(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;
it can’t be captured in swirling platitudes set against backgrounds apropos of nothing;
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.
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.
So if I know next to nothing about yoga, what the heck are we going to talk about in teacher training?
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 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 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.
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.
Ready to sign up for teacher training this summer?
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.
Have you been thinking about trying yoga? This spring, sign up for a six-class series that will demystify the language of yoga and give you the confidence to join any yoga class.
The practice of yoga can be incorporated into your lifestyle at any age and regardless of your fitness level. Experienced athletes and fitness newbies will benefit equally from these classes! Each class will include a challenging yoga sequence, time for questions and a discussion about how yoga benefits your body, mind and spirit.
I’ll be teaching another morning yoga series at Taiga Yoga in Yellowknife next month.
Meet me on the mat at 7am every Mon, Tue, Wed and Thur starting June 5, 2017.
I will be teaching sequences that are inspired by the Ashtanga primary series and you can expect strict attention to alignment (to keep you safe in the poses) and individual feedback (because every student has a unique body). This will be 50 minutes of yoga each morning and at least five minutes of the practice will focus on pranayama (breathing exercises).
You can expect an invigorating yoga practice that will challenge beginner and advanced students alike. As always, there will be a weekly email which will elaborate on some theme that I discussed during the week.
I’m also very excited to let you know that I just finished 25 hours of training with renowned Ashtanga teacher Manju Jois. Most of his teaching focused on how to offer safe adjustments to students and I am looking forward to sharing these hands-on adjustments with you. Of course, adjustments are always optional:)
The physical challenge of Power Yoga makes the yoga aspect of the practice easier than in less-physically challenging sequences.
I teach Power Yoga. I have taught other versions of yoga but Power Yoga is most congruent with my personal practice and is what I want to share with my students. Almost every day, someone says to me that they “can’t” come to my class because it’s “too” hard. Physically, yes, the poses are challenging but the yoga part of the class is markedly easier in a power flow class than in a slower-moving hatha class.
Let me explain. Yoga is about creating a union between breath and movement. It is about silencing the chatter and listening to the breath. As the oft-quoted Patanjali said, “yoga is the practice of quieting the mind.” Indeed, in Ashtanga yoga, Samadhi, the eighth limb, is a quiet state of mind and an awareness exclusively of the present moment. A quiet mind is the intention of any yoga practice.
The physical challenge of power yoga provides an outlet for quieting the mind.
In a slower and less physically challenging practice, quieting the mind can be daunting. Hanging out in utkatasana (chair pose) or anjaneyasana (lunge pose) for ten breaths is physically difficult and thus demands all the mind’s attention. Sitting in sukhasana (easy seated pose) or standing in tadasana (standing mountain pose), on the other hand, is physically easy but detaching from distracting thoughts is more difficult and requires practice and concentration.
My point is this: the harder the pose, the easier it is to tune out of the mind’s clutter
and achieve awareness of the present moment and nothing else.
So, if you are a beginner to yoga, by all means try out whatever class comes recommended by friends and suits your schedule. But don’t shy away from power yoga because you think it will be too hard physically. Yes, the poses are challenging and yes you will sometimes be bewildered by what the teacher is asking you to do (“you expect me to put my foot where?!), but that’s the point. By trying unexpected yoga poses and facing a physical challenge, your attention will be focused completely on the present moment and you will find yourself one step closer to a clutter-free mind.
Our world is a noisy place. We exist among conversations, loud engines, music, sirens, air filter machines, humming computers, ringtones, radios, barking dogs and constant chatter inside our heads. Silence is an elusive concept. So when the power went off in my office building last week, besides the darkness, the aftermath was a silence that juxtaposed the constant background noise that I hadn’t realized was there.
In yoga, I encourage my students to “let go of distracting thoughts,” and “quiet the mind.”
But how can the mind become quiet when the world is so noisy?
Therein lays the challenge. I constantly struggle to quiet the omnipresent chatter in my head. I do yoga as a tool to quiet my mind and I teach yoga to help others quiet their minds. Paradoxically I teach with a soundtrack playing in the background. Music is something that I always incorporated into my classes. Deva Premal, Wah!, Krishna Das. These musicians were my most regular attendees. They never missed a class and their voices and rhythms provided the ambiance for my classes. But is more external noise really the key to inner silence?
When the power was off and my office was silent for 25 minutes, I had the time to reflect on the value of silence. I pondered why I play music during yoga classes.
Who was it for? Did my students relate to it? Did it assist them to quiet their minds, as I was constantly reminding them to do? Doubtful. It occurred to me that I was playing the music for myself. The music was a comfort for me in case I couldn’t think of anything to say. It was a buffer between awkward silence and valuable commentary from me.
So I turned off the music. The relief of not having to design playlists for every class was a wonderful byproduct of my new music-free yoga classes. More importantly, I noticed my students. When I played music, I wasn’t listening to my students. I was often listening to the music, wondering if it was too loud, too fast…did the students like the song? But none of that has anything to do with yoga and my teaching wasn’t effective with the distraction of a playlist.
Without the music, I am able to listen to the pranayama in the room and focus on how students are responding to my verbal cues. I am able to tune into how students are responding to my teaching and subsequently teach poses and sequences that cater to what my students need.
It is my intention to foster an environment where dynamic and valuable yoga practice can take place. An environment where students can silence the chatter, tune out of the world and achieve an internal focus and respect. Turning off the music is my small contribution towards finding silence of mind, awareness of breath and steadiness of body.
Join me on the mat for music-less but pranayama-rich power yoga.
Yoga is the simple equation of breath + movement. But it seems there is an interest in “getting there,” “doing the poses right.” The physical part of yoga, the movement, is simply a gateway to quieting the mind. Yoga poses are a venue for your body and mind to concentrate on breath and movement with the goal of quieting the inner chatter.
Practice yoga to disengage from the constant inner dialogue
The self-doubt, the vanity, the unproductive discussions and negotiations with the self can all be eliminated by concentrating on breathing in physical poses. Easy, right? Except it isn’t.
Some days it feels impossible to quiet the mind, forget the chatter and be peaceful.
Enter power yoga.
The poses of power yoga provide a setting for tuning into the sound of the breath and concentrating on physical stamina, strength and flexibility. By concentrating on breathing in challenging yoga poses, the inner dialogue will fall silent. It’s very hard to think about your next career move when you’re practicing arm balances!
So if your inner chatter is particularly noisy, step onto your yoga mat. The physical challenge will quiet your mind.
You’ll be surprised at the mental clarity that can be achieved after a physically challenging yoga practice.
And if you’re afraid to try yoga because you “can’t keep up?”
Yoga isn’t about getting somewhere, or achieving a particular pose. It’s about creating a harmony between breath and movement. Sometimes more challenging poses are required to find the harmony and focus, sometimes not. Some people need more challenging poses to quiet the mind, while others already have the mental fortitude to silence the chatter without the physical challenge. Some days it takes a little extra strength to overcome the inner noise, which is why progressively more challenging poses are offered in power yoga.
But there is no end goal, there is no best pose, there is no best yogi.
Power yoga offers the chance to challenge yourself physically as much as you need to cultivate a quiet mind. Power yoga sequences are designed so that everyone is challenged, regardless of body type, age, or yoga experience.
In my yoga classes, I want to emphasize student expectations by accepting feedback in the keep, stop, start format.
Your presence, your emotions and your contribution to the world are a projection of your acquired experiences and memories. This is fact. Your interactions with the people around you are affected by reciprocal expectations. Sometimes, however, expectations are misunderstood, miscommunicated or not communicated at all. The expectations between two parties must be clearly expressed and understood by both. This is true for professional relationships, romantic relationships and is also applicable in the relationship between yoga teacher and student.
When I step on to the mat at the helm of a yoga class, I am presenting a series of ideas that are based on my previous experience of learning and practicing yoga and on my memories of classes that I have attended. My expectations are that the students who come to my classes will be open to listening to my ideas and trying the poses which I suggest. Conversely, and this is the part that I often forget, my students arrive on the mat with experience and memories of their own. Their contribution and presence in the class is as essential as my own and I want to clearly understand their expectations.
A technique I learned to effectively convey expectations, praise and constructive criticism is as follows:
For example: keep starting the class with pranayama, stop doing backbends without warming up the quad muscles and start doing balancing poses earlier in the sequence. (An extrapolation of some recent feedback I received).
I want to be the best yoga teacher I can be. We all want to be the best partner we can be in professional and romantic relationships. Please use this format to offer feedback on my teaching and I urge you to try this format when changes are required in your professional and personal life.
We all bring our experiences and memories with us every day and sometimes we forget about the value of the experience of those we interact with. I want to make a change in my teaching and begin placing more value on the experience and expectations of my students.