Lisa Benner is our teacher of the month for May!
A bit about Lisa:
An actor, mover and dedicated breather, the moment Lisa was introduced to yoga, she knew it was right for her. She came to yoga shortly after discovering pilates and found she was able to use both to correct and improve different physical issues, including scoliosis and chronic headaches. Lisa graduated from Sonic Yoga’s 200 hour Teacher Training program, and Hathavidya’s 1000 hour program. She is also a Registered Yoga Teacher with Yoga Alliance, E-RYT 500 as well as Pre-Natal RYT, a certified Holistic Health Coach, and the director of 200 hour Teacher Training and Corporate Wellness programs for Hathavidya. She teaches at various locations and in teacher trainings around New York and internationally.
Learn more about Lisa from our chat below. Her classes at Bread and Yoga are on Mondays at 9am & 6:30pm and Wednesdays at 9am.
Q: Hi Lisa! So to start, how long have you been with Bread and Yoga?
Since the beginning…9 Years. Yeah, I actually auditioned before the studio opened.
Wow, so you were an OG?
Haha. Yeah, I was an OG.
Q: How did you start practicing yoga?
I literally took my first class to make my friend stop asking me to take yoga with her years ago. And I loved it, but I was also practicing pilates a lot more then. I worked with a woman for rehabilitation. You see, I had quite a few skeletal and physical conditions I was dealing with at the time, which also led to chronic headaches. So I was learning about pain management and how to heal in some way. Then I started practicing yoga with my friend and I continued to do both and that’s how the practice started, in finding ways to slowly institute lifestyle and long term changes that happen in a slow holistic way.
That’s so interesting, because people in New York are so often looking for a quick fix, ya know?
Not only in New York. Our culture is very quick fix oriented, looking for it to work the way medication would. You know, I can do this and then the sensation is gone.
Q: So you moved to New York and that’s when you started teaching yoga?
Yeah, thats when I did my teacher training. When I was younger, I created a mission statement for myself that I wanted whatever I did to improve my own and other people’s quality of life. I was an actor at the time as well and as an artist that’s what we’re doing: we’re holding up a mirror to humanity and asking questions rather than providing answers. And so when I moved here and I needed a day job as I was pursuing that art, I wanted to do something that also fell into that mission statement. I really weighed between whether I would do yoga or pilates, but my thought at that time was, “Where am I going to be able to live in New York that would allow all the machinery needed (for pilates). Would I have room for a reformer and those things we use a lot in rehabilitation?” I also travelled a lot at that time doing Shakespeare festivals, so I thought, “This is also something I can do. I can offer classes wherever I am.” So it was a practical decision in the beginning. It wasn’t until teacher training that I started to understand the broader scope of yoga as a philosophy or a way of living as opposed to just a physical practice.
Q: So you got into these things for your own healing and rehabilitation at first and then eventually moved into yoga to continue that journey with yourself and others. Did your body begin to rehabilitate? What happened with your own physical issues during this process?
I have scoliosis and double curvature of the spine, a large sway back and some issues with my pelvic structure. I would say I’ve given myself about 2” back in height and I no longer have chronic headaches. In fact, I rarely have a headache.
Amazing. And how long did that take?
Oh. Years. Just a little while ago, I was able to do a little bit more correction. There’s usually a period of time that’s extraordinarily painful — a lot of discomfort when that correction is happening, because my muscle structure is used to dealing with it being out of alignment. So if I change my alignment, the muscle structure has to get used to the new way of being, which is very uncomfortable. It’s been a long journey and goes in and out of varying degrees of sensation, but yes, I have been able to change things over time.
Q: So I’m sure you work with people all the time and maybe they experience frustration. They’re not seeing the progress or changes they want quickly enough. How do you feel you’re able to speak to that process?
That knowledge, that experience of having gone through some things and then over time, yeah, witnessing things in other people’s bodies and being able to give adjustments or cues in order to help them, not just into a deeper embodiment of a posture, but hopefully also move into a change of functioning toward greater wellbeing. Yes, of course that comes up from time to time. I think there’s an element of the teacher and the student drawing each other. But mostly, my encouragement would be that whatever they’re going through, whether it’s a physical, emotional, psychological change, or whatever’s happening in their living, we are engaged in a science that’s designed to create change and transformation — and change and transformation absolutely means discomfort in some way, yet we try to run away from discomfort. So in some ways our trying to move out of sensation, or move away from discomfort, or thinking that comfort means we’re doing it right and discomfort means we’re doing it wrong, we’re actually increasing the pressure we place on ourselves, because we’re actively participating in something and fighting it at the same time.
Q: Wow, I love that. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. I feel like that comes up over and over and over. So from the beginning to present day, how do you feel like your teaching has evolved?
A lot. I would say that when I first took my teacher training, I was learning to trust my intuition again. A lot of the work I did was building a foundation that supported that intuition. I trained in something that was in alignment with what I was doing intuitively and was deeply grateful to learn about my intuition and to be able to trust that. I used to say I did training that was a confirmation of where I was at, like building a foundation under my feet and then I started working with a teacher who broadened me and took me beyond who I was. And then I realized, oh no no no, they broadened the beam of light so I could see who I was, know who I was, as opposed to making me other than who I was, if that makes sense.
Q: Incredible. So moving to your classes at Bread and Yoga, how would you describe them?
My classes are generally crafted with an intention or a question that’s being asked, something to be explored. And then more often than not the practices usually challenge the ability to answer the question, or push on the question in some way. There’s always a combination of asana (or physically posture), mantra, mudra, pranayama – so a variety of techniques. And I also tend to use the physical structure as a tool to change the internal state, as opposed to simply working on a physical structure.
So in my class, are you going to come and work on handstand? Maybe. But the journey isn’t about the handstand. The journey’s what you learn about yourself while you’re learning to do the handstand. Whatever it is we’re exploring, it’s often inspired by something I’ve been contemplating and living, conversations I’ve been having, things that come up on the podcast, questions from students or texts I’m studying.
Q: So you’re also a holistic health coach and do workshops here at Bread and Yoga. What led to you to that?
When I created a website, I didn’t want it to be Lisa Benner Yoga because I wanted it to be more expansive than that. I think of yoga as being a worldview, but that’s not always the perception here. So a dear friend of mine who did my logo came up with Lisa Benner Living and I was thrilled, because yes, I want it to be about LIVING. So is there a lot of nutrition that happens in that? Yes, which is something I really enjoy and I’ve learned is part of my playground, particularly fermentation and how to use fermented foods in one’s own healing and living. My house is a little bit of a science experiment. Haha. It keeps spreading out a liiiitttle bit further. But it resonates with that initial mission statement and that is an offering I love to make. Both my ongoing teacher and the training I took have studied Ayurveda. And the teacher of the holistic health coach training I took also studied Ayurveda and then also took a Western nutrition course, so it’s a beautiful blend of these sister sciences that go together. It’s about improving one’s living, not just the diet. So I can use my knowledge as a yoga practitioner and teacher also to serve in that way.
Q: What’s your favorite pose and why?
Sirsasana (headstand). The effects of it are profound. It’s actually not that complicated of a posture, but it has a lot of mental fluctuation around it and has a really strong energetic and physical healing effect.
Q: How do you maintain joy and balance living in NYC and how has yoga helped you with that?
Living up here is a big part of how I maintain balance. I need to be in nature. I am blessed to have a home with space and I live very close to the park and I choose to be there a lot. And that makes a huge difference. When I wake up, I can hear birds and see doppled sunlight. I often say that up here you can hear crickets and see stars. This neighborhood makes a huge difference for me, I love it up here.
Yoga has truthfully changed my ability to be in those energetic environments that would at other times cause me stress or anxiety, because I can decide my reaction. I’m responsible, as in, I am able to respond. So the ability to have a little bit of space between me and my emotion, me and my reactive behavior allows me to see it for what it is and take the opportunity to change it. It’s given me technique. I used to regularly have 16 and 17 hour days running all over the place, being on the train and just having that technique of being able to sit and watch my breathing, to allow something other than just taking on the energy around me, some cultivation of steadiness of self regardless of circumstance – that’s all from my practice, really.
Q: Beautiful. Do you have anything else to add?
Gratitude for this community. I don’t have words for how extraordinary it is.
Thank you, Lisa. We love you!