Brittany Stoll is a yoga teacher, Shiatsu practitioner, and musician. She trained in Anusara Yoga for her first 200-hour training with Sara Rose and Amy Reed in 2012. Also in 2012, she graduated from UMass Amherst, where she studied Yoga, dance and human anatomy. Brittany then went on to study Embodyoga® with Patty Townsend, and in 2015 completed the 500-hour Embodyoga® Teacher Training. She has also been studying Shiatsu and Chinese Five Element theory with Nini Melvin since 2012.
Yoga Center Amherst: Who are you?
Brittany Stoll: That’s a great question. It’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot recently, because I’ve been changing, and letting go of ideas of who I am. When I really ask, there are more questions than there are answers. Honestly, I feel like a very free spirit. I’ve been doing work on releasing conditioning and constructs that limit my free-spirit-self. So, who am I? I feel like a child, that innocence is coming out in me, and I feel like all possibilities are open. I’m a seeker, I’m really curious about myself and the world. I’m into the process of evolution. I know we can do better for ourselves, our human family, and the Earth. I’ve felt a lot of grief and sadness for suffering in the world. Although I’m getting to this place where I want to take responsibility for how I receive things – because who am I to judge how much suffering is going on or not? But I’m really interested in this evolution, and that’s why I like to teach Yoga – because I think we can all take more responsibility for ourselves, release burdens, and move forward, in a way where we can create more of a paradise here that’s a win-win for everybody – the Earth, the people and all living creatures. That’s my vision.
YCA: Do you have an idea of steps towards realizing that vision?
BS: You know, the personal and the planetary, for me, seem very aligned. I’m interested in individual work, which is what I find in Yoga – particularly Embodyoga, where I feel every individual is respected to have their own knowing. It’s not dogmatic. I grew up going to church every Sunday for 18 years; it was deep in the family, and I questioned it constantly. It felt like a set of rules and a dogma and I did not find it personally empowering. So I’m interested in individual empowerment and people coming together, and I think that’s a huge step: individuals who are empowered coming together to co-create. I feel when people are empowered by their own self-love there is no need to power-over – to hate and destroy. When we start to be more sensitive with ourselves and our own body, I think we get more sensitive with other people, and also with the Earth-body. Through inquiry and increasing sensitivity, we can listen and have more informed actions. I’ve found this in Yoga and also in Permaculture, which I recently began learning about.
YCA: What’s Permaculture?
BS: There are many definitions of Permaculture. For me, it’s a Yoga template into how we view ecosystems – our relationship to our own body-mind system and other ecosystems in all forms in nature. A lot of what I see are situations that aren’t sustainable. Giant buildings and constructions that pave over the Earth and have to eat up so much outsourced energy. Permaculture is about good design, so that requires inquiry and awareness. We can create buildings that function for themselves. They stay cool, they heat themselves on their own, it doesn’t take excess energy or mining up from the earth. We have the technology, it’s more about the awareness of what we’re doing. We have the capacity to figure stuff out. Permaculture can mean “permanent culture.” It’s setting up systems that will last for 5,000 years, that regenerate land and provide abundance. In Permaculture, even if you’re just doing a little thing in your backyard, you observe first, and you work with what’s happening, rather than against nature – which for me feels a lot like Yoga. It’s like following the prana so you don’t cut off your life force! You know, we put these big structures on the Earth and pave her over – and it’s interesting, it’s not necessarily wrong, but if it doesn’t sustain itself, it’s kind of a waste of energy. So if we do that to ourselves, too, we waste our own vitality. It doesn’t have to be wrong, but when you get more aware and you’re able to observe, I think you get more choices about what you want to do.
YCA: Do you feel hopeful?
BS: I have this feeling, and I think it’s different from hope, and it’s that I trust. And that means, whatever happens, I trust that process. Things are really scary in parts of the world, and I feel so grateful and blessed, and I’m trying to make the best of the blessings that I have here. So I think I more trust the process and I trust the Earth and the unfolding of what’s happening. I don’t want to be attached so much to what I think the outcome should be, but I want to be a part of the fact that it’s evolving no matter what and I trust that.
YCA: What brought you to yoga?
BS: On some level, I feel like it came from within me. I danced for many years growing up, and I remember saying to myself, “I want to take Yoga.” I didn’t even really know what it was. So I just went on the computer one day when I was 16 and found a studio in Worcester. When I went in there and we chanted “Om,” I was like, “Oh my God. This is my kind of church. This is what I’ve been looking for.” To sit down and get in touch with myself, rather than the focus of church, was so exciting to me.
YCA: What’s it like to teach yoga classes?
BS: I’ve been thinking about this a lot. It is a gift. It is humbling. It enables me to learn a lot. I learn from people showing up and being willing to be there. It really wouldn’t be happening without the people coming. I feel vulnerable in it sometimes, because I only want to show up as myself and wherever I’m at. I’m not always happy or feeling great, and I just offer what I have to offer. I’m not interested in being mechanical with it. I want to be fluid and in relationship with what’s happening, which is hard to do sometimes. Lately I’ve been feeling vulnerable in it – to show up and have people expect something, you know, whatever it is they’re expecting. It also feels like a dance between having something you know and want to share, and also not knowing, and allowing my own learning to unfold. You have to do your own work to be a good teacher, and to let what you know evolve and change. My intent in classes is for people to have their own direct experience within themselves and within the space.
YCA: Do you feel like you’ve learned over the course of your teaching how to facilitate that?
BS: I do. And part of why it feels vulnerable is I go up and down. Sometimes I feel really “on,” and present, and it’s more easeful. Other times – when you just have ongoing classes, no matter how you feel that day, you show up to teach. I’m into the teacher role not being a hierarchy, or dogmatic. I think that comes from my background of church, and the pastor being a mediator between you and the divine. And so I’m there just to show my own vulnerability and my own interest in it, and allow and hold space for people to have direct experience. This is something I admire in Patty’s teaching because I feel she holds this well.
YCA: I’ve been curious… Is it hard for you to get up and teach that Sunday morning class?
BS: No, that’s one of my favorite things to do. I teach that class and then I go teach another class right after, in Northampton. And the reason I love it is for so long I had to get up every Sunday morning to go to church. Now I feel like I’m doing what I want to do. I wake up Sundays, and there’s something about that time of day for me that feels sacred. So that’s why I like it. And people show up, which I’m psyched about. There will be 14 people there and I’ll think, “This is great, you all got up early… This is so worth it.”
Brittany teaches Embody-Flow at YCA on Sundays 8:00-9:15 am, and on Fridays 5:30-6:45pm.
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