Seattle Yoga News is on a mission to find and highlight all of the hidden, and maybe not so hidden, gems in our yoga community and beyond. We want you to learn about their experiences and perspectives, but also a bit more about their personalities, so we have a few fun questions for them. This week’s spotlight is turned towards Alison Solam.

HOW DID YOU GET STARTED WITH YOGA?

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Alison Solam:

I went to my first yoga class because I had hurt my back and heard (from Madonna and Sting in stories in People magazine or something) that yoga could help. Yep, it was not that deep. I didn’t know anything about it….I remember signing in at the gym for that first class and another student there gave me the advice to “check my ego at the door”. Actually, what happened was more like I got introduced to my ego.
My first teacher, Kim King, consistently wove the concepts of Ahimsa into practice. Again and again, she would ask us not to force or push, not to compete, which was both new to me, but also a big joyful relief. Up to that point every form of exercise I had done included pushing, ignoring my body’s cues, comparing myself to others, and competing. At that time, the hardest parts of class were the few minutes centering and breathing at the beginning, and savasna at the end, where I would regularly practice butt squeezes, just to do something, as I had not yet practiced the art of just being.

WHAT KIND OF TRAININGS HAVE YOU PURSUED?

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Alison Solam:

My training includes Ashtanga and other vinyasa based styles, Iyengar, and restoratives, but in the last five years all my trainings have been around the subjects of teaching trauma informed yoga, and teaching people with physical and/or intellectual disabilities.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR TEACHING METHOD?

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Alison Solam:

My teaching method is to provide a safe space, where one can be very attentive to their own needs, and always know they have the freedom to opt out, to try something else, to take a break, and to ask for what they need. You do not have to close your eyes ever in my class. You do not have to lie down at the end.  You do not have to sit perfectly still. You do not even have to sit at all! You do not have to breathe at my pace. I focus on offering many choices.
I try to teach asanas in a way (inspired by my teacher Theresa Elliot), where the student will have some framework of the pose or sequence, and within that has infinite freedom to explore and create. My goal is to offer asanas in many different ways, such as a seated version, a supine version, a version with every prop in the room etc, so there is a way for all to participate. I invite students to connect with their breath through various pranayama techniques and again, know that they can opt out without judgement.

 

HOW HAS YOGA INFLUENCED YOUR LIFE & WHO YOU ARE AS A PERSON?

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Alison Solam:

How has yoga influenced my life? Initially, I came at yoga like it was exercise, and I liked how my body changed with the physical practice. After more years on the mat, I noticed I liked the way chanting and studying yoga philosophy made me feel both calm and inspired. I have always practiced the pranayama my teachers offered, sort of dutifully, but in this year of the pandemic, nothing has helped me relax and center more–my breathing practices daily save me from teetering over to the dark side. And now, mindfulness is a part of my waking day, throughout the day, as often as it occurs to me that I am “elsewhere”.

However, there have been some negative influences–not from yoga itself, but from the way it is sometimes taught (more on that in the next question).

WHAT IS ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU ALWAYS GIVE YOUR STUDENTS?

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Alison Solam:

In class you will often hear me share these important words from Zabie Yamasaki, one of my trauma informed teachers:

“Your practice, your body, your choice, your pace.”

As a yoga student, I can easily say that most yoga classes I have taken have been very helpful. Almost always when I drop in to a yoga class, I leave with a positive impression of the heart and wisdom of the yoga teacher. And I am so grateful for the gift of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It is also true that I have had the experience where the sentiment of that quote above was not shared, and I feel we need to talk about these issues more.

I have been pushed in poses when I actually DID say to the teacher it already was deep enough, and she ignored me, straddled me from behind and leaned her whole upper body on my back anyhow. I have been a student in the middle of a yoga workshop, led by a “famous” yoga teacher, where his uninvited touch in Ustrasana (camel pose) felt unclear and inappropriate. I have been told that my doubts about a teacher or teaching indicated that I “was not ready.” I went through an entire teacher training, where I learned so much from a yoga “master” who also accepted that his regular students would place him on a pedestal–getting his mat out every class for him, aligning it exactly in the room where he would want it, meticulously folding his blanket and then again, adjusting his yoga mat’s position just so, put all of his props away after class, sitting at his feet while he spoke, and more, all which clearly put us on a power differential. I had a teacher stop the class and have everyone watch as he pushed my body into King Pigeon Pose, when I had neither the need to do that expression of the pose, nor the physical readiness. I am also aware of yoga students who have been through much worse than what I described, when they came to this system for healing, and they got abuse.

I spent many weekends studying how to give “hands-on assists”, and offered these in my classes for years. Yoga teacher/creator of Street Yoga Mark Lily, made the observation in his trauma informed training that sometimes a yes does not mean yes. If I ask a student “do you want an adjustment?” they might not feel they are able to say “no”. This was one of the discussions that led to a huge change in my teaching method. So I say to myself, and to my students: “Your practice, your body, your choice, your pace.”

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE THAT YOU HAVE FACED AS A YOGA TEACHER?

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Alison Solam:

The most challenging teaching situation I have been in was in the 2 years I taught in an eating disorder facility, where the clients had no choice but to attend my classes as part of the recovery program. I taught 10 classes a week there, and some of the clients had to attend yoga every day as part of programming. Many clients did not want to participate in yoga for clear reasons: yoga brought up negative body image, eating disorder behaviors, and /or traumatic responses. I was the only staff in the room when a client was going through a flashback or another a seizure, or when several clients disassociated, but the hardest part was the impact of the lack of choice: imagine teaching a daily class where the majority of the participants actually dread yoga, and do not want what you are offering.

So, this would be the most challenging teaching job, but also, I am grateful for the experience. It was here that I received fabulous on the job training, hands on experience, learned how to offer yoga to clients with a mental health illness, and also to clients using wheelchairs, with prosthetic, or with no energy to sit up or stand. I learned so much from the therapists and from the patients themselves there. Someday, I would like to return to teaching yoga in this setting, and see how it can be offered as a choice.

WHAT YOGA RELATED BOOKS HAVE MOST INFLUENCED YOU?

WHAT HELPS YOU GET BACK ON YOUR YOGA MAT WHEN YOU ARE FEELING DEMOTIVATED?

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Alison Solam:

I don’t stress out about not being on my mat, or if my practice was 5 minutes long, or if the TV is going on in the background etc… there are plenty of opportunities to practice yoga wherever I am, whenever I am ready.

CAN YOU SHARE WITH US SOME OF YOUR WELLNESS & SELF-CARE PRACTICES?

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Alison Solam:

I am an outdoor lover. I find perspective (and awe) deep in the trees of old growth forests. Sometimes I have a plan for a big hike, but after 1 mile I find some beautiful moss I want to look at and be in, taking photos, and then its time to go home. So there are no “should’s” in my self care. My goal is daily self care, which might include taking a walk, hiking a mountain, mindfulness, pranayama, listening to music, flow yoga with the playlist set to Radiohead, dancing, restorative yoga, psychotherapy, and laughter.

Alison Solam’s Bio: Alison has been teaching since 2001 and is registered with Yoga Alliance as a 500-hour E-RYT.  As a trauma informed yoga teacher, and an Accessible Yoga teacher,  what she offers students is an invitation to explore and see how the yoga concepts and practices might be adapted to work for ones own constantly changing body and mind on any given day.  What first hooked her on yoga–mindfully flowing through poses–continues to be part of her teaching, as well as looking at anatomy and alignment possibilities, and always an eye on stress reduction strategies.

Alison is so grateful for the many wise and uplifting influences in her teaching career including: Kim King, Theresa Elliot, Tracy Hodgeman, Mark Lily of Street Yoga, poet Mary Oliver, author Eckhart Tolle, and especially for her students.

Classes: Yoga Sanctuary Studio, Community Fitness, Outdoors For All, Northshore Adult Day Center, North Seattle College, Grinning Yogi, and privately.

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