Sarah Durney 

click to enlarge Sarah Durney - JEREMY LANNINGHAM

This month, Sarah Durney threw open the doors of her new studio, Ashtanga Boise, the first local yoga venue with a daily Mysore practice. Competitive skier, rock climber, environmental studies student, firefighter, tango dancer, metal worker, special education teacher ... Durney lives a life as multi-dimensional and fascinating as the postures she teaches in her classes. Although her life has unfolded in many directions, she's remained consistently devoted to yoga since her teens. Yoga, which originally entered her life as a way to heal sports injuries, eventually inspired a spiritual journey that motivated multiple trips to India, where she studies at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute with the innovator of the practice, S.K. Pattabhi Jois and other yoga legends. She relocated to Idaho in 2006 after leaving her job with a Hotshot fire crew. On her most recent trip to India, she decided to open a studio in Boise.

Do you perceive a common thread among all your interests?

Ah, yoga is the common thread for me. I have always believed that I could learn a skill wholeheartedly because I would treat learning and discovering that activity like I do yoga. Yoga is about listening, learning and feeling. Once I realized that the same yoga philosophy goes into everything you do (listening to yourself, not reacting or attaching, breathing and being calm), climbing, tango dancing, working as a fireman, all these things go together.

Why is Boise home, and how does it inspire your practice?

I feel very connected to people here. I like how people who live in Boise are true to themselves and this is a very yogic principle. Seeking the true divine self is something that I think people here do.

I like being able to ride my bike around town—anywhere in town and get there in less than 20 minutes. I like skiing in the winter, going rock climbing and riding mountain bikes. I try to go to the Boise River every day to at least look for one heron. I need to be close to the mountains. I like to be able to play with the seasons and be able to drive or escape to very remote and faraway places right out our door.

You have just decided to open your own studio. What is unique about the Mysore-style?

Mysore-style of Ashtanga is very unique. There is no talking. The teacher walks around and assists students who are working independently with their own breath and with their own ability. This gives people the opportunity to practice fully within their own abilities and with integrity. The studio is warm, beautifully lit and central to the city. It is small, like a studio would be in India, so you are practicing sometimes mat to mat in a small room.

Everyone is in everyone's business in India, and so when returning, I wanted a studio that would be small, comfortable and connected. I wanted to be able to walk no more than five steps to reach a student. You can really hear and feel others' breaths and feel connected.

You teach in Boise but go to India annually for training. How else do you keep yourself learning and inspired?

My practice is my best teacher. I practice Ashtanga six days a week and almost always by myself. I learn every day something new about myself. One day, I may be short of breath or feeling like I am holding back, so I listen and back off or go deeper. I also read as much as I can about the practice, stay connected to friends who live in other places with strong Ashtanga communities, and we inspire each other. I am always a beginner in my mind.

Have you taught in other areas? What is unique about Boise students?

I have taught in the Mammoth/Bishop area, where I lived as a rock climber in the early 2000s, and I taught while I was a firefighter to my crew members. I taught my co-workers while living in Yosemite and taught yoga to students in the Boise schools while I was a substitute this past year. I share what I can with people who are interested.

Boise students are incredible to teach because they have open minds and are very interested in learning about all styles of yoga. People who live here are interested in the arts, interested in becoming better, and more in tune with the environment and themselves; this is why it is so special here. I like the Boise students because they are not only connected deeply to themselves and the idea of a cleaner, healthier place to live, they are also family people who understand friendships and relationships are what keeps our town so special.

Were there any really formative experiences in your life that had a major effect on who you are as a teacher or how you approach teaching?

I had an experience this past year while in India that was profound to my teaching. I was studying with S.K. Pattabhi Jois and R. Sharath, his grandson who is primarily doing all the teaching at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute. I was standing up at the top of my mat and Sharath came to help me with my backbend. He said to me, "Do not fear, Sarah. Why are you afraid?" It was very, very profound because I realized that I would not let myself go into the posture because of this old habit of fear that I related to that posture (I had fallen very hard off the balance beam onto my back as a teenage gymnast). After over a month of hearing him say this to me every day, I finally got through some of the fear. After that time, the memory went away and the memory was replaced with, "No fear, Sarah."

Why is your new studio in a fire station?

I love this question. Yes, this is a big deal for me because I like that when you walk up the stairs, there is a big sign, "Fire Station." This prepares you, tapping into and harnessing your inner fire, or what yogis would call tapas. I love firefighters and many of my friends here work for the Boise BLM Smokejumpers, the McCall Smokejumpers, and the Sawtooth Hotshots out of Twin Falls. The firefighting community is tight. These people are amazing women and men who are in a physically demanding and emotionally demanding career surrounded by danger. I want them to be able to come in the fall and winter and recover from their season, get into their bodies again, hear their breath again and take solace and peace in a place where they can beam up, get strong emotionally and physically, and prepare for the next season. My female firefighting friends are some of my heroes. I honor them and their work, so it is my way of giving them a place of peace and of saying "thank you" for their work.

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