Meet Karen Anderson! Karen has been teaching yoga in Vail for many years and has devoted a great deal of time to developing her meditation practice, studying with some of today’s renowned teachers and taking several month long silent meditation retreats. Our Creative Manager Julia Clarke caught up with Karen recently to chat yoga, Vail, meditation and Thai massage!
JC: You’ve been teaching in Vail for a long time! What’s it been like to be a part of yoga’s evolution in a mountain town?
KA: It has been so much fun! We started out as a small group with the same practice, and slowly everyone sought out the various training and teachers that spoke to them, and brought this wisdom back to the valley. Now we have so much diversity of knowledge, but we have retained the small town sense of community that keeps us all connected. We are very lucky.
JC: You started out as an economist. How did you make the shift to teaching yoga?
KA: Teaching yoga was a bit of an accident. My first teacher Argie Ligeros was leading a teacher training when I was only a couple of years into my practice with her at the VAC. I did her training with the intention of being able to practice alone at home, but within weeks was teaching at the Racquet Club because the one teacher in East Vail moved away. It was so fun to share the practice. I was a full-time economist, but continued teaching on the side for 8 years. Every year I would do more trainings, and fall more in love with yoga and teaching, and add more classes. Then in 2007 I ended up- again pretty much by accident- in a 30-day silent meditation retreat in India. During the retreat I had a moment of pure clarity, when I realized that my job was no longer what I needed to be doing. I came home and transitioned fairly seamlessly into full-time yoga and massage therapy- I had gone to massage school for fun a couple of years earlier, again with zero intention of doing it for work. I ended up being asked to teach meditation by my teacher a few years later, and now I’m completely in love with teaching meditation and the dharma. I could never have predicted that I would be a full time yoga and meditation teacher (I only do massage and healing on the side now), but I couldn’t be happier about it.
JC: You’re just back from one of many month-long silent meditation retreats you’ve done! How do you translate what you glean from that kind of intense, immersive experience into a meeting with your students that may only last an hour or two?
KA: In my retreats, I immerse myself in the teachings of one teacher for the month. This gives me a chance to dive into that person or lineage’s teachings, to experience it fully for that period of time. There is always a shift that happens somewhere in my understanding, or an opening to a different way to approach the practice, that enriches my teaching when I return. So my students get a different perspective and understanding that gets passed down from that teacher. But on a different level, every retreat that I do changes who I am. Ultimately I believe that the transmission of teaching really comes from how a teacher embodies his or her practice.
JC: Follow up question! As a meditation teacher, what nugget of advice might you offer to someone who may be intimidated by the thought of 5 minutes of meditation in class never mind 30 days?
KA: I think that what is intimidating about meditation is the idea that it is supposed to look a certain way. Meditation isn’t ‘not thinking,’ and it’s not self-improvement. It is just being with your experience as it is. And your experience is happening whether you are with it or against it, so meditation isn’t necessarily as radical as it sounds. But opening to my experience as it is has turned out to be so helpful, despite the fact that I wasn’t particularly interested in any such thing, that I recommend giving it a try. What worked for me was to just be curious, and not put any pressure on myself.
JC: We are thrilled to have you teaching Thai Yoga Massage again this year! Tell me a little about what people can expect?
KA: Thai yoga massage is a fun way to connect, and anyone can do it! First, we will go over the basics of therapeutic touch. Then we will pair off- participants can bring a partner, or find one at the event. With demonstration, instruction and guidance, the giver will be walked through giving nearly an hour of massage… the receiver relaxes and enjoys a full-body massage. Then the pair trades places and we do it again. Thai yoga massage is done on the floor- on our yoga mats- in full clothes, and doesn’t involve oil or anything. It’s similar to assisted yoga stretches, combined with some pressure along Thai energy lines, with a few yummy regular massage moves thrown in. We will laugh a lot, and everyone will walk out feeling amazing.