Up Close with Tiffany Belzer from being a Mom, School Teacher, to Kids Yoga Instructor

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Just in time for National Children’s Day, we catch-up with Tiffany Belzer on her personal journey from being a mom, school teacher, to Kids Yoga instructor at Nandi. Her dedication inspires us in so many ways!

Nandi Staff: What are the three words would you use to describe your Kids Yoga journey/practice, and why?   

Tiffany Belzer: It’s more than three words but I go back to Pattabhi Jois and his quote which really sums it up for me, “Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory.”  Everyday I teach, every class I teach, and I learn.  It’s the practice of teaching that continues to fuel my growth as teacher and as a person.  In Kids Yoga there is this ongoing dynamic interaction between the teacher and the students and the group as a whole.  No two classes are the same.  

NS: What do you want everyone to know about Kids Yoga, and any benefits it provide for children today?  

TB: I believe yoga is for all.  The benefits adults enjoy from yoga are there for younger students as well.  What is really powerful for children doing yoga is that they are learning to breathe with awareness and move their bodies building flexibility, strength and balance as their brains and bodies are still developing.  Kids in my classes learn that by stopping and focusing on their breath they calm down their minds and make better decisions.  I wish I’d learned that as a child, don’t you?

NS: Who was your inspiration in starting your Kids yoga journey? Please explain and share any previous stories from your personal experiences.

TB: Prior to being a yoga instructor I was an elementary school teacher.  I left teaching when I became a mom in 2000 and it was in those years at home raising my children that I discovered yoga. For me the benefits of yoga were life changing. Being a stay at home mom with two young children is challenging.  The days I practiced yoga I noticed that I was more patient, calm and had more energy.  I credit my children with bringing yoga into my life.   I completed my Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training in 2006 and signed up shortly after for a kids training.  I had spent most of my adult life working with children so it was a natural next step.  

NS: What kept you to continue in teaching Kids Yoga, and building a community at Nandi?

TB: From the beginning Wendy (Nandi’s Owner) wanted the studio to be a place that would welcome kids and families.  In addition to the several options of yoga for adults she envisioned multiple classes for kids from toddlers to teens, including family yoga, prenatal and mom & baby classes.  Being an experienced Kids Yoga teacher I was thrilled to have the opportunity to build the program in this supportive environment.  Most yoga studios don’t have options for kids and if they do there might be one or two classes but they aren’t the heart of the studio.  

NS: What’s next on your horizon that we should know about?

TB: I’ll be leading a Yoga for Kids Teacher Training at Nandi this August 6-7, 2016. More details to follow on the website as the date gets near. This training is designed for yoga teachers and classroom teachers who want to teach yoga to kids. The world needs more Kids Yoga teachers!  I currently work as a Health and Wellness Instructor in a public elementary school in East Palo Alto, California.  What’s exciting is that we’re bringing yoga practices in to the schools and teaching students who otherwise might not have the opportunity.

 

About Tiffany Belzer

Prior to Tiffany’s yoga journey, she spent over 10 years teaching in preschools and as an elementary school teacher.  After becoming a mom in 2000, she left the classroom to be with her children. During this time, she discovered yoga. 

She was Yoga Alliance certified in E-RYT 200 and RCYT. She had received her teacher training at Its Yoga, San Francisco in Ashtanga Vinyasa with Larry Schultz in 2006.  In order to expand her skills to teach yoga to children, she went on to be trained at Its Yoga, Kids. In the past 8+ years, she has taught yoga to children, adults and families throughout the San Francisco Bay area.

In addition, Tiffany’s yoga philosophy directly transcends into her teaching style: live, love, and shine your light. Her own experiences as a mother led to yoga for the physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of the practice.  She believes it is through the familial relationships that we receive continual opportunities for growth.   She strives to provide a space where children and families are able to playfully connect in a stress-free environment, and enjoying the beautiful practice of yoga.

Contact Tiffany: itsyogatiffany@comcast.net

Follow on Facebook: www.facebook.com/YogaTiffany

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Asana of the Week: Restorative

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As our body and mind relax, literally becoming softer, we create space to get in touch again with our natural qualities of compassion and understanding of others and self.

Benefits of Restorative Yoga: 

  • Deeply relaxes the body
  • Enhances flexibility
  • Enhances tranquil mood
  • Improves capacity for healing and balancing
  • Balances the nervous system
  • Boosts the immune system

Looking into the Lens of Restorative Yoga: Peace of Mind, Body and Spirit

 

I had been teaching Yin and Hatha yoga for some time before I decided to study under Judith H. Lasater, considered by many to be one of the masters of this style.  Her words and books really resonated with me but when I sought her out, her tranquil zen space really got me hooked.   It’s like floating on clouds while still connecting with everyone in the class.

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Judith is masterful in holding the space for her students and her dialogue, well rooted in yoga philosophy and human anatomy, is accessible to all.  I find her Sangha intellectually stimulating while very peaceful and joyful and I hope to spread that peace of mind, body and spirit with humble sense of service. From the very first class I attended as a very Stressed out Cal student years ago, I am drawn to therapeutic aspect of yoga and for that reason I have returned to school for advanced certification in yoga therapy. It’s exciting to engage in deeper learning so that I may be of better service.  

 

– Kay Tsuyama, Restortive Yoga Instructor

First Yoga Lesson

My first introduction to yoga was 50 years ago. It was not the enlightening experience you might expect, though it was quite revealing.  I came across a Yoga paperback. The guy in the front cover was really good shape. It was difficult for a skinny wimp of a teenager like myself to believe that these static poses could take me part way towards the next Spiderman, but in my adolescent years I was willing to give anything a shot.  

Naively I decide to go all in. What to wear? From the pictures it seems I should be wearing something that looks like a giant diaper. We didn’t have any white towels at home, so I took our largest bath towel, it was blue with a large kingfisher print. I fashioned something close to the pictures in the book. Actually it looks more like I have strapped a flock of unwilling seabirds loosely around my middle.  It doesn’t feel particularly secure either but no problem, I have the house to myself.

Stripped down to the bare essentials I prepare for my first pose

“It is possible to enter Vīrabhadrāsana using vinyasas starting from either Adho Mukha Śvānāsana or from Tāḍāsana.”

Wait what?  I thumb through to the index to look up 4 words in sanskrit to figure out where I am going to start. Got it  Tāḍāsana  means stand up.  It sounds simple enough but check out Wikipedia for 3-4 pages on how yogis stand up at the front of their mat. It’s not as straightforward as it sounds.

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Continuing from the book with Warrior I:

  1. The arms are stretched up, palm touching.

  2. Inhaling spread the legs sideways by jumping or stepping, creating a gap of ⅔ body height.

⅔ of body height.  Is that important? What is ⅔ of 5ft 8 inches?  Clutching the paperback in my teeth I reach for my slide rule and tape measure.

  1. Exhaling turn the trunk facing to the left while rotating the left foot 90° so it faces forward and the right foot so it points slightly to the right.

The left foot has to be precisely 90°, “where is my set square”.  The right foot slightly right? What does that mean?  15°, 25°  I have a protractor. I could use that if the instructions were clearer. Why were the instruction so precise for the left foot and all sloppy for the right?

  1. Bend the left knee till the thigh is parallel to the floor, avoid extending the bent knee past the ankle and keeping the other leg straight.

Balancing Dad’s spirit level on my left thigh I start to feel warrior one. But I am still not clear on the other leg, should it be straight or not. There are two ways to read instruction 4.

There are 10 more instruction to complete the pose and the clue is buried in them “the knee is locked.”

Side note never lock your knee out in any pose, whatever the book says.

Continuing – Looking up seems important too but how then to read the rest of the instructions.  I build a simple device. In the days before selfie sticks, it’s a spatula and some well positioned duck tape. Now I can have the book in front of me by holding the spatula between my teeth. I resume my warrior I reading the further instructions while in the pose. As I reach up with my hands my kingfisher diaper feels like it is trying to escape. One false move and I am in trouble, but I persevere with the pose.  We have net curtains at the windows and everyone is out.

Semi-naked in the middle of our lounge , spirit level balanced on one thigh, slide rule in hand and tape measure extended across the floor and spatula clutched between my teeth I look up and pause for “1 to 4 breaths.” Well is it 1 or is it 4 there is a big difference.  I take a deep breath anticipating enlightenment.

The door bursts open, Mum and Dad rush in. They are back unexpectedly early as mum is not feeling well. I freeze and look over in horror. With a gentle thunk the kingfishers successfully make their bid for freedom.

I did not practice yoga for a few years after that.

The book is, I suspect, long gone and until google offers “search from images in your mind” I doubt I can find it as I have no idea of the title or author.  

Today of course there are plenty of online resources to explain the poses. The instructions I used above were actually from Wikipedia. The collective wisdom of the crowd came up with that version of Warrior I.

There are lots of approaches out there.   For the doctoral candidate with a minor in geometry how about the Yoga Journal style

“Raise your arms perpendicular to the floor (and parallel to each other), and reach actively through the little-finger sides of the hands toward the ceiling. Firm your scapulas against your back and draw them down toward the coccyx”  – Yoga Journal.com

My first lesson was simple – Learning Yoga from a book is hard, very hard. Actually I think it’s impossible.

Like so many other things you can’t learn Yoga by reading about it.  There are too many small adjustments and correction that just make written descriptions impossible to remember, follow or appreciate. Most of these refinements make no sense until you have been working on the basics of the pose for a while anyway. Instructions talk of 90 degree angles with an authority that would humble a guru.  Only advanced yogis get to 90 degrees in most poses.  The rest of us are somewhere on the way towards 45 degrees and happy right there. In complete contradiction other instructions are sloppy, “turn your back foot in slightly” . Why does one foot matter and not the other? What is important?  And that fundamental question “Am I doing it right?”  only an instructor can tell you these things because everyone is different and every pose is unique to them.

The knowledge passed down for 5,000 years has stood the test of time. Learn from an instructor, one that you like and resonate with, and use books for reference. Nothing has changed in 5,000 years though the western world is trying hard to do that with science and marketing.  Not everything new is an improvement.  That said I do appreciate 21st century yoga clothing. After my first experience with Yoga, to this day,  I have not taken as much as my shirt off in a yoga class.

– Clive Beavis, Vinyasa Yoga Instructor

Asana of the Week: Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II)

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Birgit Reimer, Iyengar Yoga Instructor demonstrates Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II) at Nandi Yoga.

Benefits of Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II): 

  • Tones the leg muscles
  • Increases flexibility of back and leg
  • Contracts the abdominal organs

 

There are couple of ways to deepen this asana: 1) decreasing the lateral distance between the feet, and 2) widening/ increasing the length of the stride. If you feel any discomfort in sensation, be mindful of your body and take modification in Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II).

 

Modification:

A simple solution is externally rotating the shoulders so the palms face up and decreasing length of the stride in this asana. You will alleviate tension and find access to more muscle strength in the upper body, less strain on the neck, shoulders, and upper back.

A Seed Grows

The most wonderful thing about life is when you love what you do it grows; and so did the Nandi community over the last 4 years. All the students who come to my two classes, workshops and the monthly pranayama classes are fascinated by the outcomes of the study of the self during the asana or pranayama practices. They love as I do the intricacies and minutest movements within and their curiosity to learn is humbling to me.

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(Photo from left to right: Michelle Hyman, Ben Thomas, Birgit Reimer, Wendy Klein)

My mentor, Senior Iyengar yoga teacher Ben Thomas, always encouraged me to plant good seeds into the hearts of the students and, with the Nandi students, I see a beautiful field of flowers blossoming and growing every year.

Birgit Reimer, an Iyengar Yoga Instructor, has been teaching for more than 20 years and travels every other year to the Ramamani Iyengar Institute, to study with the Iyengar family.  www.yoga-is-all.com

 

A Light on Yoga – How Iyengar Illuminated My Yoga Journey

 

I started my yoga journey by guiding myself through the weekly sequences in Iyengar’s Light on Yoga.  In his preface, Mr. Iyengar emphasizes the importance of learning with a teacher but I’d ignored that and brashly pushed forward on my own.  One day in about “Week 12,” I leaned over to pick up a tray and couldn’t straighten my back.  Hobbling to the phone, I called the local Iyengar studio and signed up for my first class.      

During that first class at the Julie Lawrence Yoga Center in Portland Oregon, two things became crystal clear: first, I’d practice yoga for the rest of my life, and second, I wanted to be a teacher.

“Yoga does not just change the way we see things, it transforms the person who sees,” B.K.S. Iyengar, 1918-2014.

Afterwards, as I made the 4.5 mile walk back to the ashram where I was living at the time, I mentally replayed everything that we’d done in the class:  The teacher’s insistent recipe for sitting with an erect spine; the introductory prayers we chanted aloud; the fastidious anatomical cueing of each asana (seat); the logic of the sequence; the thrill of being upside down; and the conscious relaxation.  I practiced what we did everyday until the next class and returned eagerly with questions.  A practice I’d repeat with every teacher I’d come to study with.   That first class was a lens that focused my reason for being on the planet.  For me, Yoga weds passion with career and illuminates a path to and through old-age/death.    

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Now, 20 years later, here I am.  Still practicing, still teaching.  It gets better every day.    

– Louis Jackson, Nandi Yoga Instructor