Ann Thomas began practicing yoga and meditation in the early 80’s. The nuns in grade school, Mr. Rogers, and Lilias! (the first televised yogini) inspired her when she was growing up. She loves the synergy between Flow’s vinyasa style and my alignment based training. “Flow opened my heart and practice in ways I never expected,” she wrote in her bio when she began teaching at the studio. “That’s the thing about yoga: it opens your heart and reveals things you never expect.
FB: Thanks for joining us.
AT: Thanks for inviting me.
FB: Tell us more about your personal background. Who else is in your family? Were you a born-and-bred in Loudoun, or do you hail from elsewhere?
I’m from NJ. I came to DC in the early 80’s and have been in the area ever since. I finished college, graduate school, and attended divinity school. I began my career and got married. It is also where I began practicing yoga in 1983. In 2002 my husband, Michael, and I moved to Leesburg. Our teenage twins, Clare and Christopher, were born in 2004. We love Loudoun County and call it home.
FB: Does anyone else in your family take classes with you?
They have in the past, but not now. In the classroom of life, however, they are 3 of my greatest teachers.
FB: And we’re always curious, any pets?
Yes, our small beagle-mix, Sophia! She practices yoga and meditation with me daily. Her favorite pose is “sideways dog.” She even assists me in some yoga therapy sessions. She is very special. She had a spinal cord injury over three years ago. Her back legs drag but that doesn’t stop her. She is happy, playful, gentle, determined and a beloved member of our family.
FB: You’re somewhat new to Flow, I believe, but a longtime yogi and teacher, can you tell us a little bit more about your personal practice and the journey it’s taken you on?
I am new to the Flow teaching staff, but I have taken classes here for over a decade. When we relocated I was looking for a yoga community and here you were!
I started practicing yoga and meditation in 1983 in DC. I did my first teacher training in 1992; in 1995 I did Integrative Yoga Therapy training. I then apprenticed for over two years with John Schumacher of Unity Woods Yoga Center to become a certified Iyengar yoga teacher (CIYT) in 1996. I’ve been a teacher at UWYC since then, as well as at other venues. I also got my master’s degree in Community Health Promotion and Education. I focused my research on the benefits of yoga and meditation for addressing stress-related illness. I was a health educator, biofeedback and yoga therapist at Georgetown University Medical Center at a time when yoga was just being introduced as a viable healing modality in conventional medical settings. Now it is commonplace. In addition to teaching yoga and meditation to groups, I am a certified yoga therapist (C-IAYT) and do a lot of individual sessions.
My personal practice has evolved through different stages of my life: as a single woman and student; as a wife, mother, householder; and in service to others in my career. Asana, pranayama, prayer, meditation, study and service are integral to who I am and what I do every day. I am a student and practitioner first. As a teacher I hope to accompany others on their unique journey and to share what I have learned on mine so far. We also continue to learn and grow together. The scope of yoga is so vast. There is an aspect appropriate for anyone at any every stage of life.
Ultimately the journey is inward no matter what is going on externally. For me that has included a deepening of my faith, a greater sense of devotion and a stronger reliance upon God. They are central to my life and my compass as the journey continues.
FB: Who are some of the yoga teachers who have inspired you the most?
As an Iyengar teacher I have studied primarily with Iyengar teachers: John Schumacher, Patricia Walden, Lois Steinberg and others in the US. I also studied at the Iyengar Institute in Pune, India for two extended trips. I did prenatal yoga training at Kripalu, Relax and Renew certification with Judith Lasater and a few workshops here at Flow.
I used to travel a lot for retreats and workshops. Since I had children I like to stay closer to home. That is why I came to Flow. I needed a local yoga community and found this strong, vibrant group of Flowgi’s right here in Leesburg. I have learned so much here and treasure my teachers and friends. The flow style really complements the alignment base of my training. You have enriched my life and my practice.
FB: Walk us through your ideal class. Are there poses and routines that we should expect as students and what makes your class so unique?
The ideal yoga class is not just about asana. It integrates the eight limbs of yoga: yama (5 universal ethics), niyama (5 personal standards), asana (posture), pranayama (breath restraint), pratyahara (retraction of the senses), dharana (contemplation), dhyana (meditation), samadhi (union). Hopefully every class incorporates or infers aspects of each.
In an asana class I may focus on details of alignment, precise movement, and awareness in the process. For example, in sirsasana (headstand) the grounding of the forearms, placement of the crown of the head, the lift of the shoulders, extension of the spine and actions of the legs all synchronize for a pose that is safe, strong, steady and clear. It is within alignment that energy flows optimally. “Without correct alignment a building falls down…Alignment creates an intercommunicating structure that, like a cathedral, is an offering to God.” (BKS Iyengar)
The alignment creates space. Within the space, sound and vibration resonate, and prana moves. That is flow. We align to flow, and flow to align with the Divine. It’s a paradox that ultimately we enter into stillness and silence. To me, that is ideal.
Right now I am teaching a restorative class on Tuesday evenings at 7:30. It is a perfect way to end the day or restore from a rigorous vinyasa practice. We do supported poses to rest the body, calm the mind, and soothe the soul. (No chatarungas here). We finish with extended savasana and meditation. Please come and experience it for yourself.
FB: How specifically do you think yoga keeps people happier and healthier?
Yoga is a comprehensive system that penetrates the five sheaths of our being, called koshas. Benefits to the physical body (anomaya kosha) are obvious. It improves strength, flexibility, digestion, respiration and detoxification. It reduces symptoms of stress and fatigue, and quiets the mind. The list of physical benefits is extensive when done with care and discrimination.
The asanas, pranayamas and kriyas also regulate the breath and the flow of electromagnetic energy (prana) that pulsates through the body (pranamaya kosha). We feel more energized yet calm after class because our energy is channeled in optimal ways.
As breath and energy are channeled, the emotional body (manomaya kosha) is purified and regulated. Emotionally we become more balanced, focused and optimistic. There are even poses and sequences the can help manage symptoms such as anxiety and depression. By following the ethical principles of yama and niyama, we are also more at peace with ourselves and the world around us.
As emotional and mental fluctuations subside, higher wisdom and knowledge (vijnanamaya kosha) manifest. Ignorance (avidya) is removed. Our intuition becomes more acute. It becomes easier to know and live in accord with higher truths. We find ourselves wanting to serve others and do what is right and good in the world.
As we journey inward, the path of yoga leads us to the bliss body (anandamaya kosha) that is inherent in each of us. It reveals the spark of divinity within the heart that illuminates the Soul. There we connect with the Source of health and happiness.
FB: What makes an ideal yoga playlist in your opinion and who are some of your favorite playlist artists?
It’s funny you should ask! I am actually classically trained in the Iyengar tradition and we don’t use playlists. They are considered a distraction.
BKS Iyengar says, “Yoga is like music: the rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind, and the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life.”
That being said, sometimes I appreciate the distraction! Music moves the body and the soul, and I have been moved. Thank you to my Flowgi teachers who use great playlists! I love you and it is a joy to practice with you! You inspire me and so many others.
Ultimately yoga will lead us to the silence within, and “silence is the music of samadhi.” (BKSI)
FB: Having taught at a lot of different studios, what are some aspects about Flow that you’ve enjoyed the most?
I enjoy doing yoga with this wonderful community of people. I love the kindness, authenticity, and joy that is shared here. I love the founder and her vision, the managers who have worked SO heroically to make Flow thrive over the years. I love the dedicated teachers and the earnest teachers in training. Each one is so unique. I love the caring staff who welcome us and handle so many details. I love the variety of classes. I also love the space, the yoga shala, where we practice, learn, and grow together. It echoes with the sound of om. It is a happy place!
Just thinking about Flow brings warmth to my heart and a smile to my face. It softens to my breath and quiets my mind. I love Flow. You bring out the best in people and make the world a better place. I am blessed and grateful to be a part.