Attitude is Everything

Post by Liliya Rudakova,  23 January 2015 ,  Interview
I am very excited to share the interview with Autumn Bolin McKelvey, a teacher squared! I have to confess, when I stumbled upon one of Autumn´s articles online and then read her short bio, I felt a little jealous. Why? Because she is a happy mother, wife and a teacher of my 2 favourite things: literature and yoga! She feels equally happy discussing rhetorical analysis, teaching yoga to teens, people with disabilities or even practicing pranayama with 90-year-olds. Autumn is a compassionate and gentle person, her words are full of warmth and simple truths. The interview is a long read, but definitely worth it. Enjoy!

Autumn Bolin

Who/what introduced you to yoga? Was there something in particular that hooked you and made you maintain the practice? 
Honestly there was no real ah-ha moment that introduced me to yoga, rather just a natural unfolding of opportunities and desires. I had tried a couple classes in the 90s and began a regular practice with the classes offered at my university’s fitness center. Yoga spoke to me with its fluid yet grounding nature, and I loved that it felt like dancing, which I never had a knack for, but always admired. Ironically, the teacher at the university would become my teacher for my advanced training in yoga therapy about fifteen years later. I love full circles.  

What yoga styles do you practice? Why do you prefer this particular yoga style/mixture of styles?

I really love vinyasa, and a big reason for this because it’s so versatile. Vinyasa can feel like an intense flow, or a calming restoration. Ashtanga holds my heart, too. I find this practice so stabilizing and elegant — I respect that it’s not about cool playlists or innovative flow sequences. It’s raw and honest and consistent: you show up and give every single thing you have. Unfortunately, though, after an extended time in a dedicated practice, my body starts to rebel from Ashtanga.   

For how long have you been maintaining a regular yoga practice?

More or less for about twenty years, but the regularity of my practice has fluctuated through different times of my life. When I became a mom for instance even though I taught a lot, I didn’t have much of a personal asana practice. During those baby years I really developed the pranayama and meditation parts of my yoga practice, which gave me invaluable insight into my relationship with myself and my practice.  

You are a teacher of literature and writing. Why have you made a decision to become a yoga teacher?

My career has always been teaching, so it was natural for me to think of sharing something I love with other people; after all, it’s what I had done for years with literature and writing. It just felt right to let my love for yoga spill over into teaching, and I’m so grateful for every class I teach or workshop I lead. I especially appreciate being able to share yoga with people who have limited mobility and do not feel able to attend a traditional class. I love teaching traditional asana classes, but I am more and more inclined toward yoga therapy which offers yoga to people who may not be able to participate at a studio or center. 

Do you treat your both teaching occupations differently? Do the vibes you get from your literature students and yoga students vary? Or you treat it as one whole. 

This is such a good question! For years I did treat the occupations differently, and I adopted the persona behind the clothes so to speak: with English teaching my demeanor was more formal like my pencil skirts and with yoga teaching I was more casual like my yoga pants. It was rather tiring to embody such different personalities, and finally I realized I didn’t need to, and that I will be most helpful and effective with my students when I am truly myself and comfortable. So I stopped considering splintering my personalities, and I was just me whether I was discussing a rhetorical analysis, Hemingway, or Trikonasana. There is no division now, and I have the most rewarding, authentic relationships with my students because of this.  Often the occupations merge, too: my English students ask me to teach them yoga, so we’ll do breathing exercises, which they love.    

What is the major source of inspiration for you?

My daughter is the best teacher I have ever had and will ever have, and my husband is my challenger and cheerleader. Both of them inspire me every day to be the best version of myself possible.  

You said, that in learning and teaching — be it yoga or writing — attitude, even more than technical skill, is everything. I am sure you have plenty of examples illustrating this statement, can you share one of those inspiring stories of someone´s transformation with us?  

Yes! I work with kids, particularly teenagers.  Because they’re so often self-conscious and have complicated relationships with their bodies, I don’t give too many alignment cues. I want them to be safe, of course, but I want them to create healthy relationships with their bodies. I begin a semester’s class by checking in with them to get an impression of where they are with self-concepts. One girl wrote in her journal that she hates her body and is often disappointed by what it cannot do. She said she felt ugly, which was heartbreaking. This girl showed up to every single class and while she never did bend like Gumby, or do an arm balance, or handstands, she eventually felt good within her own practice and, more importantly, her body — all because her attitude was open to change. At the end of the semester, she wrote in her journal, “When I practice yoga, I feel beautiful.” So wonderful. Eventually this confidence spilled over from her yoga practice into her everyday life. One other short anecdote was a 90-year-old woman in a group therapy class I led. I was discussing diaphragmatic breathing, and asked if she was able to expand her inhale (or something to that effect). She looked at me and said, “Honey, I’m just happy to be breathing at all.” This was perfect: to be grateful for our breath, however it comes. Attitude over skill every time. I’ve known adept yogis who are insensitive to others, which makes their skills ineffectual to so many.   

If you had one wish, what would it be?

Honest to God that every child be healthy, safe and loved. I can’t help but think that if this happens, then people turn out okay.  

Do you have a universal piece of advice for everyone, who wants to change his/her life for the better? 

I would say to others what I remind myself of every day: that we have more choices than we know, and it’s only fear that keeps us stuck. But I think Oscar Wilde said it best with “Life is too important to be taken seriously.” When we take it all so seriously, we allow fear to take over. Here’s to taking chances because God knows life is precious and all-too short.    

Wheel Pose by Autumn Bolin

I could´t help asking Autumn to finish up our traditional sentences too. We start, Autumn continues the phrase :)

I have always been fascinated by ghosts — I’ve never seen one, but really really want to.  

I practice yoga, because it grounds me and reminds me of what’s important.

I will always remember the day, when I first held my baby girl in my arms — everything was perfect because she and I were healthy and safe; what was important distilled to that present moment of pure love and gratitude.  

As far back as I remember myself, I ran everywhere like Forest Gump; thankfully yoga reminds me I don’t have to rush and be somewhere I’m not.  

I am really fascinated by languages, the infinite choices we have in life (whether we see them, or not), and jackalopes.   

I don´t understand why people don’t smile in return or say hello in reply or put grocery carts away or hold open doors — these are small things that mean so much.  

I have been reproached for not answering my phone; I have an aversion to my cell phone and talking on the phone in general.   

It might as well be done well if it’s going to be done.  

Why not have faith in what cannot be seen...why not?

Internet is a blessing and a curse.  

Happiness is not something readymade, it is a choice available to us in any given moment.    

Everyone should read Our Town for the wake-up call; Love in the Time of Cholera for the heart; East of Eden for the human story; Hamlet for the soul, and W.S. Merwin’s poetry for gratitude.  

This is my simple religion...Sunrises, strong coffee, my daughter’s laugh, my husband’s whiskery kisses, the sound of gravel beneath my running shoes, dinners with my parents, late-night talks with my sister, deep breaths, sunsets, and the moon and stars; my religion is the practicing of gratitude of everyday things that, one day, will be not every day.  

Thank you Autumn for taking the time and sharing your thoughts with us! Great pleasure to get to know people like you!

Check out what Autumn does yoga-wise on Indie Yoga website: and follow Indie Yoga on facebook.

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