Beginner Yoga: Top 5 Things New Students Should Know

Hands on assists are key for beginners

Hands on assists are key for beginners

1) The wellness and health benefits of yoga (physical, mental and more) will probably trump anything else you’ve ever done.  Beginners can not only expect to be stronger and more  flexible, but sleep better, stress less and fight bad bugs better with yoga-strong immunity.

2) Your success in performing the physical postures/exercises is determined more by your unique body and bone shapes, and ranges of motion facilitated by those shapes.  For instance, if you have a narrow pelvis, aspiring to do the splits is a bad idea!   45 degrees of extension in your spine on a good day?  Then Wheel Pose may not be for you.  It’s not a big deal–there are tons of poses that WILL suit you.

3) All yoga instructors are not created equally, nor are they interchangeable,  as some mass marketeers of yoga would like you to think.  Would you pick a hair stylist based on who’s closest? OK, for some of you, yes, — but, hair grows back!  Hurt your rotator cuff and the recovery time will be longer than getting over a bad hair day. Read teacher bios carefully and look for instructors w/ at least 5 years teaching experience, though 10 preferred.  Also, figure out how long they did yoga before they decided to teach it.  Did they think because they were a naturally flexible dancer or gymnast that they were magically endowed to teach a deeply inwardly-focused, mental practice?  Watch out — they might not understand how less fit bodies work, nor have command of anything beyond the physical postures flashing you back to phys ed!   Ideally, find a teacher who trained in an immersion program (lived yoga 24-7).  The Yoga Alliance certification used to carry weight, but one could argue it is less meaningful nowadays.

4) Treat your yoga like a doctor’s appointment and try not to miss class early on.   The practice of yoga can be overwhelming at first with lots of moving parts — how to perform the postures, breathing exercises, meditation techniques.  The biggest hurdle I find when beginning adults miss a class is more memory-related than anything else.  They forget all the coaching I gave them one-on-one, how I came over and guided them into poses in those first classes.  Then, they miss a week and “poof!” — I have to go back and re-teach it all. This can get a little tedious for the other students.  So, don’t be self-conscious about showing up and not knowing anything, but don’t let down the rest of the class by not taking your commitment seriously. Most of you wouldn’t cancel a doctor appointment due to less-than-perfect weather or a social engagement, then why cancel your Wellness Appointment?  Plan on disappointing people in the short-run with your new-found commitment to yoga–better than disappointing yourself in the long-run.  Look in the mirror and pretend telling someone demanding your time, “I’m sorry, I have an appointment.”  Deliver this line a in hushed tone with a serious face and I promise, they won’t ask!

5) Give it 3 months before you evaluate and avoid The Classic Beginner Mistake.   Authentic yoga practiced as “relaxed exertion” is the epitome of the Japanese concept of “kaizen,” or barely noticeable, continuous  improvement over time.  Subtle, sure, but it’s a big part of how Japan industrialized itself into a superpower.  Once you start coming to yoga 1-3 times per week, your body, mind, mood, outlook –everything launches on a slow trajectory of change.  While some people notice early on, for most, it sneaks up on them–maybe one day lifting a bag of groceries with   new-found upper body strength.  Then, at a party, you’re the only adult limber enough to sit on the floor!  So what’s The Classic Beginner Mistake? Thinking that you’re not really getting that much out of yoga and dropping it for a couple of weeks.  Before you know it, you’re the one who needs to sit in the chair and you realize how much you’ve lost!  Excuses in hand, you come groveling in to class (see number 4).  Yes, of course, we’ll take you back…and try not to judge.

 

 

Yoga Teacher Training: Buyer Beware!

About once a week, I get an inquiry from someone looking for a yoga teacher training program or, a recently “graduate” looking for a job or “mentoring opportunities.” It’s easy to see why people want to teach yoga and do what they love.  However, from where I stand, there seems to be some troubling  (maybe slightly sinister)  market forces at work out there concocting a glut of young, under-prepared, overly in-debt teachers.

For the record:  I don’t have a downward facing dog in this fight.  I don’ t do teacher trainings and don’t aspire to in the near future.  I have been teaching yoga for just 13 years–not long enough.    The people I trained with had decades (not combined, but individually) of intensive teaching experience, often in residential institutions.    To be clear, the notion that you can somehow teach an all encompassing practice like yoga shy of middle age is a Western one.

So why the boom in Teacher Training programs? I see three main market forces at work:

1) They’re lucrative and provide the lion’s share of revenue for bricks and mortar yoga studios to pay the rent.  Starting at $2000-2500 for a 200 hour basic program, you multiply that by 15-20 students participating and you can make a good chunk of change.  Moreover, you can wedge in the teacher trainings at off-hours on weekends when the studio isn’t being optimized, say on Saturday evenings or Sunday afternoons.  Better yet, offer an on-line component so you don’t even need to provide space.  Really? On-line teacher training?  Would you like a  massage therapist or a doctor trained on-line?   But, all the schools are doing it!    Why?  (see number 3).

2) They create a perpetual pool of low-cost  employees for the studio. Each session graduates newly-minted teachers eager to work for peanuts to gain experience.  Of course, the studio can’t possibly hire all  of their graduates now, can they?   Those who don’t get jobs will have to hit the pavement and look for jobs at other studios, but of course, those other studios have their own graduates to hire. Smaller  indie studios with a discriminating clientele want teachers with loads of experience who’ve mentored under big names.  Then the options narrow to places like LifeTime, Snap Fitness and the like, who are always hiring, due to a huge turnover rate.  Why the turnover? Because teaching yoga for $25 / hour is only gratifying for so long, especially when you’re trying to recoup your $2000+ investment.  Think about it, at that rate, you have to teach 80- 100 classes just to break even on your investment!!!  If they hire you for 2 classes a week, that’s almost a year of your life teaching for FREE! Besides, you have student loans to pay….which leads to my Grand Finale Point:

3) Student Loans, including PELL Grants can be used for Yoga Teacher Training.  Ah haaa!  Now we see the real reason for the boom in yoga teacher training programs, and the accompanying, college-esque  tuition inflation.    It used to be you could go live in residence at an ashram or a yoga center with a full campus , room and board included for what these strip mall studios are charging for their teacher trainings. Moreover, the demand is such that they can pluck their “lead trainers” from their own in-house schools after they’ve only been teaching themselves for a few years and no one questions it. So, instead of “going to the mountain,” and training in an immersion environment with a cast of experienced teachers from a reputable school of lineage (back to India) as well as teaching assistants, chefs, anatomy professors, etc., you go down the street and train w/ people w/ names like “Nina B.” or ‘Tommy Y.”  who themselves have only taught yoga for maybe 5 years.  Oh, and you don’t actually immerse yourself and  live like a yogi  because you can’t really afford to quit your day job given the exhorbanent cost of the program!  Kids ~ this is NOT a good deal!

So what is a sincere, aspiring  yoga teacher to do?  Stop. Breathe. Discern.  I don’t want to say that you must put your life on-hold and take an immersion program, but it is the gold standard.  That said, what I do feel strongly about is this: don’t pay Ivy League Prices for a Community College program because you couldn’t spot the difference!  If you have to study piecemeal or even online , then just don’t pay what you’d pay to go live somewhere; and, keep your expectations in line.  If you need to teach yoga to pay your bills, then choose carefully and consider programs where you have not one,  but several teachers with decades of experience at your disposal.  Frankly, I can’t imagine the egotistical leap necessary for a sole individual of a tender age to claim to be able to teach you everything you need to know about being a teacher.

I’ve included some links to some reputable programs which have withstood the test of time; they also have a lineage to somewhere other than the mall or Los Angeles!  Some of them even offer SCHOLARSHIPS (i.e. Kripalu).  In the meantime, keep up your own practice, study w/ as many teachers of as many styles as you can to narrow it down, save your money and please, don’t go into debt and end up paying even more (with interest) for a sub-standard “canned” program. They will only turn you into a cue-reciting parrot, not a yoga teacher! 

 

Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health – Scholarships available!

Integral Yoga San Francisco 

Minneapolis Yoga Workshop

 

parrot yoga

New to Yoga? Top 5 Things Beginners Should Know

Hands on assists are key for beginners

Hands on assists are key for beginners

1) The wellness and health benefits of yoga (physical, mental and more) will probably trump anything else you’ve ever done.  Beginners can not only expect to be stronger and more  flexible, but sleep better, stress less and fight bad bugs better with yoga-strong immunity.

2) Your success in performing the physical postures/exercises is determined more by your unique body and bone shapes, and ranges of motion facilitated by those shapes.  For instance, if you have a narrow pelvis, aspiring to do the splits is a bad idea!   45 degrees of extension in your spine on a good day?  Then Wheel Pose may not be for you.  It’s not a big deal–there are tons of poses that WILL suit you.

3) All yoga instructors are not created equally, nor are they interchangeable,  as some mass marketeers of yoga would like you to think.  Would you pick a hair stylist based on who’s closest? OK, for some of you, yes, — but, hair grows back!  Hurt your rotator cuff and the recovery time will be longer than getting over a bad hair day. Read teacher bios carefully and look for instructors w/ at least 5 years teaching experience, though 10 preferred.  Also, figure out how long they did yoga before they decided to teach it.  Did they think because they were a naturally flexible dancer or gymnast that they were magically endowed to teach a deeply inwardly-focused, mental practice?  Watch out — they might not understand how less fit bodies work, nor have command of anything beyond the physical postures flashing you back to phys ed!   Ideally, find a teacher who trained in an immersion program (lived yoga 24-7).  The Yoga Alliance certification used to carry weight, but one could argue it is less meaningful nowadays.

4) Treat your yoga like a doctor’s appointment and try not to miss class early on.   The practice of yoga can be overwhelming at first with lots of moving parts — how to perform the postures, breathing exercises, meditation techniques.  The biggest hurdle I find when beginning adults miss a class is more memory-related than anything else.  They forget all the coaching I gave them one-on-one, how I came over and guided them into poses in those first classes.  Then, they miss a week and “poof!” — I have to go back and re-teach it all. This can get a little tedious for the other students.  So, don’t be self-conscious about showing up and not knowing anything, but don’t let down the rest of the class by not taking your commitment seriously. Most of you wouldn’t cancel a doctor appointment due to less-than-perfect weather or a social engagement, then why cancel your Wellness Appointment?  Plan on disappointing people in the short-run with your new-found commitment to yoga–better than disappointing yourself in the long-run.  Look in the mirror and pretend telling someone demanding your time, “I’m sorry, I have an appointment.”  Deliver this line a in hushed tone with a serious face and I promise, they won’t ask!

5) Give it 3 months before you evaluate and avoid The Classic Beginner Mistake.   Authentic yoga practiced as “relaxed exertion” is the epitome of the Japanese concept of “kaizen,” or barely noticeable, continuous  improvement over time.  Subtle, sure, but it’s a big part of how Japan industrialized itself into a superpower.  Once you start coming to yoga 1-3 times per week, your body, mind, mood, outlook –everything launches on a slow trajectory of change.  While some people notice early on, for most, it sneaks up on them–maybe one day lifting a bag of groceries with   new-found upper body strength.  Then, at a party, you’re the only adult limber enough to sit on the floor!  So what’s The Classic Beginner Mistake? Thinking that you’re not really getting that much out of yoga and dropping it for a couple of weeks.  Before you know it, you’re the one who needs to sit in the chair and you realize how much you’ve lost!  Excuses in hand, you come groveling in to class (see number 4).  Yes, of course, we’ll take you back…and try not to judge.

 

 

5 Reasons to Consider Private Yoga ~ It’s Not Just for Jennifer Aniston!

You don’t have to be a movie star, professional athlete, or a “famous for no reason” reality TV star to enjoy the benefits of private yoga!  From school teachers to at-home Moms, to corporate executives –there are more people from more walks of life doing private yoga than you might think!

After teaching yoga for 12 years in two different markets, Cape Cod and a St. Paul Suburb, I’ve taught a lot of yogis in the comfort of their own homes, for a variety of reason and motivations.  Here are a few reasons why people do private yoga:

1) Ensures Commitment:  I know where you live!  I am convinced that some people need to 1) pre-pay and 2) have me on their doorstep to make sure they don’t bail out on what is, at the end of the day, a commitment to The Self.  These people have a way of getting dragged into other peoples’ urgency (O.P.U.) at the last minute.  Their conscientious employees, parents, caregivers, business owners, etc. who will pick up a ringing phone as they’re  heading out the door to yoga (something I never do!).  The world is a better place for them, but they tend to cut corners on self care.  By having me show up, the yoga class becomes the urgency at hand, live and in person!  I think they figure: better to spend a little more on private yoga than to keep signing up for group classes and not attend.

2) Relationship Enhancing:  Some of my longest term private students do yoga with a partner, spouse, BFF, or small group of friends. They look at their private yoga as a way to spend quality time w/ loved ones.  One of my earlier successes was a book club where members decided they needed to do something less sedentary together.  Doing yoga as a “duet” class or small group keeps you accountable to more people = more commitment.

3) Health Limitations:   While I pride myself as an instructor who can use props and modifications to make yoga accessible to nearly everyone, there are some conditions for which a group setting isn’t appropriate.  It simply isn’t fair to monopolize the teacher’s time; and, you will likely  start to feel self-conscious.  It’s one thing to need extra help your first few classes –everyone has been there and your mat mates will be understanding.  That said, it’s not an infinite well of patience.  If you constantly need help getting in and out of poses, you’d better consider private yoga–in the long run it’s safer for you.  If your issues require supervision, I can tell you that the teacher cannot be watching and ensuring the safety of your every move, all the time–even in a small class.  The good news:  after a critical mass of private yoga, you might be ready to “graduate” to a group setting if that’s your goal– and,  you’ll have a lot more fun and confidence in doing so.

4) Faster improvement: For those wanting to “jump in with both feet,”  a winning strategy is to combine a  weekly group class with  private instruction.  In the tennis and golf world, this is the norm.  Sure, you play a round or a match and might receive limited feedback from a pro, but to really fine tune, you need that private lesson.  No different for yoga.  We delve into subtleties and  make adjustments, just like you would in any sport.  We also have more time to explore the mental aspects or “deeper practices” which are extensive in yoga.  When private students then turn up for group classes, I notice  they’re more at ease as they’ve already been working with the material.

If you think private yoga might be for you, fill out a “contact” form and get in touch.  While many personal trainers out there purport to offer private yoga, check credentials.  Yoga credentials are different from fitness credentials and you could be overpaying by twice.  At YogaHotDish, pricing is a function of time and distance.  Times available starting at @$70 for up to 4 people.

Private Yoga in your home isn't just for movie stars!

Private Yoga in your home isn’t just for movie stars!

New to Yoga? Top 5 Things Beginners Should Know

Hands on assists are key for beginners

Hands on assists are key for beginners

1) The wellness and health benefits of yoga (physical, mental and more) will probably trump anything else you’ve ever done.  Beginners can not only expect to be stronger and more  flexible, but sleep better, stress less and fight bad bugs better with yoga-strong immunity.

2) Your success in performing the physical postures/exercises is determined more by your unique body and bone shapes, and ranges of motion facilitated by those shapes.  For instance, if you have a narrow pelvis, aspiring to do the splits is a bad idea!   45 degrees of extension in your spine on a good day?  Then Wheel Pose may not be for you.  It’s not a big deal–there are tons of poses that WILL suit you.

3) All yoga instructors are not created equally, nor are they interchangeable,  as some mass marketeers of yoga would like you to think.  Would you pick a hair stylist based on who’s closest? OK, for some of you, yes, — but, hair grows back!  Hurt your rotator cuff and the recovery time will be longer than getting over a bad hair day. Read teacher bios carefully and look for instructors w/ at least 5 years teaching experience, though 10 preferred.  Also, figure out how long they did yoga before they decided to teach it.  Did they think because they were a naturally flexible dancer or gymnast that they were magically endowed to teach a deeply inwardly-focused, mental practice?  Watch out — they might not understand how less fit bodies work, nor have command of anything beyond the physical postures flashing you back to phys ed!   Ideally, find a teacher who trained in an immersion program (lived yoga 24-7).  The Yoga Alliance certification used to carry weight, but one could argue it is less meaningful nowadays.

4) Treat your yoga like a doctor’s appointment and try not to miss class early on.   The practice of yoga can be overwhelming at first with lots of moving parts — how to perform the postures, breathing exercises, meditation techniques.  The biggest hurdle I find when beginning adults miss a class is more memory-related than anything else.  They forget all the coaching I gave them one-on-one, how I came over and guided them into poses in those first classes.  Then, they miss a week and “poof!” — I have to go back and re-teach it all. This can get a little tedious for the other students.  So, don’t be self-conscious about showing up and not knowing anything, but don’t let down the rest of the class by not taking your commitment seriously. Most of you wouldn’t cancel a doctor appointment due to less-than-perfect weather or a social engagement, then why cancel your Wellness Appointment?  Plan on disappointing people in the short-run with your new-found commitment to yoga–better than disappointing yourself in the long-run.  Look in the mirror and pretend telling someone demanding your time, “I’m sorry, I have an appointment.”  Deliver this line a in hushed tone with a serious face and I promise, they won’t ask!

5) Give it 3 months before you evaluate and avoid The Classic Beginner Mistake.   Authentic yoga practiced as “relaxed exertion” is the epitome of the Japanese concept of “kaizen,” or barely noticeable, continuous  improvement over time.  Subtle, sure, but it’s a big part of how Japan industrialized itself into a superpower.  Once you start coming to yoga 1-3 times per week, your body, mind, mood, outlook –everything launches on a slow trajectory of change.  While some people notice early on, for most, it sneaks up on them–maybe one day lifting a bag of groceries with   new-found upper body strength.  Then, at a party, you’re the only adult limber enough to sit on the floor!  So what’s The Classic Beginner Mistake? Thinking that you’re not really getting that much out of yoga and dropping it for a couple of weeks.  Before you know it, you’re the one who needs to sit in the chair and you realize how much you’ve lost!  Excuses in hand, you come groveling in to class (see number 4).  Yes, of course, we’ll take you back…and try not to judge.

 

 

Hot Yoga : Hot or Not?

Hot Yoga

Hot Yoga : Hot or Not?

Hot yoga is a major trend  in which participants practice in a hot room, often 90-100+ degrees.  Mass marketers of yoga love the “passive heating” approach of hot yoga, as  it gives the perception of flexibility and a deeper workout in a shorter period of time.  More classes per day = more revenue.

Great for your muscles, but what about your joints? Extreme heat, while making muscles temporarily more flexible, makes the tensile strength of connective tissue and  joints weaker.  Injuries arise because your “heat goggles” make you feel so bendy, that your judgement  may be off.  So, just like yo-yo dieting isn’t the answer,  YHD says “no” to yo-yo climating–don’t we already get enough of that here in Minnesota?

Yoga HotDish classes will warm your body and make you flexible, but keeping with yoga philosophy the heat comes from within, building slowly through pranayama breathing techniques and a slow crescendo of ever-intensifying asana/poses. Yoga takes time, and you can’t just crank the furnace to force to body into submission.   Finally, hot yoga  is contra-indicated for numerous conditions, from heart and respiratory issues to being over weight or sleep deprived.  Yoga is a lifelong practice when done in moderation.  Making it faster, hotter and watered down is the American Way, no doubt, but do be careful!

YHD classes begin with a restorative poses, done on bolsters to gently coax the body to open, undoing all that tension from sitting, driving, repetitive motion exercise, etc.  From there,  intense Yin stretches  are actually safer when the body is cool and the connective tissue stronger.  Long hold times in Yin poses ensure the muscles stretch slowly; however, most studios just can’t afford the extra class time.   The “self”  heating process then escalates with pranayama or breathing exercises. Most fitness yoga glosses over these, as learning them can be difficult and take time. That said, once mastered,  every breath you take becomes a core-warming abdominal exercise. Advanced yogis continue pranayama throughout practice.  After 90 minutes, you’ll be slow-roasted to perfection –not zapped in a microwave!

Dr Terrell: “Women 40+ Need Yoga!”

This post is brought to you by  our own Yoga HotDisher, Top Doc,  and now,  Minnesota Monthly CoverGirl,  Dr. Carrie Ann  Terrell, MD, University of Minnesota (UMN). Thanks Carrie for contributing to our blog!

DrT

The evidence for yoga improving various health problems is deep and varied.  I recommend the website nccam.nih.gov for an overview of the benefits of yoga as presented by the National Institutes of Health.  The evidence is solid as is my experience.

My most common patient scenario presents with a litany of concerns that reads something like this:

  • Fatigue, low energy, difficulty completing the umpteen tasks before her
  • Low libido
  • Inability to focus, memory loss, distractedness
  • Mood swings, irritability
  • Weight gain, digestive problems
  • Dissatisfaction with life

These women are 40-60 years old, often partnered with a significant other of varying participation in the relationship/housework/child rearing/care taking/cooking/shopping, have busy/successful/demanding careers, are the primary caretaker of the house/parent(s)/children/pets, and have unwieldy expectations for what they “should” be doing to take care of themselves.

These patients are essentially working every hour of their lives.  If and when they sleep it is erratic and interrupted and they wake without having rested. Or they “rest” while watching TV, iPading, gaming, texting, Facebooking. These activities are not restful, rejuvenating, nor replenishing. As if this isn’t enough they are also constantly talking to/bombarding themselves with negative or expectant commentary that translates as “not enough or not good enough.” In fact, the incessant loop of streaming thought these women live with is exhausting.

These women often come in seeking a magical hormonal cure.  They read that estrogen or bioidentical hormones or compounded hormones will resolve all of their issues; that their issues must be related to menopause or perimenopause. Now, I’m not underestimating menopause. Estrogen deficiency causes hot flashes.  Hot flashes can disrupt thought, the work day, the physical body. When hot flashes occur at night, sleeplessness results and irritability, mood swings, memory problems can follow suit. However, in many many cases, estrogen deficiency is not the problem. These women need a break, a time out, a mini-retreat, a respite.

Many women have found their solution. Some have found it in running, others in meditating. However, for many the potential solutions are untenable, unreachable, or add to the never-ending list of shoulds. Or, the options are so overwhelming women cannot begin to decide what to do or how to perform self care.

For me, this is where yoga comes in. When taught well, with attention to the philosophy and teachings, Yoga provides peace, quiet and a chance to observe ourselves.  Some know yoga to be an exercise; a physical activity leading to fitness, improved health, increased heart rate, etc etc. The secret is that asana practice (the poses are called asana) is solely meant to allow us to sit comfortably enough,quietly enough to see and feel clearly. Undoubtedly, the physical practice feels good. “Doing” yoga feels good, but, what feels even better is being able to look at my thoughts and see, ‘huh, those are my thoughts. I am not my thoughts.” Or, “look, this awful thing happened to me or someone said this awful thing to me and gee, I don’t have to be affected by that. I can still be me.” Or, “This pose sucks. I hate this pose. My muscles are shaking. This is dumb. I’m way too important for this pose. Why did I come? I have better things to do.” Which over time can become, “This pose sucks. I hate this pose. I’ve gotten through this pose before. I am stronger. My resilience is better.”

After 14 years of practicing yoga I can honestly say it makes me a better person. I build better relationships. I think more clearly. I know my limitations and know what I need to care for my self. I can separate myself from my wrongdoings, my suffering, my awards, my rewards, my family and my thoughts. With this ability I am able to set my work and personal goals in alignment with my deepest beliefs. I am able to achieve lifelong goals and hold positions of leadership with a sense of love and responsibility. I get to choose how I will react to incoming stimuli (if at all) and I can readily access a place of peace and serenity within myself.

CorePower Comes to Santa Barbara, Coke Machines on Mt. Fuji

fuji-vending-machine

Coke machines atop Mt. Fuji.  A go-cart park on the Great Wall of China.  And now: CorePower enters the indie yoga environment of Santa Barbara.  Maybe it was bound to happen. The Santa Barbara crowd put up a good fight. Word on the mat is, when some local yogis got wind CorePower was looking to buy the beloved Santa Barbara Yoga Center, they bought it first.   Of course, that can only go on for so long.  CorePower was finally successful and recently opened its Santa Barbara location.

In my talks with local yogis, instructors and business owners, I’m not sure they know what’s hit them.  I’ve noticed that class sizes are down– some by a third.   What is conspicuously missing:  the younger students, the 20-somethings (and no, it wasn’t Spring Break).   Perhaps they want to be able to buy their Lululemon where they yoga, then check their outfits in the mirror during class.  I wonder… if I had never experienced yoga in Asia, had a pierced belly button on my 20-something body, maybe I’d think CorePower was slick and sexy too?

So you lose a few college kids, so what?  The problem is, you also start to lose control of the media messaging.  With their huge budget, CorePower starts to redefine what yoga is.  They start to slowly change the criteria for what constitutes “yoga”  and what makes a “yoga teacher.”  The 20-somethings become 30-somethings and think that a 60 minute class with music so loud you can’t hear your breath is “normal.”  That said, there is no doubt many students are in superb shape, able to  perform  advanced postures–and postures are the essence of “Hatha” yoga. Advanced breathing and meditation is really the realm of “Raja” yoga.   The chaotic environment of these studios full of mirrors and ringing with new age music isn’t conducive to these deeper practices.  What concerns me is that these students may not develop an appreciation for the more meditative side of yoga and trying to “sell” it in the marketplace of ideas is difficult for the independents.

I’ve found that many CP at Fitness Yoga  students  don’t realize the importance of yoga nidra, as they only get a few  minutes of before the next class starts snapping yoga mats and moving into the space. Students may feel like they’ve “gone deep” in the near 100-degree heat, but  is it just a short cut to turn the room over faster?  All that heat, while helpful to stretch muscle,  isn’t great for the joints; and,  besides,  the heat is supposed to come from within via pranayama breathing, for which there’s little  time in a typical 60 minute class.

In spite of the mass marketeering,  the CP price tag is pretty steep ($13-20/class for 2-3 times/week), when you consider the brevity of both  the classes and typical teachers’  training. There are some groups in Minneapolis and St. Paul who do use a large/short class model with affordability in mind.  When you pay $12 for a drop-in, you expect part-timers or teachers-in-training.  CorePower, while charging top-dollar, has many teachers of under 5 years’ experience who probably can’t make enough to quit their day-jobs.

So where does the money go?  Management, marketing, advertising, interiors, inventory.  The deeper practices of yoga drop off while yoga merchandising takes off.  If you’re on FB, check out the CorePower posts–not a lot of thought leadership, but sure a lot of shop leadership.  Sure, some of the better teachers will break out and break away.  This doesn’t trouble the organization–there’s a whole new crop every few  weeks to take their places.  They’re all taught the same sequences and “cues” or scripts, so teachers become interchangeable.

Of course, many of  independent teachers won’t want to speak ill of a competitor.  Many of them got into yoga to avoid “Corporate Power” and don’t spend their time thinking about market positioning.    Nor does CorePower need to take on traditional yoga –it’s just easier to drown it out,  to  eclipse it  with “mass and flash.”    Seasoned teachers may even underestimate how enticing a convenience-oriented “fast food” yoga is to the up and coming… at first. There were probably cooks and grill masters a plenty who wondered, “How could a place like McDonald’s ever catch on?”

Sure,  we’ve all hit the drive-thru in a pinch.  I  still feel the need to “sneak” my kids some fiber and veggies when we get home–usually a shot of carrot juice alleviates my guilt.  No doubt, they’ll make fun of me when I’m long gone for the roar of my juicer.   Similarly, when I pick up a one-hour fitness yoga class at the gym, or  a place like CP because it’s my only option, I feel like I have to go home and stretch, meditate and breathe–for real.  CorePowers, LifeTimes and the fitness yoga style they perpetuate are here to stay in our convenience-oriented society, that’s for sure.  At the end of the day, it’s a great workout. The thing with yoga though, it’s all about the work-in so don’t forget the veggies!

Women Over 40 Need Yoga!

This post is brought to you by  our own Yoga HotDisher, Top Doc,  and now,  Minnesota Monthly CoverGirl,  Dr. Carrie Ann  Terrell, MD, University of Minnesota (UMN). Thanks Carrie for contributing to our blog!

DrT

The evidence for yoga improving various health problems is deep and varied.  I recommend the website nccam.nih.gov for an overview of the benefits of yoga as presented by the National Institutes of Health.  The evidence is solid as is my experience.

My most common patient scenario presents with a litany of concerns that reads something like this:

  • Fatigue, low energy, difficulty completing the umpteen tasks before her
  • Low libido
  • Inability to focus, memory loss, distractedness
  • Mood swings, irritability
  • Weight gain, digestive problems
  • Dissatisfaction with life

These women are 40-60 years old, often partnered with a significant other of varying participation in the relationship/housework/child rearing/care taking/cooking/shopping, have busy/successful/demanding careers, are the primary caretaker of the house/parent(s)/children/pets, and have unwieldy expectations for what they “should” be doing to take care of themselves.

These patients are essentially working every hour of their lives.  If and when they sleep it is erratic and interrupted and they wake without having rested. Or they “rest” while watching TV, iPading, gaming, texting, Facebooking. These activities are not restful, rejuvenating, nor replenishing. As if this isn’t enough they are also constantly talking to/bombarding themselves with negative or expectant commentary that translates as “not enough or not good enough.” In fact, the incessant loop of streaming thought these women live with is exhausting.

These women often come in seeking a magical hormonal cure.  They read that estrogen or bioidentical hormones or compounded hormones will resolve all of their issues; that their issues must be related to menopause or perimenopause. Now, I’m not underestimating menopause. Estrogen deficiency causes hot flashes.  Hot flashes can disrupt thought, the work day, the physical body. When hot flashes occur at night, sleeplessness results and irritability, mood swings, memory problems can follow suit. However, in many many cases, estrogen deficiency is not the problem. These women need a break, a time out, a mini-retreat, a respite.

Many women have found their solution. Some have found it in running, others in meditating. However, for many the potential solutions are untenable, unreachable, or add to the never-ending list of shoulds. Or, the options are so overwhelming women cannot begin to decide what to do or how to perform self care.

For me, this is where yoga comes in. When taught well, with attention to the philosophy and teachings, Yoga provides peace, quiet and a chance to observe ourselves.  Some know yoga to be an exercise; a physical activity leading to fitness, improved health, increased heart rate, etc etc. The secret is that asana practice (the poses are called asana) is solely meant to allow us to sit comfortably enough,quietly enough to see and feel clearly. Undoubtedly, the physical practice feels good. “Doing” yoga feels good, but, what feels even better is being able to look at my thoughts and see, ‘huh, those are my thoughts. I am not my thoughts.” Or, “look, this awful thing happened to me or someone said this awful thing to me and gee, I don’t have to be affected by that. I can still be me.” Or, “This pose sucks. I hate this pose. My muscles are shaking. This is dumb. I’m way too important for this pose. Why did I come? I have better things to do.” Which over time can become, “This pose sucks. I hate this pose. I’ve gotten through this pose before. I am stronger. My resilience is better.”

After 14 years of practicing yoga I can honestly say it makes me a better person. I build better relationships. I think more clearly. I know my limitations and know what I need to care for my self. I can separate myself from my wrongdoings, my suffering, my awards, my rewards, my family and my thoughts. With this ability I am able to set my work and personal goals in alignment with my deepest beliefs. I am able to achieve lifelong goals and hold positions of leadership with a sense of love and responsibility. I get to choose how I will react to incoming stimuli (if at all) and I can readily access a place of peace and serenity within myself.

Resolve to reclaim your health in 2014 and prepare to disappoint!

Ah the Resolution Ritual… T’is the season for journaling, promising, and pep-talking.  For many, the resolutions are the usual suspects: exercise more, eat healthier, or, in my case, get organized!  I can’t tell you how to best file your paperwork or stock your fridge for easy cleaning; but, I can tell you  how to carve out space to be successful in regard to your health and wellness, a.k.a. get your backside to yoga in 2014.  It’s pretty straightforward.   To borrow the phrase of a former First Lady, “Just say ‘no,’”  to which I’ll add “to Other People’s Urgency (OPU).”

After teaching yoga for over a decade and seeing the difference between those that “succeed”  (read: come to class regularly and reap the benefits) and the yoga drop-outs, I may have some insight to offer.  The ones that come to class, well… they come to class. Basically, they treat it like a doctor’s appointment.  And why shouldn’t they?   The  health benefits of  a moderate yoga meditation practice will keep you away from the doctor’s office; this isn’t hype , it’s fact.  Less lower back pain, improved mood, boosted immune system (10,000 participant- study showing yogis create more antibodies to a flu vaccine  faster), better sleep, less arthritis and joint pain, better cognitive function — the list goes on and on.

So, why wouldn’t you be just as serious about showing up to yoga on the prevention end as you would about showing up to the doctor’s office after the fact?   Think about what a doctor’s appointment costs you in terms of co-pays (if you’re lucky), out-of-pocket if you have a huge deductible. Add in driving time, missed work,  waiting and waiting and waiting around in close quarters with all those sick people…

What if you started treating yoga like a doctor’s appointment and even told people wanting your time during class that you had  “an appointment”?   Say it with a slightly hushed, serious tone that implies some sort of  life threatening situation.   Here’s the thing: friends, family, bosses, co-workers and society at large respect (doctor’s) appointments.  No one is going to ask you to skip a doctor’s appointment to babysit or make a deadline at work.  A doctor’s appointment… it makes people afraid to ask, “What for?” lest they invite some unbearably awkward health issue into the light.

On the other hand, when you say you have “yoga” here’s what happens: in spite of the reams of research and all the lip service paid to wellness by employers, insurance companies, etc., chances are, the person inquiring will deem whatever they need you for as  More Important Than Yoga.  This I can only chalk up to the general ignorance of the uninitiated.  It’s the same sort of ignorance yoga instructors everywhere struggle with– newbies looking at their i-gadgets in class, people walking by (or even through) class who don’t know enough to lower their voices–probably figuring the music just went out during Zumba– and surely whatever  they’re  discussing trumps silence. I am here to tell you from the from the leading edge of wellness  that society still considers noise and multitasking (including jumping up and down and calling it progress) far more important than anything involving silence, stillness and introspection.

Given that yoga is still very counter-culture in many areas and among many subsets of the population, if you want to succeed at yoga and have a healthier and fitter ’14, then you’ll have to be both committed and crafty.  You’ll also have to be willing to disappoint those close to you in the short run, so you don’t disappoint yourself  in the long run.  The ability to ascertain between your own urgency and other people’s urgency will be useful.   Before you drop everything to miss class and  “put out a fire” ask yourself some questions:  “Is it really my fire to put out?  Does it really have to be put out during class? What happens if I don’t respond? –this last question was driven home for me  by my former boss as key to running a successful small office with limited resources.  You simply have to get used to not doing everything everyone asks of you.

Now, shall we practice a bit to make sure you don’t choke under the pressure?  Look in the mirror and practice saying “No, I’m sorry, I have an important appointment then” –sell it with the expression of a seasoned news anchor.  A slightly furrowed brow helps and again, the hushed tone. Maybe even look over your shoulder and move in a little closer, implying an air of confidentiality.  Good luck and see you at your next appointment!