Small Business Saturday: High time to decorporatize yoga!

McYoga | this is so crass. | jpmatth | Flickr

How’d we get here: $100 + yoga pants (guilty), gymnastical poses, pyramid-scheme teacher trainings, #instayoga?

Is there even such a thing anymore as practicing yoga alone in a quiet room? If there’s not a post w/ a million hashtags, did a yoga practice even occur?

We’re in a mess, and “Big Yoga” (CorePower, Lifetime, Equinox) has a lot of explaining to do. Yoga used to be more about living in the world and being a good person, a wellness and longevity philosophy for the ages. It was for seekers, in search of a higher “true self” –peeling back the layers, letting go of the bullshit, not creating more of it!

Somehow making sense of the messiness of human existence got sanitized, made over, and ultimately merchandized, often by investors who knew next to nothing about it! An entire industry sprung up with magazines, clothing, props, mats, and more. While some of the “schools of lineage” back to India attempted to enforce teaching standards a few decades ago under the banner of the Yoga Alliance, they too got swept away by the commercial tsunami. The best way to grow the Yoga Alliance was to certify more programs, more instructors, more-more-more!

Yet, at its heart, yoga is a practice of minimizing, seeing the facades and props of life (from yoga blocks to BMWs) for what they are: props, props to hold ourselves up in a dog-eat-down-dog world. We can never have enough. The lucky ones realize this sooner rather than later. They stop looking for meaning in acquiring, obsessing about their veneer and start…seeking.

It may start with just one breath in one class: for the first time, a deep awareness of the body, mind, and interplay between the two. Maybe there’s a brief glimpse of something bigger that’s new on one hand, eternal on the other. That glimpse somehow felt so peaceful and was so awe-inspiring, it made all the other stuff–the props of life–seem small, insignificant.

Chances are that little peek didn’t happen during “flying crow” or “scorpion” with new-agey music blaring. Likely it was during a quiet interlude, in a less challenging pose, or savasana at the end. Those are the moments when seekers are born! They return to class, maybe borrow a mat for a while. This kind of seeker doesn’t really “get” #instayoga. Beautiful photos have nothing to do with it.

For a practice that requires no equipment, was based on a simple mentorship between a teacher and a small group of students, had a code of ethics (non-stealing, non-violence, non-lying to name a few) how’d we end up with 30-person classes in a roomful of mirrors, following someone who barely knows us and is in it to “get paid to work out?” (How Big Yoga justifies minuscule salaries).

The good news: it seems Covid made even mainstream yoga a bit more introspective. People are re-evaluating what yoga is and even what the term should mean. Big Yoga like LifeTime and CorePower may not be able to continue controlling the conversation. New voices have emerged and they’re getting louder: #decolonizeyoga #accessibleyoga #authenticyoga #yamasniyamas –even in the most superficial and unlikeliest of places: social media.

My mission from the beginning of YogaHotDish, in 2001 (before hashtags), was #decorporatizeyoga. Even back then, I could tell that the gyms offering yoga had their definitions askew, reducing the practice to exercises. I had just returned from studying yoga in Singapore. My teacher was in her 60’s back then, wore the same white polo and blue sweat pants, was a Buddhist who studied in India. Nothing I saw happening in the US gyms had any resemblance to what I had practiced abroad.

Though I figured I didn’t have near the life experience necessary in my 30’s and a new Mom, I decided to become a yoga teacher because I couldn’t find a class anywhere. I created a student-focused business w/o any “layer” of management (read: politics, profiteering, pettiness) between me and my students.

If you’d like to show up to a class and find out what “Small Yoga” has to offer you, please do. Some people even do both “Big” and “Small” yoga. After all, yoga is about finding balance, dancing between the poles of opposites, sitting in contradiction. Yes, you can do Yoga Sculpt one day and YogaHotDish the next. What an adventure that would be! We likely won’t ever really #decorporatizeyoga because convenience is a necessity in our culture. Small business Saturday might be the time to google “independent yoga near me” and see what alternatives exist.

A YogaHotDish Travelogue by Guest Blogger Diana Grace

One of my earliest memories of what yoga was all about was the “Maggie” show on PBS in the 1970s.  Maggie Lettvin hosted a yoga program called Maggie and The Beautiful Machine.

As a very young girl, I would watch Mom do poses along with this TV program. Maggie seemed a very calm and kind person, which I appreciated as a quiet child.

Growing up as an unathletic kid, I was somewhat awkward, quite shy, and not physically flexible. Memories include stressful kickball games in elementary school and junior high soccer (I was the only kid during sitting leg stretches who was not able to reach to their feet. I hardly made it to my knees.) Why do people assume if you are tall and slender that you are automatically flexible and bendy? Wrong!

Gym class was never fun for a reserved, artistic kid like me. Swimming lessons took all the fun out of summer mornings. If memory serves, I took beginners’ swimming at least twice and was the tallest and oldest kid in the class. Fun times! However, my short-lived ballet classes were not too terrible – I got to take private lessons with just me and my best friend. Luckily our ballet instructor put up with two gangly, clumsy teens very sweetly. 

As an adult, walking (and very occasional aerobic exercises like Jane Fonda workouts) was my main physical activity. After a divorce, I did sign up for regular weight training sessions and found I enjoyed it (what?) and had great results. It did help my flexibility somewhat but most importantly was a huge help psychologically as well as physically.  I discovered that exercising the body could simultaneously exorcise some of my mental demons. I eventually looked forward to time at the gym as a welcome destressing session. 

Shaila’s class was my first and only yoga class. After my success with weight training, I went online to search for yoga classes nearby, and boy did I hit the jackpot with finding Yoga Hotdish. NO mirrors, music, or overdosing on “woo-woo” spiritualism (although I do like a bit of that). Also, no fast-paced “vinyasa flow,” which appeared to be all the rage but didn’t seem the best choice for the over-40 crowd, or anyone else for that matter. When it comes to yoga, one size (or type of yoga) does not fit all. Shaila’s class was just yoga, meditation, and self-acceptance – or at least the beginnings of it. Plus, plenty of pose modification for those who needed help due to poor flexibility, lousy posture, balance issues, injury, illness, or just having the wrong kind of arm socket/hip socket/foot shape, etc. That means it covers just about everybody!

Did I also mention breathing? I learned I was a very shallow breather. Who knew? Bringing focus to my breath was an eye-opener and brought me welcome calmness and peace. Breathing better also seemed to help improve my skin and general circulation. Breath is one thing we take for granted. I like that Shaila reminds her students many times throughout class to “breathe.” Focusing on one’s breath can help with balance, meditation, and holding a pose. 

I also love that we try and do outdoor yoga as much as possible, which is not always easy in Minnesota! I used to be more “indoorsy,” but now I realize that I get so much peace and healing from being in nature. It greatly helps to get away from the busy world and reconnect with the earth.

Over the past ten years attending Shaila’s class, I have had my ups and downs. Some years I participated at least twice a week and saw great results with increased strength, better balance, toning, and flexibility. In recent years I struggled to get myself to yoga class, but I did manage to make a ten-minute stretching session before bed a somewhat regular occurrence. Some nights it is just child’s pose, cat/cow pose, balancing table pose, and sphinx pose with hopefully a little spinal twist at the end. 

The most surprising and somewhat unsettling event that happened to me during a yoga class at least a couple of times was what Shaila describes as “stuff coming up from the basement.”

What this means is that you experience deep emotions that seem to come out of nowhere. They can be happy, sad, confusing, but all they are trying to do is tell you something. Maybe it is just your body thanking you for paying attention to its needs. The mind-body connection is real. Those subtle (or not so subtle) body aches and pains are messengers. Sometimes emotions come because you are feeling (and finally paying attention to) the need for self-love and acceptance. Not for the person you want to be in the future when you fix this and that, but for the soul you are right at this moment.

I must admit that this past year was a particular challenge due to family obligations, career upheaval, political and social unrest, as well as a “little” virus that took over the world. It’s been one heck of a wake-up call for many and has been a good excuse to re-examine health and lifestyle choices.

I am so thankful to have found yoga and Shaila’s class for so many reasons, but I think my favorite is that I’ve learned to accept imperfection. Occasionally I have come to class with a migraine or bad back. At those times, I only do a sitting meditation and maybe a few easy poses with more emphasis on breathing, healing, and being kind and loving to myself

No matter what, I come to the mat with whatever version of me is available that day. It may not always look great or feel great, but that is of very little importance. I just show up and let my body and breath guide me to listen to the messages they try to provide.

Thank you for your service: YogaHotDish offers free yoga to teens!

While many of us are putting Covid in the rearview mirror, some are only beginning to pick up the pieces. Surely, if you lost a loved one, the cruel reminder of Covid will be forever with you. You have our heartfelt condolences. It was a terrible way to leave the world. Of course, if you are a doctor or essential worker, you may have lingering PTSD that doesn’t resolve in a nice tidy fashion on the day we declare we’re Covid-free. I know I have a new respect for the cashiers, delivery personnel, and not only docs but the support staff that keep providers going! 

I am now realizing however there is a large swath of the population who have been devastated by Covid who are getting short shrift in the hero department: teens.  They were asked to put the most intensely developmental phases of their lives on hold for over a year–for a disease that posed little to no danger to them.  It was a huge “ask” for a group in the most self-absorbed period of their lives (we hope anyway).  

If you’ve been paying attention to the news or happen to parent these creatures, you are perhaps seeing and experiencing various degrees of “fall out,” from mild to nuclear.  I for one, fear it’s the tip of a very large iceberg, just starting to reveal itself in the midst of our summer frolic and “revenge travel.”

Welcome to The New Pandemic: a potentially fatal cocktail of teenage anxiety, depression, and addiction. A recent June 2021 New York Times article highlights CDC data showing visits to the ER for suspected suicide attempts were up 51% for girls ages 12-17 in the 4 weeks ending March 20, 2020 over the same period in 2019 (boys remained stable). The rate began rising in the summer of 2020. This report “comes on the heels of other recent research that suggested higher rates of mental health problems among teenagers, including self-harm, suicide attempts, and suicidal ideation, which some experts worry could be related to stressors from the pandemic.”

Seriously? Some “experts worry it might be Covid-related?” OK, those experts must not be parents of affected children. Parents know it’s related and are worried about the actual harm to their kids! The above numbers are all the more concerning in light of the fact that “distance learning” continued for an additional year or longer beyond the aforementioned stats and is coming back to haunt these kids now–in summer school!

So, while adults are happy to shed the masks, get back to a more normal work environment, take a holiday, these kids are waking up to what can only be described as one bad Covid hangover: semesters of incompletes to the point there is no GPA to worry about, missed major milestones from proms to passing the driver’s license test. Then we have the kids who lost loved-ones due to Covid or feared for the safety of their essential worker parents.

Did you know driver’s ed went online, 3 hours/day during the pandemic in the midst of distance learning? Few could handle another 3 hours/day. There is a whole crop of kids who would normally be driving themselves to work and activities this summer but can’t. Maybe that’s why businesses that rely on teenage help can’t find any? Many parents aren’t letting their kids get their licenses until they get caught up in school and/or develop more maturity and responsibility. If anything, they see their kids as regressing over the pandemic.

In short, “the kids are NOT alright.” They found that the most reliable dopamine hits weren’t in cultivating true friendships, working hard, and achieving goals –but rather on the internet casino of gaming and social media. The problem there though is, in addition to dopamine, they got bursts of stress hormones like cortisol too.

YouTube gaming head Ryan Wyatt gleefully shared that users on his platform watched 100 billion hours of gaming content in 2020 — that’s double the number of hours watched in 2018. Minecraft was the winner by a landslide with more than 200 billion views. Grand theft auto had 70 billion views–wonder why carjackings by teenagers are up?(Source: NikoPartners LLC ).

So who were the losers? Kids–education, family dynamics, exercise, time spent outdoors. You know these games are addictive by design, right? The pavlovian reinforcement model used in casinos is no match for the squishy teenage brain whose judgment has yet to be hard-wired in.

So what are kids who are hopelessly behind in school, can’t drive, out of shape, depressed, anxious, addicted to the internet (among other things) supposed to do? Well, many of them are contemplating dropping out of school. These are not just the “marginal kids” either. They’re the good kids–the jocks, the geeks–all sorts. Scholarship candidates with high GPA’s pre-pandemic are having to settle for community college or just taking a year off to decompress. Kids who were headed for community college aren’t sure they can ever get through high school at this rate. They can’t make up the work in the “self-directed online” summer school model–the same approach that landed them in this labyrinth of “learned helplessness” in the first place.

They’re even being required to wear masks on the bus for summer school. So in a district touting its STEM program, we have vaccinated drivers and mostly, if not all, vaccinated kids sitting on a bus with the windows open and masks. Alrighty then.

So too bad but, “I’m not raising teens now so it’s not my problem,” you say. Why should you care? Minnesota-based Immunologist (PhD, JD) Hugh McTavish presents an interesting take on the Covid numbers: for every ONE life saved from Covid, 360 children had their education, health, wellbeing, and futures upended. If you’re an at-risk/65+ adult or just an adult with at-risk or 65+ loved ones, you owe these kids some gratitude and understanding.

In his book, Covid Lockdown Insanity, Dr. McTavish raises the age-old question pondered everywhere from Ancient Greece to Freshman Philosophy: did our actions serve “the greater good.” In fact, what is the “greater good” anyway? Lives lost, lifespan gained? Does “quality of life” matter, or is it just longevity?

An interesting argument starts to take shape as Dr. McTavish calculates the lockdowns saved about 200,000 lives. He then points out the average life span “left” for each Covid death averted was roughly 4 years. In other words, those that perished had about 4 years of lifespan left (on average people!). He then makes a bold jump and tries to quantify “severe depression” in terms of “lost years.” If you’ve ever experienced severe depression or lived with someone who has, you probably think this isn’t a huge stretch. If you haven’t, I can’t blame you for being skeptical.

The result is a birdseye view of Covid in terms of “person-years” lost vs. saved. The math goes something like this: Assuming 200,000 deaths averted with an average remaining lifespan for 4 years = 800,000 “person-years saved”


68,000 “deaths of despair” which include increased suicides and deaths by drug overdose, alcohol abuse. Those 68,000

are younger w/ an average remaining lifespan of 38 years = 2.58 million “person-years lost.”

That works out to 3 times more “person-years of life lost” due to “deaths of despair” than person-years saved. I’m not saying the above is “the right way” to look at the numbers but it is one way.

It drives home how much our young people sacrificed for their elders, their teachers, those at risk due to pre-existing conditions. The public school kids would’ve been alright–they could’ve clipped along in person as exemplified and documented in the country reports from Europe showing classroom spread was low even when community spread was high.

Of course in the early days, this was an unknown, but by early 2021, as teachers were getting vaccinated (with a high degree of protection within weeks after the first dose), the reports from Europe were out. A Spring semester of normalcy may have brought back many of these kids from “the brink.” Neighboring Wisconsin public schools are case-in-point as well as the numerous Minnesota private schools that remained in-person throughout. Hats off to their mission-driven teachers and administrators. Those kids will be rewarded as they far outpace their peers in every imaginable metric going forward. Believe me, the distance learning kids are well aware they can’t compete and so many have given up; and, are not only mourning the loss of the past year and a half but of their futures as well.

What you do need to know if you don’t have kids or aren’t experiencing the fallout firsthand: there is trauma everywhere–don’t underestimate based on their “chill” demeanors. Many of these kids are in PTSD situations. When children are traumatized, it cuts deeper for longer. In the trauma field, it’s called “mortal wounding” with consequences that reverberate far into the future as the kids don’t have the resources to process the trauma in real-time. These kids need help, support, mentoring, and likely some tough love to pick up the pieces. They need to learn other methods of self-care and self-soothing beyond addictive social media, gaming, and substance abuse. They also need to know society cares about them and will help them going forward– a lot of them have lost faith in their schools, teachers, administrations and school boards. Engage them in conversation and you’ll be shocked by the cynicism of these young citizens!

I can’t complain about something without at least offering some small fix. That’s why I’ll gladly teach any teen who shows up for any YogaHotDish class for free. It’s a small thing, but it’s all I have for now. Please fill out a contact form to RSVP so I know I’ll have room. And yes, they’re welcome to bring a friend–I recommend it.

Wellness Strategy or Just Another Workout?

One of the things I love the most about teaching is the diversity of people and body types in my class. Sure, if you’re tall and lanky, have always found your toes elusive, I have answers! But what if you’ve trained in dance and are 85? Or, you ‘re a young person with joint inflammation? On a given day, the age range in a “typical” YogaHotDish class is 30-80 — and trust me, that’s anything BUT typical in the mass market (big yoga) universe.

So what’s the draw for all these people of different backgrounds, ages and issues? They’re not looking for just another workout. If they were, it would be tricky to teach them all at once; that’s why you have so many “levels” in group exercise and fitness yoga classes.

Nope, at YogaHotDish, people tend to start at any age, but then stick with the program. Now, these aren’t 24-7, #yogaeverydamnday #instayoga types. They have lives and other interests. So why is it they set aside at least 90 minutes a week for class, over decades?

Near as I can tell, they haven’t found anything else that covers so many bases and is so effective at keeping them not only fit… but well.

Fitness and wellness are not the same things. In fact, a lot of fitness regimens can be pretty hard on your body, especially your joints. A comprehensive yoga class on the other hand is a different animal altogether.

I love to describe YogaHotDish classes as “comprehensive” but I suppose it’s confusing–what does it even mean? To put it one way, a comprehensive yoga class ticks all the boxes, not just for fitness, but wellness. Think of it this way, what would you have to do to curate everything we do in class on your own?

Well, let’s start with the obvious. You would need the following instruction:

Strength training


Stretching : resistance, eccentric, etc.


So that’s not such a big deal right? You could sort of roll that together and wrap it up in an hour? But remember, we’re talking wellness which means not just body, but the mind and your overall sense of wellbeing… To that you would have to add:

Mindfulness / meditation / cognitive behavioral training

Constructive rest / guided relaxation

Brain training (working memory, left/right brain syncing)

Breath control/ diaphragmatic exercises

Posture training

Stress Management

Finally, through Covid, we have all learned how important it is to socialize and co-regulate with trusted friends. When “big yoga” venues give away all those free trial classes, they do so at your expense. That’s attention you won’t be receiving and a missed opportunity to elevate a cohesive, experienced group up the curve. It also doesn’t maintain the “safe space” vibe so calming to nervous system. To do yoga with the same crew every week, you’re getting into spendy semi-private instruction. Sounds serious, but we also like to have some laughs and even travel together, so add on:

Happy hour, coffee klatch, retreats, etc.

Uff-Dah! Maybe I should charge more…. 🙂


GOAT YOGA–Yoga with GOATS? Not quite.

The TB12 Method | Book by Tom Brady | Official Publisher ...

Those of us of a certain age are admittedly gloating over The GOAT’s win over The Kid in Super Bowl 55. Not just a win, but a decisive one at that!

Now, I don’t want to argue football; I have a husband for that. That same husband switched me on to a book called “The TB 12 Method” a few years ago. Around the same time, I stumbled upon a workshop in Santa Barbara (as I often do) extolling the virtues and techniques of combining resistance work with yoga. It was practice-changing, eye-opening, and joint saving!

Flexibilty and Strength Training vs. Pliability

Tom Brady (TB) takes an entire chapter of his book to extoll the virtues of pliability training over strength training + some stretching. Why? He is trying to basically de-program multiple generations of football players and fans out of their fixed mindsets and conventional thinking.

Knowing the crowd, I’m not sure 30 pages is enough! I still see so much conventional thinking in my son’s football experience over the years ( How many kids can possibly sprain their ankles in one game?). My husband learned first hand the dangers of trying to question conventional “wisdom.” In spite of getting a D-1 full ride and his brief stint for the Buffalo Bills and an amazing network around the country of his colleagues now coaching their own kids, his input wasn’t welcomed by most of our local high school parents, eager to apply the same methodology they learned in their high school programs. It’s risky for me to even write this I suppose, but, I’ll take my chances…they don’t seem like the yoga blog types. (Please do feel free to surprise me though).

If you come to class, you know a lot about pliability already. Long story short, or perhaps I should say, “short story long,” because the gist is, you want longer, pliable muscles that are better lubricated and do a better job of distributing load over a broader area of fibers. Short, defined, “cut” or “ripped” muscles look great, but they’re more prone to injury, full stop. Moreover, they don’t contain the qualities most necessary to succeed on the field in most positions, or, in life. They are the result of a lot of “hard” work, but not smart work. The muscles themselves aren’t as intelligent or as responsive as they could be, and that’s what TB and his trainer Alex started to realize. Keep in mind, the average length of an NFL career is 3.3 years, so let’s give the ol’ GOAT a listen!

What is pliability anyway? Can’t I just stretch out after strength training?

Pliability as a principle is very yogic as it puts an emphasis on finding the right balance for your body, your sport, your life, and your practice/workouts. It’s not about the “maximal” training athletes do in their teens and twenties as in, “Dude, I maxed out on 225 for bench.” Kids get away w/ a certain amount of this kind of stuff because their muscles still have some of the natural pliability retained from childhood. We’re all born pliable, but it diminishes over time. Don’t believe it? Teach kids’ yoga for ten minutes.

In TB’s case, he defines pliability as “the daily lengthening and softening of muscles” along with “targeted deep-force muscle work.” It’s a kind of pressure point massage and lengthening of the tissue, done by a trainer in TB’s case, while TB contracts that tissue in intervals–it’s not the massage you had on vacation, let’s put it that way!

TB and his trainer are essentially contracting and stretching the muscle at the same time which makes for a smarter, better firing muscle and less damage, recovery time, or pain. A regimen of lifting weights/strength training with a bit of stretching afterwards separates the two tasks, as though muscles are binary and either in a fully off/on position. But to function optimally, muscles have to be more on a “dimmer switch” and have a kind of intelligence as to when to engage and how much–makes sense doesn’t it? If not, you may need the 30 pages so get the book!

Good for Tom, but I’m not married to Giselle and I don’t have a trainer!

Well, I suppose that’s why you can buy The TB 12 Method and drop about $300 on the gear to try and mimic the effects our lucky-duck QB gets daily–from his trainer that is 😉

Or, you could take a classical yoga practice, heavy on lengthening muscle; and, couple it with pose-specific techniques to contract the tissue at the same time. In other words, you could try a yoga practice that involves some eccentric and resistance stretching within your own unique parameters. I mean, while the TB12 system is unique and certainly patented, the kind of stretching it promotes has been around a long time and is starting to show up in the yoga world. What’s unique in the yoga world is that it doesn’t make this big assumption or put a huge priority on flexibility–no over-heated rooms or over-zealous instructors. You don’t want to sacrifice the joints and soft tissue.

Even if you’re a dude who hasn’t touched his toes in a while, you’ll find “pliability yoga” a lot more conducive for your body type and safer than a conventional yoga class. You may not be meant to touch your toes and you may not need to. Let’s find your “optimal” for longevity so you can keep doing all the other non-yoga stuff you love!

If you look at TB, he’s pretty long and lean–a strike against him in his draft report which explains him being the 199th pick!

20+ Years as a “Long-Hauler”: Living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) / Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)

According to the Mayo Clinic Website (note the comments in bold are mine):

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a complicated disorder characterized by extreme fatigue that lasts for at least six months (or 20 years) and that can’t be fully explained by an underlying medical condition. The fatigue worsens with physical or mental activity but doesn’t improve with rest.

Other characteristic symptoms include:

  • Sleep that isn’t refreshing–YES, DAILY!
  • Difficulties with memory, focus, and concentration–YAH!
  • Dizziness that worsens with moving from lying down or sitting to standing —SOMETIMES
  • Doctors who have no answers after spending 10 minutes on your case or any idea as to your past accomplishments, saying “maybe you’re a little depressed.”

This condition is also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). Sometimes it’s abbreviated as ME/CFS. The most recent term proposed is systemic exertional intolerance disease (SEID)–HUGE ISSUE!

The cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is unknown, although there are many theories — ranging from viral infections to psychological stress. Some experts believe chronic fatigue syndrome might be triggered by a combination of factors. –suspect a severe case of viral pneumonia in Japan followed by salmonella on Bali (travel isn’t all glamour 😉

There’s no single test to confirm a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome. You may need a variety of medical tests to rule out other health problems that have similar symptoms–and spend all your time, money, and sanity schlepping around from doc to doc, dept to dept. Treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome focuses on improving symptoms–AND IS TOTALLY LAME. They all follow the same ineffectual protocols–it’s groupthink run amok.

While COVID-19 is a terrible tragedy on so many levels, for the first time, I feel optimistic and less alone. Suddenly, the news is rife with stories of people suffering from many of the same symptoms I’ve struggled to manage for decades. It’s hard to watch: many of them are young, like I was, suddenly debilitated by fatigue in their prime on the cusp of great things: careers, marriages, starting a family.

When I say “debilitating fatigue” what do I mean? The kind of fatigue that prevents you from hopping on a train for an hour to catch the women’s doubles at Wimbledon, or even take a shower. It’s a kind of tired that leaves you stranded in the dairy aisle of Cub because you don’t know how you’re going to carry the milk all the way to the front of the store and back to your car. If you do push through it, you know it will mean an hour’s nap once you get back home. It’s the kind of fatigue that seems so irrational to your friends and family, they start to lose their grip right along with you. You’re forced to say “no” to so much that pretty soon the invitations stop coming altogether.

Approximately 1-2 million Americans suffer from CFS/ME. According to the article “The Tragedy of the Post-COVID ‘Long Haulers'” ( that number could double in the next two years due to the COVID “Long Haulers” / “Long COVID” sufferers. Trust me when I say, our healthcare system IS NOT ready for this. My heart breaks knowing so little has been accomplished on the CFS/ME front in the past decades and the frustrations the afflicted will face. 

Why so little progress? First, I think many sufferers are women. All the Infectious Disease and Internal Medicine docs I saw were men. What they had in common: terrible listeners, very “busy and important.” Secondly, CFS/ME patients are lousy advocates. Why? They’re TOO TIRED!  It may take half a day to get ready for an appointment and another half day’s nap to recover. All that to hear the same BS and see the same lab-coat shoulder shrugs.

In one of my final appointments, the doc tried to write me a script for Prozac after 5 mins. My husband started cross-examining: What’s the “end game”–is she on it forever? Why do you think she’s depressed? To this day, we’re not sure if we stormed out or were thrown out of his office!

Luckily, somewhere along the way, when I still had some energy, I had taken a few yoga classes. I found myself in a situation where my energy improved somewhat (as it always does with an international move–more on that later) and I could commit to a weekly yoga class. It became clear to me that I got a hella lot more out of yoga classes than doctor appointments. Slowly, my health improved, but in fits and starts.

Remember, the “C” in CFS is for “Chronic.” It never goes away; it’s a condition that has to be “managed.” I basically fired all my doctors and started managing it myself, primarily through yoga, and not just any yoga.

One of the most frustrating symptoms for a former athlete is the post-exercise malaise which is perhaps why experts are starting to refer to it as systemic exertional intolerance (SEID). Luckily my first teacher was a classically trained yogi and Zen Buddhist in Singapore. She was in her 60’s and strict. She did a lot of seated meditation and it showed in her approach. She knew that the “exercises” were to be done as meditations, not gymnastical performances. There was plenty of time to phase in and out of the pose, downshift if need be, and integrate between poses. There was no distracting music or mirrors around. The point was to reside in your body (not let your mind drift) and find the “seat of the pose,” the asana, and most importantly, accept how it was for you that day. No comparisons to last week or last year.

When I got back to the States, I was shocked at what was passing for “yoga” and couldn’t find a class. I finally came across a Kripalu teacher on Cape Cod. If you would’ve told me when I could barely shower and shop that I’d enroll in a 1-month residential yoga training of all things yoga from 6am to 10pm, I wouldn’t have even dared to dream. I became certified in 2001. Confession: there was a break in the afternoon, so I could catch a nap; otherwise, I don’t think I would have made it.

I started teaching yoga full-time and never really went back to my “professional” pre-yoga life. Turns out, CFS/ME had taught me a lot. First and foremost, you have to have a strong purpose, a mission for your life that, against all odds, gets you out of bed in the morning. My first mission was “heal thyself.” Accepting that I’d maybe be lucky to reclaim 80% of my previous energy was a big part of that. The mission is never over, as I don’t dare grow complacent. I’m always trying out the latest “life hacks” to boost my energy and clarity; and, I’ve even invented a few on my own. I relish sharing what I’ve learned with others, especially those with similar symptoms who might be dealing with anything from Lyme disease to fibromyalgia or just general burnout.  I have a lot more patience and empathy for sick people and the difficulties of aging. I felt I had more in common w/ ninety-somethings in my 30’s.

I also learned that a good shot of natural adrenaline does wonders. Travel has always been my jam. I crave the buzz of being out of my comfort zone–a buzz I used to enjoy as a lifestyle pre-CFS. Now, I get to share some of my favorite destinations with my students. Yes, I do get nervous contemplating how people are entrusting me with their vacations, some of the most important days of their year; but, it’s the good kind of nervous–those butterflies keep me energized. I also treat myself to the occasional trip to Japan to re-immerse myself in the language. You just don’t have time to be tired in Tokyo: 30 million people in a bizarre vortex where the ancient and futuristic intersect. I throw myself into the mayhem, feed off the flow and go-go-go. I do “pay” for it though when I return, but to me, it’s worth it. 

Conversely, I’ve learned to protect my energy and avoid things that drain me. I view energy as a finite quantity to be “spent” carefully. Bureaucracy, in-the-box thinking, and unnecessary paperwork are best avoided; so are social-climbers, one-uppers, and fixed mind-setters.  I have come to realize that “busy” and “important” are not the same things. I avoid conversations about errands and to-do lists. There seems to be a uniquely American pastime I term “competitive busyness” –something I wouldn’t have noticed before CFS–in fact, I may have mastered it at one time.  It’s a lot of “jumping up and down, calling it progress”–and then telling everyone about it.

My purpose now is to use the energy I can muster to make as much of a positive impact on the lives of my students as possible. Happiness for me requires a yoga mat, a library card, and yes, a passport. If you’d ever like to discuss books, travel, or yoga, I’m all ears and will stay awake for that. If you want to learn more about what has and has not worked for me in terms of CFS/ME, I’m also happy to oblige. I hope to set up a Zoom practice for CFS/ME/COVID Long Haulers soon, so do get in touch via the contact page if that applies to you.

YogaHotDish in the News… Take Back the Night (TBTN) National Shine Your Light Yoga Festival, Dec 12th (ZOOM)

Take Back the Night (TBTN) Shines Light on Sexual Violence with the National Shine Your Light Yoga Festival on December 12th.

Hundreds of yoga studios and fitness centers across the country to hold trauma-informed classes for survivors and their supporters on Shine Your Light Yoga Day 2020, including YogaHotDish of North Oaks and Arden Hills.

YogaHotDish will be offering two trauma-informed ZOOM classes on Saturday, December 12th with all proceeds going to TBTN. Visit to register. The recommended donation is $12, the normal class price, but you can donate any amount via PayPal/credit card.

YogaHotDish Founder Shaila Cunningham, a twenty-year veteran of the yoga business, has fielded a multitude of requests to do classes for various causes. “I was impressed with TBTN as they took the time to research the kind of yoga I offer and ascertain that it is a good fit with their trauma-informed guidelines.  There are as many kinds of trauma and stress as there are people; that said, we can all use a common set of yoga tools to better wire the body and brain for healing and transformation.” Former Minnesota resident and certified Kripalu Yoga Instructor Libby Wendorf of North Carolina will be facilitating the Noon Zoom class.

Cunningham explains,  “The idea that anyone who has experienced any kind of sexual violence from date rape to domestic abuse can go to, fill out a contact form and speak to a lawyer within 24 hours is comforting. I imagine a lot of victims just don’t know who to turn to, and I encourage anyone reading this with a college-aged kid to take the time to send the link to them or post it to social media.” 

Since the 1970s, Take Back the Night has been supporting survivors of sexual trauma and domestic abuse. It is the oldest international movement fighting to end sexual violence in all its forms. Formed in 1999, the Take Back the Night Foundation (TBTNF) is a volunteer-run 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Katie Koestner, the first survivor to speak out nationally and publicly as the victim of “date” (as opposed to “stranger”) rape, brought together activists and long-standing participants in TBTN events to create the foundation. TBTN has reached over 10 million people at 800 colleges and communities across the US and in more than 30 countries with its initiatives and evidence-based educational programming.  

“Katie Koestner is a contemporary of mine and a force of nature; meeting her, if only via Zoom, was inspiring,”  says Cunningham.  “I remember seeing her on the cover of TIME Magazine when I was also in college. It took so much courage to share her story, before date rape was ‘a thing.'”  

The United Nations Population Fund roughly estimates that there has been a 20% rise in intimate partner violence alone around the world since the start of the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders. That equates to 15 million additional cases in just the last few months.

Through the National ‘Shine Your Light Yoga Festival 2020’, Take Back the Night hopes to shed light on and strengthen survivors who have all too often been denied justice and silenced behind closed doors.

On December 12th, 2020, TBTN invites communities across the country to show their support and take part in a trauma-informed yoga class at their nearest participating studio or fitness center. The National Shine Your Light Yoga Festival 2020 also includes 8 virtual classes live-streamed throughout the day to accommodate up to 80,000 more participants. All proceeds from the event support TBTN’s programs and initiatives, such as the Respect My Red educational program on healthy relationships.

At a time when our communities are in tremendous need of healing and restoration, trauma-informed yoga offers a powerful opportunity for individuals and communities to come together in a safe, welcoming atmosphere to facilitate recovery. Yoga practice teaches us we cannot always control what happens outside of ourselves or in our immediate environments. However, we can control being mindful of ourselves, our bodies, our breath, our thoughts, and our surroundings. Little by little, with dedicated practice, we can start to truly grasp our inner

strength and connect with others to affect positive social change, one breath at a time.

For more information about the National Shine Your Light Yoga Festival 2020 or TBTNF, please visit the TBTNF website: You can also find a list of participating

studios and fitness centers near you at

Making Online Yoga…Yogic!


After sampling a variety of online yoga offerings, including FB Live, Zoom, and YouTube,  I realize now the challenge for yoga teachers is similar to what it is in any large in-person setting: to make yoga feel like yoga and not just a follow-along, group exercise class –in other words, giving participants as much of a work-in as a workout! While instructors have to modify the way they teach to make this happen, the question is: what can you do as a student to make your experience more…yogic?

1) Set up a “safe space,” free from interruptions. No phone in the room, period! Close the door if you’re lucky enough to have one and make sure spouses, pets, kids –anyone who needs/demands attention from you is ON THE OTHER SIDE of said door, or better yet–out of the house.  Explain in the nicest possible way that they are “errors” of meditation and that a high level of concentration and internal focus is required for true yoga.  “The deeper states” of meditation are achieved by racking up consecutive moments of concentration. If they come into your space and distract you, you lose your momentum and have to start over. Plus, they need to know and accept that what you’re doing is simply more important than their perceived urgency–OPU–other people’s urgency–has no place in your yoga practice!

1.5) Set “reminders” for several classes a week, even though you don’t plan on doing them all. This is key as we’re losing our sense of linear time which is great while doing yoga, but makes it hard to show up to class. And, don’t let arriving late or having to leave early deter you; the ZOOM format is made for that–enjoy it while it lasts!

2) Have all of your props at the ready.  Keep them in a pile somewhere so you don’t have to reassemble them every time. It’s Murphy’s Law: the one prop you don’t have will end up being the star of the class! If you haven’t “invested” yet in blocks, strap, blanket, or even a bolster, it’s time–what are you waiting for?

3) Set up your screen so the instructor has a fairly good view of you in both floor and standing poses when doing a live class. I have my laptop on a block for the floor and move it to a shelf or plant stand for standing poses. Figure it out ahead of time! If the instructor never leaves his/her mat to “check” on or interact with students, consider it a red flag.

4) Try not to make your screen your focal point!!!!! This may be the most important piece of advice. Eyes glued to a screen isn’t yoga–sorry. Set up focal points above or around your screen: a plant, a picture, a window. Try not to have your screen directly in front of you.  Use it as a visual reference as little as possible. Try to follow the verbal instructions first and use the screen in small doses for verification.  Do as much w/ your eyes CLOSED as possible! 

5) Finally, this for people who don’t come to YogaHotDish classes: It’s important that you assess the difference in body types between yours and that of the presenter. This is where visually following along and trying to mimic each and every movement lands people in Physical Therapy. 

First, know the difference between a yoga teacher and a yoga presenter. “Presenters” are there because they look good doing the poses and are good at memorized “cues” (lines) and putting together choreographed sequences.  They’re not going to stop and check on your joints/spine–especially if it’s pre-recorded, silly!  If you have NO idea how to modify the poses for your individual body type, (and it’s not that of a gymnast or dancer) watch out! If you don’t know your internal rotation from your external, you may be in over your head. At a minimum, try to find someone around your own age to follow.  Better yet, follow someone who explains or “cues” for differences in body proportions, ranges of motion and actually demonstrates alternatives.

Most online presenters give a little legal disclaimer at the beginning (“you can modify”) but they don’t tell you how or when. Why not? Because it disrupts their flow, their presentation, or, they just aren’t experienced with or interested in working with people of all ages and stages of life.  This holds especially true for SENIORS! I can’t tell you how many injuries I’ve heard of first hand when seniors start doing yoga or personal training w/ young and inexperienced instructors. Experience matters in yoga– you can’t put together a training course that magically endows / decades of wisdom –it literally takes…well…decades. 

Finally, we have to accept that COVID is changing our bodies. We’re not moving as much. Often an injury can be just as much about what you DIDN’T do as what you did do! Muscles lose their pliability and “intelligence,” joints dry out and get creaky. Take care, lower expectations and  good luck out there!

The Best Benefit of Yoga No One Mentions

“Mouthbreather,” the ultimate dis on “Stranger Things.”

In a recent study on the National Institute of Health website entitled, “Could nasal nitric oxide help to mitigate the severity of COVID-19?” the authors explain the role of nose breathing in creating Nitric Oxide. You know all about this if you come to class, but for the uninitiated, here’s the intro to the study:

The nasal cavity and turbinates play important physiological functions by filtering, warming and humidifying inhaled air. Paranasal sinuses continually produce nitric oxide (NO), a reactive oxygen species that diffuses to the bronchi and lungs to produce bronchodilatory and vasodilatory effects. Studies indicate that NO may also help to reduce respiratory tract infection by inactivating viruses and inhibiting their replication in epithelial cells. In view of the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), clinical trials have been designed to examine the effects of inhaled nitric oxide in COVID-19 subjects. We discuss here additional lifestyle factors such as mouth breathing which may affect the antiviral response against SARS-CoV-2 by bypassing the filtering effect of the nose and by decreasing NO levels in the airways.   

So what’s a longtime mouth breather to do? You can’t just start breathing through your nose overnight.  No, but you can start yoga with an instructor who emphasizes pranayama (breathing exercises) and gives constant coaching on the in’s and out’s (sorry) of exactly how to breathe!

You take around 20,000 breaths per day; don’t you think it’s worth doing optimally?

In America’s search for the perfect yoga booty in under an hour, a few things had to go–top of the list were breathing exercises. It’s a practice that’s extremely subtle, frustrating for many, and difficult to teach. Besides, how are you supposed to nose breathe when you’re whipping through your vinyasa flow to get your cardio in?  There’s the other problem: classical yoga was never meant to be cardio in the first place. Sure, the gurus of yore had troops of adolescent boys who would perform almost circus-like routines to attract attention pre-Instagram, but that wasn’t for the “regular” folk coming to yoga for health and wellness.  

Big Yoga (gyms, Lifetime, CorePower, ) knows you’re busy and want a Total Body Workout in under an hour.  That’s great for them as they want to cram as many classes into a day as possible for their business model.  Poof!  There goes breathing exercises!  Besides, “I think my lungs are getting fat,” said no one…ever.

To do even a basic breathing practice takes at least an extra 10 minutes. Over time, you develop a kind of nose breathing momentum that gradually seeps into your posture practice so that you’re rarely, if ever mouth breathing — not even on exhalations. Stick with it, and you continue to breathe through your nose even after your leave class.

I know this progression as I was a mouth breather too, due to decades of allergies. Think about how much people spend on filtered water! How about some free filtered air? Once you start breathing the filtered, upscale variety of air, you never go back!

Still not convinced? Here’s an article outlining the negative effects of mouth breathing. Link here.

In children, mouth breathing is just as serious, possibly resulting in an ADD/ADHD misdiagnosis. Link here.

Why not set a basic #Covidgoal to become a nose breather if you’re not already? You’d be doing yourself a favor, as well as everyone else. The latest UMN study on indoor COVID transmission assumes that participants are all mouthbreathers– Whaaaat? #ew. At a minimum, your stress levels will decrease while practicing as nose breathing calms the heart and nervous system with all that Nitric Oxide –we could all use some more calm, right? Conversely, mouth breathers tend to be on edge, continually scanning for threats.

So yes, nose breathing can make you a calmer version of yourself, as well as improve your posture and spine. Shallow mouth breathers don’t create the micro-undulations of the vertebrae diaphragmatic nose breathers do, so their spines tend to calcify more easily, locking into place when sitting for long periods.

Diaphragmatic nose breathing keeps your joints and internal organs lubricated. It keeps stuff juicy and slippery, not sticky. Try it now: sit still on the edge of your chair, head balanced atop sitting bones / tailbone. Take a couple “normal” breaths, without thinking about it. How much and where does your body move? If the only part that moves is your shoulders, you may be a “clavicle breather.” It’s detrimental to your overall health and wellness, but completely curable!

Now, soften the belly (if you can) and imagine filling it with the breath. You should feel the nasal hair move as you inhale. Exhale as though you’re whispering “om,” (mouth shut, gap between upper and lower teeth) trying to make your exhalation twice as long as your inhale– you should feel the nasal hair move in the other direction. Feel how much and where your body moves, even though you’re technically sitting still.

YogaHotDish runs a couple all-breathing practices per month on ZOOM and includes breathing exercises in every ZOOM and in-person class. Your spine, nervous system, and heart will thank you– so will the people you live with!

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Shiva’s Pandemic Dance

zoom shiva CERN.webp

This statue of Shiva as “Lord of the Dance” sits outside the world’s largest nuclear collider known as CERN in Switzerland. Turns out, HInduism and physics have, in some ways, a similar worldview: that everything is constantly changing–matter to energy, energy to matter.  Sometimes known as the “God of Destruction,” at my training in Kripalu, they  used a kinder gentler “transformation.”

Shiva’s cosmic dance may start with destruction, but it is an ongoing process that also includes evolution, the revealing of “illusion” and eventually something Christians can recognize as “grace.”

Many of us are learning that the material things that formed the scaffolding for our lives–jobs, healthcare, schools, etc. weren’t the “sure things’ we once thought they were.  Our illusion of stability was shattered pretty quickly, by some microscopic beast we can’t even see!

So here we are, forced to confront who we are without all of that infrastructure. Our plans are on hold. Our futures are uncertain. Who are we without all of these anchors?

I suppose that’s the question most religions try to answer. Many people start to contemplate that sort of thing the older they get.  The surprising thing is seeing so many young people being forced to move such a big question up their list of priorities to ponder. I am truly excited to see what they come up with. I feel like a whole new generation of “millennial elders” is germinating.

Every single person is going through some sense of loss in these days of corona and quarantine. If we’re fortunate enough to escape grieving the loss of a loved one, we still have other losses– a wedding, a semester abroad, a prom, a hug–and those losses are a big deal.

When you see Lord of the Dance in art, Shiva is always surrounded by fire, symbolizing the circular nature of the universe. What you might miss is the scary looking gremlin creature on which he is balancing (while simultaneously creating and destroying the universe no less). That little demon is said by some to symbolize human cruelty and a visual reminder to be kind to one another, lest you get crushed!

Namaste from 6+ feet away.