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Restorative Yoga with Yogamaya’s Stacey Brass

We met Stacey Brass teaching yoga eight years ago and fell in love with her articulate alignment cues and playful spirit. Now co-owner of the beautiful Yogamaya, Stacey is a wealth of knowledge on restorative yoga and weaves the benefits of this therapeutic practice into her daily classes. For an in-depth healing experience, catch one of her Restorative Workshops (March 27’s is sold out, but you can always call to get on the waitlist!).  We sat down with her to discuss her philosophy, inspiration and what makes restorative yoga so powerful for the nervous system…

Stacy Brass Restorative Yoga

UWC: Was there a single moment when you fell in love with restorative yoga?

SB: I have always appreciated the relaxation and restorative aspects of yoga.  It makes sense to me to make time to enjoy the passive poses and allow my body and mind to surrender.

UWC: Sometimes people are apprehensive about restorative classes. Why?

SB: They usually “can’t” because they don’t have time.  Restoration and relaxation is a clear choice to be still and present in our hectic days. Most people want the immediate gratification of  an active workout or even active yoga: they burn calories, increase their heart rate, sweat and feel like they are “doing” something.  Restorative yoga is a practice of being, not doing. This isn’t on someone’s checklist, so it’s harder to justify carving out the time, even though it’s essential self care.

UWC: What are some of the differences between meditation and restorative yoga?

SB: Restorative is not focused on the mind – it’s focused on the body.  As the body relaxes, so does the mind, and therefore it may become less rigid or fixated on a particular thought.  The goal is not to try and stop thinking – I actually encourage my students to allow their minds to go into free association mode, and if a particularly uplifting or wonderful daydream comes along, to let it flourish and enjoy it.

UWC: Many people practice a vigorous yoga flow but have not yet experienced restorative yoga. What are they missing?

SB: A wonderful opportunity to put themselves in a dedicated space and time to unburden themselves and let go.

UWC: What are some of the most inspiring results you’ve seen as a result of restorative yoga?

SB: The people I teach tend to be quite stressed from work, parenting, school, etc., and this has major impact on the way we feel and our health.  So the most inspiring result I have seen is people coming to understand the difference between relaxation and sleep. The way we feel after a restorative yoga practice is completely different than sleep; the peacefulness in the body and mind is palpable and immediately makes people feel very good.  Restoring the body’s systems is equivalent to cleaning up your computer operating system! When a student asks me to put them into a restorative pose, I know we’ve made progress!

I believe a yoga body is a receptive and sensitive body.

UWC: At Urban Wellness Clinic, we emphasize the importance of alignment, and love Yogamaya because your teachers do the same. Why is alignment so special to you, and how do you incorporate it in your restorative workshops?

SB: Alignment is the body; it’s scientific information that lets you know you are putting the body in correct positions that will condition the body and mind in the best possible way to achieve feelings of health and wellbeing.  At Yogamaya, we often reference the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar because we consider his life’s work of teaching to be the most comprehensive, reliable and authoritative source of information available.  Our teaching of Vinyasa is based on the lineage of Krishnamacarya and his son Desikachar.  What makes Yogamaya special is that we teach Vinyasa, a flowing form of yoga, and still incorporate detailed alignment. We create an intelligent and sound practice that we enjoy sharing with our students. At the same time, we acknowledge and reference the most important teachers of yoga who are the sources of our inspiration and knowledge.

UWC: What are your go-to sources to deepen your knowledge of restorative yoga? 

SB: There is the iconic book Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times by Judith Lasater which is very accessible and geared towards the home practitioner.  Restorative is basically a method of practicing asana that de-stimulates the body and mind as opposed to stimulating them.  It is a decision to work differently.  Much of my knowledge has come from practicing, studying human anatomy and learning from my Iyengar teachers. My primary teacher is Rodney Yee; I study with him as often as possible.  I am a vinyasa teacher and am passionate about being classically trained the way a musician should be.  When not taking classes with the teachers we have trained at Yogamaya or with my peers, I take class with Carrie Owerko at the Iyengar Institute.  Kevin Gardiner has also been a great influential teacher. Occasionally we host these instructors at Yogamaya for special workshops.

UWC: Teaching yoga is a creative process and inspiration comes from a variety of sources. How do you find yours?  

SB: I am inspired all the time by life encounters, human behavior, art, theatre, music, poetry, philosophy, my teachers and of course, the practice itself.  I look at life through the lens of yoga and ask how I can bring those ideas into the classroom with me. I especially love poetry: Mary Oliver, Rumi, and Hafez are great sources of inspiration. My favorite book is the compilation Risking Everything: 110 Poems of Love and Revelation by Roger Housden. Music plays an essential role in my classes.  I have an extensive collection of ambient electronic music and I love jazz.  I see live music whenever I can; recently, I saw the great jazz drummer Roy Haynes play at Blue Note for his 90th birthday.

UWC: When you’re having one of those weeks where everything is totally off (maybe it’s Mercury retrograde), what gets you through those times? How do you maintain a sense of calm in your restorative teachings and pass positive energy to your students?

SB: Showing up to teach is another form of the practice. Walking into the classroom, you have a responsibility to become empty and to completely serve in that moment.  The immediacy of having to take the focus off of yourself and place it on the students and the task at hand is something that you must respond to. It is your job as the teacher!

UWC: What philosophy motivates you, and how does teaching yoga support that?  

SB: Evolving is an important part of feeling connected and alive. So I try to make sure that my choices make me feel that I am becoming more successful as a business owner, showing up as an inspired and thoughtful teacher and creating a life of balance. I make sure to have all of the things around me that make me feel like life is good.

UWC: In evolving your own practice as well as your teaching, is there a certain mindset you have cultivated that makes the daily practice possible?  

SB: The mindset is that the practice is a practice.  That is all.  You show up each day, practice and see the practice as an opportunity to be with yourself, observe, learn a little something, gauge how you are doing in life and in the world at that particular moment, and create some harmony and balance.  Knowing the practice is and should be different each day is important.  I take into consideration how my body feels, my mind, what time of day it is, where I am going, and accept doing a different set of poses and different routine. Ultimately, the practice should always be possible.

UWC: In what ways has your body changed over the years as a result of your yoga practice? Do you feel that your priorities or focus continue to evolve as your practice continues?

SB: I believe a yoga body is a receptive and sensitive body.  Through yoga, I have learned to identify where I may be having a specific issue, feel where it is originating and use my practice to address it or rest it, depending on the need.  If I want to workout or do cardio or “change” the way something looks on my body for an aesthetic reason, I go to the gym.

UWC: Aside from yoga, how do you stay active?

SB: I was a dancer for the first part of my life.  I do cardio at the gym and think strength training is an excellent complement to yoga.

UWC: How else do you nourish your mind, body and soul?

SB: I take advantage of New York! I nourish myself with culture: plays, music, art, dance.  Recently, I saw A Month in the Country at Classic Stage Company, which was incredible and heart wrenching.  I also saw Let the Right One In at St. Anne’s Warehouse, which was a production by the National Theatre of Scotland based on a movie with the same title about a teenage boy and a vampire girl that he falls in love with – one of the most beautiful shows I have ever seen! I also take advantage of incredible local purveyors and farmers by going to the Union Square farmer’s market, cooking, and pickling. My secret is shopping on Fresh Direct because you have access to growers like Satur Farms, Pete’s Greens and Red Jacket Orchards. I spend time with friends,  my husband and my cat.  I spend time with my community at Yogamaya. Truth, beauty, and the complexity of the experience of life resonate with me.

UWC: We were inspired by you because we feel you walk your talk. How do you embody the words that you speak and the actions that you teach?  

SB: Thank you! I try to lead a thoughtful existence. That’s really the bottom line. Being a caring, compassionate and thoughtful wife, daughter, sister, aunt, employer, teacher and friend is my top mission. I try to be understanding, reliable, loyal and honest. I want the people around me and those I affect to feel that I am coming from a place of informed intelligence, authenticity and a genuine love for all that I do.