Monday, September 12, 2011

Interview #1: Vicki Sorenson

       Vicki Sorenson
         Age: 44
         Makawao Maui Hawaii

Vicki Sorenson has been practicing Ashtanga yoga since 1992 and followed a raw diet since 1990. She began her studies with Brad Ramsey and Lucy Martorella and has studied with Sri K. Patthabhi Jois in Mysore, India.  She will be teaching at Doug Graham’s Health and Fitness Week in September 2011. She also teaches private lessons from her home in Maui.  

1. How long have you been practicing yoga? Did yoga lead you to raw food, raw food to yoga, or did they coincide?
I started yoga in 1992 after moving to Kaui, where Brad Ramsey and Lucy Martorella were living. I hadn’t really ever done any yoga before, just maybe a handful of classes but I hadn’t found my teacher and I was looking for somebody I could really study with, a master. I was working in a health food store and somebody said I should check out this yoga class.

The first class totally blew me away and I wanted to watch Lucy practice. She practiced at home in her bedroom, with just Brad. Brad was her partner, but also her teacher. It was the first time anybody had seen her practice in over 8 years. It made me cry, watching someone performing like they’re going for a gold medal but in the privacy of their own bedroom, no medals, no accolades, just her and her mat and her teacher. At that point Brad was retired from teaching. 

2.  How long have you been a raw foodist?
Since 1990. I got hired by Karen’s Fresh Corner in Chicago, working in her greenhouse growing wheat grass. I was a raw food chef for Julianno’s in San Francicso, and also at the Raw Experience in Maui. I went 80/10/10 a year ago and love it. It’s a lot easier than trying to be gourmet raw, as easy as it to cut up and prepare that’s how easy it is to digest.
3.       How has a raw food diet affected your practice? Any benefits? Downsides?
It’s hard to say how much raw helped my progress; I was eating mostly raw before starting yoga. It’s just my diet, I’ve noticed since I went 80/10/10 more progress, I can feel the locks [bandhas] more, more clarity. I feel like it’s taking the fat off my brain. Breath feels deeper and clearer, like not as much mucus in my system. That’s a good feeling.
4.       But you progressed pretty quickly?
I wanted to do whatever Lucy was doing because I saw what kind of results she was getting, so within a month I had a daily practice and went to class 3 times a week. I was doing second series after 9 months, 3rd series after 3 1/2 years. But that’s pretty much how they did it when Brad studied in Mysore, one series a year, so after 4 years he was doing fourth series.
5.       What was your diet like before raw?
Pretty much vegan, with occasional goat cheese. Ghee didn’t seem to bother me too much. I was experimenting because they say that ghee is good for yogi’s joints. At this point I don’t think we need extra fat in our diet. I never had any pronounced health problems, just lowered vitality, I was about 25 pounds heavier. I became a vegetarian at 21, vegan at 23, and started raw food about the same time I went vegan. Spiritual, health, and ethical vegan at the same time. I had a problem eating animals. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.
6.       What type of yoga do you practice? Have you tried other kinds?
I tried one Iyengar class and I knew it wasn’t for me. I am strictly and only Ashtanga. And some people think that’s strange and that you should dabble, especially if you’re a teacher but I found my practice. It’s challenging enough, what else do you need?
7.       Do you do any other type of exercise? How does it affect your yoga practice?
I’m just getting back into running. I find running a nice compliment. For so long all I did was Ashtanga and it’s nice to get some variety, get outside. I’ve never been injured in yoga or running, knock on wood, I feel like yoga keeps me really stretched out for running. I guess I’m just running for fun, not going for any times, I feel like I’m playing. I don’t really push myself to hard. It feels so good, like how dogs need to be walked, humans need to be run. I haven’t noticed any tightness in hamstrings or hips, could be I’ve been practicing yoga so long I’m pretty stretched out. I also practice odissi, classical Indian dance, and tabla, indian drum. I’m a bit of an India-phile.
8.       You seem to have a very close connection with your teachers. As a westerner, how do you feel about gurus? Is it possible for a Westerner to be a guru?
Pattabhi Jois is a guru, and I almost feel that he is the last of the gurus, the rest of us are just teachers. He is guru material, he’s a mental giant, his touch was just unbelievable, you could feel the energy coming from his hands. It feels like a thousand year old lineage, and the first time I ever touched his feet, it’s hard to explain, you could just feel the power. It’s really amazing. But with Lucy it’s more like she’s my best friend and my teacher.  It’s a much more intimate relationship. Lucy is a master of asana but she’s not spiritual guru. I don’t look to my teacher for spiritual guidance or spiritual teaching. I do my own reading, find my own way.
9.       Some Westerners really resist the touching feet thing. How did you feel about it?
I really resisted touching the feet of a person, I thought it was just ridiculous. We’re Westerners, why should we get on our knees and touch his feet? But it was so emotional I felt like I was crying in a way. But I don’t think I would touch anybody else’s feet.
10.   When did you meet Patthabi Jois?
 I met him for the first time in 1993, at a workshop in Nancy’s studio in Maui. There were only 30 people there. I’d only been practicing 5 months, but Lucy really encouraged me to go. It was really wild; we slept in the yoga room.
11.   Did you stay raw while in India? How was it?
In India I didn’t try to be completely raw. I ate at the houses where the women were cooking for the students and I paid definitely, I felt heavier in practice.  The women make lots of fresh salads, naan bread, chapattis and traditional curry dishes. You spend hours at the table just chatting with everybody so you end up eating for just hours because there’s not much else to do. So we all just sat and nibbled all day. Yeah, it would be different trying to be a fruitarian.

12.   Do you ever think about going back to Mysore?
No, I had enough of the scene, just all the competition, gossip, and now that Guruji’s gone I have no pull. Sharath never really did it for me. I didn’t get the same energy from him, the same transmission, the same confidence. I just never had a good connection with him. I am glad I got to experience the old shala, when there were only 12 people in the room.
13.   How important do you think it is to find a teacher?
It’s really important to stay with one teacher. There’s so much conflicting information, just like the raw food world, it’s good to find someone whose practice you respect and who you resonate with. With Brad and Lucy it’s such a specialized style that I can hardly stand to go to anybody else’s class.
14.   You’ve mentioned there are a few differences between the Full Vinyasa Ashtanga you practice and what is currently being taught in Mysore. Could you tell me more about that please?
Guruji originally taught Full Vinyasa, and that’s how Brad Ramsey learned the series. That’s why Guruji and Brad had a falling out, because Guruji changed the series. Guruji was very insistent that you don’t change a thing, but then he went and changed it but Brad didn’t. So it’s like we’re an offshoot lineage, we didn’t change. We get a lot of criticism for it too, because that’s not how they do it in Mysore anymore. I get a lot of criticism from my students, after they go to Mysore, they come back and say “you’re wrong, you don’t have the right to teach it this way” but I say any way that Guruji taught it is the right way, whichever way he’s taught it is legitimate.
There’s bullshit that goes around. I heard that the certified teachers have to go back every 18 months to get re-authorized, but I never bothered to get authorized. I think they have added more postures in that I was never introduced to. So I’m not sure what Sharath is doing.
15.   I’ve seen you practice 3rd series. How many series do you know?
I did practice 4th series but I’m not practicing anymore because my teacher isn’t really teaching anymore, she’s had some injuries and can’t really hold my weight and at that stage you really need a lot of help. There were only 4 series in the tradition I learned. The new way is 6. I think he took the old advanced A and B and broke it down.
That’s another difference between how they teach it now. When I learned it we didn’t do one posture at a time, we learned the whole series all at once. You learn the whole series and kind of muddle your way through and do the best you can. That’s the old style. You can’t do them all, but you’re working on them all at the same time. But you should have a really good foundation in first series. The same with third series. I couldn’t start third series until I could do second series pretty well.
16.   Why have you stayed with the old way?
I was so firmly established in my third series practice before I even heard about the new style, so why should I change? It’s more challenging, its feels more natural.
17.   Who else practices Full Vinyasa?
18.   David Swenson and Sandy Harrington on the Big Island, she’s an astounding yogi, another one who flies under the radar. Lino Mielie in Italy, he’s pretty good. He used to teach Full Vinyasa. That’s one of the main things we get criticized for, since Guruji doesn’t teach it anymore people say we shouldn’t either. It’s kind of a controversial point in the yoga world. Some people say that Guruji actually said that Full Vinyasa isn’t good for the heart but I don’t think so. I love that style, it fills me with energy. That’s the way it’s actually spelled out in the Yoga Mala so if anybody has any questions they can look there.
19.   A point of interest to our LFRV readers is that you were an intern at Doug Graham’s Costa Rica fasting retreat January and February of 2011. What is your relationship with Doug like?
Doug actually calls me “Yogini”. It’s just amazing that he really recognizes my contribution of yoga and I really appreciated his recognition. I’ll be teaching at the yoga health and fitness week. I get to help him with his yoga too. He’s quite a good yogi. He’s got that gymnastic training; he’s really in touch with his locks. He really knows how to use his body.
20.   What was your role at the fasting retreat?
I was the head intern at Doug Grahams’ fasting retreat. Watching people go through their 21 to 35 day fasts, watching the healing that was going on was magical. It was a lot of work. I was in charge of 8 other interns, and also in charge of dining hall ambiance. Every day I had to decorate the place every day, which took about 4 hours. I had to look on internet for different napkin folds, walk around for flowers and cloths. Doug draws me out, he makes me work to my potential and its good for me because I have a tendency to hide away, be in my personal cave.
21.   What do you think Guruji would have thought of fasting?
I don’t think Guruji was into fasting, but he wasn’t really into eating a lot of fruit either. I don’t really take my nutritional advice from him. He was into a lot of sugar, a lot of coffee, and he wasn’t into massage either. And I think massage can be helpful. But the type of massage I do-- I’m a massage therapist as well-- I’m not trying to change any body’s body structurally, I let the yoga do that (like rolfers try to change structurally). I just try to help people relax. I’ll let the yoga do the fixing; I just help with the pain.
If you go to a massage therapist and expect them to fix you, you’re giving your power away. You’ve got to do your own fixing, and that’s what yoga is for.
22.   The last question is just for fun: let’s play the Island Game. You are trapped on an island for the rest of your life.  The island grows just 5 fruits, but it’s a magic island and the fruits are always in season and always of top quality. What do you choose to be on your island?
1. Mango
2. Coconut
3. Banana, preferably the apple banana – they’re not my favorite but I thought if I was stuck on the island it would be good a staple.
4. White Sapote
5. Lychees

Thank you so much Vicki for taking the time to sit down with me!
To take a private lesson with Vicki, you can email her at


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Great interview, many thanks! I am going to Maui in november and it would be an honor to meet Vicky.

  3. Beautiful first interview! Very interesting combination of health fields and a nice flow to the questions. Thanks to both of you.

  4. nice to see you bogging again lindsay.. of course, i can't help but point out that coconuts aren't fruit, so she'll have to chose again for her magic island trip.

  5. Me too I loved the gentleness of your questions to her. Not too provocative, and yet revealing enough to keep us reading on. Thank you.


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