Yoga as Therapy
A local ashtanga yoga teacher believes deeply in the practice for overall health and wellbeing.
Melanie Fawer, director of Ashtanga Yoga Room, is the only Ashtanga yoga teacher in New Orleans — and one of only a few women in the world — to be certified by Pattabhi Jois in India. And even though she was born in New York, she moved to New Orleans when she was 3 years old. In high school, she developed an interest in Eastern philosophy and spirituality, which led to a dream of visiting India. She did so at 25 year’s old — when traveling to India was not commonly done and yoga was not in the mainstream. At that time, Fawer was suffering from clinical depression. She realized that yoga helped to abate her symptoms, while also giving her a greater sense of meaning.
“I wanted to tell my story to help others and de-stigmatize depression,” she says. “Ashtanga yoga became my raison d’etre, so it was only natural to want to share it with others. Friends and acquaintances were curious, and I believed deeply in the Mysore method. I have dedicated my career to it. It turned into my career as a matter of course, choosing me more than me choosing it.”
In India, yoga is handed down from a teacher to an apprentice over the course of many years. Fawer’s training in Ashtanga is from that heritage. “There is no equivalent in the West to my certification from the East,” she says. “In Indian terms, it is the highest honor possible. Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888-1989), was known as the Father of Modern Yoga. Three of his students became world renowned, [including] Sri K. Pattabhi Jois … [who] spent over two decades as Krishnamacharya’s student. My time with Jois spanned 15 years. This kind of direct line is rare and getting rarer still.”
Fawer opened Ashtanga Yoga Room, located on Jena Street in the Freret Street corridor, in April 2002. She says she always wanted her own building to create a special and unique space. Located on the second floor of the building, the nearly 1,000-square-foot yoga studio is bathed in natural light. “I want students to feel this is their refuge, their yoga home away from home,” Fawer says.
“They can relax, visit, read a book, even plug in their computer and work. We have a separate meditation room, two full bathrooms, a massage therapist on site, a Schema therapist on site and I have my very own real office for the first time. Ultimately, yoga leads to meditation and transformation. In this regard, the space is evolving into an educational platform hosting an array of speakers.”
This month, AYR is hosting a fundraiser for Lyrica Baroque, a new chamber-music nonprofit that brings classical music to inner city schools. Fawer’s next 200-hour Teacher Training course begins in October and runs through May 2018. “After taking a few years off to refine the program and replenish, I am excited to start again,” she says. “I love being able to help people to feel better and to fully live. Ashtanga is process and when you witness someone on this journey there is no greater reward.”
ON STAYING MOTIVATED
“Yoga helped me greatly to manage the symptoms of depression I struggled with for many years of my life,” Fawer says. “A daily practice became my container and we all need a container or we cannot thrive. While I began yoga for spiritual and philosophical reasons, Ashtanga turned out to have a fabulous bonus — it put me in the best physical shape of my life. So I didn’t need to make extra time for that and gradually stopped all the exercise things I did to keep in shape but found laborious. Ashtanga feeds on itself. Meet the mat without expectations one day at a time, and see what comes. In Ashtanga, when your mind is extra busy or your life is full of turmoil, there are guideposts to help you along — the eye gaze, the breath and the vinyasa. Hone your gaze more strictly, breathe and move more quickly, and it will help you to stay present where clarity resides.”
“I am a vegan, so I get my protein through beans, lentils and dark leafy vegetables,” Fawer says. “I love carbs, but I eat whole grains and try not to go crazy. Breakfast is really important. I am up early to get my son to school, then straight to the studio to teach, then I like to do my practice. I notice if I do not eat breakfast in there somewhere, not only do I not have good energy for my practice, but I have a procrastinating attitude. The energy lag is pervasive on all levels. The subtle nuances of how food effects us is profound and fascinates me. I could live on beans, so I am fortunate I love them. I have a dish we eat at my house at least once a week. Sautéed baby bok choy and cannellini beans — sometimes we add another vegetable too —served with brown rice. [My guilty pleasure] is chocolate chip cookies or cinnamon rolls from Breads on Oak.”
“I have a client right now that I adore,” Fawer says. “She started only in the last year and is 60 or so. She was very stiff everywhere; very rounded in her upper back and shoulders; muscularly restricted generally from toe to head; professionally highly accomplished; and happily married. Her childhood was very strict and repressed — I suspect to the point of cruelty. I have watched her literally grow inches as the yoga unravels the childhood trauma stored in her body and cells. For the first time ever in her adult life, she can feel the muscles in her shoulders and find movement where there was none at all. She has found so much to learn from her own breath, something that has been with her for her whole life, yet she never gave it a moment’s thought. This new knowledge has unleashed a whole new sense of freedom, genuine curiosity and openness — and it shows. It brings joy to be a witness to her process and journey.”
“I would recommend Ashtanga yoga to anyone,” Fawer says. “It answers to the temporal but goes beyond the mundane. It is self perpetuating, therefore, self sustaining. On a more superficial level, it leads to a higher quality of life by decreasing stress and teaching you ways to deal with stress as well as making you fit, flexible and strong from the core. On a deeper level, it leads to self reflection and true transformation. Ashtanga will meet you where you are on any given day. It gives to you as much or as little as you want to get from it across all realms. It will only enhance your life. Under the guidance of an experienced teacher, it is for all ages and all levels. Nothing is necessary or required but your willingness to meet the mat.”