Meet JOANNA CANTOR!
In college I studied Buddhist meditation in India and took some Iyengar classes at home with my mom. When I moved to New York City in 2006, I began to attend vinyasa classes, initially at OM Yoga on Broadway, mostly for exercise but also to maintain a contemplative practice. When I took up running five years ago, yoga became essential. I wasn’t always disciplined about stretching on my own, but yoga helped me maintain flexibility.
Gradually I realized that my practice was about a lot more than the physical. I came to class to be held by the teacher’s presence; to connect with a community; to be told, again and again, to return to my breath and to stay present in my body; to feel grounded. My practice is a constant reminder that everything changes—we’re never really stuck, and we don’t stop growing.
At Mala I’ve found teachers who really understand—and can explain—anatomy and alignment. With their help, I’m working on some bad habits in my practice, and I’m learning how to better articulate alignment points as a teacher.
What pose do you want to do all day? What pose could you never do again?
All day: gomukhasana or parsvottanasana.
I wouldn’t miss utthita parsvakonasana or utthita hasta padangusthasana. I have really tight hip flexors and those two don’t feel very nice.
What are your biggest yoga obstacles and how do you overcome them?
Getting stuck in my head is always my biggest obstacle. My practice is always about catching myself–gently–and returning to the room and the breath.
What was the last Dharma talk that resonated with you?
On the last day of a retreat, my teacher, Julianna Takacs, asked us to set an intention (presumably a big one about the future) after all the quiet time for reflection we’d had. Then Julianna told us to let go of any expectation about seeing our intention be manifested in some particular way. That idea was really powerful–set an intention, and then let it go.
If you could practice yoga anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I’d like to study ashtanga in Mysore.
How has practicing shifted other aspects of your life?
My practice has made me more able to sit with difficult things, to just kind of let them be. I’ve also become somewhat less competitive with myself and concerned with what others think. There are days now when I’ll skip a couple vinyasas, or wheel or inversions, because that’s what feels right. That would have been hard a few years ago. I would have wanted the teacher and the person next to me to know I could do it.
Teaching yoga has made me realize how much I love helping people. There is nothing else that takes you so thoroughly out of the rat-trap of your own mind. I teach yoga and meditation to in-patients at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, and I love connecting with the patients, who’ve had such different experiences from me and from each other. One day one of my Psych Institute students said to me, in puppy twist, “I was in this position last time I got arrested!” I’m still giggling about that one.
We’re thrilled to bring you the stories of Mala yogis in their own words. Maybe you know them, maybe you’ve never seen them before, maybe they look familiar, maybe you once knew their name, but forgot. Whatever the case may be, here is the chance to learn a little more about the person practicing on the mat next to you. Click here to read about other yogis.