Get to know our student of the month for September, Yvonne Montanino!
Q: How did you get into doing yoga?
I’ve been practicing yoga for almost 20 years. I belonged to Crunch [gym] and I started taking classes there.
Q: Twenty years ago yoga was just starting to spread more into popular culture. What piqued your interest?
I was always open to trying different things. I took spin classes and I took aerobic classes and so one day I just decided to try it. You’re right that it wasn’t as big at the time. There weren’t a lot of yoga studios in the city, but the instructors that they had at Crunch were amazing. I got hooked immediately.
Q: What did you like about it?
It made me feel good, made me look good, made my body more flexible and really helped my spirit as well. It made me feel centered and grounded. I started spending more time with people who practiced yoga and I really enjoyed the yoga community. But it wasn’t until Bread and Yoga that I felt like I had found MY yoga community.
Q: How did you find Bread and Yoga?
I moved here [to Inwood] about 5 years ago and joined Bread and Yoga within a week of moving here.
Q: You said our studio was the first place you found your yoga community. What do you mean by that?
I had gotten pretty serious about yoga and I was regularly taking classes. However, I didn’t really consider doing a teacher training until I started practicing here. I liked everything that the studio offered. I love the fact that [when I go there] I can hear the kids laughing and smell the food cooking. It feels like a community center, not just a yoga studio.
Q: Why did you decide to do teacher training?
I was interested in elevating my practice and learning more about the principles of yoga. The physical practice always came fairly easy to me. I’ve always been pretty flexible and strong, but the spiritual aspect was something that I didn’t know enough about. I thought it would be a great way to learn more.
Q: In 2014, the training followed a fairly intense schedule: all weekend, every weekend for two months. What was it like to be in that environment?
I loved being completely immersed in yoga for that eight weeks. It was very, very challenging but exactly what I needed. It put me up against a lot of my barriers and triggers, but at the same time it was so enlightening and uplifting. As heavy as it was, it was incredibly light and opening too.
Q: Can you think of a low point, a high point or something that was both?
Absolutely. [It was] having to do my practicum, when you have to teach your first class to your fellow yogis in the program. I’m someone who experiences a lot of stress anyway so when I was panning and writing the sequences out I was already thinking, “Is it going to be long enough? Is it going to be too long?” You have all of these doubts about whether it’s going to work or not. It took me hours and hours to put together the actual series.
Once I had it, I felt a little better. I practiced it multiple times, but then when I was standing up in front of the class getting ready to teach, I came up against all of my fears again. As soon as I started teaching, I calmed down and felt the energy in the room. I realized I was among friends. I had grown so close to the people in the room that it no longer became frightening, but joyful and freeing.
Q: You said that teacher training helped you come up against your “stuff.” It sounds like one of those things is maybe a little streak of perfectionism?
Oh, maybe. (Laughs) Absolutely.
Q: How did you grow or what did you learn from being pushed past those internal barriers?
I learned what I already knew, which is that I can do anything I set my mind to. It’s just my fear that prevents me from doing things. But I also learned that it’s ok to be afraid. I can work through the fear, get it done anyway and it will be perfect just the way it is.
Q: You’re not teaching yoga at the moment. What do you for work?
I work for Avon. I do market research and consumer insights for the color category, which is the makeup category. My day to day is stressful and silly and fun at the same time. I’ve been doing that for five years and I work solely on global business.
I’ve always had a sort of stressful corporate job. Lots of deadlines. Lots of international work, but fun too. Most of my job is learning about how people think and why they do what they do. That’s the part of my job I absolutely love because people are so interesting.
Q: Is that what brought you from Brooklyn to Inwood?
No. I had multiple friends that lived in the neighborhood and absolutely loved it. I came to visit and I loved the parks and the trees and the quiet. I was just ready for that change. I had also gotten priced out of Brooklyn and back then my job was right over the George Washington Bridge so it was a really good commute. I love this neighborhood.
Q: What do you love about it?
What draws me to this neighborhood is the community aspect of it. I can walk down the street and run into 10 different people that I know and have conversations and stop in at friends’ houses. Again, Bread and Yoga really has made a difference in my life. It’s my little community center. Marcela and Meghan have made such a warm and welcoming and comfortable environment.
Q: When you’re not working or doing yoga, how do you spend your time?
I’m an avid diver.
Q: How did you get into that?
I used to go on these two-week long vacations with a group of friends. Half were divers, half were not. The divers would come back talking about all of the amazing things that they saw. I decided on one of our trips that I needed to learn how to dive because I was tired of just hearing about it. I wanted to get in the water and see what they were seeing. As soon as I tried it, there was no turning back. That was about 15 years ago. Since then, I’ve done dives in several parts of the Caribbean, the Great Barrier Reef, Honduras and Hawaii.
Q: Both yoga and diving are things that came into your life as an adult. You strike me as the kind of person who is always wanting to learn more. Do you see that in yourself?
Yes. I love learning. I’m a big reader and I also speak multiple languages.
My mother is from Malta. It’s a tiny little island south of Italy in the Mediterranean, but it’s a completely different culture and language. I grew up with all of my Maltese aunts and cousins and grandmother speaking Maltese and so I became interested in everything international very young.
I took French all through high school and did my junior year abroad in France. When I went to business school, it was an international business program and I studied Spanish there. Then I backpacked through South America for almost a year and I lived in Brazil and Argentina for some time as well, so I learned some Portuguese too.
Q. How does yoga tie in with your love of learning and exploration?
I do believe yoga ties in very well with my love for exploration, learning and adventure. It requires both physical and spiritual observation and growth. I love the duality of the intense physical and mental challenge it requires, while still quieting the brain ‘chatter’ and eliciting such stillness and peace. Yoga is a beautiful journey, one which I hope to continue for the rest of my life.