Welcome to BE-ology, a monthly feature of our blog, in which we interview an individual or business who inspires us to "Be the change you want to see in the world" (Gandhi).
This month, we focus on Tatiana Forero Puerta, who has not only been a dedicated educator and philosopher for over ten years, but also a devoted Yogi and renowned yoga instructor since 2008. Her philosophies about yoga, life, love, resilience, and most importantly, the art of sitting with yourself in silence (a toughie for us here at Be Skincare) aren't just enlightening; they are down right spot on. Read on about this bad-ass yogi, whose passion for inner wisdom is why clients love her so much...
What was your journey to become a yoga instructor? How did you become one? What influenced you? Why did you become a yogi?
This is such a deep question right from the get go! The short story is that I started doing yoga in college as an elective, and I really enjoyed it, but I wasn't serious about it. After college, I became quite ill and has hospitalized for some time. I was undergoing extensive testing, taking (no joke) 21 prescription medications a day, and feeling miserable. The physical illness put me in a terrible depression, which only intensified the physical illness more. In the end, I had to take a hiatus from my graduate work and was hospitalized for some time. During my time at the hospital, I had an appointment with a cardiologist who would change my life. After performing an EKG, she sat with me and asked, "Have you tried everything the doctors have given you?" I said, "Yes, and I don't know if it's helping." She said, "Have you practiced yoga?" And I said, "Yes, I did it in college and I go to a yoga class here and there." She replied, "That's not practicing. Here is your homework. For one month, do yoga every day."
I left that appointment with a mission. The problem is that yoga is very expensive in NYC, and I was a broke graduate student. A few days after my release from the hospital, I spoke to my favorite teacher at the gym and asked her if she knew an affordable place where I could practice every day. She said, "Meet me tomorrow, and I will introduce you to my teacher." The next day, I met JohnT. John took one look at me, and with a technique that I now know as body scanning, he was able to tell me a lot about myself and my condition. He recognized my dire need and desire to get better and made me a deal: "If you commit to studying every single day with me for a year, I will let you take my training for free." While I had no intention of ever becoming a teacher, I knew immediately that this was a path opening up in front of me, and that it had the potential to change everything. I shook John's hand, and over ten years later, I am now one of his main teachers who trains incoming teachers in his program.
What is your favorite part of being a yoga instructor?
My favorite part of teaching is connecting with students who recognize that the body is the doorway to the psyche and the soul. When I can see that a student has attained a connection with what in yogic terms is called the "vijnanamaya kosha" or the "wisdom body," something drastically changes. That, to me, is the essence of the practice, and my favorite aspect about teaching. Teaching yoga isn't about teaching the wisdom itself, but about helping students remove the barriers that keep them from their own inner wisdom. It is remarkable how much of this work can be done through Hatha--meaning the balancing of the oppositional forces in the body, through movement, breath, and stillness.
What is the worst/most difficult experience you’ve had as a yoga instructor or yogi?
Training is always very difficult. I have completed 7 trainings in my life as a yoga instructor, and I have many more to do. The path is ever-unfolding, and at every training, I realize that even though I have been wrestling with this practice for 12 years now, I am such a beginner. It is a very humbling thing. However, I would have to say that the worst or most difficult experience I've had has been my pregnancy. During my pregnancy, I was unable to practice or teach for months, and it truly felt like torture. THIS was my practice--to not practice. Yoga teaches that suffering stems from illusion. Being unable to teach or practice made me recognize the true attachment I had to yoga, an attachment that served more than my physical well-being and spiritual growth; it also served my ego. Going from being able to twist myself into a pretzel, to barely being able to fold forward in a seated position was excruciating, but the discomfort was more mental than physical. This was a great lesson to learn. In yoga we say that the practice always meets us where we are, and always teaches us exactly what we need to learn.
Who are the mentors that have influenced you as a yogi?
I have so many teachers that I owe my practice to. First of all, John Tamayo, my first teacher, who gave me an opportunity and saw my heart, even when I had no money to give him. He taught me the meaning of practice. Kevin Courtney has had a huge influence in my practice, because he taught me how to imbue my practice with Spirit. Schuyler Grant is the baddest yogi out there, and she taught me the importance of refined language, and how to infuse my practice with fierceness and fire. Shanti Kelly taught me the importance of community and tenderness in my practice, and Tara Brach taught me how to always look at any moment as practice.
Who (and/or what) inspires you?
My biggest inspiration is the aspiration to be more loving at every moment. I'm inspired by people who have struggled deeply, but whose hearts are so open.
What is the best advice that you have ever been given?
How do you spend your time outside of practicing and teaching yoga?
I write a lot. I'm working on my second book, which is a combination of yogic philosophy and personal narrative. My goal with my prose is to help people understand and apply the philosophical tenets of yoga to their lives, and in particular, to the healing of their emotional wounds. I also write poetry, and train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, so don't mess with me ;).
What are daily rituals help you stay balanced and/or centered?
I practice seated stillness or mindfulness meditation twice a day; I practice gratefulness for my food, and all of the beings that contributed to it arriving on my plate; I call my family often, and text my sister about every ten minutes; I keep my eyes open for miracles; I laugh a lot.
If you had to describe your yoga practice in three words, what would those three words be?
Playful; Soulful; Nurturing
What type of reading (particular examples if desired) do you recommend for someone who wishes to become more enlightened?
The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, The Gift by Hafiz, Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, Grace, Eventually by Ann Lamott. Also, I think enlightenment has more to do with doing things than reading things; that said, I would say: Sit with yourself alone for 10, 15, 20 minutes a day, and do it as if your life depended on it.
A large part of Be Skincare is embodying the quote “Be the change you want to see in the world” by Gandhi. Are there certain ways you embody this quote? If so, how?
I think that my pursuit to continually notice what's in front of me and open my heart to what is there, falls into that category. As a trained philosopher, I think a lot about Emannuel Kant's Categorical Imperative, which suggests that we examine our behaviors (and I would clump intentions and feelings in there), and ask ourselves--what if everyone did this. He believed that this was one of the keys to ethical behavior. In a way, I think this is what Gandhi was also saying; if we examine ourselves and create ourselves in the image of what we want to experience out there, then we are changing the world.
What sort of all natural, eco-friendly products do you like and why?
I love coconut oil. I use it for oil pulling in the mornings (it's when you swish it around in your mouth for 15 minutes, then spit it out); and also as a facial cleanser, and on my growing mama belly. I also love almond oil and sesame oil.
What’s your skincare regime?
Drinking lots of water and not putting anything on my skin I wouldn't eat.
What - if anything - would you like to improve about your physical, mental, and emotional state?
I'd like to become more patient. I also one day want to be able to have a perfect hand stand. :)
**Tatiana is a columnist for New York Spirit Magazine, and her pieces have been published in Moon River Review, Juked, Assisi Literary Journal, Religion and Psychology Research Progress, and JOY: Journal of Yoga. She is currently working on a book about the use of yogic philosophy and psychology as a healing tool for emotional wounding. Find her at tatiannayoga.com