How long have you been teaching yoga?
Nine years. I have been practicing almost 11 years.
I didn’t have any burning desire to teach. [Co-owner and wife] Kathy and our first teacher were up in Wisconsin at a workshop and they called me on a Sunday around noon and said they were not going to be able to make it back in time for Kathy’s class at 4:30 that same afternoon. They both convinced me I could teach the class. Anywhere from seven to 17 students could show up, so they discussed the class with me, and I took lots of notes. As it turned out, 17 students did show up, but I had my notes. I ended up doing the whole class from my mat and never looked at the notes, because I had everything memorized! From that day forward, I taught and subbed every chance I could get to gain experience. The hardest thing was to start teaching off the mat—to walk around and truly start to notice foundation and alignment with the students. I tell any new teacher to get out and help the student. That is one of the things that separates us from our competition: We don’t teach from our mat.
My biggest influences are the masters; the ones who started teaching yoga 30 or 40 years ago. They are not going to be around forever. We are going to slip into their shoes someday, and we better know what we’re talking about. That is why I encourage my teachers and our students to take it all in and continue to expand their education. Go to the workshops. Invest in yourself.
How has yoga helped you to be a better person?
I find when I am of service to the student or to others outside the studio, it not only makes them feel better, but it makes me feel better. When I can inspire an individual, it not only inspires them, but it inspires others around the individual. If we are all inspired and motivated, then collectively, we can change positively and continue to pay it forward.
What is your personal mission statement as a yoga teacher?
The mission of Pulsation Yoga is to bring some of the finest instructors together under one roof, creating a cohesive community that works toward common goals.
These goals are to:
• Create a safe and inspiring environment where a diverse student clientele can experience yoga and grow at their own rate.
• Teach alignment so people can take charge of their well-being and heal from injuries.
• Help guide the students to experience transformation and shifts in a way that opens their hearts to bring them closer to their authentic selves.
We frequently start class with the chant. It helps center the class and brings the energy together. The chant reminds student to honor the light within themselves and others. The physical yoga practice helps the student to connect to something deeper and bring more meaning to their lives.
What do you think constitutes an excellent yoga instructor?
Take it off the mat. Just get off the mat. A good yoga teacher should be able to teach from a wheelchair if that is the case. I heard a comment one time from a student: “I will never go to a yoga class if the teacher can’t do all of the poses.” I feel sorry for that student; she is missing out, especially with the bigger picture. It is not just about the asana practice, but also an exploration into the other limbs of yoga. The asana practice starts the process, and from there you begin to change. All of a sudden you might start taking a closer look at the yamas and the niyamas and start doing something positive with your family and job setting.
What was your most challenging teaching experience?
We just opened Pulsation Yoga in Lake Zurich. It is our second location (with Arlington Heights) and so some students have never heard of us and what we are capable of with teaching. They hear language they have never heard before. I look at their faces and they are not quite sure what to do with it. They go through the motions trusting I know what I’m talking about, but with some skepticism. By the time they get to the middle of the class, they love it. I love at the end of class when they say, “What was that?” And when they keep coming back, to me as a teacher, it is cool how they are getting it and are literally changing in front of my eyes—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
What do you recommend to the beginner student? To the seasoned student?
To the beginner student: Any Basic class or the Yoga 101 series. Some students figure it out quite quickly, while others take a little longer, but it doesn’t matter. I try to tell them to not get caught up with whatever everybody else is doing.
To the seasoned student: Go to as many workshops as possible to find what the masters we invite to the studio are doing. Learn from them first-hand. We call it continuing education, even if the workshop is restorative, like a lot of the workshops Gabriel Halpern teaches at our studio. This can be just as satisfying as an arm-balancing and inversion workshop I might teach. Attending workshops are especially important to help you become a more well-rounded teacher if you plan to teach someday.
How do you take your yoga off the mat?
I try to set an example by not having any attachment. I try to quickly let things go. I’ve seen just about everything imaginable. If I see an opportunity, I will talk to whomever for however long it takes until they are inspired and motivated enough to change their own lives by coming to us to try a class. It always seems to start with the practice and then shifts to a student’s internal challenges.
What is the one pose you are most proud of getting into?
Handstand, unassisted in the middle of the room. Handstand took me nine years, but once you learn how to fall out of pose softly, it isn’t so scary. I also learned a lot from some of the masters we have invited to the studio. Some of these teachers have been on the cover of Yoga Journal. Betsey Downing, Desiree Rumbaugh, and Ross Rayburn are probably some of the most inspiring teachers to help me with handstand.
What is your favorite time of day to practice yoga?
In the morning and evening. I don’t know why; I guess I’ve gotten into a routine that works for me with my schedule.
Where is the best place you have ever practiced yoga?
The best place was in St. John, U.S. Virgins Islands, by myself on the beach with no tourists around. The sand was deep and the water was beautiful. It was a hard practice.
What is your favorite music to listen to while practicing yoga?
I love Arcade Fire, Coldplay, Pearl Jam, Beck, The Black Keys, Benjy and Heather, Wah!, and Cat Stevens. Kathy and I have seen so many groups perform live. We made a list one time and it was about five pages long. I love the energy.
What else do you want students to know about you?
I have this stigma I’m too hard for students to try my classes. But I adapt my teaching to reach all levels. I teach the Yoga 101 series and I’ve been teaching senior citizens at a private club for five years. I have become a detailed, biomechanical type of teacher, and my style of teaching has naturally evolved with my education and personal experience. To be a good teacher, you have to have an imagination; you have to envision you are doing the pose. I imagine what I would be experiencing if I were doing a pose, and then I relate it to what I have learned from the masters.
Why do you love teaching at Pulsation Yoga?
It is our baby. We will do what is necessary to keep it fresh. We love our students. We love our teachers. When our students show up, it’s like, “Thank you for coming to our party!” We want everyone to get to know each other, because the Pulsation Yoga community is an excellent support system. We are friendly, and still get the work done.
Jim Simonik owns and teaches at the Pulsation Yoga studios in Arlington Heights and Lake Zurich. Check out the class schedules to attend his classes at either location.