Lauren Duke is an inspiring yoga teacher based out of the eclectic town of Encinitas, California. She is the Founder of Yoga Bergamot, a studio that is committed to making yoga accessible to everyone in a special place where donation based yoga can live strong. She is a devoted teacher and student, deeply involved in community events, and married to Chris Miller, the Co-Creator of Vuori Clothing. Here she shares some light on her experiences and life. Thank you Lauren for your words about the journey. We look forward to reading your books in 10 years;)
Yoga is changing for me all the time. The definition is relative to my experience and my experience is always in flux. I never knew the moment before the last few years. I spent my younger years in survival mode. I missed a million moments. I was too busy worrying about everything. I got into yoga before it was trending. I noticed the physiological benefits, although when I was 18-19, I wouldn’t have been able to explain that. It’s become my muse and is a constant reminder of what I want to stand for and how I want to live my life. I’m human. I make a lot of mistakes, although I make way less then 10 years ago. Yoga is the awareness and development of spiritual maturity which is the recognition that we are in control of choice making. I think yoga is a practice of knowledge and our ability to learn skills and apply information prudently so we can make the best choices for ourselves and our communities.
What inspired you to create a DONATION based yoga space?
Well, one of my first teachers was Rusty Wells and that’s how he ran his platform for yoga. Then when I moved to San Diego I started teaching at a donation based studio and it closed down. I felt protective of the model and everyone that needed it to be able to practice and decided to just keep it going. To be honest, It was just an instinctive survival response. It’s a model where there is a lot of reciprocity for both the student and the teacher. It protects and is in the best interest of the teachers and students as well. I set my model up a little different though and I think that’s why it’s been so successful. It’s a cooperative which means the teachers rent the space collectively to be able to pay rent. It takes the pressure off of me knowing that everyone is pitching in. Also, it incentivizes the teachers to grow their brand and their business and to make their version and voice of yoga both authentic and unique. Because they pay rent, they also need to make sure they bring people in so they can make it worth their while. On the other end as a student , there are no commitments and no questions. We just ask everyone to be honest. We do believe that there needs to be an exchange between teacher and student. We live in a modern world where we have to pay bills and rent and taxes. Unfortunately it’s not free but giving people the opportunity to choose what they can afford, I feel like takes a lot of pressure off students. Now there are no excuses. You can just practice even if you can only afford a dollar. I used to have a student give me a check for $2 every time she came and then after years she finally got on her feet and now pays $20 every time and is so grateful that she had the opportunity to practice even when she had nothing. It’s a pretty sweet model and feels very communal and tribal like bartering. It’s the antithesis of the current capitalist model. You don’t become a yoga teacher to get rich but if you are dexterous and dynamic and passionate then anything can happen!
Do you offer any types of work exchange/work trade at Yoga Bergamot? What benefits do you notice from “trading”?
We do offer work trade at Bergamot. We have bartered so much over the years. Our whole brand and website and photography is all from a trade for a training and yoga. It’s a community love affair at Bergamot and I think everyone really recognizes how important it is to help the studio keep running and help to maintain its success. The students feel like they are a part of it. Also we trade for cleaning and classes. I’m all for trades but I have very high expectations and it’s under the pretense that everyone will hold up their end of the deal. I don’t really tolerate slackers. It takes a village.
Any thoughts on environmental issues and how the yoga community can be of service?
Well community is a powerful thing. When people unite and they feel like they are a part of system and recognize how their actions effect the bigger picture, anything is possible. And fundamentally that’s what yoga stands for – the recognition and awareness around how one thing affects the next. Like the domino affect. So if students are actually living this philosophy then they are taking action amongst the issues that need attention. This starts with the individual becoming mindful about all products they are using, how and what they are eating, recycling, picking up trash. My goal is not to just share the path and its ideals with people but rather empower people to actually take action and make a difference. That’s what Ghandi did. Some people think one person can’t make a difference with their actions but I think Ghandi and mother Theresa would certainly disagree.
Happiness is relative. Life isn’t the same all the time. Shit happens and someone’s life’s not so happy. But my definition of something that can’t really be defined with an absolute -such as happiness- is the ability to be here now. The ability to be present. It’s very simple and cliche and zen but it works. In the moment, often there is no pain. When you are sitting watching he sunset but stewing on something else – happiness is gone. But when you can embody the moment – to me that’s the ultimate. It’s basically what I work on everyday from the way I embody my posture or breathing practice or the way I interact and treat people. I want to be able to drop in – no matter what the experience is. But happiness is fleeting just like everything else. Unless you live in a cave and don’t go into modern day living it’s impossible. Anyhow there’s no certain absolute definition. But I will say I’m happy when I’m here (just Right here) and not there (as in not present). It’s nebulous, but I get it and that’s all that matters really.
If you could go back in time, what would your current self tell your 16 year old self?
I would tell my younger self to just “chill the fuck out.” It’s all gonna work out. And also to spend more time building my brains then my looks. Looks are just the tip of the iceberg. I think people are way more beautiful when they have something to say and stand up for their beliefs and have spent time getting to know their emotionality which is just the gateway to heartfelt spirituality. “Look deeper,” I suppose I would tell that very sad, distracted, tenuous girl. Underneath there was always so much more but I needed to take time to know and understand it. It takes life and heartbreak and death and experiences to develop that knowing.
Right now I’m seriously the most inspired by philosophy. I’m taking two online philosophy courses right now with Christina Sell and Noah Mazé. The physical practice is just so symbolic. With the dissolution of the richness of the yoga philosophy in the teachings of current yoga, the ideals of what the physical stands for are lost. I’m totally nerding out on how there’s such deep symbology in the postures. It’s all about the actions. I’m less involved these days with how to show up perfectly in each pose and more concerned with being fastidious about the actions that stand for how we live. Building poses will remind us of that. We actually have so much control, especially if we are paying attention to what we are doing. It makes such a difference to go through each pose with deep awareness of how it effects you and how the breath affects you and how one pose affects the whole system of poses. It’s so deep it blows my mind. Still! So I’ve come full circle. I used to care so much about doing a handstand. Then I figured it out and realized that it was so much deeper! It’s not about nailing the posture – it’s about being available and participating in your experience. These days I’d rather nail savasana or a meditation. These days I’d rather show up awake so I can be better for my community, my husband, my family and my friends. That feels more like ruling at life.
Committed to sharing and sustaining both the spirit of yoga and the donation based yoga system, Lauren is the Founder of Bergamot Yoga. With over 1,000 hours of training through several different systems including; Hatha, vinyasa, and Anusara, her method of teaching is a blend of yoga depending on what feels relevant to her students, her individual practice and her own life. She is known for her raw disposition, detailed Instruction and fun-loving nature. You never know what you are going to get but it’s guaranteed to always be challenging both in your body and in your heart.
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