Real Yoga for Real People: Meet Dr. Melissa West

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Today’s post is all about Dr. Melissa West, a yoga instructor who also has her Ph.D. in communications and cultural studies. Melissa is the creator and instructor of Namaste Yoga TV, a YouTube channel which features a weekly yoga class designed for all skill levels and ages. Read our interview with Melissa below for helpful tips and advice (plus some easy-to-do instructional videos!) for anyone who is curious about yoga!

Dr. Melissa West

To start, tell us a little about yourself and how you started teaching yoga.

Melissa: I started teaching yoga when I was in graduate school. At that time, I realized that becoming a professor, or teaching in the traditional sense, was not going to work for me. I was already teaching fitness classes, and I showed a lot of strength with the mind + body approach. The rest is history!

How has yoga impacted your life?

Melissa: There is probably not one corner of my life that yoga has not impacted. From the food I eat, to the way I live, to my relationships, it has affected all that I do. We recently moved our family across the country from Toronto to Victoria, British Columbia, and I would say that yoga and coming to know my true self more intimately definitely impacted that decision to live on the West Coast as well.

What has kept you motivated to do yoga daily? Do you have any tips or tricks for beginners on how to stay motivated?

Melissa: Yoga helps me deal with the everyday stressors that we all experience. Without it, I don’t know how people stay grounded and free from anxiety. Yoga helps me stay healthy physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. For beginners, what worked for me was to start small and set your goal to practice every day for 20 minutes. When you start to reap the benefits of your daily practice, you won’t want to give it up.

Why would you recommend yoga to men and women in their midlife?

Melissa: For men, as they come into midlife, they may start to deal with issues such as high blood pressure, obesity, lack of flexibility, stressful jobs, and sciatica from sitting for long periods of time at work. The list goes on and on, and yoga can help them with all of these things.

Women are dealing with many of the same issues as men as they come to midlife, yet for them they have the unique issues of peri-menopause and menopause. Yoga can help to ease the hormonal transitions through this challenging time.

As a 41-year-old woman yourself, would you say yoga has kept you healthy?

Melissa: Yes, yoga has kept me healthy. I know that when I have my vitals taken at my medical doctors he looks at my charts with disbelief and wishes that he could get other people my age to look as healthy as I do on paper.

What poses would you recommend to those suffering with knee pain? Back pain? Neck pain? Hip pain?

Melissa: Whenever you are dealing with pain, it is always important to get it checked with a medical doctor first, to find out what you are really dealing with.

Ask your doctor:

  • What exercises will make my condition better?
  • What exercises will make my condition worse?
  • Are there more details about my medical condition that are important for me to know if I am going to start exercising?

Once you have the go-ahead from your doctor, here is a video of mine that can show you how to help ease your knee pain:

Back pain can have many root causes, so here it is particularly important to work with a medical professional to know the root cause of your back pain so that you can treat it correctly. For example, if you’re suffering from sciatica, this video might be helpful:

For neck pain, there are some great neck release techniques demonstrated in this video:

And for hips, this video is great, too:

What advice would you give someone who may be interested in starting yoga, but might not be sure if they’re physically or mentally up for the challenge?

Melissa: My advice for someone starting yoga is to look for a teacher who resonates with you. We love new students! We have created 17 free beginner classes to get our beginners started on the right foot.

The video below goes through some of our most common beginner FAQs:

We hear every day from beginners about how these videos have allowed them to get into yoga in a way that no other videos or classes have allowed them to in the past. Our motto is “real yoga for real people” and it seems that this intention creates a safe and welcoming environment for all people. But if it doesn’t work for you, keep looking — there are so many yoga teachers and different styles of yoga out there. You will definitely find one that works for you.

What would be a good pose for a beginner to work on? Do you have any favorites?

Melissa: I think the best pose for beginner’s to work on is savasana, or corpse pose. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is nothing at all. Letting go, resting, and allowing your body to be nourished and restored is vital in our fast-paced culture.

One of my favorite postures is Goddess Victory Squat. I love the feminine quality and strength in this pose, and who doesn’t love feeling like a goddess?

Thank you so much to Melissa for all of the knowledge, advice, and videos on yoga! We can’t wait to try some of these poses ourselves.

Have you ever tried yoga? What’s your favorite pose? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!