Do you really need a long practice?

When I began practicing yoga back in 1994, most classes were pretty long. You would find the occasional one-hour class, but most traditional yoga centers offered primarily 90 minute classes.  More and more people are now doing yoga and shorter classes are on the rise, with some chains only exclusively one hour classes.  I’ve even seen a studio advertising asana classes as short as 25 minutes!

Does it matter how long you practice for?  Is a longer practice better?

In short, I don’t think so.  What you want is consistency.  Yoga is experential – you need to practice it to order to really learn it.   One of my teachers, Larry Schultz, used to advocate for a minimum daily requirement for asana practice – within an hour of waking up, get your mat and do a minimum of 10 minutes of yoga (he preferred 3-5 Sun Salutation A’s and 3-5 Sun Salutation B’s).  He believed that doing this 6 times a week was better and a one hour class once a week and I agree.  Learn a short sequence you can do at home and be consistent.

No matter how long you practice for, try as best as you can to be fully present.  Whenever you are on your mat, stayed focused on your practice.  Last time Ben Thomas was at Nandi, he said that it was his duty to give all the students there his full attention and he required theirs in return.  Set aside whatever tasks you need to complete or whatever burning issues you have on your plate and stay connected in body, breath and mind.  Notice the effects each pose has on your body so you can fine tune your practice to support what you need that day.

And remember, be compassionate and patient.  It takes time to develop strength, flexibility, proprioception, and awareness within the body (and mind) so be patient with yourself.

So, yes, do shorter practices if it means you practice more frequently.  In the long run, having this consistency combined with mindfulness and patience will serve you well.

What do you give up with a shorter practice if anything?

Some yoga styles require a greater time commitment as these classes are designed to help take the body deeper, whether it’s to relax and unwind fully in a restorative sequence or to prepare the body to do extremely challenging poses which often require more opened joints.  Furthermore, slower classes (which are often longer) can challenge the body in new ways – focusing on transitions using muscular engagement versus momentum.  So longer classes and even workshops have their place and it’s worth considering adding these to your schedule every once in a while (or more often should your schedule permit).

The key is practice so get out there and make it happen.

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Ten Years On and A New Beginning

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It is hard to believe that we signed the lease for the space that has become Nandi Yoga almost 10 years ago.  After practicing and teaching for nearly a decade at studios all over the world, I came to the realization that I wanted to create a place where everyone could experience yoga – from little kids to seniors who still see themselves as youthful – all of whom have the excitement and passion to explore and learn.

It started with a few courageous teachers and students – Jennifer, Tiffany, Lauren, Nicole, and Joann, to name a few.  We offered flow yoga in adult and kids classes.  We tried Iyengar multiple times but it really caught on when Birgit joined and showed us the way.  Giselle brought us love and light with Jivamukti and now Sadhana Flow. Nicole helped us unwind with restorative, and Louis showed us how to connect with our core. We are experimenting with meditation and Kirtan. Our community has grown so much. Not everything will work at times, but we’ll keep at it and learn and evolve.

As we grew, we auditioned many new teachers who were not as prepared to teach as we liked, so we created our own intern program. Eventually, we started to run our own teacher trainings that combine philosophy, sequences, and real world practice so new teachers are ready to teach all of these things with compassion and precision.

We found ways to improve our practice rooms, from size to decoration to stereo systems to AC. Climate change is advancing, so we are now re-thinking how we will handle weather extremes without changing our commitment to green energy. The world might be changing, but our core values will remain the same.

A lot has happened over the past ten years, but our desire to stay centered to our values while adapting remains a constant. Our community has embraced this approach and encouraged us to continue along our vision. Many have told us that we need to do a better job of explaining who we are and what we are about, so, after ten years, today we are launching our new website – to share the story of Nandi. It’s the story of how all of us have grown and changed over time – just like life, growing and sometimes beginning anew – and we are excited to see what the future will bring.

Sharing the pain and spreading the love

The massive wildfires that spread quickly across the North Bay were on everyone’s minds over the past week.  Even if you didn’t have family or friends living up there, you were reminded every time you took a step outside and felt it in the air.  It felt another huge weight placed on our shoulders and a deep stab in our hearts after the tragedies of Las Vegas, Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma (not to mention all of the other deeply unsettling news around our country and the world).

So what as yogis can we do?

First, be there for one another – reach out within your community and take the extra step of extending compassion to everyone around you.  Maybe it’s in a yoga class or on the highway in traffic.  Recognize that we are all affected by what happens around us and no one minds a little extra kindness (and sometimes that kindness is just what they need).

Second, do something to help those who have lost so much.  It’s comforting to those in need to know that we share their pain but it’s not enough.  As Albert Schweitzer famously said, “the purpose of human life is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others.”  It doesn’t have to be big – go give blood or bring food to a food bank.  Look in your closets and donate those things you really don’t need that can help a family rebuild their lives.  But do something.

Click here for those affected by the fires and here for the those affected by the hurricanes.

 

Disempower to empower

Every Saturday I get up at 6 am and head down to San Mateo to open up the studio and teach at 7:30 am.  As much as I hate to admit it, I’m a creature of habit.  I head first Noah’s (often on my bike) and grab a decaf coffee to bring to class.  I’ll often grab a bagel to eat at the studio, especially if I’m planning on staying at work after my class.  There’s rarely anytime to stop and more often than not, I’m very conscious of the time and try to be as efficient as possible.

Today, I decided to slow down and take the time to eat my bagel and drink my coffee before rushing back to the studio to check in my class.  No sooner did I sit down outside when I heard a leaf blower cleaning off the sidewalks.

Normally, I would have gotten annoyed by that noise pollution at 6:35 am on the very day I wanted to take a few moments and sit quietly to prepare for the day.    But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how my meditation and yoga practice help me avoid knee jerk reactions and decided to ponder the situation and take it as a learning opportunity.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright and he suggest that a key goal of mindfulness meditation is learn how learn how to translate whatever distracting thoughts pop into your head into feelings.  You then observe those feelings and even feel yourself experience them.  This step often helps give you perspective to realize it’s just a feeling – by acknowledging it you can see if for what it is (a distraction) and can often detach from it or disempower it.

I was reminded of a lecture that Julia Butterfly Hill gave at Nandi a while back on dealing with a medical condition that often caused her a lot of pain.  She initially fought it and got overwhelmed when her symptoms took a turn for the worse.  As expected, it was something she dreaded.  However, over time she started acknowledging the pain when it hit, accepting it, and in turn, it lost its power of her.

Now listening to a leaf blower is no big deal – it’s a minor inconvenience at most.  But progress is progress and it was still an opportunity for me to learn how to let  a distraction go.  Annoyances in life – whether a brief moment in time or a long term challenge – serve no good purpose so learning to disengage from them helps us to hone our focusing (and ultimately our meditating) skills.

I stayed where I was amidst the droning of the motor and swirling of the leaves, let the distractions fade into the background, and enjoyed my coffee.Unknown-4.jpeg

How much is enough?

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Benjamin Franklin

There’s been a lot of debate lately about whether a 200 hour teacher training program is adequate to properly train new yoga teachers.  This comes in part from the proliferation of yoga centers offering basic trainings using standards set up by Yoga Alliance along with a dramatic increase in the number people becoming certified.  Are these basic trainings enough to prepare people to teach yoga?

In general, the answer is probably not: first, it’s much more common for students to take the training with a lot less yoga experience than in years past and second, learning and training to teach yoga well takes a lot of time (well beyond the minimum standards set by the industry).  Jason Crandell and I discussed this issue when he was addressing Nandi Yoga’s training program last summer and we both agreed – 200 hours is simply not enough.

Yoga teachers traditionally spent many years studying with a guru before being approved to teach.  But the market is vastly different now – potential teachers have many more choices on where to train and most programs do not require proficiency in the practice beforehand.  For those wanting to teach, it’s tempting to get started as soon as possible.  But take the time to do your homework and ask yourself two questions: first, am I really ready and prepared to do undertake a training successfully, and second, does this training give me what I need to become a successful teacher.

Your personal practice is the most important key to your ability to lead others in yoga as a new teacher.  For the most part, you will teach what you have learned on your mat.  You need to understand the effects the various aspects of yoga (including asana, pranayama, and meditation) on you personally before you can start to explore how they may affect and transform others.  Without this experience, the training is more theoretical and will give you limited insight.

It’s hard to measure what this means in terms of time – someone who has practiced once a week for 10 years may have a much more limited understanding than one who has practiced every day for a year.  In addition, one’s background can greatly impact how quickly one can pick up the material; those who have a background in dance or sports may already have developed a sense of proprioception and be keenly aware quickly of the physical aspects of the practice early on.

If you are taking a training to teach (versus deepening your practice), do your homework before committing to a program.  The standards set by Yoga Alliance are pretty broad and teaching centers have a lot of latitude in how they address core subjects and what they focus on.  If you find a training that appeals to you, talk to people who have graduated from the program to understand how advanced the trainees were with their personal practice at the start of training and how prepared they felt upon graduation to teach so you can get a better sense of whether you are ready to jump in.  I’ve loved and benefitted from the three big trainings I’ve completed but only one really focused on teaching skills; I don’t think the other two would have truly prepared me to teach well as a new teacher despite learning a lot of really interesting things about yoga.

The next step is to develop a plan for how you will continue to hone your skills upon completion.  Ideally your 200 hour training will support these longer term plans, whether it’s an internship, opportunities to sub classes or marketing on their website.  If you are planning on training out of town, talk to local studios or places you may want to teach when you return to understand what they are looking for in teachers and what experience they’ve had working with graduates of the training.

At Nandi Yoga, our graduates go straight into an internship right after graduation, assisting in regular classes each week, teaching community classes and attending sessions to learn hands on adjustments – this is where our graduates really hone their skills and get great experience teaching students (versus fellow trainees).

Learning how to teach well takes time and a lot of practice.  But you want to start your teaching career with the right foundation: a solid yoga practice at the start, a training that gives you the tools to lead students in sustainable, engaging and mindful class, and a game plan on how you can continue to develop your skills to become a truly great yoga teacher.

 

An ethical approach to yoga

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We all have choices to make in our lives about how we treat others as people but, if you follow the path of yoga as defined by Patajali in his Yoga Sutras, the first step is to cause no harm to others (in words, actions, speech, thought).  This comes before how you take care of yourself or practice poses, breathing and meditation.

These ethical rules are the yamas (right living) and include: ahimsa (अहिंसा) – nonviolence or non-harming; satya (सत्य) – truthfulness; asteya (अस्तेय) – non-stealing; bramacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य) – sexual restraint; and aparigraha (अपरिग्रहः) – non-avarice.  In every teacher training I’ve done, these ethical codes have been presented, dissected, and debated, particularly how it relates to teachers’ actions with their students.  In our teacher training program, I also discuss the role that any business which offers yoga and meditation has in maintaining a code of conduct, including a serious and thorough investigation of all issues raised by staff (including teachers and interns) or students about questionable conduct.

Further, we include in every manual the Ethical Guidelines for Yoga Teachers written by Georg Feuerstein (with permission from his widow).  Every trainee has to sign this, as does every one of our teachers.  I advise my trainees that even if they have the tiniest doubt about whether an action or statement feels inappropriate, they should bring it to the attention of those in charge and not let it rest.

This hasn’t always been the case – unfortunately there are numerous examples of yoga teachers and gurus behaving badly.  But I disagree with Sarah Herrington’s view in todays New York Times Op Ed piece that few yoga teachers know these ethical guidelines exist and only seek them out when there is trouble.  There are numerous teachers out there who see their teaching as service and seek to help and support each and every student in the spirit of “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu” (may all beings everyone be happy and free and may the thoughts, words and actions of my own life contribute in some way to the happiness and freedom for all).

Wendy

Building Community and Reaping Its Rewards

IMG_2667.JPGAfter teaching a class at Lululemon yesterday, a student approached me to find out about our studio and, more importantly, our community.  She had recently moved from Northern Virginia and spoke in glowing terms about the wonderful people she met and practiced with at her old studio and was hoping replicate that experience again.  Knowledgable teachers leading well balanced and inspiring classes were important to her – but equally important was finding her yoga people and, in the process, making new connections and friends.  As the practice of yoga continues to grow exponentially and becomes more corporate, just how important is finding one’s community?

It’s a personal decision.  There are great options for those wishing to practice asana at home with the explosion of online classes.  So why come to a public class and get to know your fellow students?  Having a teacher see your pose and guide you towards greater stability, ease and depth is incredibly helpful. But I would argue the greatest benefit is the ability to practice with other people.  There’s a collective energy that builds in a public yoga class.  Plus, other students can help you see what to do, where you might be headed, and remind you of where you’ve been.  In turn, you can be there to help others as your practice progresses.

“Community is when people begin to care about one another, and when they begin to share things that are important to one another. Yoga is one of those things,” says Rama Berch, founder of the Master Yoga Foundation and the founding president of Yoga Alliance. “Your yoga community celebrates your breakthroughs and your growth, so ultimately the whole thing becomes based on a higher purpose, a deeper meaning, and a more profound goal in life—and that is consciousness.”¹

Sometimes our teachers will ask students before class begins to introduce themselves to the people around them (especially if it’s a large class).  This prompt is always greeted with enthusiasm and a lot of chatter.  Consider taking the initiative going forward especially if you arrive early to class.

I always thank my students at the end of every class with hands in prayer saying namaste.  One interpretation of this word  is “the light in me bows to the light in you.”  I try and remind my students that everyone else in the room is grateful for their presence as well because collectively we make our community just a little bit better every day we come together.

Wendy

 

¹https://www.yogajournal.com/teach/build-a-yoga-community