Published: 03-08-2012 - Last Edited: 12-08-2021
A traveler at heart, San Francisco yoga teacher Sianna Sherman unpacked her bags in Berkeley, called by the rich sense of community and nature of the Bay Area. She brings a passion for asana, philosophy and life itself to her classes – as well as expertise in yoga therapeutics and more. While she may be best known locally for her advanced asana class at Yoga Kula and Yoga Tree in San Francisco, Sianna has much to offer yogis of all stripes.
Sianna came across yoga in 1990 after postponing medical school in favor of a year of dancing in Chicago nightclubs and exploring life. “I saw people emerging from a building across the street from the health food store where I worked, with this glow and kindness,” Sianna recalls. She started taking asana classes and soon began traveling to seek out yoga of all kinds. Her search included stays at a macrobiotic community, a naturopathic school and Gurumayi’s ashram in India. “The fire kept wanting to be stoked as much as possible,” she explains. “Every single experience was potent at the time. I studied every style of yoga – and loved it.”
Over the course of her journey, Sianna studied with Gurumayi, Richard Freeman, Martin Prechtel and many others before connecting with her current teachers, John Friend and Douglas Brooks. Practicing and studying with John and Douglas, she found herself understanding yoga texts that had mystified her in the past. She saw more clearly the links between the philosophical basis of yoga and asana, and how it can affect our lives. She traveled with John Friend for more than three years, assisting in his workshops and absorbing all she could.
In the past, she had explored pagan, earth-based traditions that celebrate the fullness of life, living it as fully as possible. This resonated with her own experience and yet seemed at odds with some of the yoga texts she was studying. She found reconciliation in Tantric philosophy, which “sees the universe as shree, consciousness becoming more of itself.” Sianna explains, “There is not a state to be achieved. It’s a journey and process of whatever experience you’re in. The universe is doing yoga all the time”¦yoking itself to embodied form, [and] we are yoking ourselves to things that are meaningful to us.” Sianna describes yoga as “an invitation for people to get comfortable being themselves – at ease in their own natural beingness. The media tells us to look and be a certain way, but with yoga we start to fall in love with being ourselves”¦breathing and moving in our own body with our breath.”
Her own direct experience of this process is palpable, and is further expressed in the language she uses in teaching asana classes. She encourages her students to celebrate the gift of their lives and ask themselves questions like, “how do I want to engage my life?”
Yoga classes can be a “collective healing space [where] we start to hold space for each other and we start to experience that support.” She laughs. “You can’t stop it from helping you to feel better.” She is quick to point out that asana practice is not the only way to create that healing space; it is not the only route to feeling better. She cites meditation and people coming together as some of the other ways. “Yoga is an invitation. It’s not obligatory.”
Why practice asana? “It’s sublime and sophisticated. It has a natural elegance, as we step in and cultivate these forms,” says Sianna. “It helps open up the gateways of energy, and gives us space and time to really feel the breath.” She also points to the therapeutic value of yoga, in slowing down our movements enough that we can become aware of the details of our movements and then optimize the way the body lines up biomechanically and energetically, supporting more active movements. But for Sianna, the ultimate reason for practicing asana is “for the fun of it! If you find delight in it! If you’re doing it because you think you have to, that’s not an empowered place.”
Sianna brings to her practice and teaching the fluidity and flexibility of a dancer. She demonstrates with ease some of the most pretzel-like postures and cheerfully invites her students to give them a try. Despite her enthusiasm, she points out that practicing advanced postures is “an avenue we might want to choose”¦but it’s not a signature of an advanced yogi.” What’s crucial is how we practice and the attitudes we cultivate while we’re practicing. “[These] really make the difference in the quality of our lives and in the field of consciousness.” For comparison, she describes people in wheelchairs practicing yoga very deeply, as can be seen by their presence: “kind, willing to engage in life, not be victimized by life’s circumstances. They move with the breath, they move with awareness.”
Sianna’s hope is that people realize asana (meaning “seat”) is “not only an outward posturing we take in the forms of our bodies, but a real seat that we take inside our hearts, minds and bodies.” For her, “yoga is how we step into our hearts, reach into our minds and respect the gift of our bodies, and then move with mindfulness, creativity and respect both inside and out. It is our soulful expression of what lies hidden in the fertile grounds of our heart and minds – and gives the world more texture, style, resonance and taste!”
While she whole-heartedly loves the asana practice, Sianna is also deeply engaged with yoga philosophy, which she describes as “fertile ground that never runs dry.” She finds herself increasingly drawn to mediation as well. “The heart of it is how yoga impacts the heart of compassion – to live in a way that is honoring myself and somehow helps people,” she says. “If people can feel a little brighter inside of themselves, it becomes a deeper conversation of humanity, and that’s a golden thing.”
Watch a video of Sienna Sherman teaching Yoga