Caroline’s Teacher Training Journey

 

Picture a young lady, standing in front of a wall of mirrors, wearing a frothy confection of tulle and lace and glittering beads. Suddenly, she starts laughing so hard that tears spout from her eyes. Behind her, two seamstresses are valiantly wrestling with the zipper of her dress. Finally, they manage to drag it all the way up to the neckline. Success! The girl laughs harder. The trapezius and rhomboid muscles in her back strain against the fabric of the dress. “You know,” the seamstress says, tactfully, “we usually advise our brides to avoid doing too many pushups before the wedding.” The girl shakes her heard. “Sorry, ma’am, but that’s not going to happen. I’m in a 200-hour yoga teacher training program and I probably do 50 chaturangas a day, so I guess we’ll just have to let out a few seams!”

So yeah, that girl was me. When I decided to sign up for teacher training six months before my wedding, friends told me I was nuts. Aren’t you worried about feeling overwhelmed?? they asked. And I was. For years I’d held myself back from doing the training. I’m too busy this year. It’s a big commitment. I’m not sure I’m ready. I mean, I can’t even do a headstand. But the truth is, if I had waited until I felt “ready” or until my schedule miraculously cleared or until I could do a headstand, I’d be waiting forever. And I knew, deep down, that committing to teacher training now, at this point in my life, despite my fears, was the best decision I would ever make. I wanted to learn more about my yoga practice and I was interested in teaching, but what really drew me to the training was the opportunity to learn more about myself.

 

In teacher training, Angela and Monika pushed me to dig through layers of old narratives that I’d been telling myself for years about who I was, and what I was capable of. They challenged me to communicate my feelings more honestly, to not retreat in the face of uncomfortable self-scrutiny, to understand more deeply the interaction between the way I see myself and the image that I project to others. It was high-level personal development work and they created such a safe and supportive environment in which I could engage in this kind of self-exploration. There were times when it was scary, but Angela, Monika, and my amazing fellow teacher trainees were always there to tell me, firmly, but lovingly, you can do more than you think you can. The sense of community was one of the reasons that I fell in love with YogaSport in the first place, and teacher training only reinforced that. From the current YS teachers and assistants who mentored and encouraged me to the awesome group of people in my training class who inspired and supported me and whose friendship I will cherish always, it’s the unique community here that elevated my teacher training experience.

And, of course, I learned so much about Baptiste Power Yoga. Poses that I had been practicing for years suddenly appeared new and fascinating as I deepened my understanding of alignment and muscle activation, of anatomical structure and spiritual focus, of the design of the flow and the role each pose plays within it. I geeked out over anatomy textbooks and the history of this style of yoga. The teacher training program enriched my relationship to my practice, made me stronger and more aware in my own body.

By the end of training, I felt more confident in who I was and what I wanted out of my yoga practice, out of my relationships, out of my life. I didn’t have it all figured out (I don’t think that’s even possible), but teacher training helped me grow into a more authentic, empowered, and peaceful version of myself. And with killer back muscles, too.

Teacher Training – I Wanna But…

In my life, I often find myself creating many reasons, justifications and excuses for why I shouldn’t or can’t do something that I, deep down, really want to do. Whenever I do decide to take the plunge and do something that I really want to do, my life shifts in a beautiful way. I am happier in everything I do. I love my life, my husband, my job and myself so much more. Depriving ourselves of things that will really feed us is a funny thing. As a life coach, I work with many people who go through similar thoughts and struggles. I can’t necessarily figure out why we do this (at least not in one blog article) but I can help you come out of your doubts and fears and into something more powerful.

Personally, I can say that I have never regretted attending or assisting a teacher training. Leaving my family and business for a week, traveling far and wide, paying a lot of money and staying in not-so-sexy places doesn’t sound like a great use of my time, energy, and money. But, I have realized that training with my teachers and reconnecting with people who challenge me to grow is invaluable. And at the end of my life, I won’t remember my wardrobe, what car I drove, or how many fancy restaurants I visited. I will, however, remember the people and the experiences that shaped who I am today. There are few things in life that can feed your heart, soul, and mind like a powerful yoga training. Have you ever thought or said, “I would like to do teacher training but…”

  • I don’t have time this year.
  • I am going on vacation.
  • I don’t know if I want to be a yoga teacher.
  • I don’t live in Dallas so I can’t make the Tuesday nights.
  • It’s expensive.
  • I’ll do it next year.
  • I am scared.
  • I am not ready.

Sound familiar? Keep reading.

The No-Time. You will never have 200 extra hours laying around in your schedule. EVER. You will make the time because we make time for the things that are important to us. Everyone who has gone through training has successfully done it. Moms, students, 50 hour/week professionals. I’m not going to say you won’t have to make sacrifices. You may have to skip watching some of your favorite shows but really, it’s a small price to pay (and that is what DVR’s were made for!).

The Vacation. We only meet for 7 weekends and never on a holiday weekend. If you have to miss a weekend, you can complete makeup hours to ensure you still get your certificate.

The I Don’t Know If I Want To Teach Yoga. The cool thing about this training is that you don’t have to want to teach yoga. One of our first year grads said, “After training I realized that I love being a student and don’t want to teach yoga. But it was one of the best things I have ever done for myself and I would recommend it to anyone.” Powerful. And so true. Yes this is a yoga teacher training. But even more so, it’s a life training. You will become a better and happier version of who you are right now. Like the new IPad. The old one was awesome, but the new one is even better.

The I Don’t Live In Dallas. If you live out of town, we have a solution. Tuesday nights are practice and discussion. Out-of-towners can make up the weekly Tuesday practices at any power yoga studio and meet with us through Zoom from 7:30-9pm.

The It’s Expensive. We all spend money on things that are important to us. You are important. Wholeheartedly commit to this training and you will have an incredible team of teachers and participants 100% committed to supporting you and your growth. You simply cannot put a price tag on the experiences and results you will get out of this training. And if you don’t believe me, ask any past participant of the program. How much would that experience be worth to you? What can you cut back on to make it happen? We do offer a rockin’ payment plan so make a few changes to your spending and you won’t even feel it. AND, your yoga membership is included in the fee so you are paying even less than you think!

The I’ll Do It Next Time. Only one person who has said this to me actually took the training the next year. If you really want to do it, do it now. One of my current teachers can attest to this one. She was on the fence about committing. Then a training was canceled. When the next one came up, she knew she couldn’t not do it because the chance had already been taken away once. You just never know if there will even be a next time. Life is ever changing and the only thing we can be certain of is this moment right now. I can say that this will be the final year I will be 100% devoted to the 200 hour program. In developing my 500 hour training and more coaching programs, I will be sharing the teaching of the 200 hour program next year. So if you want to work directly with one of the most experienced yoga teachers in all of DFW, now really is the time.

The I Am Scared. So what? It is scary. Most exciting, powerful and life changing things in life are scary at first. The only way to get over fear is to move through it. Take the leap with me.

The I Am Not Ready. Buying and reading more yoga books and practicing more is not going to make you feel more ready. And waiting one more year will not make you feel more ready. I have four words for you. YOU. ARE. READY. NOW.

Training teachers is my passion. I know I am supposed to be doing this work because my favorite thing in the world is to help people grow. It inspires, excites and empowers me to keep doing great things in my life. And I promise that working with me, the YS crew, and your new family of friends will help you do the same.

My sweet husband John is deathly afraid of heights. While on our first trip together to Hawaii, he decided to jump off a pretty high cliff. When I asked him why, he said, “Well, that’s how you get over your fears, right?” And he did. Check out his smile in this photo! I promise you, after all of your hard work, commitment and dedication, you will feel just like John did. It’s a pretty incredible ride and I look forward to taking it with you.

Check the 200-hour training page for our next open house date. More details, registration, schedules and tons of other goodies are on the website.

Much love, Angela

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Leading You Gently Back to Yourself by Kate Geresy

 

Written by Former YS Assistant, Kate Geresy

Major life changes are usually marked as “before-said change” and “after-said change.” What it was like before I graduated, what it was like after I graduated. Life before I got married, life after I got married.

For me, there is life before YogaSport (YS) and life after YS.

You know those teenage years when you thought you knew it all? I had “those adult years.” I kept my head down, worked hard, was oft commented on how “mature” I am or told “that girl has her head on straight.” These aren’t bad characteristics, but as Goethe said, “by nature we have no defect that could not become a strength, no strength that could not become a defect.” My strengths, while wonderful for overall life functionality, were limitations for growth within. I had myself figured out. I was of the opinion that this girl (me) had gotten herself pretty far so you can take that life coaching to someone else who was in shambles because that girl ain’t me (said with all the Southern sass you can imagine).

What I wasn’t prepared for was to have my rump handed back to me through bending myself into funky poses and purchasing colorful leggings. I kid—but in all seriousness, I was not prepared for the depths of exploration that yoga, assisting and teacher training call upon. There is certainly much learnt from the basics of alignment and healthy movement, but what is being gifted from those around you and that rectangular piece of foam extends far beyond the basics. I was a resident workshop junkie at YS. This was not because I discovered I actually was a mess in need of dire coaching or because I was not good enough at yoga (can that even be possible?).

I kept attending workshop after workshop because the tools provided for self-inquiry were so plentiful and even more so because finding a community that genuinely encourages this pursuit of growth and betterment is so rare. You could say “the final step” is teacher training. I plunged in because I knew with such veracity that there was no other place I trusted with this education and I wanted to share how deeply I loved what I was learning from others and myself. I wanted to share what was possible with others and have the honor to experience even a portion of their journeys with them.

While it felt like the final step, in reality, it was only the beginning of the realm of possibilities available to me. There are pieces of my personality that long laid dormant until teacher training; there is so much integrity from that rawness. Life has changed all around me and through TT I learned we are always growing, we always begin again. The hope I have is that I greet each new beginning with more grace, humility and mindfulness than ever before.

I didn’t think it could happen twice from such an unsuspecting source but, alas, there is “life before teacher training,” and “life after teacher training.”

“Perhaps love is the process of my leading you gently back to yourself.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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Seeing Past The Stereotype

Written by YS Instructor, Jenny Mizutowicz
Take Jenny’s class on Friday at 5:30 pm.

I haven’t always wanted to be a yoga teacher. To be honest, before I started practicing yoga, I assumed yoga was for skinny vegetarians who were way more flexible than I’d ever be. I thought of yoga teachers as full-time instructors who could contort their bodies into pretzels and loved Kombucha. If this is what it took to be a yogi, I’d never fit in.

Despite my preconceptions, I came to YogaSport via a friend’s suggestion in 2009. I had been casually taking yoga classes for about a year in Austin, and I fell in love with the physical nature of the Baptiste practice. My body craved the workout and I returned several times a week for a powerful, sweaty flow. The more I practiced and got involved within the studio, the larger role yoga started playing in my life. I began to apply the anecdotes and metaphors the teachers talked about in class to my own life. I started to understand the connection between breathing through difficult postures in class and reacting to stressful situations in life. I wanted to stop complaining so much. I wanted to stop being judgmental. I wanted to accept myself and be confident. I loved this practice, and I wanted more of it.

About a year or so into my practice, I began considering teacher training with Angela at YogaSport. I knew I would enjoy teaching yoga, but insecurity was holding me back and making me believe I wasn’t cut out for it. My asana was far from perfect; I could barely get up in crow, much less headstand. I didn’t have the type of body the yogis on the cover of Yoga Journal rocked. I didn’t have a daily mediation practice (Daily? Let’s be honest, I had never meditated). I ate burgers and drank beer; surely yoga teachers wouldn’t be down with that. I wasn’t the stereotypical yoga teacher, and that made me believe I couldn’t be a yoga teacher at all.

Stereotypes are superficial beliefs formed upon an oversimplified idea, and they are oftentimes way wrong. Despite my acknowledgement of this, I had fallen into the trap of using generalizations to make sense of the world. I was allowing a silly stereotype to influence my decision and make me feel insecure.

I struggled with this belief for nearly two years until one day I hastily decided I was going to do it anyway. I apprehensively submitted my application for the Summer 2012 YogaSport Yoga School class, and before I knew it, I was sitting in a room with 11 other yogis, absolutely none of whom I would have considered a stereotypical yoga teacher.

My class consisted of people of different ages, genders and body types. Some had advanced yoga practices, and others were merely beginners. Some could tear up a Meat Lovers pizza, others preferred a veggie option. There was nothing stereotypical about this group of yogis; they were a diverse group of people with one thing in common: they loved yoga. As the summer progressed and I got to know Angela and my classmates, I discovered that the yoga teacher stereotype was a myth. You don’t have to be skinny, flexible or adhere to any particular lifestyle in order to share this practice with others. You just have to be yourself.

Three years after completing teacher training and teaching classes at YogaSport, I can now do headstand, but I’ll probably die before I master forearm stand. I’m not a Size 0 and never will be. I still enjoy burgers and imbibe a sensible amount of beer. I work a full-time government job during the day. I’m still me, but guess what? I’m now a yoga teacher, too.

Since completing teacher training in 2012, I am physically and mentally healthier than before. I am stronger and have a comprehensive understanding of how exercise affects my anatomy. I am more confident and comfortable in my own skin, and I’ve developed a heightened sense of awareness of my reactions and how to control them. Yoga has transformed me into a more present and mature adult, one that can now see past the shallowness of a stereotype.

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How I Became an Imagination Pusher

Written by YS Instructor, Shoshannah Frank

It is interesting how the road begins to twist and turn when you think you are headed on a straight path. My journey into teacher training began solely as a personal journey, I was on a quest for knowledge in my own personal practice and had no intention of ever teaching. I said the same thing when I took assistant training and by the time I signed up for teacher training in 2012, I had been on the floor as an assistant for three years.

You could say that I am a constant work in progress, well aren’t we all, and I have been in therapy the majority of my life. When I started teacher training I knew that I would be able to delve deeper into different aspects of yoga, but I had no idea that the most meaningful and extraordinary take away would be a greater sense of self. Years of negative self talk and feeling of inadequacy had left me broken in many ways. Teacher training provided me with tools to come face to face with those feelings when they begin to creep in, because they will, and discern what is truth and what is a lie I tell myself. For me the training was deep, it was scary, painful at times yet it was the best thing I ever did for myself. My therapist agrees. It is interesting how learning about yourself and being open to new discovery is actually an important part of being a good yoga teacher.

Learning to actually teach was challenging, frustrating at times, but exciting as well. Just like being open to self discovery, it was important for me to be open to feedback from our teachers and other trainees in order for me to grow and move past the self-criticism in my head. I was not great, I was actually pretty boring at first I found that learning to teach yoga does not come naturally to most. Learning to not take it personally and use it as something to work on was a great lesson outside of the studio as well.

One of my favorite take aways from the training is that even though we all seem so different on the outside, we actually have so much in common. We are all full of insecurities, we all have fears and goals, we all have lessons to learn and lesson to teach. You may not like everyone, but you can learn from everyone and every experience. I made some dear friends in my class; people I now celebrate the ups with and lean on in the downs.

I decided to teach because I just thought that it was the next thing to do. It scared the crap out of me and I genuinely do not like being on a stage. Eventually you learn teaching really is not about you. I continue to teach because I think I can provide an interesting point of view. I do not think linearly all the time, I often teach asana using color, shape, rap songs, or food. I am now a firm believer on how things feel as opposed to how things look. My imagination is the key to the deepest part of my practice and I want to enhance the use of imagination in my classes for those who get it and expose it to those who don’t. I was once told that using your imagination to connect your mind and your heart will allow your soul to shine. Who does not want that?! Not everyone is going to like me as a teacher or maybe even as a person but teacher training made me ok with that. Well, it finally sunk in over time. I leave you with something I wrote to the teachers of YS in October of 2013 about a year after I started teaching at YS…

Before I went to Level 1 Teacher Training with Baron Baptiste, people would ask me if I loved teaching yoga. I was hesitant to answer because the answer was “No” but I knew that was not the answer they wanted to hear. I would just reply, “I am still getting used to it.” When I went to level one people asked me why was I there. I had to think about that answer, other than give the quick answer of “I had paid for it moons ago.” Soon my response became “to see if teaching is something I really want to do or is something others want me to do.” Honestly when I got on the plane to go that was not even a developed thought. I did not leave Arizona with an answer.

If you had asked me that question this morning, about a year after I started teaching, I would probably still have to give a dodgy response. There was nothing special about my class tonight, it was not full and the energy was not overflowing. My practice, in my body, although beautifully taught by my dear Christopher Roberson, was not mind-blowing. But as I drove home tonight, I heard myself say “I love teaching yoga.” It was in my head but it was so loud I am sure you heard it.

I am sure that this feeling will ebb and flow just like all things in life and that’s ok, but there will never again be the FIRST time I said “I love teaching yoga!” As Baron would say I am **astonished** ( insert spirit fingers.) Thank you for being my support team on and off the mat.

Shannah Frank, Imagination Pusher
YSYS graduate 2012

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The Hot Mess by Christopher Roberson

Written by YS Instructor Alum, Christopher Roberson

My life was a hot mess for most of my 20’s. And when I say ‘hot’,  I don’t mean sweaty vinyasa. My personal, financial and social life were all in a constant state of chaos fueled by impulsive and dramatic decision making. In 2008 I tested positive for HIV. Suddenly life felt more fragile. The consequences of an impulsive life seemed more real and heartfelt than before. The thought of not making it through the next hurdle woke me up and I found a different path. I started eating better. I began reaching for a glass of water instead of another 32 ounces of Dr. Pepper. I went to the gym. I started treating my life like something I wanted, and not just something I had. I began to build confidence in myself. It was at this pivotal nexus in my life that I discovered yoga.

What a discovery it was. Initially I kept going back because it was hard…like…’has this lady has lost her damn mind’ hard. Over the next few months my practice began to shift. Yes, I still worked too hard. And yes, I couldn’t NOT pay attention to what everyone else was doing…but when I got up off my mat, I felt something different. Or maybe a better way to put it is that I felt less. I felt less chaos. Less anxiety. I found myself considering consequences before acting. I felt like there was time to consider my reactions before I let them burn down bridges and spark conflict with the pharmacist at Walgreens (did I mention my impatience?).

For two more years I practiced. I breathed. My life started to take new form. My relationships blossomed. The importance of yoga became clearly realized and at this point it became something I yearned to share. On a whim one day I walked into YogaSport because I saw a sign. Not some metaphorical epiphany…but like…an actual sign. I had driven by the building hundreds of times and never noticed it till this day. The studio owner, Angela, greeted me at the door and I immediately asked about teacher training. I was all in after taking my first Baptiste class with Angela. It worked in my body. It gelled in my brain. THIS. This was what I was missing. I wanted to be able to speak like the instructors here. I wanted to share seemingly trivial parts of my life but in a way that could mean something to others. I wanted to be a part of this community and for the community to be a part of me.

Teacher training started soon after and to be quite honest I thought it would be a walk in the park. I thought I would walk in, be awesome, and go home. Well, it turned out that teaching yoga is hard. It’s hard in all the ways I didn’t expect. It didn’t matter how strong my practice was. My physical strength didn’t show me how to connect with my students. My ego didn’t help me share what frustration feels like on the mat and how to over come it. All of the things that I thought would make me the best didn’t mean a thing if I wasn’t willing to be vulnerable.

The next few months I shared. I opened up my insecurities to my teaching group. I cried more in a week than I had most of my adult life. I began to see people outside of the lens of my own needs and wants. I got better at not being great. The hundreds of little things I learned in teacher training led to the big changes I needed after I thought my life had fallen apart. Today I look back at where I started, and where I see myself now. I scan the room of bodies before each class and I am thankful to be in the studio, surrounded by amazing and unique people who are all willing to be present and ready to sweat and breathe with me. Today when I think to myself: ‘Damn, I’m a hot mess’…it’s because my blue hair die ran down my face during a particularly rewarding yoga class and I forgot to pack extra clothes for the ride home.

…and I wouldn’t change a thing.

How Teacher Training at YS Changed Me For Good

Written by Shannon Sliva
Shannon has been our YS soul sister since 2007. In 2015, she moved to Denver to become a Bad-Ass Professor but she promises to visit often. 

When I signed up for teacher training at YogaSport in the spring of 2012, my goal was to learn more about the tradition of yoga and my personal practice. It is safe to say that the program surpassed my wildest expectations. In truth, teacher training with Angela turned out to be the first major step in a life-changing journey to meet my best self.

Before you quickly click the link below to sign up, let me tell you what teacher training is not. It is not easy. It is hard work, physically, mentally, and emotionally. During some weekends, you will practice for hours on end, coaxing your tired body into yet another wheel to support your classmates in their growth. During others, you will scribble volumes of notes on anatomical terms like flexion, extension, lordosis, and kurtosis, and scratch out diagrams of the individual muscles of the rotator cuff. You will delve into your thought patterns and – sometimes painfully – extract emotional and spiritual roadblocks from your path to personal freedom and authentic relationships with others. While there is joy to be found in each of these processes, it will not always feel joyful and light. The joy comes later, like a blissful savasana at the end of a challenging, gut-wrenching practice.

When I started teacher training, I was mostly unaware of how much my need to be perfect was limiting my growth and development. If you too like to be good at everything, perhaps you can imagine how challenging it was for me to place myself in the shoes of a total beginner when I entered the training. I was frozen by fear and self-doubt. As I identified the roots of my mental blocks and pushed through physical and emotional barriers with the guidance of my teacher and the support of my classmates, my fear of failure was slowly overcome by courage, authenticity, and self-belief. I did not know what to say, but I said something anyway. I did not know how to do it right, but I did something

anyway. For me, this was a gradual but revolutionary shift which awakened a hidden part of myself that I barely knew existed. (Click here to read a blog post I wrote on this subject during training)The magic of this process is that it was not limited to my journey as a yoga teacher. In my work and in my relationships, I am more open, adventurous, and flexible. I speak and interact more authentically. I am less afraid of my mistakes. I feel bold, capable, and connected with what I have to offer. I laugh louder (or so I’m told).

While many things other than my teacher training at YogaSport have contributed to this ongoing transformation, it was through that initial process that I first invited a colorful, resonant tide of energy and movement into my life. If you are seeking a shift of some kind – even if you don’t yet know what it is – I invite you to join me on this beautiful journey.

My Life as a Carnival Mirror

By YS Instructor, Christopher Roberson

 

There is this version of ourselves that we see when we look into a mirror. What we see reflected back at us can range from strictly superficial things like hair, skin, and smile, to a deeper, more personal view of ourselves as human beings.

Over the last few years I have begun to realize that the image I see in the mirror, where I brush my teeth and comb my hair, feels more like a carnival mirror. In this reflection, proportions are exaggerated, distorted, and any semblance to myself is nearly absent.

The carnival mirror has become a metaphor for my social behavior and the way in which I replicate and exaggerate the behavior of others.

I recall waking up many a morning overwhelmed with a heavy feeling of regret sitting on my chest. Who was that guy last night? He put on my clothes, wore my face, but didn’t represent the values and standards that I want for myself.

In an effort to fit in, I worked too hard to reflect the thoughts, energy, and attitudes of those around me. But in true “Christopher” form, I took what I experienced in others and exaggerated it three-fold. Throw me in a room with a slightly narcissistic and hedonistic variety of people, and suddenly, I became an “If you don’t have something nice to say, come stand by me” kind of guy.

I wasn’t content simply following the lead of others, and I often found myself disproportionately mirroring the energy and flaws of the people around me. This way of being became a mask I wore to absolve myself of responsibility for my behavior, as well as the effect this behavior has on others.

In the moment, it was hilarious to be rude, to make fun of my friends, and to talk shit about people who under any other circumstance I held in high regard. I justified that being catty and sarcastic was part of my cultural connection and sociological response to those around me.

This realization was a necessary step towards redefining who I see when I take a long hard look at myself, and how I can sometimes behave. Part of this process of growth was saturating myself in a community whose values I admire. Thus, emerging myself in the yoga community helped me find ways to create the change I needed for myself.

YogaSport, primarily, has been a welcoming community where smiles and honest connections are in no short supply. I have been fortunate enough to surround myself with people whom I admire, and strive daily to adopt traits that I appreciate in the people around me. It’s in this transition that I have realized that I am the company that I keep, so keeping better company has become a necessity to living the life I want to live.

My struggle is still constant, and I acknowledge that this process of growth is always in a state of flux, but now when I look at who I am, I like what I see.

That'll Do Pig, That'll Do

By YS Instructor, Christopher Roberson

One day, when I was a kid, my father asked me if I wanted to know the difference between a dog and a pig.

“When a dog gets shocked by an electric fence, he will never go near a hot wire again. But pigs…pigs will test the fence everyday. If the electric fence goes down, you end up spending the afternoon trying to herd them back onto the farm.” Pigs, it seems, push boundaries on a regular basis; whereas, dogs have a tendency to “learn their lesson” the first time around.

Starting out as children, we learn valuable lessons from our mistakes. Eat before swimming, and you’ll get cramps. Touch a hot stove, and you’ll get burned. Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.”

I’ve worked with a lot of beginner yogis, and at some point certain poses create fear and discomfort. Stories are created in our minds that talk us in and out of toying with new places. “If I lift both feet in Crow, I’ll surely fall flat on my face,” is a very real acknowledgment of uncertainty, and I have heard it many times. I will let you in on a secret: falling on your face from 18 inches off the ground won’t kill you. Falling down isn’t even indicative of failure; it’s a sign of perseverance, assuming you get back up again.

We can’t possibly know our limits until we test them. Up to that point, it’s not a limit; it’s the idea of a limit. In order to be the best person you can be, push your comfort zone continuously and see what happens.

Comfort and complacency is our mind telling us we are safe. But instead of being safe, what we really are is immobile. We are safely locked behind the fence, living day to day in the same place, and closing ourselves off to growth because we don’t want to get shocked.

In her book Improv Wisdom, Patricia Ryan Madson dispenses a variety of improvisational maxims that coincide with real world challenges. In “Don’t Prepare,” she states that confidence follows success. Her context for this statement is primarily in regards to stage fright, but its application extends onto our yoga mats and into the world around us. The joy of success can’t ever happen if we don’t try to push past our fear of failure.

By letting go of tangible fears of anxiety and failure, we create the opportunity to learn something about ourselves. Real success doesn’t happen when we are afraid to try, and playing it safe doesn’t foster confidence.

I challenge you to explore the places you typically avoid. I’m not arguing that we all go out and touch hot stoves, or eat Chipotle before swimming laps, but there is always room to explore perceived restrictions and boundaries.

Explore your limitations and see what happens. If a pig can do it, so can you.

It’s all in the breath

Jenny Hansen shares her experience of Teacher Training in the Spring/Summer of 2013 in a series entitled The Mirrored Mat: Reflections on Life and Yoga. 

Tuesday morning, 8:15-ish, and I’m headed north on the Tollway to work. I’m running late, as per usual, my hair still wet from the shower, and I’ve forgotten to put on earrings. Sipping my coffee (third cup of the day – likely won’t be the last), ear buds in, navigating traffic, semi-conscious of the world around me while the rest of my brain goes through the rolodex of anatomical terms I’ve stuffed into my grey matter for tonight’s yoga training Anatomy test.

I’m tired. I’m anxious. I’m annoyed at the idiot in the Nissan in front of me. I’m distracted. I’m overwhelmed by the idea that I have to take a test – no, A BIG HARD EXAM – mere hours from now and unconvinced I’m adequately prepared. How much money is left on my tolltag? Quadratus anterior medius gracillis dorsi…. I have no idea.

But then, out of the chaotic fog that has become my weekday morning, a thought occurs: breathe. Not just inhale-exhale, but breathe – really breathe. I close my mouth and take a deep, slow inhalation through my nose, my ribs expanding as my lungs fill with air. Just as slowly, and deeply, I exhale out through my nose, an open-throated whisper that echoes an ocean wave. Total breath takes maybe 10 seconds, but in those brief moments, something has changed. My environment is exactly as it was before, my anatomy test still looms large on this evening’s agenda, my hair is still wet, and I’m still tired. And yet, I’m different. An act of conscious, thoughtful respiration has bestowed an air of calm and quiet that is nothing short of miraculous. Almost instantly, a slice of sanity has been restored, and the world seems a little kinder, warmer and welcoming.

What just happened? Yoga just happened, y’all. And that’s not hyperbole. If there is any one thing that yoga has taught me, one thing that I can do at anytime, anywhere, one thing that reaps instant rewards, one thing that has empowered me more than the strength, flexibility and knowledge I have gained from my practice, it is breath. Ujjayi pranayama, specifically, and it is without a doubt the component of my yoga experience that has had the most impact.

According to Wikipedia, “Ujjayi Pranayama is a balancing and calming breath which increases oxygenation and builds internal body heat.” An audible nasal breath, instructors frequently cue ujjayi as whispering with the mouth closed to encourage practitioners to open their throats. The resulting sound is akin to a soft ocean wave, and reminds me of holding a shell to my ear as a child to ‘hear the sea.’ It is not automatic; it takes practice and intention, but leaves me with such a profound sense of truly being in my body, unlocking a part of my foundation, my center. It’s like Zen on tap, and it is glorious.

It’s midday, I’m eating lunch at my desk, and an anatomy review is what I should be doing. My office to-do list is long on time and heavy on effort with emails/phone calls to return and collateral to create. Oh, and then there’s the incessantly-coughing-coworker (every eight seconds – yep, I timed it) who I’ve debated approaching with cough drops and/or duct tape. Needless to say, I am not relaxed. I am anything but relaxed. By now I’ve had four cups of coffee, I’ve been sitting down almost all day, I feel frazzled, and buckling down to the tasks at hand seems like a lofty goal. But then again, right when I think I’m just about to give my so-called adult life and the rest of the world the tall finger, a brief thought, followed by a simple action, calms the clamor and brings me back to earth. The breath is magic.

My favorite part of every yoga class is the very beginning, in child’s pose. I usually practice in the early evening, so I’ve battled rush hour traffic and a full day at the office to get to this point – but this point is awesome. It’s quiet, I can feel the heat from the panels on the ceiling, I’m alone on my mat and I begin to breathe – really breathe. I feel like I’m breathing for the first time that day, that I’m awake and alive and winding down all at the same time. The only sound is breath – my own, and from those around me. It fills the room, holds the space; just like that, my day, the traffic, the coughing coworker all slip away.

Yoga is a deeply spiritual process for me, and nowhere is that more evident than in these first few moments of class, those first few ujjayi breaths. An action that is otherwise automatic and unnoticed, a simple sound that is present but not overpowering, the breath becomes a sort of mantra, a wordless prayer that I send out to my mat, the space, the universe. As the instructor leads us through integration, sun salutations, and into the fiery heat of the warrior series, the breath is constant, an electric current that mobilizes and sustains each movement. It’s almost transcendental, to the point where I am absolutely convinced I am connected to something greater than myself. That something is different for everyone, but for me, that something is inherently strong, safe and empowering. This is the essence of my practice, and my love for yoga. If I do nothing all day but find a few quiet moments to be still and breathe – in my office, my apartment, my car, or on the mat – I will have worked wonders for both body and soul.

Yoga periodically suffers from preconceived notions about what it is, what it does, and who it attracts. The myriad of excuses keeping would-be practitioners from ever entering a studio: yoga isn’t exercise, it’s just stretching, it’s too hot, it’s religious, it’s weird, it’s new age, it’s only for flexible, skinny people, it’s for women. Such misleading info would make any middle-aged desk jockey apprehensive about wandering into a class, fearful of lithe, Lululemon-clad blondes, pretzel-prone and fabulous on their mats.

Thankfully, mercifully, my experience has been nothing of the sort. When I first began practicing yoga in 2007, I tipped the scale at well over 200 lbs, I didn’t own a stitch of brand-name apparel (still don’t), and could barely touch my knees, much less my toes. But what I could do, right from the get-go, was breathe. In that heated studio, sweating, insecure, I could breathe along with the rest of the class, and there was such power in that. Even better, it did something for me on a deeper level. My warrior II was wonky and my downward-facing dog stood on shaky legs, but my breath was solid and I felt strong. As my practice developed, so did my breath and its usage, until it expanded out of the studio and into the rest of my life, be it while battling traffic, sitting at my desk, or watching TV. Yoga is many things for many different people, but from that first moment of ujjayi pranayama, I discovered that yoga was simple, pure, and exactly what I needed it to be. Pretzel poses be damned, I can rock my breath and feel awesome about it, and frequently, that’s all it takes for me to OK in my own skin. From there, anything is possible.

It’s just after 3pm, and t-minus five hours until THE EXAM, which will be preceded by a sweaty, powerful flow at 6:30pm. I keep reminding myself that I signed up for this, I paid for this, this is all my choice, and yet I still want to bitch and moan that I’m in my 30s for Pete’s sake and shouldn’t have to take any more tests. I have enough work to keep me busy through the end of the day, but will sneak peeks at my anatomy notes until then to make sure I know what the hell the gastrocnemius is and what it does. I already have little butterflies flittering to and fro in my gut, and hope I remember the little isms and tricks I’ve taught myself to remember which muscles do what and where and why. Until then, I will be a good worker bee and guzzle water like a boss. I will try not to stress. I will try even harder to just focus already.

But then I will pause, mid-sentence, mid-thought. I will close my eyes for a moment and inhale – slowly, steadily, deeply – through my nose, the air rushing through my nasal cavity, down my throat and into my lungs, followed by a generous, humid exhale that will travel the same path. It will be a small action for a monumental shift. It will be just what I need.