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The Interview: Sadie Nardini on Signing to YAMA Talent Agency, “Unyogic” Fame and the Virtual Kula

in Business of Yoga, YD News

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For better or for worse Sadie Nardini remains true to herself. Here she speaks candidly with Nancy Alder about her signing on to the YAMA (Yoga Artist Management Agency), her rise to the national stage/yogi stardom, and why she thinks being “unyogic” is just plain ridiculous. Enormous thanks to Nancy for a great job well done. As always, yogadorks, you may have a few opinions after reading this, please share your thoughts in the comments!

Interview with Sadie Nardini by Nancy Alder

I walked into Fresh Yoga (www.freshyoga.com) in New Haven, CT expecting to do some yoga but never actually talk to Sadie.  This notion could not have been farther from the truth!  Sadie Nardini instantly sat down with us and introduced herself, chatted with the yogis in the room as if she had known us for years.  She was warm, honest, funny and open.  She taught a vigorous class making verbal and physical assists to the students she had just met by using their names (yes she remembered all of ours!) herself without the aid of any assistants. She also colored her instruction with an extensive knowledge of anatomy and yogic philosophy.  We learned about utilizing our deep core to transform our practices and that she was able to belt out some pretty fantastic Bon Jovi riffs.

As a hopefully soon-to-be yoga teacher, what I most loved about Sadie was the way she taught with her own unique voice.  She combined old and new, rocking and calm in an elegant tapestry of language and asana that really worked.  I was reminded that it’s terrific to bring your own self to the mat as a teacher, and really being true to who you are is the best message to share.  Before I left I asked Sadie if she’d do an interview for YogaDork.  She instantly said yes! Her responses are honest, no holds barred and well, appropriately and perfectly in her own voice.

Nancy: You recently became one of the “celebrity yogis” to join the YAMA talent agency. There has been some discussion on YD about the new agency and much of the response has been negative. Can you tell us why you decided this was a good move for you?

Sadie: My yoga teaching has become more in-demand on a level that requires more negotiation than I’m skilled at, and more organization than one person can handle, especially if that one person is me. Yoga is my talent, not invoicing yoga studios or dealing with financial terms or making sure I’ve thought of every last detail when it comes to getting from here to Vancouver for three types of trainings, and then back home again.

YAMA came into existence at a time when I was getting professionally and therefore, personally overwhelmed, and I was ecstatic to give a percentage of what I make to them, in exchange for them doing what they do best, so that I’m more free to do what I do best: teach and plan trainings and write about yoga and communicate with my students.

I know there’s some negative backlash against my move, and that of other teachers who have chosen to hire a yoga manager. But I don’t really see why. If they knew the amount of work it takes to organize just one teacher training at one studio, then multiply that by a hundred for all the classes, workshops, trainings, retreats and travel we are asked (and want) to do each year, just to be able to reach and then teach all our students, they might see past the apparent quest for stardom, and into our desire for plain old sanity!

What if a doctor also had to intake patients at the front desk, call them into the office, get them situated and changed, find their file, take their vitals, spend time with them in the room, then input their paperwork, run to the pharmacy and get them their medicine? That doc would have one patient a day. Even in a small town, not to mention a hospital, there are multiple people involved–desk staff, nurses, interns, pharmacists, who do their jobs in order for the doctor to be able to do what she’s trained for. If she did all those duties, she would get paid all their salaries, and would make more money. But, she gives up those other salaries, because it wouldn’t serve the doctor, or her all-important patients if he/she did. No one would write snarky comments blaming the doctor for having people around to help her do her job better.

My job, which luckily is also my passion, is similar in that way. Yet some people do take issue with me hiring a manager to assist me so I can do what I’ve trained for 15 years to do, as long and hard as anyone who goes to medical school.

From reading their opinions, it seems they think that because we have a manager, that somehow instantly rips us from our yogic path, and turned us into money-hungry, fame-seeking egomaniacs. People who know me well crack up at this view, because it’s so far from who and how I am.

Regarding the fame game we teachers are supposedly playing by making the move to an agency who can get us a wider audience, all I can do is take some deep breaths, step back a little, and say to people….you’re right. In a way. The way yoga teaching at this level works is this: We teach our asanas off, because we want and need to express our views about yoga to our students. Some teachers’ dharma takes them into studio ownership or teaching private sessions, some into retreats, and some into large rooms with hundreds of students.

One is not better than the other, it’s simply that we are each made to teach at the place that fuels our soul the most. If one is a true teacher, I think they get off not on recognition or seeing their faces in a magazine, but by being able to teach more, and teach as many students their message as possible. I know I do. I will give just as much if there are two people in a room, or two hundred, and a TV camera. Yet I’m also open to both.

At some point, if you have a specific combination of things, including: a certain personality that loves to create training curriculum and a desire for travel, a creative style that’s unique to you that you’ve studied for thousands of hours and have mastered, a willingness and a talent for communicating your thoughts to others, and an ease with being taped or filmed or stared at by a hundred people while doing it, you may be asked to teach in a DVD studio or a magazine or at Yoga Journal conferences instead of your home studio. And, being this type of teacher, you may love it.

So in a way, we are seeking fame, because fame means “to be recognized” for what you do on a larger scale, and to be recognized means that people have come to see you, or have studied with you, and that’s all someone like me cares about–reaching more people about the healing benefits of yoga and the power of accessing their center each day. To be recognized, to me, means I’ve taught a whole bunch of people, and that’s all I want, at the end of the day. Not for me, but for them, to be exposed to the hugeness of their capacity for goodness, and for transformation.

Am I going to accept a paycheck for the work I create, and spend massive amounts of time and energy to offer? You bet! I’m not stupid. I don’t want to have to work a day job, then teach on the side. I did that for years. I want to make a full-on living from my passions, just like everyone else. I’m extremely grateful that I do.

Nancy: Some folks consider a yoga “talent” agency very unyogic, but personally I can see the benefits. Did you have any hesitation in signing with YAMA for the reason that it might turn off some traditional yoga practitioners and thus limit who you could reach through them (YAMA)?

Sadie: This whole concept of something being “unyogic” strikes me as ridiculous. Ask any of the top yoga scholars, and I mean the top 1 percent in the world, who have studied as much of the yoga canon as possible, lived in India and know the culture, speak Sanskrit fluently, and have a deep comprehension of the complex cross-meanings of everything, and they will tell you that nothing is inherently un-yogic, in the true meaning of the word. This is because the most studied people know that we have discovered maybe 10% of the whole yoga writings. We don’t even know what yoga is, completely, much less make sweeping statements to people about it.

And what they have read so far is often completely contradictory. ‘Eat meat, never eat meat…families are OK, you should have no relationships or sex. Make money, beg for alms, Live in the world, transcend the world…’ It goes on and on. Yogis can’t even agree on whether there is one God beyond us, or whether we are all part of a universal energy we could call God.

These same scholars say that even the most dedicated practitioners of yoga among us are still just ‘deeply committed amateurs’. I count myself among them, and I wish more people in our community would broaden their perspective and not rush to judgment about this issue, or anything else, in the name of “yoga”.

Yoga is a million different things, not only the set of aspects of it that one has read about and agrees with. I think Patanjali said it best when he expressed that yoga is above all a path of personal transformation, and the way to that place in each of us is as different as they can be, He said beyond any book or teacher out there, trust yourself, and take the path that feels best for you. I have, and just like there is no one truth-fits-all, there is no one path-fits-all. Yours might not be mine, but please don’t act like it should be.

Making money and material success is actually one of the purusharthas, or human goals, that many yogic texts accept as areas we can and should embrace, but they say we should try to govern them by ethical principles. I think the whole issue of negativity around yoga management arose because people are still thinking in terms of the old paradigm of what that could mean—greed, fame for it’s own sake, taking and giving little in return, and such.

Yoga management, built on yoga principles, is a totally different thing altogether. I’m surprised at some yogis not giving us the benefit of the doubt, when we are trained in and steeped in ethical boundaries, and we are committed to living this path personally in every way—including this one.

Everyone at YAMA is a longtime yogi, and we’ve all banded together to make choices for ourselves and our careers with the community, and integrity, firmly in mind. Certainly, a yogi’s decision to hire a manager to help her teach more people, at more places isn’t something I considered unyogic, which is why I was the first to sign up with YAMA.  Instead of “unyogic,” I’d call it “one of the best decisions I ever made.”

Nancy: You used to teach at the Fierce Club in NYC. Do you still own it and if not why did you decide to move to YogaWorks?

Sadie: The Fierce Club is still going strong, and I hope to do more with them, as in trainings, etc, someday soon. But I did leave the management position there, since this year is getting to be intense with all the travel, writing and work I have to do. My call to teach on a new level happened dramatically, almost all at once, things shifted and I was asked to show up for a path that appeared after I’d started this other studio. So I had to consider it, not only for me, but what would be best for all involved.

It was a question of having to choose between being a full-time business partner with someone who needed and deserved someone who could focus all their attention on the studio, or going on the road. In the end, I decided to do what only I could do, which is to teach my style on tour, and leave the business management to someone who would bring their full attention to it.

I moved to YogaWorks because I am going back and forth from New York to the West Coast this year quite a bit, and I was looking for a studio that didn’t rely on me being there every day, was supportive of all my projects, and had locations in New York and LA. I found the perfect fit in SoHo.

Nancy: You offer your “Core Strength Vinyasa” training via DVDs still which is terrific for people who want to learn your style but can’t come to a workshop or NYC. Will you continue to do this and do you have any desire to offer 200H training?

I’m actually leading a weekend Immersion in April at YogaWorks Westside location. It’s an open training for students and teachers of any style to come, and learn 7 principles of putting the core experience into their poses, including sequencing, new Core Poses, new anatomy knowledge, and more. I’ll be filming it, and yes, putting it out as a DVD set that students or teachers anywhere can use to deepen their practice and effectiveness incredibly.

I used to teach 200 hour Yoga Alliance trainings by myself or with a partner, but now I focus exclusively on importing my specific knowledge to those who have already been certified, so I can then give them a certification in Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga more quickly.

I also come into other people’s 200 hour trainings and lead 8 hours on the core. I find it much more rewarding to hone in on my area of expertise—the core and all its different meanings and uses in the practice—then move on to the next training, than spending too much time teaching poses that many other teachers are quite capable of.

When I think of filming and selling my DVDs for training, I think first of all the people who can’t afford or can’t get to my public trainings, like the farmer in Estonia who teaches yoga for his little village and shares my “Fists of Fire” with them, or the mom in Kansas City who can’t afford to leave her baby for a weekend, but can learn the same information at home on her TV.

Secondarily, I do think, “this is a great income opportunity for me, too!” Not the other way around. I’m always thinking of how I can offer more, not how much more people can offer to me. As long as my landlord isn’t accepting good karma for the rent, but wants paper money, I’ll accept it, though, for sure.

Nancy: If you were photographed on the cover of Yoga Journal what do you think your signature pose would be? Why?

Sadie: I’d want to be sitting in an Easy Seat, but backwards, holding up a mirror, so the reader sees me looking at them straight out through that. Core Strength, to me, is an inner process you go through between you and yourself, and then you offer that reflection out into the world.

I think it would catch the eye.

Nancy:  Are you concerned that as you become a bigger name in the yoga community you will lose the chance to develop deeper/personal relationships with students? I also wonder about the idea of having regular/loyal students who do NOT live in NYC and how you plan to deal with this… how to be available to them from a distance.

Sadie: I have a very close friend that I see maybe once a year. We’ve had some formative experiences together, and there’s a lot of love and connection there that we don’t want to lose. So, we stay in touch through phone, email, and sometimes we send each other videos of what we’re up to.

I’ve found that teaching students in different places is much like that. I’ve tried to create multiple avenues of communication so even if I’m not there teaching them regularly in person, I still can maintain the relationship from afar.

I was worried as I contemplated this move to a national stage, that my current public students would feel neglected, and it would be hard to maintain contact as the numbers of my students rise. So, I build time into my days to make sure I’m giving them all what they want from me, which as far as I can tell is inspiration, ideas and tips for their yoga practices and living from center goals.

My YouTube videos, which I continually add to, help people feel that I’m there with them, as do my Facebook Fan Page and my free monthly Core Strength newsletter. I spend a lot of time each day responding to personal questions and requests from my students, many of whom I’ve never met in person. When I do meet them, as I did this past weekend in Boston when two people who took my online training showed up at a workshop, there’s a connection there, and a bond that we’ve already created.

This is why I love mass media, and online tools. It helps us create relationships with our students no matter how close they are, or how far. I get messages every day thanking me for my teaching, and from people wanting to reach out and become part of my virtual kula. It seems to be the very best next thing to being there with them in the flesh.

Nancy: One of the questions I always have of the big name yoga folks who travel all over to promote their style is how do they maintain a regular practice themselves. Do you find that your own personal practice suffers from having such a busy schedule?

Sadie: I used to practice much less than I do now, and my reasoning was that I worked so hard all day long on this yoga stuff that the last thing my body wanted was to do yoga. So I’d skip a lot of days. I didn’t look or feel as good as I do these days.

Now I know how much stamina it takes to go on the road (I was just in 3 different states and studios in the past 2 weeks, led a weekend Immersion, a teacher training, and workshops), live out of a suitcase and still try to do all the work you would at home. Plus, more and more, I’m becoming a role model for yogis, and I don’t want to let them down because I’ve given too much to everyone else.

So, true to one of my Core Messages, which is “Don’t give out until you burn out!” I had to make a change. I now practice 5-6 days a week, and on the 7th, I go for a long walk. I do a home practice once a week to gain self-inspiration, but when I go to a new town, I seek out the teachers that are exciting people, and I go to their classes.

If I’m in the city, I go to Aarona’s class at YogaWorks before mine twice a week because I like her Kula Yoga-based flow, and then I study with the Tias Little-trained ladies at Mala Yoga in Brooklyn for anatomy and alignment awareness. 4 hours a week, I attend an anatomy lecture and lab with Leslie Kaminoff, the genius author of Yoga Anatomy.

Nancy: You offer lots and lots of videos on YouTube for free which is often how people find you in the first place. Do you intend to keep doing this and is YAMA ok with you offering your teachings for free?

Sadie: I will film my YouTube videos until I die or they go out of business, whichever comes first. I love doing it, and people love watching them. It’s so rewarding for everyone involved, that I could, and would never stop now.

YAMA is booking most of my appearances now, but they are extremely cool about any other projects we do, and want to take on our own. YouTube wasn’t even discussed, nor was anything I did prior to signing with them.

It’s really all good, and I hope that as we change the paradigm of what agents and managers can mean in a more conscious world driven by ethics instead of ego, that people who have the old idea about things can move into the new as we are, with integrity and grace.

Sadie is a new contributor at Yoga Journal’s Yoga Diary blogs and you can visit her website www.sadienardini.com

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19 comments… add one

  • She sounds like one cool cat.

  • Rock_My_Soles

    Great Nancy! I am now waiting by the phone for the YAMA call….

  • Thanks for the great interview! I’ve been a fan of Sadie for a long time. She seems totally sensible and sincere, and it’s exciting to see where her yoga is taking her!

  • So rare to see a great in-depth interview like this. Everything she says makes perfect sense to me. Interested to see other comments.

  • I meant to add that I was particularly impressed with Sadie’s understanding of the wild diversity of Yoga philosophy, even in the very basics of concepts of God or no God. I wrote a piece about this very subject which echoes Sadie’s remarks:

    God or Reason–Is There Really Any Difference?
    http://wp.me/PlUox-fd

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  • very eloquently put, as always. very inspiring to see her so dedicated to her students. she’s always come across as very authentic to me, with fresh perspective, and she works to make yoga accessible to everyone….she’s mighty fierce :)

  • Sadie kicks asanas!

  • sadie has true teaching talent, based on her youtube vids which i immensely enjoy. no reason to keep that kind of light under a bushel, so to speak. if an agency allows her teaching talent to be appreciated by more, why not. the caveat of course is fame’s effect on the ego. may it not erode the aspect that makes her stand out. i’ve seen people change right before my eyes because of fame. of course the best ones are the ones who stay true to themselves, fame and money notwithstanding. i’m pretty sure she will.

  • I must’ve missed the first story on the YAMA yoga talent agency. Like other commenters, I think this interview is great.

    It kinda tickles my funny bone that the agency’s acronym is the name of the King of Death however! ;)

    Sadie is right – there are all kinds of yoga teachers and paths. One is not better than another. We all have to go with our hearts and do what works best for us. Some people are more naturally at ease in the spotlight (but I am not one of those!). Good for Sadie and good for anyone else out there becoming a yoga celebrity. As long as of course, they are staying true to themselves, continuing their personal practice and it’s more about the yoga than it is about the $$$.

    Namaste!

  • I immediately liked Sadie when I found her yoga vids… she’s very authentic, and has an overwhelming love for her teaching which really resonates with me. I own a tiny studio and even the everyday infrastructure work here takes me away from my mat. She is exceptionally smart to have hooked up with Yama. Those who feel they have the authority to call her actions non-yogic are simply showing us all the true meaning of Avidya. So once again, we find teachers everywhere we turn, don’t we?

    Nice job on the interview Nancy! I’d love to take Sadies class~ thanks for this!

  • Ya this is really good. I’m happy I see both sides of the issue now.

  • Joanne

    My first thought when reading this took me back to the Yamas– Aparigraha specifically–non coveting/envy/jealousy. I always find that those that criticize usually do so from a place of jealousy. I’m not criticizing, I’m relating because I’ve been there. Heck, sometimes I find myself still there. Yoga is an endless journey and I urge all nay-sayers to check in with why they are criticizing before expressing such opinions. I was especially impressed with Sadie’s decision to explain herself rather than defend herself in this interview. What a fabulous example of love.

    I would also like to comment on Sadie’s “connectedness” to her students while going online. I found Sadie only a few months ago online, we have never met. Her support for me as a student/teacher is UNBELIEVABLE and despite our distance, I feel more connected and supported by her than I have with my at-home teachers… and I am one of 2600+ fans on facebook. The spot-light is only one of her many lights that is shining bright!!

  • great interview! i always enjoy reading what sadie has to say: she’s smart, persuasive and knows her yoga. it’s also interesting to read the comments on this interview, which are generally positive and supportive, and the comments on the original YAMA post, which are more dismissive.

    while i can see the benefits for individual teachers, i still have issues with YAMA. and not because fame is “unyogic” or because making money is “bad,” but because i see it as an institution which further commodifies yoga and yoga teachers. from the YAMA website, it’s pretty clear that they aren’t only giving the teachers on their roster more opportunity to teach while they handle the pesky business details – they also cultivate other “non-traditional” opportunities “including product endorsements, modeling, commercial advertisement, corporate events, lectures, music/film, professional sports and academia.” i have to ask: what does this have to do with teaching? or yoga?

    i was also intrigued by how sadie used the analogy of the doctor’s office, although i don’t quite agree with the parallels that are pointed out. a doctor is a service professional who has assembled a team around her to manage the details, while she can focus on her work; it doesn’t matter how attractive or marketable the doctor is, when there is work to get done. a doctor is not sought out and managed by a “talent agency” who promotes her work or is looking for the “next big thing.” pop stars and models and actors need PR ~ it concerns me that yoga teachers do, too, now.

    but still, as sadie notes, there is a certain kind of person with the desire to reach out to the masses through as many vehicles possible. and there are certain kinds of students who will respond to that. i hope that the other teachers on the YAMA roster are as informed, down-to-earth and grounded as sadie, and that those of us in the trenches, who are still teaching in our communities and promoting our classes ouselves via email lists and facebook events, can trust that the greater message of yoga is in good hands.

  • I love that she clearly outlines her own personal practice. It’s not often you hear such detail about a teacher’s practice. I also love that she practices “5-6″ times per week and not the usual “mandatory” 7. Thanks for this great interview!

  • I say good for her. in fact, I am seriously considering contacting this agency, i.e., if they want to sign an old broad like me.

    Yoga is a business like any other business and the bottom line is that most yoga teachers don’t know how to market what they do. When I first did my website it took me 6 months to write anything about myself. Well, now I am a global yoga teacher and as a friend told me, I had better start thinking like one and get out of the little ol’ suburban mindset because what I can offer people is worth $$$$. and this does not compromise me, my yogic values, or my yoga at all because I will teach from the heart like I always do, whether I make $10 or $1000.

    Trudie Styler was on the cover of the latest YJ and she’s a woman of a certain age like I am. I don’t have 30+ more years to teach like young yoginis so I have to do what I have to do NOW. If an agency can help me get that, more power to me. And if someone wants an older yogini like me who does not look her age for a product endorsement, hell ya, you bet your asana I’m going to take it.

  • Good for you, Linda. Go for it. Don’t be satisfied merely with the cover of Yoga Journal. The gold standard is the proverbial “cover of the Rolling Stone.”

    (Will you still talk to us when you’re rich and famous?)

  • Laura

    Correction: Sadie never taught 200 hour Yoga Alliance certification classes. She said it was a YA 200 hour training course, but in reality the “training” consisted of 9 or 10 three hour classes. She falsely stated that her classes would certify students by YA. She made a lot of money. I took her class and paid 1,200 and then had to take another teacher training when I realized that her training was woefully insufficient.

  • Sadie has given me quite a few “a-ha” moments in yoga. She is a brilliant communicator.

  • Bravo Sadie! Once again you’ve expressed how many of us yoga teachers feel. Congrats on living your dream.

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