Interview with the Yogis
Photo courtesy of Max Shaffer
MetroRock Everett recently began offering Yoga classes in one of the new expansion spaces. We sat down with the instructors to talk about their passions for both yoga and climbing and what students can expect from the “Yoga for Climbers” classes.
Ken Miller is the lead teacher and offers classes on Mondays at 7pm, Thursdays at 6 and 7pm. “I studied Hatha Yoga at the Nosara Yoga Institute in Costa Rica, where I received my 200 hour Yoga Alliance-certified teacher training. My passion for yoga stems from its capacity to foster physical and emotional well-being in a fun and powerful way. Yoga offers wonderful tools for managing anxiety and stress, and for achieving a greater sense of ease, confidence, and self-acceptance. As a rock-climber and runner, I am grateful for the ways in which yoga has increased my strength, flexibility, and focus.”
Alissa Bilfield teaches the class on Mondays at 6pm. She has studied, practiced, and taught yoga around the world. Most recently she has been studying Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India. Although she appreciates and enjoys other styles of physical Yoga as well, the traditional Ashtanga series has been the foundation of her practice for the last 6 years. In addition to practicing and teaching yoga, Alissa is also an avid rock climber, a certified Thai Yoga Bodywork practitioner, having studied in Chiang Mai Thailand, and a certified Health and Wellness Counselor from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City.
Question: Tell us a little about how long you've been climbing and what you prefer to do. What about climbing appeals to you?
KEN: I've been climbing for about eight years. A friend took me to Mission Cliffs when I was living in San Francisco, and I was hooked after my first climb. I soon discovered lead climbing and it's been my passion ever since. I love the quietly focused mind, breathing through one's fears and doubts, and trusting that the friend on the other end of the rope has your back. I also love the absolute high of nailing a route you've been projecting for a while. And then of course, climbers are basically very cool, fun people.
ALISSA: I have been climbing on and off since 2008 in the gym, but I became hooked over the last two years while I was traveling abroad. I had the opportunity to boulder in some picturesque places like Hampi in South India, and Castle Hill in New Zealand. There is nothing like being out in the middle of wild, beautiful places confronting your attachments and fears while hanging off a rock...
Q: What yoga disciplines are you most experienced in and why did you choose
KEN: I discovered yoga in San Francisco around the time I discovered climbing. It was a heated flow class, Bhakti Urban Flow with Rusty Wells. It was a packed room with maybe 120 people, with chanting, an intense workout, and somehow a deeper connection to oneself in the process. I loved it! Rusty helped people find and play with their edge, and taught from a place of love and laughter, with funky music and a playful way of helping people move beyond their preconceived limits. In many ways, there were similarities to climbing: the quietly focused mind, finding and transcending one's edge, feeling more at home in one's body, cool people, and great music.
I did my yoga teacher training at the Nosara Yoga Institute in Costa Rica, a very intense month of yoga with breaks to grab a surfboard and hit the beach. It was primarily Vinyasa Flow--with an emphasis on helping each student find their own edge and learn to trust and honor their own body's wisdom. I do believe in good alignment, but I'm not real concerned with teaching asanas or postures in some idealized way. I'd much rather encourage students to explore each movement we do to see what feels right to them. It's an inquiry into your own experience, really.
ALISSA: I am most experienced in the foundation style for all 'vinyasa'/'flow' classes, which is Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga. I have been practicing this style for 6+ years and also teaching. After 5 or so years of trying out different styles, I connected with Ashtanga because of the systematically sequenced series that work on safely opening up the body and developing strength, flexibility, and breath awareness. I have also been drawn to teach Yin Yoga as well, which is the passive complement to Ashtanga. AND, most recently I have gotten my kicks from practicing Acroyoga, which combines acrobatics, yoga and theraputic bodywork.
Q: What other forms of exercise do you regularly engage in?
ALISSA: I love biking, climbing, acrobatics, and swimming in natural bodies of water...
KEN: I practice yoga several times a week, run, bike, and play tennis.
Q: Do you think the same motivations brought you personally to both yoga and climbing?
ALISSA: After being immersed in yoga for 5+ years I found climbing and really came to appreciate the powerful ways that both yoga and climbing create strength in the body and mind. I also really dig that the mat and the wall act as mirrors for whatever is going on in your life -- you are forced to confront your fears, anxieties, and also your confidences while practicing yoga or climbing. Both practices bring you to the place where you must connect with that force within you that is a part of the whole universe -- it is pretty intense, but that is why I am drawn to both of these amazing forms.
Q: Compared to a typical yoga flow class, how does "climbing for yoga" differ?
KEN: My "Yoga for Climbers" class is basically a vigorous Vinyasa Flow class. In addition to fostering greater flexibility, we'll add some core strengthening, because the core is so key to climbing. And we'll strengthen muscles that are underutilized in climbing. We'll also focus on balance, and on cultivating a quiet, focused mind—staying present and letting distractions pass by. I'll leave out the chanting, but we'll certainly have great music to keep the energy flowing.
ALISSA: The yoga class that I will be teaching at Metrorocks, "Intro to Ashtanga" is an authentic series based off of the traditional primary series of Ashtanga. Throughout class I will be tying in the work that we are doing on the mat to the work that we do on the wall, as the practice of yoga benefits climbers in so many ways.
Q: What are the benefits of this class for climbers and yoga practitioners at all levels?
ALISSA: Whether you are a seasoned yogi, or a beginner, this class will help you to cultivate strength, flexibility, and breath awareness for your work on the mat and on the wall. Climbers will especially begin to open up characteristically tight areas such as the shoulders and hips to help strengthen their climbing regime.
I have introduced Ashtanga to a lot of climbers, mountaineers, and outdoor enthusiasts, all of whom have said that the regular incorporation of the primary s