Yogini's You Should Know: Kristin Leigh and Barbara Verrochi
Barbara Verrochi and Kristin Leigh have co-directed The Shala since it opened in New York City in 2002. Barbara has been studying yoga since 1990. She practices Ashtanga Yoga with Eddie Stern and studies singing and harmonium with Gulum Mohamed Kahn. In 1997, she made the first of many trips to Mysore, India to study with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Five years later, Guruji gave Barbara his blessing to teach Ashtanga Yoga. She is also a board member and avid supporter of Bent on Learning, a non-profit organization that offers yoga and meditation instruction to students in public schools throughout New York City.
Kristin has been a student of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and his grandson, Sharath Ranghaswamy over the course of many trips to India. She has been studying and teaching Ashtanga yoga in New York City for over 15 years. Her goal is to maintain the tradition of method while sharing the practice from her experience with her teachers. Together, Kristin and Barbara continue the efforts of their teacher by leading the Mysore program at their studio.
Recently, I had the chance to sit down and talk with Kristin and Barbara about The Shala, trips to India, and their beginnings.
Since you created The Shala (which in sanskrit means home or adobe), how much has it helped your and your students everyday stress of New York City life?
Barbara:It is an enormous gift to have The Shala. we have tried to make the studio and the classes sparse, meditative and spacious so that the mind can move away from distraction and towards stillness. it has given all of us a place to retreat from our daily life for a bit, recharge and restore, and then move back into the world with clarity and gentleness.
Kristin: Also, it has become a community of like minded souls and everyone looks after each other. i think that being part of a community really helps everyone to de-stress.
Tell us a little about your technique of ashtanga style.
Barbara and Kristin:We have both practiced ashtanga yoga with Eddie Stern since the mid-90's and have traveled many times to india to practice with the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and his family. We do our best to honor the purity of the teachings of Sri K. Patthabhi Jois.
What drew you to ashtanga?
Barbara:I was taking a lot of modern dance classes in my 20's and 30's. when i tried ashtanga yoga it made sense to me on many levels. physically i like to move and the ashtanga sequence had a rhythm to it that felt like a dance. also, the focus on the breath allowed my mind to unwind and become quiet. I always left practice feeling a great sense of contentment that was independent of external circumstances. that contentment brings more compassion to my interactions with others.
Kristin: When I started practicing ashtanga around 1996, I was drawn to its intensity. Early mornings, lots of movement and heat. I loved it. There were so many challenging postures that I wanted to learn. I also like repetition, so doing the same thing everyday was agreeable and soothing. Even if the poses and order are the same, the mind and body are changing each day and that is interesting. Also, Eddie Stern played a large part in my love of the practice. He is a fierce yet compassionate teacher. Many of his students have been with him for at least 15 years. I think that says something. The practice brings the mind home and makes us stronger and more confident.
What is your favorite yoga pose?
Barbara: I like them all.
What is the most compromising/precarious place you've ever done yoga?
Barbara: Practicing in india with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois always felt a bit precarious, not because it was an unusual place to practice but because it was so small and intimate you couldn't really hide from him. (he originally taught in his home in Lakshmipuram and the room held about 10 people) he was incredibly intuitive and could always read everything you were thinking! it was intense and difficult to be so exposed emotionally and intellectually but it was ultimately very liberating. once something is revealed to you, you can eventually let it go.
Kristin: I had quit my job, was brokenhearted and moved out of my apartment all at the same time. Practice was the only steady thing in my life at the time.
What is one thing that we (and everyone else) don't know about you?
Barbara: I am pretty much an open book.
Kristin: My husband rubs my feet every night.
That is very sweet! Thank you for your time Kristin and Barbara!