Welcome to the first interview I’ve conducted in quite some time. I am so delighted to report that it was an amazing one, to say the least!
I met Erin Ajayi this year through a colleague, and though we’ve only chatted a couple of times, I can attest to her energy being bright and welcoming. Her love for yoga, and teaching yoga, is palpable and honestly inspiring. Erin is native to Detroit, and although she spent about 10 years in Texas and plans to go back to escape our wretched Michigan winters, she is here in Ann Arbor right now (yay!). We talked via Zoom in the early weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak.
I asked Erin to share her yoga journey with me. Erin is a runner and while training for a half marathon and coping with an injury about eight or nine years ago, she found Bikram yoga. Erin says that while the intensity of Bikram classes was a great place for her to start, she admits that she came to those classes with an agenda.
“I thought ‘Ok, I’m going to be healed from this running injury’...I had all these expectations and I was absolutely not patient with myself”. She struggled with hyperextension, but she continued to go back because she assumed that was what she “should” do to get better, until eventually she returned to mostly running.
Erin was reintroduced to yoga when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She and her mother began to share the practice and bonded over Yoga with Adriene videos. (Side note: Erin MET Adriene, who is from Austin where she was living at the time!!). Then, a friend took her to a restorative class.
“I remember being really fidgety and annoyed, and looking around at my friend and I could just tell she was really embarrassed by my antsy-ness.” This is an experience Erin speaks of frequently in her own restorative classes to help students who may be feeling the same way.
When we talked I shared with her how curious I find it that many people seem to start with an intense asana practice like Bikram or Vinyasa - including me - but how many of us who stick with a yoga practice seem to settle into something slower or less physically focused eventually.
Erin says being rooted solely in that physical practice is “so far from where I’m at right now...I teach yoga because I want to help my students show up to the moments in their lives.” This was more difficult for her during her Bikram practice, especially since she self-identifies as “not a patient person”. (Me too, girl, me too).
Quite inspirationally, Erin completed 101 consecutive days of yoga and journaling (inspired by Yoga with Adriene) sometime during 2016 or 2017. This experience helped Erin realize how expansive yoga is. She learned that meditation was equally as “yoga” as asana. She began to slow down and inquire more deeply about what the practice of yoga truly is.
She had the opportunity to explore her questions more during a yoga retreat in Thailand. The retreat was focused on the chakras and she says the experience opened her eyes to all the different practices that are available. She discovered the eight-limbed path (of which asana, or the physical/posture form of yoga is only one of those eight limbs), including the yamas and niyamas, yoga's ethical principles.
“A lot of people think ‘I can’t do yoga because I'm not flexible’, but you can practice non-violence, you can practice not stealing from people,…[you can engage in] self study and discipline.” Being able to expose her students and others to how you can practice yoga beyond the asanas has been an important task for Erin and, “it also makes it a heck of a lot more accessible than a headstand.”
Accessibility is important to Erin, from financial accessibility to body type representation. “When you look at #yoga on instagram it's not going to be me; it's not going to be my physical body.” Erin also feels it is crucial people have access to different kinds of resources, particularly when certain resources, such as affordable quality mental health care, may be inaccessible. She hopes to complete more training in meditation and plans to have the meditative and philosophical facets of yoga inform her teaching route in the future.
As many teachers turn to digital classes during the COVID 19 outbreak, Erin is being thoughtful about what she wants to contribute. Like any good teacher, Erin knows that it is important to lead by example. She hopes to showcase what yoga truly looks like in every day practice on her Instagram page, which she points out doesn’t have a single asana picture.
“[Right now] do we need another virtual yoga class? Or is this the time where we teach our students how to be students, is this the time that we start doing some philosophy chats...and try to teach people how to practice at home, or outside of a studio, or on their own, which can be scary” (#BuildYourOwnPractice).
What does Erin’s movement practice look like these days? Well, she tries to move three to four times a week. She continues to run in addition to practicing yoga and admits the weather is often a deciding factor in whether she will go outside or get down on her mat (understandable!). Her movement is intertwined with the self-awareness yoga has provided her. From studying the yamas and niyamas, to her steady meditation practice, Erin frequently reminds herself “to be a student first.”
Overall, Erin feels much more in tune with her body during running and other activities because of yoga. She takes seriously the idea that we all only get one body to live in, that it’s meant to serve a purpose, and that how she cares for her body also influences what she is able to give to others. “And that absolutely matters,” she says. She smiles and giggles before adding, “my philosophy is: either I pay for it now, or I pay for it later.”
Follow Erin on Instagram : @8limbedyogi
A couple of Erin's favorite resources:
Listen to our full conversation here on Soundcloud.*
(*Full disclosure: this conversation was recorded over Zoom and I definitely have some finagling to do to make the audio quality better in future recordings. I also need/am excited to develop more introduction and closure in the future as well -- for now, enjoy this raw cut!)