We come to a yoga class or any fitness class and expect our bodies to feel better and our issues to be resolved. And we expect for the impossible to happen. But the only problem is no one is teaching us “how” to do what we are doing. When I first started yoga I knew “Mountain Pose.” But I never “knew” how to truly practice it. And if Mountain pose is the blueprint of other postures, what does that say about the rest of our practice? To be able to show up safely as a yoga teacher for our students, we must understand their limitations. We need to know if they have injuries & we need to walk them through the foundations of each pose. Not knowing this information is how your practice can hurt you.
I remember my first Pilates training – and I would not have called that a training. When we were “taught” the exercises, it was more a display of her “expertise” than actual teaching. I look back, and all I remember is peoples’ bodies flying every which way all over the room, people huffing and puffing trying to “keep up”.
Practice Safe, Effective, Mindful Movement
Whether you are a teacher, trainer, therapist, or just an avid yoga or fitness student, we need to start to take better care of our bodies and how they move. Having love and kindness to share is great and I teach that way as well, but that is not enough. We are “playing” with people’s sacred bodies and we need to be reminded of that. What we are having people do could be causing their poor posture, their shoulder problem, their SI joint discomfort. Because you teach yoga they assume “no it can’t be from that, they are a trained professional”. IT SURE CAN! And it very well could be.
When I teach, you will constantly hear heart-felt creative cues and deep spirituality spoken intentions set throughout class. But woven through that is safety, anatomy, what you should or shouldn’t be doing if you have certain limitations. I’m always sharing tips, ideas, and suggestions for how to make your practice safe, effective, and right for your body today. Mindfulness in movement is our responsibility as “fitness” (and yes, yoga falls under this umbrella) professionals to know this stuff.
What can we do?
If you are a student, ask questions.
Ask if your teacher is certified. If so, it better be in what they are teaching. Are they familiar with the body, with your injuries or limitations? If not, are they willing to find out more about them? In the class, are they showing variations? (what to do if X-Y-Z?) To stop if this if that happens? And most importantly, you should know why you are doing what you are doing. If it ever hurts, stop & clarify with the instructor what type of sensation you should have, and in what part of your body.
If you are a teacher or someone who is going to be a teacher, look at the value the training puts on anatomy and the body on how it is applied to the practice you are choosing. Finally, current teachers, if you have had a bad training experience, you have to say something. Otherwise, how will it change? The studio relies on your feedback to improve. Look for mentors that mirror your values and can teach more about the bodies you are playing with on the mat or in the classroom.
When I was in teacher training and a woman burst into tears during bridge pose and couldn’t stop flowing. I watched from the back of the room as the instructor calmly came over to soothe her. The instructor let her know that this happens and some poses that open the heart can do that. At that moment, I felt relief. Crying was okay in yoga.
Yoga works on a multitude of levels: physical, emotional, energetic.
One of yoga’s secrets, documented in research from the Swami Vivekananda Yoga Research Foundation near Bangalore, is that more active practices followed by relaxing ones lead to deeper relaxation than relaxing practices alone. – Yoga Journal
For many of us, stress has become as common as drinking coffee. I know I have been in a position where I didn’t know what it was like to live in an environment that wasn’t anything but stress. We think we are “relaxing” with things like constant screen time, loud music, and high-intensity exercise. It all needs to be balanced with restorative or relaxing practices or we leave ourselves out of balance.
If coming to your yoga mat, you find yourself dripping a few tears, please know it’s OK.
If you are ever in my yoga room, it’s encouraged! Even when I’m teaching, I will get a wave of emotion and find myself dripping a few tears.
Yoga is about seeking an internal state of homeostasis, and that may mean that you are asked to breathe for five minutes on your mat. It may even require you to stay in a pose that makes your skin crawl.
Yoga really, truly is about balance. If you continue to seek it, it will help you create the balance you have been searching for. A few tears along the way doesn’t hurt.
The Benefits of Yoga on the Parasympathetic Nervous System
The Scientific Basis of Yoga Therapy
Yoga is an opportunity for self-reflection. Self-reflection means purposefully paying attention to your thoughts, emotions, decisions, and behaviors. It enables us to make meaning of all of the great and not so great experiences we’ve had in our lives.
Just like a yoga pose, self-reflection is challenging and requires us to be open and honest with ourselves.
When we, as yogis, are unwilling to self-reflect, we project. We project those things that we are reluctant to turn inward, sit with, and change.
Change Is Hard
Change is hard but change is a necessary and pivotal part of life. When I think about all the different ways to discuss or even label change, several ideas come to mind: growth, transformation, letting go, and acceptance. All of these things require us to go within ourselves and do some sort of work–some kind of self-reflection. You can’t grow from your experiences if you don’t understand them. Once you understand the why behind your decision-making, you can make changes based on what you’ve learned.
I spent a big part of my life projecting so that I wouldn’t have to deal with my core issues. Everything was everyone else’s fault. Everything that was happening to me, around me, and within me, was always the result of someone else–at least in my mind. It was a defense mechanism to protect and preserve the only thing I knew and the only thought process and outlook that I was comfortable with accepting.
How Yoga Forced Me to Dig Deep
When yoga came into my life, it was both liberating and frustrating. Yoga gave me the freedom to feel but it also forced me to see myself for who I was. I had to look at what I was doing instead of pushing the blame onto others. I had to take a real look at myself and the real reasons behind my actions.
I say to my students each day that yoga is a mirror reflection for our everyday life and that reflection is available for us to see when we finally decide to see it. I will be the first to attest that the reflection will not always be quaint and pretty. It will most likely be uncomfortable and even sad at times. However, that is how growth happens.
Growth happens when we let go of our expectations on people, situations, and life. Letting go of our expectations does not mean that we no longer hope or desire anything from life anymore. Rather, it means that we come at our life (our mat) in a way that opens the doors rather than lingering in the doorway, just waiting for it to close or prove others are wrong.
Merriam-Webster defines compost as “a mixture that consists largely of decayed organic matter.” Compost is used for fertilizing and conditioning land. Your compost is a mixture of your stuff, your baggage, your mindsets, your hang-ups, your habits, and your ego. When you practice self-reflection, you take your compost and use it to fertilize your life and the conditions of others. You take the mixture of your life, your actions, and your situation, and you compost it.
My yoga practice has taught me a lot about my compost and digging dip into my own “mixture.” It has allowed me to get real with myself. Moreover, once you are genuinely able to see the mess you are in, only then can you begin to transform.
When things don’t go my way or are not to my liking, I first ask–Why? I then take a step back to reflect so that I can see how much of my compost is altering my experience. Coming from a place where I took everything personal in my life, once I realized how my compost was affecting what I was doing, I was better equipped to let others off the hook for my shortcomings. Seldom is it ever really about others but rather how we received those experiences and how they reflect upon us.
Don’t Give Up
I urge you to keep coming to your mat, keep getting uncomfortable, and keep taking classes and stepping into poses that ruffle your feathers. Resist the urge to roll up your mat those five minutes early in the hopes of avoiding discomfort. Instead, sit in those poses as your mind stews–allowing your mind to sift through your thoughts, emotions, and reactions to truly get to the bottom of why you feel the way you do.
From my heart to yours, from my soul to yours, from my compost to yours, and from my mat to yours, Namaste.
I never thought that yoga would become such a huge part of my life. To be honest, I didn’t even know what yoga was until a co-worker said to me one day, “You look like someone who would practice yoga.” Hmmmm…thanks? I guess?
You know, those moments in life that just hit you like a ton of bricks? Well, at 17 years old, that is exactly what that moment did to me.
I truly believe that life has a way of nudging you in the right direction. Of course, it’s up to us if we decide to follow that nudge or not, but, nonetheless, it’s there.
Destined To Do Big Things
I’ve never shared this before but when I growing up, I always knew that I was meant for more. As a child, you could usually find me tucked away, inside of my closet, stapling papers together to create books. Not books to share, but books that I planned to store away with the intent to be found by someone one day when I was gone. That someone who would say, “Wow, this is amazing.” Okay, looking back–maybe that was a little weird BUT the point is–I always knew that I was going to do big things. I knew I was going to be known for something more.
Then came yoga. Practicing yoga was a saving grace to me. It was my lifeline. Every Wednesday night, it gave me hope that I could do it. It showed me I was strong. It showed me what I was capable of. It showed me that I was meant for more.
Yoga changed my life.
Then, randomly one day, my yoga teacher casually suggested to me that I consider teaching yoga. Funny how life works, right?
Yoga Was My Nudge
My first search–“How to become a yoga teacher”–landed me on an ashram in Rollingsville, Colorado. Don’t ask me how or why, but I just knew that this was the place for me. Without hesitation, I signed up, gave them my money, and booked my tickets. However, it wasn’t all quite that simple. The catch–I had finals during my month stay in Colorado. I know what you are thinking– “Ok, Hope, that’s not that big of a deal.”
Here is the thing– I went to a Catholic university and I was off to an ashram to learn how to teach yoga SO it was sort of a BIG deal. The two couldn’t be more different. That next week, relying on my faith and a prayer, I asked my professors if they would consider letting me take my finals early. They all said yes. My stars were aligning.
My Yoga Teaching Journey
There was no hiding it–I was scared. I was still struggling with an eating disorder and there appeared to be no real hope or end in sight. I wanted to stop. I desperately wanted to be able to live a normal life. But I knew I still had a long way to go.
I still remember my first day in our yoga teacher training at the ashram. Eleven of us sitting in a circle and everyone was at least 15 years older than me. I was determined to step aside from my fears and make the most out of this month-long stay–all 98 pounds of me. I was praying to God this would heal me. This 30-day stay would be just what I needed to clear my head and conquer my addiction–for good.
That afternoon, sitting in a circle on the freshly carpeted floor, I knew this was where I belonged. That day I heard a voice inside my head and it told me eleven things I would do going forward from that day. These were things that I never thought I would do. They were things that were never in my scope of dreams. However, to be honest, struggling with an eating disorder, depression, and a laundry list of other issues–survival was the only thing I could focus on. But I pulled out my yellow legal pad and printed out one goal on each line. I tore off the sheet and folded it up. I was on my way.
My article on Mind Body Green highlights what I believe are the 7 Secrets of Becoming a Successful Yoga Teacher.
My Yoga Training Forever Changed the Course of My Life
My yoga training gave me hope that all the prayers that I had said and all the things that I had been through would not be a waste.
That yoga training was hard. It rocked me to my core. It challenged on what I thought about life, movement, and myself. It challenged my faith to go deeper into myself and see wh at and how I really connected to God.
I believe we all need those moments in life in order to truly get to the bottom of who we are. We are all here on this earth for a purpose and it is us who gets in our own way and downplays our potential for greatness.
My yoga training taught me that we are all worth it.
You Are Worth It
For you, it may not be enrolling in a yoga training class. (If it is, please reach out to me if you have questions. I would be happy to help you find the right fit!) Whatever it is, remember–you are worth it. You are better after it and there are never any mistakes in life. Just opportunities. Opportunities to learn and soak up all that is waiting to be had.
Picture a day when you are no longer struggling to get out of the gutter. Instead, you are leading others from it.
A day when you are no longer asking for forgiveness, but receiving gratitude from those around you.
A day when you are not searching for the next best thing. Instead, you find yourself attracting what you desire all the time.
Picture a day when all you have been through was absolutely worth it.
Today is that day. You owe it to yourself.
Learn Cherry Picking Warm-Up. This video is a part of our Asana Video Library
training materials for both students and teachers where the forgotten art of
simple movements is explored.
The old me, some twenty years ago felt the deep need to both impress others while simultaneously trying to share parts of myself that were wounded and needed healing for nothing more than to be free of the burdens of carrying them around daily.
Roughly ten years ago I was spun out on a journey to better understand how the body moves as I was not getting the teachings nor explanations I was looking for inside the yoga world. Constantly hearing phrases like “That’s normal”, or “It will get better with time“, and my favorite “do what feels right for you“, seemed like scapegoat responses for a lack of real understanding about how the body moves and why students were feeling the things they were.
Now don’t get upset, I’m not summarizing everyone. But in my personal experience, teacher after teacher, training after training, the why’s, and how’s were continually left out of the what’s and when’s as it pertained to teaching yoga and experiencing poses.
The art of teaching warm-ups and looking at a student and seeing where their challenges were, even if they wouldn’t share them, was something I wanted to refine even more. Why do they walk like that? Why does their shoulder hurt and ever seems to get better? How is it they can do this yoga pose, but not that one? And how do I convince students to value basic moves and sequences as that is what they also need and not just the complex poses and fast-paced moves?
More than ten years I spent studying outside the yoga world to better understand how the body moved and why. Stepping back onto the mat I had a fresh new perspective and a deep understanding of the why’s and how’s I was lacking prior. Tailoring my language and eloquently sequencing my classes to work from the ground up helped students navigate their own bodies and I began to see a shift in my students making better choices all on their own as to what they choose to do when it came to asanas.
How did this happen?
I began to connect their every day living to what they were feeling. I gave them the control to choose with real parameters to gauge their progress pose to pose. Warm-up to final asana. Connecting the dots to how and where the could be doing the very things they are learning in their everyday life.
The Cherry Picking Warm-Up and many others became a means to when they walk up from a long sleep or stretch at their desk. And by doing the very warm-ups like Cherry Picking and dozens of others on the mat, it began to give them confidence and permission to do them off the mat. Because truly, what good is yoga if you don’t carry it with you into your everyday life?
Stepping outside the yoga arena and stepped into a whole new beautiful world of functional movement. It excited me in so many new ways. Mainly because, for the very first time in my entire life, I began to understand the body, it’s parts, and how these parts move.
As a yoga teacher and movement specialist, I find it critical to incorporate basic movements no matter how unfancy they are in your classes. The whole idea of a warm-up is to “warm-up” the body for more detailed movements. And having taught tens of thousands of students over the last nearly twenty years I have noticed a common thread of students lacking the basic abilities to do everyday movements.
Benefits of incorporating warm-ups (like Cherry Picking Warm-Up) into your yoga practice:
- Walk with full range movement in their knees and ankles
- Fully reach overhead without pain
- Bend forward without rounding
- Walk with a full hip extension, not just flexion
- Rotate their torso when turning to the side
- Move their neck side to side without pain
- Walk on various surfaces with bare feet pain-free
- Squat, reach or bend freely
Watch the Cherry Picking Video Now HERE
Benefits to Practicing Cherry Picking Warm-Up:
-Melts the fascia in and around the shoulder
-Stretches the side (lateral) body
-Stretches the lower back
-Stretches the obliques and lateral hip
-Gets you breathing
-Expands the lungs
-Is a basic life movement everyone should be able to do
**BONUS** If you haven’t watched the video yet, it will take you through step by step how to work through the pose as a student and a teacher. Take note of the variety of positive cues and direct references so you and your students can get the most out of this pose.
And if you love this video on the Cherry Picking Warm-Up and want more don’t forget to check out the “How To” video on how to do High Lunge safely and effectively!
Love these teachings? Hop over to HopeZvara.com and head on inside the Mindful Movement & Yoga Online Studio
I’ve said it a million times, how you do things, even yoga asana things matters. So let’s start by honoring the need and art of warm-ups and get you reaching high and feeling great in your everyday life!