I Nearly Broke it Off with Yoga

We are currently in our fifth week of quarantine, and like most of the world, the wide spectrum of emotions that fill this house vary wildly day by day, hour by hour. If there’s anything years of meditation has taught me, it’s that emotions are typically fleeting. The hard work comes in trying not to react to them, or being overwhelmed by them or letting them become a new identity.

In fact, all this time away from my usual schedule of running from home to studio to studio, to coffee shop to home and then another yoga class has allowed me to further look at how my ego always wants to push me to identify as some thing, some persona. Maybe it’s the universal combination of apathy, anger, hope and sadness that has nudged my already Meh attitude to be even more flexible and forgiving of my “productivity” (or lack of) than I’d usually allow space for.

Pre-pandemic, I taught 17-18 hours of yoga a week with an additional 8-10 of teacher training hours. I lived in stretchy pants, sports bra, tank top, hoodie and bare feet. These days I’ve been thoroughly enjoying wearing jeans, no bra, layers of long-sleeved shirts (because it’s still so cold out!) and my gray felt slippers. If I walk the dogs, I swap those out for my very muddy Blundstone boots. The amount of time I’m using my body to do, teach, demonstrate, guide yoga asana has dropped significantly. And it’s been GREAT!

My last class was taught March 15. I was super stressed because I felt like even with all the precautions we were taking in a group setting (the greater spaces between mats, Chlorox wipes and copious sprays of Lysol), it felt irresponsible to be moving and breathing through Ashtanga together. The next morning, all gyms and studios were forced shut. All fitness people have since scrambled to Zoom classes, have quickly had to learn how to navigate teaching in front of a camera from their own homes, myself included.

Fortunately, I had been low-key planning to figure out filming myself teaching yoga for a few years. My hope was to create a passive stream of income as I eventually transitioned our family to the UK to join my husband this year. As such, I had slowly purchased the items needed for me to film, light, mic, edit and upload content. By March 18 I added my little slice of yoga teaching to Patreon. The support that’s come in over the past month has been so amazing and has provided great relief as I struggle with my state to obtain unemployment benefits (as promised for part-time and gig workers)- which is still a work in progress…

Missing our aUM Yoga community. Missing Ypsi Studio. Missing my private clients…

At any rate, what’s been most interesting to me is the way my yoga asana practice and my body has changed. I’m definitely doing way less yoga than what I had been doing. In fact, my weekly practice has transformed into doing-while-taping one hatha class, one vinyasa class and then on my own, typically some yoga-esque free-flow movement alone in my bedroom. Meditation is a daily practice and additional movement comes by taking long walks with my dogs and bike rides with my youngest child. Some part of my brain/ego has tried to shame me about this, but I spot it quickly and tell it to pipe down.

For many years, yoga asana and it’s corresponding movements had seemingly plateaued in my body. And due to teaching burn out (the last two years especially), my own practice has brought very little joy. I assumed it had faded like a love affair gone stagnant. The calm and endorphins brought forth by steady salutations and intentional breath were long gone. Asana, even hard postures and tricky sequencing bored me, and that was a sad truth to reckon with.

Since being forced to physically scale way back now that I’m out of work, cooking three meals a day, home schooling and trying to be a nice Mom, my asana practice feels different. Like, a very, very good kind of different. Rolling out my mat only three times a week means that my nervous system, my muscles, my ligaments and tendons can actually feel the poses again. I feel the release of tension, the struggle of stability, and the way my breathing impacts the intention of the shape I’m holding. Even when taping my yoga, I’m more present than I’ve been in a very long time. Because I’m doing voice-overs instead of talking through a practice (like I would several times a week when teaching and walking the studio floors), I get to shut up and experience my practice. I have finally stepped off the plateau.

This July will mark 22 years since I first started this yoga journey. It has seen me through a lot. Three pregnancies, a midwifery career, the different stages of being a mother and wife, the sickness and eventual death of my father and now a global pandemic while being distanced from my husband by 3,500 miles. I am beyond grateful that this ancient system of bhakti, karma, yama, niyama, pranayama, asana, svadhyaya, dharana, dhyana and more exists. I’m thankful that chain-smoking, cynical, punk rock, 25 year- old me sought to change my ways and found this path of navigating life. It’s definitely made the highs and lows easier to assimilate.

If you’ve ever done yoga with me, thank you. If you’re currently a Patron on my Patreon, thank you. If we’ve never met, thanks for reading this far. Sending so much love to you and the world. Meditating on the spread of benevolence, charity, and miracles large and small. May you find joy in all the things you practice.

Be well. Be safe. Be kind.


Aparigraha or Bust

Aparigraha, or nonpossessiveness, can also be interpreted as nonattachment, nongreed, nonclinging, nongrasping, and noncoveting; we can simply think of it as being able to “let go”. -The Yamas & The Niyamas, Deborah Adele

For the past three years, my husband and I have been planning to move. We kept our plans to ourselves for the most part, except for very close family and friends. And even many of those family and friends seemed to forget about our plan as time went on. The reasons for the move are many and not important here, but suffice it to say that in preparation for this move, we did huge renovation projects on our 160 year old house and sold a lot of items like our motorcycles, kayaks, books, excess furniture and more. When my husband moved abroad a few weeks before Christmas, many people were surprised, and all this slow-budding planning came into partial fruition. Here it is. It’s happening.

While he is there (with the support of his extended family), I am carrying on as usual with our children in this big, old house. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be for any of us. The first two weeks were rough. We all grieved and had our ways of coping with the newness of his absence, but then Christmas came as a distraction and we spontaneously drove to Florida to get out of the weird empty vibes of our house to visit the sunshine and my wonderful sister.

The start of January brought a new semester for the kids (one in college, one in high school, one in elementary school) and my usual yoga teaching gigs as well as a new teacher training cohort. Back to seven days a week of doing all the things. It’s a welcome distraction from missing my partner of 25 years, over which time, we have never been away from one another longer than a week, maybe 3 times at best.

Missing him as immensely as I do spurs me on to attack my long To-Do list. Getting through the list not only keeps me busy, but as I cross things off, I feel like I’m just a little bit closer to reuniting us. My To-Do list has mundane things on it like, Recycle eye glasses; Research new school system; Paint the basement floor. Paint the porch. Take dog to vet. Take Mom to doctor. Each week I cross more things off my list. One of the bigger jobs is to drastically reduce the amount of things we own. When we move, we are essentially taking our clothing and a few keepsakes because it is too expensive to ship mediocre furniture overseas (heirloom Ikea beds, anyone?).

A half shoe box of photos is all that is left from fifteen photo albums.

And while my friends have long-laughed at what a ‘Purger’ I have always been, we still have stuff. This is not a house of minimalism. We moved into this house when I was 25 years old and 8 months pregnant with my first child. Five years later I gave birth to our second child in our bedroom. Ten years later I gave birth to our third child in our bathroom. That’s five family members that have been in this house for over 20 years (obviously, some of us longer than others).

Books are something else that need to be purged. Living in a house this old, every room seems to have built-in book shelves, and if they don’t we have added our own. Over the past few years I’ve gotten rid of a LOT of books. I’d pack up boxes and drive around our sweet city that is blessedly dotted with ‘Little Free Libraries’ all over town, and I’d stuff as many books as I could. Despite giving away stacks and stacks, each room (and a built-in hallway shelf) is home to many books. Sigh. Books have always been such a big part of this house and to our lives. I’m rarely sentimental over stuff , but letting go of books feels like giving away friends. I can do it, but it’s equally interesting and absurd to see what I’ve held onto so far, to see my Attachments. Do I really need the Spoon River Anthology from my high school drama days?! Yikes.

Another purging that I was long dreading was going through fifteen fat photo albums, as well as a huge box of framed photos and taking only the photos I really treasured. If you’re too young to remember photo albums, let me remind you: before digital cameras, the internet and social media, one used an actual camera with film to document images from one’s life. Then the film would be taken to a store to be developed and photos were printed from the negatives. MAGIC! I grew up loving old photos. I’d look through our family photo albums at least once a week as a child and all through my teen years. In high school I took two semesters of Photography and learned how to take, develop and print my own photos (a darkroom is the perfect place for an angry punk rock girl!). Suffice it to say, I had a lot of photos to go through. Photos that started in the mid 1970s up to last year.

I’m happy to report that going through all those photo albums made me realize I didn’t need stacks of photos of friends and old boyfriends I’ve not spoken to in decades. There were photos of family members I couldn’t quite pinpoint which side of the family they were from. There were pictures of old, long-gone cars and pets, as well as numerous impressive snowstorms.

The whole experience of purging so many photos was way easier than I thought it would be and I credit this to two things: the yoga Yama of Aparigraha and the two year anniversary of my Dad’s death in late December.

My Dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 spleen/liver cancer in March 2017. He was initially given 6 months to live but made it 18 months, all of which he remained independent and mobile. As my Dad got progressively sicker, he sold his house and his boat, turned in his lease vehicle and bought a used car and got rid of extraneous belongings. The last few months of his life he lived in the guest room of his older sister’s house with a storage unit holding his remaining things.

When he was healthy, my Dad’s house was decorated blandly like a suite at the Holiday Inn. There were absolutely no personal touches to it at all. No artwork, no decorative vases, no house plants, even. He kept a few framed photos of his kids and grandkids, likely only because we gifted them to him! His house used to drive me crazy. He was a clean freak and taking my kids there when they were younger had me on pins and needles for fear they’d rub orange Cheetos fingers on his white micro-suede sofa.

When he died, my siblings and I mentally prepared ourselves to go to the storage unit. We opened the door with bated breath and found only a tiny shed full of boring, non-descript household items with zero sentimental factors for any of us. There was one small box full of cards and photos we’d sent him over the years. We were surprised and touched that he kept them. And we threw them away. After all, who wants a card they’d sent someone a decade ago? Everything else went to Purple Heart, which was conveniently located across the street and came to us for pickup. What we thought would be a harrowing, raw experience of digging through our Dad’s life was virtually painless.

My sister said, “Wow. He made that really, really easy for us.”

And we were grateful.

Between planning this move, experiencing my Dad’s passing and his storage unit, my entire being has been shook by the amount of possessions we have and as such, I’ve been even more thoughtful about what we purchase and consume. I have always prided myself on buying items and clothing from thrift stores or obtaining them from clothing swaps in order to reuse/repurpose goods as opposed to buying cheap, fast fashion. As soon as any of our kids out-grew their clothing, books, or toys, I was quick to donate them.

I have stayed on top of our shit.

And yet, there’s always more.

I’m in this season of life I am literally clearing out so much past clutter in order to make room to move forward. When these plans first started to come together 3 years ago, the idea of leaving this beloved old house and her beautiful gardens and multiple bookshelves hurt my sappy, loving heart. Now, with my husband gone to the other side of the ocean, the stuff means nothing. The stuff feels like old shoes that no longer fit. The more things I shed and the faster I re-home them, the sooner we can be a whole family once again.

I am immensely grateful for this house. For being our cozy shelter for so long. For allowing me to lean on her walls and her window sills as I pushed my babies into my own hands. For the gardens that grew many years and pantries worth of fresh food that fed us well. For her creaky wood floors that bore the weight of chunky toddler feet and lots of muddy boots. For all of this and so much more. There will be big grateful tears when the day comes to move on. It will be a loud, sobbing process I am sure. But it won’t be a process of grasping for what was. It will be a big, heartfelt gesture of gratitude.

But we’re not there yet.

So with each thing I release, I thank it for it’s time and purpose in our lives, and I look forward to being back with the person we love and miss dearly, some day. Hopefully soon. With a much lighter load.

Aparigraha invites us to let go and pack lightly for our journey through life, all the while caring deeply and enjoying fully. – The Yamas & The Niyamas by Deborah Adele

You Don’t Need Me, but I’m Here if You Do

Last week I was teaching a slow, meditative, non-flow yoga class and I heard myself say, “It is my goal as a yoga teacher for you to not need a yoga teacher. My goal for you is to feel so connected to and empowered by your own knowledge of Self, your body and the path that you are on that you can stay home and trust your own intuitive movement and meditation.”

I was both shocked and pleased with this sentiment. I quickly followed it up with, “I realize this is bad for business (they laughed quietly at this), but please try to tap into and honor all the knowledge you already possess and be lead by the curiosity that is always present.”

I’ve continued to think about this all week. It occurred to me this morning during my shower meditation (yeah, I often get my meditation in the quiet of my bathroom, under hot water), that this is just yet another way my Matriarch archetype has entered the space. Again. She’s not just a Mother, she is like the KoolAid man kicking down the wall and screaming her message.


For as long as I can remember, I’ve had this Mothering energy. Possibly due to a string of childhood trauma and life in general, as a kid I quickly found peace and strength at being a helper. If I was a helper, I couldn’t be a victim. Of course, helpers often have shit boundaries. I know I did, but that’s a whole other conversation for another time. It took a lot of time and growing and experiences to my find my strength at both Mothering and boundary making.

When I became an actual Mother, I remember my brother asking me if I were afraid I was going to “mess up” my child. I looked at my tiny, new daughter and said, “Well, I don’t know quite what I’m doing, that’s true. But I know deep in my bones the things I DO NOT want to do as her Mother. I guess that’s a good start.”

I’ve carried that sentiment with me in all my roles as an adult. As a Mother, I want my kids to feel loved and supported. I want them to be kind human beings. I want them to find success by their own happiness meter and not some social construct of “success”.

As a midwife, I wanted the families I served to have evidence-based care and informed consent throughout their time with me. I wanted people in labor and giving birth to feel autonomous in their bodies as they did the incredibly physically and emotionally challenging work of bringing a child into the world.

As a yoga teacher, I want the practitioners who come to my classes to feel welcome, supported and to understand they have autonomy to do as they please and need to during their yoga practice. I use language that invites them to explore a posture as opposed to holding it the one way that I’ve deemed the only “correct” way.

I’m constantly challenging myself to critically think about the things I do, say, teach and live. This results in me having to fess up and explain myself sometimes. “I know I used to say/teach/do this, but I have decided to stop because X, Y, Z.” These statements can be a little tasking to the Ego sometimes, but whatever. Growth keeps our time on earth interesting.

The down-side to the Mother archetype is that I have had to learn to temper my inner Over-Protective Mother. For me, this isn’t a hand-wringing, simpering, “Be careful, honey!” Not at all. The OP Mom in me is fierce and jumps in to defend my babies before giving it much thought. This can lead to serious inner rage and potentially over-the-top venting that is never productive.

Injustice, unkindness and power plays enrage me. When I hear that someone has treated my kid poorly, it’s not good. When I’d have a birth client transfer for care to a hospital and a smug OB would make a shitty comment, it could get ugly. When a yoga practitioner tells me another yoga studio or teacher told them their practice was terrible and that they don’t know enough, well… all of these situations transform me into a very angry KoolAid Man. This is the OP Mom who wants to put a choke hold on those who’ve threatened her babies. This level of self-awareness begs that I simmer down and see these threats as potential for the babies to grow. They don’t need me to fight for them. They need me to be present and remind them of their innate strengths and where they can find ways to course-correct to see themselves through the bullshit.

While the Mother in me is ever-present, I’m starting to edge into the age of the Crone- or, as another writer coins her, The Seer. I feel more grounded in my mind and soul. I feel more secure in my voice. The need for outside validation has steadily decreased over the years (and I’ve always been one to flip the bird at that concept anyhow). I’ve realized that the job of the Mother is to get the child/student to feel strong and empowered on their own, so they do not need to come back home as often. And if they do visit, it’s for love and community.

If a Mother has done her job well, one will have accessed the inner tools and the outer skills to see oneself through loving oneself first before seeking love from others, the ability to cook a decent meal, to keep a plant alive, and to move, live, and breathe in one’s body as they see fit.

I’ll be here if you need me.

I’ll remind you of how strong you are.

What is your “Authentic Voice”?

There’s a line that gets tossed around many a yoga class that makes me cringe: If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.

When I had first heard that line, I was at a Cirque de Soleil -style yoga class in a 100*F room with really loud music and too many people. I had a 14 year yoga practice that was mostly done alone in my living room. That day I had ventured into a studio and was already annoyed by the heat, by the sweaty woman next to me who smelled like vodka and cigarettes, and the teacher who rapidly called out pose names but didn’t tell folks how to get into them. When the teacher dropped that line, my annoyed state quickly grew to anger. My hands began to shake, not from the effort of the sequence, but from the effort of keeping my mouth from shouting expletives or rolling up my mat to hit the teacher across the room. I went into child’s pose to quiet the rage. The teacher then followed up with, Not all of you will be able to handle the change.

If it were possible, my skin would’ve turned green, my muscles grown to 5 times their normal size, and I would’ve smashed that room like the Incredible fucking Hulk.

This happened several years ago. At the time, my life was in a major transition. A transition that I had not chosen. Circumstances had fallen onto my path that were devastating to my livelihood, my mental health, my identity, and to my family. I was not embracing the “challenge” I was currently facing because it was nearly killing me. I hadn’t asked for any change, thank you very much, Karen.

I knew that the yoga teacher threw out that line as just a glib thing to catch the hearts of starry-eyed students who thought moving rapidly in a really hot room was a good way to challenge their bodies. She said the second line, if I may be so frank, to be a bitch. To be the “voice of authority”. To let her students know she’s “edgy” and won’t coddle the “weakest link”. I know this because I’ve heard teachers and personal trainers brag about the way they teach. Their intent seems to be that of an Army drill sergeant: to break people down until they believe they are nothing. Much like a cult leader, they can then get their students to believe their leader is the wisest, most-skilled yogi in the land. That their teaching, their studio, their way is the only way.

I was reminded of this experience a couple of days ago when Colin Hall, a man I follow on Instagram posted a meme that says, “that inspirational quote may have come from an abusive guru”. As examples he used the ever-present yoga quote and hashtag, “Do your practice and all is coming,” by Pattabhi Jois as well as Yogi Bhajan’s, “You can never hide from your truth. If you do, you will always be lost.” (If you are unfamiliar with with either of those teachers and their multiple  scandals and abuses, a quick Google search will sort it out.)

Within this post, Hall writes, “My suspicion is that we are looking to the past to legitimize our present. We don’t feel ‘authentic’ enough without attaching ourselves to some outdated notion of guru lineage. So ditching the guru feels like ditching our connection to ‘real yoga’.”

New teachers often ask, “How do I find my yoga teacher voice?”

My answer to that is, “What’s wrong with the voice you’re using right now?”

I co-teach a yoga teacher training and when we get to discussing applying a theme to a class, I encourage students to find something they are very comfortable and well-versed in should they choose a theme (you don’t need a theme to teach a good class). When you are not completely comfortable with the content you’ve chosen to teach, your speech will be riddled with a lot of “Um”s and “uh”s… and tangents that are going to make you lose track of your intention. A theme could be a physical range of motion, it could be a yama or niyama, it could be a particular body part to work on… the possibilities are endless! If you want the class to feel solid and easy to comprehend, make sure that the words coming out of your mouth are your own. Inspirational quotes are lovely and fine (provided they are coming from a fairly decent human), but speaking in a way that sounds completely foreign to how you normally speak is going to come off as completely disingenuous.


There seems to be a spectrum to the pretend voice of the yoga teacher. At one end is the hard-ass, squash ’em all mentality of the teacher I mentioned at the start of this post. At the other end is the ethereal, flowering speech of inspirational quotes and describing body parts as if they were botanical wonders. Can you imagine if your doctor or barrista spoke in this way?

You don’t need to be a Bully or Queen of the Wood Sprites when you teach a yoga class. You also shouldn’t parrot what other yoga teachers say unless you 100% believe it and feel like it applies to the room you are teaching. As a practitioner, it sometimes makes me cranky to hear the same old yoga lines rippling through the class time and time again.

Practice and all is coming…. Release the issues from your tissues…If it doesn’t challenge you, it  doesn’t change you…Travel light, live light, spread the light, be the light…It’s  not your history but your presence on the mat that matters…Body is not stiff, mind is stiff…

They make me cranky because life is so much more than flip one-liners. There’s a level of privilege and assumption that comes with these sort of quotes that have a lot of potential to make a person feel kind of shitty. How can we honestly tell anybody that a yoga practice is going to give them everything? That if they just did enough passive stretching, they could let go of decades of emotional baggage? That if they just rolled out their yoga mat, they could “be the light”?

Your body probably IS stiff. And let me tell you, your history DOES matter. YOU matter. You are made up of your past experiences. I know you didn’t ask for “challenges”. I’m never going to tell you that you should embrace the hard times. I’m never going to sell yoga as a cure.

If you’re looking to find your Authentic Voice, in or out of the yoga studio, I believe you need to sit down and ask, What is my intention? 

What makes you show up to wear your teaching hat? What is it you’d like to present as “yoga”? What does the practice mean to you? How can the practice benefit everyone in the room?

Here are some of my intentions as a teacher:

  1. I want practitioners to feel comfortable and welcome.
  2. I want practitioners to feel safe.
  3. I cannot presume to know where anyone is physically, mentally or emotionally, but I can hold space for them to have their own experience.
  4. I will not tell people what to think or feel EVER. Their experience is uniquely their own. (Do not theme a class to evoke a specific emotion.)
  5. I will never intentionally use my words in a harsh manner to make someone feel unknowing, badly, or stupid.
  6. I will police my words to the best of my ability so that I do not insult or hurt anyone in the room.
  7. If I see someone struggling to understand a verbal cue or to integrate a movement, I will do my best to help them, and not leave them to drown.
  8. If the majority of the class appear to be new to yoga, I will teach to the new-comers and leave the more advanced practitioners to follow along as they like.
  9. I will not play music that is likely to provoke strong emotions, nor will I play music too loudly. The teaching should never compete with the music.
  10. I will honor my natural speaking voice and allow myself to enjoy my teaching time by cracking silly jokes, laughing at my mistakes and likely letting the occasional swear word slide out of my mouth.

There it is. Release any expectations of speaking “like a yoga teacher” and instead focus on teaching yoga in a kind and compassionate way. Make a list of your intentions to come back to your authentic reasons for wanting to teach yoga in the first place.

Your voice is perfect. You are enough.


Comparison is the thief of joy…

Yoga Sutra 11.6

False identity occurs when we identify with tools of perception instead of the True Self.

At the end of every August the town comes back to life as kids from all over the world, make their way to the university for a new fall semester. These kids have worked hard to maintain good grades throughout high school. They’ve scored well on their SATs and wrote impressive essays. They’ve scrambled some plan to pay for such an expensive education at a highly competitive school. Once they have unloaded their “Bed in a Bag” and basic living items freshly bought from Bed, Bath & Beyond, their parents leave and they’re left with a few days of weekend before school starts.

During this time, the yoga studio where I teach opens their doors for 4 whole days of free yoga. That’s around 24 classes with the ability to squeeze in 70 students per class. We teachers equally love and dread free class weekend. It’s busy. It’s a tad overwhelming. It’s very hot. It is also an opportunity to show new students that yoga can be a lovely place for them to find peace in their soon-to-be very busy lives.

Free class weekend brings mostly very new students who are trying yoga for the first time. They are often nervous and don’t know the etiquette of a yoga studio. They are loud. They have their phones next to their mats. They might be wearing socks. I let everyone settle on their mats and put them in child’s pose. I welcome them and while everyone’s head is down, I say something along the lines of, “Welcome. I’m so glad you’re here. A few things: if you have your phone with you, turn it off and please don’t bring it into the studio room with you next time. This is a time to turn your focus inward, so please no talking. Over the next hour, I will lead you through movement and shapes and a specific type of breathing which you may or may not like. That’s Ok! Give it a try. Whether you are new to yoga or have a strong practice, I encourage you to stay connected to what you are feeling and not reacting to what you are seeing. If you have a yoga asana practice, I ask you to please stay with what I am teaching because it can be very confusing to see another student doing a completely different pose than what is being taught. If you have socks on, reach back and peel them off. Bare feet are strong feet!” and then we begin to focus on breath and the class begins. It’s at this point that my dread of so many people crammed into a warm, humid space dissipates and I get genuinely excited at the opportunity of teaching people basic asana and vinyasa flows with a light heart and a fair bit of silliness to help them become comfortable in this new space.

It is at this same studio that I co-teach a 200 hour teacher training. The majority of the students in teacher training are university students, usually in their senior year. There are also usually a few “grown ups” as I call them, people who are older and well out of school. In every cohort, there is a beautiful sharing of ideas and kind deeds. Near the end of every training, we have a day where students share their reflections of where they are versus where they have come from. It is a time to reflect on their journeys so far, and a time to share where they’re directing their intentions moving forward. It’s one of my favorite days of training, as a beautiful group of people who have spent a lot of time together share their strengths and weaknesses and shed a good bit of laughter and tears. I’ve co-taught nine trainings now and every time I can’t help but listen to their reflections with my Mama heart, especially for the young ones. There is almost always themes of self-loathing, bodily shame, self-harm and an overall sense that they will never be enough. Years of competition in dance, sports, academics, in their families and in their communities may have brought them to a prestigious university but they are left feeling like everything is a competition, and it is very daunting to look at life as something to be the winner of.  These students often start a yoga practice to be more fit, to do Instagram-worthy hollow-back handstands or some bad ass arm balances. What they learn is that being fit isn’t nearly as important as self-love and compassion. When one can truly love and hold compassion for themselves, they can shine that same light onto others.  It is almost always this very basic sentiment that leads them to want to share the gift of yoga. Even in its Americanized fitness version, the message of yoga is always there underneath. It’s the prize at the bottom of the cereal box: Love begets love. Regardless of asana ability, over time, the student finds an inner peace that cannot be explained by a neatly executed inversion.

Knowing that a new batch of young students would be flooding the studio this month, I created a message for the community board at the studio, printed on postcard-size paper. On the front it states Yoga Sutra 11.6 with the following message:

You are not your outward appearance You are not a fancy yoga pose. You are not the money you have in the bank. You are not your grades, your major, your career, your family or friends. You are your own unique and beautiful self and aUM Yoga welcomes you AS YOU ARE. Leave comparison, competition and envy far away from your mat and tap into your inner strength one breath at a time. 

On the back of the card is a list of mental health resources in the area for both students and non students. My intentions with this card is to remind students of why they come to their yoga mat for a practice. It is my hope that I can not only help people learn how to do yoga asana, but that I can also show them the way to self-compassion, so that they in turn, can do the same for others. To remind them that they are not alone, and if they need help off the mat, there are resources to start them on their path of healing.

What can we do to be better teachers? Better friends? Better humans?

We can try to…

Be observant. Ask questions. Learn. Listen. Try not to be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Kindly offer your assistance if you think you can help another. Speak up. Be persistent. Honor the True Self.

clear glass ball
Photo by McKylan Mullins on Pexels.com

Ahimsa. No, really. Back off.

sunset hands love woman
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You know how there are buzzwords that have their hey-day in popular culture for a while and then fade away? People use them so often the meaning tends to get diluted. For example, there are folks who claim to “eat clean”. You know that likely means plenty of fresh, unprocessed whole foods, but then it quickly becomes attached to a marketing ploy to get people to buy bullshit boxes of “detox slimming tea” for $30 a box. (You have kidneys and a liver and a very smart body to remove impurities from your body. You don’t need a bag of tea to do that. Also, tea can’t do that.)

In the yoga world, “alignment-based yoga” keeps getting thrown around as if that were 1. a new concept and 2. unique to a particular style, lineage, studio or teacher. In my opinion, if you’re teaching yoga, you should automatically be teaching alignment, no? It’s what all yoga teachers do. There may be differences of opinion about alignment,  but explaining where and how to move a body in, out and through an asana is a teacher’s job.

I’ve been teaching yoga full-time for 6 years. I’ve been a practitioner of yoga for 20 years. As a practitioner, I have never liked hands-on physical adjustments. I can count on one hand, not using all 5 fingers, the number of times I’ve received an adjustment that helped me learn more about a posture. Even way back in the late 90s when I was in my twenties and less out-spoken, I’d tell teachers to please not touch me, but to instead tell me what I could do with my body to understand a posture more fully.

I’ve had teachers mash me into a shape I could never attain on my own and severely hurt my spine, and later, my knee. I’ve had teachers try to lay on top of me in Pashimottanasana and I quickly shirked them off as I immediately felt painful nerves spasm in my hips. I had an Iyengar teacher literally smack my tight left shoulder in a hand-bound Prasarita Padottanasana as she complained it wasn’t equal to my right shoulder. I had been waiting table for years and that was my far-stronger (less flexible) shoulder because that was my plate/tray carrying arm. I always felt like there was maybe something wrong with me for hating unwanted, unasked-for physical touch in the yoga room (even though it’s completely unacceptable treatment in every other part of my life). I came to learn and to practice asana, not to be molded or molested.

After I gave birth to my first child, I fell in love with midwifery. My birth experience empowered me and I wanted to learn how to do the same for other women. It was the autonomy of my body and it’s process of growing and birthing a human that I fell in love with. I deeply respected the women who created space for me to move freely during birth, doing the unique dance necessary to bring my baby through my pelvis and into my hands. This freedom helped me appreciate why I didn’t like the authoritarian, pushy nature of past yoga teachers who felt it their right to put their hands on me. An asana practice is very personal and intimate, to me, just as intimate as labor. An unwanted hands-on adjustment that comes without consent feels as jarring to me as a rough pelvic exam.

I was fortunate to be a student and apprentice midwife to three wonderful midwives who taught me a lot about consent. During a prenatal visit with a pregnant mother I was taught to say things like, “I’d like to get your blood pressure. Is it okay if I do that now?” Or when it was time to palpate her round belly and listen for fetal heart tones to ask if she were ready for that. If yes, then I’d say, “I’m going to put my hands on the sides of your belly first. I’m sorry they’re a little cold (always!).” As I’d palpate, I’d explain what I was feeling of her baby’s position, and then I’d ask her permission to listen to her baby’s heartbeat, either with a fetoscope if she didn’t want ultrasound waves or a Doppler if she wanted to hear the beats too. This degree of explanation and consent acquiring builds a special relationship between  midwife and mother so that when the time comes to birth, the mother knows that the midwife will continue to ask consent before any touch or procedure. This trust allows the mother the time and space to explore her own intuition and unique anatomy, as well as to give the midwife valuable information about what she’s feeling from the baby’s movement during labor.

One of my midwifery preceptors, mentors and dear friends was/is Mickey Sperlich. Before and all during my apprenticeship, Mickey was piecing together her years of independent research on the effects of physical and sexual trauma to women in their childbearing years. Aside from teaching me how to hold space and care for countless women who were survivors of such abuse in our own midwifery practice, Mickey shared a lot of wisdom and compassion she had gained through 15+ years of research and practice. In 2008, Mickey and her dear friend and colleague, Julia Seng co-authored and published the fruits of their labor, Survivor Moms: Women’s Stories of Birthing, Mothering and Healing after Sexual Abuse.

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This book is a hard, but fantastic read for those who are interested in trauma-sensitivity. Despite it being specifically about women in their childbearing years, it helps those who’ve not experienced past trauma understand how touch, sound, smells, sensations, etc can trigger people in a number of ways.

When I weaned myself from midwifery to teach yoga, I brought my midwife brain of physical and emotional awareness and respect with me into my teaching. I have never taken a trauma-sensitivity weekend workshop because being trauma sensitive was literally what I did 24/7 for 13 years. That’s not to say I’m an expert, but my students can trust that I will never manipulate their bodies into a yoga pose. I will never lay on them or smack them! I find open-ended communication that leads the practitioner into self-inquiry -SVADHYAYA- a much better method to help them find what’s right for their body, on that given day. Asking people to contemplate what they’re feeling in a pose as opposed to telling them what they should  look like is my first method of getting them to come back home so to speak, to their own body. Realizing that every human has very unique anatomy makes space for their bodies to look very different from each other in every single yoga pose. Clearly, if someone is attempting to hold something that seems unsafe or unstable, I’ll tell them to adjust in a specific way to lessen the chances of injury. If I have a student who has been coming to my classes for a while (i.e., they know and trust me), then I will on occasion give the slightest physical adjustment if I see it could help them. This could be a quick two-finger pad touch to the hip in a Parivrtta Parsvokonasana to get them to bring their hips back to the midline or a light shoulder touch to get them to relax their shoulders. As practitioners become stronger and gain body awareness, they will automatically begin to integrate the verbal cues that have been given since their first class but perhaps were not able to access yet on their own. As long as they are moving safely, I leave them to explore the subtleties and nuances of each pose. The “Aha!” moments come time and time again as they find the right space to be in for their body. Each practice yields new results, sometimes micro, sometimes macro.

When I’m wearing my yoga teacher hat, this is the epitome of the first Yama, Ahimsa. The practice of non-violence. Do no harm. I vow to honor where each student is in their practice. I vow to not place my hands on them without consent. I vow not to force their body into a shape it could not attain on its own. I vow to not humiliate them. I vow not to tell them their practice is less-than.

In my yoga room, the student is their own guru. They know their body and mind better than anyone else. I’m there to hold space and to give guidance that they can take or leave. I don’t want praise. I don’t want a pedestal. There is a fantastic line in the Tao of Woman (Metz & Tobin, 1995) pertaining to the midwife’s job: When the child is born, the Mother will rightly say, I did this myself.

Every yoga practitioner should say the same of their practice.

On Ashtanga. To Whom Do You Give Your Power?

Lately I’ve been listening to podcast interviews of Ashtanga teachers on J Brown Yoga. If you’re not aware, there has been a lot of chaos in the Ashtanga community as victims of Pattabhi Jois come forward to speak of the sexual and physical abuse they suffered under his teaching. Karen Rain has spoken and written about her experiences very eloquently and bravely on Decolonizing Yoga. I believe it’s important that we hold the space for all victims to be heard and believed. I think that we should stop calling women’s stories “allegations”, and instead call into question the teachers and institutions who allowed abuse to happen by turning a blind eye and pretending all is well.

Sexual, physical and psychological abuse is nothing new in the world. It is just as prevalent in the yoga world as in any other community. A quick Google search will bring up countless pages of former and current teachers and “gurus” who have abused their authority to coerce or force victims into situations that have resulted in inappropriate hands-on assists, molestation and/or rape.

Can you practice Ashtanga if you’re not committed 100%?

I have never identified Ashtanga as “my practice”, although I know primary series and usually do it once or twice a week myself. I’ve always been a vinyasa flow and restorative yoga fan, enjoying the balance between the two and the variety of asana they bring. A few years ago I was asked to teach a short-form (60 minute), fully led primary series. Teaching at a vinyasa studio that has a lot of new students, I liked the idea of teaching an abridged primary series because it’s a lot slower than a lot of vinyasa classes. Students have the opportunity to learn the breath and the cadence of the practice. They get to learn Sun Salutations with modifications until the strength is there to do a solid chaturanga with the knees off the mat, or to take cobra instead of up-dog. Holding foundational postures such as an extended triangle or a seated head-to-knee pose for 5 breaths instead of blurring through them helps the practitioners become more stable for the times when they are in a faster paced vinyasa class. In this 60 minute format we still keep the salutations at the top of class, followed by all the standing series, a few of the seated series, an optional shoulderstand, fish and savasana. This shorter format allows me to take out some of the less readily accessible postures like padmasana and supta kurmasana, to name a few. I’ve really grown to like teaching this format and have seen students grow not only physically stronger, but also showing a massive increase in their own body awareness.

Over the years, I will admit to being slightly self-conscious about teaching the primary series in this way. I have heard and felt the “Tsk tsk” of real Ashtangis who think studios like ours have bastardized the practice. As if the yoga we are teaching is somehow less legitimate because we are teaching it pose by pose with all sorts of permissive language thrown in like, “If it is available in your body, you can consider bringing the foot here.. If there is pain in your sacroiliac joint, soften away from that pain by releasing here…” Last fall I started teaching the full primary series once a week, fully verbally guided and with all sorts of options so that everyone can participate, even if they don’t have Magical Unicorn leg-behind-the-head skillz (I don’t have them either, and I’m okay with that)! Depending on the students in class, I still occasionally remove a pose here or there, but I stick to the sequence as is. Serious Ashtanga practitioners may not like the way I teach: offering loads of modifications, encouraging questions from the students, and generally having a good time. I do not need the reverence of any student and I will not encourage them to contort into extreme shapes their body isn’t ready for (and may never be ready for). It is my opinion that yoga asana is done for optimistic longevity of a healthy body and not as a way to destroy joints and whip ourselves into exhaustion day after day. Modern life asks a lot of us (especially if you have small children and/or work 50+ hours a week like most Americans), and there are days where we should probably just mediate, do a supine twist and sleep in the following morning.

Hands-on assists? 

I very rarely make hands-on adjustments, regardless of what I am teaching and if I do, I typically have a rapport with the student, I ask permission and if permission is given, then I lightly and quickly make whatever tweak that I think could help them to understand the pose a little more so. Forcing body parts is forbidden in my book. Using MY body weight to make someone else’s body make a shape I perceive as being  the absolute correct expression will never happen. Force in yoga is violence.

Coming back to where I started… There is a lot to unpack for the Ashtanga community. I have a lot of empathy for the hurt and betrayal many are feeling. At the same time, I cannot support or understand those who continue to have big photos of Pattabhi Jois in their practice space. (They don’t need my support, I know.) Holding reverence for a mere mortal who has used his position of power and  authority to take advantage of and hurt others is not someone who should be revered. Ahimsa has not been honored. The Ego proved to be bigger than the yogic ideals.

When I think of the historically rigid approach of Ashtanga yoga, I can’t help but to compare it to western obstetrics. Bear with me: I tend to compare just about every aspect of life to pregnancy, labor or birth because there’s no way through it but through it and we are in a constant state of transition therefore, totally applicable! Robbie Davis-Floyd, PhD is a cultural anthropologist who has spent over two decades researching reproduction, childbirth, feminism and midwifery. She has published a lot of very valuable and interesting research on these fields of interest and more. One of her more well-known pieces is The Technocratic and Holistic Models of Birth Compared. When I first read this I was newly pregnant with my first child and it really made an impact on me, both as it relates to birth and how I approach a yoga practice. It’s a long list comparing the technocratic and holistic models. Here’s an example of a few comparisons:

T: women=objects     H: women=subjects

T: Mind is above, separate from body   H: Mind and body are one

T: Body=machine   H: Body=organism

T: Doctor=technician  H: Midwife=nurturer

T: Action based on facts, measurements   H: Action based on body knowledge and                                                                                              intuition

T: Only technical knowledge is valued   H: Experiential and emotional knowledge                                                                                           valued as highly or more than technical                                                                                            knowledge

Midwifery is the direct opposite of patriarchal western medicine and hierarchy. Midwifery puts the power in the hands of the individual person.

It has always been my intention in teaching yoga asana, that each practitioner own their movements and postures. As a largely disembodied culture, I want to create a safe place that is encouraging and that allows for each student to come into a healthy relationship with their body, mind and spirit. It’s a practice of discernment and exploration, and I think that should be a path that is both fascinating and fun. Cranking body parts into submission can be sustainable for 15-20 years, at best. I agree with Davis-Floyd, experiential and emotional knowledge is valued as highly or more than technical knowledge. Or rather, what you experience in a pose is more important than the mere appearance of the pose.

We have to continue to ask ourselves: To what end are we doing any one pose? What is the intention of our yoga practice? Why are we on this path? To whom do we give our power, and if anyone, WHY?

If you’re a yoga teacher, reflect on how you approach your role as the speaking person in the shala. What is your intention? Can you teach without believing you’re the voice of authority?


Autodidacts, Unite!

autodidact: (n) a self-taught person

Q: If you don’t have a teacher, a mentor,  or a guru, how do you learn?

A: Svadhyaya! (And a lot of books.)


In the past I’ve had yogis essentially tell me that I can’t know/live/teach/practice yoga  because I didn’t have a guru. I didn’t have a mentor or a senior teacher. I guess I’ve always had a slight issue with authority figures (you get my respect when you earn it and show it). The way I saw it, if I had committed to a life of practicing the 8 Limbs of Yoga, that was going to be a very personal journey between myself, the Divine and my relationship with the people I met on my path. I recognized early on in life that lessons can be learned through self, children, adults, animals and the earth. I was not about to give reverence to a Guru via a framed photo.

Dialing back to 1998, one had the Yellow Pages and the small little ads at the back of Yoga Journal to seek trainings and workshops. I believe it was 1998-99 that the Yoga Alliance started the whole 200 hour training standards, much to the ire of senior teachers and long time practitioners. These folks recognized that 200 hours didn’t give much time to address the depth and breadth of yoga knowledge and learning needed to be considered a teacher. Being stuck in the Midwest as a young married waitress to a young, hardworking laborer didn’t allow for me to pack up my life and attend an immersion training (those were just starting to come on the scene) in Costa Rica or Bali. And going to India? Forget about it!

I read what I could. I practiced asana and pranayama in my living room. I prayed and meditated at a little altar next to my bed (and almost set fire to my entire house when I dozed off, allowing a spent candle to become a massive, flaming wax puddle. Fortunately, the heat and light woke me.) I became a better version of myself. I familiarized myself with the Yamas and Niyamas and began to understand and un-do some of the family and cultural habits that didn’t jive with my goals of being a more ethical, kind human.

I grew a lot. 

And then some.

I grew so much that I got pregnant (huzzah!) with our first daughter just 5 months into my yoga journey. As soon as I began to tell family and coworkers of my pregnancy, I began to realize that everyone wanted to be my Expectant Mother Guru. I tried to be nice and listen, but I soon realized other women’s unsolicited advice was actually a way for them to verbally process their own pregnancies and birth stories. Like watching terrible, sensationalist news stories with a cute kitty-in-a-tree tale thrown in just to lighten the mood, I had to discern if what I was hearing was helping me learn about my changing growing body, or filling me with anxiety that like my Grandmother, my baby would “tear me from stem to stern”. Respectfully, I learned to stop the many well-meaning women and say, “Does this story have a good ending that’s going to encourage me? No? I’m good, thanks.”

This being the late 90s, we didn’t get internet (which was a husk of what it is now) until I was 7 months pregnant. Wanting more information, I went back to the book store. Dr. William Sears and his wife, Martha Sears co-authored the Birth Book. This book became my new sutras as I read and re-read about my changing body, my growing baby, and most importantly, my options. Whenever I asked my mother or sister a particular questions about labor and birth, I was often met with a standard answer like, “The doctor will do X to you.” Like an annoying toddler, I asked Why a lot and pitched a fit about procedures that didn’t seem to make sense. It was through the Birth Book that I learned that ditching my obstetrician and finding a midwife would be more in line with the autonomy I sought. This would lead me to a very different path than I was currently on. We’ll save that for another day.

I have a lot of students ask me if I continued my asana practice during pregnancy. Yes, I did. I also waited tables six days a week and was exhausted much of the time. I wasn’t doing inversions on the beach with a glowing pregnant belly. I had massively swollen ankles from walking for 8 hours. I had carpal tunnel from carrying heavy loads of food on my extended left arm. I had weird rotator cuff stuff in my right shoulder from pouring from heavy pitchers and coffee pots. In short, I was a mess. I meditated, prayed, breathed, did a few sun salutations and did Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana / Pigeon Pose to work the sciatica out of my ass. I often smelled like ranch dressing and maple syrup as I practiced immediately after work and usually fell asleep during Savasana.

Yoga came to me just in time. It taught me that while I was the only one who could walk in my shoes (with absurdly large cankles), I wasn’t the first person to walk this path. My pranayama practice calmed my nerves when all the What Ifs came out to play. Knowing that literally millions of women have been giving birth for a bazillion years reminded me that I too, could do this birth thing. Isvarapranidhana, the fifth Niyama: Surrender to the Divine. Let go and let be.

No one can teach you that. You have to experience it first hand. On your mat and in your life. My inspiration and faith was drawn from reading positive birth stories that weren’t all easy, but showed the strength, endurance and yielding required to be a vessel for another being to pass through. I realized I was standing on the shoulders of my ancestors and they were cheering me on. Isvarapranidhana was a very new concept that became my new way of life during those 9 months.