I’ve tried to recall when I first met Ellen Olson-Brown. That meeting is lost in the misty depths of time, hundreds of yoga classes, and thousands of students taught. What I do remember is seeing her showing up day after day, week after week for class and feeling her presence. Feeling her positive attitude and energy radiating outward from her mat and enveloping everyone else, including me. From the moment she walked through the door to the minute she left after class, I felt happy to see her.
I was beyond thrilled when Ellen shared with me she was going to teacher training and was hoping she might be able to teach a class or two in Chelmsford. My immediate response, a resounding YES! What Ellen didn’t see was my happy dance after we hung up the phone!
Ellen brings an authenticity to the podium. Her teaching style is kind, compassionate and like all great moms, she expects us to do our best, try our best, and be our best ALWAYS. No if, ands or buts. Which translates to: kick ass! And I can always count on learning something new in her class, about myself, about the world at large, and about the yoga. Come see for yourself, you’ll be glad you did!
Terri Fry, Director – The Hot Yoga Factory Chelmsford
Tell us what you remember about your first ever Bikram yoga class.
I took my first class at the Nashua studio in April 2007 with a group of friends. I mostly remember feeling overwhelmed, partly by the heat and physical demands of the postures (I thought Pranayama would never end!), but also by the barrage of information coming at me. I was horrified by how much I was sweating, and even my bottle of water was warm by the end of class. I stumbled out of the studio feeling kind of stunned and disoriented, but later that afternoon, a feeling of relaxation came over me that was amazing.
What kept you coming back?
I think the special back then was $10 for 10 days of yoga, and I wanted to get my money’s worth, so I practiced a few more times during that 10 days. Every time, I felt a deep relaxation set in a couple of hours after class, physically and mentally. That sensation was something new and compelling, and for a long time, that was my main reason for practicing. At the time, I was also experiencing lower back, neck, and shoulder pain, and they all felt better after class, so that also motivated me.
What were you like as a beginning student?
I spent a lot of time in my head, planning ahead which postures I would do or sit out, when I would next drink water, having imaginary conversations with the teacher about what this or that cue meant, mapping out what I would do after class. I was hardly ever just doing what I was supposed to be doing in the moment. I used to sing the alphabet song in my head during Triangle, telling myself that if the teacher was still talking when it was over, I’d come out of it. Every once in a while, effort and focus would crystalize around a posture, and that internal dialogue would fall away, and I’d get a wonderful glimpse of peace during class, but then it was back to all the chatter in my head.
I struggled with the heat SO MUCH. I stayed out of the room until class started, I filled my water bottle with ice (well, okay, I still do that!), I hunted for cool(er) spots in the room, and fled as soon as class was over.
But I was also open-minded, curious and ready to feel better. I asked a lot of questions before and after class about how to do the postures and about how the more experienced students and teachers had developed their practices, and I was especially interested in how their mental attitude affected their yoga. I spent hours online reading yoga blogs. I really, really wanted to learn more.
How did you know you were hooked?
The winter after I started practicing, our next door neighbor’s house exploded and caught on fire because of a gas leak. I was home when it happened, and it was terrifying and I developed symptoms of PTSD. I found that the symptoms eased and I slept better the more I went to yoga, and my practice became much more consistent. I started planning other activities around yoga and felt agitated when I knew I wouldn’t be able to get to class for a few days. I haven’t really looked back since then, and if I go more than a day or two without practicing, I just don’t feel right.
When did you go to Teacher Training? What made you want to be a teacher?
I went to the 2016 Yoga Factory Teacher Training in Annapolis, MD.
I wanted to go to teacher training for three reasons.
- Through this practice, I’ve fallen in love with the process of doing things that scare me or feel almost too hard and collecting unexpected gems along the way. Six weeks of detaching myself from what’s familiar, practicing twice a day, and learning more than my brain seems capable of absorbing? Sign me up!!
- I wanted to deepen my own practice.
- Many of the people I feel the most grateful to and inspired by have been the teachers who have helped me see that every single human being is stronger and more full of possibility than they ever imagined. I wanted to pay that gift forward, amplifying that message to as many people as possible.
What do you love about teaching?
I sometimes joke during class that I get as excited watching students make both small adjustments and big breakthroughs as most people get watching the Superbowl, but it’s true.
My job as a teacher is to help each student understand and accept themselves exactly where they are, hold up a map indicating where they might go next, and then suggest possible paths to that new place. I love the entire process, and when a student finds the path that works for them, even the smallest mental or physical victory is truly thrilling to be a part of.
I also love how questions from students help me learn more about the series, so keep the questions coming!
What do you still love about the yoga?
Oh my gosh, everything. I love the community, at our studio, and in the wider hot yoga world too. I love the dynamic between mastery and endless growth. I love how there’s room for deep seriousness and belly laughter during a class. I love how this practice ripples out into people’s real lives, improving health and relationships and behavior patterns. I love how good it feels to be in my body when I have a consistent practice, even when I’m injured or low energy. I love how my yoga mat feels like home.
Even after all these years, what do you still struggle with in class?
Giving up. Whether it’s second part of Awkward, the very end of Standing Head to Knee or the last few seconds of Bow Pose, there are places in class that are such hard work and I have to dig deep and fight against bailing just because “I don’t wanna.”
What do you know now that you couldn’t have known without so many years of dedicated practice?
You can look in a mirror and truly love and accept yourself no matter what you look like or how you feel or what your body can do that day, and there’s no better gift you can give yourself and the people you care about.
Do you have a favorite posture?
This changes all the time, but right now it’s Final Stretching. This has been a super challenging posture for me for a long time, but teachers have helped me understand what I need to do to ease into a deeper expression, and although it’s hard work, I feel and see incremental progress that intrigues and motivates me.
Do you ever take Hot Pilates classes? How do they impact your practice?
Yes! I try to take two classes a week.
All those squats and bridges have helped me develop glute strength that I really didn’t have before, and this has helped in many postures, Triangle and the Spine Strengthening Series especially.
I just feel stronger, and it’s fun to move in a different way a couple of times a week.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know?
It’s honestly an honor and an inspiration to teach you and also to practice next to you when someone else is on the podium. I learn just as much from you as you could ever learn from me, and I’m immensely grateful for that. Thank you, and see you in the hot room!