interview with Kira Ryder of Channel Yoga
Tracey Rich co-directs the White Lotus
Foundation with her partner, Ganga White. I am just
getting to know her and thrilled that she will be a
teacher at the Ojai Yoga Crib this year.
Kira: How did you get from Nashville, TN to
Pattabhi Jois in Hawaii?
Tracey: I rode the classical prophecy
of the Iron Bird flying and moved with the dharma to
the West. Already a student, lover and teacher of yoga,
I was fortunate to encounter Pattabhi Jois on his second
visit to the United States and I believe his first visit
to the island of Maui in 1980. In those days you had
to know the first series by heart in order to join the
class. I literally finished my last day of learning
the first series Ashtanga the day before his arrival
and was invited to attend. Many of today’s great
teachers in that lineage were also there as students
and class assistants. It was an outrageous scene, really
exciting and fun. Eighty to one hundred people (which
were big numbers in those days) gathered in an empty
warehouse space all sweating together under the Hawaiian
sun. Pattabhi spoke no English, except for the words,
“thank you very much”, but his smile and
spirit along with his beautiful wife, Ama, moved the
energy of that time. The entire island felt like an
ashram for a while with so many people exuberant and
high on yoga that year.
Ganga and I later presented Pattabhi Jois in his first
Los Angeles class at our then Center for Yoga in about
1985 and hosted him again in Santa Barbara at our White
Lotus Retreat in 1987 and ’89, when no one ever
believed Ashtanga would become a household word. For
many reasons 1980 is anchored in my mind… I moved
as far West as one could go in the United States (and
yet seemingly to another planet, space and time), I
studied Ashtanga yoga every day for two months under
the tutelage of Pattabhi Jois, and it was in that moment
in time when still shimmering with the glow of sweat
after class, we learned John Lennon was dead!
Kira: As a yoga video star, is there anything
unfamiliar or awkward when you look back and see the
old versions of yourself on film?
Tracey: I think our videos (now DVD’s)
will have a long life. They really met our goals of
creating a class that a student could use as home practice
indefinitely. They are filled with the kind of direction,
breath awareness, and details that not only teach someone
how to do yoga, but give them the living experience
of a personal practice. Our original Flow Series video
was the first actual “practice” tape available.
Most videos at the time were very staccato and spent
all their time on breakdown and on- screen discussion.
We wanted to create and communicate something that felt
real and valuable. Another way the series excels is
that for years now our DVD’s have been in hi-def,
something our director had the creative insight to think
of and which once again was ahead of the curve and sets
us apart. I know that somebody out there loves the Total
Yoga series because they are working their way towards
their second million in sales. The greatest repeated
compliment we receive is when someone tells us that
they have a book shelf full of videos or DVD’s,
but that they use our DVD five days a week! That feels
fabulous. To work in the medium of the day and have
it really communicate yoga, since we all know that nothing
can truly replace the learning process that can happen
in class with a teacher.
On the rare occasions I review the DVD’s, I can
find numerous tiny things that have been frozen on that
medium of tape or disc that could infinitely be tweaked,
but all in all I am very pleased with them and hope
they have a long life span.
Kira:I love your way use of highly visual language
to communicate the feeling of the practice. Do you talk
that way all the time or is it unique to teaching?
Tracey: This is the way I speak, but
in teaching I am conscious of streamlining language
in the hope of getting across what I am seeing and feeling,
and what the yoga has taught me and is teaching me in
the moment. I have found a way of putting my love of
drama and passion, my love of storytelling and poetry,
really my love of words into play, somewhat like a sculptor
would use his hands in moist clay. Communicating clearly,
but with fun and flair, humor and metaphor are some
of my loves, and the desire to be understood is high
priority of mine. I was once dubbed the “poetess
of yoga” and I like that very much. I need order
for my own brain which leads to being a stickler for
details which also expresses itself in my use of language
and communication. I never used to think of myself as
a highly visual person until I had the chance and the
charge of creating beauty out of our once funky little
ashram perched on a mountain side. After a while I realized
I was working at spinning straw into gold to create
an oasis for transformation as a living expression of
yoga and one of the strong modalities was to create
the environment visually. I believe it is working.
Kira: Who were you heroes as a child? Who are
your heroes now?
Tracey: As a child my hero was my
father. He was a bit like a Greek god to me…
larger than life and the sun rose and fell at his feet.
Today my heroes are people who are courageous, courageous
in the areas of love, beauty, truth, compassion and
intelligence; also, life protectors of the planet. One
of those people is Vandana Shiva of the Navdanya organization
who is fighting monster companies like Monsanto working
to hold them accountable for our loss of biodiversity
for their use of genetic engineering and their manipulation
of patenting laws and intellectual property rights.
Sam Harris, who is one of the most adult persons I can
think of…challenging belief systems, religious
and otherwise. Ann Frank is a hero of mine for her will
to live. And yes, still, my father.
Kira: You make the time to read. What are you
Tracey: One of the most potent books
of late still resonating within me is The History of
Love by Nicole Krauss. The book has been translated
into 25 languages so that should tell you something.
I also believe it is a first novel for her. I both laughed
and cried within the first three paragraphs. Books and
writers like this don’t come along everyday.
Another powerful book is Letter to a Christian Nation
by Sam Harris. It is his 90 page response to the hate
mail he received in regards to his book entitled, The
End of Faith. Letter to a Christian Nation is an extremely
important book that speaks to some of the key issues
of our time in this war over religion, faith, science
and belief systems. It is pithy, accessible and very
I also have greatly appreciated the work of Joan Didion
in her book The Year of Magical Thinking. This is the
story of her personal journey dealing with loss and
grief. She is an exceptional writer and chronicler.
The book is brave and beneficial for all who choose
to walk with her through this painful travail.
Kira: What is your sense of the reasons for
the rising popularity of yoga in this country now?
Tracey: Media, stars, trends, all
these things make yoga more popular these days and people
are now comfortably familiar with yoga. They have greater
and greater access to yoga, it’s in their gyms,
in their children’s schools, and yoga centers
are cropping up in towns that never used to have even
one teacher. But the real reason, I believe, for the
popularity of yoga is the fact of how beneficial it
is. Yoga works on so many levels and people are finding
that out. They realize that they can stay in shape with
yoga and that it can be challenging. They want to be
well and feel better and they see those results with
yoga. They grow tired of getting injured with certain
exercise modalities and they see that yoga can help
heal their backs and that it is easier on their joints
than running. I also think that people realize you can
do yoga at any age. And in addition, yoga centers are
now serving for the kinds of community centers and places
for connection (inner and outer) that people are seeking.
Kira: What is the edge in your practice today?
More specifically, what are the details of your current
daily life that are requiring complete awareness and
Tracey: The place that is calling
for attention in my life’s daily meditation right
now is in the art of slowing down. I am truly trying
to practice not moving so quickly thru any task. I have
noticed that this area of my life is demanding me to
stop, look and listen. This is a challenge due to the
amount of input we are exposed to on a daily basis and
the amount of output we get caught up in demanding of
ourselves. Listening itself is also an edge…
truly listening and hearing.