"It makes you aware of your limitations, but at the same time you’re not defined by them."

Originally posted: Nov 14, 2015

Qisi Yao and I met through my mentor, as Qisi is currently enrolled in her course. Qisi is starting a Masters in Public Health Program, focusing on Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Tufts University in Boston. She hopes to do NGO work when she graduates, and from what I learned about her, also teach some yoga classes! I am sad that Qisi does not live in Ann Arbor anymore; I would have loved to get to know her more. Regardless, our conversation was wonderful, and I think we will be able to keep in touch in the future!

Qisi: After you told me about your project, I became more aware of the types of people and diversity at yoga studios. Before I wasn’t aware that there’s not many Asian people there. But after you told me about it I started to look around.

Raina: Now you’re looking around anxiously! haha.

Qisi: Yeah, haha. I asked the studio - because they do the new client information when you come in - do you ask about ethnicity? They only ask about gender, but I think that could be a good resource. Compared to Ann Arbor, the diversity at Boston yoga studios is better. I guess because it’s a bigger city. I heard from them that our location is near one of the schools a lot of foreign students go - Korea, China, Japan -  so that might be another reason there are more Asian people there. They are in the neighborhood.

Raina: Ann Arbor is more diverse than where I come from, so it always seemed more diverse, but I think it actually puts up a facade of diversity. It’s ok to go to a class with mostly white people, but as you know, yoga has been so powerful for us. So I’m always curious what draws people like us in and what keeps us there. So, what’s your yoga story? How did you start practicing?

Qisi: I used to go to The Barre Code. They didn’t used to have yoga, but they hired a new teacher who was a yoga teacher. She had a lot of energy and she was very encouraging. I hadn’t practiced yoga before, but she really makes sure everybody is in the right posture. She will make sure your arm is where you can reach, makes sure we’re comfortable practicing, and challenges us to be better. A lot of people don’t really believe there’s a perfect posture, but I sort of do, considering your own body condition.

Raina: There’s good alignment.

Qisi: Yeah. So I started practicing with her and it’s been a very wonderful experience. I met other teachers that were amazing. Compared to what I’m now experiencing in Boston, those classes are more about exercising, they’re in hot rooms. It’s a good thing that some people feel really good after those classes, but at the same time, now I need something more spiritual, so I”m practicing other kinds of yoga now. In the very beginning, we’ll sing and the teacher will explain what it’s about. She might tell a personal story, or just a story about what she thinks of the mantra. It’s nice because before we start practice, we’ll know what we want to dedicate the practice to. It gives us a focus, which is really cool. After the practice, we’ll sing again, but not as long. I really like it.

Raina: So these are classes in Boston?

Qisi: Yes. I love most of the classes I’ve been to. I just feel like the Ann Arbor classes I went to are more intense, because I always went to hot classes. I knew there must be some style that's yoga plus meditation.

Raina: I always say if you don’t like yoga, you just haven’t found the right class. There are so many styles and approaches to access.

Qisi: For me, I personally like those intense classes, but I like them more when in the beginning there is something spiritual before we focus on the physical challenge. Yoga is a holistic approach to sculpt one's body comparing to just lifting weights and doing squats. And I don't see yoga as just an exercise anymore, but a discipline.

Raina: What do you like most about yoga in general? What does it do for you?

Qisi: I would say having an hour each day to just get down on my mat is a treat for me. Everybody is really busy. There are so many things, so much information, so many things I have to deal with, not just academic, but also in my personal life. I find that having an hour to do yoga calms me down. It makes me feel really good. I meet nice people at my classes, too.

Raina: It calms you down and helps you collect yourself in a way that’s different than exercise.

Qisi: The difference between yoga and something like Crossfit or bootcamp is that it makes you aware of your limitations, but at the same time you’re not defined by them. When I first started yoga, when my teacher would instruct different poses I wouldn’t know what she was talking about! Then one day I did one! With different postures now, when I start them I don’t think that I will never be able to do them. I just think, “I can’t do this yet.” So there’s good vibes going on, positive things. We’re influenced by our environment, by people who are around me. It’s nice to have people who are optimistic and positive, so I can be influenced like that.

Raina: I love that: if I can’t do a pose, it’s just that I can’t do it yet. So you would like to be a yoga teacher someday?

Qisi: Yes, the studio in Boston has a 200-hour training starting in January. I want to check them out some more, but if I like it I will do it!

Raina: So what do you see yourself doing with your training? Will it just be for yourself or what style will you teach?

Qisi: Yeah I would like to advocate for yoga. Not everyone knows what it’s about. People will ask me if it’s just meditation...I’m like, not really! I want people to know what yoga is, what types there are, and how you can use it. I want to be an advocate, but also do it for myself. If I pay $3000 to be certified, why don’t I educate other people?

Raina: If you could tell non-yogis one thing about yoga what would it be?

Qisi: After I started practicing yoga, I persuaded a lot of people to try it. Most of them had never tried it before. I would say to them, don’t underestimate yourself. Don’t just look at the yoga celebrities and think you won’t be able to do that. Everybody starts small. Also, yoga is not just for girls.

Raina: Yeah, it’s interesting, because women used to not be allowed to practice yoga. That changed a lot when yoga came to the U.S. It’s a trendy thing now. What do you find frustrating or challenging about yoga?

Qisi: When I first started practicing, my focus was to lose weight. After a while, doing the same stuff, I wasn’t losing weight anymore. My body recognized my pattern. It’s not that yoga wasn’t working, my body was just getting used to it. Now, what I do is change the style - I go to another kind of class. It might focus on holding a posture, instead of a vinyasa flow class.

Raina: Everytime I go to a different class, it’s challenging in a different way. Do you have a favorite pose?

Qisi: I like visvamitrasana. One thing, is I’m looking up. I really like the idea of having your gaze follow your hands. Your gaze is a very important thing. Some postures, you can’t do it as well without your gaze.

Raina: Do you have any questions for me?

Qisi: I do. I wonder what you got the most out of your training.

Raina: My training happened really randomly. I didn’t have a steady job after graduation, so it was perfect timing. I don’t know if I knew what my agenda was. I knew - sort of like you were saying - that I wanted to advocate for yoga and share how it was so powerful for me. My students and friends will have heard this before, but the biggest thing I got from my training was the openness to be vulnerable. That comes out in my teaching and in my real life. Being open, trusting myself, not judging myself as much as I have in the past. I think I’m a good teacher partly because of my own teacher, but it was also a really personal journey as well. I recommend a training for people regardless of if they want to teach or not. You just can’t go as deep into the practice or the philosophical aspects in an hour long class.

Raina: Well, I’m glad we got to talk today!

Qisi: Yeah, I really like talking about yoga!

Raina: And I look forward to hearing about your training in the future!




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