unwell, join a gym. If you’re mentally unwell, take a pill. If you’re unrested, sleep more. Many of us have tried this regimen and found it unsatisfactory because there’s no connection. Yoga is a way to combine all and for many who choose that path, they open up doors into themselves they never knew existed. That’s exactly how it was for me.
Any juicy details or little known facts you’d like to share about living life to it’s fullest?
I wish this was a more exciting answer, but it is what it is. I talk to everyone. That’s how I feel heightened and living to the fullest. There’s rarely a time that we leave a restaurant, a store, or a gas station that one of my kids doesn’t ask “Did you know that person?” I am baffled that humans don’t acknowledge each other more. If you’ve ever felt lost, alone, isolated, whatever… say hello to another human being. Our general sameness is so much more powerful than our small differences. I’ve always wished that it was socially appropriate to ask personal questions to a complete stranger. I want to know the stories that make each person who they are. If you’ve been in my classes, you know I share so many of mine because I believe we should. Why hide the things that make others feel normal? Why not randomly smile at the person next to you at a red light. Why not connect? That’s life to the fullest for me.
Andrea’s teaching schedule:
Monday 4:00pm Level 1
Tuesday 12:00pm Level 2-3
Thursday 4:00pm Warm Flow
Saturday 7:45am Level 2-3
Sunday 4:30pm Level 1