Lillah Schwartz: The Queen of Alignment

I consider Lillah Schwartz to be one of my great success stories when it comes to the Egg, and  I’ll never forget the first time we met.  I had just invented the Eggs, and I galavanted (rather presumptuously) into her studio to rock her world.  She was busy unpacking her newly arrived DVD, Yoga: Relief for Neck and Shoulder Pain, and quite honestly wasn’t very intrigued.  By her own admission, Lillah was a strong traditionalist, and as Mr. Iyengar wasn’t using Eggs at the time, neither would she.  This was as enlightening for me as it was disturbing.  It let me know early the kinds of challenges I might be in for.  While it hurt to hear it at the time, it was possibly the best thing that could have happened.  I later met Joan White, a deeply respected Iyengar teacher, and was more cautious in my approach.  A huge fan of the Egg, she has made the entré to the Iyengar community for me, including to Mr. Iyengar himself.  I will be be forever grateful.

Much has changed since the day I met Lillah.  The Eggs are now all over the world, and she has freed herself from the constraints of being a certified Iyengar teacher.  I know for a fact this has not been easy for her.  Nevertheless, when it came time for me to choose a teacher for my own teacher training, I had no hesitation about turning to Lillah.  Timing, location, and a personal flutter of emails between us paved the way for what has become a profound, playful and mutually respectful relationship.  Having taken yoga from some of Lillah’s graduating teachers, I knew she’d give me what I needed by way of knowledge, discipline and safety.  Right now I’m in my second year of her 200 hr. training.  I keep having to repeat it because, ahem, I don’t do my homework.  But Lillah supports me patiently and will be helping me construct my 3ME training program for teachers, which debuts officially this fall in Cambridge, MA, in conjunction with Majestic Yoga (Scheduled dates Oct. 19-21).

Lillah now has a full rack of Eggs in her studio and has created more Egg-lovers among her students than almost any other studio owner.  As for me, well, I don’t know if I’ll ever do my homework, so I may just stay in her 200-HR training forever.  Lillah is very generous with those who clearly wish to learn.  She granted 3ME the following exclusive interview:

3ME:  Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us, Lillah. With 30 years’ training with yoga experts, like BKS IyengarAadil PalkhivalaEric Small, and others, tell us, what values have evolved out of your yoga practice, and which do you hold the highest?

Lillah:  What I feel I learned most importantly from my 30 years of study of the Iyengar method was the value of descending into the body with the mind to discover how they connect; thought and response.  I learned that my body always responds appropriately to a request from mind.  If the response is not what my soul was longing for, then my body was an indicator to change my thoughts.  Understanding the power of thought is one of the more important aspects of yoga and requires a certain vigilance and practice.  If our thoughts are indeed the seeds of our future, individually as well as collectively, nothing more needs to be said.  Currently, the thought field I am aware of in myself that is asking for changeis to release all resistance to the flow of the Divine Mother, to experience fully that I am not a self/ego, but a vehicle for focusing her love.

3ME:  I hear that many call you the “Queen of Alignment.”  That said, how would you describe your teaching style?

Lillah:  I would say my teaching style is focused and clear.  I introduce students to their bodies through applied anatomy,focus on alignment, breath and self-awareness.  I am very interested that students connect and make friends with their bodies and themselves.  Attention and mindfulness are required.  I see subtle details and alignment that bring students closer to integration, ease and freedom.

3ME:  As an Iyengar-trained yoga teacher, how do you prefer to include yoga props in your teaching?

Lillah:  I use props as I was taught by yoga master, B.K.S. Iyengar, not only to support the body so a student can find the correct actions in order to support themselves, but also to train the mind and body in the correct actions.  Props are very useful, I would however say I don’t think I over use them.

3ME:  You have a beautiful studio, Lighten Up Yoga, in the heart of downtown Asheville, NC.  When you’re out of the classroom, where is your favorite spot for your daily practice?

Lillah:  I have a quiet room upstairs for my early morning pranayama and meditation practice.  I also have a lovely downstairs room with enough room and props for Jason to practice there too!

3ME:  And how about your use with the Eggs?

Lillah:  I really love the eggs for supported poses, Supta BadhakonasanaSetu Bhandasana in 3 locations under the sacrum, mid -back and chest.  Supported chest opening on two eggs with a third one for the head I recommend to all my students as it is the most helpful and do-able pose for a computer recess.  I also offer a whole sequence for computer recess in my Healing our Backs with Yoga™ training program.

3ME:  What is your advice for someone that is new to yoga, particularly someone who has suffered from injuries and/or joint issues?

Lillah:  Best to move slowly and deliberately as you do your poses, observing your alignment to assist your body in finding its natural balance. Avoid vinyasa classes. Breath is your best friend, for it connects the mind to the body and opens the door for perception and discernment. In the beginning one does not know if the pain that is being experienced is positive or negative… one can only know by establishing a good relationship non-judgementally with one’s self and one’s body.  The analogy I like best is about how to train a puppy, one must use patience, repetition, and praise.

3ME:  So, what’s next for you?

Lillah:  I have my annual Yoga for Change™ retreat coming up in August 10-12 at Prama Institute.  This year we are exploring Yoga and the Organs Systems for learning how to choose poses for physiological support. Also, my new signature yoga therapy course, Healing our Backs with Yoga™ is starting August 24-26 and is a registered IAYT school.  The first two weekends are open to all students and are applicable for massage therapy CEu’s as well as yoga Alliance CEU’s. Those yoga students who are interested in the full training are encouraged to check out my Transformation Teacher Training Program.  This year-long program can be joined at two points in the curriculum.  Once in February and once in August.