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Part 1 of a 3 part interview
An All-Inclusive Interview With Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman

Article and Photos by Pinar Istek

There are age spots, starting to appear on his hands. He is walking around slowly, instructing his students and aiding them almost one by one with the challenging postures that they are instructed to do. Her deep blue eyes hit you from minute one. An observer, too, can almost feel her tactile relationship with her students. Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman, a couple over 50, and yet full of energy, can easily inspire one toward life. They are both upbeat.

Rodney, a former ballet dancer and one of the rock stars of the yoga world, and his wife, Colleen, a former model and a yoga teacher gave a week-long (March 19 -26, 2011) yoga retreat at Blue Spirit Retreat Center in Nosara.

Yee’s long lasting interest in body and mind, which started with an interest in gymnastics in high school, later lead him to yoga. Similarly, coming from a highly body conscious professional background, Saidman developed an interest on the subject later in her life. Yoga eventually brought the couple together.

On the last day of their workshop, the Voice of Nosara had the opportunity to talk to the couple.


VON: I want to start with your dance background. Before studying Iyengar Yoga, you were a ballet dancer. And along the way you developed your own style in yoga. Is that right?

RY: Well, I don’t really like to say I developed my own style. I, through meeting Colleen, she had mainly studied under the Jivamukti system, and I had mainly studied under the Iyengar system, we started joining our knowledge together. And then we have studied with a lot of different teachers, really, teachers of our choice, not so much because of the systems, more because of the teachers. Just to continue to widen our view and our practice and to also be more focused on our practice. It was more of an internal yearning to study more that now is two different schools of yoga. But my main school of Yoga is still Iyengar.

CS: I don’t think that we teach any particular brand of yoga. I think everything we have learned along the way, it’s become very interdisciplinary. And Rod has taught me an enormous amount about alignment, sequencing. And we take other people’s classes.  We just take things from them. But our teaching is based on our own practice. But our own practice is based on the teachers that have gone before us. It’s not a brand.

VON: Why did you choose the school system you followed?

CS: It wasn’t actually a choice. It was just sort of where I happened to be, where a friend took me to the class. And then I really liked it. It spoke to me. I stayed there for a while. And when I felt I needed some additional training, I went to some place else. But it wasn’t… I didn’t choose to study where I studied. It just sort of happened.

RY: Mine is a little similar in the sense that there was an Iyengar studio right above the ballet studio where we were dancing. A friend and I were dancing and we were both still very tight. So we just said “Let’s go upstairs and learn some body opening from the yogis.” But I think I stayed with that methodology because there was so much precision and so much really wonderful knowledge about the body. I still respect the Iyengar system for that depth of understanding of the intricacies of the human body.


VON: Have you incorporated your dance background with your yoga career?

RY: It gets incorporated because that’s what I did. So again it is not a sort of conscious integration. I am not trying to do dance and yoga or yoga and dance. But because I had that training, my eye was trained, my ear was trained, the architecture of the body, the structure, a lot of my perception was trained in the dance field. So of course I have. I see sometimes the world through that lens. So it’s definitely affected my yoga world, but I haven’t consciously put them together.

VON: Modeling also has a lot to do with body.

CS: It actually does. I think, to be a model you have to be really in your body. Like you have to know where every limb is and you have to move every limb. And you also have to know how to keep vital when you are really tired, when you have to get up really early. You still have to continue to look good. It is funny because a lot of models take our classes now. And they are the best students in the room. Because they understand their body and where it is in space. When you give them intricate instructions, they are very fast. That comes from just being in the body. There are not many professions that you have to be in your body. You know, working on your computer, you are in your head. Most of the world is in their head. Models are in their body. So it was actually a very natural transition.

VON: Can you tell us about your trips to India? What was your experience like in India?

RY: The first time I went was in 1987. And I went for a month and a half to the Iyengar Institute. I think the one common experience that all of us can say about India is it blows your mind.  I mean, it is just… It is beyond what you thought it was. And it was the same studying with Iyengar.  I really didn’t know what to expect. I think a lot of those lessons will continue to sort of crop up at different times in our lives like things that we saw, things that we felt, things that we took in.  They come back, when you are practicing, maybe when you are in downward facing dog, you hear Iyengar’s voice or you remember some experience you had on the street or just seeing the crazy poverty and the unbelievable color and the wealth, both all mixed together. It is just teeming. It sort of breaks down what you think is possible, especially in the United States where everything is in some ways so structured, so you know all in some ways man-made. A lot of times there is sort of a removal of what’s natural. And I feel like India, there is so much just nature, just sort of coming through the pores of the streets and people.


VON: So you think there is more freedom?

RY: I think there is actually. I know that people have a lot more sort of religious structure. But I feel in some ways, there is much more organic freedom. And people are not scared. They are not scared of death. They are not scared of seeing things right in front of them. Where, at least in the United States, we don’t know where the garbage is. We put it all aside and we are sort of like in this hospital, if you will, in some way.

CS: Same thing with old people. You know, we put them away whereas in India they are revered.

VON: What about the concept of moving from fear to fearlessness? What is it exactly?

CS: Fear is very limiting. And fear keeps us from moving beyond. It keeps us from doing what we need to do, staying in relationships that we’ve outlived, not doing handstand, you know, stuff like that. There is a lot of energy in fear. And if we can tap that energy and not use it for fear but turn it into service or into love, I mean, I think of someone like my mother who is so afraid of so many things. So she is going to die having lived very little. And I think we all have that kind of embedded fear. When you watch a student that does back bend for the first time you know has to trust to drop back or to do hand stand, I think that yoga definitely purchase that fear. And the biggest fear is fear of  death, and that’s another subject that we are constantly talking about in yoga class, is the fear of losing what is temporary, this idea of impermanence, the fear of sort of clinging to what is impermanent. And freedom and love is realizing that it is impermanent and living it fully now, which is what I think that Rod was saying. In India, they do. And also there is a level of acceptance to where you are now. And all of that leads to this idea of expansiveness rather than the contraction of fear.

RY: I mean there is an irony there, isn’t there? Something that’s ironic, it is like the acceptance actually allows for you to be much more alive. And a lot of people think that the acceptance is to be docile, to not act, but that a lot of times this keeping in motion, and the undercurrent being fear, being like a little mouse on a treadmill, not going anywhere but moving very fast.


VON: I think fighting back is celebrated a lot.

RY: It is celebrated a lot, right? But if you look at the product of all of that excess, it actually has… it is not going anywhere that you are really aiming to go, peace, love, fearlessness. I think what she is saying is very important, the idea of impermanence. Let’s pretend we are in a river and we are pretending that the river is not moving and we are holding onto the bend. We are really scared to let go off the bend and be in the river. Well, life is moving. And we are pretending that it is not moving by holding on.

And all this energy is going into this fear of holding on, instead of letting the energy move with the river. Therefore, we are sort of stuck to this one thing that you think you know and you can hold onto, but it is a fallacy. It is an illusion. So there is so much wasted energy, sustaining an illusion that life is permanent.

Tomorrow Yee and Saidman will share their opinions on gender roles in the yoga world, the gender roles in such a traditional and male-dominant country like India, their travel motivations and GAIAM Online Yoga Club. (Read Part 2 of the article here)




More Health News

An All-Inclusive Interview With Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman
Part 3

VON: Tell us about the Urban Zen Foundation. How did Donna Karan approach you?

CS: We both have been teaching Donna for years. And her husband, Steven, was very ill for, over seven years. And she was already very well versed in the practice of yoga with oils and healing touch. She had a lot of people around her that administered this sort of eastern kind of modalities that complemented Steven’s long struggle. More >

An All-Inclusive Interview With Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman
Part 2

VON: I would like to talk with you about gender roles in yoga practices. I don’t personally practice yoga but I have read that many men are hesitant to practice yoga because of gender roles and the fear that comes with it. What do you think about this? More >

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