Rodney Yee is a renowned American yoga instructor, best known for his instructional DVDs and online videos with Gaiam.
Thanks to a series of high-level media appearances, such as making the cover of Yoga Journal and being interviewed by Oprah, he gained immense popularity in the modern yoga world.
But who is the man behind the face of Gaiam? And as avid yogis ourselves, what can we learn from him?
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Early life and background of Rodney Yee
Rodney Yee was born in 1957 in the USA. His father was a Chinese-American Air Force Colonel, meaning Rodney became a military child.
Rodney spent his childhood moving from one military base to another with his family. As a result, he saw a large part of the US from an early age, including Altus, Oklahoma, and Puerto Rico.
Rodney started practicing yoga in his early twenties. However, he was a lover of movement since his teenage years, displaying expressive flexibility.
Rodney was a gymnast in high school before later finding a passion for ballet. Ballet stole his heart and led him to drop out of college (University of California), where he studied philosophy and physical therapy.
He then pursued ballet full-time, performing with the Oakland Ballet Company and the Matsuyama Ballet Company of Tokyo, Japan, until he came across Iyengar Yoga.
Rodney Yee’s yoga journey
Rodney Yee took his first yoga class in 1980 and began exclusively practicing and studying the Iyengar Yoga style.
He studied at The Yoga Room in Berkeley and the Iyengar Institute of San Francisco, learning from the likes of Donald Moyer, Manouso Manos, and Ramanand Patel.
After several years of regular practice, Rodney created his own yoga style, heavily influenced by Iyengar Yoga. His approach is known for being accessible to all practitioners and focusing heavily on mindfulness and breath awareness.
He then began teaching his unique yoga style at The Yoga Room in Berkeley.
Rodney Yee’s teaching career
In 1987, Rodney co-founded his first yoga school – The Piedmont Yoga Studio, with teachers Richard Rosen and Claire Finn.
From this point, his popularity exploded. He:
- Was featured on the cover of the Yoga Journal magazine
- Became a prominent teacher for Gaiam
- Appeared on Oprah and other TV shows
- Created a series of instructional fitness programs that ranked in the top 10 in the US
Rodney Yee’s contributions to yoga
Along with his extensive teaching career, Rodney Yee has made many significant contributions to the yoga world.
For example, Rodney partnered with Donna Karan to establish UZIT. This service aims to make yoga, meditation, and other self-care practices accessible to all.
He also serves as a Co-chair for the Urban Zen Health and Wellness Initiative. Urban Zen specializes in ‘grief yoga' to help people navigate the loss of a loved one.
Rodney has also put his teachings into writing, releasing two books.
His first book was ‘Yoga: The Poetry of the Body,' published in 2002. In this book, he details his unique approach to yoga and philosophical beliefs. It also includes 400 pictures of yoga poses, from beginner to advanced, with step-by-step instructions.
His second book was ‘Moving Toward Balance: 8 Weeks of Yoga with Rodney Yee,' published in 2004. In this book, he outlines an eight-week yoga, meditation, and pranayama program designed to help practitioners cultivate more emotional and physical balance.
Rodney Yee’s role in the popularization of yoga
Rodney Yee has played a crucial role in making yoga more accessible to a broader audience through his collaborative projects and international teachings.
His instructional videos and DVDs extended to an audience much broader than Americans.
They also created one of the first opportunities for people to practice yoga in the comfort of their homes.
Throughout the years, Rodney has also held several workshops, conferences, and teacher training programs worldwide, spreading the popularity of yoga in the West.
This contribution led him to snag the top spot on the list of ‘100 Most Influential Yoga Teachers in America‘ by renowned wellness brand Sonima.
Personal life and philosophy
Rodney Yee was married to Donna Fone for 24 years, and they had three children together. After divorcing Donna, he married one of his students, Colleen Saidman, which caused controversy as dating students goes against Yoga Alliance's code of conduct.
Susannah Bruder, a former instructor at Piedmont Yoga Studio, sued Rodney for unfair dismissal. She claimed he wrongfully terminated her contract after she confronted him about his inappropriate student relationships.
Legacy and impact
As of 2024, Rodney Yee remains an active yoga teacher. He teaches regular classes at Yoga Shanti, his wife's studio in Sag Harbor, NY. Many of his classes are also live-streamed, allowing his students around the world to continue practicing with him.
Rodney also offers a yearly yoga teacher training course and weekend retreats throughout the USA.
Rodney's philosophy is that yoga can cleanse the mind and body. His students often comment on his innovative and practical ability to break down complex poses, provide clear instructions, and make yoga accessible to all.
Takeaway on Rodney Yee
Rodney Yee's teachings and contributions have helped shape the world of modern yoga and spread its popularity in the West.
Rodney has been praised by many prominent figures in and out of the yoga industry for making yoga inclusive and accessible to all.
Unlike many other American yoga teachers, Rodney focuses on bringing yoga to individuals from underprivileged and diverse backgrounds.
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