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.

 

 

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.

 

 

No Pain, No Gain

This past week I started class by telling students that they were going to work hard and for them to remember that old adage- no pain, no gain. I admit that it sounds contradictory to what I teach as a theme in many of my classes which is to use the breath as a tool to protect the body so that you don’t go past your edge, but really what we should be doing in order to advance is to push ourselves just beyond that edge to a safe level of improvement.

Yoga asana is a practice of learning the body. In my practice that is quite possibly the primary benefit. The skill that I have to know where my hips are when I’m in an inversion and if they’re not forward enough to hold the balance is a skill that I learned though lots and lots of practice. Through injuries I have learned a lot about the limitations of my body from side to side, left and right, and how to modify my practice to make sure those injuries heal instead of inflame. And because of the mindfulness of breath and body work I can better detect when I’m getting sick, when I require more sleep, and when it’s a good time to push myself physically.

20160121_182214.jpgThe majority of my practice involves ‘basic’ or common poses – the warrior poses, lunges, sun salutes, forward folds; only a small portion of my personal practice involves arm balances and inversions, but I do incorporate them in almost every practice in order to evolve. Of course those common poses are the poses that build strength and awareness in the entire body which enable the core to lift the lower limbs overhead in sirsasana/headstand. Those basic poses are extremely beneficial. Lying in savasana for 20 minutes is beneficial. Skipping asana practice to recuperate is beneficial.

 

But it’s the gentle pushes and hard nudges beyond the body’s limitations that cement new challenging asanas. That being said, it is so important to learn proper technique and alignment because injuries in yoga occur and will occur more frequently without proper support and guidance. You can’t do an inversion without a killer warrior II. You have to know how to read that the back foot is engaged and the back hand is in the midline to also know that the legs are engaged when upside down. Sure those are totally different body parts and skills, but the proprioception skill is the same.

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In one of Malcolm Gladwell’s books he wrote that the Beatles were so good and changed the music scene not because of how much they played and practiced, but because they challenged themselves and the industry as musicians. I believe that the Beatles reference came from ‘Outliers‘ a book that Gladwell wrote about how the best of the best came to be at the top and no surprise a big secret was practice and dedication. A study was done at one point to say that the secret number was 10,000 hours – put that much time into anything, time in which you’re constantly pushing yourself into an area of gradual difficulty, and you will become great.

Sometimes when I post a fancy yoga pose on my social media I’ll get comments and questions such as, “Oh my gosh, that was so amazing, how can you do that?” My response is always to say that I did that with a lot of practice and dedication. A good week for me is to put in 5-6 hours of yoga practice on top of my 5-6 hours of teaching. That might seem like a lot (I’m sure many teachers put a lot more in than that, but I also have a full time job) but yoga is my passion, it’s more than a physical practice, it’s a lifestyle. It permeates into all aspects of my life and I will be doing some form of yoga until the day that I die.

Challenging my body into difficult positions is rewarding. I no longer think of my falls or poor attempts as failures but rather as the effort needed to one day make the impossible possible.

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Plum Village -Loubès-Bernac, France

Review of a Day of Mindfulness

Last month I visited my husband in the south of France. His parents retired to a small village north east of Bordeaux about 20 years ago and in our eight year relationship I have had the luxury of visiting that area of the world four or five times. On this most recent visit we made it a priority to go to Plum Village located about an hour from his parents’ home. A couple of years ago he took his mother for a day of mindfulness and has wanted to take me there ever since.

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Days of mindfulness occur twice a week, Tuesdays & Sundays; they are either held at the upper hamlet or the lower hamlet, be sure to double check the website for which location your day of mindfulness is being held at. The male monks live at the Upper Hamlet and the female monks live at the Lower Hamlet. On our early morning drive to the Upper Hamlet we saw a trail of female monks walking in the chilly morning air making their way to the Upper Hamlet for the day of mindfulness.

The schedule for the day is registration (we found nowhere to actually register and were simply pointed in the direction of the main speaking hall,) dharma talk, tea break, walking meditation, lunch, and break up groups to discuss dharma further. Upon arrival my husband and I both commented how utterly happy that we felt at the monastery, it was a peaceful, excited feeling that we agreed that we had both felt previously at other retreat centers and similar to emotions that I had felt at my yoga teacher trainings. You’ll think me the hippy that I am, but it was almost as if we could feel the positive, peaceful energy in the air.

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We arrived early so we walked around the grounds. It felt homey to be surrounded by Asian architecture and Buddhist symbols, reminiscent to our years in South Korea. The dharma talk was held in the main hall. The talk was given in English with headsets for French or Vietnamese attendees. Shoes were removed upon entering the hall, another flashback to Korea. The day that we were there the theme of the talk was the four noble truths of Buddhism. In a nutshell, the four truths are:

  • Be aware of suffering
  • Be aware of the causes of suffering
  • The end of suffering
  • Path of happiness

There was so much detail given on this topic. This post is not to explain the dharma talk, but rather the experience as a whole. Suffice it to say that the talk was interesting and informative.

The tea break was notable in that it was almost 100% zero waste. Loose leaf tea was available with nifty little single tea strainers that hung on the edge of your mug. Vegan milk was available and the method for cleaning mugs and utensils was simple, well described, and effective. The same method was used for the plates and chopsticks after lunch – a series of washing tubs and rinse tubs that you walked your dishes through. Then they were collected for a final sanitation in a machine. Compost was collected and I assume used for the organic garden on site.

We all convened near the temple for the walking meditation. A few monks explained that the walk was a practice of living in the present. There was absolutely no talking during the walk, instead of holding each other’s attention with conversation we allowed the nature of spring to be our guides. After completing part of the path we ended up on a grassy knoll where we sat in the sun for some time before continuing the walk.

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Lunch was beyond delicious. There were multiple lines to feed the masses, the meal was vegan and Asian inspired. Although the food seemed to be cooked simply, it did not lack in flavor. The eggplant was especially notable and the marinade of the tofu had a satisfying umami taste. My husband and I ate in the grass together and glowed in our blissed-out state.

Something that you should be aware of – throughout the day monks ring large bells that resonate throughout the grounds. When a bell is rung an angel gets… no, actually, when a bell is rung all are to find complete stillness and to move their awareness to their breath as a form of mindfulness practice. As I mentioned at the beginning, my husband and I did not register, so we missed the sign board on this. I instantly caught on as I was nearby a lot of people and did as they did (although it did very much feel like the zombie apocalypse had occurred) but my husband was preparing his tea and humming to himself. Apparently he did not catch on immediately and continued to hum and go about his task blissfully unaware of the statue-like people surrounding him. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall to witness him happily humming aloud at exactly the wrong moment.

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The Logistics

Plum Village is way out there in the middle of nowhere. Most definitely you will need a car. It is an hour and a half’s drive from Bordeaux, but only a 25 minute drive from Bergerac. In the summer there are frequent flights to and from Bergerac to multiple cities in England if you are holidaying in France from England.

Days of mindfulness are by donation with a suggested donation of 20 euro per person. There are donation boxes in the cafeteria.
My husband and I did not stay long after lunch. It was one of my last days in France and he had plans to take me to Sarlat, a picturesque, Medieval town not far from Plum Village. If you are interested in Buddhism and especially in Thich Naht Hanh, then I highly recommend adding a trip to Plum Village to your trip to the south of France.

 

Teachers Should Be Beginners

 

Most adults don’t try new things very often, that’s dependant on the adult of course, but in general we seem to stick to our routines. It has been told to us for years that failure is bad, and more recently that you shouldn’t post it on Instagram unless it’s perfect. Fear of failure is often felt when being courageous and attempting something new, say,  a yoga class.

Emotions such as frustration, comparison, jealousy, anger, and other similarly negative emotions are felt when our foot slides off our leg in tree pose and there is someone else in the class who looks like they could knit and do tree pose at the same time. I know this because I’ve felt it and I’ve seen it in my classes. In fact, it happens in pretty much every single class that I teach, I can’t speak for the emotions felt, but certainly not every single person can do every single pose in every single yoga class, myself and all teachers included.

That is why I remind my students over and over again to move out of the negative emotions and into a spirit of playfulness. Negative self-speak almost always creeps into our heads when unable to do something new and while witnessing someone else do the same challenging thing in a seemingly carefree manner.

Personal examples of things that I have tried in the past few years in which I have felt down on myself for struggling with include: learning to drive a standard drive, learning phrases in new languages, handstands, running, learning to swim better, learning to sew, etc. Luckily, most of those things I have learned with the guidance of my supportive husband. Sure, there were arguments, most notably during the teaching and learning to drive a stick shift, but mostly there was encouragement.

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As a yoga teacher I value those new experiences, even those outside of my yoga practice, because they put me into an uncomfortable state of fear, frustration, anxiety, stress, and doubt in my abilities which are the same sorts of sensations felt when trying half moon for the first time and during crow pose at almost every attempt. Facial expressions in class give me insight into what emotions my students are feeling and I try to lead them to positive optimism. I also remind students that difficult yoga poses are just that and take many hours of training and practice to achieve until the right muscles are built, awareness is learned, and technique is taught, then one day a pose will just click and will be felt for a microsecond until balance is lost, but the aha moment exists and suddenly the pose seems less evasive.

If you are a yoga teacher, or a teacher of anything to anyone – teaching your partner to salsa, your child how to read, you daughter how to knit; remember that trying new things is challenging and sticking to them is even more difficult. Walking into a yoga class and being unable to do 25% of the class might put people off from ever returning, which is why as teachers we have a duty to warmly reassure those that trust us to teach them that while many yoga poses seem impossible, with dedication and commitment the challenging can possibly one day become our realities.

Yoga teachers must be able to empathize with their students, but most yoga teachers have been doing yoga for a long time so forget just how much the thighs burn and shake in warrior two because it’s such a common pose that it can feel as easy as sitting in a chair to teachers. That is why being a beginner in other arenas or pushing your practice with new challenging poses for yourself is one of the best ways to improve your teaching skills. Empathize with your students in warrior two the same way that you would want empathy in tortoise pose.

 

 

 

Do Yoga for Your Mom, Your Neighbor, & Your Dog

I have heard it said, I have said it to classes, and I strongly believe that a yoga practice not only benefits the person practicing, but also every single person that they have contact with, in person, daily, now and again, passing by, or via a screen. This is not a truth just for yoga, if you do what brings you joy, then that joy will shine for others to see and benefit from.

In my case, and for many that I know, that thing is yoga. When I teach beginners I tell them that the difference between yoga and a general exercise class such as Zumba or Spin, is the link between breath and body. That’s usually where I leave it. I don’t dive into the mind and body connection right away. That comes with time and practice, but breathwork is from day one on the mat. It is through an elongation of the breath and concentration on breathing that the mind can slightly settle and calm. A deep exhalation releases tension in the muscles and the mind. By making inhales and exhales as long as possible your nervous system moves from the sympathetic nervous system into the parasympathetic nervous system, or from the fight or flight setting to the rest and digest setting.

You may be thinking that you never get to that fight or flight state of being because you have a typical life – work, kids, house, etc., but anyone can find themselves in stress, and I probably don’t have to say this, but we all live stressful lives even if a tiger isn’t staring us down in the jungle. Simply driving to the yoga studio and experiencing some road rage can get your heart rate up and quicken the breath, not to mention larger stressors such as financial troubles, work situations, or health issues. In general, our lives have become very comfortable and many of us have enough to eat and a rough over our heads (of course, not all of us though,) but our modern lives are still stressful.

There’s no denying that I am an advocate of yoga. As a teacher for more than five years there haven’t been many (or any?) students that I have taught yoga to and that have left high-strung. They may enter the sidewalk and encounter something that annoys them and go right into a state of annoyance and stress, but right after rolling out of Savasana they’ve all been pretty well relaxed. Concentration on breath is a skill that can be taken from the yoga mat to everyday life, a way to manage stress. The gentle and slow movement of a yoga class is also rejuvenating for most. If you’re someone that’s already on the yoga boat then you’ve probably seen those memes about yoga, for those of you who don’t primarily follow yoga accounts on Instagram, they read things such as – Yoga, because punching people is unacceptable.

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So, how does going to a yoga class benefit those around you? Well imagine a scenario of a disagreement between you and your loved one, a shop attendant, coworker, etc. and imagine that you have been practicing breathwork and discipline through a yoga class. Hopefully you will think to utilize those skills in the argument. Also, when you are happy and care for yourself you are better able to make those around you happy and to better care for them. Selfcare is not just good for the self, it is good for the whole. Even your dog. One way that yoga benefits my dog is through empathy. There are times when it’s cold out and I don’t want to go for a walk with him, but then I think how happy it makes him to go for walks, the same way that doing yoga makes me happy and I don’t want to keep happiness from him (not to mention the bodily need he has for a walk!)

There’s never been a time when I thought, ‘ugh, I wish I hadn’t gone for this walk with him,’ the opposite is true – I generally enjoy the walk, get fresh air and more movement in my day. Likewise there’s never really been a time when I’ve left a yoga class and thought –  ‘ ugh, wish I wouldn’t have done that.’ My yoga’s good for my physical & mental health and good for my dog.

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