It's a family affair for Phyllis Treigle and Erin Sheets
When did y’all start practicing yoga asana and what inspired you to begin?
P: I started practicing about a year and a half ago, and it was because of Erin. She moved back to town after college and found this yoga studio and said, “Hey Mom wanna go to yoga with me?”. So, I did!
E: And now you still go!
P: [laughing] And now I still go to yoga! Brought here by my daughter.
E: Drug you here by your hair.. [laughing] She thought it was gonna be too hard! And I was like, “Mom, there are people of all levels and ages in class. You can do it!”
P: Well over my life I have tried to find exercise that I could commit to and it’s always been really hard. I find that I like doing things with a group more than doing things alone. I’m not really good at going to the gym everyday by myself..
E: And that’s just boring..
P: Yoga became something that I really felt like I could commit to! And it helps that we come together, but I come a lot by myself too.
E: Yea it was cool when you started going by yourself.
P: Yea it was cool! And I think what kept me coming back was that the practice was just as mental as it was physical. It really alleviates my stress by how it calms and focuses my mind.
That’s really wonderful to hear you have such a holistic experience with the practice. What about you Erin, when did you start practicing?
E: Umm I feel like a lot of young girls are pressured into having a diet and fitness routine that isn’t necessarily centered in self-love as much as it is about having to look a certain way.. And when I was in college I got into all of these different fitness regimes that were just all about aesthetic, and I could never commit myself fully to that. But when I moved back home to New Orleans and found this studio.. It really surprised me just how active yoga is. I always kind of thought of yoga as this passive kind of meditation, and I also never thought of yoga as something that I would bring into my life daily. And what really got me hooked on it was the mental and spiritual aspect of the practice. Before yoga I would think to myself “ugh, I have to go exercise today” but now I think “wow, I get to go exercise today”. I love myself, ya know.. And so I enjoy coming here because I want to set aside time to take care of myself fully.
P: And what I like about coming to Reyn is that I feel very comfortable just being who I am and doing whatever level I can do, and it’s not competitive. If the guy next to me is standing on his head I don’t feel like I need to do that and I feel like that ties into what you were saying [Erin] about needing to workout so that you can look a certain way… I feel like there’s freedom from having to hold your stomach in or [freedom from thinking] oh somebody over there looks thin…. And I don’t… it’s freeing.
E: Also the opportunity to make choices with every poses is freeing as well. And I feel like the encouragement to modify postures is something that other fitness classes never [really] provided me with, and because of that I have actually had a lot of workout induced injuries… that aspect of “pushing yourself no matter what” and the idea that if you don’t then you’re a “failure” just doesn’t work to motivate me. And it definitely doesn’t make me work “harder”...
P: That’s another thing- what is mentally “harder” is not necessarily what is physically “harder”. So that [aspect of] failing doesn’t [feel] present in my practice... This is the first time in my life where I have come to a place where I can show up, feel fit, and feel like I belong… like I can be myself… And [that] feels really good… I feel stronger!
That’s amazing that y’all feel supported in this space. In regards to the physical aspects of this practice (especially as women) have y’all felt that cultivating body-awareness has positively or negatively influenced your relationship with body-image?
E: Absolutely… I think that being so [preoccupied] with body-image is just such a fallacy and that’s something that people have built into yoga… making it into this industry… but I feel like the core [of the yoga practice] is that you come as you are, and although you’re doing something physical… cultivating body-awareness is totally different than cultivating bodily-judgment. Awareness brings you into the practice and judgment takes you out…
P: That’s beautiful…
E: And I’ve also realized not only how much I judge my own body but how often I go to judge others… And yoga has taught me that you can’t judge someone’s strength by what they look like… because [strength] is so much more about the level of presence that you're bringing to the practice. So [for example], an older person who is less active can have a much more fulfilling practice than a younger more athletic person. You know what I mean?
P: Yea and understanding that building that kind of physical and mental strength is something that is [accessible] to anyone at any age… because it has to do with the commitment you’re making to [continually] showing up and being present.
How has the practice of being present affected your lives off the mat?
P: I think the mindfulness you cultivate on [your] mat translates over into everyday life... I was always a person who was high strung and anxious and… yoga has been a definite game changer for the anxiety and stress.. I just feel much more calm and centered. I have had times where I have been really upset and I come to yoga and it just takes… the drama out of my stress… I’m more settled.
E: I dig that… This is gonna sound kinda dumb… but I feel like I never thought about breathing before I came to yoga! [laughing] I really don’t feel like I ever thought about it as a tool… I always just thought of it as a result [for example] if you get nervous you start breathing faster… but you can also get nervous because you start breathing faster! So coming to that realization of your emotions [being a result] of your breathing pattern really changed the way I more [healthily] relate to my emotions… And I find myself practicing uji breathing when I started to get stressed and it really helps calm me down! And finding just how accessible focusing on your breath is no matter is going on… is really amazing!
P: Yea and I think that practicing [yoga] several times a week gives me that [deeper] awareness [and connection to] to my breath.
E: And that awareness [can] carry over to your daily life… instead of making it exclusively just for when you’re on your mat.
What are some of the most challenging aspects of this practice for y’all?
E: I think for me the most challenging part is showing up… and trying not to shame myself when I don’t show up… you know? I see yoga as self-care but sometimes the self-care I need to be [engaged in] is not necessarily showing up to practice [asana] because I have had a busy and exhausting day [for instance]... and I am realizing that being okay with not showing up is in a sense me practicing yoga…
P: Absolutely… and one of the things that is great about yoga is that you are responsible for your own practice. The teachers are basically guides, but you’re responsible for whether you come or not come, whether you be present in the poses or be [distracted with] trying to show-off, ya know? You’re responsible… you’re finding your own way just alongside people who are guiding you.
E: Yea and everyone is in their own practice and on their own journey so it’s not really your place to judge people… also that [way of non-judgment] can [be] extend to the postures… not thinking that one posture is more or less than any other, you know? Mountain pose is just as significant, real, and legitimate as a handstand… they each have a specific purpose and value… and practicing handstand isn’t [inherently] better for you and healthier for you just because it’s “harder” to do..
P: Glad to hear that! [laughing]
[laughing] Yea mountain pose is actually my favorite pose!
P: Mine is pigeon!
P: It’s a just really emotional pose for me... I feel like I get to let go of a lot of baggage… in all of the poses, but particularly in pigeon.
E: Yea and I’ve been realizing that when it comes to poses I hate versus poses I like, if it has to do with a pose being good for me and what my body needs or am I just liking this pose because it’s an ego thing and I think that I can [perform] it really well… or do it better than the person next to me… [for instance] pigeon is mentally really hard for me, because I’m so imbalanced in my hips. But I realized that it’s not the pose that I hate [as much as it is] the mental frustration that arises...
P: And also it’s cool [observing how] your relationship with poses evolve over time...
And has practicing yoga together evolved y’all’s relationship as mother and daugher?
E: Yea it’s something that we’re both learning together at the same time… where usually I feel like my mother is coming to things with more experience, but we both started yoga at the same time… so we’re equals in that way…
P: Yea and [since Erin is now] a young adult it feels like we’re just two friends, two women, doing yoga together [and that] feels special… we get to connect in a new way.
E: And she buys me coffee after! [laughing]
[laughing] Well any last words of advice y’all would give someone wanting to come here and try yoga for the first time?
E: I would say try the community classes… those are always filled with people of all different levels and ages…. And bring a friend! They’ll be able to laugh with you if you fall on your face!
P: And then eventually you’ll feel more comfortable coming alone…
E: And laughing at yourself alone!
Interview by Olivia Bowers