When I met instructor Daniel Prince for a brief interview and some pictures this past Sunday morning in Chattanooga, he had just left his home and farm in Cleveland TN, after having to put down a dying sheep who had lost one baby out of two born that morning.
Ever since I have known him, Daniel has been a yogi who has a passion for life, this earth and this mysterious and intoxicating practice. His focus and quiet intention for making the most of every moment, no matter what it may be at the time, will inspire us all. And for students in the Tennessee Valley, we have a phenomenal instructor and practitioner in our family.
In 2005, Daniel began attending yoga classes at the suggestion of a friend. Several months later, he was in living in India, studying traditional asana, pranayama and meditation in the Ashtanga method. It is a foundation that has grown in his own asana journey, and it is so evident now in his teaching.
He has a 200-hour teacher certification with Jacqueline Heisel at Frog Lotus Yoga in North Adams, Massachusetts. From his experience and discovery, Daniel lives and teaches a holistic practice in yoga, and he builds upon the traditional to respond to the needs of each student today.
The energy that Daniel brings when he practices with you or teaches a class is contagious and uplifting. He encourages us to feel our postures and breathe, first and foremost. His commitment to the philosophy that guides these asanas reminds us that this yoga is so much more than postures.
On May 15th, Daniel is teaching a class at the Deerfields Retreat in Asheville, NC, for a music festival hosting trance artists Goa Gil and Ariane. Deerfields is about a twenty-minute drive south of Asheville, NC, in the Mills River Community. Don’t miss this far out class and festival if you’re in the area, and check out Daniel’s class at Clearspring Yoga the next time you’re in Chattanooga.
Currently, Daniel teaches at Clearspring Yoga in Chattanooga. Please check the Clearspring schedule for more information.
Q & A
BW: How did you find yoga?
DP: It was actually at the behest of a girlfriend who pestered me about it for months and months. I had had a serious back injury, and I was investigating various spiritual practices and paths. She always tried to get me to go and I never would because I didn’t want to use my body for anything. But eventually, I went, and I immediately fell in love with it. Within a few weeks, I bought a class card from a local studio and was going sometimes twice a day. It was addictive.
BW: What was the first class that you went to?
DP: It was actually a class of about fifty people at a university that I didn’t even go to—I snuck into the gym. There were lots of people who had never done yoga. It was just a general yoga class for the students there.
BW: What was it that spoke to you about yoga?
DP: After the class, the way I felt—I immediately realized that it was more than just bending and stretching. The peace that I felt—that’s what hooked me.
BW: What school of yoga inspired you?
DP: Ashtanga was the first school that spoke to me. I wanted to gain a little bit of independence in the practice. I wanted to be able to practice at home, alone, and at my own pace. But I didn’t feel I had the knowledge to develop a series or know which postures to do. Ashtanga provided that.
BW: What was the first Ashtanga class that you went to?
DP: It was where I was living, in Wilmington, NC. It was extremely fast and extremely difficult. I couldn’t keep up, but I loved it.
BW: I remember feeling like my first Primary Series was just so fast, but it intrigued me as well. What kept you coming back for more?
DP: Anything in my life that either challenges me or that I fail miserably at, I become hooked on. And I pursue it until it doesn’t control me any more.
BW: Tell us about your training and the time you spent in India.
DP: I started yoga at the beginning of a summer, and by the end of the summer, the circumstances of my life allowed me to take off to India pretty quickly. I was reading about yoga a lot, and I quickly realized that what I was learning in class was great, but it wasn’t exactly what I was reading about in these books. I talked to the man that taught me my first Ashtanga class in Wilmington, and he told me that I should go to India. He hooked me up with a teacher there. So I just took off.
BW: Who was the teacher in India?
DP: They called him Masterji. He was actually Pattabhi Jois’ nephew. From a young age, he went to live with Gurujji for about 25 years. But now he has his own studio a couple of hours north of Mysore, just outside of Bangalore. I went there instead of Mysore because it was a much smaller environment and I could get a lot more personal attention. It was quieter.
BW: Does he teach the Mysore method?
DP: Yes. In the mornings, we had a Mysore-style practice at 5:30. People took different amounts of time for the practice. We would go back at 11:30 and do an hour and a half of pranayama (breathing practices). When you first arrived, you would do one or two pranayama practices, until he would tell new people to stop, while the people who had been there for a while kept going. By the end of my trip, I was doing it for about an hour and a half. And then we would come back at 4:30 in the afternoon for an hour of mantra and an hour of satsang, where we would talk about yoga philosophy.
BW: Which series of Ashtanga were you studying?
DP: It was first series. After I had been there for a couple of months, he began to throw in some second series poses as well. To my surprise, we didn’t do the first series one day and the second series the next. When you began doing the second series, you did it right after the first series. So you did the standing poses, the primary series, and then the second series right after–and then the finishing sequence.
BW: How long did that take?
DP: I never got to every single one of the poses while I was there. But by the time I was leaving, I was in there for about three or three and a half hours.
BW: That’s a lot of yoga. Tell us about the pranayama.
DP: The first pranayama was always the one to expel and open your lungs. And then there was pranayama that concentrated on different areas of the torso to stretch out and loosen it so that you could breathe equally into all areas of the lungs. Then we would go into alternate nostril breathing and breath retention. When I first started doing kumbhaka, I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to breathe. I just didn’t want to hold the breath. But after a while, you become addicted to that feeling of light-headedness when you hold the breath, and then you want to hold it almost too long.
BW: When did you know you were going to be a yoga teacher?
DP: Probably when Masterji in India told me that I should teach yoga. I never thought I would be a teacher. I never considered it. But he told me that I should be and would be. I kind of dismissed it when he said it. Or I thought that I had dismissed it. But from that point on, it was always in the back of my mind. After I came back to America, I still didn’t teach right away. I just practiced. But then I went to a teacher training in Massachusetts, and I began teaching pretty quickly after that.
BW: How long have you been teaching?
DP: Probably about three years.
BW: What do you see as your greatest challenge as a yoga teacher right now?
DP: There are so many aspects to the practice other than asana that I feel are so important, and in a way, so much more powerful than the asana practice. It’s a challenge to balance that with the asana because people just really want to sweat. So I have to, in a sense, cater to the masses. But I also try to plant some seeds. So trying to find balance between these other practices that are sometimes more difficult and put more responsibility on the student—just balancing that with the asanas is the biggest challenge.
BW: Do you talk about the philosophy in class?
DP: I like to include a pranyama session either before or after the practice. When I move into Savasana, I often don’t do a conventional, guided relaxation. Often I bring up abstract meditations, ideas and theories and have people contemplate that while they’re lying still.
But I have a strong focus on the breath in my classes, and I usually take some time while we’re just sitting, and we do different pranayamas.
BW: How would you classify the type of yoga that you teach?
DP: I don’t like classifications. It’s all yoga. My class can vary quite a bit from week to week. The Ashtanga influence is kind of far removed from the class I’m teaching at the moment. There’s always a moment when we’re moving quickly to generate heat in the body that I guess you could say I’ll do that a little bit, no matter what type of class it is. No matter what you’re doing, even if you’re only just meditating, I think that generating a little bit of heat in the body can help. When I’m practicing yin yoga, I go through about five sun salutations first, just to loosen the body and generate a little heat.
BW: When you practice at home, does it vary what you do, or do you sometimes do strict Ashtanga?
DP: Sometimes I do just strict Ashtanga, but sometimes I like to hold some poses a little longer. For some strange reason, sometimes I feel the need to stay in a pose until I fall out of it. When I was in India, my teacher—if there was a pose you were struggling with or you had a health condition that a particular pose in the series would address—he would have students hold those poses for thirty breaths rather than five during the series. Sometimes it was explained, and sometimes it wasn’t.
BW: Does yoga enter your life off the mat?
DP: Absolutely. More so than a practice on the mat, for me, yoga is a practice on perspective—seeing everything you do as a means to seeing unity in the world around you, realizing your connection with everything. I actually think about those things more consciously off the mat than when I’m on the mat. When I’m on the mat, I just kind of disappear into the poses.
This is a process of clearing the dust and junk I carry around, the societal and familial conditioning, fears and aversions, so that I can pay attention to life with All of my being. This is the perspective I’m looking for. As a result, I would hope that I could then act and participate in Life with All of my being, without hesitations and regrets. We go around life with our energies dispersed, split between the past and the future instead of the present; lingering in either the mind or the body, rather than unifying them and thus freeing up the Spirit. I am by no means a Master at this, but it’s my goal anyways.
BW: Do you feel like you go to your breath or your practice during a difficult situation?
DP: Absolutely, and even in the moment, sometimes I just stop and breathe and then return back to the stressful situation.
BW: Do you have a favorite yoga posture?
DP: Vrschikasana, the Scorpion Pose, is one of my favorites because I struggle with it. My other favorite would probably be Paschimottanasana, just a plain sitting forward fold. When I first started doing yoga, I was really tight in the hamstrings and I couldn’t touch my toes, which is common for males because we tend to send a lot of our stress there. So that bothered me. Every morning, when I would wake up and when I would go to sleep at night, I would sit in a forward fold for like twenty minutes at a time. It felt like home to go back to the pose. I still love it. If I don’t know what I’m going to do, I’ll just sit down and do a forward fold. After that, I know where I am and where I need to go.
BW: Do you have a nemesis posture?
DP: I think that my favorite poses are my nemesis postures. Paschimottanasana is no longer my nemesis pose. But it was my nemesis posture, and it caused the most pain and discomfort. Like I said, when something like that happens, I dive right in and I force myself to do it.
BW: What is difficult about Scorpion?
DP: I just want to get my feet to my head. I can do it on the floor when there’s something to press against, like in Kapotasana. But when I’m suspended in the air, I can’t quite get them there.
BW: Was there a time in your life when you were really amazed about something?
DP: Every day. Seeing the immense diversity of ways in which the One is expressed.
BW: When I was teaching Ashtanga, that was a hard practice to get people interested in. Why do you think that is?
DP: I think part of it is just how challenging it is. I thrive on it. One of the biggest differences between yoga here and yoga in India, for me, was here how nourishing and supportive the classes were, where in India, it’s hard, and if you’re not working hard, then the teacher thinks you’re not trying, and they can be hard on you because of it. I think that it’s hard to have a calm, nourishing environment in an Ashtanga class where it’s go, go, go. I also think that on the surface, maybe people don’t realize the beauty of practicing the same poses every time.
Of course, if you practice the same poses every day, you’re going to get very proficient in those poses. When you first start, it may seem to be boring to do the same poses over and over again. But for me, it really frees you up to become more absorbed in the practice. You learn the series, and it becomes second nature to you. You’re not thinking about what pose you’re going to do next, or you’re not thinking about what the teacher is saying. You just go and you can focus your attention on your body and your breath. It’s extremely liberating once you get to that point. But before that, it’s difficult because by the time you find one pose, you’re already having to go into the next.
BW: Do you think there’s some value in that repetition that maybe some people don’t see?
DP: Absolutely. The main value I see in it is that you no longer have to think about what you’re doing next. It frees your mind up to be aware of other things that are going on in your practice. When you’re not listening to the teacher, you can just listen to yourself.
BW: What was the craziest thing that ever happened to you in yoga?
DP: I guess I can share one story about Paschimottanasana. It’s probably the strangest thing I’ve ever had happen to me during a yoga practice. I had just been on a camping trip with friends and I hadn’t slept much, and before I went to sleep, I was doing a few poses and stretching. I was in a period of my life where I was already doing a lot of yin yoga. I got into Paschimottanasana, and I fell asleep and immediately went into a dream where I had buried myself under ground for about three days. When I woke up, I realized I was still in the pose. I was afraid of what was going to happen when I came out of it. I could already feel the tension on my legs. I looked up and saw the clock, and it had been about fifty minutes. I slowly came out of the pose, and I just burst out laughing uncontrollably. I guess maybe it had something to do with the release of all the chemicals in my muscles, but it was a strong release. I just burst out laughing for about five minutes. My legs were like jelly for the next day or so.
Currently, Daniel teaches at Clearspring Yoga in Chattanooga. Please check the Clearspring schedule for more.