Arrival

img_3112Our plane touches down on schedule at Bangalore’s airport at 1:30 AM Wednesday morning. We deplane quickly and I am one of the first in line at passport control.

“What hotel are you staying in?”

“What?”

“What hotel are you staying in? How long are you here? When are you leaving? Have you purchased your ticket to leave?”

“What?”

Two hours later I am still sitting in immigration, left alone and convinced I’ll be put on the next plane back to Frankfurt. When an older gentleman finally decides he can see me, I tell the story once again.

“I don’t know the name of the hotel. We’re in Bangalore until Friday. I can show you the entire itinerary, I just can’t show you the name of the hotel.”

It’s unlike me to be so unprepared. To not know the answer to an obvious question. How could I have let this happen? And why didn’t I lie? Surely it would be so simple to say that we’re staying at the Marriott. But what if we’re not? What would the consequences be?I begin to plead.

“He’s downstairs waiting for me. Can’t someone just go downstairs and ask him the name of the hotel?”

The reply is gruff. “I can assure you he’s not downstairs.”

As it happens, Ben is indeed downstairs enjoying cups of tea with his driver. I don’t know this but he has already spoken to Lufthansa, who have assured him that I am upstairs. He is told about my problem at immigration and provides the name and address of the hotel. The message is never delivered.

By 3:30 AM I almost see the humor in the situation.

I’m kept company by two young immigration officers. We try and fail to force my phone to connect to Ben’s. I remind them again that Ben is on the ground floor and if they only called for him on the courtesy phone or the loudspeaker or held up a sign with his name on it he would arrive and I would be released from captivity.

“Are you certain he’s here?”

“Of course I am. He’s here.”

One of my two companions takes the iPhone I’ve been clutching and tries to reach Ben through WhatsApp. It doesn’t work. For some reason Find Friends does and we are finally able to confirm that Ben is where he promised to be. A few moments later – and by that point my brain is so tired it’s impossible for me to know how it happened – a text comes through from Ben with the name of the hotel. My immigration companion writes the information down on the form and sends me on my way.

My processing, however, is still not complete. I need to return to the starting point. There are fingerprints to process, bioinformation to gather and a passport to stamp.

“So you are a yoga teacher?”

The details are easily available on my visa application.

“Yes.”

“Tell me, how can I lose weight?”

Is this a trick question? I’ve been traveling for twenty-six hours and have been held captive for the past two. Do I have the cerebral energy to formulate enough words to deliver the answer she wants to hear?

“I don’t really think yoga is about losing weight.”

I find the strength to mumble something about Patanjali and pranayama, about right living. They nod.

“But can you give me some tips? How can I lose weight?”

I give up.

“Practice.”

Downstairs my suitcase is delivered and I’m escorted through arrivals. Ben and his driver greet me with a garland of exquisite flowers and a bouquet. The heady scent is overwhelming and beautiful. It surrounds me as surely as the soft chatter of loving reunions and the relentless barking of car horns.

Welcome to Bangalore, India.

An hour later, at 6:00 AM, we arrive at our hotel.

It’s the Marriott.


Isn’t All Yoga Therapeutic, Part II

Ok.

So Maybe Yoga Therapy Isn’t Everything

For example, it’s not yoga. And when Gary Kraftstow took us on a journey from the roots to the fruits of yoga therapy during his keynote address on Thursday evening he described a yoga therapist as someone who has “a specialised knowledge base and skill set differentiating them from a yoga teacher.” Our yoga therapy training must teach us the skills that allow us to understand a client’s limitations. It should support our ability to build a practice with the client and for the client that takes into account their needs and their goals. A yoga therapist will, according to Kraftstow, “inspire their client to practice, thus empowering them to become an active participant in their own health-care.” The work we do with clients and the partnership we develop with them should support their ability to connect to “a deeper meaning and purpose in life.”

This is a huge responsibility. Yoga therapy is not simply “physical therapy plus yoga”

(an aside Kraftstow made that garnered a healthy round of applause). As yoga therapists, we should feel inspired to continue our education and to remain humble – to resist the urge to, as Kraftstow quietly demanded, “assume we know what we don’t know.”

The Case for Clear Knowing

We’re wise to follow Kraftstow’s advice. As yoga therapists we should continue our education, break our reliance on unverified beliefs and our habit of treating clients with similar issues with the same protocol. Yoga therapy is, after all, more than a series of asana.

But Carrie Demers, board-certified in internal medicine and who now blends modern medicine with holistic and traditional therapies, reminded us in her plenary session on Friday morning to listen deeply and to “know what we know.” She spoke to the devaluing of human intuition and asked us to “open up to the intuitive mind.” She asked us to “Listen deeply, with your eyes, ears and heart.” To do this, she said, is to hold space and to reflect the story back to the client. This gives room for our clients to reframe the story and to begin a new chapter.

Practice What We Preach

In their talks both Kraftstow and Demers told us that we can not offer to clients that which we do not practice. Without a strong practice of our own the work we do with clients lacks authenticity. In particular, the changes to our brain’s architecture that meditation promises connects us to the roots of yoga therapy that Kraftstow spoke of and, says Demers, it “keeps us compassionate and opens the door to our intuitive mind.”

What Have I Learned?

I still have one more day of talks and classes at SYTAR 18. My mind and heart are full and I wonder how much room is left in my brain for new knowledge…although I suppose there is always room in our hearts and minds and brains for more.

These three days have shown me that I am not alone on this journey. Yoga Therapy encompasses so much and can be given in so many ways: VA Hospitals, pain clinics, private clients, wellness centres, Dean Ornish programs, cardiac care units…even the Department of Defense (yes, I met someone who has a DOD contract to offer Yoga Therapy).

This can only mean that the roots Gary Kraftstow spoke of are very deep and numbered. The promised fruits are varied and beautiful. We nourish them through our personal practice, our continued education and our open hearts.

 


Isn’t All Yoga Therapeutic?

down dog 2I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked that question. My answer is ‘yes’ – all yoga is, of course, therapeutic. And so, one might wonder, what is yoga therapy and how is it different from our day-to-day practice?

The answer is complex. It’s on my mind, however, because I’m spending a few days in Reston, Virginia at the Symposium for Yoga Therapy and Research (SYTAR). This annual gathering of yoga therapists from around the world is an opportunity to meet Facebook friends in the flesh (I’ll be looking for the roomie I had during the last SYTAR I attended at Asilomar). More than that, of course, SYTAR is our chance to gather as a community and to be inspired, encouraged and educated.

It wasn’t too long ago when it seems like all it took to be a yoga therapist was a business card. Over the course of many years and most likely more than a little heated debate, however, in 2015 the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) announced a rigorous certification process. I know the process is rigorous because I survived and since 2016 have had the honor of having the C-IAYT credential behind my name.

But that still doesn’t answer our question. Just what is yoga therapy?

It depends on who you ask.

I know yoga therapists who are also licensed MFTs who use yoga therapy to support the work they do with patients in session.

I know yoga therapists who excel at sports. They’ve created a clinical protocol and work with individuals with sport-related injuries.

There are yoga therapists who focus on individuals with cancer and yoga therapists who focus on depression.

The application of yoga therapy can take place in a group or one to one. It can be practiced in a studio, a medical setting or in a client’s home. Yoga therapy will almost always be informed by the therapist’s own yoga journey – whether our practice is Iyengar, Viniyoga, Yin or Restorative.

Is attempting to define yoga therapy a fool’s errand?

Yoga therapists certified through IAYT must have received their yoga therapy training from an IAYT-certified school, of which there are few (although numbers are increasing). The education provided by these schools must follow strict curriculum guidelines set forth by the IAYT – these guidelines are available on the IAYT website.

Our education teaches us to use our strengths.

And that’s why, if you asked ten yoga therapists to define yoga therapy you’d get ten different answers. As yoga therapists and as students of yoga we work from our strengths. We trust the knowledge we’ve gained through our education and our experience to develop the correct protocol whether we work with individuals or with groups, whether we are clinicians or work transpersonally. We trust our instincts to know our boundaries, our limits and our skill set. We trust ourselves enough to know when to advise a client to see a doctor, or accept counselling, or to seek a different yoga therapist who might be better able to provide care.

What is yoga therapy?

It’s everything.


When Did Yoga Arrive in America? It’s Complicated.

The thing about truth is that it’s not solid. It’s not one thing. It’s filled with light and shadow and nuance and biography. What is a wonderful truth for you may be devastating to the person sitting next to you on the bus. I suppose, too, that we can choose how we feel about a truth. For example:

Donald Trump is president. How do you feel about that truth?

Of course, some truths are absolute. They have no nuance, no foggy shadow blurring the edges. They are clear truths that stand on their own and have not been muddied by the filter of life’s experiences. For example:

Two plus two is equal to four. I’ve only met one person in my life who will debate this arithmetical truth, a fellow student during my graduate studies and a psychotic provocateur whose one mission in life was to irritate the sane, rational minds of our cohort (this is an opinion, not the truth).

I’m pondering the question “what is true?” because there is a great and varied debate about the origins of yoga in the West. Among my friends and fellow teachers, there are some who begin America’s yoga journey with the arrival of BKS Iyengar. And as much as my practice and teaching is informed by Iyengar yoga, I respectfully disagree. 

When I consider the story of yoga in the West I fall into the camp that looks toward the Transcendentalists, for whom I’ve always had a soft spot. In particular, Ralph Waldo Emerson and his buddy Henry David Thoreau, who has been called ‘The First American Yogi’.

But is that true? Did Thoreau know anything about downward dog or sun salutations? Did he begin his day with a brisk Ashtanga Series I or a simple slow flow? No. But Emerson and Thoreau were entranced by ‘Hindooism’ and we’ve been taught that when Thoreau decamped to his pond in 1845 he spent much of his time in deep contemplation; perhaps meditation. He was mindful of his actions, aware of the world around him and in communion with nature. Henry David Thoreau was a student of yoga.

UnknownIt was Vivekananda’s arrival at the World Parliament of Religion, however, that sowed the seeds of yoga across a wider receptive audience. His delivery of twelve off-the-cuff speeches stole the show and made him a sought-after teacher of the yama and niyamas, pranayama and Kundalini. Vivekananda’s yoga was Raja (Royal) Yoga. Raja Yoga is the practice of attaining unity with the mind, body and spirit. In other words, attaining a state of yoga. It differs from Hatha Yoga in that while Hatha intends to still the mind through the body and breath, Raja brings the practitioner to a state of yoga through the control of the mind. Hatha prepares the student of yoga to practice Raja. The practice of asana is not the key element in Raja Yoga as it seems to be in Western Hatha Yoga, and Vivekananda ignored asana. That doesn’t mean the practice of asana isn’t important, but the practice is intended to build strength and flexibility in order to tolerate long hours of sitting in meditation.

I know that I’ve skimmed the surface. Perhaps I’ll continue to explore how we all landed here and that will inspire more writing. Still, what I’ve written here is, for me, the truth of how Yoga came to America. The documented truth of Vivekananda’s impact is enthralling.

Yoga was here, in America, long before Jois or Iyengar or Bikram. But the story of asana, and how it came to America and morphed into a six-billion dollar industry…well…that’s a different story and a different truth. 

“Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this divinity within, by controlling nature. External and internal. Do this either by work or worship or psychic control, or philosophy, by one or more or all of these – and be free. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.”


Judgement and Discernment

IMG_3147I’m a judgmental woman. It’s not charming and not something of which I’m particularly proud. Nevertheless, I own my judgmental nature in the same way that I own my adorableness, my ability to empathize and to be kind, my sense of humor, my lack of math skills, my ability to organize and my fear of driving. I judge. Sometimes harshly, almost always unfairly.

Understanding who we are and owning the qualities that make us who we are – qualities that shift and change shape from moment to moment – opens the door to deep self-inquiry. I am, at times, a judgmental person. If I deny this character flaw then I am unable to observe my actions and correct them when necessary.

Self-inquiry is part of our yoga journey. We can study the self through meditation and journaling or when we step on the mat to take our asana practice. Self-inquiry is also, for me, a daily examination of how I live my life. Did I tell an untruth today? Did I cheat someone or steal from someone? Did I honor my friends and students with kindness and generosity? Or did I snap and growl, caught up in my own story. The truth is I am human. And being a human means that there are moments when the truth eludes me, moments when my integrity sags and moments, too, when my grace and integrity shine as bright as the sun.

Where does judgement come from?

My harsh judgements are reactionary, fleeting, biased and not based on evidence. They momentarily allow me to feel “better than.” My judgements are like sentries protecting me from truths I don’t want to examine. But after the heat of judgement cools the truth still seeps in. When that happens I feel “less than.” My harsh judgements sit next to my fears, just a few pews away from insecurity’s quagmire. That’s where my judgement comes from.

As part of my personal practice, I acknowledge those moments when I judge harshly. I take a step back to consider why I’m being reactive. I look for the evidence and attempt to discern whether my judgement is based on an external reality or is answering an insecurity that I carry within.

Our practice as students of yoga is to understand how judgements can arise, the difference between judgement and discernment, and how right understanding can move us closer to the truth.


This is Not a Test

rocket-launch-693256_1920I love Ben. He’s been my friend and partner for four years this month. I have friends who have been married longer than I’ve been alive, and so I understand that four years is a very small stretch of time. Yet if feels long enough for life to have always been this way. Me and Ben.

Our views on the world as individuals are slightly different shades of the same color. Like many couples, they are similar but not identical. Where we differ is in our reactions to the mutability of life.

On January 13th the State of Hawaii informed its residents that ballistic missiles were twenty minutes away. Forty-five minutes later they learned it was a false alarm. Long after Hawaiians breathed a collective sigh of relief I remained glued to the news. I watched the same images of clear Hawaiian skies and people running for their lives in what they believed might be their last moments again and again as the videos played in a continuous loop on CNN.

I wasn’t reacting to the thought of missiles raining down on Maui. I was reacting to the thought of what it must have felt like to feel the vibration of an incoming text, to reach for the phone expecting a funny message from your family on the mainland, and instead seeing words almost impossible to process: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

Meanwhile Ben, one of the most compassionate and caring humans I know, shrugged his shoulders. His only reaction was to tell me that if we found ourselves at home and in the same situation there would be no reason to panic. He would take my hand and tell me he loved me. We would simply sit down, hold one another and wait for our lives to continue or for our lives to end. I don’t know if that’s entirely true. I believe he would want to reach out to his family. But after that, what else could we do?

After all, life turns on a dime.

Yoga, I’ve learned, is about self-regulation. Self-regulation means having the ability to manage of our actions and emotional states. Instead of rarefied peaks and dark valleys, we learn to bring the peaks and valleys in our lives closer together until they become gentle, rolling hills. I suppose it’s a little like transforming the Rocky Mountains into the Appalachians. Our lives do not become flat. We don’t become emotionless automatons. We do, however, build resilience. We cultivate the ability to choose wisely. We see our lives more clearly and are better able to move forward, grounded and confident. Stress and cortisol levels lower in tandem and our health improves.

We practice self-regulation in our yoga when we move through asana thoughtfully, at the intensity and depth that is appropriate for our bodies. We practice self-regulation in our yoga when we breathe with intent. We practice self-regulation in our yoga but off our mat when we respond to criticism – whether it’s directed at us from friends, family, strangers or the voice in our head – with composed equanimity.

In truth, as yogis, every moment is a practice preparing us for the next.


For the New Teacher: The Business of Yoga

IMG_0168Sometimes it’s hard to think of those two words together: business and yoga. But yoga is a business. It’s a very big business. In fact, it’s a $27 billion dollar industry. And as yoga teachers we have a choice. It begins with asking the questions, “What does success as a yoga teacher mean to me? Is it about money? Fame?” Maybe it is. Maybe that’s your dharma. There’s no shame in being a yoga rock star who travels the world leading workshops or lands the cover of Yoga Journal. But what if your dharma is leading one class a week for seniors at the local recreation center? Or teaching underserved populations? Or not teaching at all?

I think for most of us there’s a middle path. I think most of us envision teaching three, maybe four classes a week, taking on some private clients, teaching a few specialized workshops and finding a local studio that holds space for our work and encourages us to grow. A studio we can call our yoga home.

It won’t happen over night, but if that’s what you want there is some groundwork you can put in place that will support the journey:

Join Yoga Alliance. Your 200-hour certificate will allow you to register with YA with the designation “RYT.” As you begin to teach you’ll keep track of your hours and you’ll be able to upgrade your designation. In time you’ll also qualify as a Yoga Alliance Continuing Education Provider (YACEP). This is a good thing. It means that, eventually and with enough experience, you will be able to offer workshops through which students can accrue continuing education units. As members of YA we are required to continue our education. This can include contact hours like workshops or additional trainings or it can include non-contact hours like research and publishing. Joining Yoga Alliance won’t make you a better teacher. But it’s a great resource. There is a yearly membership fee involved but there are also member benefits. Explore the Yoga Alliance website to see if it’s a good fit for you.

Have adequate insurance. Some studios will have policies that will cover you but if you intend to rent space to teach or to see private clients in their homes you must have liability insurance. The Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance websites will have information about how to find low cost insurance.

Continue learning. Attend classes, take workshops, read the latest research. Practice what you teach.

Cultivate a professional reputation:  Show up for classes on time, start class on time and finish on time, be present for your students – be an active listener, do not speak disparagingly of fellow teachers or studios, take the Yamas and the Niyamas to heart.

And that’s pretty much it. Almost…you may want to consider having a professional headshot to use for marketing purposes, creating a basic website to list your classes or, if you’re up to it, creating a blog.  Social media accounts dedicated to your practice and teaching are a nice idea, too.

What about taxes? It’s not as tricky as you think.

If you are an employee at a studio it is like any other job.  You’ll receive tax forms at the end of the year and you will file as usual.
If you are an independent contractor you will need to fill out a Schedule C when you file your taxes.  So keep good records of everything you earn and everything you spend for your yoga business. You might receive 1099 Forms from places you work. You most likely won’t receive these from private clients.
If you are an independent contractor and therefore self-employed, remember that you will owe not only income tax but self-employment tax (Social Security & Medicare) therefore you should pay quarterly estimated taxes.