What inspires you?
Rodney Yee: Colleen, our children, and yoga inspire me. The practice of yoga has been an amazing tool to actually unearth where my inspiration lives inside my body and mind and heart. Well-crafted things inspire me, whether it’s pottery or art or music. Philosophy is unbelievably inspiring to me.
Colleen Saidman Yee: Music, poetry, and children. I love lyrics. They help me to figure things out. Also, it feels like [the writer has] been through this before [and] understands the pain and the joy. It’s like a connection to the artist. And poetry is the same thing.
Amazing yoga teachers inspire me. My husband inspires me. Richard Freeman, Richard Rosen. Anyone that’s really devoted to what they’re doing. Anyone who can be really present with something. We watch our son do artwork, or we watch Donna Karan when she’s in the zone. It’s really inspiring when there’s no right, left, forward, back. Just attention to the task at hand is inspiring to watch. Bob Dylan and Mother Teresa are two of my idols that I pull inspiration from.
RPG: Why do you do what you do?
CSY: I do what I do because there’s nothing else I can do. Teaching yoga is the only thing I can do. I can’t imagine not doing it. I love it because I believe in it.
RY: The philosophy of yoga, the study of philosophy. It is the study of the human body. It is the study of the human mind. It is the surge for the human soul. It feels like the study of humanity in the most holistic way, really. It makes me passionate. The study of yoga makes me inspired. And then the teaching of yoga makes it that much more real. The sense that this practice and this tool helps other people be centered, be present, and helps them really [be] embodied and [have] a life.
RPG: What makes you vulnerable?
CSY: Life! I feel vulnerable every single time I step into a classroom. I feel completely exposed. How can I present, honestly, without covering up that feeling of vulnerability? Rodney said something to me years ago that just has stuck with me. I’m not really a crier, and I don’t really cry in class, and I’m not a public-sharing kind of person. But when I took one of his classes once, I did cry in savasana. Afterwards, people were asking him, “What do you do when somebody’s crying?” Nobody really knew who it was that was crying. He said, “You just know that they’re the strongest ones in the room and let them be and wonder why we’re not all crying.” Vulnerability is a wonderful tool for awakening and for learning and for growing and for connecting.
RY: Rod Stewart says, “The first cut is the deepest.” I feel like in my life, Colleen was definitely my first cut, in the sense of really valuing and wanting something so much that it actually makes you vulnerable. It’s deep passion for my wife that really makes me vulnerable to her.
RPG: What’s it been like to work with Donna Karan in developing the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy (UZIT) program?
CSY: Donna is inspiring. She has the biggest heart, and she truly wants to help people. She does not have a personal agenda necessarily. She doesn’t need the recognition. She has sacrificed every cell of her body to move this forward, to get this done. So, to see that kind of passion, fearlessness, [devotion], and willingness to sacrifice to get her mission accomplished has been amazing.
RY: One must realize that someone like Donna became who she is because she was willing to take the risk. She does the same now with philanthropic work, and that’s how Colleen and I are involved with her. Her dedication to her late husband is making a lot of these things a reality. So as visionaries with Donna as the lead visionary here, we are left trying to make the roadmap on the earth of how to make those things actually happen.
RPG: What do you believe is important about integrative health care today?
CSY: The system is broken. The doctors and the nurses can’t do everything. The patients need human attention; the patients themselves need to be addressed, rather than just their disease.
My mother just passed away earlier this year. I was already completely devoted to the UZIT project. But seeing what was needed in the hospital firsthand—someone needs to come in and just be with patients, without trying to take their blood or change the bedpan, and to give them human-to-human touch.
RY: We heard someone the other day say that the U.S. seems so scared. There’s so much fear that’s running our lives that we forget what it is to be human when it really counts. When someone’s really sick and their family is tired and concerned about what will take place, those are the times that they need a support group around them to take care of them as a human being.
CSY: We also care for the nurses, doctors, and the staff. We’re teaching them all the self-care aspects, and in some hospitals like UCLA, we’re teaching them the whole UZIT training. That was part of Donna’s dream, to take care of the nurses, which is what her late husband told her. We’re following through on that.
RY: The modalities that we’re using basically help people take care of different symptoms, and those symptoms are: pain, anxiety, nausea, insomnia, and constipation. But what we’re really doing with the modalities is helping people be present, no matter what their situation is. Just really getting people, with these techniques, to create a sense of presence of mind, presence of being.
RPG: What do you guys do locally to make a global impact?
RY: Well, first and foremost is Colleen’s studio, Yoga Shanti. We believe in how this art form can really affect individual’s lives, and on a daily basis, we teach yoga. We teach people how to teach yoga, and we really are fully invested in it. We aim to be a good family, to be a good mom and dad to people who are going to be future citizens of this world.
CSY: We have the whole Urban Zen program at the Southampton Hospital, the local hospital out in the Hamptons where we live. We have UZIT classes at Yoga Shanti. We also have free classes at Yoga Shanti for those with cancer. [The proceeds from our weekly community classes] are given to The Retreat, which is a center for domestic abuse. We have our kids all doing different community services. We try to live by example.
RPG: Define yoga.
RY: I feel like my friend Richard Rosen described it well as “the union method.” It’s the method to bring or uncover the union that exists. That all things are relative and are in relationship and that nothing is singular or by itself. Yoga is the methodology with which to unveil the miracle that exists right in front of our faces and inside ourselves.
CSY: Yoga is more a state than a methodology. A state where there is nothing missing. You don’t feel like you have to grab this or grab that in order to be complete or full. From wringing out the body and the mind, from sitting in meditation, from studying scripture, from selfless service.
RPG: Do you think yoga has played a role in your level of commitment and love with one another?
RY: It’s basically a third partner who’s always mitigating and being a facilitator for a deepening of our relationship. On the most simple level, it’s a common endeavor that we’re both passionate about, so there’s already such a deep level of understanding and a deep level of feeling like, Wow, okay, this is what we value. So, on the most simple levels, it’s a huge connector for us.
CSY: You know how they say that twins speak the same language? I think that Rodney and I, being in the classroom together so much, we’re speaking our own language. We understand each other’s language because of the yoga practice and all the time that we’ve spent together, digging around the practice and in the body, in meditation, and in pranayama.
RPG: When you go to sleep at night, are you happy?
CSY: I can honestly say, I have the love of my life, and we have the most amazing children. The careers that we’re doing are exactly what we want to be doing. I’d say that the gratitude is immense. I feel so, so blessed. How can he not be happy? He’s laying next to me!
RY: I’m definitely—I’m either happy, or Colleen can make me happy.
RPG: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
RY: Coffee and French fries.
CSY: Fiorentini and Baker Boots.