Teacher profile: Amy Archinal

We want you to get to know our teachers a little more, especially what makes each uniquely qualified to teach, stemming from their own journey and experiences. This month we are bringing you closer to Amy Archinal, who teaches Beginners, Phoenix Rising, Stress-to-Bliss, Yin Yoga and Gentle Yoga.

1.  Where were you teaching this summer and what was the most notable thing you learned from it?
I was in Bristol ,Vermont mentoring students who are becoming certified as Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapists. This is my third time to mentor students and each time it increases my understanding of and passion for this work.

2.  Why should students attend workshops or retreats?  How is this different from attending classes?
Workshops and retreats give you a chance to dig deeper.
Maybe  you become exposed to new teachers or new aspects of the practice. Often I’ve found there’s more time to break down postures or to look at more subtle aspects of postures if it’s an instructional workshop.
Retreats can give you space away from everyday distractions to focus on yourself.  I lead silent retreat days occasionally.  It’s surprising how rare it is for people to make that kind of time to nourish themselves and it’s really beautiful to watch participants grow more connected to themselves and to nature in just one day.

3.  Why do you teach yoga?

I love all that my yoga practice has brought to my life and it feels important to offer that opportunity to explore to others.  Years ago I had a desire to practice yoga and to paint as my primary occupations and I feel very lucky that that’s what I’m doing now. I really enjoy witnessing students leave the studio in a more calm and grounded way after a class.

4.  When and why did you start to practice yoga?
I somehow acquired a copy of Iyengar’s Light on Yoga when I was around 14 and I remember reading it and practicing some postures on my own. I learned some asanas and certainly was curious about Yoga but also became frustrated when my body didn’t seem as malleable as Mr. Iyengar’s !   I feel like a really began my practice around 1985 when I studied Taoist Yoga with Wilson Pitts in Richmond, VA. He taught me the soft martial arts forms of Tai Chi and  Pa Kua Chang as well as a number of other Taoist practices including moving, standing and seated meditations.  I became deeply engaged in these practices and was fascinated with how these practices improved my balance, focus, flexibility and increased my energy.  I had my first formal instruction in Hatha Yoga a few years later and built most of my foundation with Georgia Sears here in New Orleans.  Her classes were small and she had a gift for meeting each student where they were in their practice. Out of this small group, a number of us went on to become yoga teachers. A lot of what I gathered in these first teachers still informs my approach to teaching yoga.

5.  What styles of yoga do you teach and why?
I teach classes that are mostly geared toward those who are looking for a self-reflective, meditative or relaxing practice. I teach Gentle and Beginners Yoga and I work with my students to promote greater body  and breath awareness and a sense of inner alignment. I understand that there are a lot of people who can benefit from yogic practices but who may have some limitations due to injuries, age etc. so I like to show students modifications of postures and help them develop a practice that works for them in a way that honors their body.

I teach a class called Unwind that is a wonderful combination of mindful movement and Restorative postures and I also guide a weekly Yin Yoga practice where we hold postures for longer.  This is a practice of stillness that allows muscles to relax and deep connective tissue to stretch, promoting greater energy flow through the body. Students who enjoy a vigorous yoga practice can really benefit by mixing yin and restorative practices into their weekly practice and of course they provide a much needed time of quiet and stillness for those who are under stress in everyday life.  Really , who doesn’t need to unwind once in a while?

I also teach Phoenix Rising Yoga and facilitate Stress to Bliss groups that incorporate Phoenix Rising Yoga with some group processing and home practice. (We’ll have some of these sessions on the schedule for the fall and winter).  Students do most of the yoga practice with eyes closed and an inward focus. In each posture, students explore their own unique edge (a sensation of engaged awareness)  and are encouraged to witness breath, body, feelings and thoughts that arise at this edge. The practice is sprinkled with self reflective questions and ends with  a meditation and step of integrating the experience. I really love this approach to yoga because of the way that you use posture and body awareness to shed light on your life at large some really amazing insights can come forward and you learn to be mindful in a way that you can take into life with you.

6.  What is Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy – is this yoga or is it therapy?

It’s a one-on -one process that uses some elements of yoga (assisted and supported stretches and posture) with simple dialog techniques that were inspired by the work of Carl Rogers. It’s a very client centered work that honors that each person has their deepest truths within themselves.

As a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist, I guide  my client through a centering process that deepens awareness of their breath and what’s happening in their body and in their life.  As we move through postures , I encourage them to speak about whatever they notice, including physical sensations, thoughts, memories or emotions. It’s really a process of being supported and listened to with compassion, and of listening to themselves in this way.  Often as the client’s body opens in this supported way, and they validate their own experience,  whatever lies underneath a current tension in the body can be explored and released. Sometimes what’s underneath is an old injury or trauma, sometimes an unprocessed emotion or a self-limiting belief.  At the end of the session I guide the client through a process of integrating the experience into their everyday life and opening to their own wisdom and insight.

I’ve experienced a lot of styles of bodywork and types of personal growth work over the years  but I found this work quickly brought me profound insights and has helped me to hold a lot more compassion for myself. I’m really delighted to share the process with my clients.

7.  You have attended a number of trainings out of town, can you tell us a bit more about them?
Last fall I attended a Yin/Yang yoga training with Paulie Zink. He’s a highly skilled martial artist and teacher who was instrumental in introducing more Taoist practices approaches to the Hatha Yoga community. He’s quite masterful in observing nature and working with various animal energies in postures and movement.

This summer I did more training with the Phoenix Rising Yoga community, completing their teacher training program in Bristol Vermont. This was a nine day immersion that included daily yoga, training in guiding the dual process of yoga and self-reflection and a really facinating presentation of yoga history and philosophy by Jen Munyer, a good friend and inspired teacher.

8.  Who has been the main influence on you as a teacher?
I’m grateful that my life and my yoga experience has been touched by so many brillant teachers. My main influence has been Karen Hasskarl, who was co-director of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, until she died this spring. Karen guided all of my training as a yoga therapist and was also a friend and a mentor. What I most honor about Karen was her ability to live authentically, to hold a loving and compassionate space for others, and to negotiate life with ease and humor.
9.  What would you say to someone who is thinking about starting yoga but feels kind of intimidated?
I think it’s important to remember that you need to start where you are and to treat yourself with patience.  There are lots of styles of yoga, so consider what you’d like from your practice and choose a form of yoga that feels like a fit for you. Find a  teacher, class or a series that can help you build a foundation so you can learn postures safely and modify them if needed, and let your instructor know if you have any injuries or concerns. Even though some people choose to master advanced poses, there can be great benefits to simple movements and postures if practiced with breath awareness. Ultimately the practice is working for you if you feel more and home and comfortable in your body.