Mohan Zhang on Flexibility, Garbage Collection for the Mind, and Learning from Lance DeMuth
Interview by Holly Bussmus (HB)
HB: How long have you been practicing at FLY?
Mohan: Basically the same, about 8 months. I had taken a handful of classes (often informal) since around 2012 at various places before practicing regularly at Firelight this past year. Firelight is the first yoga studio I’ve belonged to, and this is the first time that I can say that I “practice” yoga.
HB: How has yoga impacted your life?
Mohan: I’d like to split my answer up into three components, because the effects have been along several dimensions. Let’s call these dimensions the physical, the mind, and the union.
The physical component is pretty straightforward: I’m more flexible, more coordinated, and I know my body better. Since yoga forces us to explore the edges of our capacity, we get regular feedback about our abilities and limitations, and this makes it easier to avoid injuries during any activity in general. I also feel like I’ve been integrating the results from my other training (like, kettlebells and swimming) much quicker than before.
The mental aspect is important to me because my practice is like “garbage collection” for the mind. This is totally subjective, but I feel like I’ve slept a lot better since I started doing yoga regularly. There is less to worry about at night when I’ve let it all fall away during the day.
The last part–I’m not sure what to call it, so I’ll just call it “the union.” I don’t want to use the word “spiritual” since that has other connotations, but I basically mean the component that transcends the physical body and mind when things are working together on a higher plane. This part of yoga has become more apparent to me in particular with Lance as a teacher.
HB: I think you just answered my next question, but who has been the most influential yoga instructor for your practice?
Mohan: Definitely Lance, but it actually wasn’t immediately apparent to me. My first impression of his class was that it was “weird,” but I mean that in the best way possible! I’m sure others who have taken his Kripalu Vinyasa class will know what I mean. There were so many things that were different from all the other yoga classes I had taken before that I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. I just remember going home that day thinking that I had never witnessed anyone’s stomach undulate in such a forceful manner. In fact, I’d like to admit publicly that I had to stifle an involuntary laugh by turning it into an awkward half-smile during that initial demonstration. It’s what you might do when you’re feeling overwhelmed by awkwardness and want to laugh but can’t because no one else is… well that, and because it would be inappropriate. But I suspect many first-timers have this reaction and furthermore, that Lance secretly knows this, so I’m just putting this out there as a public service announcement to take the edge off for everyone. In any case, this was all before I understood the true purpose behind the technique he was demonstrating called “agnisara,” the dynamic form of uddiyana bandha, the belly lock. I can totally observe Lance demonstrating it (and many other techniques) with a straight face now, but it definitely took a few classes 🙂
On a related note, the Kripalu Vinyasa class made a lot more sense after I took Lance’s Pranayama and Meditation class. The Tuesday meditation class helped me to understand the logic and reasoning behind the vinyasa practice, so I encourage others to attend that class to dispel the mystery of the vinyasa classes, if that’s what you’re feeling.
“Lance’s Kripalu Vinyasa class is not a typical ‘modern’ power vinyasa class. The tradition and rawness of the practice that Lance brings is what is different.”
It’s worth mentioning as well that Lance’s Kripalu Vinyasa class is not a typical “modern” power vinyasa class. The tradition and rawness of the practice that Lance brings is what is different. His class adds philosophy and theory, and the word “energy” will take on a whole new meaning. If you’re interested in getting more detailed instruction on yoga basics such as breathing or sitting as well as the opportunity to get into more advanced poses like headstand, forearm stand, peacock, birds of paradise, arm balances–just to name a few–you will find the entire dynamic range available to you in class. The classes happen inside the body as much as they do outside the body. It’s always a pleasant surprise for the progressing yogi what each class brings.
HB: What is the most valuable thing you have taken from your yoga practice and applied in your daily life?
Mohan: Well, I’ve gotten a lot of things from these last eight months, so it’s hard to choose just one thing in particular. Additionally, with it having been less than a year, I think there’s the consideration that the majority of the transformation is probably still taking place, so it’s kind of hard to make conclusions about it so soon. With those disclaimers out of the way, I think the most valuable thing I’ve learned from a regular practice so far is that the tension we experience mentally or otherwise might actually live in the body most of the time. I almost want to say something like “a free body is a free mind,” but it’s just a hunch right now that I’m starting to become more aware of, as opposed to something I know for sure. For instance, I’ve been surprised at how often putting my body through a full range of motion while taking care to observe my energy moving around (which is essentially what a flow is) is enough to make me feel like I got a reset and can now see the world much more objectively again. This means I can handle the stress and ambiguity of everyday life a lot better right away.
So being more aware of this idea, I am naturally incorporating many more mindful check-ins during my day to try to find and release tension in my body as well as return to my breath. Each individual check-in might not amount to much, but as a daily habit, it really adds up!
HB: Anything else you’d like to share about your journey so far in your yoga practice?
Mohan: Yes! I have a sincere compliment for the studio! There are so many things that Firelight is doing right that I didn’t realize until I had the chance to try out a few other studios in town and while traveling. I chose Firelight back in August of last year because I live in the neighborhood just a few blocks away, but that certainly wouldn’t be my main reason if I had to choose today. Instead, I would point to the diversity of the classes and the full schedule, the friendly atmosphere (I felt just as welcomed on my first day as I do now as a regular), the wonderful cast of teachers, and the aesthetic care put into the studio. Even though it’s superficial thing to say, everything just looks “nice” but it actually makes a difference–and I didn’t realize the effect this had until I visited other studios that don’t pay as much attention to the details. The fact that I can bike here in 3 minutes is now just a bonus!
“Set your life on Fire. Seek those who fan your flames.
The lamps are different, but the light is the same.”