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Coffee Shop Conversations: Erica Bornstein

By Larissa Weinstein

Context: Erica Bornstein is a yoga and fitness instructor. We spoke about the role of dance and yoga in her life, and how yoga gives us an opportunity to unplug from technology and reconnect with ourselves and each other.

Life of a Dancer

Erica has been involved in some form of movement since she was three years old. Her mom signed her up for dance classes and she loved it. She quickly exceled at it and her passion was so strong that she hasn’t stopped moving since.

She progressed from weekly introductory dance classes to a seriously packed class schedule by age six or seven, and at age eight she joined a competitive dance company. She continued dancing competitively through high school.

Dance was her whole life. She went to practice every day after school and absolutely loved it- so much so that it bled over into everything she did. She used to dance down the aisles of the grocery store with her mom.

When she went off to college, she was an undecided major and signed up for a couple of dance classes. When she found out she could major in dance, she made it official. She had 8 am ballet classes and danced on a team at a company.

Movement Evolves

Lucie Wicker Photography

Her introduction to yoga came in high school when she saw some classes being held at the gym. It looked like a great way to exercise and express herself at the same time. She dabbled in yoga classes at the gym, but dance was still her passion.

For the first two years after college, she tried to dance professionally. When she realized that just wasn’t a feasible career option in Boston, she took a desk job and continued practicing yoga. She became interested in power yoga and started going to classes at studios like Baptiste.

At age 24 or 25, she was working at an architecture firm and had a moment of realization. She didn’t want to come to an office and sit at a desk every day.

At the gym that same night, she saw a sign (a literal sign) that said, “Do you want a career in fitness?” She took one look and immediately knew the next step in her professional life.

She gave notice at work the next day and took a management job at the gym. The role gave her flexible hours and a chance to get her foot in the door of the fitness industry.

She met her teachers Chanel Luck and Lynne Begier. She did a yoga teacher training at Radiant Yoga with Chanel and started taking Lynne’s Hip Hop Yoga classes.

She put herself on the yoga teaching schedule at the gym but quickly found herself getting burned out from working 40 hours a week and teaching on the side.

Leaping into Yoga

In 2010, Lynne gave her a teaching job and she took the leap into teaching yoga full time. I asked her if yoga was the first time she had taught fitness- it wasn’t. She had taught step aerobics and kickboxing in college, and she also watched her mom as a fitness instructor.

As a yoga teacher, she strives to share her passion for movement and incorporates how movement makes us feel alive into her sequences and classes.

“If a day goes by that I don’t move my body, I don’t feel like myself.”

She now teaches vinyasa yoga, Hip Hop Yoga, Black Light Yoga, and a Hip Hop Dance Camp class, which is her own creation fusing hip hop dance with a bootcamp-style workout.

Robert Matteo Photography

Dance Your Yoga

Fusion is a common thread among her creations. A couple times a year, she also teaches a workshop she developed called Dance Your Yoga, which she calls yoga-infused dance.

In her regular classes, she teaches a flow that is very focused on moving with breath. She wants people to be able to get into their own bodies and not just play Simon Says.

She started to think, if we had more time in a class and could learn a sequence and then repeat it like you do when learning a dance combination, it could become an even more spiritual and transcendent experience.

The idea for Dance Your Yoga came to her one day when she was moving and dancing around her apartment with music playing. She didn’t want to be limited to the area of a yoga mat- in the workshop, she doesn’t even have her students roll out mats.

As she’s gotten older, her passion for dance has become a passion for yoga. Yoga movement is more conscious, safe, and sustainable as a lifetime practice. It also still gives her the feeling of dancing, but through the yoga postures.

In the workshop, she cues the movement and the breath and pairs that with the music. It creates a feeling of spiritual aliveness, and she hopes that her students walk away with that feeling.

Unplugging

As a frequent student of Erica’s yoga classes, I know that she talks a lot about unplugging from technology in class. Phones are not allowed in yoga, and that is a wonderful thing.

“The beauty of yoga and movement is that you don’t need anything for it- you just need body and breath.”​

She loves that when you’re on your mat, you don’t have the feeling of panic that you can’t reach your phone because your phone isn’t allowed on your mat in the first place. It’s not even an option to reach and scroll.

When you walk out of a 90-minute yoga class, it’s like you’ve had a mental cleanse. She encourages her students to take that feeling with them and not just check their phones right away.

She feels lucky to have the opportunity to regularly teach big classes of 60 people who are all there for a positive thing. Everyone has their different reasons for showing up, but everyone is there for the yoga, and that’s a really powerful and beautiful thing.

When she cues people to take an inhale at the same time and each person connects to themselves and to all the other people in the room, it creates a sacred experience of human connection- and you don’t need your phone for that.

We don’t have many opportunities for that level of human connection anymore because we’re always on our phones. It’s human nature to crave connection, and these days that looks like posting on social media and reaching out digitally. At yoga, we don’t have to post about it- instead, we get to live it.

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