Monday, January 27, 2014

Barefoot and Powerful-One Woman's Journey to Realization

Front and Center-Paula Van Alstine demos a difficult Yoga pose with grace and agility. 
with Yogini Paula Van Alstine

Yoga is an incredibly empowering barefoot activity.

It’s one of the few formal athletic disciplines in the West that is done barefoot. We continue to explore how such a quiet and unorthodox activity has given positive energy to so many people. Yoga in the West is practiced mostly by women. Almost Barefoot explores the journey of women today and how Yoga has helped them become empowered.

Yoga Teacher Paula Van Alstine spoke to us this week to give us some perspective. This is contribution is part of an ongoing series called Barefoot and Powerful, where we explore how being barefoot on a Yoga mat is empowering to women.

Paula has been practicing Yoga for over 20 years, and she has been a dancer for even longer. She lives her Yoga practice to the fullest and has been sharing her wealth of knowledge as a Yoga teacher and for many, a spiritual leader for well over a decade. To everyone who knows her, she is both ordinary and extraordinary, and that helps make her an inspiration. She teaches Yoga and fitness classes in Southern New Hampshire.

Paula shares her story about Yoga, barefoot perspectives and life with Almost Barefoot 
AB:  How has Yoga empowered you as a woman?

Paula: Yoga has so many amazing benefits, one is learning to be comfortable with who you are. When you realize that we, everyone, are miracles, wonderful beings on this earth, and we are all filled with beauty, light and wisdom we become authentic. We let go of "shoulds" and "coulds" and listen to our heart and gut...this to me is empowering. Learning to listen to your heart, and not to media~which can be so violent to a person on how we should look, or be or how we should We let go of all that and just live authentically.
Barefoot biking in summer

AB: Before you began doing Yoga, did you go barefoot very often? 

Paula: YES!!!! I love going barefoot, and cannot wait until the warm weather to do so. Barefoot in the grass, on the sand, even in the mud...ahh the feeling of opening up your feet, spreading your toes and feeling connected to earth...absolutely...

AB:  When did you start practicing Yoga?

Paula: I started practicing yoga my freshman year of college...back in 1992. We used sun salutations to warm up for hours of dancing. I felt yoga was just an extension of a way it is my dancing outlet now. 
Paula poses in Vrksasana-Tree Pose

AB: What made you decide to teach Yoga?

Paula: I graduated college and was teaching kindergarten and taking yoga classes. I am such an emotional being, and parents would come in sometimes and be on the verbal attack if their child fell or got in trouble in some way. I would go home crying...My partner at the time looked at me one night and said you don't make enough money to be crying all the time, why don't you do something you love before he knew it I was off for my month long training at beautiful Kripalu in the Berkshires. I followed my heart and never looked back. I fall in love with yoga a million times over, and my happiest times are when I am teaching.

AB: As a Yoga teacher, you’re a woman who not only has the power of authority also the ability to empower others. What’s one way you encourage your students to empower themselves?

Paula:  I try to help my students let go of the chitta vrittis, to listen to their bodies...if only for the 75 minutes that I have them. If we can control our thoughts we can begin to have more control over our lives...I can sit here and discuss how amazing it is to have students to their first headstand etc but in order to do that we still need to still the mind, let go of fears that are by monkey mind so yes, I feel the best way to be empowered is to control what we are thinking.

Barefoot and Powerful, Paula shooting skeet
AB: What’s an empowering message you would offer to women and girls? 

Paula: You are beautiful and strong and unique right now, in this moment. Never compare yourself to others, how can you? No one is exactly like, it's like comparing grapes to strawberries, they are all yummy and juicy...hahaha, and so are we!
Barefoot and chillin' 

AB: The Yoga community has also been very welcoming to men. How can we continue to make sure that the Yoga community remains a place where women can empower themselves and have it still be as open as it is today? 

Paula: Hmmm...I would like to see more men doing yoga. I mean, I have a handful of male yogis, but at most they only make up less than 25% of my classes. But with that said, I think the worst thing the yoga community can do is not represent all levels, shapes and sizes of yogis. This is a practice that is gentle on the mind, we are not on our mats because we feel we ate to much and need to loose 10 pounds, or because we hate our bodies. 
We are there to stretch,and strengthen and align our bodies so we feel comfortable in our skin. Yoga is about loving and embracing who you are, doing what you can do, and feeling good about it. 
As a mom of a young daughter I am so aware of all these crazy images of how women are supposed to be. I want all that to stay of the yoga world. All bodies, all shapes, ages, sizes, is for all and all is beautiful. 

AB: Add something else that is your unique thought on this discussion…… 

PaulaWithout yoga I wouldn't be where I am today. I am a single mom raising two children and thank yoga for keeping me grounded and focused and strong! My priorities are taking care of myself so I can take care of my keeps me healthy, strong and clear minded. I know what is important, my family, friends, my yoga career ~ and I believe everything else will fall into place. I am not confused or beaten down by the things that have happened in my life, sadly I see many women going through divorce etc who are grasping whatever they can and being exhausted and overwhelmed. I think, if I didn't have yoga I would be right there with them. Instead I feel strong enough to stand alone, find my place on this earth and do my best. My children, the most important aspect of my life, are proud of their momma, and I thank yoga for it.

Paula's most-awesome new tattoo! We didn't even know she was getting this when we did the  interview!

Thank you, Paula!


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