As Andrew Criswell sets his yoga mat down, a placid trail of level-headedness follows closely behind. The class relaxes. His experience, his seriousness and his knowledge of yoga are apparent.
What most of his students don’t know, however, is the yoga instructor has a bachelor’s degree in physics from Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, one of the most prestigious engineering schools in the country.
He hasn’t always been the calm and aware yoga instructor he is now, having passed through a number of careers including audio and manufacturing engineering, electronic technician, salesman and entrepreneur.
The stark solidity of a science degree, contrasted with a career of teaching yoga – the two professions seem miles apart, but Criswell finds similarities.
“There’s no separation, there’s really just a continuous flow of energy in the universe that manifests itself as different objects,” he said. “But really, it’s just one continuous flow of energy, and that parallels with the conclusions that we come from yoga.”
Criswell has been practicing yoga for 23 years, teaching it for 11.
He said aspects of his past weave their way into his teaching style, but the career change wasn’t a choice. It started as a necessity.
After moving from one side of the country and then back, first to Washington, then finishing his degree at Colorado State University, he landed a full-time job at a manufacturing company in Midland, working long and tedious work weeks.
“Ninety hours a week was not unusual,” he said of his time in Midland.
The strenuous workload began to take a physical toll on Criswell.
His co-workers began to have health problems, people were having heart attacks, he said. When he started to have health issues of his own, he consulted a doctor. The doctor told Criswell if he kept up his workload, he would die.
“I was married and I had a kid, and a nice house on a lake and a nice car,” he said. “I had the American dream. I guess I had, like so many other people, fallen into the illusion that once you get all that stuff you’re going to be happy.”
That’s when he decided it was time to make a change, and enrolled in his first yoga class.
“I got back into my morning routine, and I took a class once a week,” he explained. “Even on my breaks instead of sitting at the desk I went and found a quiet spot in the woods and I meditated. That helped, but not completely.”
At the yoga class Criswell started attending, the teacher incorporated a tactic into her classes that changed everything for him: She would have the students teach the class.
It was a terrifying leap for some, but Criswell loved it. He began to plan his retirement as a yoga instructor.
“As soon as I started teaching, I was so relaxed,” he said. “I felt like a duck in water.”
Criswell began teaching a faculty yoga class through Central Health Improvement Program, eventually taking the spot of a previous yoga instructor in 2007. Originally only teaching six credits, Criswell now offers more than 16 credits in yoga through the physical education and sport department.
Laura Cochrane, an anthropology professor, was with Criswell since the beginning at the faculty yoga classes and said she has continued to return because of his supportive instruction style.
“I like the way that Andrew creates a space for you to do with yoga what you need to do,” she said. “Somedays I come in and just need a good stretch. Somedays I’m ready to challenge myself with what he’s doing. Somedays I’m tired and I just want a place to chill out and go through the routine. Sometimes I need to meditate.
“It’s a place where I can explore those parts, and I like the way that he conducts the class.”
Criswell is planning to move near Lake Michigan in a few years to open a yoga studio, where he plans to grow old doing yoga on the beach.
“My three passions are yoga, skiing and Lake Michigan shore,” Criswell said. “I’m happiest when I’m on Lake Michigan.”