Interview and Photography by Vanessa Packer
TO KNOW KYLE MILLER, is to know one of the most affable, kind yogis in New York. She possesses the artful skill of transforming one’s mood with a flash of a smile or one of her signature, full-armed, wrap-around hugs. Naturally, we wanted to learn how to possess this level of genuine happiness, so we sat down with the yogi to find out what inspires and intrigues her whether she finds herself on the top of the Nigiri Mountains or on the floorboards of Yoga Vida. Read on to discover her approach to connecting mind and body, the asanas of the yoga practice, as well as helpful tips both on the mat and off. Namaste.
How did you get into yoga?
When I was 15, I would practice at Maha Yoga in Brentwood with Steve Ross, Tom Morley and all the hot moms of Santa Monica. When I moved to New York after college, I started at Jivamukti and that’s what opened my eyes to the whole philosophy of yoga. At first, there was resistance like ‘”What the hell are they speaking, this dharma teaching? Why are we chanting?” I wasn’t used to practicing yoga that way but became absolutely obsessed with it. Then I went to India and studied in the Nilgiri Mountains for six weeks and the discipline that I learned there is what made me feel like I could start teaching. It was in India where the transformation occurred.
Was there an event that happened in India that made this transformation happen?
I never believed in God before I went to India. I was raised atheist and never had a method for connection and understanding the divine. That was a major shift in perception for me. It was also where I could see the teachings of yoga being lived everyday. Being kind to others, not hoarding material goods, living in a way that is in harmony with the world. It was very inspiring. I came back and felt so pure that I wanted to get rid of everything I owned and keep one bowl for food and two yoga outfits. Obviously, since then I’ve monstered out again.
You talk about the philosophy that really grabbed you, what was it that pulled you in?
Hearing about the ancient texts at Jivamukti and understanding their philosophy I really came to learn that this practice is about moving from a state of agitation towards complete ease and freedom. You come to see that all people are suffering, all people have ups and downs. Yoga is really a practical method for clawing your way away from that stuff. It takes a lot of effort and awareness everyday. Is eating this going to make me feel like shit tomorrow? Is engaging with these people going to make me feel like shit tomorrow? There is no yoga practice without lifestyle changes. You realize, “Oh shit, ok, talking shit about people and hanging out in this way leaves me more agitated.” You start to more clearly understand cause and effect. When you see that, the seeds you plant with your thoughts, words and actions have more awareness.
When you talk about how the lifestyle changes that come from yoga, what are some of the biggest shifts that you have made in your life?
I can remember a time when I was going out to the Jane, I would gain confidence from doing that. Now that I’m much more deep into my practice, that kind of thing doesn’t provide the same feelings. Socializing and having fun are important, I’m the first teacher that will tell my students to get out of here and go have fun, but I can’t stay out so late anymore. It’s interesting to see the shift in what makes you feel whole.
What makes you feel good now?
I feel the most confident when I’m teaching my classes at Yoga Vida. Even when I’m tired and taking thing for granted, my classes always uplift me. It’s a joy to get to teach and to be in a position where we are meant to uplift.
You have such an uplifting playlist. How does music play into your practice?
Music is everything because that can change the mood. It’s so clear when a class is losing focus and the mood is heavy. You put on a Bob Marley song and all of a sudden everyone is lighter and you feel the whole room transition. Rima at Jivamukti taught me that. As much as I’m obsessed with Rihanna, the yoga classroom is not the right place. You want to be very careful and selective. But if the room is silent then the class starts distracting themselves, thinking about dinner plans. I’m obsessed with Spotify. I have all my playlists on there.
Where do you find the importance of food in connection with yoga?
There is such a link and it’s really true that it arises naturally the more you practice yoga. You are drawing awareness within. There arises a desire to eat better because you can feel the difference if you ate a cheeseburger and fries for dinner and came to practice or if you had brown rice and vegetables. You cant be staying out until 3am drinking, eating late at night because you have more subtle awareness of your physical self and there is a clear cause for feeling heavy, lethargic, weighted down and in a state of disease. Our whole practice is about moving away from that state, so diet is everything.
Are there any rules to eating and practicing?
You want to practice on an empty stomach, so three hours between your last meal and practicing asana. For lightweights, they need one hour only because their digestive systems are quicker. Denser people need that full three hours, otherwise you feel heavy throughout the practice.
How would you describe your diet?
I’ve been a vegetarian for 4 or 5 years and it’s the diet that works for me. I don’t preach it to anybody but I adore it. In New York, I could eat at any restaurant in the city, except maybe the no menu sushi, and have a full happy meal. It’s not limiting at all. Talk to me in Idaho I feel for you, it’s probably more challenging. But here there are no excuses, there’s vegan restaurants on every corner and beyond that every restaurant has vegetable sides. Even the steakhouses. The iceberg wedge, hold the bacon and a baked potato.
Do you cook?
I love to cook. I’ll make black bean bowls with kale and avocado with tomatoes and cheddar. I’m into Mexican flavors right now. My roommate makes the best kale chips ever. Lots of smoothies during the day. I try to keep it lighter during the day so I don’t crash by my evening classes.
What’s a typical eating day look like for you?
There are good version and the bad versions because I’m no angel by any means. So good, breakfast would be starting with warm water and lemon from Saint Gwyneth. I tell the students, you want to have mentors and people that you look up to, so Gwyneth can be on that list. After water and lemon, then I have coffee and make Nespresso with almond milk or I’ll get a soy cappuccino out. I’ll either have juice or have an almond croissant if we have teacher training that I’ll share with another teacher. For lunch, I like to have the big smoothies from Juice Generation or the kale salad at Jack Wife Freda or the egg sandwich with avocado at The Smile. For dinner, I like variety. I’ll do brown rice with vegetables, something spicy. I love cheese and dessert too, so don’t get it twisted.
What are you indulgences?
An almond croissant from Lafayette, a bar of dark chocolate or peanut butter and honey in a spoon. Food is a celebration and I’m definitely not disciplined enough that I don’t ever eat somebody’s birthday cake or not engage in a social activity around food. I’m in the classroom enough, I gotta have fun.
For some of our readers that are new to yoga, what is some advice you can give?
First, I train our teachers to be compassionate. There can be so much insecurity coming to a new place. If you dragged me to Physique 57, even though I’m fitness professional I’d still be like, “OMG I don’t fit in!” Second, keep reminding yourself that everybody only cares about themselves. “Is anybody looking at me?” is what every single person is thinking. They’re not looking at you, so don’t pay attention to that. Third, find a teacher you like. And finally, bring a friend. Class can be fun. There’s a billion different ways to practice yoga and all of them are good. You’re not any better or worse than the daily practitioner who silently does his Mysore style Ashtanga practice each morning. Ask your friends and get recommendation so you feel like you have a little intel before you show up.
Is there a daily yoga that someone can bring into their everyday life if they don’t have much time?
Yoga teachers are obsessed with sun salutations because they are so simple, effective and efficient. If you don’t have any time to practice, you can always you can roll out a mat or just hunker down on the ground and do a few sun salutations. Give yourself what you need. People love taking pigeon no matter what is going on, so that’s a great pose you can always come into at home and let your hips get some relief from sitting upright in your desk all day. Legs up the wall for all my insomniacs out there is an amazing posture that is so simple and restorative. It’s an inversion that’s safe while you are on your period. All you do is come to the wall, put your legs up and stay for 10 breaths or 15 minutes. It can really be helpful before bed to get you to sleep.
Do you always take a shavasana?
Yes, even if it’s just for 30 seconds to release and let go.
Why are there classes with chanting and others without?
Yoga Sutra, Bhagavad-Gita and the Vedas are the source texts for this practice. But to come to chanting meditation and Pranayama exercises plus a spiritual teaching with Sanskrit for somebody who thought they were coming to a fitness class, that is way too much. There needs to be classes that are just asana. But for certain students, a hunger develops or a desire to learn more and to go deeper. So there needs to be classes for them. Yoga should be taught in a variety of ways to keep people interested and engaged.
Do you recommend other studios in the city?
Eddie Stern is one of Pattabhi Jois’ first students American students to travel to India. He is the living lineage of ashtanga yoga. He runs Broome Street Temple. It’s the most incredible sacred space where students are there at 6am silently practicing Mysore style ashtanga. It’s the most incredible thing you’ve ever seen.
What do you love about yoga?
Yoga brings balance and health to the body. It creates vibrant health and makes you appreciate everything your body does for you and stop taking it for granted. You know you are advancing along this path not when you have mastered handstand but when you do something nice for someone. When you are willing to extend yourself towards someone else, that is a sign that the yoga is working. Within you sprouts some compassion because you start to see that other people are the same. The base line for all people is a desire to be happy and to suffer less. The person that knocked into you on the subway. You can put yourself in their shoes, that’s how you build compassion. That’s why yoga requires a lifestyle change. You cannot still meet up with your friends and talk shit about your other friends when you are on this path. And you cannot have no discipline or structure because discipline and structure are part of this. It’s a path of constant refinement.
After our interview, Kyle released a yoga book with the illustrator Mike Gigliotti titled Yoga Dream. Whimsical and fun, we highly recommend it. Click HERE to purchase.