When I registered for Yoga District’s 200-hour teacher training program, I knew that three things would happen: I would learn to teach yoga, deepen my own practice, and meet some great people. And I was right on all three counts. Now, I can cue students into headstand like nobody’s business, and I can even move through a full chaturanga, which was never in my practice before. I also couldn’t be more grateful for the six strong, funny, and supportive women I trained with, and our incredibly knowledgeable teachers.
But I was not all prepared for the big ol’ mirror that our discussions and readings would hold up to all of my BS – the perfectionism, the people-pleasing, the fear of uncovering and honoring who I really am. I’m still grappling with all of these issues, of course, but teacher training gave me the tools I so badly needed to wade through the tough stuff, especially during some pretty major personal shifts over the past few months (ending a relationship, mourning the loss of my grandmother, leaving a respectable but not-quite-right job on Capitol Hill, and deciding to move home to Indiana).
In hopes that you might find these as helpful as I did, here are four unexpected life lessons that I took away from yoga teacher training:
1. We are already enough.
I understood this concept intellectually when the training began, but actually living it as a woman in our having/doing/being-it-all culture today? Not so simple. After spending so many years hustling for others’ approval, I became incapable of distinguishing my own desires from outside expectations. The truth is, we are enough – just as we are - to be worthy and capable of living a joyful life. I’ve had many yoga teachers remind me of this on the mat, too: whatever your body can do today, that is enough. Honor where you are right now.
2. We can only show up for others as much as we show up for ourselves.
You might think of this as the “secure your own mask first” philosophy (you know, that thing they tell you on airplanes about the emergency oxygen masks?) Whether as a friend, partner, or caregiver, we must respect and take care of our own needs before we can we truly be there for anyone else. As a yoga teacher, this means maintaining my own yoga and self-care practices in order to create a space for students free of my own hang-ups and mental chatter.
3. Life happens on its terms, not ours.
This is probably the scariest thing that a person with control issues (read: yours truly) can hear. In an effort to shield myself from suffering – shame, sadness, embarrassment, you name it – I tried (and still try) to perfect every area of my life. We cannot, however, outsmart all painful experiences. Moving beyond the ego to accept life as it is, on its terms, can be outright terrifying at times, but I’m learning that letting go is so much easier than fighting it. For instance, perhaps you can ordinarily take full pigeon pose, but your knee is aching today. Wouldn’t it be better to move into a more comfortable posture, rather than resisting your body’s signals and possibly doing even more harm to such a sensitive joint?
4. Compassion and fear are two sides of the same coin.
One of my dear friends from teacher training articulated this point so perfectly: our capacity for fear is exactly the same as our capacity for compassion, and it’s up to us to choose which one we allow to rule our thoughts, words, and actions. Approaching compassion as a constant practice helped me realize how harshly critical I can be of others and especially myself. Really, we’re all the same, we’re all connected, and we’re all just doing our best. Give it a try next time someone cuts you off in traffic, embarrasses you in front of your boss, or places her mat just a little too close to yours.
Thank you for this opportunity to share some of what I learned this summer. Om shanti.
Lauren Roberts is in the final stage of Yoga District’s 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training Program. Now living in the Midwest once again, she is honored to share this practice as part of the Indianapolis-area yoga community.
“Yoga starts as the process of harnessing the brain’s capacities and naturally evolves into the art of living well,” says Gabriel Axel, certified yoga teacher, neuroscience and cognition specialist. You may love your daily yoga practice, but your brain loves it just as much.
When I tried yoga for the first time before moving to Washington, D.C. a few years ago, I liked it. That was the most I could say about it. It felt good and I enjoyed myself, but my heart wasn’t quite in it.
Many events occurred in my life over the past five years that changed my attitude and opened my heart to the practice. Within one year, I lost my grandparents and both of my parents, three of them having died suddenly. In 2009, I was fortunate to have been introduced to Nichiren Buddhism, a daily practice that strengthens my belief in my own potential and emphasizes the connection between all living beings. Things were going better for me, but there was still something missing.
I was quite familiar with loss, but was hit with it again when another important relationship ended in my life just over a month ago. I decided I wanted to take this as an opportunity to reconnect with myself and create the most value with my life. Looking back I realized I’d lost touch with what was important to me and set out on a path of rediscovery.
My seeking spirit ultimately led me to Yoga District. From my first class with the studio in April, I knew that something fundamental had shifted within me. I had never cried before in a yoga class. But I wasn’t ashamed. I didn’t feel the need to cover it up. It felt so natural. It felt good!
I couldn’t explain my transformation, I just wanted to keep experiencing it. As soon as I placed myself on the mat, I felt I was affirming the value of my life. This was my time. Yoga strengthened my practice of mindfulness, self-kindness, and compassion- behaviors that began to trickle out into my life outside of the studio. As a result of my openness and commitment to Yoga District, I am uncovering a new me. All of these wonderful qualities were always there within me, but my yoga practice helped me unlock them and use them to their full potential.
Daisaku Ikeda, a Buddhist philosopher, writes, “you are more precious than all the treasures in the universe.” Thanks to Yoga District, I truly believe this in my heart and can actualize it every day through my yoga practice.
Written by Kelley [Last name withheld]
Kelley attended Jasmine’s Yoga for Grief Workshop on August 18. The next Yoga for Grief Workshop will be on Friday, September 27 Sign up for our Yoga for Grief Workshop here.
To meditate, you don’t have to sit like this. Meditation doesn’t look a certain way. It doesn’t even have to feel a certain way. The only trick is, you just have to do it.
There’s a meditation workshop coming up at Yoga District that will go over so many different ways to meditate that you’re bound to find one that you connect with. Gracy, the delightful (I mean it, delightful) teacher who is leading the workshop, will share really down to earth meditation practices that you can easily integrate in your daily routine.
I credit my daily meditation practices with helping me find more peace, less reactivity (aka I don’t “freak out” on people), and passion for my purpose in life. Research agrees that meditation lowers stress, improves brain function, lowers fatigue, improves emotional regulation, increases compassion, etc.
It has even been shown to improve attention and focus (and therefore productivity, I bet), which is probably why our meditative yoga workplace classes are such a hit in so many offices in Washington DC.
If you think you don’t have time to meditate, one of my teachers even suggested starting a meditation practice by closing your eyes and focusing on your breath whenever you take a bathroom break or before a meal. If it’s the only opportunity you have to pause in your busy day, it’s far better than nothing and the benefits are too good to pass up!
Recently at District Tea Lodge, DC’s only vegan, gluten-free cafe, we had a great community roundtable. We discussed everything from the proper diet according to yoga philosophy, to GMOs, to composting and container gardening. To share some of the online resources mentioned during the discussion and more, please check this out! Also, consider joining the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which has pick up at our 14th Street Studio.
The first ethical rule in yoga is ahimsa, meaning non-harming / non-violence. Pesticides and genetically modified food (GMOs) do cause harm to your immune system. Check it out:
A paper coauthored by a Senior Researcher at MIT on the effects of GMOs on health.
Shopping/eating guide on which foods to avoid in terms of pesticides.
A guide to identifying GMOs, organic and conventional produce according to their barcode numbers (please note that in the comment section of this article someone indicated that using this barcode system is voluntary).
Also, check out these tips for avoiding GMOs.
Gardening & Composting:
When you know exactly where your food came from, you know much more about how healthy it is. The best way to ensure your own health and well being is to garden some of your own food.
Composting is a useful method for gardening, and it is environmentally sound. But understanding what and how to compose your food is important. Here is a great site about composting, showing a table about carbon to nitrogen ratios, and more.
There are also two really affordable compost pick up services in DC. Compost Cab picks up compost from your home weekly, provides the bug- and smell – proof container for you to store compost between pick ups, and will even share composted soil with you when its ready.
Guidance on proper soil for container gardening, composting, container types, recipes for herbicides, fungicides, and organic pesticides. This can be particularly helpful for us city dwellers!
Here are some pointers for different types of vegetables and plants best suited for container gardening (from the University of Arizona – scroll to the bottom). It can look like a lot of work, but patience and hard work can pay off in the long run for your health, immune system, and even your yoga practice.
Although this topic didn’t make it into the discussion, alkaline diets are something worth considering. Avoiding acidic foods and drinks like coffee, chocolate, and cheese can do wonders for your health and daily outlook.
As yogis, our food choices can effect our energy level, well-being, and even our practice. Have any good suggestions? Leave them in the comments section!
Be Safe in the Wild World of Yoga: Modifying for Injury/Conditions and Know When NOT to Listen to Your Yoga Teacher
Yoga District’s Injury and Condition Modification Guide
By Jasmine Chehrazi, E-RYT 500 and Certified Yoga Therapist
Whether you have low back pain, are pregnant, are bipolar or have any other injury or condition, there are some things you need to keep in mind when practicing in a group yoga class at Yoga District or any studio:
1. Listen to your self: Do not do any movements or practices that hurt or make you feel strained, regardless of what any teacher says to you or the class. If you can’t maintain steady breathing in a pose, that’s a pretty good signal to change something.
2. Accept the limits of group instruction: Group classes are not appropriate settings for you to receive customized, therapeutic advice on how to treat your injury/condition with yoga. So if you have an injury/condition, try a private yoga therapy session instead.
3. Avoid areas of pain: If you have a physical ailment in a certain area of the body, you may wish to avoid poses that involve that area entirely during group yoga classes. Instead, try focusing on poses that help strengthen and stretch surrounding areas. For example, if you have knee pain, you may benefit from strengthening and stretching the quads, hamstrings and other nearby muscles. Or if you have back pain, you may benefit from engaging the abdominal muscles and stretching the hips and shoulders.
4. Ease out: Don’t go as “deeply” into a pose. For instance, in a forward fold try to focus on lengthening the spine rather than folding deeply into the bend.
5. Evenly distribute weight and try padding: Decrease pressure on any one part of the body by distributing weight more evenly to more points, and consider using a blanket for padding. For instance, in lunge pose, ground the back knee to distribute weight more evenly and, if desired, place a blanket under the back knee (see picture above right).
6. Find a safe resting pose: Some instructors offer child’s pose (see picture below right) as a resting pose but if this puts too much pressure on your hips and knees, pick any other comfortable, sustainable position you like. You should feel free to return to your resting pose at any time during a group yoga class, no matter what the teacher says. A successful practice is a safe one!
Here are some general ideas about modifying types of yoga poses, but please remember none of this constitutes medical advice and that you are practicing at your own risk:
- Back issues: Consider slightly bending your knees in all forward folding poses, engaging your abdominal and seat muscles throughout your practice, and keeping an elongated spine. Entirely avoid or avoid undue depth in back bends, forward folds or any other poses that could agitate the back.
- Knee issues: Avoid “locking” the knee joint, try to engage the muscles around the knee, and always keep each of your knees pointing in the same direction as the second and third toes of each foot. Try bending the ankle to 90 degrees to engage muscles around the knee, preventing unnecessary knee pressure. In standing poses, you can keep the back knee straight or on the ground (perhaps with a blanket cushioning the knee). The front knee in standing poses can be straight (but not “locked”), softly/slightly bent, or bent directly above your ankle (and never beyond the ankle).
- Prenatal: Avoid laying on the back or stomach but laying on the left side is appropriate for many. Widen the distance between the feet and point the toes out 45 degrees when standing or when doing a forward fold. The hormone “relaxin” is secreted during pregnancy and can increase your flexibility, so ensure you remain in control while stretching and avoid over-stretching. In twisting poses, ensure nothing (including your leg or legs) is in the way of the abdomen, and try to keep the naval pointing forward by twisting from the chest upwards. You may wish to gently engage the abdominals and focus on hip opening poses and breathing.
- Arthritis: Move slowly, focus on range of motion instead of speed of motion, and consider avoiding the more fast-paced types of yoga including “vinyasa” / “flow” classes. Try Gentle Yoga, Restorative and other nicely paced classes.
- Menstruating: Avoid inversions where the hips are above the heart. Please take this seriously, as some link cervical cancer to reversal of menstrual flow (which could happen when you’re upsidedown in headstand and other inversions). Consider replacing downward facing dog with table position (on hands and knees), and consider replacing shoulderstand or headstand with “legs up the wall” pose. Hip openers and restorative practices may be particularly soothing.
- High blood pressure (unmedicated or under-medicated): Consider avoiding all inversions (any pose where the head is lower than the heart), avoid holding your breath, and avoid fast changes in elevation in relation to the heart and head (don’t quickly move from laying down to standing up).
- Headaches or migraines: Explore the same practices described for high blood pressure above.
- Low blood pressure: Avoid going from an inversion (any pose where the head is lower than the heart) to an upright position quickly or at all. For instance, move from standing forward fold to standing slowly, or avoid the inversion of standing forward fold by replacing it with half forward fold (see picture right), keeping the torso parallel to the ground.
- Sinus pressure / congestion: Try the same practices explored for low blood pressure. Consider a supported inversion such as downward facing dog with a block under the forehead, or supported bridge pose. Avoid classes with quick transitions between inversions and upright positions, such as some vinyasa flow classes.
- Wrist pain: Avoid weight bearing on the wrists entirely. You can practice poses like downward facing dog, plank, and cobra by placing the elbows and forearms on the ground with the palms facing down (see picture below right).
- Neck pain: Keep your head neutral / in line with the spine and avoid collapsing into the neck by engaging the neck muscles gently. Avoid turning your head while the neck is weight bearing, or avoid turning it entirely. For instance, in triangle pose you could keep your gaze downward or straight ahead rather than upward. Consider avoiding poses in which you could accidentally put pressure on the neck such as bridge, shoulderstand, fish and plow.
- Anxiety: Engage a vigorous practice, but avoid overly fast-paced movements and fast-paced breathing exercises if they agitate you. Focus on the exhales when concentrating on the breath. Be careful with backbends – approach them slowly and perhaps try supported backbends to start. Explore yoga classes that feature set sequences if knowing what comes next puts you at ease.
- Depression: Engage a vigorous practice, avoiding overly slow-paced classes. Try light, well-paced classes such as vinyasa flow styles. Consider engaging backbends, and focus on your inhales when concentrating on the breath. Avoid holding savasana (pictured right, the resting pose at the end of most yoga classes) longer than ten minutes, and practice savasana with the eyes slightly open if this is an aide.
Remember that these are just broad ideas you might try out at your own risk. Please feel free to share your experiences applying any of these practices or ideas by commenting below.
This information is part of the Yoga District teacher training manual and may not be copied or distributed without permission. (c) Yoga District 2013
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- Grief and GratitudeWear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life. ~Rumi Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form. ~Rumi There’s a complicated relationship […]
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