In the last few years, my ideas of the importance of having a yoga teacher have shifted. I still think it's an important part of the learning process, but I also realize the importance of not giving too much power away to the teacher, the value of waiting a long time and really getting to know a teacher before having them be your teacher, and the need for a teacher to learn from the student.
In yoga the teacher has historically played an important role. The teacher not only sheds light on the subject of yoga - but the relationship itself is foundational. The specifics of the teaching such as techniques and beliefs are not as important as the love and relationship established between student and teacher. Yoga, to yoke, is about connectedness, and that begins with the connection between two beings. Connection is the driving force in transformation.
Good teachers remain heavy in their experience and not swayed. One of the definitions of Guru is heavy.
I think as students we seek...
There are a lot of reasons people get into teaching yoga, but for me? I started teaching because it felt like I couldn’t do anything else. Not that I wasn’t able to do anything else with my life, because I knew I was. It was that I couldn’t. Once I started teaching, I knew it was my calling, and I knew that making it my livelihood was crucial to my happiness.
Like many, I teetered at the edge at first. I was teaching part-time and spending the rest of my time working a job I hated. I was enthusiastic about my practice, I loved studying, and I enjoyed the classes that I did teach. I didn’t want to jump in halfway, but I was scared like many of us are at the start of a huge new journey.
Then, as things do sometimes, everything came together all at once. I was in Shasta when Tim asked me when I was going to start teaching Ashtanga and I didn’t have an answer. When I returned to DC, Deb (the owner of the studio I worked at) told me that if I...
One recurring theme I’ve noticed, both in my own experience and in conversations with others, is the issue of injury in an Ashtanga practice. It’s something we all experience sooner or later, because it really is part of the process, but knowing that doesn’t necessarily make it feel any better in the moment.
Recognize that Ashtanga yoga is a rigorous practice with extreme and demanding postures early in the sequence, for example, standing half lotus. Some degree of pain or discomfort is unavoidable when people start their practice. It takes a long time to learn what your body can safely do on any given day. It takes most students months, if not years, of daily practice to acclimate to their practice.
It’s important to know that experiencing pain doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. Pain is also not necessarily something that someone can fix. Listen to the signals your body is sending in the moment. There is a big difference between...
What exactly IS the difference between Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga? It’s a commonly asked question. To answer this question, let’s start with what the word Vinyasa means in Sanskrit.
‘Vi’ is the prefix of the word ; it means an intensification. ‘Nyas’ is the root and translates as “to put” or “to place”. ‘Vinyasa’ then means “to place something in a special or ritualized way, or a set of actions done in a prescribed order”.
The concept of vinyasa extends well beyond the context of yoga. In India people circumambulate temples in a ritualized set of actions that may look random to an onlooker, but their prostrations are themselves a vinyasa.
In Ashtanga Yoga asanas are performed in a fixed sequence. Every movement, breath, and gaze is counted and prescribed. Every movement of the entire practice has a correlating inhale or exhale. There is a certain way to get into and out of each posture....
It can be hard sometimes not to carry around an idea in your head of what a yoga practice is “supposed” to look like. Between social media, yoga and wellness magazines, and the popular idea of just what yoga is, it can be hard not to get lost in expectations of some kind of impossible perfection we think we’re supposed to achieve. But here’s the thing about yoga: the perfection is in the imperfection. And even more to the point, this idea of a “perfect” yoga practice based on appearance is literally the most flawed and incomplete a representation of yoga as you can get.
As beautiful as photos can make the practice look, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s honestly much more of a beautiful mess. Nobody can tell you about the inside of yoga, because it’s such an internal experience. But, if you’re reading this, I bet you’ve already realized some kind of change from yoga and you’ve noticed that it’s already...
My practice buddies: Paul and Hampi. Note, Hampi is only here for the savasana.
There’s a question I’ve gotten a lot over the years, and I’ve gotten it a lot more over the last few months: How do I stay motivated? It can be hard to stay motivated in any practice and under any circumstances, but it’s become that much more of a challenge recently with the adjustments we’ve all needed to make to adapt to quarantine. I'm here to tell you that there are a lot of mornings when I wake up and I would rather roll back over and fall asleep than get on my mat and practice. It's not always pretty, I don't always want to, and it doesn't even feel good sometimes. My point is, practice is hard. Staying motivated it hard. Here's what helps me.
There’s something Tim Miller said to me once at a training that’s stuck with me ever since: It’s much easier to adapt the posture for the body than it is to adapt the body for the posture. Although people might think this is unusual in Ashtanga, I’ve seen Tim pass out blankets and grab straps for his students, and props were always welcome in his room, and the same is true for other teachers I’ve worked with - David Garrigues recently said that everyone in his Mysore group had implicitly agreed to use blankets for shoulder stand just by signing up for his class. Richard and Mary use blankets, blocks, and straps in their teaching regularly.
So why is it that Ashtanga continues to have a reputation as being inaccessible? And how can that reputation be changed to reflect the practice that I know and love, the style that I teach?
I started thinking a while ago about this question - how can Ashtanga be made more accessible to more people? How can we make the...
The last few months have been difficult for so many people in so many ways. I’ve received a lot of questions from students over the past two months about maintaining a home practice, dealing with negative thoughts, and coping with isolation at home, as well as frustration with the world at large.
I try to teach with Yoga Sutras when I can, because they’re authoritative and timeless. Even though the sutras are two-thousand years old, they provide a map of the mind and the consciousness and give a greater context to our practice.
That’s why I want to attempt to discuss three that I think are very relevant right now.
YS 1.20 śraddhā-vīrya-smṛti-samādhi-prajñā-pūrvaka itareṣām
Some people are lucky and samadhi happens naturally. The rest of us need to help this practice along by relying on certain techniques:
Sraddhā - Faith in what we are doing, conviction, embodied trust.
Vīrya - Enthusiasm, energy, vitality, strength.
Smṛti - Memory. More specifically,...
I always love to talk about how beneficial the practice of yoga can be during uncertain times, times of change, times of upheavals big and small. Whether it’s massive life changes or day-to-day disruptions, yoga grounds us, it calms the nervous system and it gives us energy to handle the unknown (download my grounding meditation and pranayama).
As unprecedented as the times we’re living through may feel, the fact remains that all of the lessons that were available to us before this are still available now, and they’re as useful and applicable as ever. The Coronavirus pandemic may have turned all of our lives upside-down, but yoga gives us the tools to weather every storm.
I know as well as anybody, though, that the truth of that can be easy to forget. When you’re up against massive existential fears and doubts, it can be hard to remember your own strength. That’s why I’ve put together these Five Lessons Learned from Practicing Through a...
We all know that these are fragile times. I’ve heard so many people saying that one of the hardest things to deal with right now is the anxiety that feels like it’s coming at us from all angles - and many have been asking how to use yoga to manage it. I’ve dealt with anxiety for as long as I can remember, and I know as well as anyone what a terrible cycle it is and how impossible it can feel to pull yourself out. The world is always an uncertain place, but with so much anxiety afflicting the day to day lives of every single person on earth, I wanted to share with you some of the strategies I use in my own life and my practice.
It often doesn’t make sense to people that someone with a regular yoga practice can struggle with anxiety. Aren’t yogis supposed to be relaxed? And sure, a regular yoga practice can be incredibly helpful for anxiety - but, unfortunately, anxiety can make it difficult to do most of the regular things in your life, especially when...