Category Archives: Teaching Yoga

Three Key Ways a Yoga Practice Can Support Trauma Recovery

Please help me welcome Lisa Danylchuk to the Whole Life Yoga blog today.  Lisa’s acclaimed book, Embodied Healing shares her learnings about yoga and how it can help people who are rebuilding their lives after trauma. And who among us hasn’t experienced trauma?  Lisa, can you please tell my readers how yoga–and its teachers–can help students overcome trauma?

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As yoga’s popularity continues to increase, yoga teachers, mental health providers and researchers are all becoming more clear on the depths of its benefits. As a yoga teacher and trauma therapist, I have seen a myriad of ways that mindfulness and movement help clients, whether they are doing a traditional hatha practice or applying yoga philosophy to their healing journey. Here are three ways that yoga teachers and healthcare providers can help clients and students who are navigating trauma recovery.

Grounding

Grounding is the act of connecting to the earth, and can be accomplished in a variety of ways. The most common ways to ground are to feel your feet on the floor, as we do in tadasana, or to feel the sit bones grounding to the earth, as we do in many seated postures. Often, people who are experiencing anxiety and extreme stress report feeling a spinning or rising sensation; this conscious effort to ground can counteract the pull of energy away from the body,, bringing attention back to the safety of the current moment. If you are teaching to a group of people who have experienced trauma, offer grounding cues repeatedly throughout class. Not only is it helpful in building a physical foundation for a pose, it can also have psychological benefits.

Present moment attention

Intrusive thoughts and feelings from past trauma can show up in the present and memories can even pull us away from our current surroundings. Getting connected to present moment time – right here, right now – is one way to distance from the intensity of a past trauma in a helpful way. Yogis are familiar with the practice of cultivating presence, and it is important to find ways to describe how to practice presence, rather than simply instruct participants to “be present.” Consider guiding attention to a specific place in the room, a lamp on the wall or the corner of a mat. Consider instructing participants to follow the sound of your voice, or to listen to the sound of a bell as it fades. While, due to sensitivities, we can’t always use smells in the yoga room, think of these present moment attention practices as smelling salts, bringing students more fully  into present time and space.

Compassion towards self

In the aftermath of trauma it can become easy to struggle with oneself, wondering why something is still upsetting or feeling there is some defectiveness of self that allows the bad feelings to persist. By definition, something traumatic is too much to process all at once and approaching the feelings with tenderness can facilitate healing, rather than self-criticism or judgement. Recall that the word yoga means union, so we are looking to unite the parts of ourselves that need healing, rather than cut them off. Practicing curiosity and compassion facilitates the gentle approach our psyches need – just as you would not shout at a plant to help it grow, criticizing ourselves does not foster healing. Encourage compassion instead.

Questions, thoughts? Post a comment below or go to www.howwecanheal.com to contact Lisa.

Headshot.L.DanylchukLisa Danylchuk teaches internationally on integrating yoga and mental health treatment. As a licensed psychotherapist and Yogaworks certified yoga instructor, she has provided counseling and yoga classes in prisons, schools, non-profits and community programs across the US. Lisa holds degrees from both UCLA and Harvard University and is the author of the bestselling book Embodied Healing: Using Yoga to Recover from Trauma and Extreme Stress. She is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area where she hosts the Yoga for Trauma (Y4T) online training program, accessible world-wide. More information at: www.howwecanheal.com/y4t.

 

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, learn about our Yoga Alliance Registered yoga teacher training program, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series. 

Forming Good Professional Relationships: An Excerpt from The Art and Business of Teaching Yoga

As a long term blogger, I often get requests to review yoga books.  I almost always decline.  I couldn’t resist this one, though.  Books on the business of teaching yoga are few and far between.  This one has tips on all aspects of the business of teaching  yoga.  This chapter below on relationships in yoga especially spoke to me.  Enjoy!  If you’re interested in exploring it further, check it out at this link.

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As yoga teachers, we are in a relationship business. To be successful, we must embrace relationship building on many different levels. It’s especially important for us to see our students not as devotees who should serve their teacher or guru but as paying clients deserving of nurturing care and attention.

There are seven primary kinds of relationships that are important to yoga teaching:

  1. Relationship with the divine
  2. Relationship with oneself
  3. Relationships with family and friends
  4. Relationships with individual students
  5. Relationships with staff and colleagues
  6. Online relationships
  7. Relationships with classes and community

For your own personal growth and for the good of your teaching, it’s important to assess each of these types of relationships in your life and ask yourself whether any of them need more attention. This may seem repetitive, but self-inquiry and growth are a huge part of being a yogi.

Let’s consider some of these relationships in more detail.

Relationship with the Divine

When we are connected to the divine, we feel more inspired, and thus we teach at our best. But this relationship often gets put on hold when we get busy. Today, with all the distractions of electronic devices and social media, it has become more and more challenging to unplug and find a moment of quiet. When I feel cut off from spirit, I increase my meditation and mantra repetition, get outside, put my bare feet in the grass, light a candle, or write in a gratitude journal. It does not take much to revive the dialogue.

Relationship with Oneself

Yoga teachers are taught to model self-care, but they’re often not consistent about following through. Being more stressed than your students is not a basis for good teaching. One of our graduates reported that after she consciously increased her self-care and spent more time unplugged, her teaching improved dramatically. Her students noticed and responded very positively to the difference.

Relationships with Family and Friends

According to the author and actor Ben Stein, “Personal relationships are the fertile soil from which all advancement, all success, all achievement in real life grows.” Your closest friends, loved ones, and family are vital to your growth and ability to stay inspired as a yoga teacher. When these relationships are nurtured, you also model the importance of personal relationships to your students.

To make sure you’re devoting time to tending these relationships, schedule a regular date night with your partner, put regular hang-out time with your kids on your calendar, keep in touch with out-of-town family more consistently, or set up frequent get-togethers with friends.

Relationships with Individual Students

Early in my career, more than a decade ago, I taught a weekly class in a basement room to sixty-five wholehearted New Yorkers at Crunch Fitness in Manhattan. Little did I know that the relationships I formed in that gym would lead to meaningful lifelong connections.

Every week, I came to class early and stayed after to talk with students, work on their therapeutic issues and injuries, answer their questions — and just hang out and gab. Some people sat around talking for an hour afterward. Most nights after class I brought students with me upstairs to Jivamukti Yoga Center to catch the tail end of Krishna Das’s weekly New York kirtans. We’d sing and sway, do puja, and delight in the fruit salad Prasad.

I am still in touch with many students from that time. Some of them went on to travel with me to new and beautiful places on retreat, and some became master yoga instructors in their own right.

These kinds of students can become loyal supporters who spread the word about your classes and help build a loving community of people around a common interest: yoga.

Relationships with Staff and Colleagues

Do you make a habit of being kind and speaking respectfully to gym and studio staff? I don’t claim to be any kind of saint, but I do my best to be friendly and considerate to these colleagues. Not only is this important to my sense of myself, but it makes for easier and more collegial working relationships, which make for better teaching.

Stories abound of yoga teachers at fitness gyms who act entitled, elitist, and pretentious, brusquely demanding specific conditions for their classes and acting as if the other gym staff are ignorant about yoga in general. How much cooperation do you think these teachers are likely to receive?

Because yogis often practice in community, we have a tendency to develop what I call yoga tunnel vision. Yoga, like anything else, can be taken to fanatical levels, to the point where practitioners can’t relate to non-yogis! And isn’t yoga supposed to be about connection?

Good manners, curiosity, kindness, helpfulness, generosity, enthusiasm, and sensitivity go a long way to demonstrate the spiritual and emotional benefits of yoga, as well as the physical ones, and help yoga continue to grow in the mainstream. Here are some specific ways to nurture relationships with colleagues at a gym or studio.

  • Get to know other teachers at the gym or studio and take their classes. Learning from other yoga teachers is a vital part of a yoga practice. Taking fitness classes at the gym can boost other aspects of your physical health as well as help you develop good relationships with the other instructors.
  • Attend all meetings and social functions of the gym or studio. Showing up for meetings and gatherings where you work, even if you are busy, does two very important things: it helps you know and be a part of the team, and it increases your visibility among managers and students. Managers who see you getting involved with the gym or studio are more likely to give your name when a student asks what class to take or is looking for a teacher to work at a special function, like a wedding party. Attending studio functions lets you get to know current students and gets your name out among potential new students.
  • Keep lines of communication open with colleagues and staff. Whether you’re a studio owner/manager or an employee, touch base regularly with the people you work alongside. Share your needs, goals, visions, feedback, and even grievances. Don’t let ill-feeling fester to the point where neither party is willing to try to resolve a problem.
  • Maintain good communication by establishing it before there’s a problem. If you teach at a studio, for example, chat with the studio owners about getting classes covered, or share with them how you handled a difficult student. By establishing a dialogue when nothing is wrong, you will have a good channel of communication in place if you need to bring up a touchy subject.
  • Be friendly with teachers of other styles of yoga. It’s simply unattractive when a yoga teacher says something negative about another teacher or style of yoga. Don’t do it. You’re the one who ends up looking bad. Instead, use differences in opinion as an opportunity to see and learn from another perspective.
  • When you don’t like something, offer a solution. If you are upset about something going on where you work, go directly to the source or the person in charge, state the problem, and then offer to find a solution. This way you won’t be seen as a gossiper or complainer.
  • Be a “go-giver,” not a “go-getter.” A go-getter comes in, teaches a class, and leaves. A go-giver comes in, sees what he can do to pitch in, and asks what announcements need to be made for upcoming events. After class, he folds blankets, puts away props, blows out candles, and picks up water bottles and Kleenex left behind.

Never think that you are above these tasks. Making this effort increases the feeling of goodwill in the studio, and studio managers who see you pitching in will be more apt to give you prime teaching slots when they open up.

Amy_Taro2-BlueAmy Ippoliti and Taro Smith, PhD are the authors of The Art and Business of Teaching Yoga and founders of the online school 90 Monkeys, which has enhanced the skills of yoga teachers and studios in over 40 countries. Amy is known for bringing yoga to modern-day life in a genuine way and has been featured on the covers of Yoga Journal and Fit Yoga Magazine. Taro is the Chief Content Officer at Yoga Glo and has over two decades of experience developing yoga, medical, and wellness enterprises. They both live in Boulder, Colorado. Visit them online at www.90monkeys.com and www.AmyIppoliti.com.

Excerpted from the book The Art and Business of Teaching Yoga: The Yoga Professional’s Guide to a Fulfilling Career. Copyright © 2016 by Amy Ippoliti and Taro Smith, PhD. Reprinted with permission from New World Library. www.newworldlibrary.com

PS–all three books in Tracy Weber’s Downward Dog mystery series are now available!  Learn more at http://tracyweberauthor.com.  Thanks for reading!

Yogi Interview of the Month–Jenny Zenner!

I’m delighted to host Whole Life Yoga teacher training graduate and phenomenal yoga teacher Jenny Zenner here on the blog today. She’s been kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions for me. Pour yourself a cup of tea (or mix up and appletini!)and join us!

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Tell us a little about your journey to yoga. Why and when did you start practicing?

Yoga was my breakup cure starting in 2003. Lamenting the loss of a cross-country boyfriend, a friend going through a divorce invited me for “detox and retox” girls night – heated vinyasa with Hilary Steinitz followed by appletinis at the tapas bar below the studio. Between our sweaty mats and sisterhood, I became convinced that yoga was the cure for all of society’s ills.

Appletinis? YUM! Sounds like a great entry to a practice we both love.  Now that you’ve been practicing for well over a decade, how has yoga changed your life?

Initially, yoga gave me a proprioception I previously attained through years of running and strength training. It gave me my own sense of my body’s alignment, orientation, greater flexibility, and capacity for change by a simple shift into a posture.

Surely it can’t be all appletinis, sisterhood, and flexibility. Tell us the truth: Any yoga horror stories?

Why yes. While “auditioning” to teach by taking an advanced teacher training workshop, the student assisting me was unable to support my failed transition from crow to handstand. Dropped on my head like a pogo stick, to this day I feel the effects from my concussion and sprained cervical spine.

I’m so sorry that happened to you. We’ve spoken before about this experience and how it’s given you a greater appreciation for Viniyoga. What do you specifically appreciate about Viniyoga?

Viniyoga took me out of my vigorous flow practice and showed me a lifetime practice applicable to ANYONE.

Now that you’ve graduated from Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training, how are you sharing what you learned?

I teach yoga and mindfulness within organizations (workplace and schools). I like taking the practices to new audiences who might not ever visit a studio.

It’s great that you like to reach out to people outside of the traditional studio environment. What’s the most unique place you’ve taught yoga?

I led a session for a day of movement sponsored by Zella in the entrance to Nordstrom at the Northgate Mall.

That sounds like fun! I’ll bet you got a lot of interesting looks.  When you teach, what’s your favorite yoga pose, and why?

Tree. Every year or so, I have taken a picture of myself in the balance holding my twin sons, my own little monkeys. I’m due for another.

Who is your yoga hero?

I realize my yoga lineage is of yogini authors: Sharon Gannon (multiple books) who founded Jivamukti taught my first teacher Hilary (novelist) and my teacher training was with Tracy Weber (novelist). I hope to do them justice with my practice, teaching, and writing.

Ah… Now you’re making me blush. 😉  There is something about yoga and writing that go together.  It’s that whole persevering practice thing.  What non-yoga thing are you most passionate about?

After my family, it’s a tie between anti-inflammatory nutrition and neuroplasticity. I’m convinced I’m on this earth to help others heal and hurdle life’s obstacles.

Thanks so much for joining us today! How can people learn more about you? 

About Jenny Zenner:  Jenny Zenner is a career coach, product consultant, writer and the founder of Seeds Yoga. In her current chapter as a mom to twin preschoolers, she calls on all her resources to be mindful in as many moments as she can muster.

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, learn about our Yoga Alliance Registered yoga teacher training program, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series. 

Why I love Sequence Whiz

Hand with thumb up isolated on white background. Ok sign by womanI’ve been meaning to write a blog about this website for over a year now. Like me, Olga Kabel is a yoga therapist who has been certified through the American Viniyoga Institute.  She is making huge contributions in the yoga world. Not only has she developed one of the best yoga sequence drawing tools I’ve seen, she also offers free videos and virtual yoga privates via Skype.

What I really love about her Sequence Whiz site, though, are the articles.  Most of them are not only Viniyoga friendly—they are Viniyoga accurate and commonsensical, meaning that her articles promote safe and sane yoga practices that are likely to help, not injure, practitioners.  I often share her blog articles with my teacher training students.  Maybe someday she’ll write a textbook I can use in my teacher training!

In the meantime, here are four great examples of the articles you can find there:

Whether you’re a yoga teacher, a yoga student, or simply someone interested in body mechanics, I highly recommend that you check out Olga’s website and sign up for her bimonthly newsletter.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the professionalism, depth, and accuracy of the information she provides. And the graphics are simply out of this world!

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Tracy

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PS–all three books in my Downward Dog mystery series are now available!  Learn more at http://tracyweberauthor.com.  Thanks for reading!

How injury will make me better (as a yoga instructor and a human being)

Hi all!  Please welcome one of my favorite Whole Life Yoga grads–and perhaps my overall favorite human being–Mary Bue to the blog today.  One of the many, many things I love about Mary is her upbeat attitude.  Not to mention her indestructible spirit and way she takes lessons wherever she finds them.  Contact Mary at Imbueyoga@gmail.com. Those of you in Minneapolis definitely need to check out her new yoga studio, Imbue Yoga!

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It was a beautiful,  sunny winter day in northern Minnesota. My husband and I were gifted free lift tickets to snowboard at a ski resort because we performed a rock show the night before. I had been wanting to try snowboarding for years and the conditions were perfect. I figured it would be a challenge – but I’m a yoga instructor who has good core strength, balance and mindful breathing.  I’ve got this! No problemo, right?

Wrong!  My husband was a ways down the hill and I thought, “I’ll catch up to him!”  For 30 seconds I was having a blast,  zooming down but I turned too sharply onto my toe side,  did an airborne cartwheel and BAM! Crashed down on my right shoulder.  I heard a crack.  Doh!

The results weren’t looking good – possibly torn rotator cuff.  Thankfully the MRI found only a bad sprain, but also a fracture on the tip of my shoulder,  such that, should I lift my arm too high,  it would chip off requiring sugery.  SO,  for six weeks,  no yoga.

Did I mention that during this six weeks I am recording in Nashville, moving, and opening a yoga studio?

Life has interesting timing sometimes, doesn’t it?

Thankfully I was trained in the yogic lineage of Viniyoga that not only values adaptations but also trains teachers to teach with our voices rather than demonstrating every move.

How will this injury make me a better yoga instructor and human?

  • Incorporating a sense of humor.  It’s been funny to see the look on a new student’s face when their teacher shows up with her arm in a sling.  Have to make light of it!  In one class I wanted to applaud my students for an awesome balance posture and told them, ”Here is the sound of one hand clapping for you!” (I thought it was funny).
  • Greater observation.  Instead of being glued to my mat,  I walk around and watch what is going on in the room, making sure everybody is on the same page, trying to connect with each student with eye contact and a smile.
  • Well designed sequencing.  I tend to create classes in the moment depending on what my students want, but I’ll also have some peak postures which I’ll research, share the anatomy and benefits, and get a little off the grid from my habitual teaching routines.
  • Increased empathy.  This injury,  minor as it is,  reminds me of my vulnerability and that this human vessel is fleeting.  Life can dramatically change without warning,  in mere seconds.  I felt pain,  distress,  aching,  restlessness,  and I am healing. All beings feel these feelings at some point in thir lives.  I hope to fully integrate this experince into my teaching,  my music,  and my day to day life.http://www.marybue.com

Namaste,

Mary Bue

Mary Bue is an indie musician, yoga instructor and brand new studio owner of Imbue Yoga in Minneapolis, MN – grand opening June 11th 2016! She spends her time touring the country, recording (7th album in the works), teaching and practicing Viniyoga amongst the lakes, trees and nice Minnesotans.

Music: www.marybue.com
Yoga: www.imbueyoga.com

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, learn about our Yoga Alliance Registered yoga teacher training program, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series. 

The Tracks We Leave

“We are remembered forever by the tracks we leave.” — Native American Proverb

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This past Monday, twenty-two students, five teacher training assistants, and I completed an eleven-month journey together.  A journey that saw us through illnesses, addictions, pregnancies, deaths, engagements, divorces, moves, job changes, and more challenges than one could think possible in less than a year.  And yet we stuck through it.  Together.  It was only appropriate that we should celebrate.

We began with a ceremony to set intentions and commemorate our time together.

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We finished in a circle to honor our community.

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Afterwards we drank wine and ate delicious Greek food.

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Which is, of course, infinitely more delicious when shared with friends.

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Before we knew it, it was time to clean up, stack the blankets and head home.

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But even though the training is over, their work is just beginning. You see, these people are my tracks: the imprint I hope to leave in the world.

Taking yoga teacher training is a responsibility. It only starts with the classes, the homework, the missed family events, and the late nights designing seemingly impossible yoga sequences.  The real responsibility begins the date you finish.  The head of our lineage, Desikachar, says that if you learn the yoga teachings but do not share them, you have stolen them.  They are not the property of any individual—they belong out in the world.  During our ceremony, we chanted a single mantra: Om Namaha “not mine.”  A reminder that what we’ve learned is meant to be shared, whether or not we ever perform another asana.  Yoga is the act of living in greater balance,  more aligned with our values. Yoga helps us ensure that the tracks we leave behind are positive ones.

A personal message to all of these lovely new teachers: You were my thirteenth yoga teacher training, and like each group that preceded you, you were special. I wish I could give you the confidence to know what great teachers you already are, but the best teachers only gain confidence with time and practice. I’d like to say “make me proud,” but you already have. Instead, I’ll just tell you the truth: you’ve each taken a piece of my heart.  

Use it well.

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Namaste, my friends. I am better for knowing you.

Tracy Weber

The Purpose of Corpse Pose

A Whole Life Yoga student asks: what’s the point of Corpse Pose? I have a hard time relaxing when my mind is supposed to be completely blank.

This is a great question, and I’m not surprised you feel confused. In truth, no one can make their mind completely blank, at least no one I’ve met. Corpse Pose is, in many ways, a meditation practice. While it’s true that there can be moments of mental quiet during meditation, those moments are the gifts of meditation, not the practice. And they are fleeting gifts at that.

But let’s set the mind to the side for a moment. Corpse pose is at least partially for your body. A good yoga practice mobilizes healing energy called prana, which is very similar to chi in Chinese medicine. Corpse pose gives your system a chance to integrate that energy and send it wherever it is needed the most. Prana flows with the breath, but it is directed by the mind. Feel achy in your lower back after practice? Imagine warmth coating the area like a soft blanket. Feel tension? Imagine your muscles melting into the mat. The sensation you feel is the movement of prana.

Prana is a powerful source of healing, not to be wasted. Corpse Pose allows you to harness that energy without the distractions of movement.

Now, back to the mind.

The mind is designed to be active. Some say the mind is like a monkey, swinging from thought to thought like a monkey swings from branch to branch. Rather than asking the mind to do something impossible, give it a new job. Ask it to focus on something: the coolness of the breath in your nostrils; the delicious post-yoga sensations in your muscles; even the rhythmic snoring of the person next to you.

Whenever your mind wanders (and it will!) invite it back. You may find moments of quiet nothingness. Then again, you may not. In the end, it doesn’t matter. As soon as you notice them, they’re gone anyway.

Your body, energy system, and mind will benefit regardless.

I hope that helps.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Karmas a Killer (4)And if you want to show me some love, you can preorder my newest mystery, KARMA’S A KILLER, now at Amazon Barnes and Noble.

Yee haw, yippee, and yahooey!

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere

Five Tips to Prevent Dizziness in Yoga

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Getting a little woozy while practicing yoga isn’t uncommon. The sensation can vary from an almost pleasant, slightly intoxicated feeling (like the rush after the first swallow of a good glass of champagne) to nausea accompanied by a frightening feeling that the room is spinning out of control. In severe cases, students can even pass out.

Although occasional wooziness while practicing yoga is no cause for alarm, if you regularly experience lightheadedness—during yoga or not—check with your doctor. If she gives you the green light to continue practicing, here are five strategies that may help.

  1. Eat a small meal before class. Yoga teachers generally recommend that students not eat for three hours before practicing asana. It’s not bad advice, as long as you’re not hypoglycemic. If your blood sugar tends to be on the low side, eating a light meal or a protein bar before class may make a world of difference.
  2. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. People who get woozy when they stand up or when they move their head from below to above their heart often suffer from postural hypotension. Drinking lots of water before class helps pump up the blood volume and seems to keep blood pressure more stable.
  3. Practice in the afternoon or evening. Many of my clients with dizziness issues have significantly fewer problems if they practice later in the day. I can’t fully explain why, other than that increased food, fluid, and daily activity all probably contribute.
  4. Move slowly. Sudden transitions result in lightheadedness. Coming out of a forward bend, moving from the floor to standing, even sitting up from Savasana. Make each transition slow, mindful, and focused on the breath.
  5. Keep your head above your heart. This one is tougher, because it involves modifying the postures. Instead of going fully into a forward bend, try going halfway or keeping your chin slightly lifted. Sometimes a small change in form fixes the problem.

There are many causes for lightheadedness, including medication side effects, inner ear issues, low blood pressure, and low blood sugar. Some of them are much trickier to deal with than others. Remember: always check with your doctor if you have a health-related concern in yoga class.   Once your health care provider says all is well, try one of these five tips. They have helped many of my clients continue their practice with comfort and ease. I hope they help you, too.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere! 

Guidelines for Partner Yoga

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A few weeks ago I wrote a blog article about partner yoga, or more accurately, everything I don’t like about it. Even if I think it’s unwise, however, my yoga teacher training graduates may not agree. If you still want to teach partner yoga after my last diatribe, here are a few guidelines.

  • Call it something other than yoga. I know I’m going to lose this battle, but I had to say it again. The classes I’ve seen that claim to be partner yoga, are really partner asana. Let’s reserve the word yoga for practices that wouldn’t make Patanjali cringe. That’s the last I’ll say on that subject.  😉
  • Provide clear guidelines on dress, hygiene, and appropriate touch. There’s a great Saturday Night Live skit in which Tom Hanks plays a sweaty yoga guy in partner yoga class. And I can only imagine that wardrobe malfunctions are all the more mortifying when someone’s standing on top of you. Don’t let your class become the next SNL skit.
  • Teach partner yoga in dedicated classes or workshops, clearly advertised as such. Don’t surprise students or add it on to the end of a non-partner class. Give people the clear choice on whether or not they want to have someone else “assist” in their asana practice.
  • Make sure students understand and can safely perform each asana on their own before they try it with a partner. Adding a partner increases risk. If a student can’t safely do the pose by themselves, how on earth can they be safe with a partner?
  • Teach both partners how to helpfully assist.  Do they understand their partner’s individual strengths and vulnerabilities? If the answer is yes, do they know how to accommodate them? If not, there’s a lot of baseline training needed before they should be hands-on with each other.
  • Think of partnering as support, not leverage. The partner should never move a limb further than it can comfortably move on its own. (That principle goes for yoga teacher assists, too!)
  • Pair students with appropriate height, weight and experience levels for the moves being attempted. A three hundred pound man pressing on the back of a hundred pound female is just asking for trouble.
  • Choose poses that have a low risk of injury if there’s an “oops” moment. And believe me, there will inevitably be an “oops” moment. It’s safer to have people fall like dominoes out of Tree Pose than Headstand.
  • Provide a safe word. I’m joking here, of course, but I think it bears mentioning. Whenever you teach something emotionally or physically risky, the student must feel comfortable saying no. State up front at the beginning of every class that no one should do any movement that makes them uncomfortable. Model that, compliment it, reward it. Doing so may save your student a trip to the ER and you a phone call to your insurance company.

The above guidelines are a bare minimum. I’m sure there are many others I haven’t thought of. If you teach or practice partner yoga, please let me know what should be added!

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere! 

Why I Hate Partner Yoga

 

Stressed business woman, pulling her hair out

I rarely blog about anything controversial. I try to keep my writing and teaching as inclusive as possible, and spouting off my unsolicited opinion doesn’t help anyone. Today, however, I’m going to ignore my own policy. Please bear with me and feel free to chastise me in the comments. 😉

A couple of months ago, I shared an article with my teacher training students about yoga adjustments.  I don’t need to write about that topic, because I agree one hundred percent with everything the Sequence Wiz folks said. So if you want to know what I think about adjustments, please read that article.

Shortly after I sent it out, however, a student asked me what I thought about partner yoga. Against my better judgment, I’m answering her publicly.

I hate it.

Hate is a strong word, but in this case, it fits. My first yoga teacher (who I adored) included partner yoga at the end of every class. I’ve tried to block the experience out of my memory, but whenever I hear the phrase, I still feel a stabbing, ice-pick-sharp pain in my groin and remember people twice my size pressing down on my knees in Baddha Konasana while exerting significantly more force than my forever-injured hips could withstand. Lest you think this was done by a teacher with more enthusiasm than training, please understand that the teacher was well regarded, very experienced, and the co-author of a book on Iyengar yoga.

The pièce de résistance of my partner yoga experience, however, occurred during one of the many end-of-class “partner yoga massages.” As usual, I hid at the back of the room, trying not to make eye contact, hoping that I’d be the odd person without a partner and could graciously sit out the experience. No such luck.  While everyone else got and received shoulder rubs, my randomly-assigned “partner” asked me to rub her gluteal muscles. For those of you not anatomy inclined, let’s just call them her butt muscles. To make matters worse, she groaned in pleasure the whole time I rubbed.

When I got home and shared the embarrassing experience with my husband, he asked a reasonable question: “If you didn’t want to do it, why didn’t you say no?”

I didn’t say no for the same reason your students won’t say no the next time you ask them to do something unwise. No one else said anything, I was intimidated, I liked the teacher, and I didn’t want to make a fuss.

I eventually stopped studying with that teacher—not specifically because of the partner aspects of her classes, but because her classes kept injuring my body. Partner yoga had no small part in my injuries.

Holding hands in tree pose, balancing on top of your classmates, and stretching with arms and legs intertwined may be entertaining. It’s often beautiful.  It may even falsely deepen the sensation of stretching. In the case of true partners, it can beautifully deepen emotional connection.

But asana performed for any of these reasons isn’t yoga.  Not in the true sense of the word.  Yoga, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is the practice of stilling the mind. The poses we do with our bodies should be in service of that goal.  Believe me, when I’m thumbs-deep in the butt muscles of a groaning stranger, my mind is anything but still.

For the record, I do think partner asana classes may have some uses, though I don’t want to teach them. Partner asana classes can help build relationships, increase trust, prepare for artistic performances, even provide tools to support a woman in labor.

But let’s be honest and call it what it is.  Partner-assisted stretching, acrobatics, performance art—even call it partner asana, if you want.  But don’t kid yourself. It’s not yoga.  And whatever you call it, I highly doubt that for most students the benefits outweigh the risks.

Next week I’ll give some guidelines about partner yoga for those who still want to teach it.

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere!