Even when yoga instructor TaraMarie Perri is just simply sitting and being, I can’t help but read her every slight move as a yogic gesture. Sitting at Cooper Park in Brooklyn, Perri’s left leg is crossed over her right, toes grazing her hips. Her posture is perfectly erect, yet also nimble, an image graceful enough to leave anyone with a feeling of enchantment. Dressed in all black with dangling silver earrings, Perri’s brown curls fall gracefully over her shoulders, seemingly unbothered by the humid, summer air. A parade of delivery trucks whirs by on a busy street while planes zoom through the sky. Though it’s a sticky summer morning in the city, the tree canopy towering over us provides a brief respite.
I had the lucky fortune to meet Perri four years ago when I began attending her yoga classes at the local gym I frequented. Now, after a pandemic year where such gatherings became all but impossible, I feel grateful that in-person meetings have resumed. Starting my mornings with Perri has always been a treat—class after class, I’ve been continuously awed by the calmness, poise, and discipline that Perri exhibits—ways of embodying that I aspire to inhabit. Over the course of my classes, Perri has stretched my imagination of what yoga is, made me see the fuller potential of my body, and how even something as simple and ordinary as sitting or talking can be imbued with a yogic purpose.
Perri is, however, so much more than a yoga teacher. She identifies as a “contemplative artist” who moves fluidly through many disciplines whether that be painting, drawing, writing, and dancing. Before yoga, Perri’s first love was dancing. She received her MFA in Dance Performance and Choreography at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she currently teaches student dancers how to use therapeutic yoga practices to supplement their intensive training.
It was a joy to talk to Perri beyond the parameters of our morning yoga class. We spoke about the intersection of yoga and dance, the challenges of importing yoga into a new cultural and capitalist context, and what it’s like to constantly find yourself in the beginning, anew.
dancing to yoga.
It wasn’t a switch. That’s the first piece. I think it's really important to make this clear that there's a lot of dancers who go to yoga, the two are incredibly compatible. I was dancing professionally for a long time. And when I came into my yoga practice, I went, “Oh my gosh, this is how I'm going to unlock what I'm trying to figure out through dance.” Being a student of a dance system made me realize that I've been trying to be a yogi, or was unlocking that yoga sensibility from a younger age. Dance was how I was able to nurture it for a long, long time. When yoga came into my life, I went, “Woah, this is about understanding myself so I can better understand others.”
For me, being in my body as a dancer since age four, and then taking my body to this other experience that was not focused on the aesthetic where those things weren't revered or honored [felt] almost like beginning again. And then, you learn every single time, yet again, every time you practice on the mat. But
having this opportunity to be in this body all day long, every year, I’ve realized that all day is my yoga practice. Even this conversation, trying to hear you, and listen to you, and respond as clearly as I can, as honestly as I can is a practice of yoga.
I think the body link was the piece that was most interesting to me because it was the same tool, but I was being given so many other possibilities with it. It was just limitless.
I was totally born to dance and use my body as my instrument, it's so clear. Yoga allows me to go way deeper than the dance forms would ever allow me to go. And it speaks backward too. I find so much more interest in my dance life because of my study of yoga, from understanding the choices I made when I was younger to understanding the choices I made as a young adult and seeing the experiences I was having in my life that might've been challenging or stressful. Why did I make those sorts of dances? Why did I choose to work with those particular choreographers?
There's something very interesting in the ability of yoga to stand outside and look deeply in. And when you're dancing, you're inside and looking out, it's a different way of experiencing.
The traditional teacher-student understanding and relationship is getting lost in the saturation of how yoga is being taught. I learned as a student and a practitioner for almost a decade before I started teaching because it was okay to be a student. You didn’t have to rush to be a teacher. And that system of teacher trainings — this idea that everyone's a yoga teacher — dilutes the information because it makes it about, “Oh, I have to know this thing to teach it.”
If you really are practicing yoga, you don't know anything and you're not supposed to. You learn these tools, you pass on those tools so that your student starts to do their own self-discovery. It's not a consumed experience.
And I think that that's one of the things that's been really hard to witness: I don't know if the students always are showing up to the classroom understanding what is available to them in a yoga practice, or if they've had experiences that have been more canned or more curated.
It’s a process. There's no “getting it”. There's mastery in moments, but then there's also becoming a beginner of something else right after that. And you have to be okay with that constant process. It's a lifelong practice.
This year has actually been great for me in a lot of ways because I've had purpose and I know exactly how to help people and I'm ready to be there. But it's been a huge heartbreak for me to be like, “Wow, we have an entire culture of people who say they practice yoga and can't be still, can't stay in their homes for a little while, can't not distract themselves with TV”. That was heartbreaking for me because I thought, “Then what are the lessons that I'm supposed to be teaching because the practice itself teaches those moments of stillness and that ability to go with change and the flow”. Our last year was the biggest yoga lesson you could have possibly received and I think some people have really looked in and listened, and some people haven’t, and that's okay.
The lineage piece is really important, because, in a truly fruitful one-to-one relationship with teacher to student, it's a two-way transmission. It's not just one-way blind taking. It's this idea of “this is the system, these are some tools, give them a try. What are your questions?” Because the questions that come up are the key for how to guide that student.
Every person has a different path. And some of them start with really esoteric questions. And some people are just like, “How do I get my foot to not hurt?”— kind of the same question actually — we’d just go in different directions. But only through that communication can it happen. It can't happen in a group setting.
The lineage is really important because it gives you the confidence that something from a root can stay so long. Things that work don't disappear. Think about how long yoga has been around. Think about how long these ancient wisdom practices have been around. If they weren't fruitful, if they weren't worthwhile, if they weren't beneficial, they would not last. And that's why that teacher-student relationship is important—because the teacher lineage is the through-line.
One of the first things that Patanjali (the father of yoga) writes in the yoga sutras is that yoga should be done with sthira-sukha, steadiness in form, comfort, and joy. Then there's the famous story of the Buddha—like not too tight, not too loose—like how we string our instruments, not too tight, not too loose.
This idea of having both of those voices, always, it helps. It does create a harmony when those two things are brought together. Sometimes we need to blend more into that ease and kindness, and sometimes it has to be a more direct, more warrior-like sharpness. I understand it to be probably the yoga speaking through me as I’m teaching because, in order to teach yoga effectively, to teach the concepts effectively, you need to have that combination of voices. I've always honored yoga as the master teacher. I've had wonderful teachers and I strive to be an effective teacher, but to me, yoga is the master teacher. I'm just a guide of that practice really.
By Tenzin Tsagong / Editor at Xuyoni
Photo Credit (From the top)
1, 2, 3. Sophie Kuller
4. Matthew Murphy / MurphyMade
5. Peter Crosby Photography