Interview with Yoga Expert Kate Potter

Tracey Kelley
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Kate Potter

Kate Potter is an internationally renowned yoga instructor, whose students include the beginning yogi as well as skilled celebrities. Millions of viewers also experience Potter's innovative Hatha Vinyasa style of yoga through her program Namaste Yoga. This half-hour yoga show is on various channels throughout North America, including Canadian Learning Television and CityTV in Canada, and FitTV in the United States.

Potter graciously agreed to be the first guest of LoveToKnow Yoga's expert interview segment.

Interview with Namaste Yoga's Kate Potter

LoveToKnow (LTK): You started performing yoga as a child. What were your influences, and how did you stay involved in your practice as a teenager and young adult?

Kate Potter (KP): My start in yoga was by instinct alone. I rose at the hour of 5 a.m. with my mom, who found her quiet time away from her six kids and husband early in the morning.

I would never disturb her, but while she sat in the kitchen, I formed a routine of postures just with earshot so she would know I was there. Although others in my family called it my "exercises," I insisted that was not it. I was offended that they thought of it that way, but I had no word for a routine that helped me find peace and prepared me for my day.

Into my teens, the practice was invaluable, as I became a competitive cross country ski racer and a gymnast. I used those early yoga practices to prepare mentally for competition or to soothe myself in injury or defeat.

LTK: When did you decide to dedicate yourself to yoga personally and professionally?

KP: At the age of 19, I took a solo trip to India and stayed for a year traveling around by myself. That was 30 years ago, and perhaps safer then, but still unusual enough by Indian standards. Everyone I met wanted to bring me to their home. I met my yoga teacher through some Indian students at the University of Mysore, where I was "sitting in" on classes of Indian classical dance and music.

My friends encouraged me to take a trip to a neighboring city where Swami Chinmayananda was hosting a three-week retreat. There was no physical yoga at all, but rather philosophical study, meditation, and a certain amount of ritual and devotional practice.

Swamiji was unlike any one I had ever met. His mind was so clear, his humor so vibrant and his compassion so deep that I was instantly drawn in to this vast study of ancient philosophy by his love of teaching. I studied with him through that year, but also took off on my own adventures for months at a time. I would then reunite with his India-wide tour taking place. At this time, I became personally devoted to yoga, and only much later, after studying with many renowned American teachers, did I become professionally devoted.

Advice for Beginners

LTK: Why do you think some may feel intimidated by yoga? How can they overcome this?

KP: Intimidation comes in many forms, but ultimately, I think it is fear. We all seem to fear our limitations. Yoga in the West has become over identified with the physical, with the form, and with the fashion of the form. This is problematic. If we have a good teacher, we soon see that there is nothing to fear. The idea of yoga is to take care of our physical limitations and get beyond our self-obsession. We learn that we can let go of this ego identification and have a glimpse of a much wider field of experience.

Potter assisting a student.

My advice to beginners:

  • Find a teacher that inspires you to feel alive and gives you a sense of great potential beyond reaching your nose to your knees.
  • Don't just take the first class that is offered to you, look around.
  • Many people say they are intimidated by a class, but love to do the "Namaste" sessions at home on DVD. Wonderful, but I hope at some point, they will all find a community in practice.

LTK: In other forms of physical activity, one can progress by an increase at some level: if someone jogs, he or she can log extra miles. If someone likes to lift weights, he or she can increase resistance or repetitions. Since yoga combines, basically, body, breath, mind and spirit, how can someone gradually increase progress in each of those four areas?

KP: If one is looking for progress, or results, then one is already off the path according to yoga. Even when we refer just to the physical practice, striving is not the route.

A very lovely Zen teacher by the name of Shunryu Suzuki says, "Look to the origin of your effort, not the results" and I extend that to the practice of physical yoga. If you are comparing your practice in any way, you are caught by the ego, and our wish is to dissolve the ego.

LTK: As someone continues to practice, what changes might they notice or experience in these four areas?

If one keeps a regular practice, then the body naturally becomes more resilient and strong. In order to notice changes in what we refer to as the mind and the heart, I believe the practice of sitting meditation is crucial. Perhaps then, one will find a measure of clarity and peace, but again, we cannot follow an agenda for this mission. With each practice, it is possible to experience the body mind and heart without separation, and if that is to be experienced fresh in each new moment, how can we speak of progress?

Being a Yoga Instructor

LTK: What do you find rewarding about being a yoga instructor?

KP: There is so much to say here, that I will try to be succinct. Whenever I teach, I am given an opportunity to get out of myself and to help others. If I can say just one word that will encourage calm, or restore faith to a tired world, then I want to do it. I imagine all yoga teachers must love to feel the whole room of students breathing together, and feeling our deep nature as one. I love everything about being a yoga teacher, and just try not to let people give me praise. I hope students will see it is their own heart opening, and they deserve the praise.

LTK: Do your students inspire you?

KP: I am forever inspired to see my students coming to class again and again. Even on the cold rainy miserable days, they "show up." It is this showing up that inspires me. It requires faith in themselves, as well as trust in me, and to have their trust means an enormous amount. Life is difficult, and it may be hard to keep our balance with the world so full of destruction, so I applaud all who take action, rather then shrinking in defeat.

LTK: What top qualities should someone look for in a yoga instructor and studio?

KP: Well, now that is a good question. Any teacher worth anything should maintain their own yoga practice. Qualities such as humility, serenity, and straightforwardness would character traits of a yogi. I value a sense of humor, as that shows depth of understanding.

A yoga studio is also a business, and therefore we can expect fair pricing to keep all those employed cared for and the studio clean. Mainly, keep an eye out for studios that seem to want more and more of your money without caring for your needs. Always ask to try out a class before committing, and then, be discerning.

LTK: How did you decide on the format for your program, Namaste Yoga?

KP: It was not easy. I wanted the show to work for beginners and well-practiced yogis. The production company wanted it to be dynamic as well as beautiful. I was afraid of it being sexy, and of course this was not at all their concern. I knew if our technique was good, it could not be seen as "cheesy," but we had so little time to rehearse, exactly one week from the time the women were hired for the show. The whole thing was a marvelous challenge!

Learning More

LTK: Our readers often have diet and lifestyle questions, and how those two components are integrated into yoga practice. What advice and resources can you provide?

KP: I believe Ayurveda has an awful lot to teach us about diet and lifestyle. We are all imbalanced by different factors and need different nutrition. Nutrition comes in the form of food, friends and creative work. If one is practicing Yoga, it may at least be easier to notice what is of disservice to oneself. Balance is an ongoing work in progress.

My favorite Ayurvedic diet tips are these:

  • Eat what is available locally according to the season.

  • Chew your food very well: try 20 rounds before swallowing.

  • Do not go to bed right after you eat, but wait at least 3-4 hours.

Lifestyle tips are perhaps equally as challenging, but get much easier with practice:

  • Avoid those people who rob you of your happiness.

  • Give generously in every way that you can.

  • Look up when you walk, instead of at the ground.
Interview with Yoga Expert Kate Potter