Sharon Watts Writes

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YogaCityNYC ~ interview with Eve Holbrook

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Eve Holbrook’s thespian genes (she’s Hal’s daughter and her maternal grandfather, Robert Rossen, directed Paul Newman in The Hustler) were guiding her before 9/11. In the days following the terrorist attacks, she took stock of her life and realized that her profession often felt like an empty enterprise.

These days, the native New Yorker can be found leading Iyengar yoga classes and retreats. Mixing her two traditions – yoga and acting – has made her better at both. YogaCityNYC’s Sharon Watts sat down recently to find out all about Eve.

Sharon Watts: How did you get into back care yoga?

Eve Holbrook: As a teenager, I herniated several of the discs in my lower back in a horseback riding accident, which led to chronic pain and crippling sciatica. In my early twenties, as part of my training at The Old Globe, I began taking yoga classes three times a week. I felt better immediately. As I learned to work with my back through Iyengar yoga, the sciatic episodes became less frequent and eventually went away completely.

SW: Why Iyengar? It is a tough tradition.

EH: Our classes were taught by the wonderful Gerhard Gessner, who co-founded the Prana Yoga Center in San Diego. Sometimes the late Will Robertson, an Iyengar teacher, stepped in as a substitute. The detail and precision of Will’s instructions captured my imagination and made the poses more accessible for me. He articulated effective ways to lengthen my spine and create space between the herniated discs so the related nerves were not impinged.

SW: Did you stick with Iyengar?

EH: I fell in love with Ashtanga after acting school and started studying with Guy Donahaye at Ashtanga Yoga Shala in New York. Practicing in the dark hours of the morning was supremely beautiful and profound; but after a couple of months my back was hurting again.

So I revisited Iyengar, and discovered a similar kind of communion in Kevin Gardiner’s classes at the Iyengar Institute. Later, I made the first of four extended trips to study with the Iyengar family and assisted in the therapeutic classes at the Ramamani Iyengar Institute in Pune, India.

SW: Have your acting and yoga practices melded?

EH: Yoga absolutely informs my acting, which I still do occasionally. For me, yoga is an opportunity to embody the depth of ourselves and explore the effects of that unified state on our mental and emotional selves. By making my body a receptive vessel for my mind, yoga gives me more range and ability when expressing the physical life of a character.

In turn, my acting has informed my teaching by developing my ability to listen, observe, and trust that the learning experience is a dialogue between teacher and student which depends on an exchange of those energies, not an imposition of one upon the other.

Both yoga and acting have a great deal to teach about interdependence. There is a sutra in the Bhagavaad Gita, Sutra 3.27: “All actions take place by the interweaving of forces of Nature; but the wo/man lost in selfish delusion thinks that s/he himself is the actor.”

SW: Tell us more about the “specific needs” you address in your classes.

EH: I have a keen interest in working with a variety of specific needs people. While my classes at Samamkaya Backcare & Scoliosis Collective are designed for those with back pain stemming from herniation, sciatica, sacroiliac joint imbalance, and scoliosis, I often give modifications for issues in my general classes at Yogasana Center and the Iyengar Institute of Brooklyn. These can include knee, hip and shoulder issues, as well as depression, anxiety, even breast cancer (I am breast cancer survivor). Though the classes themselves are not therapy classes, the principals of Iyengar Yoga are fundamentally therapeutic, and people know I am comfortable offering alternatives when necessary.

The Nerve of Expression was a community project I founded in 2001, that grew out of my interest in the effects of yoga on the nervous system and diseases of the nervous system. We offered yoga to artists with multiple sclerosis and autoimmune disease. Each participant was then asked to make a piece of art (a painting, photograph, video) based on their experience, which was presented on the walls of the Continuum Center for Health & Healing.

SW: What were the results of the project?

EH: We learned what we already knew, really, which is that consistent yoga practice strengthens the nervous system and stimulates creativity. Five years ago, I began leading week-long retreats in various locations around the world, to give people an opportunity to experience these benefits while immersing themselves in nature, art, and world culture.

SW: When is your next artist/yoga retreat?

EH: In July 2017, I am leading a retreat in Southern Spain at Santillan, an Andalusian farmhouse situated in the Axarquia mountains overlooking the Mediterranean sea, thirty minutes from Ancient Ronda, Granada, and Malaga’s Picasso Museum.

SW: What draws people to your classes? 

EH: I like to think that people come to learn what it is they are not aware of, so as not to repeat unconscious patterns and make them deeper. As my friend Julia Shaida puts it, “Yoga calls us to make a choice about our actions, to choose what we repeat. It calls us to be aware of what we do, to live according to our values, to make a new thing.”

March 2017

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