What we get when we turn pro is we find our power. We find our will and our voice and we find our self-respect. We become who we always were but had, until then, been afraid to embrace and live out.
~ Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro
I have a challenge for you:
Run with me on this. I’m not suggesting you start wearing a suit to dinner or demanding payment for walking your dog (though these might be cool experiments to run to screw productively with your life’s status quo – who knows). I mean take on the mindset of a pro in all areas of your life. Think about it –
Going pro means committing. It means risk, hustle, caring about what you do. It means you make it matter, so what you do is rewarding, fair, enriching. When you go pro, you value your time and actions, and you’re clear about what outcomes you expect. You take pride in your efforts and set consistent goals. Going pro means you don’t pass the blame, sit and bitch, quit, or not show up. You learn to say no, so you can say HELL YES to the life YOU want.
Staying in shape right now might look like the occasional gym visit and a lapsed yoga studio membership. If you approached it like a pro, you’d get clear on your goals, set budgets for your time, finances, and attention (what you’ll do, how much it’ll cost, and how much of your life you’re willing to dedicate to it), and you’d quit treating it like something you can skip whenever you want. You’d create a strategy for how to get where you want to be. If you’re not getting there, you change strategies until you do.
If you thought of how you feed yourself like a pro, you’d learn great cooking habits, plan ahead, buy quality produce, and stay creative so your food stays delicious, satisfying, and healthy. You’d require anyone involved in your kitchen to respect your standards. You’d make the hard choices to create good food even when you’re tired or lazy or when no one else might see you eating a bag of cookies for dinner. And when you occasionally eat a bag of cookies for dinner, you’d own it, brush the crumbs off your shirt, and get back to doing better.
What would you as a relationship pro look like? Your focus would shift to the success, health and viability of your connection with others. You’d shed any dynamic you wouldn’t advise someone else to keep. You’d choose what roles you’re willing to fill and get better at them. You’d be a problem-solving master. You’d invest in the value of each committed relationship. You’d expect a rich return on your investments (and divest your assets if you’re not getting what you need). You’d stop being ignored or dismissed because you’re the boss and you don’t have time for that shit.
It’s easy to become complacent in our own lives. We drift off course and sometimes it takes a major life event before we wake up and realize how far we are from where we want to be. What keeps us from saying WTF and immediately taking the helm of our own lives? For many, we just don’t know our value. Who cares, right? This is fine. I’m ok. It could be worse.
It could also be a FUCK of a lot better.
I’ve worked with many people over the years in my yoga teacher training who’ve broken me open with how powerful they are. When they start they’re doing ‘fine’, maybe a bit lost or struggling, usually they’ve lost sight of what they want for themselves. Often they’re wives, moms, daughters, fathers – people who’ve spent so much of their time taking care of others they’ve learned to put themselves last over and over until it feels “normal” or “right”. They’ve placed their own goals and desires to the back of the line and hardly feel anyone would care if they pursued them.
But when they get in this training and finally devote time to their passions, when they’re heard, asked, encouraged, and given tools, they SHOW UP LIKE A PRO. The transformation is inspiring. They stop being amateurs in their own lives and start committing to themselves. They take risks, they get focused, they hustle – and they start to care again about their own dreams. They prioritize themselves again. They invest in themselves, and they see big returns.
My challenge to you is really this: No more blaming others, no more bitching about what was lost, no more letting another day go by while you’re too busy, distracted, or making everyone else’s dreams and goals matter more than your own. Go pro in your own life and find your power, your will, your voice, your self-respect. Find yourself again.
This morning I read that 17,000 people had signed up for Sadie Nardini’s latest course:
A few initial thoughts. First, I like Sadie Nardini. She does Sadie. She’s a brilliant business person, she’s been asking good questions and being how she wants to be, whether people like it or not, for a lot longer than most people would have the tits to do. Good on her. This isn’t about her. This is about that, up there – that image and message, and everything that’s confusing about it.
Can women look like that outstandingly fit woman in the photo above? Of course. I mean, that is a real woman. I’ve been that woman, I know lots of women who work out constantly and watch what they eat and sculpt their lives around their fitness goals in order to maintain that kind of body. And I say GREAT. Anything that gets people moving and healthy and happy and isn’t causing harm is great in my books. So you go, Sadie. Congrats on a successful course that’s addressing a market. You go, badass model in that photo. I know exactly how hard it is to get a body like that, and I admire your dedication.
Here’s what I really want to talk about, though: Why do women want to be younger, youthful, toned, tightened, to “transform” our bodies? Really, though – why?
Let’s first parse out the idea of healthy movement and lifestyle from the deeper, more insidious issue here. Clearly, I support movement. I dedicate my life to encouraging people to move, be present, feel great, embrace life, take risks, try new things, play, learn, grow, challenge themselves – you know, LIVE. Wanting to move and be healthy and happy is awesome.
Why do women want to be “younger”? What does that mean? Where is that desire coming from, and how is it being fed?
I asked myself this question recently: What does it mean to want to be “younger”? Younger than what? I’m 41, and I’ve wasted a lot of energy the past few years anxiously watching laugh lines no longer disappear when I’m done laughing, or seeing my hard-earned toned butt get lost under increasingly ‘stretchier’ ass skin. All my life people have communicated to me what they notice and value by saying things to me like, “You don’t look [my age]; you look way younger” (and they mean it as a compliment). For 20 years I’ve heard that and thought, “Oh WHEW. Good! That’s good.” And now I’m thinking, Is it, though? What happens now? Now that my wrinkles and my grey hair and my ‘relaxed’ skin are part of how I look. If I don’t look “younger”, then what?
It seems trivial, and in the face of most of the world’s problems it is of course. But women spend an exorbitant amount of time on this issue, and an even more exorbitant amount of money and energy chasing after this youthful ideal. For that reason alone it’s time we sat down and took a good, hard look at what this is about, what we’re doing, and how we can change our minds.
There’s a male equivalent to this anxiety around youth in terms of virility, ability, strength. But a glance at photos of the Fortune 500 CEOs will tell you that being “youthful” and “looking young” aren’t priorities for men when it comes to their success, recognition, power, or ambition. When men are in shape past 30, it’s usually admired without being required.
But women? Well, don’t get me started on how a glance at the photos of the current Fortune 500 CEOs will reveal only 6.4% of them are women (and Fortune will tout that as an accomplishment, because it’s the highest number in the “63-year history of the Fortune 500.” Yay? But that is another post.). When women cease to be youthful, what happens? If you listen to the verbal drool of society, women who age “let themselves go” (blame), aren’t “taking care of themselves” (shame, blame), get fat, frumpy, lazy, past their prime, unattractive … all labels that might just encourage a woman to not want to do this aging thing. And what do we as women learn will happen when we cease to be youthful?
Well, I call bullshit.
On all of it.
You know what “younger” is? Superficially, it’s an artificial, well-marketed opinion about what “beautiful” is: tight (usually white) skin, perky breasts, a toned ass, no belly fat, lots of energy for running around with flowing (usually blonde) long hair in the sunlight (which you are actually avoiding in real life, of course, because you want to keep all of the above and your beautiful wine-grape self will turn into a California raisin in that blistering sunlight). Youth is beautiful – apparently.
I recently tried a meditation technique where I was able to distance myself from this filter of alleged “beauty” standards. And you know what? All of that negativity around my own body WENT AWAY. I actually like my hands’ landscape. I like my strong legs wrapped in softer skin. I don’t actually care at all that the baby fat has left my face.
In fact, once I was able to see myself the way *I* see myself (and not how I’ve learned to scrutinize myself against this alleged “ideal” of “beauty and youth”), it seemed creepy to me that anyone would want to make me younger. It’s infantilizing. It’s dismissive of my intelligence. It’s disrespectful to me as a human who has experience and value to bring to the table.
Why would I give a shit about someone who would rather evaluate the tone of my ass than the thoughts in my mind?
Why would I allow that kind of script to run in my own head?
Well, I don’t. Not anymore.
What would happen if you lost all of these alleged markers of “beauty” that come with youth? Think about it. Would your partner stop loving you? Then I’d suggest you’ve got some serious thinking to do about why your partner loves you, and how that’s going to go as you get older. Would you lose power? Then, love, you’ve got a problem because this is an investment with diminishing returns. You’re only going to get older. You’d better start thinking about your own power, how you attain it, whether you have it or it has you, and how you can change your relationship to it so you become empowered. Because if you only have power from your beauty – you’re in a very precarious position. If you say you’re “empowered” but you’re terrified of losing your youth, you aren’t empowered. You’re letting an external judgement rule your life.
Women, hear me –
Youth is what you are when you don’t know anything. Youth is when you’re naive and innocent, easily influenced. You know – kind of dumb. Youth is when you’re full of enthusiasm and you think older men know shit and are fun and love to ‘help’ you! Youth is when you’re trying to suss out your sexuality so you’re trying all kinds of dumbass shit to see what it feels like and what reaction it garners. Youth is when you don’t feel powerful, so you’re easily intimidated. Youth is when you don’t have power, so you want get close to it to learn it, learn from it, benefit from it, the way a child hugs the leg of an adult to feel their strength and safety. Youth is when you don’t have a good job, you don’t have YOUR career yet, you’re not yet taking care of yourself so you’re relying on banks for loans, credit cards, and sometimes other adults for lunch or rent or new shoes the way your parents took care of you as a child. Youth is when you think there’s something called a “free ride” that’s actually free.
Youth is when you don’t yet know who you are, what value you can bring, or what the fuck you’re doing that’s got any meaning.
Youth is what you should grow out of in your twenties. Because it’s fun, for a while. It’s adorable, for a while. It’s an important learning phase, for a while.
And then it’s just infantilizing.
When society, when men want you to be “youthful”, what do you think they mean? Just “beautiful”? Well, that’s already troubling; why the fuck do they have the power to tell you how they want you to look? Fuck that. And youthful as a state of high energy? Sure, ok. Again, that’s really got more to do with being healthy. You can be any age and have great energy.
Beyond beauty, then, what does being “youthful” mean? It means you’re being valued for being devoid of thought or position or wisdom – you know, for being NICE and AGREEABLE and SWEET. You’re more “fun” when you leave the hard stuff up to big daddy and just giggle at his jokes and let him have his way with you. Relax, daddy’s in charge. Be sexy!! Be great in bed!! You’re beautiful when you let a man “be a man” and you expend your incredible, powerful energy on being thinner, cuter, quieter, sweeter, more helpful, supportive of his/their needs – on being less, on being there *for others* rather than fill your rightful space as ambitious, self-driven, powerful, and self-centred (you know – what men are encouraged to be and what we’re supposed to love them for yet despise in ourselves as negative?). You’re youthful when you don’t have your own agency, so you rely on (usually) a man to pay your bills and give you an allowance. Why get grey hair stressing about silly little finances, right? It’s all “too hard” for a little thing like me! Youth is when you’re expendable for the next young little thing.
Consider what it is you really want, who it is you really want to be. And then I hope you begin to embrace your age, not in some kind of resignation but as a deeply-felt freedom and long-awaited relief. Free from the shackles of “youth”, you can finally say what you want to say, stand up for yourself, earn your own way, reclaim your inherent agency over your life, stop playing into the empty fantasies of people who are holding you – and themselves – back with regressive wishes and insecurities. You can finally be the hero, complete with all of the struggles and strength-building challenges that make heroes worthy. You will finally be comfortable in your own skin. You will finally like yourself. You’ll understand your value, and take up the space you’re entitled to in the world. You’ll be able to influence others in positive ways, as an empowered role model. People will love you for more than what you do for them. You will love you.
I for one can’t wait. I want you to be fully you. There are a lot of people in the world who long for you to stop trying to be something you’re increasingly not, to let go of this outdated way of being, and get on with being your fabulous self. I can’t wait to meet you – the real you.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to get an om-grey to finally rid myself of the artificial blonde in my naturally silver-streaked hair, and book a photo shoot with my amazing Pranalife Yoga community and Mirror Form Photography, to replace the photos on this website with ones that represent more of what I’m talking about here: beautiful diversity, ranges in age/size/colour/ability, and inclusive of the incredible community I’ve built over the past decade. Over the next few months you’ll see this website transform into one full of authentic yogis whom I hope give less and less shits about being youthful.
“If you want confusion and heartache, ask vague questions. If you want uncommon clarity and results, ask uncommonly clear questions.” ~ Tim Ferriss
You’ll always feel like you don’t have enough information to answer it – because you don’t. Your entire life is way too long a trajectory, and hopefully you want to do A LOT of things. When you ask yourself this question, your brain tends to give you that screen we used to see when the programming ended on tv (that’s right, kids, there was a time when the program would just *stop*).
Or for the younger crowd, it prompts your brain to give you the spinning beachball of death a l’Apple.
“What excites me?” (thanks: Tim Ferriss) Break it down into doable steps. What excites you right now? What excites you to think about doing over the next year? How about five years from now? Don’t try to connect the dots, just imagine, let your brain expand and explore.
“What kind of person do I want to be?” (thanks: Marie Forleo) This gives you more of a moment-by-moment manual for living and de-emphasizes trying to control so much of what’s outside of your circle of influence; namely, the events of the future that all have to play nice with your plans for them to work out. Instead, get an idea of how you would BE in a number of different situations and see which ones seem to bring out/support your Best Self.
“How do I want to feel?” (thanks: Danielle LaPorte) This question is brilliant because it gets to the “why” behind the “what”. If you think you want to be a Yoga Teacher, this allows you to tap into *why* you want that. If you follow that rabbit down the hole you’ll likely find that you end with a feeling. You want to do what you want to do because you WANT. You have desires to fulfill. It’s not selfish; it’s your ‘destiny’ and the source of what drives you. Own your feelings and desires and let them work *with* your head.
“What’s the very next thing I could do to move in the right direction?” (this one’s mine) I’ve often found that a “start anywhere” approach works for me because being stuck is pretty much the worst. Just get started, get moving, and course-correct as you go. I find that sitting down and free-writing at the beginning of my work day is exactly what I need to overcome the inertia of stuckness and get me moving toward my goals. That ALWAYS feels better than procrastinating, avoiding, or panicking.
Almost every time I feel confused, I’m asking questions that aren’t useful. Clarity comes from better questions. And don’t be discouraged if it takes a bit of practice before you know how to answer. Be patient and practice Santosa: Be content to start where you are, as who you are, and do what you’re able right now (thanks: Rolf Gates).
Try these on and let us know in the comments what kinds of insights you get!!
Are you ready to create the change you’ve been craving in your life? Check out Pranalife Yoga Teacher Training.
I’ve had a lot of opportunities with Pranalife Yoga that could’ve satisfied me: globe-trotting retreats, dedicated private clients, bigger and better classes and workshops … But I poured my blood, sweat, and creative energy into Pranalife Yoga Teacher Training. It takes a lot of work to build a credible, successful, quality yoga teacher training program, and you’ve got to really want to do it. Here’s why I really wanted to (and did) do it:
YTT was a pivotal experience in my life. I knew it was going to be massive, but it affected me in more ways than I anticipated.
That style of deep exploration into our physical practices continued through the training into all aspects of our lives. The process was insightful, practical, revealing, sometimes hilarious, and there were so many ah-ha moments. I had to be willing to lean into discomfort, doubt, attachment – I had to have the courage to look directly into who I am. It wasn’t always easy, but it felt safe because Asia’s calm, confident support was there throughout. Thanks to that work, I came out with a deep knowledge of myself, a completely renewed approach to life, to yoga, to how I am with others. I came out transformed.
What makes Pranalife Yoga Teacher Training different? Asia. She’s a strong, fierce, fearless, wise leader who sees people and masterfully connects with their higher selves. Asia knows how to uncover potential in people, even when it’s been denied, overlooked, and/or undervalued.
Through this monumental journey of YTT that Asia leads people through year after year, she embodies freedom, strength and resilience, and gives people the sense that they, too, can step into their truth. She’s a true guide, a strong mentor who challenges others with love and determination to become not just “good enough” but better, stronger, to wade through the bullshit to rediscover and reclaim their power, their right to speak up, stand up and be powerful.
Meet Sarah DePoray:
You can get a lot of the nuts and bolts details about Pranalife Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) from the website, or use these quick links:
Chinese artist and renegade Ai Weiwei has created something I for one can’t wait to witness:
I’ve been fortunate enough in the randomness of my advantages that I can dedicate time to a practice of contemplation and calm. I can step onto the secure space of my yoga mat, move with relative ease and strength, enjoy the peace of my environment, and rest. Many years ago my father, working in Yemen at the time, would say upon his return to Canada that “we live in Disneyland over here”. Still so true. Ease and freedom and peace are fantasies to much of the world’s people.
When I meet life outside of this Disneyland, I inevitably ask myself, What am I practicing? What does what I do actually do? Well, my yoga practice is a way of me living the kind of life all of us should be able to enjoy. It’s my personal practice of stepping up, moving through, staying focused, and training a state of balance in myself which helps me function well. Humans need to move.
Beyond this personal practice, though, is this other kind of human flow, one that’s forced, violent, destructive, destabilizing, alienating, one that Ai Weiwei has brought into focus. We’re still so incapable of taking care of ourselves and each other. We’re still so driven by aggression and self-protection and fear. We can’t be separate from it because we ARE it, we are all in this bonded human flow. We are all so lost until we can all rest in some degree of safe, free movement – from within our own primitive bodies to the vastness of our cut-up continents, until we can each have a secure space to move with ease and strength, and enjoy the peace of our spaces, until we can all rest.
Are there too many of us? Are we too chemically driven by underdeveloped brains to survive ourselves? Are we incapable of freedom? Do we only know how to learn through suffering? How do we make positive change in the face of such a vast diaspora?
I don’t know.
Can it start on my mat, in my movement practice? Can I feel empathy while focusing on my breath? Or do I want to hide there in my safe space? Do I resent the idea of having to think of others in that hour or so of time I’ve set aside to take care of myself? How can I connect my yoga flow with this human flow without being pulled apart by the riptide?
I start here, with this simple practice:
Sitting, imagining one person in the middle of such destruction across from me, I look them in the eye and say:
May you be at ease in the world (and I consider what that might mean)
May you feel safe and strong (and I consider what that might mean)
May you forgive and be forgiven (and I consider what that might mean)
May you love and be loved (and I consider what that might mean)
It’s toothless, but it’s a start. It changes my mind and heart. It moves me. Unless I take it off the mat, it does exactly nothing for anyone else. How do I take it off the mat … this is my next movement, my next flow …
Is being a yoga instructor a good fit for you? That depends on your answer to this one question:
What do you value?[Post summary: What’s to love/know about being a yoga instructor; a snapshot of the life of an instructor; how you can make money & how much money yoga instructors make; designing the yoga instructor lifestyle]
I can’t tell you what being a yoga instructor would be for you. But as a full-time yoga instructor for over a decade now, I can tell you my experience: I love my abundant independence. I love getting to travel pretty much whenever I want, for as long as I want. I love that I’m constantly learning. I love being able to design and steer my career, the creativity of being an entrepreneur, having two-hour long lunches with friends almost anytime, getting to build new courses, classes, workshops and whatever other creative venture I dream up. I love being a part of a community of teachers who want to be better people, and help others do the same. I love that what I do involves laughter, growth, fitness, stress-relief, and making people healthier and freer.
I couldn’t really care less about having a huge house or $800 shoes (though I have been known to indulge in the occasional killer coat). The Joneses’ Chasers and I don’t have much to talk about at any bizarre cocktail party where we might find ourselves thrown together. I haven’t invested in a lot of the things that tend to require a steep financial commitment and long-term consistency (marriages + mortgages + kids + brick-and-mortal businesses + etc.) so I’m able to stay light and mobile, prepare for the rough times and enjoy the good times as they come.
I also have a high tolerance for taking on the risks of running my own business: not having a paycheque show up every two weeks or a Project Manager to set out what I’m working on now and next. I don’t crave or need a regular routine (though I can design my life to have that if I wanted it) and I work well without a boss to make sure I’m on track (when I need an ass-kicking, I hire it or create something that forces me to deliver). I also have a partner who supports and enjoys the benefits of my choices without needing anything different from me.
What about you?
My description of my life might delight or deter you, and that’s based on what you value. Mine is also only one example of how you can design your lifestyle as a yoga instructor. Whatever your goals, you’ve got to get clear on what you value before choosing this – or any – career because it’s going to be how you spend a lot of your time and make your money. Better to go into it with eyes wide open. So let’s get real.
As a Certified Yoga Instructor, you’ll be paid in (at least) three key ways:
It’s not exactly you rolling up to the curb in your new Ferrari but it ain’t too shabby, and in terms of money earned per time unit ($/hr), you can do pretty well. You can also earn back your teacher training investment within your first year (many of us can’t say the same of our university or college training!). Beyond weekly classes, you can earn income through myriad means like selling products, being an expert in fitness sectors, or creating courses/workshops/retreats/events. If you approach this career as a full-time gig, you can break into six figures. It’s not common, but it’s doable if you’ve got the gusto and discipline.
2. In time. Here’s where this career can really pay off. Time is a non-renewable resource. Being a yoga teacher gives you the ability to control so much more of how you spend the hours of your days. Even if you’re teaching 12 classes a week, you’re likely working less than 30 hours/week total between marketing, admin, prepping, teaching, biz growth and client management. It’s fairly easy to integrate teaching yoga with other part-time work, take time off when you need/want it, and enjoy a leisurely weekly schedule that affords you more hours to spend doing things you enjoy with people you love.
3. In experiences. Getting to enjoy your time and money is the difference between imagining the life you want and actually living it. As a yoga instructor, you may not be making the six figures of Bay Street (though you could), but you also won’t be working their hours or harbouring their stress. YOU determine where you work, and with whom. In my decade+ of teaching, I’ve rarely worked with people I didn’t enjoy knowing – and when I did, I simply ended the contract. I’m in a small market and I’ve thrived; you can, too. Imagine being able to spend your working time with people who inspire you, value you, and give you opportunities to share your gifts. You’ll also have a flexible schedule to write that book, take that trip, hang out with your kids, or hell, just get couch-shaped and watch a boatload of Netflix if you like. It’s up to you – and that’s the point.
Being a yoga instructor is a lifestyle choice that offers you simplicity, time and freedom. If you like the idea of having a lot of flexibility and the ability to control your work schedule, to hustle and chill when you want/need it, to travel/study/get the time you want with people you love, and to turn yoga surfing retreats into your new “conventions”, then you’re gonna love this gig.
You’re also gonna need to be self-driven, be able to handle the ups and downs of solo-/entrepreneurship, and know how to get what you want. With Pranalife Yoga, you have a support structure built in and our community of graduated, certified teachers is second to none; still, that push to get’r done has got to come from you. If the mantra, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me” resonates with you, you’re very likely exactly where you should be right now. Keep reading.
With Pranalife Yoga training in particular, you’re able to design your lifestyle to include creativity, evolution, and independence. You won’t be confined to a static set of postures, or to teaching only one style of yoga in one kind of studio. With Pranalife Yoga training, you’ll get the tools for lifelong growth – on your mat, in your classes, tailored to your style, and supporting your career.
Now that you’ve got an idea what being a yoga instructor looks like, you can decide whether it’s for you (because not everyone wants this kind of life – seems whack, I know, but it’s true). Whether it’s a part-time supplement or a full-time passion fulfillment, Pranalife Yoga will help you turn your vision into reality.
I was recently inspired by a quote from a recent interview with Pavel Tsatsouline of StrongFirst notoriety (a Special Forces trainer known for bringing kettlebell training technique out of the former USSR):
“Use strength, find space, spread the load … and breathe through the tight spot.” ~ Pavel Tsatsouline
Pavel’s techniques are globally known to be powerful ways to progress with attaining physical strength. He goes into some detail about each piece:
Rather than just dropping into a movement, actively move yourself, constantly. If you’re squatting, don’t just drop into the squat but actively lower yourself there. Don’t just slide into the splits, actively press your feet apart. In other (yogic) words, move consciously and deliberately.
Addressing fascia specifically, Pavel uses the metaphor of pulling a post out of the ground. If you just grab hold and pull, you won’t have much luck. But, if you “wiggle” it loose, work it from all angles, ease the grip the ground has on it, it’ll slide right out. In movement, don’t just jam into a joint and push; rather, ease in and out, come at it from different angles, and most importantly, RELAX as much tension from your body as possible.
Make the movement/shape holistic. Don’t just focus on one joint, but explore how you can make the movement happen throughout your body.
Holding your breath tight or restricted will tense your entire body. Be patient, be persistent, be good at practicing.
Taking these principles to the yoga mat, here’s how this might change how you move:
All of yoga is a practice of balancing strength and ease. Strength and ease in balance feels comfortable. Too much strength = pushing/effort, strain, loss of energy. Too much ease = loss of focus, lack of change, resting into (and putting a lot of un-countered force through) your joints. When you’re first learning a yoga posture, use your inhale to focus on strength, your exhale to focus on ease. The more you practice, the easier it becomes to find this balance consistently, with strength and ease infusing every inhale and exhale.
Finding space in a pose can be done in a few ways. I love to teach this principle in terms of imagery: As you practice, imagine the wave of your breath creates a subtle wave throughout your entire body. Feel the expansion and increasing energy of your inhales and the relaxing let-go of your exhales as though this happens through and between every cell. This wave can become quite kinetic, turning your posture into a dynamic movement. In cobra, for example, this could become lifting and lowering through the spine, or emphasizing the front and back ribs expanding and sinking into your body along with your breath.
You can also just start “wiggling” around the joint/s. In Frog Pose (straddle), go between squeezing your knees towards each other and pressing them apart. Rock your pelvis like you’re drawing a line up and down the back wall with your tailbone. Shift your weight forward into your forearms and back into your hips. Dance in, out, around, and through the posture.
Another way to find space is what Pavel touches on in the final point: Breathing through the tight spot. Keep your body fairly still, but get energetically focused. Each inhale, try to expand your entire body – or a specific area you’re looking to loosen. Each exhale, fully relax while still holding the shape.
Spread the load by practicing yoga as though your entire being is doing it. Be fully engaged. This doesn’t mean applying extreme effort until failure. It means be present, extend your attention from one point in the pose (say, your hips in Triangle) to all joints in that pose. Play with shifting your weight over different points (getting more support out of your back foot in Triangle, or using your hand on your shin – and your shin pressing up into your hand – to bear more of the weight that’s taxing your low back/side waist) or changing your pose to take weight differently (bend and straighten your lead knee, reach your arms in different directions).
What I love about this approach is not only that it’s smart, but it’s so PLAYFUL. We’re always taking shapes in yoga. It’s a movement practice. But what we’re really doing is practicing a quality of approach. Not just what are you doing, but HOW are you doing it? Relax, enjoy, breathe, and do the thing like you love it!
Creative mover Diane Bruni recently posted an article called “Tolerating Uncertainty — The Next Medical Revolution?” from the New England Journal of Medicine about the stress and costs of demanding clear-cut knowledge from doctors where learning curves would be more helpful. It suggests that, when helping people, the helper needs to be able to be vulnerable, to not know all the answers, and still hold a safe space for patients.
Medical and fitness worlds have heavily influenced how modern yoga defines itself, especially where yoga has become almost exclusively a physical practice. Yoga teachers have become unlicensed points of reference for people looking to understand “what’s happening” with their bodies, from injuries to stress to how bodies “should” and “shouldn’t” move.
It’s an important step in yoga’s evolution to have teachers who want to learn more about the details of bodies in motion. Teachers of modern physical yoga need a solid understanding of the human body, and to move beyond calcified reverence for Original Teachers whose teachings were based in mystic, intuitive, regimented, unquestioned and often poorly-informed perspectives. That doesn’t mean there isn’t valuable insight in these historical teachings, but they fail us often in our physical practices. Good teachers are acknowledging this and extending their learning beyond Iyengar, the Primary Series for All, or the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. We’re brushing up on anatomy, kinesiology, biomechanics. We’re getting interested in the science as well as the art of yoga.
The challenge I see now, especially as a yoga teacher trainer, is that yogis and yoga teachers are seeking – and trusting – this new knowledge haphazardly. For many, this is part of the delight of the yoga journey: personal exploration, insight, and freedom to discover organically. In one’s personal practice, this can be a healing, joyful process. As teachers, what I often see is a problem between process and delivery. Teachers randomly explore an article here, a video there, a workshop or two, and then present their learning as evidence-based advice to their students. How many times have you been in a yoga class where the teacher offers an instruction or information as fact: “You should” or “It’s wrong to” or “Actually …”
I’ve done it. It was kind of a first step toward translating my learning into my teaching. I was so excited to share new information that was changing my own practice that I didn’t recognize how often I was talking about ‘some stuff I read / tried’ as though it were time-tested, evidence-based truth. I’ve been unlearning that habit, and getting curious about how to “teach” yoga without it.
But then how do we share the new knowledge we’re acquiring? How do we teach others without misrepresenting our expertise (or lack thereof)?
As rebel yoga scholar and think-geek Matthew Remski has pointed out, there is no defined scope of practice in yoga. There is no panel or board, no peer reviews, no central knowledge base, no objective perspective to create a check-and-balance to our exploration with yoga. When it comes to the joy of expanding creativity, personal learning, or just enjoying stretching in a yoga class, that freedom is fabulous. But increasingly, people are coming to yoga on the recommendation of their doctor, and are getting medical-sounding advice from teachers that hasn’t been vetted in any reliable way (and if you think the Yoga Alliance does this, THINK AGAIN). In other words, there are no clear boundaries or guidelines on how to share knowledge. We don’t clearly define what we know/believe and don’t know/believe, and what we do and don’t do as yoga teachers, so we’re always in the “grey-scale space” of uncertainty mentioned in that medical journal article.
So what’s a yoga teacher to do? What happens when teaching the same postures gets old, when people have new questions, when you seem to be evolving out of the practice you love, when the pains emerging from dedication to a practice begin to overgrow the original passion for it? Remski said something in an article in Yoga International recently; I think I can safely extend its application here:
I think you broaden your definition of yoga. Language is like movement. It opens pathways, but soon it loses its shine: It becomes rote, liturgical, staged, performative. The greatest poetry in the world ends up getting rattled off by bored priests paid to be bureaucrats instead of artists. Repetitive movement is the same: What begins as joy becomes bound into ritual and then boiled down into social control. You get a lot of bloody feet in pointe shoes, and busted shoulders from endless sun salutes. All because people think the form is more important than your life.
I think we break free of rote repetition, including the desire to repeat our own new learning to reinforce our own expertise. I think we stop trying to enforce anything. I think we go (back) to uncertainty. We get comfortable with saying, “I don’t know.” We get better at asking questions instead of firing off ill- or uninformed opinions as answers. We stop trying to pretend to be the kind of professional we’re not. If medical doctors with all of their training need to exercise this new muscle, how much more so do we as yoga teachers?
The moment we free ourselves to say, “I don’t know” we release ourselves from requirements that are beyond our skill set. We can re-frame what we learn as story rather than fact: We can, as Remski suggests, change our language. We “broaden our definition of yoga” TOGETHER, through exploration and curiosity.
We can replace truthiness, medicalese, and anxiety about having to have answers with sharing information about our own learning journey: “I’ve started getting curious about this latest research which says …”
We can soften our hard-line perspectives by realizing that experience is not the same as objective fact: “I can’t say what this will be for you. When I went through it, here’s what I found …” or “I have no proof of what god is. Here’s what I believe …”
We can place our learning in context: “It used to be that yoga teachers would say, ‘Soften your glutes’. We’re not sure where that cue came from but we all taught it. Well, now we’re learning from other movement practices that this isn’t a great cue.”
We can embrace the vulnerability of uncertainty: “I didn’t know this until recently, and it’s been a really helpful change in my own practice. Let’s try this new approach and see if it feels better in your body.”
We can re-discover the freedom of questions and suggestions instead of having to be right:
“What movements create your pain?”
“I’m not a medical professional so I’d defer to what they tell you, but I can suggest trying this: Take Pigeon Pose and deep lunging out of your practice for a few weeks and see if your pain goes away.”
“What do YOU think god is?”
When I train yoga teachers, I don’t teach what postures to do; instead, we explore WHAT POSTURES DO. It’s often frustrating for these eager learners at first because they feel like they’ve paid me to give them answers. But I’m not a Buzzfeed teacher, with a refreshed page of the Top 22 Ways to Teach Yoga Better Than Anyone. I’m a guide. I don’t tell them where to go; we walk and I help them avoid pitfalls or cliffs, or getting hopelessly lost while they explore. We review what yoga has been – the postures, the Sutras, the history of teachers and students. We pare their practices down to the bare minimum and I introduce them to experts like back biomechanics pro Dr. Stuart McGill, so these fresh teachers have new and old tools for (re)building their *personal* practices.
And we get really good at asking better questions: Why are you taking this shape? What’s the purpose of this pose? How can you change this posture to be safer, and still get what you wanted from it? What does it mean to “be more free” and how can you find more freedom in each asana? How do you actually balance strength and ease? How do you empower people to move themselves? What does it mean to “open” your hips, and do you actually want to do that?
And there’s a delightful paradox in the outcome: Teachers emerge from this training full of more questions and more CONFIDENCE. They’re relaxed. They enjoy their practices. There’s no pressure to know it all, to measure up to some external standard of How Yoga Is Done and Taught. They’ve developed a comfort in the grey area of not knowing – where they explore, change direction, learn, stay curious, and create safe spaces for others to do the same.
I hope this is the future of yoga.
Want to know more about Pranalife Yoga Teacher Training? GO HERE.
Yoga is amazing to me because it gives people the opportunity to listen to both the body and heart.
Pranalife Yoga Teacher Training scholarships help winners on their journey to becoming yoga teachers. This year two bright lights will be $500 closer to their big dream! Meet one of our 2017 scholarship winners, Siobhan B:
I am overjoyed that I won the Pranalife Yoga Teacher Training scholarship!
About 4 years ago, after I lost someone close to me, I decided that deepening my yoga practice and taking this yoga teacher training course was important for my own self-growth. As a student and mom to a little person, it took 4 years to finally decide that I needed to just make this time for me (take a plunge!), and following my instinct led me to Asia and Pranalife Yoga.
The student-mom life often means some pretty creative budget juggling, so this opportunity truly allows me to follow a personal dream I’ve had for years. I could not be more excited or grateful.
We’re SO pumped to have you be part of the 2017 Pranalife YTT, Siobhan, and look forward to being an integral part of your yoga journey. Congrats!!
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