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Disruption: Yoga Teacher Training after Covid

author’s note: this is the frantic story of adapting yoga teacher training to an online format. For details of upcoming yoga teacher training programs click here:

In February 2020, PANDEMIC was smeared on the front page of the news. Prior to that, headlines like “Wuhan Lock-down” were catching my attention, but I was distracted, like all Canadians, by railroad blockades, the Wetsuweten Hereditary Chiefs and the unimportant discourse about JLo’s outfit at Super Bowl. The Facebook militia was rioting about these polarizing issues, but the Wetsuweten Blockades and JLo’s crotch were ignored by many. There was still diversity in the media – sports, movies, celebrity gossip, travel – and our individual interests trumped any unifying issue.

Pandemic headlines

That was the Before Times. Before everyone was sent home from work and our collective interests were aligned by the impact of Covid. Before my inbox was bursting with trivial emails from every business I’d ever patronized. Thank you, HeadKandi Hair Salon for letting me know you’ve made the “difficult but necessary” decision to close. And hello, Scotiabank, I send well-wishes to your family too. 

At first, Covid was everywhere and nowhere. It was in my emails and front of mind, but I didn’t know anyone with Covid. Then it was somewhere: a sign on the door of my yoga studio: CLOSED due to Covid. The lively yoga studio I co-own and where I teach yoga teacher training was abruptly silenced on March 17.

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Loneliness punctuated the early days of Covid. Scotiabank underscored the concept of community with their well-wishes and “we’re all in this together” digital platitude, but the mass emails did little to acquiesce my gloom. Our studio was empty, and I passed the lonely hours swiffering the floor and tinkering with my website. I often just sat at the desk, listlessly refreshing my email. Another unread message at the top, this one from the Yoga Alliance. Oh great, another instruction to “stay safe in these troubled times.” I rolled my eyes in anticipation of more insipid platitudes. But the Yoga Alliance email was different. It had real solutions to my real problem: online yoga teacher training was approved! For the first time. Change. I’d advocated before for approval of online yoga teacher training, but was always met with reluctance. Maybe the administration to implement online yoga training had been too daunting. Whatever their former reason for disallowing online training, the abrupt global disruption prompted the Yoga Alliance to adapt. For the first time in weeks, I felt inspired by change.

Along with loneliness, a frustrating feeling of inertia had been my constant companion. Stay Home was the online rally cry. Being alone coupled with the uncertain future for my business was wearing on me. So following the Yoga Alliance’s approval for online yoga training, I was eager for action.With no regard for the daunting logistics or for my sanity, I resolved to get my 200-hour yoga-training curriculum online in two weeks. Step one: get a learning management system. I host my website through WordPress, so I chose LearnDash, a learning management plugin. I trusted WordPress because their reliable online support solved many frustrations over the past decade. 

Organizing yoga content into a learning management system

Part of learning online and mitigating the accompanying loneliness is knowing there’s a like-minded support community. Immediately after installing the LearnDash plugin, all my custom formatting disappeared. I gasped. Audibly. The sound reverberated around my empty studio. My website took ten years to mould to my satisfaction. I clicked around in the now-barren shell of a website. Anguish. Despair. Acute helplessness. But WordPress has a live chat with Happiness Engineers. I pounded into my keyboard, 

“Please help. I just installed a new plugin and all my formatting disappeared!!!!” 

“Oh no! (Hi!) I’ve seen that error before, I think I know what we need to do,” came the reply from WordPress Live Chat. The faceless Happiness Engineer solved the problem for me with a few keystokes (my website had inadvertently migrated to a new server). 

“THANK you. Are you a real person? Where are you?” I typed. 

“I think I’m a real person! Hard to tell these days 🙂 I’m in the Eastern US,” came the response. And my anguish dissolved. Here was a real person, a Happiness Engineer, solving a problem for me. We were alone, but together. The transition from the Before Times to the unknowns of Covid was abrupt and jarring, but for the first time since Covid barged into my life, I felt supported by another individual. 

Alone. Together. Reading emails and chatting virtually. I considered the possibilities of life after Covid. Driven by innovation, infrastructure like live chat with a trained WordPress agent was already in place. I brainstormed about how online yoga teacher training could be meaningful. It needed to be more than a one-sided broadcast like email and blog content. It needed to be a two-sided discussion. It needed to mimic a community. Students needed to feel like we were together while they were alone. 

Covid is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pivot and try something new. I had the approval from the Yoga Alliance, I persevered through the frustration of installing a  learning management system, now I had to get interactive with video. The textbook and written content was done, but how would I replicate the spontaneous interactive group learning that is central to yoga teacher training? How would I promote community in an online medium?

My self-imposed frenetic schedule was filled with spontaneous interactive learning. Online forums and chats educated me on sufficient RAM for 4K video; mirrorless and full frame cameras; lavalier microphones and colour rendering index for lighting. Even the vocabulary was new to me. But every panicky problem with bandwidth, choppy video and shadowy lighting was calmly answered in online support groups. I was acquiring a new skill set, and the difficulty of getting my yoga modules online was mitigated by online community support. My sanity was compromised by my frenzied work pace and the volume of unfamiliar tasks, but I felt supported by an online community. 

Community at 2019 Yoga Teacher Training.

Community is what keeps us sane. Community is about aligning feelings through shared objectives and mutual understanding. I thought about the idea of community as I set up a corner for filming video in my studio. Lights. Camera. Action. I was teaching yoga to a tripod. It didn’t feel like community. Can online learning really replicate the real life experience of being part of a yoga training cohort?  Yoga teacher training is about community and about belonging. As I learned to make videos, I asked the forums if I should film in 24 or 30 frames per second; I asked how to backlight my set. No matter the question, there was an online community to support the process of making yoga videos. Martin Luther King Jr described community as a web of mutuality. Community is a shared responsibility to take care of each other. Making videos was rewarding for me because I was supported by online people: mutual support was available through shared objectives. 

Online Yoga

I paced around the studio and pondered how to create a web of mutuality for online yoga teacher trainees. Students needed to track and share their learning progress. Teaching yoga is dynamic because of the community of yoga students. Learning how to teach yoga is rewarding because it’s a shared experience with a cohort. Online Yoga Teacher Training will be dynamic if students chronicle the process through an ePortfolio. There. Midway through the second frenetic week of filming, I typed in the instructions for the mainstay of the program. Dynamic shared learning. Represented in an ePortfolio that students would work on during the program. Alone but together students would document the journey in an ePortfolio.

Designing a Yoga Class
Online learning: Dynamic shared learning

As March passed and April blossomed, the Covid isolation orders eased. People emerged into spring. I emerged into the brand new world of online yoga teacher training. Buoyed by the opportunity to innovate and reimagine yoga teacher training, I overcame the inertia and loneliness of Covid. I negotiated with my computer’s RAM, set up appropriate lighting and taught myself how to teach to a camera. I advertised a powerful brand of yoga that emphasizes dynamic and interactive learning. And five students signed up. After the hustle of changing the studio around; after the frustration of organizing a learning management system; after acquiring the vocabulary to understand audio/visual setups; five students bravely showed up on the first day of Land and Heart Online Yoga Teacher Training. “Welcome yogis…” I calmly smiled at the webcam. “I’m so glad you’re here.” 

I’m so glad you’re here

Covid’s disruption was swift and universal. There was a pause. But community and possibility propelled us to think of new ways to do old things. New yoga teacher training is about dynamic shared online learning. A yoga studio is more than cork floors and soft lighting. A studio is a community sanctuary for the dynamic practice of yoga. Covid is more than a health crisis. It’s an opportunity to adapt and innovate after disruption. Our yoga studio was once a sanctuary with pleasant ambiance and quiet music. The soft lighting is disrupted now by glaring set lights; the quiet music competes with humming cameras. The process of teaching yoga used to be one step of unrolling a yoga mat but now includes sound checks and battery charges. The ambiance of the studio is disrupted by the piles of audio/visual equipment, but the community sanctuary has been replicated in the virtual world. 

Author Bio:

Kate Covello created Land and Heart Yoga Teacher Training in 2019. It’s a yoga school founded on examining personal reasons for teaching yoga. Students develop their own voices in the dynamic art of describing yoga. Online Yoga Teacher Training launched on April 25, 2020 with five students. The next online program is September 2020. Online learning is productive when there are opportunities for lively interaction and shared understanding.

Yoga Teacher Training is also hosted live, in-studio (when possible)! The next session is July 6-25, 2020. Register here

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Yoga Yoga Teacher Training

Selling the Yoga Experience

Telling vs. Selling: reclaiming the jargon as an honest story

I’ve started my own Yoga Teacher Training brand. It’s exciting and I believe in the product, but I have to figure out how sell my product without being pushy or obnoxious. I have to describe the product in meaningful terms. Using vocabulary that is easily misconstrued as industry jargon, I have to relate a story that describes my yoga practice and my product.

recharge, rejuvenate, inspire

holistic, authentic

Have these words become meaningless industry jargon?

Self-promotion has to be loud enough to be heard over the noise of Instagram, Twitter and fourteen other platforms. But it can’t be so loud to the point of obnoxious arrogance. Furthermore, tweets and posts must have meaning attached to the jargon.

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The noise of social platforms is deafening

Instagram allows up to 2,200 characters, but optimal posts have no more than 150 characters. The allowable characters have become industry buzzword. And those buzzwords saturate the market and compromise the reliability of the products.

“Join me at yoga teacher training and #recharge your practice. Learn to teach #authentic yoga classes. Discover your #holistic approach to well-being.”

That statement has fewer than 150 characters and contains the right words. But the vocabulary barely registers. There is so much scrolling  through so much content that it’s all at risk of becoming meaningless jargon.

So how do I attach value to my teacher training? How do I give meaning to my product? Authenticity comes from the story behind the service. My goal is to teach prospective yoga teachers how to transmit their own belief in yoga. And to do this, I have to be truthful about my own yoga story. Not because I have anything to hide, but because it’s the difference between telling and selling that adds value to my product.

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The days of market trickery are over because everyone is selling themselves online. Everyone has curated an online persona and whether or not they’re selling a product, they all know that Instagram isn’t real. And that’s why telling the story behind the product is crucial. The authenticity and the meaning in my yoga teacher training comes from a flawed and vulnerable existence. That is what’s relatable.

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Can a yogi wear a fur hat? I’m vulnerable in my yogic beliefs because I don’t subscribe to all the trends. Like veganism.

Behind the promotional jargon is real experience. I constantly #recharge my yoga practice by being true to what I believe in. Pulling fish out of the lake and wearing locally-sourced fur is more important to me than importing lentils for a vegan diet or shivering in synthetic fabrics.

The classes I teach are #rejuvenating because I base themes around relevant topics for a specific community. I don’t discuss veganism when I know most of my students have moose meat in their freezer. Instead I’ll reference the value of taking only what’s necessary from the land.

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You can simultaneously believe in hunting moose and practicing yoga

Yoga Teacher Training will be #authentic because you’ll discern your personal reasons for practicing and learn to teach only what you know. If you’re an expert on knee anatomy because you’ve had three knee surgeries, you’ll incorporate that. If you have personal experience with yoga for post-traumatic stress, you’ll teach that. If a vegan diet supports YOUR lifestyle, you’ll describe that. The authenticity comes from your own experience.

Yoga is a #holistic approach to well-being because the practice insists that you listen to your emotions and body and understand what you really need. Extract what’s relevant from the philosophy of yoga and learn to teach what you know. The honest story behind the promotion will shine through and the jargon will be rightfully redeemed as useful vocabulary. Yoga is for everyone, regardless of lifestyle choices. The vocabulary, just like the yoga itself, can be tuned to fit every iteration of practice. Tune out the jargon, but tune into the meaning behind the vocabulary. The stories are what makes the promotion believable.

Land and Heart Practice
click here for information and registration details

 

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Stand Up and Get Started: navasana to utkatasana

Getting up and out of it. Let go of your resolution and just get started. What is your dream project? What if the only thing holding you back was laziness and fear? Describe your project in 500 words or less, send me a two-minute video about the project and be entered to win a scholarship to Yoga Teacher Training, starting July 6, 2020. 

Click here for scholarship details

There’s a sequence that I teach in my power yoga classes that students laugh at. They giggle and chuckle when I demonstrate and I get the impression they are saying to themselves “I can’t do that….”

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From boat pose…

Navasana (boat pose) to Utkatasana (chair pose). Also known as up and off your butt and into action. The first step to achieving your dreams is getting up and off the couch. Boat pose to chair pose is a metaphor for getting started. Getting up and off the couch, in turn, is a metaphor for getting started on your dream project. 

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…to chair pose

It’s late March. Winter officially ended on March 21. Good-intentioned New Years resolutions have fallen by the wayside and here you are, slouched on the couch. You’re certain there is something you should be doing, but unsure how to get there.

The first step is to put both feet on the floor and stand up.

Maker:L,Date:2017-9-15,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y
get up off the couch and get started

The next step is to forget about your new years resolution. The premise behind new years resolutions is flawed and doesn’t offer the positive reinforcement required for fulfilling a dream. Resolutions imply that there is something wrong with you that needs to change. That’s a poor foundation for fulfilling goals.

Goals and dream projects are based on personal experience. Success is predicated on a fundamental belief that they are possible.

What is  your dream project? Did you scheme it up with the belief that you have to change who you are in order to see it through? Likely not. You know it exists in the realm of possibility and you are capable of doing the work required to achieve it. So, forget your new years resolution that you’ll change something about yourself. Reframe your goals in terms of projects that exist within your ability. Rather than focusing on what you need to change about yourself, focus on what you have done thus far and why you envisioned a particular dream. The dream is an extension of something you’ve already achieved and is within your ability.

Boat pose to chair pose. Plant your feet firmly on the ground, fire up your core strength and stand up! If it doesn’t work, try it again. Then try again. Do something, right now, that contributes to your dream. What is it? Do you want to run a marathon? Put on your running shoes. Do you want to finish your Masters thesis? Edit one paragraph. Do you want to find a partner? Leave your house and interact with someone new. Do you want to start a company? Draft a business proposal. Do you want to swim across Georgia Straight? Get to the pool. Do you want to get out of debt? Make a budget. Whatever you want, the first step is to stand up and get started. 

Get off your butt and step into the heat. The magic is in the hard work and if you can imagine your project, then you can do it. Stand up and get started. 

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stand up and get started

Yoga Teacher Training starts July 6, 2020 in Yellowknife

One scholarship available

What’s you dream project? What if the only thing holding you back was fear?

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Finding your voice at the front of the class

This is an excerpt from my upcoming textbook. Yoga Uttara: Land and Heart Practice is a compilation of ten years of teaching, practicing and writing about yoga. 

If you’re interested in more, sign up for my 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training.

Land and Heart Practice: 200hr Yoga Teacher Training

Created by me. Interpreted by you.

Details here

Finding your teaching voice

Speaking in front of a group is daunting. You must compile what you know about yoga into concise phrase bytes that reflect the theme and pace of the class. You must speak clearly and skilfully about a topic that you don’t know everything about. You must gauge your student’s level of comprehension and tailor the instruction accordingly. And you must be trusted to impart some knowledge about yoga. All of this is overwhelming, especially when you are a new teacher.

Teach from your authentic voice.

Teach what you know and be honest that you don’t know everything (nobody does). You’ve attended hundreds of hours of yoga classes and the cues and ideas you’ve heard will influence your teaching voice. This is good, but remember that your own perspective and voice is good too! You offer a unique contribution to yoga. Honour this contribution by speaking honestly. Be authentic.

Yoga on the Taiga
Be authentically you! Your students will love you for it.

Speak clearly.

Your goal is to make instructions as easy as possible to follow. Consider what verb tense you are using. Are you speaking in declarative sentences “stand up and breathe in.” or are you employing gerunds “next you’ll be standing up and breathing in.” Are you speaking in your normal tone of voice or are you dragging out your vowels? “Now, slowly moooooove into chiiiiild’s pose…..” Imagine you’re having a conversation with the group, like a dinner party, and speak as you normally would. Students will appreciate your candor.

Try this: “exhale and jump back into chaturanga.” Instead of “next we’re going to be exhaling sloooowly and jumping the feet back into chaturanga.” The former phrase is a declarative sentence that clearly articulates your instruction. The latter is a narrative that describes the process. Neither is incorrect, but the first phrase uses fewer words and concisely declares your intention. Clear and concise speech will make the practice easier for students to follow.

The more clearly you speak, the more believable your teaching will be. As you learn to speak declaratively, your confidence will soar. Believe in your teaching and clearly communicate your instructions. This strategy will eliminate the feeling that you need to “perform” the yoga class.

Words have weight. Speak them wisely.

Taiga Class
Teaching isn’t a performance. You’re the guide. Your students are doing the work. @Taiga Yoga Studio, Yellowknife

Address the class as an entity: direct conversation and instruction

There are two types of speaking you’ll do during a yoga class. You’ll speak to the group when they are looking at you, usually at the beginning and end of class. We’ll call this direct conversation. You’ll also speak to the class while they are immersed in the sequence and not looking at you. We’ll call this instruction. Both demand the same type of speaking: speak with individuals within the group. You are speaking with (not at) your students. Their reaction is part of the conversation.

The Final Party at Loka Yoga Whistler
Your students are a group of individuals. Address them as such! Mark Teasdale photo

Direct conversation

When you are engaged in direct conversation, make eye contact with someone in the group and notice their reaction. Are they nodding, smiling and considering your statements? Or are they frowning, fidgeting and appear confused? Respond appropriately to those cues. Then direct your words to another person. Note the reaction and adjust your delivery accordingly. In this way, you’re using individuals to represent the group and you are able to tailor your talk to the entire group.

For example, you’re discussing karma yoga in your introduction and suggesting your students participate in some type of selfless service. Are you teaching this concept at a 90-minute Saturday morning class? Or are you teaching the concept at a 12pm weekday class where everyone is on their lunch break? It’s not that either group is more interested in the concept of karma yoga. It’s that you will amend your detailed instruction to appropriately fit your audience. The 50 minute lunchtime crew isn’t not interested in karma yoga, but they are primarily there to get a quick stretch before going back to work. The Saturday morning people have a little more time on their hands to consider the philosophical offerings of yoga. When you note reactions to your words, you’re able to tailor your instruction to the group as a whole.

inner peace
The 50-minute lunchtime crew

Instruction

When you are instructing a sequence, pay attention to how one person is responding to your verbal cues. If you have instructed warrior two and someone is in warrior one, specifically instruct that student to extend their arms into warrior two. It’s possible that other students misunderstood you as well; by directing your instruction to an individual, you are acknowledging that person as a representative of the group. By tailoring your instruction to something that is relevant to at least one person in the group, you are avoiding the trap of saying generic instruction that aren’t useful to anyone. Furthermore, you are contributing to the conversation by noticing one person’s non-verbal reaction to your instruction and adjusting accordingly.

Speak clearly, tailor your words to suit the current class and only teach what you know. By following these three instructions, you’ll be confident and honest in front of your students. This authenticity will shine through and yoga students will appreciate your knowledge. Accept your humanity and all your imperfections and your students will trust you to lead them through a yoga class.

Rogers Pass
Be free to be you! Your students will love your honesty, candor and authenticity

Spruceman skintrack
And one of Spruceman. Because he’s always free to be himself.

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Yoga Yoga Teacher Training

I’m teaching a Yoga Teacher Training. Here’s why:

(featured picture from the very first yoga class I ever taught. Thank you to supportive friends and family who stumbled along with me in that first practice)

Why am I teaching a yoga teacher training?

Simply – because I want to share the experience of yoga. Yoga can’t be captured in images of lithe women doing poses;

Side Crow

it can’t be captured in swirling platitudes set against backgrounds apropos of nothing;

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Yoga can barely be described. But it can be experienced. It can be felt in a visceral way that defies description. I practiced for five years before I started teaching and then I decided to teach because I believed in the power of the practice.

And now, in my tenth year of teaching, I’ve amassed some experience and curated my personal practice into a 200-hour perspective.

Land and Heart Practice
click on the image for information and registration details

Am I ready to share what I know about the practice? Yes.

Am I intimidated at the prospect of inviting students into my weird little yogic world? Yes.

Do I believe that I can make a difference by describing my version of yoga? Yes.

Truthfully, the amount of knowledge I have about yoga (or life) is laughably little. I don’t know what life feels like for anyone but myself. But I do know about the positive effect of yoga on my life.

Side crow? My version of the poses isn’t the prescribed recipe for advertising the practice.

So if I know next to nothing about yoga, what the heck are we going to talk about in teacher training?

We’ll talk about the different types of yoga (karma, jnana, bhakti, hatha, raja); we’ll talk about the eight limbs of yoga (yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratayahara, dharana, samadi); we’ll talk about the subtle anatomy of yoga (chakras, nadis) as well as the physical anatomy of yoga (muscles, joints); we’ll talk about poses and alignment; we’ll talk about meditation; we’ll talk about yoga as therapy and finally we’ll figure out the methodology for teaching all this stuff.

I have a well-researched curriculum that I’m ready to share. But prior to writing the curriculum, the first step was to experience it. I’ve practiced in dozens of countries, I’ve practiced every lineage I could find, I’ve practiced through the thrill of falling in love and the subsequent crush of breakup. I’ve practiced as a teenager and as a 35-year-old.

I’ve practiced to show off…

I’ve practiced with and without anti-depressants, I’ve practiced with back pain and, most recently, I’ve practiced in the days and weeks following knee surgery.

…and I’ve practiced to stretch

And of course, there have been times when I didn’t practice at all. But through it all; the pain, the joy, the ecstasy and the ignorance, yoga has always saved me from suffering. And that’s why I believe in it.

Across the lineages and through the centuries, yoga is about surviving without suffering. Pain is mandatory; suffering is optional. Yoga takes you by the scruff of the neck and helps you survive maladies and disease. It forces you to look within and ask the tough questions about what you really need. Relationships, jobs, injury, medical intervention…it all comes and goes, but yoga is constant. 

Yoga is the foundation for knowing yourself in spite of the tragedies and triumphs.

The point is that nothing makes the journey easy. Even with yoga, it’s still up to you to get up, get dressed and show up – to everything. But your yoga practice will ease the way. And that’s what we’ll examine. This teacher training isn’t about my practice, but it is about the practice. And it’s about what the practice means to you. There isn’t a correct way to do yoga, only that you do it.

One of my favourite studios – Loka Yoga

Along the way, I’ve practiced at countless studios and with hundreds of teachers. Each teacher had an original interpretation of yoga. But all the teachers are unified in their unwavering belief in the practice. Whatever they say, wherever they were, whether I agree with their instruction or not, every single teacher presented an unshakeable opinion that the practice is worth it.

So if you believe in this elaborate practice, join me to examine your yoga and refine your ability to describe its value.

That’s what we’ll be doing in teacher training: figuring out how to articulate this exquisite practice. We’ll examine its history, lineage and philosophy and we’ll discuss descriptive techniques. You already believe in the power of the practice. Yoga teacher training will provide the tools to inspire that same belief in your future students. You know the potency of the practice. Now come and learn how to convey that power and pass it forward.

Do you believe in the power of the practice? If you’re still unconvinced, click on the image for a blog post on why you might as well believe in it.

Ready to sign up for teacher training this summer?

Registration Page

Scholarship Information

Schedule – June & July 2019

Information and FAQ

 

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Yoga YTT Blog

Yoga, weight loss and the search for compassion.

Weight issues are epidemic in our culture. Obesity as a medical problem is widespread, and overweight patients are often prescribed “weight loss” as a solution to any medical problem.  People with the particular physical characteristic of excessive body fat are given only one prescription for health. They feel constant pressure to conform, change and shrink.  They’re barely given much more advice than “exercise more. eat less.” This “solution” does nothing to depict health as a psychological and physiological system. Yoga can help patients reframe their sense of self with compassion and acceptance.

Recently, a student dropped out of my beginner yoga class because she was doing too many “exercise classes” and didn’t have time for all of them. She said her doctor had prescribed exercise as a weight loss strategy, but she was tired and didn’t want to attend all the classes she’d signed up for. In spite of my best effort, I couldn’t convince her that yoga is more than exercise and is actually a complete system for health. She said she felt frustrated in exercise classes, conspicuously different from everyone else and “fat.”  She had been told too many times to “just get more exercise” and she viewed classes as evil and unwelcoming and yet another domain for the “thin” people.

People with weight issues often apply a reductionist attitude to their health. “If I go to HIIT/ yoga/ crossfit, then I’ll be fitter.” “If I eat less, then I’ll lose weight.” These statements are true, but they don’t do an adequate job of framing health as a physiological and psychological system. It’s possible that exercise and calorie reduction will result in better health and weight loss, but there are much larger systems at play. Yoga offers a perspective beyond the “if/then” approach to improving health.

Obesity is such a prevalent problem in society and there is a lot of literature devoted to how the medical system treats obese individuals. Anecdotally, it appears that the system can be dismissive of obese patients and even go so far as to blame any ailment on their weight. For example, the New York Times refers to stories of overweight patients with non-weight related conditions like scoliosis or Crohn’s disease being prescribed weight loss in lieu of further examination. Patients who feel discredited by the medical system experience stress, shame and frustration.  Yoga can be part of the prescription, but the power of the practice might surprise obese patients.

These patients know the basics of getting and staying healthy; they know that processed food is bad, eating fruit and vegetables is good, regular exercise is imperative and that it’s critical to keep stress at bay. But the medical system sometimes confuses habits and lifestyle and instructs patients to “better” their habits, “get” healthier and “change” something with the expectation of “improvement.” Paradoxically, this desire to improve  creates stress. As an alternative to the desire to improve, yoga is a strategy to observe what’s happening with health and wellness. By doing a regular yoga practice, students are able to check in with their own physical and emotional self and understand their constitution from a point of view of acceptance rather than change.

By accepting themselves for who they are and not constantly being prescribed change and improvement, obese patients may be able to find wellness on the yoga mat – from a different perspective than they’re used to.

Obese students face many challenges in society, the worst of which is feeling the constant pressure to change their habits, overhaul their lifestyle and shrink. The pressure to change a physical characteristic is overwhelming but with weight loss being the only prescription, if they don’t succeed, obese patients are left feeling they’ve failed.

Yoga can give patients a new perspective on their health. By focusing on a meditation, they find acceptance and appreciation for who they are and remove themselves from the pass/fail outcome of results-oriented weight loss. Obese patients suffer from extreme attachment to a particular outcome. They are striving to lose weight and if they don’t succeed, they suffer because they are so attached to the outcome of their actions. The yogic perspective of non-attachment to outcome is a refreshing new perspective for a demographic who is being coerced by society to make changes to their appearance.

Yoga, meditation and a new perspective on “results” may help obese students love themselves in the face of society constantly telling them to change. From this love, a sense of wellbeing will start to bloom. Yoga teaches everyone to be compassionate to themselves. Obese students who struggle against society’s prescription of weight loss for health will find compassion towards themselves particularly useful. Weight loss is not the only prescription for health. Practicing yoga offers a consistent and steady approach to health that is not based on results. It’s a healthy lifestyle that is predicated on compassion.

 

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Yoga Yoga Teacher Training Yoga Therapy YTT Blog

Thoughts for Yoga Teachers – explaining yoga as therapy

The practice of yoga is therapeutic. Anyone who has practiced yoga will agree with this statement, but the idea of “yoga therapy” is contentious. In January 2016, the Yoga Alliance requested that any yoga school remove the terms “yoga therapy” and “yoga therapist” from their title. This instruction was a precaution against misleading the public that yoga teachers are diagnosticians. The point was not that yoga isn’t therapeutic, but rather that yoga is not a strategy for diagnosing or curing ailments. The therapeutic potential of yoga comes from its consistent practice. Yoga is a complete system for maintaining health and wellbeing, but it is not a prescriptive solution to specific ailments.

As a yoga teacher, you will receive a lot of inquiries about how to “cure” a variety of ailments, or “treat” a specific population. Some examples include depression/anxiety, back pain, pregnancy, injuries, asthma, arthritis, insomnia and obesity. Your role as a yoga professional is to guide students to treat themselves for whatever they are suffering from. Yoga is not a replacement for other medical care, but it is a useful tool in healthcare. Consistent yoga practice offers students autonomy and awareness in their own healthcare journey.

The difference between yoga and other types of healthcare is that yoga does not apply a reductionist style of therapy. It requires commitment from the student and it is not a quick solution. For example, consider the following statements:

“If I meditate, then I’ll be calmer.”

“If I don’t smoke, then I’ll be able to run faster.”

“If I eat less, then I’ll be thinner.”

These statements are true, but they fail to capture health as a complete psychological and physiological system. Yoga affords a point of view that goes beyond the reductionist if/then approach to health. For example, the primary series of Ashtanga yoga is called yoga chikitsa. Translated, this means yoga therapy. The therapeutic application of Ashtanga is its systematic approach towards wellness rather than a prescription to cure/treat an ailment.

The therapeutic quality of the yoga is its attention to discipline, devotion and patience. Yoga chikitsa is intended to be practiced daily. Practitioners are to do each pose in sequence and follow the other suggestions for a well-rounded lifestyle.

First, you have to practice for a long period of time; second, your practice must not be interrupted—you must do it regularly; and third, you must do your practice with love and respect.
-Yoga Sutra 1.14

It is these qualities of the practice – discipline, devotion and patience – that students can apply to other therapeutic requirements.

How to teach therapeutic yoga

First, you must provide a nurturing and welcoming environment for every student that comes to your classes or even who asks you a question. Yoga is therapeutic in its consistent application. But suggesting this to a student who has recently been diagnosed with arthritis or asthma or depression and who is looking for a prescriptive “fix” may be counterproductive. Students who have recently been diagnosed with an ailment, particularly if they are new to yoga, will not initially be receptive to your suggestion that yoga must be practiced regularly and consistently. Incorporating a yoga practice into a healthcare regime is fundamentally different than taking a pill or getting surgery. Informing students that they must practice “forever” will be overwhelming. Furthermore, with insidious problems that require therapy such as obesity or back pain, students might be reluctant to embrace the lifestyle changes that are necessary to change their circumstances. So, it’s important to be compassionate and welcoming to each student, regardless of their previous yoga experience and regardless of their current expectations of the practice.

Next, be patient and creative in your approach. Encourage students as they develop a regular practice. Although it might be obvious to you how yoga is therapeutic for many ailments, the yogic approach of a mind-body connection might be foreign to new students. Assess each student by asking questions about their experience, their perception of yoga and what aspects of yoga make them feel better. Elaborate on this by making yoga appealing. For example, an injured athlete with a lot of energy may not stick with a seated meditation practice. She might find it boring and annoying. Propose to her instead that she try walking meditation. Instruct her to set a mantra before she walks and then to repeat the mantra during the walk. Just as yoga is an overarching solution for almost any ailment, there are infinite ways to incorporate yoga into a lifestyle.

Finally, even though yoga therapy is not a replacement for medical intervention, it is a valuable companion to medicine. As a yoga teacher, you have the time to discuss with students what is ailing them and together, you can evaluate lifestyle changes, such as work environment, leisure activities and emotional circumstances. Together, you and your student can determine an effective and useful application of yoga. Furthermore, by consulting with your student, and putting them in charge of their own health via yoga, you are giving them the autonomy to take charge of their personal wellbeing.

Yoga may not be a prescriptive tool to cure ailments, but it does provide a therapeutic elixir of which students have control over the dosage.

Categories
Yoga YTT Blog

Mindful Meditation for Peace of Mind

You don’t have to practice yoga every day. But when you need your practice, you’re going to wish you’d been practicing every day.

Yoga is a physical, emotional and psychological practice. The physical part, the poses, is the most obvious. The emotional and psychological components of a yoga practice are much harder to understand. But tapping into the emotional, mindful and psychological aspect of yoga presents a platform for training the mind to avoid negative self-talk and unnecessary distractions. Try practicing mindfulness meditation as a way to navigate difficult experiences, understand interpersonal relations and ease the suffering of yourself and those around you.

When the body is suffering, there are tools that can be used for healing. Tools such as resting sore muscles, splinting broken bones or massaging tired muscles are all useful for healing what ails the physical body. On the contrary, when the mind is tired or emotional pain is present, the tools necessary to heal are not as apparent. The subtle body and the mind present great complexity and require tools such as mindfulness yoga for healing.

There will always be suffering. Emotional suffering is an inevitable part of the human condition. Heartbreak, loss, failure, rejection…these are just a few examples of suffering that every human will experience. The attachment to this suffering is optional. As children, our personality structure is based on seeking love from the environment. Seeking and finding love is a strategy of the ego and children must pursue love and acceptance as a survival technique. As we reach adulthood, however, the pursuit of love, acceptance and pleasure creates a false sense of self. Constantly seeking approval and love from external sources represents the inherent idea that we are “not enough” as we are and thus suffering ensues when external circumstances of love and acceptance change or disappear.

The strategy for navigating difficult emotions and indulging in less suffering is to train the mind and heart to be free of misunderstanding of the true self. Mindfulness meditation is the tool. Our lives are a collection of stories and the challenge is to understand that these stories are not the totality of our existence.

By understanding that experiences and situations are often beyond our control, we can escape the assumption that experiences and emotions represent our faults as humans.

The intention of mindfulness meditation is to develop a strength where sensations such as emotions are present, but not threatening.

Our greatest challenge to misunderstanding ourselves is interpersonal relationships. If, as Sartre said, “Hell is other people,” then how can we escape that hell? Sartre did not mean this literally; as in, he didn’t mean that other people are poisonous villains. What he meant was that much of our understanding of ourselves comes from the knowledge that other people already have of us. Our interactions with family, friends, strangers and coworkers creates parameters for how we are judged. In turn, we judge ourselves by the same criteria. If we can escape this judgement and stop allowing other people’s perception of us to be the dogmatic definition of ourselves, we can achieve a sense of peace and a deeper understanding of ourselves.

A heart-cultivation practice is a mindfulness meditation technique that acknowledges the other people around us, but does not focus on the mutual judgements and expectations we have for each other. This is a strategy for exercising the four qualities of the heart. It’s a useful strategy for managing difficult emotional times, but is most beneficial if it’s part of a regular practice.

  • Loving kindness
  • Compassion
  • Sympathetic job
  • Equanimity

Loving Kindness (metta)

Loving kindness is an inclusive, unconditional love for all living beings. It is not based on “merit,” and has no expectations of anything in return.

Start with yourself.

May I feel at home in my life.

May I trust the process of my life

May I feel patience with my circumstances

May I be free from harm

May I find peace and joy in this world

May I be happy

Next move on to a neutral person. This can be someone with whom you have limited interactions. For example, someone that you see on your daily commute to work or the receptionist at the gym or the cashier at the grocery store. Practice sending loving kindness to this person with whom you have no positive or negative interactions with. A neutral relationship.

May he feel at home in his life

May he trust the process of his life

May he feel patience with his circumstances

May he be free from harm

May he find peace and joy in this world

May he be happy

Finally, if you feel ready, move on to someone with whom you have a very trying relationship. Do the best you can.

To the best of my ability, I wish her comfort in her own life.

To the best of my ability, I wish her patience with her own circumstances

To the best of my ability, I wish her freedom from harm

To the best of my ability, I wish her happiness and health

Compassion (karuna)

Practice compassion by taking note of all the stages of suffering. Refrain from seeing suffering as a binary creation. Suffering is more than a start point and an end point. Suffering is a string of constituent parts and to be compassionate is to look at what is happening and look at the circumstances that gave rise to it. Being compassionate is the ability to recognize and be with pain and know that it is not personal. Rather, the experience of pain can be construed as a welcoming to the human family.

Practice compassion by choosing a person who you know is suffering. Focus on their experience.

May he be free from pain and suffering

May he grant himself permission to love

May he forgive those who have hurt him

By developing a feeling of compassion in your heart, you are cultivating an energy. By practicing this compassion, you are allowing this energy to grow and propagate.

Sympathetic Joy (Mudita)

Create sympathetic joy by acknowledging joy in the simplicity and finding joy in other people’s joy. This is a challenging practice, but it’s important to remember that someone else’s joy does not take away from your own potential for joy. The opponents of joy are envy and jealousy, but by unselfishly noticing someone else’s joy, the poisonous opposite feelings can dissolve.

May her feelings of joy be abundant

May she feel joy in the simplicity of her life

Equanimity (Upekkha)

Equanimity is love plus insight and is characterized as evenmindedness. Cultivating equanimity creates a skill set where you are not thrown off balance by your experiences. It is a recognition that all experiences, good and bad, are impermanent and that participation in the human experience will always present highs and lows, but neither needs to define you

I love all beings and understand that all their experiences are impermanent

I love all beings and understand that making space for love, compassion, joy               and kindness is the way to peace, not clinging to craving, jealousy, envy, pleasure or fear.

Conclusion

A regular mindfulness meditation practice is a tool for achieving emotional stability. By cultivating loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity, we can participate in the human experience with ease and understand that our experiences are not the sum total of our existence.

A traumatic or difficult experience may prove to be the catalyst to start practicing mindfulness, but the practice will be of most use if it’s done regularly. You don’t need to practice yoga every day, but when you need your practice, you’re going to wish you had practiced every day.

 

Categories
Power Yoga Yoga YTT Blog

Get out of your own way: battling your ego with the Warrior Series.

Use the Warrior Series to battle your ego and realize your goals.

Most flow yoga classes incorporate at least one of the warrior poses (Virabhadrasana series), but beyond the physical shape of the poses, what are these poses all about?

The warrior series refers to the spiritual warrior, one who battles the universal enemy. The universal enemy exists in all of us: ego, ignorance and unnecessary attachment. Often we get mired in our egos, find ourselves ignorant of what we truly need and develop unnecessary attachments to ideas or substances that aren’t useful.

Everyone has goals and plans. These are ideas that we think are possible, but something gets in the way.

What is getting in your way?  

Is it a hangup with your appearance? Is it an addiction to something that is wasting your time (the internet, sugar, exercise, sex, tv, drugs, alcohol)? Is it an obsession with money? Is it attachment to something that you don’t need? It is a relationship that doesn’t serve you anymore? Is it a fear of failure?

A teacher said to me once that we spend the first part of our lives, as children, defining our personality. We spend the second part of our lives defending that personality. But what if we change the dialogue? What if we simply accept ourselves as beautiful beings who are capable of anything that we can imagine?

What if the only thing that needs to change for you to achieve your goals is your mind? What if the only thing standing in your way is your own ego and unnecessary attachments and fear? 

Avidya is a fogged perception of what is important. Avidya consists of ego, attachment and fear. Avidya is a subtle energy that exists in all of us and keeps us rooted in our habitual ways and unable to transform or improve. Overindulgence in Avidya causes us to believe that we are not the doer of things, but rather than things happen to us.

Ideally, we are able to dissolve Avidya, move past the ego, attachment, negative associations and fear, and achieve what it is that we need.

Conveniently, there are yoga poses to help with this!

The warrior series (Virabhdrasana) is the tool to battle Avidya. These postures represent our battle with Avidya, our battle with our own egos, fears and self-ignorance. Virabhdrasana (Vira = hero, bhdra = friend) is the spiritual warrior against the universal enemy: ego, attachment and fear.

By doing the challenging warrior poses, you are creating an allegory: a representation of actually dissolving your ego, your fears, your attachments. By battling against ego, fear, and attachment, you are getting out of your own way and making space for what is truly important.

Practice the warrior sequence. You will become a spiritual warrior who is capable of fighting your own ego, your unnecessary attachments to material things or relationships that are holding you back and your fears.

I promise it won’t be easy and I promise it will take a lot of bravery, but I also promise that it will be worth it. By getting out of your own way, by battling avidya, by letting go of whatever it is that’s holding you back, you can be or do whatever you can imagine.

Be strong. Be brave. Be a warrior.