Vote for the Environment – Presidential Election 2020

Kara Bemis <kara.bemis@gmail.com>10:15 AM (2 minutes ago)
to me

This major election is two weeks away, which is shocking.  Covid and the election have been dominating news and media, but it still seems as if the election is coming up soon, which means that time is running out to to self educate, educate others, and prepare to be a well informed voter. This blog has a primary focus on yoga but also on environmentalism.  Here are some quick resources on the candidates’ platforms on the environment and climate change.


Trump’s Horrendous Record on the Environment


The below outlined “successes” come directly from Trump’s campaign website.  Nowhere does he mention science, climate change, nor protecting the environment.  In fact, Trump has been known to be a climate change denier who brushes off the science, for example when speaking to Governor Newsome and other officials of California about the unprecedented wildfires in his state and pressed about climate change, Trump said, “It will start getting cooler. You just watch. It will. I don’t think science knows actually.”


The Trump administration has rolled back around 100 environmental protection regulations in favor of corporations and profits.  The rollbacks have taken place since his four year term began and, “dismantled major climate policies and rolled back many more rules governing clean air, water, wildlife and toxic chemicals. Over four years in office, the Trump administration has dismantled major climate policies and rolled back many more rules governing clean air, water, wildlife and toxic chemicals.”
Some of the rollbacks include such jaw-droppingly disgusting changes as 

The list of course could go on regarding how dangerous this administration is for the entire population of the US as well as the world.  Pollution and increasingly strong and dangerous natural disasters know no borders, therefore rollbacks of regulations that protect the earth the human and natural populations on the earth do not only negatively affect the citizens of the US, but also the entire world population.  As the “leader of the world” you would think that the United States would be leading the way in the advancement of renewable energy instead of promoting the use of oil, gas, and coal.  There lies opportunity in our drastic state.


Biden’s Climate Plan

The massive font on Biden’s campaign site says almost all that needs to be said to win anyone’s vote who has the remotest admiration for nature and the environment, for anyone who enjoys breathing clean air and drinking clean water.  For anyone with a conscience, really.

THE BIDEN PLAN FOR A CLEAN ENERGY REVOLUTION AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

First of all Biden says that he will put the US back into the Paris Climate Agreement.  Biden was VP when then President Barack Obama was key in formulating the agreement.  The US has until the end of this year to pull out if Trump is re-elected.  If we were to pull out of the agreement we would be the only country to do so, three years ago the remaining two countries who had not signed on – Nicaragua & Syria, signed the agreement leaving the US standing alone as the sole laughable country not taking climate change seriously even though the US is a major emitter.


Unlike Trump’s heinous remarks to leaders of California facing deadly wildfires, Joe Biden understands that the effects of climate change are a threat to all of us: wildfires in the west, increase numbers and strength of hurricanes, dangers to citizen’s health via pollution and exposure to dangerous chemicals (primarily affecting people of color and our poorest populations hence his bold outline of climate justice.)


Joe Biden has outlined a goal of net zero emissions and 100% renewable energy throughout the country by 2050.  That is a big deal, and it is something that many developed (and developing) nations and regions are attempting so if the US does not commit resources into moving forward with renewables instead of coal and carbon then we will be left behind as other nations eclipse us.  


It is a very well known fact that climate change is real and that human beings have played a major part in our warming climate.  There are of course those that choose to disregard science and do not believe in it, but climate change is not something that you believe in, it is a fact in the same way that gravity pulls items to the earth.  Those people who deny the facts have a right to their beliefs, but they should not be in power.


A few more items on Biden’s Climate Plan are to invest heavily in steering the country towards his goal of clean energy and carbon mitigation which he proposes to pay for by using the money earned by rolling back the Trump tax incentives that benefitted corporations, improve building standards in government buildings and set up incentives for homeowners to improve their homes’ efficiency which in turn will reduce heating and cooling costs, reduce emissions in household appliances/airlines/vehicles/etc., and increase availability of electric charging stations and tax incentives to purchase electric vehicles. 


The Biden Climate Plan is so extensive that it would be ridiculous to outline more here.  To sum up, there is absolutely no comparison between our two candidates.  If you are an American citizen still pondering who to cast your vote for in this election and you also would like your children, grandchildren, and all future generations to inherit a safe and beautiful world then the choice is clear.  


Vote Biden this election and do some research for which candidate is strongest in their plan to combat climate change in your local elections.  

Disciplined Yoga

Years ago I took a self defense course. While practicing my kicks with my instructor we spoke about my daily yoga practice.  He told me that my yoga was extremely disciplined which was not a way in which I had ever thought of it before, although at that point I had been practicing multiple times per week for about two years.  This was before I became a teacher.  I practiced so much because I enjoyed it so much, and still do, and suppose that I always will.  I had found my thing. 


In the years since that moment I have continued with my regular practice, although it does ebb and flow.  Currently with being home more often than in the past due to all of my prior indoor yoga classes being cancelled indefinitely from Covid, I have more time than ever to practice.  That does not mean that I am doing two hour Ashtanga practices, rather I practice anywhere from 10-60 minutes roughly 4-5 times a week.  


I view my yoga practice as a form of bodily maintenance, I don’t mean in terms of appearance, but in terms of mobility and functionality.  I also continue to practice and to push my edge in order to sharpen the saw and be able to teach new poses, sequences, and variations to students whenever I am back in a studio.


Discipline Tips

Roll Out Your Mat


As is often said, the hardest part about practicing yoga is rolling out your mat.  Once you have taken the time to clear a space and roll out your mat you are almost halfway there since it is so easy to keep binging Netflx instead of practicing.  One of the best things you can do, if possible in your space, is to have a dedicated yoga room or area so that it is that much easier to practice.  

Consider Your Opportunity Cost


There are often times when I’m at home alone after work considering what to do with my time.  First I try to get some work done in the house or garden and I usually walk Fred for both of our health and enjoyment.  Then, when tasks have been done I weigh the choices of practicing yoga, reading, watching TV, or some other option.  


I then consider the time commitment of practicing.  I usually practice with Glo, a subscription platform that I have been using for a few years, it offers a variety of styles and teachers and the option to search for classes based on filters like length of time, teacher, area of body, etc.  If I’m planning to do a 30 minute class then I tell myself how 30 minutes of my 16 hour waking day is nothing and that I owe myself that time and will feel better after practicing.  Plus, with the search option, or if I’m doing a self practice without video guidance, I can choose to practice a chill hatha class if my energy is low or a challenging vinyasa class if I’m energized.


Don’t Get Down if it Doesn’t Happen


Whether you are a teacher or  not (all yoga teachers ought to consider themselves yoga students) try your best to get on your mat and to not have negative self talk if you do not.  Sure I feel annoyed with myself when a few days have passed and I haven’t done my asana practice, but I push those negative thoughts out of my mind and look towards tomorrow to get back into my practice.  For years, early on in my yoga journey I would practice yoga in studio, for a week or so, or with a VHS (it was a while ago) and then I would fall off the wagon and wouldn’t do yoga for a few weeks, or months even.  It wasn’t until a few years into doing yoga that I started to really practice very regularly and that was after finding a teacher and style that was a match and seeking that style out. 


Don’t be overly strict with yourself.  Maybe doing yoga once a week is perfect for your schedule.  Once a friend asked how often I did yoga as a teacher, I told her 3-4 times per week and she said that made her feel less guilty  about not doing it much, I suppose she didn’t think that that was very often, which made me feel slightly guilty that maybe I should be doing more, but I’ve accepted that there is no perfect amount, it depends on so much – time availability, energy level, mental health, etc. 

And maybe yoga isn’t your thing in which case I would be very surprised that you read this far in, maybe your thing is running or swimming.  Try to get into a regular habit of doing your thing that makes you happy and provides you with benefits for your physical and mental health.  The world would be a much better place if all of us did that.

2020 Summer Garden In Review – The Good and The Bad

It’s early September and the garden has been in full swing for a while here in WNY where I live in Zone 5b.  This post is an update on what’s growing and thriving, but also a record of what didn’t work or was attacked by pesky pests, in hopes that these problems can be mitigated next year and hopefully you might find some advice from my garden experience.


The Good

Due to the pandemic, I was home a lot more than a normal spring and was able to start my starter plants indoors from seeds earlier than I ever had before.  I also have a lot more space this year since we moved from our one bedroom apartment into our house, which meant I had more space and windows to grow my seedlings in.


I started a variety of seeds in mid-March including but not limited to: arugala, lettuces, beans, radish, beets, kale, chard, tomatoes, peppers, etc.  Many of the colder weather, hardier plants could have been planted directly into the soil, but I thought I’d start them all indoors, I also direct sowed plants later in the season.  Important to note, I didn’t have soil to sow seeds in until my husband and I designed and built our raised beds.  Our front yard was just that, yard, compacted soil with thick grass.  
After the raised beds were built we had to wait weeks for topsoil since there was a hold up with the landscapers and their supplier.  In May there was a weekend of SNOW, around May 20th, so we had to cover our little babes with a covering and luckily they survived that terrible weekend.  It was only our first raised bed that had any plants in since we still didn’t have topsoil and I only put hardy plants in the ground early around May 3rd including radish, beets, borage, peas, kales. 


The Bad

Here are some of the issues we’ve dealt with this summer and that I am now hopeful I will be more prepared for next season. 


Japanese Beetles

These suckers were extremely prevalent this summer.  Luckily they mostly attacked an inedible plant that was on our property when we bought it, a rose bush, but they also enjoyed our healthiest basil plants.  


Our Organic Solution

After researching how to handle these pests I found that hand collecting in diluted dish soap and water was the best option for us since I had time to walk the garden twice a day and collect.  The beetles appeared in July and were heaviest around mid-month.  It wasn’t just our garden that these guys harbored at to turn leaves into lace, we noticed them all over the neighborhood when walking our dog.  They even entirely decimated a vine growing around a road sign.  By mid-August they were far less prevalent.  I had read that milky spores was good to spread on the ground to kill the larvae, but it is very expensive, so I’ll just keep my eyes out next season and do the same again.  A note that I did not get the bags as I have heard that they attract the little buggers.


Squash Stem Borers

I designed and built a keyhole hugelkulture for my squash plants so that they had as much space as they needed.  It is a beautiful garden that makes a lot of sense because it borders an existing circular flower garden around our well.  All was going well, my zucchini and summer squash plants had large, green leaves that reached towards the sky, but sometime in late July my friend was visiting and noticed some troubling signs that proved fatal for my plants – squash stem borers had entered into the stem of literally every plant as well as mold on the leaves.

  
Our Organic Solution

The next morning I tried to kill the larvae by hand, I was successful with a few, but it seemed futile.  I pulled off leaves that were dead and burned them to stop contamination.  For the mold I sprayed a dish soap solution in the mornings to not burn the leaves in the hot sun.  I have read that mulching more thoroughly around the base of the plants and stem as it grows is a good way to protect against the moths laying their eggs on the plant, this will be my game plan next season as well as relocating my squash plants. 


There have been other lessons along the way this growing season, but for the most part it has been a very successful year.  I have processed and have in stock a few pounds of a variety of the beans that we grew, tomatoes are processed, kale and swiss chard frozen and a lot of pesto.  From this year’s experience I also have a lot of ideas of how to improve our gardens next year. I hope that your growing season was a success as well, as I know many people started gardening during Covid to pass the time, learn new skills, and be self-sufficient. 

Teaching Yoga Public Classes During Covid

Yoga Teachers, here are a few things to keep in mind when teaching classes during Corona Virus this summer.  In person classes have mostly halted and as they come back to life it is necessary to know that they will not be the same as they were in early March, things have changed for the long haul until a vaccine is ready for use, which honestly, will not be for a very long time.  Studios and teachers have already adapted by teaching virtually, but as states move into phases in which gyms and yoga studios are allowed to operate there will be a need for even more adaptation.

 

Safety First

Keeping your students safe is of primary importance, this means, be sure to express to students prior to class in your newsletter and marketing that social distancing is expected and required.  Ask students to bring a face mask to class to wear in case they come into close contact with others, for example while entering the studio, making payments, or using the facilities.  If teaching outdoors, it is still a good idea to have students bring their masks in case they come into close contact with others.

Be Prepared

Mark out spaces for mats to placed 6 ft away from each other, this includes from all directions – front to back and side to side.  In many studios this will mean that class size potential will dramatically drop.  Teaching outdoors may be a better option, and while there have been studies that have found that being outside is far better than being inside in terms of spreading the virus, there are also studies that show that social distancing is also beneficial, so space mats apart for outdoor classes as well.

Recently I taught outside and I arrived before my students with tape measure in hand.  I measured mats apart and placed tennis balls down as markers so that they could arrive and put their mats down at a safe distance.  Once everyone had arrived, I put my mask on and collected the tennis balls from everyone.  It worked well.  I also brought hand sanitizer.  It is important to remember that many people will rightfully have anxiety about their health and rejoining gatherings, keep this in mind and make health and safety a top priority.

Make Your Students Aware

For two purposes, express your rules and expectations to students before class.  This will help quell some of the anxiety about meeting up with people and will ensure that people follow rules.  Include text such as: Masks required when in close quarters, social distancing required at all times when possible, and, Bring your own mat and props.

Depending on where you are in the world, most people are now very accustomed to the new normal of wearing masks and will respect your guidelines.  It may be helpful to bring a few spare masks, maybe even a spare mat or two in case people come unprepared, that way you don’t have to turn them away.  If renting or lending out mats, be sure to bring means to clean the mats after class.

Final Thoughts

Prior registration will be helpful in order to ensure that you do not go beyond your areas’ maximum gathering capacity.  Also, communicating your expectations and rules for class will be easier knowing who exactly is planning to come to class.  Pre-registration also allows people to pay ahead of time by card and avoids handling cash.

It is your responsibility as a teacher to lead the way for your students and for your community.  Communicate how you will make your classes safe for students and venues that host you.  Please share the ways in which you are making your classes safe and keep practicing.

 

 

Going With the Times

This year would have been Jamestown’s fourth International Day of Yoga celebration and it was going to be bigger and better than ever.  My friend and fellow teacher and I were coordinating with a local non-profit nature preserve to host the event there complete with events for the kids so parents can do yoga and food trucks.  Because IDY falls on the Summer Solstice there were going to be meditation walks in the morning and for the late sunset, as well as a bonfire.  Alas, as you can well guess none of that is happening because we are in the midst of a global pandemic.  Most of us are having to accept that the big trips and events that we were excited for are not going to take place this year.

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That’s not great, but it’s ok.  Hopefully we all still have our health which is the whole reason to social distance and cancel major events.  Acceptance is often a teaching of a yoga practice, now is a great real life lesson for all of us to practice acceptance of situations that we are unable to change and to warm heartedly stay home and social distance for the health of others.  Already, three months after quarantine, many places in the US and the world are loosening their quarantine rules, but if we have to go back to being safe, then I hope we will all try our best to do so kindly.

For us yoga teachers it has been a learning curve and a stressful time since classes can no longer go on, but it has also been a time for creativity and developing skills.  In terms of this year’s IDY 2020 in Jamestown, we did not want to completely cancel the event but rather to offer it in a virtual way.  Teachers will film their classes ahead of time to be released on June 20, 2020.  It would have been nice to have the celebration that we were planning, the biggest one this city has seen yet, but with time.

If you would like to practice with us teachers of Jamestown, NY & Samsara Yoga Center, then please visit the event page here and join us on the 20th of June.

 

Thoughts on Teaching During Covid-19

Life has been different in New York State since mid-March 2020 when we were all directed to stay home and quarantine for the safety of ourselves, our oved ones, and our community. A few days before it was made official that gyms and studios would be closing, my studio, Samsara Yoga Center, made the decision to close our doors and move classes to a screen. Our small studio in Jamestown, NY as well as studios all over the country and world quickly had to adapt. These are some of my reflections of teaching and practicing from home.

 

Where is Everybody?

Going from a room of students to staring at myself teaching to a camera was initially awkward and uncomfortable, and still is, to be honest. As a yoga teacher I never practiced while I taught, meaning I didn’t plan a thoughtful, progressive class so that I could practice for 75 minutes with everybody else. Instead, I warmed up with the class so that I could demo new or challenging poses, but I also walked the room checking alignment and giving verbal and physical adjustments. Teaching yoga was not my time to practice yoga, it was a kinesthetic communication.

Now I have no students to feed off of, I have nobody to teach. I have no idea the level of the student who is practicing with me during the live filming and of course nor the level of student choosing to practice with the filmed video at a later time. Therefore, I have to include a lot of modifications just in case, which I do in a studio class as well, but this time it feels more overwhelming to give all modifications (which is impossible) just in case the person practicing has wrist issues, tight hamstrings, low back pain, or any other number of countless ailments.

One option to change all of this would be to alter this experience so that I could see  students would be to switch my classes to Zoom instead of FB Live, but I like the open schedule that filmed classes provide for my students who are mothers or busy and like many of us, whose schedules have gone out of the window and now can practice whenever they want, not just at 6pm on Thursday. Another reason I am not going with Zoom is because my ego does not want to cope with a screen of no-shows. It’s damaging enough to watch people come and go on a Live Stream on FB, but at least some people click on the live stream now and again to check it out and there are some dedicated students (my awesome sister) who practice with me week after week.

Maybe I should Just Quit

I have been practicing and teaching for a eleven and seven years, respectively, I have taught in many different locations as I moved around the world and traveled. My classes are sometimes full and sometimes only one student shows up and we have a 1:1 private class. I roll with the ebbs and flows of student population in class, but recently during virtual teaching I honestly considered calling it quits for a while. It felt futile. That I wasn’t reaching many, that I couldn’t properly teach, couldn’t react to students and give them modifications, that nobody was tuning in. And to be honest, I have lost the bulk of my yoga income due to the virus. I will be ok since yoga is my side hustle, but as well as being a primary passion in my life, I also teach yoga for an income, which has not been reduced to almost zero.

Then I listened to a couple of podcasts on adapting to this time and my creativity was reignited. Knowing that every other yoga teacher is also struggling right now didn’t necessarily make me feel better, but it made me realize that my dark thoughts are probably common. You really put yourself out there teaching a class and it doesn’t matter how many themes I teach on letting go of the ego, it is always there nagging me constantly. We all feed off of our surroundings, interactions, and increasingly more and more off of social media, all of it feeding our egos for better or for worse. Not having many watch my live stream, no privates, no corporate sessions, and no income was quite the kick in the gut.

Seeing the Bright Side

Thankfully, I have pulled myself out of that sense of defeatism and am switching my perspective from a place of feeling futile to feeling inspired  to be creative and work with our current situation. Now is a good time to try new things, to create the content that has floated around the back of my mind without ever being fully formulated. Now I have the time to bring my ideas into fruition. In fact, I did just that when I taught an Earth Day Yoga class, which was a blend of my two passions – environmentalism and yoga. As I mentioned in the class and a post, the more you learn about very real situations in our environment the more depressed you may become, yoga is a necessity to curb those feelings of sadness and to bring us all together to make the changes that are needed.

I can’t deny a truth that teaching online makes my yoga more accessible to people everywhere. Students that I taught years ago in Korea can now practice with me if they wish. I can practice with my old teachers and discover new teachers around the world. As much as I was hoping that people would donate, even something very small like $2 or $3 for a class, I no longer hold on to that thinking, because I don’t only teach for money (although I know that my skill is monetarily valuable and am not arguing that teachers should not be paid) but to spread the mental and physical benefits of yoga, especially when needed such as now.

There will come a time when I will be back to teaching in person. Until then I will develop more content that I haven’t been brave enough to teach, and if nobody watches, well, I can handle that. Maybe it will reach the one person that needs it and it will have all been worth it.

50th Earth Day!

Today is April 22, 2020 – the 50th Earth Day since the first in 1970 and what a good day it has been.  All day I have been watching performances, panel discussions, and experts speak on the realities of the dangers that we face in climate change and creating a sense of community although we are extremely separate during Covid-19.

Just minutes ago I completed teaching a 45 minute, all levels yoga class for Earth Day; teaching about climate change, climate action, and climate grief has been a goal of mine broadly since 2016.  Not long ago I was meeting with a fellow yoga teacher and a nonprofit, nature preserve organization to organize my goal into a reality, but of course that is no longer going ahead, so it was so beautiful to be able to teach virtually and combine my two passions of yoga and environmentalism.

Yoga and environmentalism, activism, and climate justice have such a link to yoga.  In my opinion they are one in the same, because yoga is mindfulness and in order to care you have to know.  It is so easy to bury our heads, plug our ears, and look away, but it is brave and necessary to seek more information, educate ourselves and make changes in our lives as well as encourage those around us and pressure businesses and governments to shift to be greener.

Other ways that I celebrate the day were going for a couple of walks with my dog and husband, watering my plants and seedlings, and spending time working in the garden.  If you are looking for inspiration on Earth Day, then visit: www.earthday2020.org for live streams today, April 22, through Friday, April 24.  If you are reading this at another time in the year, then seek out organizations that speak to you and that are pushing the change that you want to see in the world.

If you would like to practice my Earth Day yoga, visit my FB page and search in videos.  If you’re interested in hosting your own Yoga for Climate Grief classes via Zoom, please send me a message on my FB page.

Happy Earth Day!!!  What a beautiful place we live in, I am so grateful.

Blue Yellow Quote Earth Day Poster

Yoga in the time of Covid 19

One day before schools shut down in NYS, the yoga studio where I work, Samsara Yoga Center decided to close their doors and make classes available online for students, a few days later, all NYS gyms and restaurants closed their doors. The past few weeks of teaching from home and practicing from home have been somewhat stressful as I learn the technology, but also really comforting and grounding. Friends from years ago joined my online class, which was a beautiful surprise. This past Sunday I simultaneously practiced with over 2k people and Sean Corne.

As a teacher it is slightly difficult to teach live stream classes or pre-recorded classes taught to nobody. The first reason is that there are no students to feed off of, to make real time micro changes to class when the students are fatiguing or to adjust common alignment issues. In order to give as many cues for as many bodies and abilities as possible it feels as if I am speaking too quickly and lose my breath (which can also be attributed to speaking fluidly through namaskara A & B.)

The other difficulty is the unreliability of the technology. Primarily the ability to decide to teach from home and to be available to anyone in the world with a couple of clicks is absolutely a blessing. However, when the camera doesn’t turn on, or as happened yesterday, you accidentally record from the wrong FB profile, and you are dealing with fixing the issues just as your class is set to begin and then once the camera starts rolling you have to revert right to your calm, teacher self is a chameleon-like necessary skill and causes real stress.

The primary thing that I miss about live, in person classes are the people. The energy, the community, the small talk. I practice mostly from home, but when I go to a vinyasa class in studio, I feed off of the high energy and feel so invigorated. This is something that I hope my vinyasa students feel when they attend our weekly vinyasa classes in studio and that I am looking forward to when we are able to meet again.

But to bring it back to the positives, I felt so connected while practicing with so many others around the world with a live stream with Sean Corne. Sean gave the practice so much meaning and united us through these difficult times. As people joined and commented on the live stream I saw that three of my friends were on which made me smile knowing that we were doing class together.

In my biased opinion, yoga is absolutely needed right now. Intentional movement of the body is beneficial to those of us isolated in our houses for weeks on end. Deep, calm breathing helps us find that body/mind connection and helps us ground. There are so many independent teachers and large and small studios offering online classes, varieties of styles to try, and the ability to reconnect with favorite teachers and studios from our past.

Some of these classes are completely free, but many teachers are asking for small donations for their time and skill and because we have lost our income for the foreseeable future. If you have a couple of dollars that you could spare and can donate a class fee or a small amount to the teacher or studio that you practice with, then that will help the studios pay their teachers, pay the rent and utilities, and keep them afloat. I have seen a beautiful outpouring of support for local restaurants at this time and would love to see a similar support for other small businesses in similar situations, except many small businesses are even worse off than restaurants right now as their doors are completely shut.

To support your local studio you can donate, buy gift carts or passes for the future, or shop their online boutiques. If you do not have the spare income to donate or give right now, then you can like, share, comment and keep practicing with them virtually.

Managing the Ego, Part II

The last post on the site began as a general musing on the ego and quickly morphed into a commentary on social pressures primarily on women by media and social media as well as thoughts on pressures to show a lot of skin simply because I am a woman and also a commentary on how often yoga images also tend to . This second installation moves more specifically into the ego in the yoga world, where there is much discussion and emphasis on quelling the ego when it inevitably creeps into asana practice.
Both as a student of yoga and also as a teacher of yoga, I constantly work to balance fear of judgement, pressures to push further, and suppressing my mind’s reaction to successes within my practice.
When I am a student in a studio there is a human instinct to compete with others in the class as well as with the teacher. Competition many would agree, has no place in a yoga class, but it undoubtedly shows up. Another word for this is the ego. An example – in an intermediate class the teacher cues a challenging pose such as Parsvottanasana (Pyramid Pose.) My choice to use Pyramid pose as an example may have surprised some of you, thinking an even more difficult pose like Side Crow would be more of an obvious choice for a challenging pose (pesky ego,) but both poses are challenging for different reasons – Pyramid for flexibility and Side Crow for strength and flexibility.
An example, many students who attend yoga classes and many people who live in the modern world (ahem, all of us) have tight hamstrings, more so if the student is an athlete or physically active with running or biking, generally more so for men, but to the point, tight hamstrings is common.
Back to the scenario – the teacher cues Pyramid Pose (an intense forward fold) and you’re in a class full of students who seem to have hamstrings made of puddy, they’re folding forward, touching the ground with their hands, head to shin, the full works. A version of the classical pose. You however, have tight hamstrings and the floor seems miles away. But, the ego creeps in, and it’s loud. Your mind is illogically telling you that you’re just like them, you’ve been coming to class longer than thew new girl, therefore you should be able to do the same. If you act on this thought process a couple of things may occur:

1) you might reach for the floor without blocks and/or keeping a gentle bend in the knee and this could cause damage (tearing even) of the hamstrings at their connection points. 2) This is the much less severe reaction, which is that blocks may be used, the front leg may be safe form injury, but there may be a need to get the forehead to the shin in which case extreme rounding in the back will occur. This is not going to be an instantaneous injury and may never lead to an injury, but it may cause discomfort in the back and does not display integrity of the pose.

Now, I am a yoga teacher and have been a student of yoga for many years, so I hypothesized all of that in roughly 20 seconds. Some students however who do not have the same knowledge of yoga or the body, and not even the knowledge yet of their own body, will put their muscles and tendons in jeopardy in a matter of tenths of a second because they’re giving into the pressure of the ego and attempting to do what others are doing; teachers are by no means immune to this, let me be clear.
In fact this brings me to how the ego gives me trouble as a teacher. It happens every time I teach and I have been teaching for over six years, anxiety. Much less than when I was a new teacher, and dependent on the day, size of class, all sorts of factors. Somewhat negative thoughts run through my head before and during class, and they’re never the, “Man, I’m good” sort of thoughts. Never have my nerves or doubts been debilitating, but it’s also never not been there to some degree. Another teacher friend of mine who had more experience, and drew many students to her class confided that she also felt nerves before teaching every workshop. I’ve heard on Yogaland (podcast with Andrea Ferreti & Jason Crandell) that Jason Crandell did get nervous before teaching but no longer does (he’s been teaching for over 20 years.) This form of the ego is not as dangerous, maybe it’s even healthy, a sign that teacher’s are concerned with the job that they’re doing, and we can’t forget that teaching is a vulnerable position – to be in front of a a roomful of students, to be in front of a handful of people in general and to speak to them, guide them and teach them for over an hour would be nerve-wracking to pretty much anyone.  I’m not ashamed or embarrassed by my nerves as a teacher, just another example of my ego and self doubt creeping around in my thoughts.

Teaching Beach Yoga

Sunset Yoga at Gwangan.

This leads me to my final thought on the ego (for now,) which is that for all of us in our practice there are big and small wins, poses that have been worked on for years and years and one day are achieved. When this happens the ego is inflated. There is celebration, Instagram posting, and sheer joy at the success. This ties into the last post, the ego is what pushes us to take and post the yoga picture (guilty as charged,) to show off our most advanced poses on social media, but this is also a lesson of the ego, another way for it to be managed. Kathryn Budig said in a Yogaglo class that she did a handstand for the first time years and years ago and she came out of the pose with a big smile in an obvious celebration, and her teacher came over to her and said something to the effect of, “Ok, good. Now let it go.” That story has stuck with me and comes to mind every time I have a small yoga success, I consciously let go of the ego inflation to not further feed the ego.  It is a never ending balance to the management that I work on every day and in every single yoga practice.

Managing the Ego

Initially this was going to be a single post, but as I began writing I realized that there was no way that it was all going to fit into one. There is a lot to say as a woman and as a yoga student and teacher about managing the ego. Mindfulness through my practice has made me more and more aware of how the ego permeates my life every single day.

It’s a constant job, managing the ego, one that I have become more acutely aware of thanks to my yoga practice. As a teacher it is a reoccurring theme in classes that I teach. As a female it is a lifelong struggle, not to say that it isn’t for our counterparts, men, trans, etc., because of course it is, but I believe it becomes a permeating issue for young girls much earlier than it does for boys. Specifically I am referring to body image issues.

Young girls and women are bombarded with sexualized images of women in fashion magazines, on TV and movies, in music videos, commercials and advertisements. There’s a cultural pressure to be “pretty”, to wear makeup and expose skin. Although it may not be realized by those that it effects, there is a never ending expectation on American women and women world wide, that leads to low self esteem, eating disorders, and in some cultures, such as Korea where I lived for five years, a massive beauty products industry and even thriving plastic surgery industry.

Think about it for yourself, imagine the last pop culture/mainstream entertainment that you last saw. Ask yourself how the women and girls were portrayed. Men as well can be portrayed with shirts off for example, but it is far less common. Red carpets are a prime example of the disparity. Fashion is something that I enjoy, so after big events I like to look at images of what people wore. The women’s dresses tend to have ridiculously plunging necklines (a-la J-Lo’s green dress at the 2000 grammys), very short skirts, cut outs or sheer fabrics over nothing more than what may as well be underwear. And what do men wear to these events? Three piece suits. They literally could not be covered up more unless they wore gloves and scarves.

The yoga world is unfortunately not immune to this norm. Google the word yoga, select images, and scroll. Most of the images will be of fit, thin, muscular women, some of whom are not wearing shirts, majority of the images will be of white women.

I have to pause and have a brief interlude to say that I somewhat hypocritically, and contrary to the main theme of this writing, believe that if you work hard on your physical fitness and are proud of your body and it’s capabilities through whatever means of your choice, yoga, running, cycling, zumba, and you want to show off your hard work and are a confident, proud adult, then please by all means practice yoga in your sports bra and short shorts. In fact this is the Ashtanga way and even B.K.S. Iyengar wore little shorts while doing yoga his whole life and I completely respect him for that. What I am arguing here is that marketing relies on sex selling which leads to a cultural pressure to be what is seen everywhere and I do not believe that it is healthy or necessary.

Iyengar

Although yoga clothing is often sold with images of women in their bras and leggings, or exposing more skin in their bras and short shorts, there are some brands that do better than others of purposefully having more realistically sized models and plus sized models, that should be recognized, but it certainly is not the case for all brands. In fact, in writing this I looked up one of the  biggest names in yoga gear and surprisingly discovered that the line that they’re featuring on their website at the moment of winter 2020 is actually quite modest full of long sleeves, turtlenecks, and drapes of excess fabric.

I had an experience at a studio in a tropical location in which the teacher taught in just her bra and leggings. I don’t want to sound overly puritanical, but I believe that to do so as a teacher is distracting to our students and will more than likely lead them into negative self talk because that is our default as people and primarily as women. As I said before, practicing yoga in little clothing is in some lineages traditional, and I think that women should have the ability to practice in a hot yoga studio or hot climate without a shirt on the same as men, but for a teacher in a place of authority and power I believe that it is not the most responsible decision that we could make.

It is for this larger cultural reason that I purposefully do not often post pictures of myself in my sports bra doing yoga or in my bikini (I only practice so scantily clad at home when very hot in the summer, to my best knowledge there are a handful of shots on my Instagram feed, it is certainly not a common way that I post.) For many young women there is a pressure to post sexy Instagram posts, to get more likes and because that is what the broader culture glorifies.

In a similar manner, Instagram posts of beautiful women performing difficult yoga poses in however many levels of yoga hype up the ego in yoga practice, making many of us feel less than for the inability to do the same. The next post will delve more into the work of the ego in wanting to achieve the perfect pose and how that mindset can in fact be detrimental.