So You Just Got Your Yoga Teaching Certificate…NOW What Do You Do?

When you boiled it all down, the question my friend wanted an answer to was this:

“What do I do now?”

Deepa and I began Avalon Art and Yoga Center’s teacher training course in September 2011.  Six months and almost $3,000 dollars later we had a beautiful piece of paper to show the world that we were yoga teachers.

Hold up.  Actually, what we had was a piece of paper that said we’d completed the program.  The Avalon Teacher Training program is an intense and comprehensive six months of study.  It was worth my time and my money.  But when it was over, did the world have twenty-eight more yoga teachers?  I’m not sure.

It’s one thing to learn the techniques of teaching and another to know how to touch a student with words that describe the impact of a yoga practice or to provide support that make her feel safe.  Knowing how to instill confidence, knowing how to adjust a posture, knowing how to set the tone in the studio – it takes time and experience to develop those skills.  It takes an instinct that I’m not certain can be taught.  It’s a bit like learning that red and blue make purple.  Knowing how the color wheel works does not make you an artist.  And completing a teacher-training program does not make you a teacher.

The reality is I taught for many years before becoming a certified teacher. Instead of certification, I studied informally.  I read books and attended classes.  I asked questions.  I practiced.  I was a student for ten years before I began teaching.  I’m not suggesting the path to teaching I chose is better or even desirable.  There were holes in my “home study” yoga education I had a craving to fill.   What I’m trying to point out is that there are different paths, and maybe this push to collect certificates and to study with the flashiest Pop Star Yoga Idol (and after this past year we certainly know how quickly and how far yoga idols can fall) is blinding us to the truth that being a compassionate, effective and capable teacher takes more than a file cabinet of certificates.

So how important is that piece of paper?  I’m happy that after eighteen years I have certificates not only from Avalon but also from Paul Grilley’s Yin Teacher Training.  I could have continued to be a fine teacher without them, but they represent opportunity. They open doors.  If you choose – and for what it’s worth – your new certificate allows you to register with Yoga Alliance (which I’ve done).

But I’m through with formal training for the time being.  I’m happy to return to reading, talking with fellow teachers, attending classes in my neighborhood.  I’m happy to focus on my students and my teaching.

So how did I answer Deepa as she tried to decide what to do next?

I told her to take a step back.  I told her to find her teaching voice.

Your yoga voice – how you speak to students, the vocabulary you use to describe asana or pranyama or mudras or bandhas – it can’t be taught.  You have to find it and the only way to find it is to teach.

When you find your authentic voice as a teacher, that’s when you’ll begin to teach your truth.  And when you are teaching your truth you’ll know that the path you chose – the path that brought you here – it was the right one.

ps….Some people, by the way, are born to teach.  They’re naturals.  Deepa is one of them.  From mid-July she’ll be teaching at Downtown Yoga Shala in San Jose, California mornings and Friday evenings.  

As for me, I continue to teach my truth at California Yoga Center, Avenidas in Palo Alto and Prajna Yoga and Healing Arts in Belmont, California.  I also teach for Feinberg Medical Group and privately.


And Now, a Quick Word from Our Sponsor: January Classes

I thought it was time for me to remind everyone where I teach, how to register and what to expect.  Currently I teach in two studios:  California Yoga Center and Avenidas Senior Center.  I work privately with individuals or small groups in the home and am also available to teach introductory classes and workshops at your school or office.

California Yoga Center

One of the first yoga studios on the Peninsula – and where so many of us were first introduced to yoga – CYC has locations in Palo Alto and Mountain View.   My classes are at 541 Cowper Street in Palo Alto between University Avenue and Hamilton.  I teach three classes at CYC.  They are on going.  Two are Iyengar-influenced “slow flow” style classes and the third is a Yin class taught in the Paul Grilley tradition.  If you’re still looking for a last minute gift you can purchase Gift Certificates for individual or a series of classes.  More information about purchasing gift certificates can be found on the CYC website.

Here’s what to expect from a class with Mimm:

Yin Yoga – Mondays 7:30 to 9:00 PM

Yin is a donation-based class.  Please pay what you can afford up to $17 (the regular drop-in fee).

The long-held stretches characteristic of Yin Yoga help to recover and maintain a full range of movement and flexibility in the joints and connective tissue.  The work is challenging but profoundly relaxing. While Yin should not be confused with Restorative style yoga on more than one occasion students have told me, “I have the best night’s sleep on Yin nights!”

I keep the studio very dark.  Soft futons and bolsters, blankets and pillows are used for support.  Sometimes I’ll use music to help set a tone.

Verbal instruction is kept to a minimum.  Nevertheless, enough suggestions and options are offered to create an environment that feels comfortable and safe.

All the work takes place on the floor and poses are held between 2 and 6 minutes.  For more information regarding Yin Yoga look here.

Iyengar-influenced Hatha and Slow Flow – Tuesdays or Fridays from 9:00 to 10:00 AM

The drop-in fee for these classes is $15.  A 4-week series is available for $52.  An 8-week series is available for $104.  Classes do not have to be taken consecutively and there is no expiration date (this applies to my classes only.  Other CYC instructors may have different policies).

In the beginning, there was Iyengar.  At least for me.  I loved the attention to alignment, the emphasis on safety and the slow, careful pace as we moved from one pose to another.  But things change.

I still love my Iyengar roots, but I also love moving with my breath from one shape to another.  We move at a pace that allows time to settle into the pose and to explore how it feels in the body.  I provide options for anyone not ready to take on the more challenging standing poses.

Both of these classes are Level I/II – suitable for beginning and intermediate students.

California Yoga Center has everything you need for a safe practice:  bolsters, straps, pillows, and blocks.  It’s recommended that you bring your own “sticky” mat.

Avenidas Center

It’s a misnomer to call Avenidas a “senior” center.  Yes, you have to be over the age of fifty to enroll in classes – but what’s a number?  Pre-registration is required, but you can enroll online or drop by the front desk at 450 Bryant Street (cross street University Avenue).  Classes are held in 10-week blocks.  Our winter session begins the week of January 9th, 2012.  There is no drop-in but anyone is welcome to visit and try out my yoga classes before enrolling.  The price for a ten-week session is $60 for Avenidas members and $70 for non-members.  Where are you going to find a one-hour class for $6.00 anywhere on the Peninsula?

I have three classes at Avenidas:

  • Mondays from 1:00-2:00
  • Fridays from 10:30 to 11:30
  • Fridays from 11:45 to 12:45

Because of student demographics these classes tend to lean toward the introductory level but everyone is encouraged to deepen into the work as their bodies allow.  Some students have had years of yoga experience and will have a more full expression of the pose we’re working in.  Others who are new to yoga are given modifications that help awaken the body.

All three classes begin with floor warm-ups, followed by a carefully planned standing sequence and then finishing with seated work and relaxation.  Because of the nature of my classes at Avenidas, it’s suggested that students be able to safely lower and then rise from the floor.  That being said, chairs are available to assist.

Unfortunately, equipment is limited at Avenidas. We have soft exercise mats but I recommend you bring a sticky mat and two bath towels that can be folded into mini-bolsters.  A strap is also handy – this can be a yoga strap or, if you’re on a budget, a man’s tie or belt.  Yoga blocks are helpful, too.

Individual Study

If you are recovering from illness or injury then I recommend two or three sessions of individual study.  Together we can see where you’re at in terms of strength and flexibility.  We can build a program that will support recovery instead of setting it back.

Some clients, of course, simply enjoy how individualized attention deepens their practice. You’ll discover the body responds to the work easily when hands on adjustments and personalized modifications are part of the program.


Start Where You Are: More Adventures in Meditation

Since beginning the teacher training program at Avalon Yoga Studio in Palo Alto last September I’ve heard this phrase repeated again and again:  start where you are.

Start where you are is simple level-headed advice that we should remember when we’re beginning anything new, whether it’s the yoga we’ve always wanted to try, the novel we’ve wanted to write or the song we’ve wanted to learn on our guitar.

Don’t argue, don’t procrastinate and don’t wait for conditions to be perfect.  Start where you are.

The advice is particularly useful when contemplating a meditation practice.  Do you want to meditateStart where you are.

Read this blog back far enough and you’ll find a post about my two weeks of Yin Training in the Santa Cruz Mountains with Paul and Suzee Grilley the summer of 2009.  We began each morning with thirty minutes of meditation.  I was determined to continue the practice once I returned home.

It didn’t happen.

I used every excuse imaginable from being too tired to crawl out of bed to convincing myself I’d practice later in the day but of course I never did.

Why?  Because I felt fraudulent.  No one gave me a list of instructions (and we know how I like my lists).  I didn’t understand the steps. I couldn’t possibly be meditating correctly. And so I didn’t meditate at all.

The truth is, there are no list of instructions, no easy steps.  And there’s very little you can do short of strapping on headphones and cranking Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit to eleven that would ruin the experience.

Because we start where we are.  We find five minutes and we sit still.  And then we find ten minutes to sit still and to listen to the breath.  Soon we’re sitting for twenty minutes and the breath may become a mantra.  Or not.

There are plenty of books that offer techniques.  I’m reading one now, Eknath Easwaran’s Passage Meditation. The book is a basic primer the offers suggestions and teaches the reader why meditation is life enhancing.

And there are groups you can join.  A friend of mine and I recently dropped in on a local Daoist Meditation Group.  And you know what?  The Daoist technique was deeply different to my personal practice.  Does that mean I’m wrong?  Of course not.  And neither are they.

We start where we are.  We find our way.  We choose our path. And there is no wrong.  We start where we are.


The Hip Bone’s Connected to the…

Anterior Hip Muscles

Image via Wikipedia

Do yoga teachers need to study anatomy?

I recently heard a well-loved and respected teacher with decades of experience give this answer before a group of trainees: “in my opinion, no.”  He believes we learn everything we need to know about the body through a strong asana practice.

Is he right?  Maybe.

A finely tuned practice, after all, strengthens our understanding of how we move, how we function, our strengths and restrictions.  Why do we need to know the muscles used for breathing?  Why do we need to know how the bones join together at the knee?

Because when a new student enters our studio and tells us they’re a few months past a lumbar laminectomy, or that last year they had meniscus surgery, or they’ve recently been diagnosed with osteoporosis – we should know what that means and what the implications are for their yoga practice.

And so, in my opinion:  yes, yoga teachers should study anatomy.

The teacher continued with his points:

“You don’t want to take up class time explaining the muscles…”

He’s right.  I don’t use class time for anatomy lessons.  But when a student asks why they feel Ustrasana (camel pose) near their hip crease I can move beyond “it’s because you’re tight there” and explain the hip flexors and their function.  I can explain how they become shortened and other ways to lengthen them.

And when a student’s knees are no closer to the ground in Baddha Konasana (seated cobbler’s pose) than they were when they began their practice five years earlier I can explain how each skeleton is different.  I can reassure her that it has little to do with flexibility and more to do with how the femur sits in the acetabulum. Knowing I can do this – knowing I can guide my student toward an improved understanding of their body – increases my confidence as an instructor.

Furthermore, when a student needs help modifying a pose or if they’re unable to assume “correct” alignment my understanding of anatomy informs the choices I make to help the student – whether it’s a different verbal cue, using a different prop for support or suggesting a different asana.

Do I know the name of every muscle and bone?  Of course not.  But by studying anatomy I’ve been given an amazing gift – a sort of “x-ray vision.”

Every body is unique. Knowledge of anatomy helps us see these differences. And since we can’t step into our students’ bodies to experience an asana as they do, having a good understanding of the body – knowing that the rectus femoris is a two joint muscle and might explain why the front of the hip hurts when the knee is drawn back in Natarajasana (dancer’s pose) – well, if I can’t experience what my student’s feel first hand, then knowledge of anatomy is the next best thing.


Autumn Teaching Schedule

I love this time of year.  Summer is winding down and the last few weeks of August are rolling by slow and lazy.  Kids are anticipating the start of the new school year and so am I.

I’ve had a wonderful summer full of hikes, a trip to Point Reyes and a weekend with friends outside of Reno.  I’m ending my summer with four days at Asilomar for the Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research (SYTAR).  I’ve never been to Asilomar nor have I attended a SYTAR conference and I’m excited to be doing both.

The following weekend teacher training begins at Avalon Yoga Studio.  Although I’ve been teaching for almost twenty years I’ve decided to complete this six-month teacher training to add to my knowledge of yoga and to fill any gaps in my education.  I’m looking forward to the new vocabulary one gains with learning.

Of course a girl has to pay the rent and so while all this is going on I’ll still be teaching my usual schedule.  I hope you’ll join me.

California Yoga Center:

With the exception of the Monday night Yin class, which is a fantastic practice for anyone, my classes at California Yoga Center are considered Level I/II – most suitable for beginners and continuing beginners:

  • Monday evenings from 7:30 to 8:45 – Yin Yoga
  • Tuesday mornings from 9:00 to 10:00 – Iyengar Influenced Slow Flow
  • Friday mornings from 9:00 to 10:00 – Iyengar Influenced Slow Flow

You can find more information about these classes on my website or here.

Avenidas Senior Center:

As long as you are over the age of fifty you may register for classes at Avenidas.  The space is basic and we don’t have the same amenities as a yoga studio but you can’t beat the price.  You can find out more about Avenidas here.

  • Monday afternoons from 1:00 to 2:00 – Beginning Yoga
  • Tuesday afternoons from 5:00 to 6:00 – Improved Beginner
  • Friday mornings from 10:30 to 11:30 – Beginning Yoga
  • Friday mornings from 11:45 to 12:45 – Improved Beginner

I am also happy to work with you on a one to one basis from the comfort of your home.  This is a good choice if you’re recovering from illness or injury, new to yoga or simply can’t find the time to travel to and from the yoga studio.  Working one to one gives us the opportunity to design a program specific to your needs and goals.


Samsara

I was the first one home.  I had to be – it was only a ninety-minute drive.  And so while I was unpacking, Anke and Emrik were leaving for Europe.  While I did laundry, Steph was waiting for the floatplane that would bring her home and Jaymie and her husband were enjoying one last day in Santa Cruz.  As I washed my car, Kristen and Mel were driving up the coast. Michael headed to Sonoma.   As I cruised the aisles of my local Safeway, Janet was cruising at 35,000 feet somewhere over the Pacific. We were all someplace else.  We were all returning to family and friends.

There were hugs and tears, of course.  That’s what sent me away in the first place – I didn’t want everyone to see me cry, although they already had.

By the time Dave reunited with his wife I was enjoying a late lunch that did not involve lentils, quinoa or green salad (although I wish it had).  I was in my beloved green leather chair, with the remote control in my hand.

Only hours later and the old comforts were nipping at my heels.

Habits shut us down and prevent us from living the life we are meant to live.  They are like choke holds.  We struggle to wrestle free from them.

Establishing a new rhythm to my life – abandoning the patterns that hold me down – will require persistence and strong belief in my ability to make it so.

Talking to friends about the last two weeks at Land of Medicine Buddha will be a difficult thing.  I can talk about the great food, the lovely people I met, the schedule we kept – but I won’t be able to talk about how it felt.  But that’s all right.  It’s my hope I won’t have to explain anything.  My actions will speak for themselves.


Can You Go Home Again?

When I began to consider self-care – what it meant and how I could care for myself more without caring for others less – I really believed it was just a matter of reduced screen time, more quiet time and a few walks around the block.  I believed it was that easy.

As it happens, self-care manifests differently depending on who you are and where you are in your life.  Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we deserve to be cared for just as much as anyone else.  That’s a big one for me, believing I deserve it.  Believing I’m worthy of care.

Thomas Wolff wrote: “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time — back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

And yet, if I want to connect the dots of my rambling life, if I want to heal and move forward, then I must take a huge step back and look at the past I abandoned so many years ago. I’ve booked my ticket, hotel and rental car and in September I’m going home for the first time in twenty-eight years.

This won’t be easy but I’m going to embrace every good, bad, ugly and thrilling moment.

Fortunately, before I go East I’m headed to the Land of Medicine Buddha on the Pacific coast in Soquel, California.  I’ll be attending Paul Grilley’s Yin Yoga Workshop.  Fourteen days of meditation, yoga, instruction and vegetarian food with no internet access.

I’ve wanted to attend Grilley’s teacher training since 2008 but each year I managed to talk myself out of it.  I’m glad that I’ve finally overcome (or at least set aside) the fear and insecurity I had about attending.

I suppose you’re wondering about the fear and insecurity. Let’s not go there.  I’ll just say my fears walk a fine line between the rational and irrational.

On a final, practical note:  if you attend my classes either at California Yoga Center in Palo Alto or at Avenidas, you can find details on who is subbing for me while I’m gone and important dates regarding the summer and fall quarters by clicking on the Classes page.