Carl Danielsen on Making Yoga Accessible

Carl Danielsen demonstrates a typical yoga position at Tompkins Square Park in New York City.

As a child, Carl Danielsen tried yoga several times but found it wasn’t personally accessible. After experiencing positions early on that didn’t work well for his body, he sought an outlet that allowed him to practice his form without rigid expectations. He then came across Yoga to the People, which offered accessibility to everybody and in turn, appealed to the aspiring yogi. Coming from a dance and acting background, Danielsen understands the practice of yoga as a demanding yet accommodating physical and mental exercise.

The 52-year-old currently instructs yoga classes at YTTP and aims to spread the knowledge of its benefits. Danielsen spoke to NYU’s Journalistic Inquiry class about his experience with the organization and yoga as a whole at Tompkins Square Park in New York City.

NYU’s JOURNALISTIC INQUIRY: How did you discover YTTP?

DANIELSEN: There were articles in the paper. What I would do to make a living in between acting jobs while I was in New York City, was coach actors. I would always tell people, especially young people, go do yoga. It’s great for your body but it also develops concentration. The physical practice is only a small part of what yoga is. The physical practice was so that you could sit and meditate for long hours and take care of the body. It’s mostly the concentration that’s really good for young people. I read this article and I would tell all my clients, “Oh, you’ve got to go to YTTP, it’s donation based, you can afford it, it sounded like hell to me, the thought of all those people schlepping up the stairs and no room between the mats. I thought, “Oh my god, that’s my worst nightmare.” I was out in California and I tried all the yoga studios in my particular area. I thought I’d at least give this a shot because I’m recommending it. So I tried the one in Berkeley, CA and it was just open and great. I thought, “Wow, this is really a smart way to teach yoga” and so I got back here and I braved it. Even though I still tell people the crowd sounds intimidating, it’s actually part of the beauty of it. The energy in those rooms, with all those people working their stuff out, sweating, working hard, it’s kind of magical. I’ve never experience anything like that anywhere else, even with large groups of people practicing yoga.

NYU’s JOURNALISTIC INQUIRY: Did you get your training at YTTP or did you join afterwards?

DANIELSEN: I did get my training at YTTP. I started with Bikram. For 20 years I travelled around the country. I studied yoga at incredible places all over the country, but then I found YTTP. I can speak to some of our master teachers, I watched them come to the studio kind of lost. In a couple cases, for addiction problems and other reasons. I watched them become yogis and then I watched them do the teacher training, and then I’d watch them become master teachers. You could see these people blossom under this whole thing. I’ve seen the teacher training programs at other places that are excellent but it was less about the personal growth. I really wanted to be a yoga teacher — I wanted whatever that transformative quality was.

NYU’s JOURNALISTIC INQUIRY: What’s the toughest yoga position for you?

DANIELSEN: It depends on the day. There’s this thing you do called “Wheel”. You’re laying down, you put your hands behind your head, and you bring your hips up into the sky. My shoulders and hips are tight, so that one’s hard for me. It depends how your body’s feeling on any given day and what feels good.

NYU’s JOURNALISTIC INQUIRY: Do you go into YTTP every day?

DANIELSEN: No, but I’m probably in five days a week. I’m also still taking ballet classes. So as you get older, you have limited energy in a day. Sometimes I’ll get in seven days a week, but usually four or five.

NYU’s JOURNALISTIC INQUIRY: How often do injuries happen and what causes them?

DANIELSEN: What usually causes them is misalignment so that’s what our teacher training is all about. It’s probably not the best subject to bring up but there are a lot of injuries caused by yoga. It’s very common. People come in and they push themselves too hard. I tend to nag a lot in my classes about the things that I know cause injuries. It’s knees, it’s wrists. I’ve never had a yoga injury. I also came from a dance background and I had teachers growing up that were very strict about alignment because if you’re going to make your living as a dancer, you have to dance eight shows a week. That’s where I came from. I also came to it older so I wasn’t trying to get into the maximum pose and kill myself.

NYU’s JOURNALISTIC INQUIRY: Could you talk more about the energy you feel in the yoga studio?

DANIELSEN: I was taken aback by what I saw as broken bodies. I saw the bodies that needed attention, the bodies that were tight, that were sore, that looked uncomfortable. Then I watched that transformation. Especially in New York, we’re type A and we’re striving to get to the next thing, that fact that someone encourages you to breathe, close your eyes, and have an hour for yourself is extraordinary. People take that in at whatever place they are at in their lives. They leave their stuff behind. I find that my experience at many other yoga studios is about what can I show off, how far can I get, I’m in competition. There’s just very little of that [at YTTP].

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