Welcome to Off The Mat, a student spotlight series where we interview experienced practitioners about how yoga has equipped them for (and had an impact on) their non-yoga lives. Today we sit down with Steph Lazzara:
1. What type(s) of yoga do you practice? How often? Has that cadence changed over the years?
I practice Bikram, hot power yoga and Iyengar. My yoga practice has definitely had ebbs and flows. I used to practice Bikram about three times a week or more consistently for about 6 years. Right now I’m practicing less Bikram and more Vinyasa and Iyengar as I’m getting my 200 hour TTC through YogaWorks and I’m practicing vinyasa yoga about 4 times a week.
2. Can you tell us a bit about your life when you’re not doing yoga?
I work full time in the school office at a specialized high school for kids with learning disabilities and teach yoga to the 9–12th grades in PE classes there. Teaching teenagers, especially with learning disabilities, is really difficult and also really rewarding. I’m also a certified life and wellness coach. I see clients one on one and help people navigate tricky life decisions and get recentered after heartbreak, loss and difficult transitions. I love photography and NYC gives me endless opportunities to shot something beautiful or unexpected. I’m also a parent, I have a teenage son, who is definitely not as into yoga as I am!
3. What skills have you learned on the mat that have been applicable to the rest of your non-yoga life?
The big two for me have been learning radical self-acceptance and non-attachment. It’s really easy to hide from parts of yourself you may not like. Yoga has helped me confront myself, have more self-compassion and compassion for others, see my own inner strength and learn to meet myself where I am in any given day with less self-criticism. I’ve also learned to let go of attachments to expectations, which has created a lot of anxiety for me in my life. On the mat, every day is different with different challenges emotionally and physically. Yoga has taught me to be less rigid with myself off the mat, and with that comes more ease and calm. Yoga has definitely also helped me become a more patient and less reactive parent.
4. Can you think of any memorable moments in life when you thought to yourself, “Wow, I’m sure glad I’ve done yoga to help me through this experience”?
Haha. Well, yoga has gotten me through a lot of relationship heartache and heartbreak through the years. Each time I thought I was not going to get through something or felt lost, the practice always helped to bring me back to myself.
5. How has your yoga practice evolved as your life has evolved?
I always loved practicing and thought of yoga as a good compliment to my dancing during my professional dancing years, but I feel like I didn’t really get “serious” about it until I started practicing Bikram about eight or nine years ago. The heat combined with the repetition was physically, emotionally and spiritually demanding in a way that was unexpected and really allowed me to go deep into myself in a way that I had not experienced before in yoga classes. Now my practice and interest feel like it is evolving organically. I enjoy teaching kids and diving into yoga philosophy. My consistent interest over the years has finally encouraged me to dig deeper which is why I’m now doing an in-depth teacher training. It feels like just the beginning, so I’m curious to find out where it leads me next.
6. If you could invent your own style of yoga, what would it be? (Assuming no budgetary constraints and a guaranteed target market of eager students!)
Actually, I think about this a lot! I’d love to create a heated style of yoga flow that incorporates elements of modern dance and release technique. I’ve spent many years studying release technique, which focuses on muscle relaxation, breathing, anatomy and the use of gravity and momentum. I use release technique in my yoga practice and it’s been crucial for me in avoiding injuries that are created through muscle tension, repetition and accumulation of stress in the body. I think this would be a great pairing that would focus on injury prevention while also being fun