Sweat Spotlight: Yarrow Kae

In honor of International Day of Yoga, we caught up with one of our favorite yogis, Yarrow Kae AKA Rock and Roll Yogini. Find her teaching at Bikram Yoga NYC and Earth Yoga NYC

When and why did you start practicing yoga?

I started practicing in June of 2002, the month after I graduated college, for two reasons. The first is that I had sprained my ankle in a kickboxing class and needed to find a low impact form of exercise to keep my anxiety and OCD in check while my ankle healed. I decided to try this Bikram yoga class that I had been hearing about. It was love at first sweat and I never left. I've also never been back to a kickboxing class...

The second answer is that I had been dancing my way through the San Francisco rave scene long before EDM was a thing. As I danced into the wee hours of the morning, I felt connected to something greater than myself. But as time went on, I knew that I needed something more than dancing to electronic music to feel that connection. It was time I got serious about my spiritual practice. My sprained ankle gave me the push I needed to start my yoga and meditation practice.

What got you hooked?

What drew me in was the exhilaration I felt from the heat. It was such a high, but what hooked me was the clarity I began to feel from the meditative benefits of class. As I mentioned, I struggled with severe anxiety and OCD, and the yoga practice allowed me to begin unraveling the anxiety, stress, tension and emotions that I didn’t know how to deal with. It gave me the release and the center I needed to uncover my true self.

What was it like to compete in Bikram competitions?

This is a complicated question for me. I really disliked competing. My yoga practice was a sacred place for me, one where I allowed my vulnerability to come to the surface. I spent many hours on my mat crying, especially in my first year. I had so much unhealed pain that needed to come out.

To stand on a stage in front of a huge crowd and let them see me in the poses that were allowing me to blossom into myself made me feel so vulnerable. But, really when I think back to it, I realize that I wasn’t able to be still within myself and I feared being judged and I feared failing, which caused me to let my nerves overtake me.

I think if I were to compete today it might be different, but I have no interest in getting on that stage again. I didn’t want to be a yoga champion and it is the kind of thing that deserves commitment. We have to choose what we want to commit to and where we want our energy to go. Competitions weren’t that space for me. I did learn and grow from them and watching others compete was very inspirational, but it was not where I felt my practice was best served.

What is your favorite part of practicing yoga? what is the most challenging?

Everything. Nothing feels better than having worked through every bone, ligament, tendon, muscle, and system in my body, wringing everything out and then surrendering in Savasana. To surrender was a foreign feeling to me before I practiced yoga and meditated.

The most challenging part is the breath. It took me seven and a half years to really learn how to breathe. The first thing I notice when I teach a private class is how poorly people breathe, especially in the Bikram practice. The breath isn’t emphasized the same in Bikram as in other styles of yoga.

What is your favorite pose? Why?

Pincha Mayurasana or forearm balance. I recently read an interview with Kino MacGregor where she said that it took her two years to find balance in this posture. It took me eight. Eight years until I could do this posture away from the wall. Now, whenever I get into this posture I am in awe of the strength and stability I have built. This posture makes me feel strong and, for a girl who was always more flexible than strong, strength feels amazing!

What tools do you think are essential for starting a yoga practice?

And open heart and mind and the commitment to learning a discipline. In a world where everything is instantaneous and Instagram paints a very glamorous picture of what a yoga practice looks like, it is extremely important to remember that a dedicated yoga practice is a discipline. Learning discipline in the poses teaches us to control our minds.

How do you engage/motivate a class when they are all at different levels and have different mindsets towards yoga?

As a teacher, it is important to trust your intuition. Listening to that is key. As, I mentioned, yoga is a discipline and when teaching a discipline there will be students who rebel against your instruction, especially if they came to class purely for physical reasons. The interesting thing is, even when students start practicing purely for physical reasons, after a while, the spiritual facets of yoga naturally unfold.

No matter what, even when I am giving a dharma talk about something heavy, I integrate humor into my words and try to keep it light. If I can keep it balanced it’s better for the students, especially since in a class of 40 people, everyone is coming from different mental, spiritual, and physical places.

What exactly is “Alchemizing Pain Into Light” and how did you develop the idea? 

The “Alchemizing Pain Into Light” workshop sessions are a combination of what I call my holy trinity of healing—yoga asana, meditation, and journal writing. It is through these three modalities that I have burned through my own pain and been able to transform it into beauty, poetry, love, and light. The workshop is a combination of pranayama breathing techniques, chakra clearing, restorative postures, during which I tell my “pain” story, followed by an intensive vinyasa flow with an emphasis on backbends to open the heart chakra, a guided journal writing session and group discussion and then we conclude with a heart centered meditation.

As humans, we are masters of developing hiding mechanisms to avoid. Some examples of these are shopping, television, relationships, drugs, sex, and varying other numbing mechanisms to avoid dealing with our lives. It is only through confronting our pain that we use it to create and grow and once we are strong enough to create with it we can start to heal. With my workshops, I am offering a space where people can feel safe being vulnerable and expressing their pain so that they can get acquainted with it and use it to heal and give light to the world. 

I also teach private yoga and offer spiritual mentorship. Spiritual mentorship is a system of coaching that I have developed that is based in yoga psychology and focuses on discovering one’s ancestral wounds so that those wounds can be healed.  When working with a client, I aim to help that client uncover the fears that drive them the most and how to overcome those fears so that they are able to give their unique gifts to the world while living an abundant, successful, and love filled life.

Join Yarrow, for the next Alchemizing Pain into Light session, this Saturday (June 25th) from 1 - 4 at Sonic Yoga

Interested in private yoga or spiritual mentorship? Email yarrow@rockandrollyogini.com.