My first article published in PRINT!
On the stands now in Mantra Yoga + Health magazine…
pick up your very own copy HERE!
My first article published in PRINT!
My first article published in PRINT!
On the stands now in Mantra Yoga + Health magazine…
pick up your very own copy HERE!
Many are doing it. Oodles are practicing it. Plenty are teaching it.
Yoga is far trendier today than when I started practicing almost 20 years ago. Though, I would argue that the part of yoga I found to be so life-changing is not necessarily the same part of yoga that is attracting the masses today. I sometimes think that in this ginormous industry yoga has evolved into over the years, that particular component has some how lost its way. But that’s just me.
Just to clarify, this is not another article about what real yoga is, isn’t or should be.
I honestly believe that only we can determine for ourselves what we want to gain from it. And in turn, that will ultimately determine what we get out of it. And if a person chooses to approach yoga as just exercise, then that’s their decision.
But isn’t it possible to still do both? What if we not only used yoga as a path towards fitness but also used it as a doorway towards mindfulness…
What if when we stepped on our yoga mat we understood that touching our toes is about more than whether we can touch our toes.
What if we questioned more often why we do a pose, and worried less often why we can’t.
What if how we get into a pose is more important than how far we can go once we are there.
What if we paid more attention to how our movements affect others than how are movements look to others.
What if we killed ourselves with kindness rather than insensibly beat up our bodies.
What if we spent just as much time on healing the pain when our heart has been stabbed as we do straining our muscles so we can feel the burn.
What if we didn’t just practice yoga on the mat, but off the mat too.
What if we ceased defining our yoga practice by how we appear, and instead by how we behave.
What if we discontinued all the empty talk, and started to lead by example with a meaningful walk.
What if we put more importance on aligning our heart with our actions than we do with stacking our knees over our heels.
What if instead of repeating words because they sound good, we speak words because they are true.
What if we put an end to believing in our own bullshit so that we can start to clearly see the facts.
What if we accepted that we will all fuck up and sometimes act like an asshole. But we don’t have to be a fucked up asshole.
We can be this: strong and confident.
Without being this: arrogant and callous.
What if we understood that it’s no one else’s responsibility to make us happy, and instead worked on cultivating our own contentment.
What if our beliefs and truths were in sync with our actions and words.
What if we agreed that not all relationships were meant to last forever and it is possible to move on gracefully, rather than spitefully.
What if we appreciated that what is best for someone else might not be best for us, and there is no one to blame.
What if telling others what they feel and need was less important than listening closely to what we say and why.
We used these words less: authentic and unyogic.
We lived these words more: real and raw.
What if we discerned and didn’t judge.
What if we made a pact that when my purpose and your purpose are not in tune we can dance to our own rhythm and still share the floor.
What if a prerequisite for balancing on two hands was being able to stand grounded in our own true self.
What if we didn’t just do yoga, but actually tried to practice too.
What if we preferred a yoga mind over a beach body.
What if we practiced a soul search rather than just a seated twist.
What if we meditated on life rather than fixated on things.
What if our intention was in how we go rather than in what we get.
What if we transformed the world rather than performed a pose.
It’s how we think.
The words we choose.
It’s how we act.
Trusting our internal cues.
It’s a discipline not an art.
It’s an attitude from the heart.
It’s just mindfulness.
It’s just yoga.
Practice mindfulness in action, rather than rushing with distraction.
How we get into a pose is just as important as being in the pose.
How we get out of a pose is more important than racing to the next pose.
Find the sacred in each movement.
Find the power in each pause.
Find how we get is more important than what we get.
No movement too small. No pause too insignificant.
Embrace the space between no longer and not yet…
“Yoga is a lot more than what we do on the mat. Actually, if what we do on the mat doesn’t help us off the mat, then it’s worthless; it’s absolutely worthless.”
-Bryan Kest, 2006
Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic about the early days of my yoga practice.
I rediscovered my ashtanga practice that started 20 years ago. Each breath takes me back to my old family room above the garage where I spent many hours on my mat.
I pulled out and organized old class notes from almost just as many years ago. Some are scribbled on letterhead from Pepsi, the first place I ever taught a yoga class was at their employee wellness center. Scribble that I couldn’t read then and can’t read now. (Note to self: work on that handwriting!)
Well, they say everything comes in threes. My “three” was Bryan Kest teaching a master class at my studio this past week. Talk about full circle.
I can say without an ounce of doubt that 20 years ago when I purchased his what are now probably collector’s items VHS tapes (Power Yoga 1, 2, and 3), I never imagined this guy with the long curly hair and cut-off shorts would be teaching a class at my yoga studio. Mostly because I never even imagined having my own studio. But there I was. Driving this guy back and forth from his hotel and my studio in my little Honda Fit, dents and all.
They also say (well, at least I say) that you get things when you most need them. And maybe it was turning 50 last year, that has been causing me to reflect more lately. Maybe it’s been how running my own business has forced my eyes to be open even wider in a combination of amazement and dismay at human nature. Or maybe it’s my sometimes frustration at how I feel that the actual yoga has somehow lost its way and now seems to be just about the poses to so many. (Instagram Yoga Challenges. Need I say more?)
The point is, I could not have timed his visit better.
So, let me say this first. This is not going to be about his class as far as the physical practice goes. If you have never experienced his class, let’s just say that no matter what class it is, where it is or how long it is, when the class is over one word will most likely come to mind: holyfuckingshit. And if you have experienced his class, you know exactly what I mean. You will never do something so challenging yet so simple at the same time.
You see, while his class is amazing, one of the first things Bryan will tell us is that we can do all the poses we want but if we are not doing them with presence, calm and with the intention to be gentle, then all poses are just “stupid”. Of course, the challenge is to be guided by our wisdom, rather than dominated by our ego.
It’s his words that have guided and helped steer me all these years.
And so, as I sat there on my mat, in my studio, listening to him talk, I realized how all these years later while so much has changed and been experienced, some things don’t change. And though Bryan’s message has become stronger and more evolved, it was still the same.
It’s gratifying in a way, seeing the growth and expansion of someone you call your teacher. Someone whose words have greatly influenced your life. It also reminded me why I connected with him in the first place, and how I came to be doing what I am doing. And, reinforced why I continue to do it. At the time I needed it most.
Ah, the universe working it’s magic once again.
Let me jump ahead for a moment. He ended the class talking about being grateful. Something that might seem so obvious and basic to take time to do, but probably many of us don’t. And I am sure if hard pressed, no matter what kind of day we are having, we can probably come up with at least one thing to be thankful for without having to think about it so deeply. I think we can all probably also admit that it is quite easy to get caught up with the continuous cycle of complaining. To the point that sometimes we don’t even notice we are doing it. As a result of being so disconnected, finding things to dig up to be grateful for can become even more challenging. If we don’t use the muscles of gratitude, we lose them.
And so you see, yoga helps to stop that cycle. Yoga wakes us up.
But, before Bryan spoke of gratitude, he took us through the harder work.
Bryan likes to say, and I have quoted this before, “We bring our shit into yoga, and we turn our yoga into shit.”
Things like judgment, competitiveness, comparison, distraction. Things we have all probably at some point struggled with. Now, rather than continuing to reinforce these things when we practice on the mat, he challenges us to try instead to approach our practice with more compassion, gentleness, acceptance, and presence. Less reaction, less ego, less force.
And you see, Bryan doesn’t just “lecture” us about these things. He talks about them, but he will also display some interesting behavior, include colorful language, while doing so. Which gives everyone a perfect opportunity to be judgmental, distracted, critical….and then he calls us out on it. He’s sneaky like that.
And, he doesn’t stop calling us out on our shit once we start practicing on the mat either.
During class, he gives us the opportunity to be gentle. And when we aren’t, he asks why the fuck we would be doing anything that hurts.
He gives us the opportunity to practice presence and focus. Then he asks what the hell we are doing when we jump ahead or let our eyes wander around the room.
Because you see, however we act or react on the mat is really just going to reinforce how we act and react off the mat. And our yoga mat is the safest place to start working through all that crap we carry around. So the choice is we can either reinforce that crap and turn it into even more crap, or we can start flushing that crap down the toilet.
But, more importantly, he explains that NONE of this is about trying be perfect, changing or fixing anything. It’s not even about right or wrong. It’s about awareness. Taking the first steps to perhaps noticing habits and actions that we have never noticed before. Be it small, silly physical habits or catching bigger, more harmful critical thoughts that run through our mind. The point is that we begin acting and reacting with less distraction. Moving with mindfulness begins to set in. It’s all on the path toward a more conscious way of living.
We begin to wake up.
Now, the belief is that when we work toward this greater awareness, we begin to make better choices. Decisions that will result in the least amount of harm. Not just to ourselves, but to others as well.
As Bryan explained, if we choose to push and force when we practice on the mat and the result is getting hurt, then we have no one to blame but ourselves. We should never give anyone else control over deciding what truly feels right. And if we push too hard, then we need to own up to whatever the outcome.
And the same goes for off the mat. We are in control of our own decisions. And while we can’t control others’ actions or reactions, we can control ours. Hopefully, we try to always make decisions based on good intentions. But we are human. And not perfect. The most we can do is just to try our best. And our best with awareness. Mindfulness in action. That also means that whatever the outcome of our decisions, and especially when things don’t turn out as we hoped or a negative response occurs, we need to step up and own our own shit. We can’t ask anyone else to own our actions.
There’s our hard work. There’s our yoga. There’s our challenge.
We don’t need Instagram for that.
And now you see, four hours later, Bryan has set us up for what I call the “deeper gratitude”. Because after all that, we are literally a sweaty mess not just on the outside, but on the inside, too. And when he asks us to sit and mediate on what we have to be thankful for, there is no way the larger stuff doesn’t come up. Thinking has gone, clarity has arrived. The things we have to be grateful for that might not be so obvious before start to appear more clearly. Gratitude for the hard times that made us stronger, the sad times that taught us to be more compassionate, the challenges that helped us to grow. Gratitude for what we can give and not just what we can receive.
Welcome to Power Yoga.
Now, there is one point I disagree with him on. Bryan says he is not a teacher but an instructor. We are our own teachers. Well, yes, I agree with that. We are our own teachers. Only we know what is right for us. No one can tell us that. And hopefully through this practice of yoga we can tap into that internal wisdom and begin to listen to it.
But only a teacher can help guide us there. You see, anyone can instruct. Memorize asana sequences and cue alignment. Instructing comes from the head. But teaching comes from the heart. And that’s not something you can memorize. That’s Bryan.
And, with all his great success and ‘fame’, he still finds a way to be the most humble, kind and grounded being I had the privilege of meeting. That’s a yogi.
As a teacher I also know that our job is to try our best to share the message, the ideas, the concepts in the best way we can. Understanding that students will hear what they are ready to hear. Take away with them what they are ready to take away.
So, I can only speak for myself as to what I have heard and taken away from Bryan over the years. But perhaps we can all work on waking the hell up, owning our own shit and not looking the fuck around during yoga class.
Put the yoga back into yoga.
And maybe we will all be a little more grateful for it.
As humans, we spend a great deal of time focusing on getting.
We are in a habitual state of trying to get somewhere, something, someone. As fast as humanly possible. And when we can, even faster than that. Of course, it’s never enough. There’s always something else to get.
Fast forward. Rush. Repeat.
Now, let’s add distraction to the mix. Because, come one, you can’t possibly expect us to actually be thinking about what we are doing while we are doing it???!!! iPhones and iPads and iPods, oh my!
I mean think about it. We now have TVs where we can watch more than one show at a time. When I was growing up we had one TV and one phone line. If I didn’t like the show my parents wanted to watch or someone else was using the phone, well, I would just be SOL. (Not to mention in panic mode because the boy who was supposed to call me wouldn’t be able to get through. No joke, a very serious situation.) The only ‘i’s’ I had to entertain myself with were me, myself and I. iMagine that.
(Yup, I just pulled the “when I was young” card.)
Yes, we spend a hell of a lot of time doing. Doing with distraction. Apparently it’s what makes the world go round. That and evidently hashtags.
I guess for some that’s fine. Personally, I find it exhausting. Just the idea of having to be in constant “get mode”.
And, that’s when I remember those two little words: Just Be.
If you teach yoga, you have certainly spoken them. If you practice yoga, you have certainly heard them. I mean, unless you live in a cave, you can’t really can’t go out in the world without having come across them at some point on a t-shirt, a tweet or an ad for computers. (Well, actually if you are living in a cave, you most likely are ‘just being’ and wouldn’t be reading this anyway. So bravo, you get it, well done you.)
Anyway…there are, of course, other little phrases just as trendy today that are supposed to help us get a little more chillaxified.
They are, in no particular order:
-Just breathe and let go.
-Just breathe, let go and just be. (My personal favorite. Say that to me, and I will be sure to poke my eye out.)
And as yoga teachers, we just love to throw these phrases out there, and then just leave them hang. You know, let…them…go…
Well here’s a newsflash, if simply saying “just be” and “let go” created a mindful soul, we would all have a peaceful existence.
I think we can all agree that we can’t just snap our fingers (or even just take a breath) and let all things go and just be. There’s a little more to it than that.
Enter: Yoga Mat
Now, you see, our practice on the mat is the one place that expects nothing from us. It is one place we don’t have to rush. There’s no place we need to go. Or have to go. Nothing to get. Where we can take the time to be reminded of our true nature of being…a human being.
Well, it should be anyway. If we allow it. We, of course, can be our own worst enemy. As Bryan Kest likes to say, “We bring our crap to yoga, and we turn our yoga to crap.” Leave it to us humans…
Enter: Mat Race
Since we don’t have a convenient on/off switch, it’s very easy to continue the cycle of doing with distraction on the mat.
You know, we are not really paying attention. Kinda just on auto pilot, going through the moves, the poses. Rushing through sun salutations. Racing ahead to the next pose. (Yeah, if you take my class, you know how much I LOVE that one). Muscling and forcing through the practice. All of this brings with it judgment, expectations, ego, goal-oriented focus. In other words, it’s about getting.
Congratulations, your yoga practice has just left the room.
Yeah, it’s really easy to get caught up with all that. Or we could…
Make a conscious decision to use that time to start to break the cycle.
We can make it less about how our pose looks, and make it more about how it feels.
We can make it about not just being in the pose, but how we get into it, too.
We can take the time to a build a foundation on the perfect combination of steady and calm, instead of trying to skip the small things so we can jump ahead to the big things.
We can slow down and find mindfulness in action, instead of reinforcing our habit of rushing with distraction.
When we start doing that, a funny thing happens along the sun salutation way,
the realization that our yoga practice is bigger than our asana practice.
Enter: Just Being
The difference between being and doing, is the difference between allowing rather than fighting. Acceptance of where we are right now – exactly as is.
And that’s the basic concept of just being.
And trying to practice it on the mat is a good place to start. After all, it is supposed to be a training ground for life. A training ground where we have the luxury (or burden, depending on how you look at it) of no distractions – no phones, no music, no one telling us that we HAVE to do anything. Just the unbearable lightness of sitting with our own crap.
OK, this would be a good place to just breathe…
Breathing. The tool on our yoga mat towards being. But more specifically, paying attention to slowing it down. Then taking the next step, letting the breath determine the pace of our physical practice and where we go in it. If our breath becomes short and choppy, that’s probably a good indication that we need to back off. We are still stuck in the doing. When we pay attention to our breath, really observe it, the mind starts to quiet down a bit and we begin feeling our practice (rather than thinking our practice). The breath is powerful. It is the link to staying present. Our first step to just being.
When we take those first steps, we begin to accept each practice on the mat just as it is.
We stop trying to get some where, and we start just being. Here. Now.
Of course, the hope is that we continue that when we step off our mat.
Ah, so now this is where things get a bit trickier.
The first step is to understand that there are certain things beyond our control. Just being is not about giving up or the idea that our life is predetermined and nothing we do can change its direction. It’s grasping the difference between what we can change and what we cannot. We can’t control people’s actions or feelings, try as we might. We can’t control all the events and situations that surround us either.
But we can control our own words, actions and behavior. We can stop forcing and fighting our life. And we can stop trying to run away from the uncomfortableness of what our reality might be. Give up the fight and flight.
It’s amazing how much energy is freed when we stop resisting our life. Go ahead, take that great big ridiculous exhale. You know you want to.
Wow, did you feel that? The 100lb weight of judgment and expectations just fell off your back.
All that energy we were wasting on forcing and fighting, just opened up a whole big space called acceptance and allowing. Acceptance of where we are. Allowing the moment as it is.
Feeling lighter? Everyone knows resisting weighs more than allowing. Just sayin’.
Of course, it’s always easier said than done. When we are riding that wave of “things are going our way,” the situation as is seems pretty sweet. Allowing and accepting when things turn to shit, well that’s usually when “just being” hits the yoga studio ceiling fan.
But the universe has a funny kind of rhythm to it. And if we keep focus on the intention behind what we do (why we are doing it), rather than the end goal (the outcome), it all has a way of falling into place.
Now, we might not get everything we want, when we want it. But I will tell you this: We do get what we need, at the right time. It might not be obvious when it’s happening, but everything has a way of unfolding as it needs to.
Just being is bigger than the practice of presence. It’s a complete and utter awareness that the moment you are in is enough. It’s being strong enough to enter each moment with honesty and compassion, but soft enough to relinquish attachment to the outcome.
I started teaching yoga because it was so life changing for me that I wanted to share it. There was nothing else. I was also lucky – it was before yoga was trendy. No one was really practicing yoga. I had no visions of yogi rock stardom. (That phrase didn’t even exist at the time, and still shouldn’t IMHO.) I didn’t have a grand plan for getting famous. I didn’t buy followers on Facebook. (Well, in all fairness, there was no Facebook. Don’t worry, I won’t start talking about the fact that we only had books made out of paper.) There were certainly no “talent agencies” for yoga instructors to help give the appearance of popularity and help to give a following unearned. I focused on my practice. On learning. I shared what I loved and what I knew to be true for me. And students began to come.
I can now look back and see that I am where I am because I just let it be. Unknowingly, perhaps. But it’s the truth just the same. Nothing was forced, I just allowed it to evolve. And opportunities showed up. Never too soon, and never too late. I can tell you, I never planned on running my own studio. But here I am, over 20 years later, herding cats. (You studio owners will get that.) All I can say is, thank god I love cats.
You see, some things just can’t be rushed. Time for instance. You can’t rush it, you can’t force it. Our experience and growth comes from time.
Whether it’s our practice on the mat. Or our practice off.
So, to all the yoga students, leave your cellphone at home. Next time you step on your mat, don’t be in such a hurry to get. Pay attention to the little things instead. And build your practice from there. Sure, doing all the “fancier” poses can be fun. But I can tell you this, everything wrong in your life will not suddenly be fixed if you can press yourself up into headstand. Or even grab your toe in triangle pose. I will tell you what might just change your life for the better: focusing on how you go. The practice of slow, the practice of stillness, the practice of the process, the practice of mindfulness in action. Make the small things the big things. And you might just end up living a life less rushed. A life more lived. If that leads to doing a handstand, too, well then bravo to you too. At least your foundation will be solid.
To all the new yoga teachers out there, throw the script away. Stop trying to get somewhere. You can’t force experience. Use each day off your mat as lesson for when you teach those practicing on their mat. Only you can live your life. Use it. Not someone else’s. But remember, you can’t rush it. Teach from where you are at that very moment. As the moment is. Don’t try to make it a different one. Because really, that’s the only one you have. You will find your voice from your heart. And that is more than enough. Your authenticity will be followed. And if you get 50,000 Instagram followers in the course of all that, well that’s awesome, too. And you can be satisfied knowing it will be real.
So, we’ve come to the point where I normally would tie it all together and say something really profound…
Instead I am letting…it…go…
So you can begin to just be…
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:
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…
read elephant journal version….
Oh the horror! The horror!!! It’s sometimes interesting how a tiny little thing, like a piece of tape, can create such a strong reaction.
For those of you who take class at my studio, well, you know what I am talking about. For those who have not yet had the pleasure, well, I am speaking of mat markers. Yup, those dreaded little shapes we tape to the yoga studio floor to line up our mats. Now, for those who know me, you can laugh and say my use of markers has a direct correlation with my mild case of OCD. And, I would not disagree. But if you really know me, then you will also understand that there is a bit more to it.
I am talking about SAUCHA. Or PURITY, CLEANLINESS.
In yoga philosophy we have these things called the Yamas and Niyamas. (Now, before your eyes glaze over, read on…) Basically, they are ethical and mindful observations, practices, restraints. These would be the things that we try to practice on a daily basis. The part of the yoga practice that we talk about doing OFF our mats. The part that has nothing do with how flexible we are or whether we can touch our toes. You know, the living our yoga part of yoga. Some are pretty obvious practices: Satya/Truthfulness, Ahimsa/Compassion (or Non-Violence). And though the meanings might seem obvious, each one actually has many layers to it. And so it is with Saucha. The yamas and niyamas also tend to overlap. It’s impossible to practice one without some of the others getting into the mix. Which, of course, means this is about more than just cleanliness.
On its most basic level, when we talk about Saucha, I probably don’t have to really spell it out. Cleanliness of body, our environment. On a deeper level, we would be talking about purity of mind. The intentions behind our words and actions…the why, the motivation. Is it from a place of compassion rather than selfishness? Of course, I am putting this in its most simplest terms.
Since our practice on the mat is considered a training ground for our life off the mat, in our classes we try to apply mental and physical practices to help bring awareness to these things. (We are sneaky like that.) I mean, when it comes down to it, practicing yoga is really about becoming more aware. And, hopefully, someday these practices begin to show up after stepping off our mats. And that’s where those dreaded mat markers come in….
Over the course of many years, I have watched how students react to their practice and surroundings. And, of course, I have also observed my own actions and reactions. I do firmly believe that the way we approach our yoga mats and treat the surrounding area when we practice is a good gauge on how we treat and approach life and the world in general.
If we tend to take care with how we place our mats, our towels, and water bottles. (Do you really need your sweatshirt, watch, socks right next to you when you practice? Um, that’s what those things at the end of the room are for. We call them cubbies). If we are aware of our space and treat it with respect. (Those 5 towels your brought with you, do they need to be thrown in a messy pile in the space next to you? really? I mean, really?). Meaning not just the physical act of keeping our space neat and clean, but how we move within that space. If we understand how any movement we make, any energy we bring to class, not only affects ourselves, but those on the mats next to us. Especially when those markers are placed way too close for our own comfort zone. (Guess what, we do that on purpose…it’s a test. Mhmm, you heard me. It’s a test.) If we take time to slow down, and BREATHE, move with the intention that the ONLY reason to do anything in the process is because it feels right. If we start with these simple little practices, how can they not eventually reach beyond the space of our yoga mat, to the bigger things?
So, next time we have the urge to move farther away from others when they put their mat down next to ours, or feel the need to have not only our mat with us while we practice but the whole kitchen sink, too, or perhaps try to force ourselves into a pose we might not be ready for… instead, we take a moment and reflect on the bigger meaning. Maybe we embrace the idea of connection rather than more distance (I promise if you accidentally touch the student next to you when you practice, your world won’t end as you know it. Hmm..maybe it will add to some growth), we embrace the flexibility of adjusting to our environment rather than forcing our environment to adjust to us (yup, that wall behind you is NOT going to move out of your way, maybe you need to bend your leg a little when you lift it up behind you or adjust your position on your mat), we embrace the idea that we are enough and clarity is not found in clutter (I think I mentioned those cubbies already…), we embrace finding contentment in the process rather than forcing an outcome, we embrace taking a breath first…making each movement purposeful and with good intention. After all, how we do the little things, is how we do the big things.
Because the reality is, all of those things require flexibility, but none of those things require being able to touch our toes. Being flexible in our minds is what makes us strong.
I guess what it comes down to is, if a simple little thing like a mat marker on the floor can lead to a bigger thing like more mindfulness…well, that’s significant….
And just use the damn markers…
Read the Elephant Journal version HERE!
If practicing yoga is about more than just the pose, then so is teaching yoga.
And while we can be given tools to help us learn to instruct, teaching is something that will come from knowledge that is already inside of us.
When we first start teaching, it’s easy to get lost in the instructing and forego the teaching.
Instructing requires us to have a strong working knowledge of the body and a firm grip on proper alignment. The surface elements of the practice. All very important.
Teaching comes from the wisdom we have gained from our own personal experiences and our willingness to break open enough to be willing to share. It is not something that can be learned.
Instructing comes from the head. Teaching comes from the heart.
Often in my classes after giving detailed alignment of a pose, I then tell my students to just let all of that go. Stop trying to do the pose and allow yourself to just be in the pose.
When we step into the classroom to lead a class, it’s not much different than stepping onto our own mat to practice. Try not to get lost in the doing….
1. Don’t Compromise Your Foundation:
I constantly tell my students in class that the pose will only be as strong as the foundation they build it on. And nothing is worth sacrificing a calm, steady foundation. The same is true for teaching.
In asana practice it might start with a smooth, flowing breath. A stable, sturdy connection to the ground.
Our teaching foundation develops from what keeps us personally coming back to the mat. Day after day. That which we connect to.
There can be an overwhelming amount of information to be absorbed, and then expected to be applied during the training process. One of my first teachers told us to take what makes sense and throw the rest away. I hold onto that to this day. I stopped trying to teach the right way, and began teaching my way. The way that feels right for me.
This is found deep inside, an intuitive nature that speaks from the heart. Our truth.
Our teaching is only as strong as the foundation we build it on. Nothing is worth compromising this. No class, no studio, no job. And the fact is, when we let our authenticity shine through, all of those things will come.
Find your truth, the students will hear.
2. Focus more on the In and less on the Out:
One of the most challenging things I still find to this day when teaching, is to get students to let go of the outward focus of the practice (pose), and put more effort to understanding and beginning with the inward focus (breath). I try to emphasize if they trust the inner process, the outer process will begin to happen.
And as a newer teacher, it’s sometimes easy to get caught up with the same thing. Fearful of boring our students, we end up spending large amounts of time creating new sequences, interesting transitions or finding more challenging poses. Instructing begins to trump teaching.
The reality is, holding a student’s attention and keeping it interesting comes from teaching what is inside of us. Speaking directly from our hearts, our experiences. Channeling those experiences to make them relevant to our students, without making it about ourselves.
At my lowest points, I have been able to make the greatest connections with my students. I have walked into a classroom more times than I would like to remember thinking “how can I possibly hold my students up, when I can barely hold myself up?” At those times the only thing I had was my own practice. I had to be so firmly grounded, focused and present that only my truth at that moment could come out.
When we awaken our own inner teacher and let it free, our students will begin to find theirs too. This will not come from our sequence, but it will come from our words. Headstand and arm balances are not required. Raw honesty and continuous self study are. If we never stop working on the inside, guaranteed the outside will start to fall into place.
Find your inner teacher, and the students will follow.
3. It’s About the Process, Not the Destination:
There will always be three more things you need to know. And two years from now, five years from now and 10 years from now there will still be three, five, 10 more things you need to know….and that’s ok. I have been teaching for almost 20 years, and I hope I never get to a place where I feel there is nothing left to learn. I mean, if we are living how can we not be learning?
Just like our practice on the mat, teaching yoga is a process as well. Each day it will be different and it always will be changing. It will never be perfect. And not always easy.
Give yourself a break in striving for the perfection of instructing. Allow yourself the imperfectness and freedom to teach.
Do less. Be more.
Instruct to exercise the body. But teach to exercise the soul.
Lyn’s power yoga school is located in Ridgefield, CT where she offers mentoring and a 200 HR yoga teacher certification.
Growth comes from when things are difficult.
I started practicing power yoga almost 20 years ago. I remember a teacher early on saying that life is hard, so your practice on the mat should be hard. Wow, immediate attention and connection.
The fact is the lessons on the mat are really life lessons.
How we react to the challenge on the mat is how we ultimately will react to the challenges in life. And miraculously, this very physical practice showed me the way to start being less concerned about the outside, and more concerned about what was going on in the inside. This was coming from a very externally physically focused individual.
Power yoga changed my mindset, changed my life.
Over the last two decades I have read many articles, blogs and random comments in news feeds about power yoga. I have found that it is often misunderstood and given a bad rap.
Some of the misconceptions are:
It’s just exercise and there is nothing spiritual about it.
The philosophical part of yoga is taken out.
Just turn up the heat, move real fast, throw in lots of arm balances, have a kick ass playlist and that makes it power yoga.
It’s Hot Yoga. (And let me just clarify, I have no qualms with Hot Yoga, but the two are different). And last but not least, it’s not real yoga.
When it comes down to it, if we are on the path of truth, self-discovery, trying to make the world a better place…who are we to judge which path is chosen? The point is, we are on the path. And just because something is challenging on the outside does not mean it is not meaningful on the inside.
So after many years in the making (and procrastination), I sat down to set the record straight. This is what came out. Words from the heart of a yogi, not the mind of a writer……what power yoga is and what it is not…
It is NOT yoga for fitness.
It IS yoga for mindfulness.
It is NOT about having a perfect body to feed your ego.
It IS about maintaining a healthy body to house your soul.
It is NOT all about working out.
It IS everything about working in.
It is NOT about the pose or even being in the pose.
It IS about how you get into the pose and how you react to the pose.
It is NOT about how the pose looks.
It IS about how the pose feels.
It is NOT about where you go or learning to stand on your own two hands.
It IS about how you go and learning to stand on your own two feet.
And sometimes in life, when it’s necessary,
it will teach you how to stand on just one.
It is NOT about pushing, forcing, and muscling through physical challenges.
It IS about strengthening the soft and softening the hard through life’s challenges.
Falling. And landing.
Chaos. With calmness.
Options. No conditions.
Slow. Not fast.
Simple. Never easy.
It is NOT about what gets in the way of your practice.
It IS about getting out of your own way when you do.
It is NOT about running from discomfort.
It IS about finding comfortable in uncomfortable.
Not allowing yourself to break down, but giving yourself the opportunity to break open.
It is NOT about listening to the voices of judgment and searching for answers on the outside.
It IS about trusting your silent voice of wisdom only to discover that the answers are already there on the inside.
Picking up the right. Throwing down the wrong.
Stepping on your mat a mess. Stepping off having found bliss.
It is about less drama and more yamas.
It is about coming to your mat and practicing sukha and sthira, ahimsa and satya, saucha and santosha…
The focus is the process, rather than goal oriented madness.
Not being where you want to be, but accepting where you are.
Being guided by intention. Not mindless action.
A moving meditation. Not bending with distraction.
Sweating out the stress. Knowing perfection does not exist.
Trusting the breath never steers wrong, and in surrender you will find strong.
It is about thinking less. And being more.
Becoming less self-centered. And more other-centered.
Looking out for yourself less. Looking into yourself more.
Practicing there, so that you can take it here…
On the mat is where you start. Off is where you begin.
It is NOT about being a perfect person.
It IS about becoming a better human being.
~Link to the elephant journal version.
Lyn’s power yoga studio is located in Ridgefield, CT.