Olivia Dunn has an angelic presence about her. Her teaching style is melodic, warm, and passionate.
1. How long have you been teaching? 3 Years.
2. What motivated you to start teaching and what have you learnt from teaching?
It was during my time in college that I came across yoga - coming to the practice initially for a good, sweaty work out and a skillful complement to my studies in dancing, singing, and acting. But, it didn’t take long for me to fall deeply in love with the practice in its own right. Looking back, I think I was initially motivated to become a yoga teacher not only because I was very passionate about the benefits of the practice but, perhaps more so, because something in me felt that I had potential to be good at it. I had always enjoyed helping and supporting people, whether as a tutor, mentor, or assistant - being a supportive guide for others to shine their brightest made me feel good, as opposed to competing for myself to shine solely in the spotlight. So when yoga entered my life, I got the feeling that it could be my calling to share it with others. Of course on a more practical level as well, I gravitated toward completing my 200-hour training right after graduating from drama school because being a yoga teacher seemed like an enjoyable day job to support me while pursuing a performing arts career.
I have learned and continue to learn so much about myself and human nature from teaching. It is now all I do. At this point in my life, I have put a hold on performing and committed myself fully to being the best teacher I can be. Teaching is so fulfilling to me both because it brings me so much happiness to be with and serve others and because it is a never-ending practice that constantly challenges me to grow and learn and be bold in trying new things. The most powerful lesson that I have gained from my teaching - one that I am still working on to this day - is to not take things personally. It is very easy to travel down the slippery slope of insecurity as a teacher. When we care so much about what we’re doing and give so much of ourselves to students in a class, it can be very hurtful when students appear to be apathetic or displeased. We identify their apparent experience with our worth; though, of course, we must be careful as teachers to believe that we know what people are experiencing, thinking, and feeling solely based on external observation - we don’t know, until we ask and listen. And in that vein, I have learned that more often than not, a person's experience or behavior toward you has infinitely more to do with them and their current state of being, what they may be going through in their life, than it has anything to do with you. We know this from the teachings of yoga - however the mind is colored, so too will the perceptions of the world be colored. Thus, I have also learned that what’s most important in the role of a teacher is to meet people exactly where they are and to hold space for that.
3. What is something that you have learnt from a fellow teacher? Something I have learned from a dear fellow teacher each time I take her class is that, as a teacher, sharing your honest humanity is the most impactful thing you can do.
4. How many times a week do you practice? I do my own self practice, comprised of asana, pranayama, and japa meditation, in the morning nearly everyday.
5. Who inspires your practice? Currently, my asana practice and bodywork is very inspired by Rose Erin Vaughan and the workshops and trainings that I’ve done with her. My meditation practice is inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh.
6. Why is it necessary for you to practice? What drives me to practice so consistently is two-fold. Firstly, I believe it is essential as a yoga teacher to continue your own personal practice in order to be able to genuinely offer guidance to students. As the saying goes, ‘Practice what you preach’. Secondly, Yoga as a science and practice has brought so many valuable tools for healing into my life. Through persistent practice, I am more present, available, and compassionate to the world. I feel at my best through practice. The practice asks me to look deep into the root causes of suffering in my life (and that of others) and gives me a path to untangle those knots with the intention of connecting to the pure Self, which is not bound by any identifications or desires. I can’t be certain that I will ever reach self-actualization, absorption into pure consciousness, but it seems that there is no harm in riding along the journey toward its attainment if we humans become more compassionate for each other and all beings in the process.
7. What message do you like to spread through teaching? I have recently been closing all of my classes with this message, first introduced to me by Rose Erin Vaughan: “We remind ourselves why we come together to practice yoga. We practice to be of service to all beings everywhere, with no exceptions. May this practice be of service.” The deeper meaning of this sentiment is liken to another known saying in our culture - to change the world, you must first change yourself. When we lead with the intention of understanding ourselves more deeply, seeing our pains, our sorrows, our joys, the inner workings of our minds and meeting them with acceptance and love, then we become a participant in creating and connecting to a more conscious, loving world. The way to selfless, sustainable happiness is through serving others.
8. Where are you currently teaching? I currently teach classes in corporate and residential buildings for hOM, a start-up company based in NYC.
9. How has yoga helped your character develop? The practice of yoga has certainly helped me become a more understanding, compassionate person and, on good days, a more patient person (let’s be real, the powerful drive of the urban psyche is hard to let go of). I find myself moving through life and interpersonal relationships with more awareness and less reactiveness. And in particular, the practice of teaching yoga has given me so much confidence in myself.
10.What has kept you practicing all these years? The very fact that yoga is a practice, not something to be mastered in a day. There is always more to unpack, explore, and finesse. I love to play with the possibilities of my human experience, in body, mind, and spirit, and there is quite a joy in doing that with other people.
11. What would you tell your self when you started teaching yoga? I would tell myself to have fun, remember why I love this practice, and take it one breath, one movement at a time.
12. What are the best ways to start teaching at a yoga studio? I think the best way to start teaching at a studio is to invest in its community. Find a studio that vibes with your spirit so that you are inspired to take classes there regularly, make connections with fellow teachers and students, and, perhaps, volunteer (or get paid) to help out with the maintenance and functioning flow of the studio. This shows studio managers and owners that you care and value the community that they are working to create and that YOU would be an asset to it.
13. Why is breath so important in your practice? Breath, as many of us say, is the most immediate, accessible connection between mind and body. When we are working with the breath, we are essentially working with the nervous system, which when tapped into, can give us an experience of the true continuum (not perceived separate entities) of the body and mind.
14. What is your FB name? IG name and twitter? My FB name is Olivia Dunn. My IG name is olivia_grace_dunn. I do not have a twitter handle.