“Instead of you doing yoga, let yoga do you.”
I practice yoga everyday. It doesn’t matter if I am injured, sick or tired. I practice everyday because I believe yoga is a daily practice, a lifestyle. I used to come to my mat expecting to have the same if not a better practice than the last time. Practice makes perfect, right? Not in yoga because you are already perfect. So whatever practice you have on a given day is the exact practice you are meant to be having. It is our ego that tells us that we need to be in a pose a certain way, that we have to do it perfectly right, and maybe even that we need to be the best in the class. When we start to become aware of our ego, we can drop it and focus on what our body is telling us. So how does this transfer to our yoga practice? I will use myself as an example. Yesterday in my practice, I was able to pop into a bunch of arm balances and jumping forward and back on my mat came very easily. Today on the other hand, when I got on my mat, I noticed a heaviness in my body and numbness down my right leg. So my practice was different today. When we went into Crescent Lunge Twist, I chose to drop my knee. I chose to drop my knee in the moment because that is what felt right in my body. Yoga told me where my body was at and what it needed. This is very different than listening to what your mind (ego) is telling you. If you have ever been injured, you will know what I am speaking about. Injuries allow us to be present to what our body needs.
So the next time you come to your mat, notice if you listening to your body or your ego? Are you doing yoga or are you allowing yoga to do you?
Last Saturday, a student and I were having a handstand practice at the studio. After a couple of minutes, we were both lit up, laughing, and just feeling joyful. We started to talk about how handstands often shift our mood to a more joyful, positive place. I know there are many physiological benefits when we invert. But beyond the physiology, what makes handstands so joyful and fun? Yes, it could remind us of our youth when we did things like handstands with little to no fear. Maybe it’s recapturing a sense of freedom. What it is for me is how Present I have to be when doing a handstand. When you are in a handstand, you are not thinking. All you are doing is responding immediately to the present moment and what your body needs in that very moment to sustain your handstand. Presence is why handstands bring me Joy. When we are fully immersed in the Now, we are completely at peace and in joy. When are you fully immersed in the present moment? I often wonder what would be possible if we approached every moment this way, fully present, empty, and open.
There is a story of a Chinese farmer whose wild stallion ran off one day. All the neighbors gathered around saying “Very bad luck.” The Chinese farmer said, “bad luck, good luck, who knows?” A few days later the stallion returned with a herd of wild horses. The neighbors gathered around saying “Very good luck.” ”Bad luck, good luck, who knows,” said the farmer. A week later the farmer’s son was trying to break in one of the horses and was thrown from the horse and broke his leg. The neighbors gathered and said “Very bad luck.” ”Bad luck, good luck, who knows,” said the farmer. Several weeks later the Chinese army came to the town looking for able-bodied youth to join the army and fight. When the soldiers came to the farmer’s house and saw the boy’s broken leg, they left him alone and moved on. The neighbors gathered saying “Very good luck.” ”Bad luck, good luck, who knows?”
This story comes to mind when I consider the events from this past weekend. The studio was involved in a motor vehicle accident and everyone in the studio was okay; no one was seriously injured. People could say this was “very bad luck.” But is it really? It actually means nothing other than the meaning we give it. If you think about it, we really don’t have experiences in life. We have reactions to our experiences. If you talk to all 9 people who were in the room on Friday night when the accident occurred, you are likely to hear 9 different interpretations and reactions to the experience. The studio is now in the midst of a huge make-over with different paint colors, new floors, new glass window with our logo on it etc… Now I wouldn’t say the accident is “good luck” but I also wouldn’t say it is “bad luck,” it just is. This is what we call Equanimity in yoga. It means non-reactivity. We are present to what is, make no meaning about it, and then be present to this moment. So the next time you think something is bad luck or good luck, let it all go and just say “who knows!”
This past weekend the PYT teacher trainees experienced the power of the word YES. Have you ever been in a yoga pose and all you wanted to do was to get out of it? It is torturous. All you can focus on is pain or discomfort and how that should not be. All of this creates a negative experience. Now imagine this… you are in a challenging yoga pose and you are breathing and accepting the experience just as it is right now. You embrace the whole experience- the body sensations as well as the thoughts and feelings about the pose and the body sensations. When you say “yes,” you are saying that you are not going to resist what is: you are going to Let It Be. As much as this shows up on the mat, it also shows up in your life. Have you ever felt angry and resisted the anger so much that you were angry for being angry? Or feeling depressed because you are depressed. When we interpret something as negative (a feeling, thought or experience), we resist it by saying “this should not be.” It is the resistance to what is that causes the suffering. Can you just say “yes” to what is? Yes to the fact that I am angry. Yes to the fact that I do not like this yoga pose. Yes to all of it. So the next time you are suffering on the mat in a pose, try accepting all of it- the pose, the sensations, and even your suffering. The more you practice acceptance on the mat, the more it will show up in other areas of your life.
There is a saying “wherever you go, there you are.” It means that your way of being shows up everywhere. So it is no surprise that your way of being shows up in yoga. I have heard it said that your mat is a mirror to your life. It is showing you how you show up in the world. Start to notice your thoughts when you are practicing yoga. Those thoughts probably come up in other areas of your life. If you blame the teacher when you are having a challenging practice, it is likely you blame people for your difficulties. If you push yourself to the point of injury when you are practicing yoga, you probably push yourself in every aspect of your life to the point of detriment. This past weekend, PYT had it’s first teacher training weekend for this training group. We all explored who we were on the mat and how that relates to every other aspect of our lives. Some realizations included playing the martyr, judging oneself, authority issues, and feeling “not enough.” Start to become aware of the thoughts, feelings, reactions, and behaviors that you engage in when you are practicing yoga. Just notice it. The beauty is there is nothing to fix. Once you become aware of what is happening, you are no longer asleep to it; you awaken. Once awakened, then you have the opportunity to choose the same thing or something different. Awareness is the key. It’s like looking into a mirror. So next time you step on the mat, be open to exploring your way of being and notice that wherever you go…there you are!
Have you ever noticed that it is so much easier to do things for others than for ourselves? In yoga, we call it “Showing Up” for others.
It is so easy to show up for a friend when they are going through a hard time. We drop what is important to us so that we can be available for our friends when they need us. What would life be like if we committed and treated ourselves the way we did our families and friends? Yesterday when I was teaching class, I noticed how people were able to break through their perceived limits when they showed up for other people. I saw my students breathing louder so their neighbors could benefit from their breath. I saw students taking Wheel Pose even when they were tired because they wanted to inspire others around them. This way of being does not only show up on our mats, this shows up in our lives. How many times have you rallied the energy to do something for someone else because they needed the help? It happens all the time. The best example is the mother that can lift a truck to save the life of their child. Could they gather that same strength if it was to save their own life? I do not know.
What I do know is that we value our commitment to others more than we value our commitment to ourselves. I have talked to many students who say that they can not practice yoga more consistently or do a teacher training because it would interfere with their duties as a mother, wife, etc… Yoga makes us better human beings. It brings us closer to who we really are, Higher Beings. The more we practice yoga, the more present we are and the less emotionally reactive we are. We become better parents, partners, and friends. When you show up on your mat, you are taking good care of yourself. So the next time you think you are being selfish for taking a yoga class or doing a yoga training ask yourself if you show up for yourself the way you show up for others. Maybe the answer is…the More you show up for yourself, the More you can show up for everyone around you!
We can’t fool our kids. They are always watching, always listening. I wear my heart on my sleeve and my daughters see me with no filter—and for this we all feel safe to express ourselves with wild abandon. I entered Teacher Training excited to discover what it was all about, but also terrified of revealing myself to a group of strangers. What I discovered was that not only can’t I fool my girls—I can’t fool anyone. Especially not myself.
During our practice teaching, I was paralyzed. I was so caught up in the “should”—how I should look up there, how I should sound, act, stand, teach—that I may as well have stood up and walked out of the room, because I wasn’t there. I was standing in front of everyone and words were coming out of my mouth, but my spirit was M.I.A. and no one was buying it. I kept receiving the same feedback to help me keep my head in the room:
“We’re waiting for you, Dominique! Teach as if you are talking to your daughters.”
The feedback didn’t instantly kick in, but I knew it was true. As I completed Teacher Training, those words kept reverberating in my head. I started to realize that I had also been waiting for myself to show up. And lo and behold, my unbridled, singing, dancing self that I am when I’m with my girls started to reveal itself. That’s when the REAL connection happened. The more of the heavy “should” baggage that I dropped, the lighter I felt. Not only did my fellow trainees—who were now my friends—respond enthusiastically to me being me, but I began to believe in myself and the path that I was on.
The possibility that opened up to me when I showed up authentically at the studio continues to motivate and inspire other areas of my life—most of all as a mother. The gift of Teacher Training and everything that has blossomed from that seed—vibrant health, authentic connection, the courage to switch direction and move towards joy—trickles down to my daughters. They have witnessed the steady progress I have made, from signing up for Teacher Training to carving out time to get on my mat every day, to becoming an assistant, to teaching at the studio. And they are proud of me. The inspiration I received from my daughters when they weren’t even in the room with me, being encouraged to show up as if they were there, created a shift that changed the trajectory of my life. Knowing that they can draw the same strength from witnessing my journey makes my heart burst with pride. Because they are always watching, always listening.
In our practice, the most important thing to do is breathe. We talk about it all the time. Inhale…Exhale. It is easy to remember to breathe when we are practicing Sun Salutations because you breath one breathe per pose. It is also relatively simple to remember to breathe when we are in challenging poses, like side plank. We start to fire up our breath so we can maintain the integrity of the pose and possibly go somewhere new. So why do we forget to breathe when we are transitioning from one pose to the next? My earliest teachers would say, “The poses between the poses are poses!” Yes, we are still moving with our breath when we are transitioning between poses. What is it about transitions that cause us to stop breathing (on the mat and off the mat)? It is almost like, “this doesn’t count because I am not where I am supposed to be,” or “I’ll breathe when I get there.” Have you ever had that thought on or off the mat? It’s like everything gets put on hold, including our breath, when we are in the midst of transitions. But transitions are a part of our practice and a part of our life. Really when are we not in transition? Think about it. Certainly when we are moving from our homes, jobs, and relationships, we consider ourselves to be in transition. However, even when things feel stable, aren’t we still in transition? If you believe like I do that we are always growing and expanding then we are perpetually in transition. So why not breathe through the transitions like we breathe through everything else. One breathe at a time is our mantra. If you focus just on this breath right now, it doesn’t matter where you are because you are Right Here, Right Now. Next time you are on the mat, see what it is like to breathe for the entire practice, not just when you get to the pose. You might find that there is no reason to wait to exhale or to inhale for that matter.
How many times have you faced fear on the mat? Fear of trying handstand in the middle of the room because you might fall out of it. Fear that you were going to die of heat exhaustion in a heated yoga class. Fear that you were going to make a fool yourself when you first started practicing. And the list goes on and on. The reason fear shows up on our mats is because fear shows up in our lives everywhere and all the time. Fear of not being good enough, fear of someone being angry with us, fear of telling someone how we truly feel, etc…They say that our mat is a mirror of our lives. If we back away from fear on our mats, we do the same thing off of the mat. For me, I love to notice my feelings and thoughts when I am practicing yoga. I have definitely noticed fear with attempting advanced poses like handstand and forearm stand. I have also noticed it after coming back from an injury, being fearful of hurting myself. What has changed for me is that now I just notice the fear. I do not let it control me. I do not have to do anything about it. I notice it like I do all my thoughts and feelings. I observe how it waxes and wanes and then is no longer there. Sometimes there really is nothing to do other than to just notice and accept it. So as you practice yoga, notice the fear that comes up. Can you notice it and observe it without having to do anything about it? The more this becomes a practice on your mat, the more you may experience a shift in how you deal with fear off of your mat.
At the Power Yoga Tribe, Preston & I teach Baptiste Power Vinyasa. A big part of the Baptiste classes are the use of teacher’s assistants. Assistants are a vital aspect to this practice. Assistants are there to help students set-up for class, and they manage people coming in once the teacher has started class. They are there in service for the teacher and for the students. Assistants are aware if a student needs something in the middle of class and addresses that need the best he/she can. In terms of how they support the teacher, they can go over to particular students that the teacher points out that may need further assistance during class. Assistants basically take care of what is going on in the room so the teacher can teach to the whole class.
Assistants spend the majority of their time physically assisting students. Assists are when an assistant puts his/her hands on you when you are in a pose to either offer more ease or possibility in a pose. The idea is NOT to fix you or put you in the pose that we think you should be in. The goal is to offer further exploration for you in the pose; to go places you may not have yet experienced.
Finally, assistants are there to help create an energy of authenticity, community, and possibility. They are smiling and encouraging to each student throughout the entire class. They are there to energetically support the teacher and each and every student in whatever way they can.
Overall, whether physically assisting or getting a student a block, assistants show up to assist from a place of service and community. It is a true gift having an assistant in the class. Come in and experience it for yourself.
In July, PYT will now have 2 classes/week with an assistant, Caitlin Zink.
Fridays 9:30am- 10:45am Happy Hour Class &
Sundays 9:30am-11:00am All Levels Class