Desi Bartlett is a passionate yoga, fitness and dance instructor who has been teaching health and wellness for over 18 years. She has been named ambassador for Lululemon Athletica, has helped open the Equinox Fitness in Santa Monica and has been a contributing writer for both LA Yoga Magazine, and Alicia Silverstone’s " Kind Life" website. In her classes she inspires her students to connect to their inner joy and express that joy through their movement. This sparkling all round fitness instructor with an extended experience in health and wellbeing sat down with us to share her story with you. Thank you Desi for taking the time!
You designed 360 degree Yoga flow, can you tell us more about this form of Yoga and it’s benefits?
The Yoga mat has always been rectangular, until now. The way that I teach, promotes a sense of freedom and joy in movement. I love to include circular movement, because it promotes a full range of motion, as well as creative expression. Additionally, all of the different styles of Yoga in the West, derived from Hatha Yoga.’ Ha’ means sun, and ‘tha’ means moon. The practice is based on the balance of the great luminaries; both of which are round. It seemed natural to have a round mat to sequence on.
What I find most interesting is that the place where this format has really taken off is in corporate settings. I think that this can be attributed to the fact that executives spend most of their days with a strong sense of structure. The round mat, and the freedom in the sequencing allows them to explore movement in a way that feels very liberating.
You have been in health and wellness for 18 years, when and how did you come in contact with yoga, what has yoga brought you and how do you transcend this?
Yoga was introduced to me at 6 years old. My mother was a disciple of Goswami Kriyananda at the Temple of Kriya Yoga in Chicago. I loved the meditation and pranayama techniques, but did not really practice asana, other than lotus for meditation, for many years. When I graduated from University, I opened a gym in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. It was here that Yoga found me. A member at my gym asked if we could please offer Yoga classes. As fate would have it, that same month, a wonderful instructor from Mexico City was looking for a place to teach. After the first class, I realized the power of asana and jumped wholeheartedly into as many classes as I could. Soon thereafter, I traveled to LA many times to attend workshops and teacher trainings.
Yoga has brought me a deep sense of peace and equanimity that training in the gym did not. I had cultivated strength, endurance, and an ability to sit and meditate. However, through Yoga asana practice, I was able to put some of these elements together, and it felt like a prayer with the entire body. The inner joy that comes from being able to touch a mental and emotional state of peace is amazing. I work with my students through strong Yoga asana sequences, which help to ‘take the fight out of the body.’ When we take the fight out of the body, we can take the fight out of the mind.
The way you blend hip hop music with the ancient practice of yoga looks like a great and fun practice. Does yoga then becomes more like a work out or can this form of yoga also go together with meditation?
My personal Yoga practice is always a moving meditation. In meditation, I first focus on grounding my energy; connecting with Mother earth. This connection helps me to feel completely present in my body, completely present for each breath. The root chakra is the energetic center in the body through which we ground our energy. This chakra corresponds to, and awakens with a strong downbeat. Hip hope music has a lot of bass and an incredibly strong downbeat. Also, since part of my background is in group fitness, I also love music that has a clear 8 count. The strong beat, coupled with a clear 8 count can provide students with a measurement for the breath. It is almost like practicing pranayam with a metronome. You can count a 4 count inhale, and a 4 count exhale, and find balance, even on the most subtle levels.
You also teach Pre as well as Post Natal Yoga, what do you feel are the benefits for mother and child and why would you recommend this to mommy’s (to be)?
Babies can feel everything that their Mothers feel. Yoga helps Mothers to feel strong, empowered, and centered. These feelings are imparted to the baby. Also, on a very practical level, Yoga helps strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, so that when it is time for labor and delivery, there is a great reservoir of power to call on. When the baby is born, the process of healing is assisted with Yoga practice. The Mother can regain her strength and endurance very quickly with the practice of Yoga, not to mention all of the postural benefits for nursing Moms.
In an article you wrote for LA Yoga Magazine you write about the frightening incident of your son who passed out and how this incident has motivated you to practice pranayama with him. Seeing how beneficial pranayama is also for children, do you think that this ought to be integrated in schools to help relax children?
Absolutely! My family lives in Los Angeles, and we are very lucky that many schools have started to adopt Yoga into their programs. My son is now in preschool, and they offer a very sweet Yoga class one day a week. Children are naturally drawn to movement, energy and of course fun animal sounds. Yoga helps children to find the same steadiness and peace, that it does with adults. As schools get more competitive and homework loads increase, children can easily get stressed out. It is important to empower children with the tools that they need to navigate their experiences.
About 8 years ago I taught Yoga for the Los Angeles Public Schools for a semester. I was in charge of introducing the program to an at risk school, as part of an offering made by a not for profit organization called PS I Love You. I will never forget the time that I guided the children into Savasana and invited them to envision themselves on the beach. A little boy raised his hand and said,’ Ms. Bartlett, when I close my eyes I only see black.’ It turned out that this particular child was on medication that effected his ability to visualize with his eyes closed. Over the course of about 12 weeks, he was able to see himself with his dog on the beach. I cannot say enough good things about what effects Yoga can have for children. Each experience is individual, and each is lovely and unique.
You very beautifully mention in your video that you want to share the message of joy and of movement and that this comes from your heart. Do you feel like you are living this and does it inspire others to live a joyful life?
YES! I was on a plane September 11, 2001, the day of the attacks on the U.S. My flight from Chicago to mexico was grounded in Tulsa, Oklahoma. While in Tulsa, I had a lot of time to reflect and meditate. I asked myself why I am here on the planet, and the answer was so clear. I am here to help others experience the joy of movement. I wrote those words in my journal with a pen from the Tulsa Sheraton Hotel. I keep that pen with next to my toothbrush, so that every morning and every night, I am reminded of my commitment to service.
In my own life, joy has taken a long time to embody. I came from a really difficult childhood with many hardships. Now, at 41 years old, I am the happiest I have ever been. My husband, my son, my friends, and my life’s work all reflect joy and love to me each day. I know that I could not have made space for these blessings, had I not done the work and emotional clearing to be able embody the joy that I sought for so long.
Do you have a message that you would like to share with our readers?
I have recently started saying ‘yes,’ a lot more to things that scare me. Two of my Yoga students asked me if I would perform their wedding ceremony. I felt the fear of wanting to do a good job, and before I could over-think it, I said ‘yes!’ I am not someone who has New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I work with a theme and intention for as long as it feels right. This can be a day, a month, or a decade. Right now, the theme that I am joyously working with is ‘YES!’ Saying yes to life, to freedom, to strength, and to joy; inside and out!