Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Toy Drive for SDCCS2 - a time for Seva and Paropakāra

This is the time of year when we all start checking things off our shopping lists for friends and family. Some opt out of the shop/give materialism and simply exchange good will and good company. Some agree to "not shop" and make donations to worthy causes in one another's names. Some donate time at food pantries, soup kitchens or sorting/distributing clothing at shelters. Some work on pet adoptions, or just spend time nourishing the love in their families. Some travel to protest sites, to needy countries, to hospitals or wherever a loving soul, another pair of hands and a few more dollars might help further a positive effort.

I applaud any way you choose to enrich the lives of others, and restore some sanity to what might be an otherwise daunting and crazy time of year, especially in our global and local political climates.

If you are local, and so inclined, I am collecting new, unwrapped toys for children of all ages for the families in the community of where my son goes to school. A few decks of cards, a science book, a set of construction blocks, an easy reader set, coloring books and crayons, toy cars, a huggable stuffed toy, a hiking journal, a kid's yoga mat - any thing you have or could pick up easily at a minimal expense would be so gratefully appreciated.

You may bring them to any of the classes that I teach around the county (no need to ship anything from out of town please) and I will bring them en masse to the donation box at our school. We have 20 families on our holiday list to whome we'd like to bring a little extra cheer.

In Sanskrit Seva means selfless service. There are a number of words that are synonymous with charity or giving or the act of that. Here is a short list I found:

Atisarjana: the act of giving away something or making a donation.
satkriyā: a good action, charity, virtue
vara: Charity, alms
āmiṣadāna: gifts of material sthigns (in buddhist philosophy)

but my favorite so far is paropakāra: assisting others, benevolence, charity

What's yours?

Monday, November 7, 2016

Those Mysterious Hand Gestures - The Mudras! a link to a post by Blissful Body Yoga

I love mudras. They are one of my earliest discoveries of yoga, dating back to my childhood when I would "play" with my hands. Bend them, press them together, make them soar like wings. I let my hands dance as the true expression of my anahata (heart) chakra that they are. As I grew into an artist, yoga teacher and healer, the magical emanations of energy from my hands became an even deeper part of my practice, and how I share healing with others. 
The Kripalu tradition is part of my lineage as a yogi, and Swami Kripalu, like many yogis, was known to have eruptions of spontaneous mudras while deep in meditation. Mudras create powerful energetic "circuits" in our system on many levels, in all of our koshas (energetic sheaths.) They hold energy, heal, protect, enlighten and express.
Over the years I have learned mudras from my teachers, but many, many more have simply come through my hands in a natural way. This is the point I want most to share with you, that mudras, like all yoga, are already in you. All aspects of yoga will express themselves naturally if you allow them to, and take the time to be mindful and notice what is occurring. The more you do this, the more it will occur. In Kripalu yoga we use the acronym BRFWA (Breath, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow) for the process which encourages meditative states to arise, which will in turn lead to many things including spontaneous asana and mudras experiences.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Yoga and Its Therapeutic Effects

There is a big "todo" going on right now with Yoga Alliance where they are not sanctioning any language for registered yoga teachers that includes references to healing, therapy, etc. (unless of course the instructor has a medical credential which is well outside the scope and licensing of YA). They are also NOT including any type of healing/therapy program in their credentialing list; instead the yoga therapy as it stands as a formal discipline is now covered under a program with the International Association of Yoga Therapists. This group has a lengthy (and pricey) YT program that is quite acclaimed. However what some are struggling with is that their yoga really does have therapeutic applications or they work with special populations and study certain styles and applications of yoga to help improve the quality of life for those struggling with certain dis-eases.

YA states that it is a matter of not authorizing yoga instructors to diagnose or treat medical problems. However, the benefits of yoga are so holistic, that the yoga instructor community that is dedicated to the promotion of well being and support for special populations that require modifications and special focus in a yoga class is frustrated by the lack of being able to list their skills and training as having these positive results/applications. Moreover, they are at risk for having their YA membership and certifications revoked if they do even so much as list the word "heal" on their YA profile (case in point: I had written that I started doing yoga to help heal my mind and body after mental and physical illness. I had to remove the word heal under threat of losing my certification). While there are special designations for Prenatal Yoga and Children's Yoga, there aren't ones for Chair Yoga, or Yoga for Multiple Sclerosis, or Yoga Therapy under the umbrella of the Yoga Alliance. Of course people can train and earn completion certificates from whomever they want, but they won't carry that special "YA" accreditation; there is something valuable about being recognized from a central "authority" with universal standards by which employers and students can gauge their instructors (not unlike the value of bachelor or master degrees from colleges/universities).

All that being said, there is a plethora of excellent work being done out there, whether "certified" or not by Yoga Alliance, by highly qualified, highly educated, highly practiced yogis who are also doctors, scientists, therapists, teachers and other health and well-being professionals.

For example, there has been amazing research on yoga for PTSD by Bessel Van Der Kolk., M.D. who wrote The Body Keeps the Score (my current read that is getting road-worn because I drag it everywhere so I can turn a page any time I have 10 seconds free). On Dr. van der Kolk's website there is an article in which he was interviewed by Integral Yoga Magazine. He said
My interest came from doing research that discovered how trauma affects the brain. Yoga turned out to be a way to get people to safely feel their physical sensations and to develop a quiet practice of stillness.
Here, have a read:

In the meantime, it seems to be very much about semantics, so I can promote myself as a yoga teacher and you and I can just know what's happening inside might be considered (insert the T word here) but we'll just say we had a good practice!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The PHIT Act - legislation to help YOU and your wallet

copied from the Yoga Alliance website:

The PHIT Act: Federal Legislation That Benefits Yogis and All Americans

Last Updated: September 1, 2016
The U.S. is experiencing a sedentary and obesity crisis across the country. Here are just a few of the staggering statistics:
  • According to the World Health Organization, physical inactivity is the 4th leading cause of death.
  • The CDC director reports that “physical activity is the closest thing we have to a wonder drug.”
  • Congressional findings reveal that the U.S. “ranks last in the world in reducing the number of preventable deaths resulting from obesity-related chronic illnesses,” with nearly one-fifth of American children ages 2 to 19 categorized as overweight or obese.
  • Research is pouring in that indicates that physical inactivity affects the brain and our ability to learn – our future generations are at risk.

What is the PHIT Act?

The “Personal Health Investment Today Act,” or PHIT Act, is a bill currently in Congress aimed at helping to reduce the obesity epidemic through physical fitness.
The PHIT Act would allow taxpayers to place up to $1,000 for individuals (or $2,000 for a joint return or head of household) in pre-tax medical accounts (such as HSAs and FSAs) annually. These funds could be used to pay for physical activity expenses, including yoga-related expenses.

How does it benefit the yoga community?

The Bill will give more Americans a reason to improve their health through physical activity.
Under the proposed Act, yoga classes, studio memberships, teacher training programs, some continuing education, and certain equipment (like mats, blocks, straps) would qualify as tax-deductible medical expenses. By making yoga more affordable in this way, the yoga community will see:
  • More yoga practitioners in their classes
  • Improved access to yoga teacher training programs
  • Greater diversity in yoga
  • More people seeking a healthy lifestyle physically, mentally, and spiritually

Contact Your Members of Congress

Ask them to support this legislation. Encourage your family, friends, students, colleagues and other yoga practitioners you know to do the same. This is by far the most important thing you can do to help!

Learn More About the PHIT Act

Visit the PHIT America website to learn even more about the PHIT Act. Discover the many reasons why this legislation is so important for America's health.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Yoga and _________

There are people doing amazing work out there using yoga to complement other modalities to help create vitality, ease suffering, and improve physical and mental abilities. I met a few of those people last weekend and I'm thrilled to share their work with you:

Yoga and Arthritis
In reality, beginner yoga classes may provide simple, gentle movements that gradually build strength, balance, and flexibility – all elements that may be especially beneficial for people with arthritis. In this article, Steffany Haaz Moonaz, PhD and registered yoga teacher (RYT-500) will demystify yoga for arthritis patients and their providers. (click link above to read more)
Yoga and Cerebral Palsy
Individuals with physical disabilities often seek alternative means of exercise to help them stay strong and healthy. As Ryan McGraw discovered, yoga can be a great way to improve balance, coordination, stability and movement while strengthening the mind.
Chair Yoga - "Get Fit Where You Sit"
Chair yoga offers you the ability to improve your health through an amazing form of adaptive exercise. You are supported by a chair so you can receive yoga’s healing and restorative benefits that have been known for thousands of years. Yoga relaxes your body and mind, improves your musculoskeletal fitness and flexibility, and elevates your overall health and well-being.
Yoga and Somatic Counseling
[Hala's] approach is holistic- she works with a depth psychological perspective that emphasizes the soul (psyche) and each person’s inherent capacity to heal and move towards wholeness. She works with a technique called Somatic Experiencing to help release contractive patterns of trauma from the body-mind to balance and reorganize the nervous system and the entire being.

Yoga for the Special Child
Yoga for the Special Child®, LLC is multi-level comprehensive Program of Yoga techniques designed to enhance the natural development of children with special needs. Our style of Yoga is gentle and beneficial, safe for babies and children with Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Microcephaly, Autism and other developmental disabilities. These methods also provide an effective treatment for children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, ADHD and Learning Disabilities.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Upcoming Reminders for Silver Sneakers

All the afternoon classes now meet at 1pm - 2pm (Monday in El Cajon, Wednesday Casa de Oro, Friday Lemon Grove).

Other upcoming reminders - see the schedule at under CALENDAR and/or FREE YOGA
No class Tifereth Israel 9/28, 10/5, 10/12 (Jewish Holidays)
No class Lemon Grove 11/4 (MS Challenge Walk weekend)
No class La Mesa 11/5 (MS Challenge Walk weekend)
No class Tifereth 11/9 (family event)
No class Casa de Oro 11/9 (family event)
No class Lemon Grove 11/11 (family event)
No class La Mesa 11/12 (family event)
No class Tifereth 11/23 (thanksgiving week)
No class Casa de Oro 11/23 (thanksgiving week)
No class Lemon Grove 11/25 (thanksgiving week)
No class la Meas 11/26 (thanksgiving week)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Yoga instructor embraces Lakeside Health Awareness Month

Previously unseen article from the East County Californian. I had no idea this article was published... Wow.

Yoga instructor embraces Lakeside Health Awareness Month
Special to the East County Californian
Wed March 23, 2016 05:23pm

By Katherine Finnegan

Small business owner Jackie Gadd is embracing Lakeside Health Awareness Month with complete dedication. Gadd does not promote a healthy lifestyle to community members only during the month of March, however. Gadd is the owner of BYOM Yoga, which provides yoga classes to community members of all ages at different locations. As a certified instructor, she incorporates music, books, and crafts into yoga, as well as a diverse blend of styles to encompass all ages, interests, and skill-levels to promote physical and emotional well-being and an all-around healthy lifestyle for those in her community.

California State Sen. Joel Anderson was honored to provide Gadd of BYOM Yoga with a Senate Certificate of Recognition for her service.

"It is great to have BYOM Yoga participate in Lakeside Health Awareness Month. Jackie's dedication to empowering her students to improve their health is honorable, and her spirit of giving back to the community is inspiring. I am appreciative of her selfless service," Anderson said.
Since she began teaching in 2007, Gadd has worked at multiple schools and gyms in the area. Perhaps most astounding is her program for seniors held at local libraries. The program originated for seniors with qualifying insurance, but in her efforts to reach out to more community members, she has opened up the classes to all, free of charge.

"As long as I'm not renting space, I can offer it for free, and whoever comes and qualifies, great, and whoever doesn't, come anyways. And now I have people coming in that are my age, young adults, people bringing their teenage kids in, so it's become a community place to come do yoga," Gadd said.

In addition to the community aspect that Gadd so eagerly strives for, her classes promote physical, emotional, and mental health. "There isn't a guarantee that it's always going to provide the same benefits, but what we stress in our yoga training and the results that I like and I've felt is when you take a minute to slow down and breath, you have an opportunity to improve the quality of your moment, so you're taking a break. You're paying attention to how you're breathing, and you can kind of get on top of whatever situation you're in," she said.

Other benefits range from increased flexibility and muscle tone, relief from joint pain, and improved digestion, to stress relief, mood improvement, and a sense of serenity.

Gadd expects to renew a county-funded yoga program for young adults with mental disabilities at six local libraries in order to extend the health benefits of yoga to everyone in the East County community. For more information on BYOM Yoga visit Gadd's website at

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Semi Anti Social Media

I don't tweet, use instagram, or post (that many) selfies that are scripted/posed just to "further my brand" despite what yoga business counselors say you "must" do to be successful. The people I want to share my time with socially, intellectually, and professionally (clients), don't need in your face stylized media blitzing to sell them my brand of soap. They find me because we are on intersecting paths. I trust in the universe that way. Call me an optimist, and I"ll gladly take that label. Call me anti-social and you'd be inaccurate. You'd also be wrong if you say i'm against or anti social media. I value the connection enough to not cheapen it. Rami Malek, an actor with whom I am not very familiar I admit, talked about how he feels about the surge of social media inundation, and I relate:

"People are spending so much time staging photos - what they're eating, how much fun they're having … even the way they shape their faces in the pictures is contorted," the 35-year-old actor continues, getting on a roll. "Everything is filtered. Everything is manicured. It's a house of cards, and it's going to come crashing down one day and you with it." - Rami Malek

read the whole article here (it's about his movie but his commentary is interesting):

Sunday, May 8, 2016


From today's yoga triathalon (5K walk/run, hour of yoga, hour of meditation, sprinkled with other fun events like hula hooping, slackline yoga, and dancing, and tribal body painting by Tribal Markers).

A day of joy to be sure, but a beautiful somber note during the meditation delivered by Noah Levine ( from the "Against The Stream Buddhist Meditation Society,” who posited:
"Can you be compassionate about what is unpleasant or even painful...?"

Here is a link to a video of a few hundred of my closest friends Om-ing together with Chelsey Korus.
You can't see but DJ Drez is spinning on stage
MC Yogi was leading this flow
Just had to come out of the pose to click a pic
These ladies wanted to practice with their new body markers
The results (1)
The results (2)
Less painful than a real tattoo but one heck of a suntan line
I'm a yoga slacker!
Poseur :)

Friday, May 6, 2016

Dream self, yoga self, authentic self

In this dream I had the other night I was teaching an unusually large yoga class, discussing how to come into a yoga state of mind to start our practice. One person spoke up and said "Oh, so we should put on our yoga personas?"

I gave it a thought, and then with much gesticulation energetically responded "Actually, think of it like peeling off the persona(s) you put ON everyday, to get back down TO your yoga self.  Take off all that outer shit, the stress of your job, the thick shell of negative interactions and defensiveness and sarcasm. Let the heaviness of responsibilities and obligations for the outer world, just for now, fall away. Shed that overprotective skin and allow the real, authentic you to be presented, to be present. Yoga is what is essential, at the heart of you, what is always there, what is true.

So, no, don't put on your yoga face, take off what obscures it. Get back to the authentic YOU.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Yamas - a little Etymology, a little Philosophy

Yamas are the first of the eight limbs of Yoga; the first of the eight guiding principles for helping to lead a yogic lifestyle, or, more generally, to "calm the fluctuations of the mind" (for whatever purpose you choose).

The word "yama" comes from the verbal root [yam] which means to subdue or to control, which implies that these "yamas" are controls or acts of curbing or suppressing our behavior (towards others or the outer world) to help us become more "yogic."

There are five of these principles, or disciplines, in the yamas, as follows:

Ahimsa: non harming. Ahimsa is a term meaning 'not to injure' and 'compassion'. The word is derived from the Sanskrit root hiṃs – to strike; hiṃsā is injury or harm, a-hiṃsā is the opposite of this.

Satya: truth. Satya is the Sanskrit word for truth. It also refers to a virtue in Indian religions, referring to being truthful in one's thought, speech and action.

Asteya: non-stealing. Asteya is derived from the Sanskrit root word "steyn" which means ‘to steal’ to ‘to rob’. The word for a thief is "steynaH". "Steyam" is the word for theft. By adding the prefix "a" it becomes ‘asteya’ which means "to not steal or rob".

Aparigraha: non-covetousness. This word is derived from the root word ‘grah’ which means to hold or grab something. Adding the prefix ‘pari’ alters the meaning only slightly to mean ‘hold onto something’. Adding the second prefix ‘a’ negates the meaning of the word and thus ‘aparigraha’ is variously translated as ‘non-hoarding’ or ‘non-possessiveness’, non-indulgence’ or ‘non-greed’ etc.

Brahmacharya: virtue/vitality. This complicated concept is a merging of two Sanskrit roots: Brahma (shortened from Brahman) meaning "the one self-existent Spirit, the Absolute Reality, Universal Self, Personal God, the sacred knowledge;" and  charya which means "occupation with, engaging, proceeding, behaviour, conduct, to follow, going after." This yama can mean an overall lifestyle that helps the pursuit of sacred knowledge and spiritual liberation. It is a means, not an end, and usually includes cleanliness, ashimsa, simple living, studies, meditation, voluntary restraints on certain diet, intoxicants and behaviors (including sexual behavior).

Wanna talk about the yamas? Come visit me in a class this week... I definitely have yamas on my mind.

Coming soon: the Ni-yamas (restraints of the self)

Friday, March 25, 2016

Customized Spring Flow

My yoga style is normally very Hatha oriented meaning we do individual poses with long(ish) holds and breathwork, then move to another related pose, etc. I'll add in sun salutations (in some circles called vinyasa flows) if the group is feeling energetic (or I am) or it seems appropriate, and add in creative offshoots, but these don't make up the whole of class.

This week I've been working out the kinks of a little personalized flow to build some heat in the body, open the hips, strengthen the ankles, work on balance (vestibular orientation as well as we change directions), and in general have a little fun.

Time the inhales and exhales as they suit you, one pose, one 1/2 breath cycle OR take multiple breaths in each pose and use a single inhale or exhale to transition with focus to the next:
  1. Start at the top of the mat.
  2. Lift arms overhead for urdva hastasana (arms overhead mountain pose)
  3. Forward Fold (uttanasana)
  4. 1/2 lift (ardha uttanasana)
  5. Step back right leg to Ajenayasana (Lunge pose), Back foot on the toe, front knee aligned with with front toe, no further forward than the ankle. Hips face forward.

  1. Swing right arm overhead, keep left knee as is, drop the right heel behind the right pinky toe and peel the body open into Warrior 2.

  1. Sweep the right arm down and to the front, left the right heel and turn the hips forward returning to Lunge pose.
  2. Repeat the Lunge pose/Warrior 2 transition two more times, staying aware of the foot position, the gentle pressing open of the hips, the lowering of the shoulders while the lower arms lift to the upper arms.
  3. Pause the sequence in Warrior 2.
  4. Turns the left toes to face the same directoin as the right, having the body come to "star pose" or prep for Prasarita Padatonasan (wide legged fold, but no fold). 
  5. Bend into the knees gently, and then step the left leg to the right then hover the left leg off the ground (or knee at 90 degrees) for Eka Pada Tadasana (one legged mountain pose).
  6. Slowly turn the left knee out, press the left foot into the right leg for Vrksasana (Tree pose), raising the arms if you'd like. Level out the hips, lengthen the waist, lift the crown of the head up while pressing the standing foot down and hugging core up and in to the midline.
  7. Disconnect the left foot from the right leg, turn the knee back to the front, and gingerly step forward into a lunge again (you will be partly off the mat).
  8. Repeat the sequence: Lunge pose, warrior 2 transitions 3x.
  9. Pause in warrior 2

  10. Turn the left foot to the same direction as the right.
  11. Step the left leg to the right and hover the leg.
  12. Turn the left leg open for tree pose
  13. Take the left leg off the right this time and step back with the left leg starting back in lunge pose with the right leg in front. 
  14. Repeat this sequence twice with the right leg in front, eventually turning 90 degrees toward the side again then 90 degrees back to the front. When you step to hover one leg it will be right leg stepping to the left this time.
  15. From here, you can repeat the 1/2 sun salute (arm lift, forward fold, 1/2 left) and this time step back LEFT FOOT, repeating this same sequence with the left leg in back 2x, then switching once you have turned 1/2 way around to step the right foot back to bring you back to the front of the mat. 

At this it's up to you if you want to do a few sun salutations that include Chaturangas and down Dogs, building more heat for deeper or stronger poses like backbends, or other arm balances, or just pause, smoothing out the ragged edges of the breath, and preparing to slow down your practice.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Be Free

I am not someone that likes to be in photos. Not unlike many, I am hyper-critical of the way I come across in two-dimensions, and find it hard to look with loving eyes at my self in a static form. It's when I'm moving, interacting and breathing that I feel beautiful.

But sometimes, someone is able to capture the spirit of what you feel, when you aren't worried about what you look like. When you don't worry about smiling or "smizing" or how your teeth look or whether or nor you are sucking in your belly, or how your deodorant wore off a hour before. When you are just having fun being silly, among friends, a little self conscious but encouraged to be playful.

HP Hart (Good Eye Designs), a friend who has children that attend the same school as my son, is the resident photographer at the school, and captures amazing things with her lens. She is rarely without her camera, and she has an intuition about people and their expressions that goes beyond the image...far beyond.

I chose NOT to pose for her, and she caught me a little off guard just goofing around with a scarf. The yoga here is in the joy I felt allowing her to snap a few pics while I played, while I breathed, while I was FREE. Enjoy.

Monday, March 7, 2016

County Wellness & Lakeside Health Awareness Month

I want to give recognition to the hardworking folks at the California Health Network (founder Steve Lauria) for putting together the Lakeside Health Awareness Month and the Health Fair "It's How We Live" taking place this Saturday March 12 from 9-12 at Linda Lake Park.

You can view a video about this month's promotion here:

Learn more about the vendors that provide services in East County here:

There are two other Health Fairs happening later this spring too:

It’s How We LiveSaturday, March 12
Lindo Lake County Park
9841 Vine Street, Lakeside
Ballfield right after the running event “Run for the Arts”
9 a.m. – 12 p.m.
It’s How We Live
Saturday, April 23
Spring Valley County Park8735 Jamacha Blvd., Spring Valley
10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Fallbrook Health & Fitness Fair
Saturday, May 14
La Paloma Elementary School
300 Heald Lane, Fallbrook
9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Thank you CHN for putting BYOMyoga on your list of vendors that provide services in East County - I'm proud to be one!

Monday, February 29, 2016

Give a Kid a Block...

Each time I teach yoga to the preschooler's it's a challenge to make sure I incorporate enough "old stuff" to reinforce memory, create consistency, and set the framework for the arc of class but also bring in enough "new stuff" to make the classes interesting, exciting, challenging, and unique.

The very young children (under 3) are quite content over the course of their school year to practice the yoga moves with my well-used songs by Karen K and the Jitterbugs, Laurie Berkner, Feist, and Elizabeth Mitchell to name a few. They are called to action by the music, the melodies, my (off key) singing - familiarity bring comfort and with comfort comes more exploration with how their bodies move in the space in which we do yoga.

But the children that are over 3, and up to 5, while they love the tried and true music and games, are open to using their yoga skills in new ways. Skills like balance, the ability to go from silly to calm, being creative, cooperating, and even teaching (each other).

Some days, offering them new tools like blocks or balls may prove to be too much so we simply continue to use our bodies (without any potential projectiles).

But some days, when the stars align and the mood is right, I can offer them one or two foam blocks each, and a yoga mat, and ask them "How can you do yoga with these?"

The results? See for yourself:

First we had a lot of just block stacking.
Then, the idea to stand on the blocks  trended.
Even on one foot.
Adding little arm and leg flair too.
Well, not just standing, kneeling too!
Then kneeling and leaning... 
Floating on the belly was a big hit.
That idea proved quite popular
Group belly balancing

Superhero or Manta ray - awesome
And finally, on the back. 
Then truly restorative
Of course I had to set limits so that the blocks were used safely - no standing on blocks that were on end, no kicking/throwing, and no stealing other people's blocks. 

Sometimes, the Hoberman Sphere is a bigger draw. With absolutely no prompting from me, they find their own safe space inside it, using it to create a safe space for their mind and body, in true yogic style.


I can't wait to see what they will create with me next class.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Free Yoga All Over San Diego County

Our local library system for the county has a PLETHORA (a veritable cornucopia) of free yoga classes at multiple locations on any given day, for all ages (kids, families, seniors, disabilities and more). If you want to find a FREE class near you, please just check out the county library website... and be amazed! Many times its the Friend of the Library organizations supporting the classes; sometimes it's private groups and sometimes it's a complete labor of love on the part of the instructor.  Highly encourage you to explore your options!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Music - an opinion piece

Nothing about my teaching lately has drawn more controversy than my music choices. I mix up my class soundtracks, spinning (well, playing) everything from Queen, Sanskrit chanting, native rhythms, nature sounds, and classical guitar, to coffee shop soundtracks. Whatever seems to suit the mood, my mood the class, the day. Sometimes, I choose incorrectly, Sometimes I have to change it up during class. Sometimes I just have to turn it off.

For flow-based classes I like to have music that moves us through our postures. Most of my classes, even if they have flow, include quite a bit of narration so I have to keep the music at a level that I can talk over it, not compete with it. Sometimes it conflicts, I admit, and sometimes it really elevates the tone of the class - really jives.  Sometimes I'll reference to the music to just help us get into the mood, get the breath flowing, open the heart, or build heat. You never know what will truly "work," but I'd like to think that regardless the music is just background and my instruction in the foreground.

I had an instructor that insisted on wordless music in her classes, and for any practice class you taught with or for her, on the principle that words (English in particular) were a distraction for the mind. I respect her enough to take the advice to heart and understand its intent, but I also feel the need to experiment with the idea of more "lyrical" yoga.

I've had other instructors that were really skillful in creating playlists that boosted energy levels with funk (think Gap band), or world beat (modern Sting), or classic rock (yes, even Journey) in such a joyous way that you would be hard pressed to not want to move and flow gloriously in Urdva Hastasana, swan dive elegantly into Uttanasana, float strongly back into Chaturanga, expose the heart through strengthened arms in Urdva Mukha Savansana and then open the hamstrings and find length in the spine in Adho Mukha Savanasaa. Leg and core engaging poses like plank, warrior II, side plank, and reverse warrior can made even more powerful when music lifts and lyrics surge. Forward folds can be even more releasing when musical phrases descend and lyrics become winsome and soft.

In one recent class, a student gave me a softly-toned "science" lecture on why I should not use music with lyrics. The reasoning was that the lyrics stimulated the brain, therefore preventing one from properly immersing themselves in the blissful flow of the yoga practice.
I've had some students say they don't notice the music as they are really focusing on their practice.Yesterday someone said they would prefer lyrics in any other language but English because if they recognize words they stop listening to me and start only listening to the music. Today someone said "I would just like to hear the East Indian bells and instruments it really takes me into the mood."

Other students have commented that they love some of playlists with familiar songs because it lightens the mood for them, it keeps them from getting too "in their own heads."

I define the difference between "going inward" and "being in your head" this way: as much in yoga you are working the 8 limbs to bring yourself to center, yoke together your mind and body, at any point there can be a tendency to over-think, over-analyze, and attempt to over-perform. The monkey mind can race out of the room as soon as it doesn't have a good reason to stay in. So for some, a vivid soundtrack, music with familiar lyrics included, can help them stay in tune with the class, in the moment, and in the mood. It can facilitate connecting with the breath flow back into their bodies rather than out the door or creating a downward spiraling of the the mind.

For me personally, lyrics or not, I find that familiar music keeps all of me integrated and flowing. I can tune in to the instructor or tune out - the choice is MINE and I cannot blame the music for any of those choices.

Funny - more often than not people do comment when they like the playlist - no matter if it's familiar tunes with words, acoustic covers, classical pieces, soundtracks, Sanskrit chanting - everyone likes something different. Sometimes I get a big thank you when a classic favorite comes on like the Beatles "Let It Be" because it really does bring out the heart. For me, the Leonard Cohen song "Hallelujah" draws forth tears almost every listen and really really helps me find depth in my practice because I feel that I'm connected with energy in the deepest recesses of my soul. What is yoga if not that?

So I have to think - when I teach am I playing the music for me, or for the class? I want to create a soundtrack for the class the moves them, that engages them, that feels right to me. And of course I want it to be music that I like (after all, I'm teaching). I suppose it can be a class without music. I've tried that too - and every single time at least one person nervously speaks up and says "We are  going to have music aren't we" as if it the lack of music creates a a vacuum in which one simply could not practice!

So, it's impossible to say set a rule that works for everyone. Because we have different tastes. And moods. and situations, day to day, and hour to hour. Each needing a little bit different attention.

Truth be told this is a heated topic in the yoga world, with probably the most widely used reason is that hearing lyrics conflicts with the calming of the mind. One article went so far as to say that lyrics can counter-productively plant subliminal messages in the unconscious minds of the yogis - a sad song can create a very negative effect on that class, and song with angry or hurtful lyrics can be particular destructive. Yes music is a powerful tool, but my intent is never to use it maliciously.

One issue with which I can agree is that if the volume balance is off, the music can compete with teacher instruction. I don't like to use voice amplification, so proper volume is important. And being aware if the selected songs are just not working... still being responsible for observing your class, reading the class, teaching the class. Change the music if it's not working, or even turn it off. The music is a tool, YOU the instructor.

Just as an aside, in kids classes we use music as a key component to get their attention, to help them coordinate movement with breath, and help them learn movement pattern in the spirit of yoga-oriented play. Music with lyrics makes that task a lot easier as it also stimulates their little minds to remember words and synchronize poses. So, there's that.

In conclusion I have a couple of suggestions for other yoga teachers (and myself)

1) there is no hard and fast rule unless you make one yourself
2) you can't please everyone (but let's not get snarky - this is yoga after all)
3) know your audience in general (and yourself)
4) be mindful with your music choices (see  #2 &#3)
5) experiment a little anyway
6) keep the volume moderate - you are teaching, so you need to be heard

Friday, January 8, 2016

Be Responsible

(adapted from Phase 2 of Transformation from the Transformational Weekend with Deborah Williamson/Wild Abundant Life).

What does it mean to be responsible? Let's take the positive side of it, rather than the "I own my flaws, I own my mistakes, I own the error of my ways and my bad decisions." Let's rather, say, I've made choices to be where I am today. I didn't just "end up" here... I followed some sort of inner compass (properly calibrated or not), which bounced me into the trajectories of OTHER people using THEIR inner compasses (also, properly calibrated or not), and so, here I am.

But each thing I do from here forward is a CHOICE. Feeling positive about my day (or not) - a choice. Being kind to the customer service rep on the phone when I've had it up to here with my insurance company that is a choice. I own that choice. And if the rep treats me kindly, in part because I was patient and kind despite my frustrated, because i was responsible for my behavior, then I can take credit for the pleasant interaction (even if the spreadsheet outcome isn't what I expect).

Being responsible can be a daunting idea. How much responsibility are we supposed to have - how much of the world really is up to US to control. Well, far less than we think. So, perhaps in terms of how we interact with the world, we consider ourselves responsible for our own behavior, but we are RESOURCEFUL with how we operate with respect to one another. We seek out positive solutions. We consider other points of view. We allow time for thought, margin for error, room for breath. And with this room for breath, with a moment of pause, we have room for change. 

Which brings me to this a great little prose piece I see quoted a lot on the interwebs, that was used in the training I attended mentioned at the top of this post, that I very poorly paraphrased at a class today (but hopefully, anyone who was there might say, and anyone who reads this post might say, I still passed on the appropriate idea).

Autobiography in Five Chapters
by Portia Nelson


I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost...
I am hopeless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.


I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I'm in the same place.
But it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.


I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall's a habit
My eyes are open; I know where I am;
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.


I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.


I walk down another street.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Adaptive Yoga for Special Needs Adults (G.A.M.E.R.S) - updated post

A sweet friend (whom I met while I was teaching family yoga at the JCC) (who went on to become a kids yoga teacher and now a fully fledged RYT and adaptive yoga teacher) was kind enough to refer a job to me - teaching adaptive yoga at a local library to adults with special needs. They call them the GAMERS: Group-home Adults Mixer: Educational, Emotional, Recreational, Social.

The local library branch wanted to pilot a program for the GAMERS that wasn't just occupational therapy or job skills, or video games or reading, but something interactive, something mind/body integrative, something new. So for four weeks we met, the job coaches and caregivers bringing their one, two and up to four clients with them, all with different level of physical and cognitive abilities. Some were non-verbal, some in wheelchairs, some high functioning, some very active, some very passive. I introduced them all to the breathing ball and the idea of using breath to help calm ourselves down or rev ourselves up. We worked on balance in chairs and standing where appropriate. We talked and shared our stories. We played games that incorporated fine motor and gross motor skills. We posed, we twisted, we stretched and strengthened, moved our arms and legs (sometimes separately and sometimes together!). We laughed.

Each week we'd have some of the same folks, some new folks, but still, I felt like we had created something special - a community. I greeted each and every person, caregiver or client, with the offer of a handshake and a smile, introducing myself, and asking about their experience with yoga, where they lived, what they liked to do with their time, and anything else they wanted, to share to help build those connections.

The pilot program was a success, in the eyes of the librarian that created it and the library district, and they approved a grant to continue the program at the first library and branch out to three others. I am honored to be picking up three of these four new classes that extend into early 2016. 

These classes are free of charge, meet as listed at the libraries and are a great way to introduce adults who may not otherwise have lots of socialization time to interact, to try something new, to connect. Ages 18 and up welcome.

Upcoming Dates (changes from the original flyer as noted)

  • Lemon Grove Library: January 5, 12, 19 from 9:30-10:30 AM
  • El Cajon Library: January 25, February 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 from 10-11 AM
  • Vista Library: January 19, 26, February 2, 9, 16, 23 from 10-11 AM

Contact me, or the local branch for more information. You can also check my schedule for the dates/hours.

Gratitude to Debra Logan, Allyson O'Brien, Liz Vagani and Jenne Bergstrom for the chance to make a difference!

(Please note that this is not the same as the Silver Sneakers or my other Chair/Adaptive yoga classes. These are classes specifically designed for the group home and special needs adults. Though I humbly appreciate all students we must limit attendance to the program focus group.)

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Ahimsa as Non-Judgement and more limbs:

Is it judgement, as a trained practitioner /instructor, when you are a participant in a yoga class and you see someone doing something so wrong for their body that you want to reach out and say "wait - that's going to hurt...please don't." Or is it concern? Or busybodiness, or nosiness, or just plain invasive? What is the boundary?

I have to think about it in this context: If I was a nutritionist, would I stop someone who was overweight at a restaurant from dipping their french friend in cheddar cheese soup, drinking a milkshake then going outside for a smoke? But then again, coming to a yoga class to learn is different than coming to a restaurant to eat. If someone offered me bad quality food, I WOULD want another food specialist to speak up and say "that's not properly cooked chicken you might get sick" or even "those greens weren't washed - be careful." Maybe these analogies fail to describe the issue with which I'm struggling.

If the answer to the above hypothetical questions is "no, don't interfere" then who am I as a yoga practitioner to want to help someone out of a knee-torquing foot alignment in warrior one (time after time after time in a hot flow class) or a L5-S1 binding tailbone-up hip-flexor tweaking stance in utkatasana, 10 breath hold?

I've out-of-turn spoken up in someone else's class to offer assistance to another participant who asked for help and been told "I've GOT this" by the instructor. I promptly and sincerely apologized as I realized i had overstepped boundaries. When I'm a class attendee, I have to struggle sometimes to outwardly say nothing when I see bad alignment, or have an instructor doesn't seem to notice struggling students (self included), or cues sequences with transitions that seem to go against the grain with which I was taught - embracing ahimsa (non harming), going inward (pratyahara), balancing strength and softness, effort and ease, being mindful of how your body works, and not forcing it to do things beyond normal limits. In these situations it is supremely my challenge, my process to stay focused on just being in my practice, and filtering in the pieces that work, and out the ones that don't, trying not to NOT concern myself with what's going on around me. Essentially NOT judging the instructor or the studio, and trying to be grateful to have a place practice.

But it's hard. I feel like the message of yoga, the purity of it, the real meaning, gets lost amid the sweat and the "power" and the "pushing to your edge" as studios compete for business and market share and instructors are churned out with less functional teaching skill and more aptitude for making playlists and repeating scripts that are in practice hardly one size fits all.

Sure, I could practice at home and avoid the stress of having to be in a "less than ideal class situation." Frankly, I still find that hard to do, and I really do like group energy. I like the ceremony of walking into a place designed for practice, with sacred space, special lighting, candlelight, and no first world distractions - the biggest challenge not being doing laundry but not THINKING about the laundry I have to do when I get home.

So I go, and I try to focus (dharana). try to be content (santosha), try to flow and breathe until maybe just maybe I'm not watching someone else's warrior two, good or bad, aligned or not, but I'm in a sublime state, easing my way toward dhyana (flow of concentration).

Some studios, and some classes, I never have the struggle of watching other people, or critiquing the teacher. I"m not sure why that is, or what leads to that. is it something purely in my state of mind, the teacher the moon cycle or just fate? Regardless, I'm always grateful to have a class to attend, but I guess I just have expectations that really nicely appointed studios with well worded flyers are going to have skilled yogis leading classes, that I"m going to be educated a bit in the deeper aspects of yoga (not just asana). I guess the learning is more subtle than that, that it (aha moment) comes from within.

So, this post has been a bit revelatory, but I'm still a shade disappointed in the most recent classes I took. One specific example: an instructor actually said "grab your foot and use your leg as leverage to go deep into the twist and crack your back." But I have reaffirmed my path for making sure that *I* teach with integrity and heart, from the source of the eight limbs and not from ego... giving people information that helps them better their practice, not just sweat or pat themselves on the back from having forced their way into a pose.

An instructor with a very different set if teaching skills did pleasantly surprise me and enrich my morning by reminding me "you DID show up so that's the biggest step" True that. Satya all the way.