Throughout the winter season, it's vital for us to spend time nourishing our bodies and taking time to unwind. We spoke to Abby about what makes the Sierra Hot Springs such a healing space, self-care, and what inspires her on and off the mat.
We're thrilled to have you leading our upcoming trip to the Sierra Hot Springs. Can you tell us a bit about this retreat? What makes it special and what are you looking forward to most?
This will be the third time I’ve held a winter retreat at Sierra Hot Springs. One thing I love about this retreat center is how timeless it feels. You are really in a feeling of being off the grid and able to settle into the rhythm of the landscape that holds you. I always look forward to the incredible meals at Sierra Hot Springs served by a truly joyous staff. The food is so nourishing and delightful to all the senses. Being in the mountains in the winter also conspires to create a tight-knit community of practitioners in just a few days. We spend a lot of time sitting on the couches in front of the fire reading, conversing, and taking naps!
Sounds like the perfect relaxing getaway. The Sierra Hot Springs certainly is a healing space. Can you tell us a bit about the healing that you expect to occur on retreat?
Water heals in many ways. It has qualities that cleanse and renew us at every level. Hot springs are especially healing because they bring the four elements altogether when you soak—particularly the mineral pools that are directly in the earth, like some of the pools at Sierra Hot Springs. The water rises out of the earth as a spring heated by the earth’s deep inner fire. As the heat reaches the surface it steams becoming the element of air.
In one moment of soaking, we are reconnecting to nature in her four elements—and we are surrounded by such incredible beauty of the mountains and the pines—and the stars are outrageous up there! Healing at a retreat happens to the degree that you desire it. We heal by taking ourselves outside of our normal schedule and by being nurtured and taken care of by the center itself and by the supporting teaching, within the embrace of nature.
But this alone doesn’t make a retreat healing . . . all those elements can also just look like a great vacation with yoga. So the intention with which you come is the key ingredient.
This year’s retreat theme is "radical self-love," which is the most healing thing in the world, and feels especially appropriate because the retreat is on the Valentine’s Day weekend.
This retreat is "winter wonderland" themed. What is it important to get outside in the winter and what are some tips that you have to stay active throughout the season?
Yes, we’ve always had the winter wonderland theme, which is funny because California has been in a drought for four years, and we’ve never had snow up there. I’m excited to be up there this year, and possibly get to snowshoe this time! It is so important to participate in the outdoors and all it brings for our own connectivity no matter what the season. Living in a world where we can have light 24 hours a day, and we can set a temperature we like and live in it all year long, we’ve disconnected from nature and from our own nature as a result. Being outside in all types of weather and temperatures is one of the most important things we can do to become human again.
Of course, an important aspect of this trip is to yoga practice. How did you get into yoga practicing and teaching? Can you tell us a bit about your yoga style and the style you plan to teach on retreat? What do you hope your students gain from your classes?
The roots of my yoga practice and teaching come from the Anusara yoga tradition, but over the years has grown to emphasize the five key elements of an embodied practice, including asana, pranayama, meditation, mudra, and mantra even more. My classes are dynamic and appropriate to the time of day, moon phase, and season of the year. For the retreat, we’ll see more active morning practices and more grounding inward late afternoon classes. I teach towards a sustainability of practice by teaching a diversity of poses, which protects from repetitive stress issues. I think students who come to my classes come because they leave feeling more connected to themselves and others as a result. Ultimately, I want my students to not need me as a teacher, so I am empower them with alignment and knowledge.
Who are your greatest yoga inspirations?
I’ve been so blessed to have incredible teachers and mentors. Right now, I am so inspired by everything that my good friend Sianna Sherman is creating and offering to the world through her teaching.
I noticed that you are called the "Yoga Bohemian," why so? Can you tell us a bit about its significance?
I’m not an austere person, and certainly not a renunciate yogini. I am very embodied. I love this life and world. I love nature, books, art, movies, sports, food, wine, friends, love . . . I’ve been under the Yoga Bohemian moniker since 2003. To me, it points toward the celebration of life and yoga as an incredible gift and something to be celebrated as opposed to it being a problem to be solved. To be honest, I think that it first came to me when I was watching the movie Moulin Rouge and the principles the bohemians in the film ascribe to—freedom, beauty, truth, and love-- principles of the life-affirming tantric philosophy I had studied. Voila. Yoga Bohemian.
Can you tell us a bit about your background as a priestess?
The word priestess conjures up a lot from people because it’s not been part of western culture and understanding for 1,500 years or more. Women all over the world are priestesses in different ways and traditions, but they are always in the realm of serving. To me, a priestess serves life, serves the world and serves the Goddess. It’s something you are and how you are more than something you do. We live in a world obsessed with “do,” while, as a priestess, I’m more interested with the power that’s held in “be.” As a priestess who teaches yoga, I anchor deeply into myself and that anchoring provides a vessel—a safe place—for people to step into the fires of practice and be transformed. I am an initiated priestess specifically trained in the traditions of Avalon and am currently in my second phase of study and practice in that tradition.
Besides yoga, what self-care tips do you commit yourself to?
The most important self-care is to be deeply aware of your body through your senses. To know what nourishes you and what depletes you. For me personally, I know that I need a lot of solitude, and especially quiet time in nature. I also take care of myself by writing and moving in some way every day. I try to drink lots of high-quality water and take baths with sea salt and essential oils. I very much try to live within the season, so self-care in the summer looks very different than in the winter. We need diversity and to listen to our bodies to point us in the right direction. Self-care is highly individual and highly seasonal—not the one-size fits all that our culture is so fond of.
Who is your biggest inspiration and what is your favorite quote?
Nature is ultimately my greatest inspiration. I am also continually inspired by the work of the late Irish poet John O’Donohue. His book, To Bless the Space Between Us, is never far away from me.
What's one thing that no one would ever know about you?
No one would ever guess that at under 5’3” I used to run hurdles on my high school track team—chalk that up to being very flexible and having strong legs.