Valley Yoga Instructor Desiree Lapre on How Practicing Humbles Her

In honor of National Yoga Month, we're sitting down with some of the Valley's favorite instructors to find out how they first got involved in yoga, how it changed their life, and why they believe everybody should incorporate yoga in their lives.

Desiree Lapre started out teaching yoga to kids at At One Yoga (now LifePower Yoga), which seemed like a natural step given her degree in family studies and child development, as well as her love for yoga in her personal practice. Eventually that led to a full-blown career teaching yoga to adults across the Valley, as well as the nation, and like many teachers before her, she says she didn't really choose this path, the path chose her.

See also: National Yoga Month: Events and Deals in Metro Phoenix

How did you first start practicing yoga? I first got into yoga when I was a teenager. And I started practicing. I did a couple videos at home, and when I moved to Tempe to start going to ASU I took my first class at At One Yoga. And from there just started practicing more and more frequently. I kind of fell in love with it. And it eventually turned into more of a daily practice and less of a once a week or couple times a week, and it really started to integrate itself in all different aspects of my life.

Why did you decide to become a yoga teacher? Well I actually kind of fell more into yoga than me seeking it out. My degree and background is in family studies and child development, and I knew the owners of the studio that I practiced at, and they knew what my background and education was, so they wanted to start to offer more kids classes, and they asked me if I would be interested in teaching them. I had been practicing at this point for about five years, and I started teaching a kids yoga class a couple of times a week, and that eventually evolved into wanting to teach adults, and from there the owners of the studio asked me if I'd be interested in going through the teacher training program. I was absolutely in love with yoga, in love with teaching the kids, and I really did want to get more involved in teaching adults. So that's how my journey into teacher training began.

Are you still working at the hospital and balancing that with your teaching schedule? No, I left the hospital a year and a half ago. I started going through massage school to learn a style of massage called ashiatsu massage. And once I was done with school, between my private yoga business and adding in massage I just started to get busier and busier. I was very fortunate and grateful to have such a great, great group of clients that I was able to leave my job at the hospital to run my own business full-time. It's been a fun adventure. But it's given me a lot of flexibility in my schedule as well. Being locked into a 40-hour-a-week job, and only having a set amount of time off is really restricting when you're trying to plan retreats and workshops and different things -- traveling to teach at different studios -- it's hard to kind of accommodate the two at the same time, so the transition really gave me a lot of flexibility and a lot of room to grow with yoga and massage, and working with people in a different way. How did the massage aspect of your career come into play? I grew up and my mom was a massage therapist, and I actually never thought in a million years that I would be a massage therapist--I guess I never thought in a million years I'd be a yoga teacher either--everything I ever wanted to do growing up was be a pediatrician and be a Child Life Specialist, so the two kind of came into my life unexpectedly but I feel very blessed that they did. The massage happened because one of my best friends, Anton Mackey, his wife [Dusti VanTilborg-Mackey] is an ashiatsu massage therapist, and she is one of the most amazing, talented, and gifted body workers I have ever met. So her business was getting very, very busy, and we started to talk a little bit about potentially me adding massage into my business, and it was intriguing and interesting and we had kind of a cool, little universal interventions happened. We were in Long Beach together, Anton was teaching a workshop out there, and during one of the workshops this kind of cool intervention from the universe happened, and we both looked at each other just stunned, and I said, "Okay I guess I'm gonna go to massage school, like it was just meant to be, it was one of those things, if there was a sign, that was it.

What exactly is ashiatsu massage? Ashiatsu translates into foot pressure, and the massage is done with a practitioner using a set of bars over the table, and we use our feet to provide the strokes rather than our hands. Although, Dusti does this amazing blend where she uses her hands and her feet and she's just so intuitive, her style is amazing. You use your feet and the weight of your body to provide the strokes and the pressure, and you balance using the bars above the table, it's just a really luxurious, deep-tissue style of massage. It feels amazing.

How has yoga impacted your life? Practicing yoga definitely has changed my life in a million ways plus one. I would say, when I very first started doing yoga, I was very fiery, and I think people that know me know that I have a very fiery personality, very passionate about my interests and my hobbies. I think that's the best word to describe me. I have this fire within me. And when I started yoga, it kind of taught me how to fuel my fire and my passion in a softer way, to kind of take those hard edges and round them out, to be more compassionate, and more humble, and to actually incorporate some humility and a sense of, I don't know I used the word humble but it just comes up again, being very humble and very grateful for what I have and what I can offer to the world, and to be open to receiving it. Yoga really taught me a lot about helping others, and letting others help me. And being open to the possibility, getting out of your own way to let things come into your life. I think I stood in my own way a lot of my life. So it was nice to go to yoga and be able to take a step back, and breathe.

What do you think it is about yoga that creates the space for that sort of thing, learning to get out of your own way and such, to happen? When I very first started practicing, it was definitely physical. It was a lot of, "How do I do the posture, what am I doing with my body, it's really hot and sweaty in here?" Everything about it was very physical. So that aspect alone, you can't -- I couldn't, personally -- really focus on everything else that was going on, outside of that exact moment. All of my attention, all of my awareness and focus was on what I was physically doing with my body. And that brought me more awareness of my body, and how I related to it. If I was pushing myself really hard, or if I was being lazy, and the practice from there of being really physical started to move into being mindful. And then from being mindful to really being open to a sense of spirituality through the practice, and what we all here can do for each other to make this a better place, ultimately. So it kind of trickled in over the years. And I think yoga has a really cool way of doing that, I think people come to it for a lot of different reasons--injury, a workout, they have tight hamstrings, they're a runner, anything, and I feel like over time, if given the opportunity, that the practice kind of moves from physical into more of this spiritual, emotional, and I think really a whole life aspect, rather than just something you're doing every day, it becomes something you do all day every day.

Why do you think yogis have gravitated to you and your classes? I always have a hard time talking about myself, I feel like I'm blushing talking to you about this question--I think I'm just myself when I teach class. I feel like the second you walk into a yoga room it's this very loving and safe and secure space where people can go and work things out. And I feel like as a teacher I bring that element into class, to just allow people to do what they need to do. And I'm just myself, you know, I try to say it like it is, be compassionate, sometimes I'm a little rough around the edges, but I always try to be really true to who I am as a person. And that's seemed to have served me so far, and I think whoever's meant to be in your class will show up ultimately, so the best thing that you can do as a teacher, is be yourself, be authentic, and the people that are supposed to be there will show up

How important is yoga for people to incorporate it in their lives, in your opinion? I feel like yoga has many different ways of being incorporated into people's lives. There are so many styles of yoga, and some are physical styles, and some are Karma yoga, or Bhakti yoga, and there are so many different ways to incorporate yoga into your life, whether you're running on a mountain with awareness, or you're volunteering at a shelter out of the compassion of your heart -- I think yoga's ultimately about giving and receiving inspiration, selflessly. And whether you do that by ways of a physical practice, or maybe on a spin bike, to me, that is all yoga, so I think it can be really diverse in its interpretation, and I really like to interpret it as everybody can do yoga all day, any day. The physical practice is a great way to bring mindfulness and awareness from the inside out, as far as actual physical body awareness. And then it's a really way to start to soften and quiet your mind and start to focus on one thing. So for me, the physical practice was a great transition into everything else. Do you have any suggestions to people who don't quite understand yoga? Well I feel like my answer's kind of similar to the last question, there are so many different styles of yoga. This is a question I get asked a lot, "my doctor recommended yoga, what style-they said I should do hot yoga, is it just stretching, are you guys gonna play weird music," I get a lot of questions about what yoga is and what to expect, and it's all gonna depend on what type of class you go to. So if you want a really good, vigorous, kick your ass kind of class, there's yoga out there for you. And I think a lot of people would be surprised at the different styles of yoga. So there're classes you can take where maybe you sit on the ground the whole time, and there's classes you can take where you're doing handstands, and arm balances, and you know Dr. Dre is in the background. So there's so much diversity, that my advice to anybody would be that hesitant to try out yoga would be, get a two-week pass and try every style of yoga you can. There's so many great deals out there, that if you didn't like that one class, don't give up, go try a different style or a different day. You never know what day might be your day. Or find another way to do it. Stretch on your own, go hike a mountain, and take a few deep breaths.

Do you recommend a particular type of class to try first? My number one recommendation for people to just get into it and learn some basics is, if it's available, a one-on-one or private yoga session with a teacher, to learn some of the basic postures that you're going to see frequently, alignment things, so when you do walk into a public yoga class you feel a little bit more comfortable, but also, and more importantly, you're going to be practicing a little bit more safely. Now the other nice thing to do is take a basics class or an intro to yoga class, and those are available at studios all over. Those will be a more introductory, which is going to be similar to a private yoga session where things are going to be broken down a lot more specifically, but in a group setting, so it's a nice way to get introduced to yoga. That being said, I have had many first-timers in my classes, and something about doing a fun yoga class with some good music, maybe a couple of jokes, and having a good time, can get people hooked to. So there's a lot of different ways to get into it.

What's been your most memorable moment or experience in teaching? I feel like I've had a couple of really fun moments in teaching. I think one of my favorite moments teaching actually happened more recently, and it just brought such a big smile to my face. I got to sub an early morning 9:30 a.m. class, which is a timeslot I don't typically teach, and it was for John Salisbury. So I was subbing for his class, and one of the songs came on, ["Ho Hey" by The Lumineers] and that song was really popular at the time, it was when it first came out, and I'm notorious for singing in class--sometimes I just can't help myself. I started singing it a little bit, and I told the class that music and singing makes my heart smile, and if singing makes your heart smile, you should sing along with me. And I didn't really think anyone would take me up on my offer, but I hoped they would--and I would say 98 percent of the class started singing, the whole chorus, and it had to have been one of my favorite teaching moments -- that we're all in like, pigeon pose or something, and you have 60 people singing "I belong with you, you belong with me, you're my sweetheart," it was such an amazing, magical moment to have all these people just let all their boundaries down and sing at the top of their lungs, and have a good time. It was a really unique thing to be a part of, and I smiled all day long, I felt so happy.

What are you working on or toward in your career and goals? Right now, I have been working on expanding the yoga part, and the massage part, more and more, just as business comes and opportunities arise. I have been fortunate to start teaching in different states, which I'm hoping will continue to grow, and I'm hoping to get invited out to teach at other locations throughout the country. And then, working on building up more and more retreats -- I teach retreats with Anton so we've done three retreats so far I wanna say, and we're working on our fourth retreat, so that should be coming up soon. And just working on maybe online yoga or dvds, or different things like that. Lots of different ideas like that popping around in my head, and we'll see how they all play out and manifest.

Do your foresee yourself staying in Arizona? I love living in Arizona, I am a Phoenician, born and raised in Arizona--I love having it as a homebase. I don't know if I'll ever move anywhere else, I'm really lucky and blessed to get to travel quite a bit for teaching and for fun as well, so it's nice to have a homebase to come to, and I feel like Arizona has been so giving and loving to me, I just enjoy it here. We have perfect weather for almost the entire year, minus several months, but those are great months to travel. I enjoy it here, If I'm meant to go somewhere else then I will, I'm not opposed to it, but I haven't found any place that I'd wanna be as my homebase yet besides Arizona

Do you have any advice for yogis who want to go deeper in their practice? Well right now my fiancée wants to do more of that, so he wants to take a teacher training program--not to become a teacher necessarily--but more so for the knowledge and the understanding beyond the physical practice. So to understand the other limbs of yoga, to understand meditation deeper, to understand the history of yoga and where it even comes from, just to have that next step. So I think teacher training is one way to go about it. But there's a lot of other ways, there are a lot of great workshops throughout the valley that offer meditation and gong, different styles of yoga that are gonna be more based on Kundalini or based around chanting or mantras, so there's different ways to expose yourself to more than just the physical practice. There's a lot of great sites that kind of lists of all the things the valley does, so the Phoenix Area Yoga Tracker is one way, Yogisocials is another way to kind of learn about the different things that are going on in the valley, and also going back to the private yoga lessons, one on one with a teacher is a really great way to start to expand your practice. For me personally, teaching on on one yoga sessions has transformed my practice physically, my awareness of body types, and the way people interact on their mat differently than I may, and also it's really transformed my teaching style. So understanding the body and understanding it from somebody else's perspective in that very one on one and intimate setting, it's such a great way to learn more about not only the physical practice but you can also find teachers more specific in meditation, and you can bring anything you want right into that room, cause it's kind of like your own personal yoga class that you get to create.

You can find out more information on Desiree's upcoming workshops, events, as well as class schedules and how to schedule private lessons on her website.

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