Pete Lee is an IKYTA-certified and Yoga Alliance-registered Kundalini and Restorative Yoga instructor, certified Co-Active Life Coach, Reconnective Healing Practitioner and Energy Healer. Pete is passionate and committed to empower and guide individuals in deeply honoring, nourishing and loving themselves beyond measure. He is a graduate of the 200-hour Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training at Golden Bridge Yoga, having studied with Gurmukh, Tej and Harijiwan. He is also a graduate of Yogaworks’ Restorative Teacher Training, led by Jillian Pransky. Pete teaches regularly at YogaWorks, Golden Bridge Yoga, and Equinox Fitness Centers throughout Los Angeles. Bringing lots of warmth, humor, and compassion, Pete’s classes are uplifting, grounding, healing, and gentle yet challenging. His website in progress is www.cpetelee.com and his email address is - firstname.lastname@example.org. "Sat Nam. Namaste."
YOGA TEACHER MAGAZINE: So let's start with you telling me a bit about your background. Where did you grow up and what was that like, and how did you first start practicing yoga?
PETE LEE: I was born and raised in Los Angeles. Born in the late Seventies. I've been into healing, meditation and spirituality pretty much all my life.
YTM: Were your parents into that sort of thing?
PL: No, my parents were not into yoga at all. I'm of Chinese heritage and they're immigrant parents who owned and operated a Chinese restaurant in El Segundo that was open seven days a week.
I read a lot as a kid… Ramona Quimby, Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown books. And there was one book by Barthe De Clements and Christopher Greimes called Double Trouble. It was a story about a pair of fraternal twins who had psychic abilities and lived separately but communicated with each other through their abilities. It was this book that led me to look at consciousness in a whole different way. I saw that these abilities weren't just "fiction" but I could develop my intuition and creativity.
YTM: It's funny how our destiny develops from our interests. You might come across a book or a story and it touches off something in you. I remember seeing one of the Alien movie spinoffs called Species in which Forest Whitaker’s job was being a professional “empath,” and I thought, yeah, that's my career right there!
PL: Exactly!... My mom would take me to the mall and I could spend hours in the bookstore and she would go off clothes shopping.
YTM: That sounds like a good deal to make with Mom.
PL: I used to stay in the Young Adult, Kids or Cookbooks sections. After Double Trouble I found myself in the New Age section. Some of the first New Age books I bought were Seth Speaks by Jane Roberts and Journeys Out of the Body by Robert Monroe.
YTM: Did you find any yoga books?
PL: I found a yoga book by Richard Hittleman and I was a bit intimidated by it, but I got it anyway and practiced some of the gentle asanas I saw in the book. But my real introduction to hatha yoga was two classes. I started practicing yoga in 1998. I remember taking my first Hatha Yoga class at the Yoga House in Pasadena, with Shiva Rea. And one at the Center for Yoga at Larchmont with Susan Swan. Shortly thereafter, in 1999, my colleague at The Los Angeles Times, where I was working at the time, asked some of us if we wanted to do yoga once a week together. There was a vacant room in the building where she introduced us to Kundalini Yoga. It was such a different experience and so deeply healing. I've never cried and laughed so much before in a yoga class, let alone at the recreational space at work.
YTM: In what ways was the yoga healing?
PL: The healing in the early sessions was mostly emotional. Thoughts and emotions were rising up during the pranayama and tears were welling up in my eyes. Kundalini Yoga reminded me so much of acupuncture, where specific needles were inserted in different meridians and pressure points and "for no apparent reason" tears would well up, emotions would come up and I would find myself in tears. Healing tears.
YTM: And so has it been exclusively Kundalini since then, or have you explored other styles of yoga?
PL: I would take Gentle and Level 1 Hatha or YogaWorks classes. I love Yin and Restorative. I also love Qigong and Tai Chi, and I’m really interested in Sacred Energy Arts Yoga, a blend of Qigong, Tai Chi and Hatha Yoga, created by Matthew Cohen. I found that what really resonates with me in a yoga class is a slow pace, deep introspection, spaciousness, lots of breath work and meditation.
YTM: I was just going to say you seem drawn to the softer, less busy side of yoga and the other transformative arts, but you pretty much said it yourself...
PL: Yes! Although I do enjoy a nice sweaty Vinyasa Flow class from time to time, on the whole I must say I do prefer a slower pace.
YTM: And so how did you come to be a teacher?
PL: My nephew is autistic and has Asperger's. In 2009, I thought it would be great to take him to a kid's yoga class. Seeing as how healing I felt Kundalini was, I took him to Golden Bridge in Hollywood. There was a 9:30 AM class for kids, and a 9:30 AM class for adults. He would go upstairs and I would be downstairs. He absolutely loved it and learned all sorts of mudras and pranayam that he continues to use. He's 14 now and that was our Saturday tradition for a while.
During that time in 2009, while we were going every Saturday, I saw that they had an upcoming teacher training, and my energy just said, it's time. At that point in my life, I was already building my practice as a life coach and energy healer, so I was in the realm of "body mind and spirit.” I had mind and spirit covered. Kundalini felt like the perfect addition to add "body" to my practice.
YTM: That's a lovely story about your nephew. How did you enjoy the training?
PL: I absolutely loved it. It was eight months long, one weekend a month, and I was so grateful for the pacing. There was so much time to digest the material. Our Saturdays and Sundays would begin at 4 AM for Sadhana, the morning meditation practice, and end at 7 PM. It was deeply transformative and we all witnessed each other's growth. There were about 55 of us in the training that graduated in 2010. We had 11 minute meditations and 31 minute meditations as part of our homework for 40 days to break through our habit patterns.
YTM: What's not to like, right? So where were the first classes you taught and how did they go?
PL: My first classes were at The Yogi Tree in Toluca Lake and at the rehearsal space of TeAda , a multi-cultural theatre company. I was really nervous at first. I kept reminding myself to keep breathing as the students were breathing. Hah.
YTM : I've always considered it a kind of godsend that yoga is so much about relaxing, and that fact can help you relax as a teacher. I mean, after all, you're supposed to be breathing fully, it’s your job!
PL: Exactly! I found myself breathing more deeply and became more relaxed. As I kept teaching, I felt more and more at home and comfortable, as if I'm just sharing information to help them feel better about themselves, inside and out. The beginning of every Kundalini class always starts with the mantra, ONG NAMO GURU DEV NAMO, which means I bow, or I connect, or tune into the highest wisdom within myself. As a student or when I'm teaching, this always grounds and centers me.
YTM: So how has your teaching evolved since you started? What classes do you teach now?
PL: So shortly after I started teaching I began subbing for Kia Miller and Aimee Donahue's Kundalini classes at Yogaworks in Santa Monica and South Bay, respectively. From there, things just continued to bloom and then I discovered Jillian Pransky. I've always loved Restorative classes so when I saw that there was a Restorative teacher training, I knew I wanted to do it to complement my active Kundalini teaching practice.
I learned so much from Jillian and I'm so grateful for her teaching and her energy. After that training, I realized how much spaciousness and allowing is so important. In every class I teach, I always remind students to allow whatever thoughts and feelings that come passing through the mind, to just observe and notice and let it simply dissolve like clouds in the sky. It's that allowing that creates spaciousness. The more "okay" you feel about whatever is showing up, whatever is showing up will have space to pass and release.
YTM: So do you blend the Restorative in with Kundalini? Is it a good fit? And along the same lines, how strict is the Kundalini teaching? From the outside it almost seems cultish, if I may say that, since there's some uniformity in dress among certain practitioners. But from what you're saying it seems much more open.
PL: In the Kundalini teaching, teachers wear white to evoke a sense of what I like to say as "clean fresh sheets" or "Downy fresh.” White is the color that contains all colors, integrates all colors; it’s the color of totality and wholeness. So energetically, as teachers we wear white to complement our holding a space of clarity and wholeness.
It was really strange to blend at first. Kundalini practitioners don't use bolsters, blankets and blocks in the way Hatha practitioners do. Kundalini practitioners sit on sheepskin rugs to support their auras and electromagnetic fields as they practice... and for warmth.
YTM: Is it a challenge to work without props in Restorative? I know Jillian teaches workshops on teaching with minimal props.
PL: I loved her minimal props training. You can basically teach an entire class with one block or one blanket, or one bolster. A lot of times when we run out of props, I have them use their bags or purses, and sometimes water bottles.
At Golden Bridge in Hollywood, I created a Restorative Kundalini class, where we begin with gentle Kundalini warm-ups. The second half of the class is deeply relaxing in restorative poses, maybe about three or four poses at most. In the Kundalini tradition, there are thousands of kriyas, sequences that are already written, for every condition and intention that one wants to work on. When you begin a Kundalini kriya or sequence, you do it in its entirety. It's like each pose and pranayam is a specific needle in a pressure point. So in my Restorative Kundalini classes, we don't do full-on kriyas , just warm-ups to give time and space to relax. Restorative to me is like practicing the muscle of receiving and allowing. We work, give and do so much. But how much do we allow ourselves to do "nothing" even though we know there's so much goodness and healing that happens in the "nothing"?
YTM: Sometimes I study how difficult it is just to relax all the tiny muscles in the face.
PL: It's such a huge opportunity to actively be passive. And I think most people are so engaged in their to-do lists and Facebook status updates that it's hard to just turn off.
YTM: Many people will say they don't have time to relax, that the effort of relaxing stresses them out. And even some yogis and yoga teachers think restorative is wimpy. What would you say to that?
PL: Wow, there's a lot to say. I know for most people, it's hard to relax because the mind doesn't stop and for most people to be present with their thoughts and emotions must be the most intense and painful thing ever. That's why I really encourage people to allow and simply notice, like watching a movie without judgment.
To yoga teachers and yogis who think Restorative is wimpy, I would suggest giving it another try and to allow themselves to have their judgments and just notice what these thoughts and feeling do. Like teacher Byron Katie asks in her work, "How do you feel when you believe this thought?" "Who would you be without your stressful thoughts?" I would also say, when we're not allowing ourselves to feel whatever it is we're feeling, we end up pushing back into our nerves the very things we say we want to release. And we all know that expression... something is on my nerves!
YTM: Do you ever feel people judge you for being into the softer arts, if for example they might think it's not manly?
PL: I think it's awesome that there are so many male yoga teachers these days and many don't appear "soft" at all, which I think totally breaks the whole manly paradigm. In the sense and the hope that these male yoga teachers are encouraging the students to explore their soft places and depth. Ivan, it's all about depth. I gave up feeling the need to be or appear a certain way for students and people in general. One of the things I love about Kundalini Yoga is the constant reminder of Sat Nam. Sat Nam is mentally repeated throughout the practice and we end each class with a long Sat Nam. It means "truth is my essence" or "truth is who I am." So in every breath, I remind myself to be true to myself. Who am I outside of everyone's expectations and assumptions of me? As I practice, I get to release all of that "stuff" as I come back and replenish myself with my energy, my fullness, my 100%. And Sat Nam comes from Namaste.
YTM: Pete, can you think of a time when a student stressed you out, and how did you handle it? And conversely, can you describe for us a time when a student helped you find your center?
PL: A student stressed me out when she was just not doing the set as we practiced. Because in Kundalini Yoga, when we begin a specific sequence, each pose is like a specific needle in an acupuncture session, so when this one student was just doing her own thing, I reminded her how important it was to continue or modify the pose. I also told her that she could just do the pose for a few seconds and come into easy pose or child's pose, if she didn't want to do it, but she didn't say anything and continued to roll her eyes at me, giving me dirty looks. I tried to stay grounded and present but it was hard. I would ask her if she was feeling okay and needed assistance, but never a word. Just rolling eyes. She wanted to do what she wanted to do and finally she got up, threw the blankets into the area where the blankets were kept and stormed out of the room. She left right before Savasana.
YTM: How did that affect you?
PL: That was a tough experience. I felt like she needed space to have her own practice. I used to feel bad about students leaving in the middle of class, wondering what I did or didn't do. I know everyone has their processes and I know Kundalini and Restoratives don't resonate with everyone or at a specific time. I remind myself that they may have wanted to see an action flick, but walked into a romantic comedy or a horror film, instead.
In regards to your question about how a student helped me find my center... that happens all the time! As you know, traffic is daily reality in Los Angeles. I get to my classes mostly on time. Sometimes, traffic happens and I get there a few minutes late. There are students who just give me a look and some even say, "Pete, take a breath... It's okay. You're here now." I really appreciate that.
YTM: Love it! In New York we commiserate more often about the subway. Pete, talking to you has been a great pleasure
PL: Thank you again Ivan, for your energy and incredible work! Huge gratitude, love, hugs and blessings to you! Namaste, brother!