when pictures fail me…
Judith Hanson Lasater caught the yoga wave early and is still shooting that curl. Take note, you millennial yogi-wannabes who believe yoga was invented in Hollywood in the 1980s: Judith was one of its New Age pioneers who started teaching in 1971. A couple of years later, she and a few friends put together a new magazine on her living room floor that was called Yoga Journal.
Over the years, she has written eight books, participated in three NIH studies on yoga, and taught to thousands, always with the purity of intent that came with the 70s era. Judith has slowed down somewhat over the years to explore restorative yoga and is offering her 22-hour Restorative Training program at ISHTA September 15-19th.
YogaCityNYC’s Sharon Watts caught up with Judith and learned more about the yoga life she has created for herself over the course of four decades.
SW: When and where did you first discover yoga?
JHL: In 1970, a local student “Y” near the University of Texas, where I was working on my masters thesis, began a program. It was just starting to catch on. I had some arthritic-like symptoms and thought yoga would help me get back to dancing. I was the only student in that first class, and by the end of two hours I had fallen madly in love.
SW: Love at first Surya Namaskara! How else did you delve into yoga, and who was your biggest influence at that time?
JHL: I moved to San Francisco, and within a few months of doing yoga and becoming a vegetarian, all my arthritic symptoms went away. Along with getting a Ph.D. in East-West Philosophy, I was studying physical therapy to become a better teacher. I read everything I could find; the Sanskrit didn’t put me off. In 1974, I met B.K.S. Iyengar and became a longtime student. Of great appeal to me was his emphasis on clarity and alignment, and his teaching that we can find divinity in the moment and embody it. The whole package was a sense of coming home.
SW: Has restorative always been a part of your practice, or has its prominence in your workshops evolved due to the stresses of living?
JHL: At the end of my first class I was in Savasana, thinking, “Why are we lying here wasting all this time? We could be doing things!” Gradually, life and loss will add to your perspective. My twin brother died on our birthday, when we turned forty-five, and for a year after that I really couldn’t get excited about handstands in the center of the room. Or even standing poses. All I could do were supported poses. I experienced the incredible benefit of restorative yoga (which is really redundant, when you think of it) at a time when I most needed it. Then I was invited to teach workshops in the spring of 2001, and subsequently decided to write a book about it. SW: You are a prolific writer, as well as teacher. What are some of your other topics, and is there another book occupying your headspace?
JHL: I do about 5-6 week-long trainings a year. Besides restorative, I like to teach a lot of other things: anatomy, movement, kinesiology, philosophical topics. One of my books, What We Say Matters, is about using the right speech, based on Marshall Rosenberg’s techniques of Nonviolent Communication. The roots of all my books are from my life. A number are in the pipeline, but I can’t tell you what they are at this sitting.
SW: What will the participant in your restorative workshop walk away with, that can be applied to the mat every time?
JHL: I ask people to describe “time” in their lives. Everyone says there’s not enough–for yoga, meditation, etc. People in the world have resources in an uneven or unequal way: money, education, water, food. But everyone has the same amount of time. When we say there’s not enough, we act like there’s a problem with time – as opposed to us – and what we are doing with it. I talk about changing our thoughts and speech about time. We also mistake exhaustion for relaxation, and busy-ness for meaning. Relaxation is a dynamic state that facilitates radical presence. You cannot be both anxious and relaxed. If you are anxious, you’re thinking about the future, and you are not present.
SW: Any more encouraging words for people like me who often “don’t have time” for yoga?
JHL: Cultivate the willingness to be present. There is a misapprehension regarding what yoga practice is about, that it is about being calm. To me, the practice is not about being calm, or quiet, or “spiritual”–it is about being present. Start by sitting on your mat just five minutes a day. Or choosing three poses a day. It becomes like brushing your teeth; soon you just do it. There are two kinds of yoga: formal and informal. Formal is on the mat. Informal is the rest of the time. I am always doing yoga.