Letting Go of the Familiar with Sara Mingus at AYC

On Oct 1, I had the pleasure of attending the Atlanta Yoga Conference and taking Sara Mingus’ Yin Yang Hipster Flow Workshop.  Sara is the Director of North Shore Yoga in Chattanooga, TN and one of its founding partners.

She recently sold this bustling and successful studio to Susannah Herring of Nashville, TN (now Chattanooga too!) to focus more on her teaching and growing her family.

Since I’d be coming from Chattanooga as well, Sara suggested that we carpool to Atlanta together.  I began practicing with Sara over three years ago and did my teacher training at North Shore Yoga.  The 2 hour trip to the city was a welcome chance to reconnect with a friend and teacher as our busy schedules rarely leave time for more than a quick lunch catch-up.  As we set out for AYC, the conversation quickly turned to yoga, teaching and our careers.  It was Sara’s first foray into a workshop at this particular conference and while she is definitely an established teacher with a large and loyal following, she admitted to always feeling a little anticipation before leading a group of strangers.

One of Sara’s signatures as an instructor is her love of assists and adjustments.  As a Registered Nurse, Sara’s medical background comes with extensive knowledge of human anatomy and structure.  She teaches continuing education classes on assisting yoga students and has a strong and sure touch when she helps practitioners to deepen their postures.  In her home studio, Sara knows her students’ abilities, injuries and individual quirks.  She feels very comfortable assisting and adjusting them into more advanced asanas.  But, Sara admits, a roomful of strangers can present challenges to someone who emphasizes the human touch during a sweaty and demanding flow sequence.  It will take concentration and attention to detail for her to quickly ascertain the needs and abilities of the students in her workshop so she can safely guide them into their fullest expression of each pose.

In Atlanta, we are greeted by one of the AYC organizers, Nicole Jurovics.  The reception area is orderly and inviting.  We are given gift bags with snacks, water and some great coupons and samples.

Atlanta Yoga Conference Market Place

We are also invited to attend a film viewing after the day’s classes conclude.  I’m reminded for the millionth time how privileged we are to work in such an industry as this one.  Sara and I take a few moments to peruse the market place. She purchases a leather cuff from one of the hand made jewelry vendors and slides it on her wrist right away.  We chat with reps from various brands and a nearby retreat center (look for a post on the Dahlonega Spa Resort next week) before making our way to the studio.

The previous workshop is still in Savasana when we get to the studio so we go to the dressing room to chat.  Sara seems more at ease now that we’ve arrived and met some of the attendees.   She informs me that the theme of her workshop will be “letting go of the familiar”.   The prior class has ended and the dressing room fills up with yogis energized after their practice.  As Sara pulls her hair back into a band and breezes out the door, it is clear that she has begun to embrace the unfamiliar element of this conference and is excited to greet the new faces.

I roll my mat out and briefly greet a dear friend, Mike Fecht (more on this amazing person soon!).  He informs me that he taught two classes that morning, took one two hour workshop mid-day and is now settling in for two hours with Sara.  Mike admits he’s tired but excited.  Having practiced with Sara many times, I admire his endurance….I know this is going to be a challenging class.

Sara makes her way around the room, going to each mat as the students arrive and introducing herself, asking them if they have any concerns before we begin.  She makes mental notes of the reported injuries or other issues and then returns to the front of the studio.  She does not have a mat.  Sara’s dedication to assisting precludes the need for her to roll one out.  She will pause to demonstrate if needed but her verbal cues are spot on and visual aids are not necessary.

Sara Mingus assists a student in Gomukhasana (photo by Michael Gill)

Sara takes a seat and invites us all to crowd in close before we begin the sequence.  She expresses gratitude for all who have arrived (turn out is good; the studio is full).  Students are assured that they are now in a “safe space” and should feel free to explore all the emotions and feelings that arise as we approach a deep, hip opening practice.  Truth be told, workshops produce a little anxiety/excitement for all involved.  Our regular weekly classes (whether we teach or take them) are our safe havens.  We know well the room, the faces, and even the sound system (ask any teacher and they will admit that it seems every studio has a different way to broadcast music and it is always prone to some technical quirk).  Guided by Sara’s voice, we join together in a chorus of a “sea of om’s”.  Then we quietly return to our mat and begin.

The first 45 minutes are dedicated to a Yin practice with some intense hip openers.  The music is slow and paced perfectly to the long holds.  We are encouraged to round out our backs and find ease in the places that hold resistance.  Sara informs us that the jaw and hip joints are formed at almost the same time in the womb.  This is a reminder to relax the jaw as the tension in the hips releases.  True to form, Sara never stops moving, she floats through the room, assisting each body in a way unique to its shape in  that particular posture.

Yin Yang Hipster Flow with Sara Mingus (photo by Michael Gill)

As the soundtrack takes a distinct turn, we are led into movement.  The sequence begins steady but slow, the pace building with the driving beat of the songs playing in the room until we are drenched in sweat, moving breath to breath in a mandala flow that incorporates deep twists and lunges.   The next 45 minutes truly flies by.  The sequence requires focus and endurance but Sara encourages us to keep pushing, breathing and finding our flow through all of the challenges.  Again, the music takes another direction, signaling a shift in the pace.  We take longer holds in some standing postures.  As the cool off begins, one has the distinct sensation of having been on a ride, yet time passed  quickly.  This is the mark of a great yoga class.  To feel the effects in the body but to not feel spent.  Rather, there is a palatable vibe in the room, of connectedness among the students.  We have been through an experience together, and come out the other side intact, lighter even…

For me, letting go of “the familiar” was not too difficult. It had been months since my last practice with Sara.  Our schedules and life in general hadn’t permitted it.  The workshop  was a treat for me; to rediscover a talented instructor.  However, after almost 2 hours, my long term memory began to awaken and the realization of what was to come crystallized just before she said, “For our last posture, you may want to

Sara Mingus at Atlanta Yoga Conference (photo by Michael Gill)

roll up the sides of your mat.”  Sara’s memory must have kicked in as well because she directed the class to look in my direction for a demo.  She may have abandoned the familiar for most of the day but, in the end, Sara is a devotee of one particular posture and she couldn’t resist.  Frog.  As I positioned my body and mind for a good, long hip opener that always challenges my mind’s ability to remain calm and at ease in physical discomfort, I couldn’t help but smile, and listen to the final cue from one of my favorite teachers:

“let go…”

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