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Om, Here It Is: Q + A With Yoga Teacher Leigh Ferrara

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Photo: Mark Kuroda

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It's Yoga Month, don't cha know. Ergo, this timely interview with one of the local yoga instructors we're currently crushin' on. Say a fine hello Namaste to the lovely Leigh Ferrara, who teaches her unique brand of yoga at Yoga Tree. Funny, thoughtful and a breath of fresh air, she has much to offer yogis of all levels. We could go on and on, but we'll just let the articulate Ms. Ferrara speak for herself...

Photo: Ashley Summer

In one sentence, tell us about yourself.

I'm loving and sensitive, and I treasure people, relationships and connection.

What inspired you to become a yoga teacher?

My own desire to heal. Yoga was the first practice that drew me to healing. Slowly, and with the help of a really great trauma therapist and other modalities, I began to unwind the contraction and sludge that was built up in my body and started to release old stories about myself and my life, which weren't doing me any favors. Yoga was my way in, though, and I feel an intense loyalty to it. I learned how to feel again, how to receive, and how to find more peace. When I started, I wanted to share this gift with others. Now I see the profound effects it has on those around me, so I feel called to continue to share. And my students inspire me to keep teaching. I learn just as much, if not more, from them as they do from me, which is humbling and pretty beautiful.

General yoga/teaching philosophy?

My goal is to create a safe and inviting classroom, where students can show up exactly as they are and practice building a trusting and honest relationship with their bodies. It's important for me to build a movement experience that allows people to rediscover how to feel a whole spectrum of sensations, learn how to unwind contraction and tension, and get curious about how to shift emotional and physical patterns toward greater ease and freedom.

How long have you been teaching and where can people find you?

Since September 2009. This month is my six-year anniversary. Whoa. Feels like I just got going. I teach at Yoga Tree's Potrero Hill location. I love it there. There are other teachers doing therapeutic work, so I feel like it's a great match for me. I also teach one-on-ones, corporate classes, workshops, and retreats.

Photo: Mark Kuroda

Favorite pose?

Well, I teach a fairly unique style of yoga, which is heavily influenced by my Pilates teacher (Caitlin Kolb), who I also co-teach with. Plus, I do trainings and collaborations with physical therapists and other practitioners so this question always trips me up. It's the sequence of movement that I love, or the philosophy coupled with the movement; and every day my body wants something different. But that being said, I am very partial to compression work (blanket under belly or solar plexus), subtle movements that produce profound impact and restorative shapes like supported twists or side bends with a bolster and a whole bunch of other props, to help create ease. I'm a prop girl.

What's your favorite yoga mat? Why?

Manduka. Hands down. It's sturdy, easy to clean and lasts. The mats are heavy though, so not great for schlepping around town. They do have a travel mat, so that could work for schlepping—but I doubt it's cushy.

Where do you shop for yoga clothes (online, in SF, anywhere)?

I like to mix and match. I feel very lucky to be a Lululemon ambassador, which means they generously provide me with their clothes. And they are a company that continues to evolve in what they are producing. I love the street feel of their newer stuff. I will go all Lululemon sometimes, or pair their stuff with some of the other yoga brands like Hardtail, Alo or what I like to call vintage Zohba. (I have some of their shirts from ages ago, and I love them!) But more so, I tend to piece together typical yoga brands with more relaxed and everyday street clothes like Chaser, Zara or simple graphic tees.

What's your style like outside the studio?

Relaxed. Jeans, sneakers, a tee or tank and leather jacket. Or some easy slip dress that feels weightless. Minimalist, I guess. Sometimes I throw on a pair of heels with jeans, or booties with a dress. I walk a lot so, mostly, I'm into comfort and ease so I can be on the move. I'm obsessed with these Cole Haan oxfords, but they cause me to supinate (roll my feet out) so Caitlin (my Pilates gal/biomechanics genius) forbids me to wear them. But sometimes I cheat and wear them for short periods of time.

Photo: Dijon Bowden

Any yoga etiquette tips for students?

Try to be on time. That allows the collective community to drop in together. It's powerful. But life happens. And it's absolutely OK to be late. But if you're late, take five breaths before you enter the room, so that you are on your way to being connected to your body when you step inside. That will help you relax as you open the door to a quiet and still space. You will be able to walk in slowly and put your stuff down quietly and you might decide to sit and wait for the beginning meditation or initial relaxation moments to be over before unrolling your mat and setting up. I think when we're late and anxious about being late, we tend to run in and that's when the disruption occurs: slamming mats down, tossing keys, etc. And, if you have a day when you do those things, cut yourself a break, take another breath, give yourself a pat on the back for making it to class, and try not to cause a commotion next time. Smiley emoji.

What advice would you offer to someone who's just starting in your class?

My class might be a little different than what you're used to, so come open and curious. We move slowly and do subtle movement exercises to warm up our brain/body connection. I'm constantly talking about the balance of energy so that we are engaging smartly in movement but not overworking. And the practice asks you to listen to the feedback that your body has to offer. We build this tool on the mat when it's safe and structured, so that we can put it into action off the mat when we really need it. Our bodies are always giving us feedback—on our relationships, environment, the decisions we are trying to make, etc.—so the more attuned we can get to hearing what our bodies are telling us, the more life begins to flow with ease. Bring patience too. We're building a strong, trusting, and communicative relationship with our bodies through this work; and as with any relationship, sometimes it's challenging and takes time. All levels of practitioners are welcome. There's room for you.

Fun/interesting fact...go!

When I was in 7th grade, my parents put out a missing persons report on me. I was a little rebellious, off drinking and smoking Marlboro Reds. There were four police cars outside my house when I got there. Well, I guess, I shook that out nice and early because I've been super straight-edged for a while now. Ha.

If you weren't teaching yoga, what would you be doing?

Something where I'd be able to write and collaborate with a badass team of conscientious, inspiring and hilarious humans. I was a journalist through the end of 2008. I miss writing. I've started back again with my blog and newsletter. Tell your readers to go check them out, and they can sign up for my newsletter! [Anything for you, Leigh: Check out her blog here.]

Leigh can also be reached on Facebook and Instagram.