New Paths and Guinea Pigs

Possibly the biggest challenge of venturing into a path called Movement Coaching is that it’s an undefined path. There are a million ways to go about it, and a simple degree is not one of those ways. (I could choose to go to Physical Therapy school, but for a lot of reasons I won’t detail here, it’s not the best approach for me and would still leave me in search of a more well rounded approach to working with someone and his/her movement lifestyle.)

That leaves me piecing together my own education from various teachers, training programs, and clinicians. It’s SO overwhelming! I mean, Instagram alone has exposed me to more possible educational tools than I could possibly know what to do with, let alone word of mouth, and umm . . . a thing called Google.

It would be incredibly easy to get lost in the abyss of learning without applying; taking training after training, certification after certification, but with little actual experience to apply and test out the theories, methodologies, and approaches. I need practice.

I recently attended a seminar introducing an approach and some assessment tools put together by a chiropractor out of California. By far, the most useful learning tool of the whole day was splitting up into groups and applying the freshly learned principles to one another and to various case studies we were given. This is how we learn. This is how doctors of all kinds are trained, this is how mentorships work. Real time application and the trial and error that comes with it build confidence and a comprehensive toolbox.

So, I’m calling on YOU for help. I’m offering FREE (yes free) one on one sessions to anyone who:
1. has a chronic injury and/or pain and wants to heal said injury and/or pain
2. is willing to commit to at least a couple of weeks of consistent daily work to see results.
3. is willing to travel to Carroll Gardens or Red Hook for the sessions
4. has tried physical therapy and it didn’t work or can’t afford physical therapy at this time
5. doesn’t have an injury but wants to get stronger in a particular area of the body or activity.

To start, I’m opening up my time for 5 people. Each person will receive three 30 minute sessions (that MUST be scheduled over a 5 week period). Please email me through my contact page with any questions or to schedule your first session!

Still wondering exactly what we’ll be doing? Think of a mash up of: simple awareness practices that might resemble yoga, specific coordination and strength exercises that might resemble physical therapy, kettlebell weight training, TRX, and resistance bands that might resemble a personal training protocol, and any other methodology or exercise that may be applicable to your situation. My goal throughout the process is to not only address whatever you’re coming in with, but to help you understand something about your body that empowers you to continue moving in the ways you want to move. There will be lots of give and take, a lot of opportunity for you to give me feedback, and best of all, my mentor will be working with me to make sure you don’t regret being my guinea pig!

I look forward to working with you!

A Yoga Teacher's Identity Crisis Part III: So What's the Problem?

In Part I, I gave you background on why I need to define what yoga is for me in the first place. I strongly believe every teacher should define what he/she is teaching. If you don’t answer that question, who then are you as a teacher? And if you don’t have an answer, maybe ask more questions! That’s how this all started with me and it’s been a priceless and essential inquiry. In Part II, I defined what a yoga class is TO ME. And here, in Part III, we get to the actual “crisis.” Ready?

I have been struggling to teach yoga in the way that I have chosen to define it for myself. Basically, what I value the most in a yoga class as a student as outlined in Part II—specifically the meditative quality of the practice— is not what I’m focused on offering as a yoga teacher.

Wait, what? The whole reason I did my yoga training was because I was so in love with my practice! It inspired me and calmed me and made me so aware of myself, so much so that I wanted to offer that same experience to others through the same types of yoga classes I was having those experiences in. And it worked for a bit. But then as I’ve really gotten in touch with who I am as a teacher, I’ve discovered that what’s coming out of me is not what I expected. Me as a yoga student? I want flow, I want candles and incense, I want a dharma talk and an Ommm, flowery language, soft music and a fully meditative experience to help my lose myself and get away from my overactive monkey mind. Me as a teacher? Not so much flow, direct/clear/and lots of instruction, maybe some candles and a palo santo stick if I remember, no dharma talk, no music, and lots of room for trial/error and play. Ommm and Namaste are feeling really really forced lately. Coming to this realization was weird.

I decided that I can either:

1. Re-define Yoga as it stands for me personally.
As I’ve been witnessing these changes, I’ve tried to force myself to “re-define” yoga with this whole process. Can yoga ALSO be what I’m teaching? The choppy, prop heavy, biomechanical, curiosity-driven movement classes? There is an argument here either way. I can argue that YES it’s ALL yoga because yoga is about exploration and awareness. But I’m just not sold on that argument for ME personally because I really like yoga as it is! And the “lose yourself in a flow” quality is inherent to what I feel my practice is about. I don’t want to tinker with that value so I can feel like what I’m doing is justified. I wholly respect other teachers in similar positions as myself who are continuing to call their classes yoga while expanding the yoga definition. That’s awesome. But for me, I think I need to separate the two.

So here we are. I’ve acknowledged that teaching yoga in the way that I love to experience yoga myself isn’t for me. And I’ve acknowledged that that’s OK. (And actually, it’s kind of great. Because now I might enjoy my personal yoga practice again in a way that I stopped enjoying it when I became a teacher.) And I’ve acknowledged that I don’t want to re-define yoga because I find so much value in it the way that it is.
So, what then? I have to:

2. Re-define myself as a teacher.
I’m an aspiring Movement Coach. (I say aspiring, because I’m having a really hard time owning it! I have a long way of learning to go). But that’s where I’m headed folks.

What’s a Movement Coach? Think of a mashup between a personal trainer, a physical therapist, a yoga teacher, and a life coach. Someone who will help you get out of pain, teach you to move better, and motivate you to move more so you feel confident in your body and empowered by your understanding of it; all by incorporating an understanding of anatomy, biomechanics, motor control, pain science, strength training, psychology, and mindfulness techniques. Yeah, see? I have a lot to learn! And the reality is, to really see positive change in someone with this work, one-on-one work rather than group classes is the most powerful and effective format.

So where does this leave me now? Still teaching yoga while continuing to grow my private client Movement Coaching business at the same time. Things don’t happen overnight. My classes will continue to be educational, strength based, methodical, and focused so while they may not be a flow class for you to tune out in, you’ll always be able to learn something about your body and apply it to your favorite flow yoga class. Eventually, in the right space with the right support system, I may evolve my classes from “yoga” to “movement” that entail all of the aspects about movement coaching I mentioned above, but in a group setting.

Crisis aborted. (till the next one!)

Note: Just a disclaimer that this process is neatly tied up in a blog post here, but it’s taken me about a year to come full circle. While it feels really good, I think the hardest part is yet to come: actually transitioning into this new phase and setting my self criticism and fear aside.

xoxo

A Yoga Teacher's Identity Crisis, Part II: Defining a Yoga Class

Yoga classes today are wildly variable to the degree that a current question in the yoga community among students and teachers alike is, “Is that yoga?”  I believe this is largely due to the fact that yoga’s origin and history are so complex, because there are minimal regulations on the industry, and likely a dozen other reasons.  My whole current identity crisis revolves around the fact that I found myself asking this very question about my own classes. I am committed to the idea that there is at least one defining element that makes a yoga class a yoga class, however, I haven’t completely worked it out (I do plan to tackle that idea in a future post).  For now, I have to just speak about yoga as it relates to me personally—and this was so much harder than I could have imagined. What I’ve come up with is a product of hours of thinking about this, having some conversations, and writing about it. I’m still not fully convinced that this is the final product, because at any moment I might come up with a new objection to my own thoughts! But alas, today, this is what I have.

In my last post I wrote that for me, yoga boils down to “awareness during movement in a safe space.”  I should expand.  For me personally, a yoga class is:

“ A movement class in which I feel like I’m home because of the space and the ritual and that incorporates specific components that invite me to experience a deep awareness of my body and breath to the extent that I might access a state of flow, and after which I feel re-set.”

Let’s break it down.

A movement class:
Yoga’s origin is ancient and philosophical, and in its ancient context there is no mention of a physical component.  This alone invites a giant conversation that is too big for my scope to write about.  I am interested in yoga’s current popular form, and today, in 2018, yoga is practiced primarily as a movement discipline. I use the word “class” rather than “discipline” in my definition because yoga as a discipline, like any, can have a cumulative effect on a person. My intent for now is to define what a single yoga class has to offer me.

in which I feel like I’m home because of the space and the ritual:
In general (plenty of exceptions), yoga studios tend to be environments that invite a calming effect the moment you walk in. Such calming environments help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, psychologically cultivating a sense of safety where students can let their guards down more easily. I find this naturally invites and holds space for introspection. The very nature of introspection is deeply personal and assumes a sense of honest inquiry which may be the closest we can ever get to ourselves: an “inner home.”  In addition, there’s a bookend-like beginning and end to the class (which I’ll detail further below) that gives it an element of ritual. I find this to evoke a feeling of intimacy, creating a personal relationship to the experience and giving it the intangible value of met expectation, comfort, assurance, dependability—all qualities we might associate with being home.

that incorporates specific components which invite me to experience a deep awareness of my body and breath:
One can definitely find each of the below components in other movement disciplines, but I find that yoga tends to incorporate many of them all in one class making it easier for me to access such a deeply personal experience so quickly.

  • Space. For the same reasons mentioned above, the environment itself that most yoga classes inhabit lends to opportunities to be more aware of oneself.  

  • There are no mirrors.  In general (again I’m aware of the exceptions) yoga studios don’t have mirrors, suggesting the idea that a feeling of one’s own body rather than an external reference is the focus of the experience.  

  • Focus on the Present. it is widely accepted that the physical practice of yoga originated with the intention of preparing the body for seated meditation.  While we don’t often sit in meditation at the end of classes, there’s an underlying focus on staying in the present moment. 

  • Breath Awareness.  I think it’s safe to say that across all yoga disciplines, breath is an underlying element.  Regardless of techniques and varying opinions about how and when breath practices should be performed, a foundational principle exists: the breath is a tool to maintain awareness in the present moment. The breath is present, so if we are aware of the breath, we are in the present.  

  • Coming to Center and Savasana. I think it’s also safe to say that every yoga class has a few moments, if not a few minutes, to “come to center,” at the beginning of class—this amazing opportunity to transition our attention from external sources to internal ones, a conscious transition into presence.  Every class also includes Savasana—the practice of laying on your back and actually resting at the end of class, or between poses in some practices.  Both of these elements are specific invitations for taking one’s awareness to a deeper level, beyond the outside world and into the abyss of the self.   

  • Language. Yoga is sold as a healing practice (both physical and spiritual). Whether that should or shouldn’t be the case is a can of worms for another blog post. But healing is a deeply personal and intimate journey no matter who or what or how, bringing us naturally into a state of self awareness.  The language used in a yoga class is a direct reflection of this idea. Yoga teachers use specific words, ideas, tones of voice, even pace of speaking to curate an experience suggestive of and conducive to healing inside and out.  

to the extent that I might access a state of flow: The “flow state” is a concept coined by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975.  It’s described as “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.  In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.”  Csikszentmihalyi’s research has shown that accessing the flow state boosts overall happiness possibly explaining some of the physiological effects of a yoga class.  This flow state mimics a meditative state and may explain the “yoga high” that I and many others associate with a yoga class. This concept and more details will heavily influence the next post, so stay tuned!

and after which I feel re-set: between the distraction of technology, the intensity of politics, the load of work schedules, the overwhelm of environment (living in urban cities especially), and the emotional drama of everyday life as a human being, there is no fuel left in the tank for me to keep going at full speed without something like yoga.  Spending a whole hour + of time focusing on myself, my body, and my breath means I’m not focusing on all of the above. There are countless studies that show how focusing one’s awareness on breath and body (such as one does in meditation) has innumerable benefits to our brains, stress levels, and overall happiness. So I am re-fueled, leaving a class with even just a little (if not a lot) more grounding, perspective, and calm than what I walked in with.  

So what’s the crisis??? Stay tuned for Part III . . .

xoxo

A Yoga Teacher's Identity Crisis, Part I: Why I Need to Define Yoga

BACKGROUND: Both my parents are very highly educated.  My father is a Pediatric Endocrinologist, my mother has a PhD in Biochemistry and evolved to become self studied in naturopathy, herbalism, and anything else in the realm of non-western medicine.  They are both highly inquisitive, deeply thoughtful, and well-read individuals—attributes I never thought applied to me.  As I’ve delved into the world of yoga and movement, I’ve discovered a passion I never knew I had, and with that, a deep curiosity I also never thought I had.  I am the type of person who now wants to understand why.  I have a need to justify, to rationally explain, to connect the dots.  This is partly a type-A thing, partly a passion driven thing, but mostly a parental influence thing for which I’m truly grateful.

WHY I WANT TO SHARE THIS WITH YOU: As I ponder my current yoga teacher identity crisis, it’s crossed my mind several times that none of you may actually give a rat’s a$$ about my evolution.  Why should you?  Your yoga practice is personal to you.  You may attend classes with various teachers to get a well balanced practice, you may attend class once a month or less and therefore consider your yoga practice as kind of a random once-in-while exercise.  Who knows, but what does it have to do with me? Not much.  However, if you’re on this email list, you’ve most likely been to my class and enjoyed it.  And if you’ve been to my class or decide to come again, I need you to know why I teach the way I teach.  Even if it’s not important to you, it’s important to me that an explanation exists about the process behind what I’m doing.  Even though it’s all subject to change at any moment, there’s always an intention.  In my perspective, intention is everything.  If we don’t live with intention, we’re just floating around aimlessly.  

AN IMPORTANT QUESTION: If you’re not interested, I’m not offended in the least.  If you are interested, you might read on.  My identity crisis revolves around this question:  What makes a yoga class a yoga class?  Is it the breath work? But not all teachers focus on breath.  Is it the flow? But not all teachers teach flow.  Is it the poses? But teachers add their own variations of poses these days.  Is it the spiritual element? But many students do not consider their practice a spiritual one.  Is it the environment, the sacred space? But I have taught yoga in the middle of the High Line on a busy summer Saturday.  Is it the mind/body/breath connection?  But some runners or martial arts practitioners consider their movement to also be a meditative act of mind/body/breath connection.  So then what makes yoga yoga?  I want to believe there IS a universal answer, but I haven’t found it, so I will resolve for now that it depends on the practitioner.  For me, my yoga practice is a place to turn my anxious mind off.  To cultivate a deep sense of awareness of the subtleties of my body that seem impossible to access during everyday life in the city.  It is a place that seems sacred, that evokes a feeling of home.  A place where I can cry if I need to and no one will judge me.  A place where I am so in tune with myself that I start to understand my habits, my struggles, where I push too much, where I am insecure, where I start to ask uncomfortable questions.  There is attention to breath, but it may not perfectly link with my movement. There is movement of my body, but it may not look like traditional yoga postures. There can be a physical challenge, but there doesn’t have to be. There can be music, but there doesn’t have to be. Really, what I think it boils down to for me is awareness during movement in a safe space.

WHAT ABOUT YOU? Yoga has had a dramatic evolution over the past 30 years in Western culture, not to mention its evolution since its earliest mentions in the ancient Vedic texts.  So, what yoga IS is not set in stone, it’s a conversation.  So before I continue with part 2 of this post, I’d like to extend the question to you. 

What makes yoga yoga to YOU?

Please feel free to comment below or email me directly.

xoxo
alia

A "Bad" Yogi. (or . . . a story of human inquiry)

Today, I bought a bag of skittles from a street vendor instead of giving money to a homeless woman.

The homeless woman with her cup was crouched on the same block, maybe 15 steps before the vendor. I paused my train of thought to consider giving the woman a dollar. I knew I had 2 dollars in my wallet. But that meant I had to stop, pull out my wallet, open the wallet to find the dollar and face the woman in front of me whose life is harder than I have the ability to imagine.  I would have to place the dollar in the cup and wonder why I didn’t put both dollars. I’d have to place the dollar in the cup and see what was in the cup. If the cup looked full, I would have the thought, “My she’s had a successful day.” If the cup was empty, I’d have returned to my moment earlier thought, “Why didn’t I give her both my dollars?” 

I resumed my original train of thought as I kept walking passed her.  I had been thinking about fancy yoga poses on Instagram and what it is about them I hate so much.  Is it because I truly believe they’re devaluing the practice? Or is it just because I can’t do them? 

15 steps later, I walked passed a street vendor. I kept walking. Then I stopped, turned around and walked back to the street vendor. I pulled out my wallet. I opened the wallet and found a dollar. I continued to dig through all my coins for a quarter. The skittles were $1.25. 

I threw the skittles in my bag, immediately disappointed in myself for having so quickly given in to my drug that I give into when I feel weak inside—sugar.

5 steps later, it hits me.  I can’t believe what I had just done. How quickly I forgot about the woman.  The irony of the entire situation. 

The icing on the cake was that one of my resolutions for the year was to always carry a dollar in my bag, and as long as I had a single dollar, I would give it away to the first person who asked me for it. 

Why do I always hesitate? What exactly am I afraid to confront?

I had to write this down. And here, in my notes section on my phone, on the subway, I began to write. Halfway through my story, a homeless man walks through the subway car, offering up a cup. I immediately pause my train of thought, stop typing, pull out my wallet, open it up and find the dollar, drop it in the cup.  There was already some change in there.  “God bless.” He didn’t look at me. I felt ok with that. 

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xoxo