If people don’t know Rodney Yee’s name, they certainly recognize his face from highly acclaimed Gaiam/Living Arts yoga videos beginning in the 1990s. Yoga editor Ella Isakov speaks to Rodney about his vision for the future of yoga and its impact on people and the world.
Parvati Magazine: What has kept you inspired over a 35-year teaching career?
Rodney Yee: Any subject, but especially yoga, as you get deeper into it, becomes more interesting. It becomes more a part of your everyday life. The main thing is that I love to teach. Communication is such a beautiful aspect of being human, and when we learn how to communicate more deeply, that also connects the feeling of being together. These are the motivation factors for me, of not feeling alone in this world and also studying a subject that I feel bridges every aspect of who I am. I get to delve into every aspect of who I am. Like any art form, as you go deeper you feel more and more like a beginner. You realize the subject is vast and infinitely interesting.
PMAG: How has the practice of yoga changed the way you see yourself, others and the world?
RY: My view of yoga has changed over the years. I realized long ago that it’s not a new age feel-good type of practice. In some ways it is supposed to go deeply into the illusion of what you think the world is and the illusion of what you think yourself to be. It is breaking down all these barriers that at first act as some type of survival technique. It feels like you need to survive, so you put up protection, feeling you are separate from others. A lot of times we realize we are putting up barriers that do not serve us at all. Yoga can be very painful psychologically, physically and mentally, if you do it well and if you find the right teachers. Teachers that continue to knock you off your perceived center so maybe you will be able to find some center of yourself that is actually more rock solid. More empty of your habits and your ideas.
PMAG: You are known to be a strict teacher. What vision do you want to pass on to other students and yoga teachers to maintain the integrity of this profession, of the yoga practice?
RY: If you really care you get to the heart and the root of someone’s suffering. You realize that most people hold on to the stories that create suffering, and you can be a key factor to lead them to a path of letting go. I am definitely not a guru. The idea of the word guru means “immovable”, which means to be a true reflection of your students. You are not serving someone by constantly getting them to feel good. It is important to feel good in this world, but it is also important to face yourself, and face some of the things that are actually the root of your own suffering. As a teacher reflecting that and being willing to stand as best you can with the student, shaking up their world so they can see their own difficulty and move through it.
PMAG: What is your yogic vision of the world? How do you wish yoga to influence the world?
RY: Yoga betters the world because it breaks down barriers. Yoga is a tool, and like any tool, it matters how you use it. One has to be very careful, especially with a tool as sharp as yoga. You have to be conscious of how you are using the tool of yoga. The great Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist priest, said, “Make sure you are stepping into the world in a way that is moving towards peace.” You have to be brave and courageous to stand for what you believe, and use yoga for that, and at the same time continue to listen deeply.
Rodney Yee began his Yoga inquiry in 1980. In the same period he was a ballet dancer and a physical therapy and philosophy major at UC Berkeley. His yearning for a life that would utilize mind, body and spirit was satiated by the practicing and teaching of Yoga, which over the years Rodney has been instrumental in introducing yoga to the United States. Rodney’s illustrious teaching career has flourished worldwide, but has been centered at Yoga Shanti in Sag Harbor, and at Yoga Shanti New York City, where he is a founding partner. For more information on Rodney go to yeeyoga.com