Susanna Harwood Rubin: Yogi, Artist
Susanna Harwood Rubin was co-founder, Chary's workplace yoga teacher. Over time, they built a relationship that involved movement, history and meaningful conversation. One of their first conversations included the start of Susanna's book writing process. A few short years later, Yoga 365 was published. Chary and Emily caught up with Susanna at The Twisted Trunk for some yoga and #GIRLBOSS conversation. Here is what went down.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
"An artist. A visual artist, for sure. I already am one. I just didn't expect the yoga part. I was obsessed with drawing when I was little but I also always wrote and created little poetry books and illustrated them. That was pretty much my favorite childhood thing to do. I was a nerd. It wasn't even like I wanted to be that. It was just who I am. I am an artist. Period."
So how did that lead into you teaching yoga?
"I always had yoga in my life. I was over sports at that point and super stressed out from the pressured environment - I was in in high school. It brought me peace and I loved it. It wasn't what it is now, though. In senior year, I taught yoga one day a week and I realized it was easy. I graduated and had no money when I went to New York. How do I survive? I finally joined Crunch Gym, and this is the mid 90's. I found a teacher there that I really liked and fell totally in love with yoga. I was lecturing and writing for MoMA and pretty successful in the art world, but I was miserable. I was so stressed out in the art world that you could poke me and I'd jump. Yoga was my salvation. After 9/11 everything shifted for me. Yoga became something that took up more of my time. I found that I wasn't able to draw and I wasn't able to make art. The only thing I could do was yoga. There was a sense of community. "
You do a mix of history and movement in your classes. Can you explain why you have chosen that method?
"I do short of a quiet ass-kicking in my classes. I need to provide some sort of substance but I know people want their asses kicked. That is what I personally want, too. We talk in yoga about tapas. It means heat and discipline. If you build tapas, there is something to be said about having that heat and exhaustion in your arms where you can't push yourself up anymore into down dog. Something in your body, mind and heart shifts. Making people move creates shifts in their lives."
You wrote Yoga 365: Daily Wisdom for Life, On and Off the Mat . What inspired you to do this?
"I had two different book projects in the works. I had one at MoMA but that one didn't get published because of politics. But I knew what it took to write a book. This other yogi writer that I knew at Laughing Lotus , Emily Stone (who is no longer there), kept calling me over and over again. She said that her publisher wanted her to write this yoga book and she didn't want to write it. So, she passed it off to me. She sent them over pieces of mine. I really love to play with words and they asked me to write five entries. It was the publisher's concept, but I wrote a few. They flipped and said " Oh my god, this is exactly what we want. This is it." And they made me an offer. It fell into my lap.
To have someone be that generous, especially in New York where things are so cut throat, was so incredible. She's in my acknowledgements. There are not that many people in the yoga world who have done things like that for me. I try to always do things like that for other people. I don't want to be the person who keeps everything for herself. "
What advice would you give to women who think they cannot try yoga due to their size or culture or any reason that might not fit the stereotypical "norm" for a yogi?
"Things are changing. I think there is a lot of reaction to those stereotypes. Some of the people that I know with the most beautiful practices are full figured. It has NOTHING to do with flexibility. I deeply object to people saying that you have to be skinny, even thought I have the stereotypical skinny yoga body. But yoga should be cultivating your inner beauty and make you feel good IN your body. ANYONE, ANYONE, ANYONE can do yoga. It is a matter of modifying and adjusting based on what you are comfortable with. We get guys in class who are sending emails to their toes they are so far away from them. They don't understand why everyone is flipping upside-down and they run marathons yet they can't do that yet. Things are changing, especially with the 20-somethings. This is your body and your vehicle for which you experience your entire life. It houses your heart, mind and senses. Love it and appreciate it. Yoga has the capacity to do that. I care a lot about nurturing women. Its the sisterhood, right?
What is next for you, Susanna?
"I've been increasingly invited to teach in a lot of places. I am always off to France. I would like to teach more internationally and focus on yoga and writing workshops. It is one of my favorite things to do as well as yoga philosophy. I also do a lot of public speaking. Its not about the audience as much as it is getting my message out. The myth, the mantra. That is what makes it deeper for me. Its a big wide world and my heart is in India and the physical movement. "