Wise Words
A moment with Rodney Yee, yoga teacher, author of Yoga: The Poetry of the Body, and instructor in the videos A.M. Yoga and Power Yoga for Beginners.

Photo by Michal Venera

Q. We had a hard time connecting for this interview because of your travel schedule, which led me to wonder, do you always travel a lot?

A. Well, I’ve been on the road for about 12 years now. I’ve been traveling throughout the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, Asia, and Canada. Basically, I’m trying to help redesign the yoga classroom. I go to studios and do special teacher-training workshops, or I teach public workshops for beginning and intermediate students. I’m interested in finding different ways to transfer the knowledge that has come from 23 years of practicing yoga. I’m interested in getting people to trust their bodies, getting people to go inside and actually be interested in themselves from the body up.

Q. Are you surprised by how popular yoga has become in this country?

A. I’m not really surprised. I thought it would happen. It’s such a great tool for people who are stressed out, and I think that’s the number-one difficulty in our society. Everyone’s feeling isolated, separated, and stressed out. I think a lot of people are lacking meaning in their lives. You’re basically defined by how much you’re doing and what you’re doing instead of just who you are inside. I think yoga speaks to that so strongly. I think most of us realize if we don’t get some of that medicine, some of that introspection and reflection and digestion—really, just a sense of digesting what’s coming at us—then we’re going to be more and more devastated.

Q. What is the most profound transformation you’ve seen a person undergo as a result of yoga?

A. There are so many. There’s one man who is now a teacher at my studio who came to me in his early 50s and who was really almost on the verge of committing suicide because the pain from his arthritis was so acute. And, literally, after his first class he was in tears because it was the first time he was without pain in, like, 10 years. And now he’s one of the really sought-after teachers in our studio.

Q. Now that you’re a famous yogi, how do you stay grounded in the origins of the practice?

A. The practice itself is grounded, so it’s wonderful that the very thing I teach is the very thing that sustains me. This isn’t always so with other practitioners of other things. With yoga, there’s no way I would be able to teach at the level I’m teaching and with the interest I’m teaching unless I’m practicing. In that sense, it works its own magic on me as well as on what I teach to people. It sort of sustains itself—it’s recyclable in some sense.

Q. Does your practice extend to your diet?

A. I’m a vegetarian, and I have been for 18 or 20 years now. I eat pretty simply at this point, and I’m moving toward eating even more simply. I basically eat organic vegetables and brown rice. You know, I still eat some junk food, like anybody else. I love french fries. But at the same time I’m getting more and more simple with my food and my diet.

Q. People who’ve been watching your yoga videos must be excited when they finally get to meet you.

A. They are, which is really a two-edged sword, in the sense that you want to portray to them that you’re just a human being and that you’re going through this thing called life and it’s got its ups and downs. At the same time, you want to help them know that they can do it themselves. That it’s not your magic—it’s actually their magic. And that you have something they can benefit from, but it’s really them doing the work.

Q. If you could impart only one piece of wisdom about your life’s work to our readers, what would it be?

A. Become better listeners. Practice the art of listening in everything you do. Not just listening to yourself and your body, but listening to the people around you, listening to the plant world, the animal world. Really open your ears to what’s coming at you. From there, see if you can have the ability to respond instead of react. And that usually comes with listening. If the observation and the listening are deep, then your action will be deep also.

—Jena Hofstedt