Before and After Rishikesh, India

One year ago I decided to leave my country to explore the world doing Yoga. Ive been practicing asana since I was 15, but had never thought I’d ever study to become a yoga teacher. When I started the trip I didn’t know exactly what countries I wanted to visit or how this was going to play out, I just had some clues, ideas, a mental map of what I wanted to do. A MUST was going to India to do a Yoga TTC.

In my mind, I had planned to do this in December 2016, but in the middle of the trip I was in Hawaii and I decided I wanted to leave to India right at that moment (September 2016). It was something I can’t explain as a mental process, it was just a call from destiny that I had to take. One month later I was arriving in New Delhi, the capital of India. I cannot lie, at the beginning it was a real shock for me…everything. The noise, the heat, so many people, everything so crowded, the food, I was not the kind of girl that immediately falls in love with India, it was something that came with the process; in the end, I liked it that way because slowly but surely, you fall in love with things much deeper than when it’s just a crush.

Finally I was there, living one of the most intense experiences of my life. Everyday we woke up at 5:30 am and started practicing Hatha Yoga, then Pranayama; after 3 hours being up, we finally had breakfast, and then the day went on, class after class. At 8:30 pm more less, we were done, but it was really intense each day, not only because of the obvious things, but also because you are living your own process, and at the same time 15 more people like you are living their own process too; that deep journey inside yourself, a lot of intense, hard stuff comes out. In the third week, the magic happened and I was feeling much better; my ashtanga practice was improving a lot and I felt I was unstoppable; I felt I never wanted to stop practicing. Every time I went to a cafe with my friend, I could hear everybody talking about the same, even though they studied in different schools; everyone had the same issues and concerns, and I, who felt my feelings were so special, was actually feeling much the same as everybody else! ( hehe)

 

Anyway, I don´t want to talk so deeply about the TTC exactly but about what happened inside after living that experience in that part of the world with those teachers. Rishikes, India is a small city 230 kms away from New Delhi; it is a sacred city, the world capital of Yoga and it is one of the most special places I’ve been to; surrounded by the Himalayas, separated by Maa Ganga, and full of Yoga schools, Babas, Gurujis and all of us; westerners trying to learn from the source and the root. This place is pure magic, they don´t sell alcohol, or meat, and everything closes at around 9-10 pm.

Those days in that place, after that experience I wrote: How can you be the same after your eyes have seen the most beautiful and the ugliest both outside and inside yourself… I still don’t know if I’ve found my destiny but it feels like something very profound. I’m not the same person that arrived back a month ago; something has changed; priorities are not the same. I truly feel lighter inside, and I’ve finally understood what really matters in life for me. I don’t want to argue anymore with people just to be right. I want to be more patient everyday. Sitting at the banks of Mother Ganga taught me so much about letting things and people go, about having complete certainty in the process and timing of things. This doesn’t mean I never feel things anymore or that I’m a Hipster-Hippie, it means I feel things deeply in my heart but everyday the distance between my feelings, the reaction and the letting go of the control is shorter, and that is priceless. It is not all about India, but Rishikesh helped a lot. ( I think Alanis Morrissette also felt that way when singing “Thank you India”)

In my opinion, it is really important to find a School – an Ashram to study and stay where you feel like you’re at home for that month or 2 months that you´ll be living there. To this end, I can totally recommend the place where I studied: Anadi Yoga Centre, not only because of the incredible Indian Teachers with a lot of teaching experience, but they are also very concerned about sharing the Yoga knowledge in a very professional and passionate way, instilling in you the wish to do and give your best everyday, and always very open to addressing all your doubts and concerns. ( Trust me, there are many, many schools that are just businesses )

My connection with this place is so deep that I decided to go back to study more, and to live there so I could experience it in a different way this time. Totally worth it. Rishikesh, India is a place that I can also call Home, because there I feel nearer to myself, to the true being that I am.

Namaste

 

 

 

Fiorella is a Chilean Wanderlust Yogini & Travel Blogger. Her personal seal is to share about everything that has made her a happier and healthier person. Her beliefs: Kabbalah, Her Life Philosophy: Yoga. // www.fioreyogini.com @fioreyogini

Turn Your Vinyasa Flow Into a Moving Meditation

“Inhale from tadasana as you lift your arms and rise, looking up. Exhale, lowering into a forward fold, releasing your arms to your shins or to the floor. Inhale rise and half way lift, flattening the back and looking up. Exhale as you lower into chaturanga dandasana, firmly planting both hands onto the floor, making sure your fingers are open and your pointer fingers are parallel as you engage your stomach by pulling your belly button towards the spine as you step or hop back into a plank position. WITH CONTROL slowly lower half way down into a 90 degree angle with your arms, making sure your elbows are firmly pressed into the body AND keeping your spine straight, hips down and a neutral neck. Oh yeah, and make sure you are SLOWLY exhaling, evenly, while you lower.”  – Yoga Instructor

Confused yet? We haven’t even reached upward facing dog in the beginning of a dynamic sun salutation. Now if you are a seasoned yogi, you just smiled and reminisced while reading this paragraph. On the other hand, for a not so experienced yogi, this could lead to confusion, even frustration!

Vinyasa flow is a beautiful practice, filled with focused breath, creativity and strength. When you break “Vinyasa” down into ancient Sankrit, “vi” means “in a special way” and “nyasa” means “to place”. It also means “breathe to movement”. Therefore, you place your body in a special way, and breathe. Simple enough, right? However, Vinyasa classes have a tendency to have a rapid flow filled with diversity, at times leading to confusion. This is where students can easily miss the most important part, proper breath and mindfulness, mainly for beginners. Without these two crucial points, are we truly practicing Yoga…?

So here is the question; how do we reach that deep meditative peace in a vinyasa flow class? Here are a few steps in the right direction:

1.) Repetition.

Haven’t you ever heard the expression, “practice makes perfect”? Well, we are not striving for perfection in yoga by any stretch, but the more you practice, the more your mind can relax. Therefore, “practice makes peace”. Why? Because you don’t have to think so much about the “steps”, it just becomes second nature. Once your unconscious mind has picked up the sequence, it has room to focus on breath and meditation.

2.) Do your homework.

If you are a beginner to intermediate level, and truly want to engulf yourself in the magic of yoga, you must take your learning beyond a 60 – 90 minute class. Three words, books, google and YouTube! There is a world of information out there. When you find yourself struggling with a flow or a posture, research it, understand it, that way by the time you make it to your mat, you are half way there.

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3.) Patience.

“Have infinite patience and success is yours.” – Swami Vivekananda

Take some advice from the wise. These things take time. In ancient texts, Lord Shiva states there are 84 basic asanas. In this day and age, there are thousands of possible variations. In a vinyasa class, each instructor has that entire realm of options to include in a session. Every class might be different, changing out a few or many postures. In other words, be kind to yourself, and practice patience. Patience leads to peace of mind.

4.) Breath.

Yoga is not yoga, without breath. When you breathe properly, mainly utilizing your abdominal region, you are more likely to reach that meditative state by triggering your parasympathetic nervous system, the “rest and repair” mode. You also allow more oxygen into your blood stream.

Once you have followed these steps, you are on your way to finding the moving meditation in any vinyasa flow class! With knowledge, practice, patience and breath you can allow your mind to relax, and truly flow, like a dance through the sun salutation and the postures. When you can base your thoughts primarily on your breath, it will lead to dynamic mediation throughout an entire class, not just in final savasana.

 

 

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Melissa Andersen is the founder of Passport to the Heart Retreat, and holds yoga retreats and events worldwide. She is a passionate American yoga instructor and motivational coach with over 12 years of experience.

Practice With Consistency

Patanjali tells us that practice becomes grounded when it is pursued consistently, with earnestness, over a long period of time. For many of us, we feel as if this is almost impossible. We may have a busy work and/or school schedule, or maybe kids, family and pets that demand attention. So how are we able to maintain our daily practice consistently despite our daily lives? Now this is where Sutra 1.12 comes in- abhyasa and vairagya. Effort and non-attachment.


In order to create or maintain a practice with consistency, we first must make sacrifices. We need to practice vairagya, non-attachment. Letting go of expectations. If you believe that your practice is only your practice if you have a full hour to move through a flow or have a lengthy warm up, cool down and 10 minute Savasana, this is one of the first sacrifices we need to make. This expectation needs to be released. Some days we may only have ten minutes of free time; so we step on our mat, do one round of Sun Salutations and we’re out the door. Or maybe we only have time after a long day at work when your energy seems to be spent, so it’s legs up the wall and supine twists before you’re off to bed.


If you have children or pets that want your attention, work them into your practice. Instead of disturbing your peace by shooing them away, let them be. Even try to include them if you can. For me, I know my home practice isn’t complete without a cat laying on me and joining my Savasana.


Or maybe distractions aren’t your problem, the only time you have free is after a long and grueling day at work. Is the first thing you want to do when you get home from a busy day to jump onto your mat, flow through vinyasas or power through standing poses and inversions? Well, maybe. But for most people, that’s not the reality. You’re drained, unmotivated and tired. You just want to lay down. So what do you do? Work this into your practice! Take any last drop of abhyasa (effort) you have left. Practice vairagya (non-attachment) by letting go of the belief that a practice only counts if you flow through vinyasas and inversions. Sit your legs up the wall, stretch out the day, then head to Savasana. Is this any less “yoga” than going to class and breaking a sweat or handstands? Nope, it’s not. Sorry to break it to you, but Yoga isn’t simply a workout routine. Yoga isn’t something that fits into a box or category and it sure isn’t something that is the same for everyone. “The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.” (Sutra 1.2)

Yoga is simply taking the time to tend to your body, release that which no longer serves you and slow (if not stop) your racing thoughts. So whether to you this means flowing through a well rounded routine or taking ten minutes at the end of the day to surrender, any cultivation of mindfulness and release of “the mind-stuff” is Yoga. Any practice is still a practice no matter how small, and consistency is still achievable even with only ten minutes to spare. Remember that.


In conclusion, the biggest key to consistency is practicing with non-attachment. Letting go of the expectation that you need a full hour or rounded flow to practice. Let go of the expectation that you need complete silence or solitude to practice, and begin working with what you have; whether it be pets, kids, or a busy schedule. Adjust your practice to your own needs, and treat yourself gently when your energy is spent elsewhere. Approach your mat with an open mind, adjust your practice to your own needs, and peace will soon follow.

 

 

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After her battle with anxiety and depression led her to seek alternatives, Maddy has been practicing yoga daily for three years. Now she is training to become a certified instructor and shares her journey through YouTube: Sacred Synchronicities and on Instagram: @sacredsynchronicities.

5 Reasons to Teach Yoga for Free

Cover Photo: Shaunte Ditmar Photography

The new year is in full force and instead of adding any more weight to the unpredictable future, maybe introducing a softer approach to our world view could create some lasting ripple effects.

As the world seems to be getting smaller, faster, and cloudier, at the same time, more dreams are coming true; love is forever being found, and the possibilities of a change in consciousness on a global scale is becoming a reality — Instead of focusing on things that separate, we must look outside of the norm, think for ourselves, and strive for a different set of values if we are going to be able to come out of this era of uncertainty and thrive.

Simply put, to teach yoga for free is GOOD. To do anything for free is good. But as a viable construct of our society it becomes a commodity and therefore;

1) To teach yoga for free or within an exchange system is a little piece of CHANGE in SOCIETY that we’ve got our hands on.

A healthy wide-spread yoga practice is a veritable KEY to opening the door to less reliance on the systems that separate and discourage people. You scratch my back I scratch yours. The more we incorporate this into our communities the more networking we can have outside of stereotypes and economic standing. Going against the grain and being a free thinking individual will help bridge the gap in ways unimaginable.

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2) Teaching a free class, or pushing our own boundaries and maybe traveling to a different country to teach yoga, we consciously OPEN ourselves up to an abundance of new possibilities.

You teach, you travel, you learn; and the whole world becomes your oyster. The pearl of who you want to be emerges. Stepping into the direction of service, you ultimately free yourself from value restrictions and the flow of goodness cascades into all corners of your life. You never know who might enter your class, or what opportunities may arise.

The universe always provides…

3) Teaching yoga classes literally ADDS PEACE to the world–teaching classes for free reaches the many individuals who haven’t tried yoga yet or aren’t willing to pay for a class.

You don’t need to watch the news or read the paper to know that (even in regards to your own mind), peace is needed.

Pranic breathing, literally increases your AWARENESS of yourself, and your own personal awareness is where peace resides. To share the possibility of awareness for others in a group setting is the seed to growing the PEACE in the world.

4) Teaching a free class a week (even just once in your life) or taking a trip to somewhere through a yoga teaching exchange network is a way to LEARN and expand in new ways.

Being a teacher doesn’t take away the fact that you are forever a student in the classroom of the world, and in every direction we have a lesson to learn. To accept and give freely in an exchange outside of monetary currency allows a free form energy circulation, softly opening yourself up to new patterns, new traction; humility. You discover the strength of SERVICE which as a tenet of yoga philosophy, takes your tangible yoga practice to a higher level.

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5) Free yoga and exchanging classes can CREATE a NETWORK of other wellness practices that are not reliant on the monetary exchange.

If, as a community, we collectively are able to rely on our knowledge and bring our talents to the table, we are diversifying and enriching our ability to prevent illness and stimulate the effectiveness of alternative medicines. Through herbalism, chiropractic adjustments, massage, home services and even home-grown goods, the possibilities through bartering is unlimited.

These ideas are not farfetched or utopian. We are justly apt to creatively bend deeper into characteristics that we want to see emulated in society. The more we work together in a constructive way the more we can actually see changes in the world. The horrors of greed need not reach your inner sanctuary of well-being. Peace and tranquility are knocking at the entire neighborhood’s doorsteps and our limitless existence is unfolding right before our very eyes. Humans as a whole are no-doubt evolving, let the evolution include your dreams and may your dreams become reality.

Let the broken systems of society be mended by the strength of the systems that we know have worked for thousands of years.

 

 

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Abigail Tirabassi: writer, dreamer, believer, artist, ocean lover, finding joy daily.

IG: @scrambby

Life Post Yoga Retreat: Maintaining the Bliss Buzz

Traveling and spending time at a Yoga Retreat or Training Center is one of the most beneficial ways to deepen or re-ignite a yoga practice. Yoga retreats and immersive training centers are an oasis of physical, mental and spiritual bliss! We are fed high-quality, often organic, whole food meals, and we typically do not have to even worry about cleaning our plates after the daily feasts. A daily, often rigorous schedule of asana, pranayama and meditation rejuvenate our minds and bodies while the support of like-minded teachers and fellow yogis hold the space for our transformation and emotional release. We experience decreased responsibilities, limited social media and an absence of addictive substances during the days lived at our yoga sanctuary. We are taken care of and lovingly provided for and held. We often connect so deeply with our fellow yogis on retreat that we question how we ever lived without them in the first place.

Ahhhhh, yes, the blissful bubble of yoga immersion! The environment and community encourage our self-expression and exploration of deep, authentic conversation. We feel so connected, healthy, centered and serene which is the perfect internal environment for our highest selves to shine through.

So, what happens when we leave our yoga bubble and go back home?

We discover on our retreat how easy it can be to consistently practice and embody a yoga lifestyle in a controlled environment purposefully constructed to support yogic principles and transformation. The real world might suddenly feel harsher in contrast to the cozy yoga shalas, yurts and tents we had grown accustomed to. We won’t automatically have many hours a day carved out of our schedules to practice yoga and meditate. Social media, news and other distractions are abundant. And what? We must feed ourselves and clean up? This might feel like too much to handle.

The greatest challenge of leaving a yoga retreat is carrying our recently connected, healthy, centered and serene selves back into the habits, stresses and relationships of our daily lives. It might feel like our yoga saturated bodies and souls transformed in some way making reintegration into the regular world uncomfortable. It may take us time to relate in a new way to our external environment.

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When I return from trainings, retreats and other Yoga Trade travel opportunities, I often find it takes me a period of adjustment. There are obvious extremes I will adjust to like the climate change between the jungle of Costa Rica and my home in Germany, but more importantly, I give myself time to acclimate my inner climate to my regular life at home.

Here are a few tips I find helpful to help integrate, prolong the yoga-bliss-buzz, and stay grounded in the regular world after a yoga immersion:

1. Home Sanctuary

Create a small retreat at home. If you don’t already have a sacred practice space in your home, find a small room or corner that you can create a mini yoga sanctuary. Bring your yoga mat, any props, a pillow, candles and incense. You may even create a small altar with items that inspire you. The space doesn’t have to be big to feel like a little slice of bliss at home. This home sanctuary might even inspire you to consistently practice and dedicate more time to your self-care and well-being than before.

2. Nourish Your Physical Body

If the diet you followed on your retreat was very different than your regular diet, it might be a shock to your body to jump back into old diet regimes – especially if at the retreat, you avoided sugar, alcohol, caffeine, etc. You may even consider incorporating any new eating habits you learned that really worked for you. Take some time to fuel and nourish your body with what it needs and take it easy on cravings. Treats are good, but over indulgence after a week or longer on a retreat might leave you feeling less than optimal.

3. Set Goals

We often quickly embrace the schedule at a retreat as we experience the luxury of so much free-time and limited responsibilities. If your regular schedule doesn’t allow for 3 hours of asana and meditation every morning, set a realistic goal that will still get your body moving and soul connected. You might wake up 30 minutes early every day and go straight to your sacred practice space. Maybe you find a local studio with a lunch time or evening class that you can attend a few times a week. Find a self-care and yoga goal that works with your reality! A consistent physical and mental practice will help you stay grounded and connected to your highest self, long after the retreat buzz wears off.

4. Reconnect

Taking time out of our lives to focus on self-care and personal growth often requires a sacrifice in another area of our lives. If you disconnected on your retreat from loved ones to focus your energy on your relaxation and transformation, take time when you return to reconnect with them. Spend some quality time and share your retreat experience with your partner, family and friends. Ask them what they have been doing while you were gone. These honest conversations will help rebuild and strengthen any weakened connections during your time away.

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5. Be Gentle

Did you discover yourself feeling more gentle, compassionate, honest, open and free than ever before on your retreat? The yoga retreat bubble is the perfect place to truly practice and embody the teachings of yoga. Sometimes, the real world with all of the challenges, stressors and calamities that inevitably transpire makes acting like an enlightened yogi nearly impossible. If you find yourself losing your calm, go easy on yourself. Don’t beat yourself with unhelpful self-talk, “I was just on a yoga retreat! I should be better/kinder/calmer than this!” Be gentle and patient with yourself. The yoga bubble is a perfect place to practice the lessons and teachings in a controlled environment, and the real world is like the exam we get to finally apply what we learned. If you want to incorporate the teachings and be better at being you in the world, practice.

I hope these tips help you ease back into daily life post-retreat with more grace and patience while maintaining the yoga bliss and teachings. Namaste.

 

 

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Sarah is a Yoga Trade Travel Representative. She loves to explore herself and the world through the lenses of yoga and travel and constantly challenge herself to uncover truth and unity within and around her.

CONNECT:

http://www.la-yoga-vida.com/

Access Your Highest Potential!

Inspired by World-Renowned Life Coach Trainer, Anna Suil

p1030097Anna Suil is a true master of how to live a vibrant, joyful and balanced life. I began training with her for purposes of personal-development, but have since found great value in integrating the tools of Life Coaching into my work as a Yoga Teacher and Retreat Leader.

I’ll be the first to admit, that the idea of a Life Coach is one I shied away from at first, and certainly never a title I sought for myself. It was the inspiring story of my teacher Suil that gave me an entirely new perspective.

As a young adult, Suil committed herself to the path of yoga & meditation, studying under an impressive list of spiritual teachers including Baba Ram Das, Goenka, and Buddhist masters in India, Nepal, Japan and Korea. She continued her formal education with a degree in Psychology, which enabled her to effectively spread the teachings of the East to a Western audience. Among the many hats she has worn in her lifetime, Suil is now a Life Coaching Trainer with an expertise in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a technique which trains the brain to rewire itself towards positive thought patterns and behaviors in order to maximize our human potential.

In the last year, Suil’s audience has made a drastic shift from the leading corporate CEOs in Asia to a community of health and wellness practitioners at Yandara Yoga Institute, a humble training center in the desert of Mexico. Needless to say, she means it when she says that Life Coaching is a valuable tool for everyone. As Suil makes the shift into retirement, her teachings are being carried forth across a wide spectrum for personal and professional development.

So what is Life Coaching all about?

Here are a few FAQs boiled down specifically for the Yoga Trade community!

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Life Coaching is a tool to access your highest potential – those hidden jewels within each and every one of us just waiting to be uncovered!

Who needs a Life Coach?

Short answer: everyone. Because of its holistic approach to well-being, the tools can be applied uniquely to each individual encompassing work, leisure time, romantic relationships, family & friends, and so forth. Having someone shed light on areas that may have been hiding in the subconscious can lead to a better understanding of how to maximize fulfillment in every moment.

How does it work?

A coach supports a client in achieving their goals by first identifying what they are and then exploring options unique to their situation in order to set a clear path moving forward. Rather than offering direct advice, clients are challenged to find solutions within themselves, thus gaining the skills to be more efficient in reaching future goals.

Why does it work?

We are multi-dimensional beings, and as our lives become more and more fragmented between work, play and relationships, the perspective of a skilled coach helps keep clients on track and most importantly, stay accountable!

Where to begin?

Coaching can take place in person, online or even involve travel experiences and retreats which facilitate the process by taking clients outside of their normal surroundings to help spark creative solutions.

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If you are interested in learning more, reach out to Mary Tilson at info@marytilsonyoga.com

www.marytilsonyoga.com
Instagram: @marytilson

Testimonial:

“I had never thought of consulting a life coach before but was presented the opportunity at a training program I was attending and feel very lucky to have had the chance. Mary helped me realize that there are tangible steps we can take in order to live the life we want. She helped coach me into identifying what these steps were for me in a way that made me feel very comfortable as I had a big part in identifying what I was comfortable with and what I thought was possible. I loved the fact that I left the meeting with an actual list of things to do daily to help me reach my goals. It wasn’t just talking fluff. It was actually creating a realistic plan to help me achieve what I want. Mary was professional, nonjudgmental and understanding. I would recommend her life coaching services with the highest praises.”

-Erika, Yoga Teacher, USA

 

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Mary Tilson is a world traveling Yoga Teacher, Retreat Leader, and one of Anna Suil’s certified Life Coaches. She is currently the Yoga & Wellness Director of Nihiwatu, Travel+Leisure’s “No1 Hotel in the World” on Sumba Island, Indonesia.

Hot Yoga Isn’t Punishment: 10 Tips for Making Friends With Your Body During a Hot Yoga Class

Friends, friends: it’s that time of year.

I’ve taught Saturday and Sunday mornings for seven years now, and every December around this time folks roll into class ready to sweat out every canape and martini they half-drunkenly inhaled at the office holiday party the night before. Sometimes they’re wearing six layers of clothing in a 99-degree room so as to “detox” all the pinot and the feta and the gingerbread, armed with liters of coconut water and a couple of big towels for mopping up the evidence.

This always makes me a little bit sad.

I mean, I totally get it. I remember countless hazy, hungover twentysomething mornings spent rolling into Bikram classes feeling like I needed to do the same thing. Too many yoga practices that felt like atonement for the night before.

A decade later, as a hot yoga teacher myself, I cringe to think that my class could ever be complicit in my students’ self-abasement.

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So here I am to remind you: hot yoga is not a punishment.

You are not here to flog yourself for everything you consumed last night — especially in this season of overindulgence. You’re not here to beat your body into submission. You’re not here to burn enough calories that you “can have” that extra slice of pie tonight at Grandma’s.

You do not have to “detox” every bit of sugar you’ve eaten in the last month. Your body already has a great built-in system for that. It’s called your liver.

Get this: your body is your friend. Gulp, what? Yes, your friend. Your ally. Your buddy-for-life. Why not start celebrating it rather than shaming it?

Rather than making your yoga practice a participant in the kind of soul-sucking cycle wherein you eat and drink delicious things and then punish your body for eating them, how about you shift your mindset? Then, your yoga can become less a fitness regimen and more an opportunity to lovingly check in with your body and your mind in the midst of what is already often a frantic, busy holiday season. An opportunity to get quiet. To listen a little more. To offer your body grace for getting up in the morning and getting dressed and trudging through ice and snow and staying healthy and awake and alive in some of the darkest, coldest days of the year.

Portland, Oregon studio owner (and former Olympic ice skater) Jamie Silverstein has written a powerful article about this. In “Cut the Fat Speak: An Open Letter to the Yoga Community and Message for the Holiday Season,” she writes:

“Every time we speak in terms that portray food, exercise, reward, even love (!) as part of an economy of exchange, we are latently affirming a message of, “You are not good enough as you are.” Every time we employ a rhetoric of action-consequence we effectively say, “You are not enough.” Simply, this is not yoga….

On a more personal note, as a recovered anorexic/bulimic and eating disorder (ED) recovery advocate, I feel that this language is not only maladaptive, but that it also reinforces a dangerous ideal. Both from my personal practices and my work in the ED recovery field, I’ve encountered how the negative conditioning an exercise-exchange economy adversely affects people. It is often tantamount to verbal abuse. This is ironic, because as yogis, we are committed to ahimsa.”

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And living with ahimsa means creating less suffering, even for ourselves, right?

One of my favorite meditation teachings (I think it comes from Ethan Nichtern, but it might’ve been Susan Piver, too) is the notion that meditation is the process of making friends with ourselves. How beautiful is that? I know, I know; it sounds kind of cheesy at first. But when you really think about it, meditation (and yoga) are all about shifting the kind of negative self-talk that many of us are already pretty good at into a more compassionate, patient voice that greets ourselves as a beloved friend.

Here are a few tips for making friends with your body during a hot yoga class:

1. Use a witness-observer mind.

Notice what you’re thinking, without getting stuck in it, or thinking it’s you. Your thoughts are just thoughts. They come and go. They’re not YOU. (This is pretty much the whole definition of yoga: learning to no longer identify with the fluctuations of your mind.) And once you figure that out, life is so much easier.

2. Remember that hunger is not your enemy.

You don’t have to resist it, or avoid it, or chew 17 sticks of gum or drink 8 Diet Cokes a day to avoid actually eating anything. Hunger is actually a good thing. It reminds you to nourish yourself! Food can be a friend. Food can be celebration, and solidarity, and community, and holiday ritual. Food is here to fuel you, not punish or taunt or numb you. You don’t need to sweat it all away.

3. Treat yourself like a toddler.

Picture your favorite 1-year-old learning how to walk. They fall on their cute little butts constantly, don’t they? They wipe out and belly flop and totally lose it all the time, and what do they do? They giggle, push themselves back up, and try again. Can you imagine if you spoke to a toddler the way you speak to yourself when you fall out of a tough balancing pose? (“Come on, dummy, you are a such a failure! You suck. You might as well just give up because this yoga thing is so not for you.”) Of course not, right? When they wipe out, you just smile and help them up and say, “Way to go, buddy! You’re doing great. Keep trying. You’re doing it!”

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4. Three key words: Isn’t that interesting?

When you fall out of Pincha Mayurasana and CRASH, shaking the whole studio with your stunning wipe-out, notice it and smile and say to yourself, “Isn’t that interesting?” When your muffin top spills over the waistband of your yoga pants more than it did a month ago, rather than beating yourself up, notice it and say to yourself, “Isn’t that interesting?” This notion of “interesting” cuts the judgment: it’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is. It can shift everything in your day-to-day.

5. Be tender. ‘Nuff said.

With yourself, with your body, with your practice, with one another. Silverstein adds, “If you are struggling with self-acceptance this holiday season, as many of us do, let that be okay, too. Unfortunately much of our body-rhetoric and internal dialogue is harsh and prescriptive. Know you are not alone. Self-compassion cannot live in an antagonistic environment. The healing comes when we learn to acknowledge these voices without doing what they say.”

6. When you fall out of the pose, just get back in.

No big deal. No drama. No judgment. Whether we’re talking about a pose, or a healthy lifestyle, or anything else you’re trying to make into a positive habit. You are not the worst yogi that ever was. You just fell out, and now you’re gonna get back in. Get lost, start over. As Pema Chodron says, “Feel the feeling. Drop the storyline.” And then move right along.

7. Let go of the idea that a hot yoga practice is a detox.

I’m pretty ready to scrap that loaded “D” word already. Try to release the notion that your yoga practice is atonement for everything else you put into your body. It’s not here to wring out every “toxin.” It’s not here to sweat your “sins” out. It’s here to lovingly, patiently bring your body into balance, unraveling the knots, letting the prana (or life force) flow freely again.

8. Think of this practice as a celebration rather than a punishment.

I’m ever-grateful to my longtime friend and student Stacy, who suggested this to me once when we were hiking in Point Reyes. She noted that when I teach I often respond to people’s pained faces (when they’re clearly being hard on themselves in a pose). And then she said, “Rachel, what about the opposite? What about the moments wherein you maneuver yourself into a new pose for the first time, and you’re bowled over with awe and excitement at the amazing things your body can do? Things you never thought it capable of doing? So much that you just want to cry from the wonder?” I love this. Try approaching your practice with a spirit of “Holy shit, this is amazing!” rather than “Dammit, I suck.” Everything changes.

9. Picture yourself as an eighty year old.

If you’re lucky enough to live that long, you probably won’t be able to do any of this asana stuff. But you’ll still be trucking around this same old body, and you can choose to beat it up or love on it. Your call. I don’t know of anything that ever gets softer or kinder or more open from being beaten down, though. (At the risk of being a walking yoga cliche, let me quote Rumi, who said it best: “Be ground. Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up where you are. You’ve been stony for too many years. Try something different. Surrender.”)

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10. If you’re a teacher, commit to using body-positive languaging.

Silverstein offers an inspiring pledge for teachers: “This season, I am committing to nourishment. I am committing to nourishment not just through physical food, but through language and action. I and my studio (The Grinning Yogi) promise to offer a message of acceptance and nourishment starting NOW. We are pledging the following:
* We will NOT teach from a voice rooted in an exchange economy of food, guilt, calories, indulgence, or anything related to not “being enough” as you are.
* We will create a safe-haven for our friends to feel empowered so they can take effective steps in promoting their own self-care and overall wellness.
* We will open a dialogue about what real nourishment is.
* We will remind our friends that food is food, love is love, and yoga… yoga is a GIFT!”

I am proud to commit to this pledge, and to make my hot yoga classes a sanctuary and a refuge from body-shaming. So come on in. Bring your perfectly-original body along. Share the love. You’re all welcome here.

 

 

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Rachel Meyer is a Portland, Oregon-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, On Being, Yoga Journal, Tricycle, Yoga International, HuffPost, and more. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com or @rachelmeyeryoga.

Healing with Iyengar Yoga

“Yoga lets us cure what need not be endured, and endure what cannot be cured,” said B.K.S. Iyengar. The great yogi, who lived to be nearly ninety-six, passed away in August of 2014. But his teachings continue to live and thrive within the Iyengar Yoga community, where teacher training is rigorous and the practice is specialized to accommodate everyone, including those with unique disabilities.


What sets Iyengar Yoga apart from most types of yoga widely practiced throughout the U.S. are timing (poses are held longer), focus on alignment (detailed instructions help the individual to move deeper within the structure of a pose), the use of props (wall ropes, blocks, straps, blankets and chairs), and specific sequencing (intelligent sequencing that can be tailored around various physical needs a practitioner may have).

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“B.K.S. Iyengar not only was a teacher for eighty years, but his practice was uninterrupted for that entire time. There aren’t many people in the world who could say that,” says Vanessa Bacher, an Iyengar Yoga instructor living in Santa Barbara, California. “He was a very sick boy—he had tuberculosis, typhoid and malaria just to name a few of the serious ailments he suffered from—and was not expected to live beyond his teenage years. He essentially cured himself from all of these various ailments through his dedication to the practice of yoga.”

Vanessa, a petite and charismatic woman with a mane of wavy blonde hair and bright, aquamarine eyes, first discovered Iyengar Yoga over ten years ago, while still in her early twenties. Hailing from Colorado, she had put herself through college and went on to live and work overseas on the Caribbean island of St. John. There was no knowledge or practice of yoga to speak of there at the time, but Vanessa had brought along a book of standard yoga poses and began to practice daily on the white sand amongst the palms; it became an integral part of her lifestyle. She experienced a jolt of culture shock upon her return to the states, though, leaving behind the relaxed island vibes for the stressful pace of life back in America. Seeking solace in nature, she went to stay with her aunt, who lived and taught Iyengar Yoga in the small mountain town of Crested Butte, Colorado.

Vanessa credits the experience of studying under her aunt as the pivotal chapter that, though she didn’t know it at the time, decided her life’s purpose.

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“The first class I took, I felt like I was reborn. I felt like I had been completely dissected and put back together again in a better way. From the moment I stepped into the classroom I felt transformed.”

During her two years in Crested Butte, Vanessa found an inspiring mentor in her aunt. Still, she felt that relying on a relative to guide her was keeping her in too tight of a comfort zone—she wanted to deepen her practice and carve out her own path. She set out on a six-month journey through Southeast Asia and India, studying at the base of the Himalayas in an intensive program with a couple of senior Iyengar Yoga instructors. It was the first of many pilgrimages that shaped the course of her professional and spiritual life.

“In the Iyengar system in India they have “Medical Classes” that I would assist and there would be people with MS so severe that they were essentially paralyzed,” Vanessa explains. “They didn’t have (the technology that we do)—they had rickety wooden chairs from the 1940s. Someone would carry them in and we would assist them and strap them to the wall, and place them over all of the brilliant props that B.K.S. Iyengar invented.”

In India, Vanessa was a firsthand witness to countless instances of the miraculous healing powers of Iyengar Yoga, but one story in particular has stuck with her over the years.

“A woman came to study with my teachers and she was a novice in the practice,” Vanessa recalls. “She came in with her feet bandaged—she had some sort of foot disorder where she couldn’t separate her toes. She had stability issues and trouble walking. When she came into the class the teacher said, “Take those bandages off your feet” and she said, “I can’t, I’ve worn them all my life. The doctor prescribed them to me; I have a disorder.” The teacher said, “Nonsense, if you’ve signed up for this intensive and want to participate, take those off.” He was quite strict with her and really put her through the paces. Within three weeks, she was able to separate her toes. Tears were streaming down her face; she could walk with ease and stability. This moment always stayed with me, proof that we have this incredible, innate ability to heal ourselves and that this practice teaches us to be more in tune and find the resources within rather than depending on any sort of crutch.”

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These experiences had a profound impact on Vanessa; they stirred something in her and planted the seeds for her own future as a healer.

“Mr. Iyengar taught me that happiness is to give more than you receive,” she says, continuing on to describe how the guru’s influence drove her to gain devotion to something greater than herself and lead a life of increased integrity. Her desire to help others benefit from the practice of Iyengar Yoga is palpable in the passionate tone in which she speaks of it.

“What moves me the most about it is that it’s absolutely made for any age, any body type, any ailment,” she says. “The practice is that diverse and has that much depth that it’s approachable for anybody. I always tell people that yoga has very little to do with just striking a beautiful pose. It is about the communication that you have to build with yourself to travel deeper towards that inner Self.”

“The path to bliss isn’t all rainbows and lotus flowers. I knew that it would take dedication.”

When Vanessa returned from India she made her home in Denver, beginning a cycle of intense practice abroad followed by intermittent lapses in practice back home and frequent disillusionment over the vastness of knowledge that she did not yet possess.

“I think it took me years to really cultivate the dedication that is necessary in the Iyengar practice,” says Vanessa. “Frankly I just wasn’t mature enough. But, over the years I chiseled away at the practice and became more devoted.”

She refers to her periods of not practicing as her “Dark Ages.”

“When I was not practicing I got very depressed. I felt like I had found this path that transformed me and then I let it go; I was not honoring my truth.”

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Photo: Chris Orwig

It was only through loss that she found her path again and determinedly set out on it for good. Vanessa had moved to Santa Barbara, California for a relationship and left everything behind in Denver—her home, her family, her job. When the relationship did not work out, she found herself alone in a new city.

“The only thing I really had that stayed with me was my practice,” she recalls of that time. “I clung to it, basically, because it was all that I had. I decided then that no matter what happened, I would never let it go again. I knew that without it I felt lost and started practicing more than I ever had.”

Her new instructor at the Santa Barbara Iyengar studio recognized Vanessa’s natural affinity in the classroom.

“He said, ‘you know this is what you’re meant to do, right? It’s in every fiber of your being.’ Then he asked me what I wanted to do about it.”

She expressed her hesitancy to the instructor. The Iyengar teacher-training would entail at least three years of schooling to become a certified instructor, which for Vanessa would mean frequent trips driving back and forth to the Iyengar Institute in Los Angeles. Once the first hurdle of certification is passed, the training is not over. There are many levels in the system; instructors continue to study, train and go up for subsequent certifications for many years to come.

But ultimately, Vanessa was not daunted.

“My instructor said that in his experience, sometimes the longer, more arduous route is the best route,” she reflects. It was advice that echoed the words of her father.

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Photo: Kayla McKenzie

“My father always said, ‘stay the course and it will pay off.’ I’ve definitely sacrificed quite a lot for the practice; the path towards enlightenment isn’t an easy one. The path to bliss isn’t all rainbows and lotus flowers. I knew that it would take dedication.”

Her instructor offered to mentor her, so Vanessa embarked on the three-year teacher training under his mentorship, traveling regularly to the Iyengar Institute in Los Angeles. After completion, it would take her two more years to become certified. She continued to work late nights as a restaurant server five nights a week, getting up early in the mornings to practice or teach.

“I felt half asleep in the mornings and dead on my feet at night. I continued until I was able to teach a little more and work in the restaurant a little less, but that is what yoga is all about. Yoga is the balance of two opposing actions. So in life I was balancing two complete polar opposites and that juggling act is yoga.”

Today, Vanessa’s mornings and evenings are filled with leading classes at two public yoga studios as well teaching various private lessons, a life in which she finds true fulfillment. When asked what words of advice she might have for someone interested in embarking on a similar journey with Iyengar Yoga, Vanessa says simply, “show up and don’t give up.”

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You can contact Vanessa Bacher by email at vanessabbacher@yahoo.com or Instagram @vbacher. If you live in Santa Barbara, or are visiting the area, consider taking an Iyengar class with her at one of the following locations:

Iyengar Yoga Studio of Santa Barbara

2718 De La Vina St.

Santa Barbara CA, 93105 USA

(805) 569-2584

 

The Santa Barbara Yoga Center

32 E. Micheltorena St.

Santa Barbara, CA 93101

(805) 965-6045

Author Bio:

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Lili Rauh aspires to find and create beauty and meaning in everyday life. Currently located in South Lake Tahoe, Lili loves to write, cook and entertain and ultimately hopes to combine all of her passions in one sustainable career. www.lilirauh.com

11 Things You Didn’t Know About the History of Yoga

I’ve spent the last year fine-tuning and teaching a History of Yoga workshop curriculum. It’s meant listening to endless history podcasts, combing through interviews with senior teachers like Judith Hanson Lasater and Richard Rosen, reading arresting new scholarship from academics like Mark Singleton and James Mallinson, and thumbing through primary texts like Light on Yoga and the Bhagavad Gita.

You know that old cliché about how if you really want to learn something, you should teach it? It’s true. I’ll never look at my yoga practice the same way again. And after reading this, you may not, either.

Here are a few unexpected revelations:

1. Yoga history is a total mash-up.

It’s quintessentially postmodern. (That’s a big word that basically means questioning long-standing truth narratives and lifting up identity politics and personal narrative as sources of insight and wisdom. Whew, right?) Postmodernism reminds us to think critically and take every perceived notion of “truth” with a grain of salt. It’s personified by creative artists like animator Sanjay Patel and hip-hop musician MC Yogi, both of whom blend ancient and contemporary Hindu traditions in electric cultural mash-ups of their own.

Postmodernism reminds us that our job as yoga historians is to ask: who preserved yoga history in this particular way? What purpose or agenda did that preservation serve? And whose voices are missing here?

2. Patanjali probably wasn’t just one dude.

That guy most of us know as the granddaddy of yoga philosophy, the scholar-priest who codified the Yoga Sutra for the first time? The one who likely lived sometime in the 2nd or 3rd century? Yeah, no. He very possibly didn’t exist. The compilation of the Yoga Sutra that historians have long attributed to him was likely the work of many priestly men. (But, then again, who really knows for sure?)

3. Yogis weren’t always mainstream.

In fact, as recently as the early 20th century, yogis were often perceived as wild renegades, dangerous rogues, and unruly highwaymen rife with black magic. No reasonable, respectable person wanted to be around them.

Those sadhus who stood on one leg in the middle of a river for two years straight? The same ones who practiced expelling their semen and then recalling it (yes, really)? They’re a world apart from the pastel-clad soccer moms and the lithe former ballet dancers you see now splashed on yoga magazine covers.

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When Swami Vivekananda came to speak at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago — the moment that’s often recognized as the birthplace of yoga in America — he hesitated to speak of any postural (or hatha) yoga, focusing mainly on meditation and pranayama, for fear of alienating Westerners. That’s how unpopular and renegade most yogis were.

Even 40 years ago, many yogis were often still perceived as countercultural hippies. It’s only been within the last two decades or so that they’ve really found their place in bourgeois mainstream America. And now, of course, they’re at the center of a mass cultural phenomenon.

 

4. Asana itself is quite new.

Most of the poses you know so well from class — like Downward Dog or Triangle — are relatively contemporary creations. (As in, maybe a hundred or so years old.) Truth be told, the body didn’t even really get involved in yoga until maybe the 13th or 14th centuries. Prior to that, any asanas were probably seated poses like Ardha Padmasana (Half Lotus) or Virasana (Hero), the kind designed for ease of pranayama and meditation.

Hatha yoga poses developed sometime in the Middle Ages, right around the writing of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, when an explosion of Tantric philosophy finally brought the body into the picture. (And yes, Tantra is about so much more than sex, in spite of notorious stereotypes that’ve arisen over the years.) Even those poses were still fairly simple, though they did much to challenge the sacred/profane binary that had previously denigrated the body as less holy than the spirit. Once Tantra emerged, the body finally became a locus for the sacred; literally, a temple for the divine.

Most of the standing poses we practice now, though? They’ve only been around a few hundred years at most. And many of them are much newer than that.

5. The practice as we know it is a total hybrid.

British military exercises. Scandinavian gymnastics. European curative medicine. Indian nationalist bodybuilding techniques. Freudian and Jungian somaticization of the emotions. Toss in New Age spirituality and a pop cultural emphasis on positive thinking, and you’ve got a diverse practice that spans the globe.

If you’ve ever heard your teacher wax poetic about how early yogis were doing sun salutations on the banks of the Ganges River 5000 years ago, now you know: they’re full of crap. Nobody was doing Surya Namaskara A 5000 years ago.

Whenever I teach sun salutations now, I point out that Mark Singleton and his fellow academics have doggedly uncovered the reality that Surya Namaskara A and B are maybe a hundred years old at best. (Check out Singleton’s book, “Yoga Body: The Origins Of Modern Posture Practice,” for the ultimate in recent scholarship on the history of contemporary asana.)

Mind. Blown.

6. Women are often invisible in yoga history.

And it’s the job of contemporary historians to bring them back into the picture.

Michelle Goldberg’s 2015 biography of Indra Devi, “The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West,” was a crucial first step into reclaiming the feminine side of yoga history. Goldberg is more often known as a writer of politics and religion, so she brings a particularly sharp cultural lens to excavating the “woman factor” here.

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Turns out Devi, née Eugenie Peterson, the Russian-aristocrat-turned-world-traveller, fought to study with Krishnamacharya, only to be turned away because she was a woman. The reason she was finally allowed to stay was that the Maharaj of Mysore stood up for her. Devi was one of Krishnamacharya’s key disciples, right up there with BKS Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, and TKV Desikachar, though she isn’t often included in that nexus of primary teachers responsible for spreading yoga across the West.

Dive into Goldberg’s book for more dishy history, like how Devi opened the first yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947, taught starlets like Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson, and later ended up moving to Mexico and Buenos Aires.

7. Context is everything.

Your understanding of yoga history depends so much on your cultural context, your moment in time, and your teacher’s perspective. When you learn yoga history from me (as a white, cisgendered, upper-middle-class woman in the world), you’ll get a mish-mash of self-consciously postmodern, progressive, queer, countercultural, intersectional perspectives. If you’d studied with premier German yoga historian Georg Feuerstein 30 years ago, you’d have gotten a whole different (incredible) vault of knowledge. Neither is right or wrong. Both are useful. That’s why we need to continue seeking out new teachers and new sources. Always. Don’t get complacent. Curiosity is key.

8. “Yoga is about half-Indian and half-Californian.”

I overheard this tongue-in-cheek quip some time ago on a podcast by Lucas Rockwell, listening to an interview while I did my home practice, and laughed out loud. No truer words have been spoken. One thing we know for sure is that yoga originated in India. That’s undeniable. But, as for the spread of yoga in the West? California has been hugely influential: a fertile soil for New Age thinking, body insecurity (hello, Hollywood), and health fads, all of which exploded across the country thanks to the power of celebrity. You can think of the evolution of yoga in America less as a movement from East to West and more as an ongoing dialogue, a cultural conversation between the two.

9. There is no “one true yoga.”

There are only variations on a theme, ever-evolving.

If old-school yogis from the 4th century walked into your Monday happy hour Power Vinyasa class, they’d have zero idea what the heck you were doing jumping around doing push-ups. They certainly wouldn’t recognize it as yoga. Just as, for most contemporary gym rats, sitting around meditating for hours at a time and living the ascetic, celibate life of a wandering yogi doesn’t sound much like the $16 drop-in class we’d willingly toss on our credit cards.

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So if somebody says their yoga is “right” and yours is “wrong,” or that that Vino & Vinyasa event or your Dog Yoga class or the brewery-hosted Yin workshop isn’t legit, have no fear. Yoga is in constant co-creation. It will continue to evolve. There is no one right way.

10. The history of yoga is a history of scandal.

I know, I know; it seems incongruent, given the fact that yoga, at its heart, is an ethical system for being clear-mindedly in the world, for lending ease and peace to all sentient beings, and for causing as little suffering as possible. But, as with all institutions and systems like the church or the government, when there are patriarchal guru relationships ensconced in sometimes-unhealthy power dynamics, shit happens.

The deeper you dig, the more you realize the history of yoga is rampant with sexual assault, abuse, harassment, and impropriety. A quick rundown of even the last 75 years reveals sordid sexual scandals, substance abuse, frozen pensions, adultery, exploitation, an epidemic of narcissistic gurus, and more.

I hesitated to include those scandals the first few times I taught new teacher trainees. I didn’t want to cast a shadow on the history of a beloved practice. This last time around, though, in light of the current events unfolding in the Presidential election, I realized it was essential to include the shadow side along with the light. The burgeoning teachers and I had a fascinating, sobering conversation about sex, power, ethics, and what it means to be a teacher of integrity. It was immensely rewarding.

You can’t leave this ugly stuff out because it feels uncomfortable. It’s just as much a part of the practice — and its legacy — as any of the good.

 

11. There are so many reasons to be hopeful.

Look at all the incredible spin-offs coming out of the yoga tradition right now. Yoga for veterans! Trauma-informed yoga! Yoga Trade! Political activist organizations like CTZNWELL and Off The Mat, Into The World. Yoga in prisons and senior centers and elementary schools. Decolonizing Yoga. The Yoga and Body Image Coalition. Transgender and queer-informed yoga philosophy. Weekly yoga classes at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco that attract some 700 people of all faiths, living, breathing, stretching together in sacred stillness.

There are great things happening in the name of yoga everywhere you turn. Keep learning. You’re as much a part of it as Patanjali and his priestly cohort. Maybe even moreso.

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Rachel Meyer is a Portland, Oregon-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, On Being, Yoga Journal, Yoga International, Tricycle, HuffPost, and more. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com or @rachelmeyeryoga

What To Do When You’re Teaching In 15 Minutes & You’ve Got Nothing To Give

Teachers, does this sound familiar?

You’re drained, running on empty, burning the candle at both ends. You’ve taught 12 classes already this week, and with four to go, you wonder what you have left to give anyone.

You haven’t gotten much sleep. You’ve not eaten all day and you’re super low-blood-sugar. Or maybe you’re just feeling kind of quiet and blue; your dog just went in for surgery to remove a lump, or your grandmother is ailing, or you just found out you didn’t get that job (or that date) you really, really wanted.

Whatever the case — your gas tank is empty, and you’re feeling decidedly short on the kind of chutzpah required to power through being an inspiring yoga-guru for the next 90 minutes. How are you supposed to emcee a dance party when you’d rather curl up under the covers and hibernate?

I’ve been mentoring a few [awesome] teachers lately as they study for their 500hr certifications, and this is one of the topics that has repeatedly come up. Most of us wellness professionals can relate to this, yeah? If you teach long enough, you’ll surely experience burnout at some point. It’s the nature of the biz. (And the nature of being human, to be honest.)

For newer teachers especially, who are often hustling from location to location teaching 10-15 classes a week, it’s not an option to cut back to a more reasonable number. Add in urbanity, commuting, and a high cost of living, and you need to keep teaching a robust regular schedule to afford to pay your rent and eat a decent meal now and then, too. The luxury of cutting back to just a few inspired classes a week is one that’s often only available to established teachers with large followings, or folks with another full-time job that takes the financial pressure off yoga teaching.

Wellness professionals — whether yoga teachers, Pilates teachers, massage therapists, acupuncturists, you name it — well, we give a lot. The very nature of our craft is that you put yourself out there, physically AND emotionally. You can’t just hide in a cubicle with your headphones on and fritter the workday away online waiting for the clock to hit 5pm so you can escape to your sofa. You need to show up, in every way — whether you’re feeling en fuego or exhausted.

The upside for those of us who really love teaching is that so much comes back to us, too. How lucky are we to do the kind of work that makes us feel MORE alive when we finish? Many times over the years I’ve walked into a class feeling kind of neutral (shall we say sattvic, or quietly balanced, to keep it Ayurvedic?), and walked out feeling buzzingly-alive, connected, inspired. How cool is it that we get to do that kind of work? It really is a blessing.

Here are a few things to remember on the days when you might struggle for inspiration:

1. Take a deep breath.

Are you breathing? Chances are, probably not. Take a few good deep ones. You’re gonna be fine.

2. Eat a little snack.

Seems silly, I know. But check in. Have you eaten enough today? Grab an apple or a Lara Bar or a handful of almonds or, yes, even a Snickers. (And enjoy the hell outta that Snickers.) It might just give you the oomph you need.

3. Grab a chai or a cup of coffee.

Sure, there’s caffeine in there, which can provide a little motivational kick in the pants when you need it. But it’s more than that. It’s the concomitant ritual of self-care that goes a little deeper. Sit down quietly with the chai and notice, “Oh hey, I feel quiet and/or flat today,” and give yourself the space to be just that. (This is meditation, yo. Witnessing the feelings you’re feeling without thinking they’re YOU. Realizing they will always pass.) Taking just those few minutes of focusing, of slowing down, can make all the difference. Sometimes just pushing pause on the constant multi-tasking hustle can re-energize you.

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4. Realize that it’s not YOU doing the work.

It’s easy to get caught up in the illusion that you’re putting on a show, that you’ve gotta come up with some brilliant original material and hold people’s attention for a good 90 minutes. False. Let that shiz go. This is not your rodeo. You’re just being a vessel for spirit. You’re offering your hands, your body as a vehicle for the divine. And your job is to show up, get out of the way, and let the yoga move through you.

 

5. “Knees down, Hips back, Child’s Pose.”

Keep it simple, sweetheart. Stick to the basics. No need to blast ‘em with some ninja-complicated sequence. No need to reinvent the wheel. The simplest yoga poses can go so far. When I was first starting to teach and feeling the pressure to impress, an early mentor of mine told me, “Rachel, it’s easy. Knees down, hips back, Child’s Pose.” Done. I think of that sometimes even still.

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6. Remember: you don’t have to be a charismatic preacher.

That’s not your job. And teaching yoga is not a performance. Nobody’s paying $15 to jump around and entertain them for an hour. The students you are blessed to serve just want someone to help them get out of their heads and into their bodies. They want to stop thinking about their lives for an hour. They want you to tell them how to move so that their bodies and minds feel better when they walk out the door. It’s not about you, and it was never about you. So let go of the idea that you need to put on a Super Bowl half-time show complete with pyrotechnics and rainbows shooting out your butt. All you need to do is lead a solid, strong practice.

7. Take it one pose at a time.

I remember teaching during the very early days of my pregnancy, before anyone yet knew. I was feeling so nauseous and weak, but couldn’t tell anyone. A few minutes into some of those first trimester classes, I’d think to myself, “Ohmygosh, how am I going to make it 87 more minutes?” Rather than getting caught up in the enormity of the energy output you need to garner, come back to this moment. Come back to this very breath. Instruct the low lunge you’re holding folks in for the next five breaths. Make it to the other side. Take it step-by-step, pose-by-pose, without looking ahead to the scope of the class remaining. You’ll be ultra-present and deeply involved, and it will flow by smoothly before you even realize it’s over.

8. Don’t put on a perky mask. Let yourself be real.

I’ve long said: Yoga doesn’t mean you have to be perky all the time. Yoga means you get to be REAL.

Some of my favorite teachers are exactly that because they allow themselves to be who they are. They don’t try to fit some archetypal image of who they think a yoga teacher “should” be. Perhaps the most intimate and most inspiring thing you can do is to let yourself be real, too. If you’re feeling quiet, let yourself be quiet. If you’re feeling vibrant, by all means, radiate, baby. But don’t feel like you need to put on a charade when you walk in the door. People want a teacher who’s human, not a machine.

Virginia Woolf said it best: “No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.”

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9. Let go of the need for a theme.

Some schools of yoga encourage you to always teach around a theme, a heartfelt quote, a peak pose. I say: screw that. You don’t need to come wielding Hafiz. Leave the hastily-scribbled Rumi instagram quote in your purse. Don’t stay up all night devising the most pretzel-y sequence that ever was.

Provide a well-rounded practice with equal parts warm-ups, standing poses, seated poses, backbends, and forward folds, and you’ll be fine. Sometimes the nugget of wisdom you were searching for comes up when you least expect it, when you’re there three breaths into Camel Pose. Let it.

10. Trust in the inherent wisdom of the practice.

Everything students need is already there in the practice. You are just driving the bus. The school bus has it all, already. In fact, it’s tricked out, man.

The first yoga sutra, Atha Yoga Anusasanam, means exactly this. You chant that simple sutra to open the class and in so doing say: “Ok, I’ve got everything I need, already, right here, as I am. In this jiggly body. With these tight hamstrings. With this bum shoulder. And this racing mind. Now is the time for the yoga to begin.”

That’s what’s so awesomely radical about yoga, of course. You don’t NEED expensive shoes. You don’t NEED a climbing wall. And, in spite of what the ads tell you, you don’t NEED the $108 pants. All you need is your breath, a little space, and your bare feet. From there, you build the heat, you open it up, you slow it down, you wring it out.

Leading the practice is the same way. Even if you come into the room and just start counting the breaths, instructing the poses, folks will get exactly what they need. They don’t require you to balance spinning plates and juggle elephants while wearing sequins. And sometimes…

11. Silence says more than you ever could.

When in doubt, hand it over to silence. Let the stillness fill students’ hearts and minds. Don’t resort to anxious chattering to try to fill it up. How does that classic saying go? “Don’t speak unless you can improve upon the silence.” Yup. That’ll do.

 

 

Rachel-Meyer-Headshot

 

Rachel Meyer is a Portland, Oregon-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, On Being, Yoga Journal, Yoga International, Tricycle, HuffPost, and more. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com.