Welcome to a new series in which I interview my favorite yoga and fitness teachers! I can’t imagine starting with anyone other than the teacher who introduced me to chanting and made me fall in love with yoga, Victoria Ladd. Victoria taught at Wake Up Yoga from 2007 to 2012 before moving home to Western Massachussets. She is currently on maternity leave, but she will no doubt be returning to Philly in the future to lead asana, chanting, and harmonium workshops.
JA: Why did you start practicing yoga?
VL: Originally, which was 15 years ago in NYC, I started practicing yoga because I wanted my ass to look nicer.
JA: What made you want to teach?
VL: I wanted to do a teacher training because I wanted to learn everything I could learn about yoga. It transformed my whole life, and I just wanted to keep going on that path. I had been enrolled in a teacher training at my home studio in NYC in order to to study more deeply with my teacher, Cari. We suddenly needed to relocate to Philly for work, and it took a while for me to find a studio that felt like home, where I wanted to continue to learn. Once I did, I wanted to share what I loved and what had changed my life with others.
JA: Who are the teachers who have had the greatest influence on you?
VL: Shiva Rea, Corina Benner, and Tiffany Cruikshank.
JA: You have this amazingly calm and soothing presence. Is that something you developed through yoga or were you born that way?
VL: I was calm before yoga. I probably get it from my Dad, who we call the “Zen Master.” But yoga definitely keeps the calm more readily accessible.
JA: I suspected that! How has your teaching style evolved over time?
VL: I used to be more rigid. In the beginning I wrote everything out. It was more intellectual. I find myself teaching the class I want to take. My style is flowy yet strong because I find I have more endurance that way, and it frees up my breath so beautifully. Yoga is life, life is yoga, and life is ever changing. Nothing stays the same. So I flow.
JA: From where do you draw your inspiration?
VL: From my home practice.
JA: Have you ever taught a bad yoga class?
VL: Lots of times! But sometimes I thought a class was a disaster and afterwards people said “great class!” Things aren’t always what they seem.
JA: What do you think draws people to your classes?
VL: I keep it accessible. I’m not too “out there,” I think. I hope! I try to keep my themes simple, things like “gratitude” and “patience”. Type-A people tend not to like my classes and that’s fine because there are plenty of yoga classes out there for everyone.
JA: There really aren’t words to describe how incredible the chanting that you lead in your classes is for me and many others. Have students ever been resistant to chanting?
VL:Yes! In the beginning I didn’t chant. When I first introduced it with the harmonium, there was one student who told me he did not like the chanting at all, and especially didn’t like the harmonium. I just told him the harmonium was here to stay and that I really liked having him in class.
JA: Did he come back?
VL: Yes! He came back for years, and eventually confessed that chanting with the harmonium had really grown on him! I think he must have really needed it.
JA: What is the best advice you can give to a new yoga teacher?
VL: Keep up with your home practice. Stay humble. Don’t quit on a bad day.
JA: What was your most embarrassing teaching moment?
VL: That’s a tricky one because for whatever reason I tend not to feel embarrassed. But I do remember in my first year of teaching, I got a little too confident, as most beginning teachers tend to get. I went rogue- didn’t plan, didn’t think of a sequence, I arrogantly thought I could just fly by the seat of my yoga pants after just a few months of teaching. Ha! Well I screwed up. I did one thing on the first side, could not for the life of me remember what I did or how I did it for the second side. And what felt like the worst part was that there were several new teacher trainees in that class, and trainees are often so focused on the details of what’s going on, what the teacher is doing, as opposed to other students who are there for the experience of a class. I don’t remember how I recovered, or if I did! But I do remember apologizing. It was a big screw up, but really in looking back, that was just one sequence of the whole 90 minute class. Who knows how it was perceived?
JA: The dreaded “what the hell did I do on the first side” territory! I think we’ve all been there at least once! What has been your greatest or most fulfilling teaching moment?
VL: In 2012, for various reasons, my family and I left Philadelphia. And it was so hard. We kind of bounced around a bit, and soon after we finally decided to unpack for the long haul, I was scheduled to return to Philly to teach. It had been a very rough few months, and that’s the understatement of the year. The excitement I felt for returning to teach in the community that I so loved and so missed was nearly unbearable. It was a three-hour class with lots of chanting. When I started pumping the bellows of my harmonium and we all chanted the opening OM, tears were instantly streaming down my face. I couldn’t even OM. I was home, I was embraced with love, and everything felt OK for the first time in a really, really long time. In thinking about how to answer this question, there have been plenty of times that students have shared with me how my classes, and more often the chanting that we did together, effected them in some positive way. And that is so wonderful and beautiful, and I am humbled by and eternally grateful for those moments. But this moment, that opening OM, that experience took care of me in such a profound way. I received so much from that and I’ll always hold that feeling in my heart.
JA: That is beautiful! What is your least favorite part about teaching yoga?
VL: I think my least favorite part is the business of yoga. I love teaching classes. I love connecting with receptive students. I don’t love looking for jobs or negotiating pay, that kind of stuff.
JA: If you could only do one pose what would it be?
VL: Downward facing dog. It just feels so good!
JA: Complete this sentence: Without yoga I would….
VL: …not feel like myself.
JA: Thank you so much Victoria! Your classes changed my life for the better and I will always be so grateful that our paths intersected.