Teacher Spotlight- Cancer Survivor and Mother of two- Winona Farris

Q) What is something most students don’t know about you ?

A) Yoga has helped me through life’s challenges. I practiced vinyasa flow up until a week before my 2nd daughter was born and it made my labor and birth so easy and actually a lot of fun. Yoga also helped me cope when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 and helped make chemo and my other treatments a breeze. Proud to say I am 4 yrs cancer free! 

Q) How did you discover the practice of yoga?

A) 13 years ago, after the birth of my first daughter when I was experiencing back and shoulder pains from being a new parent. I decided to take my first yoga class at my local gym to help alleviate the pain I was going through. 

Q) When and why did you decide to become a yoga teacher?

A) I did my yoga teacher training to further my knowledge of the ashtanga branch of yoga but not necessarily to become a teacher. While the teachers in my training encouraged us to start teaching right away, I decided to wait.  After teaching a few free yoga classes in the park to friends and family I started to feel more confident and could begin to see some real benefits yoga had to offer them. My friends and family started urging me to keep teaching; this is when I realized that I was actually making a difference in their lives and I wanted to continue doing so.

Q)  Where did you do your teacher training/s?

A) I received my 200 hour Ashtanga Vinyasa teacher training from It’s Yoga through Asta Yoga in SF.

Q) What makes your style of teaching yoga unique?

A) I like to incorporate pranayama (breathing) and a guided meditation into every practice. I also blend poses from the first, second and third series of ashtanga as well as traditional yoga poses to mix it up. Each class is different just like the playlist. My style of vinyasa varies from class to class depending on the vibe of the students and the requests being made. Some days it’s a more relaxed flow and other days we power it up. I love to incorporate some fun play by doing arm balances and inversions. My beginning students love it.

Q) What types of students generally gravitate towards your classes?

A) I get students who want to challenge themselves. When a beginner comes to my class and they continue to keep coming back, they know that by continuously doing their practice they will reap the benefits of what yoga has to offer. When seasoned practitioners continue to come to my class, they seem to always find something new that they can work on or go deeper on. It’s usually the student that after class comes up to me and says, “thank you so much for that practice, I needed it (which you can interpret  as “it kicked my butt”, “I haven’t practiced in a while and glad to be back”, “it helped with some stuff I am going through”, “my body feels so much better”) and will definitely be back.

After learning that she battled breast cancer (and won) 4 years ago, we wanted to ask her a little bit more about this specific aspect of her yoga story  

Q) What role did yoga play during your treatment and recovery?

A) I practiced yoga every day and it was an incredible stabilizer during this time.  Believe it or not, I had very little pain during my entire chemo schedule and felt pretty good through the whole treatment.  I attribute much of my wellness and positive outlook during this time to the fact I stayed committed to my yoga practice.

Q) What other factors played a role in your recovery?

A) My family, of course.  My husband and daughters were huge cheerleaders and my daughters even did the honor of shaving my head.

Q) Do you mind if we call you a Cancer Survivor in this blog?

A) Not at all.  I didn’t think to highlight this part of my journey when I answered the questions initially, but I can see how sharing story might make a difference to someone going thought cancer or something similarly challenging in their life.  I’d like people to know yoga is a tremendous resource and that if they need specific support, I am here to help.

We had Valerie Tao Marco attend one of her classes to provide some teacher to teacher insights and here’s what she had to say:

  • Winona delivered a beautiful hybrid of ashtanga and vinyasa.  Her cueing was textbook ashtanga and razor sharp.  I knew exactly where my feet and gaze should be at all times.
  • She provided time in each shape, very much in the 5 breath rhythm characterized in a strong ashtanga practice, which allowed me to really sink in while also cultivating a good internal heat.
  • Winona offered lots of options to go deeper into more advanced shapes but also gave lots of options for beginners.  I got a sense that she was really paying attention to the students in the room and teaching from an authentic and in-the-moment place.
  • She seemed to have a dedicated community of students.  Of course there were 1 or 2 completely new students in the room but everyone else she seemed to know by name.
  • She wasn’t afraid to lead students in handstand and headstand.  Teachers that are confident and teach these inversions effectively always stand out in my book.
  • She has a truly authentic and beautiful smile and wisdom behind her eyes.