Q & A with Fiji McAlpine

Fiji is a not only a gifted yoga instructor - she is also a lovely person. This exclusive interview delves into the personal side of Fiji, in which she explores the road that guided her to where she is today.

1.When did you start practicing yoga and why?

I came to yoga like many of my students do, to try and find relief for a sore back. I had injured my back at work when I was 21 years old and was having trouble recovering even with regular physio so my doctor recommended I try yoga. I felt immediate relief after my first class, but the effects didn't last too long, and before I knew it I was going 3 times a week just to experience relief from pain. After a month my back had recovered significantly and I had fallen in love with the practice almost by accident.

2. Where have you trained?

Where haven't I trained? I started my training in Central and Southern California and then went on to study in Costa Rica and here in British Columbia. The training never stops for me so I am always looking to experience more and love getting inspiration from workshops when my favorite teachers come to town.

3. Who are your biggest influences?

I would have to say that I have two main mentors, one living and one who has passed. Peter Sterios is a mentor and a dear friend to me and I am lucky enough to get to practice with him every year when I help host his Victoria workshops. Arlene Bjork was an inspiration to me and helped to form me into the teacher I am today. I practiced several hours a day with her in Costa Rica for over a month and soaked up as much of her wisdom and fierce light as I could. Unfortunately she was taken from us tragically only weeks after our paths parted. I feel so much like she was passing a torch to me and I carry her in my heart every time I am on the mat.

4. Tell me about your style.

Power, precision, intention, inquiry, endurance and joy would all be words that could frame what I try to practice and teach. I teach a vinyasa flow that is very eclectic, as far as traditional style is concerned, which is very much a testament to my own curiosity as a student in yoga. I spent years diving into different streams of yoga, most intensely with Ashtanga, Jivamukti and Anusara, which converge well into the flow that I now practice.

5. How do you help beginners to get started and not hurt themselves?

I often remind students that the most advanced practitioners are not the ones who do every pose with perfect form, that the most advanced are the ones who practice the art of honest communication between the mind and body. This is what we should be striving for, honoring the voice that says rest or modify when we really need to do that. Having patience for the practice to unfold the body in a natural way is always gradual and will always require patience.

6. What advice would you give a well-practiced yogi to take their practice to the next level?

Find an inspiring teacher who you love/hate, the one who pushes you toward that which you are so cleverly trying to avoid either in your body or your mind. You will find yourself drawn back to their classes because it is there that you feel the potential for growth, which is irresistible when you are ready for it!

7. What advice would you give students when doing yoga online?

Watch a video first just to get an idea of the pace, wording and visual cues that are given by the instructor. Once you get to know the cueing of a specific teacher, following their videos will be easy and a preview won't be necessary. I also find that home practices work best when you actively plan out a time and a space to do them in, something to hold yourself to if you are trying to create a routine.

8. How has yoga helped you in your personal life?

Who I am today has really been shaped by the practice that I found and fell in love with years ago. The first and most significant impact was in saving my life by learning to honor and love my physical form. I speak openly now about the internal battle that almost cost me my life when I was 20 years old and battling anorexia. I had learned to overcome and ignore physical sensation in a battle between my mind and body that left me a meagre 90lbs. When I started yoga I thought I was doing something for my back but I had unknowingly stumbled upon something for my heart that would over time help me mend and once again unite all the aspects of myself that had become severed.

9. How do you motivate your students to do Yoga in their daily lives?

Yoga has a way of getting you hooked, and if it has not happened for you yet, you should get out there and try a new teacher or style. Yoga is like everything else in life, there is not one right way and every person should seek out a style that speaks to them. I find that once you discover the right fit, life no longer gets in the way of your yoga!

10. Do you have any memorable yoga experiences you would like to share?

This one shows that we are practicing on the mat what we hope to incorporated a bit more of in our life:

In Costa Rica I had just finished a two hour advanced practice with my mentor teacher and she commented "Fiji that was the most mindful and precise practice I have seen in years." I smiled and accepted the compliment only to step off my mat and stub and break my toe on a prop box. My practice is helping me become less clumsy... helping.

11. Which is your favorite yoga posture and why?

Well if you asked my students I am sure plank pose would be the consensus. I love the alignment and strength required to make it really come to life - there is no way to fake this one! It is also a fantastic way to start your practice - you get to check in with all the parts of the body and even the tone of your thoughts.

12. Should yoga postures be hard to hold?

Of course! Well to some degree at least. If you are not feeling something in the pose then it is not really helping to release tension or increase mobility. The sensations should feel like a sweet discomfort when you are working with a pose that increases flexibility. When a pose is building strength, stability and structure, such plank pose, then the difficulty is muscular fatigue and often mental strain as so much of the practice takes place in our head.

13. Why do you think so few men take yoga classes and is this trend changing at all?

It is shifting, I think that it really depends where you go. Certain classes appeal more to men. For example, power classes are almost 50/50 in some studios where I teach.

For more on Fiji:
Audio downloads
Fiji's Bow Pose Tutorial