Teacher of the Month: Gil Elhart

Gil is one of Breathe’s fearless leaders, an outdoorsy, frisbee-loving yogi that loves serving this community!

How did you start practicing yoga? What was your early yoga experience like? I was a competitive ultimate frisbee player in college and had some back spasms after a tournament. My neighbor, who was a personal trainer, recommended yoga and was surprised that his free-spirited friend hadn’t yet tried it. I bought a Rodney Yee video and a few weeks later Erich Schiffman’s book, I was hooked and I was getting my roommates to practice with me. After a year of self-exploration and during a cold winter, I got into Bikram. They challenge appealed to me, and I became a ‘yoga studio rat.’ I began observing how certain teachers could enhance the experience, and I started thinking of how I would like to lead the yoga classes.

When did you get a sense that yoga was different, not just a way to be physical? When I began practicing along with the first videos I used I knew that there was something deeper than a physical healing happening. I could sense myself connecting to a peacefulness that was both inside and universally around me. That’s what encouraged me to by books and read, in addition to embodying the practice. Erich Schiffman’s words in Yoga The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness affirmed that I was working on many levels, not only physical. A few of the chapters in his book are still my favorite passages on yoga to this day.

What is your favorite yoga pose and what is your least favorite yoga pose? And why? Downward-facing Dog is my favorite yoga pose. My spine elongates into the perfect extension relieving tension from my back. I feel the stability and support coming from the earth up my arms to my shoulders, and I feel an empowering strength. There is ease around my neck and the lines of energy opening through my sides and down my legs. I enjoy holding it for a couple minutes at a time. I also really like Mountain Pose 🏔  

My least favorite pose, hmm 🤔, chaturanga dandasana because as a teacher I want to help people embody the alignment of this pose properly, and due to misunderstandings of how the pose is sometimes taught, the need to develop more core engagement, and perhaps the involvement of the ego to do what is perceived as ‘the right way’ I see a lot of unsafe mechanics.

In what way does your yoga practice most impact your daily life? I would say that yoga helps me let go, and go with the flow of universal energy, and at the same time the practice has helped empower me to stand up for myself, speak up on behalf of others, and not shy away from confrontation as much as I used to. Conflict is a part of life, and how we handle it tells us a lot about ourselves. I suggest reading the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most beloved texts on yoga, which takes place on a battlefield. Yoga has helped me wield my weapons of discernment for when to act and when to let go.

This month at Breathe we are focusing on the first niyama, saucha, purity and cleanliness. How do you experience/practice saucha on your yoga mat, in your teaching, and in daily life? I like to organize my thoughts, organize my desk, and before a yoga practice organize the yoga space for a sense of cleanliness and tranquility. I have less control of this when teaching, but we designed Breathe with the idea of simplicity and aim to maintain a very high standard of cleanliness. Additionally, saucha for me is the living embodiment of clean living and a pure lifestyle. Am I holding onto, or fostering impure thoughts? Actions spring forth from thoughts, are my actions a reflection of pure intention? Is my diet pure? These are daily reflections that I aim to align with a pure, yogic lifestyle.

What is a fun fact about you that not many people know? Gil, short for Gilbert, is actually my middle name; and I have often thought of going by my first name, James. Until recently, I only really heard that when I was in trouble, and I would hear my full name called to me. Bonus fun fact: I enjoy board games and crossword puzzles.

Tell us something about running/operating Breathe. People sometimes think that I have the easiest job in the whole world, they must envision me doing yoga all day and descending from the clouds to teach classes. There is a lot of joy in serving this community, and teaching is the fun part. I use our studio name as to remind me to breathe during the challenges of making some of the tough decisions of a business.