How long have you been teaching yoga?
Almost 12 years.
Why did you become a yoga teacher? Who and/or what are your biggest influences?
I became a yoga teacher by mistake almost. I was looking for a solution to avoid a 4th and 5th back surgery, and sought out private lessons for therapeutic yoga. Then I became more and more invested and interested, and ultimately did a teacher training, though only to learn more, not necessarily to teach. My biggest influence was getting healthy—not having another surgery. My first teacher (Chad) pushed me to keep going even when the pain was overwhelming. I was very heavily influenced by all the senior Anusara teachers and studied with them, including founder John Friend, Betsey Downing, Desiree Rumbaugh, Ross Rayburn, Noah Maze, Martin Kirk, Todd Norian, and Sianna Sherman.
How has yoga helped you to be a better person?
It is a tool for getting healthy, becoming more authentic from the inside, calming down when stressed, and helping to become a more patient person. Cultivating strength, stamina, determination, and diligence. Because I’m a student AND a teacher, it has different meanings when stepping onto the mat to teach. From that perspective, it means helping people find all those things I just mentioned. It is a vehicle to help transformation and to watch real change. To assist and guide someone to find their own authenticity, to heal from emotional pain, and to de-stress from daily life.
Jumping back into the student role, I believe since I have started doing yoga, I respond instead of react most of the time. I’m not so emotional and I pace myself more. I definitely have more confidence and self-esteem. I have developed a better sense of self, of hearing my inner voice and listening to that voice and letting that lead decisions in my life rather than emotions. A teacher of mine said “we all have our stuff.” The process of yoga helps to constantly be aware of this “stuff” and focus on what is important and stay on the path we have chosen.
What is your personal mission statement as a yoga teacher?
This is the mission statement for Pulsation Yoga. It also the personal mission statement that Jim and I worked on and wrote, and we share with staff so everyone ideally is on the same page:
• 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.
What do you think constitutes an excellent yoga instructor?
Humility, non-competitiveness, kindness, and the ability to meet the student where they are at with compassion toward them. Honesty and ethical conduct in all ways with students, with the other teachers, and the owners of the studio. Constantly studying with master teachers by attending workshops and continuing education. Perfection in languaging and the ability to communicate clearly, and the ability to keep refining this.
What was your most challenging teaching experience?
I was assisting a famous teacher at the Yoga Journal Conference in Estes Park. At the end, they turned off the lights and I was having great difficulty adjusting to the absence of light in a large room where about 100 students were in Savasana. I started to walk toward the end of the room, and didn’t see a student’s feet and consequently tripped and fell right on top of the student in Savasana!!! In horror, I struggled to get off of her and noticed she was moving about and I thought I had hurt her, but instead found out she was laughing hysterically at the incident. To this day, nothing has topped that embarrassing and funny experience.
What do you recommend to the beginner student? To the seasoned student?
The beginner student: To have an open mind, let go of any feelings of limitations you might be having. Measure your practice in decades. Look backwards to when you first started to see progress. That you will sometimes feel like you are not progressing, but really you are continually moving forward. Please try to not beat yourself up if you can’t get into a pose, and allow yourself the time and space. Be kind to yourself; don’t worry about what another student is doing; focus on your practice and what you need. Ask the teacher for modifications. Keep a notebook with you and make notes in class—I did this for years, in every class. Learn all the modifications you need and use them. Get props before the class starts so you have them ready if you need them.
The seasoned student: Good question. Seasoned students can be in a place of constantly needing more (in the physical practice) and not paying any attention to the other limbs, like breathwork (pranayama) and meditation. If your physical practice is at a place where you are continually “seeking” more, I would suggest going deeper into the studies of yoga. Take an immersion class. Attend workshops whenever possible, live or online, and find master teachers and continue to refine and improve.
How do you take your yoga off the mat?
I practice yoga in some form every day. To overcome stress and anxiety like everyone else. To help me with pain management. Being nicer and more patient are always a work in progress!
What is the one pose you are most proud of getting into?
Handstand. Never ever could you convince me that I could do handstand. With the rods in my back, I swore something was going to break, but it didn’t! And the strength you acquire and confidence from Handstand is unmatched in my opinion. It totally empowers you.
What is your favorite time of day to practice yoga?
I’m not really a morning person, never have been. I have no problem teaching in the a.m., though. I think because I have lots of scar tissue from the surgeries on my back, I need to be up and about for several hours before all the moving parts work properly. Then yoga makes me feel whole again.
What is your favorite music to listen to while practicing yoga?
I love the Beatles, Sting, Ben Harper, Benjy and Heather Wertheimer, Eddie Vedder—it so depends on the energy of the class, mood, and theme I have chosen. Sometimes, no music is just the ticket for the class.
I might come in with a specific music agenda and have to be flexible enough to change it if the energy steers me in a different direction. Last week, I had prepared a very “soulful” practice and when I got into the room, the energy was extremely robust and “celebratory” so I changed the class to a backbending class on the spot. And I changed the music to match.
What else do you want students to know about you?
I do not want the students to put me on any kind of pedestal; we are all in this together. I feel being authentic when you teach relaxes the students. One of the most important aspects of the physical practice of yoga is to bring out authenticity, and if the teacher is being authentic, it gives the students permission and encourages them to do the same. I guess if I had to answer, it would be that I want them to know that what you see is what you get in our studio. It’s part of our mission statement.
Kathy Simonik is the co-owner of Pulsation Yoga and teaches at the studios in Arlington Heights and Lake Zurich. Check out the class schedules to attend her classes at either location.