With genuine sincerity and candor, Linda shares how she came to yoga and how important its impact has been on every aspect of her health and life. With its leitmotiv of challenges reframed as doorways, her story is not only relatable but also profoundly inspiring.
What’s your yoga story?
I literally stumbled upon yoga in 1995 when I ran into a friend on the street in Toronto who had just finished a yoga class. Yoga?! Hmm, I went directly to the studio which was in a small office in a medical center to get the info and that Sunday morning I took my first yoga class with Ron Reid (who is still my main teacher). It was a fairly gentle Hatha class and I loved it. It was the first ‘exercise’ I did that I actually liked and was non-competitive.
Unfortunately, a few weeks later I was in a terrible car accident and was not able to work or do much else for 9 months, then slowly I went back to work part time and went back to this beautiful yoga class. At first it was extremely challenging for me as I couldn’t hold my arms out to the sides, let alone over my head. So I continued Hatha yoga for several months until one day another teacher, Diane Bruni, convinced me to try Ashtanga Yoga. I was really not interested in that form because when I saw the people come out of the class they were all sweaty and the room was smelly and steamy. I already found the Hatha class challenging at times. Anyway, finally I tried and struggled like crazy and felt ridiculous trying to hop around and twist my body... I was completely uncoordinated and for some reason had a problem following simple instructions with ‘rights’ and ‘lefts.’
Despite hating the experience, Diane was persistent that I should continue so I did and after a couple of weeks I was totally in love with the practice. My body and mind were changing rapidly. I had never felt so much life and energy going through my body, and my mind was becoming clearer and clearer. To this day, I attribute my success in my career at the time to my yoga practice!
The other thing I attribute my yoga practice to is my health. Despite only being 28 years old when I started, I was on a daily migraine medication and had circulation problems which had already made one of my big toes and thighs completely numb. Not to mention the injuries from the car accident (main ones were a broken shoulder blade, fused cervical vertebras, concussion and eye damage,) which I believe would have caused me much more problems today than they do if I hadn’t discovered yoga. After about a year and a half of daily practice, I no longer needed the migraine medication and the feeling came back to my toe and thigh.
“Often people think that in order to do Ashtanga you must be super young, or an ex-dancer or gymnast, since a lot of yoga teachers were, but there are a few of us who were just totally out of shape, didn’t start as teenagers or in our early 20’s and even so with discipline and perseverance we managed to turn our bodies, our minds and our lives completely around.”
How did you end up in Paris?
Paris? Well, another accident in my life. I had moved from Toronto to New York City with my job in fashion. I felt great in NY and feel it was one of the best periods of my life. I had a great job, I practiced Ashtanga 6 days a week at a yoga shala where the teachers were completely committed and doing their best to live yogic lives (Eddie Stern’s shala) and had a circle of friends who had similar values as myself.
Then I was offered a senior position in another company and when I resigned from my job the president of the international office offered me a position in Paris. I had been to Paris several times, I didn’t speak French and I knew there were no serious Ashtanga teachers here so couldn’t imagine actually living here (this was in 2000). I was so happy in New York and was looking forward to going to this other prestigious company but believing in following the open doors to guide me through my life, I decided to ‘test’ whether I should stay in NY or move to Paris by just asking for the max from the Paris office to have me move. Honestly I thought they would never accept but...
So there I was working in fashion in the fashion capital of the world. I was on a 2-year contract and figured when I moved back to NY I would be able to search for a vice-president job after this experience. I was totally in the worldly scene and was looking for success although at the back of my mind I yearned to one day have a quiet life and maybe even teach yoga. When I was nearing the end of the 2 years and was ready to go back to the city I loved, a guy that I was dating suddenly proposed to me. I was perplexed as I didn’t realize it was so serious and he went way out of his way to try to make me stay here. He wanted to start teaching yoga and figured we could open a yoga studio in Paris together. Again, looking at my life and seeing that this door was open I followed it only to be dumped 6 months after I had given up my apartment in NY and either gave away or shipped to Paris all my things. Oh my god! I was totally lost. In fact it was one of the hardest times of my life. I was here, in a city where I knew hardly anyone other than co-workers, I couldn’t speak much French, I had left a high-paying position for less than minimum wage, and the guy kicked me out of his apartment.
So I ended up living in a room of one of the kindest yoga students I had met. Fortunately there were a couple of these kind people I met who literally took care of me and helped me find my inner strength to build my dream here. There were very few yoga studios at the time and only one person teaching Ashtanga. I figured something had led me here to re-create my life so I did what I needed to do. Another very kind and generous yoga student rented me an apartment/atelier that she owned, and I started teaching from there. I traveled to India to study with Gerald Disse (whom I had met when he did some teaching in Paris) and eventually we got into a relationship and he decided to move to Paris. We worked together to build our yoga shala even though it was trying at times. Often no one showed up to the Mysore classes, or just one or two people... we did a lot of private lessons at that time.
Now we have 2 lovely children, the yoga shala is running well with kind and generous yoga students, a team of talented teachers, and we have the time to dedicate to our own yoga practices and studies. Not to mention living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world! What more could we ask for?
In your experience, what are the similarities or differences between yoga in Paris and where you’re from originally?
I think the biggest difference here is the cultural structure. Maybe because it is an older culture than Canada’s or the United States’ -- I’m not sure why -- but I notice that those doing yoga struggle more to fit yoga around their existing social and cultural routines. Whereas, in North America people have an easier time re-arranging and adapting the important aspects of their ‘pre-yoga’ lives into a yogic lifestyle and just eliminating the parts they no longer find nourishing.
One example is early morning practice... in order to practice before you go to work, you need first start with shifting your bedtime and dinnertime. If you want to wake up at 6am to get to 7am practice, you need to go to bed at around 10 or 11pm, which means it is healthier for digestion to eat around 6 or 7pm. Well, the restaurants don’t even open until 7 or 8pm so this shows that culturally, one doesn’t eat very early. To make the changes in your life, you have to go against the grain which can make some people feel alienated from their families or friends. However, in my experience, when one starts to make positive changes like this, those around them notice and start to slowly fall into changes as well. It’s a mysterious thing but it’s true.
Keeping this mind, what do you consider to be the most unique aspect of practicing in Paris?
The most unique thing is that it is “ok” to drink coffee :) I never even drank green tea before moving to France, let alone coffee. But French coffee is SO good… I limit myself to no more than one a day but as it is such a big part of the culture, I feel great with it. Often yoga students go for coffee after practice together (some add a cigarette but that’s a bit silly).
What advice for you have non-Francophone yogis who are nervous about taking a class in Paris?
Well, if it is because of the language, many of the teachers speak English and will help you when you don’t understand an instruction in French. And as we are first trying to connect our body, mind and breath, this doesn’t need so many words to describe, it’s more about getting inside and noticing what is going on. The language doesn’t need to be a barrier if you trust yourself to feel the calm, peace and energy within.
How would you characterize the Parisian yoga community?
The community at our studio, Ashtanga Yoga Paris, is absolutely wonderful. I’m often impressed by the humility and kindness of the teachers and students here. I love to watch them practice and, after practice, see everyone smiling and natural with one another. There are some who have very advanced asana practices yet they remain humble and sweet, never thinking they are ‘better’ than anyone else. So inspiring!!
How has it grown?
In 2002 I started a small morning Mysore (traditionally taught Ashtanga self-practice) group and held it in my friend’s yoga studio, Centre de Yoga du Marais. I gathered a group of Ashtanga friends and teachers who were looking for a way to practice regularly with others. We each took turns being the “teacher,” helping one another in our practices. Then in 2004 when Gerald and I opened the shala, we continued. At the time we offered 2 hours each morning and we were very happy when 3 or 4 people turned up (often there was only one person or no one.) Now we offer over 4 hours of Mysore in the mornings -- and the group has definitely grown -- plus a full schedule of guided classes. In addition, I hear about new yoga studios opening all the time so I assume there are a lot of people interested in yoga now, and I’m sure it will continue to grow as word spreads about how helpful it is to improving one’s health and daily life.
Similarly, has your practice grown or shifted as a result of being in Paris?
Hmmm, I’m not sure if living in Paris has resulted in the growth of my practice. I’d like to think that the evolution I’m going through would also have happened elsewhere, no matter the location. But how to separate things like that? In the last almost 12 years my practice has changed dramatically due to many things: natural maturity in life; deeper understanding of the real goals of yoga; ongoing studies of the yogic scriptures and finding a yoga philosophy teacher (Georg Feuerstein;) seeing my original teacher every year (Ron Reid); meeting my now pranayama teacher (O.P. Tiwari;) and most of all, growing in a family with my husband and children!