Yoga For Beginners: Desi Bartlett Interview

Tracey Kelley
Desi Bartlett, creator of Yoga 360.

Yoga for beginners is often intimidating. Some individuals may feel pressure to perform at the level of others in a studio yoga class or exactly how the instructor moves in a yoga DVD. Other people may be looking for a low-impact exercise routine to help with conditions such as pregnancy or recovery, but don't know where to begin.

Desi Bartlett, M.S., CPT, wants to demystify the process for those new to yoga by teaching a balanced approach. In her latest DVD, Yoga for Beginners, Bartlett presents two-part yoga routine in English and Spanish that demonstrates the harmony between grace and strength.

Bartlett is a corporate fitness trainer, yoga, and dance instructor, and is a former product director of fitness for Gaiam. No stranger to instructional media, Bartlett has produced other DVDs, including Dance and Be Fit Latin Groove, 3-in-1 Total Body Fitness, and Prevention Magazine's Better Belly Yoga.

LoveToKnow Yoga asked Bartlett to share her inspiration, the release date of her new DVD, and the advantages of performing yoga during pregnancy.

Yoga for Beginners: Desi Bartlett Interview

Please tell us a little of your yoga journey.

When I was a little girl, my Mother was a disciple of Goswami Kriyananda at the Temple of Kriya Yoga in Chicago. I learned about meditation and Pranayama as a young girl on Sundays at the temple.

Later in life, when I was already deeply immersed in fitness, I opened a small fitness studio in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. In Cabo, I invited a mainland instructor to teach yoga at my studio. From that first class, I remembered the principles that I had learned as a little girl -- of energy work and the power of stilling the mind. In classes with him and many other teachers, I learned to combine these principles with the physical practice of asana and the combination is incredibly empowering, and I quickly discovered the feeling of ananda, or bliss.

Since then, I have completed five yoga teacher trainings, and have written a continuing education course for personal trainers who would like to integrate Yoga postures and principles into their program design so that their clients have a more balanced body.

The Joy of Elevation

What about teaching yoga and dance lifts your spirits?

I started ballet when I was six-years-old. I remember feeling light and graceful the very first day. There has always been a feeling of elevation for me when it comes to dance. I feel energy rising and a sense of being lifted.

Yoga gives me a similar feeling, but with the added benefit of grounded energy. One of the basic principles in asana is that of one long line of energy reaching in two directions. In many poses, it is energy that reaches down to the earth's core, and up to the heavens. This feeling of connection to Mother Earth, and to the sky above is intoxicating. It always lifts my spirits and helps me to reconnect to the joy within.

What benefits do you receive from your class sessions?

One of my teachers says, "Give a healing, get a healing." To me, that is the best way to describe the benefits that I receive from teaching. When I allow myself to teach in a way that honors the student's highest good, I always feel that same energy reciprocated.

I step aside from what I think I "should" be teaching, and allow space for what the student/client needs that day. When I teach in this way, I always feel a sense of inner satisfaction that I was of service.

Bartlett's Yoga for Beginners, one of four DVDs she has on the market.

New Programs and DVDs

Your latest DVD, Yoga for Beginners, divides the practice into two sections: Solar and Lunar. How did you develop the program, and why do you think those new to yoga will find it helpful?

Again, Yoga is based on Ha, and Tha, the union of the sun and moon, of masculine and feminine energy, of strength and grace. Those who are new to the practice often think that it will either be too easy (picture sitting in lotus for half an hour chanting Om), or too physically challenging (picture some of the hard body Yoga DVDs on the market).

It is important to me that I teach in a balanced way, so that all levels, beginners especially, can learn to integrate both polarities of strength and grace. I would love for people who use the DVD to feel supported in their movement, with clear instruction for guidance, as well as mildly challenged so that they can reconnect with their inner strength.

One of your more recent innovations is Yoga 360. Tell us how you designed this program.

I have studied many esoteric teachings over the years. I love astrology, Native American mysticism, and tarot to name a few. All of these traditions are based on the power of the circle. The grandmother of all Yoga styles is Hatha Yoga. "Ha" means sun, and "Tha" means moon. Yoga is the balance of feminine and masculine energies. These energies are round in nature. To me, it seems intuitive that the practice of Yoga should also embody this round shape.

Two years ago, I designed the first round Yoga mat on the market. I approached Lululemon Athletica with it, and they are now producing my design -- the 360 Yoga mat. The mat inspires a round practice; meaning that the hallmark of the practice is that of arcs, ellipses, and spirals. There are no sharp edges to the movement, and the transitions are so fluid that the practice feels more like a dance.

In June, 2008, I shot a prenatal Yoga DVD for Acacia that is all done on the 360 mat. The fluid nature of prenatal Yoga is a perfect complement for the mat.

Do you plan on putting this on DVD anytime soon?

The 360 mat will appear in my prenatal Yoga DVD, which will be available in August of 2009. Most of the practice is based on the 360 principles of circular energy and honoring the Divine Feminine, with the added bonus of some restorative work for expectant mommies.

Bartlett and baby Cruz performing yoga.

Yoga Advice for Expectant Mothers

At press time, you welcomed a new baby to your family. How much did you practice yoga during your pregnancy, and what prenatal yoga advice do you offer others?During the first month of my pregnancy, I did not know I was pregnant. I was teaching some very strong sculpt classes, as well as Kickboxing and Yoga. I thought that something was wrong with me because during my strength conditioning classes, something felt off. I went to the doctor and found out that I was pregnant.

She explained to me that for my health and the health of the baby, it was best that I back off a little bit on the more strenuous types of activities, and she suggested that I focus more on Yoga. What a gift that conversation was for me!

Yoga is an amazing practice for expectant mothers because it allows a woman to connect with her body, and with her baby. In Yoga, we create sacred space -- a place for health and wellbeing. During my pregnancy, I was teaching 10 Yoga classes a week and taking at least four, in addition to walking, swimming, and lightweight training.

It sounds like a lot, but I had boundless energy, and I attribute part of that to the connection I had to prana -- the life force. The life force was strong in me, and in my baby. During my first 3D ultrasound, we could not determine the sex of the baby because he had his legs crossed in lotus position! He was a Yogi from before birth.

Anything else you'd like to add?

During my pregnancy I gained 34 lbs. For a Yoga and fitness professional, this was really a little strange. It was hard for me to unlearn the contraction of the core. I was so used to drawing my belly up and in, that I had to learn a new way to move. I feared that after I gave birth that my belly muscles would never contract again. I did not give much thought to it because I knew that I was giving my son a happy home in my belly, but when I thought about getting back into shape again, it seemed a little daunting.

I am beyond in love with my son Cruz! When he was six weeks old, I had lost 27 lbs, and could see my belly muscles again. I truly believe that Yoga kept my body strong and flexible to support the birth of my son, as well as maintaining the muscular endurance that I need to take him for long walks.

I feel incredibly blessed that this little angel has come into my life, and I am happy that I can support him as a strong mommy.

More About Desi Bartlett

Visit Desi Bartlett's website for updates on her class schedule at Equinox Fitness in Santa Monica, California, as well as special events and workshops.

You can also order Yoga for Beginners through her site or Amazon.com.

~Tracey L. Kelley

Yoga For Beginners: Desi Bartlett Interview