September Teacher of the Month: Elena Mansour

image1-3For September we have chosen Elena as our teacher of the month!
Elena is generous with her time, donating multiple classes a week and even coming in to sub classes sometimes as well!
She has been immersing herself in her study of yoga for over 15 years and is someone who is constantly learning and growing. You can almost always find her coming into the studio with a couple books in hand, always planning the next workshop or retreat she will attend to keep growing her knowledge of yoga!
A true practitioner, Elena takes her practice off her mat and into the world. In her free time, Elena offers trauma-informed yoga to veterans at the VA hospital in Asheville.
What was the experience with yoga that got you hooked?
I visited the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health for the first time in 2002, when I lived in Massachusetts. At the time, I was dealing with the grief of losing my mother, while still in my mid-20s and was looking for the meaning to my life. After that visit, I thought, “Oh, so this is how healthy people live.” Yoga and a healthy lifestyle were so foreign to me back then & yet, it was what my soul was craving so deeply, as my depression had me questioning the meaning of my life. Up until then, I had thought that the key to happiness was external achievement, and my whole world was crashing down.  Attending yoga and being immersed in a yogic lifestyle helped me see that I wasn’t locked inside of a solid wall of misery. In fact, I began to see more clearly that my path involved healing myself and then helping others to heal. So, in 2008, I went to the Kripalu Center to complete their yoga teacher training and within 6 months, I returned to join their volunteer program for a year, which is when my life trajectory began to change for the positive.
What inspires you to continue yoga?
Growing up, my mind had a tendency to worry, get anxious and focus on the negative. I have always been hard on myself and was often my own worst critic. Yet, yoga has taught me how to come into my body, befriend my body and be my own best friend. Yoga has taught me what it means to practice self-care. And much of the magic of yoga is because it slows us down and brings us into the present moment, while also building mindful awareness. So, I have found that the best way to calm my mind is through yoga practices that utilize my body. Of course, I still get stressed and anxious at times, but yoga has given me the tools to be with these difficult emotions. Now, I’m no longer spending so much time ruminating, reacting and practicing negative self-talk. Instead, I’m able to notice what’s happening, which gives me more distance and space from my usual patterns.
What is your favorite pose?
Baddha Konasana – reclined bound angle pose with a bolster under my back & blocks under my knees. I often lead this pose in classes because I love how it’s a safe way to open the heart while feeling supported by the ground. I’ve also noticed that when I come into this pose, I feel a strong softening into my body and generally the urge to let out a few deep audible sighs.
If you could just share one practice that has helped you the most, what would it be?
Alternate nostril breathing with holding. I like to inhale to 4, hold to 4 & exhale to 8. Alternate nostril breathing helps to balance the right and left hemispheres of the brain & is deeply relaxing.
What is your current or all-time favorite song or artist for a yoga playlist?
Shamanic Dream by Anugama
How did you find Asheville Community Yoga?
I found ACY through word of mouth & had never been to a completely donation based yoga studio before. It was love at first site.
What inspired you to become a Yoga & Meditation instructor?
Sharing what I know. Yoga has helped me to transform myself from being completely identified as a “depressed person” into someone who is moving forward with her dreams. It’s not an easy or linear path, but I feel it happening and growing stronger with time. I teach because I know that others can transform in this way too. For example, I teach at the Veterans Hospital of Asheville in their inpatient mental health unit. I enjoy teaching to this population because most of the patients have never experienced yoga before. So, it’s exciting to offer the students an experience that allows them to find relaxation and relief in their bodies. Many people with trauma have come to see their bodies as a threatening place to be. Too see a look of calm on someone’s face who may be dealing with PTSD, anxiety, or depression creates a sense of warmth in my heart around making an impact. I truly believe that we are all here to make an impact in this world.
We encourage you to treat yourself to a class with Elena! You can join her on Tuesdays from 3:00-3:45pm for Anxiety Releasing Yoga and for Gentle Yoga on Wednesdays from 2:15-3:30pm.
Elena – Thank you for being so generous with your time and being so honest and down to Earth. You’ve touched the lives of many people and the world is a better place thanks to you following your passion of yoga and sharing it with others.