Rebecca Curland has been donating her time bringing yoga to Borlaug hall for some time now. Rebecca offers the class as service and wants everyone interested to be able to practice. Since the closing of campus to anyone who is not an essential worker Rebecca has moved her class online and streaming over Zoom. From all of us who also study yoga thank you for your time and ability to be flexible and move your courses online!
When and why did you start practicing yoga?
I took my first yoga classes at the YMCA and at Rec Center at UW-La Crosse in the early 2000s while I was there for undergrad and grad school. I was a runner at the time and gravitated to yoga to help with flexibility. Very quickly I began to understand that the practice works on layers that are deeper than the physical. When I moved back to the Twin Cities in 2009 I began practicing at CorePower Yoga and fell in love with the heat and the intensity of that particular practice. At the same time, I was going through some personal challenges and healing crises. Yoga became my emotional lifeline and platform for healing.
What moment comes to mind when you found that yoga was what you enjoyed?
My love of yoga was a gradual process, but what catapulted me into a deeper relationship with Yoga was the discovery of Bhakti Yoga. Bhakti Yoga is the yoga of devotional practice. The Bhakti has many aspects, but my introduction through kirtan, which is the practice of chanting Sanskrit mantras in community, often with the accompaniment of traditional musical instruments such as harmonium, tabla, or mridanga. After my first kirtan, I felt joy, presence, and peace at a level that I had never experienced. It was then that I knew that the path of Yoga as a whole, beyond just the physical postures, was a path I would walk for life. I began to explore yoga philosophy in a more holistic sense. The postures are actually a more modern innovation and a relatively small aspect of the greater body of Yoga practice. When I teach, I view the physical practice as a platform within which to offer the teachings of yoga and a container within which students can explore a deeper experience of Self.
I've gone on to take multiple teacher trainings and have journeyed to India three times on Bhakti Yoga pilgrimages. I currently teach not only for the Plant Path departments but also at CorePower Yoga and Bliss Yoga. Aside from weekly classes, I also lead and present guest lectures for local teacher trainings.
What has been your biggest accomplishment?
I can't frame yoga in the sense of accomplishment, as it is a lifelong unfoldment of relationship to Self. Yoga means to yoke or unite, and the "goal" or outcome of yoga practice is "moksha" which translates to liberation- inner liberation from suffering through the dissolution of attachments that bring suffering. One of the classical texts of yoga, the Yoga Sutra, defines yoga as the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. So any practice of yoga whether a physical pose, chanting mantras, breathwork, or meditation is meant to quiet the mind to bring us closer to the inner state of freedom which is sometimes also called Self.
So, have I accomplished anything in yoga? Perhaps. I have learned tools and practices to self-regulate, manage anxiety, process emotional challenges and feel strong in my body. I have found methods that keep me close to Spirit...to the mystery of what it is to be human - a soul embodied.
On a more basic level, I will share that I am an introvert, and have been terrified of being "seen" and speaking in public for much of my life. I didn't sleep for weeks leading up to my Master's defense and oral exams! Part of my impetus to teach yoga was to force myself to speak in front of others, to face self-doubt and do something that scared me. So to be able to stand in front of a group of people and speak from my heart, and to feel them trust me as a teacher is a huge act of personal growth. I have even taught at Bhakti Fest Midwest a couple of times (a national yoga festival) with a full-on mic setup and 100+ people - something I would have once never imagined doing!
What made you start volunteering for in-person sessions in Borlaug?
I completed my initial 200-hour teacher training in December 2011. Immediately upon graduating, I knew I needed to keep practicing my teaching. In fact, I was so excited with all of my new found tools and knowledge that it was flowing out of me, I had to share it! I felt that it would be a helpful offering to the Plant Path Department, so in January 2012, I offered my first session in 491 Borlaug over the lunch hour. That was my very first public yoga class ever! And now my longest-running class, a little over 8 years. I'm so grateful for all of the people who showed up then and who continue to show up and share the community experience.
What about the community here at Plant Path that makes it unique both in yoga and outside the class?
The beautiful thing about yoga is that it asks us to strip away our "story" - who we are in the world, our identification with our roles, our personality, what one could call the "ego" or small self. The people who gather to practice each week in 491 Borlaug represent a cross-section of all the different positions in the University: staff, grad students, interns, faculty...even members from other departments in the CFANS and CBS. We all show up and drop our stories and take one hour to move, to breathe, to practice presence and connection with Self. It creates a sense of community beyond the hierarchy of academia.
Additionally, as folks in academia and science, we spend most of our workday in our heads. We navigate structure, protocols, data, analyses...it's all very linear and cerebral. I feel it's deeply important to step outside that framework and feel our hearts, our vital breath, our connectivity...the aspects of the human experience that are ineffable, immeasurable, but just as important if not more valuable than facts, stats and data. It makes the scientific and administrative work feel much more alive when we bring the remembrance of our humanity into our work relationships. Additionally, it allows us to care for and sustain ourselves in what can be a demanding environment at times.
How has the transition to online sessions changed the way you teach yoga?
I will admit that initially, I was resistant to the idea of offering yoga online. I have conflicting feelings about yoga and capitalism and have never put much into creating an online presence or branding myself as a teacher. My teaching has always been an interplay with the students in the room, energetic reciprocity. So to create content on a virtual platform, where I couldn't have the experience of hearing the students breathe or feeling the vibe in the room was unappealing. When the COVID-19 situation and the accompanying protocols about social distancing were implemented, it became obvious that in-person group classes were no longer a possibility. Then CorePower yoga (where I also teach) closed, and some of my colleagues began stepping up to offer online classes. I wasn't planning on hopping on that bandwagon initially, but many students began to message me and ask for online practices. I think everyone was/is craving familiarity and community. It's hard to know how to help in these strange and confusing times, but I knew I had the gift of my teaching: offering practice to help people process, ground and feel connected to the community.
A few weeks into virtual teaching it still feels a little strange and vulnerable, but I am enjoying connecting on the Zoom platform and seeing everyone's face and home practice spaces. People have been incredibly kind and grateful to have access to continued guided practice. It has helped me too, I can get swept into the fear and uncertainty of these times. Assuming the seat of the teacher forces me to dive deep into myself and draw upon the teachings of yoga to hold a safe and supportive space for others. I always feel more present and peaceful after leading a practice.
What is your favorite pose that helps you relax in these stressful times?
My practice is a prescriptive-each day I have a different experience and I choose the postures and practices that support my unique experience. Overall, the most helpful practices for me these past few weeks have been pranayama (breathwork) followed by a seated meditation. Every morning I sit and practice alternate nostril breathing (called Nadi Shodhana in Sanskrit) and/or Kapalabhati (skull-shining breath) (tutorials for both of these practices can be found on YouTube). It feels good to strengthen and clear the lungs, especially since this is the part of the body that is vulnerable to the virus. Breathwork also regulates the nervous system, helps clear the mind and heightens feelings of resilience and well-being. Sitting in morning meditation allows me to check-in before I dive into my day and create a relationship with Self before extending my attention to others.
Want to reach out to Rebecca? Or sign up for her online yoga? (Anyone can participate; it is not just limited to UMN folks!) Shoot her an email. firstname.lastname@example.org