-Why did you decide to create OM City? When did you realize this was something you had to create and talk about how you put things in action to bring it to life.
We wanted to create something, together. Tom and I are both actors and filmmakers and even though we are also both yoga teachers, that’s how we met – teaching at Elena Brower’s Virayoga, we initially resisted the idea of creating something about yoga. But it was such a huge part of both of our lives, and we had so many stories and issues that we wanted to explore within the context of an on going series that it came back to the age old adage “write what you know.” We started riffing and things just poured out. All our combined years as actors and yoga teachers in the city helped so that we had a network of friends and people we wanted to collaborate with, and it was about sharing our vision and enthusiasm for what we wanted to create and we were fortunate that people were excited to jump on board.
-Who is your intended audience? Do you think non-Yogis will resonate with what you have created?
We were hoping yogis and non-yogis alike would be drawn in. We also wanted to appeal to people who enjoy character driven indie films like the ones Tom has made in the past (Fairhaven & Manhattan Romance).
-What do you hope people will take away from the series?
I think there is always a hope when you make anything and put it out in the world, that it affects people beyond just pure entertainment, but you just never know. We’ve gotten so many heartfelt emails and comments; it’s been really moving. People have shared that they were inspired to get back to their yoga practice, or to try it for the first time or even just to continue exploring it. One man commented on an episode where a character deals with macular degeneration that his father has the disease and that watching the episode helped him process his own feelings that he couldn’t articulate himself. We both cried after reading that one. How incredible that that was his experience and that he shared that vulnerability with us.
-It seems to us that you are trying to depict a more realistic view of what the yoga scene is like. Would you say this is true and if so, what is your intention behind that?
Yes, definitely. Besides grounding the romanticized idea of the “perfect yoga gurus who are flexible acrobats,” we definitely wanted to address the myth of the perfect, yoga goddess and the often romanticized life of a yoga teacher. We also wanted to address the mockery of yoga in the mainstream media. It’s always presented as so over the top and broad. We wanted to show the world of yoga the way we experienced it. As Grace says in episode 7 on her tinder date, “There are all different kinds of yoga teachers just like there are all different kinds of human beings, some are full of shit but some are amazing and inspiring and authentically trying to live these teachings.” We wanted more nuanced humor and more heart.
-What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions about being a yoga teacher?
That they are enlightened beings.
-Why did you choose New York as the setting for the show?
It’s such a character, and it was where we lived. There is also something so exciting about the struggle to practice in a place that doesn’t organically invite spaciousness and introspection. NYC has a kind of wonderful and relentless, frenetic energy. It’s interesting to practice patience, peace and compassion in a loud, often jarring and lightening-paced environment where it’s easy to fall into reactivity.
-Tell us more about your practice? (We hear that you are a longtime student of Elena Brower!) What else have you studied and what inspired your teaching/practice?
Elena is such an incredible human being, and I’m grateful to have her as a friend and mentor. I studied Ballet seriously when I was younger and so I think initially the choreographic nature and the discipline attracted me to the yoga practice. I took my first yoga class at an experimental theater program in Amsterdam one summer in college and I fell in love with it. Once I got back to NYC, I started taking classes at a donation based studio in the east village: Yoga To The People. My first teacher training was at Yoga To The People, and it was also the first studio I ever taught at. I kept studying. I took tons of workshops at Jivamukti Yoga. I also studied anatomy and kinesiology at The Breathing Project with Amy Matthews and Leslie Kaminoff. I studied with Nikki Costello (Kula), and more recently I’ve fallen in love with Katonah Yoga which Elena introduced me to. The founders, Abbie and Navine, they are wizards, I swear. I also recently did a Reiki Certification in level I & II from renowned coach and healer, Brenda Villa. I used to be so turned on by sequencing and the physical asana work, and now, I’m getting much more curious about the more subtle components like meditation and energy healing.
-Grace talks about feeling like a fake, like she has to pretend to be perfect, and how difficult it can be to help people find their way when she feels lost herself. This is something that SO many yoga teachers feel but are afraid to say, especially in front of their students. Any tips for teachers dealing with self doubt?
Own it! Know you are not alone and find little ways to practice turning the energy of doubt into courage. It’s all an opportunity to study! I find I have to write it down. Right down what you’re feeling, get it out, all of it, don’t hold back and then look at it and you can do a few things – let it go and focus on what you can do right now, in this moment, reading, studying, self practice, whatever it is to make you feel more in your power. You can write back line by line from a place of courage, from your heart, what you’d say to dismantle the doubt or the fear or you can just be with it, feel it, breathe into it and give it a context within which it can shift.
-How much overlap is there between your character Grace and YOU? Did you have to get over similar fears in order to make this series? Are you feeling pretty pleased with the outcome so far?
Safe to say a lot! Whenever you play a character you are using your whole self, with some things dialed up and some things dialed down. I definitely feel that with playing Grace. I definitely had to stand in the fire, so to speak, and it was an invitation to confront A LOT. I had to step into my fears and insecurities in order to do this, for sure. I’m excited to keep developing Grace and see how she changes and grows as things progress.
-Another major theme of the series is just how hard yoga teachers have to work so hard for so little money. Given the reality, do you think it’s even financially sustainable to teach yoga full-time today?
I think it’s not sustainable to be teaching 24 classes a week for the rest for your life. I really think with the internet teachers are finding ways to do less running around and maximize their time in a way that is efficient and lucrative. More people are doing online classes, teacher trainings and meditation modules. Most teachers I know who teach yoga for a living are also working as massage therapists or have a retreat business or also do therapy or life coaching or sell essential oils or have a jewelry line. For your own health, and realistically to conserve energy, I think you need to have something else that also helps generate income, which hopefully integrates into and aligns with your yoga teaching.
-You funded this project with Kickstarter. Why did you decide to go this route? Were you happy with how it turned out?
We initially were skeptical about crowd funding, but we thought why not give it a shot. And it was beyond what we could have ever imagined. It ended up being so much more than raising money. People are amazing when they feel your passion for a project. They want to be a part of it and help you realize your dreams. We ended up reconnecting with people from our past and meeting new people and building a much larger audience for the series.
-What’s next for you? Are you planning more episodes? Talk a little about what is in the future for Om City!
Yes! Season 2 is almost completely written and we have interest from several streaming platforms who want to partner with us to help finance and distribute season 2. The worldwide response has been so incredible and there is a real demand out there for more, and we are really excited to get back to work with our team.