The reward of working as a yoga teacher in my opinion is hands down the connection you feel and the relationship you build with your students. There are times when I am not feeling my best before class, but a few warm interactions with my students can lift me out of the funk, leaving me feeling fuzzy and warm inside.
Just the other day, one of my regular students, Elaine came up to me after class to ask about her tight shoulder. She was very appreciative of the simple tips and advice I gave to her. I was equally appreciative and grateful to her for making me feel useful. Appreciation and kind words I receive from my students are such a gift to me and I'm so grateful I have the opportunity to share yoga, which is my lifeline in many ways.
One of these wonderful students I have is Joe Figueroa (age 66), who has been coming to my Basic Yoga class on Thursday at Vitality Yoga, which is a beautiful neighborhood yoga studio in Bayside, Queens. He has been coming to my class faithfully every week with his partner Meryl, and they practice side by side on their mats.
Joe also came up to me after class one day to ask questions about what to do about certain poses that were uncomfortable for him, and I gave him some tips and exercises he could do at home. When I checked in with him the following week, I was impressed to hear that he was diligent in doing the exercises.
I appreciate Joe's sincere desire and commitment to the yoga practice to improve his well-being, and I wanted to know more about how he came to practice yoga and what his life is like outside of yoga class, and any tips I can take away.
Joe is retired and currently resides in Bayside, Queens with his partner Meryl. He has 5 children and 3 grandchildren.
Me: Where are you from?
Joe: Originally from Puerto Rico. I was raised in Brooklyn, lived in Manhattan for a long time and moved to Bayside.
Me: What do you do?
Joe: I’m retired but I did run a big company as a senior vice president for a long time—a jewelry company. After that, for 2 and half years I owned a restaurant in Long Beach, which I lost to Sandy unfortunately. So then I retired after that.
Me: What kind of restaurant did you own?
Joe: It was a deli that could seat about 26 people. It was a big deli.
Me: How long were you in a jewelry business?
Joe: I was in it for 36 years. That’s when I lived in Manhattan. It was a big company called Fortunoff. They were in business for 8o something years and they went under. So when they closed their business I bought the restaurant. But I ran that company as a senior vice president for a long time.
Me: What brought you to yoga?
Joe: A lot of people I know always talked about yoga. I was always interested in doing it but I never had the time. So now that I’m retired, I decided this is something I wanted to try. First reason is to stretch because I do go to the gym a lot, especially in the winter time, and I also walk about 7 miles a day but I never stretched. I am very active. I bicycle, I do a lot of things, but I never stretched and I’m very tight. So I decided this would be a good way to do it, but not only that, I understood from speaking to a lot of people that it really helps you to tune into your body and tune into your breath.
(Just like Joe, you can start your yoga practice at any age at any level of flexibility. People often tell me they are not flexible enough to do yoga - that's the point! Yoga will help you become flexible!)
It’s so interesting, Saya, because listening to you, I learned a lot. And one of the things I learned is to be in tune, more to my body even when I’m walking. I’d think about something you said and I would just say “Joe, don’t look down at the ground, look straight up, breathe, and try to get into a rhythm.” And it’s so funny because it helps me really tune into a lot of things I never tuned into before. I’m totally aware of things I never was before. So it’s more than just stretching. It’s a good stress reliever. Every time I leave your class—I really enjoy it—I feel great. And Meryl feels great.
(Yes, yoga feels good. Try and see for yourself.)
Me: What do you do for stress relief?
Joe: Actually this (yoga class) is my stress relief, and also walking. I walk every day by the water right on the Cross Island Expressway there. I do about 7 miles in total.
(You don't have to do 7 miles but you can do 1 mile or even half a mile if you would like to get started. The key is to find a nice route that you enjoy.)
Me: Do you do this every day?
Joe: Yeah, if the weather is great, I’m out. I enjoy it.
Me: How long have you been doing that?
Joe: I’ve been doing that for about 9 months.
Me: Wow, the same route?
Joe: The same route but I sometimes go into the city. I love walking and I can see everything when I walk. I appreciate everything I see so I don’t mind at all.
Me: So you wouldn’t say it becomes monotonous?
Joe: No, every day is a new experience. When I walk out I see different things and I’m also more in tune since taking yoga. I see different things and every day is a different experience whether it’s looking at a tree or looking at a bird or looking at the water. It’s always a different experience.
Me: So it sounds to me like you are very consistent with what you do, right?
Joe: Yes, I’m very consistent.
Me: What’s the key to consistency?
Joe: It’s enjoying what you do. You gotta enjoy it. And you also have to push yourself. I feel that there are times when you have to push yourself. And that’s what’s good about having a partner. If I slack off, Meryl will push me and if she slacks off, I will push her. Right now, Saya, you got us doing planks at home. (Laughs)
(As Joe said, the key to consistancy is enjoyng the experience. If you feel disconnected to enjoyment, you can get my FREE ebook on how to feel more pleasure by subscribing to my newsletter below.)
Me: What do you love about New York?
Joe: Diversity. I like diversity. It’s interesting, when I lived in Manhattan, I lived by Battery Park—very young Wall Street crowd down there. Living in this area (Bayside, Queens), I met a lot of Asian people and I’m enjoying that. I’m also learning a lot from them. I play golf and a lot of them play golf and we play together. In fact, I played with a couple the other day. They were from Korea. It’s just interesting meeting different people and finding out about different cultures. And I love walking in New York because there’s so much architecture, especially in the old part of New York rather than the new. So I appreciate that.
Me: What do you not love about New York?
Joe: Umm, a good question. What I don’t like about New York really is just the winters. I don’t like the winters. I really don’t. I love the outdoors. That’s why I play golf. It’s always taking me outside and I play on a beautiful course with trees and it’s just a nice game. Bicycle riding or walking, those are the things that are important to me. In the winter, I feel very enclosed. I’m hoping this winter, Meryl and I’ll be taking a lot more yoga classes here (Vitality Yoga) with you.
Me: What do you do for fun?
Me: I play golf. You think about hitting this little ball into a little hall and that’s all you think about for a few hours, and it’s always a stress reliever. You are outdoors and playing with other people. It’s fun. A lot of people find it boring but I enjoy it.