Yoga has become commercialized in America--from goat yoga to beer yoga to chicken nugget yoga--but there are still many yogis who adhere to the ancient traditions. Todd Norian, founder of Ashaya yoga and modern-day yoga master, is one such yogi. He fuses the science of anatomy with the philosophical teachings of yoga to create a heart-centered practice: Ashaya Yoga.
Todd Norian, 500 E-RYT, has been a student of yoga for 38 years, teaches workshops and trainings internationally, and has created several CDs of music for yoga. As luck would have it, he will be providing a 200-hour yoga teacher training program this year at Yogaja Yoga in Toledo.
Todd began his yoga journey in 1980 at the Miami Institute of Iyengar Yoga. When Todd graduated from University of Miami with a degree in Jazz Studies, he opted to visit a friend at Kripalu before beginning his graduate degree fellowship in jazz composition and teaching.
Todd says of his time at Kripalu, “I loved the course so much that I went for 10 days and stayed for 13 years.” The 10-day course, Quest for the Limitless You, impacted Todd so deeply that he relinquished his prestigious fellowship and remained to study yoga.
Todd trained and taught at Kripalu, and from 1995-2001, he studied Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, a mind-body method of healing that “integrates the physical, emotional, psychological, and transpersonal aspects of healing.”
In 1997, Todd began studying Anusara Yoga. He affirms, “The alignment principles of Anusara opened my body more in two years than the previous 17 years of practice.”
Six years ago, Todd left Anusara and founded Ashaya yoga. Todd succinctly explains, “I founded Ashaya Yoga with a heart-centered philosophy combined with precise therapeutic alignment.”
Todd chatted with us to discuss, in depth, his teacher training program being offered in 6-day segments at Yogaja Yoga in Toledo, starting in April and continuing in June, August, and October.
1. What are some reasons to take yoga teacher training at Yogaja Yoga even if you don’t desire to be a yoga teacher?
There is a very powerful life transformational element [when taking a yoga teacher training.] There are so many wonderful practices [in yoga] that people who don’t want to be a teacher will still learn. Their individual practice will go deeper, and they will gain the immense knowledge of the technicality of poses. They will learn yoga philosophy and all about the yoga world views.
There is a morning practice in Ashaya, a spiritual practice, that we practice every day at the crack of dawn. There are special mantras, pranayama exercises, meditation, and visualization that are incredibly enlightening, and they produce steadiness and clarity.
[Students] get really clear on their purpose in life and who they are and what they are meant to do. There are various communication skills that we work on that help people find their authentic voice and learn how to break down barriers to their heart so they can love more, live more, and be happier.
The main reason why we feel unfocused or sometimes depressed is because we don’t have a practice that really delves into the spirit that is always there. The deepest part of the self, living in the higher self--yoga practice helps to develop that.
They can go back to their lives and know what they want and begin living the life of their dreams. We are all here to live and dream. When you live your dream, when you move in the direction of your dream, you become a happier person.
As far as I’m concerned, yoga is about becoming happier, healthier, and more free inside.
2. For those who are considering becoming a yoga teacher, could you explain the benefits of taking your teacher training?
This training is the most comprehensive training out there today. If people want to learn a technique based on alignment, but also learn to teach from the heart, then this training is for them.
This training balances head, heart, and body. To become a good teacher, you need a soft heart, sharp mind, and vibrant body.
I get people to use their minds. In learning a technique, it’s like learning a new language. I break everything down; we learn in stages and segments. We use the manual--which is a work in progress that’s almost 500 pages--and it’s like the yoga bible. There are pages on philosophy, asana sheets, and “How to Teach” sheets.
We will cover the whole of who we are, light and dark. I focus on not only how to reach for the light, but what is your shadow? How can you learn from your less evolved parts? If you don’t think you have a shadow, then you must not be standing in the light.
Yoga systems only focus on the light, but we can learn just as much from the places where we need work than just embracing our strengths.
3. Why did you decide to become a yoga teacher?
I didn’t want to teach at the beginning. In fact, I was really afraid. At the yoga retreat center, in the ashram, the classes were 70-100 people per class.
I was in purchasing at the time [for Kripalu], and my supervisor saw that I loved yoga. I told him I was afraid to teach yoga. Finally, he ordered me to teach. I said, “Okay, I’ll try it.” That was it. I taught one class and fell in love with it.
I would get in front of a group, and I would hold the microphone and just shake. A lot of times I would start crying, but I would gather myself together before class. It was a struggle for me at first.
After a few months of teaching, one of the recruiters from the programs department recruited me, and I started teaching teachers and became the manager of teachers.
When I was studying to become a professional musician, I was focused on becoming masterful at music. But yoga taught me how to become the master of life. It taught me how to become a virtuoso of being yourself. That’s exactly what tantra yoga is. How do you live masterfully in your relationship, in your job, on all levels? We’re not trying to do yoga [in solitude], we aren’t going to a mountaintop or a yogi cave. We’re learning how to be “householder yogis”...how to practice yoga and be responsible citizens.
4. Any tips for starting a meditation practice?
I think you want to find a meditation practice that resonates with you--one that is tried and true for a long time.
My advice is simply start practicing for 15 or 20 minutes a day. Take 3 deep breaths and calm yourself. Very softly, in silence, begin to repeat the mantra “ham sa,” it means “I am that.”
It's the actual experience of repeating the mantra that matters, not [the words of the] mantra. The meditation practice that I teach, with roots in the ancient esoteric tradition of Kashmir Shaiva Tantra, is based on the repetition of mantras.
5. Any suggestions for maintaining peace and stillness in moments of stress and busyness?
When you have a regular meditation practice, you develop stambha (which means steadiness or staff). You become like a pillar of life that grounds you in the vibrating silence of your being. [Your practice] is then like the eye of a hurricane. You remain in stillness while the rest of the world swirls around you.
When you have a steady practice, every day, this stambha becomes very strong. What happens is [that] you can remain more calm [in stressful situations], and when you lose it, you get it back much more quickly.
It’s not about perfection. It’s about acceptance and our capacity to be resilient. When you have a meditation practice, you will know what to do and how to act. You will become strong, confident, peaceful, open-hearted, and ready to wholeheartedly engage with life from a place of worthiness.
Still not convinced Ashaya yoga teacher training is for you? Our Yogaja teachers Donna Seed and Shauna Gilsdorf have both trained with Todd, and here is what they had to say:
"Todd has taught me that the art of teaching comes from a deep, nurturing place within. His training expanded the concept of yoga being so much more than physical. The Ashaya method...will teach you how to approach the practice [of yoga] from the physical, emotional and spiritual," Donna Seed explains. "This training holds rich lessons on philosophy, the art of teaching, anatomy and sequencing. More importantly, the teacher and the training bring you into the depth of your own heart."
"I’ve studied with Todd multiple times. I am a lover of yoga philosophy, [and] Todd goes deep into teaching philosophy, but in a way that is relatable and easy to understand. He takes all that is yoga and teaches how to live yoga off the mat. He speaks from his heart, connects to his students, and empowers them to do more, to be more," Shauna Gilsdorf adds. "He has an eye for alignment, creative hands-on adjustments, and dynamic sequencing. Todd is seriously a breath of fresh air. I always left him feeling more grounded and confident in my ability to teach yoga."