Melissa’s Thoughts on Bird of Paradise: “In Sanskrit, the pose is called Svarga Dvijasana. Dvija means ‘twice born’ and Svarga means ‘paradise.’ The pose is designed to emulate the shape of the tropical flower Bird of Paradise, fostering a sense of renewal within the body. It’s beautiful to watch a student come into the full expression of this pose. So much is required: stability, focus, balance, flexibility, and strength. Personally, I have to modify as tight shoulders and hips prevent me from binding. This has also changed my approach to teaching the pose. Instead of focusing on the bind, I design my sequences to prepare for the various elements the pose requires. So while my classes honor the Bird of Paradise theme, they do not always include the pose’s full expression. The preparatory work usually involves hip opening, shoulder rotation, lateral stretches, twists, and complimentary asanas like koundinyasana and marichyasana.”
We’ve been hearing this often lately at the studio: “I’ve never done yoga — will I be able to do it?” All of us had that thought at the start of our journeys here at O2, including Melissa who recalled a friend mocking her desire to give yoga a shot back in 2010. “She laughed, claiming I wouldn’t be able to do it and rattled off a long list of reasons why,” Melissa said. Well, that didn’t stop her from showing up at O2’s former South End studio location for her very first class ever, which happened to be taught by our fearless leader Mimi. “Now I can look back and laugh, but at the time I wasn’t sure I’d make it. Yoga was hard! I’d never done a vinyasa before, and what was this Ujjayi she kept talking about?” Melissa said, adding, “After months and months (and months!) of practice, it all started to come together. I fell in love with the feeling I had after a class, the calm that I could channel during stressful moments. I savored how I was learning to move with the breath. I enjoyed the O2 community and the sense of camaraderie among the students and teachers. And then there was the yoga itself: an ideal blend of vinyasa and astanga, playful yet challenging! I’ve practiced at a few other studios, but have yet to find one that connects alignment, movement, and breath as well as O2 does.” Melissa’s right — yoga is hard! But O2’s approach to the practice makes those who invest their time here come away with a great reward. It takes work and dedication to build strength and flexibility ro develop into a solid yogi. But Melissa didn’t let the difficulty of the practice or her friend’s declaration that she’d never be able to do stop her from working hard and that hard work has paid off — and lead to a yoga-immersed existence.
That yoga-immersion lead to Melissa deciding to take the big leap to do Mimi’s 200-Hour Teacher Trainingin the fall of 2014. While it wasn’t something she ever dreamed she’d be able to do at the start of her yoga practice, the more time she spent on her mat at O2, the more she wanted to kick it up a notch. And while it was an idea she toyed with for a few years before officially signing up for the training, it was a friend reminding her that there’s no time like the present to take this sort of plunge. “It was one of the best decisions I ever made,” Melissa said. Being able to share this practice — and this studio where it all happens — with others is one of the most special parts about our Teacher Training program. And now teaching yoga is what Melissa does for a living!
She is also a regular at our annual retreat to Maya Tulum in Tulum, Mexico, thus combining two of her biggest passions: yoga and travel. “Tulum feels like coming home, in a way! There is a familiarity to the beautiful grounds, knowing which sandy path leads down to the beach or the yoga hall or my friends’ villas. Days are filled with yoga, sunshine, debates between hammocks versus beach chairs, and wondering if there will be guacamole for lunch. I can stroll into Little Tulum to shop, plan an excursion to see the ruins and a cenote, or just book a second massage and relax. It is one of the most wonderful trips I’ve ever taken and always look forward to going back,” she said.
Melissa’s classes are playful and creative and chock full of a reminder that it’s just practice — no pressure to be perfect at it or take it too seriously. No matter if you’re in Power, Intermediate, or Basics, Melissa will make sure you have a great time on your mat, reinforcing that anyone who wants to learn how to do yoga will have that chance in her class. And while this is true of all of our excellent teachers, there’s something extra special about a teacher who was once laughed at for merely wanting to try this yoga-thing out. Just goes to show — the sky’s the limit when you put your mind to anything.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from Mimi?
“To let go of attachments. In yoga, the effort to achieve certain poses or binds can lead to injuries as well as frustration. Mimi always reminds us that the bind won’t help us attain enlightenment, and to instead focus on breath and other elements of the pose. It may take a lifetime of practice to find the full expression of a posture, so work towards it with clarity and patience rather than obsessing over it. Outside of yoga, we attach ourselves to so much: material things, expectations, judgments, habits. So, the same lesson from Mimi applies. I’m slowly learning that life is much more enjoyable when you let go. It’s a challenge and something to work on everyday—but it can happen.”
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from teaching?
“To find symmetry and balance within my sequences, so students can recognize how the asanas complement one another and build toward a theme or specific pose.”
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from one of our other teachers?
“Be confident and teach what you know.”
What’s your favorite pose to teach?
“Lately I have enjoyed adding Marichyasana E to my sequences. There are several variations (sitting either in half hero, on the heel itself, or on a block) and endless transitions that can follow: hip flexor stretches like reclined half hero, coming forward into horse or half crane, or stepping the back leg into a lunge/warrior alignment to work toward extended side angle pose or Bird of Paradise (hint hint).”
What’s your favorite pose to do?
“Supported fish, with blocks and a strap. I love the duality of the pose -grounding the crown of the head, while also opening the throat, heart, and hips. It’s one of my favorite ways to end practice, sometimes resting like that in place of Savasana.”
What’s your “dream pose”?
“Sirsana (headstand) and it’s many variations. Being upside down creates a euphoric feeling, while there is still a keen awareness of how the body is working to stay balanced. I am “thisclose” to being able to lift up into Baddha (bound) Sirsasana without an assist.”
Do you have a mantra?
“Hamsa, meaning ‘I am/That’ in Sanskrit. I translate it as ‘I am that consciousness’ or ‘I am that light.’ It reminds me to refocus and slow down my breath, especially in Savasana where my mind tends to wander. The mantra even sounds like the breath: inhale ‘ham,’ exhale ‘sa.'”
Do you play music in class? Why or why not?
“I often play music in the background, letting street noise and outside distractions blend together with the song. If the class is crowded, it’s really lovely to instead listen to the breath.”
Any “Fun Facts” you’d care to share?
“I love live music and see several shows each month. Bands sound much better in person, and I truly enjoy the experience of singing along and dancing with the crowd. Ideally, traveling to a new city for a show is also involved. I’ve seen my favorite band more than 70 times in at least 8 different states, and am looking forward to their next tour.”
Originally posted on O2 Yoga's website on October 15, 2017. View it here.