Irene Pappas is asking the hard questions. The yogi and all-around inspiring woman recently opened a donation-based studio in Boulder, Colorado to make yoga more accessible to all, and is setting a precedent for the way yoga teachers-in-training are taught to think about the practice through her rigorous (and rewarding) teacher trainings. With a curriculum that dives into cultural appropriation, religion, and body inclusivity, among other crucial topics, and encourages deep self-reflection, she's working to educate others holistically on the ancient practice and guide them through how to teach yoga in today's world. The yogi shared with us why she's doing things differently, what she's currently grappling with in her own practice and the songs she's flowing to below.
How did you get into yoga?
I first found yoga at Gold's Gym when I was 21. My mom had been teaching yoga for around three years before that, but I was never interested in it—I always thought it was too slow and boring. Around this time I was obsessed with working out in the gym and had convinced myself that if I could work out enough to get the "perfect" body, I would be happy. After a few years of counting calories and working out incessantly, without really knowing it I was looking for something more fulfilling. When I was working out at the gym one day, I met Carson Calhoun, who was doing some really crazy yoga transitions that caught my eye. I took his class that night and haven't looked back since.
Tell us about your new yoga studio! How did it come about and why did you decide to make it donation-based?
Bodhi Movement Boulder is a dream come true for me and my business partner Samantha Vetrano. Over the past few years of practicing at different studios, we continued to see the drop-in rate rise, with many at $25 for a single class—and that's without a mat rental! We realized that this practice, which is not just a physical workout but a lifestyle and philosophy, was not accessible to many people that likely really need it. It became extremely important to us to provide a space that was both accessible financially as well as welcoming and safe for people that may not feel like they fit in at most yoga studios. We believed that those who are able to give more will so that those who can't can still come practice. We also became a nonprofit so that we can use our profits to give back, both to foundations in India as well as by offering scholarships for our teacher trainings.
You do yoga teacher trainings a little differently at Bodhi Movement, diving into more than just the physical practice with students. Walk us through what one of these trainings looks like.
Our teacher trainings are known to be a bit intense. :) Five days a week we start at 6am with the Ashtanga Primary Series, which is a series of poses that are exactly the same, every day. Because of this, students are able to see the fluctuation of their minds and use the practice as a tool for self-reflection, as well as gain experience in a traditional style of practice (Ashtanga originated in Southern India and is still practiced and taught there today). We then move into discussions on philosophy, the 8 limbs of yoga, the sutras, anatomy, and the history of yoga. In the afternoons we practice vinyasa and adjustments and have specific workshops and asana breakdowns.
What I believe sets our trainings apart is how we apply the study of yoga and yogic tradition to the modern world. This means our trainings are not just about becoming safe and educated yoga teachers, but also about becoming a better person by talking about uncomfortable topics that we can sometimes ignore. Our lectures and guest teachers cover subjects like what it means to culturally appropriate, how yoga can be exclusive, colonization within a historical context, and how to create a safe space that is welcoming to all people from different backgrounds and bodies. We discuss religion, politics, body inclusivity, gender, racism, and sexism, and how all of these things are relevant to becoming a yoga teacher.
Why did you decide to approach teacher trainings in this way?
We realized that being a good yoga asana teacher and having a beautiful asana practice was nowhere near enough when it comes to serving the community as a whole. We wanted our trainings to be a better reflection of who we are and what we care about, as well as more accessible and educational for the people who want to learn about more than just yoga asana. Of course, our number one goal is to train safe asana teachers, but we also want them to be able to think critically and with an open mind.
What has been the most difficult obstacle in your yoga practice and how did you overcome it?
If you had asked me this question a year ago, without a doubt I would have said overcoming my wrist injury. But now, I am facing a different challenge. I am finding my voice to speak on things that matter, but it may turn some people away. I am not as focused on being a popular yoga teacher, and I am allowing myself the freedom to become someone new. I have had to realize that I am constantly shifting and changing both as a person and based on my environment. And I truly do believe that change is good, especially if I am not quite sure what is happening next. So I guess you could say I am still overcoming it!
What’s been the most memorable moment for you since opening Bodhi Movement?
Tough question—there have been so many moments there that I will not forget. I think the most memorable part was actually before we opened, in the four weeks of renovations leading up to our opening. The blood, sweat, tears and late nights we all put into the studio make it feel that much more special each time I teach and practice there.
Inspired? Catch up with Irene on Instagram!
Cover photo by Spencer Bentley. All other photos by Brooke Michelle Jackson.