Tag Archives: teaching

Yoga Studio revisited

This time Studio begins with an upper case “S” as we have been practicing in this space for close to four years and our stash of supplies has begun to mimic a small yoga studio. I first shared a post about the space here (with a lower case “s”) in 2017 and figured it was time for an update. The closet holds all the props, with the mats on the shelf being loaners. This is what a typical setup looks like.

The community where I lead yoga has a Clubhouse that was renovated beginning in the Fall of 2015 and completed by early Spring 2016, just in time for the summer season. The Clubhouse and surrounding grounds sit at the end of a road; any further and they would be in Long Island Sound! This, in large part, is why the Clubhouse was renovated, having sustained damage over the years due to hurricanes and super high tides. The renovated building included raising the ground floor up a level, with storage underneath the building. With a wall of windows on the Sound and Harbor sides, and the space where we practice now up a flight of stairs, you can imagine the views are much appreciated! (You can see a view of the entire space here.)

Since the space is a Clubhouse, as you may have noticed in the above photo there is some furniture that occupies about a third of the room. The remainder of the space is wide open and is where we set up our mats. These next few pictures are from a Monday evening restorative practice. I usually set up my mat facing the entrance to the room, and yogis set up their mats facing Long Island Sound and the larger wall of windows.

MY MAT

Since this was a restorative practice the overhead and wall lights eventually get turned off and we are graced with the light from the Yoga Lights sculpture created for us by my husband. The lights gently cycle through random colors and perhaps you are able to get a sense of the variety. They provide a calming light for an evening practice of restorative yoga.

Our neck of the woods has had one snow fall with enough to carpet the ground. This last photo was taken the morning after, on the grounds of the Club looking out at Long Island Sound.

GROUNDS

Yoga Class as a Refuge

I recently watched Cyndi Lee in an archived  2017 online Yoga Alliance talk: Making Your Class a Refuge During Stressful Times. The title appealed to me partially because of how politics are unfolding in the U.S. and even more because I recently had a bit of stress around a reaction to a bee sting. (Little insect, big reaction, but the biggest reaction was to an antibiotic that was administered to make sure there was no blood infection. There wasn’t – yea – but my GI was terrifically unhappy with the medication.) I figured listening to the calming voice of Cyndi might prove a useful balm. (It did 🙂 and am relieved to say my GI has normalized after 11 malcontent days!)

While I didn’t glean new insights from Cyndi’s talk, there were plenty of reminders that I can never hear too often.  

  1. Think of yoga as a refuge for self-care, not an escape to avoid unpleasantness.
  2. Stay open and hold the space for everyone. Unless someone says something, there is no way to know what they are feeling or dealing with. So true, and not just during yoga!
  3. Trust the practice and lead with clarity, confidence and compassion.

Cyndi continued with four specific points.

  1. Create a safe and friendly haven. For the first two and a half years I shared poetry during practice and then let it slide. People enjoyed the poetry and often asked me to email them the poems. I have now recommitted to bring the poetry back! 
  2. Provide a quiet and spacious environment. I liked Cyndi’s distinction between “right speech” and “noble quiet” as she suggests finding the rhythm between the two. (I teach in a magical, calm space that looks out on a harbor.)
  3. Avoid stressors in the space. This relates to temperature, lighting, air quality and smells. I was reminded to add a line in my weekly email to wear layers for comfort.
  4. Keep up a personal practice. Yes! After a summer of almost daily swimming I have returned to morning yoga on my mat, WQXR playing in the background, my husband reading nearby. Ahhhhh…

I enjoyed Cyndi’s talk and was motivated to borrow Yoga Body, Buddha Mind from the library. Am enjoying her writing, finding it both calming and informative. A beauty of my yoga, both practicing and teaching, is I’m always learning.

 

Trauma Informed yoga training

In September of 2018 I volunteered at the Westchester Correctional Facility in Valhalla, New York, co-guiding yoga for men living in the mental health ward. It was apparent to

me

me that I would benefit from a training focused specifically on leading yoga in jails and prisons, and that led me to this past weekend’s Liberation Prison Yoga (LPY) training.

In New York a jail is where a person is sent if they cannot afford bail and have not yet been sentenced. Prison is where a person winds up 

once they have been sentenced. Interestingly, we were told that people in prison, particularly maximum security prisons, know the duration of their sentences and therefore are often more accepting of yoga, participation in which is a choice for them.

That’s me on the first day, almost ready to head out the door and meet my friend Stephanie to attend the training together. Usually I attend trainings on my own and it was especially nice to have a friend and colleague with whom to share the experience and debrief.

Understanding Trauma
LPY is a trauma informed yoga training. According to the American Psychological Association “trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster.” I was disappointed that the training did not include a more comprehensive discussion of trauma (the focus was on sexual trauma), and what happens neurologically as a result of trauma. (The National Institutes of Health provides an in-depth look at traumatic stress: effects on the brain.)

Anneke Lucas, our workshop leader and founder of LPY, shared Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) as a framework for understanding the nature of people and how a person’s system might devolve. Anneke noted that “self-esteem acts as a moral compass” and “in the moment of trauma there is a pause in emotional growth and development.”

Power Dynamics
While there was not as much as I would have like regarding the physiology and neurology of trauma, Anneke did spend time demystifying power dynamics, which I found quite interesting. She explained that abuse is a trauma-based system where the abuser has the power and the abused comes to love the abuser as a matter of survival. The abused feels a lack of self worth and therefore begins to think the abuser must be okay. For those of us wanting to share a trauma-informed yoga practice, the question becomes how do we share healing?

These are the stages of power dynamics:

  • Authority – student projects authority on the teacher, perceiving them as an authority figure in the healing role
  • Placating – student tends to placate the teacher
  • Humility – teacher needs humility to not accept the praise/placating of the student
  • Testing – student moves beyond placating to testing the teacher in their healing role
  • No Judgement – as long as the teacher is physically safe then s/he can be non-judgmental of themselves and of the student by not playing the role of the authority figure
  • Affirmation – the teacher says something positive and real about the student, thereby flipping the power dynamics around

Ultimately, as Anneke said, this work is all about personal empowerment. Thus, those of us interested in being of use should view this work as serving rather than helping or fixing. The distinction being that serving implies a connection and a sense of being equal, whereas helping suggests a relationship of inequality, and fixing focuses on a part that is broken rather than looking at the whole person. These distinctions called to mind a similar conversation regarding healing versus curing that took place in a recent yoga therapy training I took this past November and December.

Trauma-informed Yoga Practice
The second day of the training was especially informative as we broke up into small groups and practiced what a LPY yoga session might be like. We also heard from a LPY teacher who, with grace, heart and humor, shared stories and lessons from her experiences.

The highlights of a trauma-informed yoga practice include:

  • bringing conscious awareness in the form of body awareness, fostering of emotional intelligence, and journaling
  • inviting language with no commands – “I invite you to…,” providing choice, speaking in first person (I am lifting my arms…) or first person plural (we can bend the front knee…), no Sanskrit
  • connecting with the student – mats are in a circle, teacher practices with students and does not walk around, beginning with group discussion, teacher does not present as authority, no sustained silences, teacher checks in often with students, have fun, simple and direct communication
  • creating a safe space
  • self-acceptance via body-positive language and cueing that the student cannot do anything wrong
  • self-care via non-competitiveness, students respect their own limits and choose what to do
  • relaxation via meditation
  • respect for student by teacher being part of the class rather than the authority
  • trust resulting from teacher arriving on time and keeps students informed if s/he will be absent
  • mindfulness of one’s inner experience without judgement
  • meditation that highlights one’s inner light
  • living yoga philosophy by following these guidelines

Privilege
Our first day concluded with an extensive and passionate discussion about privilege. Privilege comes in many forms, among them age, money, race, sex, religion, citizenship, class, ability, sexual orientation, gender, physical attractiveness and where you live. While these were listed on a handout, the bulk of our group discussion revolved around race, sexual orientation and gender, and a relatively few people dominated the conversation.

Perhaps the best summation of the exploration is the quote that concluded the handout.

Recognizing Privilege simply means being aware that some people have to work much harder just to experience the things you take for granted (if they ever can experience them at all.)

This quote works two ways, in that those of us in positions of privilege need to work much harder to understand those of us not in positions of privilege.

Resources

Below is our group photo as posted on Instagram.

instagram

 

Book Review – The Vital Psoas Muscle

from my Goodreads Review:

psoas coverI quite enjoyed reading this book but have to giggle because upon falling asleep last night I mentally began composing this review and thought the title was “The Little Psoas Book” – not because the muscle is little, but because the book is smaller-sized, short and sweet.

Staugaard-Jones has compiled a concise book that highlights the psoas muscle. I especially liked the diagrams, which made it quite easy to understand the location not only of this important muscle but of other muscles and systems, and their interrelationships and interdependencies. The book’s physical size and paper, as well as colors and font helped make it a handy, legible guide that is comfortable to consult as well as mark-up with my additional notes.

As a fairly new yoga teacher of a little over two years, I appreciated the way Staugaard-Jones organized poses and stretches (some yogic and some pilates) complete with explanations of how the movement impacts the psoas and related muscles. I am considering purchasing The Concise Book of Yoga Anatomy, by this same author, as her style of writing and book design appeals to my sense of organization. While I have multiple books on yoga anatomy, many of them either have diagrams that are overly complex or explanations that are more technical than my needs or interest warrants.

You can learn more about Jo Ann Staugaard-Jones at Move To Live.

Yoga for People in Prison

campusA little over two weeks ago I attended an orientation at the Westchester Correctional Facility. The sign in the photo is at the entrance to the campus, which also houses a recycling center, medical center and medical college. (Photo taken  from my car while waiting for a traffic light on my way home, as I was uncertain about the photo policy prior to arrival. Turns out the only place pictures are not permitted is inside the correction facility.)

ARRIVING
The plan was to meet my wonderful friend and yoga-teacher-training-colleague in the coleaderparking lot 20 minutes prior to yoga so we could follow-up in person to our telephone preparation. This was her fourth or fifth session so she was also able to answer any of my lingering questions, though by this point the preparation at home caused more butterflies than any other part of the practice. Sleeveless, form fitting, low cut, hoodies, anything orange, all were not permitted. Post earrings and wedding bands are the only allowed jewelry. No headbands or metal hair barrettes. I was acutely conscious of how I dressed, changing tops three times, switching bras, and realizing that once an outfit was settled upon it could be worn for every session to come, no more having to figure it out! (Picture taken when we were back in the parking lot ready to head home.)badge&container

We are not permitted to bring any bags into the facility and it was recommended that we use clear plastic containers to hold keys, license and any other “pocketbook” items. These would be locked in a locker upon arrival, before being given access to the rest of the facility. Our id cards had to be worn on lanyards around our neck while in the building.

In addition to the butterflies related to getting dressed, I was also a tad uneasy about the prospect of being buzzed into small holding spaces between two doors – buzzed in, wait for the door behind to be closed, then buzzed out into a hall – a process we had to go through twice. Perhaps because I was with a friend, it turned out to be no big deal. After the first set of doors we went to the Administrative Office to pick up the sign-in sheet though it turned out there were none and we wound up using a blank sheet of paper. From there it was down the hall to an elevator to the 4th floor, down another hall where we said a cheery hello to a correctional officer, then down another short hall where we were buzzed through another set of two doors before finally arriving in what my friend had told me was the mental health wing.

CELL BLOCK
I looked up a definition of “cell block” and found that “dormitory” was used to explain the layout. Dormitory makes me think of college or the YMCA, yet it does provide a sense of how the space is organized. We had been buzzed through to a side room with phones on the short end of the room,  a windowed and locked (to the chagrin of one of the men) half basketball court across from our entry, and to our left the hall to the larger area. At the end of the hall was a slightly larger congregating area where a corrections officer had a small desk overlooking the actual cell block area, which is at a right angle to where we entered – imagine the entire layout as a letter L and we were buzzed through at the base of the L.

Egads, the cell block is just like every movie portrayal. There are two floors on each side of a rectangular space, the top floor has screening to prevent jumping down to the first floor. There is an open “plaza” on the first floor between the two sides, and this is where we practice yoga. The men set up the space by bringing out the mats, including mats for us. They are required to keep their socks on, though my friend and I went barefoot.

YOGIS
Anywhere from five to nine people practiced yoga with us. I knew in advance that at some point some of them would be called out for medicine, and they had the choice to join in or not, and to come and go as they wanted. The men ranged in age from what looked like in their twenties to mid- to late-sixties. Everyone was respectful and willing to give yoga a try. Indeed, many of the men have been attending the Friday and Saturday sessions since our program began in the summer.

This month’s theme for practice was self-compassion and self-kindness, and we repeated this two or three times during the session. Usually one of us would guide and the other would provide one-on-one assistance either verbally or, after asking if it was okay to touch someone, by firm but gentle touch. For instance, one man asked if I would help guide his leg during the “Figure 4” stretch (also known as a piriformis stretch or Supine Pigeon Pose.)

Ultimately, this was a yoga practice, plain and simple. Yes, there was a bit more energy in the space than typically found in a yoga studio or the community center where I guide practices. Yes, each yogi was wearing the same orange pants and shirts as everyone else. Yes, we were all initially there in that space for vastly differing reasons. But for that hour we were all in that space for one reason, to practice yoga. What brought any given person to practice was also varied and something we would never know. Something to do? To relieve boredom? Wanting to stretch? Hoping to calm and relax? Another reason? It didn’t matter to us. The men were there and so were we, all to practice yoga together.

Towards the end of practice I read a poem in reflection of the dual themes of self-compassion and self-kindness.

Born Again In Radiance
by Danna Faulds (from Go In and In)

Who can resist that first,
optimistic moment of dawn –
the dazzling sliver of light,
sun rising, rounding, making
the profound shift from
promise to presence.

Every possibility contained
in a single instant; light
linking us to vastness,
light reaching back to the
formation of stars, light that
will not let us forget that we
are daily born again in radiance.

The men clapped at the end of the poem, which was read prior to the final minutes of meditation and Savasana. Was it out of politeness or because it resonated or some other reason, I don’t know, but I like to believe that something in the poem meshed, even if it was just accepted as a performance.

The men thanked us at the conclusion of practice, we all signed in on the blank sheet, the men put the mats away, and just like that practice was over. One man asked if there would be yoga next week. Alas, there will be a brief hiatus as the person who organized our volunteering has submitted a proposal that would result in a small stipend for the volunteers. Most of us do not have any desire or need to be paid, we just want to be there sharing practice with the men. My colleague’s response was simply that October’s schedule has not yet been determined so she could not provide any further information. When I first learned of this hiatus my heart sunk though I am optimistic that I’ll be able to return with my friend in the near future. Our organizers understand that the sharing of yoga is more important than the exchanging of payment.

DEBRIEF
My friend and I spent ten minutes in the parking lot talking about our experience. Our hearts truly soar at being able to share yoga. We are able to come into contact with the men, unlike the experience they have if and when visitors come. We are agog at the physical conditions – the cells – in which the men live. We realize that they are incarcerated for a slew of reasons, most of which are intense, sometimes horrible acts. Yet we also know that circumstances have so much to do with why people commit crimes.

My friend and I were born into middle class families and our lives are considered middle class. We had opportunities that thousands of people do not have because of where they were born or the circumstances into which they were born. And in the United States more money is poured into creating jails and funding the military than into education and any number of programs for helping to build strong, healthy communities. There is a tremendous divide between Americans as to the hows and whys government should even be involved in trying to alleviate poverty.

My friend and I know we will not solve any of this by sharing yoga with the men. We simply hope that during the hour we share on the mat their psyches have a respite. And perhaps they begin to carry that respite off the mat and into their lives. It is what we hope for any yogi we guide through any yoga session.


LEARNING
Above is what I learned by doing. However, prior it was important to me to find answers to questions, primarily among them how to cue people living in prison and how to better understand people living with trauma.

At Liberation Prison Yoga there was this helpful article on The right use of commands. From Prison Yoga Project I found a description for a Typical Class for Prisoners. I also purchased their book A Path for Healing and Recovery, as well as donated a copy for a prisoner. In addition, the organization that provided this opportunity is looking into a one-day training for all volunteers so that we may have a better understanding of who we are practicing yoga with. Besides Liberation Prison Yoga, other possibilities for training include Exhale to Inhale and the Crossover Yoga Project.

 

The CORE of Yoga – Volunteering

As a result of a collaboration between Create QuanYin and CORE (Community Oriented Re-Entry) there is a nascent yoga program at the Westchester Correctional Facility in Valhalla. I heard of the program through the director of Create QuanYin and today attended an almost six hour orientation at the facility in preparation for co-leading yoga beginning with the last Saturday of this month.

The orientation began at 8:30 a.m. and the actual orientation portion, led by Sgt Allen, went for ninety minutes. He handed out multiple Policy and Procedure statements related to attendance, restriction of items that can be brought into the facility, workplace violence prevention, civilian code of conduct, and a Civilian Handbook. He made his points with humor, humility, and highly apparent dedication to both the people who work and volunteer there as well as the people for whom this is their residence due to not being able to make bail or not being given the opportunity to make bail.

Most residents are there for the short-term from a few months to two years, though there are people who have much longer sentences, and the reasons people are incarcerated run the gamut. Sgt Allen made numerous points, the most relevant for me as a volunteer were to be constant and consistent in how I interact, and to develop a rapport but not a relationship.

This morning after breakfast I could feel my heart beating in anticipation of the orientation, having only a minimal idea of what to expect. My friend tried to prepare me by saying “they will try to scare you.” Curiously, the orientation did not scare me; it was the physical facility – populated with barbed wire and checkpoints – that had more of an impact. The orientation was in the headquarters and not in the jail; my first visit in the jail will be at the end of the month.

The second part of the orientation consisted of about ten minutes filling out a form, followed by lots of waiting while 18 of us were fingerprinted and photoed for id badges. I had conversations with a number of people including two nurses who already work there, a recent graduate of John Jay who wants to be a PI (Private Investigator) and will be working in the commissary, and Alan, another yoga teacher volunteer who I had shared emails with prior to the orientation. Alan told me about Liberation Prison Yoga and the two-day training he took through the organization, which he highly recommends.

I have just two concerns about leading yoga. The first is that for the past two plus years I have been leading practice with a community where we all know each other, and this will be my first foray in a long time leading yoga for people I do not know. My other concern is that there is no public record (for the yoga teachers) of what is done each week. Other than a general monthly theme, I do not know how the practice has been building and what the participants are familiar with. I mentioned this to Alan and he said it seems that each teacher does their own thing when leading yoga. I am glad to be co-leading with a friend, and even gladder to be seeing her this weekend so I can get a better sense of the flow!

Although I made the decision to become involved with leading yoga in the jail before talking with my Aunt, I take to heart a comment she recently made to me. She said the two most difficult parts of aging (she turns 87 in just a few weeks) are losing friends to death or cognitive impairment, and no longer feeling she is making a useful contribution to society. If I hadn’t already made my decision, her sentiment would have provided a gentle push.

Communal Yoga Potluck Dinner

In June 2017 we celebrated our first year of community yoga with a communal breakfast following our Friday morning practice. This year we marked our second year by celebrating with a communal yoga potluck dinner at the end of May, after our last Monday evening practice of the season. Our Monday evening Restorative practice switches to Tuesday morning Flow during June, July and August, and then reverts to Monday evening Restorative in September.

We used the website Perfect Potluck to plan the meal, which made the entire process easy as could be!

medium_yoga_food1xlarge_yoga_food2

I’m On A Board!

Last Fall a colleague who had taken the 200-hour teacher training with me asked if I would be on the Board of a non-profit she was in the process of bringing to life. What began as casual conversation became a commitment, and has become real in the sense that the non-profit is now a fully registered entity, we have our first set of financials, and it’s time for me to provide a 3-5 sentence bio! We were asked to include the following, and my blurb follows.

  • Your identity at Create QuanYin
  • What you offer/value
  • Your experience/training/education

Laurie is equal parts cheerleader and learner at Create QuanYin, with a desire to help bring yoga to people who are caregivers. Laurie, RYT-200, is certified in Restorative Yoga, Chair Yoga, Yoga for Seniors, and Dance for Parkinson’s, and is working towards a 100 hour Certificate in Yoga Therapy. Over a three year period she volunteered leading yoga, movement and music sessions for people in both the skilled nursing and independent living sections at The Osborn, a local retirement community. Since 2016 she has led a restorative yoga class and a hatha flow class at her local neighborhood center. During the school year Laurie gets up each morning ready to play with lower school students in the realms of science, technology, engineering, the arts and math.

Book Review – Bringing Yoga to Life

From my Goodreads Review:

I just finished skim reading this book, which is why no rating has been given. Skimming an entire book doesn’t qualify me to rate it! It also doesn’t exactly qualify me to review it, Screen Shot 2018-04-14 at 1.26.50 PMhowever, it’s a book I was interested in and feel comfortable commenting on.

I am on a bit of a Donna Farhi kick these days, this being among four books I’ve read or skimmed plus an enthralled hour spent watching a 2017 youtube video of a talk given by Donna. Reading a book about yoga requires me to have an open mind. As a practitioner of yoga since 2005 and a teacher of yoga since 2016, I am often on the look out for yogis who can guide me to a deeper understanding of both the physical and spiritual practice of yoga.

What I have learned about myself, when it comes to trying to better grasp and perhaps internalize the more spiritual aspects of yoga, is that it may be days, months or years after first being exposed to an idea that I am open to being with that idea. I believe that my own spirituality is influenced by much of what I’ve encountered in my life and how I chose to face each encounter. But I also believe that beliefs are not static, that practice and experience change beliefs, sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes in very obvious ways.

When Donna wrote this book in 2003 I had not yet stepped onto a yoga mat. Though we are five years apart in age (I’m older ;-)) she is light years beyond in her practice and embodiment of yoga. I was curious to gather up more of her insight, which is what brought me to this book. Ultimately, as I began reading, I realized this may be a book I return to months or years from now, but at the moment her book (that I’m currently reading) Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit is the better guide for where I am.

Wisdom from Donna Farhi

Donna Farhi was introduced to me via Jillian Pransky, who included Donna’s book The Breathing Book in a list of resources. I have been reading through this book and finding it highly informative, easy to read, and filled with useful breath explorations, the first of which (will likely be many) that I guided during this morning’s class.

Interested to learn more about Donna, I did a search and spent time exploring her website as well as numerous other links that popped up, including an almost hour long video of her talk this past November at the IYTA 50th Anniversary Conference in Sydney, Australia.

Donna’s talk resonated with me so much so that I sent the link to several yoga teachers, including all my co-200-hour-yoga-teacher-in-training yogis. You can watch Donna’s talk Tradition, Innovation & Evolution – What makes yoga…Yoga below. And underneath the video I’ve included some of the quotes that had me nodding and smiling in agreement.

Yoga is

a centuries old spiritual tradition, a healing art and a Science.

Donna further explained yoga as

a way of Being that is realized through practice, that leads to a realization that…the “little you” is an expression of a larger whole.

As for practice, she said

practice is about building a threshold for being with everything just as it is. The practice begins the moment we focus the mind in the present moment.