Al Tavera’s classes are dynamic and fun. He encourages students to be in the moment, to listen to their bodies and to notice if a movement is helping or hurting. Yoga is a process and he knows it can be difficult to perceive progress in our selves. Al is such an effective teacher because he personally relates to those who struggle with poses. Though quite flexible now, he describes himself as having had a stiff spine when he began his journey with yoga.
Al first turned to yoga at the age of 34. “When I first started, I had no flexibility, no awareness of my body or breath, and I was always in pain,” he shares. Noticing that he was always “the tightest student in the class,” he began to take on that description as his identity, much like he had accepted without question that shoulder and back pain were part of his life. “The first few years, it was all about becoming comfortable,” he tells me. “It was about going through an hour and a half class without feeling like I was going to die.” Now, his body is in better shape than 20 ago, and he marvels at the fact that he can bend in many directions, sit in meditation and can feel the flow of prana in his body.
Because of his own experience, Al knows that others can also discover the rewards of a regular yoga practice. For him, it took years for the benefits to be visible. Al couldn’t believe it when someone commented that he was very flexible. Although that observation didn’t fit with the identity he had internalized for himself, he began to notice over time that his body was, in fact, more comfortable and pliable than before. The pain had also begun to dissolve, and he was amazed to discover that his chest felt open and he could actually breathe!
After more than 9 years of personal practice, Al began to consider teaching yoga as a career. He hadn’t initially considered it because he felt he didn’t have the “graceful ease” so many other teachers seemed to have. Yet it is that struggle and hard work to keep up with the rest that makes him such an effective instructor. “Nothing was easy for me. I benefited from building my way slowly.”
In passing on the lessons he’s learned, Al is able to guide students with compassion and confidence that they will also improve. Al cares deeply for his students and feels rewarded by their progress. He loves his job because he gets to observe and encourage students as they develop their practice and he gets to point out breakthroughs that the students themselves may not have noticed.
Al enjoys a very loyal following and others often refer to his teaching as the reason they chose to either deepen their personal practice or to become teachers themselves. Goorus colleagues Susan Cambigue-Tracey and Gretchen Lightfoot credit Al for inspiring them along the path.
“I look forward to getting older with my yoga practice,” Al says. “I have my limitations, I’m ok with that.” Growing older doesn’t concern him now that he has a strong practice. “You’re only as young as your spine is open,” he assures me and the beauty of this understanding is that he’s younger now than when he began his yoga practice.