An Interview with Mary Sinclair
Sometimes you meet someone and think: wow, I love them.
I met Mary Sinclair and this is exactly the way I felt.
Upon getting to know her even more at a recent Prenatal Teacher Training she and Jenn Gebhart are leading at Yoga on High, I found Mary as a teacher to be immediately engaging, kind, funny, quirky, and extraordinarily intelligent.
She is precisely my favorite type of person: upbeat, witty, a wondrous weaver of words, someone who knows their sh*t inside and out but doesn't take themselves so gosh dang seriously. She radiates awesomeness.
So without knowing her all that well before I get to train and study with her more, I thought I would ask her some questions as I am already incredibly inspired and intrigued by this amazing woman.
Without further ado, Mary Sinclair!
KS: When did you first begin your yoga journey? What was it you initially loved about yoga?
MS: I guess I wandered into my first yoga class in 1995 or 96. I saw a flyer at the North Market and that class was with Kathleen Lewis.
I went because I was a newly licensed massage therapist and working and feeling the woe of my lifetime of horrible posture.
Being bent over a massage table and not understanding anything about sustainable form while working as well as my rotten daily habits of schlumping really took a toll fast.
I just felt I needed to stretch! Yoga seemed like a good place to start.
KS: What all do you teach? What are your favorites classes to lead? Subjects + specialties you are passionate about?
MS: I teach prenatal yoga and have been doing that since 2002. I also specialize in a body of work I learned as Balance, but I believe my teacher is now calling it 'Spinefulness'.
It is based on natural alignment principles and is anthropomorphically informed from studying cultures who carry weight on their head, their relationship to gravity and their low incidence of reported back pain. I incorporate these principles in whatever class I am teaching.
I also teach chair yoga and a very gentle floor yoga class to seniors where these principles really rock and open their world to greater ease.
And a few years ago I got certified to teach Pilates Matwork through Stott which is a more contemporary brand. They really focus on therapeutics and restoring function.
My latest endeavor and great passion currently is EmbodiYoga and my teacher is Lisa Clark from Pittsburgh. I am going to Cincinnati every month for intensive studies with her for the next two years or so.
This work is blending BodyMind Centering, the work of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen with yoga and it is so fabulous and freeing and exactly what I've been longing for.
KS: I think it is amazing and so cool that though you do not have kids of your own you are an expert Prenatal Yoga teacher helping so many other women in the world.
MS: Isn't that a trip? I swear I had no idea I would land in that demographic when I got interested in teaching yoga.
Yoga on High sent me to Seattle for the training and the leader of that program had been a labor and delivery nurse. I think she was fed up with the medicalization of childbirth.
I learned a great deal about the natural process that is labor and delivery and was so fascinated by it!
I never would have known all that since I think I've known my whole life that having and raising kids wasn't part of my path.
When I saw how much yoga can support a woman in a natural childbirth process, if that is her desire, I thought, "that seems like a really important way to support women". I would want all the support I could get if I was in that position for sure!
Even if a woman ends up having some medication or whatever, yoga can help her with comfort while pregnant, help her know herself and help her navigate all the choices she has during this rather intense part of her life.
It feels like a responsibility to offer this support because what I've seen is many women have no idea how much their body will continue to change while pregnant, after delivery and for future pregnancies.
KS: You had mentioned that your interest in Prenatal was sparked after hearing a lot of women's stories about childbirth.
What were some of those stories? What was it that really inspired you to study Prenatal Yoga in such depth?
MS: Whew! That's a big one! Every story is so different despite the general same punchline.
The stories I think I heard were home birth stories, so first of all, WOW! So much planning goes into that and there really is no pain meds option.
I guess hearing how they made a choice and rode the incredible tides of that process and hearing them describe some of the immense challenges yet trusting themselves, their bodies and their support teams... I even get chills thinking of it!
It's really something.
KS: What books do you recommend that you think would be beneficial for moms-to-be or wanna-be Prenatal Yoga teachers to read?
MS: Ina May's Guide to Childbirth is at top of the list! Lots of birth stories, lots of sage advice from a woman who has attended thousands of births probably. She really helps you feel just good about being a woman and her message that as women we're built for this, it's in our DNA is so empowering!
Also, Natural Hospital Birth: the Best of Both World's by Cynthia Gabriel is fantastic! She's a doula and really gives great advice to anyone wanting or needing to be in hospital for delivery. She has great insight and suggestions for helping people understand that system of care and how to both have what you want and work well with the system.
I'm currently reading Wild Feminine by Tami Lynn Kent and this one is so cool! A PT and energy healer, she really speaks to the creative power that lives inside a woman's pelvis, her root, her womb center and she speaks to women wholly, even if you're not growing a baby in there. That zone is a source of creative inspiration and energy!
Meditation Secrets for Women by Camille Maurine and Lorin Roche. Camille is my meditation teacher, she and her husband Lorin are wonderful to study with as well. It's exciting to have such great guides!
[KS: Catch them at Yoga on High this fall! I'll be there!]
KS: Who are some of your greatest inspirations (yoga-related or not)? Who are the people that you really look up to in this world?
MS: Well currently Lisa Clark is such an embodied teacher. She radiates her teachings and THAT inspires me!
Of course my dear mentors Marcia Miller, Linda Oshins and Martha Marcom, the original owners of Yoga on High.
All of them have ushered me along and fanned my flame.
Jean Couch, My Balance teacher. She is a riot and fun to be in a room with as a student or friend.
Camille Maurine, my meditation teacher.
Great teaching in general inspires me. It is a great craft and wonderful path if you love to learn which I do!
I've had some fantastic teachers in Columbus and elsewhere. More than I can name.
I'm also inspired by people who choose joy. They may have hard things in their lives, don't we all?
Yet they continually choose to look for the good. My Mom is this way. She is a delightful 82 by the way.
KS: Outside of the yoga world, what are some of your favorite hobbies? Things you love to do the most in life? Things that bring you joy?
MS: JOY! I love my fur babies—2 Chihuahuas and a cat currently.
Cuddling and walking the dogs is a source of deep pleasure.
I love to cook! I love long walks on warmer days especially with my husband.
I absolutely LOVE to read.
I have to say, I even am deriving a lot of pleasure from my practices of Meditation, yoga, Pilates, pranayama and MELT. They all fortify me so much that I can wholeheartedly say that I LOVE to do them all!
It's taken me a long time to cultivate such regular practice so I am proud of that, another source of joy!
I love lounging with my husband and sharing our life experiences daily and goofing off together.
I derive a lot of pleasure from simple things. I do love a good film, documentaries as well, and to laugh, hard!
KS: I absolutely love and appreciate your amazing sense of humor. Do you have any comedy shows, movies, or anything you really love that you could recommend for a good laugh?
MS: Oh man, you asked for it! I have so many sources of inspiration here.
There are so many excellent female comics out there now....Chelsea Handler, Maria Bamford, Amy Schumer, Nikki Glaser, Sarah Silverman, Amy Pohler, Tina Fey, Kristin Wiig and I've always loved Carol Burnett! They all can get me doubled over.
I think Dave Chapelle is a riot as well as Chris Rock. I love Louis C.K. too.
I totally miss Chris Farley and Phil Hartman from SNL.
There is so much great laughter still when watching any repeats from those guys.
"10" is a hysterical older film that can make anyone pee a little in my opinion.
KS: Any quotes and mantras you particularly love?
MS: So many...
KS: I so much admire your intelligence and how witty you are. What is your educational/career background? What have you studied in the past?
MS: Well, I can only study something if it interests me for sure. I had absolutely NO idea what I wanted to do after high school. I wasn't into sports either.
I had tried going to OSU but not having any direction whatsoever at that point it just swallowed me and regurgitated me back out.
I think when I was about 19 I wandered into a little private "no impact" aerobics study and was immediately drawn in by the owner who really had a strong presence and I fell in love with the atmosphere; pumping music, positive, smiling faces and nicely toned bodies of the instructors.
The owner really made an impression on me and I ended up working there for a few years.
Then I got into massage school because of my interest in the body.
My Mom actually nudged me towards that, she thought I had a natural ability with touch.
I've been studying anatomy ever since massage school and will always be studying it because it is so vast, fascinating and pertinent to what I'm doing now which is educating people how to use their body better.
KS: What are some of your favorite books that you absolutely recommend for education or just pure fun?
MS: Another biggie. I love books and have so many.
I think for the natural alignment principles Put Your Back at Ease: Pain Free Postures for Fitness and Health by Thea Sawyer and Natural Posture for Pain-Free Living: The Practice of Mindful Alignment by Kathleen Porter are good.
I've referred to Anatomy of Movement a great many times.
Now I am into writings by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, Sensing, Feeling and Action is wonderful, so is Taking Root to Fly: Articles on Functional Anatomy by Irene Dowd.
Lisa shows us pictures from a series of anatomy books called Thieme and they are fantastic! So detailed with lots of angles and images.
For Fun! I am currently into the Three Pines Series by Louise Penny.
I love Donna Tartt with The Secret History being one of my favorite books of all time.
So many books, so little time!
KS: What do you think it is that makes a phenomenal yoga teacher? What qualities do you think set people apart and make them exceptional at their craft?
MS: Someone who is approachable who also has good and clear boundaries.
For me it comes down to embodiment. Does this teacher embody what they are teaching?
When I began teaching Balance it was really hard because I loved the work but it wasn't integrated very much yet. It takes time.
What I've really come to understand is that the teaching HAS to come from practice.
I was practicing daily, more like here and there but my "practice" wasn't established.
Now I want at least 3 hours in the morning before I have to be anywhere so I can have my practice(s) which varies daily although I am doing all of the various things I do.
This I think is key and even though I've heard that for years, that the teacher needs to have a practice, I didn't really get it or engage with practice deeply until the past few years.
I love when a teacher knows when to slow down, to pause for themself and for the class.
Teaching is a fine craft that takes years to hone and develop and excel at.
My Dad was a high school teacher. I think some of the knowing of teaching was born into me. The rest is coming through not just studying but most definitely from teaching itself.
No one learns how to teach without teaching.
KS: As someone who uses absolutely brilliant cues and poetic descriptions in teaching classes—any advice on how you refine the specificity of your cueing?
And listen intently to the teachers who inspire you.
I don't mean to mimic them—I used to pick up lots of little phrases my teacher Jean used and I worried that I just sounded like a mimic and I really longed to sound like myself.
She was really gracious in telling me the parts that resonate with me are like me, the rest will fall away.
I think we need to notice the feeling within us when we are guided by a teacher's language that we appreciate.
If we attune to the feeling, we will come up with our own language for it.
Really dry cues with no life force behind them are boring to me.
I love when I can feel the life of the guide's experience in their cueing.
That is why our practice is non-negotiable.
If we come to the classroom from our own experience and stay present and neutral, the transmission can come through. The words spill out of us.
Many teachers say that they "don't know where that came from" when they say something particularly useful in a class.
It's from the presence of their being, from their experience and from them showing up and being willing to transmit that.
It's simple actually, it can even be easy, if you trust.
KS: What are some of the greatest things that have shaped you and your life? The greatest lessons you've learned?
MS: Well, I have to give Marcia Miller a lot of props here because so many earth moving changes came for me from doing things she introduced me to... these include Balance, Non Violent Communication and Lorin and Camille.
Actually Lisa too because Marcia invited her to Yohi in years past, though I didn't study with her them. All the lessons in these bodies of work have greatly shaped me into who I am now.
In working with Lisa Clark and seeing how beautifully she embodies her work and she is a marvelous guide with her words, I am recognizing the value of presence more than ever.
To trust the earth, my contact with it and it's support.
I also am seeing the places I have work to do, being really discerning with when and how I touch to guide a body and to cultivate more patience for the process of change, my own and my students.
KS: How long have you lived in Columbus and what do you love about this city?
My whole Life! I love the ease, the light traffic, the cost of living, and there are some really awesome people here including most of my immediate family.
KS: Where were you born and raised?
MS: Hilliard, a suburb of C-bus.
KS: Any events coming up?!
MS: Yes! If you're pregnant or know someone who is, come to our Prenatal Partner Workshop at Yoga on High's Teacher Training Institute on Sunday, March 13 from 2:00 - 4:30!
I will be in Cincinnati at Vitality Yoga on Saturday, May 20 for a Balance workshop.
Wilmington, Ohio on April 8, as well.