If you are a student of yoga in Tucson, you may have heard of Pam Ronstadt. Since early 2009 she has taught yoga all over town at various venues from Arizona Beer House to Tucson Yoga Festival and many studios. Her genuine compassion, advocacy for self-care and encouragement to explore yoga beyond the asana come through in her teaching. She aspires to live by Patanjali’s 8-limbed path (as described in The Yoga Sutras) and inspires others to do the same.
If you haven’t met Pam yet, she currently teaches at 4th Avenue Yoga, Barefoot Studio and Mindful Yoga Studio. She is part of the teacher training programs at Barefoot Studio and Mindful Yoga Studio. Additionally, she leads her own teacher training programs through Radiant Spirit Yoga.
When were you first introduced to yoga?
I was first introduced to yoga at age 7 at the Wilmot Public Library. It surprises me that my mom took me. The classes were with what I now know as a Kundalini teacher. However, I started practicing regularly at age 40.
When did you decide to teach and who are your mentors?
I decided I wanted to teach about a year into practicing regularly. Mostly, I wanted to share the benefits of yoga because it was so transformational for me.
Tracy Gordon is one of my mentors. Bernie Clark and Sivananda Radha Saraswati are others. Similarly, numerous teachers and students throughout practicing and teaching serve as my mentors. Every single one impacts me.
What are the biggest benefits of doing yoga, teaching yoga & teaching yoga teachers to you personally?
In terms of doing yoga, the practice of yoga is all about health benefits – mental, physical, and spiritual. I saw the impact not only in my physical body, which is why I came to it but also in the mental and spiritual body.
With teaching, the benefit is the joy of connecting people to their bodies and minds. For example, every person who walks into my class, for that one hour, I can nurture and care for and introduce them to self-love. I can’t think of another job that does that.
Teaching yoga teachers
Teaching teachers is a calling to me. I am compelled to do it, even though at times, I think I don’t want to do it. Also, I am pretty old school when it comes to yoga, so if I can impact teachers to be yoga teachers and not just asana teachers, I feel I am honoring that path.
You teach several styles of yoga in various venues. Why not focus on one style/traditional venues?
I have a curious, insatiable mind. I find in my own personal practice that there isn’t one style of yoga that suits me 100% of the time. Some days my body needs vinyasa, sometimes yin and sometimes nothing but meditation. Students that I encounter are the same way. They need to slow down, be nurtured and focus on self-care. Really, that can come from many different styles.
Also, I respect the different foundations of yoga – Raja, Bhakti, etc. Excluding one over the other doesn’t work.
As for traditional venues, some students don’t feel comfortable in a regular studio. They don’t feel accepted and just are not comfortable. Fortunately, alternate venues like breweries and parks work better for them.
Do you personally have a favorite style of yoga or a favorite pose?
My favorite style shifts all the time. Currently, my morning practice consists of 30 minutes of meditation, 45 minutes of Pawanmuktasana (a series for loosening up the joints), and whatever else I can fit in…usually sun salutation-based.
My favorite poses are Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes) and Ardha Kurmasana (Half Tortoise).
How does living the 8-limbed path work in today’s world? Any advice for others trying to do the same?
If everyone could just start with the yamas (ethical guidelines for living mindfully and peacefully) – there are lifetimes of work to really embody ahimsa (non-violence) and then satya (truthfulness). So, my advice is to dial it down to those basics.
More self-awareness and more kindness help us be less judgmental and more able to peel away the layers piled on top of us. I have to check in with and bring it back to myself constantly because we’re trained to react. For that reason, I suggest holding up the mirror when you experience strong reactivity. That part of the practice becomes easier over time.
In today’s world, we are in a constant state of separation and classification. You are this, and I am that. Practice not being drawn into that, as well as avoiding overreaction.
Certainly, being yogic is not under-reacting or unawareness either. Few of us have the luxury to sit on a mountaintop completely focused on the 8-limb path of yoga. We have to be present for family, friends and jobs. Certainly, we need to be aware of privilege and how we think about it. Do you worry about being shot when you go out your front door? Are your children in cages?
Do you bring The Yoga Sutras into all of your classes?
In one way or another, yes. The way I conduct myself and move through my life is an embodiment of both success and failure of living the 8-limb path of yoga. Some classes, I bring in yogic philosophy and not just from Patanjali. In one studio, we’re exploring Bhakti Yoga and have explored Tantric Yoga. When I am confident enough, I’ll bring in the Upanishads.
When offering philosophy, I let students know at the beginning of class that they have permission to tune out for that section. Afterward, they can tune back in. I want to give them the choice while honoring what I’m called to share.
Why did you start teaching prisoners?
I took training to teach prisoners over 7 years ago, but I didn’t get in to teach until about 3 years ago.
I wanted to do it because of my upbringing. My grandfather was a Southern Baptist preacher who went into prisons to preach. He reminded me that prisoners were no different than him or me. He said we all live in prisons, but that they just look different. Also, I am hugely motivated by restorative justice versus penal justice. I’m grateful that one hour a week can be more restorative for the prisoners.
You have been an instructor in several teacher training programs in Tucson and recently started offering your own programs along with yoga retreats. What’s on the horizon? Will you continue to teach classes and teachers in Tucson?
I am hoping to do more 300-hour teacher training programs. I like my role in the 200-hour offerings, and my own 200-hour program is very old school. In the 300-hour, we really become more focused on yoga versus just asana. Students explore the history, ancient writings and teachings of yoga. We do asana such as Yin Yoga, Yoga Nidra and trauma-informed, but it’s really all about pulling back the layers.
Say you’re really drawn to Ayurveda, that can be your focus. Kirtan or pranayama can be your focus. The 300-hour is where we start to find who we are beyond that asana practice.
As far as teaching classes in Tucson, I am so lucky! I talked to the owner of each studio where I teach to tell them how I was being drawn to offer retreats and remote immersions. All of them will work with me and asked me to stay in the rotation to teach. Additionally, my students are almost as invested in the journey as I am – they’re coming to classes even when I’m not there. It’s cool for them to see that I am not the linchpin for their practice.
In short, I want to keep my home base in Tucson and stay connected to my students, many of whom I’ve been teaching for almost a decade. I also want to keep offering my own programs to 4-5 students at a time.
What else do you want the world to know?
Each person is a being of light and love, and I hope they see that.
Pam Ronstadt teaches at several studios in Tucson, AZ. Learn more about her local classes, teacher training programs and retreats at radiantspirityoga.com