This month in our “A Day in the Life of a Yoga Teacher” series we are featuring a yoga teacher near and dear to my heart. From the very first moment that I walked into her class, I felt like I had come home. I was completely enveloped by her warmth, her vivaciousness, her precision yet ease in which she leads the class. She is a teacher’s teacher with over 20 years experience, whose open heart extends way beyond the mat. It is my utmost pleasure to introduce to you a day in the life of Debbi Murphy.
SY: Where do you teach? And what is your teaching experience?
DM: I teach throughout Idaho, at my own studio in McCall (Shanti) and at several studios in Boise and I lead workshops throughout the country and internationally. I also present at conferences and festivals. I began teaching “wellness” classes back in the mid-70s while I was a Exercise Science doctoral student. I called it “stretch & flex”. As time went on, this morphed into a “purer” form of yoga which I’ve been teaching for over twenty years. Besides my doctorate in exercise science, I also hold a masters in Counseling Psychology and Higher Education and am registered as a ERYT500 with Yoga Alliance.
SY: What are the practices you do to keep things smooth sailing? What are your challenges? What are your goals?
DM: Like most folks, my biggest challenge is abhyasa or a regular consistent effort. I enjoy travel and outdoor activities like running rivers, camping, etc. which can work against this regularity. But I try to use these obstacles as an opportunity to allow my yoga to transform to the situation. Rather than practicing solitary meditation when I’m in a group camping experience, meditation becomes being truly present to the experience. Meditation is my most important yoga practice but I also do asanas that seem to flow from what my body, mind and spirit need at that time. I’m influenced by teachers I’ve studied with; Rodney Yee, Erich Schiffmann, John Friend, Richard Freemann, Judith Lasater, and more recently, Annie Carpenter and Jason Crandall. All of these teachers guide my current personal practice AND teaching. I like a “smart flow” as Annie would call it, I love the linking of energetic and physiological awareness that all of these teachers emphasize.
SY: Describe your IDEAL morning routine.
DM: I keep it really simple. Mornings are so special that I don’t like to “muck it up”. I am lucky that I don’t need to use an alarm. When I wake up, I spend a little cuddle time with my husband and furry family (2 dogs, 2 cats). I usually make it to the kitchen first where I prepare lemon juice for us humans and feed the critters. We usually meditate around 20 to 30 minutes together, after which I like to set an intention for the day. Then it’s coffee & cream, a little Greek yogurt and blueberries. Most mornings I teach at around 9 or 10 so I try to spend some time preparing the theme for the class, most of the time it comes from my meditation and intention setting.
SY: Describe your ACTUAL morning routine.
DM: Well, it’s pretty much what I described as my ideal routine (unless we’re traveling or something comes up like no coffee in the house :-). I suppose I wish I’d be more enthusiastic about doing asana practice in the morning.
SY: Write a paragraph or 2 about your average day.
DM: As I said, I love my mornings and I love my evenings, too. They would be my highlight, when I get to break my fast and create my evening meal with my husband. But, I do absolutely love love love teaching yoga so I’d also consider that a highlight. I spend a lot of time reading everyday. Mostly yoga philosophy but also buddhist and other spiritual philosophies. I spend about a half of an hour in the car most days except when I travel once a week from McCall to Boise and then back again (I teach in McCall Saturday through Monday and Wednesday through Friday in Boise most weeks). That drive is two hours each way. Usually my husband travels with me so it’s a good time to connect….plus the drive is gorgeous. If my husband drives, I spend time “grading papers” or looking over my notes for teaching. I don’t do a lot of privates but I do spend time on the phone and through emails with my students. That actually ends up taking several hours a day. I do an asana practice late afternoon, before dinner.
SY: Describe your evening routine. Are you working? Making dinner? Watching TV? Reading? Practicing?
DM: I prefer not to teach in the evenings but do once a week. I am usually preparing dinner with my husband. After dinner, we might watch a series on Netflix or read. We also LOVE going out for a great meal at least a couple nights a week.
SY: Describe your sleep routine.
DM: I’m pretty regular with a 10:30 pm bedtime unless we’re out (& even then, we’re usually home by then). I sleep really well so I don’t have any tricks but do like to do at least some reading. I usually sleep till 6:30 am, I at least try for 8 hours. 🙂 For me, this is the secret to not getting run down and consequently, sick. I feel awful if I get much less than this.
SY: What do you love about teaching yoga.
DM: I love teaching group classes. I feel I’ve worked and studied for a long time to understand what the practice is about and I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to share my passion. I love teaching to a new group of folks (virgins, who have no idea what I’m about….or what yoga is about) and then seeing them fall in love with the practice. But I also love teaching students who’ve been with me for years, it’s like a celebration of our connected spirit.
SY: Describe the type of yoga that you teach.
DM: I teach “alignment based” vinyasa. I’m totally mesmerized by the metaphors “on & off the mat”, the need for awareness in transitions and moving from the core, and how this applies to our everyday relationship with life. I love music, I love flow and juiciness, but I also love alignment and anatomy. Here’s the verbiage from a workshop I’ve been teaching this summer, I believe it sums it all up pretty well:
Sat 10 to noon, Form: Moving Mindfully from the Inside Out
What is the source of your power? Physiologically it’s the Core Power Meridian, on a more Esoteric level it’s your Core Values, (the Yamas and Niyamas); & they do not exist in separate realities. Yoga is the vessel for yoking the mind & body. On our mats we discover an intimate relationship between the two, uncovering a distinct dialogue between the physical & the spiritual, nurturing our abundant regenerating power. Today, we tap into the root of both: diving deep into body & asking mind to peacefully join in building the groundwork necessary for higher spiritual practice. Awareness of anatomy, physiology, alignment provides an informed understanding of how the body works. Focusing this awareness on standing poses brings ease & strength so that each can be a key to unlocking understanding your individual optimal alignment.
Sat 2 to 4: Function: Form follows Function
Here we tap into the transformative power of asana as we move from the “rules” of technique and start to look at what is really going on and what our bodies are really trying to tell us. Exactly what happens to mind, body, and spirit when we do triangle? In this session we explore lessons learned in Moving From the Inside Out, feeling our way through each asana, listening to the dialogue, and add a healthy dose of anatomy and physiology to strengthen and protect the connection we have discovered. Yoga is 99% awareness and we will come to understand why Form always follows Function.
Sun 10 – 2: Flow: The Joy of Transitions
Our mat is a metaphor for life….and life is just one long transition from birth to death. Yet we tend to focus on individual asanas just like we tend to focus on individual events (birth, death, weddings). Here, we explore Abhyasa, the practice, or the effort towards aligning and re-aligning one’s mind to the present moment, in an effort to witness the transition & embody the transformation. The meeting of mind & body on the mat is the most important meeting of the day. It is a meeting in which we explore the transitions from one asana to another & also a time to reflect on the transitions off the mat and understand that, in essence, every moment is transition. Yoga teaches us how to be present in the transition, in the “now”, during the shift from triangle to warrior II, from child bearer to grandmother, from birth to death. In this session we’ll use the Joy of Transitions to teach us how to navigate with more delight. We will find the balance between inner spirituality and one’s external life through the practice of seeing all transitions as beautiful expressions of the Cosmic Consciousness.
SY: Most challenging part about teaching yoga?
DM: I don’t know really….it flows pretty naturally. Maybe the drive to the studio 🙂
SY: Favorite part about teaching yoga?
DM: The personal transformation I see in students; how they come in looking kind of crabby or stressed and come out of savasana all smiles. I love my students!
SY: Your personal practice.
DM: I usually practice with an online teacher once a month (or study with one of our visiting teachers or one from my staff) and then take that seed of an idea and make my own little flow. This gives me an idea that I develop when I teach, too. Recently, my focus is on transitions and how this relates to our life off the mat, too.
SY: Do you have a regular meditation practice?
DM: Yes, every morning. During the day I try to take mini-meditation breaks (just breathing and being and looking around and realizing the inter-being of it all.)
SY: Do you practice yoga as much as you’d like?
DM: Yes, I feel like the way I live my life is yoga.
SY: Where do you practice?
DM: At home and with teachers I’ve checked out. I’m pretty picky about just taking random classes. I enjoy following certain teachers who I really respect on YogaGlo and other online classes. I really enjoy just doing my own thing.
I do what feels good, I practice regularly but don’t go into it with expectations. I might just lay down in savasana or I might do 108 sun salutations or I might do alternate nostril breathing.
SY: What is your best tip for beginners that want to try yoga.
DM: Start slow, simple and small. Trust that this is a time-honored technique to improve all aspects of your life: your relationships, your mental and physical health, your creativity, your happiness. Think of it as brushing your teeth: a little everyday is the key.
SY: What is your best tip for sticking to a regular, personal practice?
DM: Keep it simple and doable. Practice practicing in a way that you like, that you look forward to, not as an obligation that you need to check off (& please, get rid of the to-do lists).
SY: What is your best nutrition tip?
DM: I do not eat sugar but other than that, I’m pretty open. I’m not interested in junk food but do like traditional comfort foods (meat, potatoes, veggies). I’m very lucky that my husband loves to cook so we don’t have to resort to processed foods. We chose to forgo quantity for quality. I usually have red wine with my meals and am known to have a cocktail during our meal preparation. Because alcohol has such a high sugar content, I try to treat them as a dessert, sparingly. After trying many different food philosophies (including veganism), I find that the middle way works best for me.
SY: What is the funniest thing that has happened while you were teaching a class?
DM: I love to laugh and make others laugh in a class so I’m open to humor, lightness always. Spontaneity and openness make for some pretty good laughs. I really can’t think of any one incident standing out more than the others. Just good laughs when folks bring in their own humanity (sex, kids, work stress, etc.).
SY: What is the most inspiring moment in a class that you were teaching?
DM: The end, the closing, after savasana. It’s always amazing to see the transition that occurs from the beginning of class.
SY: Why do you teach yoga?
DM: It completes me. It is my dharma. I believe I was meant to teach yoga.
SY: Coffee, Tea or Other?
DM: Coffee (prefer French pressed or espresso) usually a half cup is all I want. I think for me, it’s the ritual of sharing the morning experience with my husband (who likes a couple cups). I use steamed whole milk or half and half.
SY: Vegetarian, Vegan, Pescetarian, Meat or Other?
DM: Home-style Middle Way.
SY: Introvert, Extrovert or Other?
SY: Meditation, Asana, Pranayama, or Chanting?
SY: Virabhadrasana III, mukha vrkasana, savasana or bakasana?
SY: Favorite place that you have travelled?
DM: Middle Fork of the Main Salmon River, Idaho
SY: Favorite place to meditate?
DM: Wherever I am.
SY: Favorite book?
DM: Impossible to say. I have favorites, like early Isabelle Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, poetry (Emerson, Whitman….the Transcendentalists) and a good mystery with a female protagonist (Stieg Larson).
SY: Your hero?
DM: The human spirit. Actually, the spirit of all living creatures.