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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Warm Up Your Practice

The days and nights are cold and the sun, although present, is not very warming at this time of year in the northern hemisphere. Winter officially begins on December 21st – the Winter Solstice, and until then the days get shorter and shorter. Then, like magic, they start to lengthen day by day in such tiny increments that it’s difficult to notice. Short, cold days can make it difficult to find motivation for fitness or generally rolling out of bed. To counter the chill in the air here are some way to bring warmth and light into your yoga practice.

Heat Up Your Practice

When it is cold out there and the opportunity to be outside is slimmer than other months, I like to turn the heat up on the mat. My flows become more common than a hatha practice and I add variety into my vinyasa with more strength than flexibility work. By keeping the pace up and challenging myself with difficult pose varieties the heat comes from within and in a matter of minutes I’m removing a layer.

Awkward Chair Squats

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Some easy options to incorporate into your yoga practice include adding squats in awkward chair pose. Stand in chair with your feet hip distance, on the in breath stand up and squeeze your glutes pushing your hip points forward (this builds heats and tones the glutes), on the next breath, squat back into chair.
Add rounds of 10 squats at the beginning of your three Surya Namaskar B’s/Sun Salutation B’s to create fire in the lower body. Move with the breath.

Chaturanga Push Ups

Chaturanga push ups, or double dips. This can be done on the knees or from full plank. On the exhale lower down to chaturanga, hold and hover there until the breath is fully out, on the inhale push down into the floor through both hands with fingers spread wide, and push back into plank. One is enough for me, but if you have the power and energy do two or more at a time. Watch your form and drop the knees if the body isn’t straight.

Handstands at the Wall

If like me, you require the use of a wall for handstand as you build up your skill and confidence to move to the middle of the room, then begin a practice by doing handstands at the wall. The hop up into the pose is warming in its own right and to hold and build endurance using the wall for balance will teach the body the tone that is needed to hold the body upright, upside down. Do not simply allow the legs to rest on the wall creating a banana curve in the back, that relies on the wall too much meaning that no engagement is occurring in the muscles of the lower body. Instead, move one leg slightly away from the wall, over the corresponding hip, then try bringing the second leg over the hip until you are in a vertical handstand. Likely, your legs will float right back down to the floor, if that’s the case then try again. Be sure to alternate the leg you kick up with, do not favor the stronger leg. Rest in child’s pose, balasana, afterwards for 5-10 breaths.
If handstands aren’t something that you feel ready to practice, then you can substitute kick ups from three-legged-dog. Begin in three-legged-dog, walk the lower foot in slightly closer to the hands and bend that leg’s knee. Come on to the ball of the standing leg foot and do little hops, kicking your heel to your butt. Land lightly! That is key, land with a bent knee and try to land as softly as you can. Do five on each side.
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Light the Way

There are times in the winter when a mug of hot chocolate and good book sound better than anything and the same idea is true of yoga. Sometimes a fiery vinyasa flow is needed, sometimes a slow, restorative practice with mounds of bolsters and blankets is what warms the heart. For these types of classes lighting a nice scented candle, or lots of tea lights is an excellent way to bring peace and serenity to what is already a calming practice.
The glow of real candles is beyond relaxing, but could be dangerous to have around if going into savasana, especially if you’re sometimes prone to falling asleep in savasana as I am! If you are going to use real candles, I suggest investing in natural, soy, hand poured candles and having someone else in the house when you burn them and practice yoga.
An alternative to practicing with lit candles are to use battery operated ones. I have around 20 that I bought second-hand for my wedding that I use for special candlelight yoga classes. Their glow is nice, although can’t match a real candle, the downside is the wastefulness using something that is battery-powered. Another alternative could be to use Christmas lights in your yoga space as a soothing form of lighting.
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It is easy to become lethargic on cloudy, cold days. To desire to bundle up and lay around, and although that is beneficial in its own right, it is also extremely beneficial to keep your yoga practice consistent through all seasons and temperatures in order to create a habit of practice and drill the discipline of rolling out your yoga mat multiple times per week.

Gift Ideas for that Special Yoga Lover in Your Life

It’s the holiday season, meaning that many of us are scratching our heads trying to think of personal gifts to buy for friends, families, and partners that will make them happy. Buying gifts can be fun and enjoyable or annoying and boring. If you’re running out of ideas for what to get someone in your life who loves yoga, then let me help you out a bit.

 

Class Pass / Yoga Studio Gift Card

Pay attention and get a sense of where your loved one enjoys practicing yoga. There is a chance that they have a preferred teacher or studio. It is highly likely that the studio that they prefer visiting sells gift cards and/or class passes. Class passes are electronic or are physical punch cards that give the buyer a discount on drop in prices. Generally the savings is enough to encourage students to buy passes instead of paying per class so that the student saves and the studio has . somewhat of a commitment from students of attending more than one class.

The best thing about buying a class pass or gift card is that not only are you encouraging the continuous healthy habit of going to yoga class, but you are also supporting a small, local business. Bonus! Many yoga studios are women owned!

 

Pact Apparel

These comfy organic cotton apparel items were recently gifted to me by my twin for our birthday and I instantly fell in love. For the environment and for my wallet, I try to only buy new yoga gear when I ‘need’ it, which isn’t often since I have a closet full already, which is because Fast Fashion is a major problem in our modern world, but there are some companies out there trying their best to practice environmentally friendly business and fair trade. Pact Apparel is one of those companies.

47379553_214234589468014_739410316865044480_nTheir products are organic cotton meaning that they are less harmful to the environment because harmful pesticides were not used on their cotton, which is non-GMO, and let me tell you, these babies are soft. I have worn my leggings to do yoga in, as a layer under jeans when it’s really cold out, to work, and to sleep in. They have performed well in all movements, and not so active movements

(the sleeping). This is a company that this environmentalist yoga teacher can get behind.

 

Hand Poured Soy Candles

Most people who practice yoga begin to learn more about their bodies, how they treat them, and what goes into them. That bodily awareness often extends to where their food comes from and to all aspects of being a consumer; it’s more likely to see a yoga student walk from the studio to the co-op than from the studio to the box store.  Awareness of a healthy lifestyle often moves from the yoga mat to the aisles.

In keeping with fair trade and supporting small businesses, a great gift idea for your yoga friend is a hand poured soy candle, made locally if possible. The hand poured aspect supports local artisans and the soy is important because it is a purer than one pulled off of the dollar store shelf.

Candles are a great gift for someone who has a home practice. There’s nothing like a slow flow or long holds with some soothing music in the background and a nicely scented candle glowing in the foreground. Just be sure not to fall asleep in Savasana, or at least to not be the only one in the house if you do.

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I hope these quick gift ideas satisfy you and the yoga practicing receiver of the gifts. Not to completely contradict this post, but remember, that the reason of the season isn’t to give or receive presents, but rather to spend time with one another, so if you’re still not sure what to do, the best advice might be to attend a class together, or meet up for a tea.

Rolf Gates Yoga Workshop Review

My recent post was about choosing which workshop or retreat will be best for you and around the time of writing it an opportunity arose to practice with a travelling, well-known teacher nearby where I live. Although the teacher was quite well-known, I had never heard of him, so I did my research and decided to attend one session of his weekend workshop and these are my thoughts about attending a Rolf Gates yoga workshop.

From the description of the Faith & Flow weekend I had a hunch that Rolf’s classes would offer more than simply asana. In my research I discovered that Rolf consults works with the US Military and has projects supporting boys and men, all through meditation and yoga. This peaked my interest as service and karma yoga are two areas of the eight limbs that speak to me. The weekend description included meditation and lectures both of which he delivered in the module that I attended.

The three-hour workshop began with him having all 60 or so participants join him

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Seated, receiving intention

around his mat so that he could speak to us about philosophy, yoga, and life in general. From this I took away some lessons and put them down in my notebook to reflect on and possibly incorporate into future classes. One thing I should mention is that due to the lecture portion of the class there was a decent amount of time spent sitting. I presumed as much and brought a cork yoga block to use under my sit bones. If you are attending his workshop or any classes that involve long periods of sitting, I suggest bringing along a yoga block, meditation cushion, or blanket to use under the sit bones for ease of sitting.

The asana portion of the class was very similar in style to a class of his that I found on YouTube from five years ago. It was vinyasa and a nice steady flow. Rolf incorporated his philosophies into the flow sprinkling them into his cues now and again, enough to make an impact and still give cues to the flow.

IMG_20181019_210123.jpgThere must be a note made on the organization of the event and event space. Whoever arranged the workshop paid close attention to detail that I myself quite appreciated. There was water sit out in the hall with real glasses (no plastic!) and little ginger candies for participants. There were flowers on the sign in table and a bowl of cards. It was explained to us upon signing in that the cards were for participants to take and leave notes for the teacher. I assume they were for comments and compliments, which after more thought I think are a great idea. As a teacher I would very much appreciate instant feedback from class attendees. I had never seen that before and think that it was a nice touch.

All in all, the workshop was a nice way to spend a Friday night. A room full of local yoga students and teachers is refreshing and inspiring. Two other local yoga teachers went as well and we practiced together. It was a nice way to get to know them better and to learn and grow together. If you are considering attending a workshop with Rolf Gates then I would recommend it. It was a good blend of yoga, meditation, and philosophy. A nice balance to the heavy asana practice that I personally, usually practice.

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Choosing a Yoga Retreat

Yoga retreats take place around the globe, in Costa Rica, Greece, Canada, the US; most everywhere. At first it might seem self indulgent to gift yourself a yoga retreat or something that only the wealthy can afford, it’s true that they can be costly, but for not much more than the cost of a hotel stay, you get the added benefits of yoga classes, healthy food, a beautiful environment, and like-minded yoga people.

As a yoga teacher earning some of my income from teaching, it is on my mind to invest some of my income on the betterment of my teaching – this means attending classes, workshops, trainings, and retreats. Especially if you are a yoga teacher, spending to attend a retreat is an investment in your teaching and having a few days away from it all to practice and reflect is good for everyone.

If you are a yoga student who hasn’t made the leap into becoming a teacher, and may never will, then attending a yoga retreat is just as beneficial for you. Give yourself the gift of well spent time investing in your wellbeing. Treat yourself as memes on Instagram say.

What to Consider When Choosing a Retreat

 

Location, Location, Location

Consider where you want to practice yoga for a few days. Likely, taking time off of work and away from your family will mean that this time away is both a retreat and a vacation, so choose a place where you would like to visit. Are you a beachy person or mountains? Tied into this question is the question of travel costs – how far are you willing to travel? Remember to keep those costs in mind as well. Can you drive to the location or must you fly?

Take a look at the retreat center and make sure that it is somewhere that you want to spend your time. This website is great to find retreats. Once you have one in mind, look up the retreat centers website and find them on Facebook to look at photos. Make sure that the place jives with your desires and needs – are they vegetarian friendly? Sustainable?

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Who’s Teaching? Who Was Their Teacher? What Style of Yoga is It?

Ask yourself the same questions you would ask of any teacher that you are going to spend a fair amount of money on practicing with. There are countless different styles of yoga out there so make sure that the style that will be taught at the retreat is a style that you enjoy or have interest in learning about. Research the teacher on their social media and see who they trained with. If you can’t find the information, write them a private message or email and ask. They will be glad that you are interested in attending their retreat and should happily reply.

Find out if your local studio is hosting any retreats. It’s becoming more common for yoga studios to book retreat locations at beach locals for a few days to a week. To be able to go to a retreat with a teacher that you already have a relationship with and to get to build upon that relationship as well as get to know the other students that are attending would be a beautiful thing. Make your yoga community tighter. If you plan ahead enough you can likely benefit from early bird pricing as well to save some money.

Different styles of yoga speak to different people. Research what style of yoga will be taught at the retreat and how many classes there will be. If it is a new style to you, jump on YouTube and do a few classes to see if you’d be willing to spend the money and time to study the new style, just because it’s unfamiliar, doesn’t mean that you won’t enjoy it. If you are a yoga teacher, exposing yourself to a variety of styles can benefit your yoga teacher toolkit and therefore your students. How much meditation are you looking for, pranayama, service? Do the research to make sure that you are investing your valuable time and money into the right fit.

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What Are You Looking to Gain From the Retreat?

The photo above is of Jason Crandell demoing an assist in handstand at a weekend workshop that I attended in the spring. That sort of break down to challenging poses and assists to utilize as a teacher is exactly what I was looking for. As organizers and teachers if the retreat will be geared towards teachers if that is what you are looking for. Likely, may will not be as they will not be considered continued education, but there’s no harm in asking and maybe the teacher will then throw in a few teaching tips if they know that is what participants are looking for.

If you’re not a teacher or are one but just want to get away for a few days to relax, then look into what other activities the retreat offers or things to do in the area. A retreat that I researched recently had a beautiful lake and hiking trails for leisure time. Check if there are any day expeditions offered or that could be added on to make the most of your time away.

Let Go and Enjoy!

Finally, once you’ve made it to your selected weekend workshop or retreat, let go of expectations and settle in to learning. Recently I was at a workshop and the teacher said that out of the hundreds of things that he taught and said only one may speak to us as students, and to accept that possibility and take that one thing away to incorporate into our teaching and daily lives. This was reasurring to me, because sometimes things do not turn out as we were expecting, but there are always a few take aways. At the very least, enjoy some time away from your day to day responsiblities, let someone else cook for you, and do that thing that you love – yoga.

Teach, Don’t Guide

This is a short memo to yoga teachers out there. No negativity is meant by this message. The message is simple and differs only in verbage, while at the same time has a major effect on your students.

There is a large gap between teaching yoga and guiding yoga. Teaching yoga is necessary for beginners and students with injuries – most students will have injuries, chronic or temporary at some point or another, and often times there is no easy way to ask all of your students if they are working with an injury in a well attended class. In order to keep the students that choose to attend your class safe, teach them pose by pose, cue proper alignment and watch your students as the make their yoga shapes. Know that bodies differ widely and that your students may never look like pictures of BKS Iyengar or Pattabhi Jois. Even as a yoga teacher, you yourself may never exactly mimic classical yoga images, or to put a modern spin on it, you may never pop into a handstand the way Kino does, c’est la vie. It is far better to be kind to yourself and respect your unique limitations (and those of your students) than to push bodies beyond limitations which is when yoga injuries occur.

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How guiding a yoga class differs from teaching is that when a teacher guides they flow along with their class and neglect to give individual attention to students; before I go into it further, I realize that there are times when guiding is preferred to teaching, for example when a class size is large or space is limited for the teacher to be able to walk around the room. There is also the belief that guiding and demoing every single pose for beginners is beneficial so that they have pose-by-pose demonstrations to look at and follow along with. This is completely valid and something that I was taught and sometimes utilize, but I sprinkle my class with walk-arounds and give students further cues or ways to use props to make the pose more comfortable and effective for them.

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Teaching yoga is not a yoga teachers time to practice yoga. If a teacher is guiding because they want to have a good practice themselves, then they are doing their students a disservice. As a teacher it is vital to make time in the day for self practice and to differentiate that time and the valuable time that you give to your students.

The advancement developed through self practice will translate to your students through your teaching. As teachers practice, learn, and feel their own bodies they are better able to serve their students. Recently, I attended two classes back to back at a studio. One was for advanced students, one was for beginners. I can only presume that the teachers trained and studied with the same teachers at the same studio because parts of their sequences were identical, although their classes were advertised as being for different levels of students. Were the classes good? Yes, but I can’t help but think that had the teachers stepped outside of their well rehearsed cueing and taught and watched and adjusted, that the classes would have felt more genuine and personal.

There are times to guide and there are times to teach. As both a student and a teacher, I much prefer to be taught than to be guided.

Guest Author – Ashley Ordines – On Her Health Transformation Through Yoga

Introducing another Ashley! Ashley attended a New Years Yoga workshop hosted by Kara Bemis Yoga in early 2017 and has never looked back since.

On December 31st, 2016 I made a new years resolution to try to become a healthier person. I had struggled for the majority of my life with weight control and mental health issues. The resolution I made came during my very first yoga class at Phoenix Rising Wellness Studio in Jamestown, NY, taught by Kara Bemis. I really enjoyed the class and knew that it was something I would like to continue to do, even though I remember thinking, “wow downward facing dog is SO hard!” This was huge for me as I had never found a physical activity I really enjoyed doing. It even seemed to be mentally beneficial; after only one class my mood had improved. I decided that my resolution for 2017 was going to be regularly doing one thing for myself that would teach me to be more mindful and self-aware, as well as improve my physical fitness, so I signed up for more yoga.

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I began taking classes at Sun Moon Yoga when it opened in a new location in January 2017 with Karen Hansen. Over the next several months I slowly learned to be more comfortable with my body and gradually began feeling improvements in my health. I felt more energetic, flexible, and overall more positive. I even began documenting the food I ate as a way to become more aware of what I put into my body. I consider this point to be when I really started making my journey about mindfulness, specifically relating to how I treat my physical and emotional self.  

I continued to track what I eat as well, and as of today, I have lost 97 lbs… most importantly I have found a physical and mental strength that I never knew I had. Without yoga, this probably wouldn’t have happened.

Over the next 18 months I began to lose weight while gaining strength and confidence. I began trying other physical activities as well, and found that I also really love hiking. So for many months I continued doing yoga 1-5 days a week, both at class and at home, and hiked during the warmer months. I continued to track what I eat as well, and as of today, May 30, 2018, I have lost 97 lbs. I have lost over 10 inches on my waist, 8 inches on each thigh, and 9 inches from my hips. Most importantly, I have found a physical and mental strength that I never knew I had. Without yoga, this probably wouldn’t have happened.

Yoga has taught me to accept myself where I’m at and to not be discouraged by not being able to do everything at once. I have learned patience and acceptance for myself and continue to work every day on loving myself for who I am right now. To anyone who has considered doing yoga but is afraid to try something new, I say do it. Even if you don’t want to lose weight or change anything physically, you can learn so much about yourself just by trying something new. One of the biggest lessons I have learned throughout all of this is that even when your life situation seems like the “end-all-be-all,” it doesn’t have to be forever. Be patient with yourself. Go through the steps. Trust the process. Just breathe. Downward facing dog won’t always be hard.


30595258_10211780662216373_1594345654740582400_nAshley Ordines is a freelance artist/illustrator living in Jamestown, NY. Her focus as an artist is mainly illustration, concept art and design. She is also a passionate environmentalist and hopes to bring focus to environmental issues through her art. Ordines is also an avid gamer and spends most of her free time playing video games or hiking.

Instagram: @ashordinesart @thtashtho

Facebook: Ash Ordines Artworks