The first time I took Erin’s class I thought I was going to die.
No music and long held planks combined with simple, almost spartan sequencing made me miss the virtually alignment-free, fast flowing power yoga classes in Miami Beach.
I said to myself:”Every second of this class is so excruciating, I will never come back!” But deep inside myself I knew that it was exactly what I needed. Because, unfortunate but true, sometimes the least pleasant things in life are the more rewarding ones in the end. So I went back for more.
And I give her credit for revolutionizing my practice and inspiring a much more still, focused me. I now prefer to practice without music, just listening to my breath. I flow a lot less and hold a lot more. And I question the purpose and structure of each posture instead of half-heartedly breezing my way through them.
Erin reminds me a lot of my friend Sally. Very energetic, independent, with a big infectious laugh, in love with life, and unpredictable in a fun, refreshing way. You always sort of wonder what she’s thinking only to realize she’s transparent and straight-forward. Erin strikes me as someone very disciplined and driven when it comes to yoga. And possibly as someone who unknowingly deceives a really big heart in a bit of a tough exterior. Her knowledge of yoga spans far beyond anatomy and alignment; she is so wise in all aspects of the practice, ranging from the process of learning and applying principles to all the mental and physical challenges along the way. Her classes are great if you are wiling to take your practice very seriously at times (like in downward facing dog), and not too seriously at others (when you are approaching your 4th chair pose hold in a row).
Erin gives it a 100% in everything she does, and she did the same in this interview. Enjoy!
Name: Erin Cookston
Hometown: Vacaville, CA
Profession: Yoga Teacher
Favorite Book: I’m a huge book worm, so the list is long. But two of my favorites are “Light on Life” by B.K.S Iyengar, and “American Wife” by Curtis Sittenfeld
Favorite Movie: The Godfather
If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
If I were to be anything other then myself I would want to be my dog Ellie, she’s my super sweet Chihuahua Minpin rescue pup. Like most rescues she spent the first year of her life abused and mistreated; but even with all her previous misfortune she is completely trusting and generous with her love. She is the most vulnerable, nurturing, and courageous soul I’ve ever met. And she’s a energy firecracker and a ton of fun. I’d love to have all those qualities.
What’s your favorite yoga pose and why?
I think we all go through phases with postures, finding ones we enjoy more than others at different times in our lives. Since beginning my practice, Downward Facing Dog has been my ultimate ‘go to’ posture. If I can only do one posture, Down Dog is the one. It requires so much focus and attention to subtlety that it instantly brings me into the present moment, and it balances out and refreshes my whole body.
If you could gain any one quality, what would it be?
I’m a pretty patient person with others, but I’d like to develop more patience with myself. When I’m working on something that inspires and intrigues me I sometimes fall into the “I want it to happen now” or ” I’m ready now” mindset, and that can easily turn into an self-degrading struggle.
Also, I’m not sure if it qualifies as a quality, but I’d love to be more musically inclined. I’d love to learn to play the piano.
What is your favorite spot in Marin County?
To be honest, I really love bumming around San Rafael. But my favorite spot in Marin is definitely Tennessee Valley, it has become my reset button. Running and hiking there a few times a week is my salvation.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I’ve been given A LOT of really stellar advice throughout my life. The piece that’s coming to be now is something a friend said to me a few weeks ago, ” If you always do the same thing, you’ll always get the same thing.” -Basically, it’s encouragement to try new things and to be open to your own spontaneity; have the courage to be different, instead of always keeping things ‘predictable’ and comfy. It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone, but if you want to change something about yourself or your life you have to be willing to step outside of that zone and try doing things a different way.
Tell me about one of your greatest accomplishments
This is a difficult one. Well, one of my greatest accomplishments at this juncture in my life is living alone, and being on my own. Up until a year ago I never had lived on my own; I’d always lived with family, friends, or partners. And not only had a never lived alone before, but my own fear persuaded me into believing I couldn’t live alone. I was convinced I would be scared, lonely, and poor. Needless to say, I really intimidated myself about it. That said, I’ve currently been living on my own for about a year and it’s been really empowering. Overcoming that fear of being alone has helped me develop so much more clarity and confidence in my life.
What has yoga taught you about life?
That my greatest gift is my Attention. My practice continues to show me that when I direct my attention with care and specificity everything is possible. Yoga has taught me that I can create the life I want to live.
What is the most challenging experience you’ve had in your yoga journey?
Becoming a teacher. It’s not always easy being the new kid on the block. Teaching is a HUGE part of my practice.
Tell me about your personal practice. How often do you practice, for how long, where?
I’m up at 5:30am to teach most mornings, so my preferred practice time is in the evening once my work day is over and the sun has gone down. I’ve been a home practitioner pretty exclusively for quite a while, so the duration and intensity depends on how I’m feeling that day; sometimes I practice for 2 hours, sometimes I practice for 20 minutes. As far as postures go, Inversions are a huge part of my daily asana practice, as well as more passive Yin Yoga postures. I’m a huge prop enthusiast; I love exploring new ways to use props and I regularly use blocks, blankets, bolsters, a chair, straps and acupressure balls.
I pretty much spend all my nonworking daylight time outside either hiking, running, or hanging out at ocean. So naturally, I love taking my asana practice into nature. Nothing beats a mid hike yoga practice at the top of a mountain.
Your teaching style could be considered very alignment based. Has it always been that way? How has your teaching style evolved over time?
I’ve been a student of Yoga for around 10 years and teaching for about 3.5 years, and both my practice and my teaching has changed considerably over the years. I’ve always been pretty alignment based, but my specificity and clarity with respect to alignment has definitely increased over the years. When I first started teaching I was very ‘by the books’ for lack of a better word, as a brand new teacher I was way to nervous to teach intricate postures/transitions or to be creative in sequencing. Now a days, more of my creativity comes out while I’m teaching, and I definitely have lower inhibitions. I love exploring new, and sometimes abstract, ways to articulate mental and physical alignment cues.