Ara Cusack VANCOUVER, CANADA

Ara had been a gymnast until she was 18 years old, loving the variety of movement, mental concentration and the physical challenge.  After leaving gymnastics, she threw herself, somewhat obsessively, into all the things that you “should” do to stay “healthy”, but something was missing…mindfulness.  Thankfully, yoga found her 5 years later!  So when she first started toeing that line toward a practice in yoga, her VHS tapes of Rodney Yee & Patricia Walden in hand, she wondered, “How can you feel so good after 20 minutes?  Why don’t you have to run it off or kick it out?!…I knew it felt good on all levels but I couldn’t make sense of it logically at the time.”

Ara is now a yoga teacher, teacher trainer, and learning architect at Yoga Training Tree - having released working in the corporate world a number of years ago.  She has involved herself in yoga for the last nine years managing yoga studios and teacher training colleges, helping yoga teachers & studios in North America and Europe, design their yoga teacher training programs, so that teachers can be left to do the teaching without the worry of structuring the curriculum.  She spends her time in the best of both worlds, teaching yoga herself and providing the foundation for others to share their yoga. Her brain and her body have found their happy place.

The draw at first to yoga was the mindful movement of her body.  Ara hadn’t really considered yoga as a valuable way of maintaining physical health until 1998.  Before that, it was an interesting activity that she had tried but not enough to take up as a regular practice.  Classes were being taught in her apartment building so she went.  Though the practice was so grounding for her, she still doubted that yoga could take care of her body in the same way she was used to…”the concept just wasn’t in my mental framework at the time.”  But she did know that she needed yoga to balance her stress levels as her corporate lifestyle had become exhaustive by then.  Suddenly five years passed, and her self-care on all levels, had become just yoga.  It was in 2007 that the idea of yoga teacher training became crystal clear for her, leaving no question.  Clarity literally came in a moment on a massage table, she said it was “like the skies cleared—YOGA.”  After that the only thing she knew as her way forward in her career was yoga, and she soon quit her job to take her training.   Ara had eventually, and wholeheartedly embraced yoga because she realized it was giving her all that she needed…care of her body, mind, and spirit. And there was a comfort in being able to connect it with her gymnastics training “but in an adult movement way, not a competitive way.”

But as is inevitable, yoga’s presence in her personal life is now because of the way it connects her to humanity; her reason for teaching being to carry forward for her students, what yoga has given her.…which is an experience of her Self.  Yoga has taught her how to self-manage and to care for herself on all levels.   It’s interesting, considering Ara’s physically demanding background, that she has such a flexible approach to yoga, she has truly let it move her both in her personal reflection of it and in the practice.   She hopes her students discover their own yoga, “I like people to learn it for themselves.”  She accepts yoga as it is, not strictly adhering to one yogic lineage…as she says, “every modality has its shadow side.”

Ara has pure respect for the value of human connection…what we all share deep down that keeps us in contact with one another …for its importance and necessity.  She has true understanding of the need for it.  When I asked her about those effortless moments in life, when everything comes together…what is that for her?  She said that it’s “when people come to class, and at the start you can see their invisible baggage, but by the end of it there is a profoundly subtle softening of people…that’s everything because people are breathing.  There becomes this place of beautiful silence in a class when there is no fidgeting everyone is just in the flow…it can’t be put into words because it’s more of a feeling.  There becomes this comfortable silence in the room.  For example, Sivasana is such a gift because where else are you that vulnerable in your adult life, when you can rest with others for five, ten, fifteen minutes?”  As Ara spoke about this she was reflective around her words and in search of them, she is such a beautiful soul.  She says that vulnerability is even more pronounced in her Yin or Restorative yoga classes because the entire time is spent like that.

Her favourite aspect of yoga is “the moving and breathing, fast or slow…it doesn’t matter…and the mindfulness.”   Kundalini meditation was a huge foundation for her, before she moved on to other formal trainings, and now she finds she is in the release of all of that, facing the challenge of wanting to define what “meditation” means for her on her own terms versus a predefined way of practicing “because I can figure out my own body and mind (she now calls her meditation practice her “quiet time”).”  This is the continual unfolding of the layers that yoga provides... “as much as I am inspired by others, I want to manage myself.”

“Yoga gives me perspective… the experience of myself.  We never take the time to be with our self and just feel what we’re feeling…in relationship and with the world.”  Ara looked into the distance as she said this with such a look of softness on her face.  She would hope that as a people, we could see things from a kinder place versus a place of judgment.  She feels yoga helps with the challenges of life because of its reminders to approach challenge from a kinder place instead of an instinctual reaction.  This is because “yoga teaches you to catch yourself.  Most often we choose selective kindness yet yoga reminds us that kindness isn’t selective, even in a most challenging situation we can choose a kinder approach…for yourself and to others.”  Ara knows she wouldn’t have understood that in her years prior to her yoga practice.  She entered into yoga for its physical benefits but yoga has given her the appreciation that, “I am who I am and that’s ok, and I’m going to be that.  It’s vulnerable and it’s strong.” Which is so unlike her experience in the corporate world, being groomed so completely that it can become an “elimination of Self.”

Because yoga has given her an increased self-connection, Ara hopes to help her students find and develop a connection to themselves…“to teach them the yogic tools to care for their layers of Being.  I hope to support them so they feel inspired to care for themselves and those they interact with.  I’m not some great philosopher, my philosophy is simple, just learn how to be with yourself and from that you will have a deeper, kinder and more meaningful connection to all that surrounds you.”

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