Spotlight on an ISHTA Teacher: Cathy Lilly

ISHTA Yoga / Journal  / Spotlight on an ISHTA Teacher: Cathy Lilly

Spotlight on an ISHTA Teacher: Cathy Lilly

Where did you grow up? I grew up in a township of Detroit, the Motor City. It was known as a lower economic community of limited resources but the undeveloped landscape was a wondrous kids’ playground! My brothers and I enjoyed bicycling in vast open spaces before and during the development of track housing and vast freeways. A local beekeeper also allowed us to play in the fields and trees of his farm so I became adept at tree climbing which set the foundation for gymnastics ability.

When did you take your first yoga class? Just after a workout in the college gym a yoga teacher invited me to take her class. Timing was perfect as I was in no rush to do any homework, but after class I was too relaxed with a yoga buzz to focus! The only clue this was a risk was the instructor’s announcement to avoid operating heavy machinery after the class. Setting was at Michigan State University in 1976. I continued to take yoga classes when available while focusing on instructing group aerobics and acrobatics classes . Movement was my primary means to destress and access a spiritual sense of wellbeing. It was not until my mother, caretaker of my dad, died of cancer did I seek to understand meditation so to cope with overwhelming grief. Luckily, a sober friend freely gave lessons at their home and compassionately broke down every objection our group threw at him. Shortly afterwards I was surprised by how effective pranayama plus meditation alleviated the pain from serious neck and back injuries (sustained at my retail management job which required heavy lifting over 50 lbs.) This was a significant discovery because I thought I had the best health insurance until I tried to use it. Imagine getting a call from an angry surgeon’s staff stating my appointment was cancelled due to no insurance, which it turned out my employer’s health coverage was cancelled due to lack of payments. So yoga was embraced as my primary means of rehabilitation!

Filled with recovery and renewed spirit, I eagerly explored styles of asana, pranayama, and meditation. Dreams of becoming a yoga teacher appeared. not sure where my heart best resonated. For years I been practicing at two different yoga centers on West 72nd street not sure where my heart best resonated, having to choose between the athleticism vs. simple poses with spiritual philosophy. Being financially unrealistic to do two yoga teacher trainings the dilemma preoccupied my mind until I redeemed a free class card for one of Alan’s classes at Be Yoga. His lighthearted cueing guided our class through a challenging, grounding sequence while seamlessly weaving in pranayama and meditation. I signed up for the ISHTA Yoga teacher training shortly afterwards and continue to be grateful.

How would you describe your new Sunday class at ISHTA (9:30 am), Back Care Basics? I could write a whole book on the importance of Back Care Basics. I actually have already begun! My background includes teaching yoga to a physiatrist’s patients along with contributing to his popular yoga therapy book called Healing Yoga ( It was in 2008 I seized the doctor’s offer as I had wished to see where I could duplicate the noninvasive path of recovery I personally experienced. It proved to be possible and the work so fulfilling. A few physical therapists requested to learn my adaptive yoga methods and later became certified yoga instructors. They were patient with my inquiries, especially when determining a patient’s best course of treatment. Compassion for complex cases was required. For example, I was introduced to some unfortunate patients with Failed Back Syndrome ( ). Overall, people can benefit from my Back Care Basics lessons and possibly prevent the need for future medical interventions. Here’s the description: “Explore how to lengthen, strengthen, and align your back to meet today’s lifestyle challenges. Minimize the common risks of back pain by allowing yourself to be guided though a series of adaptive yoga poses and breathwork, along with ancient sat kriya and meditation techniques. The addition of yoga to relieve chronic low back pain care is supported by medical research ( ).”

What do you love most about teaching Restorative Yoga? Accessing deep relaxation is easier than we can initially believe, opening a portal to transformative wellness.

What’s your favorite pose? Tadasana besides Savasana are truly powerful. Come to class if you take these poses for granted.

What do you enjoy doing off the mat in your free time? One of my childhood nicknames was Curious Cathy. I love to read nonfiction besides ponder puzzles and research. One intriguing topic is the ethics of medicalization of natural aspects of aging because menopause isn’t a disease. Other topics are along the lines of longevity and comparing my ol’ B.S. medical sciences lessons with ancient Indian Ayurveda and Yogic wisdom. The world of acting I love and for 21 years have served as SAG-AFTRA’s National Co-Chair of the National Health Care Safety Net Committee, a volunteer position.

Find Cathy on social!

Instagram: @cathylillynow