Thinking Yogi

The intersection of two loves: yoga and writing.

Can you imagine what your day would look like if you paid as much attention to your own battery levels as you did your phone’s?

Two weeks ago when my kids were home and our family was living in the limbo between summer activities and the start of school, I’d play outside with them for much of the day, compensating by shifting my workday to the post-bedtime hours. After a few late nights I was feeling run down and somewhat Mean Mommy-ish, but every evening I’d still find myself at my desk as the clock ticked past midnight. No matter how late I had stayed up, before I shut off the light and called it quits for the day I’d always double check that my phone was plugged in.

The battery on my phone predictably dies within a day, even when I haven’t used it. It’s been this way since I got the new phone six months ago, so after it died on me once or twice I noted the issue and have remained vigilant about checking my battery and recharging as needed. (Another approach would have been to just buy another battery, but that’s the subject of another post.)

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The sight of my fully charged phone – that proud green bar with a powerful little lightning bolt – makes me feel ready for anything that life throws at me. As the hours wear on and the battery level goes down, I check the battery display obsessively, worried about getting to the piddly yellow band or (gasp!) the dreaded red stripe accompanied by that terrible beep that signals the near-end of my phone battery’s life.

Without consciously setting rules, over the past few months I’ve adopted an unspoken method for keeping my phone juiced up. If my battery is more than halfway charged, I leave it alone for the day knowing it’ll be okay until I can charge it up overnight. If it’s less than halfway charged I strategize, no matter where I am, to figure out when and where I can plug it in. In extreme cases if I know there won’t be a recharging opportunity for a while, I’ll often just shut the phone off to conserve its precious energy.

When I consider the gymnastics I put myself through for this device (particularly considering that I’m anything but phone-obsessed), it seems laughable. I rationalize it because as a mom with young children and a business owner I rely on my phone, and these are the hard-and-fast rules it presents me. There’s no bargaining for just a few more minutes so I can finish a text message to let my husband know my phone is dying and we’ll be staying at the park for a while longer, or to call back a client who wants to know more about bringing yoga to her workplace.

I really never thought much about this recharging craziness until my friend and colleague Lisa Sandquist mentioned the idea in the context of restorative yoga, noting the irony of how vigilant we are about phone and device recharging, when it never even occurs to most of us (even the yoga teachers among us – ahem!) to apply the same concept to our own energy levels.  I’ve unfortunately become an expert at taking myself beyond the red bar, deaf to my own terrible version of the beep that comes when I’m overtired and grouchy.

Since Lisa planted the seed, I’ve been pretending that I’m a device that must be adequately charged in order to function. On nights when I’m super tired, even if I have work to do I pretend that my battery doesn’t have an override setting. I pretend that there’s no dark chocolate waiting for me in the pantry to give me that boost to work till 2AM. Instead I lie down on the floor and throw my legs up the wall for 10 minutes.  I breathe deeply and acknowledge my tiredness rather than trying to push through or beyond it.

When I emerge from that 10-minute plug-in, I feel different. Not fully recharged (that only comes with a few nights of consistent good sleep), but nowhere near the yellow or red. I’m solidly in the green, and I approach everything that comes after that in my day differently. Some of the softness of my restorative yoga break comes with me as I decide how to spend my time, how to move, how to speak.

This calls for svadyaya, self-study!

If I can modify my phone plug-in behavior based on hourly checks of a quarter-inch green bar, I can certainly learn to look inward once or twice a day to determine whether my body/mind may be in need of a recharge for a few minutes.

Humans don’t come equipped with bright, shiny, LED screens or that terrifying low battery sound. But with the conscious practice of yoga and self-awareness, we can learn to see the signals almost as clearly as if they were green, yellow, or red bars. 

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Investing your time and money in a yoga teacher training program can be an effective way to deepen your understanding of yoga in order to share it with others and possibly move towards a career doing what you love. Finding the right program can make all the difference between a mediocre experience and a life-changing one.

Down dog adjustment with Sharon Wentz and Kerry Maiorca

In the past 5 years, there’s been a boom in yoga teacher training programs in the US as yoga has become big business. It takes a significant amount of experience, dedication, and time to craft a quality program. However, for some schools teacher training programs are primarily viewed as a source of revenue, and in those cases the program’s quality may reflect those priorities.  Asking the right questions as a prospective student will help you determine whether a program will prioritize your education and personal development, or whether they’re more interested in your participation for financial reasons.

If your teacher training experience is just a fast-track to certification, you’ll graduate feeling only vaguely familiar with the material. A quality program will provide repeated exposure to key concepts, adequate support and feedback, and plenty of time to absorb the information so you’ll feel confident and practiced enough that you could teach any yoga pose or philosophical concept to your grandmother. 

Will you be ready when a student in your first post-teacher-training class asks how to modify for their back issue or wants to know what that Sanskrit term you’ve been throwing around really means? 

Get an insider look at what's really important by asking these 10 questions: 

1. Is the program an RYS? Over the past year, Yoga Alliance has become the essential player in the yoga world, to the point where it’s hard to get a teaching job if you don’t attend a Registered Yoga School (RYS) and obtain the Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) designation. Yoga Alliance offers valuable member benefits such as health insurance, liability insurance, educational webinars, and more. Even if you aren’t sure you want to teach, it’s wise to invest in a program that will enable you to get your RYT because if you change your mind and want to teach after graduating you will not have to spend additional money on a second RYS program. To ensure you can get your RYT designation upon graduation, verify that a prospective program is listed as an RYS on Yoga Alliance’s website so you know the program is in good standing.

2. What is the style of the training and will it make you a versatile teacher? While demonstrating respect for the broad tradition of yoga, the program should focus on one particular approach (that resonates with you) rather than providing a survey of 10 different yoga styles. On the other hand, consider whether the program’s teaching certificate will make you a versatile instructor who can teach in a variety of settings, or whether you will only be qualified to teach a branded class in a particular location or for a particular company.

3. How experienced are the primary teachers? To become a skillful yoga teacher, you need to learn more than just the basics of alignment and a bunch of Sanskrit. You’ll learn most from the insights your primary teachers share based on their years of experience practicing, studying, and working with thousands of students. With teacher training programs cropping up everywhere, it’s important to find out how long the primary teacher has been teaching. The depth of what you can learn from a teacher who been honing her craft for 10 or more years is significantly more than someone who just graduated from her own teacher training program 2 years ago. 

4. How many trainees do they accept? Consider how you would feel being in a class of 20 versus a class of 60+. Smaller teacher training class sizes allow for more personalized instruction. Ask to talk with the primary teacher about the level of individual feedback provided on your practice, teaching, sequencing, and other assignments. The way you’re received as a prospective trainee will reveal how you’ll likely be treated once enrolled. If the teacher makes time to address your questions, that’s a good indication she’ll value you as an individual rather than just another number on the roster.

5. Is the school fair and upfront with their pricing? The current advertised pricing for teacher training programs ranges from around $2500 - $4000. However, many schools add extra hidden costs for required workshops, makeups, manuals, or in the case of residential programs, accommodations. Find out all fees that are associated with completing the program so you know what your true cost will be, and be sure the program has their attendance, pricing, and refund policies in writing so there are no surprises should the unexpected happen.

6. What do program graduates say? Recent graduates can be one of the best sources for information about the quality of the training. They can share their first-hand experience and give you a sense of whether the program delivers what it promises. The primary teacher should be happy to put you in touch with graduates for a phone or email exchange.

7. How long will it take to get certified? There are many programs that will certify you to teach in a few weeks, often running trainings that last for 8-10 hours, day after day. The average adult has an attention span of 20-60 minutes, so at a certain point excessive information will simply not stick. The key to retention and absorption is learning via sessions that are shorter in duration and that meet consistently (weekly rather than monthly), allowing you to circle back to key concepts until they are second nature.

8. What is the curriculum and classroom format? Yoga Alliance requires RYS to provide a minimum number of instructional hours in six educational categories, but each program can choose to allocate those hours in a variety of ways. Ask the primary teacher to show you the curriculum and book list, and find out the format of classroom hours. According to Yoga Alliance guidelines, teacher training classroom hours must be in a “dedicated teacher training environment (into which others might occasionally be invited) rather than in classes intended for the general public.” If the program doesn’t follow a clear curriculum and your teacher training sessions are open to the general public, the depth of your learning will be compromised.

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9. Does the program prepare you to teach beginners and modify for students with injuries? Teaching intermediate students is pretty straightforward – just call out ‘handstand’ and, voila, up they go! While it can be fun to play with more challenging poses, part of being a good yoga teacher is meeting students where they are. As yoga becomes more popular, it’s essential to know how to safely teach a variety of students (not just fit and flexible yogis) because regardless of what level you plan to teach, every class is really a mixed level class. The program should emphasize learning alternate variations so you can empower students to participate at a level that’s appropriate for them rather than risking overdoing it or having to sit that challenging arm balance out.

10. How much yoga experience is required to apply? If a program requires no previous yoga experience for applicants, this should raise a red flag. It means you will receive a less-thorough education because your teacher trainers will need to spend more time instructing newer students in the basics of alignment and technique. It may also indicate the program values generating revenue over accepting appropriately-qualified candidates. One year of consistent yoga practice prior to applying is a minimum standard for potential teacher trainees.

Having asked the above questions and pondered the answers, you’ll be well-equipped to determine which program will be the best fit for your educational needs while preparing you to become a skilled and knowledgeable yoga teacher. Enjoy the journey!

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Theoretically it was a great idea to invite friends over for a last-minute barbecue so the kids could play outside while the adults chatted. It was a near-perfect impromptu summer plan. But then I looked down and saw that the floor of our apartment was carpeted in papers and crayons and stray Legos, and I noticed the smears of toothpaste on the bathroom mirror. We couldn't let our friends see this mess, and I couldn't possibly get the place to an acceptable level of cleanliness by the time they'd get here. As I chucked a stray pair of socks and slumped onto the couch, I briefly considered calling to cancel rather than letting our friends see such embarrassing domestic chaos. 

Meet my inner perfectionist. She doesn’t come out often, thanks to years of reflection and conscious habit-changing (not to mention having two children and a business to run). But she’s still hoarding 23 article drafts because they’re not quite ready to put out into the world yet, and she’s always daydreaming about that time when her future self will magically have more time. Then she’ll perfectly do all the things that have been in need of doing – reorganize that overflowing file cabinet, transcribe all the notes of cute things the kids said from the tiny slips of paper on her desk, and complete and submit every last one of those article ideas.

It's all one big stalling technique, I know. Just another way to put off finishing anything for fear that it won't meet my own high expectations. Whether at work, on creative projects, or at home, the perfectionist/procrastinator in me can always throw up an objection to calling a writing project ‘done’ and she fears allowing friends to witness just how ‘undone’ our home environment is. ‘What does it say about me?’ she wonders. ‘What if the world thinks this is the best I can do?’

But the truth is, while it’s not necessarily the best I can do, it’s the best I can do right now, under these circumstances. It’s the best I can do without avoiding doing it altogether.

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In my yoga classes, I encourage students to practice being content with where they are that day. I smile and remind students that sometimes the balance just isn’t there in tree pose (especially when I’m the one doing most of the wobbling), and encourage them to believe that doing the best wobbly tree pose you can do today is better than not doing it at all. I laugh when, even after 15 years of teaching, I mess up my right and left while cueing students into triangle. Yoga’s unofficial motto is not ‘Practice makes perfect,’ but rather ‘Practice, and then practice again tomorrow.’  

I feel freed by the knowledge that there is no need to pursue perfection when it comes to the physical, and I long ago stopped caring how my poses look or how my practice measures up to my neighbor’s. In fact, I love witnessing the changes and fluctuations of the physical on the mat. So why is it so hard to translate that attitude off the mat?

Off the mat the stakes are higher. Moving beyond the physical and into how I run my business or my home, the way I am with my children, or who I am as a creative being feels way more personal than how steady my tree pose is or whether I mess up as a teacher (again). These imperfections, unlike the limits or weaknesses of a body posing on a yoga mat, reveal a core part of my being, one that perhaps I wish could be more polished than is possible. To invite the world to see your imperfection at home, at work, or with family is to be fully revealed for who you are. Sometimes it just seems easier to pretend or to put things off until another day.

Back at home, I realize I have three choices:

1. Decide our house is just too messy for our friends to come over.

2. Tell them to come an hour later and spend that time frantically throwing all our junk in the closet instead of being with them.

3. Invite our friends into our home as is and let them see our state of less-than-perfection.

The rational part of me fully recognizes that our friends don't want to come over to socialize with our house, they want to see us, to be with us. So I take a few minutes to tidy the most essential offenders, invite our friends to join us (and a few dust bunnies) for an evening together, and know that because they are good friends they’ll look at us rather than our unmade bed. After the hugs and shoving a few blankets off the couch I invite them to sit down, making a conscious effort to avoid explaining away our messiness. Instead we let ourselves be seen, just as we are, in our full imperfection. It’s a start, and the start of a great evening together.

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With mindfulness and 'being present' all the rage these days, it's got me wondering: considering the fact that many of us can't even 'be present' while operating heavy machinery (the admitted rate of texting while driving is now 31%), the overemphasis on being mindful of every step, every bite, and every breath seems like a lot of unnecessary pressure. Do we really need one more impossible standard to measure up against?

I'm a firm believer in lowering expectations as a technique for removing some of the pressure and getting out of your own way. 

When a student asks me how to start practicing yoga at home, I tell them to pick their favorite pose and start with five minutes. They always look at me like I'm crazy, surprised that a yoga teacher and studio owner would suggest that something so small could make a difference. I relay the story about the years I spent not doing the daily 90-minute home practice I told myself I 'should' be doing. In my mind, my home practice loomed intimidatingly large. What I didn't realize was that if I turned that practice into a small moment, just one tiny piece of my day, I would be comfortable enough to get to my mat and be present for that brief time, and that would mean more than the most brilliant 90-minute home sequence I could imagine (but never actually do).

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Yoga is all about thinking little. The poses themselves are much like a string of little moments: the conscious placement of one foot to bisect the arch of the other, the slight softening behind a knee, breathing, extending, hinging and lightly placing a hand on a block or shin. Triangle is the big picture, it's what we call that string of little moments, but it's not just a shape or an arrival point. Triangle, like any yoga pose, is one chance after another to be present and practice mindfulness.

Sometimes that means popping out of the present moment to ponder that ever-important item you keep forgetting to add to your grocery list (sneaky yogurt!), but that pop-out moment is what the practice of 'being present' (and the practice of yoga) is all about. If you were in a sustained state of presence, well, you would be a baby. And you probably wouldn't have much need for attending a yoga class, although your mom or dad likely would.

Through the developmental stages there's more wiggle room for distraction and multi-tasking to enter into the picture, which makes little moments of presence all the more important and poignant.

I still remember one particular thunderstorm from a summer when I was little, maybe 6 or so. The storm itself was not particularly memorable. But as rain beat the screens of the high bank of windows in our family room where my mom and I had been watching television, the power went out. After a confused minute of trying every button on the remote, my mom picked up a balloon that was lying around (there always seemed to be balloons around our house when I was little, as my grandparents owned a balloon business), and we played 'keep it up' in the fading light. At first we batted the pink balloon back and forth casually, but soon we were diving, laughing, doing whatever it took to keep the balloon from touching the floor. 

It was a small moment in an otherwise very full childhood summer, and I'm sure my mom doesn't even remember it now, but to me it was big. It was a moment of pure presence and true love and companionship, a moment that transcended whatever terrible television show we were inside watching as the cicadas droned on outside. It was big because of its smallness.

I often wonder what my own children will reflect on as adults, what they'll remember of our days together in this sweet and messy time of early childhood. Will it be the silly poems we made up on the walk home from school, or the fact that I yelled at them to put their shoes away once we got home? Will they remember the sound of my voice singing 'Twinkle, Twinkle' as I stroked their hair after a bad dream, or will it be my dull, transparently distracted reply to their requests to help with an important project to cut circles from the centers of 20 pieces of construction paper?

As a parent, I've had to make peace with the fact that I will not be present in every moment, that sometimes I will lose my temper instead of patiently responding with a smile. For me, this takes the pressure off and gives me permission to forgive the Mean Mommy slip-ups so I can get back to having fun with my sweet littles. 

Both as a yoga practitioner and a mom, I take great joy in the little moments and practice forgiving the bigger slip-ups, knowing that sustained presence just isn't in the cards for any of us beyond toddlerdom. If my yoga practice tomorrow morning yields just one moment of recognition of the incredible experience of vitality throughout my spine as I hang in a forward fold, that will be enough. If I can lose myself in just one rowdy game of 'keep it up' with my kids this summer as my mom did with me when I was little, I'll consider it a summer well spent. I'll leave the big task of 'being present' to others. For now I'm thinking little.

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It was a perfect Memorial Day weekend – my family and I played baseball in the backyard, followed by a rowdy game of tag at the park, a long bike ride (we ♥ Bike the Drive!), and wrapped it all up with a barbecue followed by a round of mini golf. We spent our days running, laughing, jumping, playing, and by Monday night I felt tired, but exquisitely alive.

Then Tuesday morning hit and as I kicked my legs over the side of the bed and stepped onto the hardwood floor, my body recoiled. Too much outdoor fun made for an achy morning after. When the warmer weather comes my family and I go a little bananas with the outdoor activities, and while it’s a relief from our comparatively less-active winter lifestyle, my body clearly needed something more than just activity.

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I creaked my way down to the living room floor to roll out my old friend, my yoga mat. As I stretched my hands forward into a satisfying child’s pose and rocked with my breath in cat-and-cow, I sighed in relief. By the time I rolled up from my first standing forward fold, my spine was tingling in the most incredible way. It was as if my whole body was breathing.

Then my husband walked in and the kids ran to sit on his lap, rubbing their sleepy eyes and watching me practice. “This yoga stuff is pretty amazing.” I said, unsurprised, for what was probably the 1000th time.

I’m a very physical person. Growing up I played softball, volleyball, or basketball nearly every day after school, and if I wasn’t in sports I was at dance class. As an adult it took me a while to realize it, but after paying attention to my habits for a few months I learned that my moods are closely correlated to both the amount of movement I get on a daily basis and how much time I spend outdoors. If I don’t get a good walk or bike ride, look out. Mean Mommy is likely to be just around the corner.

But the movement piece of my self-care routine (and Mean Mommy prevention regimen) is made up of two complementary components that are both opposites and integrally related to each other.

Especially given the fact that most adults (and sadly many kids, too) lead a very sedentary lifestyle – driving to work, taking the elevator, sitting at a desk all day, driving back home, and collapsing onto the couch – the warm weather and increase in activity level is a positive and very welcome change.

Isn’t it enough to just be a summer athlete? Do you really need yoga when the rest of your day has been so active already?

Playing outside in the summer works your body in unfamiliar ways. You’ve heard of the weekend warrior – consider the impact of the summertime warrior who suddenly becomes a 5K runner, a beach volleyball player, a triathlete, or a 16″ softball player just because the thermometer hovers above 80 degrees for a few weeks. How can the body handle this level of extremism without some negative consequence?

People often ask me if classes slow down at Bloom in the summer, expecting that as people go outside to exercise and enjoy some summer fun, they have less of a need for yoga.

But there are no summer tumbleweeds here! I think it’s because Bloom students realize yoga is not the same thing as exercise, and they don’t see it as an either/or proposition. Yoga is so much more than moving your body, so much more than stretching and strengthening, although those benefits are all part of the equation.

What I love about yoga, what’s kept me engaged with practice after 17 years (long after any fitness trend would have worn thin) is that it gives me a chance to slow down and pay attention to what’s going on on a body-mind-breath level. All the stuff I do on the mat is not the point, it’s the vehicle. Yoga practice gives me the tools to better know myself and my habits, and to better be able to identify and meet my needs as they arise, rather than overriding them.

Why would the need to pay attention and take better care of yourself stop just because it’s summer?

What I’ve seen at Bloom in the summertime inspires me. School teachers show up to daytime classes, summertime warriors mellow out in a Gentle class after a long run, workers with flexible schedules drop in on a Friday afternoon, friends catch some evening yoga before heading out to enjoy live music or dinner at a sidewalk cafe.

This is yoga practice at its best, this is the stuff that goes way beyond just knowing the proper foot alignment in warrior I or being able to recite the yamas and niyamas.

This is real people, in real life, making decisions about how to better care for themselves on a moment-to-moment basis.

And there it is. More tingling in my spine as I think about it. Only this time for different reasons.

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