On Being Unable to Teach Yoga

I would like to foreshadow this next stage of life by saying that I have a hunch that not teaching yoga will be a lot like when I’ve tried to leave New York; the chances that I will come back to it, and soon, are very real. I would also like to provide a disclaimer that this post does not have anything to do with my body right now. I’ve taught yoga when I was unable to walk and in crutches. Teaching yoga when my body was unable to demonstrate poses was invaluable for my teaching abilities. Now, though I’m coming from a place of physical ability and agility, is the time when I need to take space.

I’m writing this post because last year I worked three jobs and started graduate school…and I felt all of those things fall through the cracks because I was over-committed. From a boyfriend telling me a few months ago after 3 hours of sleep (and not for fun reasons) that I did more than most people to a dear friend who told me yesterday that this is just what I do (a lot…too much), I realized that something has to give.

In New York City, being busy is too often considered a compliment / congratulations / accolade. I grew up (and honestly still am sometimes) very competitive – and almost territorial – about how busy I can be. But, you see, I have had the unique opportunity of living on the West Coast where people are infinitely more competitive about how often they go camping (which doesn’t involve a lot of bopping around from job to job) than how many hours they work in a day. I love being busy doing what I love and I am so grateful that I love what I do, in all sectors of my (professional) life. I do not love failing those things by making too many mistakes or being burnt out because I am just too overwhelmed.

I didn’t want it to be yoga, but for now, it has to be. It is the only job I do freelance, on a flexible basis, and can afford to leave for the time being. I told someone this recently – that I am so sad to not be teaching yoga this year (melodramatic that I am, I believe I used the word “mourning”). They responded by reminding me that I am still doing yoga (daily, I might add). That, my friends, can be enough for now. For now, growing up on OM means infusing the vibrations of this practice I’ve been so dedicated to – the practice that’s been the only constant in my life over 8 years of change and transitions –  into all I do.

Time to practice.

About Yoga U: DIY Home Yoga Practice E-Course

The following post is part of a countdown series leading up to the release of my first e-course (!!!), which comes out on Friday, July 15th. You can pre-register here with a special discount rate using the code LIVELEARNER for taking the course LIVE. This excerpt comes straight out of the syllabus!

Ultimately, a home yoga practice is about your ability to personalize something general in a way that works for you. When I start off the in-person yoga classes I teach at Harlem Yoga Studio, I begin by saying, “Everything I teach is a suggestion.” You know your body, heart, + intention best. Use that knowledge to make this course work for you.

Speaking of the framework, this course is designed in a specific way so that you can take it at your own pace if you’d like, but, if you’re anything like me and thrive on structure, you can also move through it in a manageable week-by-week way. Here is what you can expect:

  • Two lessons per week (except for Week Three, where there will be 3 lessons that all go together) that include a variety of video, audio, written, and visual content. You should be able to complete each lesson (minus the hOMework) in one sitting during the span of 30 minutes or less. For example, you might choose to complete one lesson on a Tuesday and another on a Thursday. Or, if you plan to use weekends to take this course, you might want to do one lesson on Saturday and another on Sunday.
  • Look for the hOMework at the end of each lesson for you to complete in between lessons. The hOMework will often pair a prompt for a yoga practice that you will actually do on the mat with a reflection worksheet or journaling prompt.

What are you waiting for? Register for the e-course here. The discount code for registering by July 15th is LIVELEARNER.

Yoga Joy in July

10993390_10204499924192695_2056836470110810706_n.jpg

photo taken by the lovely A last year in Portland, OR with a book that inspired much

Tell me, O quickly! dream of aliveness, the flaming source of your bright breath. ~ Langston Hughes

Happy July, everyone! I hope this new month is off to a lovely start for all of you, wherever in the world you are when you read this. I am writing you from the gorgeous Aspen, Colorado, where I am soaking up the annual and oh-so-inspiring Aspen Ideas Festival. Today is the third day of the festival, and more and more, I am reminded of the transformative power of ideas, and all they are capable of when put into action.

I think I am beginning to realize that ideas, when they aren’t put into practice and shared with the world, are dreams. Dreams are wonderful because ideas can be challenging to carry out, especially when we have many of them. Yet, there is something potent in what separates the ideas that make it up to the stage at this festival, such as Bryan Stevenson’s idea that children have a right to be children, regardless of crimes committed, or the ideas that Emily Bazelon espouses in the Slate Political Gabfest. These are dreams that people have transported into reality.

Speaking of, I would love to use this blog post to put some of my ideas into action. I am thrilled to share that I have spent many, many hours working on an online course for creating a yoga practice (a massive extension of the workshop you received emails about just a week ago, and one you can do anywhere).

But, before we launch into the e-course fabulousness (this email is chock-full of details!), expect some local yoga happenings this month in NYC! I’m teaching a Community Yoga class at Harlem Yoga Studio (i.e. donation-based! no excuses!) this Sunday, July 3rd, from 3:30-4:30pm. Because I’m having a summer full of travel, I will be mainly subbing so stay tuned on my website, as well as on social media, for additional sub dates as they come up!

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 11.21.43 AM.png

If you take the course LIVE with me starting on July 15th (and you can sign up anytime until then), you will receive a full 20% OFF with the code LIVELEARNER.
Yoga U Summer School is my online course that’s been in the making for years! Through taking this course, you will learn a plethora of strategies for starting + sustaining hOMe yoga practices that will blow your minds + keep you coming back to your mats!

Over four weeks, you’ll enjoy: 

  • a detailed syllabus that will lay out exactly how to create your hOMe practice in a manageable, step-by-step fashion
  • 9 detailed + fully developed lessons in total, which you can do at your own pace (unless you love structure like me and want to do it syllabus-style)
  • plenty of video content to bring the practice to life
  • a ton of encouragement, resources, essays, hOMework, visual cues + diagrams to make your yoga practice the best that it can be
  • unlimited email contact with me + a private Facebook group so that you can get answers to all your questions!

Curriculum Preview

  • WEEK ONE: SUSTAINABILITY
    • About Me + Your Syllabus, Top 5 Tips, Journaling Prompts
  • WEEK TWO: AMBIANCE
    • Checklists for both what you need + what you might want, a tour of my own yoga room, creating a mood, + how to make a yoga playlist that fits your practice perfectly
  • WEEK THREE: ASANA
    • Finding Your Sun Salutation, videos + PDFs of practice structures, hip opening + hip closing, peak poses
  • WEEK FOUR: MOVING ON
    • Using props effectively, meditation, service, intentions

Remember, if you sign up before July 15th, the price of this course will decrease dramatically…and the content will never go away! You’ll have full access to the wide variety of lessons + home practices to do at your own pace, whenever you want!

I hope to see you on the mat or online soon!

Top 5 Tips for Creating + Sustaining Your Own Home Yoga Practice

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 10.09.35 AM.png

In honor of both the workshop + e-course I am putting out this summer, I wanted to share my top five tips for upping the game when it comes to a true, awesome, DIY hOMe yoga practice.

  1. Set an intention. What do you want your own practice to convey about you? This intention is not static; it can and will vary. When I first began practicing, my intention was to be present and while it was great for me at the time, it is not super unique or personal. I now go by the three F’s (yeah, I know I love alliteration) – fierce, fun, and flowing. That is what I want my practice to convey about me. My yoga practice on the mat should be reflective of who I want to be off the mat.
  2. Music is an excellent motivator for a yoga practice. Mixing up the music is a way to not get bored, even when doing the same poses over and over again. It also makes a practice that can sometimes seem foreign to our bodies an integrated part of day-to-day life. Hearing a Top 40 song when in Warrior II just might make the difference between a serious frown and the joyful smile that is the goal of Yoga. Break down the parts of the practice and dissect what music is good for each part.

  3. Mix and match / don’t get bored. There are plenty of styles of yoga out there, from Jivamukti to Iyengar. Your job as a divinely unique being, is not to choose between them. It is, rather, to use discernment in creating a practice all your own by combining them. That’s right – you, too, can create your own style of yoga! It will emerge from your personal practice.
  4. Put your mat somewhere unavoidable. Allow your mat to be a physical reminder to practice yoga. Position it somewhere you walk by every single day (near your bed, in a doorway, in front of your closet, you get the picture).
  5. Chunk It Up. A home practice does not have to all happen at once. You can sync it up with the times of day to make it less daunting. Have 5 minutes in the morning when you roll out of bed? Use them for your sun salutations! Have 5 minutes at night? Use them for your forward folds. Feeling tired at work? Backbend in the hallway. Do whatever you need to do to make it seem like less of a big deal, and you’ll still reap all the amazing benefits!

The workshop I am teaching on June 25th at Harlem Yoga Studio will delve deeper into each of these tips. Register here!

What Yoga Teachers Can Learn About Marketing from SoulCycle

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 9.05.32 PM.png

via soul-cycle.com

Happy Souliversary!

Okay, I am going to be honest. I cannot believe I am saying those words. I cannot believe that I woke up at 5:20am this morning to make it to a 6am SoulCycle class. I cannot believe that I am excited to do that again on Thursday. My coworkers love SoulCycle and, through lunchtime conversations and a general attitude of realizing that my life is always improved upon trying something new, I went to my first class in October.  I did not go to my second class until February. Since then, I’ve been going fairly regularly (about once a week). It has been a joy to go to class on Monday night before graduate school…it feels like going to a dance club in the middle of the day.

What impresses me most about SoulCycle and, to be honest, consistently blows my mind is their marketing. They do it with soul, with heart, and with a business and technological acumen that screams professionalism and effectiveness.

As a yoga teacher, I am constantly looking for ways to upgrade my marketing practices. It is also something that I struggle with, and know many other yoga teachers who struggle to find a marketing protocol consistent with what they want to offer the world with their practice. To celebrate their tenth anniversary, I want to offer up what I’ve noticed through doing my “fieldwork” (tapping it back while taking some serious mental notes in my yoga teacher brain). All – literally, all – of these can be applied in a yoga teaching practice as well.* SoulCycle is just another type of asana. Same intention, different forms.

* Please note that while these steps are related to SoulCycle, they are by no means products of SoulCycle, just their process. Be mindful when adopting any of these that it’s all authentically you and not the content of anywhere or anyone else.

  1. Hold students accountable through consistent e-mail communication.
    • I receive multiple emails from SoulCycle. The following are the types of emails (and they work for every yoga business as well).
      • Weekly Updates: discounts, various themed classes, a small note
      • Special Occasions / Celebratory: announcements of big events, workshops, + more
      • Reservations: Every time I book a class, I receive an email that has a calendar attachment inside to make my life that much easier.
      • Social Media Campaigns: where to find the business using various hashtags related to different themes
      • Event Alerts + Reminders: what gets sent out ahead of time to make new events known
  2. Offer a free class once they’re hooked.
    • My free class was not my first class; it was my second…and it was a lovely surprise that made me appreciate the customer service that much more.
  3. Maintain a gorgeous and light-hearted website.
    • Their website has unbelievably awesome content, with mini simple interviews with instructors that share light-hearted facts such as guilty pleasures + fave karaoke songs (*Again, do not copy these actual prompts; make your own!).
  4. Be extremely beginner-friendly.
    • I can always count on there being someone (or four people) to make me feel welcomed when I get on a bike. At first glance, the studio seemed over-staffed. But then I realized that it is hugely important to have people there who can make modifications for the beginners. And, when the instructor asks if anyone is new, it is always to cheer them on. At the workshops I teach this summer, I would love to pull in a friend wearing a Harlem Yoga Studio t-shirt to help welcome in the beginners.
  5. Welcome everyone.
    • Have a smile on, and a warm voice, and be prepared to answer questions. It’s really that simple.
  6. Offer amenities.
    • The gum, towels, toiletries, pins, and hair ties – fully on display – are such a nice touch. In yoga, handouts and mini Lara bars have done the trick for me in the past.
  7. Publicize what’s happening behind-the-scenes.
    • As you can tell, I love learning about the business aspect of the studio, and seeing what’s going on behind the scenes through social media posts and interviews on their great blog is a huge part of that!
  8. Create specials, keep up with trends, and cultivate themed classes.
  9. Make signing up a ritual.
    • If it’s 12pm on the dot on a Monday, the faculty lounge at my workplace is abuzz with people signing up on the very nicely-interfaced app for all their classes for the week. Then, their schedule is built around it and everyone walks around with the satisfaction of booking the reservations / bikes they wanted. I try to do this with my Laughing Lotus app too. Oh, the simply pleasures.
  10. After doing Steps 1-9, charge what you deserve and round up.
    • SoulCycle prices are no joke. They are steep. Yet they also offer a robust scholarship program and, I’m assuming, pay their instructors well so I don’t complain and I don’t hear other cyclers complaining either. As professionals that deal with the body, what we do is no joke. It’s important for us to value ourselves, by truly gauging the population we can serve, so that we can provide for other populations we’d like to serve. Often, this involves rounding up.

What are you waiting for? Tap it back, write up a blog post, or update that website!

Summer Online Yoga School: A Preview

In the midst of the sheer bummer of a month that is February (i.e. the ultimate threshold between a post-holidays winter and the newness of spring), I cannot help but feel extremely excited for summer. Recently, I decided to do something I’ve never done before (at least in recent memory). I decided to forgo overworking myself this summer. At least, I decided to not overwork myself for anyone but myself. So, I am blissfully anticipating a summer of travel, yoga, yoga teaching, graduate school, and adorable cafes.

Summer for a school teacher + yoga teacher feels like the perfect time to pursue my own projects…musings that come to me on the 1 train first thing in the morning that I jot down in a journal but forget as soon as the work day begins. There are two offerings that have been a long time brewing that I am very excited to bring to the interwebs world this summer: one for educators, and one for anyone. They both have one thing in common: YOGA.

Here are some quick elevator-pitch previews of these two courses. And that’s exactly what they are: elevator pitches. These courses haven’t been even close to finalized yet so if there’s anything YOU would like to see in either of them, please say so by commenting on this post.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 8.19.22 PM.png

 E-Course Offering #1: Yoga U Summer School DIY Home Practice

Have you ever wanted to lead your own yoga practice…from the comfort of your own home…but just didn’t feel knowledgeable enough? Are you a bit mystified by all the knowledge your yoga teacher seems to know about how to sequence a practice that feels complete? Over 8 weeks, this course will explore through video, audio, writing, journaling, and outside resources, what your ideal and – more importantly – sustainable home practice looks like. We’ll break down the fundamentals of sequencing, anatomy, music choice, and inspiration. You’ll leave this course with oodles of resources to use over and over again, as well as with a full set of knowledge to feel comfortable practicing yoga on your own…wherever in the world you are!

 E-Course Offering #2: Yoga for Educators

Do you want to use mindfulness to create a more present classroom for you and for your students? Are you interested in learning manageable techniques for practicing self-care to help you better serve others? The Yoga for Educator e-course introduces the wide-reaching practices of yoga in ways that make sense for educators: society’s day-to-day warriors. This e-course is designed to empower educators with self-care tools for themselves and professional development tools on mindfulness in the classroom.

Like I said, I’m extremely excited for summer. These two offerings have been a long time coming, and they are still in the works. I look forward to hearing your feedback!

Book Review: Restorative Yoga Therapy The Yapana Way to Self-Care and Well-Being

After all, yoga (yug = to yolk, unite) is trying to teach us that its practice is not just about “me” (the ego) or what I’m trying to achieve (the pose, breathing practice, life skill, etc.). It is about joining the two in a way that is mindful, is meaningful, and extends well beyond the yoga mat. – Leeann Carey, Founder of Yapana Yoga

On Sunday, I attended my first Laughing Lotus class since I moved back to New York. During the opening announcements, the teacher, Victor Colletti – a true teacher’s teacher – said to us all, “Every vinyasa teacher should have restorative yoga in their repertoire of tools.”

This piece of advice resonated with me. My mom started practicing yoga regularly two years after I did. While Beginner Yogi Shira gravitated towards hot power as a jumping off point, my mom began with restorative. She continues with it today, but there’s even one hot power class in her “repertoire of tools.” Seeing the transformative effects of restorative yoga on her body, and then going to some classes with her and seeing the practice’s effects on my own, I do not doubt for one second the potency of slowness, and the deep knowledge of what it means to stay in and with a given pose. Plus, after a year with an injury, restorative yoga saved my a$$. It allowed me to practice in a therapeutic way at the soonest possible opportunity. Restorative yoga…and yoga therapy, which I discovered at unfold, meet us where they are. I often say in the classes I teach that one of the things that makes the yoga practice so special is that it is one of the few forms of physical activity that is not aspirational; it is accepting of and conducive to where we are at the moment. Restorative Yoga Therapy, I learned through this Yapana Way to Self-Care and Well-Being is a specific combination of practices that is emblematic of that fact of yoga.

In Restorative Yoga Therapy: The Yapana Way to Self-Care and Well-Being, author and founder of Yapana Yoga Leeann Carey writes,

This practice meets people where they are. It is designed to encourage self-inquiry, reflection, and change, not perfection — the universe has already taken care of that part. 

Restorative Yoga Therapy is a comprehensive guide. Carey is upfront at the beginning of her book, revealing that yoga is more than just asana – the physical postures – but that for the sake of simplicity (a quality she values – and it shows in the clarifying structure of her book!), she uses asana, as so many do, as the doorway to so much more. One of my first yoga teachers used to say, as she transitioned us into Supta Baddha Konasana, “We are human beings, not human doings.” Appropriately and synchronously, Carey provides instructions for what looks like a blissfully propped up Supta Baddha Konasana in the “Being” section of her book. The asanas are separated into two sections: “Being” and “Still.” I honestly had no idea how many variations of savasana there could be until I read the “Still” section of her book, and I plan to incorporate many of them into my teaching.

Yapana, an ancient Sanskrit word meaning “the support and extension of life,” inspired Carey so much that she created her own unique combination of therapeutic and restorative practice to live up to the name. She defines Yoga Therapy, an emerging discipline in this wide-reaching field, as

address[ing] the needs of of the practitioners. Yoga therapy is not solely about practicing a relaxing yoga poses. It is about rightness: using the right pose at the right time, in the right way, for the right purpose. It fulfills an intention, a purpose, and a direction. And it is a process and a road map for discovering what works for you while giving you the tools to integrate a vigilant understanding of how you do life on and off the mat.

Wow.

You might ask who the intended audience of this book is. As a yoga teacher, I air on the side of hesitance to recommend asana books to my students. I know how vulnerable to injury we all are without proper instruction, alignment and even physical adjustments. But, I think that the fact that Carey includes a whole chapter dedicated to how and why to use yoga props lends a credibility that makes this book a good one for the novice, as well as the professional. However, as a yoga teacher, I would like to recommend this book to my colleagues in this field. There are an abundance of resources as to how to teach a class brimming with students. Four years into teaching yoga, nine trainings later, and being forced into physical therapy myself, I am only now beginning to discover and uncover resources for teaching to individuals. With practices that Carey somehow personalizes to a wide variety of ailments (low back pain, stress, stiff shoulders) and physical conditions that mirror the cycle of life (pregnancy, PMS, menopause), this is a great resource to start with.

Outside In, Inside Out: Reflections from the Mat on the Mind-Body Connection

Tonight’s yoga practice was an unexpected yoga practice (the most meaningful kind). It was one where my body expressed a deep and spontaneous need for it…and I actually listened. More than that, it stirred up so many thoughts on the practice, why I practice and how I practice. Practice, practice, practice.

Tonight’s yoga practice reminded me of Cuba, of my body knowing on the deepest level, what it needed, and when, without me even needing to try. I remember that month of a home practice when I was so far away from home that blew my mind every time I stepped on the mat. I remember exhaustion from Havana heat and dirt, the way it smacked me in the face every time I left the air-conditioned residence. I remember using my practice as an internal refuge during a time of so much transition. Now, four weeks away from moving back to New York, in the middle of a Pacific Northwest heat wave, I find myself doing the same.

So often I get bogged down in formulas: the Ashtanga Primary or a class or even the extroverted fluidity of Lotus Flow. I rarely trust my body to want what it wants…except in those moments when I have no choice but to do just that and trust. Usually, those moments are those of exhaustion, of knowing there is nowhere else to turn to for comfort and that is A-OK, because the tools I am given are enough.

In the nonprofit world that I’ve been immersed in this year, we talk a lot about depth rather than breadth. In my practice this evening, I stayed in the most introverted of poses. I abandoned my wheels and fast chataranga-ed ways of releasing anxiety and surrendered myself to forward folds and Pratyahara, this sense of Drawing In. The beauty of the yoga practice is that it is intended to balance out – to complement – the rest of our lives. Usually, I think this means physical rigor. But then there are nights like tonight when the exhaustion – blissful in its own way – catches up. I spent all weekend being so present for other people and then today, I had the Gift of being present for a group of third graders. And then there is the being present with difficult feelings that working through a trauma and a breakup and struggling family members bring up.

Last night, I read the Young Adult novel that I wrote back in November and found myself gasping with surprise at the plot twists I forgot I included. That was how I felt this evening when I discovered that yes, I can indeed breathe that deep and oh, yes, Karnapidasana was what I needed after my shoulder stand. Sometimes, we are left with no choice but to draw in. To start on the inside and move to the outside. Usually, I choose outside, in. But tonight, I let my body choose for me. Without any further adieu – and thank you, readers, for your patience with this long post – this is what my body chose.

pigeon pose ~ eka pada rajo kapotasana

proud pigeon ~ urdhva eka pada rajo kapotasana

stargazer

vinyasa

other side

seated forward fold ~ paschimotanasana

one-legged seated forward fold ~ janu sirsasana

plow pose ~ halasana

shoulder stand ~ salamba sarvangasana

knees to ears ~ karnapidasana

fish pose ~ matseyasana

meditation ~ dhyana

written from my yoga mat, in pigeon pose

P.S. To find all these poses, and more, check out my e-book Yoga U: The College Student’s Tools for Balanced Living.

Reigniting the Mini Practice

The starting position is your home base and you are setting out to see how far you can travel from home. … You’re following your impulses, letting your mind and body provide you with the answers. – Twyla Tharpe, The Creative Habit

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 8.50.30 AM

We have all heard the old adage “big things come in small packages” (says the 5’2″ girl). Yet when we approach yoga, we don’t always see the big gains in the small actions at first. Many of us begin by taking 90-minute-long classes. It is only when the practice gets more subtle, when we take time to integrate it into our daily lives, that less becomes more. The physical practice has the capacity to shrink and simultaneously grow in strength to make room for the other benefits of yoga.

Not to sound like a broken record but…I have a broken leg. Throughout the healing process, I have, bit by bit, come back to the physical asana practice. There is nothing like certain poses – be it downward facing dog or extended side angle – to allow the body the spaciousness to feel Breath in the joints. And, as a yoga teacher, one of my arts is that of sequencing. My body – in whatever state it is in in the present mOMent – is my muse. I wholeheartedly agree with Twyla Tharpe – limitations are our friends. Especially when it comes to creativity. My mini practices give me long-lasting fuel. They are a testament to the piece of advice that all yoga teachers – in my humble opinion – should give to beginners: it is not frequency or length, but consistency that matters. Why? We want our practice – our fuel for the rest of life – to be sustainable, achievable. As a yoga teacher friend of mine says, we want to set ourselves up to win.

Here are some steps you can take to cultivate a mini practice.

1. Find a space where you can spread out undisturbed.

2. Don’t plan.

3. Breathe.

4. Target a body part you would like to open.

5. Begin the practice like one would a freewrite: don’t pick up the pen, let each word flow into the other; let each pose lead beautifully, unexpectedly, into the next.

Namaste.

Want more mini practices from yours truly? Check out the Yoga U E-Book!

A New City: Relishing in Quiet

The subway sounds, the screeching of the brakes…it’s all part of the tapestry that creates the soundtrack to our lives.

my practice space

my practice space

In Portland, where I am doing fulfilling work and am happy exploring this new city, which really does have everything I love, I experience subtle forms of homesickness for my birth city. One way that homesickness manifests is in doing yoga class videos from my hOMe studio, Laughing Lotus. I do these yoga videos when I feel out of sorts because the grocery stores feel more like department stores and goodness knows there are hardly department stores let alone grocery stores that look that suburban in Manhattan. And then there is the slow putter of the rain, the absence of a rush and yoga classes with background music sans lyrics.

My teacher (or one of my many amazing ones, anyway) Ali Cramer said it best with her sheer poetry, inserted into an asana cue (she has a way with words that one). It is time to accept a new soundtrack. Rain instead of sirens. Puddles splashing rather than subways screeching. Quiet, then listening.

This is the music of a new city.