Abigail Stevenson started from humble (and all-too-relatable) yoga beginnings - think sweaty palms, self-conscious movements, and lots of overthinking - and is now the sought-after Rooftop Yoga Flow instructor at Standard Dose. Along her journey, she developed unique wisdom and tips to further our practice. Read on for Abby’s full Q+A and to book a free yoga class.
Q: Tell me a little about your background - what lead you to yoga and how long have you been teaching?
A I’m a born and raised New Yorker who grew up doing gymnastics (I actually competed for a few years in USAG until my scary coach pulled me aside at a meet and told me “you run worse than my grandmother and my grandmother is dead.") Deciding I was too sensitive for that, I quit at age 14. I still craved rhythmic movement and since acrobatics was in my nature, I decided to try yoga. After graduating college in 2014 with a major in government and job locked in for the fall, I decided to do a summer intensive yoga teacher training and I have been teaching ever since!
Q: When you first started yoga personally, what was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?
A: When I first started practicing, the biggest challenge I had to overcome was self-consciousness and insecurity. Walking into a room of people I didn’t know tremendously overwhelmed me. I was so afraid of being judged if I sweat too much or was too slow or too fast. Yoga is truly a dialogue with yourself, so who you are outside of the mat becomes extremely evident while practicing. As you develop and keep showing up on the mat, you start to realize that everyone is just there because they want to feel better and they want to have a deeper conversation with themselves.
Q: When you first started to teach yoga, what was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?
A: It’s funny that this is the next question because my biggest challenge when I started to teach yoga was… self-consciousness! During one of the first classes I ever taught at Unity Yoga in Harlem, I forgot which leg we were on during the sequence. It was a huge Sunday morning class and I was teaching a figure 4 to warrior 3 situation with the peak pose being grasshopper. In the middle of the flow, I had to completely start over. I was horrified and then realized no one really cared! No one was judging me because the yoga practice is personal! It has nothing to do with me, I’m merely a guide assisting people on their own personal practice.
Q: What is your teaching style?
A: My teaching style is both nurturing and playful. In Standard Dose classes, expect a creatively sequenced flow class that focuses on the breath, alignment, and a lot of laughter. Oh and lots of hands-on assists!
Q: What's the potential for CBD as a part of yoga?
A: CBD has so many qualities that benefit the yoga practice. Physically, CBD can aid sore joints and muscle and decrease inflammation. CBD can also alleviate stress and reduce anxiety. Personally, I see the coupling CBD with yoga as a means of feeling more free in the mind and the body, which can facilitate a deeper practice.
Q: What, in your opinion, are a couple of the biggest benefits of yoga?
A: There are so many benefits of practicing yoga including increased mobility and flexibility, better circulation, stress relief, and more energy. When you start a yoga practice, the first effect you gain is always body awareness of strength, vitality, flexibility, etc.
In Katonah Yoga, we use the metaphor of your body being your house - it’s your container for this experience we call life. But sometimes our house feels a little messy and disorganized, so we use yoga as a technique to regain rhythmic unity between our bodies and our minds.
Q: How can yoga affect our hormones?
A: Surprise, surprise, one of the frequent causes of hormonal and glandular problems is stress. Your hormones naturally fluctuate, but increased stress causes a spike in cortisol and can lead to a slew of problems like PCOS and thyroid imbalances.
In our chaotic lives, balance can seem like a totally unachievable goal. The truth is that regaining health in the body and mind is a layering of simple strategies over time. Incorporating five minutes of breathing techniques into your day can have a massive impact on your mood, digestive and endocrine systems, and energy levels.
Q: What's your biggest piece of advice for anyone starting yoga?
A: The biggest advice I have for anyone starting yoga is that the practice is about you! Whenever you come to the mat remember that this is your body, your space, your time, and your practice - it can be whatever you want it to be! It doesn’t have to confine to what you think the practice should be.
The yoga practice is truly a revolution around yourself through yourself. In a less esoteric sense, yoga is a practice of getting over yourself - over the narratives we tell ourselves - whether it be a story of physical discomfort or emotional anguish. We all have stuff that makes us feel stuck and bad; we’re all human and trying our best. Just remember that everyone doing yoga is just trying to feel better.
Q: What's your favorite yoga pose and the one you haven't quite nailed yet?
A: My favorite pose ever is supported bridge with blocks and a sandbag. I like restorative poses because it feels like I’m being held, and I can just be me without having to work so hard. I also have a history of PCOS and supported bridge is extremely beneficial for anyone suffering from cysts.
Regarding any pose I haven’t quite nailed, there are SO many! And that’s what makes the yoga practice so great - you’re always working toward something. I continue to focus on backbends because they’re energizing and great to open you up, especially if you’re an introvert like me.