Interview with Debbi Levy
By: AJ Crowell, Publisher
Photography by: Chloe Saltarelli
Debbi Levy is the owner of Transformation Yoga bringing yoga to corporations, businesses and studios while also offering private classes. She is a certified Vinyasa and Ashtanga Teacher, Reiki Certified and has a Certification in Crystal Alchemy. Her extensive studying brings a rare insight and energy into the lives of her students.
How did you get interested in yoga?
About 7 years ago, I worked for a San Antonio school district and one of my co-workers, Kimberly Culp, wanted to do something for her community. School teachers and faculty are notorious for being giving, doing for others and wanting to do things for their community. She was offering yoga class once a week for $5. The only exercise I had been doing was walking. I had three children, had a career and was active in the community and I wanted to try something new so I went to her class.
When I was in class everything was so strange. Down dog was so weird and she was counting in Sanskrit…it was just so odd. I remember being in down dog and thinking if she doesn’t let us out of this I’m going to fall on my nose. I had no upper body strength at all and here this woman was calling it a “resting pose.” I thought she was really nuts. (laughing)
At the end of everything, I thanked her for the class and told her it wasn’t for me but appreciated the opportunity. She then asked me to come back three more times and because I’m a pleaser, I couldn’t say no, so I agreed. Once I started to go back, the classes changed my life.
You have to go back until the cues are not weird and you have an idea of what’s going on around you. I always tell my first time students, your first class is about the very basics of finding the bathroom, taking your shoes off and getting on your mat. It’s nearly impossible for first time students to slow their mind down or know what’s going on.
Where did you get certified to teach yoga?
Kimberly and I went to Encino, California and I got my first 100 hour certification from Tim Miller at Ashtanga Yoga Center. I stayed there for 3 and a half weeks and when I came back I loved Kimberly so much I got an additional 200 hour certification from her studio Yoga Karma in San Antonio.
Where did you first start practicing yoga?
I cut my teeth on high school kids…the band most specifically. I was the Administrative Assistant to the Fine Arts department at Alamo Heights ISD so I knew I had to get out in the community to teach and I had these willing kids right there and the directors said it would the best thing for the kids. It helped with their stress, coping mechanisms and strength. I had a rule in the band hall if there were more than 5 kids we would have a yoga practice. So, after school nearly every day, I had a yoga practice. We stretched before football games and did breathing work before competitions. Choir and drama kids would join us, so I started by teaching high school kids.
When did you move to Dallas?
My children had all grown and graduated from college and my husband and I decided we were going to get a divorce. It was a happy divorce if there is such a thing. Just kind of a second chapter in both of our lives. I’m originally from Dallas and I was born here. I wanted to come back and be with some of my family here. Judaism is very rich here and that’s very important to me. I grew up at Temple Emmanuel so my first stop when I moved back to town was the Jewish Community Center of Dallas (The J) where I did gymnastics as a little girl. It really was a homecoming for me and special.
Because I had broken away from my career, I told myself I had to do 3 yoga classes every day. I had to go to different places and meet people because if you are not wanted somewhere then you have to make a place where you are missed.
I went to as many classes as I could at The J and got to know everyone. I told Terri Arends how much I wanted to teach for her and waited until she finally gave me the opportunity to audition for her. It was after one of Chinook’s classes, everyone left and I laid out my mat and she laid out hers and she said, “OK, go!” After about 6 or 7 minutes, she said, “You’re hired.” It will always be one of the most happiness moments of my life.
Your Sunday morning class at The J is very popular.
Yes, there are often 55 to 60 people in that class. Many of the people have been going to the class for years. They have a strong practice and the energy is amazing. There is a special spirit there. I think the Jewish Community Center is one of the most welcoming places on earth. They are accepting and embrace diversity. We talk about no judging in yoga and I believe The J is the ultimate place where that is concerned.
You own a company called Transformation Yoga and many of your classes are at corporations. Can you explain how you ventured into that arena?
I taught at Larry North Fitness at Preston Royal and Citiplace and then also The J. When I was at Citiplace, they offered me a job teaching at Kitano Captial LLC. They wanted a private class and I think they were my very first corporation. I taught in Larry North’s studio but the class felt different because I knew who was coming. I had the opportunity to get to know them very well. They were different than someone coming to class because they had a free day, their needs were different. It’s a little harder in the middle of a busy day to get people to melt into their mat and I enjoy doing that. I enjoy teaching people who are coming into class as a way of life to enhance their work and families. I love helping people who may not get it otherwise. Seeing the people at work when you know they are carrying that layer of tension and they are in the middle of a project or have been in conference calls all morning. It’s special to see them dance their way back up the stairs and you know they are going to hit their day with a different positive feeling.
Why do you think corporate yoga is so popular today?
So many companies are doing yoga, they recognize that different things happen that don’t happen anywhere else. When you are next to a person over six months and their down dog is feeling better to them or they finally got that handstand, you have a different experience with that person when you are working on a project with them. It creates intimacy and it lessens absenteeism. For a corporation’s overall health, it lessens illnesses and stress levels. We all know that when you take a deep breath it is healthier than taking a shallow breath. Teaching people how to breathe in the work environment is incredibly rewarding.
I know you have another special teacher here in town, can you share about her?
Yes, Ranjana Pallana. Every time I have had a turn in a path, I have had someone meet me there to shed light on what I’m supposed to learn next. That’s the case with Kimberly, Ranjana and Chinook. When I moved to Dallas I wanted to find authentic yoga. I’m not a cookie cutter person and I didn’t want any yoga that was predictable. I want to come in and have someone mess me up every time I go to yoga. I want to work on being non-attached and that’s hard for me. When I looked up yoga studios in the Dallas area, Ranjana’s said, “oldest yoga studio in Dallas” and there was her picture and I knew I had found home.
It wasn’t easy doing her classes. It was a half an hour each way and her classes were an hour and a half long. It was a big investment. I will never be able to repay her for the gifts and the lessons and everything she showed me. It’s one of the most special things I have ever been through. The thing about Ranjana is she’s incredibly authentic and she wasn’t going to be molded by what anyone else thought yoga should be. She taught from her inherent knowledge. I tell everyone I literally practiced at her feet and I did. She was on her podium and I was right there. Today, you hear people say a teacher should not be on their mat or you should teach without a mat but Rajana taught right there on her mat and I loved it. I could look over and see her grab her toe and her breath. You never knew what to expect in her class.
We’ve talked about the importance of proper Teacher Trainings. Can you explain sometimes what you have seen with new teachers?
Yoga means to yoke. It’s about three things breath, stilling the mind and the physical aspect. In the west, we are impatient and we want a work out and we are checking our Fit Bit and wondering how many calories we are burning. It’s not an exercise regimen for me. I tell my students to take a good walk and get your heart up so you are not putting all that responsibility on your yoga class.
Yoga is about uniting the breath, the body and the mind. Teachers should know there are eight limbs and other principles to live by. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali has many details. The beautiful history is important of how yoga was formed and made and who participated and who the great contributors were. My concern is sometimes in the West it’s a work out and that makes me sad because if that’s all it is then we’d be missing everything.
You love headstands, they are some of your favorite postures. Why?
I love being upside down! It’s another reason why I love strong yoga. I love postures that make you feel free, I have been drawn to head stands since I was a little girl. I even have a picture of me doing a headstand in a chair when I was young. It makes you feel fantastic. I think as grownups we have to say to ourselves, “When was the last time I did something new?” Often, we don’t say this. Headstands and inversions give us the opportunity to try something different and that’s very empowering.
One of my teachers, Stephanie Carter, worked with me on my headstand. It took me an entire summer to practice it before I was able to do it.
What would you say to a new person who was going to start yoga?
There is no greater gift than to come to your mat for 60 minutes or more in this fast-paced world we live in. Put your cell phone away and be unconnected from it. We often forget to assess ourselves and it’s hard to live with purpose if you don’t take time out and listen to your own heart. Aside from all the amazing physical things yoga does, it gives you the opportunity to come to your mat and get to know yourself each day. There’s no substitution for it and there’s no substitution for stillness.
The struggle at first is the stillness, just being with you. Yoga teaches you how to be with yourself. The rest will be transformational.
At 53 years old, my practice today is the deepest, the best, the most satisfying and fulfilling…I’m excited to do it when I’m 99.
Another teacher who is very important to you is Chinook. Can you share your experience?
He is authentic and teaches from his heart and teaches from an original place of looking for answers while wanting the pain in his physical body to stop. I think that sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes some of the best teachers have come through some form of adversity. So very often, that’s a common theme with teachers and Chinook represented that for me. He’s made me a stronger teacher and a stronger student.
My personal practice is very important to me. When looking for a teacher I think people should find someone who has a practice of their own. Because every good teacher is still a student and we have so much to learn. It’s absolutely endless.
Your husband does yoga and you got him involved in it.
Yes, Barry Rothschild, he’s been practicing for 3 years. Before he met me, he was regular guy…he was a golf guy, a poker guy, a corporate guy… he was a real guy’s guy and he still is. But today, he practices yoga and he’s heard his own breath. Often in classes, we are next to each other on our own mats. It’s very important to both of us now, I’m so grateful he was willing to go along on that ride and it takes an open heart to try something new. Our relationship has grown on a different level because of yoga and we have grown closer. To meditate next to each other at Deepak Chopra Center just a few months ago was possibility one of the greatest experiences we ever had together. There was no more me worrying about whether he was uncomfortable or if he didn’t like it and he wasn’t worrying about me. We were both together simply breathing, not requiring anything, not needing anything, just being side by side.
Debbi Levy is the owner of Transformation Yoga bringing yoga to corporations, businesses, studios while also offering private classes. She is a certified Vinyasa and Ashtanga Teacher, Reiki Certified and has a Certification in Crystal Alchemy.
Photography by: www.ChloeSaltarelliPhotography.com