Meghan Lastra is our October Teacher of the Month and is also leading a Basics of Backbending Workshop on Sunday, October 28th at 2pm.
A little bit about Meghan:
Meghan is the studio director and a yoga teacher at Bread and Yoga. She also teaches and leads self care workshops all over the city and at retreats!
A desire to move deeper into her personal practice led Meghan to complete a 200 hour certification with Hathavidya in early 2015. Her passion to learn only continued to grow, and she completed a 500 hour certification with Hathavidya in January of 2016 and received a 1000 Hour certification in September of 2017. Because personal growth and practice is ongoing, Meghan continues to study one on one with her teacher Will Duprey. She aims to inspire the same spark and quest for knowledge in each of her students.
So, where to even start?! You do so much for Bread and Yoga… Did Bread and Yoga come first or did yoga come first?
For the most part Bread and Yoga came first. I had the inclination to try yoga, but for some reason I really didn’t want to do it by myself and I couldn’t really convince any of my friends to do it with me. So, finally a friend of mine started taking classes at Yoga to the People and so since that was donation based and funds were limited, I would go down there, but I would always go to the one on St. Marks Place. I took maybe 10 classes at the most before I got really tired of the commute. I was really enjoying taking yoga, but with the hour and a half commute time and if you get there late, and you can’t take class…. Haha, so I actually stopped for a while. And then a friend of mine was karmiiing at the old Bread and Yoga studio and Marcela at the time needed people, so she encouraged the karmis to send info out to the people they knew and my friend sent it to me and I went to interview with Marcela. I then started volunteering at the desk and from there got into yoga.
But when I interviewed with Marcela I was looking to change jobs at the same time. I was doing a work from home marketing job and was actively looking to get out of it. I walked into the studio and immediately loved it. I asked her for a job immediately. I was like, “…you’re not hiring hiring are you?” And at the time Marcela was still doing everything herself. And she said, “No, this is what it is…” and I was like, “Oh no, I’m in! I want to do it.” So I volunteered twice a week and started taking classes on those days.
I didn’t start actively taking yoga until I worked at Bread and Yoga.
You said you came into the studio and it immediately registered that you loved it there. What was the quality about it?
That’s a good question. There was something about the energy of the space and I walked in during after school. You know, there were kids running around and it was a little bit bustling. And I do think it had something to do with Marcela, herself…Just the quality of energy in her person and who she is. I was working in a fairly toxic job at the time, so because I was coming from an environment I didn’t love to this creative, warm, joyful place (and again, I think a lot of it had to do with Marcela, we just clicked right away), I just felt called to say, “…you’re not hiring, are you?” Hahah.
That is a great story. And then which came first, teacher training or getting officially hired with Bread and Yoga?
So, I started karmiing in Fall of 2010 and the fire was in 2012, and during that time I started helping Marcela with different tasks and she started giving me additional studio work to do. I was training Karmis, things like that… and we had a meeting one day in 2013 (we were still in the church location) and she basically said, “So, what do you want to do?” And I said, “I want to be the studio manager for Bread and Yoga.” And she said, “Great, I want you to be the studio manager for Bread and Yoga.”
Hahah. So I had only just found out that studio manager was a job that existed. I started working full time as a studio manager here in the Fall of 2013. And then in Fall of 2014 we offered the very first teacher training here at Bread and Yoga, which I was a part of. I only did the teacher training for MY personal practice. I had gotten into yoga, I was excited, I wanted to learn more and the fact that I was studio manager… I figured I could relate to the teachers in a better way. So win, win! I wanted to do this for myself and it was also beneficial for my job. I had no desire to teach. It wasn’t really even on my radar. I was open to it, I just didn’t want anyone to force it on me. I was truly like, “Don’t ask me if I’m going to teach.” Because I didn’t know and I didn’t want it to be assumed that just because I was taking “teacher training” that I was definitely going to become a teacher. But then not even halfway through the training, I fell in love with teaching and I was like, “Oh no, this is super fun. I actually definitely want to teach.”
And then I was really fortunate that Marcela was awesome enough to offer me an opportunity to teach a community class and audition and get classes on the schedule from there.
WOW! That is awesome. So you’re just everywhere!
I’m everywhere. Haha, for the longest time, and even now, my whole life was/is in Inwood.
I totally get that. Sometimes I feel like I need to venture out a little more. Ha!
Yeah, my husband and I will be going downtown and he’ll make jokes like, “This is the West Village. Welcome. Let me show you around.” Or like, “Let them off the train first…” I don’t have my New Yorker card anymore.
I can truly relate. I’ve always worked from home, so I’m always in Inwood.
It’s very absorbing, it’s peaceful up here!
Yes, everything you need… parks, bars, everything. YOGA! So, since then you’ve sort of communed with the idea of self care. Tell me about that.
Well, the reason I got into self care is really just self preservation. A couple years ago through my yoga journey I was already starting to explore how to find quiet for myself and an important part of my adult life was learning to let go of perfectionism. So for me, both of those things are a part of self care. In January of 2016 I ended up getting sick for about a month. Nothing serious, but I was getting colds that would go away and come back and then I developed a serious tension/back pain to the point where for a week I had a hard time walking around normally. And It was all just from tension and stress.
Like low grade pain…
Yeah! And the fact is that stuff has an effect on your body, so what I was doing at that time was, “Okay, I’m sick so I’m just going to work a half day and go home.” Or, “I’ll take the day off,” and by that I meant, I’ll work from home. So I might take one sick day, but I wasn’t really allowing myself to rest. So finally I just needed to take a full week off from everything and only then when I actually allowed myself to fully rest and not worry about anything or do any work did I actually get better. And from there, it was kind of a wake up call for me. All the pieces came together, so even though I had this knowledge before, I wasn’t ACTUALLY putting it into practice.
Right, right. That makes sense. You can logically understand what to do, but if you’re not actually doing it…
Yes, and so from that time it’s been a very conscious decision for me to practice self care and to make sure that I’m actively participating in my own self care. And once I started doing that, it was natural to offer to other people. I started offering workshops after the first Women’s March. There was just this call for activism and I saw all of these people just running themselves ragged. And I still see it. There’s so much going on politically, people getting triggered by the climate in the government and in politics, so not only do you have people fighting and who are activists and continuing to deplete their energy, because there’s work that needs to be done, but there’s also then these extra triggers from all of the events that might cause that low grade pain. So I just really had this thought that I wanted to offer a self care workshop. And it kind of blossomed from there. So we did a workshop, we donated the proceeds to the ACLU and I’ve done other workshops since then dedicated to self care, whether it’s seasonal self care, or getting ready for the holidays…I get it every year, winter blues and how do you get yourself out of that funk? It’s about looking at what it is that your body needs in order for you to feel restored.
So I do want to offer private self care sessions as well, you know, individualized personalized self care sessions for people where we can figure out what it means for you exactly. What are some small ways you can implement taking care of yourself in your everyday life that aren’t overwhelming. Because for me, thats been the biggest thing…the awareness of the little things I can do to take some time out for myself.
So what does self care mean for you?
Walking, being in nature (that was something that was recommended by my own teacher actually). Epsom salts baths, especially for me from holding a lot of tension in my body, but it also forces me to take a half hour to myself. I consider my daily yoga practice fo be a part of a self care routine for me, too. But it’s almost anything that makes space for me. A lot of it has been about ease. Making time to take a bath. It doesn’t have to be luxurious, it can be just filling the tub with water and letting my body sit in it even if for 15 minutes. Another thing I do that is really balancing, I practice abhyanga, which is a self oil massage. It’s an Ayurvedic practice and it’s literally just taking warm sesame oil or another body oil of your choice and massaging it into your body. It can be this luxurious thing, but it can also be a 5 minute thing I do that keeps me grounded. For me, I have a tendency to get up in my head and really anxious so those are practices I’ve implemented to keep me grounded.
That’s lovely. There’s also something to taking care of your body and knowing that if nothing else, that’s covered. You’ve done something good for your body. Every time I do something like that, I feel a lot more peace and security knowing I’ve taken care of myself. So, you also have a back bending workshop coming up! Tell us a bit more about that and your connection to that particular practice.
So the backbending workshop is going to be at Bread and Yoga on October 28th at 2pm. This year when we were talking about workshops and scheduling, I was thinking about offering an asana workshop. I really love teaching yoga and getting into the nitty gritty. I really like backbends. I didn’t used to really like backbends at all actually, but now it’s a very releasing part of my practice. It FEELS really good so since I enjoy them so much, I wanted to share it with other people. There’s also some really fun tools that I’ve developed over the years of practice that really help you to backbend safely. I used to have a lot of fear around backbending, fear of pain, not even just fear of being upside down, but fear of “Mmmm…that doesn’t feel good and I don’t want to put my body in that position”.
Yeah, I totally understand that. It does trigger some discomfort in my body, as you’re saying.
It does and the thing is that energetically the intention of backbends is that it sends your energy UP, so one of the side effects is, “Oh now I’m anxious.” But there is a way to shift that. I think they’re really fun. And I want other people to be able to enjoy them and get rid of the fear around them, so that’s why I designed a basics of backbending workshop. We’re going to go into all the little, basic things you can do that actually help your body create more space to backbend safely and more fully. So even though your backbend and my backbend may not look the same, we’re both actually expanding into our fullest potential of opening and I think that’s such a beautiful thing.
I love that, cool! So, what is your favorite pose?
Anjaneyasana. The lunge. The one I like the most is the lunge in surya namaskar. So it’s where one foot is in front, one is behind and the knee is on the earth. It’s a backbend and a hip opener. I don’t know why I really love it…I love it because it makes me feel good. Yeah…I love it because it makes me feel good!
Hahah I think that’s a wonderful reason. What do you think makes your classes unique and what will people take away from them?
I tend to focus a lot on alignment and helping students get deeper into postures and approach, or challenge their edge through the use of physical cues. One thing I’m really passionate about and that I teach in teacher training is how tp teach the work of the pose. So I’m not just going to say, “Reach your fingers to your toes”. I’m going to tell you how to use your body to come into forward fold that gets your body closer to the floor… so I think that does make my classes unique. The work we do in class to start to go deeper physically… and honestly I practice a really strong connection to the breath. We’ll hold poses in my class, so I spend a lot of time at the beginning and throughout class setting up that connection to the breath, so that even though you’re in the pose now, it’s about the exploration in coming back to the breath. I hope people feel comfortable to explore and that they feel comfortable to show up and to let the practice meet them where they are, but also challenge themselves beyond that. So we might not all look the same, but we’re all doing the work of whatever energetic posture we’re in so we’re all beginning to feel that shift of energy. I hope I allow everyone to challenge themselves that way and to move beyond wherever they began.
That’s so beautiful. Is there anything else you want to add?
Yeah…I’ll add that I really feel like Bread and Yoga made me a huge community member. I was the person who pretty much just slept here. I have had an apartment in Inwood since 2006 and (at that time) I had a job at a restaurant downtown, I used to audition downtown, I worked out downtown and went out to eat and I was literally here to sleep, but my whole life was elsewhere. Maybe I would go for a walk or run in the park, especially at first. My one block radius…I lived right here on 212th so I was one block from the A train or 3 blocks from the 1 train. I had a very small radius of small businesses , a couple of bodegas, a deli and grandpas pizza. So once I started volunteering at Bread and Yoga I started meeting more people in the community and I think really after the fire, the community really stepped up to help all the businesses affected by the fire. You know, even the Inwood Community Group came from that, which is still really fascinating to men. I think from there, I was already starting to get to know other businesses in the neighborhood and interact with the people who lived and worked here and that helped expand that for me, so Inwood became more than just this place to lay my head and much more of an active, vibrant community. My husband and I joke that he can go to the farmer’s market and still be fairly anonymous and do his business, but if I go to the farmer’s market, it’s going to take us an extra half hour because I see so many people I know and honestly that’s the best part of it.
Truer words were never said. What a great gift to be given. ? Community! Thank you, Meghan.