When I entered yoga teacher training in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2005, I wasn’t ready. My practice was okay, but not especially great. I leapt without looking, as was (and still sometimes is) my inclination. Before teacher training, I enrolled in an advertising portfolio school full-time while working at the District Attorney’s office. Busyness kept me from really taking a look at myself. I left the DA’s office to work in advertising, and despised my job from day one. Hives broke out all over my neck, and my appetite went away, both firsts for me. Lasting just a month before quitting and going back to my old job, I was humbled, disappointed, and confused. When a teacher I greatly respected encouraged me towards teacher training, I was blown away. Well, my ego really liked it, that I know. So, I went for it, not really thinking about why I wanted it.
Congratulations to Marianne O’Neil
Graduate of the Yoga on High 300-hour (Advanced) Teacher Training Program, completed June, 2015
My interests in yoga are as varied as yoga itself! I began as a young adult practicing breath work and poses in the Hatha style, but now I often find myself wanting a more vigorous Ashtanga-styled practice paired with pranayama and yoga nidra. In the last several years I have worked closely with Mary Sinclair, our local expert on Balance®, which teaches postural training. The Kundalini teachings of Yogi Bajan are also part of my regular practice. I find that all of the seemingly disparate practices mysteriously work together as a reflection of the universe itself. Richard Freeman calls it The Jeweled Net of Indra, where all practices are jewels connected by the net that leads to all other jewels, and to the heart of yoga that is the intimate relationship with the inner Self. My hope is that I can bring that understanding of the various practices to the students who I teach as well.
Teaching Prenatal Yoga allows you the opportunity to empower women during this special and sacred time of their life. Pregnancy can create a flurry of emotions due to the physical changes it involves as well as fears about the baby’s health, laboring and mothering. As a yoga teacher you can offer a sacred space for the pregnant woman to slow down, tune into her body, and build a community of support. You can teach her ways to find comfort and ease in her changing body, while celebrating the life she is creating. Often women turn to yoga for the first time while pregnant because other forms of physical activity become too challenging and they hear how Prenatal Yoga offers them a time to bond with the baby and tools for labor. To avoid feeling isolated pregnant women can connect with one another is Prenatal Yoga classes, too. I’ve had many Prenatal Yoga Class students stay connected with one another, even after having their second children. What a gift this is in our fast paced, detached society. Read More…
This is my 11thyear teaching prenatal yoga at Yoga on High and I find the spectrum of my experience fascinating! My teaching style continually evolves due to all I learn along the way. Being on the prenatal yoga scene is a surefire way to grow as a teacher, just like the pregnant body grows and changes.
One of my favorite aspects of teaching pregnant women is being a part of their support team. I love to create and hold the space for them to come together to share their mutual experiences. After all, this may be the only time they get to be around other pregnant women. Class time becomes their sanctuary, letting them spread out, be themselves, share and gather information and share their common woes and celebrations as well. Read More…
As I prepare to teach the Restorative Teacher Training in July I have been reflecting back on over 35 years of yoga. If Ashtanga Yoga had been popular and available where I was in the 70s I likely would have been an Ashtangi. At 20, I was wild for asana and moved into advanced poses very quickly. I was the sort of student who showed up for an early morning practice of 108 sun salutations as the appetizer to a weekend workshop of advanced asana. Restorative yoga was unknown in those days; there were no props, no blankets, no blocks or straps, hey, there weren’t even any yoga mats in those days. And while the tradition that I started in included long savasanas (deep relaxations), some popular schools of yoga did not.
Life has a way of bringing balance to our lives and after about 7 years of full on practice a close family member died and I couldn’t get out of bed. I had never experienced grief before and had no idea what was happening. I had the feeling that if I could get up and do some asana I would have felt much better. But even when I crawled to my yoga space, I couldn’t seem to do anything. I lay there and cried. The few times I was able to muster up an active practice of some sort I got injured. I realized that my posture was sagging in the typical slouch of despair and loss and my body was in pain. I was sighing and exhaling a lot but not inhaling much.
At that time my bed was a mattress on the floor. It also became my first yoga prop. When I didn’t feel like getting up one morning I turned around and lay on my back with my head, shoulders and arms on the floor and the rest of my body supported by the mattress. I had invented my first supported back bend, a version of what we now call setu bandhasana. I could remain there without any effort on my part. My inhalations went deeper and my chest was not collapsed at least for the time I was there. It felt nourishing and necessary. As I moved through my grief I also used bed pillows to prop up my chest and started valuing my time of restoration. Eventually I moved back into more active poses again but never forgot the power of lying around over household furnishings.
The following year another family member died and my grief hit even harder. There were many days when I wasn’t sure I would make it out of the grief alive. Soon after this death I ended up in a week-long program with Mary Schatz, a medical doctor and Iyengar yoga teacher. She was teaching something called restorative yoga! Clearly, someone else (B. K. S. Iyengar) had invented this practice as well and I learned more sophisticated versions of poses I had already been practicing and the physiology of what we were doing. Eventually Judith Lasater published her book, Relax and Renew, and the restorative yoga revolution was off and running.
There are times in everyone’s lives when the kindest, most important thing they can do is to lie down. If they have the skill to practice specific poses that will be therapeutic for their circumstances, so much the better. From time to time we all get ill, have accidents, loss, babies, go through menopause or are just too darn tired to work any harder. These are times for restorative yoga. I know there are some people who consider restorative yoga a “lesser practice,” but this is not my experience at all. After one year of practicing restorative yoga exclusively, I returned to my more active practice without any loss of flexibility. What I gained was immeasurable: an enhanced ability to track subtle connections, increased sensitivity, openness and trust that I could know my own needs. I learned the benefits of a quiet stillness deeper than anything I had previously experienced. What little I lost in muscle strength was easily renewed, perhaps because of my enhanced ability to balance effort and relaxation.
As a yoga teacher I have found restorative yoga to be a practice that allows anyone to come to the mat and support whatever is going on. I have taught men and women with cancer who would never have been able to do sun salutations but could lie over bolsters to increase their circulation and reduce the anxiety that comes with a life-threatening disease. I have taught people with back pain who couldn’t get comfortable sleeping until we fine-tuned a side-lying restorative pose. I have taught veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder who were so tired from their vigilance and anxiety that all they wanted was a chance to rest. I have supported mothers who have lost babies who just needed a few moments of comfort before returning to their grief. I have supported women who didn’t know it was necessary to care for themselves in order to care for the others in their lives. The faces that come into my awareness as I type these words are precious reminders of the power of yoga. As a teacher I want all the tools possible in my toolkit so I can meet you right where you are. If you want wild arm balances—great—I love those; if you want a place of respite and ease we can do that too.
Last week in our 200 TT discussion on ethics, Marcia and I were pointing out how carefully students tend to study their yoga teacher. They are looking to their teacher for clues on what yoga is and how it manifests. We said to assume everything you do as a teacher will be noticed. This prompted one of the teachers in training, to relay a story about me.
This happened five years ago--our sweet Kelly Rose, a very thoughtful teacher who also worked at the front desk of YOHI overheard me say the f-word after hanging up on a call with Lowe’s. Kelly Rose related this to her friend, now in our teacher in training program, and expressed to her the relief she felt knowing that I was capable of letting loose with an expletive. I felt relief myself, hearing this story for the first time, that it turned out ok in the end!
I’m confessing here that I’ve been cursing and using language unbecoming of a yogini. I see the problem as being lack of mindfulness and presence as much as the actual curse itself. It seems I’ve developed well-worn pathways for this pattern and it’s requiring a strong dose of awareness and attention to remedy the habit.
Some words have power for good and for transformation. The word “om” is known to have beneficial bodily effects and for its potential to raise one’s vibratory quality. The power of sound is a double-edged sword though; curses carry negative energy and lower vibration.
In the Lowe’s case, I am saying to myself, it was justified--we were ready to put our house up for sale in a tough market and the only thing holding us back was that Lowe’s couldn’t come through with a new counter we’d been promised long ago, and then was finally delivered, but damaged…ok, but I noticed myself curse about a red light. Reacting over a traffic light? Even if I was running late, even if it was said softly, that reaction lacked discrimination and discernment, and it’s painful to think that the word which came so thoughtlessly is reflective of my state of mind.
I realized I needed to plan out an alternative, a go-to word for sudden situations when I might have reached for an easy expletive.
My friend Angelique, who is an actual embodied angel, says, “Good Night!” when she exclaims.
My charming friend Rhonda says “Dang!”
My elegant grandmother used to declare, “Oh, my!”
Some I’ve tried out:
Lord have mercy!
Heavens to Mugatroy, or to Betsy
A rustic one: Land a goshin!, or gosh for short
Goodness gracious. This is it--so benevolent. How much more useful, beautiful, pleasant, uplifting than a curse! But in a trying situation, could it ring true? It may not hold up in every instance …but as a go-to phrase…I’m giving goodness gracious a go.
It is so easy to label something with a careless word, and the f-word can get easy too. It is so short and explosive. So, I will try to blurt out “Goodness gracious!” instead of something more reactive, but this is my challenge to myself: what word choice could express and reflect the actual intensity of the situation? And won’t it be interesting to look more deeply to see what is at the heart of the issue and to identify the emotions and needs arising and to name them? I’m imagining that silence would be the appropriate response much of the time…or a thoughtful silence before coming up with a useful comment on or summary of the challenge at hand.
And going forward, when I curse I will attempt to do it mindfully, using a powerful vibration-lowering shock word only when the occasion truly warrants a sharp slap of negativity. I’m wishing you goodness and graciousness and the intent to always be radiating blessings for all beings--reflecting in the language what is truly in your heart.
Last fall a group of us from Yoga on High were fortunate to spend part of a day with Dr. Herbert Benson at the Ohio State University Medical Center. A cardiologist by training, Benson is the man who put meditation research on the map over 35 years ago with the publication of his book, The Relaxation Response. At 76 years old he had the rosy cheeks, cheery countenance and vitality of someone who is passionate about his work and takes daily time to restore and renew himself though a meditation practice.
It is a privilege to be teaching yoga and meditation at a time when the technology developed by yogis thousands of years ago can now be tested by modern scientific methods and found to be valuable in ways that matter to people living in this 21st century. I’ll use this blog entry to write up some of the things I remember and have been sustained by from the two programs I attended with Dr. Benson.
Once his very first study showed the usefulness of meditation he had his staff do a worldwide search to see who else was doing the simple repetitive practices that he was practicing as meditation. Of course they discovered that every culture and every religion has such practices. The universality of the techniques was a thread that was woven through everything he said. And, that the specifics of the practice need to be chosen by the person meditating. He welcomed people of every religion or no religion to use words, phrases or repetitive activities that were meaningful to them. In his studies he had people of different traditions practicing side by side and each one received the benefits I’ll describe below. His respect for all traditions was palpable and made it very enjoyable and easy to be in the room with him.
His basic technique is very simple: for more than 10 minutes and less than 20 minutes gently repeat a word, phrase or short prayer that has meaning for you. When the mind wanders (and you can be sure it will) just say to yourself, “oh well” and come back to the original focus. At the end of the session, sit for another minute with eyes closed to experience the feelings of well being. Then get up and go about your day.
There were several things he said that have stayed with me. One is that the simple act of practicing the Relaxation Response affects our genes. Each of us has many genes, but not all of them are expressed. The environment of the gene will help to determine whether the gene will express (turn on). In the environment of daily practice (remember, this is only 10-20 minutes a day in their studies) there are 3 gene-types that do not express: ones for stress reactivity, for inflammation (an important marker for all kinds of diseases) and for aging. This is true whether the person has been meditating for 30 years or for as short as 8 weeks. Yes, even 8 weeks is enough time to begin to reprogram genes though the effect is stronger the longer someone has been meditating.
To the degree that any disease is caused by stress the practice of the Relaxation Response will help. With many scientists suggesting that 80% of diseases have stress as a major contributing factor, the implications of ongoing research are huge. Benson and his colleagues studied the effects of meditation on irritable bowel and the research confirmed that meditation helped. Studies by other researchers have revealed that people with many diseases (cardiovascular disease, depression, chronic pain and diabetes to name a few) can benefit from meditation.
Another study Benson mentioned showed that doctors who were practicing the relaxation response had patients who got well faster. On average their patients left the hospital a day sooner than those with doctors who were stressed, resulting in the savings of around $2,000 per patient. This really got me thinking. The relaxed doctor was probably more alert and responsive to whatever treatments were needed, but also likely helped his/her patients to feel more at ease since relaxation is catching and helpful to the body’s ability to heal itself.
With this in mind, I considered the benefits that yogis and meditators confer on the people around them, just by being in the room. Could it be that we are often the calmest people in the room? Could it be that we are the ones others want to sit by in difficult meetings just because they feel more relaxed sitting next to us? Could it be that by doing our practices and becoming calmer we contribute the health and well being of all around us? I watched Dr. Benson deflect potential antagonism over and over just by being what I imagine is his normal, cheerful self. Because he was not reactive to any negativity in the room he continually won people over, not by facts and logic (though he had plenty of those) but by his way of being. I have seen this frequently with longtime yoga practitioners as well. Their very deep calmness calms others around them, reducing conflict.
This is very exciting to me in another way. One of the main reasons that people stop practicing yoga, I think, is that they feel it is selfish to take time for themselves. In our busy, busy lives, they think it an indulgence to feel that good and to take time away from their “real” work. But what if our real work is to be a beacon of calm in the world? That no matter what else we do, our calmness is a healing force? Let us all become the calmest person in the room, knowing that our peaceful vibration brings peace to all we meet. In the words of Saint Francis of Assisi, “Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.”
And as a special treat I offer a simple chant here that you can learn and repeat as a reminder of your own peaceful power.
Drawing on her lively and joyful relationship with Lorin Roche and Camille Maurine, Marcia arranged a meditation Teacher Training program with them via telephone. I am very lucky to be a participant along with some of our YOHI Teacher Trainees. One of the liberating things Lorin and Camille teach is that we are meditating when we are in a state of elation doing something we love. We can build a meditation practice on the framework of natural bliss! One homework assignment was to describe a situation where we experienced such a state of grace. For me, that state comes in teaching an ashtanga yoga class at YOHI. I offer it here:
I am teaching a yoga class. We have chanted the invocation and felt its reverberation in our bodies and hearts, and now we are underway and there is a feeling of being comrades, kindred spirits, traveling together through the poses. There is a sense of conviviality, of lightness--I am nominally leading but also we are moving together though a set sequences of poses. We are all focused and working hard, but there is a group sense of humor, satisfaction, and enjoyment along with the physical effort.
The words that come through me function to sustain these qualities, and to keep everyone in this very moment, moving efficiently, but not habitually. I’m inspired by the sacredness of each breath and my words offer a reminder of this precious moment--a rhythmic and continuous returning to presence.
The breath is just loud enough that we are all aware of its pulse throughout the room, a sound-awareness that connects us. We bask in the heat of the room and in the humidity created by our sweat.
Our sweat mingles--I’m touching my student, baptized by her sweat on my belly when I merge my front into her back and take her a bit farther into a forward bend. Through her breath I can experience her enjoyment of her deeper release, her surrender.
I’m delighted—feeling mudita—to see the students’ beautiful practices, their openings and mindful alignment within the rhythmic flow. I’m filled with love for them. I am in a flow of offering—I’m looking intently to see where I can be of service—grounding a leg here, lengthening a spine there, offering a more aligned drishti to another.
In one part of my brain I’m keeping an eye on the clock so that we can move through all of the poses within the allotted time and yet have a luxurious amount of time in each asana.
I’m keeping the beat, sustaining the rhythmic quality of the practice, so that we are all drawing energy from that shared pulse, and we can keep coming up with more strength and endurance for another vinyasa and another. The transitions are so juicy that they give back as much energy as they require.
I am aware that I am representing a lineage. My beloved teacher, Pattabhi Jois, often comes to my mind/heart while I practice and teach. Guruji said that the practice itself is the teacher, “Practice and all is coming.”
The poses become more profound as the practice rounds around to the end--Sarvangasa, Sirsasana, Padmasana. Finally Savasana, surrender into the support of the earth, float on the wings of the breath, touch into the deeper aspects of our being, maybe moving beyond the illusion of the separate self—what we’ve asked for in the invocation. I am the witness. I am privileged to share the exquisite experience. As I offer the Reiki symbols, sending love to each student, the exquisiteness intensifies.
In the end, when we chant to offer our merit to all, and bow to salute the divinity within each other, there is an exchange of gratitude that swells my heart, while completely humbling me. Just writing this down takes me to this lovely, holy place.
By Linda Oshins
As the teacher trainees teach their certification classes, spending an hour and a half leading their peers through each phase of a beginner’s class, I can see and applaud every person’s journey from the first week of training through this last step into their own voice and vision. After graduation, the real learning begins. With all their tools in tact, these new teachers will grow wiser from watching their students—their bodies’ movements and energy flow, their breathing patterns, the slow release of physical and mental tension, the softening of the brow and the gaze.
The teacher trainees have worked hard to acquire some level of mastery and confidence in their skills, and now they have to answer the question, what kind of teacher am I, distinct from everyone else, given what I have to say and do from a place of complete honesty?
Even after all theses years of teaching yoga, every time I acquire a new skill and teach it, I’m a new teacher. I have to feel that I have enough knowledge and experience to merit sharing my skill with others. I have my insecurities and needs for affirmation like anybody else. Besides doing my daily practices, I have done lots of reading on my subject, reviewed the research literature, outlined my classes, and written up the after-class synopsis of what worked and what didn’t, but at some point I throw it all away. From a fresh place, I want to listen to the actual experience we are all having. I want to remember that a novice student’s experience of pranayama, for example, has the same weight and profundity as mine or anyone else’s. I want to be able to be “wrong” and find it as interesting as being “right,” and to live in uncertainty as comfortably as I can.
In Early Morning, Kim Stafford’s memoire of his father, William Stafford, he describes two ways of teaching writing. In the first, the erudite professor tells the student what he knows, often brilliantly; in the second, his father “interviews” his class, “puzzled, and his students help him.” Kim said that sometimes when he taught in the first manner, “…I would feel drunk with insight. Sentences spilled forth from my reading, my pondering, my pure invention. But when I finished we all dwelt in the trance of “so what?” So what if all these ideas were important to me. What question was bigger than me? What question would require the students to help me?”
I want to embrace that odd dance between knowing something and not-knowing, leaving myself open to unsuspected discoveries. Between being the teacher with the insight and being the witness for the insightful student. Being the student of student. It’s easy to remember that when I watch the teacher trainees teach their last certification class at Yoga on High.
Congratulations to the graduating class of 2011, you who have acquired such expertise and insight in 12 intense months of study and practice and taught me so much. You have enough, you are enough. Nobody knows everything.