Carrie Owerko has been teaching yoga and exploring the relationship between body, breath, and mind for many years. She is a Senior Level Certified Iyengar teacher (CIYT), a Certified Yoga Therapist (C-IAYT), and a Functional Range Conditioning Mobility Specialist (FRCms).
Before studying yoga, Carrie earned a BFA in Dance and Theater and graduated from the renowned Neighborhood Playhouse Theater School in NYC.
Women Fitness got an opportunity to closely interact with Carrie Owerko, Senior Iyengar Yoga Instructor and founder of The Playground: Virtual global communities of movement optimists. Read on…
You have been a mover, dancer, and athlete throughout your life. Please describe your early journey as a yoga practitioner.
I began studying yoga when I was working as a performer in an experimental movement theater company in NYC. I began practicing at home after my first class, as the daily self-practice was what I was looking for. There was not a lot of yoga in NYC at that time, and I tried a few different studios and ended up taking classes at The Jivamukti School in the East Village. One of the teachers there suggested I try Iyengar Yoga, as I often had many questions about the poses and movements. I started studying Iyengar yoga in earnest soon after.
I continued my Iyengar yoga practice after leaving the theater company when I went back to school to study movement analysis at The Laban Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies in New York. My yoga practice continued through my movement analysis studies and was very much informed by what I was learning at The Laban Institute.
Though I was very dedicated to the Iyengar method for many years–decades, in fact–there were things that I felt were missing in my practice. For instance, I missed the somatic practices of the Laban/Bartenieff work, which was more of a process of inquiry as opposed to a method that was imposed on the body. I also felt that my yoga practice lacked the types of variable movements that I experienced in dance and that are important for moving well in many other activities and in life. I missed the regular cardiovascular and strength and conditioning training which was, unfortunately, discouraged within the Iyengar system.
Share more about the significance of the interdisciplinary approach that weaves movement and exercises science principles.
I am, by nature, a synthesizer and am interested in the connections between things. Having always been fascinated by the science of human movement, I decided to let myself explore the questions I had by looking outside of the system as opposed to seeking answers from an authority figure from within the tradition. And I like to practice and teach in a way that encourages curiosity and inquiry rather than dogma or orthodoxy.
I research and apply what I learn from many modalities, among them:
1) Modern pain science–especially the bio-psychosocial approach as well as the exercise science principles like how the body adapts to applied loads. Principles like SAID (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands)
2) Progressive Overload is very helpful. So are my studies in motor learning, and functional neurology.
I am a movement optimist. I feel that people are better off moving than not moving and that what we can do as teachers is help people do the activities that they love without fear. Help them realize how robust and resilient they are, and how yoga and movement practice can build their capacity to do and keep doing the things that they love.
You have been featured in Yoga International, Prevention Magazine, The New York Times, and other publications. How successful have you been in extending your knowledge to women worldwide?
The message I spread of movement optimism and the importance of a playful approach has resonated around the globe. My presence in the publications you mentioned has definitely helped spread this message and fill the in-person workshops I taught all over the world pre-pandemic, and has aided in the memberships to my extensive online library of classes. Social media has helped spread the message as well.
You founded The Playground, a virtual studio, and library where you impart your intelligent, playful, and evolving approach to yoga and movement to students globally. How far has it benefited women in their 50s and above?
The Playground, my On Demand library has members of all ages. We are especially grateful for the many women (and men) who are well over 50 years old. They are active people who also want to keep doing what they love regardless of age. They are trailblazers and amazing people with inspiring stories and a lot of wisdom. I am so grateful for this community. We support each other and support is a powerful thing.
According to you 5 primary reasons for increasing health-related issues of back pain, arthritis, etc. Also, the ways to overcome them
As for back pain, arthritis, and other health-related issues that many people experience, I do think a more sedentary lifestyle can be a big contributing factor. Many people just don’t move as much as they once did.
Add to that the easy access to overly processed foods, excessive screen time, a lack of ample exposure to sunlight, and poor sleep habits.
Taking care of baseline things like proper sleep, exercise, nutrition, time outdoors, meaningful activities, and relationships can contribute immensely to our overall health and sense of well-being.
That being said, pain is multifactorial and something we will all experience to different degrees at different times in our lives.
Share your daily fitness routine. How do you like to kick start your day?
My life is built around movement as this is my profession. But it is also a passion, something I enjoy tremendously, so it never feels like a chore. I kick start my day by getting up early, making my coffee, and taking it up to the rooftop of our apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. This is the way I get some natural light exposure first thing in the morning. That does get harder when winter comes to NYC, and it is really cold or dark outside!
I tend to read and write in the morning before I do my morning practice of cardio and/or strength training and some Yoga. If I am not teaching, I take an afternoon and/or evening dance class. This is my favorite activity. I love to dance. It is truly a passion. I try to dance in some way every day!
With increasing weight in menopause faced by women, what tips would you like to extend to manage weight and prevent muscle loss?
As for menopause, I found that I felt better when I switched to a diet that included more high-quality protein, healthy fats, and less sugar (I don’t eat refined sugar at all, actually).
Some form of resistance or strength training is really important. It makes a huge difference physically and mentally. One of my favorite physios likes to say: “You can’t go wrong getting strong.” I love that!
What kind of diet do you follow? Foods you keep to a minimum? Also, the first meal of the day would be like?
My diet is mostly plant-based, but I do eat some meat. I was a vegetarian for many years but found (with menopause) that I felt much better-eating fish, poultry, and occasionally red meat. I also eat eggs and some dairy.
I do not eat refined sugar or wheat products and try to keep all processed foods to a minimum.
My typical breakfast might be soft-boiled eggs and cheese, or some whole milk yogurt with walnuts and, of course, coffee! I try to limit my caffeine intake so that I am not consuming any after 2 pm. I notice a huge difference in the depth and quality of my sleep by doing this.
Your fitness tips for women who travel a lot? Along with the significance of right breathing
I used to travel a lot (for work) pre-pandemic. Now that I have a robust online business, I still travel, but much less so. In fact, I just came back from my first post-pandemic two-week teaching trip in Europe. For those that travel, keeping up a daily fitness routine and/or practice is essential in my opinion. Even when I traveled extensively and for long periods of time this was non-negotiable. I made sure that I moved daily, got my heart rate up, picked up some heavy things, and did the types of movement activities that made me happy.
I teach what I practice, and thus must practice in order to teach. But even if I am on a vacation, as opposed to a work trip, I still practice daily. It is more than a discipline or a habit (which it is). It is something I derive pleasure from doing, even when it is challenging. It feels like home, a place to reconnect to my body and what it has to say.
If I am tired, or jetlagged, I lessen the intensity and move in a way that feels nourishing, not depleting. I think that is the key–allowing your movement practice to change and vary itself so that it remains something you enjoy. If you enjoy it, you are more likely to do it. That is why I am such a big proponent of keeping some element of play in one’s practices and daily life! For me, play is a way!
You can play with your breath, for instance. Play with your awareness by noticing how often you find yourself breathing through your mouth when you are doing low-threshold activities, like reading or writing emails. This is a playfully curious, non-judgmental type of awareness.
If you find yourself mouth-breathing, take that moment to switch to nasal breathing and notice how you feel. Or play with how you are breathing as you are recovering between sets when working out, or when you are doing your zone 2 (moderate) cardiovascular activities. Can you gradually switch to nasal breathing? Does that mean the intensity might need to be temporarily reduced? It can be a pleasure to take just a few minutes every day for a little breath awareness. I do this in taxi cabs, and on the subway. A few minutes of enjoying the feeling of your body as you take longer, slower exhalations can make a difference. I especially like the practice of a physiological sigh as described by Stanford Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman. It is something we humans (and other animals) do naturally, but it can also be deliberate practice. It consists of a quicker two-part inhalation through the nose followed by a long exhalation through the mouth or nose. Do a couple of these and notice how you feel.
5 yoga poses for women to practice with a prolapsed uterus?
We want our pelvic floor musculature, like our “core” musculature, to work reflexively. Learn to be able to relax as well as contract, and to do with the appropriate amount of force without conscious effort on our part. We need our attention to be focused on what is happening in the environment when we are out and moving about, not thinking about engaging certain muscles as we quickly cross the street in traffic. The way we breathe, process stress, and move are all factors that a good physio would hopefully address. And everyone is different, so they might approach each case a little differently. What starts as a deliberate conscious effort might become less effortful and more integrated over time. But as with everything, it is a process!
The important thing is to get someone moving and back to doing the things that they love and find meaningful. And do so without fear. I think there is way too much fear-mongering rhetoric in yoga, fitness, and even among many health care professionals. Fear can cause people to avoid the movements, activities, and interactions they love. Rather than fear and avoidance, how might we help ourselves gradually expose and adapt so that we increase our capacity to handle the stresses that are an essential and normal part of being human? We need to remove the barriers that prevent people, especially women, from moving, strength training, and continuing to do what they love throughout their lifetime.
There is nothing better for the body and brain than regular physical activity, like exercise. Resistance training and cardiovascular exercise are especially important as both benefit the brain as much as the body, and resistance training very much so. Doing meaningful activities with other people is profound. Play is profound.
Our brain is built through and by play. It is something we can do for our entire lives, and movement can be playful, enjoyable, and still beneficial, perhaps even more so.
Motivation quote you live by?
One quote I really love and remind myself of every time I get nervous before teaching an in-person workshop. It is from the late, great Maya Angelou. She said, “people will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
This is one of the reasons I am a movement optimist. Movement is good for us. It is our first language. It is its own language! It is our breath and our very life process. Movement practice can take many different forms. It need not look a certain way to be beneficial. The one that gives you joy is the best. If you can do it with other people sometimes, that is even better. Let it feel good; let it feed not only your body and brain but your soul (or whatever you want to call it). Move for joy and help others do the same. We are all the better for it.
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