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, it’s like being on the brink of winning CandyLand and getting that card that blows you back to the Candy Cane forest–you have to start the process over and you lose your momentum! 

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!

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.  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.




What’s Wrong with Resolutions?

Ah January… for anyone in the fitness space, it’s a bit like April for tax accountants.  We even call it “Resolution Season.”  Some marketeers have pointed out to me that it would be more strategic if I had my sessions renew in January to get the “Resolution Crowd.” Still, over the years, I have kept to my schedule of running my Winter Session December-February.  Whilst a class or two may renew/launch in January, it’s usually due more to the venue than me.

So am I missing out on the Resolution Crowd?  Maybe so. That said, I’m not sure they’re my tribe.  Health clubs and big studios love the resolution crowd.  They know they’ll get a year of monthly fees from these well-meaning wellness wannabes. It doesn’t matter to the club or studio if they show up; which, studies show, many of them won’t after about March.  Then these poor people spend the rest of the year feeling even lousier about themselves–especially when they see that $100 + charge on their credit card statement. To me, that has always seemed a depressing way to make money.

The YogaHotDish business model, on the other hand, appeals to people who are ready to be committers.  They have to choose one class a week to attend for a manageable chunk of time: 3 months. And yes, we cater to travelers and go-getters so they can pro-rate out if they’re going to be gone.  There is a “make-up” safety net in that HotDishers can attend another class outside their normal time to make up a missed class, but the key is, normal classes don’t “rollover” after the 3-month session.  If you missed a couple, I can’t “credit” your account next time.  That way, you must attend yoga on average of at least once per week.  To make up a class, you have to go twice in one week. Now, make-ups do “rollover” as long as you keep renewing every quarter. In other words, I don’t care when you make up a class, even if it’s in 6 months, as long as you’re still in the program.

Think about what a different kind of proposition this is.  Big Yoga says, “Sign up for a year then come, don’t come– there are classes going all day long–you’ll get there eventually!”   YogaHotDish says, “I’ll commit to you, you commit to me, once a week. I’ll know you by name, I’ll help you with any issues that might impede your practice be they mental or physical. I’ll notice when you’re not there and encourage you to get to a make-up class. The group will notice you’re not there and wonder, “Where were you, we missed you.” Can you see the difference? Can you feel the profoundly different vibe coming off the screen right now?

So here’s the deal: if you want / need to start yoga, just do it in December.  We all know by now it takes a month to form a habit, right?  Do you think something magical is going to happen on New Year’s Day and suddenly everything will be easy? I can guarantee you, it won’t.  In fact, if you wait, you’ll probably be working off a backlog of extra calories that you’ll be intaking this week.  Why not use the change in schedule and downtime of the holidays to establish better habits? You’ll be on your way come January.  You could even sign up for the “Destress for Success” Workshop in Arden Hills come January -and it won’t be your first time on a yoga mat!  You’ll be a pro by then and not have to worry about the “holiday hangover” of stress and weight gain.  Are you ready to stand out from the crowd and get going now? If so, I am here to help!  Check your schedule, pick a day and fill out a contact form!

Put Some Motion in your Meditation!

There are a lot of books written about what is meditation and how to do it.  To be honest, it’s often more enjoyable to read about meditation than it is to actually attempt it!  Most of us are nowhere near ready for what we might consider meditation: sitting perfectly still on a cushion with an erect spine, effortlessly surfing waves of bliss.  Frankly, it’s a lot more rigorous than you might think.  First off, our bodies are no where physically ready to sit comfortably (usually on the floor) for an extended period–you’d be surprised how long 10 minutes can take when seated on the floor without support–our hips have long since adapted to chairs and for many, there’s no going back! Besides, is sitting really what we should be doing in our leisure time?  Is anyone out there wracking their brain thinking, “How can I sit more?”  (People who work on your feet all day, you are perhaps the only ones who may answer “yes”).

As if the body alone weren’t enough of an obstacle, we have to consider the over-tasked modern mind.  If you don’t already have ADD or ADHD, you’re probably catching it like the flu from your devices. All of these inventions that were supposed to save us time and energy simply multiplied all the things we’re supposed to get done at once!

The answer for 99% of the people I meet who want to reap the benefits of meditation ranging from boosting mood and immunity to cognitive function are best served by a yogic “meditation in motion” practice.  The yogis were the first to make the mind-body connection and flip it upside-down: instead of mind over matter (the body), they learned that you could use the body (and breath techniques) to calm the mind.  This was (and still is for many), a revolutionary idea!

Finding the right combination of breathing and slow moving postures taught in a serene environment can lead you to those meditative bliss waves. And, by serene I mean quiet. Meditation requires confronting silence, stepping back and watching your thoughts.  This can’t be done while listening to music or looking in a mirror (hence the “no music, no mirrors”).  While music can be relaxing, it can’t help but generate memories and emotions–both considered “errors” of meditation (ask people who compose music for hospitals how tricky it can be).  Mirrors put you in the comparative part of your brain where the ego lives, another “error.”  Even if you’re not checking out your neighbor, you might be comparing today’s image with a previous one;  besides that, you aren’t focused internally. I once asked for hardship pay after trying to teach a group of teenagers yoga in a mirrored studio–and I got it!

Keep in mind, yoga postures were developed to prepare the body and mind for meditation, as a prelude to the higher states.  Swami Kripalu realized that most people didn’t actually have 10 hours to sit in silence daily like he did, so he promoted a style of yoga that makes the “container” of the body stronger while reaping the rewards of meditation.  The practice then finishes with a full length Savasana (corpse pose).  Big-box fitness yoga tends to reduce it to a couple of minutes of “relaxation,” to get you out the door so the next class can move in,  missing the point entirely. It’s like sending you away w/ a peppermint instead of an artfully crafted tiramisu.  A proper savansana is the piece de resistance toward which the class has been building. You, the student, have a small window of opportunity to transition from “meditation in motion” to just meditation, now that the mind, body and breath have been carefully prepared.  To forego that opportunity is a loss and shows a lack of respect or understanding for the underpinnings of classical yoga.







You must be free from doubts, fear, delusion, egoism, anger, passion and Raga-Dvesha

Is Your Spouse the Biggest Threat to Your Health?

I have been working with “active seniors” so long, that I am literally starting to become one.  The AARP knows where I live.  Decades of helping people discover self-care, often in the nick of time (around retirement) has given me an insight I’d like to share. It may sound a little harsh…

Look around the room of my “Fit and Feisty 50+” crowd and you WILL be impressed! There are students ranging in age from mid 40’s to 90+.  There’s not necessarily a correlation of age to ability either in the areas of strength, flexibility, focus and balance.  Some of our oldest students are the fiercest and fiesty…est.  What they all seem to have in common is that they’re committed to longevity and doing the aging thing “right.”  They’re socially plugged in, active, purpose-driven, taking care of family, serving on boards, continuing to work, pursuing passions like art, writing, travel, and faith.  I love to remind them that even on their worst day, they’re in the “upper percentiles” compared to their peer group!

So how and when does it go wrong for them?  Well yes, it might be a health crisis like a fall or a diagnosis, but what I see more often than not is that the illness of a spouse is most likely to throw them off-track.  The next thing you know, they’re missing their own self-care to take care of a spouse: running to doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, picking up all the slack in doing errands, taking care of grandkids.  And, more often than not, while they have gotten into the habit of wellness/fitness/self-care, their spouse has not.  Maybe the spouse was the sole breadwinner or perhaps it’s just that opposites attract. Whatever the reason doesn’t matter at the end of the day.  The spouse needs them and that’s what they signed up for–it’s in the contract.

So what’s a healthy senior to do? My advice is look around and learn.  Get those spouses off the sofa and get them engaged in wellness. If said spouse likes to try new things and has a sense of humor, riding shotgun to your yoga class may, in fact, be an easy answer.  However, more often that not, I find that men especially are squeamish about joining a mostly female class surrounded by women who are likely in better shape than they are. Remember, yoga is about the balance of strength, flexibility, breath and focus.  While men often show up with greater strength they can find the yoga combination vexing.

So here’s what I recommend: a little couples private yoga to get them going and build confidence. Whether they are coming off a long career of corporate work at screens and travel or construction and repetitive motion, chances are it has taken a toll on their bodies and their minds. Yoga teaches us the mind can’t truly relax when the body is full of “resting tension” that never goes away–even during sleep.

The idea is not to do couples private yoga forever, but just to get going.  A duet class is convenient in that, even if one person can’t make it, the other likely can resulting in both students getting to zero-in on their individual issues and concerns separately from time to time.  Eventually, the spouse may start to inquire about group classes and here’s the interesting part: it may not necessarily be your group class–he/she may want to venture out and have their own “space.”  No problem!  The sense of community will be good either way; and, you will share a common interest as a couple that will lead to some interesting discussions and even some inside jokes!

I hope this paints a better picture of how “aging” can be. In the West, we assume that old age brings reduced mobility–not so in many of the Eastern cultures.  And remember, in helping your spouse, you’re helping yourself while becoming a healthier couple on many levels.

What’s Wrong with Senior Yoga?

It was never my intention to teach senior yoga… or to grow old for that matter!  However, when I heard reports (often from my Mom) of what was passing for “senior yoga” at the local Y, fitness center, health club, community ed,  etc., I knew I had to get involved and rethink the whole genre.

Perhaps the most egregious violation of my yoga sensibilities was the practice of referring people of a certain age to “chair yoga.”  I couldn’t believe all the fully mobile and even active seniors that were doing “chair yoga.”  Now, if you are in a wheelchair, or use a walker, then yes, perhaps chair yoga is your jam.  However, if you’re as able as the folks I saw who were taking it, then the only people being served by chairs are lawyers and inexperienced teachers.  These groups love chairs because the chance of anyone getting hurt (in spite of iffy teaching credentials) is small — even smaller than the likelihood of getting any measurable, meaningful results!

Next on the list of grievances are the number of young, inexperienced instructors teaching a gentler form of their regular vinyasa class and calling it “senior yoga.”  Seniors have all kinds of special issues and until you’ve experienced inflammation, joint pain, vertigo, chronic illness, heart trouble, etc., you haven’t a clue what your students are going through.  While sympathy is great, empathy matters as does the instructor’s ability to teach to bodies of different proportions with different ranges of motion and fitness levels. What inexperienced instructors (fond of chirping, “You can just modify.”) don’t realize is: the whole approach to stretching has to be altered to protect the joints at all costs. Moreover, the attachment to aesthetics in the poses has to be dropped–this is not yoga for Instagram! 

Finally, on the list is the lack of meditative and breathing practices: American yoga in general loves to liberally cut these corners, yet in yoga philosophy, both of them trump asana/ posture practice and are higher up the hierarchy of importance.  In places where yoga is a lifetime practice, pranayama (breathing) and mediation practices are meant to grow as we age so that when the body inevitably starts to deteriorate, the “higher practices” take over and create a rich, immune boosting, mind clearing, relaxing practice that could even be done in a hospital bed.  To not teach these keeps one’s practice in the physical realm at a time when we should be trying to transcend it.

The previous grievance shouldn’t imply that there isn’t a strong physical component to the YogaHotDish approach for this population.  I find many teachers underestimate how much the 50-90 crowd can actually do, as long as students are committed.  Sure, we do planks, dogs, pilates inspired core, and loads of balancing. It’s the way we do it:  long holds, a selection of poses offered with easy transitions and the freedom to pick and choose what works,  Moreover, poses where the “risk” doesn’t justify the “return” have been carefully weeded out over time. I suppose it could also be said that some students are weeded out over time.  Commitment to the small group environment is key.  The non-committal don’t last as they grow increasingly frustrated when those around them continuously improve.  Sure, the hands-on assisting and individual help can make up for a lot, but, it’s not fair to turn the class into one’s own private yoga session either! As an experienced teacher of 20+ years, I know that 12 is about the right number. Be skeptical of large group fitness senior classes–there’s no way the teacher is going to remember your knee replacement, torn rotator cuff etc.

If you’re over 50, you know that there’s not way to make up for experience. I can’t just train anyone to teach this class, as it has been evolving over 20 years.  There is no one else in the area teaching a class like this. When I go out of town, I have to cancel the class–there’s no sub.  Also, there is no “senior rate.”  Why? Because this class takes every ounce of energy and experience I have to execute.  I leave nothing on the mat looking after a dozen people with illness, injury, challenges and assorted issues–I often log around 2000 steps!  In fact, this class is priced at the top of my range at $15/ class.  Sure, you can get those next-to-nothing classes with your “silver sneakers”program but you will get precisely that for which you pay.  There is no comparison which is why though many of my students belong to LifeTime, Shoreview Community, the YMCA, and do Community Ed they still show up every week.  Many students have been with me for decades; in fact, we joke there’s only one way out of this class!

To keep the environment small and inviting, I am delighted to add a new FIt & Feisty 50+ class on Thursdays, 3-4:30 pm in North Oaks.  90 minutes?  That’s how long real yoga takes. Never trust a one-hour yoga class and don’t trust what “big yoga” is marketing as “senior yoga!”   Please check the class out here if you’re ready to be Fit…and a wee bit Feisty!





Angry Yogini: does rage really become her?

Anger is like water. No matter how hard a person tries to dam, divert, or deny it, it will find a way, usually along the path of least resistance.  As I will discuss in this book, women often “feel” their anger in their bodies.  Unprocessed, anger threads itself through our appearances, bodies, eating habits, and relationships, fueling low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, self-harm, and actual physical illness.

From the book,  Rage Becomes Her,  by Soraya Chemaly


Did you know that studies show men and women have about the same amount of anger?  Yet why, in the 21st Century is it still so risky for women to show anger?  Why  are we so likely to hide it, putting other people’s feelings of comfort and ease ahead of our own?  Because we know if we express it, there will be consequences. While anger is the weapon of choice for alpha males everywhere, when displayed  by females, it’s perceived not as strength but as irrational, emotional and weak.

Continuing from Rage Becomes Her:

“Anger has a bad rap, but it’s actually one of the most forward thinking of all our emotions.  It begets transformation   manifesting our passion and keeping us invested in the world.  It is a rational and emotional response to trespass, violation and moral disorder. It bridges the divide between what “is” and what “ought” to be, between a difficult past and an improved possibility.  Anger warns us viscerally of violation, threat and insult.”

Author Soraya Chemaly goes on to point out that people who express anger are even more optimistic –perhaps because they feel an empowering energy to change things for the better.

You don’t have to know much about yoga to know that “authenticity” is a buzz word. “Live authentically” implore numerous ads in Yoga Journal, as if you could be “authentic” by using a bamboo water bottle or taking a “Yoga Journey” to Nepal. Most of these ads are targeted at women.  I contend, however, that regardless of what kind of water bottle you wield, if authenticity is what you’re shooting for, then sister, learn how to express yourself in a way that leverages your anger, propels your forward and keeps you from succumbing to the depression/ anxiety quagmire.

Not so sure, are you?  Gee, but people might get offended; you might lose friendships, or even a job.  What’s the downside of not expressing anger adeptly?  As mentioned above: anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and a host of physical diseases. Those are high prices to pay.  I wonder how many women seeking treatment for these conditions are able to connect the dots back to the likely origin: unexpressed anger.  My guess is very few.

In the yoga world, we often view emotions in energetic terms. Anger is energy, energy that can be harnessed and directed toward “unstructured,” creative thinking and problem solving.  Heck, this very post came to me moments after hanging up the phone from my battle-royale with Alamo Car Rental. The trick is in leveraging the energy boost into something productive, not kicking the dog or driving 50 in a 30.

In reflection, I think I have typically expressed anger in a more masculine way.  I pity the fools who poached my brand new pink tennis balls I received for my birthday, around age 10.  I chased the pair of boys down and beat the crap out of them w/ my shiny metal tennis racket.  I remember my Dad beaming when one of the Father’s phoned and my own father replied, “My recommendation to your child is not to steal tennis balls.”  They never bothered me again!

Later, when working in a male dominated field in a male-dominated culture, I deliberately took note of how men expressed anger.  I realized that to be taken seriously, I was going to have to raise my voice, throw around some coarse language and, ideally, beat them at sports –at the risk of making them mad, as opposed to the typical feminine role of putting men “at ease.”   I quickly  realized that expressing anger wasn’t that big a deal in the wolf pack; what was probably more harmful was holding a grudge, an area in which many of my female colleagues exceled.  I deliberately avoided that age-old, passive-aggressive play.  Amends are fairly easy to make in Man World –usually a beer does the trick in keeping future collaborations on the table/bar.

But what does this have to do with yoga? It has dawned on me that perhaps what drew me to the practice in the late 90’s was the way it helped me manage the anger that was “trapped inside my body” as mentioned above. Years of working in sexist countries in IT, plus a health condition dismissed by male doctors took its toll.

Anger is energy that needs to be processed productively, and ideally, in “real time.”  That can take many forms, from taking a long walk to chatting with a sympathetic friend. However, sometimes those things aren’t available.  But, there’s always a floor. There’s always 10 minutes.  There’s always the breath.

As a teacher I have numerous female students confide in me that they’re on anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications.  But maybe they’re not sad, maybe their Sad + Mad =SMAD.  They’re bottling up years of ill-processed anger and it’s fermenting into sadness and “unexplained” anxiety.  Yoga meditation trains us to feel feelings with subtlety and skill; so much so, I often compare it to wine tasting.  We move well beyond defining things as red or white,  noticing layers, complexity and even “notes” of emotions—It’s how I came up w/ “SMAD.”  I could hold anger and sadness together, but crying seemed more socially acceptable than punching someone in the nose or shouting them down in a crowd.

Meditation, yin, self-study (avidya), breathing exercises for controlling energy—Yoga offers us a wide array of time-tested techniques. The issues are in the tissues. If you’re a woman living in a #metoo world, get real, get angry and get to your yoga mat!

Finally, have you ever noticed, a lot of old ladies aren’t exactly “sweet”? I’m thinking of the ones who outlive their husbands by decades, continue to live independently, managing their own affairs.  In my experience, the longevity bet is on fit and feisty, stubborn and assertive!

PS.  Some of you reading this, male and female, will be tempted to dismiss me as a ball buster, feminazi, or worse. You are living in the past, and maybe that works for you. Yoga, however, challenges us relentlessly to be here, in the present.  And, for me to care what you think would mean putting your feelings (a complete stranger)  ahead of my own, which is another way women end up miserable.  Please don’t feel like you need to share your thoughts with me on the subject. This post is meant only to encourage and validate those who are wanting to break out of typically “feminine” ways for expressing anger that aren’t working for them.   If this isn’t you, then kindly run along! Namaste.


Yoga Teacher Trainings: buyer beware (and do the math)

CorePower Teacher Training Pyramid Scheme

UPDATE MAY 2019:  I wrote this post several years ago as I was noticing an influx of newly minted teachers from “big yoga” flooding the market.  I had heard stories of teachers at CorePower and elsewhere encouraging young, (mostly) women to become yoga teachers who had little to no experience and had only done yoga in one studio in one style.  I knew it was a money grab:  RENT!

Rent is such a huge issue for yoga studios trying to stay afloat.  They pump money into high traffic locations with decor and more:  hardwood floors, fountains, mirrors, sound systems, online booking etc., but guess what?  There’s nothing left over to pay qualified teachers.  So what do you do? You start your own teacher training program, priced HIGHER(!?) than training in India or a stateside residential training program (including room and board for a month!). This creates loads of revenue during the down-hours of the studio; plus, it encourages a steady supply of cheap (and we know now) exploitable labor. To make matters worse, many young people were being encouraged to TAKE ON DEBT for the trainings, often to the tune of $3-5K.  Nevermind they were already unemployed or under-employed.  While always a CorePower skeptic, never did I imagine the level of sinister greed rampant there.  The New York Times article even features a Minnesota CorePower location!  COREPOWER ARTICLE HERE. 

In retrospect, I  should’ve known the teachers were being “coached” on how to sell the trainings as I kept hearing the same refrain, “I wasn’t sure I wanted to teach. I just wanted to ‘deepen my own practice.'”  Please! I can give you lots of ideas on how to deepen your practice on $3-5K! Buy an around-the-world airfare and call me!

Finally, as my classes tend to range in age from about 40-80, I consider the young people who show up and stick with us exceptional.  They’re out looking for something deeper and they know they won’t find it in a mirror. To us, they are treasures and we feel an inclination to help them, take care of them and embrace them.  I offer a reduced rate for my millenials/Gen Z’s living at home/unemployed and “college kids” (some are pushing 40, working on PhDs).  They add so much to our community. The fact that CorePower and even local studios with aggressive training programs based on the CorePower model  exploit young people is deeply disgusting and makes my heart hurt.


About once a week, I get an inquiry from someone looking for a yoga teacher training program or, a recent grad 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 seem 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 17 years–not long enough.    The people I trained with had decades (not combined, but individually) of intensive teaching experience, often in residence, in ashrams.    To be clear, the notion that you can somehow teach an all-encompassing practice like yoga shy of middle age is a Western one.  Back when I trained in 2001, there were a limited number of established schools  ( lineage back to India) in the Yoga Alliance.  They were supposed to “protect” the legitimacy of the certification by careful vetting of training programs. Somewhere along the way, a “growth” strategy took over and qualifications like residential training went away.  With that, so did my annual dues, as I couldn’t figure out what they were providing for me as a teacher. That little badge you see up above, in my view has lost its meaning. It doesn’t distinguish whether you did your training online, with a famous Swami, a yoga thought-leader or “Jenny from the Block. ”

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-like  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 a few 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 exorbitant 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


Why Your Balance is Bad

One of the top concerns new students have in yoga is their balance: they know it’s not as good as it used to be and they’re concerned they’re “losing it.”  No one wants to star in the old “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” ad.

What many don’t realize is that poor balance is just a symptom of a systemic problem: you’re not just losing balance, you’re losing your proprioception in general.  Think of proprioception as the messages the body sends to the brain.  Your brain is constantly telling your body what to do, but the problem is the other part of the feedback loop. You body has a whole bunch of signals–sensations–that it sends back to your brain. Modern life has essentially dulled your reception of those signals.  Poor reception means you can’t adapt.  You’re trying to “will” yourself to stand steadily on one foot, but it’s a one-way message to your foot from your brain–not enough to achieve the “steadiness and ease,” or sukkha and sthira we aim for in yoga.

What’s the easiest/fastest way to improve? Ditch the shoes.  Many of your proprioceptive powers are in your feet.  Walking around in shoes–especially ones with thick soles and orthopedic supports–is like a speaker with a pillow over it.  They bugger your reception.  Go back to basics: bare feet walking over as many surfaces as possible.  Now, be advised, the people who make/prescribe the ortho supports will disagree…hmmm.

My first yoga teacher HATED sticky mats.  She thought they were something for “weak Americans.”  She encouraged us to do yoga on as many surfaces as possible.

In addition to poor receptors, you probably have “weak American” feet, that are stiff, not pliable.  They can’t make the subtle adjustments necessary to keep you steady.  Do you know the most important joint in the body?  Your ankles! Are they strong, or weak–prone to rolling in or out?

Yet, I hardly ever have anyone come to yoga saying they need to strengthen their feet.  Hands and wrists are another story. Most people have no business trying to imitate those amazing Instagram arm balances–their hands and wrists are no where near strong enough, even if they’ve build up shoulders and core.

Proprioception issues go beyond the feet, but start there.  You’ll soon be ready to join one of our proprio-positive YogaHotDish classes.  And please, do not arrive squeamish about taking off your shoes AND socks or leaving the “safe space” of your sticky mat.

PS. DId you know that proprio yoga will also improve your working memory?  I almost forgot to mention that 🙂