VALERIE VERDIER CAN LEAD YOU TO BLISS. In the stifling temperatures of Modo Yoga tucked quietly above Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village, Verdier’s sequences leave no stone unturned. A degree in Kinesiology imbues her teaching with intricate alignment cues that transform each posture. “It’s a personal experience that keeps on evolving,” says Verdier of her longtime yoga practice. “You learn the lessons when you are ready to hear them.” We caught up with up with the Hatian native and New York-based instructor who talked her favorite hometown dishes, her self-care rituals and her favorite way to hydrate.
By Kells McPhillips / Photos courtesy of Valerie Verdier
Why hot yoga?
Growing up in Haiti, a hot climate country, I danced 3 to 5 times a week, when I took my first Modo/Moksha class, the heat, the sweat rolling down my back, the tingling sensation in my extremities as we laid down for final Savasana, it brought back lots of good memories and feelings. I want to share that with all the students.
What are your all-time favorite poses?
- Downward facing dog is an intense one for me. We do it so often and sometimes that I get on auto-pilot and avoid the work. It humbles me. It doesn’t matter how fancy the practice gets, how many back bends or inversions I do. Ten breaths in downward dog and I have a puddle around my mat.
- My favorite postures are backbends. I am “attached” (I guess I still have to work on that) to the feeling/ sensation I get after.
- Seated meditation. I get fidgety. My brain starts to wonder. The random things that come through my mind sometimes make me want to burst out laughing. It’s a work in progress and I am not there yet. I used to try and force myself to sit still, but it never works. Now I am okay with the discomfort, and knowing that I might have to work on it more. Should I try to let go?
What pose(s) are you working towards right now?
I am working on bringing a little bit more control, ease in my practice. I love backbends. They open the front chain/part of the body, but I also love being upside down in an inversion which requires a lot of engagement from the center. They’re two different kind of postures and I enjoy them both. By working on control and containment, I am supporting my body to be able to do both.
You have a B.S. in Kinesiology. How does your education translate into your teaching style?
Kinesiology is all about body movement and biomechanics. Vinyasa yoga is an alignment-based practice. I like to see the asanas as shapes and focus more on how they feel compared to how they look. Just like a therapist would work with an athlete to better his/her game or prevent or heal injuries, I try to use biomechanics and anatomy to do the same in the yoga practice. Instead of treating one person, I work with thirty-fifty people at a time and the practice offers a lot of detailed alignment cues.
What other self-care rituals do you incorporate into your daily life?
If I’m honest, the best self-care after you have taught 2-3 classes and interacted with about 150 people is to disconnect, do something (or nothing at all) where my brain can unwind. But I also try to practice at least five times a week. You teach what you know. If I feel it in my body, I can explain it better. I recently started adding some cardio (weight training and Pilates) to my routine. I go to a Haitian dance class when I really want to relax, and have a good laugh for old times’ sake.
What is your favorite way to hydrate post/pre-class?
Lots of water, plain water, and I add some watermelon and cucumbers. Once or twice in Haiti, I remember mom putting some lettuce or cucumbers in a jar of water in the fridge and we would drink it. I don’t really like the taste, so I do that with some fruits, fresh mint . . .
What is your best advice to someone who is just starting their yoga practice?
- Take it slow, and don’t put any pressure on yourself. The practice might come naturally to you, or you might need to be patient.
- Do your research on the studio, and the style of yoga class you are attending (avoid surprises).
- Don’t go with you friend who has been practicing for twenty years. Some people might prefer a steady, slow pace Hatha class. Others will like to flow of the vinyasa style.
. . . And there is nothing wrong with you if you end up not loving it.
What can practicing yoga teach us?
It’s a personal experience that keeps on evolving. The benefits and the teachings are vast. It all depends on what you are ready to absorb. I don’t want to sound cheesy, but in my own journey, I learned a lot about myself and about giving back. I found a sense of purpose and responsibility. But I also learned the importance of staying true to myself, and how to be real. It’s not always pink and peppy. I allow myself to be vulnerable, to be mad and angry sometimes, to feel what I am feeling (or put it aside for later) and to deal with challenges, hardships. and heartbreaks. I really believe that you learn the lessons when you are ready to hear them.
What kind of cardio do you do, and where do you take Pilates?
For cardio, I run (a little), take a power flow, vinyasa class. For Pilates, I go wherever Benjamin Degenhardt goes. He is one of my students who wanted to refine his practice, and I wanted to build more strength and containment to my practice, so we do an exchange (he makes me work hard).
What foods did you grow up eating in Haiti? What do you miss the most?
I miss everything. I cook some Haitian food at home but its not the same, rice and beans: white rice with SÒS PWA (bean sauce); DIRI KOLE ak PWA ROUJ (rice with red beans); DIRI DJON DJON rice with black mushroom (my all time favorite).
For meat lovers we have GRIYO: fried pork with some PIKLIZ on the side (onions, cabbage, carrots in a spicy vinegar sauce), which is often served with a side of BANNAN PEZÉ (fried plantain or rice).
For fish lovers: Pwason BOUKANNE (grilled fish) is my favorite. When I go home, everyone knows that we have to take Val to a restaurant to have that within the first two days haha.
Do you take any multivitamins?
Multivitamins to please my mom! Vitamin A and maybe some vitamin D during winter.
A SWEET SUNDAY, VAL STYLE
Wake up . . . 6-7
Workout . . . 30 mins run/gym,or go to studio early and practice the sequence I’ll teach later
Breakfast . . . Not a breakfast person, but if I need to eat: two boiled eggs. If I have time: yogurt, quinoa, blueberries and bananas.
Teach . . . 9 am and 11 am
Fuel . . . Smoothie between classes or after. Add protein powder, fruit , arugula or kale to some almond milk
Take a yoga class
Lunch . . . Soup or salad. Something light with lots of water after being in the hot room all day
Plan . . . Prep for my week (schedule, sequences)
Dinner. . . I focus on the proteins (mostly fish), and carbs for replenishment. And a glass of rosé.