Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 March 2018

Andrea Marcum: Yoga is a party everyone is invited to

The 52-year-old author of Close to Om, published in December, believes that somewhere in the middle, there is not only truth, but also room for everyone

Andrea Marcum in tree pose
Andrea Marcum in tree pose

Even though she has almost two decades of experience, spent nine years running her own studio and just published her first book, yoga teacher Andrea Marcum still shies away from being labelled an expert.

Marcum instead occupies an experienced and soulful middle ground – somewhere between a wizened old yogini meditating alone in a cave and an impossibly serene twenty-something Instagram influencer followed by millions. The 52-year-old author of Close to Om, published in December, believes that somewhere in the middle, there is not only truth, but also room for everyone. The key, she says, is to cut through what’s out there and find your own svadhyaya. “It means studying yourself, but it also means your own journey of where you learn, whether it’s from a teacher, from what you read, from all of it,” she says.

Andrea Marcum's book, 'Closer to Om'
Andrea Marcum's book, 'Closer to Om'

When it comes to yoga, digital platforms are not the enemy, says Marcum, who was in Abu Dhabi to teach a series of masterclasses, including two at Bodytree Studio’s Yoga Market on Friday. “It is a great connector, but it can also be a thing that gives an unrealistic projection of what a yoga pose, yoga or even life looks like,” she says. “I think finding discernment is super-important… so whatever is out there doesn’t feel like a threat, so much as just a big giant menu of things that are happening.”

Although there are a lot of pontificating, wannabe yoga gurus fronting classes these days, Marcum is the kind of teacher who will help you get sweaty and fit, while sharing some of what she’s learnt on and off the mat. “We have to have the bravery to be with ourselves and turn inward, and that’s deep, dark work,” she acknowledges. “But we ultimately do that hopefully not to simply navel-gaze… we want purpose in our lives. And purpose isn’t just from getting a little bit clearer on our own stuff, but to reach out. We turn in to turn out, and to be happy.”

In the introduction to Marcum’s part-memoir and part-resource, she explains that she was drawn to yoga at a time when she was a singer-songwriter, managing a restaurant and punishing herself by over-exercising at the gym for overeating at home, when “nothing was ever enough”. Marcum says her first teacher – at Crunch health club in Los Angeles – pointed out she was biting her lip during the entire class. “I thought I’m either never doing this again, or I’m coming back tomorrow. It made me have to be with me, when it was the hardest part,” she recalls.

That “warts-and-all appreciation of one’s self” is hard today, she admits, when people are so uncomfortable that they often can’t even lay still in the final resting pose of savasana. And then there are the times we live in, “when everything is glossed over and has a filter on it”. Marcum says one of the reasons she wrote her book was to slice through the slick bubble that has become associated with yoga.

“I don’t want any of it to feel like a secret handshake,” she says. “I don’t want it to feel like you aren’t woo-woo enough, thin enough, young enough, female enough or rich enough, go down the list of all the things that can make one feel inadequate. It’s a party everyone is invited to and I’m quite passionate about that.”

Whether it’s to lead an upcoming retreat exploring Slovenia, or do yoga with women who were rescued from human trafficking in Cambodia, Marcum is passionate about getting out into the world. That’s why she decided to close her Los Angeles studio two years ago. She ended up with US$30,000 (Dh110,175) of debt after getting out of the lease, and found herself in a new studio 16 years into her career, filling in as a substitute teacher.

“It was a beautifully humbling moment,” she says, adding with a laugh: “It could look on Instagram like my life was going pretty well at that moment, by the way. But I think it’s very important to tell those stories.”

A year later, she had her book deal, and another lesson learnt, one rooted in the pratipaksha bhavana principle of yoga and Meditations by Roman Stoic Marcus Aurelius. “The obstacles are the opportunities,” says Marcum. “To me, that’s what yoga is about. If there is tightness in your hamstrings, or tightness in your heart, to me, it’s the same thing.”

Close to Om (Dh85) by Andrea Marcum is available from the Bodytree Studio until March 10, and on Amazon.com


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