Yoga instructor Erin Keeley says there’s something magical about taking her students through the process of learning “how to learn.” Always looking to find the magic, I decided to check out her evening class at Movement Climbing and Fitness to experience it firsthand.
Walking into the bright, open yoga studio, I noticed that the class was filled with a mix of talkative regulars and a handful of newcomers looking to unwind after their climbing sessions.
When Erin entered, she brought a friendly smile and an upbeat energy into the room. She introduced herself and made sure she knew everyone’s name. After a few moments of connecting our minds into our bodies, we started her sequence, which included a combination of energy and stamina-building asanas.
We focused on shoulder work, which was appropriate considering climbers are prone to those types of injuries. Erin encouraged us to stay curious throughout the practice, and how facing each pose with curiosity allows us to listen to our bodies by diving into the subtle energies we typically don’t notice.
Throughout class, there were many moments for individual variations. Erin would guide us into a pose then allow us to explore our own way into the most fulfilling expression.
“The way that I facilitate class comes from a very different place. It’s not: this is right, this is wrong. It’s more like here’s the group, we’re going to support each other and I’m empowering you to actually use your brain and let yourself feel something. I’m not the teacher; I’m just the facilitator,” she said during a recent interview.
Erin has been practicing yoga since 1999. Faced with chronic back pain from a combination of gymnastics and climbing, she began attending an alignment yoga class. Within two months, the back pain she had dealt with since age 16, had cleared up. After that, she was hooked.
In a town where the yoga market is oversaturated with teachers, studios and places to buy $90 yoga pants, Erin’s classes stand out. Instead of emptying your mind and focusing on being alone on your mat, she encourages her students to turn on their brains and tune in to what’s happening around them.
“It’s more community oriented instead of individual oriented. It’s less about calming the mind and achieving a goal; it’s more about receiving and actually creating more possibility,” she said.
Her emphasis on community and the learning process is deeply rooted in her educational background. Before yoga, Erin worked as an alternative teacher in Denver, going on Expeditionary Learning trips with Outward Bound. She spent several years teaching kids the importance of self efficacy through outdoor expeditions.
Her other influences include practicing a form of non-prescriptive, secular Rajanaka Tantra with Dr. Douglas Brooks. This practice inspired multiple trips to southern India, where she studied Sanskrit texts, philosophy and history of yoga and religions.
“It’s very different from American Yoga. It’s giving people permission to use their own critical thinking, permission to feel more in your life rather than to feel less. You’re not trying to be enlightened at all, you’re trying to just be more human,” she said.
This philosophy, along with her dedication to continued learning outside of the studio, is what makes practicing with Erin feel like a unique and authentic experience. Especially in Boulder, where there is no shortage of white yoga teachers who think being enlightened means completing a 200-hour teacher training, being vegan and having a Shiva tattoo on their lower back.