What Is Yoga Worth?

Yoga and capitalism have an uneasy relationship, in my mind at least. In ideal circumstances, the business side of yoga flows organically and with ease, and in alignment with the core teachings of yoga (e.g., nonviolence, nonattachment, non-greed and truthfulness). Before I started teaching, I never considered myself an entrepreneur or a marketer, yet I truly enjoy spreading the word about what Red Owl is offering and helping our classes meet the community’s needs.

For the past few years I have been blessed with the best possible teaching arrangement with Red Owl. I teach the yoga I feel called to share, whenever I want. I can provide as much or as little energy and labour as I want, whenever I want, and always feel appreciated and compensated for my time. Eileen’s the best. 

Occasionally, though, I am asked by others to teach a class for no financial compensation. These requests can take many forms: anything from an acquaintance or colleague who’d like me to share some teachings in my free time, to an event organizer looking for presenters.

I’m grateful that the concept of “energy exchange” and valuing one’s own time and skills was covered in my 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training course. Our teachers encouraged us not to give our teachings away for free. How can we expect others to value a yoga class when we place no value on it ourselves?

Fair compensation doesn’t always have to mean monetary payment. Sometimes the best exchanges don’t. But it still has to be fair.

When I was first teaching and looking to fill my practicum hours, I’d teach to groups of friends in exchange for their feedback, referrals or a home-cooked meal.

I’d teach in people’s homes or I’d rent studio space and ask for donations just to cover my costs. I’d team-teach for the benefit of working with and learning from other teachers. Once I auditioned for a spot on a studio’s schedule by teaching an unpaid class.

I’ve taught many karma classes to raise money for or offer services to organizations that I believe in. I will continue to offer service-based yoga whenever I see a need I can fulfill.

I also aspire to be a part of a true sharing economy. Not the one that Uber or Airbnb is sellling you on, but one where humans can trade skills and resources for the benefit of all. I’d be over the moon if I could share yoga classes for bodywork, nutritious food, business accounting, instruction in home repair, a photo shoot, you name it. (Seriously, let’s talk!)

All of the situations described above are a fair exchange, whether for resources or something less tangible but equally valuable like experience, growth or service to something greater.

But I will not teach for free. I have a steady enough schedule and studentship that I don’t need to teach uncompensated classes to “get my name out there”. And I won’t make financial arrangements that I believe undervalue my contributions or undercut other teachers.

In this groupon-centric world with a yoga studio opening and closing on every street corner on a weekly basis, it’s not easy to make a fair wage from drop-in classes. But I won’t forgo payment “just til we get up and running”, nor will I accept half the going rate that I was paid in 2009.

To my fellow teachers: Value yourself, and we will all be valued.

To my fellow students: Value the teachings you are receiving, and the teachings will be valuable to you.

New Workshop Series – Yoga FUNdamentals with Carie (September 18-October 9)

Red Owl Yoga is excited to offer a new class to bring you back to basics!
From September 18th to October 9th, our 4-part workshop with Carie Santo will benefit both beginners and experienced yogis alike.
Carie will introduce (or re-introduce) you to fundamental concepts of breath, alignment and intention, leading you through a gentle yet powerful practice. Each week’s class will build on the previous week. Sequence and pose handouts will be provided so you can practice on your own whenever you like. And of course, there will be lots of laughter and fun.
Here are the details:
  • This class will run on Fridays at 12:30 pm beginning on September 18th and ending on October 9th.

 

  • If registering for the full series, you have three payment options:
    • Use your existing Red Owl Yoga punch pass. Please note that all four classes will be deducted from your pass upon registration. OR
    • Use your unlimited monthly pass. OR
    • Make an investment of $60 (cash, cheque or e-transfer to eileenchan23@gmail.com).

 

  • A minimum of seven (7) students must register or this class will be cancelled. The class will be limited to a maximum of 14 participants. Sign up today to avoid disappointment!

 

  • Can’t commit to all four classes? Drop in whenever you’d like.

 

 

 

To register or for more information, please email us at info@redowlyoga.com.

 

“Practice, Practice, All Is Coming” (or, what happens when a self-described yoga underachiever walks into an intermediate class)

One night this week, I stumbled into a situation far beyond my comfort zone.

I had been looking forward all day to practicing at the studio where I’d just bought an unlimited pass. It’s the first studio I ever practiced at, and it feels wonderful to return. When I arrived, still in my work clothes and with my mat strapped to my back, I went to the front desk to sign in. I was about to write my name on the sign-in sheet when I saw a word at the top that struck fear into my heart: “Intermediate.”

Now, some of you may be wondering what the big deal is. After all, I’ve been practicing in one way or another for ten years, teaching for four years, and have attended more classes, workshops and trainings than I can remember. But all this time, I’ve been harboring a dirty little secret: I still don’t consider myself “advanced” or even “intermediate” when it comes to asana practice.

I could tell you a story about how it all started with my childhood clutziness, my seeming inability to master any physical activity (I have yet to successfully complete a cartwheel), and my shame at always being the last one picked for the team; and how this has translated into my self-consciousness over not looking or moving like all the other yoga students and teachers.

I could tell you another story about how a few minor injuries, one of which occurred in a yoga class, made me cautious to the point of paranoia about certain poses (shoulderstand, anyone?). But then I would have to tell you where those stories have gotten me.

For years I have avoided classes where I know I will be expected to do “difficult” postures like inversions and arm balances. Especially when I think I will be the only person in the room who “can’t” do them. As much as I hate to admit it, I have become addicted to the ego-satisfaction of being the competent one in the room.

I have gravitated towards teaching beginners – not just to see the beauty in eyes that shine with “beginner’s mind” (and believe me, I really really do love that part!), but because I know I won’t have to give myself away as a less-than-advanced practitioner when teaching them the basics.

For years I have told myself that I will master headstands and shoulderstands “someday”, failing to notice that that day never magically appears on its own. If there is a Fairy Godmother of Inversions, I’ve yet to be visited by her. In the meantime, you’ll find me in Legs Up The Wall or Child’s Pose, thank you very much.

Now that you have the back story, you can see why I almost turned around and went home when faced with an “Intermediate” class at a studio where the regular classes tend to kick my ass. But I stayed. And as the other students gathered, chatted and set up their mats, I set my intention: To notice when the voice of my ego arose, and to not let it control my practice.

Ninety minutes, two arm balances and three inversions later, I emerged sweaty, red-faced, exhausted and elated. Not only had I survived, but I had spent most of the class with a huge grin on my face.

I lost count of the number of times that my ego clamoured for my attention (“Oh good, that girl can’t do this pose either!” “I wonder if the teacher thinks I shouldn’t be here?” “Why did I wear these pants?” “What kind of yogi am I if I can’t kick up into handstand by myself?”) but I recognized its messages as coming from a false sense of separation from the beautiful community around me. And I realized that I’m far stronger than I gave myself credit for.

Today as I savour the sweet lingering soreness in my muscles, I’m grateful for the wisdom of the universe and how it presented me with a lesson exactly when I was ready to learn it. Having said that… I’m still grappling with the elusive balance between practicing to the best of my ability, and striving for poses like they are trophies for my shelf (which is just another form of practicing from ego). No, yoga is not just about bending ourselves into seemingly impossible shapes, nor does “advanced” mean just physically demanding. I’ve heard it said that savasana is the most advanced yoga pose, and I believe it.

Still, Wednesday night reminded me of this oft-quoted line by Marianne Williamson: “Your being small does not serve the world.” Now that I see how much it’s been limiting me, I think I’m finished with being small.

(Note: This post was originally published on April 6, 2013 on my facebook page – www.facebook.com/pages/erinlovesyoga)

Power, Protection and Pavlov: Creating a healthy student-teacher dynamic

Sutra 2.35 – “When one protects others from harm, this produces a feeling of connectedness and safety.”

If you pay attention to the news in general or the yoga blogosphere in particular, you may have come across reports of sexual assault and harassment allegations against Bikram Choudhury, the founder of the ubiquitous style of hot yoga that bears his name. Last week it came to light that a sixth woman has filed a lawsuit against Choudhury for allegedly sexually assaulting her during and after a yoga teacher training program she had attended in 2010. If all of this is news to you, you can get up to speed here (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/bikram-choudhury-yoga-guru-sued-by-instructor-for-alleged-sexual-assault-1.2970931). Please note that the links referenced in this post contain information that is disturbing.

I’ve followed with interest these unfolding stories, and also the reaction to them within the yoga community. Particularly amongst devotees of the Bikram style of yoga, reactions range from denial and disbelief to anger and denunciation. Some Bikram studio owners have changed their studio’s name and severed all ties, while others attempt to separate the man from his methods. A petition has now been posted on the change.org website demanding Choudhury’s resignation. Still others have remained silent.

Sadly but not surprisingly, Choudhury isn’t the first prominent yoga teacher or guru to be accused of abuse of power and sexual misconduct. From affairs to harems to sexual abuse, unfortunately, it’s all there. For a brief history of scandals in yoga, check out: http://theyogalunchbox.co.nz/a-compehrensive-list-of-yoga-scandals-involving-gurus-sex-and-other-inappropriate-behaviour/.

The latest accusations against Bikram Choudhury have really struck a nerve for me and have led to countless hours of reading, thinking, listening and talking about power dynamics, consent, safe spaces and the nature of the student-teacher relationship. What is is about the relationship between yoga teachers and students that makes it vulnerable to abuse? What is the appropriate reaction for yoga teachers and what is our responsibility to our students and to this practice? And how can we do something constructive?

 

The Student-Teacher Relationship in Yoga

Traditionally, the teachings of yoga were transmitted in a one-on-one relationship between a “spiritually advanced” guru and a disciple. A literal translation of “guru” is “remover of darkness.” Today’s prominent yoga teachers can be a strange combination of spiritual leader and Hollywood celebrity (hence the term, “celebri-yogi”). They appear in magazines, host lavish retreats, and teach private lessons to movie and music stars.

In a recent article, writer and yoga teacher Carol Horton discusses the implications of the student-teacher relationship in a culture that treats celebrities like gurus and gurus like celebrities (https://www.yahoo.com/health/bikram-choudhury-and-yoga-rape-culture-what-112069263727.html). The higher that a teacher’s star rises, the more likely he or she is to be surrounded by devotees and “yes-people” who are unwilling to question the teacher’s behaviour. Whenever we put someone on a pedestal, there is the potential for abuse of power and when abuses occur, they are often excused, ignored, justified and even enabled.

Even without the added complication of fame and celebrity, there are some complex power dynamics that can arise whenever a yoga teacher leads students in a practice. From early childhood, we are trained to listen to and follow our teachers, all the way from kindergarten to university. We are taught that the person at the front of the room doing all of the talking knows best, and is acting in our best interests. So we follow along, sometimes unquestioningly.

Adding yet another wrinkle, consider that the teachings of yoga play out in the physical, emotional, energetic and spiritual realms. Students often come to yoga class seeking solace and healing for injuries, be they physical or psychic. Teachers enter the student’s physical, energetic and emotional space and lead them into places of vulnerability, whether it’s a difficult physical pose or deep unguarded meditation and relaxation. Yoga teachers literally touch their students with physical assists and adjustments, and bear witness to emotional catharsis unfolding on the mat.

Given all of these dynamics, it’s not surprising that the psychological phenomena of projection, transference and counter-transference can enter into the student-teacher relationship. Unresolved emotions, needs, relationships and patterns can be grafted onto the interactions between student and teacher as we each find ourselves playing out old roles and scenarios. As you can imagine, these dynamics can lead to dysfunction and harm when not acknowledged and navigated skilfully. Teachers must possess a degree of self-awareness and maturity to realize when projection, transference and counter-transference are happening.

 

What Can We Do As A Community?

The yoga community may be facing a reckoning as it determines how to respond to alleged predators in its midst, and how to prevent future cases of abuse. The Yoga Alliance (yogaalliance.org), a voluntary professional association for yoga schools and teachers, has developed ethical guidelines for teachers but currently lacks an enforcement mechanism. In other words (so far as I am aware at least), there is no process by which teachers and schools could lose their registration with the Yoga Alliance due to sexual abuse or other inappropriate behaviour.

Yoga teacher training programs that are certified by the Yoga Alliance must contain instruction on ethics but curriculum content varies from program to program. There is an ongoing debate inside and outside the yoga community with respect to regulation, registration and professional discipline, and I don’t expect this debate to end anytime soon.

Clearly, there is a place here for systemic and institutional change. In the meantime, how can yoga teachers remain aware of the above-noted power dynamics and maintain a safe space for students?

 

You’re the Bell, Not the  Dog Food

Yoga teacher and writer Darren Main addressed the issue of sexual abuse by yoga teachers in a recent podcast (http://darrenmain.com/archives/2294). In his discussion with psychologist and yoga teacher Darcy Lyon, Main draws upon the analogy of Pavlov’s dog. Pavlov, as the story goes, rang a bell every time he fed his dog. Eventually the dog came to associate the sound of the bell with being fed, so much so that the dog would salivate when the bell rang in the absence of food. Main says:

I believe that we as yoga teachers are the bell. People come to my class, they feel better. They start to associate feeling better with being with me instead of with rolling out their yoga mats and doing their downward dogs and chaturangas. . . It’s a totally understandable misperception on their part . . . They see me, they feel better. But it has nothing to do with me, any more than that bell made the dog feel less hungry. . . .[We need to] constantly remind ourselves and each other: You’re the bell, not the dog food! Get over yourself!

In other words, don’t let the positive attention go to your head! You’re just the intermediary for the teachings.

 

Back to the Yamas

In Patanjali’s system of classical yoga, there are five yamas or moral imperatives for our relationships with others. These yamas and associated translations are:

1. Ahimsa – nonviolence;
2. Satya – truthfulness;
3. Asteya – non-stealing;
4. Bramicharya – celibacy or sexual responsibility; and
5. Aparigraha – non-greed/non-grasping.

Without a doubt, yamas 1, 2 and 4 apply directly to the prevention of abuse in the student-teacher relationship. In his book Threads of Yoga, Matthew Remski translates ahimsa to  “protection”. His “remixed” yoga sutra on ahimsa struck me as particularly relevant to this issue so I chose to open this post with it. We all have a responsibility to protect others from harm, especially when holding the seat of the teacher.

 

My Commitments

I commit to creating a physically and emotionally safe environment for students to practice and explore. I commit to seeking your consent for adjustments. I commit to encouraging critical thinking and questioning. There’s no “one true yoga” or one correct way to practice, and I commit to never telling you otherwise. It’s not my role to push you outside of your comfort zone; rather, it’s my role to hold safe space so that you can, of your own volition, explore your own edges.

Lastly, I commit to using my position as a teacher to support survivors and to affect change. In March and April, Red Owl Yoga will be donating all proceeds of our karma yoga classes to the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton. We challenge other Edmonton and area yoga studios and teachers to do the same.

 

Parting Thoughts and Optional Homework

I’d like to leave you with a journaling exercise that was assigned in a yoga teacher training I attended. I found it invaluable for exploring how power dynamics play out in my own life. Here are some questions for your own contemplation:

1. How do you know when you’re holding your personal power? Or when you’ve lost your power?
2. How do you regain your personal power once you’ve given it away?
3. Is there one person, place or situation that causes you to give up or diminish your power?
4. Do you feel worthy to receive the teachings of yoga?

Namaste.

One who is worth idealizing does not care whether others idealize them or not. Everyone needs to see that you not only teach human values but you live them.
― Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

We are happy to bring in the new year with new month passes!!

Passes can be purchased from any instructor, starting mid December.

$80 for a month pass
$210 for 3 month pass

All prices include GST. 

Relax, Restore, Recalibrate: The transformative power of Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra, also known as “yogic sleep”, is a practice of deep relaxation through guided meditation. Originating in India, Yoga Nidra has been used to reduce stress, improve mental focus, and generate emotional balance. It’s suitable for all levels of physical ability as it is practiced in complete stillness.

Nidra is the ideal antidote to our busy, task-oriented lives. In deep relaxation and meditative states, we can actually change the frequency of our brain waves from Beta (intense alertness) to Theta (a dream-like state where we can access our unconscious) or even Delta (deep relaxation and a feeling of oneness).

The transformative power of Yoga Nidra lies in its ability to tap into our subconscious and literally re-write the “programming” that guides our day-to-day conscious life by working with a sankalpa, or resolve. If you’ve ever set an intention at the beginning of a yoga practice, you’re already somewhat familiar with sankalpa. In a Yoga Nidra practice, a sankalpa is always phrased as a positive, present-tense affirmation – such as, “I am completely healthy and well”. Planting this seed of sankalpa when the brain is in a relaxed, aware and receptive state is the key to transformation.

Yoga Nidra is practiced while taking the pose of savasana, or corpse pose. It is important to support the body with cushions and blankets, and practice in a quiet dark place so that the body and mind are able to completely relax.

In the structure of a typical Nidra practice, we move through the five koshas (layers or sheaths of our being)  in a specific order.

The first sheath, Anamaya Kosha, is the physical body: the temporary shell that is our outer presentation to the world. Through systematic guided relaxation, Yoga Nidra brings each part of the physical body into the field of our awareness and then releases it.

As we move deeper into the second layer, Pranamaya Kosha, we focus on the more subtle energetic body: our breath, circulation and the life force within. Yoga Nidra uses breathing techniques to draw awareness to these subtle undercurrents.

The third layer, Manomaya Kosha, takes us into the depths of the mind, emotions and nervous system. Through a series of visualizations, we cultivate relaxed acceptance of the wide spectrum of emotional experience.

Underneath our thoughts and emotions is the fourth layer, Vijnamaya Kosha or the wisdom body. As we enter a state of awareness and insight, we can connect with our deepest heart’s desires and uncover inner wisdom that we may  have forgotten.

Finally, at the centre of it all is the Anandamaya Kosha, or “bliss body”. We’ve all accessed this layer when we’ve felt a deep connectedness with other beings, the dissolution of worries and conflict, and the feeling of being “in the flow”.

Before and after exploring these five koshas, we plant the seed of our sankalpa or affirmation and allow it to work its magic. It can be helpful to work with the same sankalpa over a series of Yoga Nidra practices until you feel you have fully explored or manifested that particular affirmation.

After a Yoga Nidra practice, it’s common to feel a deep sense of relaxation and well-being. The more often you practice, the deeper your journey and your insights will be. These techniques have been truly rewarding to me as a teacher and a student, and I am forever grateful to my teacher Tanis Fishman for introducing me to the inner world of Yoga Nidra.

Am I doing this right? Musings on Alignment

A common question I encounter in classes is some variation of, “Am I doing this right?”

A great deal of yoga instruction centers around which body part goes where: you know, “step your left foot to the front of your mat”, “square your hips”, “reach your arms up”, to the point where it can sound like “put your left foot in, put your left foot out, put your left foot in and you shake it all about”. Given this emphasis, it’s not surprising that we wonder if we’re doing it right.

I spent yesterday afternoon at a great yoga workshop. What better way to spend a snowy day? Anyhow, most of the afternoon focused on physical alignment in yoga postures. I learned about the rotation of the legs in various standing poses and another way to look at headstand. I’ve always enjoyed learning about anatomy and physiology, so this was a great chance for me to geek out. But my biggest take-away from the afternoon was this: Usually, the answer to the question “Should this pose look like x or like y?” is “Both!”

Physical alignment is important, but of course that’s not all there is to the practice of yoga. And even within the study of physical alignment, there are as many opinions as there are yoga teachers. We’re so accustomed to seeing asana (postures) in terms of right or wrong, this way or that way, good or bad. Entire lineages or schools of yoga have split off due to disagreement about the position of the feet in triangle pose. I’m not even joking! However, taking a “one-size-fits-all” approach to asana ignores the diversity of human body sizes, shapes and movement patterns.

Instead of looking for the one “right” way of doing a posture, try asking these questions:

1. What am I trying to do in this posture? e.g., stretch my hamstrings? stabilize my core? twist my spine? How can I modify the posture to attain this objective in my body?

2. What natural or habitual tendencies do I have in my body? e.g., am I hyper-flexible? stiff? do I have pre-existing injuries or muscle imbalances? How can I modify this pose to bring my body into balance rather than exacerbating these tendencies?

3. Most importantly:  What quality of sensation do I feel when I’m in the pose? e.g., pain, lethargy, strain, or bliss? How can I modify this pose to find more steadiness and ease? Forget about the external shape or appearance of the pose and focus on the internal sensation. In this way, we each become our best teacher. No one else can tell you what you’re feeling inside your own body.

Enjoy your practice!

Why teaching yoga is the best job in the world

Before I started teaching yoga, I didn’t believe there was such as thing as a “calling” or a purpose in life. I thought that those who professed otherwise were just deluding themselves. At best, maybe it existed for others, but it didn’t seem to exist for me. All that changed the first time I stood in front of a roomful of people and used my voice to guide them through a simple sequence of yoga postures.

It was 2009 and I was in my first week of yoga teacher training. We were just beginning to learn about anatomy, alignment, yoga philosophy, and how to instruct a class, and my classmates and I were taking turns leading each other through a few basic poses. When it was my turn to stand at the front of the room, I was excited and a little terrified. Would I freeze up and completely forget what I had wanted to say? Would I get tongue-tied or out of breath? I was no stranger to public speaking but this was a whole new realm for me. And then just a few moments later, it was over and I went back to my own mat as the next teacher-in-training stepped up.

I don’t remember which poses I taught or what words I used, but I will never forget the way I felt afterwards. It was as though a switch had been flipped inside me. I distinctly remember thinking, “Oh, so THIS is what people mean when they say they’ve found their calling!” Never before had I felt such joy, effortless flow and present-moment awareness as I had when I stepped into the role of a teacher. And five years later, I still feel the same.

It’s difficult to put into words exactly why teaching yoga resonates so deeply with me but I’ll do my best. Here are just a few of the many reasons:

  • It allows me to share what I’m truly passionate about: the teachings of yoga that have been passed down to me by my teachers, the empowerment of taking an active role in one’s own wellness, and the beauty of a practice that always meets you where you are.
  • The light and energy I see reflected back in the faces of my students.
  • The privilege and honour of witnessing the transformation – not just physical, but emotional and even spiritual – that occurs each time someone steps onto their mat.
  • The joy of guiding others inward to (re)discover their own innate truth, ability, beauty and authenticity.
  • It inspires me to practice, read, discuss, write and think. The more I learn about the art and science of yoga, the more it becomes apparent that there’s so much more I need to learn. Teaching leads me back to my own mat, again and again.
  • (Honourable mention: Teaching yoga gives me a reason to use Sanskrit words in public.)

For all of these reasons and many more, I always make a point of thanking my students after each class. Without their presence, I wouldn’t be able to experience having the best job in the world.