Melanie Fawer, who lives and teaches Ashtanga Yoga in New Orleans, is one of less than a dozen Ashtanga Yoga teachers in the United States certified by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. With a degree in psychology from NYU, Melanie was working as a private investigator on capital murder cases when she was introduced to her teacher and practice while visiting India. Upon receiving verbal permission to teach the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series, she introduced Ashtanga Yoga to New Orleans, where she grew up and still has family. Later, when she received her certification, she returned to New Orleans permanently and opened her own studio. After Hurricane Katrina wreaked its devastation upon the city in 2005, she found a new appreciation for the practice and recently released a two-disk instructional DVD.
was your experience of the hurricane?
were not allowed into the city for three weeks after the hurricane, and
there was looting of homes, too. For at least a
week, I did not know
if my house had flooded, which was torturous. It did not but
was looted. For various reasons, I left the country
for France while the city was closed off. I wish I had stayed
close by in the chance I
could get to
my house and check on it and be a part of the activity within
the city during those critical weeks. It was an unprecedented
event and crisis
in America and for the people of my city, my friends, my family.
No one was a stranger anymore.
The hurricane happened on August 29, 2005 and on November 28th, I officially reopened the studio. Before reopening, students could self-practice at the studio free of charge. Classes were down over fifty percent in size.
People were so happy to have class. As of August this year, classes were "back to pre-hurricane" numbers but had been slowly built up. When I reopened, students told me how much their practice sustained them through the crisis and its aftermath. I returned to teaching with a new energy and approach. Students were so happy to return to class and rebuild some sense of routine and normalcy.
Q: Are many
of your students still displaced?
The city is fraught with problems politically, economically and structurally, in terms of housing for city workers who might actually fix things, or for service-oriented jobs. The list goes on. The streets are in absurd condition. Streetlights still do not work in the one part of the city that is thriving with inhabitants. There are blackouts. There appears to be no organized recovery plan for the city. As for homeowners rebuilding, there is the sense that everyone is waiting to get through the current hurricane season. I just came back from a month in Mysore, India, and I can tell you we are as Third World down here as there.
Q: Did you
think twice about returning?
The Jazz Festival was amazing. Great food and music still abound, and the historic parts of the city that a visitor to our city would have seen are still here and thriving to the extent that they can. For the people who call New Orleans home, there is joy and devastation all around; yet, it is still a great place to call home and a great place to visit.
How did you start practicing Ashtanga Yoga?
Guruji gave me all my postures from the Primary and Intermediate Series through the first third of Advanced A or Third Series—then I received the rest of the postures for Third outside India. I am learning Advanced B or Fourth Series now, and that has all come from Guruji. I arrived at Guruji's door without any prior knowledge or teaching of Ashtanga Yoga.
At what point did you know you would teach?
Q: Was there
much yoga going on in New Orleans?
How many times have you been to India? How has that changed your
teaching—or has it?
And I try to stay as true to my guru's teaching example as possible. My example is my teacher—his teachings and his life.
© 2006 Deborah Crooks