Category Archives: Teaching Yoga

Ode to a New Class

I recently finished reading the pre-work essays for my newest yoga teacher training. Now that we’re underway, I have a confession to make: I didn’t want to start this training.

Having second thoughts at the beginning of a new class isn’t unusual for me. Leading this program is a ton of work and responsibility. Every time I choose to begin, I commit to a year of being present both physically and emotionally to support the hearts, dreams, and aspirations of seedling yoga teachers.

As most people know, my husband’s and my life may change significantly in the coming year, which has caused us to rethink where we will live. And even if we stay in Seattle, I’m likely to spend more time writing my thoughts than saying them out loud.

None of that was the real problem, though. My biggest obstacle to bonding with this group was my attachment to the class that preceded them. I love all of my students, but my last advanced class was special. We’d been together for over two years, and they had cemented themselves permanently in my heart. I said goodbye to them at a retreat that felt deep, profound, and transformational. The perfect finish to my yoga teaching training career. I was complete.

And I was scheduled to start another class in less than a month.

I had no choice, at least not one I could live with. Some of the students in my new group had been waiting for this program for over two years. All had reorganized their lives to accommodate eleven months of training. When I accepted them into the training, I made a promise. And when I promise something, I always deliver.

Today I realized why. After reading about the life experiences of these thirty-two yogis, I can say that I’m touched. They have arrived at my doorstep via pathways paved with challenges. They’ve endured traumas: divorce, death, illness, addiction. They found respite in yoga, and they know that yoga is about more than stretching your hamstrings. Yoga is about finding clarity, entering life’s battlefields without flinching, and making it to the other side whole.

I don’t know why I’ve been so blessed. Lord knows I’m not always the most yogic yoga teacher. When it comes to teaching yoga, I have reasonable talent, but I’m certainly no rock star. There’s very little I offer that others couldn’t do as well or better. Yet for some reason, the universe has gifted me with many wonderful students to help guide my journey, all while I pretend to guide theirs.

As for this new crop of students, I can say one thing with certainty: I’m falling in love all over again.

Thank you for sharing the next year with me.

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! 

‘tis the Season to do Yoga

sheryl

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Sheryl Stich. Sheryl is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s 500-hour yoga teacher training program and a teacher at Whole Life Yoga. She can be contacted at sheryl@calmawakenings.com.

When I was a kid, the holidays were a time of joy and enchantment – but then I grew up! Now I look at the calendar and gasp “Oh my, the holiday season is creeping up too quickly!” My palms start to sweat slightly, my heart rate increases and my breathing is shallow. I need to start thinking about dinners, parties, presents and travel! I wonder out loud, “What can I do this year to ease my way through the holiday season?” Then, I remember my yoga practice. I bring my attention to my breath and pretty soon I am feeling calm and at peace.  Hmm…maybe I can experience the feeling of joy and enchantment during the holidays again.

Our yoga practice offers us a great opportunity to tune into the present moment, helping us become centered and focused, and find the calm and peace deep down inside. Take moments to really notice and enjoy your surroundings this year. The smell of trees, twinkling lights, candles in windows, holiday music (yes, even those old holiday songs can still bring some joy). The simple act of finding your breath—even in the middle of the shopping mall or at dinner with the family—will help you to connect to that ever-present calm within.

As you enjoy some time off of work, maybe a trip or vacation, lots of family – and lots of food – remember it can also mean you could find yourself out of your regular routine or away from your yoga practice – all when you could use yoga the most!

Drawing from my personal experience, I have designed a yoga class series, Yoga for Happy Holidays. If you are like me, your schedule is probably completely nuts during the holidays, but finding time to relax is essential for your sense of well-being. Have a wonderful and relaxing holiday season this year.

Sheryl Stich

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series. 

Five Questions to Ask Yourself when Choosing a Yoga Teacher Training Program

Who says yoga teacher training can’t be fun?

Seattle is  blessed with a wide variety of yoga teacher training programs.  Although I’m partial to the one offered at Whole Life Yoga, to be completely honest, many of the programs offered by other studios are also quite good.  So how do you choose?  Reflecting on the five questions below may help.

  1. What style of yoga are you drawn to? This question actually has two parts. Consider the style of yoga you personally like to practice, as well as the style that would best suit the audience you want to teach. Some yoga teacher training programs (including my own) adhere rigorously to a given lineage; others teach a blended approach.  Either way, make sure that you understand and can support whatever you’ll learn. Never embark on a teacher training program if you don’t appreciate the style you will be learning. Doing so will lead to frustration and disappointment.
  2. Does the structure of the program meet your learning style? Some students learn best when fully immersed in the teachings, as is the case with residential trainings. Others do better with what I call a trickle approach, in which bite-size pieces of information are provided consistently over a longer period of time. Are you more likely to learn when you remove yourself from the rigors of your daily life or when you integrate your yoga practice into it?
  3. Do the program’s requirements realistically fit your schedule? Find out the full program costs, time, and other commitments of the training.  Cost calculations should include any extra classes you’ll be required to attend, mentoring costs, materials, registration fees, and lodging. When you’re budgeting time, include the time you will actually spend in yoga teacher training classes, personal practice time, teaching time, and written homework. Are there make-up options if you miss class? Be honest with yourself. Choose a program that has the flexibility you need while still offering a rigorous learning experience.
  4. Are you drawn to the primary teacher(s) of the program? Some teacher training programs are taught almost exclusively by a single teacher; others use a panel of different instructors for different topics. If you’ll be studying with multiple teachers, who will be responsible for mentoring you and helping assure your success? If there is a primary teacher, get to know them. Do you respect them? Do you trust them? At a minimum, you’ll spend 200 to 500 hours of your life with this person. Hopefully your connection will last significantly longer. Make sure the student/teacher fit is a good one.
  5. Do you want/need a certification that is nationally recognized? Love them or hate them, Yoga Alliance is the only nationally-recognized regulatory body in the yoga community. If your program is registered with Yoga Alliance, you may have teaching opportunities that others do not. Not every person who attends a yoga teacher training intends to teach, however.  Is a nationally recognized certification important to you?

As with most questions in life, there are no right answers, only answers that are right for you. If you’re interested in learning more about Whole Life Yoga’s program, I’d be happy to meet and discuss our program in detail.

Best of luck to you in your yoga journey, whatever particular path you decide.

Tracy Weber

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. 

Yoga for Bipolar Disorder—Research Horizons

The results of a recent study on the benefits and risks of Hatha yoga for individuals with bipolar disorder were interesting to me, but not surprising. The study (which was originally published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice) evaluated the survey responses of more than seventy people with bipolar disorder who also practice yoga. The researchers’ goal was to find out if yoga was, at least on the surface, safe and effective for individuals suffering from this disorder.

I’ve only worked therapeutically with a handful of clients with bipolar disorder, but designing appropriate yoga practices for them is tricky, because it involves managing energy that can fluctuate rapidly and severely between two opposite states: rajasic (agitated, stressed, and hyper-aroused) and tamasic (dull, lethargic, and depressed). The yoga tools used to balance those energy states are significantly different.

An energizing, nourishing practice (which is typically what we teach to clients with unipolar depression) may well send a client with bipolar disorder into a manic state. A relaxing practice (which is what we typically teach to clients suffering from anxiety) might send them into a depressive one. Therefore, I often make my practices for bipolar clients more balanced energetically or very slightly sedating.

The results of the study mirrored what I’ve seen in my teaching.  The vast majority of respondents said yoga helped them; some even went so far as to say it saved their lives.  Five of the seventy, however, said that energizing practices did, indeed, agitate them.  Another five individuals said that yoga practices increased their depression. One said a relaxing practice sent him into an almost catatonic state.  As the Viniyoga teachings indicate, effective teaching is all about adapting the yoga practice to the individual.

Obviously, there is more to learn.  These surveys were the first step of a pilot clinical trial that will compare the effects of yoga practice to using a well-regarded workbook for bipolar disorder.  That trial will hopefully set the stage for a larger study.  I firmly believe that yoga, particularly Viniyoga, can be extremely useful when appropriately applied for this condition.  The results of these studies may help us understand how.

Those of you who have experienced depression, anxiety, or suffer from bipolar disorder, what have your experiences been with yoga? I’d love to hear from you.

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 is available for preorder now from Whole Life Yoga. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and book sellers everywhere! 

Can Yoga Really Be Murder?

Photo Courtesy of Christopher Brown

Hi all!  Once a month I’ll be blogging on Ink Spot–the blog for the writers of Midnight Ink–and cross posting here. This week, I’m blogging about my thoughts about combining yoga and murder in my writing.

http://midnightwriters.blogspot.com/2014/09/can-yoga-really-be-murder.html

Check it out, and let me know what you think!  There’s even a yoga philosophy lesson in there!

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 is available for preorder now from Whole Life Yoga. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and book sellers everywhere! 

 

Playing with your Practice

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Katie West. Katie is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s 200-hour yoga teacher training program and a student in our 500-hour program. She can be contacted at vinikatie@gmail.com.

To be completely frank, I scoffed a little the first time Tracy told us we should try to play with our yoga practice at home. Let’s be real, yoga has a million benefits, but it can be hard. Yoga gives us the tools to control the random fluctuations in our minds, so we can learn to recognize our physical, mental or emotional pains- this is very difficult. Finding a FUN way to do that and to accept these wide ranges of feelings is even more difficult.

You could say I “tried out” many things, but I never really knew what it was like to truly play with my practice and make it fun, until I started teaching yoga to kids.

In the first stages of putting together sequences for my kids’ series, I ran into many obstacles. I thought by combining my love for teaching and children, sequences would be a breeze to create, but as exciting as it was to create the classes, I kept finding myself frustrated and a little stuck on my next moves. I was used to a very different type of yoga instruction and personal practice. I found that you have to relate yoga teachings to the daily lives of children, intriguing them with things that interest them. You cannot do this without building a relationship with them. You have to be energetic, flexible, compassionate and open to everything.

In children’s yoga, we go on adventures—in our minds and in the studio. We use only positive words and intentions. We honor our bodies, minds and emotions including those of our yogi friends. We practice asana (movement), pranayama (breath) and meditation. We practice the same things we would in a normal yoga class, but may use bubbles, blow outs, breathing buddies, or go out into the jungle and become lions, elephants or giraffes- roaring, dipping into water holes and reaching to the tippy tops of trees. We build relationships and trust within ourselves and others while being silly and learning how to listen to our bodies. It truly gives the kids a chance to be themselves with a sense of wholeness and happiness- which is what yoga is all about, regardless of age.

Creating and teaching these classes have made me more flexible, mentally and emotionally, than any of my other practices have. I learn so much about myself and the kids by being creative, enjoying and yes, roaring like a lion as loud as I can.

Katie

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 is available for preorder now from Whole Life Yoga. The first book in the series,  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and book sellers everywhere!

Confessions From a Yoga Teacher

kristenThis week’s blog entry was written by guest author Kristen Nelson. Kristen is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s 200 hour yoga teacher training program. She can be contacted at islandgabby@whidbey.com.

Back in grad school, I read the book The Courage To Teach, by Parker J. Palmer.   To quote from his book, “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.”  I firmly believe, that being ourselves makes us better at teaching but can also play on our insecurities.  You will never be able to serve all of your students, but if you’re like me, you’ll certainly torture yourself over why you can’t, or why they chose that other yoga studio, or class, or instructor.

Let’s be honest, it’s not easy to get up in front of people, perfect strangers, find connection, while being authentic-just be yourself, right? It’s easier to be yourself though, when you’re prepared.  Sure, we carve out adequate time for planning the perfect sequence, even though we know it doesn’t exist.  We’ll make time to do the practice AND meditate before class begins. Yes, totally zoned out, prepared, with options for every kind of student-you know it’s a fantasy.

Another insecurity- teaching the class with low numbers. Yeah, you know that class.  Ok, this is hard for me to say, I’m the teacher of that class.  This can send one into a tizzy of second guessing  one’s ability, choice in lineage, and just feeling like I’ve done something wrong, I know I have.  Yes, I want to say, “I teach that yoga called Smart Yoga, oh you haven’t heard of it?”

The other insecurity, your students know way more than you.  I had a student suggest I try more of a ‘dance style’ yoga, which is ‘so much fun’, or ‘hot yoga’ because ‘it really is a good work out.’  The whopper though, that cut to the depth of humiliation- my Yoga For Depression series. Guess what?  NO ONE came. Yep.   I don’t consider myself a depressed person, but after that, really?

But let’s end on a positive note. A few years ago I created a yoga event for the winter solstice.  The first year I had three people.  I felt a small pang of regret, mainly because I had far exceeded my candle budget.  The following year I had a friend visiting me and I was psyched because she was coming to the class.  I joked she might be the only one there, but that might be awkward, so we made a backup plan-dinner.  As my friend helped me light the thirty-some candles, people started to walk through the door and continued to fill the studio to MAXIMUM capacity.  I tried to look cool, looking   as if my classes are always brimming.  But honestly, I wanted to cry, and not necessarily because people were showing up, but because I felt like my hard work had finally paid off.  Hard work and a ton of heart behind the intention. My intention that night-to share and give. That’s it.   See, you learn from experience. Don’t give up. And don’t let those insecurities get the best of you.  Even if you have one student in your life , just one, you’ve made an impact.  At the end of the day, those nerves, those insecurities, serve a purpose.  If we get too comfortable, god forbid, too overly confident, we are not serving our students, because it’s about them, not about us.  Sometimes we’re not sure why we teach, we just feel we need to, more than a want to-and that takes courage.

Kristen

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 is available for preorder now from Whole Life Yoga. The first book in the series,  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and book sellers everywhere!

Your Inner Dialogue

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Sarah Smith. Sarah is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s 200 hour yoga teacher training program and a student in our advanced training. She can be contacted at sarahesmith10@yahoo.com

Communication is powerful.  Just like the knife that can be used in a beneficial way to prepare food for nourishment, or a surgery to heal the body, or used against some one to harm them, communication can be positive or negative.

Sometimes when I am leading a yoga class I will bring the class to standing and ask them to close their eyes and think of one thing they love about their body.  A few more asanas later, coming back to standing, I will ask them to say one kind thing to their body.  At the end of the practice just before ‘namaste’ I will ask them to think of one thing they are grateful for or appreciate about their body.  Other times I will ask them to think of something they love about themselves.  Not surprising is how many people come up to me later and say how hard that is for them.  They are unable to think of one thing they love about their body or their self.

In our daily life how others speak to us has a powerful affect on us.  People who are our well wishers, are encouraging and point out our gifts and talents empower us in our endeavors.  People who invalidate, criticize, judge can throw us into a downward spiral that takes the wind out of our sails and can make us feel as if the life is being sucked right out of us.

Our internal dialogue is incredibly important.  We sometimes get into patterns of thinking that affect us in ways that we don’t realize.  “I have a bad knee” versus “I have a knee that is trying to heal itself.  I am so grateful for the healing power of my body”.  We may find ourselves mentally focusing on our ‘failures’, thinking they define who we are.  This life, this body did not come with a manual.  Maybe taking the word failure out of our vocabulary and replacing it with ‘great lesson’ would put us back in the driver’s seat.

Notice what you would like to have others say to you, and begin to give that to yourself. Words and thoughts that are kind, loving and honoring help our bodies to heal, and ourselves to grow into the spiritual beings that are who we truly are.  It takes practice, but that is why we call it yoga practice, not yoga perfect.

Sarah

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 is available for preorder now from Whole Life Yoga. The first book in the series,  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and book sellers everywhere!

Will the Real Yoga Teacher Please Stand Up?

As a novelist, I’ve been blessed to meet many generous writers who have mentored me on the bumpy path to publication. Pretty much every seasoned writer I’ve met so far has given me one sage piece of advice: never read reviews.

I have to admit, I read them anyway.

Maybe it’s curiosity; maybe it’s excitement; maybe it’s simply my need to look for that ever-elusive stamp of approval, but I can’t seem to stop myself. I dig and I search and I devour every new review I can find. Most of the time, they make me smile. Occasionally, I learn something from a reader’s comments that will make me a better writer. Sometimes, however, a review leaves me shaking my head.

A few weeks ago, I came across one such review. I don’t even remember now if the reader liked my book. Something tells me it wasn’t her favorite. But one criticism stuck in my memory. She said that my protagonist wasn’t a realistic yoga teacher. If Kate were a real yoga teacher, the reader asserted, she’d be much thinner and more flexible.

My protagonist is 5’3” tall and weighs 130 pounds, which is normal by most standards. Like many women, Kate has body image issues and hates her “chunky” thighs. All in all, she’s not a heck of a lot different than me, and she can do significantly more challenging yoga poses than I can. I’ve made my living teaching yoga for the past fourteen years.

Yoga teachers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are lithe and can do amazing things with their bodies. Some are overweight. Some suffer from chronic illnesses and perpetually tight hamstrings. Some even start their yoga teaching career after retirement. The best yoga teachers know how to teach the students in front of them, in spite of their own personal limitations—or lack thereof. In fact, many of the best yoga teachers have imperfect bodies. If you can’t do a pose, learning how to observe your students and describe that pose becomes even more important.

Why do I care about this enough to write a blog article about it? The comment in the review highlights the very misperception of yoga that I’m trying to destroy: that yoga is only for the fit, the flexible, and the young. I have certified over 250 teachers in the past ten years, and I have met privately to discuss Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training with at least three times that many. My heart always breaks a little when an otherwise wonderful candidate decides not to pursue teaching yoga because they can’t do all of the poses, they don’t have a size-four body, or they think they are too old. The world loses a lot of great yoga teachers that way.

Is the protagonist in my book likely to grace the cover of Yoga Journal? Probably not. But perhaps it’s time we let go of the yoga stereotypes. If we yoga teachers are more diverse, our students will be as well.

What do you think?

Tracy

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and bookstores everywhere!

Is Yoga Unchristian?

I had an unusual e-mail conversation with a potential reader a few days ago.  Unusual in that we disagreed with each other, yet the tone of our conversation remained respectful, supportive, and honest.  At the end of the conversation, I lost a reader.

It still makes me sad.  This lovely woman had originally entered a contest to win Murder Strikes a Pose, and she was very excited.  She asked me to mail her some bookmarks so she could spread the word.  She is a huge cozy mystery fan and she loves German shepherds.  What book could be more perfect? Then it hit her.

Murder Strikes a Pose is about a yoga teacher.

She became concerned.  She and her friends are Christian, and they believe that yoga conflicts with the teachings of the Bible.  I myself was raised in the Christian church, and although The Yoga Sutras use terms that sound unusual, that’s primarily because they are from a different language. But as far as religion, The Yoga Sutras teach that for a believer of ANY faith, the most effective path to mental clarity is by practicing that faith. The sutras never say what form that faith should take.   For nonbelievers, there are other tools that can bring clarity as well.

Still, I wanted to be honest with this reader and respectful of her concerns.  My protagonist is an often-not-yogic yoga teacher, but she tries to follow the teachings, and she does occasionally throw out a Sanskrit word or two.   So I found what I thought was likely to be the most concerning passage in the book and sent it her. I’ve included it below.

“Less than twenty-four hours later, I was elbow-deep in my least favorite activity—updating the studio’s database—when the Power Yoga class entered Savasana, a pose of quiet rest. Vedic chanting flowed from the studio’s speakers, filling the lobby with sounds of cherubic bliss.

Ahhhh … just the excuse I was looking for.

I cracked open the door to the yoga room, intending to eavesdrop as the instructor lulled her students into a state of samadhi—yoga-induced ecstasy. I returned to my chair, leaned back, and closed my eyes, mentally transporting myself out of the lobby and into the practice space.

In my mind’s eye, I savored the room’s peaceful atmosphere. Dimmed incandescent lights reflected off unadorned yellow-beige walls, illuminating the space in a soft golden hue; meditation candles cast dancing light beams along the maple floor; a fresh-cut bouquet of soft pink tulips decorated the altar, symbolizing the rebirth of spring. The room currently held twenty practicing yogis, but in my imagination, it was mine. All mine. I practically purred, feeling as content as a recently-fed kitten.

The teacher’s voice soothed my nerves and dissolved salt-like grains of tension from behind my eyes. “Release your weight into the mat. Imagine that your muscles are made of softened wax, melting on a smooth, warm surface.” My jaw muscles loosened. My shoulders eased down from my ears.

She continued her spoken lullaby. “With each inhale, imagine a white light entering the crown of your head and pouring through your body, illuminating every cell.” A soft sigh escaped from my lips. “With each exhale—”

The now-familiar sound of barking drowned out the teacher’s voice and jolted me awake.

Loud, angry barking.

My momentary tranquility vanished. As if in one motion, my jaw tightened, my shoulders lifted, and my hands clenched into tight fists. An embarrassing litany of swear words spewed from my lips.”

Reading this passage confirmed the reader’s fears.  She said she couldn’t read Murder Strikes a Pose without violating her ethical principles, and she couldn’t in good conscience recommend it to her friends.  She donated her copy and the bookmarks to a bookstore.

All-in-all, I was thoroughly impressed with this woman.  She was kind, respectful, ethical, and honest.  And I’m sad.  Sure, I think she would have enjoyed my book. Sure, I want to find every reader I can.  Sure, I was hoping she’d become a rabid fan and spread word of the series to everyone she met.

But I’m mainly sad that she’ll never try yoga, and even sadder that some people think my life’s work is unchristian. Yoga teaches us compassion, honesty, and faith, among other principles. It simply calls them ahimsa, satya and sraddha. My Bible studies as a child and teenager taught me the same concepts.  To me, yoga IS Christian. And Hindu. And  Jewish. And Buddhist. And Athiest. It is for all faiths and all belief systems.  Yoga teaches you how to become clear, understand your own values, and live in alignment with your own spiritual beliefs.

What do you think?  How can we, as people who practice and teach yoga, make this work accessible to all faiths?

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out my author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!