Featured Teacher: Brynn McNally

This month we welcomed a new teacher to the Yoga Garden SF team: Brynn McNally! She leads Vinyasa on Wednesdays @ 6:00 pm & Sundays @ 12:00 pm. Get to know her below, and sign up for a class here!

Tell us about yourself! What are some things that your students might not know?

My latest headline is my new puppy, Gus! These days I’ve been absorbing the unique ecosystem of dogs and their people in the city. How SF of me to have a dog in SF — more canines than kids, right? 

I love San Francisco. For all its issues, this place is a nation-state that declares its own moods, and I appreciate that. I’m coming up on my tenth year in the Bay and I’m grateful to be here and still discovering!

I value learning and service. I’m in the process of applying to medical school after years working in environmental science and sustainability. For me, yoga and its principle of nonviolence is its own form of personal sustainability work. 

When I’m not being serious I make music and write funny songs to make my partner laugh. Before the pandemic I led folk singalongs for small children and taught music in elementary schools part time, which was the most wholesome of ways to spend time. I continue to learn from the unguardedness of my former students.

Lastly, I grew up in the suburbs of Long Island, and that informs my taste in pop divas as well as my bagel snobbery. 

How did you become interested in yoga? 

My mom suggested yoga for years, but the idea of holding poses and being alone with my thoughts seemed unbearably tedious to me. I finally lunged my way to a yoga studio when I was very depressed and couldn’t manage myself in my early 20s. 

Around that time I stumbled upon the work of Robert Sapolsky, a neuroendocrinology researcher at Stanford studying stress in baboons. In one of his popular lectures he outlines the biology of depression with exquisite clarity. He explains how given its profound physiological effects and accompanying isolation, depression can be one of the most difficult diseases to experience and to treat. Despite how widespread depression and anxiety are, we don’t rally around the mentally ill as we do with other diseases, and we often lack the language and comfort to talk about them.  

Because of Sapolsky and others I began to see my mental anguish as a treatable condition rather than a personality flaw, and I started investigating ways to heal. Yoga became an integral part of my self-regulation practice, and it remains so to this day. At minimum it’s part of my Rx, and at its most profound it is my spiritual practice to build acceptance and love of all beings.

Tell us about your yoga journey. What style did you start in and with whom do you study now?

When I first moved to California I worked the front desk of a Palo Alto yoga studio, attended all the classes I could with my free membership, and became a dedicated student at several South Bay studios. I studied Vinyasa, Iyengar, and Bikram…until I almost fainted in a heated Bikram class under the care of a harsh instructor, in a studio that had signs everywhere reading “No Excuses!”. I decided the way of the intense YogAchiever was not mine. I also like diverse sequences, and Bikram became too repetitive.  

My primary teachers at that time were Anirudh Shastri, from whom I learned the intelligence of a sun salutation, and Louis Armstrong, who dazzled me with his knowledge of anatomy and marriage of science with yogic perspective.  

In 2018, after experiencing a few losses, I again turned to yoga for clarity and found my favorite studio of all studios: Yoga Garden! It was a challenging time for me, and when I didn’t know where to put my grief, I’d find myself repeating, “get thee to a yoga class!” For a while I was going twice a day. And that Fall, I completed my 200-hour teacher training at Yoga Garden. Over the next two years, I completed my 500-hour training there while I began teaching

All of the teachers at Yoga Garden – in my opinion, the best studio in terms of yoga pedagogy and instruction in San Francisco – influence my teaching. I continue to practice with and learn from my mentors, Roy Gan and Stacey Swan. Roy’s accessible translation of the spiritual to everyday living and his lyrical sequences are unparalleled. And I draw from Stacey’s warmth and deep knowledge of meditation and Viniyoga in my classes. I’ve also learned a great deal about alignment and balancing rigor with humor from Dustin McAllister, about yoga philosophy from Katrin Kuttner, and about original sequencing from Meredith Holt and Vanessa Racinet. Also, shoutout to Nicole Wild, a yogi I train with online, for her creative style!

Why do you teach the way that you do?

I think integrating disciplines yields the best outcomes, and I want to help people heal and self-actualize in a holistic way. Right now, for example, I visit with elder patients in a hospital (virtually), and lead them in range-of-motion exercises, breathing, and meditation. For many of them, I believe this work is just as crucial to their recovery as are the medications they take. As an aside, I cherish older people and think we should change our view of aging to something profound and positive!

While I teach with anatomical cues, I try to integrate a short reflection or a poem into each class as food for thought. Yoga is more than a physical workout; it’s a framework for living a more examined and peaceful life. We all have something to work on, accept and embrace, move on from, etc. and yoga gives us a structure to examine our stuff by seeing it for what it is, and living without concern for result — skill in action

I don’t use Sanskrit in my classes. I have deep respect for the history of yoga and the yogis before me, and I feel it’s most authentic to use English, acknowledging how yoga has evolved across centuries and continents. I think it’s important to cite your sources, and I always seek to reference yogic ideas and texts with accuracy and specificity. 

If you come to my class you can expect a strong flow followed by longer held poses with a physical focus. You can also expect a warm environment and an open ear. I am as much a student as anyone else, and I’m always open to suggestions about what people want to practice. I’m so happy to be part of the Yoga Garden community and I’m looking forward to meeting you all (hopefully in person) soon!