Teacher of the Month: Mimi Ferraro

Q: What originally inspired you to be a yoga teacher?
A: I actually wanted to become a yoga teacher specifically to teach people who have/had cancer. When I was diagnosed with cancer myself and in the middle of the long slog of hormonal treatment, a dear friend was kind enough to give me private lessons. Though I had practiced yoga before, this was my first real and consistent exposure to Vinyasa yoga. Then a studio in Brooklyn, Bend & Bloom, gave me free classes, and I was hooked. I wanted to become a teacher and to teach other people who went through what I went through because I wanted to be able to help them the way my teachers have helped me.

Q: What inspired you to teach yoga for cancer survivors?
A: See above!

Q: What have you enjoyed most about working with the y4c New York students?
A: The y4c New York students are wonderful — engaged, curious, funny, and very strong. I enjoy being part of this community of women and helping guide them to greater strength, mobility, and, I hope, contentment.

Q: How do you bring your own teaching elements into the y4c classroom?
A: I try to challenge the y4c students, but I always temper the challenge with my very dry humor. And I’m always looking for new orientations for poses — for example, if a pose is something we would normally do with a lot of weight in the arms, I flip the pose upside down or sideways to make it more accessible. Or if a pose is a difficult balancing pose, I will modify it to be done on the floor to start, so that more people can experience the benefits without having to worry above all about balancing. I enjoy these physical puzzles. I also try to get my students to listen well, so they don’t have to look at me, and they can really allow themselves to experience a moving meditation during the flow segments of the class.

Q: Has y4c training/teaching impacted you in any unexpected ways?
A: I was (only slightly) worried that working with women with cancer would be difficult in that it would continually re-traumatize me based on my own experience with the disease, and would keep me too much in the “world” of cancer. I think that’s a delicate balance for a lot of people who have been through cancer. But, actually, I find that because yoga is such a healing practice, this doesn’t happen. The practice of teaching, in and of itself, is very grounding for me, and I appreciate that the students are here and willing to accompany me. I very much feel like, even though I’m the teacher and they are the students, we are in this together.

Q: What is your favorite asana and why?
A: I LOVE backbending. Almost any backbending. Cobra, bridge, wheel, full pigeon, bow. I love the physical action of opening the front of the body, de-slouching, and engaging the back muscles in healthy ways. And I love the idea of opening the heart through these asanas. It’s very easy to get so protective of our hearts after going through cancer (especially if it’s a type of cancer that involves a lot of surgery to the chest area) that we slump forward and round our shoulders, both because of post-surgery tightness and because we want to be shielded. Backbending opens us back up to the world. It’s the future.