On episode 139 of Yogaland podcast, Andrea and I talked about the challenges to go along with teaching beginners is balancing in mixed-level classes. (You can listen here.) In an ideal world, new students would come to an introduction to yoga series before attending mixed-level classes, but this is often not the case. So, teachers have to be prepared to balance the needs of students with varying degrees of skill and experience.
In this post, I share my best tips for nurturing the beginning students in your classes, making them feel welcome, and challenging your other, more experienced, students, too.
Top 3 Challenges of Working with Beginning Students in Mixed-Level Yoga Classesand How to Address Them Challenge: Meeting Everyone’s Needs
As teachers, we strive to include and support every student in our class. However, there are significant limitations to our ability to take care of disparate needs, especially when beginners come to mixed-level or experienced-level classes.
Tip for Meeting Different Needs:
My best advice is to be kind, do your best to provide variations, and to surrender the idea that you’ll be able to make everyone’s experience perfect.
Challenge: Keeping Beginners Safe in a Mixed-Level Yoga Class
Maintaining safety is paramount in all yoga classes. There are several things that you can do to promote safety for all your students in your classes.
Tips for Keeping Beginners Safe in Mixed-Level Yoga Classes:
Create a culture of safety.
First, you can promote safety through culture that you shape in your classes. This means that aren’t telling your students to “push it” or that they can “handle anything as long as they are breathing deeply.” Instead, encourage the process of students listening to their bodies and taking care of themselves. Regularly communicate to your class that yoga can be challenging and, at times uncomfortable, but it should never hurt. If something hurts, stop doing the pose and ask for the teacher’s feedback about the posture when the class is over.
The second key to promoting safety is to make it clear to beginners that they are responsible for paying attention to the comfort of their bodies. Let students know that you will let them know if you see any obvious misalignments. But, ultimately, students know their own body best and should come out of poses that don’t feel appropriate.
Address safety concerns first.
The third and fourth keys to promoting safety may overlap. The third key is that if you see a misalignment that may be injurious—or a beginner doing a variation that is clearly inappropriate for their level—communicate this to them. The fourth key is to not allow beginners to do inversions unless they are closely supervised. If you see a beginner doing an inversion—even Shoulderstand—and it looks precarious, make sure to have them come out of the posture and provide them with something else to practice.
Challenge: Keeping Beginners Engaged in a Mixed-Level Class
This may be the most significant challenge for working with beginners in a mixed-level class.
Tips for Keeping Beginners Engaged:
First, help manage new students expectations in a mixed-level class. I like to tell new students in this scenario that their goals should be to learn a couple of things and have a good time. I always let them know that learning takes repetition and consistency over time. I also remind them that no one is watching them and there is nobody to impress or disappoint. Finally, I try to convince them that learning takes years and that the yoga room is good place to get lost and confused at times.
Second, I always include the simplest way to do every posture throughout the class.
Then, I amplify intensity as the class proceeds. For example, everyone starts with Locust and Cobra before Chaturanga and Up Dog. This way, new students see the value of the simpler options. When new students see the value of simple options, they are more likely to take them instead of jumping forward to the hardest option that may not be appropriate for them.
Leave room for exploration.
Lastly, I try to let students experiment and make mistakes without correcting every single alignment issue they’re having—unless there is a clear probability of injury.
The yoga tradition is steeped in philosophy. However, teaching philosophy in an impactful, engaging, and concise way is incredibly challenging–especially when you’re working with beginning students.
Tips for Teaching Yoga Philosophy to Beginners
Here are a few tips — and if you’d like to hear me talk about this at length, you can listen to Yogaland podcast, episode 136, Yoga Philosophy for Beginners.
Keep themes relatable.
There are countless philosophical, spiritual, and humanistic themes that you may choose to teach your students. Whichever you choose, focus on keeping these themes easy to relate to. Use clear language and, when possible, relate these themes to the physicality of the practice.
Keep it brief.
Unless you are a seasoned at giving Dharma Talks – and, Dharma Talks are part of your teaching style – be brief when you discuss the philosophical, spiritual, and humanistic themes that you’re incorporating. It’s easy to become a little too tangential and lose track of time when you’re engaging in these conversations.
Use good timing.
I have found that the most effective time to incorporate these dimensions into the practice are towards the end of class. Most students will be arriving to class after they’ve just woken up or after a long day of sitting at work. As such, most students want to get into their body through movement as soon as possible. Students are typically more receptive to contemplative work toward the end of class since they have satisfied their healthy desire to move.
Be respectful of all belief systems.
Be mindful that students may have belief systems that are contrary to yours. It’s good to be an advocate for the philosophical dimensions that you want to teach, but take care that you’re respectful to other belief systems.
Yoga Philosophy for Beginners: Key Concepts
The most important philosophical concepts to teach your students include:
The asana practice is part of a massive, all-encompassing tradition that seeks to liberate practitioners from their limited notions of self. As such, there are several philosophical and existential elements that we want to introduce to our students.
Without compassion, students will be unable to look within. They will become too frustrated with the practice of Yoga and they will get in their own way. There is nothing more important than helping new students develop compassion for themselves and others.
The practice of yoga is meant to be a lifelong process. This is very different than what we’ve become used to in our modern world of quick fixes. Since yoga is a lifelong process and learning can go through peaks and valleys, it’s important to help your students be patient with themselves.
Perhaps, there is nothing more important in the pursuit of yoga than perseverance. As a student, you know how yoga has required–and, developed–your perseverance. Helping your students be steady in the midst of difficulty is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a teacher.
Satya, or honesty, is an essential element of the yoga practice. One of the most obvious ways this will play out as a new student, is when new students are confronted with their limitations. When confronted with limitations, students often get frustrated and either 1) pull back from their practice and have a negative self-image, or 2) push forward through discomfort instead of being patient and respecting their body. Teaching students to honor their limitations without retreating or pushing too far forward is one of the most valuable lessons you will ever teach.
Think back to when you were a beginning yoga student. You may have felt awkward or overwhelmed at least part of the time. And confused by some (or most!) of the instructions you heard.
For beginners, there’s a fine line between getting thorough instructions and getting way too much information. For teachers, striking the right balance can mean the difference between fostering a student’s long-time yoga practice and sending her home feeling like she just doesn’t belong. (We talked about this on episode 138 of Yogaland Podcast — you can click here to give it a listen.)
That’s why it’s so important for yoga teachers to take the time to learn some best practices for how to introduce this complex practice in a way that will set the foundation for a lifetime of practice.
Here are a few guiding principles I use when I teach beginners.
Choose your focus wisely.
You can’t teach everyone everything about every pose in every class. So, don’t try to do this. You’re not trying to teach your beginners everything, you’re just giving them solid, effective fundamentals to build on over the years.
Trust in the power of consistency.
It’s normal to feel like you need to entertain new students with new poses each class. And, yes, it’s important to be engaging and vary your content slightly. However, it’s essential to trust in the power of consistency and repetition. Your students are learning new skills and the only way to build depth and proficiency is through consistency and repetition.
Have a lesson plan and syllabus.
Teachers of nearly every subject matter use syllabi–except yoga teachers. As a community, it’s time to shift our mindset and become more methodical, consistent teachers that are grounded in a syllabus. (The second half of my new online program, The Art of Teaching Beginners clearly defines our syllabus of postures and techniques for every postural category.)
Share your teaching objectives before each class.
It’s much easier to learn something if you know what you’re trying to learn. Unfortunately, teachers rarely lay out their learning objectives for their students. Let’s turn this around. At the beginning of class, take a moment to briefly tell your students what they are focusing on in class today. You can say something like, “Hi everyone, we’re going to have a balanced practice today; and, we’re going to focus on creating strength in our glutes by making sure to engage them effectively in backbends.” Briefly telling your students the highlights of class will help them hone in on the most important details of class.
Use plain, easy-to-understand language.
Sometimes we get lost in our own clutter. And, sometimes we’re afraid of being direct with our students. Other times, we don’t trust simple language, so we mask it in unnecessary jargon. Let’s let these challenges go and always teach in the simplest, clearest, most direct language possible.
When you teach, use the English and Sanskrit names for postures when possible. Don’t stress about this. But, seek to keep things simple for your students while educating them about the yoga tradition.
Don’t dumb things down.
We’re teachers. And, teachers need to believe that our students can learn. This means that we can challenge them by talking up to them instead of down to them. Feel free to teach them details and nuances. Help them grow their Yoga IQ as early as possible.
When Jason and I recorded the second podcast for this program (which, btw, you can still sign up for!), I told him that I often read yoga and meditation research — for fun. He somewhat incredulously blurted out, “Nerd!” because he had no idea that I love poring over Harvard Health’s recent round-up or that I visit Richard Davidson’s site on the regular just to see if there’s anything new…
But it’s true – I do. In part, it comes from my years of writing short health pieces. But it’s also because the research inspires me. We all get bored in our practice from time to time. Reading the research is part of how I bargain with myself to sit down and do the practice. Even after all these years, I still need need reminders about why this practice is so valuable. Plus, I genuinely love seeing how science is starting to measure the things we inherently know when we engage with these practices over long periods of time – that they make us more empathic, that happiness is a skill, that somehow we aren’t as triggered by stress anymore.
With that in mind, here are three of my favorite meditation studies (I include lots more in the program):
Compassion Meditation Changes the Brain
More than 10 years ago, Richard Davidson’s team published a study in PLOS One indicating that “positive emotions such as loving-kindness and compassion can be learned in the same way as playing a musical instrument or being proficient in a sport.” Brain scans of 16 monks who were exposed to distressing human sounds showed increased activity in regions of the brain associated with emotion sharing and empathy compared to a control group. Access the study here >>
Mindfulness Increases Grey Matter
This study, led by Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar, showed that after just 8 weeks of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), participants demonstrated increases in areas of the brain associated with compassion and empathy, memory, and concentration. In addition, the participants’ amygdala got smaller! The amygdala is associated with fear and the fight or flight response. Access the study here >>
Meditation May Protect the Aging Brain
When researchers at UCLA compared the brains of meditators to non-meditators they found that meditator’s brains were almost a decade younger by the time people reach their mid 50s. Research is still ongoing, but the hope is that meditation may help protect against age-related decline. Access the study here >>
Buzz words tend to make me cringe, or at the very least, they make me suspicious. But last year, as I was prepping for an interview with Jill Miller, I read her words, “self care is healthcare,” and they stopped me in my tracks with a big, resounding, inner YES.
Yes, because I went through clinical depression and panic disorder in my twenties, and a big part of my healing was learning self care (the other big part was and still is anti-depressants). When I became a mother 6 years ago and ended up with an unplanned, super-medicated C-section and my baby couldn’t latch properly for close to a month, I was forced to slow down and practice self care. And when I went through cancer treatment four years ago, I was reminded yet again that ongoing self care was part of my post-treatment plan to help prevent recurrence.
So, a big YES to the idea self care is part of what keeps me healthy – and when I lose touch with that, I am less healthy, resilient, and strong. I’m also less able to cope well with the primary people in my life – I’m less patient, more brittle, and less of a teacher to my daughter, more of a drill sergeant. The reason for this is so obvious to me now –it really is true that the way you treat others begins with the way you treat yourself. If you’re gracious and spacious with yourself, you’re more able to extend that goodwill to the people around you.
For me, self care is a constant process of self-reflection and then making choices that contribute to my overall well being from moment to moment.
The actual doing of self care is different for everyone. And until I read Jill’s quote, I put it in the category of – go get a mani with my bff or treat myself to something. I like to treat my self – just ask my husband. And, occasionally, a pedi feels like self care. But overall, I think of it differently now. For me, self care is a constant process of self-reflection and then making choices that contribute to my overall well being from moment to moment. Sometimes it takes the form of using some essential oils to reset my mood. Other times it’s scheduling in coffee time with friends who I truly love connecting with. Many, many times it’s allowing myself more silence, less screen time.
Whatever the self care choice is, there are three underpinnings to this approach to self care:
– First, I acknowledge that self care has value. It’s not a treat; it’s a necessity for me to function at my very best in a consistent way.
– Second, it requires the ability to tune in to what I need, which requires self-awareness.
– Third (and I learned this one from Caitlin Hildebrand on my recent podcast, Yoga as a Form of Radical Self Care) – when it’s tied to your overall sense of purpose, it’s more meaningful and easier to stick to.
And that’s why yoga and meditation are at the very root of all my self care practices. These two foundational practices that accomplish two things at once – they hone your self-awareness so that you can better identify and respond to your own needs while being amazing forms of self care in their own right. Simply stepping on the mat or sitting in silence on a regular basis will help you understand your energy levels, your physical pains, your responses to stress. These practices will help you hear the voice in your head that is planning the future or is stuck ruminating on the past. They can illuminate the mean girl on your shoulder who tells you you’re not working hard enough, and it also open you up to a compassionate voice who knows the truth of how inherently worthy you are.
Self care is not always easy – it’s not all running through daisy fields taking selfies. It also doesn’t have to be expensive. But it does require committing to its value and carving out practices that you can regularly incorporate into your life.
I have so much more to say about this topic and I’d love to share it with you. If you’d like to learn more about self care and create a meditation habit that sticks, join me in January for my three-week program, Start Your Year with Self Care. Each week, you’ll receive four meditations, a video podcast, and a journal with self-inquiry questions to help you scope out your year and how you will maintain a healthy relationship with yourself. Click here to learn more about the program — and if you jump on the email list, I’ll send you an early bird discount before registration is open.
Long before photos of Handstand ruled the social media kingdom, Astavakrasana was king of the hill. Teachers would get one or two photos of themselves every few years to adorn their bios and show aptitude in their flyers.
There were 3 distinctly different looks that teachers would cast while being photographed in the pose: 1) a joyous smile that gave the look and feel of a yogi’s Senior Picture, 2) a far-off gaze that implied the teacher was being caught in their natural habitat, and 3) the somewhat surly (my favorite) mug that proved the teacher was not being photographed for their Senior Picture.
Astavakrasana is no longer as ubiquitous, but it’s still a great pose. It strengthens the upper body as well as the rotational muscles of the core. If you do it correctly, the pose also strengthens the adductors and outer hips. Plus, it still looks great on flyers.
Like all the postures I breakdown on my blog, Astavakrasana has many layers. Many of the cues I use for the pose are featured in the illustration. But, there are three quick tips that I want to give you.
These are the most common elements of the posture I’ve found myself troubleshooting for my students over the last 20 years.
3 Tips for Astavakrasana
1. Placement of the hands
The most common error that students make when they practice Astavakrasana is placing their hands too close to their hips when setting up for the pose. I’m not talking about the width of the hands from each other. I’m talking about the proximity of the hands to the hips. You need to be able to lean forward into your hands in order to bend your elbows and lift your hips. This is not possible if your hands are too close to your hips.
When you set up for the pose, set your hands about a foot forward of your hips. This way, you can lean forward into your hands. This will make bending your elbows and lifting your hips much more accessible.
2. The Outside Elbow
Get. It. In. The outside elbow likes to drift outward. But, this often leads to the outside shoulder dropping too low. When the outside shoulder drops low, it can easily put excess stress on the socket.
In order to help avoid this—and, provide your body with greater stability from your arms—hug your top elbow towards the ribs. It’s okay to set your hand a little wider than your shoulders, but be sure to hug your outside elbow in rather than allowing it to bow out.
3. The Often Overlooked Twist
When we practice arm balances, it’s easy to overlook their subtleties. In Astavakrasana, it’s common for students to forget that one of the posture’s defining element’s is spinal rotation. We get so focused on the hand-balancing element, that we omit the action of twisting. So, don’t drop the ball next time you practice Astavakrasana. Remember to use the squeeze of your legs, press of your hands, and action of your core to maximize your twist.
If you’ve spent time practicing with me, you know that I like to organize postures into categories. Sorry, I’m a Virgo. I’m also from the Midwest which is why I’m apologizing for something I should never apologize for. In my defense, Patanjali was an organizer and list maker. So was the Buddha. I have good company.
Naturajasana falls into the backbending category in which the arms are reaching overhead and holding the foot/feet. Notable members of this family include the One-Legged King of Pigeon postures (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana postures), the ridiculously difficult arm balance named Kapinjalasana, and Hand-to-Foot Boat Pose (Padangusthasana Dhanurasana). So, yeah, this pose group is difficult.
Writing as someone with a mortal’s body that can’t directly hold my foot in ANY of these postures, I am thankful that they’re all highly accessible with a strap. In fact, these are my favorite backbends to practice, and I’m convinced that I feel every bit as good in these postures using a strap as someone feels when their holding their foot (or, at least, this is what I tell myself while I cry myself to sleep).
This entire family is challenging, but Natarajasana’s difficultly stands out. In fact, a highly skilled and capable student in my recent workshop in Copenhagen asked my why she wasn’t able to do Natarajasana, even though she had deep backbends. This is how the conversation went (with a few embellishments here for your entertainment):
Student: Why can’t I hold my foot in Natarajasana, when I can hold my foot in similar postures like Pigeon Pose?
Me: You’re not spirituality pure enough and the only way to burn the necessary samskaras is to provide your teacher with significant cash donations.
Me: OK. There’s another reason, and it’s simple. If you have the flexibility to hold your foot in Pigeon Pose, you probably have the flexibility to hold your foot in Natarajasana. The challenge is that it’s much more difficult to access your flexibility in Natarajasana than Pigeon.
Me: Let’s quickly break this down. In Pigeon Pose, you have a lot of contact with the floor. Your front shin, your front knee, your front hip, and your back knee are in contact with the ground (or props). This means you’re stable and you have good leverage. When you’re stable and you have good leverage, you can generate more motion in your body to do your backbend. Plus, in Pigeon Pose, your center of gravity is close to the floor.
Therefore, in Pigeon Pose you have: More stability + more leverage + lower center of gravity = more range of motion.
Compare this to Natarajasana. In Natarajasana,, your entire base consists of your standing foot. That’s all. In addition, you’re standing upright so your center of gravity is much higher. Pigeon is short and squat, Natarajasana is long and narrow.. This means that you have much less stability in Natarajasana than you do in Pigeon Pose.
When you have less stability, your body creates greater tension to stabilize your shape. This leads to less mobility—or, more accurately, less access to your mobility. You’re still just as flexible, you just can’t access it under the current conditions.
Get the difference? Yes? Good, come to my yoga teacher trainings. No? Good, come to one of my teacher trainings. Sorry, for the shameless plug, but if you’ve made it this far in this tedious article, we share common ground.
Therefore, in Natarajasana you have: Less stability + less leverage + higher center of gravity = less range of motion.
Student: You’re still not getting a cash donation.
That’s how the story goes.
To prove that she was able to do Natarajasana she was able to do Pigeon, I supported her raised knee properly and she easily reached back and took hold of her foot. When I provided her with additional base and stability, she was able to access her flexibility—just like she does in the other postures in this family.
What’s the simple take-away that goes beyond Natarajasana? Sadly, you don’t need to give your teachers cash donations to do more difficult postures. Instead, you have to focus on producing greater stability and activity in your base, so your body is able to move more freely.
I wanted to like Ustrasana, or Camel Pose, for years, but everything kept getting in my way. Everything, meaning, my lower back, my neck, and the way that my ego was offended when I practiced the pose.
Then, it dawned on me that one of the techniques in the posture that nearly every teacher (including myself) uses was totally irrational. The problem—for my body and many others—was forcing the pelvis to stay positioned directly over the knees. To say this another way, the cascade of problems stemmed from keeping the legs vertical and stacking the hips directly over the knees.
Now, before I continue, let me make something clear: Many people can keep their pelvis positioned vertically over their knees. This alignment is not bad. In fact, it works very well for students who have fairly flexible hip-flexors. However, there are plenty of students—like myself—for whom this instruction does greater harm than good.
Should the Hips Stack Over the Knees in Ustrasana?
Let’s look at why keeping the pelvis directly over the knees doesn’t work for everyone.
To begin, think about Bridge Pose for a moment. With the exception of the position of your neck, Bridge pose is just like doing Camel Pose— but on your back. When students practice Bridge Pose, they are never told that they must lift their hips to the same height as their knees.
Of course, lifting the hips this high is a good thing if it doesn’t cause compression in the lower back. But, making this a prerequisite for the pose would be silly. There are zero mechanical reasons to lift the hips as high as the knees, and requiring them to lift this high would likely cause students with tighter hip flexors to move too far in the lower-back in order to make up the difference.
The same goes for Ustrasana. If you require your hips to stay vertically aligned over your knees and you don’t have sufficient hip flexor mobility, you’re likely to compress your lower back. Another way to say this: Your lower back is likely to move too far in order to compensate for your lack of hip flexor mobility. And if your lower back is excessively arched (and compressed) in this pose, you’re more likely to misalign other parts of your body, including your neck.
First, let me reiterate that keeping the pelvis directly stacked over the knees is not a problem if you have sufficient hip flexor mobility. If you practice Camel this way and you’re comfortable in your lower back, there is no reason to change your approach. This alignment is only a problem if it is creating a problem. Unfortunately, this alignment does cause a problem for students with less hip flexibility.
So, what’s the fix? Easy. Simply allow your pelvis to move slightly toward your heels in this posture. Another way of saying this is allow your hips to move slightly back instead of pushing them forward. This should decrease compression in your lower back by reducing the demand on the hip flexors. While doing this posture, remember to engage the bottom of your buttocks and do all the other skillful things that you do in backbends.
One note about your neck in Ustrasana. It’s essential to sort out your lower back before sorting out your neck. However, if your neck is still uncomfortable after you’ve sorted out your lower back, try keeping your chin slightly tucked toward the throat in the posture. This will make the muscles on the front and side of your neck work while preventing your neck from hyperextending. Since this can be demanding on the neck, you might want to shorten your duration in the pose to a few breaths.
And, remember, if you’re still unable to make friends with the pose, there’s always Bridge Pose instead.
People often ask if they should do a yoga teacher training even if they don’t plan to become a yoga teacher. I always answer with a resounding, ‘Yes!’ A 200-hour yoga teacher training is a wonderful opportunity to experience the vastness of yoga that is difficult to experience in a 60 or 90-minute class. But it’s important that you choose a high quality program.
Whether you want to become a yoga teacher or have no plans to teach, there are fundamental, universal yoga truths that need to be taught in order to create a solid foundation.
The following are seven vital things to look for in a 200-hour yoga teacher training. (And, by the way, Jason and I will be offering a 200-hour yoga teacher training starting this September, 2018, in San Francisco. You can find all the details here.)
1). Safe, Up-to-Date Asana Practice
Yoga is a wonderful, beneficial practice when done safely. And yet, it’s no secret that yoga injuries have been on the rise in recent years. (I even spoke about my own experiences with injury on a Yogaland podcast with Andrea recently.)
As a result, Jason and I have both made changes to the way we sequence vinyasa yoga classes (read: we’ve changed things up to reduce repetitive stress) and we don’t teach asana alignment in a “traditional way” just because it’s traditional. We both believe that there are instances where traditional asana alignment should be re-examined to help facilitate a safer practice.
Finally, we don’t subscribe to the idea that “deeper is better.” For students like myself who come to yoga with a flexible body, going deeper into flexibility doesn’t create balance. Focusing on strength does.
Bottom line: A topnotch 200-hour yoga teacher training will teach safe alignment, balanced sequencing that reduces repetitive stress, and perhaps most importantly, the idea that yoga postures are not one-size-fits-all.
As an added bonus, a good yoga teacher training will guide you toward a personal practice so that you can learn more about your own body and teach from a place of deep knowledge.
2). Essential Yoga Anatomy
A sound 200-hour yoga teacher training will help you become an active participant in your asana practice. You’ll increase the richness of the practice when you understand why you come into particular asana shapes and how the positions and actions affect your anatomy.
You’ll also learn the functions of your muscular and skeletal structure, both in your everyday life and in your yoga practice. And you’ll learn which muscles and bones are at risk in particular postures and how to protect those areas.
3). Philosophy and History
In an everyday yoga class, it can be hard to grasp the philosophical underpinnings of the practice. Look for a foundational yoga teacher training that covers the foundational texts: The Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra and more. (You can find the reading list for our 200-hour yoga teacher training here.)
Ideally, you’ll gain insight as to where the practice originated from, and why we continue to do asana, meditation, and the other eight limbs of yoga. These teachings can bring purpose and meaning to your practice, your teaching, and your life.
4). Skillful, Intelligent Hands-On Adjustments
As with safe alignment, thoughtful teachers have re-examined how to offer safe manual adjustments to students. Jason and I do not do deepening adjustments. Instead, we offer stabilizing adjustments. In a high quality yoga teacher training, the days of laying our bodies over our students to get them to go deeper should be long gone.
5). The Importance of Community
One of my favorite things about teacher trainings is the community that develops. A special bond forms when you learn and spend so much time with others. One of my best friends is from my first 200-hour teacher training! Its nice to having fellow teacher friends to rise up with when building a yoga career. Growing with others and getting supporting from one another makes the journey much more enjoyable!
Many of us are unsure if we are “doing it right” when we come to our yoga practice. A high quality yoga teacher training will help you build confidence in your own practice and give you tools to share your yoga knowledge and help others.
7). Life Coping Skills
We live in stressful times and many of use don’t know how to deal with the pressures and demands being put on us by society and our personal life. A good yoga teacher training will give you the tools to observe your patterns and tendencies, and why you suffer and react the way you do. The training will give you the life skills to show up and handle the same situations in a healthier, less stress inducing way.
“Meditation and yoga are for New Age, magical thinkers who are out of touch with reality and have too much time on their hands.”
These might have been some of my own personal excuses I made to the person that was dragging me to my first yoga class more than 20 years ago. She didn’t listen to me. And, really, why should she have listened? I was wrong on all counts. At the time, it was unclear just how profoundly wrong I was. Time would tell a different story.
So, what was my deal? Well, it was simple: I didn’t understand anything about meditation or yoga. So, my mind made up an incorrect story based on very little information. If this sounds familiar, it’s because we all do it from time to time. One of the many problems with this hard-headed tendency is that we cut ourselves off from experiences that can be incredibly valuable to us—like yoga and meditation.
If we fast-forward two decades to the present moment, I do meditate and I do practice yoga. Both are inextricable elements of my life. If you’re familiar with my classes or online content, you already know that I practice yoga. It’s possible, however, that you don’t know that I meditate. I do. Here’s why.
Why I Meditate
There are countless modern articles that extol the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of meditation. Arguably the entire tradition of yoga would not exist without meditation. Personally, I meditate for three reasons—any other positive side effects of my sitting practice are an added bonus:
1) Sometimes my life feels like a run-on sentence and my meditation practice gives me much needed punctuation. Like everyone else I know, I jump from one thing to another thing in a seemingly endless series of minor events. My meditation practice helps me press the pause button in my life. It helps curb my neurotic impulse to plow through every moment of my life without registering any of them.
2) My meditation practice helps me bear witness to the sensations of my body, the thoughts of my mind, and the feeling of my breath. All of these things are genuinely interesting to me. I’ve always been curious about the human condition and my meditation practice gives me a live glimpse into the phenomenon.
3) My meditation practice balances my active practice by providing me with a complementary physical experience. I like to work intensely in my body. But, I also like the sensory experience of being still. Working intensely and being still both provide physical feedback loops that I use to focus my attention. For me, they’re an inseparable pair.
5 Common Excuses for not Meditating—and why MOST of them are weak
Excuse #1, “My mind isn’t still.”
Counterpoint: Your mind is never going to be still. Never. And, whoever gave you that impression didn’t meditate either. Instead, when you meditate, you’re going to simply observe the activity of your mind so that you can witness your thoughts with greater objectivity. Your mind will still be active because you’re still alive. But, when you meditate consistently, your mind’s activity (usually) settles just enough that there is a lessening of pressure around your thoughts.
Excuse #2, “I don’t have time.”
Counterpoint: You actually do have time, you’re just in the habit of doing other things with your time. And, honestly, you may not be able to make time for meditation every day of your life. Life can get away from us once in a while. However, sitting for 10 minutes a few times a week is plausible for nearly everyone.
Excuse #3, “Meditation is for New Age, magical thinkers who are out of touch with reality and have too much time on their hands.”
Counterpoint: What kind of a person would think this?!?!
Excuse #4, “I can’t sit still.”
Counterpoint: Honestly, this is someone of sound and able body saying, “I can’t move.” Yes, you can. You can sit still. You might be lousy at sitting still. Sitting still might drive you crazy. But, you can sit still. In fact, this makes me think that you might need some practice sitting still. But, wait, how can one practice sitting still??? Oh, that’s right.
Excuse #5, “I don’t know how to meditate.”
Counterpoint: This is NOT lame. This is legitimate. Like so many other things in life, it’s helpful to have some guidance when you’re starting something new—or, trying to stay consistent. If this is your excuse, you’re in luck. I have answers for you below.
How to Start Meditating: Yoga and Meditation Tips for People Who Don’t Meditate
There are countless resources on meditation online, in books, and in local communities. Here are a few resources that you may find helpful.
#1. I’ve released a program on Yogaglo.com called, “I Don’t Meditate.” Clearly, this program was the inspiration for the title of this blog and my recent podcast on Yogaland with Andrea Ferretti. The program consists of 6, 10-minute meditations. You can learn more about the Yogaglo program, here. And, if you haven’t listed to the podcast, please check it out here. Yogaglo has additional meditation classes from exceptional teachers like Sally Kempton, Harshada Wagner, and more.
#2. Jack Kornfield and other meditation teachers at Spirit Rock in Woodacre, CA and the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA, are exceptional resources. Jack—and many of the other teachers at Spirit Rock—offer podcasts, guided meditation, and dharma talks that will provide you with endless guidance along the path of meditation.
#3. Local dharma teachers or groups in your area can provide you with guidance and community. Not everyone will have access to a local community of meditators. However, many do. You may even consider driving to a meditation center or sitting group once a month if you live further away. These communities provide support and inspiration that can be invaluable.
I hope that these resources will get you sitting, taking inventory of yourself, and making sure that you don’t make the mistake that I made of saying that you “don’t meditate.”