Mandy Ingber, an L.A.-based yoga and fitness instructor, developed Yogalosophy, a unique program that brings fitness and mental clarity together in powerful workouts that reshape the body. Yogalosophy’s blend of traditional yoga poses and toning exercises drew Jennifer Aniston to Mandy nearly 20 years ago. In this exclusive Gaiam Life interview, Mandy shares her unconventional perspective, exercise-induced emotional breakthroughs and the whole point of yoga.
Q. Where do your sentiments lie on the “yoga as spiritual practice” versus “yoga as body shaper” spectrum?
A. I really think that when we use the word “versus,” we are missing the whole point of a yogic practice — to bring together. Striving for the “result” of being spiritual or having a perfect physical shape is a destination, and yoga is what happens along that path.
Aside from that, I believe it is time to say that the mind/body/spirit connection is not exclusive to asana or the yoga community. Maybe your yoga is parenthood
, or running
, or preparing a cup of tea
. It is available when we access it through our most spiritual grounding tool, the physical body. And, as a result, you may get into great shape, and you may feel more spiritual, and that spirituality
can come in a sunset, or a moment with your child.
Q. What tools do you think are essential for starting a yoga practice?
A. Willingness. To be imperfect, to be in process, to accept where we are. Yoga can be tough, because staying in the moment when we are not excelling is not what we are trained to do. However, we are finding that it is okay to be fallible, and that takes a lot of pressure off. In order to really explore ourselves, we can use yoga as a model. It’s a place where we can face the process — the feeling of wanting to give up and then finding that warrior and that victory of moving through anyway. It’s all of the aspects of ourselves coming together, and we slow down enough to witness them.
Q. Is there an essential yoga mindset?
A. Acceptance is the key. Of all the parts of ourselves. Light and shadow.
Q. Are there a few key words or touchstones that make yoga relevant to the many?
A. Awareness. Presence. Enjoyment. Emotion. Transformation. Power. Release. Focus. Who doesn’t connect with these words? Yoga brings you to the edge and allows you to experience these places within ourselves.
Q. On your Yogalosophy DVD, you mention three things to observe in yoga: breath, proper form and gazing point. Can you talk more about what gazing point means?
A. The gazing point is the place where you fix your gaze as you practice. When we are looking all around, we can be distracted from where we are internally. Allowing your attention to turn inward helps calm the mind. The eyes are open and the head and the eyes face the same direction, which brings one-pointed focus, as does the breath. If you keep your gaze still, the mind will still, you will connect with your breath, and those to-do lists running through your head will drift to the background.
That said, when we practice with a DVD as a guide
, it changes the practice a little. When I was a child, my father would sometimes practice yoga several times a day, and we kids would be in the living room watching Happy Days
! So I don’t think we have to be so rigid.
Q. In a class full of people with wildly different aims, how do you strive to keep everyone engaged and motivated?
A. In general, we are all the same. So I share presence. Coming back to the moment. Gratitude for what we have, and the fact that we can move. Intention, which is personal. Sometimes I share my own experiences, being truthful about myself, so that others can see that I still show up on a daily basis, even in the middle of all that may be presenting itself. As a teacher, I find that it is very important to be myself, and then the students who resonate with that gravitate towards the class. The beauty is that there are many, many teachers out there, and so the students will gravitate to the correct teacher.
Q. As a teacher, do you find that most people’s intentions metamorphose as they practice yoga? Meaning, do clients come to you to get arms like Jennifer Aniston’s but end up finding self-acceptance (or gratitude or openness) instead?
A. Some people want to stay where they are, and that has to be okay, too. But, yes, I find that almost everyone wants to feel more self-love. When they begin practicing yoga, or any other form of physical activity, they may think they are going to look a certain way or be able to contort their bodies, but what begins to happen instead is a change in how they feel, and how they feel about themselves. It begins to translate to their work and relationships, and it’s truly awesome to witness. I feel blessed to get to see it.
Q. Let’s talk about the Zen aspect of hard physical work. I appreciated it during the Yogalosophy DVD workout when you said, “Even as you’re feeling that burn, just let it be there. In fact, enjoy it.” What does enjoying the tough parts of a workout do for a yogi spiritually or emotionally?
A. We may think it hurts, but the truth is that “burn” is just a feeling, an indicator that something is changing. I get excited when I feel that physically. I have learned that the very things that seem the most painful are simply reshaping me. So there is a sweetness in this, a bliss in hanging in with it. Exercise is as challenging for me as ever, but I learn to love the feeling.
Q. Can you tell me about a time you experienced a breakthrough from pushing yourself past the point where you wanted to give up?
A. You know, I have to be honest. When I was younger, I liked to push my body past its limitations, but now I am far more interested in respecting my body’s limitations and allowing my ego to feel the burn. I think that life is difficult enough, so I don’t need to force it, but at the same time, I don’t want to give up.
Q. If you could do only one pose from now on, what would it be?
A. Um ... Would it be bad to say Savasana?