Get to Know your Teachers: Emily O'Brien

1. What or who inspires you to get up every morning?

Mornings are my favorite. I love the quiet, fresh stillness. I generally wake up before the sun, have some coffee, do a seated meditation, practice yoga, and center myself before my toddler wakes up. Lately it's been my time to get some writing in as well. My mornings are sacred and I'm just inspired to wake up and experience a new day.

2. What brought you to the practice of yoga? Can you describe your first experience with yoga?

I came to yoga in pursuit of finding peace with myself during a chaotic time in my life. I remember reading a book where the main character was a buddhist yoga practitioner and I thought to myself, "I want to live like that." I've always been drawn to physical movement and spirituality so when a friend of mine randomly invited me to go to yoga one day, I had to say yes. It was just a random flow class at a studio in downtown Tempe. And I loved it.

3. What does yoga mean to you?

Yoga in it's most primitive form means quieting the distractions of the mind so that you can live in the peace of the moment. Yoga is the development of one-pointed mental focus that allows the mind to overcome disturbing thoughts, fears, anxieties, and the like. Yoga gives you the tools to strip away the false parts and societal layers you've come to identify with and creates the space for you to be present and embodied in the truth of who you are. Then you're able to see the reality of the world and live your life fearlessly, authentically, and with your whole heart.

4. Has the essence of your yoga practice changed throughout the seasons of your life? If so, how?

Yes, as I've grown as a person my yoga practice has grown as well. Depending on where I'm at in my life, my yoga practice mirrors that. Or aids in it, maybe. For example, before I was pregnant, I practiced about two hours of Ashtanga yoga every morning. I did first and second series, and then in the afternoon I practiced yin yoga and trained my backbends and deep hip openers. It was my full focus and I was pretty intense about it. Then I became pregnant and for the first trimester, all I did was take long walks and nap on the couch. That was my yoga. Second and third trimester, I did a very modified version of the Ashtanga Primary Series. I did no backbends and very soft hip openers. I spent more time breathing and feeling and connecting more deeply with what was happening in my body. My practice has morphed a lot over the last two years of motherhood. I used to be very stern about my practice - all or nothing mentality, always pushing myself. Now, some days I only have time for some sun salutations or a 30 minute standing practice since I have a baby who needs me, and I've had to adjust and accept that. My yoga practice doesn't define me. It doesn't make me a better person just because I can do advanced asana. It's not so much about the poses for me anymore, but the real, deep benefits of yoga. It's about the quality of my breath and presence rather than how deep my backbend is today or how many jump-backs I do successfully. It's about showing up as the best person I can be for my son. That's taught me a lot.

5. How do you hope your yoga students are impacted by your class?

I hope they can let go and get deep into their truest essence. I hope they know they're in a safe space to explore the deepest parts of themselves, let down their walls, and witness their own divinity. I hope they feel peace in class, carry that peace out of class, and bring peace to others because of class.

6. What style of yoga do you teach/practice/resonate with the most? Why?

Right now I teach only Restorative Yoga. I love guiding my students through this class. That slow, quiet stillness is my sweet spot for teaching. As a student, though, my own yoga practice is traditional Ashtanga Yoga. I love how dynamic and challenging it is. And it's straight up therapy for the mind-mind-spirit. There is no other yoga I've found that gets as deep physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as Ashtanga. It's an incredibly intelligent, well rounded, holistic yoga practice. I love the individuality of Mysore style, and it's not a popular opinion but I love that there's no music. Just real, raw, deep release.

7. What made you decide to become a yoga teacher?

When my love and gratitude for yoga became so strong, I simply knew in my heart that I needed to share it's gifts with the world. I want the world to feel peace.

8. Your favorite yoga pose? Least favorite? Why?

My favorite poses are backbends and hip openers. Splits, pigeon, leg behind head, camel pose, kapotasana, urdvha dhanurasana. They just feel amazing. My least favorite... I don't know. I'll say this, never once have I been excited to do setu bandhasana.

9. What is the hardest thing you have had to overcome in your yoga practice?

Just myself. My resistance, my weaknesses, my shadow, my fears, my sadness, my anger, my discomfort. Yoga brings to the surface the parts of ourselves we've buried. I'm still working through past traumas and old mental structures on my mat.

10. What is something you're currently working on in your yoga practice on and off the mat?

Judgement and discontent. They've really been showing up a lot in my life recently. Not so much on my mat, but in my day-to-day life. I can be very hard on myself and others. I have a tendency to get heavy and dark in my head. I'm trying to lift my mindset and pull out the root of it all.

11. What is the biggest lesson you've learned in life?

I am worthy and deserving. This is something I'm still in the middle of learning. But I've come a long way already. Also... when I get out of my own way, I know the answers.

12. Do you have any advice for someone just beginning their yoga practice?

Commit yourself. Yoga will change your life, but only if you really give yourself to it. Put your faith in your practice and make it a priority. Stay consistent. You will thank yourself.

13. What is one book all aspiring yogis should read?

The Yoga Sutra. Read it again and again and again and again and contemplate it's teachings each time.

14. How has practicing yoga changed who you are? Do you see transformation from the person you were before yoga and who you are now?

I'm more present to my own existence. I'm more conscious of my environmental footprint, my effect on other people's lives, and how my own thoughts effect my daily functioning. I'm more confident in who I am. I'm happier. I'm healthier. I'm more peaceful. I'm more grateful for my body and my life. I mean the list goes on and on. Yoga just makes us all better people in every way.

15. If you could tell your students just one last thing, what would it be?

I love you.

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