My first yoga teacher

(reprinted from

I have a clear memory of the day I decided to try yoga. I was living in New Hampshire and took a trip to the video store in the local mall to see what they had. It was 1996. They had exactly 3 VHS tapes to choose from. Without a clue, I chose the one with Ali McGraw on the cover because she was photographed in the White Sands desert, dressed in a white leotard, serenely posed under a gorgeous blue sky. I wanted to look serene laying on hot white sand, so I bought it and brought it home.

The tape was called “Ali McGraw: Yoga, Mind, and Body”. I put the tape in the machine. I assumed she was going to be the instructor, but after her initial video introduction, she introduced the actual instructor. His name was (is) Erich Schiffmann. I loved his voice immediately. It was gentle and calm. The first thing he did was introduce me to Ujjayi breathing, which is commonly used during practice. We started with cat/cow and puppy pose before beginning sun salutations.

I think I got through one or two sun salutations before losing my patience. I thought “fuck this”, and grabbed a cigarette. I proceeded to smoke my cigarette seated on the sofa while I watched the rest of the video. I remember thinking that there was no way I could slow myself down enough to do this. I was a butt-smoking, Mountain Dew-drinking, junk food-eating girl. I remember thinking that those people were nuts. I was strangely attracted, however, to the fact that they chose Dead Can Dance as background music, one of my favorite bands. And by the end of the video, those people seemed pretty blissful. I remember thinking, “Okay, I guess I’ll try it again some other time”. And I did. The second time, I made it all the way through.

I’ve bought many VHS cassettes and DVDs over the years and have studied many different styles of yoga, but this one is still my favorite. And it’s still my #1 recommendation to anyone who wants to practice yoga. It might be a bit much for absolute beginners, but it’s doable. The bad news is that it’s out of print (not anymore!!!), so if you can find a copy at a reasonable price, grab it! But don’t fret. Erich Schiffmann (who will always hold a very special place in my heart and is actually my Facebook friend!) has a few other DVDs you can try. He’s also written a beautiful book about yoga that I highly recommend. Check them out below by clicking on the photos.








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