Tell us about yourself, where you are from, where you practiced/learned, etc.
My name is Nathania Stambouli (Na-Tanya). I’m from France, but I grew up in Israel. I spent my entire childhood at American schools overseas and picked up some of the Israeli attitude so I sound like I’m from New York, but I moved to the US at the age of 21. I was a theatre and a'capella geek growing up, rode horses and played soccer. I spent most of my early 20’s rolling my eyes at yoga - I thought it was for old ladies and it was too slow for my taste. I was into the cardio kick-box jam, lifting weights and beach bootcamps. I was (am) a very energetic person, and pretty much on all the time. Slowing down is never something that appealed to me - I didn’t see the point (ironic much?). A boyfriend in my early 20s bought me a yoga strap, block and book of poses - he was convinced I would love it, but I wasn’t ready to hear it. At all. He managed to drag me to a fundamentals class and I laugh when I think about it now, but I was SO BORED and couldn't wait to leave. I really missed the point! I stayed away from yoga after that until one fateful night...
How and why did you start yoga?
One night in 2009 I was late to a group fitness class at the gym and the only thing left on the schedule was Vinyasa Yoga 2/3. I had no idea what that even meant but I went in, fully expecting to be as bored as the first time but something told me to give it a try.
Those were some of the hardest but most gratifying 75 minutes of my life. I got my butt handed to me, and I was instantly curious. At first I was amazed that you could work so hard and be so tapped in without moving from this small rubber rectangle. And then I started to understand what it meant to not be a slave to your own feelings, and that started to shift everything.
I practiced once, then three times, then 5-6 times a week very quickly and it became my therapy and in many ways my lifestyle.
Who was your great mentor/teacher?
My great teacher was Garth Hewitt. He was my first teacher and a big part of the reason I stuck with the practice. I practiced with him for 7 years until he started traveling the world teaching. To this day I’ve not found a teacher who explains the WHY of yoga as well as he does. It’s not about the poses but about how the poses help you relate to your experience as a human. He has such a gift for explaining the why in a way that made impossible to justify not practicing yoga. His cuing is also amazing. I could close my eyes and know exactly how to tweak my alignment in a pose. I still aspire to that level of clarity and specificity in my teaching! I've practiced with some incredible teachers, but he always stands out.
Tell us your practice style and how did you choose your yoga method?
My practice and teaching style are very focused on the breath. To me, without a deep focus on the breath, it’s not yoga. Whether the rhythm of the breath or the depth of it, it guides everything.
I teach and practice a strong, fun, creative and adventurous Vinyasa classes that ask you to leave what you think you know at the door. I ask you to step outside convention, to try something new, to stay calm in the fire and then surprise yourself as you realize you are stronger and more capable than you thought.
I believe in mixing traditional asana with functional and fitness-based movement patterns to give people more control over their body, a better understanding of how it works and the ability to make choices that fit their needs moment to moment. Finding self-advocacy through movement begins with ownership of your body and what empowers you.
I’ve had many teachers who gave me the freedom to unleash my creativity in my teaching, and I come from a background in fitness and love to pull from that as well.
What obstacles has yoga helped you overcome?
Oh wow, yoga has helped me overcome more than I can even begin to explain. It helped me change my life. Before yoga, I was a miserable human- clocking in and out at a marketing job that stifled me but that I was stuck in (for various reasons), and yoga gave me a purpose and something new to work towards. It helped me leave an emotionally abusive relationship of 5 years. I gained the confidence to listen to my gut and moved out within 4 weeks of starting my teacher training. It was powerful. Yoga supported me work through substance abuse, and led me to create a life I can’t even believe is mine. It brought people into my life who are interested in changing their own lives, and that gives me purpose and joy every single day.
What is your mind set when you step onto the mat?
I used to practice very aggressively. My mindset on the mat used to be about achievement. Of poses. Of maintaining my ujjayi breath throughout the whole class. The focus was all wonky but it was part of my process. Today my mind set on the mat is to listen. I spent so many years forcing my body to do things it could do but wasn’t necessarily ready for and feeding my ego in the process. Now, I listen to what it wants and what it needs. I get out of my head and allow it to be a time to just go with the flow, instead of directing the flow. It’s my time to shut the world out and reset.
When did you understand you wanted to be a yoga teacher?
I never had any intention of teaching. I thought maybe one day I’d do a teacher training just for my own personal growth, but hadn’t considered it seriously.
I showed up to a yoga class at Equinox one day in late 2014, and the teacher didn’t make it to class. His wife had gone into labor and there was a mixup at the front desk - no one was coming to teach. When they announced class was canceled, I got up in front of the class and said “hey guys, I don’t know about you but I’m about to go spend the day at work and really need this. I’m going to stay here and flow. I’m happy to talk everyone though what I’m doing if you want to stay and do some yoga.” About half the room cleared out, and the other half stayed. I pulled my mat to the front of the room and talked the class through an impromptu hour of flow.
By this point my practice was such a big part of my life, the cues were in my bones. It came effortlessly and it was one of those few times in my life that I’ve felt completely in my element. I loved yoga with a passion, and I loved being in front of people (theater geek, remember?). I walked out of that room on cloud nine, and signed up for a teacher training that same week. There was no question after that that I wanted to share this practice with others.
What is the most rewarding part of being a yoga teacher?
One of the most important parts of yoga for me is how empowering it is. It empowers you to take control of your life. To be truly present. To deal with the hard stuff. To make peace with the dark stuff. To see more brightness around you. The most rewarding thing to me about teaching yoga is watching my students go from “I can’t,” “I’m not strong enough,” “my body doesn't do that,” to “I’m doing it!!!” The physical practice is filled with opportunities to prove to ourselves over and over that with dedication, practice, faith and love, anything is possible if we keep showing up. Just like life, it gifts us opportunities to seize and obstacles to overcome, but the moral is always to keep showing up. When people feel empowered, when they have tools to move more confidently through the world and be unapologetically themselves, that’s what it’s all about for me.
Why is yoga so important for the times we’re living in?
We are lucky to be alive right now and experiencing the amazing feats of science and technology, but we are also becoming slaves. We are raising an entire generation of people who don’t know how to connect to themselves, let alone to each other. We are living in a time where distraction rules, and inner truth gets buried deep and forgotten. Yoga is absolutely indispensable for the growth and healing of our society. It starts with us as individuals, though. We have to take responsibility for what we put out into the world and how we stand up for what we believe in. And that starts with knowing ourselves deeply. Yoga gives us the tools to sit with the things that happened to us, to look at our biases and to work through them, instead of run away from them. It helps us see clearly so we can treat people kindly and not react from our own personal pain. Yoga is necessary, and it goes without saying that it should be introduced in all educational institutions, hospitals, government buildings - everywhere.
Your favorite quote?
“Wherever you go, there you are.” I don’t know who said it, but it’s one of my all time favorites and really explains why yoga is important. You can move to another country. You can run from people and from things, you can numb yourself, but you can’t ever really run away. Making peace is the only way to feel at home.
Anything else you want to share?
Teaching yoga has opened so many other opportunities and doors for me to help empower others the way this practice empowered me. I now own and operate SoulPlay Yoga in Culver City, California, a bright, quirky and diverse neighborhood studio that celebrates our differences, and I also run SoulTribe Adventures: Yoga, Fitness & Adventure Retreats that help people break through their own limitations and start living life on their own terms. I’m all about taking you from “I don’t know if I can” to HELL YES I’VE GOT THIS!! Stop waiting for something to change - you are in charge of this one beautiful life!
You can find me on IG @nattasticyoga and follow my retreat company @soultribe.adventures
Retreat Co: www.soultribeadventures.com
Yoga Studio: www.soulplay.yoga