March Teacher Feature: A Conversation with Tamara Berger

Featured Teacher:  Tamara Berger

Downward Dog | March 2019

Tamara Berger, 2019.

 

Presently you lead mostly mysore classes at Downward Dog but this wasn’t always the case.  Can you take us through an abridged history of your teaching journey and nearly 20 years at Downward Dog Yoga Centre?

I started teaching led classes about 2 years after I began practicing yoga.  At the time I was studying only Ashtanga yoga so I taught what I knew and what had been taught to me; kind of by rote, leading others through what I was learning and practicing.  Then I began assisting Ron in the mysore room and from assisting I began leading mysore. Over the years, I had started teaching private lessons which allowed me to expand my teaching to fit individual needs.  I also taught at gyms which was yet another way I experienced addressing different bodies and was able to adapt my teaching to particular needs.  So, the more experienced I got as a teacher, the easier it got to diversify my teaching style to suit individuals which is a big priority for me. Although my teaching could be seen as primarily Ashtanga-based, after 20 years I’ve definitely loosened myself from practicing that system exclusively.

 

What was the initial draw to mysore?  How have you loosened yourself ?

Back 20 or so years ago, the mysore room was an exciting and fertile space where everyone was just learning this new (to us) practice.  There was such a great synthesis in the room with Ron at the helm and the energy of all the mysore students in the room.  I was in a routine where I came 5-6 times a week, which worked well for me in my twenties.  It was a very intense period, and sometimes I do miss that intensity, but often as you age your priorities change, as does your practice.  After having a child and becoming interested in prenatal yoga (in addition to becoming a lot busier!) I found myself less rigid in my approach.  I think my history of both adhering to the Ashtanga system and leaving that system translates presently in my teaching which remains committed to communal learning and individual learning in the mysore room, encouraging discipline, safety and freedom in one’s own body, in addition to giving consent-based, hands-on, feel-good adjustments.

 

You’re a writer with several published works.  How has the practice of yoga influenced your creative process and perhaps your approach to writing overall?

When I was younger, the discipline of the yoga practice and my writing practice developed together side by side and this was really helpful to me.  Now, I would say that what’s even more helpful about my yoga practice is my ability to sit at the computer writing for longer periods of time with my body feeling good.  Writing is a very static and immobile craft so movement is essential. I think that yoga and writing can feed each other because both disciplines privilege clarity.  Yoga usually serves whatever you’re doing in your life in that it helps you feel clearer in both your mind and your body.

 

Is there a yoga-related book that has been particularly significant for you?

A long time ago, I read a book called Kundalini: The Energy of the Depths by Lillian Silburn.  It’s an academic book by a French woman/mystic and when I read it years ago I was very intrigued by this concept that one could potentially wake up ‘energies’ in the body, moving upward from tail to crown of the head.  It was an alluring concept to me, that yoga could awaken long dormant, esoteric inner parts.  Silburn’s book and life were both influential to me when I was first discovering the powerful effects of yoga on both my body and mind.

Vintage Tamara Berger, 2000.