John Schneider teaches the Mysore Asthanga Yoga program that Greenhouse recently began to offer at the Grand Street location, currently 3 mornings a week. In addition he teaches one Ashtanga Led class at Roebling. The Mysore Ashtanga is an open level class and students may arrive anytime within the first hour where they will be led through the traditional method of Ashtanga yoga as taught in Mysore, India.
I went to John’s class as a first time practitioner of Ashtanga, and arrived to find 5-6 students of varying levels working individually on their practice. I prepared my mat and John sat down with me to discuss my practice, asking how long I had been a student of yoga and what type of practice I was used to. John works with each student individually, giving physical adjustments and verbal instruction. Each posture builds from the previous one, with the idea that a student cannot move on until he or she has mastered the preceding postures. He explained to me that we would go through sun salutations and gently talked me through the movements. I went through five more on my own, after which he led me through the traditional standing asanas, alternating between guiding me and having me continue on my own.
While the poses may have seemed familiar, the practice itself felt more meditative. Without the consistent verbal instruction that is often relied upon in other yoga classes, I began to feel more aware of my movements and reached a deeper level of concentration that ultimately brought me more into the present. John told me “Because of the space this method gives you, and the traditional one on one teaching style, this yoga truly is for everyone. This method is the safest and slowest form of learning yoga, good for sick people, injured people, elderly people and any kind of person who is willing to show up.”
John was first introduced to yoga in his teenage years. A student in an alternative high school, he joined a yoga and meditation club and since then, yoga has been a consistent presence in his life. He first started practicing Hatha and Bikram and came across Ashtanga in 1998 when he was living in Miami. John shared a story with me of how around this time, he was walking on the street and passed a man who was in a conversation with someone else. John noticed him, sensing an open and easy-going way about him that drew him in: “I was caught by the way he spoke and stood. He didn’t seem to be trying to get or prove anything, he was just being helpful and open in a way I hadn’t seen. I probably sat watching him for half an hour.” Several months later when he took his first Ashtanga class, this same man was John’s teacher, and John made the connection between the practice and this man’s nature, affirming John’s own dedication and interest in Ashtanga.
While struggling to balance an Ashtanga practice with the intense schedule of his technical theatre work in Miami, John often practiced the Ashtanga series backstage and his co-workers would ask him to guide them through the asanas. This was his first experience with teaching, and from there he did several teacher trainings in Miami and New York. He started to travel between New York and Miami shortly after, traveling abroad as well, including time spent in Japan where he studied Butoh performance dance in addition to continuing his Ashtanga practice. In the early 2000s, he started to live in New York more permanently and began teaching at Greenhouse several years later, stating, “I don’t know what good karma I might have had but I know I spent a lot of it when I came to New York and found my teacher Eddie Stern.”
As is standard for Ashtanga teachers, John traveled to Mysore, India, several times to practice and experience the student / teacher relationship essential to being able to teach Mysore. This past spring he was authorized to teach by R. Sharat Jois and returned to New York shortly after. John is always reading as part of his practice, studying the sutras and 8 limbs of yoga, the translation of the word Ashtanga. He is happy to be teaching Mysore, in addition to the one led Ashtanga class a week, and mentioned how the practice is so much about self-dedication and developing the strength to surrender to the practice daily. I reflected on how people came and went throughout the class, settling into their own practice and movements as John gently guided each student in accordance with their levels. His support and guidance was always there, and is an essential part of the practice, but ultimately the practice is reliant on the ability to trust and devote yourself to this more individual form of practice.
Thank you, John, for sharing your experience!