Michelle and Valerie often attended the same classes as students at Sun & Moon, and both completed their Sun & Moon In-Depth 200-hours Foundations training at different times. Their initial connection as teachers began through a suggestion by our own Rixie Dennison -- they needed substitutes for their individual classes in early 2016. We chatted with them about their unique approach to class structure and teaching styles as individuals and what we affectionately call “The Dynamic Duo.”
The Dynamic Duo In Action
Your approach to sharing classes is unique. Give us some insights.
Michelle: This entire idea sprang forth from one brunch. We met initially to simply explore a deeper friendship, and our strong connection sparked a ton of creative and exciting ideas! We were both already teaching at Sun & Moon and were talking about taking on additional classes, but I’m a professional opera singer and have regular conflicts, so I was hesitant, but the idea to share classes solved that problem and opened up all kinds of flexibility and freshness for both of us while exposing our students to twice the fun, expertise, and practice-strengthening instruction.
Val: Our approach really is about creating a journey through a series of experiences for the students. We spend lots of time out of class collaborating, sharing insights from classes we have taught, what is going on in our own practice, discussing students’ progress, sequencing, what’s working, what’s not. It’s also frequent you will see one of us as a student while the other is teaching – we learn from each other and the students. We are both planners, and rather than suppressing creativity or spontaneity, our co-planning makes a framework for so much more, including co-leading an upcoming weekend retreat at Yogaville in January.
Describe your own teaching style.
Michelle: Is kooky a style? I try to encourage my students to feel completely at home in the studio. We teach All Levels classes, so sometimes people come in and feel a little intimidated when it’s their first or second time and there are others who have clearly been at it for a while. Our classes are admittedly challenging, and that’s something that our students really like. But we make all the poses accessible to everyone, no matter their experience or ability. I’ll sometimes request a joke from someone, or we get tremendously goofy, so there’s a lot of laughter in my classes. I frequently say “Bring out your inner Kindergartner.” We’re so serious here in Washington. Yoga doesn’t have to be serious. Oh, and I almost always play rock music.
Val: I have a saying that yoga is for every body. By teaching not only alignment but also how to pay attention to what is going on in the body and mind in each moment, I’m hopeful that those who practice with me regularly have a greater awareness to everything they do. I like to encourage students to challenge themselves while focusing on staying conscious of their body’s strengths and limits and making good decisions based on the present moment.
Describe your teaching partner’s style.
Michelle: Val brings meticulous attention to detail, passion, elegance, energy, creativity, and a tremendously nurturing approach together in her teaching style. I walked in once to say “hi” and she had set up the studio to emulate a beautiful spa environment. She would spread petals on the floor if she could. When I take Val’s classes I come away feeling stronger, more centered, and very cared for. If you want to be challenged in a way that feels completely safe, Val is the one.
Val: Michelle is a powerful yoga teacher who stands grounded and confident in her own authenticity. She guides students through an effective, challenging physical practice that enables the student to have some sort of a breakthrough. The breakthrough could be something in their physical practice such as tapping into their own strength or curiosity to try a new pose, to a more mental/emotional breakthrough such as an awareness to let go of an old personality pattern that does not serve them anymore. Her passion as a life coach is woven through every class.
Describe your personal practice - in the beginning, what it’s like these days, and what’s inspiring you?
Michelle: I began my yoga practice after my son was born. I was looking to get back in shape with some kind of movement that wouldn’t feel like working out. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with yoga for reasons far beyond flexibility and strength. I also began to experience far greater levels of self awareness and peace of mind. Things have become more philosophical lately. I find myself drawn more to the yamas and niyamas than to asana, although I try to find time every day to practice arm balances and stretch my hamstrings now that I run. I also cultivate awareness of the breath throughout the day. Right now I’m totally crushing on David Deida, author of The Way of the Superior Man. I cannot get enough of his invitation to living wide awake and totally open. My big goal is to take a workshop with him so I can finally achieve enlightenment. All joking aside, his teachings have been life changing.
Val: Initially I practiced Bikram on and off for several years; I liked the heat and the familiarity of a set sequence. Growing up in this area, I had seen the Sun & Moon studio in Fairfax for quite some time before I ventured in. I was seeking relief from a high pressure career and a mind that wouldn’t stop chattering. I found it along with a community of like-minded people which is a pretty amazing bonus. Recently I admit I took a deep dive back into the hot vinyasa pool, and my practice at home is primarily vinyasa based. Lovingkindness meditation is a daily practice for me. Lots of deep belly breathing to get me through the day. Inspiration-wise, I’ve been focusing quite a bit on bio-mechanics, hypermobility, and understanding how each person’s skeleton, musculature, connective tissue, lifestyle and injuries cause a unique situation that once uncovered will create a wiser approach to postures. I follow Jill Miller, Diane Bruni, Jules Mitchell, Amy Mathews, and currently am studying online with Jason Crandell.
Find the Dynamic Duo in Fairfax four times each week:
Sunday: 6-7:30p – All Levels (A Yoga Forecast For the Week Ahead)
Monday: 6:45-8:15p – All Levels (NOT A Manic Monday)
Wednesday: 7:45-9:15p – Yin Yoga (Mid-Week Chill-Out)
Friday: 5:30-6:45p – All Levels TGIF (‘Nuff Said!)