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Mindful ~ Schmindful

Mindfulness has become an action word in marketing and business on the same level as disruptor, hack or even metta (I still hear it used with seriousness).

So how can you bring authentic mindfulness into your classes, especially corporate clients, without sounding like a old fashioned feminine product?

  1. Be honest: Sometimes you feel, great sometimes you don’t. Did you engage in some serious road rage on the way to the studio? Well, that’s ok. We’re all there sometimes, including teachers. I once watched a teacher scream obscenities out of her car window in traffic and minutes later glide into the studio on a goddess cloud with namaste hands.  Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde don’t represent mindfulness.
  2. Be present: The Dalai Lama said it really well “There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called Yesterday and the other is called Tomorrow.” If your head is in the past or future, how can you keep your students present?
  3. Be nice: Everyone has baggage. The size ranges from a coin purse to a steamer trunk. If someone starts unpacking their baggage or setting off triggers, you don’t have to like it (remember #1?) or even accept it. Just be polite. Be nice. It only becomes your issue if you choose to pick up what someone else is unpacking.

 

Simple actions every day can set a reasonable standard that we all can strive for in our pursuit of mindfulness.


 

Check out this article on Mindful Working

with more tips for students and teachers in every day life.

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Measure Twice, Cut Once

As teachers, we teach what we know. Sometimes it’s easy to get into a rut of teaching what we’re good at. I’ve taken classes with yogis who have dance backgrounds and very flexible hips. Every class explored hip openers. Every class featured the teacher demonstrating the “right way” to do a pose.

What about the rest of us?  How can a student find his or her individual practice when, as teachers, we preach right vs wrong poses and only teach what we can do well.

We all come to the mat for different reasons. And, every body is very different. Someone handed me an article about a decade ago that explained why some people will never get their hips to the ground in virasana. NEVER. It’s not about flexibility, knee health or dedication to the practice. It’s about the shape of the pelvis and its relationship to the femur head. Bone against bone. I constantly meet students who have become convinced that they aren’t “really doing yoga” because their hero’s pose doesn’t look like the picture in the magazine, the teacher at the front of the room, etc. So, what’s right and what’s wrong here?

By relying on what’s easy for us, we can involuntarily teach our students to measure themselves against our personal standard instead of what’s right for them.

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I recently taught an inversion workshop during a period of time when my own handstands weren’t very stable. I still had to demo the action of lifting up instead of kicking up. I fell backwards and sideways every-single-time.

I was embarrassed but it was what it was. I got the point across.

Thankfully, one student remarked that she was terrified of trying a handstand without a wall until she saw me, the teacher, fall …fail. I wasn’t perfect. I did something I wasn’t good at and it helped the class.

There is no right…just right now.

We should often try to teach those poses that we don’t love or aren’t proficient in. The students come to benefit from the wisdom of our journeys. If that journey is long and difficult, the wisdom we share may be deeper and more impactful in a positive way.

Every time I teach pincha mayurasana, I tell the story of getting unilateral direction for success. I tried to follow that direction for over 8 years and never went up. EIGHT YEARS!!  Then I noticed another teacher doing it differently. I tried it and I’ve had a stable pincha mayurasana ever since. But, it works for me. The other direction works for others. I teach both and everything in between so students have the opportunity to find their own practice and not just watch me do it the right way at the front of the room.

 

I’m not a doctor but I play one in the studio…

We’re yoga teachers…not doctors!

As teachers, we always ask if there are any injuries in the room that we should know about before beginning class. It’s a precaution and helps teachers become more responsive to the room. And, covers our asses if there’s ever a lawsuit.

The replies usually fall into two extremes. Students sit silent while rubbing the injured/tweaky body part or they tell everything that’s going on in an overwhelmingly long list.

As teachers, we’re very excited about the health benefits of yoga. Many of us teach because we’ve experienced a personal healing-physical, mental, spiritual. We want others to have the same joy.

But there’s a thick line between enthusiasm and irresponsibility.

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Someone recently posted a snarky article begging yoga teachers, specifically, to stop telling students that inversions reverse blood flow. I’m no doctor but I know enough anatomy to know that reversing blood flow is not possible.  No matter how long you hold that hand stand. Consistent twisting in a flow class does not wring out the liver and detox the body.

Many teachers believe these things and repeat them.

Too often, at the end of class students ask teachers for advice for tweaks and even chronic conditions. Typically the question is leading. “What stretch can I do to help my tweaky shoulder?” As yoga teachers, we’re not capable of diagnosing anything and risk causing harm to the students we love and care for by giving medical advice. Being proficient in the Latin names of muscles does not give teachers license to diagnose and treat.

But, it is impressive to students. Increasingly, it’s a way to fill the studio with adoring students who look to the front of the room to heal all that hurts.

I know, I know…there are yoga teachers with medical backgrounds. Former nurses and doctors who love yoga enough to share teachings. There are yoga teachers who concurrently work as therapists. That’s not the majourity.

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The more we know the more likely we are to steer students to experts. It feels great when students seek our input but we must let go of the ego.We can spread good vibes without misleading students about our expertise.

Yoga can be life-changing. Whether it’s for the better or not depends on our honest approach to the risks and benefits.

We need to stop playing doctor in the studio.

Tran$parency

Every time a yoga manager tells me to keep any aspect of my pay a secret, I wonder…which side of that ugly wall of unfairness am I on?

I teach a few public classes at a handful of studios. I love seeing the progress of regular students over time and meeting new people.

A yoga studio is a great place to work.

Recently, I was given a raise (it does happen!) and immediately told not to tell anyone about it.

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In my non-yoga life, promotions and raises are celebrated. Being financially appreciated is something we all want and work hard to achieve. Yes, there’s a little flash of envy when someone else gets it but there’s also healthy competition.

The reality of our world is that, too often, men are given higher pay than women in the same job; whites are paid higher than non-whites for the same work. In yoga, the long term quality of teaching can earn less than the short term popularity of a teacher.

Bias, both conscious and unconscious, thrives in secrecy.

Have I kept my raise a secret? Reluctantly. The situation reminds me of a work experience I had when I was around 17 or 18 years old. I was working at a retail outlet store on Townsend Street (last time I drove by, Adobe took over the whole building). I was excited to be there, starting my independent life. There were experienced retail mavens and people just taking the j-o-b to pay the rent. Over lunch, a few of us started talking about bills and money. I quickly realised that everyone else was paid more than I was.  Not just a little more, 50-75% more. I asked my manager to meet. And, I asked why. I expected to hear that I was too new, too green or had to prove myself before being paid the same as others. She turned red and stuttered. The owner was in the office and turned red as well. They declared that it was “a mistake that would be corrected immediately”.

I believed them and never sued for discrimination. Ageism against the young used to be an issue. Today, ageism against anyone over 50, especially in yoga, is a growing problem.

Every time a yoga manager tells me to keep any aspect of my pay a secret, I wonder…which side of that ugly wall of unfairness am I on?

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This article in New York Magazine gives more insight into the benefits of salary transparency.

 

One last savasana

How do you handle grief in the classroom?

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I remember the first time I heard about a yoga student dying. I was just a few years into my practice and the teacher announced the death of a regular student from cancer. She was only 40-something. And, one of a hundred faces I saw in class every day. I never knew her name or noticed when she stopped coming.

But, yogis aren’t supposed to die.

Since then, I’ve had to mourn two of my teachers, Larry Schultz and Sri K Pattabhi Jois. Yoga teachers don’t live to be 108 years old.

Yogis are people. We live. We practice. If were lucky, we grow old and then die.

But, as a teacher, what if a student dies?

I have several septuagenarians and octogenarians in my regular classes. They are amazing and an inspiration to me, and everyone who meets them. But, there have been some close calls. One bad fall, a complication in surgery, an issue with a chronic health condition can be fatal.

When a student isn’t in class for a while, I wonder. I’m afraid that I’ll never see them again.

Coping with loss can affect all of us. How can a teacher hold a space while grieving?

  1. Ask the studio if there is a protocol for handling the death of a regular student
  2. Ask the family or friends if they’d like a special class to remember the life of that student
  3. Acknowledge your own sadness, to yourself and others
  4. Remember, “it’s not about you”. It’s the natural cycle of life
  5. Talk to your fellow teachers. Your community of co-workers can support you