Colleen Saidman Yee was born looking for something deeper; and then she found yoga.
The rest felt predestined: In 1998, she graduated from Juvamukti’s teacher training program. Since then, the yogi and co-owner of Yoga Shanti studios in New York City, Sag Harbor and Westhampton Beach has become a leader in the movement and an authority on the practice, featured everywhere from myriad Gaiam videos to articles in New York Magazine and Vanity Fair.
During that time, she was approached by designer Donna Karan to co-create and run the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program to help spread the word and practice of alternative therapies, now used in healthcare facilities around the country. Her recent book, Yoga For Life: A Journey To Inner Peace and Freedom, has inspired outreach from readers around the world.
Here, Saidman Yee explains why the secret to happiness is pausing to appreciate the moment:
Live The Process: How did your childhood and years as a model inspire your passion for wellness?
Colleen Saidman Yee: I was always intrigued by the mystery of life—that which can’t be touched, tasted, smelled, heard or seen. I saw that my mom, who was a religious Catholic, was tapped into something else, and I wanted to go there. I found several ways of touching on it, such as prayer, running and drugs. But yoga became my mode of digging in and touching something much deeper than this body and mind. As a model, I needed an internal life to balance a life where the external was the currency.
LTP: How did you discover yoga, and what prompted you to open your own studios?
CSY: I found yoga (or maybe yoga found me) by being dragged to a class by my next door neighbor. I discovered a clarity that I didn’t know was possible. I realized that I could be comfortable inside my own skin. It was almost like I was being introduced to myself for the first time.
I feel like my first studio, Yoga Shanti, in Sag Harbor, just opened itself. It was as if there were a path, and I just happened to walk down it. Our studios are aesthetically beautiful, so the experience starts the minute you walk in the door. Our teachers are extremely well-trained in healthy sequencing and alignment and have plenty of room for their own personality and creativity. The spiritual teachings are very applicable to the present day while being inspired by the yogic texts. The students and teachers are genuinely curious and in love with the art form.
LTP: What is the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program?
CSY: Donna Karan’s late husband had a dying wish to make alternative therapies available to all. So, Donna asked Rodney and me how to make his dream come true. Through a lot of consultations with experts in their fields, we developed a very effective blend of modalities that address common symptoms patients in the hospital experience, such as pain, anxiety, nausea, insomnia and constipation. We create comfort and connection. We also teach self-care to allied healthcare professionals and loved ones to balance symptoms that arise from our exhausting society. The program is evolving so quickly that our heads are spinning. There’s such a need for this kind of work that doors just keep opening.
LTP: What inspired your recent book?
CSY: My book is called Yoga for Life, and it’s exactly that. Each chapter has a story from my life, and a sequence that addresses the issue I write about, be it addiction, trauma or menopause (to name a few). People expressed interest in me writing a book after a story about me came out in the New York Times. I feel like I have thousands of new friends through the book. I’ve gotten hundreds of letters from readers for whom my stories resonate—a lot of them say they feel less isolated now, and more understood. I just found out that we are going into our 5th printing.
LTP: With children and a no doubt busy life, how do you personally stay balanced and relaxed?
CSY: Yoga is my all-time companion to balance. Asana, pranayama, meditation, drinking tea and taking baths too. I love peanut butter, chocolate and American Idol. I’m a vegetarian. Someday I hope that I’ll sleep eight hours a night.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
CSY: When the world stops spinning for a second, and you can appreciate what is right here, right now—or getting eight hours of sleep.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do that more each day?
CSY: Live now, with no expectation of a payoff. Be kind and compassionate. Take care of your body, train your mind, and serve others.