Workplace Yoga With Laura | New Jersey Theatre Alliance

Workplace Yoga With Laura

1 of 4: Workplace Yoga with Laura - Neck and Back

Artistic Director Laura Ekstrand of Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre recently stopped by our offices to share another passion of hers -- yoga! We asked Laura to provide some office-appropriate yoga sequences to help energize us and help us focus throughout the workday! Above is a video from our series of "Workplace Yoga with Laura" and below she shares more on her background including where she currently practices and teaches yoga.

Laura in a three-legged dog pose

When did you decide you wanted to become an instructor?
I always had in the back of my mind that I would like to become an instructor. I’d been teaching fitness for over 25 years, and felt getting my yoga certification would be a natural progression. Finally, the moment arose when my studio was offering a 200-hour training program that I actually could fit into my schedule, so I did it a little over two years ago.

What kind of training did you have to do to become certified?
The training is a combination of your own yoga and meditation practice, class instruction, reading and writing, and finally, observing and assisting classes. The whole thing took about 8 months, but you can also do it more quickly if you have more time to give it.

How do you think yoga can transform someone -- physically and mentally?
Speaking mainly of Vinyasa practice, which is fairly athletic, I believe yoga touches on all the tenets of long-term health and wellness: strength, flexibility and balance. If you’re in a fast-paced class, there’s even a cardiovascular benefit, although I supplement yoga with walking, hiking and biking. It definitely makes the body feel better from head to toe – lengthening muscles, releasing tension, and building the strength you need to function throughout your day. As we get older, balance becomes even more important, and very few exercise modalities focus on it like yoga does.

Without getting too poetic, I can tell you that the principles of yoga have really shaped the way I interact in the world. Not only does it focus on the equanimity of your own mind, learning about your habits and finding a way to a more joyful and balanced way to navigate your own thoughts, but it also deals with how we have relationships with others. From the personal to the global, yoga’s philosophy is about generosity, acceptance and love. Yoga means “union,” and it’s about the interconnectedness of all things. Through practicing these principles on the mat, you learn how to apply them throughout your life.

What is your favorite part of class as a student and/or an instructor?

The beginning and end of class are particularly lovely. The instructor usually opens with a “dharma talk,” which offers some observation, quote, experience or bit of philosophy to contemplate in your practice. I’ve often found that these tiny bits of wisdom relate directly to something I’m going through in my life at that moment, and they offer a fresh way of thinking about it. Often solutions or simple answers pop into my head during practice as a result.

At the end of class, students go into “savasana,” or corpse pose. It’s a total release of all effort, and a way to transition from the practice back into your day. Often the instructor will come around with lavender oil and do a mini-massage, or assist, as you relax. It’s one of the highlights as both a student and an instructor for me.

Offer some advice to someone who always wanted to try yoga, but is apprehensive because they don't feel "in shape" and/or flexible enough.
I always say that not going to yoga because you’re not flexible is like not taking French because you can’t speak French. It’s those who feel stiff and sore and maybe not as in shape as they’d like that will benefit the most from yoga. The key is being patient with yourself, and realizing that it’s a journey, not a destination. Even the most experienced yogis are striving and learning – there’s no competition in yoga except the one we construct with ourselves, and that’s what you learn to put aside.

I’d also say that if you take a yoga class you don’t like, try another one! There are so many styles out there that you’re bound to find one that suits you. And shop around for teachers you love.

Have you ever attended a yoga retreat? If so, where? If you've been to multiple, which was one of your favorite and why?
I was lucky enough to go to Kripalu in Lenox, Massachusetts last year for a weekend retreat with Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman. Anyone who’s ever watched a Gaiam DVD knows Rodney Yee, and consequently it was packed! But I made sure I was up in front so that I could see and absorb as much information as possible, and I took several nuggets away with me that I use in my classes and in my own practice. Kripalu is a beautiful place that anyone can go at any level to relax, learn and replenish. 

How does yoga help feed your work as an artistic director and vice versa?
Yoga has been a tool to help me when challenges arise. It’s not magic; it doesn’t make hard things go away, and it doesn’t protect you from finding them difficult. But it does give you an approach for dealing with challenges in a healthier and more productive way.

For example, last fall I found myself struggling with the same old things: limited resources, small staff, my own frustration that we weren’t advancing the way I would like. I took a step back and realized that these struggles have been a constant since the beginning of the company over 20 years ago. If I couldn’t “fix” them (and if I could, I would have done it by now) I could at least change my perspective on them so that I could continue to find joy in the work and in the truly incredible people and projects I have the privilege to encounter.

I took some mental time to make this shift in attitude, to be grateful for what we have been able to accomplish and to let go of expectations about what it “ought” to be.  It really helped to bring back some energy and pleasure to the work and allow me to stop banging my head against a wall about the rest of it.

You mentioned the similarities of theatre and yoga yesterday during your lesson. Did you want to expand or add anything on this?
We’re lucky in theatre to be in the business of telling the human story, of taking a deep look at what makes us essentially connected. That’s at the heart of what I love about yoga, and why I feel yoga and theatre are extremely close.

In another way, as actors we’re always finding the connections between our minds, our hearts and our bodies so that we can bring characters to life. It seems any way to open up those pathways has to be beneficial in both areas.

We understand you teach at a yoga studio. Where and when can we catch you if you wanted to take a class?
One of the classes I teach, and where I received my training, is at Ignite Yoga in Livingston. Right now I’m teaching a 10:30 class on Sundays for Beginner and Intermediate students – and you still have time to get to your matinee!