Gabby’s teaching style is primarily informed by years of study with Iyengar teachers and Noah Maze. She’s been a yoga student for almost 25 years and began teaching in 2000. She continues to be known as a teacher that creates a supportive class environment where challenging, alignment oriented yoga and clear, precise instruction coalesce to foster growth and learning. Gabby holds undergraduate degrees in Political Science and French and, after serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali, West Africa, she earned a Master’s degree in Conflict Transformation. While working in Kosovo and Afghanistan for INTERSOS and Consultants for Collective Response as an Intercultural Dialogue Consultant reintegrating returned refugees, she facilitated reconciliation and dialogue workshops with local leaders that integrated yoga as a healing tool. She believes in the power of mindful, engaged dialogue to prevent violent conflict and she also believes in the power of yogis uniting their hearts and minds to build peace in their communities and beyond. Gabby lives with her family in San Francisco and teaches both in the Bay Area and internationally. You can find her at the Yoga Tree in Potrero Hill, The Mindful Body or at Homeless Prenatal Program.
I grew up in several small and then rural Pennsylvania towns spending most afternoons lifting heavy stones in search of salamanders, fishing or climbing trees. Strong by nature, running fast and playing hard with the boys came easy to me. Most of the time, nature was my refuge.
The first intercultural experience that significantly shifted my world view came one summer as a young teen when I signed up with a Quaker organization, Volunteers for Peace, to help build a “Freedom School” on the Akwesasne Mohawk reservation in upstate New York. In stark opposition to the public schools, the “Freedom School” was a safe space for Mohawks to freely speak and study their own language and culture. A nascent consciousness of genocide, struggle, loss and resistance was born in my white, middle class mind that summer and I subsequently got involved in community work and volunteering in high school.
In college, I majored in French and Political Science and was just a few credits away from a minor in Religious Studies. I was fascinated by the austere lives of the eastern and western sages and saints and their meditative relationship with nature. But really, the person that changed the course of my life was my Religion Professor, Sister Mary Faith Carson. Mary Faith was the first woman to graduate from Princeton with a PHD in Religious Studies. She challenged what I then saw as my strong Christian faith by asking me to academically deconstruct the Bible and several of the myths surrounding it that consciously rooted it in my psyche thus giving it meaning. Raised in near fundamentalism, I felt liberated after the delusion dissipated and I was still quite in awe of Mary Faith’s capacity to live simultaneously in two worlds; one of faith and the other in academic critique of faith.
I was a conservative, first generation college student (who almost didn’t make it to college) and so were most of the Moravian College students. Although initially much of my free time was spent running track to fulfill my scholarship, I was slowly becoming conscious of feminism and my place in it thanks to my Political Science professors. During my four years at Moravian I helped establish a Women’s Studies Department and then founded and directed women’s and political activism groups. I found my voice; and in the process, myself.
I also found yoga in college and it appealed to my athletic pursuits and competitive mind. In 1994 I went to San Francisco to visit my aunt, a long-term yogi herself, and she took me to Its Yoga and introduced me to her friend Larry Shultz and Ashtanga yoga. The repetitive nature of Ashtanga quieted my mind and it was the perfect portal for me into the world of yoga. After graduating and working for a spell as the Coordinator for Community Service at Arcadia University, I joined the Peace Corps and spent two and a half years in Mali, West Africa focusing on women and development. I then returned to the US and completed my first yoga teacher training with Doug Swenson in 2000 and began teaching. Yoga was just starting to take root in Philadelphia and it was an exciting time to teach. Yoga was also the mechanism that reoriented me to life post-Mali in the amidst of overwhelming culture shock and disillusion. 9/11 compounded that.
During those post-Mali years while teaching, bartending and working in restaurants, I applied for and won a grant to return to Mali with a mutual Returned Peace Corps Volunteer to make a documentary on women’s education, female genital cutting/mutilation and polygamy. Pursuing the documentary and considering what educational impact it might have led me to graduate school. I wanted to have a greater impact or, as my folks often put it, I wanted to save the world. And, they weren’t wrong. But I was also hungry to study and learn again in a womb-like setting and so in 2003 I was accepted into and began the Master’s program for Conflict Transformation at the SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont. My focus was peacebuilding, reconciliation and interethnic dialogue. It was a whirlwind of a cold, snowy year where I forged life-long friendships that still guide and nourish me. Book knowledge mingled and settled with disturbing images and hope for peace that students, coming from the war-torn countries of Kosovo, Burma and Bosnia, generously brought to life for us. That spring the US invaded Iraq and we were crushed. The activism and protests we organized on campus and took part in seemed useless in the face of the war machine.
Soon after I finished my coursework, I began an internship at the Ombudsperson Institute in Pristina, Kosovo to support Human Rights Lawyers pursue human rights abuses post-war. The internship became a job that afforded me a very institutional view of the damage that war had cost as well as the lives it had taken and saved. I established a Gender and Development office as well as an office for Minority Rights (many of which were Roma, i.e. Gypsies) by tuning into needs of the incredible local resources that I had the great fortune to connect with. While living in Pristina I witnessed what I call the “war posture,” both in Kosovars and aid workers; a very protected front body and hunched back body told me that vulnerability was not an option. In response, I offered yoga classes at the United Nations mission in Kosovo after work a few days a week. Sometime later I was offered a job by INTERSOS in the western region of Peja, an area of Kosovo that suffered the most during the war, as a Consultant to support the return process for minority refugees by facilitating interethnic dialogue workshops with community leaders. I was keen to integrate yoga into these workshops in the form of stress management as the tension and fear present in the room was thick. The indelible lesson I learned during my time in Kosovo through working with people who obviously wanted life to “return to normal,” was that trauma keeps us in the past. Over the years, I developed and had the opportunity to implement a curriculum that integrated yoga into peacebuilding and reconciliation work. My conviction was that social reconstruction was essential to physical reconstruction and yoga was the key piece to building trust and establishing common ground. Local yoga classes got off the ground with the wise vision of my mentors to start an Intercultural Community Center in an ancient and communally restored Turkish bath house.
During my time in Kosovo, I took a vacation to Naples, Italy to visit a friend. It was there that I met my husband Marco and although linguistically we were challenged, we bonded over our shared passion of refugee issues and migration. At the time, he was an Immigration Attorney and Professor working to support the rights of Roma and African migrants. It only took a couple of days to realize that my life was going to change as a dear friend had predicted. Later that year I moved to Naples and lived there when I wasn’t working in Kosovo or Afghanistan. My childhood dream of learning Italian came true and Marco initiated me into a world of culinary pleasure and surreal, ancient beauty. I did not however, have the dream of settling down in Naples, a city known for its singular beauty but not known for viable employment opportunities. Marco and I decided to move to San Francisco and took the leap of our lives. We’ve been here for 9 years, raising Camilla, our 6 year old daughter, building a law firm to support immigrant’s rights and teaching yoga. I’ve had the great fortune to study and apprentice with my incredible teachers; Anne Saliou and Noah Maze and learn from so many Bay Area teachers who are living their yoga. In early 2016 I launched Stay Engaged – The Institute for Yoga and Peacebuilding so that I could bring some of my experience together but more importantly, this is my lens for seeing the world and I feel passionate about sharing how yoga is a tool for peaceful, sustainable change at a personal, community and global level. I begin my first project this spring partnering with Homeless Prenatal Program to train formally homeless and precarious women to be yoga teachers. You can read more about Stay Engaged and the Homeless Prenatal Program on the Peace Building page.
Sign up to receive Gabby’s newsletter here!