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.

 

 

Studio Review – True Yoga Vermont, Rutland, VT

At the end of June 2019 I traveled with my husband to Vermont, for me it was for the first time, to attend a training for work. We extended my work trip into a little mini-vacation, renting an adorable Airbnb on a lake, riding bike trails, visiting farmers markets, and of course going to yoga classes. The first studio I visited in Vermont was in Rutland, a small city south of Burlington by about an hour and where my work training was held. I found True Yoga Vermont online and signed up for their new student deal which was just $20 for a week of unlimited classes.

There is something that you should know about True Yoga Vermont before going – it’s a hot yoga studio. They have hot pilates, Bikram, and flow classes. It’s my opinion that hot yoga is not for everyone, but many people love the experience of doing yoga in a very hot room. True Yoga Vermont certainly believes that hot yoga is for everyone as they outline in their FAQ section. Just know that hot yoga is demanding, so take it at your own pace, even experienced yoga students will likely struggle with the stress of the heat if not used to it. The heat may also cause some to feel dizzy, be sure to rest if you’re feeling fatigued – trust me, teachers don’t mind at all if you rest in child’s pose for a while or a long time, we understand that you are listening to your body.

Regardless of the heat, or because of the heat?, True Yoga Vermont is a fantastic studio in a old renovated bowling alley with tons of character. The owner, Liz, does a great job of making new students feel welcome whether they’re just new to the studio or they’re new to yoga in general. The studio’s website has guidelines of what to expect, how to make the best of your new yoga practice, and how to safely see results from practicing in the heat. Better than just a great website, True Yoga Vermont’s staff are friendly once you arrive and there’s even a sweet little goodies bag for new students after their first class, a detail that gave me the warm fuzzies.

67081606_694311684366954_9023123945502539776_n

As mentioned, the studio is in an old bowling alley on the second floor. There are two studios in the space and a spacious welcoming area complete with merchandise for sale – clothes, mats, and more. There is also a big changing area that has two showers which are vital after a class in which simply entering the space makes sweat bead on the body. Honestly, during the flow class I attended I saw sweat on my arms where I’d never noticed sweat before, it was quite interesting and obviously a detoxifying and purifying experience. For sure it felt effective.

Liz’s welcome statement on the homepage of the website states that it’s normal to feel nervous and excited when trying yoga or hot yoga for the first time, but that the studio is there to support and guide through the experience and that there is no need to know what you’re doing or to be flexible in order to attend. She also says that True Yoga Vermont is a community, I love that. It is a ethos of mine to learn my students’ names, to learn about their lives outside of the studio and to mold unique classes that will aid them on and off the mat, clearly Liz and everyone else at True Yoga Vermont have similar sentiments. I definitely noticed during class that Liz knew her returning students and gave them coaching throughout their practice. She spoke to me before class as a new student to gauge my level, not out of judgement, but to see how much aid I would need. What every good teacher should be doing.

Unfortunately I did not get to maximize my new student special of a week of unlimited classes. I was planning to return the following two days that I was in Rutland, but I can’t have all of our vacations revolve around yoga, so spent quality time on bike trails and eating ice cream with my husband instead. If you live in Rutland I encourage you to try the new student special and to get to as many classes as you can. If I’m ever back in quaint Rutland, I will for sure be returning to True Yoga Vermont.

67298036_338952810393379_3702181750961602560_n

 

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.

13613473_997196343732952_8342292769623637763_o

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.

IMG_20180217_132611.jpg

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.

IMG_4663

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.

Sunset Savasana

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.

teachingyogagwangan

Celebrate & Balance

The holiday season has come and gone and it breezed by like the wind. Parties, festivities, friends and family, and loads and loads of treats in the way of delicious holiday cookies and plenty of alcohol and toasting to the new year. I sincerely hope that you were able to celebrate and let loose as much as possible, but I also believe that for the sake of health there should be a balance of enjoyment and restriction. As a yoga teacher I teach people how to stand on one foot and put their arms in the air and how to balance on their forearms and top of their heads and put their legs in the air, but balance in life goes beyond being able to do impressive feats of gravity.

Adults tell children to eat their vegetables (hopefully) and we ought to remember that rule ourselves, especially at the holiday season when almost every vegetable in site has been corralled and buried in pounds of cheese and some sort of oil. Did I eat those tempting casseroles? Absolutely, but I also practiced yoga regularly during the holidays and continued to eat salads and drink a lot of water. I did not sacrifice one for the other, I thoroughly enjoyed eating three cookies for breakfast and sweating on the yoga mat in the afternoon. Waste not want not, we had a lot of cookies around, but during the other 50 weeks of the year we don’t.

The ball dropped in Times Square people and people around the world set intentions and resolutions, goals for the new calendar year. Often for women those goals are diet and weight based, which I have mixed emotions about, but if phrased in another way, say like this: Often for women those goals are health based, then I am all for it. Self worth and confidence should not be defined by a number on a household scale, but instead making goals to move more and feel better for the new year are great ways to move into the new year.

The way that I have chosen to stay healthy and physically active has been yoga. It consumes a lot of my life because I love the way that it makes me feel and I dislike the way I feel when too many days go by without practicing yoga, so much so that not doing yoga is not a part of my life anymore, I make time for it multiple times through my week. However, I recently went for a run with my husband and instantly realized that I am not exercising my heart enough. In yoga I teach students to not push their bodies into a state of aerobics and to use their breath as a tool to keep their practice safe and that is how I practice as well, therefore I hardly ever move into cardiovascular work. My form of physical fitness is very imbalanced.

When the weather is nice enough I commute to work by bike, so twice a day, five days a week I ride my bike to work pedalling hard up a small incline to get to work on time which makes me breathe hard and sweat, but now that it is winter I drive to work and am now lack cardio. My goal for 2019 is to incorporate more cardio into my life, even though I pretty much hate it.

Having a fitness and health goal for the new year, or at anytime of the year is a good thing in my opinion as long as it is a healthy goal and is not developed from guilt, but from a healthy consideration for one’s own longevity and quality of life. I know that the heart is a muscle that needs to be strengthened just like the quads and glutes and that it plays an extremely important role in my health, a vital role you might say, so although it is a struggle for me to decide to go for a run in a way that doing yoga isn’t a difficult decision but rather a happy one, I will still strive to do so, not out of guilt, not to shed pounds, but as an investment in my own future and so that I am able-bodied enough to hike mountains with my husband and our dog.

16601868_10155029052227264_648896903537458715_o

May you create joy, love, happiness, success, health, and balance in 2019 and every year to follow, Namaste.

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

13246182_1056031204472359_4414487788714529391_o

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.
IMG_20180217_132611.jpg

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.
IMG_20181222_082758_454_1920x1080

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.

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?

20160207_160052.jpg

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.

IMG_20180324_114105.jpg

 

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.

IMG_3213

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.

13613473_997196343732952_8342292769623637763_o

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.