Category Archives: White Lotus

Every Teacher is a Student, Every Student is a Teacher – Except When They Aren’t.

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Yeah. Not a teacher.

It happened again this morning.  I was drinking my coffee and browsing my Facebook and Twitter feeds and the news and blogs and all kinds of stuff and generally checking in with the online world and I came across someone saying that they are a “Yoga Teacher” now.

Of course they are.

A few minutes later, I was talking to a good friend of mine.  She mentioned that she had been invited to go to a yoga class in a nearby town.  When I asked if I knew the teacher, she said that nope, I didn’t and no one else did, either, because this person had had absolutely zero training.

Of course they didn’t.

I saw the newest lineup of “yoga” classes at a local gym.  I also looked at the lineup of “yoga teachers.”  Zero real yoga, zero real yoga teachers, and tons of blind yoga students being led by untrained teachers.

Of course.

Hear that? That is the sound of shoulders and knees going out, of hamstrings tearing, and of Ahimsa being ripped to shreds.

Now, look, I never once claimed that everything I write will be kind.  I also never claimed that I gave a hoot or a holler if anyone agrees with me.  What I have claimed is that I will write the truth as I see it, so put on your big girl yoga panties and get ready for a hearty slice of Satya.

Not every person claiming to be a “Yoga Teacher” is a Yoga Teacher.  I’m astounded and shocked at what people are accepting as adequate training before being allowed to teach yoga.  A weekend training does not a yoga teacher make.  A memorized DVD does not a yoga teacher make.  Not even years of practice does not a teacher make. And, if I’m going to be completely honest (why shouldn’t I?) not even all 200hr Yoga Teachers are Yoga Teachers.  I’ll wait here as you get on your soapbox and get defensive and start huffing and puffing.  Breathe, folks.  Hear me out.

Most of the gyms around here and even (mindbogglingly) a studio or two in this area require absurdly small amounts of training before “yoga teachers” are allowed to teach.  We’re talking maybe MAYBE 20 hours.  In these trainings, these students are told NOT TO TOUCH anyone.  They are told nothing about alignment, nothing about modifications, nothing about anything, really.  It’s insane.  It’s harmful.  It’s like sending your newborn to some dude in a garage for pediatric services because that dude once took a mandatory health class in Junior High School.  Know how I know this?  Because I did it.  I took that training.  I started teaching with that little amount of training and even then, even before I knew that I wanted this to be my life path, I knew it was a total joke.  Still, I taught with that small training and I nearly lost my job because I knew due to my own personal research and study that folks were busting their knees and shoulders and necks and so, in order to prevent injury, I touched them.  You BET I touched them.  I moved knees and heads and arms and feet.  I was willing to lose my job in order to keep others from losing their safety.  I regret nothing.  Clearly, I eventually left that location and into a real yoga studio and took the leap and got my 200hr certification and training.

Guess what I learned after 200 hours of training, 200 hours of teaching, over 30 books read, and more than 16 years of practice?  I learned that I barely know anything.  Far cry from those folks who have 20 or 30 hours of training, one book read, 3 dvds watched, and a spotless yoga mat and think they know it all!

Let me stop right here and say this: EVERYONE HAS TO START SOMEWHERE.  I know this.  I started there, too, remember? But it’s a starting place.  Just a starting place.  If you think you’re going to get a decent yoga teacher training studying a program that is designed to be taught in a gym, well, please stay in the gym and think really hard about what you’re doing.  You’re teaching Asana.  Asana is the smallest part of yoga.  It’s actually the least significant part of yoga.  If you want to stay with that, fine.  But don’t tell me or anyone else you’re teaching yoga because you are not. If you want to teach yoga, use that training as a springboard to get you into classes with a highly trained and certified YOGA teacher.  Be an apprentice.  Shadow.  Learn.  Take notes.  And then, for goodness sake, get some real training at a highly qualified yoga school.

Even that can be tricky, though.  What is a good school?  Folks will point to Yoga Alliance and, while it’s something, it’s not foolproof.  YA is not certification.  It’s registration.  There’s a difference.  I am certified through White Lotus Foundation, but I didn’t pay the fee to register with Yoga Alliance because it really means next to nothing.  Yes, you have to be certified by a Yoga Alliance accredited Yoga Teacher Training school, but dear lord, look at who they accredit!  They accredit folks who really really don’t have much training in areas that matter themselves, much less have any business training other people to be teachers.  Perfect example: one of my dear friends and former / sometimes current students recently completed her 200hr YTT at a yoga school that I thought would be perfect.  It’s not too far from here, I have (limited) experience with the yoga teacher trainer, I thought it would be perfect for her.  Yes, it’s true she learned more than most do about the Yamas and Niyamas and the other limbs of yoga Patanjali mentioned, she learned next to nothing at all about:

  • Modifications
  • Adjustments
  • Alignment
  • Contraindications

She kind of left wondering what the hell she spent all that time and money on.  I wondered the same thing myself.  I mean, if you aren’t taught how to modify, how to adjust, even the very basics of alignment, you haven’t been taught to teach.  My friend is a very studious person, however, and she’s taken notes on every class she has taken, has read way more than what was required of her, and knows that she still has much to learn, so her training has served her well in that it taught her that there is so much more to learn! Reminds me a bit of me (and everyone else who truly wants to learn the path of yoga), that girl.

So what do you do?  Start with Yoga Alliance.  It’s a good place to start and will at least weed out schools you really don’t even

Vitarka Mudra: the mudra of the teacher. Every teacher is a student, every student is a teacher. Sort of.

want to look at.  You ask around.  You ask for references.  You check and double check credentials.  You look at syllabi.  You research.  If you want to be a teacher, get fully trained.  Do not settle for a place that doesn’t require 200hours before unleashing you to teach.  Do not settle for a place that doesn’t teach alignment, adjustments, assists, modifications, contraindications, anatomy, history, philosophy.  Look, I know that there are some excellent teachers out there who have been teaching long before Yoga Alliance and there are loads of folks out there who are excellent teachers out there who are not accredited.  I’m not here to say that you have to have all of that to be a good teacher, but those people have been teaching AND studying forever.  They know that you don’t stop learning. They know that you have to keep learning.  And I’ll tell you this – they know that the more they know the more they have to learn. I also know that, if you ask them, they’ll tell you to get a high quality education, that there are no shortcuts, that a mat in the front of the room doesn’t make you a teacher.

They’ll also tell you that if this is what you believe in, if this is what you love, if this is the path you feel has been chosen for you, then do not let anything stand in your way.  If you feel drawn to this, as though you were born for it, follow it.  Go after it.  Do what you need to do to be the very best at it you can be.  Do not stop.  Do not give up.  Do not see obstacles.  Dive in, swim deep, and be.  They will tell you that the world needs you.  They will tell you all of these things — and I couldn’t agree with them more.

Yoga is a sacred journey.  It is a path, a lifestyle, a way of being.  It is not something you do, it is someone you are.  Don’t cheat your students or yourself out of all the incredible gifts that a thorough, consistent, dedicated, all encompassing education can bring.  Don’t be in such a rush to call yourself a yoga teacher that you forget that you must first – and always – be a yoga student and all that entails.

Love and light from your ever-opinionated, constantly learning, 200hrCYT, highly flawed, rebel yogini.

Namaste

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#365yoga Day 90: The Wheel

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At 11:27 am CST, I locked the door to 300 Saint James Street for the last time.  I had just finished teaching my last yoga class at our temporary studio and it was a lovely class filled with committed yoga students and beautiful energy.  I got into my car and had to sit there for a little while and reflect.  

It was about 2 years ago that I decided to become a yoga teacher.  2 short years.  It’s something I always thought about, of course.  I wanted to do it for a long time, but certain things (read: feeling like I didn’t deserve to do it, wasn’t worth it, etc.) kept me from pushing through and doing it.  I’ll never forget the moments that got me to the other side of that: several yoga teachers at the gym I attended kept asking me to “finally get” my “yoga training in so” I “could sub already, dammit!”

What can I say, they were persuasive.

20 months ago, I did what I could with what I had (very tiny budget and very little time,) and took a very little basic yoga teacher training.  Within 3 days I was able to teach at my gym.  And teach I did!  It was only a few weeks later that I had my own regular class and was subbing frequently in multiple locations all over town.  My goodness, when I think back on some of those classes, well, let’s just say that most yoga students are benevolent, patient, good humored folk!  I kept teaching, though, and I kept learning and growing and asking questions.  I kept searching and trying and trusting in the process.  Yoga Sol was born and I moved my mat from the gym to a studio.

Yoga Sol lived at that studio for 14 months.  My classes grew from one student (or, at times, none) to wall to wall mats.  I met amazing people and felt amazing energy and got to witness the transformation that comes when you commit to a regular yoga practice both in my students and in myself.  I met mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters, artists and actors, poets and photographers, teachers and students, and Michael Franti and his gang.

The wheel keeps on rolling down the road, for sure!

Somewhere along that road, I realized that I DO deserve to follow my bliss, I DO deserve to have a bright future, I DO deserve a real and proper training, so in October I packed up my bags and headed out west to The White Lotus Foundation.  For many of you, this might not seem like a big deal. For me and my family, however, it was revolutionary.  I left my homeschooled children and husband (who works in an industry that is fueled by college sports,) alone for 16 days during the 3 busiest weekends of the year: homecoming and games against the 2 top rivals.  Used to be that I wouldn’t even think about scheduling lunch during those weekends, much less a trip across the country!  Yoga transforms, eh?

I sent in my final paperwork for my 200RYT last Saturday.  I DID IT!

Today I locked the door at the temporary location of Yoga Sol.  I taught the last class there and I will be teaching the first class at the new location, 210 Saint James Street, which just happens to fall on my 35th birthday.  I think it’s highly significant.  I feel it’s a rebirth, of sorts.  I will be opening the studio not just as a teacher, but as the manager, working very closely with one of the greatest gifts I have ever received, my mentor, friend, and Yoga Sol owner, Polly.  What started out as just the two of  us in a dance studio has now grown into the first indoor / outdoor yoga studio in Mid-MO, if not the entire state of Missouri.  We have a teaching staff of  8 other teachers on board now as well as our own classes filled with students who have followed us both through the trenches and into the light.

And the wheel is still rolling!

Yoga is very much like a wheel.  The more momentum it has, the further it goes, and will usually take you further than you could ever imagine if you just let it go.  I cannot wait to see where this leads, but I’ll tell you this – I hope I never stop the wheel from turning.  I will watch it with amazement and awe and joy because it is bound to be an awesome ride.

#365yoga Day 67: Yoga Connects (much love to my yoga family!)

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After reading my post from yesterday , my pal Nancy commented that, once again, we are on the same wavelength.  She had written nearly the exact post this past Sunday as I wrote yesterday.  I hadn’t read her post yet (I’m woefully behind in my blog reading,I admit,) and when I checked it out today I nearly fell over.  This happens to us all the time.  We like the same music, same clothes, same poses, same … pretty much everything.  We often think the same things at the same time.  We share a lot and often wonder if we share our brains, too.  Nancy is as much of a sister to me as is my biological sister.  We are strongly connected by many things, but it all started with yoga.

This coming Saturday, 30 students of yoga will start a 16 day journey that will change their lives forever at The White Lo

tus Yoga Foundation.  They will start their Yoga Teacher Training with Tracey and Ganga as individuals, as strangers, but they will leave as family.  It blows my mind that it has been 4 months since I stepped foot on the mountain and left a part of my heart there.  I met people who live in my heart every day. I felt connection with the land, the people, the spirit — I still do.  I speak of my brothers and sisters born on the mountain.  They are my family and we are connected by many things, but it, too, all started with yoga.

I have a community of yoga teachers and yoga students I am connected with online.  Many of us call it the cyber sangha.  We share ideas, concerns, ask and answer questions, laugh, love, and learn.  We share hope and courage and strength, humility and humanity, practice and praise, coffee and cupcakes (often via fax!)  We are spread all over the world, but we know much about each other and have supported each other through a lot.  We are connected, we are brothers and sisters of the mat.

Yoga brings people together.  It is something that changes us from the inside out as individuals, but also changes the world by connecting us all.  We are a community of people sharing the same general belief that we (everyone) is one: one love, one breath, one world, one people.  Yoga = To yoke, to unite, to bring together.  While I love and cherish the things yoga has brought to my life, today I give thanks for the people who have come into my life as a result of my relationship with my mat.

I love you, my yoga family, wherever you are.

Namaste

                         When we walk together little children
                         We don't ever have to worry
                         Through this world of trouble
                         We've got to love one another
                         Let us take our fellow man by the hand
                         Try to help him to understand
                         We can all be together forever and forever
                         When we make it to the promised land

                                        ~ Jerry Garcia

 

#365yoga day 3

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Due to yesterday’s lack of asana, I was determined to get on the mat today.  I woke up and hit the mat.  I did it even before I peed, I was that determined.  HELLO MULA BANDHA!  It was certainly not a long practice, but it was exactly what I needed.  Surya Namaskar x 4, Series B salutations, pigeon, twists, dancer.  25 minutes beginning to end.

I realized how stiff I am when I first wake up.  I usually open up as I make the coffee, let the dog out, chase the kids, haul the laundry, etc., but very rarely do I do my initial movements of the day on the mat.  What a revelation!  I could really feel each muscular and skeletal group moving and breathing and releasing.  I was doing it intuitively and was reminded that our bodies speak so clearly to us, we only need to listen!

Feeling alive and refreshed (after a little trip to the loo, of course) I realized that my outlook on the day was sunny and bright – and it’s MONDAY, people!  I felt alive.  I felt healthy.  I felt happy.  I felt connected.  I felt yogic. I felt free.  And I also felt hungry, so I made Beatrix Rohlsen’s White Lotus oatmeal for breakfast.  Put some yummy dried cherries on top and remembered 16 mornings of incredible oatmeal eaten in sukhinasana during my yoga teacher training.  I felt the connection all over again.  Bliss.

This afternoon brought sunshine and a trip to the park.  I couldn’t help myself – I had to do a little PDA (Public Display of Asana.)  Afterall, parks are made for DownDoggies!

Later on will be meditation and pranayama followed by time with my mala chanting to Ganesh with candles lit.  And after that will probably be a martini.  After all, yoga is all about the balance, and so am I.

Namaste.

 

Sarah and Polly bring AshGanga to CoMO!!

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Have you noticed the colors looking a little brighter, the food tasting a little better, the air a little sweeter?  That’s because our Polly is back in CoMO!  Ahhhhh, nothing like Home Sweet Home … unless, maybe, Sol Sweet Sol!!

We were so blessed to spend 16 amazing, inspiring, transformative days at White Lotus in October.  There simply not words enough to share the incredible exprience!  We did it for ourselves, for Yoga Sol, and for YOU.  You all were in our hearts and minds every single day.  We learned new things every day that pertained to each and every one of you.  There were several times we thought of you and how what we were learning would benefit you individually as well as in a group.  Dear friends, we learned and we loved… and now we bring it home to you.

Please join us for a very special class this SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 20th, at 9 a.m. as we bring the yoga of the White Lotus Foundation, AshGanga Yoga, to Yoga Sol!  Enter quietly and with reverence and be prepared to experience the Lotus here in Columbia:  Breath, movement, energy, spirit, strength, inspiration, and love, love, love, sweet love!

We adore our Yoga Sol family and are so excited to share this with you.

Yoga Sol starts NOW — and ALL are welcome!

I breathe you, you breathe me: Breathing into “We.”

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Let's Breathe Together

We do it without thinking. We do it through our nose, through our mouth, and even through our skin. We do it about 17,280 times a day, give  or take, and if we didn’t do it at all, we’d be in big trouble. Breathing: it’s all that.

Yogis focus a lot on the breath.  We practice breathing, teach people how to breathe (yes, you can be taught how to breathe correctly,), celebrate breathing, study breathing, we sometimes spend hours just breathing, and teachers continually ask, “Are you still breathing?” It’s more than just staying alive. It’s more than just moving oxygen in and out. Breathing is what keeps us connected to each other and to the world around us.

Think of one of your first biology lessons: why do plants and animals need each other? Humans (animals) breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. In a way, what we draw into our lungs has just been expelled from a plant.  We are taking what the plant has had inside them and, for a bit, making it a part of ourselves! When we breathe, air goes into the lungs and then that same air passes into the blood which then goes into every organ in the body.  It becomes part of our make up.  When we breathe out, we are putting part of ourselves out into the world.  Microscopic parts of us float out on the molecules of air and, guess what, the plants breathe us right into themselves and then we become the plants!

Wild, eh?  It gets even better! We are connected to each other in exactly the same way. If you put 30 people in a room and get them all moving, say in a yoga class, pretty soon the room will become moist with heat and breath.  Each person in that room is putting a little bit of themselves into the air each time they exhale. Each person is also drawing a little bit of each and everyone else in the room into themselves on every inhale.  You cannot gather a sample of air from that room and tell who breathed it because everyone did. One person breathes in the person next to her and then she breathes out herself and the guy next to her breathes into him and then he breathes out and … you get the idea.

You can even expand this idea outside of the little room.  If all of this is true (which it is,) then imagine who all has contributed to the growth of old, ancient trees, deep oceans, rain forests, mountains, and plains! We are connected to nature by our breath and nature, in turn, connects us to each other. Have you ever visited the favorite place of a deceased loved one? You feel them there with you, don’t you?  It’s because they are there in the air, in the land, in the trees, in the water. Go to a forest and sit amongst the trees.  Draw in a deep breath and hold it.  Feel the native people enter you on your breath. They breathed amongst those trees that  are breathing out upon you. Swim in sacred waters – feel the connection to all who have come before you. Visit historical places and notice how you feel a part of something that happened long ago.  You are there, or maybe there is you. Great big small world, eh?

We are connected. We are one. I am you. You are me. We are we – and all we have to do is breathe.

Head, shoulders, knees, and toes- alignment matters, doncha knows?

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The incredible Ganga White

WHITE LOTUS PART 7

 

Oy.  Alignment.  Entire libraries could (and have) been written about proper yoga alignment.  There are books and courses and videos and workshops and more pictures of skeletons in muscle suits out there than you could ever imagine, and yet, people are hitting the mat and stacking their bones all willy-nilly without a second thought.  Those same people are getting hurt, getting arthritis, and getting fed up.

WHY DO FOLKS DO THIS?

There are several reasons, really.  Many of us have been taught incorrectly.  For a long time the whole “heel to arch” deal has been the master alignment in warrior and many other standing poses, gazing at the sky has been the ultimate goal, and bending in half at all costs was encouraged.  Guess what?  I’m a yoga teacher and my hips and knees scream at me when I align my front heel with my back arch (and this is true for more folks than not, honestly,) while I can bend in half doesn’t mean I should do it (nor, you, either,) and, as the incomparable Tracey Rich says, “Why are you hurting your neck trying to look at the ceiling?  There are no prizes up there, people!”

While it’s so incredibly important to listen to your teacher, his or hers should be the 2nd voice you listen to.  The first voice you listen to is your body’s.  Let’s clear something up right now: if it hurts you, chances are you are doing it wrong.  Pain is information.  If the pain stops when you come out of the asana, it’s cool, you’ve done no damage yet, so change your asana.  If it still hurts after you’ve come out of the asana, you’ve already done some damage, get it looked at, and then change your asana!

So let’s review:

If your neck hurts, you’re doing it wrong.  Your neck is comprised of very important vertebrae called the cervical spine.  It is meant to arch and curve in slightly, but when it’s in proper alignment, it looks straight from the outside.  If you are leading with your chin, stop it.  If you are crunching your shoulders up to your neck, stop it.  There should be a very important right angle between your ears and your shoulders.  The crown of your head should always extend, the chin most often should be tucked or dropped slightly to expand the cervical vertebrae (don’t go dropping it to your chest, that’s bad, too.)  The neck should be lengthening, not shrinking and compressing.  And for heaven’s sake, if you’re craning your neck to look at the ceiling in Trikonasana or Ustrasana, STOP IT!  There are no prizes up there, unless the prize you’re looking for is a neck brace.  Have questions about this? Ask me in class.  I’m here to help you.

If your knees are talking to you, you’re doing it wrong.  Now, I’m not talking about when we do kneeling poses and the floor is hard (although, if your knees still hurt in those poses, double your mat, folks!)  If your knees are hurting you in any of the Warriors or other standing postures, chances are you’re not using them correctly.  In standing postures that have a bent knee, the knee should be directly over the 2nd toe.  99% of the time, the knee should NEVER go forward of the ankle (there are some lunges when you are fully supported by your other leg and hands in which this is okay, but they are rare and your teacher will point them out when it’s okay to bend beyond 90 degrees.)  If you are feeling a crunch in your front knee, check that it’s not overly bent, that it’s not falling inside the pose.  Also, check your leading foot! Is it pointing straight ahead?  It should be!  Check your torso – are your hips and heart in the same plane?  They should be!   Is it your back knee or hip that has a bone to pick with you?  Chances are you’re putting too much torque on those critical joints!  Consider stepping the back foot out several inches so that you can keep the heel in line with the hip!!  WHAT?  Yep, I know it’s revolutionary and strange and seems wrong, but call me crazy, I like things that work!  The integrity of the pose is not compromised one little bit if you step the back foot out several inches to keep the heel down in Vira 1.  OR, if you really wanna shake things up, try doing Vira 1 ON YOUR BACK TOES!  Just blew your mind, didn’t I?  If you come up on your back toes with toes pointing forward , you can square your hips to the front of your mat, sink your tailbone, open your sacrum, and stretch the hamstring and quads the way the pose is supposed to do.  If you are on your toes, however, be sure to extend the energy out of the back heel so that the knee is supported by a strong leg. Have questions about this? Ask me in class.  I’m here to help you.

So you want to do a backbend but your neck and low back have other ideas (like avoiding pain?)  Listen to your neck and back!  Please remember that backbends are, foremost, poses of extension and never compression!  It’s about getting the spine to expand and stretch LONG, not to crunch it and bend it in half so you can fit in a suitcase.  Backbends take time and patience.  Even simple backbends such as Bhujangasana are often done wrong resulting in pained necks and low backs.  Try extending further out through the crown of your head instead of just shoving yourself up there.  There are no medals or prizes for getting arms straight.  Be gentle with that low back, eh?  Same with Ustrasana.  It’s a quad stretch, not a neck and low back crunch.  Press forward through the thighs and LIFT THROUGH THE HEART!  It’s not about bending back, it’s about extending up so far that you have no where else to go but back.  Please – Yoga is not a bend-off.  Don’t compete.  The only winners are those folks who can still walk and stand.  I’m quite certain you’d rather be able to walk comfortably all your life than to force yourself into a full Urdhva Dhanurasana once.  Have questions about this? Ask me in class.  I’m here to help you.

Yes, I’m here to help you.  If I come by and touch you or help you make subtle (or not so subtle) adjustments, I’m not judging you.  I have done more than enough years of doing more than enough wrong things.  I’m here to help, to encourage, to reinforce what is right and to help what is incorrect.  You’re paying me, make the most of your money!  We’re in it together.  Learn from me!

Head upon neck.  Ears above shoulders.  Shoulders above hips and above wrists.   Hips above knees.  Knees above ankles and toes.  It all matters, dontcha know?

Om Shanti!