Monthly Archives: April 2012

Measuring Progress in a Viniyoga Class—Response to a Student Question

I look forward to answering your questions in this blog.  Please feel free to leave a comment or e-mail your questions to

Hayden, a Whole Life Yoga teacher training graduate asks:  A student asked me today how he could measure his progress in my drop-in classes, since they vary so much week to week.  He mentioned, in particular, other yoga classes that always contain sun salutations, and how, if you do them regularly, you can tell that you are getting stronger. But since I don’t want to do regular sun salutations with my class, how can I design drop in classes so that my students are experiencing growth and can see it?  This seems easier to do in a series.

Hi Hayden!  As is usually the case, I don’t have any quick and easy answers to this question.  Gary (my teacher) always says that real progress in yoga practice can best be measured by your relationships.  If your relationships get more stable, your yoga practice is working, and vice–versa.   He also often says that if he were forced to measure the “accomplishments” of his teacher training graduates, he’d evaluate the level of their neuroses.  Remember, according to the sutras, physical prowess was never the intent of yoga practice.  The intent was clarifying and calming the mind.


Viniyoga is multi-faceted.  It can have an orientation that is developmental (Siksana), like my Energize and Strengthen series, therapeutic (Cikitsa), like Yoga for Healthy Backs, or spiritual (Adhyatmika), like my New Years Day workshop.

Physical practice is indeed easier to measure in series classes, as you have the same students over and over again throughout a defined time period. A drop-in practice is trickier, as it’s designed each week based on the students present in class. But drop-in students can still pay attention to how they feel in common poses over time.   There’s absolutely nothing magical about sun salutations.  They are simply a series of specific postures done in a flowing manner. You can measure physical changes in any posture that is taught over and over again.

The trick is to teach the same posture over time and ask students to pay attention to how their body responds to that pose.  For flexibility, seated postures work well. They block escape valves so progress can be more directly seen.  The lateral adaptation of janu sirsansa, deep twists, or regular old pascimatanasana work well for this.  For strength, poses such as plank, caturanga, half squats, arm balances, or all of those lovely prone postures work well.  Progress in those poses would be measured in how many repetitions a student can do or how long they can stay in the pose while maintaining a smooth breath.  For endurance, any flow done repeatedly over time works well.  Breath adaptations in asana and pranayama practices provide effective measurements of breath development.

But the bigger question, I guess, is why is the student practicing?  What do they hope to gain?  And why are they so concerned about measuring themselves? Remember, external measurements are really antithetical to the goals of yoga practice.

Finally, as a teacher, you need to decide who your audience is.  Each class you teach must meet the individual needs of the students present.  This is no easy task–believe me, I know. You may find over time that you need to segment your students into levels, such as beginning, intermediate, and advanced.  Otherwise you won’t be able to adequately meet the needs of anyone.

But above all, please remember, that emotional stability is much more important that any external physical measure.  External measures are more about ego than real growth.

I hope that helps!



More information about Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program can be found at our web site:  Yoga Teacher Training at Whole Life Yoga.

Another New Viniyoga Video!

When I wrote about two new viniyoga videos in my blog a few weeks ago, I thought they were the only new ones out there.  Turns out, I was wrong.  As I researched anatomy books for the next teacher training, I came across a third video that I wanted to share with you.  Breath Centered Yoga is a DVD created by Leslie Kaminoff, a viniyoga master teacher and the author of Yoga Anatomy, the anatomy text we use in Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program. 

Leslie is a long-time student of Desikachar who lives in New York.  He founded The Breathing Project, an institute dedicated to this style of yoga in New York City, and his knowledge of both breath-centered yoga and anatomy is renowned. Although I’ve never studied with him personally, I know several people who have, and they have described him and his teaching approach as grounded, accessible, and filled with humor. I never hesitate to recommend his work to my students. 

His DVD offers four practices that vary in length from 18  to 29 minutes.  The 29 minute practice is meant to be a stand-alone practice.  The three shorter practices can be practiced individually or combined to make a single practice that is a little over an hour in length.  The DVD also includes several bonus audio tracks with descriptions of adaptations for everything from plus sized bodies to “real men.”  😉

True to the viniyoga methodology, the practices on this DVD involve dynamic movement in addition to stay.  The video’s  practitioners don’t move in concert, but at their own pace, and they each practice using their own adaptations. The video is described as offering “gentle, therapeutic yoga routines that are accessible for all levels.”

I haven’t actually seen this video yet, and I don’t yet carry it in the studio. However is it readily available on and other online retailers. I hope to add it to my retail offerings later this spring or summer. I am excited to find another video I can recommend to my clients by a very reputable viniyoga master!

In the mean time, if any of you buy and review it, please tell me what you think!



Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

Connecting with Your Body, Mind–and Baby–with Yoga

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Shelley Curtis. Shelley is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program, and our newest prental yoga instructor!  She  can be contacted at

I started taking yoga classes after a minor back injury, partly to heal but mainly to strengthen and stretch my body to prevent hurting myself again. I loved the way yoga made my body feel and sensed there was more to it for my mind but didn’t understand the mental and emotional benefits until I was introduced to viniyoga just before I became pregnant with my first son (now 5 ½).

After I found out I was pregnant I started going to prenatal yoga classes at Whole Life Yoga and practicing at home almost daily. This is really when I started to get the body-mind connection that yoga, especially viniyoga, has to offer. By practicing viniyoga regularly throughout my pregnancy I was able to connect with my body and my baby in a way I don’t think I would have otherwise. The breath work and linking breath and movement allowed me to be fully present and helped me to ride the emotional roller coaster of pregnancy in a much more mindful way. The same held true for labor – and motherhood. I used the same tools during my son’s birth and then again as I struggled with being a new mom.

A couple of years (and many viniyoga classes) later, my dear friend and mentor, Sharon Beaudoin, urged me to consider enrolling in Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program. I hadn’t ever thought about teaching yoga but met with Tracy anyway and decided to enter the program mostly as a way to enhance my home practice. Then came baby number two! I was lucky to experience the teacher training during my pregnancy for many reasons, one of which is that it ignited in me a passion for teaching prenatal yoga.  And of course I fully experienced the many benefits of viniyoga throughout my pregnancy, labor and transition to mother of two!

Yoga is such a gift for pregnant women, most of who are getting know their bodies – and their minds – in an entirely new and different way. I feel so fortunate that I get to join them as they begin their journey to motherhood.


Please Join Shelley in her new prenatal class at Whole Life Yoga!

Inviting Newness to Your Practice–Lessons from the Tasha-Dog

Gorgeous spring days like today make me feel, well, alive. The air is crisp and infused with the sweet smell of new flowers.  Colors have returned to the Seattle landscape—reds, pinks, purples, blues, greens—even the whites seem to jump out in stark contrast to the gray days we will soon leave behind.

This year, my dog seems unusually entranced by the newness.  Our normal ninety-minute walks stretch to two, even three hours as the paths she found disinteresting all winter suddenly come alive to her again.

Today, as she walked me to her new favorite spot at Greenlake, I was struck by how the familiar is continually interesting to her.  By conservative calculations, we’ve walked Greenlake’s path almost 2000 times in our seven years together; yet she still finds it fascinating.  As she gets older, her interests and abilities change.  She is no longer the great hunter-dog that dragged me, face-down, across the grass as she tried to catch those ever-elusive squirrels.  Now she’s more of an observer, a tour guide of sorts, saying hello to familiar walkers as she gazes across the lake from her new treasured spot in the shade.

But still, every time, she leads us to Greenlake with enthusiasm–with intention.  I never know exactly where we’re headed, but I can tell that she does.  And in spite of her obviously planned destination, she enjoys every minute of the path along the way.

Like Tasha, we can live our lives–and practice our yoga–with great enthusiasm and a sense of newness.  We can bring the same sense of wonder to the 2000th repetition of cat pose that we brought to our first.  As our bodies change, we may not be able to do handstand or wheel, but we can invite vitality, energy, and joy to every pose we can do.  We can invite gratitude and intention to every breath we take.  In fact,  these simple poses give us the opportunity to more fully experience the connection of body, breath and mind that is truly the purpose of yoga.

As we enter this season of re-birth, I’d like to invite all of us, including myself, to experience life and our practice the same way Tasha does.  As happy in exploring the familiar as seeing the new.  As present and joyful in our old age as we were in our youth.   As connected with our world on the days our path is difficult as the day we took our first step.

The yoga sutras call this persevering practice:  Doing the same practice over and over again, over a long period of time, without interruption, with enthusiasm and an intention of growth.  Such a practice, they say, leads to the true goal of yoga: clarity.

May you find newness and re-birth, joy and optimism, hope and clarity this Spring.  And may you experience the inner peace that is the state of yoga.



Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

When I Arrive

Today’s post is written by guest writer and graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s 200 hour teacher training program, Amanda Whitworth.   She can be reached at

We spend so much time walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. For once, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives… not looking for flaws, but for potential.”- Ellen Goodman

The mind is a very powerful thing. The stories we tell ourselves can be vicious and mean, things we wouldn’t even say to our worst enemy yet we hardly blink an eye when we say them to ourselves. It’s these stories we tell ourselves, whether we heard them first through someone else or devised them on our own, that lead us down a dangerous road.

I often find myself walking through life telling myself so many stories it’s almost hard to believe. I am thirty-one years old after all and I SHOULD be exactly where I expected to be at this age, right? I SHOULD be doing exactly what all my friends are doing, right?

More often than I care to admit I get caught up in what I think I should be doing that I fail to see what I AM doing and all the things I HAVE done in my life. At times I get absorbed in this idea that my glass is half empty that I find it hard to believe that in reality, my glass is more then half full.

The normal tape recorder that plays in my head goes a little like this; ‘I’m not creative enough, I don’t have a career to show for, I’m not a wife or a mom, I don’t have an excellent green thumb, I’m not as good of a writer as I wish I was, and worst yet, I’m not yogi enough.” Seriously, this is the negative tape recorder in which I often find playing in my head with little to no effort on my part. So what is my point you’re probably asking?

Lately I’ve been asking myself why do I, like some many others, get caught up in this idea of ‘when I arrive’ I’ll will be the person I always thought I would be? Why can’t I be the person I want to be right now?

To be honest, I don’t have a definitive answer because I think this is subjective to each individual. What I do know is that a lot of these feelings I have are projections and expectations I’ve placed on myself based off of what I think others think of me. Silly, huh?

So where does yoga fit in to all this mental craziness?

Yoga, for me, is teaching me slowly but surely, to see myself and others a little bit clearer. And although there is still that inevitable tape recorder playing in the back of my head, I mean, thirty-one years is a long cycle of habitual negative self talk to break, a regular yoga practice has provided me with some powerful tools to bring with me in my everyday life. For example, back before I practiced yoga, I was terribly reactive towards people who I felt were judgmental towards my life and the choices I had made. I would get super fired up, defensive, and often begrudge them for even voicing an opinion to begin with. It was a harmful and hurtful cycle for both me and those in my life.

Flash forward to now and I honestly feel that what I have learned through a regular practice of asana, meditation, and breath work combined with my experience from taking the Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training course, I have been given another opportunity to look at life differently.

Every day I work on letting go of this idea of ‘when I arrive’ and try to look at each day as an opportunity to be exactly who I am and know that I am exactly where I am suppose to be. I am me. That’s all I can ever be and what I am doing in my life has no relation to anyone else. As long as I am happy, that’s all that matter.

I think Dr. Seuss says it best, “Today you are YOU, that is truer then true. There is no one alive who is youer then YOU!

I hope that all of us can walk through the rooms of our lives and instead of looking for flaws, truly and with a clear mind see our own intentional!


Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!