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An Interview with Joan Mann: The Backcountry Yogi

By Posted in - Interviews on February 27th, 2014 Joan_Mann-Yogi

I recently caught up with Joan Mann, the Baptiste trained yogi and principle yoga instructor for Destination Backcountry Adventures, before the start of her free weekly yoga class at Brooklyn Outdoor Provisions. Our conversation touched on her practice, the joys of introducing new students to yoga and how to find balance in a world of frantic activity and distraction. 

- Avi David Edelson – Owner, Traverse

Avi: In New York City, there are many types of yoga being taught in studio settings. You’re currently leading a class called Backcountry Yoga. What is Backcountry Yoga and what’s special about it?

Joan Mann: What makes Backcountry Yoga unique is that I am offering New Yorkers a way to escape the confines of the city through the trees, the forest floor, nature and the surrounding environment. This facilitates an escape from the confined work environment where everything is small. When you get out to the vast forest on one of our trips to the Catskills, you feel that disassembling–the deconstructing of the confines of our limited physical environment. It’s not like you’re on a mat in a SoHo studio.

Avi: What are the unique challenges of maintaining a healthy yoga practice here in the city?

Joan: I think it becomes difficult to maintain a practice when you think it is going to be difficult. The hardest part of the practice is getting there–getting to class. And the easiest part is finding that heart center–you know, the breathe, and the guided meditation, and my words. That is the easiest part of the practice. The hardest part is navigating your way to class [laughs]. If you can get yourself through the city streets, get to class and commit, and use what you have found through your yoga practice, you can ride that yoga high throughout your day and beyond. But really, the hardest part is just getting here [laughs again].

Avi: When you started your yoga practice, what was the most difficult thing for you?

Joan: The dedication. To be completely honest, which is not the kind of thing you want to hear from a yogi–or a supposed yogi. But really, the dedication to really do it and commit was and continues to be a challenge. Yoga was something that helped facilitate a coming of age when I was in my early 20s. It helped me, and it still helps–but it’s also still difficult. We’re always changing, which means that you don’t have to get stuck in what you’re doing. Yoga made it kinda easy for me to do just this. Yoga shouldn’t mean you are working towards just losing calories and getting a yoga butt. It really is, and should be, more in the mind and for the soul, rather than simply the physical body.

Avi: For someone who is new to yoga, what would you suggest that would help them start a practice that they’ll like and want to continue?

Joan: I think finding your own meditation is key. Finding that stillness. I’m working with a few people right now on doing just that. It wasn’t until my private lessons started picking up that I started to realize that it is really difficult for some people to simply ‘be’–for all of us to simply ‘be’. I think finding that stillness, is what helps you find the focus to overcome the distractions, and the internal dialogue that we’re constantly having. This is so important for any practice–particularly yoga.

Avi: You’re currently leading a free class at Brooklyn Outdoor Provisions. What’s unique about offering a free class?

Joan: It’s so rewarding to meet people who want to discover yoga. It seems that their interest in this practice comes from a really true place. I see a lot of people out there who start and continue a practice because they feel it is what they are supposed to be doing or what everyone else is doing, which is the trend in a lot of yoga these days. But in this free class it’s more of an opportunity for all of us to play together. It’s fun.

Avi: You’re a pretty healthy person. Where do you go to be unhealthy?

Joan: [laughs] I like this question! Where do I go? Hmm. Food wise? Well, to be completely honest, I go out to visit my little sister at Hofstra, where she’s going to school. We eat crumby cafeteria food and I just pig out and study with her. We stay in and really don’t go anywhere. We just do sister talk, and talk about our dreams–and eat a lot of food! [laughs again]. It’s good. And, it’s just as healthy as anything else. Because you need that time to bond–and stuff your face from time to time.

Photo Credit: Minnow Park

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