Teaching is an Exploration, It’s a Conversation, It’s a Dance

Standard

One of the biggest questions I am asked as an instructor of Yoga is “What style do you teach?”  I used to cringe as those words were leaving their lips.  I know it would simply be easier to say “Hatha” and be done with it.  However, the answer is so much more complex than that.  I read a blog post yesterday about teachers creating their own styles of yoga and how that may not be an authentic approach to honoring such an ancient practice.  The bottom line is most of us teach our own style.  Our style becomes an intricate blend of the styles of our teachers.  Much like cooking, we learn from other people, their shared ideas and recipes.  Then when we actually sit down to make the meal ourselves, we do it our way, the way that feels comfortable to us; ultimately creating a flavor and design that makes the most sense to our taste receptors.

I was very fortunate that my initial 200 Hour Teacher Training Program consisted of teachers of all lineages.  It was as though the creator of the program had laid out a buffet table and we had the opportunity to sample a multitude of flavors.  We were than able to decide which ones we enjoyed enough to revisit and which ones we would leave behind all together.  Many years later when I developed my own Teacher Training Program, I designed it the same way.  I invited teachers who I respected and who had a style of teaching that resonated strongly with me.  Each one of my students that graduates from my program does not tell people they practice “my” style of Yoga or even my school’s style of Yoga.  Each one of them has developed their own recipe for teaching that is an intricate and beautiful blend of what was taught and what was genuinely true for them.  You can spend thousands of dollars and thousands of hours on training but until you actually digest those teachings and serve it up in your practice, your teaching, and your life, it is not going to taste or feel authentic to you or your students.

This summer I have kept my teaching schedule quite light, teaching one class a week with a few private clients sprinkled in between.  I was excited to receive an invitation to teach two back-to-back 90 Minutes Classes as part of a summer dance intensive at Academy of Performing Arts New England.  As I was preparing for teaching two different age levels of dancers, I realized, there was no tangible way for me to develop a theme or even a basic class outline.  I needed to walk in and begin a discussion with them.  Ask them questions about their previous experience(s) with Yoga.  What they liked about it, what they didn’t like, what postures they might be interested in exploring.  From there, I just let the classes organically unfold.  The best way to approach teaching this way, I find, is to do something Amy Ippoliti calls “vessilifying” or “vessilification”.  For me, this means, doing my best to ensure that my body is fueled with the right nutrients, the right amount of sleep, plenty of yoga practice, as well as inspiration from my teachers and my vast library of Yoga Books.

I took a fabulous class with Amy on YogaGlo last week called “The Power of Faith and Intention”.  She talked about Shraddha, the Sanskrit word for faith.  When I researched Shraddha further, I discovered that, rather than meaning faith in a religious context, it means something closer to “trust” or “conviction.”  “It most commonly refers to the conviction that develops from one’s own direct experience and practice.”

Amy also talked about Nataraja, the dancing Shiva, how it is said that he dances on the boundaries of the ever expanding and contracting Universe.  Our classes are filled with students whose expectations, abilities and boundaries are ever expanding and contracting.  How then, can our style or our teaching be labeled, rigid, or defined?

When I teach my style of Yoga, I have to vessilify, I must have Shraddha.  I have to walk into that space and trust; allowing all of the teachings I have received from training, practice, experiences, and books to just flow from the universe, through me, to them.  Teaching is not a style.  Teaching is an exploration, it’s a conversation, it’s a dance.

Advertisements

Physical Therapy Meets Yoga; The Complimentary Balance

Standard

As a Yoga Instructor I receive a lot of questions from friends, students, and people that I meet on a day-to-day basis.  Despite Yoga’s increasing popularity and the tremendous amount of media attention it has been receiving, there is still a great deal of mystery surrounding this ancient practice.  I decided that I wanted to reach out to people I admire in their respective fields to dig a little deeper, find some new answers, and new information about yoga.  I conducted this first interview with Chris Pierce from Balance Physical Therapy.  Chris Pierce is a Physical Therapist and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He has a Masters in Physical Therapy and has completed a residency in Orthopaedic Manual Therapy from the Institute of Orhopaedic Manual Therapy, an affiliate of Mass General and Boston University.  At Balance Physical Therapy, Chris works with a variety of people, including children with physical challenges, competitive athletes who have experienced injuries, as well as healthy adults seeking to enhance their strength and conditioning. He gains tremendous satisfaction from helping his clients help themselves get better. His goal is to help every client perform at his or her highest ability, both in sports and in their overall lives. His ability to motivate people is legendary.

Over the past four years, Chris and I have worked together to tap into some of the therapeutic aspects of Yoga and to develop variations that are safe and accessible to many different types of practitioners.

Here are the questions that I had for Chris:

AS:  Please tell me a little bit about your first introduction to yoga and how that practice has evolved for you?

CP:  I first started to practice Yoga about five years ago, soon after we opened Balance Physical Therapy.  I was introduced to the concept and some of the movements a couple of years prior to that, while living in Montana , and knew that it was something that would be helpful for me and that I wanted to explore more in the future.

Once I started to practice regularly with you, I learned some interesting things about myself and Yoga.  I am a competitive person, but Yoga is NOT a competition.  It is a very personal experience that requires tuning in to your own body and tuning out the distractions around you.  Once I let go of the competition (Lord knows I am not going to win any flexibility contests anyway), I was able to improve my strength, flexibility, awareness of my body, and reduce my stress level.  It was also a great way to recover from Rugby matches.

Although I am not formally practicing, I continue to include Yoga movements into my daily workouts as well as in my Physical Therapy practice.  Certain Yoga movements are fantastic for reducing muscular tension and alleviating compression forces on some of the body’s structures (for certain people).

AS:  What advice do you have for practitioners of yoga that would enable them to get the most out of their practice and help them prevent injury?

CP:

1)    Listen to your body: if it hurts, DON’T DO IT.

2)    Learn from a well educated, experienced Yoga teacher.

3)    If you have injuries that are troubling you, but want to try Yoga, consider one on one training, as this will allow you to share your issues and help you develop a practice that suits you.

AS:  What are you thoughts about how important the education and experience of the instructor is?  How necessary do you believe it is for the instructor to have a yoga practice of their own?

CP:  At many health clubs, you can find “Yoga” instructors that received a certification from a weekend course.  Having been an instructor of Anatomy and Physiology in a Yoga Teacher Training, I can tell you that one cannot even begin to scratch the surface, of the depth of knowledge requisite to teach Yoga, in a weekend.  Ask the question “How many hours was your certification class?” and “where did you receive that certification?”.  Do you really want to learn Yoga from someone who has little more experience than you?

It seems to me that no matter what activity, sport, etc. I am trying to learn, I would like my teacher to have fairly extensive experience doing before they teach me.  With Yoga, this is especially important.  In order to teach you movements and keep you safe, the teacher must know what each pose feels like, what tricks-of-the-trade may be helpful and understand the potential for injury, so as to protect the learner.

AS:  What are your thoughts about the complimentary benefits of physical therapy and yoga when applied to rehabilitation and healing; as well as performance enhancement and injury prevention for athletes?

CP:  I mentioned earlier that I use certain Yoga movements with some of my P.T. clients.  I also refer certain “graduated” patients on to Yoga instructors like yourself, who have experience and understanding of injury and ways to avoid potentially harmful movements.  Yoga can be very beneficial when performed properly, at the right pace and with proper guidance.  It can have negative consequences when done without care and without a properly trained teacher.

ALL athletes will benefit from Yoga!  As a way to build core strength and stability, Yoga is hard to beat.  The improvements in flexibility can be tremendous and this, combined with strong movements found in Yoga, can translate into significant injury reduction.  I find it very helpful in bouncing back from the hard knocks I take on the rugby pitch.  I have seen improved performance in a variety of athletes across a range of sports.

AS:  You and I spoke about our goals as facilitators of these modalities.  We talked about creating a sustainable routine/practice that leaves our clients feeling like the best version of themselves when they are finished.  What are your thoughts about the best way to make this scenario a reality for both provider and client?

CP:  The provider must foster an environment that allows each person to experience Yoga at their own pace.  It is essential that the student fully understand that this is a personal journey (not a competition) and that the road is long and twisty.  What I mean to say, is that although there are positive physiologic changes that occur during and after each session, many of the benefits of Yoga occur over time with continued practice.

Did this interview answer some questions for you?  Is there additional information that would like to know?  Please let me know.

Namaste ૐ

Team Circle Tribe

Standard

A short while ago, March 20th to be exact, my soul sister posted this quote on her facebook wall: “Surround yourself with a team of people who are 110% on your side and can provide you with the counsel and wisdom to get you through all the challenges you’ll face.” ~ Lea Woodward.  Someone commented on her post, wondering out loud, if such a “team” exists.  This started me thinking.  If we are truly going to achieve our goals and reach the stars that we have hung our dreams upon, it is vital that this team exist and it is our responsibility to create and cultivate it.

This quote, link, and thought process ultimately lead me to finally purchase a few issues of Wild Sister Magazine.  I can’t believe I waited this long to enjoy this wonderful online publication!  I purchased seven issues including Issue #09, The Women We Admire Issue:http://ow.ly/9xImc .  I wanted to read the whole article and discover the context in which the quote was written.  The article is called Discover Your Superpowers / An Interview with Lea Woodward by Amy Palko.  Between the time I read the post and the whole article, I took a good amount of time considering who was already a part of my team and thinking about which positions might still be available.

My COO Team.  My main men:  The Illustrious T to the Double D, Bear, and the X-Man.  They keep my Modus Operandi in check.  Everything I do and say, I bounce it off the idea of how it will ultimately affect them.  Their happiness is my Mission Statement.

I have a couple of CAOs.  That’s Chief Awesomeness Officers to you.  The regal and radiant, Ruby.  I check in with her on items big and small, frequently.  She reminds me of my awesomeness when I have forgotten and helps me locate it when I have misplaced it.  Ruby also sidelines as my Editor-in-Chief.  She is a real Dymond in the rough that one!  My brilliant brother Brom advises me and keeps me apprised of and attuned to my highest.  He is a Maestro of Mudita!

I have two people that share the role of CEO.  My Chief Energy Officer Team consists of my acupuncturist, Warrior Goddess Mama Joy, who assists me in the care and keeping of my internal energy.  There is also Prime Minister P, who is the Proprietor of Positivity as well as the Facilitator of all things Feng Shui.

A CFO in my Tribe is referred to as a “Chief Fun Officer”.  Everyone deserves to have people with whom they can be completely themselves.  I have a few of those too.

Some organizations have a Board of Trustees.  I have a “Sounding Board”; my three Crown Jewels.  I also have my Sassy Soul Sister S, the Benevolent B, and the Magnanimous M.  Then I have the elders of my tribe, the matriarchs, who nurture the very essence of who I am; The Mystical Mrs. M. and Kindred K.

I also have an Executive Board of Chief Information Officers.  These are the people that provide me with the information I rely on to inspire me.  Writers, Teachers, Musicians, Artists, etc.  There are far too many to list here.

As you can see, the list could go on and on.  The possibilities are endless!

In the article, Lea also states:  “It’s important to know your super power because it’s the foundation on which you can build the life you want – it helps you identify what value you have to offer in the world, upon which you can build a business.”  I believe identifying your super power enables you to create an outstanding existence, a life that you cherish sharing with others.  She goes on to say: “It helps you operate in the world, knowing the value you have to exchange with others – and in this way you can begin to create your own economy. Exchanging your value for money or other things which are valuable to you.”

We should surround ourselves with those who help us discover our super power.  Our circle should consist of individuals who are not afraid of introducing our super power, for fear that it diminishes theirs.  Play off of and even delight in each other’s strengths.  This is Mudita at it’s finest.  Altruistic, vicarious joy.

Another author from Wild Sister Mag, Erica Staab, wrote these words: “you will find people who see your light, your radiance, your sparkle and who flock to be with you, who want to lift you up, who add something to your life…These friends will offer peace, stability, compassion, love and true friendship.”

Developing and nourishing relationships with individuals who see what makes you shine and thrive on reflecting it back to you.  Enjoying the rich depth, texture, and color of weaving these precious people into the fabric of your life.  Most importantly, utilizing your time and energy being the type of person you want on your team.  Cultivate this tribe of kindred spirits and indulge in a delicious relationship of reciprocity.

Who is on your team?  A part of your circle?  A member of your Tribe?

Circles

Let the Rain

Standard

On the Other Side

     When I sustained a serious wrist injury during a yoga workshop, it was a hard lesson to learn.  It required surgery and months of rehabilitation.  Students would arrive at my classes and upon realizing that the person in the cast/brace was the instructor, they would inquire if they were in the right place.  I found this question mildly amusing due to the fact that during the whole process, from injury, to surgery, to healing, I would frequently ask myself the same question.
     The forecast for this entire week was, originally, all rain.  Even though the earth desperately needed this forecast, I did not.  I was not happy.  Saturday morning I began to feel a bit “under the weather” (pun intended).  By Sunday I had a full-blown cold and my mood continued to deteriorate.  I was sullen about the rain, my cold made me irritable, and I was downright furious that I was grumpy.  This morning, I decided to try a different tactic and to just let everything be as it is.  I stopped trying to resist my mood and gave myself permission to get a little rough-and-tumble with my dark side.  I also began to entertain the idea that a low-key week with plenty of precipitation might be just what I needed.  Ironically enough, both my disposition and the sky began to lighten as I made this shift.
Rumi’s Poem “The Guest House” says it all so eloquently:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

     The inability to get into a certain posture, the injury, the illness, the weather, the bad mood…these things are not the problem.  It is our resistance to them that creates the problem.  Our struggle with the the things that we have the inability to change or control simply stand to make matters worse.  When we are in the middle of these circumstances, it can be challenging to find the switch, to change our sign from “closed” to “open”.  The illnesses can be severe and the storms can be devastating.  The clearing out process can be painful and finding gratitude for that discomfort can be difficult.
My Grandmother use to say: “Let go and let God.”  I say, let the rain.
 

It’s Easy Being Green

Standard

As some of you know, I am a bit of a foodie.  I am fortunate that my love also has an adventurous spirit, as well as, a voracious appetite for delectable nourishment.  Our little ones, who are not so little anymore, have grown up sampling all of the various concoctions I create in my kitchen and have developed a culinary palette that makes me very proud.  Our food journey has taken us in many different directions.  There are times when we started off on a particular path and discovered or decided that it wasn’t the best direction for us.  If I were writing a book instead of a blog, the chapter we are currently enjoying is, what we like to refer to, as the Qualitarian Localvore Chapter.

Over the past couple of years we have participated in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).  We purchase a share from a local farm and we enjoy fresh, local, organic produce for the season.  It has been fun, exciting, and challenging!  It has required a bit of imagination and a lot of flexibility.

My most recent trick is googling the ingredients we receive and seeing what links and recipes pop up.  Mark Bittman recently wrote an article in New York Times Magazine called: Spinach is a Dish Best Served Cooked.  Originally, when I saw the title, I assumed that the article had to do with food safety.  Instead, it contained a variety of ways to prepare spinach cooked.  Typically I just mix the raw spinach we receive in with the salad greens, make a homemade dressing and we are all set.  This week, having read Bittman’s article and not receiving any salad greens, the wheels started turning.  I also decided it was too cold for raw spinach.

Then I found this recipe for Emeril’s Spinach Cheddar Baked Potato With Avocado Puree.  It seemed a bit daunting initially, due to the minute size of the potatoes we received from the farm and I was missing a couple of ingredients but I decided to proceed anyway.

Spinach

We didn’t have any bacon and I wouldn’t have used it anyway.  I also omitted the lime zest due to the fact that I just can’t bring myself to shave pesticide laden citrus into my fabulous food.  I substituted veggie stock and I used fresh cilantro from our CSA Share in place of the scallions and sprinkled the finished product with some organic black beans.

The finished product!

Next time I will definitely use regular sized potatoes and save my farm potatoes for something else.  I will also entertain the idea of turning the black beans into a puree.

They were a huge hit and they were devoured with smiles!

The Bear & His Potato

A Bit Like Herding Cats

Standard

Earlier this month, I was a chaperone for a number of children in my son’s second grade class.  It reminded me of a saying I had heard a while back: “It is a bit like herding cats.”  I had to account for them, occasionally reel them in, and yet allow them enough freedom to enjoy their experience.  I wanted to watch out for these little people as carefully as I would want someone to watch over my little one, if the roles were reversed.  This is a daunting responsibility.  I was exhausted at the end of the day.

The following week, I received an envelope.  The envelope contained four meticulously written letters by some of the children I had in my group, thanking me for attending their field trip with them.  Thanking me for keeping them safe.  One little girl wrote: “I think you are the best shaperoen in the world.”  These little notes, and the words contained within them, warmed my heart and brightened my whole day.

As I was gathering and generating some inspiration for my class that evening, I was reviewing the book “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry” by Jack Kornfield.  I have adorned my copy with a rainbow of highlighters, a multitude of post-it flags, and the random note in the margin.  On one of the bookmarked pages, I found the following quote highlighted:

“Suppose a person who was not blind beheld the many bubbles of the Ganges as they floated along, and after careful examination, saw how each appeared empty, unreal, insubstantial.  In exactly the same way we can carefully examine sense impressions, perceptions, feelings, and thought, all that we experience, and discover them to be empty, void, and without a self.”

It all of a sudden occurred to me that my meditation practice is “a bit like herding cats”.  It is my job to witness the thoughts that are racing around, however, it is not my job to contain them.  I should visualize them dissolving like a bubble on the Ganges.  I must let them go along, on their merry way, so that my experience is as it should be.  If I pause too long to attempt to restrict my thinking, I will spend unnecessary time and energy becoming frustrated and distracted.

All of this also applies to my work on my mat.  My practice involves fastidious attention to detail.  It is necessary for me to draw my awareness to my breath and to the details of my alignment.  Reeling in my thoughts from the external to the internal in order to keep my body safe can sometimes feel like a daunting and exhausting responsibility.  Ultimately, the whole process is worth the investment.  I receive thank you notes from my body, mind, and spirit.  The quality of my interactions with those in my sphere improves dramatically and I notice a shift in my relationship to self.

This week, I was practicing with Noah Maze via YogaGlo in a class called Kneessentials.  He began the class with a quote from Douglas Brooks: “Clear Boundaries, No Limits.”  If we define very clear parameters for the children in our care, they can be free.  If we delineate very precise boundaries for our bodies during our yoga practice and our minds during our meditation practice, we can be free!  Where are you feeling as though your work is “a bit like herding cats”?  Where are you feeling so free you can fly?

Sakhi Stretching
(which is a bit like flying)

Asana as an Embrace

Standard

A very wise friend once told me that when you are embracing a small child, you should never be the one to let go first.  Her reason for this being, that you just never know how much they truly need.  This small and very important piece of advice has stuck with me.  I attempt to put it into action as much as I can.  With children and adults alike.  Think about it.  How often do we quickly rush through that precious moment of a greeting or a goodbye?  How often do we dismiss it as merely a formality?  Is it possible for us to slow down and be genuinely present in those moments of intimacy and connection?  Is it possible to be neutral and open to giving and receiving during these exchanges of energy?

Can we go one step further and tap into our own wells of energy in order for us to properly gauge how empty or full we are?

We have a unique opportunity to practice this on our Yoga Mat.  Our Asanas, are, in essence, an embrace with ourselves.  There are times when we hold the forms and there are times when we allow ourselves to be held.  We dictate the extent of our embrace, we decide when to let go.  It would behoove us to authentically tune into what is happening for us in each moment, each pose, each practice.  Life is dynamic, our practice is dynamic.  It will fluctuate and be different every time.  Can we witness without judging and getting caught up in all that entails?  Somewhere, deep inside, underneath our to-do lists, our agendas, the sea of every day life, there is a deep and abiding wisdom.  Our breath and our movements are tools to help us excavate, to help us tap into that knowledge and ultimately allow us to create an embrace that is fine-tuned to our exact vibration.

“Any time you want

you can let yourself

pour out with the tide

and the rhythm of a Life

bigger than your life

a container that encompasses

without holding

a spirit that is light

beyond seeing

will bring you back” Miriam Dyak

I want my practice to be “a container that encompasses without holding” so that I may be “a spirit that is light beyond seeing”.  What would you like your practice to be for you?

Image