My Time on the Mat is an Oasis: An Interview with Andrea Lodico Welshons

Andrea is one of our Teacher Trainees who now teaches at mang’Oh. Andrea an absolute light – she fills every room she walks into with her positivity, infectious laugh, and bubbly personality. She inspires students to be courageous and have fun.

When and how did you first come to yoga?

I came to yoga by way of dance. I studied contemporary dance at Connecticut College after a childhood filled with ballet and gymnastics and I stumbled into my first yoga class during a summer intensive workshop with the Limon Dance Company in 2002. Taught by and for dancers, the class provided a warm-up before a day of technique and repertory classes, so poses focused on generating heat, opening up the hips. Immediately, I knew I liked the way yoga made my body feel.

Following graduation, I missed the consistent physical and creative outlet of daily dance classes and rehearsals. Going to the gym was a drag and I would zone out on the elliptical machine, always wishing I was anywhere else, focused only on whatever rerun of Real Housewives happened to be playing on the tiny TV. So, I looked to yoga to provide a time and space to be in my body, away from screens and other distractions, and it quickly became a sanctuary. A way to cultivate that feeling of freedom in movement, enjoy pushing my body to try new, more challenging things, and quiet my mind.

You are the Executive Director of a dance company…how does your dance training affect your yoga teaching, and vice versa?

My training as a dancer led me to yoga, so I feel that these two passions in my life are inextricably linked. Through dance, I gained insight into and knowledge of my body – my alignment, the sources of my strength and my weaknesses, what movement comes naturally, and what movement presents challenges to me.

During my time in college, I fell in love with the deeply collaborative and creative environment of the dance department and I pursued performance and choreographic opportunities, allowing me to develop and hone a connection between my mind and physical body, an introduction to the union at the center of yoga.

My background in dance makes me feel most at home in creating classes that emphasize unique, creative sequencing and challenge both the body and the mind. Using my knowledge of anatomy developed through my dance training, I enjoy building a strong foundation of alignment within students, while encouraging a connection between the breath and movement. At the same time, I hope to allow students to uncover a sense of freedom and playfulness within the flow.

As a dancer, I had always reveled in the challenges of pushing my body and building more strength and now as a teacher, particularly in the Core Yoga class, I gain fulfillment by providing students with the opportunity to test their capabilities, push past physical or emotional hurdles as they try a new asana, hold forearm plank for just a breath longer than they expected they could, or find new awareness in a posture or sequence that allows them to re-think what they thought they could do.

For the past six years, I’ve worked as Executive Director of KEIGWIN + COMPANY, a contemporary dance company based here in NYC. So, I don’t work as a performer, but I’ve been able to channel my passion for dance to support artists. Working as an Executive Director of a dance company has helped shape my yoga teaching experience by giving me the fantastic benefit of being able to give our dancers yoga classes.

Teaching specifically for dancers, especially as a warm-up prior to a rehearsal or performance, offers the challenge of considering their specific needs as movers and performers, while still giving them what I feel is a well-rounded, balanced class. Having the chance to teach for a targeted group who are in tune with their bodies, but may struggle with certain asana because of well-ingrained habits, has been just one more way to broaden my experience as a teacher, deepen my understanding of the breadth of students’ needs and capabilities, and how that can inform how I approach my classes.

When and why did you decide to do the mang’Oh Teacher Training?

After practicing yoga for almost a decade, pursuing teacher training had been in the back of my mind for awhile and in the midst of a particular busy 2013 at work, I promised myself that 2014 was the year that I would finally make teacher training a reality. After several years of shouldering an immense amount of responsibility at work and having a consistent outward focus, I knew that teacher training would provide the opportunity to dive into a pursuit solely for me.

As my life has become more and more full, the space my yoga practice offered to focus on myself had emerged as essential to my emotional balance and physical health. Away from the various screens that permeate and shape so much of my days, my time on the mat had become an oasis. Since I no longer take regular dance classes, I had always loved the tests of the asana and derived incredible fulfillment of learning new, more difficult poses. Those physical challenges – the desire to attempt something new (even when my head was falling towards the floor in a precarious-seeming arm balance) – had always been thrilling. But, I wanted more. I wanted to dive in further and see where else yoga could lead me, whether that just is a deepening of my practice or by stretching myself as a teacher.

I stumbled upon mang’Oh in 2006 and soon fell in love with the intimate, nurturing, and supportive environment and Erica’s approach to the practice. As a former dancer, I connected to her sense of movement, flow, and innovative sequencing. Over the years when considering where to pursue teacher training, I knew mang’Oh would be the place to do it.

Describe your Teacher Training experience at mang’Oh:

Heart opening. Transitional. As someone who had approached the yoga practice from a physical foundation, teacher training enabled me to uncover a fresh perspective, awakening a deeper understanding of what the practice can offer.

Teacher training pushed and challenged me in new ways, yanking me outside of my comfort zone and forced me to go deeper – into my own practice on the mat (slightly more comfortable) and off the mat (unfamiliar and not quite as natural a fit). With voice shaking, mind racing, I somehow had to figure out how to teach, remember sequencing, and learn Sanskrit in the midst of an overwhelming amount of self-study. And homework! And work-work. And my relationship. And life stuff. In the first week or so, it just seemed like so much. Then, although it didn’t get easier or less busy (and perhaps hindsight helps a bit with this), I began to revel in the challenges.

How often, as adults, do we have the opportunity to focus on learning something completely new and truly challenge yourself. Oh, there were tears and sweat and questioning throughout the training. Some new aspects of the practice immediately felt like home, others felt like an ill-fitting jacket, but I tried to keep open through it all and observe what elements resonated and how they settled into my body, my mind. The friendships developed among my fellow TTs helped ground me, providing balance, support, laughter, commiseration, and wine amid the challenges along the way. Seemingly all of sudden, following the biggest battle with nerves of my life, I was sitting in the front of the studio, gazing at 14 of my friends and family members, having just taught my very first yoga class.

Tell us about your journey post-mang’Oh TT…

In the midst of retreat, close to the end of teaching training, my brain and heart were full. With new information, with questions, with an almost uncomfortable amount of self-reflection. I thought that I would likely need time away from yoga to observe how things might settle in with some distance from the intensity of teacher training. However, once teacher training wound down, I suddenly felt the complete opposite. I realized I wanted more. More knowledge, more immersion. More. Teacher training seemed to just awaken a deeper thirst for more yoga.

I began teaching K+C dancers, signing up for community classes at mang’Oh throughout the summer and then, slowly, I started to gain more confidence. Soon, the yoga bliss that followed taking class now enveloped me after teaching. I realized how much I enjoyed exploring what themes or poses I wanted to build my classes around and dove into self-practice more than I had in the past, using it as an opportunity to observe how asanas and sequences best fit together and best supported each other to figure out how to provide students with a balanced, challenging, and hopefully, inspiring class. As fall came around, I auditioned to become a teacher at mang’Oh and now feel blessed to be a part of the mang’Oh community.

In teaching regularly, I have learned so much more about being a teacher and I have begun to let go of perfection (everyone stumbles over words, confuses the right and left, or says elbow when they mean hand on occasion) and become more present. I’m able to explore the excitement of having a class evolve and change in the moment as I respond to the needs and strengths of the students. As I have gained experience in teaching, I realize that teacher training simply scratched the surface of all that I hope to gain through yoga and now I look forward to going further – to finding new workshops, new classes, and new training’s to see where this path may lead.

Teacher training has provided me with a foundation of tools for how beneficial the practice can be to live a life that is grounded, balanced, happy, and full. And despite not always succeeding, instead of just shaking my fist at a delivery guy who speeds through a red light on his bike or flashing a dirty look at people who try to board the subway before letting people off, I now shake my fist or flash that dirty look first, but then take a deep breath, and think about ahimsa soon after. It’s all a practice.

Who has influenced you, both in and out of the yoga world?

With more than 30 years in their chosen careers in law and academia, my parents have been the ultimate teachers in demonstrating the importance of pursuing what you love. They imbued in me a desire to make my passion my path and have showed the incredible fulfillment you can gain when a job is one you enjoy, even amid its challenges.

My brother, Phil, who only recently discovered yoga within just a year of practicing, teaches me something new all the time while pushing me to learn more and do more. 2015 is the year of the handstand for the Lodico siblings.The dance community of students and teachers at Connecticut College, who lit a fire and passion for movement and collaboration in me. My yoga teachers – my fellow teachers at mang’Oh – as well as Cooper Chou, Derek Cook, and Mike McArdle at Om Factory, and Kevin Courtney–for showing me how to uncover new sources of strength and balance and for phrasing things in just the perfect way that inspires in me new ways to share the practice with my students, while reminding me how important it is to have a sense of humor and smile as a teacher.

When you are not directing Keigwin & Co, or teaching yoga, where can we find you and what are you doing?

Taking yoga at mang’Oh or Om Factory, discovering new restaurants or at my favorite local spots with my husband Andy or friends, forgoing the subway for a nice, long walk on the city sidewalks, catching up on DVR, wishing for the NYC spring, and planning a getaway to a sandy beach or an adventure in Italy.

Describe your perfect day in NYC…

A late spring day, when it’s warm enough that people start shedding their jackets, emerging outside, filling the outdoor seating at restaurants, and maybe even smiling to each other on the streets. If it’s a Saturday morning, I would start it with a cappuccino at my favorite hole in the wall coffee shop, Johnny’s Panini, followed by my 8:45am Core Yoga class, where the students leave me energized and allow me to think that I can turn into a morning person. An ideal day would always have teaching followed by taking a yoga class and luckily, I frequently get to take Djuna Passman’s class after mine on Saturday mornings.

A little downtime at home is always a must before heading out with Andy to catch a little bit of the sunshine with a walk along the Highline or soaking in the warmth on a blanket in Central Park with cheesy celebrity magazines, beer, wiffle ball or Frisbee (played very poorly), and friends. If we are talking about my perfect day, I would have to round it out at my favorite wine bar, Sofia’s. There is little I love more than becoming a regular at places and after three years of perhaps too-frequent visits, this place feels like home. Meatballs to die for and my wine glass gets magically refilled without nary a request. If I’m not at a favorite spot, I most likely have perused the Grub Street blog on quite obsessively to find the newest, most delicious place to try. And luckily, with this town, we are never at a loss for a new tasty place to satiate me. Last week, it was Root & Bone for fried chicken and grits.

After more than a decade of living in NYC, it still manages to surprise, irritate, and inspire me on a near-constant basis and perfect days in the city most likely manage to hit upon all three, while containing at least a bit of spontaneity – either running into a friend you haven’t seen in awhile (and providing a reminder what a small town NYC is) or somehow ending up at a hole in the wall, eating dumplings at 2am. So, after enjoying places, people, and things that I know will nurture and re-energize me, hopefully my perfect NYC day would include at least one surprising and spontaneous moment that introduces me to something or someone new.

What is something that has surprised you in the last year?

I am most surprised that it has been a year since I stumbled my way through teaching my first yoga sequence, cursing myself for messing up the Sanskrit, the very first weekend of teacher training. Another surprising things is in that short period of time, yoga has taken a much more prominent place in my life and I almost can’t believe I went so many years with my practice on the periphery. My desire for more knowledge, more immersion in the practice is ever-growing and I can’t wait to figure out where I channel that energy.

I have been surprised, humbled, and grateful for the fantastic community at mang’Oh of students and teachers, and in particular, my fellow teacher trainees. The students’ dedication, verve, and passion inspire and energize me and teach me how to be a better teacher, while the mang’Oh teachers are consistently showing me ways to deepen my practice and discover something new.

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What advice would you give to someone looking to do what they love?

I feel unbelievably lucky and filled with gratitude that I am doing what I love – that I get to work to support incredible artists, that I am surrounded by dance, and that I’m now on this crazy amazing yoga teaching journey, which enriches my life more than I could have ever anticipated. So to someone who is looking to do what they love, figuring out what you love is the first step. Find examples of people around you who are pursuing their passion and seek their advice. Surround yourself with an amazing support network.

Find “your people,” that community of like-minded, passion-driven people with similar goals and push each other, support each other, and learn from each others’ experiences, successes, and failures. Find a mentor, someone who has done what you want to do and ask them a million questions. Do things that make your palms sweat and seem scary in pursuit of doing what you love. For me, a few examples of this include accepting a position as the only full-time administrative staff member of KEIGWIN + COMPANY in 2008, teaching my first yoga class, and handstands in the middle of the room.

What are you most grateful for today?

Family, friends, my yoga practice and community, KEIGWIN + COMPANY, this city. All things that provide me with strength, support, inspiration, and fulfillment, while challenging me and pushing me to be better.