Tracey's interview with Kira Ryder of Channel Yoga
Tracey Rich co-directs the White Lotus Foundation with her partner, Ganga White. I am just getting to know her and thrilled that she will be a teacher at the Ojai Yoga Crib this year.
Kira: How did you get from Nashville, TN to Pattabhi Jois in Hawaii?
Tracey: I rode the classical prophecy of the Iron Bird flying and moved with the dharma to the West. Already a student, lover and teacher of yoga, I was fortunate to encounter Pattabhi Jois on his second visit to the United States and I believe his first visit to the island of Maui in 1980. In those days you had to know the first series by heart in order to join the class. I literally finished my last day of learning the first series Ashtanga the day before his arrival and was invited to attend. Many of today’s great teachers in that lineage were also there as students and class assistants. It was an outrageous scene, really exciting and fun. Eighty to one hundred people (which were big numbers in those days) gathered in an empty warehouse space all sweating together under the Hawaiian sun. Pattabhi spoke no English, except for the words, “thank you very much”, but his smile and spirit along with his beautiful wife, Ama, moved the energy of that time. The entire island felt like an ashram for a while with so many people exuberant and high on yoga that year.
Ganga and I later presented Pattabhi Jois in his first Los Angeles class at our then Center for Yoga in about 1985 and hosted him again in Santa Barbara at our White Lotus Retreat in 1987 and ’89, when no one ever believed Ashtanga would become a household word. For many reasons 1980 is anchored in my mind… I moved as far West as one could go in the United States (and yet seemingly to another planet, space and time), I studied Ashtanga yoga every day for two months under the tutelage of Pattabhi Jois, and it was in that moment in time when still shimmering with the glow of sweat after class, we learned John Lennon was dead!
Kira: As a yoga video star, is there anything unfamiliar or awkward when you look back and see the old versions of yourself on film?
Tracey: I think our videos (now DVD’s) will have a long life. They really met our goals of creating a class that a student could use as home practice indefinitely. They are filled with the kind of direction, breath awareness, and details that not only teach someone how to do yoga, but give them the living experience of a personal practice. Our original Flow Series video was the first actual “practice” tape available. Most videos at the time were very staccato and spent all their time on breakdown and on- screen discussion. We wanted to create and communicate something that felt real and valuable. Another way the series excels is that for years now our DVD’s have been in hi-def, something our director had the creative insight to think of and which once again was ahead of the curve and sets us apart. I know that somebody out there loves the Total Yoga series because they are working their way towards their second million in sales. The greatest repeated compliment we receive is when someone tells us that they have a book shelf full of videos or DVD’s, but that they use our DVD five days a week! That feels fabulous. To work in the medium of the day and have it really communicate yoga, since we all know that nothing can truly replace the learning process that can happen in class with a teacher.
On the rare occasions I review the DVD’s, I can find numerous tiny things that have been frozen on that medium of tape or disc that could infinitely be tweaked, but all in all I am very pleased with them and hope they have a long life span.
Kira:I love your way use of highly visual language to communicate the feeling of the practice. Do you talk that way all the time or is it unique to teaching?
Tracey: This is the way I speak, but in teaching I am conscious of streamlining language in the hope of getting across what I am seeing and feeling, and what the yoga has taught me and is teaching me in the moment. I have found a way of putting my love of drama and passion, my love of storytelling and poetry, really my love of words into play, somewhat like a sculptor would use his hands in moist clay. Communicating clearly, but with fun and flair, humor and metaphor are some of my loves, and the desire to be understood is high priority of mine. I was once dubbed the “poetess of yoga” and I like that very much. I need order for my own brain which leads to being a stickler for details which also expresses itself in my use of language and communication. I never used to think of myself as a highly visual person until I had the chance and the charge of creating beauty out of our once funky little ashram perched on a mountain side. After a while I realized I was working at spinning straw into gold to create an oasis for transformation as a living expression of yoga and one of the strong modalities was to create the environment visually. I believe it is working.
Kira: Who were you heroes as a child? Who are your heroes now?
Tracey: As a child my hero was my father. He was a bit like a Greek god to me… larger than life and the sun rose and fell at his feet. Today my heroes are people who are courageous, courageous in the areas of love, beauty, truth, compassion and intelligence; also, life protectors of the planet. One of those people is Vandana Shiva of the Navdanya organization who is fighting monster companies like Monsanto working to hold them accountable for our loss of biodiversity for their use of genetic engineering and their manipulation of patenting laws and intellectual property rights. Sam Harris, who is one of the most adult persons I can think of…challenging belief systems, religious and otherwise. Ann Frank is a hero of mine for her will to live. And yes, still, my father.
Kira: You make the time to read. What are you reading lately?
Tracey: One of the most potent books of late still resonating within me is The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. The book has been translated into 25 languages so that should tell you something. I also believe it is a first novel for her. I both laughed and cried within the first three paragraphs. Books and writers like this don’t come along everyday.
Another powerful book is Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris. It is his 90 page response to the hate mail he received in regards to his book entitled, The End of Faith. Letter to a Christian Nation is an extremely important book that speaks to some of the key issues of our time in this war over religion, faith, science and belief systems. It is pithy, accessible and very adult.
I also have greatly appreciated the work of Joan Didion in her book The Year of Magical Thinking. This is the story of her personal journey dealing with loss and grief. She is an exceptional writer and chronicler. The book is brave and beneficial for all who choose to walk with her through this painful travail.
Kira: What is your sense of the reasons for the rising popularity of yoga in this country now?
Tracey: Media, stars, trends, all these things make yoga more popular these days and people are now comfortably familiar with yoga. They have greater and greater access to yoga, it’s in their gyms, in their children’s schools, and yoga centers are cropping up in towns that never used to have even one teacher. But the real reason, I believe, for the popularity of yoga is the fact of how beneficial it is. Yoga works on so many levels and people are finding that out. They realize that they can stay in shape with yoga and that it can be challenging. They want to be well and feel better and they see those results with yoga. They grow tired of getting injured with certain exercise modalities and they see that yoga can help heal their backs and that it is easier on their joints than running. I also think that people realize you can do yoga at any age. And in addition, yoga centers are now serving for the kinds of community centers and places for connection (inner and outer) that people are seeking.
Kira: What is the edge in your practice today? More specifically, what are the details of your current daily life that are requiring complete awareness and total surrender?
Tracey: The place that is calling for attention in my life’s daily meditation right now is in the art of slowing down. I am truly trying to practice not moving so quickly thru any task. I have noticed that this area of my life is demanding me to stop, look and listen. This is a challenge due to the amount of input we are exposed to on a daily basis and the amount of output we get caught up in demanding of ourselves. Listening itself is also an edge… truly listening and hearing.