Berkeley Ironworks’ Yoga Legacy: Looking Back with Sandra Razieli

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Yoga instructor Sandra has been with Berkeley Ironworks since its inception, and while we are sad to see her go, we are incredibly excited for her new adventure in Maui, Hawaii! Read on to reminisce with Sandra on her favorite memories at Ironworks.

How and when did you start teaching yoga at Ironworks?

I began teaching at Ironworks in February 2001 while I was in my first Teacher Training program at Piedmont Yoga Studio. That was at a time when there was an extensive application to get accepted and I was definitely one of the least experienced. The course was a year and a half long with over 600 hours of teaching. Other students in the program included people you may know, such as Baxter and Karen Schneider. Baxter was an avid climber at that time and one day he came to class and mentioned Berkeley Ironworks: “They have this great space at the climbing gym. I started teaching classes there and they want more. Anybody want to teach there?”

I was in graduate school studying cultural anthropology at Stanford at the time and had joined the teacher training program just to learn more about yoga, and to help take care of back pain that I was experiencing because of my scoliosis (and too much screen time). I couldn’t envision myself being a yoga teacher; I thought I was going to go into academia. But somehow I raised my hand and said, “I’d like to try.”

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What was teaching like back then versus now? What are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed since you’ve been teaching?

My first class was in the same room we teach in today, but the room looked very different. The walls were corrugated metal, the floors had splinters in the wood, and the only heater was a standing propane lamp that we all gathered around because it was freezing at 7am in February. Back then, people at Ironworks did not know much about yoga. For most of the people who came to class, it was their first time ever. I had been studying yoga for a few years, but my teaching was limited to practicing in my teacher training and leading the warm-up for my soccer team. I was nervous and excited. I wrote down my plans for class the night before so I could sleep well and to not worry about what we were going to do the next day.

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Any favorite memories or experiences?

From the beginning, students were welcoming and curious. I had subbed a few times at a different gym that had neon lights and hated it. Everyone was staring at themselves in the mirror. At Ironworks it was different. People genuinely wanted to learn more about how to move with greater agility, grace, and ease. Looking good was a benefit, but it was probably not the focus.

What will you miss the most, and do you have any parting words?

I will miss my students. I will miss their curiosity, their willingness to laugh at my jokes, their help in coming up with alliterative phrases. I’ll miss trying to come up with creative ways to use punching bags in class and I’ll miss teaching with the smells from the delicious taco truck wafting through the windows.

Parting words—the most important thing is to keep moving. It doesn’t really matter if you can or can’t do fancy postures.

Advanced postures can be fun and give one a sense of accomplishment or a goal to strive for, but to live a full and meaningful life, it doesn’t matter if you can do the splits or balance on one finger. Yoga is a great way to learn to pay attention to everyday habits of movement (and other things too). Once you are aware of your habits, you can choose which ones serve you well and which ones are best to change.

Lastly, tell us about your newest adventure! Where are you moving to and what will you be doing there?

After living in the Bay Area for over 20 years, I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to live in Maui.  I’ll be at the base of Haleakala, a dormant volcano that is as high as Tioga Pass. I am looking forward to exploring island living. I am definitely going to take a lot of walks along the beach and hike in tropical forests. While here, I’ll be taking some time to develop my online materials. I’ll be making videos and writing more content. I’ll be gearing some of this to the general public but I’m also going to create a lot of content specifically for people with scoliosis. Come visit! I’ll be happy to show you some of my new favorite places.

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From all of us at Berkeley Ironworks, thank you Sandra for helping us develop such a fantastic yoga program! We’ll miss you. And we’ll be keeping an eye out for your online content, too!