Thinking Yogi

The intersection of two loves: yoga and writing.

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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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Posted by on in Yoga

As 10, then 15, then 20 students rolled through the door for my Gentle Yoga class yesterday morning, I felt like all was right in the yoga world.

It used to be that Gentle Yoga was stigmatized, the redheaded stepchild of yoga offerings. Injured? Go to Gentle. Over 60? Go to Gentle. Looking for an "easier" practice? You get the picture.

But as evidenced by the diverse and dedicated group of students who show up to move and breathe with me on Wednesdays at 10:30am, word is spreading
that Gentle Yoga is a deep, therapeutic, satisfying practice, and as my students and I regularly note, it's far from easy.



What does Gentle Yoga look like?



It depends on the day, the class time, the students who show up, and what their needs are. But the essential components remain the same regardless of those other variables. Gentle Yoga means a commitment to a slower approach to the practice, and one that emphasizes supported poses and poses that are done on the floor. Though it's possible to practice standing poses in a gentle way, the bulk of the sequence is usually in seated, kneeing, supine, or prone positions. We don't bang out a bunch of traditional sun salutations, though I will occasionally use a half sun salute to align movement and breath. Props play a big role in gentle practice, and we typically incorporate at least a few restorative poses throughout the course of the class. The slower pace of a gentle class affords the student time to luxuriate in a conscious breath and to pay attention to the details of alignment, all of which results in a deeply calming and re-energizing practice.

Gentle Yoga can be a very meditative practice because it is focused more on being in the pose rather than on the flowing transitions from one pose to another as is typically emphasized in vinyasa-style classes. The practice prioritizes mobility and support rather than pushing for strength and flexibility, and it provide students a space to listen to their own needs and practice accordingly.

Seated spinal twist

In the past few years, Bloom has grown our Gentle Yoga class offerings from one class a week to eight and have delighted in hearing the wonderful stories from gentle students who've experienced increased range of motion, reduction of pain, and overall enhanced feelings of well-being. Our students range in age from 25 - 75+ and they come for a variety of reasons, such as a need to slow down and be more 'grounded,' to provide a counterpose to their other physical activities or the stresses of work and family life, or to relieve discomfort from anything from typical aches and pains to injuries and medical conditions. There is no 'typical' gentle student, but they almost all share one thing in common: they are fully present whether we're doing a simple head circle or seated spinal twist.


To me, Gentle practice embodies the essence of Yoga and is the answer to moving yoga beyond just another form of exercise to be something far more therapeutic and holistic.

Supported child's pose

After class the other day, one of my students was remarking at how surprising it was that a floor-based gentle could feel so deep and so challenging. In many ways, moving more slowly, paying close attention to alignment and breath, and keeping the mind engaged despite the lack of flashy poses to focus on, makes for a much deeper experience on the mat, and one that translates well into the challenges of daily life.

The philosophy behind Gentle Yoga makes so much sense when taking the long view of yoga. I want to be practicing (and teaching!) when I'm 85, so each time I step on the mat I need to be reminded that I'm in it for the long haul. Does it particularly matter if I do a million sun salutes or the trickiest arm balances? Will a super vigorous class keep me healthy as I age, or might my practice better serve me if it's focused on maintaining mobility, stability, balance, and relaxation?

As yogis, we all face continuing evolution in our practice. I began as a vigorous practitioner and have gradually refined over the years to come to a place of greater balance between active practice and a softer approach. Gentle Yoga is a natural place to cultivate balance on the mat because the goals of the practice are less pointed and the experience is more spacious.

If you are a loyal practitioner of this beautiful practice, you're in good company! If you've never tried Gentle Yoga, I encourage you to give it another look and consider what may be in store for you if you slow things down on the mat.

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 In my gentle class this week, we spent a long time in supta padangusthasana, reclining big toe pose. The pose provides a relaxing way to stretch the hamstrings and strengthen the legs, while allowing for a deep release in the hips, back, and neck. Much as I love this pose today for the perspective it has given me on and off the mat, it still brings back some painful memories.

As someone who is naturally flexible, when I first started yoga I delighted that many of the poses played to my strengths. I moved deeply into forward folds, bent myself into tight backbends, and pursued the goal of making my poses look like whatever the teacher demonstrated or whatever a yoga book pictured. I exploited my flexibility, played with the line where a stretch crosses into the danger zone, and then pushed further, impatient to see a visible 'improvement' in my pose.

You might be able to guess what happened next.

My poses didn't so much improve as they served to teach me some valuable (though painful) lessons. As the teacher led us into supta padangusthasana, I went through the first side following the cues, a little bored as we were instructed to wait and work our way into the pose gradually. When I came out of the first side the teacher had us compare the two, giving us perspective on how far we had come. That first side felt incredible!

But when we started in on the second side, that leg felt stiff, dull, and reluctant. With the memory of the after-effects of the first side so close, I just didn't want to have to wait to get that feeling again. So I tried to skip steps, forcing my leg deeper into the stretch, and that's when I felt a snap in the back of my leg.

Having not yet learned patience and perspective on the yoga mat, I was forced to practice these virtues as I waited for my hamstrings to heal. My injury was a waiting-period, an imposed time to reflect on the true aims of the practice and how I was approaching it. Weeks later as my hamstrings began to feel close to normal again, my approach on the mat became slower, more measured. I found that waiting was not, in fact, boring. Rather it gave me perspective that a rushed approach would have never allowed.

The patience and perspective I've since practiced on the yoga mat has helped more than my hamstrings. Whether in the context of the writing process or in decisions pertaining to my role as director at Bloom, I've made my fair share of rushed decisions because I felt the pressures of time or expectations. When I'm on a deadline, it doesn't seem practical or possible to wait and process. Particularly now that the speed of personal and business interactions has so rapidly increased, when I take extra time it feels like I'm shirking my responsibilities, so I rush to some sort of action. Without exception, the hasty decisions have not turned out to be the best ones. Without the benefit of time, there is always some element that I forget to consider in my process.

Now when some time-sensitive situation comes up in my personal life or at the studio, I imagine the decision is the second side of supta padangusthasana. I reassure myself that a little extra time will help rather than hurt, I send feelers out, and contemplate the issue from a variety of angles. But mostly, I just wait. I'll often experience moments of panic as the deadline looms, worrying that I'm not actively 'doing anything' to resolve the issue. But sometimes doing is not what is required. Often patience and perspective are more effective.

As my experience on and off the mat has shown, you can't rush a good thing. I've come to trust that. I practice being okay on the mat during in the in-between time when my hamstrings are not yet open, I give myself permission off the mat to slow down and wait until a decision becomes clear. In this age of quick replies and instant everything, I now savor the chance to productively wait.

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Posted by on in Health

I was talking with a student after class the other day about her suspicions that particular aspects of her practice were actually doing her more harm than good. The NYT article had recently come out causing yoga practitioners everywhere to buzz with concerns about injuries and overdoing it on the mat. The student described specific aches, pains, and sensations that were consistently produced when she practiced too frequently and too vigorously. But in the same breath she emphasized her love of the practice and her uncertainty (hope) that these strong sensations might actually be something other than harmful. As she talked I felt the familiar knot developing in my stomach, the sick feeling I get when I know something that I don’t really want to know.


I like to think of it as the “I know I have a cavity” feeling. It’s that same uneasiness I get when I have a not yet been to the dentist, choosing instead to pretend I don’t feel the nerve sensitivity with each bite, each sip of a cold beverage, when I hope that just ignoring it will make it go away. I brush and floss religiously, I tell myself. This must be something else. But waiting changes nothing about the problem, and often only serves to makes the symptoms worse and more abruptly urgent.


Who among us hasn’t been in this situation? Whether trying to defend something you care deeply about like yoga practice or a relationship, or attempting to skirt something unpleasant like a cavity, it can be tempting to ignore what you wish you didn't you know. At first it’s just a hint, a whisper, but as time passes it gets louder and stronger and more obvious, and yet still you resist, worried. The worry stems not from the knowledge, but from having to do something with it. It’s scary to think about having to change your behavior, having to take a different approach when you were oh so comfy just as you were.

Just as ignoring the cavity doesn’t make it go away, when you keep practicing yoga in a way that causes you to question whether you are doing yourself harm, you likely are. After listening to the student I suggested that she already knows the answer to her own question, and typically that’s how it goes. When you wonder if you are overdoing it, you likely are. If you think you have a cavity, you probably do. That quiet nagging, that quiet knowing is your intuition. The decision to listen to it or not is all you.

Tagged in: injuries intuition
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Posted by on in Health

There’s nothing quite like an injury to put things in perspective. I spent the past week hobbling around, unable to practice much yoga or do even the most basic movements without pain. The hurt came on slowly and without any traumatic cause. At first I was just a little stiff so I struggled to work through it, striving to move at normal capacity. But soon the stiffness turned into a radiating pain that could not be ignored, and for about a week I couldn't find any comfortable position. It's no fun to be injured, but it certainly puts things in perspective.


Normally I go about the busyness of the week forgetting to be grateful for what I have. Small irritations preoccupy me - I sigh when the kids want me to drive yet another race car around the track they built, or grumble when the alarm goes off the morning after a late night work session. It’s only when my health is compromised even the slightest bit that I realize how good I have it. I daydream about what it was like before: Squat down to pick up a stray toy on the floor? No problem! Deadline that requires extensive computer time? Roll up the old ball chair and get to typing. But last week I could take nothing for granted. Sitting was painful, standing was barely tolerable, and lying down felt lousy. What do you do when you’ve grown accustomed to using your body however you want to, whenever you want to, then suddenly your body betrays your expectations?

I taught my regular weekly classes in this state, which was a challenge considering the fact that I couldn’t even sit in a simple cross-legged position. With my own yoga practice severely limited, I decided to focus my classes around the concept of santosha, or contentment. Rather than dwelling on what we don’t have in our lives, or striving to feel something different in our bodies, yoga practice can help us appreciate what we do have, right now. There’s always more we can want – the latest gadget our friends have, or the ability to do some crazy arm balance in yoga class – but the wanting is the only constant. Until we make friends with contentment, there will always be one more thing to want.

I write now from the other side of my injury, still savoring the beauty of being able to again move and practice yoga without a hitch. But soon complacency will creep back in as my memory of the pain fades and I forget what restricted movement felt like. So, my self-assigned homework is to keep sight of the injured perspective on a daily basis for as long as I possibly can: when I sit down comfortably on the floor to play with the kids, I smile; when I press back into child’s pose and feel the ease of that soft forward fold that eluded me last week, I breathe a little more deeply. It’s working so far, but that’s the trick with contentment……if you’re not vigilant, it just fades. Practice, practice, as always.

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