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    • Please join me in welcoming author Elizabeth Greenwood to Cake! A bit about her: Elizabeth Greenwood grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts. She teaches creative nonfiction at Columbia University. Playing Dead is her first book. Her latest book (available May 7) is BECOMING A YOGA INSTRUCTOR, part of the Masters at Work series: written by acclaimed long-form journalists, these books reveal how experts in their field got to where they are. It’s rarely a straight path.

      Elizabeth, thank you for joining us!

    • I was fortunate enough to be able to interview you on the Paper Donkey Podcast about your previous book, PLAYING DEAD, an absolutely brilliant examination of whether it’s possible to fake your own death in today’s ever more connected world. I absolutely loved the book. With new true-crime podcasts like Pretend: “The One Who Got Away” telling additional stories of those who faked their own death, what were some of the most intriguing reactions you received from readers about the book?

    • Oh man, the stories my inbox could tell! I’ve gotten queries from people seeking my advice on how to fake their deaths. Those get a polite decline and an urge to take a nap, drink some water, and reconsider. Most poignantly, I’ve gotten a handful of people writing about loved ones who died or disappeared under mysterious circumstances. They are curious as to how they should investigate these accidents or try to find their people. I always recommend
      hiring a good licensed private investigator.

    • Focusing on BECOMING A YOGA INSTRUCTOR: I loved this book and the format of the Masters at Work series, being these very 150 page or so manageable books that are perfect companions for a flight or daylong read. How did you get involved in the Masters at Work series?

    • I was very pleased to be asked by my genius editor, Karyn Marcus, to contribute a volume. I’d written about an experience doing yoga in this essay:

      Which was an experiment on becoming a more magnanimous version of my ornery self. I think Karyn liked how I wrote about yoga, which is from the point of view of someone with intentions that don’t necessarily correlate to ability. So, #relatable.

    • I started out talking to yoga instructors I’d practiced with in Brooklyn, and all of them mentioned Abbie and Katonah yoga in reverent tones. So I figured who better to learn from than my teacher’s teacher? After taking a class with Abbie (and “taking” is a bit of a stretch, I spent most of the 90 minutes gazing around the room in awe and confusion, because Katonah is not
      your mama’s yoga!
      ), I was hooked. Abbie has such a natural magnetism, that thing certain people have of just making your blood pressure drop. For Abbie, that thing, is a blend of wisdom gleaned from deep study and inquiry, a disarming sense of humor, and most of all, presence. When she adjusts your form, it is the only adjustment in the world. Shining that light on a student is truly inspirational and rare. I learned so much from Abbie, not only about yoga but also about living a full, rich life. That is her true mission. The yoga part is
      somewhat incidental.

    • In the book, you outline the history of yoga, and how huge it’s become in the United States. “A 2016 study conducted by Yoga Journal and the nonprofit Yoga Alliance found that fifteen percent of Americans practice yoga - a whopping 36.7 million people.” Was there anything that you found out about yoga’s role in today’s popular culture that surprised you?

    • Today, we closely associate yoga with physical fitness and a secular spirituality. But this is quite a recent (within the past century, more or less) and Westernized spin on what was a comprehensive system and philosophy of living. I really enjoyed learning about yoga’s origins and Westernization in The Subtle Body by Stefanie Syman and Yoga Body by Mark Singleton. Both books are exhaustively researched and show how the yoga practiced in gyms and studios came to be, and just how different it is from the way yoga was practiced and thought about in India for centuries.

    • So it turns out I walk by Abbie Galvin’s The Studio on Bowery all the time, and had no idea that this incredible resource was there. How did you start the conversation with Abbie about profiling her and following her for the book?

    • The first class I took with her was made up almost exclusively by yoga teachers. I was squarely in the category of “not yoga teacher.” As a writer, I usually feel a little proud that I have any modest physical capacities whatsoever. But that day I was very much out of my depth. When I introduced myself to Abbie afterward, I think my performance in class made a bit more sense to her.

      Finding the right person to profile depends a great deal on the subject’s willingness to open themselves to you. You’ve got to be ok with a nosy inquisitor asking about nearly every aspect of your life. In a profile, I never want to read just about the person’s career. I want to know how their upbringing and choices and relationships have all contributed to what their life looks like today.  I always preface these conversations saying I will ask you about everything, and you don’t have to tell me anything. Abbie was beyond generous with allowing me to shadow her, speak to her friends, students, and family, and patient in unpacking the intricacies of the theory-heavy yoga she teaches. Several times, I asked her to explain to me as if I were a Golden Retriever. Plus, just about everything she says is hilarious and quotable. She was the ideal profile subject.

    • There are so many different kinds of yoga that are touched on in the book it’s kind of overwhelming. From the Katonah style that Abbie practices, to Vinyasa Yoga, to Ashtanga yoga, to Budokon-style yoga, the field is so diverse and complex. After having done the research for this book, which styles of yoga became a part of your routine if they weren’t part of it already? And which intrigued you into wanting to learn more?

    • It can be somewhat daunting to have such an array of yoga flavors to choose from. I’d always practiced a vigorous vinyasa-style gym yoga. More restorative practices like Yin seemed like a waste of time. But after learning the incredible benefits of restorative yoga from Abbie, holy mackerel! Done right, it’s a game changer. She has actually turned down private sessions with
      students who have sought her out for some forms of chronic pain and illness, telling them that they will get just as much bang for their buck in a restorative class. (This is essentially unheard of in the yoga economy) Katonah yoga in particular sets up restorative postures based on theories of Chinese medicine to target the organs based on what season you’re in. So in winter, for example, you might find yourself in a lot of plow poses to engage the kidneys, which correspond to water and the winter season. Seriously, you have to do it to believe it, but these classes are like healthy, side-effect free drugs. So I now try to work restorative classes into my repertoire.

    • You also touch on accessability quite a bit in the book: whether it’s accessability of classes
      and services for yoga students (financially or otherwise), or a supportive environment for diversity and acceptance of all body types and backgrounds to be nurtured in yoga, you make a conscientious decision to address these issues. How do you think we can further support access for those who want to add yoga to their lives?

    • It's a huge and vital issue. I think having more diverse yoga teachers could be a huge asset. And I mean diverse broadly: in gender, in body type, in socioeconomic status. At its worst, yoga can feel like something only meant for Gwyneth Paltrow types and full of New Age-y jibberish. That vibe can unfortunately turn people off to really pragmatic benefits. Adriana Adelé, mentioned the importance of teaching in spaces that aren’t yoga studios to engage more people. She has taught at libraries, parks, and community centers. These settings can capture people who might not walk into a yoga studio.

    • Becoming a yoga teacher involves 200 hours of training, but it seems like - regardless of the
      yoga form you practice - the greatest yoga teachers embrace being a student for life, going above and beyond, and of giving mindful attention and support to their students. Were there other themes you saw that united great teachers across yoga disciplines?

    • Jason Crandell put it best when he said that loving your yoga practice isn’t actually a great reason to become a yoga teacher. Teaching yoga is really more about teaching than it is about yoga. The best instructors I found were really more teachers at heart. We’ve all been to the class where an out of work actor with his 200-hour certification is relishing in demonstrating his gorgeous handstand for a captive audience. That kind of “teaching” won’t get you far. The best teachers make it about their students, not about them, and find clear, fresh ways to communicate and convey. Maybe because I’m a verbal person, I really connect with teachers who can put gesture and movement into language. That’s a real gift.

    • The book touches on a lot of nuts and bolts business fundamentals for aspiring yoga instructors: how do you sustain yourself as you get started? What are the different ways you can practice and build a client base - it’s a lot more hustle than glamorous photos, for instance. What’s a top piece of advice that you learned?

    • All the most successful and sought-after teachers I spoke with had a real mission behind their yoga instruction. That looked different from person to person, but they all had a deep drive that kept things moving. So, first articulating to yourself why you want to teach yoga and how it will sustain you personally is really crucial, because it will not sustain you financially for some time.

      I think having a humility and being willing and open to any job is a key ingredient. Yoga Dan, as he’s known, has coached the Detroit Pistons in yoga, but he started out taking any and every class he could slot himself into, whether it meant being everyone’s go-to sub or rising before dawn to teach 6 am classes. In a fluke of luck, Holly Ledbetter ended up working with a colleague’s student who has Parkinson’s, which opened up the world of therapeutic yoga to her, which she finds deeply rewarding.

    • I hope that readers take away that teaching yoga can look like you, not just a thin Lululemon-clad lady with enviable forearms, lobbing Sanskrit phrases performatively. I spoke with people who teach one class a week that find it totally fulfilling. Some have channeled their passion for social justice into teaching in prisons and to veterans. Some never stood before a class until they were in their 50s. So, a career in yoga can look many different ways.

    • With pleasure! I’m working on a nonfiction book for Simon & Schuster about people who
      pursue romantic relationships with prisoners. I’m profiling about half a dozen couples who all met their partner while incarcerated. I’ve walked a bride down the aisle of a visiting room wedding chapel in a maximum-security prison; perused love letters Richard Ramirez a young pen pal; and heard about what a conjugal visit is like from a woman convicted for double homicide. But beyond the tabloid-y aspect of prison groupies, I’ve witnessed people creating true intimacy in the harshest of circumstances.