“I keep having these dreams that I’m naked in public or that I’m pregnant and I can’t give birth,” Colleen Saidman Yee tells me, laughing but serious, on the eve of the release of her first book, Yoga for Life: A Journey to Inner Peace and Freedom, which came out on June 2, 2015.
Sure, she was nervous because she dropped out of college and had never written anything before, but even more so because the story she’s published for her fans around the world is a raw, honest account of her life not often found when you pick up a “yoga book.”
As the founder of Yoga Shanti, Saidman Yee is a bonafide yoga legend. You may have practiced with her at one of her beautiful studios in Sag Harbor or Manhattan, at a huge event like the Times Square Yoga Solstice, or during a workshop at a Yoga Journal Conference. But I can almost guarantee you’ve never seen her like this.
In Yoga for Life, Saidman Yee divulges the most traumatic moments of her life and narrates how they touched her, as well as how she survived. The part-memoir, part-guide covers everything from her battle with epilepsy, kicking a serious heroin habit, the realities of the modeling world she was a part of, and the widely-reported-on affair that led to her finding her soulmate, Rodney Yee (who wrote the afterword, by the way).
And she uses these to serve, not just confess: Each chapter comes with a carefully crafted yoga sequence to guide you through physically and emotionally dealing with the topic at hand, like addiction, forgiveness, or love.
And as always, her teaching expertly straddles the line between inspiring and relatable, demonstrating to her students that even if you roll your mat out every day, some days might come with seizures—and that’s okay. We caught up with Yee to chat more about the book, and how she hopes it will touch her fans.
You could have just done a book of yoga sequences. Why did you decide to get so personal instead? I thought it might help other people to see me be so honest and raw. A lot of times we’re so afraid and shameful about the experiences that we all have. Mine may be more—or less—dramatic but the underlying feeling is relatable. It’s the idea of not being enough, if only I were something else…then I’d be worth it. For me to just put it all out there with all my flaws and dirt and stupidity, I thought maybe they’ll recognize themselves in the chapters and get some sort of comfort.
I think people will be really surprised by all of the trauma you’ve experienced in your life. How has yoga helped with that? It’s so great for healing on many levels. Yoga keeps you moving and without moving there’s no respiration or circulation. You stagnate into a slump or a depression. And it forces you be present—you’re not dwelling on whatever trauma you’re dealing with in that moment. Even if you only get a few minutes of relief, they add up.
Did you always want to include yoga sequences with each chapter? It’s my forte. What I’m known for are my sequences for health and the body and the spine and the joints. A lot of it came from the Urban Zen training that we’ve been doing as far as cause and effect, what positions of the body affect the emotional body.
And how do you envision people using the book? It’s definitely a hybrid, and each person is going to go at it differently. It’s a great story if you just want to read the story and not get into the yoga. One woman told me “I read a chapter, and I don’t read on until I’ve done the sequences.” A lot of people will read the stories and sequences and then earmark it to go back to the sequences. Teachers are going to be stealing the sequences. But everybody’s reading the stories. I’ve enticed them with drugs, sex, and rock and roll, and once they’re in, I try to sell them yoga. —Lisa Elaine Held
For more information, check out Yoga for Life: A Journey to Inner Peace and Freedom
(Photos: Colleen Saidman Yee)