Elena Brower: The Alignment of Yoga, Service, and Inspiration
by Jessica L. Atcheson
Two floors up from a crowded Soho street, Elena Brower teaches several classes a week at Virayoga, the Manhattan yoga studio where she is also founder and co-owner. A teacher with more than 12 years of experience, she creates classes that are a mix of Anusara and Rajanaka Yoga, influenced by Hugo Cory’s Self-Mastery practice—all for a deep experience of what she describes as “the art of attention.” “Every time we practice,” she writes, “we are learning how to make art with our attention—with attention on our bodies, our breathing, our ways of seeing, our hearts.”
Today, a Tuesday, there are more than 40 people in the room looking to cultivate that kind of attention for the next hour and a half. The buzz of students—arriving, setting up mats, making room for everyone, grabbing blocks and blankets—quiets to a hush often elusive in the world beyond the studio walls, and Elena leads the class in a centering.
Elena believes that the key ingredients of a good yoga class are “authenticity, the teacher’s real conversational voice and experiential understanding; accuracy, via alignment precision; and attention—active, breathing attentiveness. In Anusara terms: attitude, alignment, and action, each in appropriate doses.”
Over the course of this Tuesday class, she strikes a balance that’s just right. Throughout the class, she illuminates alignment and offers a number of assists, allowing for a surprising degree of personal attention in the large group. She welcomes questions from students and takes time to answer them thoughtfully in a way that doesn’t disrupt the practice. She offers demonstrations for the more difficult poses (today, it’s Crow). She talks about the kidneys, which the class has been focusing on for the past several sessions, and about service, in a practical, concrete way. She emanates a down-to-earth, grounded energy as she speaks about serving yourself, serving your loved ones, serving the world at large.
Service is an inquiry that she’s been deeply exploring. “To learn—through the practice of breathing and healing our misconceptions about ourselves—that we can and should serve wherever possible, is paramount to me right now,” she writes. “Learning how to serve my family with no expectations, my students, my employees; this has been challenging and ultimately the highest experience I’ve ever had. When I expect nothing and serve anyway, in the smallest ways, I am consistently treated to more abundance and understanding.”
As she serves others through the teaching she does every day, she consistently expresses gratitude to her many teachers—John Friend, Douglas Brooks, Hugo Cory, and her dedicated students—for the inspiration they provide her. Her own personal practice has lately been incorporating her youngest teacher—her three-year-old son, who is learning to call out instructions during her morning practice. In the evenings, by herself, she focuses on one thought, idea, or way of directing her attention. Her personal practice serves as a touchstone as she makes her way through the busyness of life—from teaching to writing to supporting the Yoga Gives Back micro-credit program.
What she hopes that her students take away from her classes is the cultivation of an inner strength that will help them through the ups and downs and busyness of their own lives. “Each student will hopefully learn what it feels like to be supportive of themselves, no matter what the circumstance, through their practice. The practice can factually, concretely grant each student access to their own trust, confidence, and inner quietude.”
As class ends, the roomful of students at Virayoga savors the final peace of Savanasa. Students begin to pack up their mats, stack their blocks, and chat with one another, each heading out into the afternoon. As they step back into the crowd on Broadway, it seems likely that Elena’s teachings—and the strength and compassion that her classes instill—will remain with them.
Read more about Elena Brower and her upcoming programs at Kripalu here.
Jessica L. Atcheson is an editor and writer whose work has been published in regional newspapers and online.
© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. Originally published in Spring 2010 issue of the Kripalu catalog. To request permission to reprint, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.