yoga teacher

Please Don’t Call Me a Yoga Teacher

It never fails.  I am settling into my seat in coach when the nicely dressed businessman sitting next to me asks, “traveling for business or pleasure?”  A deceptively simple question, that I usually answer with a simple “both.” Then comes the question I dread the most, “what do you do?”  To encapsulate this answer with a simple statement falls short of explaining my profession.  Yet, inevitably I say it.  “I am a Yoga Teacher. ”  He then tells me how his niece/daughter/friend is also a yoga teacher and begins the usual talk about how tight his hamstrings are, how he can’t touch his toes, or (my favorite) how fit I must be doing Yoga all the time. This is a gross misrepresentation of how I fill my professional hours and my personal time, but the task of redefining what it means to teach yoga seems insurmountable.

Mr. Businessman’s idea of yoga isn’t a totally inaccurate perception in the yoga industry.  I go to yoga classes from time to time that are simply physical fitness classes.  But that’s not all that’s out there. Some Yoga teachers guide their students to do more than open the hips or broaden the collar bones.

Some Yoga teachers are using the asanas (physical postures) to help students develop an understanding of themselves at the deepest level.  These teachers are helping us to understand the body as an intricate part of the whole system of our humanness, and they are helping us to see that in working with the body, we are also working with our mind, our heart, and our spirit.

So the term “Yoga teacher” is starting to fall short of the truth of what I (and many others like me) do “for a living.”  The problem is that to relegate a vast and multifaceted philosophical and scientific system to a physical workout is a mistake. The postures are the catalyst to discovery of deeper truths and a more meaningful relationship with what is real and true. They are not exercise. The breathing is a tool to experience our life in a different way, more connected and more complete.  The sensitivity to alignment is more than a way to keep the body safe, it’s a way to move and express the energy within and around us that is always working to shape our experience.

It’s time to change the conversation. For all of us who study and teach Yoga as something that is much, much bigger than physical fitness. It is time we work to reframe what it means to be a Yoga Teacher in the world today. It is time that we own the full scope of what yoga can offer and not stop short by limiting its benefits just to the body.  

What are we afraid of?  If you are a practitioner of Yoga (and not simply doing a Yoga workout), then let’s start talking about that. Can we take back the label of Yoga Teacher as source of integrity and authenticity and not just another YogaGirl YouTube spoof?  Can we revive the understanding and practice of Yoga  to be more than just our hamstrings?  

Can we bring back the term “Yoga Teacher,” and not cringe at the thought of telling Mr. Businessman what we do for a living and a life practice?


Power Yoga

I want to start a conversation.  What makes Power Yoga powerful? Is it the hot room, the challenging physical postures (asanas) or the fast pace? What is your definition of the power you gain from your asana class? Is Power a great looking body? Does your physical strength or flexibility make one more powerful than another? Do we define power by a well crafted physique? Does Power include gritting your teeth to get into postures or sacrificing the breath to keep up? I want to know if this is truly power or simply building prowess. 

When did we start defining power as exertion? At Vira Bhava Yoga, power means something different.  We may work hard in our asana classes, exploring the possibility of strength and flexibility, but recognize that the true power happens in our life.  Does Power Yoga allow you to face the challenges of being a human in the world with greater ease, more patience, more compassion and understanding? In stepping off of your mat, do you feel more capable of managing your life? Does your practice of Power Yoga leave you feeling more capable of facing the challenges of daily life with greater ease, more patience, more compassion, and understanding. Does Power Yoga inspire you to do good in the world?

The true power of your Yoga practice is not measured by the strength of your physique.  Muscles do not equate to power. The true power of your Yoga practice is measured in your experience off your mat.  See, contrary to the current interpretation of yoga, it is not simply a style of physical exercise laced with sexy spiritualism.  The power in those poses that you find so challenging or releasing is not in the movement through them, it's in the ability to be present in them.  The Sanskrit word for these postures is asana, and regardless of what you've heard, this word doesn't mean pose. It means "to sit with." Yup, to sit with the form of a warrior, to sit with what surfaces when you put your body in these forms.  To sit with your breath when it starts to rebel against your form. To sit with your mind when it starts to spin and shout and beg you to get out. The true power of your Yoga practice lies in the ability to sit with yourself.  To remain steady when everything inside of you says run.

This is true power.  Can you choose to stand in every moment fully?  Whether it be on your mat, or at the stop light, can you sit with the feelings that arise?  Can you bring your breath to your frustration, your disappointment, your loneliness? Can you sit with yourself when you just want to scream and hide? This is the experience of true power.  To see that the flow that we seek is not a choreographed dance from pose to pose, from pretending to pretending, but instead a steadiness and presence within each experience.  The flow is not the vinayasa, but the gift of our presence, breath to breath. The flow is not the race from one pose to the next, but the ability to let go of the need to control the outcome, the need to orchestrate the experience. Power Yoga is a practice that allows you to live from a place full of trust.

When a powerful person walks into the room, you can feel it.  It's an essence that emanates from the core of their being.  They hold a big space, they offer their full attention, they love with their heart fully open, they stand tall in their beliefs without making yours unimportant.  It makes no difference how cut their triceps are or how sculpted their abdomen.  They exude a possibility of peace and steadiness regardless of the environment.  This is power yoga.  The practice that allows us all to access this level of presence and receptivity.  That frees us from our identification with form and helps us to expand our view of what is possible.

Yes, it is important to have a healthy body.  So your asana class is perfect for that.  But there are ways you can practice the physical postures to increase true power and presence in your life.  There are ways you can learn to teach and share this possibility with others. Are you ready to make your Power Yoga more powerful?  Are you ready for your yoga to support the fullness of your life?

If so, come explore with me.