Truth Not Trends: Why I Teach


For My Dad

“Teach the truth, whether it fills the room or clears it out.”

As a yoga teacher, I have a choice: to give my students what they want or to give them what they need.

Trends or truth?

As a yoga studio owner, I have to find a balance. The teacher in me will give them what they need. The owner in me will give them just enough of what they want to keep them coming back. Well, maybe it won’t keep everyone coming back.

You see, for me, teaching yoga isn’t about instructing poses from the perspective of physical fitness. It’s about using the poses as a tool toward personal growth. There is a difference between leading a student through movements and exercises with impeccable cuing – a technical skill – and guiding them to use these movements and exercises as a path toward self-study and transformation.

In a nutshell, I use the pose as a tool not to get better on the mat, but to become better off the mat.

And just in case no one ever told you, self-study and transformation are not always fun. Which means, inevitably, it will piss off some people.

Of course, the yoga industry as a whole has changed a lot over the years since I first started my own yoga practice.

With the influx of social media sites, the emphasis is more and more about elevating the physical component and less and less about ethics and philosophy. (See #yogisofinstagram on Instagram.) Classes are often just fitness with “yoga” thrown into the title.

And no, I’m #sorrynotsorry, but posting on social media a thoughtful quote about how yoga is not about the pose while demonstrating a ridiculous pose where you practically have your head up your ass does not count. (See #hypocrisy.)

The philosophy has become downgraded. The pose has become upgraded. It’s what I like to call the dumbing down of yoga.

I guess I should backtrack just a bit. To understand where I am coming from, you need to know, well, where I came from. At least when it comes to my yoga background.

After working in the fitness industry for years, which included teaching aerobics, step, and spin classes and running an average of six miles per day, I started to get burned out. Shocking, I know. I lost my desire to run and my passion for teaching fitness classes. All of those things seemed so very…unsubstantial. And that’s when I stumbled upon yoga. My life changed. Or, I guess you could say, I woke up.

There weren’t any yoga studios nearby at the time. At least none teaching ashtanga yoga, which is what I was practicing. Because of this, I had to do a lot of reading and studying on my own, which I now look back on with gratitude. It opened me up to a yoga practice that went beyond the asana (pose). My attitude about everything changed. The way I looked at life, but also how I looked at myself. You know, it helped me be less of an asshole.

For me, teaching was a natural evolution. I figured if yoga helped to make me less of an asshole, it would help others be less of an asshole, too. Fewer assholes in the world make it a better place. #winning.

I didn’t put much thought into it. I just started teaching. I wanted to teach the physical part of yoga while incorporating the life-changing elements of it, too.

So, that’s what I did.

I mean, what’s better than that? You can work on a healthy body at the same time as you gain a healthier mind.

It’s interesting to look back at how it all evolved. I didn’t have a grand master plan. I just taught. Opportunities arose. Doors opened. I never had visions of yogi rock stardom (the fact that this is even a “thing” is what’s partly wrong with the industry right now). And even though I never had a desire to own my own yoga studio, here I am, owning my own yoga studio. (That’s a whole other story. You can read it in my upcoming book called Fuck This Shit: A Guide to Surviving the Yoga Business.)

I made a conscious decision to mold the business plan of my yoga studio on the same foundation and principles from which I teach. Rather than envision my studio as a service-based business, I built it on the concepts of growth and learning…a space where I encourage students to stop looking out for themselves and begin looking into themselves. Which is hard work.

Hard work can be a hard sell. Let’s face it, it’s probably not the most revenue friendly business plan.

Which brings me to this whole positivity movement thing that has seeped into some yoga classes and has contributed to the dumbing-down process.

Listen, I’m all in support of trying to keep a positive attitude. But this idea that to live a fulfilling life, we need to be happy all the time, that we should suppress any negative emotions we might have, and nothing but good things will be in store if we do because our positivity will surely keep all the bad things away is, well, f’ing stupid.

As humans, we have a wide range of emotions. We should be allowed to freely embrace them all and be encouraged to work through them. We shouldn’t be made to feel bad because we feel, well, bad. When we don’t work through them, that’s when the problems start. I mean, when I’ve been sad it was because I cared, when I’ve been angry it was often because I had self-respect and values, when I’ve been heartbroken it was because I had the ability to love. I think we can all agree that those are good things. Things that are never easy. But we eventually do move forward, if we allow ourselves to fully feel them.

To me, it is more about redirecting negative emotions into positive energy. We can’t control how others behave or events that happen around us. We do have the power to control how we respond. So perhaps anger does not become hate, sadness does not become depression, with the understanding that we might not be able to just snap our fingers and “let it go.” Moving through the process of feeling these emotions is important, or they will never be resolved and keep coming back. We might have to do some hard work. Some soul searching. Some self-study.

The only way out is through, right?

So, while offering a 60-minute yoga class (and do not get me started on this new trend of shorter yoga classes!) that includes a rocking playlist for you to tune out to with a guaranteed sweat and good time might be better for my business, well, then I would have to ask myself what business am I actually in. A gym or a yoga studio? Performing exercises or transforming the mind? Am I cheerleader or an educator?

I think there is always a time and a place to put life aside and tune out completely. As a matter of fact, I think it’s necessary that we all make time for that. It’s healthy to take a pause in life, and it serves a purpose. But at some point, you have to hit that play button again. Because reality always has a way of catching up to you.

That’s where a yoga practice comes in. And that’s why I teach. Because yoga is not about tuning out. Yoga, by definition, is about tuning in.

When I look back at all the teachers in my life, the ones that stand out are the ones that made me do the work. They were tough but kind. They didn’t coddle me, but I knew I was in a safe and supportive environment. They often said things I didn’t want to hear…hard truths about myself I was trying to avoid.

My father was a teacher. So maybe that’s why I have such a strong opinion about what teaching means and entails, whether it is physics or yoga. He passed away when I was just 21, long before I had discovered that there was a teacher inside of me, too. I came across a tribute to him in the newspaper at the high school where he taught. One of his students said:

“There are two sides to Mr. Gerfin. There was Mr. Gerfin the teacher, and Mr. Gerfin, the friend. Sometimes one side would show more than the other, but for the most part, the two sides would balance one another. Mr. Gerfin the teacher would push you to do your best, make you understand the material and often test your patience. Mr. Gerfin the friend would reassure you with his wit and mild manner. In a chat outside the class, he would put you at ease by throwing aside the teacher and joke around with you. You always got the impression that he was on your side.”

I know for a fact that I often test my students’ patience and probably on occasion piss them off. I don’t sugarcoat, and I don’t believe in a lot of fluff. Shit, life is hard, and the universe very rarely sugarcoats. But I am also always on their side. Sometimes being supportive means being tough. It also means knowing that sometimes humor is needed to help make it through and lighten the load.

Tuning in is hard work, and I realize there will be those who walk into my class looking for a feel good 60-minute getaway and then walk right back out and never come back. And, that’s ok.

As a yoga teacher, it is my responsibility to create a safe and welcoming environment for my yoga students. But it is also my role to mentally push and challenge them to be their best self. Sometimes it will make them laugh. And sometimes it will make them uncomfortable.

When I step onto my mat to practice, it’s like going home. Going home to a house that’s usually a bit messy. If I don’t clean it up, the mess keeps getting worse. The clutter keeps piling up. And before I know it, I don’t recognize my home. I’m not always in the mood, but I know if I don’t clean it up, no one else will do it for me. The longer I wait to clean it up, the more likely I am to get lost in the mess.

And I know when my students step onto their mats, I do the best I can to help them clean up their own houses. I won’t be able to find what they are looking for or recommend what to throw out. Or even tell them which mess to clean up first, that’s for them to do. But I’ll be satisfied that if nothing else they find me a worthy guide. I might not always do it perfectly, but hopefully I can help them learn to deal with all of life’s ups and downs with a bit more grace and grit. And not lose themselves in the process.

Like that song says, you might not always get what you want. But if you are open to this practice we call yoga, you just might get what you need. And that, my friends, is substantial.

And from me, well, you will always get truth over trends. Purpose over popularity. Transforming over performing.

You in?

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For information about my teacher training program go HERE.
I am currently taking registrations for training that begins in September. Weekday and weekend schedules are available. Early bird discount until August 1.

 

 

 

 

 

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To Serendipity

To those that tried to bring me down. And to the ones that helped to hold me up.

To the telling of the truth.
To stories still untold.
To the uneasiness of honesty. Letting truths slowly unfold.

To the clearing of my closets.
Of people, not just things.
There’s no clarity in clutter, and my house is now scrubbed clean.

To the man behind the curtain,
Manipulating strings.
The ties have since been cut. I’m no longer your plaything.

You worked so hard to bring me down.
My voice you tried to stifle.
But no one tells me who I am. My Self is never idle.
These boots have never steered me wrong.
And walking they sure did.
Out the door and far away from bullshit gone unbridled.

To the mess that settled after you.
The debris left in your wake.
I’ve repurposed all the litter. A stronger foundation I have made.

To those that cheered you on.
Kicked when I was down.
Karma is a bitch my friends; tends to slink slowly back around.
Teacher’s just a role you play.
Integrity out of reach.
For character is thinly veiled when you don’t practice what you preach.

To those that mocked my vision.
Popularity your goal.
It’s harder work to look inside and share what’s in one’s soul.

To those that spread the gossip.
The truth you never see.
Your thoughtless words describe you more than ever they will me.

To all the bricks thrown my way.
Mostly from behind.
I turned my bruises into the force that guides my state of mind.

To my fuck it bucket overflowed.
Gifts that kept on giving.
I removed the shackles I freely wore. A new story I have written.

To friends that stood behind me.
Cushioning the fall.
My heart may have been broken, but my spirit never stalled.
To unrelenting loyalty.
To unexpected tribes.
Your faithfulness stood steadfastly with the turning of the tides.

To those that showed me kindness.
No agenda in your thoughts.
My gratitude forever, good vibes cannot be bought.

To the stillness in my practice.
That saw me through the storm.
Embracing transformation over pressure to conform.

To the grace in waiting patiently.
For time to heal all wounds.
Forgiveness never guaranteed, so best to not assume.

To the power in a purpose.
Teaching truth and not the trends.
A harder path to follow when means matter more than ends.

To outcomes not expected.
Misfortunes turned to gifts.
They led me to this home I found; old dramas are not missed.
This story mine to tell.
The ending up to me.
To bridges burned, lessons learned and serendipity.

To the pages not yet written, I look forward to the tales.
To peace uninterrupted when my truth inside prevails.

To old acquaintance now forgotten.
To flames that long since died.
I raise a glass of kindness to moving on and days gone by.

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I Believe In: turning pages and closing books

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I believe in turning the page.

I believe under bus thrown leads to true colors shown.
And better to have known.
I believe the deepest despair can turn into the greatest hope.

I believe in the power of a pause. And the surrender of a flow.
I believe jumping to conclusions serves no one.
And there is wisdom in stepping back.

I believe in walking away tall. In preference to talking to a wall.
I believe in speaking truth to power.
Sometimes my greatest accomplishment is saying nothing at all.

I believe in fuck its instead of buckets.
I believe that pushed down does not mean pushover.

I believe in risking failure alone and not riding coattails with others.
I believe in closing a door not meant for me. So I can open one that is.
I believe that letting go means letting things be.

I believe in focusing on my own shit rather than spreading other’s bullshit.
I believe that denial is a dish best served when dining alone.
I believe a shot of reality feels like bourbon going down smooth and slow.

I believe in talking to you instead of about you.

I believe in fucking up, owning up and making up.
I believe messy and beautiful are one and the same.
I believe in silent voices and loud actions.
I believe words matter.

I believe in taming the raging war inside of me so that I can feed my fiery purpose that is meant to be.
I believe that negativity can’t touch this.
And Frankie was onto something when he said relax.

I believe in creating my destiny, but trusting the universe.
I believe I would rather miss the boat than jump on the bandwagon.

I believe I am one with the world.
And all alone at the same time.
I believe in killing with kindness.
And surviving by thriving.

I believe in waking up so that I can shake it up.
I believe if it feels right do it. If it seems wrong screw it.

I believe vulnerability requires courage.
I believe strength requires vulnerability.
I believe in baring my soul to wear my truth.

I believe in cleaning out closets.
I believe in ending relationships, to save myself.
I believe friendships might end but the confidences we shared do not.

I believe in friendships that last forever.
I believe old friends can become new loves.
I believe a lost love can be found.

I believe in “you had me at hello”. But I complete myself.
I believe in a last kiss that feels like a first kiss.
I believe in a first kiss that feels like home.

I believe in unsubscribing from anger.
I believe in employing indifference and resigning hate.
I believe in a lifelong membership to love.
For as long as we both shall live.

I believe forgiving is not always the answer.
But moving on without holding on is.

I believe we are all a little bit broken.
We come undone, and we piece it back together.
Some fragments get lost in the wreckage.
Some never fit like they once did.

I believe in letting the light seep through the cracks.
And not allowing the dark to dim the glow.

I believe each year will bring new tears.
I believe tears are a mix of opportunity and possibility.
I believe in daydreams, lost dreams and the dreams that keep you up at night.

I believe what does not defeat us, grows us.
I believe what breaks us, frees us…
to close the book.

Bliss-ings in Disguise: smoke, a mirror and a few lost shoes

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In a pool of water a lotus seed plants its roots in the murky, muddy floor. From that a long, flexible stem grows to the surface where the lotus flower blooms above…

No mud, no lotus. My mantra of late.

The concept is that no matter how hard or bad the experience, the mud, within that is a lesson. Lessons are really gifts. Gifts that give the opportunity for growth. Growth doesn’t come when things are easy. Growth comes when things are hard. The real challenge is discovering what the lesson is from each individual experience. Finding the gift. The lotus.

And then sending a thank you note. (Everyone knows it’s proper etiquette. Even for the gifts we don’t like.)

You see, a lot of that has to do with how we look at things. Our attitude.

I figure when mud starts being slung we have a choice. We can be a big, brittle stick in the yoga mud. Or, we can make a slide and learn to play in it. And when the mud settles, be like the lotus flower. Turn that mud into an enlightening foundation from which to grow.

Personally, I have learned to embrace the mud. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish for it. Sometimes it’s been so deep that I’ve lost shoes – no woman likes to lose shoes. But I’ve learned that sometimes the thicker the mud, the deeper the roots, the greater the growth. And from that, a more firmly planted, flexible me.

Now when the rain comes and I get a little mud in my eye, I just tilt my face up and let the rain wash the mud out. Because I know when the rain leaves, the clarity arrives.

From solitude, I have found self-reflection.
From disrespect, I have found confidence.
From betrayal, I know the real meaning of loyalty.
From my own mistakes and screw-ups, I have found humility and self-acceptance.
Compassion now trumps judgment a bit more often.

From my patience being challenged and behavior that’s been more than tactless,
‘holdmytongueasana’ is now officially a part of my daily yoga practice.

From doubt, I found my voice.
From other’s untruths, I found my truth.

Shoes that have been lost, I now realize I didn’t need. Some hurt my feet anyway. Now, I hold tag sales to get rid of things that are toxic in my life a bit more often. Which frees up a lot of good space in my energy closet.

Purchase policy: no returns, use at your own risk.

From all the fuckery, animosity and just downright hypocrisy.
I have learned to embrace life’s insanity, irony and sometimes hard to get comedy.
(If you can’t change a situation, change the way you think about it, right?)

From the imitators and posers who hid behind a thin layer of mud.
I learned to walk on a little faster, no need to be a part of that flash flood.

Keeping it brutally real is better than living in calm denial.
The smoke never lasts, the truth always makes a grand appearance.
We can run but cannot hide behind what we face in our own mirror.

And in the murky, muddy waters where sadness is so deep there is no light,
I found a bliss-ing in disguise by allowing the feeling over flight.

In the mud, obstacles became opportunities.
Mountains became possibilities.
Negatives became positives.
Looking out for myself, became looking into myself.

I’ve learned to sling a little less and sing a little more.

There will always be rain. New mud and new challenges. And some mud will take a little longer to wade through than others. But as the saying goes, if the mud ain’t flyin’, you ain’t tryin’. But we each get to decide whether to get stuck in it, or to slide through it.

And whether it’s mud that’s being thrown at me, or mud that I fall into all on my own, it’s a gift that just keeps on giving.

But you know what? The lotus is pretty damn fine.

So, thank you.

“…Without mud, you cannot have a lotus flower.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh

(you can find the “No Mud No Lotus” tee at www.superlovetees.com)

Secret Single Behavior of a Yoga Goddess: kombucha, kale and selfie flare

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Secret Single Behavior (or SSB): (noun) a habit or activity that one might like to indulge in when home alone. (Of course, you don’t need to be single – it’s just stuff that goes down when no one’s around).

Yoga Goddess (or YG): (noun) any woman from Western civilization who teaches yoga for a living.

I read that definition in an article written by a wise woman a few years back, and it stuck. I mean, come on, who wouldn’t like a job title with the word goddess in it?

Secret Single Yoga Goddess Behavior (or SSYGB): (noun) those things YGs do when they are not working. (You know, the stuff that goes down when our students aren’t around.)

Now, before some of you start hating, I am a yogi and I try to live my yoga. Walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Occasionally stumbling along the way. I am not talking about someone who preaches but doesn’t practice. I am actually talking about those who try to practice each and every yama and niyama (yoga’s ethical principles) every single day of the year. But there are always those stereotypical ideas about us. The misconceptions of how we spend our time when not teaching. Usually things that really aren’t relevant to whether we are a good yoga teacher or “real yogi.” And maybe SSYGB is less about what we do and more about what we might not do. And while as YGs we should always aspire to live our yoga, we are not only yoga. It’s not all kombucha, kale and kumbaya.

Of course, I can’t speak for all the YGs out there, but here is a small glimpse into my SSYGB, my world out of the studio:

  • As I just mentioned, kombucha is not for me. Nor are juice cleanses and endless cups of green tea. If you love that stuff, rock on. I prefer my coffee in the morning and my wine at night. I will sip Wild Turkey on occasion. As a SYG, I have been known to hang out at a bar every now and again. My shot of choice, tequila. Two shots…well, no good ever comes from that. And that’s all I am saying about it.
  • Yes, I fit the vegetarian stereotype. I got the whole ahimsa, non-violence thing going on. But wagons were built to fall off. I don’t cook, so it is usually take out for me. My freezer contains exactly three items: vodka, ice cream and ice. As long as I have coffee, half and half, and cat food (for my cat, not me, FYI) in good supply, I can survive days without going out. Oh, and wine too. Let’s not forget that. I like my pizza and french fries, and the endless supply of homemade baked goodies my friends make for me – in moderation, of course. But we all need to indulge sometimes. You can keep your kale, if I can keep my gluten.
  • I do not spend my time off taking yoga selfies. (Except the one for this article, of course). I rarely #stopdropandyoga. I also do everything I can to avoid following anyone on Instagram who posts a new pose #everydamnday. Post a high quality sarcastic quote, a cute cat or anything from Jared Leto, and I be liking. MY yoga challenge is trying to find ways to avoid seeing Instagram #yogachallenge postings. However, I will say this, you Instagram celebs get a whole new respect from me. How do you do it? I spent about five hours on just that one shot. Talk about practicing tapas – burn baby burn. It would take me another hour to just try and type all those cute hashtags on my tiny little keyboard to post with it. You are all #instacool.
  • I don’t spend all day practicing yoga. (Well, I “practice” it all day long. But I mean the actual physical kind on the mat). Sometimes after being at my studio every day for five days straight, the last thing I want to do is take my mat out. (I might want to pull some hairs out, though.) The first thing I want to do is feel my ass on the couch and a drink in my hand. I wear many masks to run my studio. Mental and physical exhaustion sets in, and I can be pretty lazy when I am off. Case in point, the pizza I mentioned above. I store my empty pizza boxes in the oven. The recycling bin at my condo complex is THREE buildings away. (Remember, I don’t cook, so I never use my oven. Have no fear all you Fire Marshals out there!) I look at it more as brahmacharya – energy conservation – why make five trips when I can do it in just one? Makes good sense to me. The boxes fit quite neatly and are out of sight in the oven, so there’s your saucha – cleanliness. And that, my friends, is the art of killing two yoga principles with one stove.
  • I do not spend all my time talking about yoga. Well, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration…yoga does come up in my conversations probably a bit more than the normal non-yoga goddess person. But often it’s to make fun of it. Yes, I am a firm believer that it is good to laugh at yoga. (This article for instance…THAT’S FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE NOT GOTTEN THE JOKE YET. Yes, I was yelling). Yoga is life changing stuff and sometimes we need to lighten up about it. Especially if we are trying to practice it. But mostly my girlfriends and I talk about sex, saving turtles, getting old, solving world hunger, girl problems (the struggle is real), my online dating tribulations (that’s for comedy relief after the whole world hunger conversation), how it would be so much better if women ran the world, and who we want to punch in the face, but of course won’t because, you know, all that yoga and non-violence crap we are supposed to be practicing. (I think that’s probably the point in the conversation where we start mocking yoga).
  • Now, as mentioned before, being single is not required for your normal secret single behavior. Nor is it for SSB of a yoga goddess. All of the above can be “practiced” single, attached or otherwise engaged. But, I am single, so here goes…believe it or not, the last thing I want to do is date a yoga dude. I don’t know what it is, but most of the ones I have met were just way too intense for me – and I refer back to the need to “lighten up” and the “yoga crap” mentioned above. (Disclaimer: I said “most,” not all. Just to clarify, before you yoga dudes get your yoga shorts all in a bunch.) Too much of a good thing perhaps? I prefer someone to be yang to my yin. Sthira to my sukha. Hard to my soft. (OK people, get your minds out of the gutter, you yoga peeps know what I’m talkin’ about). Maybe this is where I should give another shout out to all you Fire Marshals…

So you ask, what is the point to all of this? Well, I guess it’s this. I am just like everyone else. Simply trying to do the best I can. Hopefully, because of my yoga practice, maybe I do that with a little more awareness than I would have if I had not found yoga.

We all have our jobs, some of us are lucky enough to have not only careers we love, but careers that are true extensions of our self. I am one of those. But no matter how much we love our job or live our job, we all need to sometimes let our hair down and take our yoga pants off.

Whether I throw out my pizza boxes that day or the next week, or drink wine instead of green tea, doesn’t determine whether I am a good person or not. I will tell you what does – my actions, my words, how I treat others, my intentions behind what I do. Do I succeed all the time? No. But without yoga, I would most likely fail more often than not.

And I don’t think this makes me less of a yoga teacher either. I think it makes me a realistic one. Perhaps I don’t fit into the “typical” stereotype with some things, but I won’t pretend to be something I am not – secretly or not so secretly. I am fairly confident that many of my students already know quite a few of the aforementioned things. (And if not, now they do.)

Honesty trumps hummus. (And there’s another one of those damn yamas popping up again.)

So you see, it’s not about kombucha, kale or selfie flare. It’s about the yamas, the niyamas and perhaps knowing a quote or two from the Dalai Lama. Can you like and do those three things AND practice the yamas and niyamas? Absofuckinlutely. (And if you haven’t picked up on that yet, I recommend going back to the part about lightening up and getting the joke). Yoga Gs don’t need to own mala beads to practice mindful deeds. But ya can…

A few of my yogi friends and I like to joke that we do yoga so we don’t kill people. And while obviously the reality is not that extreme, I do know without yoga I would be a lot worse off.

And this is what else I know: I know that when I would rather run away screaming from an extremely difficult situation, yoga has helped me stay and see it through. I know that I have absolutely no control over other people’s actions, but I do have control over mine. I know that most of the time more force creates more resistance, and though usually the harder choice, by letting go just enough the universe has a funny way of working things out – the way they should.

And because of my practice I know that I am enough, and looking for someone or something else to complete me would be an endless search.

I know that I am totally, abundantly flawlessly flawed, and sometimes the best thing I can do is just try to keep it real. And get my ass off the couch and back on the mat…where I can keep practicing it all.

I also know that life is pretty messy, and sometimes #whenyogajustisntenough, well there is always that bottle of vodka in the freezer…

#SSYGB
read elephant journal version….