Orin Kurtz is the Student of the Month for April. Orin is a lawyer, a jazz musician and a certified Hathavidya teacher. He’s also an unofficial ambassador for the studio. If you’ve been to a class Orin has probably struck up a conversation with you or offered a friendly smile. Here’s how yoga helps him to keep it real:
Q: How did you get into yoga in the first place?
I was living at 75th and Broadway in Manhattan and I was going to Bikram Yoga and I loved it. It was the most wonderful physical workout. I was going for maybe six months or so and I started to realize that there was more to yoga than just the physical stuff. At first I thought, I’m going to go to India to learn how to study yoga. As soon as I made that decision I got into law school and I said, “I can’t say no to law school.” So then I put yoga on hold for 13 years after that.
Q: What brought you back to it?
My wife did a yoga teacher training in 2011 and I started paying a little bit of attention to it [again]. Then it was a snowy day and I was home from work and, I thought, you know what, I’m going to go over [to Bread and Yoga]. I took a pilates class and I liked it and then I came back that Saturday and took a class with Amy and loved it and that was it.
Q: You said you had a feeling that there was something more than the aspect physical to yoga. Is that something you we’re able to explore at Bread and Yoga?
Oh yeah. At Bikram they have a routine that is required of them and they say the same things with each [pose]. “This pose really works your abdomen or really stretches the colon.” That’s not to say anything bad about Bikram. It’s great and if I’m ever in need of that kind of workout I’ll go, but I was amazed because coming to Bread and Yoga the teachers would all say things at the beginning of the classes and have words of wisdom that would translate into our everyday lives.
One of the first really mind blowing things that somebody said to me, I was at a class in the church with Shawna. It was my first ever class with her and she was doing this stuff and it was killing me. I thought, “Is this going to be over soon?” and then she says, “Now this might be hard but find the joy in it.” And I was like, “Yeah!”
Even the other day, I went to this class that Rian taught and it wasn’t a typical yoga class. We did a lot of Kundalini kind of stuff and he had us hitting ourselves and hitting the floor. I came out of that class thinking so differently about myself and the way I relate to the world. The things that were bothering me before that class were bothering me a little less afterwards.
Q: Thinking about yourself differently how?
He wanted us to think about people and things we’re angry about and as we’re going through that, I thought, I’m not really angry at anybody today. The closest person that I’m angry at is myself. So I was thinking, ok, I’ve got some things to work on.
A lot of people have preconceived notions about yoga. They think yogis have to be happy all the time or be passive or overly accepting. No. Yoga is about being where you are. There’s no judgement. No expectation. If somebody makes you mad you say “I’m pissed off.” That’s yoga.
Q: Allowing yourself to experience the real emotion?
Yeah. Taking a yoga class where you are bringing out aspects of things you’re angry about is perfectly fine. I had that conversation with some people later that night at a party and I think that there were a little surprised that that’s what we did in a yoga class.
Q: Why did you decide to take Bread and Yoga’s teacher training and what was the experience like for you?
I just knew that I loved coming to yoga class and I knew that there was something more to yoga that I needed to learn. I wanted to learn more than you can get in a class. I wanted to expand my understanding of yoga.
Q: And did it?
Oh yeah. Life has not been the same since then.
Q: In what way?
It goes from the simple things like being in class and knowing that I can fix my own alignment to when I hear the chants and understanding what they say a little bit more in depth, but it’s also just impacted my daily life off of the mat. I’ve learned how to cope with things and how to not take on other people’s issues. You get so full in that teacher training. You’re so full learning and doing the homework and going to class that you can’t take on other people’s stuff. It’s sort of out of necessity that you start to understand all of these yogic principles. I learned to say, “Ok, I’m here now. It’s Saturday morning at 8 a.m. and I’m a yogi until 9 p.m. tonight when I finish my homework after 8 hours of class. And then Monday morning, I’m a lawyer again.” I had to learn how to be present in each individual thing and know that when I got to the next one that everything would work out. I developed a sense of faith in the way that things will pan out.
It’s also helped me in my practice of law because of this idea of not taking things on. When I get a call from somebody who is looking for me to represent them and maybe I can’t, I don’t have a problem saying, “I’m sorry, I can’t represent you,” where I used to feel bad. I used to want to help them anyway. Now I know that I can only do so much with the energy that I have. Preserving prana if you will. I want to help everybody in the whole world, but I can only help some people.
Q: In some ways there is still a stereotype that yoga is only for women or young people or you have to already be flexible to do it. So what has your experience been?
There is a stereotype or generalization that it’s a woman’s thing. But yoga is so vast and expansive. It’s not just sitting in a room and saying Om. It’s learning about your life.
There’s so much strength involved. I bet you a lot of guys who think it’s only for flexible people might be really pleasantly surprised at how hard it is to stay in Warrior II for sometimes a minute when we’re going through variations on that pose. It’s a focused strength. It’s not a lifting weights strength- but it’s a focused, moving meditation with strength involved. it really just changes your perception of your own strength.
And for people who think it’s yeah, like, hippie stuff, it really isn’t. There is no contrivance, just being in the moment and real. It’s ok to be a normal person and have normal emotions and do yoga.
Q: You seem to have made a lot of friends at the studio. Has going to Bread and Yoga changed your relationship with the community and how so?
Oh without a doubt. I’ve made so many friends both teachers and fellow students. It’s not just a yoga class, it’s a community. Every now and then I think, boy I’d like to have a bigger apartment, but if we moved away would I find that same community elsewhere? I don’t know. If we moved to Westchester, or wherever, would the local studio have that kind of community? I don’t know. It’s hard to find. It’s really a special thing.
Q: Anything to add?
Yoga is fun. I don’t mean that as an over-simplification, although it is, but it’s really fun. If you can keep that in your mind, it doesn’t matter how hard the class is and keep in mind that everybody is vastly different. Having stood in front of a room and taught a bunch of advanced yogis [during teacher training], even when everybody is doing the same pose, they all look different and they’re all working on different aspects of the same pose. So just let it be fun and don’t try to keep up with the Joneses or, to put it in yoga terms, don’t try to keep up with the Iyengars. Everybody is different and you should just love where you are and have fun with it.