What Better Time is There to Practice?

What would happen if you gave yourself this gift of stillness? What would happen if you let the world take care of itself while you take care of yourself for these few, brief moments?

It’s out of character for me to ask questions during those last ten minutes of class, when we assume our final pose for the day, savasana, and prepare for guided relaxation. But at the end of a recent class, and even though my guided relaxation style leans more toward a body-scan sort of script, that’s what I did. I was hoping the questions might open everyone’s heart toward the idea of it being all right to rest without judgement of what’s happening in the body or with the breath.

Some might disagree but I’ve always believed that those final moments in our asana practice are the most important and the most difficult. We are asking ourselves to balance stillness with presence. We are letting go of the expectations we place upon ourselves. We are doing our best to not think about what we’re having for lunch.

But when we feel agitated and when we know we have a long list of projects waiting for us after that final namaste’, assuming savasana and resting in present-moment stillness is challenging. Yet what better time is there to practice? 

When we are in a brick and mortar studio the idea of a practice feels somehow more available. There are few distractions and the quiet, intentional atmosphere of the studio offers a focus not always available to us when we are rolling our mat out on the living room floor and sharing a virtual class with fifteen others. And while we count the dust bunnies under the bookcase from downward dog and find cobwebs between the paddles of the ceiling fan our mind wanders and our ability to hold our attention on the sensations in our body and the movement of our breath wavers. 

And so I ask again: what better time is there to remain present in and with our practice?

By the way, I understand this challenge because it’s my challenge, too.

There’s a level of loneliness to the online class that doesn’t exist when we’re together in a studio. That’s why I believe it is important to treat our virtual yoga space with the same reverence that we treat the studio yoga space. To remember that we are sharing our practice with others and that while we apart physically we are united energetically.

What would that take to make that shift? 

Is it Just Me or is it Getting Hot in Here?

Someone shared a recent critique of my asana classes: “We didn’t sweat enough.”

While some might disagree, for the most part it’s true. My classes are not the ones to attend if you’re looking to leave the studio dripping wet. If you need more sweat Samyama has plenty of strong vinyasa classes taught by instructors happy to crank the thermostat – not to Bikram levels, of course, but high enough to make me feel nostalgic for the flush-filled glow of peri-menopause. 

A certain amount of slowly rising internal heat is good for me. I love when my muscles and bones are warmed by a gentle sequence of standing poses. Yet my asana practice doesn’t ask for nor does it need the intensity delivered by a super heated studio and breathless flow. That doesn’t mean a heated studio is wrong for everyone. But it’s wrong for me and for most of the students who attend my classes.

As a student I was never overly concerned about the temperature of the yoga studio. I never gravitated toward a heated flow but I didn’t shy away either. After the alignment-focused lineage I’d been attached to at the hip for so many years gently loosened its grip I became more open to other methods of practice. I was more inclined to dropping-in to studio classes based on my work schedule rather than on my preference. I even dipped my sweaty toe into the afore-mentioned Bikram class three or four times.

My ego loved Bikram. My body not so much. My ego loved the hyper-mobility achieved during those repetitive ninety minutes of practice while glistening beads of sweat from the forty people crammed into the dank room co-mingled in the humid atmosphere and then rained onto our mats. Hours later my body, still depleted from the effort, with each move would beg to never have to go through the experience again. 

I know. There are some who will offer advice: drink more water before class or try a different teacher – a different heated class. The advice might even be the same advice I offer my students: listen to your body.

Around the same time that I began to follow my own advice I began to ask myself why I  practice asana in the first place. Is it for exercise? To sweat? Do I want to lose weight? Or do I want to look like the the models on the cover of Yoga Journal (when I first began to study yoga – long before the ‘body positive movement’  – the majority of Yoga Journal covers were still graced with young, white and very thin women)?

As I continue to ponder these questions, and as my body changes and begins to send different messages – messages I’ve learned to listen to – my motivation for continuing asana practice evolves. And I’ll be honest – my ego is like a little toddler tugging at my sleeve, challenging my discipline, disrupting my equilibrium and sometimes throwing a tantrum that fills me with self-doubt. But I’m ok with that. It’s part of the human experience.

These questions – which seem trivial compared to…well…pretty much everything else – remind me of how much I still have to learn. How yoga is so much more than our body. So much more than our studio asana practice.

Why do I practice asana? Why do you practice asana? Where does it fit into your yoga journey? Where does it fit into our collective yoga journey?

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.



Fear Trips Us Up

I like WordPress.  Have done since the leader of a seminar I was attending encouraged all of us to write a blog as one step toward building a platform.  At the time – this was about three years ago – I was only beginning to understand how our lives were being impacted by the growth of social networking.  I’m certain I didn’t understand how to set up a blog (although I had fumbled around a bit with Blogger) and I hadn’t grasped the long-term influence blogging might have on my writing future.

But now, thirty-six months later I’m quite comfortable spilling my inner demons for the world to read.  I’m happy to share the struggles of an aspiring writer.  Let me correct that.  I’m not aspiring to be a writer.  I am a writer.  I’m aspiring to be a “successful writer”.  What is that?  How do we judge success?  Is it the first paycheck?  If it is – well – I managed that last year.  Or maybe it’s finding an agent.  Am I not a success if an agent wants to spend time selling the words I lay down on paper?  Ah yes, but I know it won’t be enough.  The book will have to be sold to a publisher.  And even then I won’t be happy until I’m on Oprah.  Or listed in the New York Times.  Or win a Pulitzer.

I dream – as the cliché goes – big.  I can see how long the road is, and, since that first and only paycheck just about filled my CRV’s gas tank – I can see how far I have to go.

So – getting back to wonderful WordPress:  as part of their commitment to the “post a week” concept they’ve been providing suggestions for topics.  I’m generally able to come up with my own – case in point my lambasting of the Yoga Journal Conference in my last two posts.  But today’s suggested topic intrigued me:

What’s the most important thing you’re putting off?

And why haven’t you done it yet? What do you need to make it happen?

I’ve been putting off making the kind of commitment it takes to be the successful writer I know in my heart I have to potential to be.  I blame my insane schedule.  I blame my raging hormones.  I blame my age – I really should have begun all this fuss earlier in life.  I blame the day of the week and the fact the sun shines on my computer screen at an awkward angle.  But none of those excuses are credible.  This is what it boils down to:


Not fear of failure – I’m had plenty of failures.  I know how to brush myself off and climb back into the saddle.  I’m talking about fear of success.  What do I do then?  What happens if I actually succeed?

In the past, when I’ve thought about what success looks like, it has always involved being over-committed, flying back and forth to New York, rushing about.  Having to find my inner extrovert.  The pressure of always being good enough.  That’s the picture I painted in my head of success.

What if I paint a different picture?  What if the picture includes being able to afford a home of my own and a secure retirement?  What if the picture includes a schedule that allows me to teach the yoga that I love but also gives me solid days of secluded writing.  What if the picture includes – wait for it – a yearly vacation?

I feel better already.  Now I’m motivated.  But the question remains, how will I make it happen?

By taking the first step.

The Beautiful Business of Yoga and What I Did in My Spare Time

Ferry Building San Francisco after the 1906 Ea...

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I love the architecture of the Hyatt Regency on Embarcadero.  A cross between Logan’s Run and The Poseidon Adventure (after the rogue wave), it’s all sharp angles, shafts of light and heavy concrete.

The last time I was here greenery trailed from each floor like the Gardens of Babylon.  But this year, in an attempt to brighten a dark winter, a thick fringe of white lights hang from the ceiling ending about twenty feet above the atrium restaurant.  The effect is dizzying.  Seizure inducing if you’re of that ilk.

The good news.  I woke at 5:30 with a new game plan.  Galvanized.  Hopeful.  I jotted down a few ideas before they melted away, drifted back to sleep and woke again to see the red sunrise reflecting off the Bay Bridge.

After a shower I walked over to the Ferry Building, enjoyed a non-fat latte and strolled among the fruit and vegetable stalls.  Yes, I strolled (those of you who know me know that I do not, by nature, stroll).  I sampled fermented carrot (an acquired taste) and pickled okra (yummy even on an empty stomach) from the Cultured Pickle Shop and then made my way back to the atrium restaurant for breakfast.

I may have been a little harsh yesterday.  There are plenty of wonderful reasons to attend the conferences Yoga Journal hosts around the country, month after month, on and on, forever and ever Amen.  Ooops.  I think I meant to say “Om”.

Give me a moment to contemplate these reasons while I dig into a bowl of steel cut oats large enough to provide sustenance into next Tuesday.

Right.  Sorry.  Can’t do it.  Trying to defend these conferences is a little bit like me trying to defend chiropractics.  While I know having regular visits to a chiropractor resonates with plenty of people, it doesn’t with me (for the record, I’m a fan of acupuncture).  And I know there are attendees here who are being opened to new ideas, new ways of thinking, new poses.  New ways of being.  And, with all sincerity, that is wonderful.  But I’m not.  Because in the back of my head there’s a little voice whispering, “this isn’t what yoga is supposed to be.”

I think the epiphany arrived as I worked through a rack of organic bamboo/cotton blend/75% spandex yoga trousers woven by Blind Monks from Tibet.  Or maybe Alabama. The clothing was very beautiful and very, very expensive. The tag suggested that wearing the pants would change my life.  I’d find freedom.  Liberation.  Breathtaking beauty.  Wearing that particular brand of clothing pretty much guaranteed powers of levitation on the way to Nirvana.

I understand that we pay a price for what we love and that in the 21st century Yoga is Big Business.  But can we try to make it a better, more beautiful and honest business?  One of the reasons I support Jason and his Three Minute Eggs (see yesterday’s post here) is because he doesn’t promise Enlightenment.  He doesn’t suggest I’ll be more wonderful than I already am if I use his eggs.  He simply made a good prop better.  You have to admire his ingenuity while slapping yourself on the side of head and saying, “why didn’t I think of that?”

As far as teachers go, that’s why I admire Paul and Suzee Grilley and Gil Hedley.  They teach from the heart, with humility.  Yes, I pay for their teaching the same way I pay for Jason’s blocks.  But they share their knowledge with loving generosity.

My life challenge is jealousy and envy.  So I suppose there is always the possibility that these feelings of cynicism are coming from that dark place.  Would I feel the same way if Yoga Journal asked me to teach?  Am I jealous that I don’t have a book to hawk or a clever prop to demonstrate?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

Or maybe the truth is my heart is weary of watching the thing that has given my life depth and character being demeaned by the competitive marketplace in front of my eyes.

And maybe I learned more than I thought this weekend.


The Ugly Business of Yoga and What I Did in My Spare Time

I decided to attend this year’s San Francisco Yoga Journal Conference mostly because Jason Scholder asked if I would help out at his Yoga Market Booth.  Jason is the inventor of the Three Minute Egg – my favorite yoga prop.  And I say that it’s my favorite prop not because Jason is a nice guy – although he is – but because it’s a versatile little piece of mandorla shaped foam.

But I digress.

I decided to attend the Yoga Journal Conference because Jason asked me to help. In exchange I’d be given a free pass to one or two of the classes being offered over the weekend.

Since classes were going to be free, then it just made sense to splurge on the conference rate rooms at the Hyatt.  And so I did.

One big problem.

I have a deep dislike for the business of yoga that only intensifies when I’m in an environment dedicated to the business of yoga.

Still, I could set that aside for ninety minutes of Yin with Sarah Powers and a morning of Yoga Nidra with Richard Miller!  I could drop my attitude and enjoy the gift.  Except both classes were sold out with no hope of my sneaking in.  But what about the other classes?  Yeah.  What about them? I had my heart set on Sarah and Richard. Everything else had a sort of “been there, done that, why bother?” ring to it.

So what’s a girl to do with a paid for hotel room and twenty-four hours to kill?

I floundered.  I checked emails.  Opened the mini-bar and quickly closed it again.  I turned on the television and took off my shoes.  The sun slowly settled as the buzz of a Friday night in San Francisco began to build.

In a reckless moment I considered ordering room service – something I’ve always wanted to do (I’m easily thrilled) but I came to my senses.  I left my room and rode the elevator down to the restaurant on the atrium floor.

Which is where I am now, enjoying a beautiful grilled shrimp and scallop salad with avocado, mango and shaved ginger.  Oh yeah.  And a glass of chardonnay as velvety as amaretto.

Today has changed from being the beginning of an exciting yoga weekend to being the start of a disappointing weekend.  But I can’t let that happen.  So I’m turning it into a writer’s weekend.

When I return to Room 408 I’ll crack the window in order to freshen the stale air that has a fetid base note of sour milk and pull on my jim-jams and wooly socks.  I’ll crawl under the stiff sheets of my king sized bed and do what I never really had a chance to do over the holidays.  Regroup.

Things happen for a reason.  The Universe tricked me into this downtime.  Thanks, Universe.