Colleen Saidman Yee and her husband, Rodney, also a renowned yoga teacher, just opened their first NYC studio. Credit: Jemal Countess/Getty Images
Is downward dog making you feel down and out? If you’ve ever felt discouraged in a yoga class, you’re not alone: Even Colleen Saidman Yee, known as the First Lady of Yoga, has been there.
“I get frustrated with my practice, totally,” says the 55-year-old teacher, who just opened her first NYC studio (she’ll teach with her husband, Rodney Yee, every other week) and released her second solo DVD, “Calorie Killer Yoga.”
Yoga is touted not only for building strength and burning cals, but also for fostering a mind-body connection that promises students a sense of calm during and after class. But, especially in our hectic city lives, that inner quiet can be elusive, and not finding that peace can add stress to the pile we already bring to class.
Ironically, one way to find that calm, Yee says, is to drop your expectations of how you should feel after class.
“You have to realize that we’re human and we’re having a human experience, and part of that human experience is not living up to your expectations,” she says. “If we don’t have expectations, then we don’t have to live up to them.”
From there, it’s important to understand that the practice is a gradual one, undoing layers that we’ve built up on top of ourselves. It’s inside those layers, Yee says, that peace lives.
“What yoga does is go into those places that you keep bound up to whittle away at it, to create more space and to let go of the stories and the traumas [that are] held in your areas,” Yee says. Your stress could be building up in your throat, stomach or anywhere else; letting go of bodily stress through yoga means that the mind can get started on its own work.
“In the same way you go to a psychologist to work out the mind stuff, you go into the body,” she says. “And it works the other way, too: When you release the body, you release the mind.”
Creating space in the mind and body means allowing the negative and positive forces in our lives to coexist. Yoga isn’t going to eliminate all of your problems overnight.
“[Yoga] is not pushing away sadness, not pushing away guilt, envy, jealousy or anything like that,” Yee says. “We’re creating space inside so that it’s not just the sadness — there’s the joy, too, so you’re not overwhelmed by something that seems like it consumes you.”