CHRIS DE LIZER, YOGA TEACHER
I met Chris years ago when I was still new to yoga, back when that weird Darth Vader breathing made me giggle, and Sanskrit references were applicable only to Madonna’s Ray of Light. We reconnected recently at an eclectic Fourth of July celebration, where paella and lobster rolls shared table with Americana decor and supersized beer coolers.
Now, I am no master yogi, but I do enjoy a deep back bend and a good shavasana at the end of a long day. So, when she spoke passionately about her new yoga project, I agreed to beta test her Gayatri sessions in exchange for this very portrait. So, here is the story of one of the sunniest of yogis anywhere — a healing presence with warm eyes that inspire gratitude and a smile that will melt your heart. Namaste.
Tell me a little bit about your own personal journey with yoga.
I was in my 30s when I took my first yoga class. I had just moved in to a new home and was taking some time off to figure out what I was going to do next. I had joined a health club right around the corner from my house where they offered yoga classes, and I thought I would give it a try. It came naturally to me and I really liked the way I felt afterwards. The teacher was very inspiring and her classes where very creative, so I started going regularly.
At some point I realized that yoga was more than just physical for me. I remember this one class, where she played George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” and it just clicked for me. I don’t know how to explain it, but being in that class practicing and listening to that song, I felt somehow connected. I was like OK, this is not just physical, this is also spiritual. There was a shift, and from that moment on, my yoga practice started to move from the external to the internal. That’s when I also started thinking about teaching. That song is in one of my playlists, and I still play it from time to time when I’m teaching.
After years of practicing, how would you define yoga? What does yoga really mean to you today?
Although I focus on creating a strong, flexible and balanced physical body, I believe there is also a spiritual component to the yoga practice that is equally important. You can call it whatever you want; a connection between body and mind, a spiritual practice or God. I see the practice of yoga as a path to finding and connecting with your higher power, and helping you find that feeling of contentment — of being in the here and now. I know it sounds cliche, but to me yoga is about becoming really aware and conscious of being in the moment, finding joy.
Yoga can show you your vulnerabilities, but it can also show you your courage and help you overcome your fears. Yoga shows you the possibilities, and it can show you that you can do things you didn’t even think you where capable of doing. You can really amaze yourself every time you practice because in yoga there is always evolution. Your practice is always evolving.
What is it like for you to teach yoga?
I am extremely empathetic, and I have the sensitivity to feel what people are going though, particularly when it comes to their bodies. I remember this student of mine who wanted to get into her headstand but was having difficulties getting into the pose. Now, besides the actual body strength required, which I believed she had, what was challenging for her was trusting herself and believing that she could do it. So, in one of our classes I told her “Ok, let’s do your headstand. But, instead of using your upper body strength, you're going to use the blocks to suspend yourself.” I made her this headstand station so the blocks would be holding her shoulders, and she was able to feel what it was like to be suspended upside down. We did that for about two weeks, and a few weeks later she came to class and I saw she had taken the eight blocks and was ready to make her own block station and get into the pose by herself.
A couple weeks later I knew she was ready and I told her “No more blocks for you. We're going to take those blocks away and you are going to get into your headstand.” And she did. That’s what I want to do as a yoga teacher. I want to help others see their possibilities and find their greatness.
How do you know when somebody is ready for a new pose?
I am really safe when I practice. I’m not going to make anybody do anything that I don't think they can do. I'm not going to teach anything if I know they're not ready. But when I know they are ready, I like to help them overcome whatever it is that’s stopping them from getting into a particular pose. With that particular student, I knew that she had a good base. When I saw her practice I could tell her body could get into the pose, but she just had a fear of going upside down. She wasn’t aware of her potential. She just needed a little like guidance to feel safe.
Tell me more about the connection between the physical and the emotional.
I believe yoga is about finding harmony and balance between body, mind and soul. There is always a connection between what you see in a body and what might be going on with that person. The key is to learn how to use yoga to bring alignment and provide healing.
I remember this student of mine. He has always been stronger on his left side (the body’s intuitive side), and I noticed he was having trouble with some poses that required him to use that strength. During one of our privates, he got into a deep back bend. He got dizzy and just couldn’t get out of it. Now, I didn’t know what was going on in his life, but I didn’t think this was just physical. I believed there was something emotional as well. That dizziness he felt was his nervous system relaxing and surrendering. It was his body trying to find that balance and that harmony that was missing in his life at that time.
Usually, when you have emotional turmoil, there is a physical manifestation of that turmoil. What's going on in the body is just an external manifestation of what's going on inside you. When I teach yoga, what I’m doing is trying to understand that connection between the physical and the emotional. I’m trying to find out what the root of what I am seeing in the body really is, and helping people bridge the gap in between. The physical part is what I can see when you practice; your body alignment, your strengths and your weaknesses. Then, I'll equate the physical to the emotional component to find out what's really going on and how can I help.
You read bodies like others read books. How do you asses somebody using yoga poses?
When I stared teaching yoga I was always afraid of people getting hurt in one of my classes, so from the beginning I was very careful and studied their bodies closely. I was intrigued by how someone could get into one pose but couldn’t do another one. I guess, over time I learned how to read their bodies.
Let’s use arm balances as an example. To be able to get into an arm balance you have to engage all your muscles. You are using your core muscles, back muscles, and leg muscles. When I see somebody get into a particular pose, I can see which muscles are working and which ones are not. If you are not using your core muscles, then you're not using your third chakra, which is your source of power. In yoga you are not just moving the body, you are also moving energy. What I do when I teach a class is look at your body to see where the energy is off. Sometimes that energy gets stuck in your hips or your shoulders, and that has an effect in your life on and beyond your yoga mat. If somebody tells me their back is hurting, well that’s usually correlated to your sense of grounding or rootedness. Chakras aside,
Over the years I have worked with many students and I am able to read student’s bodies to see where they are holding energy blockages, muscular misalignment and discomfort. I focus on creating a strong, flexible and balanced body through repatterining the muscles and mind. My goal as a teacher is to create balance, harmony and freedom throughout the body, both physically and mentally.
Tell me a bit about you vision for Gayatri?
I like to adapt my yoga classes to what I know a person needs. When you are teaching in a group setting and you have twenty people in a class, you have to divide your attention between all twenty of them. You know that this person is working on this particular pose, and that the other one needs to strengthen a particular area, so you design the class around that. During a private session, you are focusing only on one person, so every move is designed for that person. It’s just a different experience.
Guiding others to do things they never thought they could do with their body, mind and soul is my purpose and my higher calling. I believe we all have a divine spark within us that needs to be ignited. Sometimes all we need is a little guidance to feel safe exploring our potential. That’s why after more than fifteen years of teaching yoga, I felt like more was needed than simply teaching classes. I felt that I had to help others bridge the gap between the physical and the emotional, and that’s how Gayatri was born, and why I am currently focusing less on open classes and more on private sessions.
Gayatri was created to help support yogis at varying stages of practice find their greatness and see their potential on and off their yoga mats. We offer mostly private sessions focused on finding and harnessing one’s greatness and potential.
The Gayati Sessions are one hour and fifteen minutes. The first time we meet, we’ll have a little chat so I can get to know you a bit. Then, I’ll take you through a generic yoga class to asses your practice. I can asses your practice within the first ten minutes, and I will focus the rest of the session and subsequent sessions on addressing your strengths and weaknesses. The process is intuitive and every session is different, but focussed on the exercises that are specifically target to your needs. After we practice, we typically take a bit of a break where we talk about how your body is feeling and how are you feeling. We usually also talk about what’s going on in other parts of your life, because it’s all connected.
Depending on what you need, I might recommend a book, I might have you write a journal, go to a particular art exhibit, or simply find the time and the space to practice quiet and stillness once a day. It’s different for everybody because our bodies are different, and we are all at different points in our personal and professional lives. That’s the beauty of it, to be able to figure out what’s going to unlock your potential, what’s going to help you connect with your greatness.
Chris de Lizer, Gaiatry's founder and yoga teacher