So Many Tips for Dealing with Body Image Angst Over the Holidays! I can’t even count the tips.

So Many Tips for Dealing with Body Image Angst Over the Holidays! I can’t even count the tips.

A meal that was not fraught. What a delight. But YEAH, that’s a lot of prawn.

There are a few times of the year when our body image anxieties reach a high pitch, and the holidays is one of them.

Why? A few weighty reasons.

  1. You’re gonna see people you haven’t seen in a while, and they are gonna see you. People may have changed! (Gasp!) How will everyone react?!
  2. Food, food, so much food. And, booze. And dessert. So much: TOO MUCH!
  3. Gossip. People talking about how other people look, behind their backs, usually not in a very nice way.

Let’s take a look at each of these in succession.

How we look. It’s beyond natural to want to really make a good impression on friends and family that you’ve not seen in a long time. Perhaps you’ve gained some weight (not that I personally think that it a problem, but other people seem to still think it is). Perhaps you’ve been sick, and it shows (again–cause for compassion, not for judgement). You know you’re not at your physical best. And you worry, because, not only does that dent your self esteem when you’re already feeling down, but now on top of that, you’ve forced into a situation where you’re worried about what other people will think, and what they will say–to your face–and what they will say behind your back. It sucks.

Here are some suggestions.

IN PREPARATION:

Black gloves and an updo. Oh, yes. Go to great lengths if you must. Lessons learned from Lady Gaga.
  • Dress your best. Take the time to find something to wear that you feel really good about, shopping, borrowing. Make it fun. In-character. Fashionable. Get a sympathetic friend to help you out, if you HATE figuring out what to wear alone. Be relentless in your determination to make the holidays feel good to you, so you emerge victorious, at least knowing that you took the best care of yourself.
  • Wear a smile. You ALWAYS are well-dressed when you do.
  • Rehearse gracious, de-escalating responses to incendiary remarks, like the following:
    • “It looks like you’ve gained weight!” Haha! Maybe!–My body does what it does. By the way: You look wonderful! I love you so much, and I’m so happy to see you. What is something really terrific that has happened to you recently? 
    • “You look so great! Have you lost weight?” I’m not sure! I don’t weigh myself. I really try to not get caught up in that: it makes me crazy and ends up taking up so much of my mental space, space that I want to spend thinking about truly important things. Speaking of really important things, how is your (fill in the blank, choose something you know is really important to that person in their life) going? 

 

AT THE EVENT:

  • Take deep breaths, and feel free to spend some time alone in the bathroom to regroup.
  • Bring your compassion for yourself along. If someone says something less than kind, breathe, smile, say something that shows your own self-compassion, and encourages that in them, even complimenting them as a retort. Use your rehearsed responses. Trust yourself to be your own advocate, and to do so in a way that is gracious, and instructive, even if the people you are talking to don’t or can’t understand.
I wish all bathrooms had such helpful reminders. This is a message in the bathroom at the Blue Hills Monastery in Upstate New York.

How other people look. Basic rule: it is none of your business. If you don’t have something kind or gracious to say, then you best not say it! There is no real reason to comment on another’s appearance. You can focus on their person. After all, the body is just an aspect of the person. Say something honest, about them. Say: I love you, and I’m so happy to see you! Or if that isn’t honest: It’s been so long! We have so much to catch up on. Tell me, what has been the highlight of the last year for you? 

FOOD, FOOD, FOOD. SO MUCH FOOD! 

If part of your body image anxieties revolve around food (how could they not??!) make an honest assessment of where you are with this issue, and then make a plan.

THE PLAN. Here’s my general plan. It might not work for you, we are different people with different histories and growth trajectories, but I offer mine as a sort of guidepost. Eat “normally.” Meaning: don’t NOT eat because there’s going to me SO MUCH FOOD at dinner. No, no. That suggests a restrict/binge cycle. Have breakfast. Have lunch. Then: eat “normal” portions at dinner. Not bird portions. Not THREE helpings. Like, one plate. There will be leftovers. Plan on enjoying those in the days ahead. Or not. There will be another scrumptious meal in your near future.

THE ENERGETICS. Here’s something interesting I learned from my yoga teacher, Ana Forrest. Our energetic anatomy and our physical anatomy overlap. So, if the part of you that is busy taking in conversation, or energy from another person, the corresponding physical apparatus will be partially or fully offline. At these parties, there are often many people, and the energetic input is like a flood. Because of that, it makes it even harder for us to connect to the feelings of our actual stomach. When I can’t detect my stomach, I make the decision not to eat too much, because I can’t feel what’s happening. This is the ONLY reason I will personally accept for not eating much at such events. Often people bombard their stomachs with too much food, in order to ground, or in order to get pulled back into the reality of the situation, or to try to feel something. Pay close attention. Take a break, in the bathroom to regroup, if you loose the capability to pay attention.

THE SOCIAL ANXIETY. Recently, I’ve noticed that I eat too fast when I’m experiencing an energetic situation that I feel uncomfortable with. It’s like, somewhere deep inside I’m thinking “when the meal is over, I can leave!” because that’s the way it worked as a kid. When the plate was clean, then I might be excused from the table. I don’t like the conversation: I eat fast. I’m tired: I eat fast. I JUST WANT TO GET AWAY! GAH! Oh, my. This is very disconnected patterning.

This past Thanksgiving I commented on the “speed eating” phenomenon to my cousin, and she laughed saying at a friend’s dinner, they clocked it at fifteen minutes. FIFTEEN MINUTES! Ya spent all day cooking, and sit down to eat for FIFTEEN MINUTES?! Did anyone even CHEW?!

Tips to slow down:

  • Take one bite.
  • Put down your cutlery.
  • Chew.
  • Taste.
  • Swallow.
  • Taste.
  • Breathe.
  • Taste your food.
  • Consider how fast you want to take the next bite. Or if you even want to. Sometimes the food is not as tasty as you anticipated. You don’t have to finish it if you’re not actually enjoying it! But, if you’re not paying attention, you won’t actually KNOW if you’re enjoying it or not…
  • How much of your attention is on enjoying your food? How much of it is one the conversation? Can you pay attention to both? I have a hard time with that, actually…

Recognizing your anxieties and handling them head-on is an advanced, ADULT skill. Mostly we’ve been taught to ignore/deflect/numb, and at the holidays, we are confronted uncomfortably with so many of our boogeymen. Uncomfortable, fraught relationships with people who are unkind or judgmental. Our own unkind thoughts about other people. People’s assessments of us, and ours of them. Good grief. Of course I just want to eat fast and go home! It’s fucking exhausting! Adulting is hard. But, we can do it!

Before I got better at really noticing that large groups of people–not even necessarily family, just PEOPLE!–make me uncomfortable, I would just position myself by the cheese plate, and eat the whole thing. The only people I ended up talking to were other people who loved cheese. So, they were already pre-approved. Haha.

Before I got good at noticing that I was eating away my loneliness and my desire for other, safe, human contact, I would eat entire cheesecakes in solitude, by myself. So huge was my appetite and its need to be filled. The problem seemed so intractable, it was easier just to solve with food. At least cheesecake is reliable. And safe.

The trouble with holidays, is the seem to be referendums on our entire life for the past year. And, often, when we’re not working on ourselves, they catch us by surprise. Even if we ARE working on ourselves, and somehow feel like we’ve fallen short of our goals (always a setup for disappointment…try “setting intents” instead), they will catch us by surprise as we administer a hearty dose of flagellation.

The holidays don’t have to be a referendum. It’s just a yearly blip on the calendar. We can choose to cruise through them as such.

Or–and I’m not necessarily advocating this approach–you can use them as a yearly check-in on how you’re growing, changing, becoming more resilient. I started to know that I was getting better at it all when I could sit quietly with a glass of water and talk to people and “sort of” enjoy myself. No more cheese plate stakeouts. Huzzah!

But that progress relied on a steady, year-in-year-out self-study and examination using the tools of yoga and therapy. If you don’t have some tools, or support in place, the holidays will surely be as painful as they were last year. I think that’s a shame, and wouldn’t want that for you!

Which is why I put together a worksheet for you, to help you get started making a better relationship with your body. I call it The 5 Adoring Core Competencies. CLICK HERE to get your free copy! 

NEXT POINT.

The Gossip. UGH. We’ve all experienced it. You go into the kitchen, innocently looking for a glass of water, and there are your (fill in the blank relatives) talking about another relative. WHAT A DRAG.

“Did you see what she was wearing…?”

“Did you see how much she ate…?”

Sometimes, sometimes, people are talking about another out of true concern. But–does the talk really help them? Probably not.

A gentle reminder, again from the Blue Hills Monastery bathroom. I’m gonna start putting things like this in bathrooms. Positive vandalism! One of my favorite passtimes…

When I hear these sorts of conversations, or am involved personally in these conversations, what I’m feeling for is the place of HELP for the person. If it isn’t there, then I start to wonder what purpose this conversation is actually serving. Is it making the participants feel better about themselves by comparison? Is it creating a point of bonding for the people in the conversation, like they have something to concern themselves about together? Both of these are not good reasons to gossip, but they also show a deficit in social skills, specifically how to connect without doing it on the back of, or at the expense of others. This moment can be a teaching opportunity. A chance to elevate the awareness and basic decency in the world.

If the people try to drag me into the conversation, the only way I will get involved is if they can answer these questions: Is our conversation actually helping the situation? Does the person in question desire help in this regard? If the answer is NO to both, then the conversation is a waste of time, and I would say as much. 

Gossip does nothing but harm. 

HERE ARE SOME BASIC TIPS:

  • Pull your energy back into the present moment, with the people present
  • Insist on talking about only the people present in the room: their lives, their concerns 
  • If you are talking about another person, make sure it is used to help you have insights into your own life and experiences
  • Make it part of your ethics to only speak well of people when they are not around, particularly if they have done nothing to harm you personally
  • Combat gossip by countering with kind, generous, compassionate statements. Insist that you do not know they entire story as to why a person speaks or behaves the way they do. Never rob another person of their autonomy. Make space for them to speak for themselves.

OK. Good luck, soldiers of love! Go forth, and spread good cheer! And, remember, it’s O.K. to make holidays that YOU love, and feel good about. You don’t have to spend them with people who make you uncomfortable about yourself. In fact, that might be the healthiest thing you could choose for yourself, and your sweet, tender body.

Love to you!

Erica

 

The Top 3 Things You Need to Know to Start Yoga

The Top 3 Things You Need to Know to Start Yoga

Many, many more people think about doing yoga than actually get around to starting. I’ve often pondered what is getting in the way.

After talking to many an interested, but nervous potential student, these are the most pressing 3 things that I have gleaned.

  1. You do not need to loose weight first. I know that all the people photographed doing yoga look really thin, but believe me, there are many, many people doing yoga who do not have bodies that those models do, and they still benefit from yoga, and are still happy doing it. Moreover, many of those people with “regular” bodies come to appreciate the body that they have, instead of longing for to live in someone else’s.

 

  1. You do not need to already be flexible. When I started yoga, my hamstrings were very tight. As I’ve done yoga, they have loosened up.   Many an interested person will say “oh, I can’t do yoga—I’m not flexible enough!” I think that often adults figure that if they don’t already show an aptitude for an activity, then they ought not to waste their time. For instance, why learn to play the piano if you believe you have no musical talent?

 

The point of yoga is not to excel, but to experience. When you allow yourself the space to do so, you might find that your hamstrings relax, and that you have an aptitude for flexibility that you didn’t anticipate.

 

  1. You do not need to have the right wardrobe. People who do yoga—especially in the coastal urban metropolises—have become their own kind of fashionistas. This can be a bit off-putting to the beginner. When I went to my teacher training—a 27-day immersion—I went with 5 sets of clothes. It worked out—I washed my clothes in the shower. My experience of yoga was not improved or diminished by my clothing choices.

 

As I’ve grown into a busy teaching career, my yoga wardrobe has expanded considerably, for two reasons: it is my professional attire, and I spend all day wearing it. I have more yoga clothes than street clothes.

To start yoga, all you need is some comfortable clothes that you can move in. That’s it. Sweatpants and a tee shirt will do quite nicely. Over time, you may choose to wear things that are more fitted, because you will discover that there is a fine line between comfortable clothes, and too much fabric.

Once you overcome these common impediments, we can fine-tune your approach to yoga, like what style, teacher, level, and how often to go.

Above all, have fun!

Originally published in Mantra Yoga + Health Magazine (print version). 

Practicing Grace

Practicing Grace

When I started with this self-help, get better, try-to-be-less-crazy stuff, I had the impression that if I did it really, really well, my life would not only be better, but more importantly, much easier. 

Have you heard this somewhere along the way: that if you “get it right” your life will be easeful? More graceful?

I’ll wager a nickel you’ve gotten that message once or twice from the self-help establishment…

But–! Hold up now. In the Biblical sense, being endowed with God’s grace (call it what you will…Spirit, Higher Power…but, this grace idea is uniquely Judeo-Christian, I think, so not sure the mixed metaphors work here…) is inherently “underserved.” Meaning, anyone, anywhere, of any socio-economic condition, skin-color, or even gender are eligible for the grace lottery. Like being touched with a magic wand: Ping!!! Now you are graced! 

Here’s a definition: Grace is the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.

More confounding yet, maybe…maybe even people who behave badly could experience grace?

Still, it’s very hard to stop believing that there is some corollary between being “graced by God,” meaning “blessed,” or somehow kissed by angels, and being…good. This is very hard for me to wrap my head around, perhaps because humans have defiled the idea of grace. But, it really seems like somehow we’ve made modern grace about BEING good, BEING better than others, BEING more deserving. 

Grace, of course, has other meanings too. It is associated with beauty of movement. Also, with good manners, as in “being a gracious host” or “having a gracious home.” The word “grace” also names The Graces of Greek Mythology, also known of as the Three Charities. They are Aglaea (Splendor), Euphrysyne (Mirth), and Thalia (Good Cheer). In general, things that are bright, and good, and make people feel positive about themselves, and hopefully, help other people feel amazing about themselves too.

Some of these gracious blessings, come with talent and a natural-endowment. Like having a skill in the arts, or in sports. Others, can be cultivated, like good manners, or diplomacy. And, here I think, is the truly important idea about grace, and perhaps where we missed a message: there’s a difference between inherent goodness, and earned goodness. People can ALWAYS work to become better versions of themselves, and, in fact, that is what a spiritual or contemplative life is about. Growing. Evolving. Attaining a higher state of consciousness. Doing the work to get there.

So which camp do you align yourself with? The grace-will-fall-into-my-lap-even-if-I-do-nothing camp, or the maybe-I-can-create-the-circumstances-for-this-to-happen camp?

Personally, I like a both-AND approach. Like the Tao #9 says: This is the way of heaven: do your work, then quietly step back. 

If you were to WORK to practice Grace, to cultivate the conditions to invite grace into your life, what would that look like?

I relate almost everything to my yoga practice. Along the way, in my Forrest Yoga training I was exposed to the writing of Caroline Myss. She authored a book called Defy Gravity: Healing Beyond Bounds of Reason. In it, she explores what she names The 7 Graces, which stand in opposition to their shadows, The 7 Dark Passions (which are the 7 deadly sins, renamed).

The 7 Graces are, in Myss’ world: Reverence, Piety, Understanding, Fortitude, Counsel, Knowledge, and Wisdom.

Enticing concepts, indeed. I’ve found, as an extreme thinker, that shiny concepts attract me but ultimately leave me feeling undernourished, like empty calories. What I cherish about my yoga practice–and especially my Forrest Yoga practice–is the way that we weave concepts into embodied experience.

An embodied experience is one where concepts are woven into a corporeal adventure, so that you understand said concept not just with your mind, but with all of yourself, and above all, your body. The expression “I could feel it in my bones,” or “I knew it in my guts” refers to that knowledge that comes through understanding something in your mind as it lives in the rest of you. See, your mind isn’t just stuck in your brain. It lives in ALL of your body.

Writing about these grace, and embodiment, is just one way to bring your attention to their currency.  But, I believe firmly that our lives are for experience, and experience happens through living in your body. Therefore, my teachings are best experienced in person, where our bodies can occupy the same space.

Once a year, I lead a retreat called Practice Grace, Receive Gratitude, in partnership with my teaching buddy Benjamin Sears of Lux Yoga. All the words in the world will never encapsulate the teaching, learning, and transformation that occurs at this retreat. If these concepts–grace and gratitude–are part of your spiritual and transformational life, definitely bookmark us and this retreat. People come back annually to experience it, and deepen and enrich their relationship to themselves, with and through Grace.

This is the way of Heaven. Do your work. Then quietly step back.

Practice Grace. Feel the Joy of being alive. Feel Grateful. Then–all things everywhere will feel like Grace to you.

Big love,

Erica

 

 

 

What are the benefits of going on a yoga retreat?

What are the benefits of going on a yoga retreat?

I’ve found that the reasons for this will be different if you are a yoga practitioner, or if you are a teacher. I’ll address both!

For practitioners: Perhaps you’ve been practicing yoga asana for a while now…and you go to class a few times a week, and well, that feel like it’s working pretty well. So, why fix something that isn’t broken?

Yoga retreats are great if:

Me leading Sun Salutations at Kripalu

1. You like yoga, and would enjoy (trying for the first time?) doing it a few times a day. Sometimes more actually IS better! And in the context of a yoga retreat, you get a chance to experience practicing in a new environment, often without all the hustle to get to class (less stress!), and feel what it is like to practice daily, or in some instances, 2x/day!

 

 

2. You enjoy structured time off. Some people actually DON’T go on vacation, because they aren’t comfortable with an absence of structure. At a yoga retreat, there is a schedule, that often includes time off, but rarely that much!

3. You enjoy trying new foods. Often yoga retreats will take the opportunity to introduce participants to new and different ways of eating. Would you like to try eating vegetarian, but wouldn’t do it on your own, and aren’t sure you want to commit? A yoga retreat may be a good place to give it a whirl! Not all yoga retreats necessarily promote a particular way of eating, so you will want to check out what the menu is! For instance, at Kripalu, where I often go to teach, it used to vegetarian, but now routinely includes an animal protein on the menu. BUT–! You can explore eating a macrobiotic diet! Or an Ayurvedic diet! At Lux Yoga, where I teach in the summer, the food is a centerpiece, with Michelin Star chefs, local fare, and animal protein usually on the plate.

Big smiles over trying this French seafood!

 

 

 

 

 

4. You like meeting new people who share the same interests. At yoga retreats, there’s ONE big filter. YOGA. You can pretty much be sure that any conversation you begin on that topic will lead you to interesting other topics. In general you can bet that people on yoga retreats are interested in living a healthy lifestyle, learning, and a certain level of self inquiry and personal growth. These people could even become lifelong friends! Some people who attend my LUX retreat have been returning for years!

Rainbow tribe of forever friends in the Lux pool

 

5. You enjoy traveling. Yoga retreats offer such a wide variety of travel options. Heck, you can even do a retreat without leaving your home town! For instance, some Forrest Yoga colleagues of mine run a Urban Retreat around every New Year. Basically stay home (if New York is your home! Some people travel for this event!), and do SO MUCH YOGA! I also lead regional experiences at Kripalu, in Lenox, Massachusetts, and Omega, in Rheinbeck, New York. AND–if you’re into international travel–The South of France. You can travel down the block! You can travel around the world! It’s a structured way to experience different people, regions, and sometimes cultures and languages.

 

If I had not gone to Lux, I never would have been introduced to the amazing beauty of these mountains. Forever grateful.

For Teachers:

O.K., O.K., I know you. You’re working all the time, and if you take time off, it’s PROBABLY going to be to go to another yoga training. Stop. Right. There. Listen up.

Yoga retreats are essential to your health and development. Here’s why:

  1. You need to receive yoga medicine. I’ll say it again. You. NEED. To Receive. Yoga. Medicine. Remember those days when you just went to class, and didn’t know anything about the hustle and bustle of teaching? Blissful, bygone memories, I’m sure. One way to get that back is to take yourself on a retreat. There’s no purposeful learning…no certificate to receive…no new skill to wow people with once you get back. Just…hit the reset button. Be a student. Be a beginner. Be a person immersing themselves in the joy of just experiencing. I suggest going to a yoga friend’s retreat, or a senior teacher you enjoy. It can be nice if you find a retreat just for teachers, but even as I’m writing that I’m thinking nah…it’s important to be with the rest of the WHOLE tribe, in grace. As teachers, part of our uplevel is to be a real human, in real situations, and have our teaching prowess integrate everywhere. Just hanging out with someone else’s students can help you practice that skill.

That’s it for now! Perhaps I will edit this as I think of more. Here’s a list of upcoming opportunities this summer and fall, to retreat with meeeeee. I hope to see you soon! Love to you, Erica

July 21-27, LUX Yoga: Practice Gratitude, Receive Grace 

August 24-27, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health: Yoga and Body Confidence Conference 

October 13-15, Omega Center: The Forrest Yoga Formula for Change 

4 Considerations for Teaching “Body Positive Yoga”

4 Considerations for Teaching “Body Positive Yoga”

This past November 2016, I had the honor to curate, host, and present at the very first ever Yoga and Body Confidence Conference. (The next one is scheduled! August 24-27 at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health! CLICK HERE to read all about it.)

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a long time, and crystallizing my own philosophies throughout my teaching career. And, as the creator and host of the Adore Your Body Telesummit, I maintain that to arrive at an understanding of what it means to be “body positive” it’s important to hear many, various and varied perspectives.

After listening to the voices of the contributors, I realized that there are four main elements you as a teacher must grapple with, and make a decision about how you will handle. They are:

  1. To Touch or Not to Touch—the Quagmire of Assisting Versus Adjusting.
  2. Props: Use them, or Don’t?
  3. Alignment : Shouldn’t the body just “know” what to do? If we “trust the body” then isn’t alignment innately confining? Who am I, the teacher, to tell you how to align your body?
  4. Watch Your Language: How You Say What You Say…

But, even before exploring these in more detail, I think that it is worth considering if your if your views align with your lineage, or diverge from them, and why.

My yoga education has taken place within two incredible wombs—Forrest Yoga, and yoga in New York City. I’ve been fortunate to have top-notch schooling, both through Forrest Yoga and through being in the city where we have the best of everything. No—I’m not biased. It’s really true. 😉 Frankly, I’m shocked when yogis come from other places and don’t try to take as many classes as they can while they’re here. And, the more I look into it, the more I discover that my own views align strongly with my lineage, Forrest Yoga, which I consider to be incredibly body positive, except in one main way, which is the fault of ALL yoga, I think. Yoga culture is fat phobic.

That vast failing aside, for many, many reasons, I believe Forrest Yoga to be one of the most body positive lineages in existence today. You may disagree, and likely it’s around one of these main points below. I’m very happy to discuss, BUT, I challenge you to look at the ways that your own system, or lineage failed you in some regard (every lineage will inevitably fail you, by the way), and if that is why you’ve developed the stance you have around one of these four points.

O.K. let’s go!

  1. To Touch or Not to Touch—the quagmire of Assisting Versus Adjusting.

Some teachers believe resolutely that “corrections” given through touch are not body positive. Why? First, is assumes that the teacher has the right to touch another person’s body—it’s about ownership, consent, and power. Second, some people may not like you to touch them in the places that we as yoga teachers often touch, such as ribs, bellys, thighs, arms. Third, as student’s desire to be touched may change from day-to-day, and it may be difficult to communicate without ongoing conversation or simple systems of consent, such as consent cards placed at the front of the mat. Even the idea of “adjusting” suggests that there was something that needed to be fixed in the first place. Finally, if you experience body shame, you really might not want someone touching, without warning, the places you feel crappy about.

While I understand and respect these concerns, I have different ideas, strongly influenced by practical matters of teaching and by experiential knowledge of HOW people can heal body shame in yoga, built on 18 years of my own experience, and 10 years of teaching, including 8 years under the close tutelage of Ana Forrest, a survivor of deep, physical, emotional, and mental trauma.

First—the pragmatics. After 10 years of teaching, I’ve come to see and understand two fundamental truths. One—not everyone will understand your words or your visual demos. Some people will ONLY, EVER understand what you mean if you touch them, and guide them with your hands, helping (assisting), not adjusting, them in the asana. As a teacher, it is my deep, heartfelt desire to include everyone in the experience as best as possible. When I see people who just don’t seem to get it—no matter how I describe it differently, no matter how many times I show them—it’s an indicator that human is a pure kinesthetic learner. They are rare. Often people come in combos, like kinesthetic/visual or aural/visual. You will identify a pure kinesthetic from their flailing efforts, often with eyes closed.

Now, imagine for a moment that you went to a yoga class, and you were blind and deaf. How would you get along? This is a rough approximate of the kinesthetic learner. That person will give it their best go, trying hard to translate your words and demos into something felt in the body, and they will fail every time.

Should you withhold touch from that person, they will go on failing. And you, the teacher, will be allowing it. Are you O.K. with that?

Two, touch is the language of the body. Even if your skills of aural and visual comprehension translate brilliantly into a felt experience, IT IS NO SUBSTITUTE. Listen to me again. Touch is the language of the body. Not words. Not English, or whatever your native tongue may be. Not visuals. So, if you want to communicate with the body, on its own terms, touch is the way to go.

Our society it starved for good, clean, healthy touch. My teacher, Ana Forrest instructs us around touch thus: touch your people as if they are the Beloved. Not a lover—but a deep sacred mystery, which you will never fully understand. Touch with a reverence for that deep, divine mystery beneath your hands. Respect.

Just last weekend, I lead an event here in NYC with four other Forrest Yoga teachers. At the end of the event, which had over 70 people in attendance, we had a closing circle to hear what were the most impactful aspects of the urban yoga retreat. Overwhelmingly people marveled at the quality of the assists, the care of the assists. One young woman commented on an assist she received, recalling how someone touched her hand. That’s all—touched her hand—and the care that came through that touch brought her to tears and touched her heart in a unforgettable way.

Listen up. This is what can happen when you touch right. A person could come to your retreat, and the MOST MEMORABLE experience of the whole event could be ONE MOMENTARY TOUCH TO THE HAND. I urge you, please consider why you would not want to show your people that you care enough to touch them with the dignity and concern that is the right of every human being? Is it because someone hurt you through touch? Well, fuck them. If you really want to set things right around that, don’t ban touch from your life: learn how to touch people in a good way. Don’t’ let some asshole who hurt you ROB YOU of this human need—to give and receive quality, caring, non-sexualized touch.

Is it because you didn’t learn how in your teacher training? Well—O.K. then—but realize that you only got like 1/3 of a TT because this is essential training. Now seek out the best teachers you can, who give amazing assists, and never, never, NEVER push, pull, or shame through touch.

Is it because you feel insecure in your own ability to give quality assists? See the paragraph above.

See, even the language around this is key. “Adjustment” is the wrong idea. Assist means to help. Assists are co-created. Assists go at the rate and depth of the person in the pose. Assists are inherently respectful. The body knows by the attitude of the touch what is the intent behind the touch. I swear to you. If you believe in body positivity, you MUST believe that the body knows. It remembers. And, the path to repair will always be through the primary language. If you were hurt through touch, inevitably, you must go back into that wound and heal through touch…

This is not a suggestion that I or any other teacher “knows” what will be healing. But, to abdicate even trying to help because to suggest I might “know” something about another human is somehow “playing God” is also not a solution I’m comfortable with. NOT actually teaching, while saying you are teaching, is an unacceptable solution to the complexities of this issue. It’s a cop out. We’re better than that.

  1. Props: Use them, or Don’t?

O.K. people. I’m as pretty geeky when it comes to yoga. And, as you can hopefully see from the diatribe I wrote up above, I think a lot about the complexities of teaching yoga, and for instance why a person doesn’t want to be touched, and working with that desire. But, honestly, this particular debate about props has me completely baffled. YOU ARE NOT A LOOSER IF YOU USE A PROP! What the hell. What kind of ignorant person would teach that?

Arms, legs, and torso come in all different lengths, sizes, and proportional relationships. I’m flexible. I can touch the floor easily, but in certain poses the relationship between my arms, legs, and torso distorts the integrity of the pose shape. I need blocks. This does not in any way reflect on my achievement or value as a human or a teacher. It’s just a reality—my legs are longer than my arms, proportionally speaking. No amount of not-using-props is going to change that.

I speculate that the idea to withhold props might be founded on the principle that the human is an innately bad thing, and must be taught to be good. A “good” body “fits” into the posture. A “bad” body doesn’t and needs to just “keep trying” until it figures out how to be “good.” Ugh.

There’s a competing view. The human is an innately good and perfect thing. Right now. With arms, and legs, and round bellies, and backs that don’t bend, and wrists that hurt, and necks that don’t turn, and elbows that were broken, and, and, and, and. We’re all broken and good. Perfectly imperfect. This “innately good” idea is a much more hopeful view of the world. Personally I’d rather hold this view, wouldn’t you?

I’ve been taught that above all my job is to get my people out of suffering. One way to do that is to use a prop. A block is a wonderful thing—it makes arms longer. It elevates seats. A strap makes arms longer too. Guess what—you arm is not going to get any longer than it is now (unless you’re a child), and that principle “keep trying” can be a lesson in repeated failure. And that sucks. The essence of karma yoga is action—helpful action. If you see something that you can do to help, DO IT. Stop teaching people that their bodies are not O.K. as they are. Help them, and if props help, use them for Shiva’s sake!

  1. Alignment : Shouldn’t the body just “know” what to do? If we “trust the body” then isn’t alignment innately confining? Who am I, the teacher, to tell you how to align your body?

No. No, no, no, no, NO. Part of teaching yoga is teaching people HOW to feel, how to “do” the poses. Re-introducing them, rehabilitating them to the idea that feeling is good, and O.K., and provides necessary information. Physical action is the way we accomplish this. Asana. Students seek out teachers because they know something that the student doesn’t. It is your job to TEACH. Yoga is a method for coming into relationship with the body, and that includes these things called ASANA. Therefore you must engage with the body, not ignore it.

To teach asana well you MUST have these skills (at the very least):

  1. Being able to do the poses you are teaching. This is a basic requirement. Do Not teach things that you are not able to do, or are not ON YOUR WAY to doing, at the very least. For instance—I am on my way to free balancing a handstand. I teach about that process, even if I’m not “there” YET.
  2. Succinctly and successfully being able to describe how to safely and easefully get in and out of a pose.
  3. Understanding how to sequence a class from beginning to end in a physiologically friendly way.
  4. Have and use the tools to help people who are struggling in their bodies feel successful at the level they are at. These tools are skillful modifications, thoughtful speech, and compassionate assists.
  5. Be prepared to address bodies with injuries and illnesses in helpful ways. Do not ignore these people. They have bodies too, and they deserve to be SEEN. Illness and injury—the land of the sick—can be a disheartening and isolated place, where you feel betrayed by the body. Know what poses are contraindicated for specific conditions, and offer up alternatives. Make these people welcome in a class for a modality (yoga) that purports to work all kinds of health and wellness magic.

If you don’t want to actually teach alignment principles in asana, but you still want to teach body positivity, then please, STOP TEACHING ASANA, and teach some other aspect of yoga to help people come into relationship with their bodies. I believe whole-heartedly that if you don’t actually teach people to feel their bodies with the context of asana alignment, you are perpetuating disregard for the body itself.

4. Watch Your Language

As yoga teachers, we’re in a funny position. What IS yoga? Is it fitness? Is it spirituality? Maybe teaching a fitness-y kind of yoga really is your jam. And, I think that there is a certain kind of body positivity that is real and honest that talks about wanting to “get fit.” But, all-too-often it is a masquerade, and underneath it all there is a certain kind of self-loathing. Just be aware of where you are, as a teacher, and as a practitioner, and get honest about that. It will show up in what you say, as a teacher, and as a practitioner. For a while I found myself slipping up into all kinds of old habits, making yoga—a sanctuary I myself had claimed—into my place of exercise and weight loss. It’s tricky. You gotta observe yourself.

I think that it should go without saying that when in a position of influence, as you are as a yoga teacher, you should pay close attention to what you say. Here are some recommendations of certain things to root out of your language, if you want to make people of all body types feel comfortable in your class and stop perpetuating the cycle of body hatred.

  • Don’t talk about feeling fat > DO talk about emotions that are uncomfortable and how they sometimes manifest as critiques of the body
  • Don’t’ assume that everyone thinks that a hetero-normative body is attractive > DO talk about the difference between a cultural beauty standard and a self-defined idea of beauty
  • Don’t talk about “getting a yoga body” > DO talk about self-definition and empowerment around health, and health at all sizes
  • Don’t talk about dieting or cleansing after holidays > DO talk about digestive health and eating to support steady emotional and physical states
  • Don’t ever, EVER, EVER talk about “getting ready for swimsuit season” > DO talk about feeling comfortable in the body, no matter WHAT size, shape, age, or ability to currently possesses.
  • Don’t talk about your diet > DO talk about eating to support the best health of your body, mind, and spirit.

O.K. So that covers one area of language.

Another is more specific. HOW do you teach the poses. Is there an “end goal” for the poses; an ideal? Some people feel like they are “failing” if they have to modify a posture. Some people take offense if you use the words “down-level” or “up level” as if “down” is somehow better than “up.”

I’ve got one main thing to say here. It’s all in the delivery.

If you spend much of your teaching time setting up the idea that practitioners will be best served by working at their own level, and that one is not better than another, then hopefully no one will feel “less than” when you offer modifications. And hopefully no one will feel less than when you offer options to move onto the next stage in the pose. “Advanced” is not to be found in the depth of the posture. Advanced is a state of mind—steady, easeful. Sound familiar?

But if you frame asana as if the “full expression of the pose” (whatever that is) is some enlightened ideal that only very special people will attain—well then it’s easy to see how “down” and “up” now have relative goodness and value and one is better than the other.

If you still feel like “modification” and “up-level” and “down-level” are words you’d rather not use, then perhaps try “stages.” Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3. Like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. Caterpillar = Stage 1. Chrysalis = Stage 2. Butterfly = Stage 3. Nothing better or worse, just different. (Of course you’ll have to stretch the analogy for poses that have more than 3 stages!)

Don’t just ignore this. People have different capabilities, and that’s O.K. Some people need to be challenged, like a horse needs to run or an eagle needs to fly. Feed their spirit: give them the “up-level!”

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Teaching yoga is infinitely more complicated than I really ever imagined it would be at the outset. There’s all of these details and considerations of your experience, of other people’s experience. Being “good at yoga” isn’t enough to be a good teacher. You have to also: 1. develop the skill of teaching, 2. know the topic of yoga inside and out, 3. be curious about other people. Like, deeply curious.

The whole agreement might be more than you bargained for. Sometimes I feel that way. But, I cannot imagine many other playgrounds for the study of personal development.

My aim with this article is not to overwhelm you, but rather to give you the categories that you need to consider if you want to accomplish the goal you set out to: teaching body positive yoga. No one ever told me what was involved. So, it is my desire, as a teacher, to help my people along their paths by offering clarification, guideposts, and places for you to think and make your own decisions about what you are doing in your teaching. The most important part, I think, is that you continue to develop self-awareness, and make conscious choices about what you are doing, and why. No one has to approve of, or agree with what you are doing. Just you. And if you’ve clearly thought about the what and the why–well, now you are acting with integrity.

Many blessings to you. Please reach out to let me know if there is any way that I can be of service to you on your path.

with love,

Erica

p.s. if you would like to study with me more, I have rolling Advanced Study Modules happening 1x/month. Check my website HERE to see what’s happening next. I would love the opportunity to work with you.

What is Vinyasa?

What is Vinyasa?

Photo by Ray Tamarra
The beginning of a Sun Salutation.

I think that it might be prudent to begin with an orientation. My views and perspectives on vinyasa are in part tempered by an historical moment (2004-2017) and a region of the world: New York City. What vinyasa is here today, is probably different than it was 20 years ago, and is probably different than what it is in other regions and cities.

A brief history: Vinyasa was invented by Krishnamacharya. Among many things, he made two contributions to our understanding of “vinyasa” yoga: breath connected to movement, and “pose counter pose” theory. Pattabi Jois, who studied with Krishnamacharya went on to develop Ashtanga Yoga, which is formally named Ashtanga Vinaysa Yoga. Most modern practices generally called vinyasa have Ashtanga as a parent practice.

From The Heart of Yoga, Krishnamacharya’s son, Desikachar, writes:

“Developing a yoga practice according to the ideas expressed in the Yoga Sutra is an action referred to as vinyasa krama. Krama is the step or literally “stages,” nyasa means “to place,” and the prefix vi –translates as “in a special way.” The concept of vinyasa krama tells us that it is not enough to simply take a step; that step needs to take us in the right direction and be made in the right way.” (The Heart of Yoga, pg. 25)

These days, this definition of vinyasa floats around and is commonly cited: to place in a special way. It is sourced from this book. “To place in a special way” is partially correct. If you read carefully, in the quote, Desikachar is also very clear about two things:

  1. The step must be in the right direction
  2. It must be made in the right way
Arms overhead

Consider this. You have a candy bar, a key, and a watch. You place these things in a special way upon your dresser. Have you done vinyasa?

I jest, of course, but I do so to point out the other crucial aspects of vinyasa. You gotta know where you’re going. You gotta go in that direction. The step you make needs to be done in the right way. If you’re headed towards advanced OCD, then maybe putting your candy bar, key, and watch in a special way on your dresser is exactly correct, and then yeah, you’re doing vinyasa. Have fun!

In the interview section of The Heart of Yoga Desikachar applies these two ideas—that you need to go in the right direction, and you must take the right action—to yoga more directly. He answers an open-ended request from the interviewer to say something about “structuring your yoga practice intelligently—the concept of vinyasa karma.” Quoting at length:

“First I must ask: what do you mean by “intelligently”? You are probably familiar with the argument that doing the headstand brings more blood into the head. Somebody who has the feeling that the blood supply to the head is not good enough then comes to the conclusion that the headstand is the best asana for them. But first we should think this through. Do we all suffer from a deficient supply of the blood to the head simply because we stand and walk upright? Suppose that someone is haunted by this idea so much that he begin to practice the headstand every day, if possible first thing in the morning, perhaps as the first and only asana. Our experience in working with all kinds of people has taught us that people who do this eventually suffer from enormous problems in the neck, that then result in great tension and stiffness in that area and a decreased supply of blood to the whole musculature of the neck—precisely the opposite of what they hoped they would achieve.

An intelligent approach to yoga practice means that, before you begin, you are clear about the various aspects of the asana you wish to practice, and know how to prepare for them in such a way that you reduce or negate any undesired effects. With regard to the headstand, for example, the questions are: is my neck prepared for this? Can I breathe well in the asana? Is my back strong enough to raise the entire weight of my legs? To approach your practice intelligently means that you know the implications of what you want to do, whether that be asana or pranayama, and to make appropriate preparations and adjustments. It is not enough to jump if you want to reach the sky. Taking an intelligent approach means working toward your goal step-by-step. If you want to travel overseas, the first thing you need is a passport. Then you need visas for the countries you intend to visit, and so forth. The simple fact that you want to go there does not make the trip possible. All learning follows this pattern.” (ibid, xx)

Forward fold. Sort of. Mostly.

In modern yoga, we may at any time be working with these four basic definitions of vinyasa (I’ve ranked them from most common understanding to least-known):

  1. A type of yoga class—now-a-days sometimes even assumed to be a “flow” class.
  2. A specific sequence of breath-synchronized movements to transition between sustained postures, a shorthand for: plank, chatturanga, upward-facing dog, downward-facing dog
  3. The linking of body movement with breath
  4. Setting an intention for one’s personal yoga practice and taking the necessary steps towards reaching that goal

“Vinyasa means a gradual progression or a step-by-step approach that systematically and appropriately takes a student from one point and safely lands them at the next point. It is sometimes described as the “breathing system,” or the union of breath and movement that make up the steps.” Maty Ezraty

Styles of yoga that a commonly considered to be vinyasa based on their relationship to Ashtanga yoga include Baptiste Yoga, Jivamukti, Power Yoga, and Prana Flow. I also consider my home lineage, Forrest Yoga, to be a vinyasa practice for two main reasons:

  1. How strongly we link the breath to motions. Not always “big” movements, as are often expected, but smaller more internal actions as well.
  2. How we always set a strong intent for the practice with a specified asana goal, as well as a goal for internal work, and then set about creating an intelligent pathway towards success.

Often, in my classes, students find that they are able to accomplish things that they previously had never done before. These results are the effects of skillful vinyasa—it’s the responsibility of the teacher to help guide our students towards successful outcomes, in the form of asana accomplishments and internal breakthroughs.

Half Lift

Often in my classes, students have the experience of breathing more, and more deeply than they ever have. This is the result of vinyasa—the deep union of breath with actions small and large.

The aspect of vinyasa that intrigues me the most, is the potential for teaching people about how to reach their own goals in their lives. Step by step, intelligent action towards an asana goal feels a certain way. It contains elements of making a decision about where you want to go, studying the possible routes, deciding on a course, taking deliberate action, making course corrections on the way, cultivating patience and determination together, faith in the process, surrender to the mystery, and celebration upon arrival.

If we teach our people about these things in class, and dissuade them from the things that will impede their progress—impatience, ego, lack of a plan, use of undo force, giving up, just to name a few—then we will be giving them incredible life skills. This is part of why teaching yoga can be so powerful: you have an opportunity to model for your students decisions and actions that will lead them down a path to success, and then encourage them to find similar experiences on their own.

Vinyasa is so much more than it seems on the surface. Vinyasa is a way of living life. Vinyasa is a form of critical thinking that will help people move towards their successes. Vinyasa is a about skillful teaching, learning, and the process of living feeling empowered.

Make THIS definition of vinyasa the one that comes to the fore whenever you hear the word, and it will change your perspective forever:

Setting an intention for one’s personal yoga practice and taking the necessary steps towards reaching that goal.

Downward Facing Dog

For those of you that don’t live in our fair city of New York, I hope that you’ll check out my Sound Cloud channel, where I have many, many “Forrest Inspired Vinyasa” classes up for you to take. On friendly online “stalker” made my day by writing this about me: You have teaching perfected. Seriously. Tone of voice and perfect blend of seriousness and humor. Like hanging out with a friend that will call you on your shit.  DANG GIRL! MY WORK HERE IS DONE: PERFECTION ATTAINED! haha. Click HERE to see of you agree with her! 

And, if you’re on the East Coast, I and my buddy Leslie Pearlman teach a weekend module about Forrest Yoga & Forrest Inspired Vinyasa. We’re available to teach it at your studio, or if you’re free the first weekend in March (2017), join us at her studio for what will be an incredible weekend of knowledge. Click HERE to read about the modular  300 hour training of which this weekend is a part. If you want a description of the module, just reach out in the comments, and I’ll email it to you.

Bye for now. Keep being awesome.

~E

 

31 Things I’ve Learned about Love in My Short Time Here on Earth

31 Things I’ve Learned about Love in My Short Time Here on Earth

 

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  1. It’s not guaranteed that we’ll get love from the people we’d like to feel it from
  2. It’s not guaranteed that we’ll get love the WAY we want from the people we wish would deliver in a specific way (even if we provide clear instructions)
  3. Love is a feeling AND a practice
  4. There is not always a direct corollary between being loved and feeling loved
  5. More people probably love you than you think
  6. Feeling love for someone, and making them FEEL loved are not the same thing
  7. The Golden Rule is a good place to start, but it doesn’t always work
  8. Not everyone wants to be loved the way YOU want to be loved
  9. Animals are great teachers in the practice of love
  10. The spontaneous love I feel for animals is something I quest for when I comes to humans
  11. Some people inspire love more spontaneously than others
  12. That doesn’t mean others are “less lovable”
  13. With our many flaws we all can benefit from the gracious allocation of love from people who have enough to give
  14. Love is a terrible catch-all term for many emotions that can come in a dizzying array of often-confusing composites…
  15. To love well, you must learn to love as many different ways as there are beings in your life
  16. Loving someone sometimes makes me bend my personal boundaries on their behalf…not always to everyone’s advantage
  17. Loving is a practice of looking deeply, understanding the suffering of another, and cultivating our capacity to remove their suffering
  18. I’m not a fan of the ooey-gooey teaching about love. It’s easy enough to say “love is the way” (#truth!), but without concrete teaching on HOW I’m left feeling incredibly unsatisfied
  19. Loving takes a strong heart. There will inevitably be pain involved
  20. A broken heart is a heart that is wide open to the world
  21. Heart practices are critical to the cultivation of a loving countenance and behaviors
  22. It’s helpful to others if we have an idea of how we would like to be loved. It begins to create a roadmap. Whether or not the people around us will use it is an entirely separate matter
  23. Love early and often. Better to speak our minds and hearts than to regret later that we didn’t
  24. A helpful question to guide our behavior is “what would love do?”
  25. Time spent loving is never time wasted
  26. I’d like to believe that everyone is born capable of loving
  27. I’d bet that the loving a human receives early on directly impacts their capacity to learn loving behaviors later
  28. “Deserving” is a loaded word when it comes to love
  29. Love can be transactional, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing
  30. I’m not sure unconditional love really exists, or if it does it is exceedingly rare
  31. “The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom” ~bell hooks

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The pretense of #gratitude

The pretense of #gratitude

Here’s a tip for you:

the quickest way to get grateful about things is to have them taken away from you.

Ever have an aspect of your health compromised? That will get you grateful real fast. When I broke my foot, and had to navigate stairs and subways in a New York winter, the value of bipedal mobility was made very apparent to me.

When one day, I woke up with a migraine headache, and now have had them for fifteen years, the value of a healthy nervous system was made very apparent to me.

Did you know that in a survey of countries, as it relates to happiness, the United States ranked 33rd in the nations of the world? Far, far behind what we still call “third world” nations, places where children still play games together outside, sometimes even using their imaginations. Remember that?

I think having so much really gets in the way of feeling grateful.

 

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Don’t get me wrong. Every sky strikes my heart through with awe and wonder, and heck–this might be the last sky I ever see. But, these moments can’t replace the numbness we feel in the rest of our lives, and a quest for #gratitude that is essentially desperate recognition that something is off. Something is wrong. At the foundation.

When I traveled to Cuba, way back in 1999, it was impossible not to notice that they had so very little. While we were there, everyone on the trip was a little hungry, the whole time. Because, there was far less food than we were accustomed to. One couple kinda knew about this, and had packed food. They had a stash of rice krispie treats. They shared one with me, and—wow!—I can’t recall that food ever tasting as good as it did then. I was grateful that they shared with me. I was grateful to have what I didn’t recognize back then as a sugar addiction satisfied a little bit. I took a piano lesson with a guy who is world renowned. And paid him $25 cash–more than his family might earn in a year. Think about that.

When I returned to the states after that trip, I recall my first trip to an American grocery store. It was overwhelming. There was so much! Do we really need 20 different options when it comes to toilet paper?

In the yoga world, #gratitude has become its own trope. Heck, I’ve even adopted it, and lead a retreat called “Practice Grace, Receive Gratitude.”* Every time I go to lead this retreat, I run up against a feeling inside, something that tells me I’m faking it a little bit. That I might be faking ought not to dissuade you from coming to the retreat—no, in fact, if you get caught up in these ideas of gratitude, and find yourself really having to cast around for something you’re grateful for besides, like, a cup of coffee (addiction much?), this retreat might be for you. Or, if you appreciate that a teacher grapples with themselves, even struggles with a concept, this retreat might be for you. I like to learn from people who didn’t master the topic immediately. It means they really had to “learn.” Innate talent for a topic doesn’t always yield the best teachers.

But don’t take my word for any of this. Continue to hear me out. If there’s one thing in the world I’m a warrior about, it’s ferreting out those moments where we’re faking it, modulating our behavior to fit some expectation, becoming less authentic along the way. It’s happening to us all the time, like entropy. I’m interested in the ways that we have become divorced from really feeling grateful in our lives, and started faking it. Don’t lie to me, and tell me that you really feel grateful every day. Really? Do you? Or have you just decided its “good” for you to say so, like eating kale, or drinking green tea? I’m sure you’re like most other Americans (or a citizen of some other developed world), drowning in TOO MUCH. Abundance, ironically, becomes its own trap.

IMG_4294
Behold. Another heart-breaking sky.

Think about it for a moment. What could you do without. Really, could you pare your existence down to the bare minimum? Like those Cubans—man, the U.S. embargo even blocked those people from having the simplest of medical supplies, and still they figured out how to have one of the BEST MEDICAL SYSTEMS in the WORLD. You might ask what I was doing in Cuba—funny you should ask. Delivering medical supplies. And musical instruments. One of the most prolific, creative societies in the world lacked tools with which to make their art. Reeds for clarinets. Spare parts for a saxophone. But did that stop them from making great art? NO. In fact, it probably motivated them even more to make BETTER ART. Take THAT world!!!

So much comes out of having less. Do not despair if you find yourself lacking. It will cook your character in the fires of (relative) hardship. And you will perhaps emerge, finding that you have discovered a depth of #grateful that you never knew existed. And that might make you grateful all over again.

 

tree of God
These tropes of grateful, they ask us to give thanks for a tree, or a cup of tea, saying the little things count. That’s not false, but it’s also not entirely true. The BIG things count too. Set your life on the right course, if you feel you’ve gotten off-track. Dig deep.

*actually, we used to call this retreat “Practice Gratitude, Receive Grace” and then realized that the relationship was backwards. If you’re interested in the retreat, click HERE to read my honest assessment, and description of what it’s about, and click HERE to view the registration page.

 

 

What does a Yogi Behave like?

What does a Yogi Behave like?

On Wednesday, November 9th, 2016, my main job was to ground people, get them breathing again, and give out terrific hugs.

New York was in shock.

Many great political commentators have already done a terrific job dissecting What Happened?!? As a person who has always been interested in the behavior of people, and more recently, as a yogi, I’m very curious about the decisions that lead voters to cast one way or another. Because at its core YOGA is early study of human psychology. For me, to be curious about yoga is to be curious about yourself, and about other people…I’m curious about YOU!

And as a leader in teaching yoga, I’m interested in the way our community responds, and more importantly how we behave, IN REAL LIFE.

Its lead me to think again about this one, core question:

How does a yogi behave?

And, more pointedly: How does a yogi behave in the face of adversarial conditions, full frontal assault, from other humans?

There are surface, signifying, yogic behaviors, that have become commonplace. Wear yoga pants. Attend yoga class. Do asana.

This is the beginning. These signifiers show that you have started to create a new relationship with yourself.

Then, you may hit a different, deeper layer. You start to talk to the people about “going with the flow” and “being in the moment” and “feeling what comes up” and “self love and acceptance” and “compassion and non-violence” and “accepting what is” and “living your truth.” All good things.

It is a behavior of a yogi to live an examined life. These outward verbal signifiers are signs that something transformative is occurring within you.

And, in the face of radical dissonance with the world outside—like we’re seeing now—this inward change may need to accelerate, so that you can BEHAVE outwardly like the change you wish to see in the world. IN REAL LIFE.

There is a story that is central to the texts yoga that tells us something about the behavior of a yogi. The story is called the Bhagavad Gita. In the central narrative—an epic poem of sorts—our main character, Arjuna, is facing his family on a battlefield. Unbeknownst to him, his charioteer is the God, Krishna.

They dialogue about Arjuna’s reluctance to fight his kin. Over the duration of the conversation, Krisha describes the attributes of a yogi, or the “wealth of divinely inclined persons.” (Quote, and the following list are from the Bhagavad Gita XVI:1-3) Note: for interpretations of these attributes, I’m relying heavily (exclusively?) on this website, because it is the only published commentary I was able to find.

Let’s take a look at this list, provided by a God. J

  1. Fearlessness: It is the quest of a yogi to eradicate “fear-based” behavior and thinking from his or her life. “Fear robs man of the indomitability of his soul.” (Yogananda). Fear is a primal, core emotion, and it hijacks a person’s ability to do…well anything, much less behave well.
  2. Purity of heart:Purity of heart means transparency to truth.” (Yogananda)
  3. Perseverance in acquiring wisdom and the practice of yoga: “Practice, and all is coming,” said Patthabi Jois.
  4. Charity: Unselfishness and generosity.
  5. Subjugation of the senses: Self-restraint means that you are master of your senses. They do not run you, yet they give you important information, with which you take right action in response.
  6. Performance of holy rites: What could this mean? A devotee, according to his state of development, may perform the symbolic physical rite of pouring clarified butter into fire, or the mental rite of burning wrong desires in the flames of wisdom, or the yogi’s spiritual rite of consuming human restlessness in the fire of soul ecstasy. In the ultimate, the whole of one’s life should be a holy rite, with every thought and act purified by a devout heart. (Yogananda)
  7. Study of the scriptures:Redemption does not come from what one knows intellectually, but from what one becomes as a result of that knowledge.” (Yogananda) Beware un-embodied, un-activated knowledge. Study ought to lead you to become a different person, and that is characterized by different choices and different behaviors, and therefore, different outcomes.
  8. Self-discipline: How do you train yourself? Do you have a practice of discipline? Through these practices you learn to train yourself to behave consciously, to respond instead of to react.
  9. Straightforwardness: This is a sign of being an honorable person. It ought not lull a person into thinking others are honorable as well. Heed the lessons of Ned Stark…
  10. Non-injury: Seek actions that hold at their core the good of all and harm to none.
  11. Truthfulness: Adhering to the truth may be the path to bring you to the Truth. Watch the many lies that we tell ourselves, they are the beginnings of the fog that obstructs our discernment of what is real and true.
  12. Freedom from wrath: Anger clouds a person’s judgment. Yogananda says that anger is caused by the obstruction of one’s desires. I think that’s true. I think anger also arises when your boundaries are violated. Anger is a very useful emotion, one to learn from, and to consider where it comes from. Then, once the emotion is not running you, you can select correct action and respond, not react. Remember this: angry people do not create peaceful outcomes. Never cook or eat angry—just think what it does to your food! Take this as a tangible model for what happens in your life when something is created from anger.
  13. Renunciation: This is an incredibly foreign concept in the age of immediate-gratification and entitlement. Consider this “deferred gratification.” Is there something we might forfeit today for a better outcome later?
  14. Peacefulness: As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.” Seek out tranquility, and eradicate the thoughts that disturb it. Life and the events around you will inevitably be upsetting. How you respond: that is your sole domain of control.
  15. Nonslanderousness: Translated to the absence of fault-finding and calumny “Absence of fault-finding hastens one’s spiritual evolution by freeing the mind from concentration on the weaknesses of others to focus wholly on the full-time job of bettering oneself. A person who, like a detective, is busy observing the shortcomings of others gets a false conviction of superiority— either that he himself is free from those blemishes or is otherwise qualified to appraise others. A critical person rarely perfects his own life.” (Yogananda)
  16. Compassion for all creatures: Seems pretty clear. Sometimes people get hung up on what “compassion” means. Consider it sympathy for the suffering of others, and the desire to remove that suffering, a ability to do so, and the courage to take the action needed to make it so.
  17. Absence of greed: When you master your senses, and understand yourself and the origin of greed and envy, they wither away…
  18. Gentleness: Seems pretty straight-forward. Do you think gentle thoughts? Do you speak gently? Touch gently?
  19. Modesty: Consider for a moment all the truly GOOD people you know. They are (or were) probably quiet, humble, moderate. And in fact, these things were in part to source of their power, not a result of it.
  20. Lack of restlessness: “Absence of restlessness enables one to avoid physical and mental roamings and useless activities. Nervousness and restlessness are usually caused by constant indulgence in sense pleasures or by habitual negative thoughts or by emotional problems or by “driving” traits like worldly ambition.” (Yogananda)
  21. Radiance of character:Divine radiance in the devotee is further characterized by a natural unfoldment of spiritual magnetism, an unassumed vibratory aura of goodness, and a quiet outer expression of deep inner joy.” (Yoganada)
  22. Forgiveness: “If you become vengeful or angry, you only make more enemies, for an angry person is the target of all.” (Yogananda)
  23. Patience: Seems simple enough. But I think there are two kinds of patience. One, is defined as fortitude. It’s the ability to withstand to forces of your life and not allow them to deter you from your goal of…being a better person. Then, there is the kind of patience you exhibit with other people. Children. Strangers. Family. People whom, under certain circumstances you’d really rather act like a jerk to. Patience means that in your speech and actions with others, you restrain yourself and help them either behave differently, or, when you just want to be a jerk just because, you resort to gentleness, humility, and compassion instead.
  24. Cleanliness: Cleanliness of the body and purity of the mind helps create a clear space for all of these other attributes.
  25. Freedom from hate: Hatred clouds your ability to see yourself in all beings, and all beings as an extension of the Creator.
  26. Absence of conceit: Lack of conceit signifies absence of excessive pride. (Yogananda)

This is quite a list to work with, yogis. Now, let’s consider how many of these are applicable, say in interactions with people whose political views anger you in person or on the internet.

You might get upset and say, “fuck your list of behaviors! That person is repulsive! They don’t deserve to be treated well!”

I’m sure that horrible person thinks the same of you.

Always take the high road. Behave with grace, and elegance, and be a beacon. BEHAVE like the change you wish to see in the world.

I’m thinking to take this year to really delve deeply into this list of qualities, and consider them more whole heartedly, with an article dedicated to each. It’s that important, at this very moment in time. Stand by.

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Yoga Teachers: KNOW YOUR WORTH

Yoga Teachers: KNOW YOUR WORTH

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NYC requires armor of a sort: hat, headphones, backpack filled with survival gear (change of clothes, snack, book, water bottle)

Hello, fellow yoga teacher! I teach in New York City. Where do you teach?

Here in New York City, I’ve been witnessing a trend that’s been happening over the past few years. The trend has these main features:

  1. Class times have gotten shorter.
  2. Yoga is increasingly marketed as “fitness.”

Is this happening in your region too? Perhaps even these two elements walk hand-in-hand with a well-branded yoga studio that promotes the weight-loss benefits of hot power yoga. That yoga studio probably also has showers. Yay! It’s nice to shower after showering in your own sweat.

Sadly, though, these market trends have forced yoga instructors to compete with cycling, and barre, and Zumba, and whatever fun new activity that’s springing up. Because, well, if yoga is fitness, then it’s gotta stand up in the fitness market-place. And, if that’s the confine you’re working with, then your worth boils down to how good a workout can you give, and relentless physical instruction.

Let’s go back in time a bit, and take a look at your own personal history. Why did you start practicing yoga? Why did you decide to take a teacher training? Why do you continue to teach? I’m going to wager a bet that none of this has to do with a burning desire to deliver a great workout. Am I right?

So here’s the deal. Really, this is my plea to you, because I believe, that as a collective force, we yoga teachers have the potential to really do a lot of good in the world.

  • Your worth is not how well you can instruct a triangle. (Although you gotta do that well, too.)
  • Your worth is not how many calories a person can burn in hot power class. (Sweating more does not mean that you burn more calories.)
  • Your worth is not in your capacity to fit some mold of “what you think a yoga teacher should look like.” (Cute and young doesn’t last forever. At some point, everyone will realize this.)
  • Your worth does not even rest in the beauty or awe-inspiring nature of your physical practice. (Handstands are cool, yes. But 98% of the population is not that interested in yours, nor in doing one themselves.)

You are worth So. Much. More.

So, what is your worth? Your ability to influence.

That’s it. If you can figure out how to influence people to do what’s best for them, do what feels good to their heart, soul, spirit—that, my love, is a skill whose value far eclipses all those other cool things I mentioned.

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You gotta be willing to take a stand for something. Start with taking a stand for yourself, and what you believe in.

Your super power: you help people find out who they really are, and therefore live the kind of life that they really want to live.

That’s it.

Well, sort of. It’s more easily said than done. And that’s why I spend YEARS talking to my yoga business clients about this one super-important question that will guide you learning to understand your value, as it intersects with the needs and desires of other people in the world. Ready? Here’s the #1 question you have to answer.

What is the most important lesson that you want all of your students to learn from you?

If you can figure this out, you will be farther along than 99% of the yoga teachers out there in understanding what is your worth. Because when you know, without a shadow of a doubt, what you want your people to learn the people who would like to learn that from you will show up. And when those people show up, then you can really stand in your power and teach to your highest ability. No more trying to fit into that yoga fitness model. No, no. If anything, that short changes what we all have to offer the world. You have so much more to teach our people than how to get in shape (which is a good thing too). But you, my love, are destined for more…That’s why you wanted to teach yoga!

Anyway. If you want to work with me on all of the nuts and bolts of this deep question, and how to build a congruent business around that center ideal, then reach out to me. I have business programs that I would like to tell you about. And people doing amazing work in those programs, who I hope are going on to effen CHANGE THE WORLD. Bwa-ha-ha!

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Also: yoga teaches you to know yourself. So, what I’m asking is at heart of the yoga practice. I like to think I’m an earth angel. Thus: the wings. What are you?

Regardless, I wish you to find your value, and stand in it, and share it with the world, and feel relevant, empowered, and appreciated, for all the good that you bring to the world. Amen.