Parvati Magazine’s Yoga Editor, Ella Isakov, interviewed Colleen Saidman Yee about her approach to yoga, service and life.
Parvati Magazine: You have been practicing yoga for almost three decades. How has it shifted how you are with yourself? How does getting on the mat daily help you live more authentically off the mat?
Colleen Saidman Yee: When you spend time with anything, you get to know it. I had been running from myself rather than turning inwards to discover who was living there. When you get to know yourself, who you are to yourself and others shifts. When you tune into how your actions, words and thoughts affect yourself and others, you change your actions, thoughts, and words. You notice cause and effect and realize that you are the cause of a lot of your own suffering. You begin to realize that what makes you truly happy is service. But, to serve, you have to have something to serve with.
PMAG: You worked with Mother Teresa in India. What is the biggest lesson you learned from her about strength to show unwavering kindness and compassion to everyone, and how that inspired you to make future decisions in your life?
CSY: The nuns at the missionaries of Charity had no material possessions and gave of themselves completely. They taught me that the way to happiness and freedom is through service.
PMAG: You boldly stepped into vulnerability by writing your book “Yoga for Life” where you shared your life story and struggles you have overcome. You share wisdom and practical yoga practices to help people find inner freedom, peace and healing. If you could sum up your deep intention for this book in one sentence, what would it be?
CSY: My intention is for the readers to see themselves in the chapters and to feel less alone and less shameful and to realize that they are enough.
PMAG: You live your life by example. How does your regular yoga and meditation practice give you the courage to step out of your comfort zone into vulnerability and being seen, while still nurturing your spirit?
CSY: Practice, Practice, Practice. This is the way to nurture yourself and to gain clarity needed to make choices that lean towards kindness. When you become intimate with the body, you can hear its messages which sometimes have more wisdom than the brain.
PMAG: You speak a lot about finding inner freedom by facing and healing old wounds that keep us in our own suffering. It is scary for people to move through and face their pain and fears, how would you encourage one to move towards inner peace while still maintaining a feeling of safety, love and nurturing?
CSY: Sit with fear, sadness, grief, and pain. Stop running away. Cradle them as if they were children that you love. We are human beings. We feel deeply. The key could be to fall in love with the whole package and know that peace and love are sitting there behind the suffering. Stay present in this moment, and realize that most of the things that we are bound up about are not happening right now.
PMAG: You grew up with the mantra “This too shall pass” which is one that I also live by today. How does this mantra relate to yoga and meditation, and cultivating inner well-being?
CSY: Relax. Be here now. Enjoy the roar and the quiet. Know that this wave will cease and another one is right behind it. As the old saying goes: “you can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” Death of a loved one is a huge wake-up call to the nature of impermanence. Realizing the transitory nature of all that we cling to, or all that we push away is a step closer to appreciating the miraculous life that we have been given. So, no matter what drama or difficulty you find yourself in, remember, this too shall pass.
The New York Times christened Colleen Saidman Yee “The First Lady of Yoga.” She has also been featured in Vanity Fair, New York magazine, Oprah, Marie-Claire, Allure, and Yoga Journal. Before that she had a varied career: cover girl, student of shiatsu, and living in Calcutta, working with Mother Teresa at the Home for the Dying and Destitute. A graduate of Jivamukti’s 1998 teacher-training program, Colleen opened her own studio, Yoga Shanti. She has taught several yoga teacher trainings at Yoga Shanti, some with her husband, Rodney Yee.
To read more about Colleen, please visit colleensaidmanyee.com.