This month’s student of the month is a treasure trove of pure gold, Rebecca Busselle. Be sure to give this one a read!
Hello, Rebecca! Start this off by telling me a bit about yourself. 🙂
Ive been doing yoga for 27 years and I’m 77 years old. I became involved with yoga, because I was in an extremely stressful job. I was working as a fine arts photography editor for Aperture and it was stressful. It was a very demanding place to work, so I started doing yoga. At the time, my daughter moved to Brooklyn, so we would go together. We went to a yoga teacher who had a loft in the Bowery — I was living in Chinatown at the time. And ya know…I felt better. Hahah I just felt better. He eventually stopped teaching and I began to study with another teacher by the name of Allison West. She was very demanding, a ballerina, and runs something in NY called Yoga Union. She’s a specialist in back and scoliosis problems, but at that point she was simply an excellent yoga teacher. She was also a PHD in art history and you know, it was really very demanding and I loved it.
After that, I moved uptown and that was my beginning up here. I came to Bread and Yoga, because Nancy and I were classmates for almost a decade with a marvelous teacher named Marcela Clavijo. She had an apartment on Fort Washington and she had not a stick of furniture in her apartment, except in her bedroom. She had a bare room and held yoga classes there for a long time. She was also a Buddhist nun. She took her vows while she was our yoga teacher. She left and went to Nepal and lived in solitude for three months and you know, we had a substitute and all of that.
It was so interesting, because Nancy was very different from the rest of us yoga students. We were a fiercely friendly and relaxed group that met every single week, every Wednesday…but Nancy asked all of these very specific questions all the time and I noticed it immediately.
During class or after?
This was in class. She would say things like, “Marcela, am I supposed to be feeling this in the outside of my big toe”, or…haha… “in the back of my heel?” You know, she had a specificity that the rest of us rolled our eyes and shrugged our shoulders, you know… “What’s she talking about? If I feel it in my foot, I feel lucky.” So she was very early with Bread and Yoga and it became clear as the class went on that Nancy was destined for higher things than the rest of us. And she got her Iyengar certification.
Nancy runs a really tight class. She knows what we should be doing physically and has become just extraordinary with Sanskrit, so she does a lot of yoga sutras and her pronunciation is extraordinary. She’s very involved in the philosophical ideas of yoga and I find it wonderful to be with her once a week.
So that’s really how I came to yoga. I think my strength as a yoga student is that I’ve shown up every week for a quarter of a century and you know, you just show up.
And how do you feel like that’s changed your body and your mind?
Oh, extraordinarily. I know it’s changed my body, because when you’re doing yoga over a long period of time, your goals change. There was a point in my life where my goal was to do a full arm balance, that’s what I wanted to do. For a brief time I managed to do that, but I was 55 or 60 when I did it and then it sort of disappeared as a goal and I began to think of yoga in a different way. My external goal was hilarious — it was to be able to get down on the floor with my grandchildren when they were babies and toddlers and to be able to crawl around with them and get up easily.
Yeah, I love that — just mobility for living life. I really understand the power of that. It’s everything.
Yeah, it makes all the difference. And I can still get down and get up perfectly well and easily. I’m a runner, so I run and when you’re in what we call the “fourth quarter” here, you know, you begin to really really care about that kind of thing. You’re friends are droppin’ all over the place and as long as I can possibly do this, I will do this.
How do you feel it benefits your mind?
Well, if it does nothing else for me, it gives me an hour and half every week where I simply go and do what I’m told to do and do it to the best of my ability. For me, the huge pleasure of class is being able to let go of responsibility, except to do my best with what somebody else tells me. And of course there are residuals that I carry with me. I love a lot of the yogic philosophy — I think it’s fascinating. It has made me, at times, a better meditator. I spent time with pranayama and breathing and that’s all been fun and interesting. You know, I didn’t dedicate my life to this — it’s just a part of it and my concentration has always been pretty good. Today, for example, I said to Nancy, “This is absolutely the best day of the month, because it’s restorative class.” The last week of the month is always dedicated to restorative and it’s just so lovely, but also it’s what she brings to it. Today she talked about the concept of letting go, it was really wonderful. Even though the ideas are complex, the letting go was really important. Letting go of uncertainty, letting go of the spaces we can’t see into and that we can’t know. I mean these are deep ideas.
Definitely and you’re combining it with the physical embodiment of the concept, too.
Absolutely. She usually ends the class with a savasana in which she sings us a beautiful, well, it seems like a lullaby — it’s not, it’s a Sanskrit chant. She always says, “Nothing to do. Nothing to become.” And for me, that’s really important, because the rest of my life is full of doing and becoming. I’m a writer, I’ve written four books. You know, I do a lot and I’m pretty type A, so learning to let go of things…
That’s really interesting, the whole idea of what it’s done for my mind. One thing I love about it is that yoga is completely non-competitive. You really learn not to even look at your classmates. It doesn’t matter what anybody else is doing.
Yeah, and if you are competing it’s almost as if it’s with yourself.
Well, absolutely and there are some people who have written wonderfully about this. There’s a book called Yoga Bitch. Hahaha.
Hahaha I don’t know this book.
Somebody gave it to me once, it’s hilarious. But you know, people will just about drive themselves crazy trying to perfect yoga and there is no perfection. At least not in the kind of yoga I do.
Yeah, I think about the idea of perfection a lot. I’m a recovering perfectionist. The idea that the flaws are what make things beautiful. And to achieve perfection is sort of the antithesis of what we’re supposed to be. But we’re all striving to do that and to be something. It’s exactly what you’re saying — being okay with uncertainty or not having ground to stand on or not knowing has really been a struggle to absorb. I think it will take my whole life, I’m sure.
Well, Nancy’s class is very good for that. 🙂 I have nothing but high praise for the kind of ambience she brings to Bread and Yoga.
What would you say is your favorite yoga pose?
Oh, savasana of course. Hahah. The preparation for death. And as I say, I love wall and rope work. I do have a set at home.
Really? That’s awesome, hahah! What about it?
It straightens the spine and furthermore, the act of being upside down in any form, I feel it’s just so good for the body. I would say my second favorite after savasana is headstand.
So you like being upside down, huh? It takes a while to get over the fear of it, but once you do, it’s addicting.
I do. It’s a little brain refresher. I always get to class early so I can put 15 minutes or so on the wall before class starts.
You’ve been in New York for how long?
And where are you from?
Well, I was living upstate and writing before I came down to take an editing job and then when I left my job, I did freelance writing and co-wrote a book on the photographer Paul Strand with another person involved in photographic history. And I just love New York. There is no way I could go upstate full time, but I’m there every weekend with my husband who works in Poughkeepsie, so we live in the foothills of the Berkshires. I really have the best of both worlds. I get to be married and I don’t have to be there all the time.
Totally, ha! So you have an apartment here and there?
I do. I’ve had my apartment here almost 20 years.
Wow, incredible. How have you maintained balance living in New York?
I think we have these huge resources up here. We have the park, we have nature. Two people in the yoga class are expert birdwatchers and they took me out to find the hawk before the leaves came on the trees in Spring. This feels almost like suburban living up here, it’s out of the extreme bustle. For a long time, because I lived in Chinatown before, I thought if I could move my apartment downtown I’d be totally happy. Everyday I ran between the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge. It was great and I had a cheap loft.
Sounds like you’re happy anywhere.
I really have been happy wherever I’ve been and that’s one of the great gifts of my life. It’s been revealed. I think happiness is revealed to you, that you don’t always have a grip on it at every single moment. I think I really learned about it when I was in my 30s and my husband and I and our three children went to Africa, joined the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone. And when we got there we were shown the house we were going to live in and I burst into tears and thought, “I’m just not going to make it. I can’t live in this terrible place. How can this be?” And when we left three years later, I burst into tears and I said, “I know I’m never going to find such a wonderful place to live again. It will never happen again. This has just been so fantastic.” And I could see the arc of my own experience and my acceptance and my thinking about. So I realized, I have…I’ve been happy wherever I’ve been. I’ve known when to leave and move on to something else, both in work and living situations.
…And you know, I really like to talk to strangers. I’m always interested in their stories. I find New Yorkers marvelous and friendly and helpful. We ride the A train and you’ll see the most unlikely types of people helping visitors to the city with their suitcases. Half the car will take them in hand and help them out. It’s a city full of generosity.
Sometimes when I think about my life in the country and my life here, I get on the A train and see more people than I would have seen in 6 weeks up there in that one subway car. I have this little game I play in the subway from time to time. It’s to look at people and figure out what I see that’s extraordinary and beautiful. It’s really wonderful and you look at someone and suddenly you say, “I really think your hairdo is fabulous.”
Gosh, that’s so beautiful. I love the idea of looking for wonder and extraordinary things. So, you’re an observer and a writer…What do you write about?
Well, right now I’m doing magazine articles. I wrote a book called The Exposure of the Heart about a center for people with developmental disabilities up near where I live in Millerton, NY and that was published by W.W. Norton. I wrote two young adult novels, one called Bathing Ugly, which was really about what I think is the most important lesson for young people…that the only thing that will save you is your creativity. The next book I wrote called Broadside View is also about being saved by your creativity. When things get rough, go deep. Then I wrote a book with Trudy Wilner Stack and that was great fun. I do a piece here and a piece there.