It’s been 108 days since I last taught a public yoga class. Prior to that day, I was in 5 or 6 different places every day of the week except Friday teaching my heart out. I spent my hours planning connection with other humans and then fulfilling that connection through my teaching career. I love working with people and it is one of the many reasons I so love teaching yoga. If you have attended a live class with me, you know that I pride myself on providing individualized attention in a group setting and hands-on-corrections where they are wanted to support the practice. I enjoy chatting with students about what is going on in their lives and how their yoga practices can help with whatever they are passing through. For many years I have taught in corporate environments and privately to clients from all walks of life. To help build a stronger business, I developed an international wellness retreat company from scratch. I’ve spent many a week over the past 8 years taking groups all over the world to learn about new cultures, eat great food and do yoga together. I had never imagined the sudden and jarring end to all of that – in a 24 hour period nonetheless.
When our shutdown due to the pandemic spread of Covid-19 happened in Chicago on March 16, I didn’t stop and think – I just designed a new way to connect. There was no time to stop and think. It was pivot the entire business or fail. I had a lot of money invested in a huge retreat outside the United States – failure on that end would have meant bankruptcy. I drew the majority of my income from a location that had just closed its doors indefinitely – I needed to find a new way to teach classes and make a viable income. I received most of the rest of my income from teaching private yoga sessions in private homes – I could no longer be in people’s homes safely and needed a new way to work with clients from my own home. I knew I had to do something and fast before this crisis paralyzed my business and my life in ways I could not anticipate or plan for. I jumped off the proverbial ledge of comfort of teaching in person and switched everything online within a week. New scheduling system. Website integrations. Zoom tutorials. YouTube tutorials. New equipment purchases from a savings account of funds for just such an emergency. Updating email addresses. The works. I haven’t taken a day off since before the shutdown (I am not proud of this – it has been a necessary sacrifice to build a business from scratch). I have taught every single day since then just to make ends meet and figure out all this new business as best I can.
I was terrified at the time of the shutdown and switching to digital content connection. What if it didn’t work? What if people didn’t like it? What if no one came to class or booked a private? Those first few classes I taught through the screen were nerve-wracking. The first time I shared a recorded class, I was petrified about all the things that could go wrong. I realized I was re-creating a new way of connecting with people and it felt weird! Change always feels weird. Remember how I often speak to this when we change the interlace of our fingers during our yoga practice? Well I was neck deep into some radical changes.
Some of you started emailing me with check-ins a couple weeks in to these big changes. You felt closer to me through the screen than in class. You told me I looked more at ease (TRUTH: I’ve never been so well-rested and well-fed as in the past 3+ months). The stress you felt to perform in a group class disappeared in your home and you found your yoga. You stopped worrying about doing the hardest variations and “being the best in class,” and just did the easy ones – and now your aches and pains are gone. My teaching took on depth and meaning you had not heard from me before because I could teach however I wanted now – these were truly my own classes. You learned from watching me demonstrate poses during the online classes in ways I had not spent as much time in the poses during live teaching, and these demonstrations helped you feel the poses in your own body differently. Some of you hated my classes and let me know. You told me I was a greedy sell-out for charging for my yoga classes or that I was boring. Connection took on whole new meanings.
When I taught live, I was subjected to a daily (often multiple times daily) barrage of criticism. Do it this way. Don’t teach it that way. You’re too skinny. You’re getting heavier – better watch out. Your hair is going grey – no one will want to take your class anymore. It’s not a real yoga class without headstand, shoulderstand and wheel – you obviously have never taken a teacher training. Your clothing is weird. If you want to be more popular and attract more students do XYZ. That was too long of a savasana. That was too short of a savasana….Seriously – it was starting to feel like an endless tunnel that I was lost in. I have a good filter and a strong sense of self, but even for me – after 18 years of teaching – this type of daily interaction with people was taking it’s toll. I was bullied by colleagues and told off by students. I was attacked several times and stalked online. When I reported things I was told I was the problem. And then it all disappeared and I was so scared…and so free.
The shutdown freed me to connect with you all in whatever ways I wanted to. I designed the classes and the schedule that I offered. I ready poetry to you and taught poses I learned in physical therapy. We did long pranayama exercises and awesome meditations. Sometimes we did entire classes resting on our back and it was glorious. I remembered how to be me while I’m teaching, and boy does that feel like the best connection of all. I also remembered how to read books that were not related to yoga. How to cook and eat meals with my husband every day. I remembered how to take long walks with my dog and get lost in the trees or notice the flowers growing differently each day of Spring. In the midst of the craziness at keeping my fledgling business afloat, I would suddenly be struck by a poem and have to write it down or outline a short story. In short I reconnected with you in new ways and with myself in ways I had long forgotten.
I’m still teaching virtually and will be from now on. I want to reach people beyond my city and grow connections with those who find a home in the way I teach movement and breath. I will be returning to live classes on a limited basis during the pandemic and probably beyond. I’m teaching a few clients in person and the majority online for the time being. When I teach in public I am in full mask mode – and in some places I wear even more personal protective equipment to keep myself and my clients safe. I realized during this last 108 day period how much of myself got left behind running around 14 hours a day 6 days a week. That isn’t really me. I’m not sure who that woman was. The running around and fitting into everyone else’s life was a necessity to make my living, but I lost my life. I remember now that I have something so unique to offer and that this essence can come through the digital realm, and also that there is so much more to me than being a yoga teacher. Thank you for connecting with me in new ways during such a difficult time – your support has been incredible. To those of you who have taken a ton of online classes, booked private sessions, reached out to make sure I’m ok, donated money to help me give free yoga to those who are unemployed and so much more – THANK YOU. And thank you for recognizing the many ways that I feel freer teaching you now than ever, and the ways I am rebuilding my life through this crisis.
As the New Year ramps up, it is a great time to re-visit the habits you bring to your yoga practice in a group setting. Some of these might also help your home solo practice to thrive. Maybe you are just starting out in yoga, or returning after a break with your mat. Maybe you come to yoga regularly and have gotten into your “routine” a bit too comfortably. I think this time of year is always a good one to remember a few small points of how to be courteous in yoga – to yourself, your instructor and your fellow students. These are my top 5 reminders of some basic yoga etiquette for you, and I hope they make your group yoga experience an even better one.
1. Arrive on time
Give yourself ample time to get to class. Plan to arrive 10-15 minutes before the actual start time of the class. Arrive in time to get your mat, props and self set up in the room comfortably. Remember you might also need time to: get water, go the bathroom, change clothes, stow your coat/bag/shoes and then set up in the studio.
If you are running late, don’t freak out. Come in quietly and sit against a wall on either side of a door – engage your breathing and follow the intention setting. When everyone starts moving, go and grab your yoga stuff and quietly park yourself in an open spot. It’s a bit distracting to the whole room when someone arrives late and stomps (or even quietly waltzes) through the yoga space to quickly set up their yoga mat after class has already started – nobody can quite settle in. If it feels weird to sit down by a doorway after your entry, wait until after the intention setting and pranayama are finished and then enter the room once the more active part of the class has begun. It’s less distracting if someone arrives and is moving about while everyone else in the room is moving about.
If there is a reason you are running late (like you can only make one class per week but you will never be able to make it on time because of kid pick-up or work obligation), pull your teacher aside at the end of class and explain the situation. Most yoga teachers I know are very compassionate and caring individuals who want to make things work for you while also respecting boundaries. I have so many variations of how to work with whenever you can arrive – we’ll find a solution that gets you your yoga comfortably without disrupting the other students.
2. Settle in (and out)
A part of settling in to your practice might be introducing yourself to a new teacher or asking a question about the upcoming class. Giving yourself time to settle in will offer up the opportunity to talk with a teacher about any injuries or health conditions you might need to modify for during the class. You might also have questions about the practice of yoga in general and this extra time is great for that too. Some students love to take a little extra quiet time sitting or resting on their back to prepare for class. Other students enjoy talking with one another and catching up in community. All of this is possible if you give yourself the time and opportunity to settle in. All too often students come in to practice with plenty of time to settle in, but then they sit and stare at their phones for 10 minutes before yoga (but more on that in #5) and begin their practice more stressed out than when they arrived. Suffice it to say that a few extra moments to speak with your teacher or feel your own space before the practice begins can really enhance your practice.
Settling in is also about being friendly and courteous to your fellow practitioners and to your teacher. Make space for other students if they arrive after you. Scoot your mat over if you have room. Organize your props to make space for additional students. Be willing to move if a student needs to have a wall space or high clearance and you’re in that specific spot. I’ve had adult students get in yelling matches over “their spot” in the room, throw blocks at one another, insult one another and so much more over the years. I’ve also had students call me names, push me, threaten me and insult me. Please practice being kind to one another and your teachers – yoga is a great space for stretching this skillfulness as well as your hamstrings.
When class is over, the settling out of the space happens. Please clean up after yourself. Dirty snot rags? Put them in the garbage bin. Mats? Put in them in the to-clean bin. Props? Place them orderly back on the shelves. If you leave early, consider a time to leave when you can stow your used items quietly. No joke: I’ve had to pick up not only dirty tissues but also used band-aids, piles of skin a student peeled off during class, large hair balls and nail clippings (that is not something to do as part of your settling in, please). I’ve also had students regularly take two of every possible piece of equipment in the studio (including hand weights we would never use in a yoga class) and leave class every time after 15 minutes with a pile of stuff left behind for me to put away. If you need my help putting things away for you for any reason, just ask so I know that extra task is coming.
3. Go with the flow (mostly :))
I am the foremost believer in making your practice work for you. Movement patterns are so individually based that what will work for one person, may not work for another. You’ll notice in my classes that I offer a lot of options and variations because of this, and I am open to modifications galore. So this tip is more about moving with the general flow of a group practice and honoring that. If the class is doing a sun salutation but a student is doing a handstand, it can be really distracting to the whole class.
When I take classes myself, I really enjoy “losing” myself in someone else’s sequence because it’s usually a completely different way than I would normally practice. I’ll modify around my injuries or personal movement quirks, but I’ll stick with the basic game plan. This allows me (and you if you find yourself in this situation) to learn new pathways of practice. A bridge could be a wheel or vice versa (they’re both backends). A dolphin pose could sub for a forearm balance pose or vice versa (they’re both inversions). It feels respectful of myself to care for what I need by modifying, but it also feels respectful to the wisdom of the teacher I’m taking with to explore what they are actually teaching through their sequence. And when I need to modify outside of that, I ask what they might recommend to help me with what I’m feeling or experiencing – because I genuinely want to co-create my experience with my teachers (and the students who come to class).
You can ask me any time during any class to help with modifications to help suit what you are looking for in your practice and I will weave them in for you. It’s one of my passions to meet you wherever you are at and to figure out what works. If you feel, on any given day, like you just want to do whatever you want, it might be a good day for a home practice, or a good time to tell your teacher you want to do your own thing and head to a spot in the room where that won’t distract the rest of the class.
4. Stay for savasana
The quiet period at the end of a physical yoga practice is so important (and so wonderful). Called savasana, this long relaxation period is like a marinating time for the gifts of the session. It invites your body, mind, emotional state, energy level and spirit to soak in the effects of the class. It also gives you a restful transition period from the work of the practice to whatever is coming next in your life. Leaving without savasana can be a bit of a jarring transition for your system post-practice.
If you know you need to leave early, just stop, drop and savasana 6 minutes or so before you have to leave. Your body and mind will thank you.
If you find yourself resistant to lying down in savasana or you don’t like to close your eyes, experiment with a supported or upright shape, or taking savasana with your eyes gently open and looking at a specific point. Savasana should be where you feel comfortable, and that can be an infinite number of shapes.
I really thought that savasana was a waste of time when I first started yoga – and you might be feeling that way too. I just wanted to go, go, go. I couldn’t find anything useful in lying around on the ground. It took me a lot time of exploring those feelings as my savasana. Whatever arises for you at the end of a practice, perhaps your savasana is simply giving yourself time to feel and process what is coming up for you.
5. Make boundaries with your tech
I’ve been teaching for 18 years, and the smartphone conundrum gets worse and worse every year. Just this week I’ve had students texting during poses, making purchases on their phones during pranayama, talking into their smartwatches during class, answering phone calls during savasana, leaving their alerts on full blast and so much more. All of this in locations where mobile phones are not even technically allowed in the studios at all. When I ask students to put their phones aside, I often get a lot of attitude (and some hate mail in my social media inboxes).
My last tip is actually a dare. I dare you to leave your phone outside of the yoga studio locked up somewhere far from you. I dare you to not look at your phone for 20 minutes before your practice and another 20 minutes after your practice. I dare you to experience the anxiety that arises when you don’t have access to your phone and all its bells and whistles, and to breathe through those feelings. Staring at a screen, scrolling through emails and social media feeds has proven, detrimental effects on attention span, brain-wave changes, nervous system stimulation and sleep patterns. Distancing yourself from your mobile phone may be one of the best things you can do for your mental well-being and for experiencing the gifts of your yoga practice more fully.
Here’s to a bit more courteous and conscious habits in your practice in 2020!
Yesterday was the Spring Equinox and the official start of this new season…I don’t think Chicago got the memo 🙂 There is a still a blustery, coldness to the air here today, and a huge winter snowstorm on the East Coast. We all know the wild oscillations in the weather are probable in the upcoming weeks of this new season. We can also feel the changing light levels: the sun rises earlier and sets later giving an expanding quality to each day. The first green things are just starting to show themselves out of the brittle soil even with the cold temperatures.
These are precisely the qualities that are so prevalent in Spring: a mutability of temperatures, a broadening growth of all things and a sort of beautiful chaos as nature remembers how to move again after the Winter – clumsy and slow at first, but then gathering steam. It is essential because of these qualities that we turn to our grounding practices and feel the ways we are growing in new directions too so as not to get swept up in the chaos or lost in the fast expansion of energy in the environment.
My yoga practice come springtime takes on a whole new energy. I find myself lingering in long standing sequences, opening my hips and exploring balance poses. I am drawn to deep almost vigorous breathing exercises that help me remember my own expansion into this new season. My quiet, restful stretches of long, bundled up winter savasana give way to a certain eagerness to spread out at the end of my practice. I awaken at the end of my savasana these days completely splayed out with arms and legs wide as if to say with my whole body, “I’m ready to move and grow again!”
As a result of these tendencies of springtime energy, it is so easy to feel anxious, fidgety and even a bit spacey and lost. Energy around us is expanding rapidly and without a proper ground, that expansion dissipates or confuses. Consider a seed. It really needs to root itself down into the ground in order to grow up into a plant. You, your energy and your new directions of growth are no different!
So how can you bring a grounded growth into your springtime routine? Here are 5 simple practices to stay balanced all throughout the dynamic nature of Spring.
1. Practice the variations of the breathing technique Sama Vritti
Sama Vritti is a name given to many variations of breathing exercises that cultivate even, steady breath patterns. The most basic of these techniques is to inhale and count your inhalation and then to exhale for the same count. If you inhale for 5 seconds, exhale for 5 seconds. The next round of breath might be inhalation 8 and exhalation 8. The number is not important and need not stay the same for each round of breath, just balance the inhalation length to the exhalation length. The result is a certain steadiness – neither totally relaxed nor stressed out but somewhere at the equilibrium point.
Another variation of this technique is commonly called 4 Part Breathing and involves an inhalation for 4 seconds, holding the inhalation for 4 seconds, exhalation for 4 seconds, and holding the exhalation out for 4 seconds. It works with breath retention to deepen feelings of balance and equilibrium.
Both of these breathing techniques are great at revealing where you may be out of balance. Let’s say that simply cannot lengthen your exhalation to match your inhalation – you run out of breath too soon. This lets you know that you are holding on to a lot very tightly and having some difficulty releasing it. Similarly if you can exhale for hours but have difficulty inhaling you may be in a period of releasing a lot and re-learning how to nourish yourself. Either tidbit of information can tell how what to focus on more in your own practice to balance yourself out.
2. Incorporate longer, slower holds of standing postures in your yoga practice
Standing poses are wonderful physical mediums for grounded energy. They help you connect with your feet, your legs and the way the ground feels underneath you. Consider adding in longer holds of simple standing poses like Warrior 1, Lunge, Warrior 2 and Triangle to your home practice. Take your time to really feel the alignment of your feet and the strength of your legs. Put your energy into your legs – feel them as your root system. Get a sense of how you can grow up and out of your legs and hips when you are more grounded through your feet. Slower practices and standing poses also help you face what can feel chaotic about Spring and all the rapid changes it brings to the world around you.
3. Open your chest, your shoulders and your lungs!
The cold, dry winter air can make our chest so tight and our posture so slouchy. To practice that expansive quality of Spring, bring in more chest openers and shoulder work to your practice. I love Extended Warrior variations, Chest Opener at the Wall, Shoulder Shrugs, Eagle Arms, Twisting Table
and so many others to pick up my posture. When our posture is supported and upright, it is so much easier to take a deep, full, refreshing breath which helps us feel more energized entering Spring.
4. Bring in balance poses to your daily life.
Everyone loves to hate on balance poses like Tree Pose, Standing Leg Reach, Standing Pigeon (or as some of you like to call it: Falling Pigeon Pile) in my classes. They ARE challenging, but they are also physically, mentally and emotionally beneficial. Physical balance requires focus, grounding through the standing leg, core engagement, hip strength and the ability to respond to small movements without getting totally knocked over. All of those lessons apply to Spring! Standing in Tree Pose even if your foot is shifting from inner to outer edge demands that you adapt in the moment and respond. The same thing happens when perhaps it is warm in the afternoon and then an evening cold front comes through and you have on a light jacket – you need to grab your scarf, put on an extra layer and stay warm without cursing the return of the cold. Even if you fall out of standing balance poses in your practice, keep putting them into your routine. You won’t learn how to balance by avoiding. Be like a baby and when you fall, give a good little chuckle and crawl back up to try again. These poses will build your resiliency and balance in the midst of the mutability Spring often brings.
5. Write down your action steps for your dreams and how to make them reality.
Winter for me is a dreamtime – it’s when I reach into the vastness of the dark and pull out a few bright morsels. But I know that as my energy is in hibernation and recharge mode in Winter, I don’t have the juice to act on those bright morsels yet. When Spring arrives, the energy is finally free and moving to take action on things I’ve been dreaming about. This is why I don’t set New Year’s resolutions anymore – I just use Winter to rest and dream. Now when Spring arrives I have a huge amount of ideas to pare down and select from. Write down a list of your dreams and wishes and desires. Pick the ones that feel the most important. Identify steps you can now start taking to making those dreams a reality. This will also help you harness the expanding energy of Spring to carry you into what you want in your life path.
If you are in class with me regularly, you will probably notice that these themes and techniques are coming back around! Some of you have already commented that we have been doing too much Tree Pose 🙂 Expect that and the balanced breathing techniques, standing poses and rootedness of the practice to continue to help you through Spring.
May you also remember at this wonderful and at times confusing junction of the year the wisdom of one of my favorite quotes from author Cynthia Occelli, “For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out, and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” Just when you think everything has gone to hell in a hand-basket, consider that maybe your life needed to be upended to feed your next growth. Stay grounded in your own body and energy and the chaotic expansion of the Spring season can be exciting, beautiful growth rather than angst over warmth not arriving fast enough for you. One person sees growth and another destruction – you get to choose what you see and what you connect with in this season. I hope these ideas give you some guidance into a fresh view this season! Happy Spring!
I decided to write some blogs about the real life problems of being a yoga teacher as a career. We face a lot of issues and because we are in a wellness profession, things are often glossed over in favor of making everything about our lives and work appear shiny even if it’s fake. I want you to know the inside scoop about being a teacher and I have a whole series of posts about the good and challenging aspects of being a yoga instructor as a career. These are meant to be illuminating and compassion provoking posts for your yoga teachers – so you have some insights into the complexity of their jobs – not so you can attack the places they work at. And fellow yoga teachers, I hope these posts help support you in navigating an even better lifestyle and career for yourself! I also recognize that yoga teachers are not the only people who face these challenges and although I do not know all industries, I can imagine that what I’m writing about also impacts many freelancers and even “regular” employees in the current corporate environment and culture.
This post idea began not long ago when I got violently and suddenly sick in front of my students. I was fine one second and completely sick to my stomach and near passing out from dizziness the next. It was a scary experience. The students were amazing – they brought me water, checked in on me, made sure I had a ride home and even started up my iTunes app so they could keep practicing as I sat in the corner nearly fainting. To make matters more intense, I could only think of one person who worked nearby my class who might be able to come and pick me up (with my car I couldn’t drive in my vertigo state). This person is a student and it was really hard to call her. As a teacher I’m used to doing the helping and it was hard to be the one asking for help. She of course came to help me without even a second thought and I’m so thankful she drove my sick self home! It was a real reminder in our common human vulnerability and the need to care for one another.
I also had to reach out to my manager at another club where I was scheduled to teach in less than an hour and tell her I was sick. Stressful! Classes don’t get canceled and certainly not without penalty. One place I used to teach at would bill you if you missed a class. Other places write you up and you can be terminated from your employment after three write ups. Stressful part two! Luckily in this instance the teacher before me was able to stay for the class I taught and everything worked out. Also the manager on the other end of that line was incredibly compassionate and helpful in every way possible – even checking in on me through the evening hours once I got home to make sure I was ok. Even with that, it weighs on me each time I have an emergency situation that I might lose one or several of my jobs because of an illness.
You might be asking why I’m writing about this. Well, I’m not sure people know how hard it is to be a yoga instructor and deal with something “simple” like getting sick – especially when it comes on suddenly. We have to find coverage for our classes which means reaching out to a large substitute instructor list, getting approval for our subs from managers and doing so in a timely manner. Up until a month ago, I never had ANY sick time. A new Chicago city ordinance has enabled me, for the first time in 15 years of teaching, to accrue a small amount of sick time for every hour I work (1 hour sick time for every 40 hours work). That meant every time I missed a class for any health related issue before this ordinance, I didn’t get paid and had no way to recoup income. When I contracted pneumonia over the winter and missed over a week of work, I lost more than 25% of my monthly earnings. When I had a serious surgery and was told by my medical professional to take at least a week off of any work that involved talking or moving my body (ahem my whole job involves talking and moving my body), I took 3 days because that was all I could afford and came back to teaching with a mouth full of stitches.
Even with an egg of savings, what if I am injured or seriously ill and unable to teach for months? Most disability insurance is extremely expensive and does not cover all situations. In fact many situations that would regularly take me out of work were not covered by the disability insurance plans I looked at. It also can take two weeks or more to even begin paying. I simply can’t afford to buy both disability insurance and health insurance – I had to pick one and chose to keep my health insurance. There is always a lingering worry in the back of my head that I will be physically unable to teach and my savings will run out and perhaps even worse that I will have no job to return to when I get better.
I’m ashamed to say that I’ve had to teach with a cold, the flu virus and a stomach bug because coverage could not be found for my class in time and “a class can’t be canceled.” I’m not the only one. If you knew how many of your fitness and yoga teachers come to teach their classes deathly ill and fake being “ok,” you would be shocked and dismayed. Without paid sick time to cover outages, we are really in a bind when we get sick. Take the time off if you can get a sub, but miss out on necessary income. Or teach while you are sick and potentially get everyone around you sick. Neither one a great option. There is also often the feeling of letting the students down if you don’t come in and teach. The new city ordinance helps somewhat, but consider that some of your yoga teachers may only be employed 4 or 6 hours a week and it could take them 8-10 weeks of work to accrue just one hour of sick time. And they are only accruing sick time at places where they are employees. Most yoga studios hire all their teachers as contractors and therefore this ordinance would not apply to any of those classes. Crazy, I know!
I’ve also been told in the past that I “get sick too much,” as if that is something under my control. I am never away from work unless absolutely necessary. I not only love my job but also care deeply for the student experience and consistency in my teaching. I am exposed to nearly 100 people a day in close proximity and I work in locations considered community health settings where germs and bugs flourish. Just Google some of the swab tests that have been done on yoga mats in studios and gyms. You will 1. forever bring your own mat to props to class and 2. understand the onslaught my immune system is under every day. It’s almost like being a school teacher! To add to this, teaching private clients in their homes when children are potentially sick or have been sick exposes me to even more opportunities to pick up illnesses. Who gets to determine how many times I get sick or need health procedures done? Before this city ordinance, I worried every single time I took a sick day that I would lose my jobs. I only have one day off per week and all of my health related appointments had to be scheduled on that day which is also hard. I still feel on tenuous ground even though I am now legally accruing sick time. If I am already perceived as “sick too much” does that mean another sick day will put me out of a job?
There is also a student perception here. Yoga teachers are often seen as bastions of “health” and “vitality.” When I had this recent sick day emergency, I came back to several students saying things like, “But you’re a yoga teacher, you aren’t supposed to get sick” and “Isn’t yoga supposed to heal all that illness stuff?” Ummmm…no. Yoga teachers are human beings with immune systems susceptible to viruses and bacteria just like regular humans. Yes, practicing yoga has been shown to improve immune system response, but that doesn’t make your teachers infallible. Yoga is not a cure all! We are not superheroes! It feels really awful when we are judged for getting sick – as if that is something that doesn’t happen to “spiritual” or “good” yoga teachers.
I wish there was an easy answer here, but alas I think that many working professionals in many disciplines have similar issues. The freelance economy that many industries are increasingly moving towards suffer from many of the same problems. I believe that many employees in corporate environments feel similar pressures even if they do have a bank of sick time. Don’t even get me started on true mental health days. Some of your yoga teachers have worked 40 and 50 day periods straight without ever having a day off. One local teacher recently bragged about 100 straight days of teaching nearly 12 hour days with commutes and free special events alongside regular classes and clients. The next post put up on their page was about the physical crash that followed and a serious bout of illness. Yoga teachers need to learn to take sick days when they are sick and to better balance their schedules to allow for down time and self-care. One of my next posts addresses why in the heck that is SO HARD to do when you work in this field (Hint: it’s often financial tied in with the strong tendency to want to give to others).
Yoga teachers take care of their students in physical, mental, emotional and spiritual ways. We are (and I know this is going to be a controversial statement) integrative health care professionals. As such we need to be supported in working fair hours (see my upcoming post about how our working hours are not just in-studio teaching time) and in getting well when we get sick. The next time your yoga teacher is out sick, love up their sub and tell the managers how thrilled you are that your yoga teacher got time off. Ask if they are getting paid for getting well. You pay a lot of money for your yoga classes, gym memberships and the studio packages. Why not make sure more of that is shared as a benefit to your teachers? Thanks to all the beautiful students who text me, call me, check in on me, delight in the subs who cover my classes and generally rock being caring and compassionate humans in this regard when I am not well. Thanks to all the managers who do help out and are supportive when I have been sick or needed help in the past. Thanks to all the colleagues who have stepped in when I needed to cover a class to get well – your help does not go unnoticed or unappreciated. I wouldn’t be doing what I love for this many years (going on 15!!) without all of you and your support.
In the summer of 2015 I unexpectedly found myself in one of the most magical and spiritual places I have ever visited: Assisi, Italy. I had no preconceived notion that I would feel this way about this place. Eric and I decided to visit this city because we had never been to Umbria and we were hosting a yoga retreat nearby the week before. We try and visit a new part of the country we travel to each year. Recently I was reminded of just how magical this trip was when scanning through the television channels and coming upon a Rick Steves episode all about Assisi.
As soon as we arrived in Assisi and checked into our quaint and quiet little apartment, we felt different. Settled. It was a searingly hot summer with temperatures in the high 90s up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit the whole time we were there. There was no air conditioning and absolutely no breeze, just the pink stones covering the winding walkways of this mystical old city and hours of blistering sunlight. We wandered from church to church, each one a dark and cool respite from the heat. Many of the churches did not allow any photography or talking. This too felt soothing to the mental and emotional heat I had to adjust to after coming down off leading an intense retreat experience.
Assisi is the city where Saint Francis was born and founded the Franciscan religious order in the early 1200s. This order was (and is) dedicated to helping the poor, to seeing the joyous nature of life on Earth, to social justice and to living simply. All throughout our walks we would see friars, visiting priests and nuns walking amongst the tourists and residents – many of them emanating a kind and peaceful presence of Being. With such a historical significance, Assisi is equal parts Catholic churches and silent monasteries (and tourist shops!). We went in every one to explore this energy we felt all through the town.
We hiked up to the hermitage rooms and caves in Eremo delle Carceri used by many a monk to commune with Self and God. We hiked down into the catacombs of many churches and visited the resting places of Santa Clara and other historical figures. We even visited Portiuncula – a tiny, ancient and powerful feeling church with a huge Basilica built around it on the outskirts of Assisi. We spent hours in the two main churches of Assisi – collectively called the Basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi – scouring the intricate artwork and appreciating the dark and light shapes of the lower and upper churches.
In each of these holy places, Eric and I (who are not necessarily “religious” people) could feel a pull of something deep and silent. Thousands upon thousands of people had prayed, convened, made pilgrimages to and worked from these spaces for many years. They left an imprint. The tiny little hermitage rooms with their one small bench felt soothing even though there was nothing about their physical shape to soothe us. The cool quiet tombs had a certain whisper of wisdom in their old air even though physically they only contained bones. The churches covered in beautiful paintings and tile work inspired our hearts even if we didn’t know who the artists were. One church even had this incredible tile mural of Saint Francis preaching to a sea of fishes – all handpainted – that we will never forget! (Saint Francis is sometimes called a patron saint of animals.)
Perhaps what struck both of us so much was that most of these churches and tombs had signs in nearly a dozen languages with two simple directives: No Photos and Silence. (Hence the no pictures of any of these sites in this blog.) Seems easy enough, and yet in every site we went and felt such a pull of silence, everyone else ignored these two simple rules and proceeded to talk loudly, point at and remark about things they saw, touch painted surfaces, photograph every little detail and disregard what felt natural to us in these places – to simply be quiet, observe, absorb and be with the experience of the space. Periodically over the loudspeaker as the din of people talking grew louder, a kind but exasperated deep voice would say, “Silenzio SHH!” or “Silence SHH!” and for a few moments a hush would come over the crowds. (Eric said it sounded like Sister Mary Elephant from Cheech and Chong – the reference is lost on me.) Not long after, the talking and photographing would start up again and the frustrated friars would look on with dismay. This repeated all day every day.
At times I wish I could be the voice over the loudspeaker saying a simple “Silenzio, SHH” reminder in many a circumstance of modern life. To the person talking to their neighbor during savasana. To the people having loud conversations in public spaces on speaker phone. To the person blasting music loud enough for all to hear through their headphones as they run around the beautiful corner of Chicago’s lakefront path. To the people taking a million selfies on the beach but missing the beautiful waves just before them. It is so easy for us to be distracted and to give in to the urge to busily log everything in picture form on our phones to share on social media instead of actually experiencing the place we are in, to speak about everything out loud instead of listening to another person or the energy of a space fully, to wrap ourselves in music/television/internet instead of sitting with the world around us.
Every place in the world from your home city to a remote island in the Pacific has its own energy and special feeling. Assisi is not alone in this! It just happened to be a powerful place where I could really find a connection to this principle of being absorbed in the unique energy of a location through quietude. Could you take the time to put your phone away, to sit or stand quietly, and to listen with all your Being to what is around you? You might be surprised at the Beauty that wells up from the silence.
As part of my birthday celebration, a dear student and friend gifted me a ticket to see the incredible Adele perform at the United Center last Monday. I’ve lived in the Chicagoland area my whole life, and I love music, but I had never been to the United Center nor had I ever seen a “big” show like this one. I was excited and nervous all at the same time! Walking into that huge space surrounded by so many excited people was overwhelming and beautiful.
I love Adele’s music and I have all her albums, but I wouldn’t say that I am a superfan or anything. I don’t know the words to every song. I don’t know her whole story. I guess I should say, “I didn’t” because now I am a superfan, have been binge listening to her songs all week and have tried to learn more about her.
To say I left her concert inspired is a gross understatement – I left her concert moved very deeply into my very core. From the glorious first moment when her voice suddenly said a melodic “Hello” to us as she rose from the floor to the stage to the final lyrics of a third encore and an explosion of confetti spilled out over the crowds, I was struck by her raw passion. This is a woman who not only wrote and performed incredible music, but also relayed to us between songs the humanity of her experience raising her son, losing and finding her creativity again after taking a “break” to be a Mum, and her trials with love over the years. She joked about how she only has two happy songs and the rest were there for us to cry together about. She told us about how she loved our city and what she did while here. She pulled people up from the crowd and sang with them, hugged them and took selfies with them.
In short, she spoke to a crowd of thousands – and me – as if we were close friends catching up over dinner at the end of the week. With every song, the richness and emotion of every note came pouring out of her. Just thinking about it again, I get goosebumps. She was an example of passion made into real life. Adele never downplayed the hard work or the challenges it took to get where she is today – she spoke about them eloquently. Behind every story you could hear a determination, an open heart and a strong Spirit, and that passion comes through in her music – it’s probably one of the reasons we love her so much! For myself and so many others, I think that living a life on our path of passion can be such a challenge and we need people like Adele to remind us how much energy is released and uplifted when we let our passions move through our lives.
I’ve spent the better part of the past 14 years teaching my students through Forrest Yoga to follow their passions – to play on their long hidden talents, strengths and desires both on and off the mat. I’ve helped people to completely change their life paths to more passionate and fulfilling ones – whether their yoga practice has helped with a job change, relationship change or the birth of a new child. It is such rewarding work and so beautiful to see Spirit unfold as students really listen and feel their inner heartfelt desires for their lives come forth. All the while, I’ve been able to do something that I love: teach. I have a really full and rewarding career teaching yoga.
But somewhere along the way, I buried some of my other passions. I have let myself get consumed with teaching and with helping others to find their life paths. My busyness helped me cope with the “messy side” of some of my passions. If I just kept looking outside to the work I was doing with others, I thought I could just move through my life without having to work through the unpredictability that my creative side embodied. The science-brain, Type A, perfectionist side of my personality really likes predictable schedules, sequences, order and answers. My passionately creative side honors no schedule (she usually chimes in late at night when I like to sleep), does not give me things in any order or sequence (line 20 of the poem arrives before line 1), and usually offers up very cryptic answers if any at all.
So all the while the poems, stories, characters and books kept knocking inside my head. For many years now – probably since I was about 14 and started doing yoga – I would find myself scribbling words on scratch paper while sitting in class or more recently at a stoplight. I would wake up at night having had conversations with characters who don’t exist yet. I dreamed during long savasanas at Ana Forrest workshops in rhymes, only to have the words leave me as soon as I woke up. I would go through periods after buying my first Kindle of devouring books every couple of days – completely absorbed in the stories I was reading. When I was younger I would spend the summers reading more than 50 books in three months.
You see, one of my paths to passion is through words. I have kept journals since I was really young. The old ones have stories and poems throughout them. I wrote for contests all the way up into high school. And then when I was injured figure skating, and that whole part of my life was abruptly taken away from me – something changed. I lost my passion. I channeled myself into AP classes, working as a caddie, going to college – I channeled myself into what I thought success was. I finished two Bachelor’s degrees and a whole lot of engineering curriculum (without a degree) in just four years. I studied and taught yoga. I worked at the Field Museum after college. I then threw myself into teaching yoga full time, managing at a gym, working on teacher training and building an incredible life with my partner (and pets). I started a blog because “that’s what yoga teachers do.” Really, I essentially stopped writing for my creative heart after my skating injury. Skating had been a huge path of passion and it was so unceremoniously destroyed by a big fall. Deep inside I think I worried that would happen with my other passions if I kept letting them out to play so why not lock them away? Surely my writing would never be “good enough” anyway…
I’ve written about this in my newsletter and mentioned it in a few blogs, but I have spent the past 6 months working in depth with a shaman. My shaman is also a published author and all around incredible woman (you are Bridget Boland). We opened up a bunch of old boxes inside me full of lots of things to work on: limiting beliefs, tendencies towards overworking, old emotions I hadn’t processed…And once out of the box I started to realize that one of the biggest things missing in my life was my creative side. One of the biggest things I boxed away was a huge passion of my heart.
I’ve taken up writing in my journal again. I’ve been blogging more regularly (and with more vulnerability). I’ve been writing poems again. I started to write down those characters that come to me at night in my dreams. It’s messy. It’s scary. It will ask of me – and is asking of me – that I change a lot about how I have set up my life. I feel a whole host of strange shifts happening. And when my shaman said to me on a phone check up today, “What is the priority now?” There were a whole jumble of answers yelling back and forth between my heart and my brain to that question.
So I’m thinking of Adele, and her stories about the risks and tribulations she passed through to be this force of nature with her music. I’m thinking of her stage fright, her inner critic, the messiness she expressed about her own life path – and how she went after her passion anyways. Even when it made other people uncomfortable (she talked about her ex not being able to handle her success), even when she thought she had lost her way (she talked about her post-partum feelings affecting her music writing), even when she thought no one might like her new music (and then she sold a bag-gillion albums). I feel more inspired to go after mine. Not that I’ll be anything near an Adele-force, but something passionate is brewing and I need to walk its path to see where it leads. There are too many “what ifs” if I don’t. I hope that you will risk taking your passions out into the open too and making them a part of your life. The more we each bring of our whole Self to this world, the better and more beautiful it becomes.
This weekend I was supposed to be in Sioux Falls, South Dakota teaching at the new studio of my colleague, Gretchen Borgum. I was so excited to be bringing a full load of workshops to her space, Soul Movement Studio. I was thrilled to get her invite (and we will rebook this weekend!), delighted to meet the community in a new city and geeking out on what I could bring with me to teach them. I’ve been prepping for months – delicately researching and planning each workshop. In the last week alone I likely spent 15 hours on my lesson plans and making sure everything would work smoothly as a weekend experience. I prepped my life here at home to make sure I was all set for the weekend – snacks packed, laundry cleaned, emails answered.
I knew that a snowstorm was heading for Chicago on Saturday and that Sioux Falls would get some of that snow on Friday when I was due to leave. I figured I would beat the worst of the snowstorm by taking the first flight out of O’Hare to Sioux Falls…Mother Nature had other plans. Mid-way through our initial descent into Sioux Falls we had to turn around and go back to Chicago because conditions had gotten so bad due to the snow. Back in Chicago I was told the Sioux Falls airport was closed until further notice, the remaining flights of the day were either fully booked or cancelled.
I found myself feeling growly – barking a bit at the United customer service rep who couldn’t re-book my flight or find me a seat. He was trying to help and I was just irritated by the whole situation. He told me the outlook was not good for any flight to get out of O’Hare to my destination until Sunday – which wouldn’t do me any good. I decided to cancel my weekend of workshops – something I hate to have to do. The whole cab ride home I was wracked with a feeling of “what more could I have done? Should I have driven there? Maybe I could have forced my way onto a later flight?” etc.
In this swirl of thoughts I realized how absolutely tired I was. I taught two winter retreats and numerous workshops. I worked all summer teaching conferences, workshops and retreats. I worked through an injury during my “off” month of August when I didn’t have any big events booked. September I worked more hours in 28 days than I would in in 10 weeks of a my typical schedule. I ran right into October and working in England on some continuing education. Then I taught an Intensive workshop here in Chicago before running to Sioux Falls. All these extras occurred alongside what would already be a busy “normal” teaching schedule of classes and clients in Chicago. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVED every moment, but it was a hectic year.
When the weekend was cancelled, a profound and deep exhaustion settled upon me. I looked back a year, two years, five years, ten years, twenty years…I’ve been working since I was around 11. I used to recycle aluminum cans and foil, babysit, run a mini neighborhood day care for the kids on my block, teach figure skating, caddie at a suburban golf club – all while also being a high performing student and athlete. I can’t remember a time when I actually had a stretch of free time before me to sink into. Even on “vacation” I’m typically preparing for my next event or combining fun travel with work. I had done all the leg work before this weekend was cancelled and before me were two precious days of really absolutely nothing.
In this realm of nothing I finally started writing again. I dreamed. Pages poured out into the journal. I caught up on awfully wonderful tv shows I’m way behind on. I read. I had time to be with my partner and my dog. I slept in – until like after 9am! I’m not sure that has ever happened. I made pancakes for breakfast. I ate leisurely. I danced in the kitchen for no reason. I felt no rush to do anything and it was wonderful. I wrote a handful of poems in less than 30 minutes. I feel at ease.
So this cancellation was really a blessing in disguise. It revealed to me more clearly than anything else a tremendously challenging pattern I have inside me to DO DO DO. I love my job. I love working on workshops and planning classes. I adore my clients and the beautiful yoga work we do together. I get jazzed to work 14 hour days with my teacher Ana Forrest because it’s fun and I learn so much. I’m open to working on retreat planning and teacher training day in and day out. But there is so much more to me and I feel my Spirit has been quietly trying to tell me for a while now that I need to slow down and take time for some of my many other interests outside of my current work. I started to get really curious: what is living behind all the DOING?
The blessing is being able to see behind the disguise of really great work to a really nasty habit: overworking. The lesson here is a good one. The next time things don’t go the way you planned, can you see behind the change in plans to what is really being revealed to you? What great thing is disguising one of your challenging habits? Feeling and recognizing our own self-sabotaging habits is one of the most important areas for growth. It is hard to acknowledge that things we do could actually be awful for us. I hope that your yoga practice or connection with me helps give you the tools to look at your own habits that need a little bit of help so you can grow in new directions. Will you look behind some of your disguises with me? Let’s do these big changes together!
I’m sure this is not my only habit that needs some polishing 🙂 but it is the one at the forefront with many roots into other habits that I’m going after first. How? I’ve started with a re-evaluation of my schedule, of the people and projects I really want to keep working on. I’ve asked for my partner’s help to remind me to take time off. I’m looking for ways to take a second day off every week. I’m reviewing my 2016 schedule and making it simpler even if it means I don’t teach as much. I’m willing to change things to sustain my love of my work but to add in my love of my life and to make time for both. I am risking looking behind the disguise of my doing to get back in touch with the blessing of my being.
There was a rendition of the Addams Family made into a movie in the early 90s featuring Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston. I remember having it at home on VHS and watching it with glee. I loved the old TV show and I loved this movie – for some reason I found it so funny. I even dressed as Morticia Addams one year for Halloween. A particular scene has been popping into my head regularly: the scene about unfinished business. Early in the movie Raul Julia’s character, Gomez Addams, is meeting with his accountant. His accountant proposes a new idea masked in philanthropy to get more money from the Addams family…and Gomez responds by flipping through his calendar ridiculously fast and saying, “this sounds like new business and we do not discuss new business….until next quarter.”
Why would I be thinking about this scene and writing about this obscure older movie, you say? Well, because I have a lot of unfinished business that can’t wait until next quarter. I’ve been reflecting on the fact that every week I write out a to-do list, and every week the darn thing gets longer and longer. And as it grows in length, and my teaching, administrative and personal tasks grow by leaps and bounds, so does my anxiety with the continual accumulation of unfinished business each week. At times it feels as if I am drowning in things left undone.
At a recent appointment with my acupuncturist, Grainne McKeown (she is incredibly talented, check her out if you are looking for an amazing Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner), she asked me if I was feeling anxious while she was listening to my pulses. And suddenly it just came rushing out in a messy flood of things to do, thoughts on my mind, and tears. I was feeling completely and totally anxious and overwhelmed that “nothing” was getting done. Perhaps you can relate?
We spent a few minutes talking about things left undone. It leaves me with a tremendous feeling of anxiety when things are left undone. The reality of the situation is that there is ALWAYS more to be done. There is no possible way to complete everything on my weekly list in the hours of one week…I should call it a reminder list rather than a to-do list. And then Grainne brought up a great point: she said, “Well really, life is completely undone and all we have are the moment to moment experiences we are present with. Life isn’t done until we are dead.” Boom.
My mind also drifted during our conversation and my resting time during our session to the fact that we sometimes want things to come undone: a tight hamstring, a knotted upper back, a toxic relationship. How could I come to appreciate the balanced Beauty of what I wanted to be undone and what was presently unfinished? How could I understand the contradictions of being, doing, done and undone?
As homework from her, I’ve been shifting my meditation practice the past few weeks to work with these reflections. How to sit with what I wanted undone and what was unfinished presently and fully. The amazing result: the anxiety goes away if I am fully present with the fact that everything is undone and it’s beautiful that it is unfinished. My whole life is actually undone and each moment simply weaves another thread into the tapestry of my existence, but never really finishes the tapestry until I’m gone. At times I pull threads out of my tapestry of life that no longer go with the pattern I’m weaving. Sitting with the unfinished business presently and consciously acknowledging my ability to undo things I want to, I can actually see and perceive all the threads of moments before that have been added and taken away. There is something calming to recognize what I have done, to appreciate the threads that are unfinished but coming up, and to know that a part of being with the unfinished business is removing threads that no longer work. This practice also remarkably helped me to feel much more Being and much less Doer.
My yoga practice has a similar meditation technique that I used to practice a lot, but had forgotten was in my tool box. A great way to process incoming thoughts, emotions and disturbances is to keep a pad of paper at your side and to write down everything as it comes up and then to go back to meditating. This simple act of recording the unfinished thoughts, the processing emotions, the creative ideas and more that arose during meditation, gave a brilliant lightness to the undone rather than an anxious heaviness.
Perhaps you too have a lot of unfinished business or an anxiety-producing to-do list. Maybe you have things you are actively trying to undo in your life. Try these simple tools on your own and feel if they help you to connect to greater ease, clarity and peace.
1. Sit down or lie down. Close your eyes. Ask yourself, “Self, what is undone?” Feel what arises in your mind or body. Notice colors, shapes, sounds, smells or people that come up for you. Sit with the feeling of what is undone as each piece of unfinished business arises. Notice the threads of things you have completed that are tied to some of these still to be woven threads. Feel emotions that arise when you are with your unfinished business. Then ask yourself, “Self, what would you like to undo?” and repeat the mindful process of feeling what arises. Start with 5 minutes of sitting and as it gets easier, add in 1 minute at a time.
2. Sit down with a pen and piece of paper next to you. Begin to breath slowly and smoothly with clear attention to the feeling of your breath. Any time your mind wanders from the breath, pick up the pen and write down where your mind wandered to. Keep going no matter how many times you have to stop and write something down. It may take several times of doing this type of meditation before you have any long stretches of simply holding attention to breath. That’s great! You can review and reflect on what you wrote at the end, or simply throw that list away if it feels better to do that.
I hope that these two simple meditation exercises can help you to fascinate on the Beauty of what is undone and unfinished in your life. Dissolution and coming undone are essential building blocks for new things to come. Unfinished tasks offer up opportunities for creativity and excitement. So when anxiety arises over how much left there is to do in your life, pause for even a moment to remember that those incomplete pieces are vital to what is coming next. And you get to be the weaver of what comes next!