Alysha Greig discovered the gem of yoga’s healing potential in her teens. Her nurturing and polishing of this gem’s potential spurred her to create the highly successful Yogis at UW Program in 2011. Her leadership in creation, development and expansion of services and events led to her current position as Director of the Mindfulness Center at the University of Washington. As Seattle Yoga News often seeks out gems in the Seattle yoga community, I knew Alysha’s efforts in developing such an important program needed to be honored. In my research, I went to her bio and found “I like dim-sum” at the top, rather than a list of accomplishments. She is humble and down-to-earth. At one of her recent clasess at Bala Studio in Wallingford, Alysha warmly introduced herself to each student. Then she led us through an intense class that was elegantly taught using integrated movement reaching to full yoga postures. It was challenging, hard work, which I so love in a yoga class.
The UW’s Mindfulness Project currently has nearly 600 students registered in their program after their October start. They currently offer 10 yoga classes and 12 meditation sessions per week with an average of 350 students taking classes per week. Alysha has posted opportunities for yoga teachers to apply to offer new and expanded offerings as the Center continues to work to develop programs to meet the UW students’ needs in areas of self-growth and reflection. Maybe you will join her in this valuable resource.
Alysha teaches Level I vinyasa flow yoga at Bala Studio in Fremont ( lower Wallingford) on Sundays 9:00 am to 10:15 am. I am honored and grateful that Alysha took time to share her experiences that set her on a mission to develop programs to reaffirm healthy living patterns through yoga, meditation and self-reflection for UW students.
Cathy Geier: What lead you to practice and study yoga?
Alysha Greig: I started practicing yoga when I was fifteen years old. To keep a long and somewhat personal story short, I was under a lot of stress my last couple years in high school. In my mind, I was going to yoga because it was time for me to focus on me and nothing else, it was challenging, and it was away from everything else in my life (nobody I knew practiced yoga back then). But what kept me coming back to practice was this underlying sense of healing that I didn’t even realize was taking place at the time. I was in a lot of pain and for reasons perhaps still unknown to me, yoga helped to soften me up…a lot. I love that you asked both what lead me to practice and what lead me to study. I didn’t really start “studying” yoga until my freshman year of college at the University of Washington. I think I started to become more interested in how and why this practice seemed to have such an impressive impact on my life. Like most students, I wanted to go deeper into understanding that, and myself.
Cathy Geier: How did you choose your initial yoga teacher training and subsequent additional trainings?
Alysha Greig: I had decided to take time off from school my sophomore year. I was depressed (probably an understatement), and I refused to talk to people about my pain. I was at a point in my life where I was pushing everyone around me away, but I wanted to stay close to yoga. I researched programs near where I was living and got coffee with my teacher, Silvia Mordini. Silvia’s program was designed to be a “self-study” more than a “teacher training.” I liked this aspect of her program since I didn’t even know if I ever wanted to teach. But I wanted to learn more about yoga and who I was.
Cathy Geier: What inspired you to create Yogis @ UW and how did it evolve?
Alysha Greig: After taking time off from school and finishing my teacher training, I came back to the UW originally with the intent to start a suicide prevention club (suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students). It’s no secret that I’ve openly struggled with suicide and mental health problems. That’s not something that’s easy for me to say as a yoga teacher, and a leader of a big organization. People have a lot of expectations that somehow yoga teachers are supposed to be perfectly balanced and happy beings, but the truth is that we struggle with suffering and finding balance just as much as every other human. Anyways. Rather than starting a suicide prevention club, I decided to try to funnel that energy into something that I felt was more proactive and positive. How could I address suicide prevention without actually calling it suicide prevention? My intent was to build a community (feelings of isolation can be high for college students at a 40,000+ university), and engage people in practice and discussion that brought us back to self study, self love, compassion, acceptance, yada-yada.
Cathy Geier: As the current Director of the UW Mindfulness Project would you tell us how this project touches students’ lives and about future plans and offerings?
Alysha Greig: The rate of anxiety and depression among college students has only been continuing to increase over the past several years. Now, 1 in 3 college students will report feeling “so depressed that it’s difficult to function” at some point during their college career. The pressure to “know” about your future and force yourself to plan ahead 4, 6, 8, or even 12 years down the road is more present than ever. Students are often either stuck in the past, worrying about how failing a test could compromise their entire future, or stuck in the present, scrambling to solidify plans that will no doubt continue to unravel. They are in an environment that breeds competitiveness, and rewards those who sacrifice taking care of themselves to work and study 18 hours of the day to get ahead. The Mindfulness Project offers these students a place to come that is unlike any other place on campus. In our classes, they learn how there’s value in doing nothing (or at the very least, doing less). They learn to embrace vulnerability, to give themselves time to feel and heal, to listen to the inner chatter and to connect to within. I have watched dozens of my friends graduate from college saying, “I don’t know what I want to do.” And while that question is often elusive to anyone regardless of how old you are, I think that mindfulness practices can at least guide you on a path to knowing who you are and how you want to serve others. This is important for any college graduate.
I can’t tell you much about future plans/offerings other than my long-term goal is to establish a sort of mindfulness center on campus (right now we don’t have our own facility or space so we have to hop around a lot). I want to build an environment that not only promotes mindful inquiry, compassion, leadership and engagement among students, but also an environment that raises the bar for the yoga and mindfulness teaching community.
Cathy Geier: What is next for you in yoga. leadership and combining your interests and gifts?
Alysha Greig: I’m not sure about that right now! As someone who used to be obsessed with planning my future, I’ve learned that being committed to the present moment usually allows for opportunities to arise that help to construct your future.
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