Category: Yoga

The Gunas: The Yogic Energy Map

This fresh and insightful interpretation of a concept that comes from Yogic Philosophy and Ayurveda will offer you an incredibly intelligent and intuitive guide to living your life to its fullest capacity.

The word Guna comes from the word “strand.” Just like a rope is made of several strands there are three strands of life’s energy. That is to say, there are three main qualities of life.

Not knowing the Gunas is like going through life not knowing North, South, East and West. Eoin calls it an “energy map” that helps us master our energy in life.

There are so many energies we could feel, but the Gunas let’s us categorize them at the meta level so we can see the overarching patterns to how life interacts. Like you would file receipts in a file folder, the Gunas are like a filing system for energy.

This talk is just the tip of the iceberg and if you’re interested in these types of conversations, look into our self-study or interactive courses on Teachable.

The Emergence of a Blissology Yoga Teacher. ~ Rebecca Todd

Today I got to attend one of the most beautiful and touching yoga classes I’ve attended in a long time. Even through a screen, I felt so emotionally connected I ended up shedding a few tears.

The teacher was amazing and the sequencing was lovely, yet it was more than that. It was the emergence of a new yoga teacher, a new member of the ever-growing Bliss Army, and a new link in the web of connection that started, for me, with my lifelong friend Sara.

Sara and I met when we were 2 years old in the playgroup that the parents of the local small communities we lived in formed to create community. This was the 70s kids, we didn’t even have cable TVs. No internet or cell phones, not even cordless phones. McDonald’s had yet to release the McNugget. Empire Strikes Back was still a year distant, but that holiday special, thankfully, in the past.

As our towns were very small—mine, Goodwood, had about 250 people—there weren’t many people with kids around the same age, so we drew from a few small towns, and this brought me together with Sara, Amy, Jenny, and others who remain friends these 41 years later.

Jump forward a few decades. Sara and I have remained friends and have had many weird simpaticos during our life. One occurred when her long term relationship and my marriage ended around the same time. It was so helpful to have a trusted friend to turn to as we supported each other through many big changes. Sara found a weekend yoga workshop in a city close to mine, told me we were going and spending the weekend together, leaving me no room to wiggle out of it (a good friend knows when to push and when to back off). We would be training with a teacher she admired and had VHS tapes of his videos!

Enter Eoin Finn and Blissology yoga. I had only been practicing yoga for a while, and only one style. I was very nervous about the weekend and my yoga skills as I’ve never been athletic. How we were moving with Eoin was unfamiliar, and the first evening I was trepidatious. I turned to Sara from my mat and told her that I didn’t know some of these postures. She shrugged and replied, “try them anyway.”

By Sunday evening, my yoga was transformed. Anyone who has studied with Eoin knows he has a deep focus on alignment that transformed my physical practice, and mentally, my connection to my yoga practice had also shifted, thanks to Sara’s advice to try it anyway, even though it was unfamiliar.

A few years later, once again Sara and I found ourselves at a similar nexus in our lives—within weeks of each other, we endured similar injuries that derailed our lives. I sustained my 8th concussion in a kitchen cleaning accident (seriously) while Sara had a car accident and sustained whiplash and PTSD. Again, while I would not have wished such circumstances upon anyone, having a trusted friend going through a similar experience helped me get through it. As I was not able to work at my old career as an international sales manager in academic publishing, and yoga served as an amazing therapy for me mentally and physically, I decided to pursue my teacher training. There was only one choice for me, I had to train with Eoin.

The month I spent in Bali with Eoin and the rest of my YTT cohort was nothing short of life-changing. Spending so much time with a group of people in such a vulnerable way is guaranteed to draw you closer together, even without another wild accident. But this is me we are talking about, and if you don’t know me yet, well, I’m not so much accident prone as I experience the widest array of what life has to offer, I like to think, anyway, and in this case, what life had to offer was dancing through a glass floor out the bottom of a yoga studio into a koi pond (…seriously.) On the first full day of training. Across the world. In a place, I had gone alone to recover from another life-changing injury.

I did not let it end my trip and missed only 2 days of training even with 63 stitches and using crutches. This is not the story of that accident but is the story of the bond I developed with Eoin and the Bliss Army, and there is nothing like an accident to force you to ask for help and be vulnerable with strangers.

I went home 5 weeks later with a head full of yoga knowledge, a global connection of new friends, and some great new scars. Eventually, I found my way into teaching through the wonderful group of teachers in my city. My friend Joan introduced me to Tony who introduced me to Tina who introduced me to Kelsey who introduced me to Randi, who hired me to teach at Forest City Fitness—a community of people who all took the time and effort to help out a new teacher. Again, never having been naturally athletic, I felt out of my comfort zone going to a gym to teach yoga. I also had judgments about “gym yoga not being real yoga”. What I found instead was a caring and supportive community all invested in supporting each other, from the management to my colleagues to the members who support my classes.

Enter Alex Roa. Alex began coming to my yoga classes along with her sweet father, Felix. They were both very supportive of my classes, and were open and warm, taking the time to get to know me as a person, and letting me get to know them, too. Alex had done some yoga before, but was unfamiliar with the particular style I’d learned through Eoin—I blend his classic Blissology movements with his advanced Superflow training and a dash of Sadie Nardini (how I met Sadie is yet another beautiful tale for another day).

After a few months of getting to know each other, Alex asked if I would talk to her about doing her YTT. Of course, I wanted to tell her to study with Eoin, but I realise that what was the right choice for me may not be the right choice for her. I presented her with a number of options, and also explained to her the criteria I used when deciding to train through Blissology. After some extensive research, Alex returned to me and said she had decided to apply to train with Eoin. I was thrilled!

Alex returned home 5 weeks later with a head full of yoga knowledge, a global connection of new friends, and thankfully no new scars. Coming home at the start of the COVID crisis, Alex came back to a strangely restrictive time. We did not even get the chance to have one in-person class together before the stay at home regulations passed. This could have been a deterrent to someone less driven than Alex. She did not let this situation stand in her way. She asked me about teaching opportunities, and I sent her to my friend Mel, who sent her to Monika, who brought her on to teach at Innovation Works—a community of people who all took the time and effort to help out new teachers. And today was her first class!

Of course, I attended, and of course, it was amazing. Everything about how Alex led us through the class was exceptional. I have an education degree and can get quite exacting about teaching and presentation, and Alex blew us all away. She did not present as someone teaching their first class months after graduation. Instead, she was poised and professional and delivered a thoughtfully sequenced and clearly cued class. The students afterward made some great comments about the clarity of her directions and the creativity of the sequencing.

Monika let me stay on the zoom call after to hear her comments too. She read to Alex all of the comments in the chat—all glowing of course—and then contributed her own. She echoed so many of my own thoughts, and her praise was so sincere, thoughtful, and well delivered that I started crying! She mentors a lot of new yoga and fitness teachers and was thrilled with what Alex brought to the table. And of course, she asked her to teach more classes! It’s free and online so you can join us for the next one, I’ll include the details at the end.

Honestly, I was as emotional as when I first taught my own classes. What really got to me was the web of connection, flowing for for 41 years connecting Sara to me to Eoin to Alex and beyond. Of all the people along the way—those I named directly here and so many more—who supported me, so that I could help support others.

The heart of Blissology is “Yoga Community Nature”, and in these turbulent times, we need the connection piece more than ever.
What is a small way that you can connect today—both to ask for help and give it freely?

 To join Alex, search for Wellness Works on meetup.com- it’s free and easy to connect through Zoom. She will be teaching at 8:30 am EST on July 16 and August 13. See you on the mat!

~

by Rebecca Todd

Rebecca started practicing yoga about 15 years ago, primarily for fitness. When she sustained her 8th concussion in 2014, she ended up with post-concussion syndrome, PTSD, neck, and back injuries, which changed her relationship to yoga and it became her physical and mental therapy. After a weekend workshop with Eoin Finn changed her practice a decade ago, she sought a teacher training with him to advance her practice and to help her share the yoga that helped her heal with others. Since then, she’s also done four advanced Blissology modules (Yoga Mindbody Medicine, Yogic by Nature, Advanced Adjustments and, her favourite, Superflow), a total of 425 hours, as well as assisting. Rebecca also trained with Love Your Brain yoga and Sadie Nardini in Yoga Shred and Core Strength Vinyasa. 

Rebecca teaches online and in-person at Forest City Fitness, Jazzercise London, and Soulshine Yoga and she’s one half of the CBD wellness brand Bat and Butterfly. Find her on all things social @rebeccaamytodd to connect!

Pigeon Pose: Blissology Style. 12 Minutes that will Radically Up-Level your Game.

This is a short video from the Blissology Align Your Yoga, Align Your Life module.

Of course, it makes even more sense when you have seen the other 50 videos in the program and partaken in our Zoom calls in the course.

However, I want to share it since so many people in the course commented on how they didn’t have any clicks or pinches in their knees or hips doing the pose this way.

That’s one of my driving passions: to help people understand how the forces can be directed through the body so that we get the maximum stretch but our joints remain stable.

You will hear the key Blissology Yoga mantras: “Toes Before Pose,” “Stabilize Ankles and Knees, then Mobilize Hips.”

What you will need to let go of for this approach is striving to get the chest and hips on the floor. All too often this means we collapse in the pose instead of staying expanded and keeping our joints safe. We also “Go-Around” the stretch this way.

I hope this helps you with your yoga and to lead a life of health and positivity.

Namaste,
Eoin

Stay OM Yoga LIVE STREAM – now weekly!

Stay OM Yoga with Eoin and Insiya Blissology

Here is the SPOTIFY playlist (we can’t stream music due to copyright)

If you like this class and care to donate, we would be grateful during these lean times.

These last few weeks have been stressful beyond words. It’s hard not to download fear and worry into our consciousness.

We want to help to reset the frequency back to the positive and keep creating an UPWARD SPIRAL even in these challenging times

Thanks for all 2,000 people who tuned into this Facebook Live Stream. The energy was palpable. By popular demand we will do it next week – same time, same place.

Bali Time: Monday April 13 at 8AM
Pacific Time Sunday April 12 at 5PM

This will be deep and beautiful. This ones free. We can’t wait to practice with you again.

Follow this LINK to next week’s practice!

Or simply tune into www.facebook.com/blissarmy/live

How to choose the right yoga teacher training for YOU

Having just emerged from our annual Bali Blissology Yoga Teacher Training, I was humbled by the trust our students put in us to lead them deep onto a journey than is not just personally transformative, but one that will profoundly shift the course of their life.

Today Yoga is a full-blown movement, with more than 300 million practitioners globally. And if, like me, you were lulled by a teacher’s mellifluous tones during savasana and experienced a little voice inside you crying out, “I want to teach, in fact I know I can,” know that you are not alone.

Yoga teacher training courses are some of the most popular offerings at yoga studios and retreat centers globally (the Yoga Alliance lists over 8000 yoga teacher training schools on its website as of 2020) and hundreds of yoga students line up each year to sign up.

However, before committing to a Yoga Teacher Training, here are our top 6 things to consider. We’ve created this list after 17 years of offering our Blissology Yoga teacher trainings, a training that continues to evolve and has graduated some incredible yoga teachers year after year.

  1. Be clear of your intention Yoga as a practice forces us to unmask our intentions. Be honest with yourself. Do you want to teach? Why do you want to teach? If teaching is simply a way for you to deepen your practice, a yoga teacher training course may not be the best option for you. Many studios as well as independent teachers offer programs for advanced / intermediate practitioners, e.g. Blissology offers an Align your Yoga Align your Life course that we think is ideal for practitioners who want to take their yoga deeper but may not want to teach.  These usually cost way less than a yoga training. If you  are clear however that you want to teach and are passionate about studying further, pursuing a YTT may be the right path for you.
  2. Find your Teacher: the one you want to spend 200 hours with. Whenever students ask me who they should do a training with, I tell them, what do you like to practice? And who do you like to practice with? Is there a teacher you connect with? Do you like how they teach? Do you like how they explain the poses, the alignment, do you connect with their teaching? If the answers are yes, ask them who they studied with? Or go to their training, if that is on offer.
  3. Teaching Yoga can be competitive – create a focus. NAMASTA, an independent health professional alliance in the US recently numbered yoga instructors in the US alone at 70,000 and counting. What differentiates you? Yes, you are and always will be a unique individual, but as yoga business coach Kelly McHugh says, “It is essential to have a focus, and to know who your students are and why they are coming to your classes.”Do you have a special interest in your life that you could bring yoga to? Many successful yoga teachers align their existing interests with yoga and in doing so, can bring yoga to various other populations. For example, professional mountain biker Ryan Leech is a student of Blissology Yoga founder Eoin Finn. After completing Finn’s 200-hour training, he began running yoga and mountain bike retreats and often teaches yoga at bike festivals around the world. If you don’t already have a focus for your teaching goals, or a ready audience, allow one to emerge. At the Blissology Yoga teacher trainings, Finn spends time with his students to help them to uncover what he calls their “life mission.””Your life mission is the deep desire you want to share in the world and it touches all aspects of your life. It will allow you to translate what you want to bring to your community. It will allow you to channel your energies and commit toward a path.”Perhaps you want to teach children, athletes, or practitioners with physical disabilities. Ask yourself what is important to you.

  4. Yoga Teaching is not chai and kombucha drinking all day.  While teaching yoga may seem like it involves drinking many cups of tea, green juice, meditating and enjoying a leisurely yoga practice each day, the reality is quite different. As a yoga teacher starting out, making an impact takes time, passion, persistence and hard work. A genuine love of people and a desire to help others are key. After all, if you are teaching yoga, you are building relationships with people, with a community and with all the enmeshed, inter-twinings of their lives.
  5. Yoga Teaching is a Lifelong Study. The global standard for a qualified yoga teacher is 200 hours, as defined by  Yoga Alliance, an independent accreditation body in the US, whose goal is to continue to make yoga more professional. Yoga Alliance does this by creating strict guidelines by which they attempt to regulate the teaching programs on offer. However, as many a yoga teacher will tell you, a 200-hour course is simply the beginning. As practiced in the original guru/shishya model (that’s teacher/student for the Sanskrit newbies), where the student apprenticed for many years with an experienced teacher, the study of yoga is a life-long journey.Yet, if a student has a good understanding of yoga and has been practicing already for some time (ideally two years), then a 200-hour training can be sufficient to begin to teach. Of course you can only teach what you know, so this is where you start, just teaching what you know. Everyone has to start somewhere.Yoga teachers are impassioned about their art and craft and good teacher training programs offer courses and workshops that continue to fuel your evolving interest as well as the needs of your evolving student body and with many schools you can work your way up to 500 hours of training.
  6. Choose your Yoga Teacher Trainings wisely – they’re an investment
    While most yogis with aspirations to teach are in it for their own personal growth and a desire to share something that makes themhappy, the reality is that yoga teacher have to make a living.Yoga teacher training courses can set you back anywhere from USD$3,000 to USD$10,000 depending on the teacher, school, duration of the program and certification; YTT programs, especially the good ones; are not cheap. Consider your yoga training to be an investment: emotionally, spiritually and in the physical/material world and research your potential investment before diving in.When you’re choosing a training, clarify your accreditation possibilities after the course; as you want a certificate that will be easily recognized. Currently Yoga Alliance, is the most well-known system globally, but countries such as Australia also have their own systems.  Check about the current rates of employment of past graduates, speak to someone who has studied at the school — most yoga schools will refer you to previous students if asked — and also ask about assisting and mentorship possibilities.Another tip: be sure to ask how much emphasis your teacher training places on practicing the craft of teaching so that you emerge after the 200 hours ready to teach and share your learnings with confidence and ease.

Joseph Campbell, the late philosopher best known for his ‘follow your bliss’ mantra, predicted that yoga would be one of the callings of the new millennium.

With its remarkable growth come cautionary stories, such as the NYT Bestseller “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.” Yet, even in this age of Crossfit, multi-hyphenated fitness trends, barre and The Class, yoga continues to be one of the fastest-growing forms of wellness and fitness in the world today, an antidote to our modern troubles of too much technology, constant stress and an ever increasing pace of life.

If you’re on a journey pursuing this powerful, transformative and beautiful path, inhale deeply and Om on. The world is waiting for you.

Ps. The next Blissology 100 hr immersion and 200 hour Yoga Alliance Certified Teacher Training runs in May 2020 in beautiful Tofino, BC on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada.

pss. Photo Credits: From Top: Meredith Rose Photography, Monique Pantel and Kate Ediger. Maha Gratitude.

Blog by, Insiya Rasiwala-Finn

Where Have All the Adjustments Gone?

In the late 90s I received a “deep” adjustment in Marichiasana D where my hands wouldn’t clasp and the knee of the leg that was in lotus didn’t touch the floor. That is until the guru stepped on my knee and pulled my hands together behind my back.

With the weight of his body on my knee that was in lotus, it easily touched the floor and, with effort, my hands finally clasped behind my back in this elusive twisting pose. I was elated… for a few fleeting moments. As it turns out, having somebody step on one’s knee in lotus and then twist the hips and spine in the opposite direction generates a lot of torsion in the knee. As a result I damaged my LCL on my left knee and couldn’t walk for three months!

I was young and trusting back then and learned my lesson the hard way. I never thought I would be able to do any poses that involve any sort of knee-flexion again; no pigeon poses and definitely no more lotus pose in my lifetime.

I embarked on the long road to rehab and I am happy to say that over the years, I have healed my knee by using intelligent alignment and a lot of patience.

You may think that after this injury that I would be the biggest naysayer for yoga adjustments, but I’m not—I’m a big proponent of good adjustments, if they are from a qualified teacher I can trust.

However, with every passing year teachers and studios are opting not to adjust (or “enhance” or “assist”) students. Many studios don’t even allow adjustments anymore. There is fear of inappropriate touch issues and/or the need to respect any trauma-sensitive students (massive topic we can’t address in this article but is definitely worth exploring). The bottom line is, it’s just safer not to touch.

In this litigious culture we live in, who wants to take a chance with having a student claim that your adjustment hurt their back or shoulder? Nobody wants to be sued. The pace of many yoga classes seems to be increasing as well so there is less time to focus on adjustments.

Lastly, good adjustments require that instructors have a lot of skill, practice and knowledge. At the end of the day, people seem to be enjoying yoga classes just fine without adjustments, so why rock the boat? If people in yoga classes don’t seem to be missing adjustments, why add them back in?

Adjustments can be the most healing and beautiful part of a yoga practice or they can be outright dangerous.

Unlike when I got injured in that adjustment two decades ago, I’m now educated about what is an unsafe and what is a beneficial adjustment. This means I can bail on the adjustment, requesting the adjustor to stop at any point if I feel it is not working for me.

And this brings up an interesting point. I am firm believer that a good adjustment involves the education and participation of the person being adjusted. In my books, the person receiving the adjustment should not just be a passive object to be manipulated but an active participant in the process.

That’s why I am big believer in “somatic self-adjustments” where students use their own hands on their own bodies to create the enhancement of their pose. I use this technique all the time and it’s proving to be empowering and effective for students. I believe that a good adjustment doesn’t just feel good, it educates.

It does require a bit of technical know-how for teachers to share this technique so I‘ve broken it down how I do it. These are tips for both adjusting others and “somatic self-adjustments,” which is something we dive deep into in our 200 and 300-hr Blissology trainings.

  1. Go slow and feel the sensations of the body.

    An adjustment involves playing one’s edge. An edge is where the growth happens but also where damage can occur if the student is not aware of bodily feedback. In general, we want poses that do not cause sharp pains or do not allow for long, smooth breath.

At all points in the process, students and teachers need to be in their bodies, feeling the sensations of the body and letting the wisdom of the body guide the pose. This will make it therapeutic, enjoyable and sustainable.
  2. Know the intention of the pose.
    What the pose is meant to stretch? Is it supposed to stretch the hamstring or the hip flexor? Why are we doing the pose? This will help the students monitor the direction they are moving in without fumbling around in the dark.
  3. What joints need to be stabilized?
    Generally speaking, there is a simple rule I use for this. Whatever joint the muscle I am stretching crosses will be the one to stabilize. For example, if I am stretching the pectoral muscle that crosses the shoulder joint therefore the shoulder joint should be stabilized. If I am stretching the hip-flexors that cross the hip joint, then it will be the hip joint that needs to stabilized while stretching.
  4. What bone is the anchor point and what bone moves to create the stretch?
    A stretch is a mini “tug-of-war” between the origins and insertions of a muscle. It is important that students know what these are.
  5. What are the tendencies or “go-arounds?”
    A “go around” is term we use in Blissology Yoga to explain the ways the body moves to avoid the precision of the stretch. In Warrior 2 for example, when the thigh bone moves away from the midline (adducts), the adductors stretch. However, instead of keeping the hip joint stabilized as per step 3 above, the untrained body tends to take the tension of the muscle by sticking the butt out. This is “going around” the alignment pattern and missing purpose of the stretch and the light but grounded feeling it creates.


Here is an example of these principles for adjustments and self-adjustments in Warrior 2.

Know, the intention of the pose is to primarily stretch the inner adductor chain of the right thigh and secondarily to stretch the adductor of the back left leg. Small “micro-movements” of the pelvis will really help refine the stretch.

Stage 1:

1. From Standing pose step the left foot back so the feet are 4-5 feet apart.

2. Keep the front foot facing forward turn back foot in about 45 degrees.

3. With a very slight bend in the right leg, place the right hand on the inner thigh close to the knee and the left hand on the inner left thigh, palm down.

4. Keeping the pelvis upright (minimizing the tilt forward or to the side) start to bend the front knee.

5. As you bend the knee, keep pressing outwards with the hands on the thigh bones to create a stretch on the inner groins.

6. The tendency is for the front adductor muscles to tilt the pelvis forward so the butt sticks out slightly. To fix this, think about “scooping” the right sitting bone under the torso and lift the pubic bone toward the ribs using the lower abdominal muscles.

7. Breath into the stretch in the inner groins as they stretch.

 

Stage 2: Refining the pelvis: “stabilizing and scooping the right hip joint”

1. Keep pressing the right knee outwards using the right hand at the thigh (don’t forget to engage the side hip and quadricep muscles to move the thigh outwards.)

2. Now take the left hand behind the back for the right thigh, close to the hip joint.

3. When someone else adjusts us, they would have a ribcage or a thigh on the back of the hip joint, but we are going to create this same action with out left arm.

4. Catch the left forearm on the right gluteus maximum muscle. Press it down create an upward scooping action with the right sitting bone. Use the abdominals in the front to help lift the pubic bone upwards towards the lower ribcage. This should accentuate the stretch in the inner adductors.

 

Stage 3: Refining the pelvis: “rotating the pelvis left and elongating the outer hip from the front knee ”

1. And for the last step, wrap the fingertips of the left hand around the ASIS Bone of the left hip (the ASIS is the “pokey” part on the front left upper hip).

2. Without loosing the scooping action of the right sitting bone, pull the ASIS bone towards to left away from the anchor point of the front right knee. The idea is to rotate the pelvis left against the tug of the inner adductor.

3. Be sensitive to your feedback to make sure none of this is too much to relax into.

4. Lastly, remove your hands and let your arms float up shoulder height take 3 long, deep and soothing breaths.

 

You can learn more about these techniques in our Advanced Alignment and Adjustments 50-hour training!

Blissology in Vancouver

Blissology is back in our home town of Vancouver.

It has been almost a decade since we’ve lived here and we are excited to dive back into life in our coastal city, sample all of Vancouver’s beautiful offerings and reconnect to our yoga community here. This fall and winter are packed with Offerings with Eoin and Insiya, so please check this page often to see where you can find us, when we are not chasing our now 7.5 year old son around. 🙂

DROP IN CLASSES 

Mondays + Thursdays @ 12 Noon: Active Flow Yoga with Insiya @Stretch Vancouver (starting September 10)

Tuesdays @ 19:30: Vinyasa Power Flow with Eoin @ Semperviva City Studio  (starting October 9)

Wednesdays @ 9:30 a.m. Yoga with Insiya @Semperviva City Studio (starting September 5)

Blissology Yoga With Eoin @ Stretch Vancouver, Sat October 13 + Sat Nov 10 from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

TEACHER TRAININGS + ADVANCED IMMERSIONS 

October 9 – 13: Advanced Alignment + Adjustments, 50-hour Advanced Yoga Training at Stretch.
Note: Since this course is now waitlist only, we’ve added two more Advanced Alignment modules in Seattle, WA (Jan/Feb 2018) and one in Torquay in Australia (March 2019).

Nov + Feb: 100 and 200 Hour Blissology Yoga Teacher Training at Stretch Vancouver  (Session 1: November 2 – 11, 2018 + Session 2: February 18 – 27, 2019)

WORKSHOPS

November 2-11, 2018: 100-hour Blissology Immersion 

November 2, 2018: Blissology Yoga Foundations signature course at Stretch Vancouver

November 2-4, 2018: Align your Yoga, Align your Life signature course

Feb 8 – 10, 2019: Superflow + Yoga Foundations + The Skill of Chill

Feb 18 – 27, 2019: Session 2, Blissology 200 hr Yoga Alliance Certified Training. 200-hour Blissology Yoga Teacher Training Winter 2018/2019 at Stretch (Session 1: November 2 – 11, 2018 + Session 2: February 18 – 27, 2019)

Is Yoga Medicine? Part 1 of 2

As part of our 500-hour training, I co-teach a course that I called Yoga and Mind Body Medicine. It’s a course I spent years dreaming up. My vision for it was to offer a Western science-based perspective on understanding the gross and subtle benefits of yoga on our body-mind physiology. I enlisted a colleague Dr. Lawrence Cheng—a Harvard trained integrative medicine doctor and yogi who teaches Mind-Body Medicine in medical communities—to present with me. I knew this was going to be groundbreaking.

However, when we listed this course under our Blissology Yoga school’s 500-hr training program on the Yoga Alliance website, we immediately received an email, telling us not to use the words “Medicine” or “Healing” in conjunction with Yoga.

Why is this an issue? Yoga Alliance explains that “the risk comes from suggesting that a yoga teacher or school is diagnosing and/or treating a mental or physical health condition. The words ‘heal’ or ‘healing’ imply this. These claims are within the scope of the practice of medicine and/or licensed health care professions.”

As an alternative to the word healing the phrases “improving health” and “increasing well-being” are  suggested.

This meant we had to get creative with what we called the course on Yoga Alliance’s website. Eventually, we settled on “Yoga and Western Science.

I understand that the medical community does not want people who have graduated from a 200-hour yoga training to describe themselves as healers, or treat someone with a sore back or cancer without the proper medical training nor does anyone want to be legally liable for endorsing someone as capable of healing issues for which they are not qualified.

This graph indicates the increasing amount of scientific research of yoga and meditation in the last decade

Yet, the data about the evidence-based healing benefits of yoga and meditation is increasing with each year. The benefits are so real that it is getting harder to dismiss all yoga as a “quack science.” I would love to see a day in the future when well qualified yogis (and doctors) will be able to claim that yoga is both “healing” and “medicine.”

Will this ever happen? Skeptics do not think so and go to long lengths to tell us why yoga is not healing, or medicine. In his article titled “Yoga Woo“, Stephen Novella, a clinical neurologist at the Yale School of medicine writes, “Yoga is simply exercise plus a lot of ‘Woo.'”

“Yoga, if practiced responsibly, seems to be a reasonably effective form of stretching and exercise. There is insufficient evidence, however, to conclude that it is any superior to any other form of exercise of the same duration and intensity. There are concerns about the safety of yoga, as it often involves extreme stretching or poses that the average person might find not only difficult but physically harmful.”

I’ll share more of my thoughts on this topic in Part 2 of this blog. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you, what is your opinion? Is Yoga Medicine or not? Should the word healing be used by some practitioners of yoga?

What is advanced Yoga?

In my past two decades of teaching yoga, I’ve seen a lot of evolution in the yoga world. I’ve loved watching new poses come into the mix, some borrowed from creative minds and some from other disciplines such as circus school. I never thought I would be interested in a one arm hand stand for example. I thought, “this is just flashy,” but then I realized the challenge kept me fresh and gave me something to progress towards. I am no longer a naysayer and practice this and other “new school” yoga moves almost every day.

That said, having just taught one month of intensive Blissology Yoga Teacher Training course focusing on the ins an outs of yoga alignment, I am recommitted to making people realize my stance on yoga progression. I strongly believe that advanced yoga needs to be viewed not just as flashy, challenging poses, preferably done on the edges of cliffs or waterfalls; nay, advanced yoga lies also in being able to do so called “basic” poses with precision, breath and presence. This needs to remain the foundation of yoga.

One afternoon during the YTT, I wanted to run our Yoga Foundations course so the students could see how to explain so called “simple poses” like upward dog or chaturanga to beginners.  It become clear that this work was not just for beginners. Even people who had been practicing yoga for decades loved going back to basics and learning how to do them well.   It was a joy to spend whole afternoons looking at what muscles need to turn on to make these poses feel light yet stable to explore what the feet, pelvis and hands do in the pose with a fine brush instead of in broad brush strokes.  There is a whole world of detail that isn’t boring but outright exciting in this work.  There needs to be a resurgence of this type of study in modern yoga.

Over the years, as thousands of more yoga teachers pour into the incredibly competitive global yoga market, there is more and more emphasis to find something fresh and exciting in the practice. This means that teachers will step up their sequencing game, make killer playlists, and throw lots of challenging poses into the mix.

To really do yoga with precision, you need to make people aware of what they are doing by plugging into their bodily feedback loops and slowing the tempo down. In way too many yoga classes I’ve observed, the tempo seems to be speeding up as this is what creates sweat which is an easy sell in our body conscious culture.

Imagine trying to play jazz before mastering the scales. This is an analogy for what I see in the modern yoga culture.

I believe that we need to spend more time ingraining a solid alignment foundation in yogis; and as experienced yoga teachers it is our responsibility to the next generation (of yogis) that we do so.

I always remind our graduating teachers that every yoga instructor is trying to strike a balance between detail and flow—and it’s a tricky balance. If you concentrate on the details of the poses, often the classes loses flow and become a clinic or workshop.

Yet, there is a third option. When we slow the pace down just a little and create an experience of harmony between mind, body and breath, concentrating on precise yoga can lead to the state of mind we all love called “flow.”

This means we need to let people know why they are doing the poses, what the benefits are, how they should feel in the pose and let their internal experience guide the poses.

It’s the opposite to being guided from the “outside in” and feeling like every pose needs to fit a perfect photo. This is where we progress to in our month long YTT.

There is a lot of room still for inspiring playlists, creative sequencing, philosophical themes and even options for advanced poses for those who want to go there in the class. Let’s walk before we run though. Alignment is and should be the foundation for all yoga, beginner or advanced. After all, cultivating a strong practice of alignment will help our bodies to continue to practice our yoga as we age, with more freedom and no injuries.

The Beautiful Parallel between Poetry & Yoga

Here in the States, April is National Poetry Month. I love it for the inspiration to re-visit my favorite poems, the encouragement to discover new ones, and the excuse to share them in my yoga classes.

There’s such a beautiful parallel between poetry and yoga. One of the things that Eoin said during my teacher training that stayed with me is that teaching yoga is like poetry: the idea is to encourage people to slow down and feel.

When I read a poem, I feel a difference in my approach compared to my more typical tendency to skim. My time in law school with its endless required reading of case law made me a champion skimmer. And if I’m not careful, I find that skimming skill transforming into habit. Maybe it’s the same for many of us. How often do we skim the news, our email, our Facebook feeds, just trying to sift through and determine what really requires our attention?

This is where poetry is so good for me. It forces me not to skim. What would be the point of skimming a poem, after all? So much of the pleasure of reading a poem is appreciating each word, noticing how it relates to the next, much like our poses and movements flow together on our mats.

I love the way poet Naomi Shihab Nye explains it, in her lovely 2016 interview on the podcast On Being:

“…when you think, when you’re in a very quiet place, when you’re remembering, when you’re savoring an image, when you’re allowing your mind calmly to leap from one thought to another, that’s a poem. That’s what a poem does.” 

And at its best, isn’t that also what a yoga/meditation practice does? It provides us the same opportunity to get quiet, to savor, to make some space to notice how we feel. And like a poem, our practice is most powerful when we allow it to evoke feeling, emotion.

Shihab Nye, again, says it beautifully:

“…and after you read a poem just knowing you can hold it, you can be in that space of the poem. And it can hold you in its space. And you don’t have to explain it. You don’t have to paraphrase it. You just hold it, and it allows you to see differently.”

More and more I notice our collective need for this space, and I see that the enemy of it is “skimming.” When we rush—whether through texts and images on a screen, or through movements on our mat—we’re not letting ourselves slow down and feel. With poetry as my remedy, I’m committing to skim less, and savor more.

I’d love for you to join me. Let’s make more space for poetry, for practice, for presence.

It seems only appropriate to share a poem to close. It’s so hard to choose just one of my favorites, but this one echoes a lot of Blissology principles for me. It’s from fellow Oregonian William Stafford:

Why I Am Happy

Now has come, an easy time. I let it 
roll. There is a lake somewhere 
so blue and far nobody owns it. 
A wind comes by and a willow listens 
gracefully. 
I hear all this, every summer. I laugh 
and cry for every turn of the world, 
its terribly cold, innocent spin. 
That lake stays blue and free; it goes 
on and on. 
And I know where it is. 

By Victoria Williams, Blissology 200-hr YTT
Check out Victoria’s teacher profile to learn more.