Inner Awakening At Yoga Journal Live: An Interview With Lesley Desaulniers!

Inner Awakening At Yoga Journal Live: An Interview With Lesley Desaulniers!

By Courtney Aldor

Many of you may be familiar with the adorable Lesley Desaulniers, whose classes are so popular, I was once sworn to secrecy about them (before she expanded her offerings). With her masterful teaching style - leading a practice just physically challenging enough to sneak in a tidbit of yoga philosophy cloaked in a hilarious story - it came as no surprise she'd be leading the upcoming Yoga Journal Live workshop, Vinyasa for Inner Awakening in January 2017.

For Lesley, it seems her awakening came early. Practicing yoga from a young age, she began her studies at an Ashram at age 20, learning yogic philosophy, meditation, and so on. And when she saw how much fun a yoga class could be, how uplifting and inspiring to its practitioners, she decided on teaching. We caught up with Lesley to find out how we too can practice yoga to help us go deeper inwards...

How can Vinyasa Yoga help us to get to know ourselves better?

Vinyasa practice answers all kinds of questions about ourselves - from inquiries like how to heal pain in our bodies to the big questions in life, like the nature of Ultimate Reality. We start with the physical body, and then through the practice we go much deeper. The poses teach us not only about our own bodies, but also about our responses and reactions to things that arise as we move the body. What poses do we avoid? Where do we stop breathing? How do we handle the moments of fear or resistance that might come up in practice? Your yoga mat is like a microcosm of the macro. If a habit of response or emotion arises for you 'on the mat', it likely arises in other aspects of your life too. In this sense, every moment of practice we are getting to know ourselves better. Eventually but inevitably, the obstacles to joy start to dissolve and we feel confidence, freedom and even bliss in our practice and in everyday life.

Vinyasa Yoga may seem like a purely physical practice, but in fact it serves both body and mind. How can this be?

Play with this idea: on your mat, and in your class, you are not practicing yoga.  You are practicing ease.  Ease with your body, mind and emotions... The yoga practice is the vehicle that helps you to deepen the awareness of when you are connected to that ease, and when you feel separate from it. 

For instance, in a class you might be trying to balance in an inversion like handstand. On one level it is about the body. You figure out your alignment, you get your breath together and you go for it. As you are attempting the pose you quickly notice that emotions, thoughts, reactions start to arise! Sometimes very good and happy thoughts that give great pleasure. At other times, less pleasurable feelings like fear or judgement might come up. This is the real practice - what are we going to do with all of these sensations that arise? Do we follow and attach to them, or can we find a way to let them go? In yoga and in meditation practice we teach that a very powerful moment is the moment that we have gone off track. The moment when we get distracted or pulled away by a big thought or emotion during our practice. In those moments, we have huge opportunity just to simply begin again. We return to the body and breath.  It’s all about the returning. Cultivating this ability to return to ease, with ease, holds great power. It is enormously beneficial for both the body and the mind. 

You came to study yoga at a young age, living and studying at various ashrams. As anyone who's been to your classes may know - teaching yoga seems like your path. Did the practice of Vinyasa Yoga help you to discover your path? What motivated you to study in this way?

I was really young when I started to practice and teach yoga. When I was about 20 years old, I landed myself at a tiny ashram in upstate New York. I entered the ashram just as they were doing their nightly fire ceremony, chanting and meditation. Everyone in there knew the routine and they were very focused, so I just quietly hid in the back and copied everyone in the room. Meditation began, I closed my eyes and followed along. Immediately I melted into a space, a really deep inner peace. As cliche as it sounds, I felt very much like I had found my heart’s home. When I opened my eyes at the end of meditation, an ashram teacher named Bharati Devi looked at me and smiled. She welcomed me, and I was immediately fascinated by how calm and brilliant she was. I just wanted to hang out with her and be like her. So, that’s what I did! I dropped everything that I was doing in life, sold everything that I owned, and moved to the ashram. I stayed there for a couple of years and Bharati took me under her wing. She taught me Sanskrit, Bhagavad Gita, The Yoga Sutras, chanting and how to live a devotional life. It was heaven. Just being around her, seeing how she taught and lived created the foundation for my own life as a student of yoga and a teacher.

While I was living at the ashram, Sharon Gannon and David Life from Jivamukti Yoga would come up and lead weekend retreats. Their classes combined the wisdom teachings and devotional practices of yoga that I had studying with music and vigorous, fun Vinyasa. I was instantly hooked. I asked to train to become a teacher with them, and after training me, they hired me to teach at the Jivamukti Yoga Center in downtown Manhattan. I still teach in the style that they taught me more than 15 years ago and it keeps getting deeper and richer for me. 

You often bring in live music to your classes, and one of your classes at the Yoga Journal conference, Anjula Prasad will be traveling to SF to perform (very exciting!). What is it about live music that can help us go deeper during practice?

For thousands of years, music, sound and vibration has been used to express devotion. I play music in class that can stretch from David Bowie to Moby to Bhagavan Das. But, I don’t just play anything in class - it has to be elevating for the soul.

I started offering live music Vinyasa classes in NYC years ago. They are so powerful and fun. Truly an art form. I often invite my favorite musician friends to play on my retreats and workshops. Anjula Prasad is one of those favorites and she will be playing in my upcoming Friday night class at the Yoga Journal conference. She is an amazing powerhouse! One note from her voice drops me so deeply inside. When she sings, and I start to move, I feel like every cell in my body vibrates with energy and joy! It’s an incredible experience and I love to teach classes with her. She will be accompanied by Radhanath Alverez on tabla. Radhanath plays tabla for Jai Uttal often and he is mind blowing. Marlowe Stern is also coming from NYC to play guitar during the class. So, it’s a whole thing and will be very beautiful. I can’t wait! Definitely join us.

Click here to find out more about the upcoming Yoga Journal Live event happening January 13-16,2017, or visit to find out more about Lesley Desaulniers. You don't want to miss this one!

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