This week’s talks with teachers interview is with Linnea Larson. Linnea has has been on our staff for nearly ten years. The depth of her wisdom and spaciousness of her heart have greatly influenced our community. We are so lucky to have her and are pleased to share her story with you. Linnea teaches on Monday evenings at 7p in the group fitness space at The Tennis and Fitness Centre and leads Mindfulness workshops at The Yoga Centre.
TYC: The class you teach is called Ying Yoga–how would you describe the YIN style of practice?
LL: Yin is a term coined by the yoga teacher Paul Grilley which he learned from the Taoist master teacher Paulie Zink which emphasizes a less vigorous form of yoga. The specific areas of the body that are targeted are the connective tissue. — ligaments, bones, fascia that become less resilient as a person ages and from lack of movement. The practice of yin yoga can afford a person to experience a deep stretching and opening up of these areas of the body through the sustained holding of a particular posture.This particular practice can result in an increase in patience as the positions are held for a longer period of time to produce the deep stretching. Most of the positions are done on the floor and one can systematically use props to deepen the stretch.
TYC: What is unique about your Yin class?
LL: I now have incorporated back openers that are more yang like as many of the students have expressed their interest in finding more expansion in their back muscles. I am always open to listening to and adapting to the needs of the particular student. I suppose what I bring that is unique are my quirks of temperament. I love to laugh and I love to hear people’s unique and precious stories.
TYC: How were you first introduced to yoga?
LL: My first class in Yin yoga was revelatory as I experienced a complete release of muscle tension in my hips. I had practiced the
wonderful form of Ashtanga yoga and benefited from this practice and knew I had to find another form to broaden my understanding of yoga. I recognized that Yin yoga fostered a significant cultivation of patience and quiet and resiliency that I found deeply satisfying.
TYC: What teacher/s have you been most influenced by?
LL: The teacher who has influenced me the most is Paulie Zink whose breathtaking expansiveness and humility is astonishing. I appreciate his sense of humor. I have learned from Paul Grilley, Paulie Zink’s student, and from Sarah Powers, Paul Grilley’s student. I have also learned from Richard Miller, Gary Kraskow, Suddha Weller, Barbara Kohnhorst, Annelie Palmer, and each and every one of the many and diverse students that I have had!
TYC: You are also trained to teach Unified Mindfulness. What is that?
LL: The term mindfulness is an Americanized term for the practices developed by all religions for their contemplative practices. The very brief definition of mindfulness is that it a set of skills that anyone can develop through sustained practice. And, as most people understand skills, these can be improved through practice, practice, practice and most involve some sort of external performance. Mindfulness involves development and nurturing of internal skills. These three skills are concentration, sensory clarity and equanimity all working together.
Each one of these skills is distinct from the others and they work together reinforcing each other. Concentration is the ability to focus on what you consider to be relevant at a given time. Sensory clarity is the ability to track what you are experiencing the the moment. Equanimity is the ability to allow sensory experience to come and go without pushing or pulling the experience arising. This practice works if it delivers on these five components: 1) reduction of physical or emotional suffering; 2) elevation of physical or emotional fulfillment 3) deeper knowledge of who you are. 4) positive change in your objective behavior 5) a spirit of love and service towards others. Mindfulness practice is enhanced by learning from an experienced teacher who can help one through the tough patches one will inevitably experience. Just as one goes to a skilled teacher in any subject it is very useful to find a teacher who has had deep experience in practice. Mindfulness can be done by anyone.
TYC: When did you start practicing mindfulness?
LL: I began practice more than twenty five years ago while I worked in hospice. I had read and studied for many, many years the writings of the mystics from all wisdom traditions before I finally took the leap into practice. And it is really always about practice! Although I had years of clinical experience in working with “difficult” situations I knew I had to find a deeper well to sustain any type of equanimity while working in hospice. I was fortunate to find many great teachers such as Father Keating, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Pema Chodron, Cheri Huber, Brother Stendahl Rast. Stephen Levine, Ram Das, Sister Bilecki, Roshi Halifax. My direct teacher of many years is Shinzen Young who developed the Unified Mindfulness system. I have found this system of enormous value in that it is so very clear and systematic in its descriptive power and ease of application. This is what I teach and have been teaching and practicing for many years.
TYC: What do you love about the community of students at The Yoga Centre?
LL: Their persistence and willingness to try out new practices.
TYC: What else would you like The Yoga Centre community to know about you?
LL: I have worked in most every area of health care from direct patient care in hospitals and mental health clinic, to teaching graduate school classes in human development, family practice residency and all forms of therapy. I have worked as a health policy analyst and advisor at a national level. I developed the first mind body program in a hospital setting in Illinois that began in the early 90’s and is still operating! I have worked in renal, oncology, and hospice. I have assisted in the development of hospice in Latvia.
TYC: Wow – that’s a lot of experience! How have those professional experiences influenced your teaching?
LL: I believe the experience of directly seeing people’s abilities emerge, under difficult circumstances, in learning new skills that can enhance their own sense of agency and fulfillment and resilience comports with a general life outlook that I value. I learned from my experiences in hospice to “find a deeper well” from the daily practice of meditation under the direction of superb teachers. I consider the practice of meditation and asana as essential skills in providing the opportunity for a more resilient and productive and affirming life.