Q & A with Colleen Saidman Yee: Early Yoga Days, Couples Yoga & More

mbg Founder & Co-CEO By Jason Wachob
mbg Founder & Co-CEO
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth.

When Colleen Saidman Yee was a child she wanted to be a basketball coach. Now she's one of the biggest names in yoga. So how did she go from Indiana farmgirl to world-renowned yoga instructor?

Colleen came to yoga after a roommate urged her to attend a class in New York City, and it was not long after that first class that she was hooked. And in 1994, after enduring back surgery, Colleen’s commitment to her yoga practice deepened.

I talked to Colleen about how her Midwest upbringing influenced her practice, men and yoga, and how yoga has strengthened her marriage with husband, Rodney Yee.

MBG: How has your Midwest upbringing influenced your practice?

CSY: Being from the Midwest and from a large family (5 brothers and a sister) makes one keep it real. You have to learn to laugh at yourself, or die. Ha Ha. When students give a teacher attention, it can lead to a false power. I think that our roots keep us humble and grounded. We were always taught that growing and moving forward is done by shear hard work and a sense of humor. In Indiana, we were born with a basketball in our hands. This has given me a background of athletic exploration. There is not much else to do in Bluffton, Indiana so I turned to sports. We were brought up strict Catholics, and I got a lot of my sense of devotion early on. I bring a combination of all of that into the classroom.

How did you come to yoga?

Yoga was a combination of everything that I was interested in. I wanted to be a basketball coach and a nun. Hmmm... I guess a yoga teacher is a combination of that...I am making light. I realize that it is so much more than that. I was an athlete, and was asked by a girlfriend to attend a yoga class with her -- and I thought they were wimps.... but then grudgingly went along with her, and realized the beauty and grace of opening the body and finding space and clarity. In some ways that first class was the most profound because I had no expectation. I was hooked.

How has yoga influenced your eating habits and becoming vegetarian?

I have been a vegetarian for over 30 years. It started because my dad used to bring deer home and hang them on our back porch. I am constantly re-confirming my commitment. Sharon Gannon and David Life are both so passionate about it, that when I took their training, I knew I was in it for life.

Couples yoga... How has yoga bonded you with your husband, Rodney Yee?

Yoga is our language. We practice together. Sometimes silently doing our own thing, and sometimes one person taking the lead. But our practice, joy, and frustrations are all shared as a result of the fact that we are using the same tool box. Our priorities and love of the classroom are similar. We have a deep understanding of each other. We hold up mirrors for each other every day, which is a huge spiritual lesson. Maybe not always a fun one. But if we are going to grow on this path, it is important to keep reflective.

What does yoga mean to you?

Yoga is coming to mean clarity, simplicity, and truth... letting go of all of the fluff and drama... that could also be an aging thing...and the loss that comes with that.

Do you have any advice for someone just beginning yoga?

The road is not always easy, but so worthwhile. Don't set your goals too high. A little bit consistently is a lot better that a lot once a week. You owe it to yourself and everyone that you communicate with to explore the love and kindness that is uncovered as you dig deeper and deeper.

Men and yoga -- are you seeing more men in class? Any tips for men who want to get started?

Absolutely. At Yoga Shanti we have over 30% men. There are two classes a week that I teach that have 50% men. I think that it is happening on its own. Men are making their way to the door, and feeling so good, that they keep coming. My experience is that it takes men longer to come through the door, but once they take the step, they are lifers. I know that the stereotype for men is that if they aren't good at it, they don't want to do it. A little plug here, you can start with our online club (Gaiam yoga club). That way, you will have familiarity.

What are you currently working on?

We are deeply involved in the Urban Zen program. We, along with other experts in their fields, are training allied health care professionals and yoga teachers to go into the hospitals and care for patients using yoga, aromatherapy, nutrition, reiki, and zen end of life practices to reduce symptoms of pain, anxiety, nausea, insomnia, constipation, and exhaustion. It is a 500 hour program that Rodney and I have developed. The foundation was created by Donna Karan.

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