I wrote this journal entry a few days prior to making the choice to leave the yoga studio scene...for now? forever? I do not know. This is simply an honest share. This is not attacking any particular studio or yoga studios in general. This is solely my experience, a reflection of asteya (a yama/restraint from the eight limbed path of yoga) - being cool with who I am.
The choice to say goodbye can be sweet. As I sit in the studio a few days before I make the call to leave I feel relief - not because I'm happy to leave or an ugly encounter is over. It's because I know this is the right time. I'm ready to see what is beyond these four walls.
This studio isn't what it use to be for me and that is okay. In fact I believe it's completely normal. I am settled with knowing that the rush, confusion, and joy from my first class has passed. I am accepting that the sweat and bucket of tears needed from teacher training has passed.
I am admitting that I spent money, "acted" like a yoga teacher all to fit the brand. These mistakes I don't see as regrets, rather a fog. It was through exposure to other styles of yoga, personal readings, getting real and honest about my practice (to only me), and being provided an opportunity to teach without expectations - that the fog had an opportunity to clear and my authenticity smacked me in the face. Money, brands, and scripts are not yoga.
With these wide range of emotions I still have nothing but respect and endless love for my first studio. I am where I am at today, prepared to make the call because of the voice this practice developed.
Why is this goodbye sweet? Because there is no doubt.
At monthly staff meetings I started a self care board. Those in the helping profession know that self-care is quite the buzz word these days. We're told to take long walks and baths, have "me" time, buy our favorite food, etc. I love how my co-workers put none of those and rather focused on one concrete, achievable task.
There is no timeline, deadline, or tracking. You just have to start start. The self care board is just a poster board with posts its, so that everyone can see what you're up to and ask, "hey how's it going?"
This month I'm focusing on meditation for 10 minutes. And I'll admit I had images of a beautiful seated practice with birds chirping in the background, but thus far here is where I'm at...
Time waster: I was curious how much time I spent scrolling on Facebook so I set a timer prior to the scroll and then I never opened the app. I just sat there and closed my eyes. You see the concept of being timed was a HELLO! moment. If I'm about to time how long I am doing something that I get no value from, I call it a time waster and set it aside. Identify one thing you believe you waste time with and right before you do it, set the timer. You might pause - great! You might still do the act - great! Because the timer is running and there's your proof.
Stop and give me 10: It's not impossible to have a daily seated mediation practice. But it sure does take dedicated and a desire to actually want it. My seated meditation happens when I need it to happen. Making it a scheduled part of my day feels like a chore. On the days that I don't take a seat, I take 10. That's 10 moments in my day where I stop for one minute or even just three seconds. It's more about the pause before sending an email, opening the door, and the toughest of them all (for me) the pause before the words.
What does it even mean?: No worries a philosophical rant is not to follow. What does meditation mean? And when did it get defined as only a seated practice? The word meditation means...
I hate laundry. While loading clothes in the washer last week, I paused and thought "I'm putting clothes in the washer" and I repeated this very phase until the task was done. Did it take away my dislike for laundry? No but for that moment I didn't label the act, laundry was just laundry.
I love hiking but boy does my mind wonder when I'm outside. This is normal of course, but to consider hiking meditation I interrupted my rambling mind with an identification of what I was seeing - that's a tree, a man, a rock, the water, my dog, the sky, etc. And slowly I'm beginning to notice that I'm regulating my thoughts to be on hiking and only hiking. It's not 100% and I don't want it to be. The woods is like my shower - my best ideas emerge.
Get on or get off your seat, whatever you've got to do to tune into beautiful you.
The short answer – teach yoga. It’s that simple; teach the practice, what else would you teach?
Because the short answer doesn’t make much of a blog post, here are four tips based on four non-studio locations.
Tip 1 Comfort with uncertainty
My first teaching experience was at the residential substance abuse program that I work at as a therapist. It was spring of 2013 and I was fresh out of a trauma informed yoga teaching training. I was bright eyed and bushy tail ready to bring yoga to this community. I was overly confident to say the least. My hour long prepared class, lasted half that time and we completed 5 poses. It wasn’t because I failed as a teacher or the students were inflexible. It was because it was easier to get comfortable with what was going on right in front of me versus forcing my intentions onto the women. Comfort with uncertainty is the practice of rolling with the unexpected. If your planning to teach in a treatment program, prison, school, etc. be prepared that some will be open to yoga and others will have no desire to practice. I will say consistency goes a long way – pick the same day, time, and if at all possible location for the class. If you build it they will come, but that means you have to come too. In terms of teaching;
Tip 2 Find Balance
My second teaching experience was in Uganda at a local café -it took 2 years before I actually taught in a studio.
I was offered this opportunity by the generous café owner and her friend, a wonderful spirited yoga teacher who taught me to go for it, fail, succeed either way keep going.
We taught twice a week, sharing one morning each. We taught inside the café during rainy season or outside in the courtyard. Inside the café the surface was flat but the environment was busy as the café workers set up for the days business, motorcycles circled outside and school children raced to school. Outside the café the surface was less then smooth, cats laid on your mat, rosters would crow, and holes would form in mats. The tip here is that if you are teaching in more public places, find the balance of acknowledging what is happening around and just letting it happen. If it’s loud, everyone hears it so you can make a joke or cue the breath. If a cat has ended up in the middle of someone’s mat, you can welcome your furry student with cat pose or continue the class as usual. The balance is accepting the class as it is, the students, the weather, the surface, and the gratitude that the practice is possibility that day.
Tip 3 Make em’ laugh
Fast-forward to winter 2017 – I’ve been teaching for four years. During these four years I finally made it to studio teaching but the itch to step outside those walls was calling.
A studio student asked me to teach at her elementary school and without a doubt in my mind I said yes. For the past few months I’ve been providing a 20-minute class to a small group of third grade students and a 40-minute class to a second grade classroom. If you’re looking for an experience that will make your throw every yoga textbook out the window, elementary school is your place!
I start off both classes with three deep breaths, and now the students are cuing it even before I get a chance to say hello. I then provide a few warm up poses, such as down dog, mountain pose, cat-cow, plank, forward fold, etc. The middle of class is pose of the day, a game, a flow with a story, and/or breath work. The middle of the class is attuning to the vibe of the room – are students high energy, unfocused or tried? The end of class is lying on bellies or backs for at least 2 minutes, followed by sitting upright and ending with three deep breaths.
There is structure and consistency with plenty of room for jokes, giggles, making up poses, and tuning back into that inner child. This isn’t your find the source of your root chakra yoga class.
Tip 4 Don’t try hard, try easy
What makes me uncomfortable? A corporate office. And that is exactly where I found myself last week, but thankfully in yoga pants.
A month ago another studio student offered me a corporate yoga gig, as she owns a business bringing yoga to various settings. I taught my first class last week and before class I turned to the business owner and said, you know I’ve never taught corporate yoga before and her response (which inspired this post), just teach yoga.
Don’t try hard, try easy doesn’t refer to “easy poses” rather don’t try so darn hard! I’m teaching right in their office space, so the goal is creating the space to turn what could be a hard, challenging environment some days to an environment that also offers ease and peace – either way they have complete choice in the outcome.
These experiences, tips, locations are the yoga without handstand and no hashtag to complete the practice. Rather a yoga that is here, there, you and I no matter the location, surface, or time.
I’m going to contradict the blog title, “off the mat” and you guessed it, talk about the mat…sort of
I’ve been reminiscing about the times when I didn’t have a mat, yet practiced asana. I practiced on concrete floors, stone walkways, rooftops, carpet, kitchen floors, and how could I forget the picturesque mountain where I reached nirvana (if you haven’t picked up on some sarcastic nature in the this blog thus far, here is your waving red flag) but the point being I didn’t allow limitations to the asana practice.
It was humbling.
I’ve been spending sometime learning and meditating on dharma. It’s defined in various avenues as the way things are or ones sense of concept. Yoga became a subject right when dharma became a subject. The first yoga sutra states, let’s us learn. Yoga is a subject, it can be taught. The concept of I learned to do this and so can you. This is what I’ve learned thus far.
I’ve learned that dharma as how we get our freedom. So when I find myself upset that I can’t make it or afford a studio class, I remind myself that the practice still exists.
Dharma to me is how we manage a crazy world. Perhaps practicing the asana on a non-rubber surface or outside a yoga studio tests our management of a crazy world. Are we willing to get uncomfortable? I experience fear that if I offer a class at my home that no one will come, either way the practice still exists.
Both dharma and yoga ask for deep connection. Are we willing to connect with ourselves, how we know things without photographic documentation? When the instayogi fad fades away, the practice still exists. When I grow tired of writing this blog, the practice still exists
I offer you a challenge…Practice asana off a mat, any surface will do and then ask yourself did the practice happen? Maybe it was rocky, uncomfortable, or interrupted – but did the practice exist?
One of the meditations in Meditations from the Mat speaks to acknowledging and accepting the light, what you feel – dharma. “Suffering comes from our own resistance to being who we are…the time for asking questions will be temporary”. “It’s the moment in our journey, when we let go of results and wholeheartedly embrace the process”. You and I are right where we need to be. It’s my dharma. It’s your dharma. It’s my meaning of yoga and it’s your meaning of yoga for this here and now.
If you’re expecting a blog filled with vegan recipes than stop reading now. Those who know me personally, feel free to laugh at the idea that I would have a recipe, let alone be found cooking in the kitchen.
This is about diet as a way of life- from Latin, diaeta means prescribed way of life or from Greek, diaita means way of life, regimen. Now of course any of these definitions can be related to food, but as someone who has fluctuated in and out of eating disorder habits, when I learned these definitions I was amazed that food didn’t cross my mind. And so began my prescription for healing:
Rx Cleanses, take as needed: I knew I to stay clear of cleanses but that didn’t happen as easily as I thought because at one point I got lost in the “yogi body” and attempted two cleanses. The first of which was a whole fruit cleanse, meant to detoxify the body from artificial sugars. It was scheduled for a week and I lasted 2 days, as very quickly I was tracking every fruit I ate and stared at the mirror hoping for results. The second was a 3 day mung bean and rice regimen. I lasted 5 hours. I felt weak, very similar to flu symptoms and I swore off cleanses. Well, fast-forward a few years and I am face to face with the fruit cleanse, in a month long yoga program. Without hesitation I said no and was offered some powerful guidance, if not food then want needs to be cleaned? I choose social media, the all consuming keeping up with the Jones’s time waster. I ended the program not deleting social media, rather unfollowing the unhelpful and following the helpful for a minimal period of time. I take social media as needed and believe that all cleanses from food, media, whatever should be taken in the same light. If you’re feeling tired from eating chips, then take a week off. Does it mean you have to rid your body of a favorite food forever? No, as perhaps during the week off you realize the choices you have in connecting how to feel with what you eat. If you’re realizing that every night you watch television, does it mean you take a week off and then throw you television to the curb? No, as maybe you realize new hobbies and continue to watch your favorite show once a week.
Rx Yoga regimen, take everyday: A yoga practice is the most beautiful, heart breaking evolution. It’s personal and if done correctly changes over time. When my practice began it was 100% physical – the poses, heat, sweat. It was nerve raking and exciting, basically yoga and I were on our first date, over and over again. As the years passed yoga and I entered a relationship with flaws and challenges. I questioned, what are we? Where are we going? I talked to friends, teachers, and read books on how to improve our relationship. My practice became physical and emotional. So yoga and I moved in together to begin our current long-term relationship. Yoga comes with me on travels, work commutes, therapy sessions, chores, vacations, the grocery store, as I sit here and type. You see if yoga had remained physical, I would have never acknowledged that I had unhealthy eating habits. I would have been trapped in cleanses and focused on flattering versus comfort in poses or clothing. This acknowledgement brought me emotional support. I learned to cherish my breath, my body exactly as it is today. If yoga remained only a physical and emotional process, it would have become internally stuck and I would have never considered teaching yoga at treatment programs or elementary schools. The relationship is internal and external, mindfully choosing actions and words that serve the purpose to be the kind woman I know myself to be. And when I’m not – which happens, than what is the purpose?
My yoga diet serves breath and body with regimens that support honoring purpose as a way of life. And I proudly state that while eating Nutella straight out of the jar.
Recently, I’ve been dialoguing about religion and spirituality. I’ve heard individuals state a specific religion and share their personal relationship with God. Individuals have shared that while attending church they are worshiping their relationship with God, going for a run, walk, or hike they mediate with God, while listening to Gospel music, daily readings of religious based text, the list goes on and on. Some individuals shared identification with spirituality, relating their actions to concern and care for the human spirit and soul or limiting or eliminating material or physical things from their lifestyle. Of course through all this questioning on my end, I was asked so what’s your religion or spirituality? And I didn’t have an answer.
Allowing this question to marinate, I came across a reading in Meditations from the Mat stating, “We must cultivate the same attention we bring to our asana practice to the forms of love we experience as we move through the day” and an answer began to process.
I felt the most agreement to those that shared their worship occurring during enjoyable activities, i.e. running, walking, music, etc because it reinforced that you don’t have to go to church to have a personal relationship with God and you aren’t less spiritual because you purchased a Starbucks coffee instead of donating to a charity today. If you can honestly say that you have or are in the process of surrendering your beliefs, cherishing every breath and cell in yours and the bodies around you – call it religion or spiritually, but I call it practice - the actual application of a belief.
Practice uses the physical body, the experiences we move though the day use the heart – not the physical heart beat rather the intuitive heart and mind. Our brain has two parts. Make a fist with your fingers covering your thumb. The top of your hand is the decision making brain, where you engage in choice. Lift your fingers and that’s your emotional brain, where memories and emotions are stored. Both are used in practice – we make a decision to come to our yoga mats, church, prayer, etc and it is based on a memory of an experience – sometimes amazing, bland, or challenging. The brain develops from the inside out, so emotions and memories shape choices. We say no to practices that don’t suit us because of repeated unpleasant emotions or experiences. We say yes to practices because of a desire to reinforce pleasant emotions or experiences.
I say yes to the belief, emotions, and experiences of the highest love, dedication, and peace. My choice to practice on and off the yoga mat provides the opportunity to say yes again – sometimes with a challenge and sometimes with a success. I still don’t have an answer to what is my religion or spirituality – and maybe you do or don’t either way it’s the application of the belief. It’s the practice.
Today, I practice ____________________ by making the choice to _________________
and know that it is working when I say yes to __________________________________.
I’ve been inspired to start a blog because my frustration with hearing “I can’t do yoga”, “I’m not flexible”, and other doubtful phrases has hit a boiling point. Yes, that’s right yoga teachers feel anger. In these recent weeks where a focus on what we don’t have or at risk of losing has challenged me to focus on what I do have and what I have the opportunity to win. I have a voice and a belief that yoga is a practice opposite of the sexy images that flood the media. I have witnessed various ages and body types practice yoga without even or sometimes ever stepping on a mat. What do I have to win? I have the opportunity to win a renewed practice, faith, and service that will inevitability be translated into right again towards others. My intention is not to have a new students come marching into my classes chanting, “I can do yoga!” or to speak in metaphors about building the flexibility of the mind to transcend spiritual kale into your body. My intention is to share my own doubt and challenge the doubtful phrases; with the most concerning one being, “I can’t afford yoga”.
Last week I lead a one-hour mindfulness/yoga techniques class at a North Philadelphia drug and alcohol recovery center. The individuals attending have little to no income, therefore the objectives were to make the techniques relatable, believable and possible.
The first lesson I share with anyone interested in teaching in non-yoga studios is to be prepared for anything, such as lateness, lack of materials or space, interruptions, etc. In my opinion this is the best space for practice as it provides the challenge; can you remain present despite distractions or barriers? Lateness was the barrier for this class, scheduled for 2pm but didn’t begin until 2:15-20pm.
Individuals sat around tables, head in their hands or staring into space. I asked a few individuals to help position the chairs in a circle without tables. Maybe people were feeling bored, tired, or annoyed, either way we had to get moving. After introductions from volunteers (women from the residential program I work at as a therapist) and I, the planned group dialogue was skipped and I started with grounding. I asked a volunteer to name 5 things they can see, 4 things they can feel (and actually feel them), 2 things they can hear, 3 things that tasted today or yesterday that they enjoyed, and 1 thing they enjoy the smell of and with eyes opened or closed allow themselves to smell it. Then the group was encouraged to find a partner and try out the exercise. People were talking, laughing, asking questions, smiling…the room was alive! We reflected and individuals shared, “I felt comfortable”, “I had something frustrating on my mind but I’m leaving it at the door”, and “I do this already when I’m on the bus, I didn’t know it was mindfulness”
I shared aromatherapy with provided peppermint candy, peppermint oil, and lavender oil. We discussed the benefits of these scents such as skin care, relaxation, and alertness, decongest, stress relief, decrease nausea, headaches, cramps, etc. We discussed ways to use these scents, i.e. provided tissue or cotton ball, hands, hair, mixing in soaps, lotions, shampoo, or the crowd pleaser – peppermint candy! My favorite comments were, “Hey you can get these mints at the dollar store”, “I always carry mints with me”, and “I just walked in this room and it feels fresh and alive”
We concluded with yoga and progressive muscle relaxation. I began with chair yoga postures and then shifted to standing poses. Everyone was participating! If you’ve only taught in a studio this may seem like an obvious observation, but another challenge to teaching in non-yoga studios is that sometimes everyone or just a few individuals won’t participate at all. Since I perceived an active audience, I taught downward facing dog. There were maybe 15 people…only 2 people tried downward facing dog and then I saw a look of defeat on the remaining participants. I took a risk, it didn’t work so I went right back to standing poses and added some balance work. Everyone participated and even laughed when falling out of poses.
Progressive muscle relaxation shifted the participants from the quiet, boredom that was present at the start of class to a quiet, peace and willingness to let go. Everyone closed their eyes – again may be an odd comment to a studio teacher but this is a true sense of individual and group trust. In addiction recovery there may also be trauma recovery from abuse and violence inflicted on them and/or witnessed.
Although there was no time for concluding dialogue, afterwards a few individuals shared their enjoyment for the class and it provided reflection for the objectives.
*Relatable – YES! Many shared existing use of mints and now realize that mindfulness was there all along.
*Believable – YES! I loved how one gentleman shared that he uses the grounding through the five senses while on the bus.
*Possible – YES! Those interested in the oils, I encouraged going to local drug stores for purchase. And those interested in yoga I listed free and $10 yoga classes in the city, as well encouragement to find an empty floor space and make it up or YouTube a video.
So because I taught 15 people last week affordable techniques, the doubt has disappeared? No. But maybe this reflection will provide you as it provided me the awareness that peace, stillness, or whatever you’re striving for is right in your pocket like a peppermint or that empty floor space in your bedroom.