I first met Elena Brower this October when we both presented at the Ojai Yoga Crib, although we’d been acquainted through email for about a year prior. Elena walked into the faculty dinner and seemed to carry a piece of the sun in her essence.
Now I know that might sound a bit “woo-woo,” and if you’ve been reading my blog for the past five years, you know that I am a straight shooter and tend to refrain from sharing heavy doses of mystical or esoteric phenomenon with my readers. But I tell you, I can also recognize a galvanizer when I see one, and I was immediately drawn to Elena’s intense stare, clarity of tone and poetic spirit. She’s awesome! And I am happy to now call her my friend.
So when I found out she was about to publish her very first book Art of Attention, a yoga workbook designed to inspire your yoga practice, contemplation and creativity, which she wrote with co-author Erica Jago, I wanted to have a heart-to-heart interview: teacher-to-teacher, innovator-to-innovator and woman-to-woman. Here is the result of that conversation:
My heart-to-heart with Elena Brower
First off, I want to celebrate you and Erica for bringing this form of art to life. It is so impeccably crafted, weaving from dreamscapes to crisp, conscious strikes at the heart. I felt guided into facets of my body’s mind … being provoked, being humbled and challenging myself to quieten, deepen and consider. So thank you for helping that process come alive through a book. If a book could be considered a sanctuary, you’ve done it! I’d love to hear a bit more about your process of crafting the book, and the art behind the Art of Attention.
Q. How long did the process from conception to publication take?
A. It took two or three years, but I’ve been playing with the concepts for at least 10 years.
Q. I was so surprised to find out that you and Erica have not know each other for that long. It seems as if you have become mutual muses for one another. Can you describe how this relationship manifested?
A. Please take a peek at the vision board Erica and I created; I think this answers the question in the sweetest way. (Start with the first image and click through to read the full narrative.)
Q. I found the tone of interactivity and participation in your book so generous and brilliant. The weave of image, art, poetry and space gave me permission to be a student of the book as it lights up my somatic imagination. As I mentioned above, you and Erica seemed to be “mutual muses,” and I feel your role as author serves as muse for every student who picks up the book. Who have been your muses? Am I just being way too Xanadu about this muse thing?
A. Our muses are our friends — the women and men who want to practice and want inspiration — who are out there serving and connecting to other empowered humans. You’re one of my muses, Jill! Muses are everywhere. Erica and I are definitely muses for one another, and we find inspiration in everything: art, friends, food, practice, color, light …
Q. You preface each chapter with incredible blessings from a diverse group of well-known practitioners/students of yoga, from Donna Karan to Gwyneth Paltrow to MC Yogi to Christy Turlington. Their voices add an additional texture of community to this book.
I think of yoga as one of the most private experiences a person can have, and yet these yogis are extremely public. You seem to have a knack for helping people bring their private, personal self forward into public space. I think of the many large-scale venues you’ve taught at — Central Park, Wanderlust, Eiffel Tower, etc. I actually see this book as a methodical approach to helping introverts and extroverts bring their true self forward.
So my question is: What’s your “secret” to having famous and non-famous folks alike be willing to look at and share their secrets out loud?
A. My only secret is that I’m willing to look at and share my “secrets” out loud. I want folks to benefit from my struggles with my habits, my anger, my assumptions. My hope is that they will see something of themselves in my experience and be able to slow down their mind to listen to their heart a bit more clearly.
Q. The images from Burning Man (see the feature photo, above) are completely off-the-chain. I love them! Tell me about that shoot. And how long did it take to get all the sand out of your eyeballs after that?!
A. That year (2011) was actually a very dust-free year. The shoot was in the deep “playa” — way out there. We had such a good time practicing in that superb environment, one that holds a lot of resonance and meaning for both Erica and myself as well as Michael Chichi, the photographer for that chapter.
Q. Chapter 5 is entitled “Let Your Life Reflect Your Practice.” You and I seem to share the notion that our practice gives us a backbone, but the backbone only has integrity if your investment into your whole life gives you dignity.
Has there been a time in your life when your practice “failed” to help you get back to center? I think readers would really like to know whether yoga practice always works … or is it sometimes not always the right Rx?
A. There are plenty of times when I need more than just the practice; I need to have a hard conversation, or tell someone the truth, or apologize for something I’ve done. My practice gives me the space in my heart to find the love in it all, but my work with the Handel Group (a life-coaching program) has given me a connection to myself and my family that wasn’t coming through the practice, through asana.
Stay tuned for Part Two of my interview with Elena in the coming weeks! Want more? Get your own copy of Art of Attention here.