Tracey Garcia and I had a lovely conversation about the differences between Yin Yoga & Restorative Yoga. This video interview includes lots of quick nuggets you can use to clearly explain the differences.
Learn more about Restorative Yoga, or visit my Learn to Teach Yin Yoga page for details about Yin.
I am thrilled beyond measure to see the vast range of offerings in the world of yoga - I’m (personally) most excited when the offerings are backed by science, music, or help anyone be less of a wanker and more invested in the greater good.
So trauma-informed trainings rank high on my list, as sometimes they are backed by science, and their intention is to help yoga teachers be more aware of how to navigate the complex expressions of trauma. In all the reading and study I’ve done trying to better understand my bizarre and blossoming trauma responses, I have found I most resonate with the opinion of Dr. Gabor Mate who says, “Trauma is not what happens to us, it’s what happens inside of us.”
From the outside - as in - as someone who doesn’t consciously identify as managing their own trauma response - I think this perspective is quite helpful. What it says to me, is that it does not matter if you were attacked by a shark or a shitzu, if you were physically maimed or startled, or a survivor of willful or neglectful abuse. Your response is not necessarily relative to the original incident, therefore, it’s unhelpful and unnecessary to rank people into “worse” and “better” or line them up according to their level of trauma, because it’s a fool’s errand.
This is an innate human need, to understand where we fit in the scheme of things. To normalize our experience, and it is the first paradox we must overcome if we intend to serve this population. Just as we might suffer more grief for the loss of a pet than a parent, we might experience more trauma after a paper cut than a car accident. Resist the urge to qualify yourself as having experienced “sufficient” trauma to empathize, or to attempt to prove how traumatized you were to earn credibility.
You are enough exactly as you are - no explanation or qualification necessary.
The second paradox I see in people after a training about trauma-informed yoga, is that they are now hyper afraid of triggering everyone, always. Triggers are varied, and we have a tendency to assume what someone’s triggers might be. One training teaches to use soft music, another touts that music can be triggering. What to do? While it’s a common practice to allow individuals to opt into and out of physical touch, some trainings teach that it is triggering for a student to see the instructor touch another student. Touch no one? Succinct communication suggests starting with the “command” form of a verb, while another training might invite you to pepper your communication with softeners in order to avoid sounding commanding.
As teachers leave these trainings, they contact me, often in tears, recounting the number of times they have instructed their students to close their eyes in a yoga practice, and how they didn’t realize how damaging that could be. Wondering how to succinctly teach a vinyasa class by saying “if it feels ok… move into downward facing dog” while cuing one breath, one movement.
If I may, I’d like to invite a few ideas that might liberate you from the teaching paralysis that sets in post trauma-informed anything:
Forgive yourself for what you did before, unless you were truly heinous (just kidding, forgive yourself regardless, and commit that you will not be willfully heinous in the future).
Take every direction and suggestion with an enormous grain of discernment. Who are you teaching? How can you be supportive? How can this training be more freeing and less constricting in your role as a yoga teacher?
Remember that this world does not operate with absolutes - they are a human construct, and they aren’t often helpful. It is not inherently wrong to use music, or to use hands-on support, or the command forms of verbs. You can invite people to close their eyes rather than commanding them, but if you forget, it is also ok.
Please do NOT allow a training to sideline you as a teacher. You cannot predict everything that might trigger someone, because trauma is not what happens to us, but what happens inside of us. People have preferences, and triggers, and quite often they cannot effectively name either. You cannot protect your students from what is inside of them, but you can offer them tools to understand, unpack, and diffuse their experience.
This is the yoga.
Be informed. Take trainings. Reflect. Integrate.
(Be less heinous whenever possible.)
For the past month I’ve been diligently working away at curriculum for an advanced yoga teacher training, which has inspired me to read and re-read a dozen books, hundreds of blogs, and listen to TED and podcasts ad nauseam.
Simultaneously, I’ve had some teaching “firsts,” like a private client come to a session with me in tears because she needed to cancel, and then paying me double for the inconvenience.
A rocky conversation about age that I could not skillfully wrangle.
I felt the imposter syndrome creeping in… who am I to be offering advanced training? I’m still having new experiences.
I still get angry.
(I still forget that it isn’t the point).
In my defense, one of my dearest friends and fellow teachers suggested that “…if someone tells me I’m not a teacher, that I can punch them in the face, which is not terribly yogic.”
And that got me thinking.
There is a stark difference between yoga and American hippy culture or “Yippee” (yuppie + hippie) culture, and even with the years and the reading, I still find myself slipping into the melting pot of two things that pair well, but are not the same.
I think I understand some of the reasons.
Many (many) American yoga teacher training programs offer precious little of the deep yogic philosophy, as it would normally take at least 20 years of intensive study to master it, and we’re trying to pack it in to 200 hours. If they do use a classical text, it is often the yoga sutras, which is a little bit like the Four Agreements version of yoga - a nice deck of wisdom nuggets that should suffice if you’re planning to try to live a good life and do more good than harm.
In the sutras, we find the word ahimsa, which can be translated as non-violence. Generally speaking, I believe that being less violent to self and others to be pretty good advice.
There is more to the story.
Some trainings touch on the Bhagavad Gita, which is a story that takes place on a battlefield in which (spoiler) Krishna tells Arjuna, the leader of the underdogs, to get off his sad sack of self-pity “I don’t WANNA be at war” and do his friggin’ duty. Ya wanna be at home reading? Bummer, dude. Life doesn’t always go the way you wanted it to. But here we are, and you’ve gotta suck it up and make it through this.
(I’m paraphrasing - there is a lot more to the story).
I find the Gita to be a better guide for the reality in which I often find myself: life rarely goes as I have planned it, and while I haven’t found myself in a legit battlefield, I can certainly relate to feeling like an underdog faced with a task I’m not thrilled about.
I can relate to sulking.
Finally, we think about the devotional yogis - those who like to chant, pray, do fire ceremonies, and seek to know themselves through the emotional sense of - and confuse them with the Woodstock-ish ecstatic dancing, ayahuasca sampling modern yippies and conveniently forget that there are six emotional states in the practice of Bhakti Yoga.
The sixth, is hatred.
Hatred is the highest form of devotion, as it is all-consuming. It is single-pointed.
It is not pretty.
So while I completely agree with my friend, that punching someone in the face for making me have a feeling is unnecessarily violent, feeling anger is not.
Yogis feel anger, discontent, melancholy, self-pity, and hatred.
The point is not to bypass the feelings or to ignore them.
The point is to build up your toolbox - your resilience, your network - so that you can assess the situation and act skillfully. As teachers, we are here to impart and share teachings to help our students (and ourselves) navigate the messiness of life, not disregard or shame it.
It is perfectly yogic to be angry.
(and do your duty anyway)
I believe that "the goal" of a yoga teacher is not to offer transformation, acceptance, or a transcendent experience. The goal of YOGA TEACHERS as a collective, is to bring people back to the mat. To meet them where they are and provide a space where they can meet, acknowledge, love, slay (or whatever) their own darlings and demons. There is NOTHING WRONG with crossfit-meets-yoga. Maybe it isn't your yoga today, but to someone else, it is letting in a sliver of light - it is providing a space on a mat for someone who needs that kind of yoga right now, today. If the teacher is popular, great. She is meeting students where they are. And if they later choose a different class because her class no longer serves them, than better for all of us to have open arms and say YES. WELCOME to my class. Here is what I have to offer you today. I'm glad you have returned to the mat.
Right now, a particular quote - a particular teaching - resonates with you. Perhaps in the crossfit class, someone else had a transcendent realization.
Who is to say which yoga is right?
It is an important lesson for us as teachers to embrace ALL teachers, styles, formats so that we as a collective can support one another and shine and share our light (and our shadow and darkness, as needed).
I often joke that I received two invitations on the same day - one to a beautiful prenatal yoga teacher training, with hands on bellies and peaceful music, and one for Booty Yoga - which was basically strip dancing on yoga mats in some poses that I could almost recognize as yoga poses. I don't think that's safe - at all! I'm personally concerned about their poor bodies the same way I'm personally concerned about other peoples' questionable moles - but neither has anything to do with me. I used to make fun of this style of yoga, until I met a few students who told me that was how they found yoga - someone told them it would make their butts look better. Maybe it did? But they also got injured, learned lessons, wrangled demons, and found a different style of yoga.
I'm trying - gently - to offer you something that I have seen in myself - a judgement of someone else calling themselves a yoga teacher doing something I'm categorically opposed to. Someone whose ego is showing, who is maybe a bit rajasic. Someone who highlights in me my own questions of worth - am I a worthy yoga teacher?
What I am saying is yes - I am a worthy yoga teacher. And so are you. And so is she. Even if you don't like it. Even if I don't like it.
When someone says to me, "That's not yoga!" I think of my dad shouting, "That's not music!"
Because it isn't, to you.
But it is to someone.
There’s a dirty promise lurking in the world of Instagram. It says if you practice yoga in your underwear in your kitchen, drink green smoothies from glass jars, and have a mala to match each phase of the moon, you will have “made it.”
Your life will be perfect.
If you become a teacher, sponsored by a yoga apparel company, adored by followers, you will find peace.
Your anxiety will roll over and die.
While you might know that these things are not true, you might still hope they are. You might play along, “just to see” if it does actually work out.
That’s actually ok.
It’s ok to want everything to work out, and while apparel sponsorship might get you the equanimity you desire, I find I feel just the same amount of wonderment or disdain whether I was paid to wear the pants or not.
I have always had anxiety. I have always practiced yoga.
My anxiety is incredibly productive. She can juggle insurmountable tasks, and when left unsupervised, will create more chaos and work than she could ever accomplish, out of self preservation.
Is there anything else in the house that could be alphabetized?
ARE YOU SURE???
If I don’t practice yoga, she starts to get the upper hand. And she’s pernicious.
I lose track of this sometimes, as a teacher. Sometimes I forget that teaching yoga is not practicing yoga, and if I teach and teach and teach at the expense of my practice, I find myself overcome by tears at a rest stop, starting a meditation timer to try again.
And so I’m writing to tell you that this is the game. I still sometimes wake to the strong-willed toddler of my own inner neurosis, and by sometimes, I mean often.
But I know what to do, and I’m better at remembering earlier. I have more tools, more friends, more guides. It used to take me until 3pm to remember that eating helps, or that phoning a friend is better than mining Facebook for real connection.
Go to class. Start the meditation timer. Find a cushion. Lie down. Repeat.
Lately I feel like a wet and wandered dog stumbling into a class. The teacher thinks I’m there to evaluate them, or believes because I have taught for a long time that I’m there to judge.
“I just need to practice,” I have whispered.
Because I don’t care if it’s a “brilliant” sequence, or a “great” soundtrack, or “stellar” adjustments. I am just trying to surrender to my human-ness.
Yoga classes are like 12 Step meetings and chocolate chip cookies: even a not-so-great one is still pretty good.
Almost always worth it.
Because life continues to unfold after you get the letters, the gold stars, the sponsorship deals, the writing advance, or whatever it is you’ve told yourself will be the line of demarkation beyond which you will have made it.
Life will not get easier.
You will just get better at it.
Yoga teachers teach, they don't TREAT.
Jen with Anatomy for Yogis and I have been saying this for years - your yoga teacher's 200 hour or 300 hour or 500 hour training does NOT train them to diagnose or treat any conditions - so please don't ask. It is so tempting to want to step over that line and offer you something, except it could be the wrong thing, and we're just as trained to know as your accountant.
Here is a quick primer on our scope - if yoga is HURTING you, as in, "wow, my shoulder really hurts in side plank" we are trained to help you do side plank in a way that does NOT hurt you. Or we can recommend alternate poses.
We can understand the anatomy and physiology of various functions and dysfunctions, and we can help explain them to you. We can teach around a challenging area, or help you breathe through difficult moments, diagnoses. We can teach you how to need less pain medication by using meditation, but we can't tell you to adjust your dose.
We can even ease your discomfort as you die.
More importantly, we can be on your team. Whether you're seeing someone for your depression or your dislocation, we can welcome you to our classes and tell you what fits into your treatment plan. We can remind you or teach you how the body functions, we can explain your treatment provider's treatment, and we can even suggest a second opinion. But if you've taken a training with me you know that my philosophy (from David Swenson) is that YOGA is a HAMMER. It is a tool with equal capacity to heal and break, it is not a magic wand.
We do not have pixie dust.
We are here to remind you that you're perfect, you belong, your illusion of separation is simply an illusion. Maybe for you that comes via 75 sun salutations or licking your own ankle, and we're trained to teach you that.
We are also trained to help you shift your perspective.
I always say - a good yoga teacher gets you to touch your toes, and a great teacher gets you to release the want.
And the best teacher doesn't cross that line - because as tempting as it is to our sweet little egos to do it just this once - just for you - just so we can cure what ails you, all it takes is one teacher wielding her ego like a hammer to destroy the reputation of yoga teachers and close off the path to yoga. Our shared goal as teachers is to bring you back to the mat - to remind you that the tools in the lexicon of yoga are always available to you, no matter what, whether it is my class or someone else's, my studio or your home studio.
We are here to help you see your injury, your diagnosis, your treatment as a teacher. If we take it away, what will you learn?
That is the real gift of yoga.
Om bolo satguru bhagavan ki.
(originally posted 1/25/2017)
We live in remarkable times with an intergallactic platform and ideas of intellectual property. Sometimes I forget the intricacies of the universe and believe that my teaching belongs to me.
(This is adorable).
How do we request reasonable compensation, honor our teachers, respect boundaries, and not trample on one another? I’ve done this with a lot less grace than I would have liked - giving away my teaching for no compensation, forgetting where precisely I learned a teaching, and gotten territorial when I felt like someone was selling my teaching verbatim (or had outright stolen and reattributed my stuff word-for-word).
Here’s what I know:
Reciprocity is a value
Does this mean you must be compensated to teach the yoga to the people? No. Does it mean that you must be thoughtful about how you exchange your time and energy? Absolutely. I believe strongly in bringing yoga to populations who cannot access public yoga classes - those who are hospitalized, incarcerated, and homeless.
I also believe in valuing the work that we do in an interdependent world. When I go to the grocery store, I don’t ask for a discount because “I am a starving yoga teacher,” I pay what they ask, so I charge what I am worth. This is our cultural agreement in the West.
Reverence is a value
You may have heard me call myself “irreverent,” which is also true. I have selective reverence, and I value all of my teachers - those who sat at the front of the room, and those who kicked me when I was down. I give attribution to a teaching that is passing through my lips or hands by sharing the name of the teacher, what they taught me, and how I interpret it differently.
Spewing quotes in yoga classes is not teaching. MLKJ said some wickedly impressive stuff and deserves attribution. AND deserves for what he offered to be mixed with what it means to you, how it relates to your students, and where and how you agree (or not). Reverence looks like this:
“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” MLKJ
Don’t just leave it there. Don’t make it about alignment in chatturanga. Tell me how small acts of self-love, like making the bed in the morning so I have something nice to crawl into at night, or acknowledging the existence of my yoga mat neighbor are opportunities for small greatnesses. Tell me a modern parable about a kindness that was repaid 1,000 times over.
I’d also like to shout back to Anne Lamott who says that your story is your story, and if people didn’t want you to write about them, they should have been nicer to you. Kick me when I’m down? I’m gonna learn from it and teach it.
When is it flattery and when is it flattening?
Sometimes I read or hear the influence of my teaching, and it warms my heart. Teaching is my legacy, and it feels nice to know that what I taught someone resonated with them to the extent that they are passing it along. That is the goal of teaching, is it not? I don’t want a statue built in my honor, but I do want people to suffer a little less for the suffering I have experienced and learned from.
Other times, I see people give handouts that I created with my name somehow missing.
That feels different.
Clearly, if it were only the teaching that mattered to me, this would not bother me. I would be grateful to see the lessons passed along. But I don’t think it’s just solid ego either. Sure, it feels like my legacy is unimportant if I don’t have attribution, but it is bigger than that.
My opinion on the matter, is that teaching is how you interpret the various life events that have come to you, whether they come to you as teachings or otherwise. It is essential that you take this in and interpret it back out. If you simply redistribute the teaching of someone else, it misses this critical step, so when your students ask you for your opinion on the matter, or for some deeper nuance, you may be lost in the woods with no sense of how you got there.
When I teach the anatomy sections of yoga teacher trainings, I ask the teachers-to-be to brainstorm a list of all of the things you could do with a hammer.
Break a window!
You get the picture?
Then I tell them why.
Approximately 1,000 years ago (or 2012, whichever comes first) I heard iconic teacher David Swenson say “Yoga is a Hammer” in response to a panel discussion about the article “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.”
(I’m sure you can google it).
This teaching had a profound impact on me personally, and on my teaching of yoga and teaching of yoga teachers simultaneously.
My interpretation of this teaching, “yoga is a hammer” is that yoga is just a tool. You can use it to build your body or to break it down. Teaching yoga to a room of students is similar to teaching hammer skills to a room full of construction students. You are handing a hammer to each one, and trusting them to do the right thing, to follow your instructions, and to ask for help if they don’t understand you.
Your student might be in class to repair their body. Quiet their mind. Cultivate a tight ass.
Or they might be there to beat themselves with a hammer.
(I have done this).
I have used yoga as a hammer in so many ways, including to beat myself up about why I can’t do something, why I don’t look a certain way. I have attempted to force, I have worked in anger. I have also used it to rebuild my confidence, to re-train posture, and to bond with my fellows and friends.
People will tell you that yoga can damage your body, but for some reason we give them a lot more social media attention than we give to people who post that you could get into a bicycle accident, or hurt yourself skiing, or miscalculating your step off of a moving walkway. Of course yoga can hurt a body. Repetitive movement can hurt a body. Overconfidence can hurt a body.
Life can hurt a body.
Does that mean you should not live?
May I encourage you not to concern yourself with all of the bizarre, freak ways in which yoga could damage a body, and instead to concern yourself greatly with the ways in which you can teach discernment, self-awareness, and autonomy? These things will support your students when they play basketball on the weekends, balance their checkbooks, and discipline their children in addition to supporting their bodies in the practice of yoga.
Bodies want to be healthy. They want to heal. It is in their nature to do so.
Teach your students to practice yoga like a turtle with a hammer. Slow and steady. Build up to physically challenging moves. Laugh at people who suggest you put your foot behind your head as a method of reaching enlightenment. Move slowly in the direction you’d like to go rather than forcing your body into pushups and handstands. If they are fun, if you are nimble and young and full of joy for being upside down, then sally forth. Slowly. Like a turtle.
When you see or overhear a conversation about this idea that yoga will wreck your body, offer a one-sentence, succinct and true answer, and move on.
Here is mine:
“Yoga is a hammer, I am a carpenter, and you can be, too.”
(Use your powers for good).
I recently had a rough flight. Bumpy landing. Maybe lost a wheel or two. Maybe refused an oxygen mask in lieu of muscling through impossible circumstances. But the flight is over, and we’re walking away, and I find I don’t need to talk about it anymore.
(This is a metaphor).
The last chapter of my life is in the crash-landing position, heaving, with its head between its knees. Wondering which way is up, and if there is a ground, and if we’ll make it.
Simultaneously, I have become terrified of flying. I do it anyway, and pretend to be cool, except when I also jump six inches when someone taps me on the shoulder with pretzel mix and a napkin.
(Who eats pretzels with a napkin, the Queen?)
When I start to panic, I listen to Jaya Lakshmi & Ananda Yogiji, and in my fever, often have a visual of a plane full of white ninjas, the Kundalini tribe, chanting, smiling, and washing their cares away in that sweeping motion - arms over the head.
Mantra. The power of words, intention, repetition.
It gets me through the flights, and it’s getting me through this.
(I think I can.)
We start teaching mantra for a the same variety of reasons we teach anything: we saw someone else do it, we think we’re supposed to, it’s on a list of objectives provided by a studio, we want to be cool, we actually understand and like it.
If I teach mantra, it’s usually dividing the class in three and starting the right side first:
“Row, row, row your boat…”
Which, as it turns out, is a pretty decent mantra.
In my class we bless the rains down in Africa. We howl with Shakira. We groove with the X Ambassadors who believe we are SO gorgeous, and we like our sugar with coffee and cream.
Thoughts become words, and words become actions, and this makes words a really interesting middle man between what you’re doing (actions) and why you’re doing it (thoughts). Yoga says change your words, change your life.
The genre and the language are less important than your connection to the meaning. When you are in the Seat of the Teacher, you are flying the plane, my darling. Your thought-mantra gets blasted over the PA system while the message you’re trying so artfully to convey with your spoken words can get lost.
It’s a lot of responsibility, and it starts with you.
Mantra is your oxygen mask. It won’t teach the class or fly the plane, but it will help you think clearly.
(Don’t forget it).
When I first retired from my fancy-pants career in 2011 to teach the Yoga full time, I was surprised to find myself in a remarkably precarious position that did not involve being upside down or folding any part of myself in on itself like a transformer. I had anticipated showing off my badass body folding skills, but I wasn’t ready for the real challenge.
I found myself on a pedestal.
People were looking up to me - modeling their behavior, their dress, their dietary choices after mine.
And I let them.
Yes! I thought. I’ve never had a traffic ticket, never used drugs… I really am morally superior. Go ahead and do as I do, and you’ll crush life.
Except they couldn’t quite figure it out, so I had to help them. Stay after class and sort through their problems, wipe their tears, and offer advice. Lots of it. Good advice, too, if I do say so myself.
And this was very effective! It didn’t change their lives for the better (or mine, if I’m honest), but it did distract me from the elephant-sized problem I was trying to ignore in my own life.
The details, as always, are irrelevant. Except to say that I could not outrun nor could I dance faster than my own misery and I came tumbling right down off of that pedestal in a public way.
Loads of people abandoned me, and I don’t blame them for a second. I was dishonest and “helpy.” Others became angry and felt betrayed, others wanted to help, and a few showed me how to teach.
They sat there as I lay beneath shame and a badly bruised ego, crying next to the pedestal that used to hold my impeccable moral compass and said things like “I know,” and “that must be hard,” and “you will live through this.”
They did not fix me, nor did they attempt to.
And they were right, I lived through it.
If you teach long enough, this will happen. Both the pedestal and the falling off. It will happen over and over again until you figure out a few things about yourself. Here are the few that I learned, in a form that I hope you find useful.
THE DETAILS ARE IRRELEVANT:
You do not have to tell your students your story. The whole story or part of it. But do not pretend that you belong on a pedestal, and if you find that a student is placing you up there, kindly remind them that you’re more comfortable on the ground. Authenticity is the jam, and does not require you to bare your soul in class or on the internet.
NO ONE IS BROKEN:
There is absolutely a power dynamic in the student/teacher relationship, and it’s important to acknowledge and respect that. However, believing that you are ‘better than’ requires you to also believe that they are ‘worse than’. You might not be doing this consciously, and that is my invitation here. You are a yoga teacher, and fixing people is not in your job description.
YOU ARE NOT ACTUALLY ABLE (OR ALLOWED) TO FIX PEOPLE:
Neither is anyone else. Dentists can repair broken teeth, doctors can stitch broken skin, veterinarians can prevent your dog from licking a wound, but no one can fix another person. All we can do is cultivate the circumstances where healing can occur. I do this the way my people did this for me, with a few key phrases and mostly just listening. Here are a few of my phrases. They are not brilliant, but they are easy to memorize and remind me to shut my mouth.
“That must be hard”
“I don’t know what to say”
“I’m glad you’re here”
BONUS: YOU ACTUALLY DO NOT HAVE TO LISTEN TO YOUR STUDENTS, FOR THE RECORD
This is not harsh, this is responsible. If you’re present to teach a class, that does not necessarily mean you need to listen. Remember, the details are irrelevant? It’s ok - healthy - remarkable, in some circumstances to direct someone to a more appropriate audience.
“I’m going to stop you - thank you for trusting me to hear your story - I’d love to connect you with someone who can offer you the support you need.”
You see? Boundaries are a sign of health.
I write in a few different places, but these are things just for yoga teachers, or those interested in learning to teach.