BB: Michael Hopp was the owner of Santa Fe Community Yoga Center and on his passing [in 2004] the wish was to keep the space open. One of the options the group of people that were associated with the center had was to turn it into a nonprofit, and that was the option that they exercised. And so, in the making of a private business to a nonprofit, they created a program, a school of study if you will, with a mission statement. And they honor all lineages of yoga; everybody is welcome into this space and all eight limbs of yoga are practiced.
How long have you been doing yoga?
I learned my first pose when I was 4, because my sister learned how to do something in first grade, so I learned too. My official training I did in college, which was my gym class; that worked out really well and then I just kept that with me and then decided the corporate world didn’t suit me any longer. So I retired and became a yoga teacher, started a yoga studio and have been doing yoga full-time for four years.
What was your corporate life?
My corporate life was making use of my mathematics degree. My last title was…oh goodness; good I’ve forgotten it. I did budgeting and database administration for an auto insurance company in Boston, Mass. And risk management assessment. So I got to decide who was a good driver and who wasn’t.
What do you say to people who say, ‘I’m into yoga but I’m not into the woo-woo aspect of it.’
The Yoga in Schools program represents this really well because we do not teach using any Sanskrit, we do not do any chanting. I’ll use the word woo-woo; we do not do any woo-woo. The program is very, very black and white. It’s very specific, the poses we teach, the names of the poses that we teach, and the purpose is to not ruffle anyone’s feathers and make sure any child who comes to the program is very comfortable.
How widespread is the Yoga in Schools program?
Since inception…every elementary school has had the program at least once. Many have had the program more times than that…we’ve taught over 20,000 students in the elementary schools since 2002. We’re working into getting into middle schools and high schools.
What do you see coming out of kids learning yoga?
The physical things you see, obviously, they learn poses; you tell them a pose name and, after you repeat it a few times, you can say the pose and their bodies can go into that shape. We teach them some breathing exercises, the purpose of which is to calm them down. Also one of the things we teach them is they can do that before tests to calm themselves down. We require the teachers to stay for the class…and many of the teachers take notes and they’ll use the same exercises for breathing to calm the kids down before they do their tests. In the long-term, the hope is that we give them some tools, some coping tools, for how to handle stress, how to handle conversations in a more peaceful way. Many parents and teachers notice that the students who have yoga are more compassionate toward their classmates.
At one point there was a ‘yoga in the prisons’ program as well?
Yes, Michael Hopp did that program. Of course, people see relationships between prisoners and students in that certain freedoms are taken away. Prisoners and students don’t like to take their shoes and socks off—except for kindergartners—so there are some similarities. The responses from the groups that worked with Michael and the groups that are working in the schools…the students have very similar responses: Yoga gives them freedom, that’s probably the easiest and most generalized statement.
What’s with the socks and shoes thing?
I don’t know. I taught homeless seniors in Boston and they also were unhappy to take their shoes and socks off. In some cases, I think it makes you more vulnerable if you’re barefoot, that’s your personal property and personal property is sought after.
The Community Yoga Center has a big Sun Salutation event each year.
Yes, every year around the winter solstice; it’s 108 Sun Salutations for world peace and the event is coordinated by me and this will be our 20th, on Dec. . It’s a fundraiser for Yoga in Schools because we have no income other than donations and if we’re lucky enough to win a grant. So we work very, very hard to have that be enough funding for a few months of yoga.
How many hours do you do yoga?
I’m scheduled to teach 10 classes a week and then I have my own practice that is whatever I need to do to support myself. Let’s say 15 hours.
I thought you were going to say 50.
No, that’s insane. I like to cook too. And eat!
Do you have a favorite yoga pose?
I love headstands. That was my first yoga pose.