Dearest students 11/17/17
Thank you for answering my survey. I loved writing it and was so grateful to hear from so many of you. Thank you for your honesty and careful delivery of feedback, I’ve been digesting it for many weeks.
Results show that the number one movement theme of interest is improved mobility, followed by strength and balance. The number one workshop theme is applied yoga- how to integrate your practice into life.
My discovery of yoga was a way back to my body after a twenty year hiatus, embedded in a familiar story of trauma and abuse, and an attempt to control it for lack of control anywhere else. My body was too painful to inhabit for the thoughts it conjured and feelings it revealed. I went to a yoga class because my neighbor suggested it. She had a light about her, an ease, a freedom. Soon I discovered that this window of time in a dimly lit room, moving my body in curious ways alongside purposeful breath, offered relief from a mind where thoughts led to pain and pain led to thoughts playing in an endless loop. In the best possible way, it offered a distraction, a change of focus. Soon I discovered teachers like Pema Chodron. Secular Buddhism. A quote by Geothe that became a personal slogan, “Experience everything, the beauty and terror, just keep going, no feeling is final.” I became a teacher because I wanted to spread what I experienced to others, to contribute to the greater good.
Yoga still encapsulates my search for meaning and keeps me curious, evolving. It’s a path of seeking, deepening, softening, enduring, integrating.
Why then have I drifted away from conventional, recognizable yoga postures and sequences over the past few years? Chiefly it is because of injuries I sustained from yoga and concern by the lack of real mobility gains, even in those of us who had been practicing for many years. It’s not just that I was bored (I was) it was that I began experiencing cognitive dissonance between my teaching and what I was learning from contemporary movement science. I’m still searching and learning and wondering how to integrate new content with old classics you enjoy. I’m hearing that you expect a certain amount of whole body movement in class and have been striving to deliver that as I choreograph new flows. These days in my classes you’ll find what I believe to be updated, effective approaches to increasing your mobility, strength, balance and presence- what you say you're looking for in yoga. As I learn more, I’m beginning to insert elements of applied neuroscience such as visual-motor cortex and vestibular system training to improve mobility and balance and facilitate healing.
Some of the approaches I’ve discovered over the past two years: buteyko breathing method, biomechanics, natural movement, movement ecology, functional range conditioning, primal movement and most recently applied neurology, brain-based movement training.
All of this scrutiny and searching left me deeply lonely as an outlier teacher until I recently discovered a good number of progressive thinkers and teachers challenging the status quo, documenting it on social media, traveling with workshops, positioning themselves as thought leaders. There is a big exciting conversation fomenting about where we’ll take body-mind education given what we’re learning from emerging research. An example: Mathew Remski, a Canadian yoga teacher scholar who started the WAWADIA project (what are we actually doing in asana) who writes prolifically about his dueling love and scrutiny for modern yoga. Many teachers are asking probing questions about the nuances of yoga and all that it contains. So much has changed over the course of my mere twelve years of teaching. Here is a short list of some of my epiphanies:
- Fun can be curative. It is best if you (mostly) enjoy your practice and have faith in its potential.
- Exercise is a drug: you must have the right kind and amount to serve the intended purpose. Not all movement is good movement but some is better than none. There are nutrient dense movements and junk food movements but all of this is personal and many factors must be considered.
- The brain is governing the state of your muscles and all other tissues.
- Every movement has a purpose, so you can immediately increase your mobility by thinking about an external cue or goal rather than an internal or self-focused one.
- Chronic pain and dysfunction is a brain issue, not necessarily a body-part issue. Pain is a complicated, fascinating, unfolding area of study.
- Our vision is responsible for 70% of movement ability. That’s the visual-motor relationship not just acuity.
- Our inner ear and vision are intimately linked and can be improved to benefit global strength and mobility.
- There is an important distinction between flexibility and mobility, the latter of of which is practical and useful rather than fleeting and aesthetic (and potentially injurious). Dynamic, resistance and eccentric stretching are more effective and often safer than static holding.
- Bilateral movement can be ineffective or even injurious if there is pain and dysfunction when doing it and a person may benefit from doing unilateral movement for a time. Most natural movement is unilateral.
- The more parts of our body we’re able to move in isolation first and integration second, the more options and resilience we’ll create.
- High-tech shoes, low-tech feet.
- There is a difference between functional breathing and Pranayama. Pranayama is aimed at transcending ordinary states and shifting subtle energy around the body. It is not something to be done on a regular unconscious basis where as functional breathing is what you’re doing all day and night without thinking about it. If you are a chronic over-breather as many are, chronically stressed, it will be better to breathe quietly through the nose with slightly longer exhales and the tongue resting on the roof of the mouth behind the teeth.
- Balance can be improved, it is not an innate skill. Unless you’re moving your eyes or head, or body, you’re not working on balance.
- Many people aren’t healthy enough to exercise. There are foundational systems to improve first, like breathing, balance, proprioception.
- Every person’s brain is as unique as their fingerprints.
Large group (fitness) classes pose an immense challenge for a teacher who wants to help folks with individual needs and tastes. Perhaps yoga means something unique to each of us. For some of you, you told me it is a time for you not to think. Some you are focused on physical aspects, for some the physical practice is secondary to the mindfulness practice.
Change can be threatening. Neurologically speaking, your brain is designed to recognize and keep patterns so depending on your perception, change can feel deeply unsettling. Change is life! Life is change. Groundlessness is guaranteed. Recognizing this is liberating.
From studying the history and origin of modern practice, which chips away at some of the romantic panacea-promising qualities we’ve absorbed so deeply, I’ve learned that the postures aren’t so ancient and therapeutic that we can’t change them to better suit our needs. It is not sacrilege to infuse them with new life. I feel compelled to tell my version of yoga’s complicated history.
Alongside this I continue to study and practice mindfulness and secular buddhism and wonder how to invite this to permeate the hardships of being human, of being a parent, of living in a deeply troubling political climate on a planet in peril. I wonder how we can synthesize the embodied physical practice with our general approach to life, allowing it to shape our attitudes and conduct. I wonder how we can use our practice to build peer support and community.
If you want a teacher who cares deeply about your individual challenges and goals, one who is creative and curious, then I am your teacher. If you want someone who is inventive, irreverent, thoughtful, enthusiastic, and willing to change course, then come along on this adventure. It may not be predictable, “regular” “classic” or “traditional” but It will be intentional. I will be excited to teach you. I want to see you develop surprising new skills and strength and to apply your practice to the joys and challenges of being human. I will hold space for your self-care and for your moving, observing, letting go, accepting and changing. I teach because I know that there is a ripple effect. When you move better, feel more centered and live more integrally, this touches the lives around you for the better. We can be the change.