Imposter Syndrome

I, Erin Jorich, suffer from imposter syndrome. I regularly doubt myself and question my ability to do what I do as a yoga and movement teacher. Although I have been guiding various yoga classes for almost a decade I still wonder why anyone would want to spend their precious free time listening to me gab about yoga. Who am I to teach people about this ancient, sacred discipline? My Sanskrit pronunciations are probably garbage. My knowledge of the Yoga Sutras is simply mediocre. And my emphasis on yoga asana easily puts me in this hole of “Westerner bastardizing yoga”.

I know I’m not the only one in the world of yoga teachers who suffers from imposter syndrome. It’s quite normal to question oneself in the process of teaching. This yoga thing is vast and the knowledge is never-ending so it’s easy to step back and ask Am I even qualified to be doing this?

I was recently hired to teach a one credit yoga class at the University of Minnesota. A dedicated student referred the Dance Department to me to fill the open teaching position. The job was presented to me and I couldn’t contain my excitement. It was truly my dream job. I got to create a syllabus and organize an entire semester’s worth of content. But then I showed up on the first day, eager to share my syllabus and knowledge, and I froze. What the hell am I doing? I am a told fraud with 60 students trusting me for an entire semester. Am I even up to the task?

Yes. I am up to the task. 

Over these last few years I’ve had to toe the line of being humble while also recognizing my accomplishments. Trust me. This Minnesota girl has a hard time taking compliments and showing pride in what she’s achieved in the last decade. It takes a lot out me to think You’re good at what you do. 

I’m getting better at it. I know I’ve come a long way as a yoga teacher and student and I refuse to gloss over my progression. But it’s also important to admit that I’m no expert. As I’ve said many times, I’m no ones guru. Sure I have a lot of knowledge to offer students, but students and I cannot lose sight of the fact that the subject of yoga is deep and the majority of us are just scraping the surface of what it has to offer. On the flip side, however, I’m getting better at admitting when I just don’t know something. Sure I can school you on alignment and technique, but I won’t shy away and say I don’t know when something is outside my scope of knowledge. 

Perhaps you, too, suffer from imposter syndrome. Again, it’s normal. I encourage you to reflect upon your accomplishments, the feats you’ve tackled, and the knowledge you’ve gained with pride. Never be ashamed of lifting yourself up. There’s enough static out there to tear us down and belittle us. It’s important to be our own loudest cheerleader. Along the way, check yourself. Be humble in your personal shoulder pats and be sure to lift up those around you along the way. 

We Can All Stop Being Jerks Now

I think the title of this post says it all. We can all stop being jerks.

Of course I think all humans can stop being jerks, but I’m speaking more to the yoga community. The yoga teaching community is full of them! As yoga teachers we preach non-judgement, non-attachment and all of that goes out the window the moment we start to discuss different styles, studios, and modalities of yoga. Opinions are fine, but being a straight up jerk about a style of yoga someone teaches, the studio they teach in, or the community in which they serve needs to stop.

Years ago I occasionally attended classes at a local yoga studio. When I stepped into that space I wanted to be a student. Just like everyone else who attends classes, I wanted to learn more and deepen my understanding of this yoga thing. Almost every time I stepped foot into that studio someone would recognize me as a teacher that taught at that one place. The association with my workplace instantly gave some people pause. The outright judgement only came from a couple people and I’m not lumping that whole studio’s community into the jerk category, but saying to my face that there are zero decent teachers where I taught added a gray cloud to my experience in that space.

Here’s the kicker to that specific situation, some of the students who were vocal about their distaste for that one place often attended my classes at that one place! Some were even monthly-paying members at that one place. That took the whole jerk thing to another level.

I’ve taught at that one place for over nine years. It’s changed and grown in so many ways over those nine years, however, the judgements from others have been consistent. Even in the 500-Hour Teacher Training I attended last year many of my peers questioned me when they found out where I taught. Wasn’t my presence in the advanced training enough? Just like everyone else in that training I took my craft as a yoga teacher serious enough to stop my life for six weeks to invest in something I cared about deeply.

After completing my 500-Hour Teacher Training I figured the judgements would chill out a bit. Nope. I was wrong. Last fall I attended a workshop with a relatively well known teacher who was visiting a local studio. A lot of people spoke highly of this teacher’s approach and I wanted to check out their class. Within the first twenty minutes of the workshop the teacher called out that one place by name and referred to it as “the bad place”. This teacher even spoke negatively about my primary teacher’s teaching philosophy. That was definitely the last time I would be giving that person my money for a class.

I don’t walk away from this discussion unscathed. I, too, am a jerk. I have regularly referred to myself as the yoga jerk. I have lots of opinions on movement and sustainability in yoga, but it doesn’t mean I have to drag down everything that doesn’t resemble my style teaching.

I once went down the rabbit hole and watched far too many Buti Yoga videos on YouTube. I judged their practice and labeled it unsafe and unsustainable. Why are you girating your pelvis like that in Warrior II??? I also judged their tiny shorts. JERK ALERT! In all reality the judgement came from my insecurities. The students, primarily women, in Buti classes are living their best freaking lives! They are loving their bodies and walking away from their practice feeling empowered. We should all have the opportunity to feel that way!

It’s okay to have a perspective and strong opinion as a yoga teacher. I actually encourage all teachers to have a clear point of view as a teacher to help guide their teaching. However, that strong perspective doesn’t need to drag down others in the process. The judgement of others often stems from our deep connection, and perhaps pride, in what we consider our own. For instance, I am passionate about anatomy and alignment focused yoga. I want students to cultivate a deep awareness of their physical, mental, and emotional states. I can be strong in my point of view as a yoga teacher without speaking ill of those who just want to flow through postures and zone out to some bumping music. That approach to practice has value too!

Having kind-hearted conversations on various approaches to yoga is great. It’s healthy for yoga teachers to consider and discuss the rapidly growing yoga industry. Rather than slandering a specific teacher, their approach, or where they teach, perhaps we can open the discussion to ways we can support the greater yoga community. How can we explore the essence of yoga within these vastly different movement styles? On a similar note, how can these movement styles be a conduit for us all to live a more yogic lifestyle? And have issues with that one place? Let’s have a friendly conversation about the business and commodification of yoga rather than verbally beating down an entire group of yoga teachers.

Ultimately, we all just need to be less jerk-like. If you’re a yoga student, practice the yoga that makes you feel good and supports you in living your most fulfilling life. If you teach yoga, guide a practice that resonates with you without tearing down others. You can stand true in your beliefs without creating a hierarchy and belittling others along the way. And let’s be real, is all that jerkiness really supporting you in living your best life?

Yoga Sutra I:33

maitri karuna muditopeksanam sukha duhkha punyapunya visayanam bhavanatas citta prasadanam
By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.

Well That Didn't Last Long

I’m not a quitter. Sure I like to dabble and things might eventually fade away, but when I’m passionate about something I don’t walk away from it lightly.

So let’s get this straight: I’m not quitting on Voyager Yoga. After only a couple months I’m restructuring. Already.

I’ve taken these last few weeks to reflect upon why I started Voyager Yoga, the struggles of the space, and what I have enjoyed about the classes I’ve offered. I’m so grateful for everyone who has taken class there. It’s been a joy to teach everyone that has stepped through the quirky space’s doors. I have loved challenging myself in new ways professionally and settling into my comfortable groove as a yoga teacher. But at the end of the day Voyager Yoga has been a big undertaking. The space has had a lot of maintenance issues which constantly need to be addressed, I’m scheduling in classes when I’m already exhausted and overworked, and I feel like I’m losing the essence of why I dreamed up this endeavor in the first place.

I was recently discussing Voyager with my husband. My always practical and patient husband gave me some sound advice:

Voyager Yoga isn’t your average yoga studio. You don’t even want it to be a yoga studio. Don’t run it like a yoga studio.

He’s right. I initially scheduled two drop-in classes per week at Voyager Yoga in the hopes of building community. But I don’t want to teach more drop-in classes. I teach plenty of those as it is! (And for various reasons I will continue to teach a lot of drop-in classes for the foreseeable future.) I wanted Voyager Yoga to be a place where students expanded their knowledge on their practice. I went ahead with the endeavor so that I could host more specialty classes with strong focal points. I wanted to challenge myself as a teacher and offer more to the greater yoga community. However, when you’re already tired and overworked, the message gets muddied and lacks focus. Over these last couple of months I’ve felt like my classes haven’t fulfilled Voyager’s mission statement. I know I teach solid drop-in classes. However, I excel when given clear parameters. It’s almost like I started Voyager Yoga and the possibilities become so endless that I lost sight of my intention.

With that, starting in December I’m shifting gears at Voyager Yoga. I’m going to use the space less and create more structure and focus around the classes I offer. Rather than teaching two open level classes per week, I’ll only offer three classes a month. These three classes per month will give me the opportunity to actually do what I love, in a space that has become so special to me, without feeling like I’m drowning in my already full schedule.

I work far too much and that’s a big reason for the restructuring. A few weeks ago I forced myself to clock every minute I put into all things work related. I stopped keeping track once I hit 75 hours. It’s too much. It’s too much especially when I’m not feeling like I’m heading in a productive direction.

As much as I have enjoyed the planning and execution of Voyager Yoga, I’m excited for it to play a smaller role in my life. That smaller role will pack a stronger, more meaningful punch.

The Curious Case of Kindness

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A few years ago my dog Wallace and I started volunteering with Canine Inspired Change, an organization that brings dogs into schools, juvenile detention centers, and shelters to create a healing connection between dogs and youth. The organization and the volunteer opportunities I have experienced with Wallace have truly changed my life. We have had the privilege of working with kids with emotional and behavioral disorders, youth in a juvenile detention center, and disadvantaged populations. It’s been such an honor to spend time with these kids. Not to mention it’s created a deeper bond between Wallace and me.

We currently volunteer once a week at an elementary after school program with a group of fourth and fifth graders. Each week Wallace and I are teamed up with a group of five kids. Every session we work on obedience skills and guide Wallace through an obstacle course. The multi-week program leads up to a final performance in which the kids get to show off their skills to their classmates and family members. It’s incredible to witness the kids gain confidence, develop clear communication skills, and establish a trusting relationship with a dog.

Each session begins and ends in a circle. We connect at the beginning and reconnect at the end on everyone’s state at the moment. On a scale of 1 to 10 the kids let us know how they’re feeling. At the end of the one-hour session there’s no surprise that those who came in feeling closer to a 1 are end up closer to a 10.

The end of the session also asks the kids to say something nice to the person to their right. The first few weeks always include chuckles and laughter of discomfort. In the first week of our current session a kid in my group looked at me and said, “Him? I have to say something nice to him? I don’t know what to say!” I encouraged the student to comment on their neighbor’s good work with their dog. My recommendation was met with reluctance. We were simply asking the kids to say something nice to their neighbor. The task, to them, seemed daunting.

A few weeks ago Wallace and I supported a CIC session at a juvenile detention center. I had no idea what to expect. I was told these kids were typically caught in the act of a crime and were sent here. When the kids walked in I was amazed by how young they all seemed. My mind, of course, was flooded with questions about what circumstances led them here at such a young age. The majority of them came off as disinterested in the program. With time, however, they warmed up to the dogs. It was a pleasure to work with these kids alongside my dog. I don’t know what led them to their present state, but I do know they had an hour with some very loving and compassionate dogs.

At the juvenile detention center we started and ended our session just as we do with the after school kids. What’s your name? How are you feeling today? To wrap things up, say something nice to the person to your right. Just like the fourth and fifth graders I work with every week, these kids struggled with saying something nice to their neighbor. They laughed with discomfort. They looked to the ground with no comment. Danielle, the incredible driving force behind CIC, looked at the kids in our group and acknowledged that being kind might feel weird. She reminded them that although society might tell them differently, they have the ability to be kind, compassionate men. Saying hurtful things might come easier, but kindness has more power.

I left that session intrigued by the idea of kindness. It’s not just the kids who have a hard time saying nice things to others. We all have a hard time saying nice things to others. It’s so easy for us to go straight to the negative. We talk badly about others behind their backs. We gripe about all the negative things that happen at work, at home, with our families and friends. I am 100% guilty of all of this.

If we look around us our entire world is filled with negatives. Our political state is a mess. The environment is in disrepair. There’s innocent people around the world seeking asylum and safety due to war and conflict in their home countries. And just this past weekend 11 lives were taken by a shooter in a Pittsburgh synagogue. It’s pretty unbelievable. To top it all off we struggle with simply saying something kind to those around us.

If you’ve taken a yoga class that includes chanting there’s a good chance you’ve heard the phrase Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu. It’s described in many ways, but at its essence it’s a call to action. It’s an encouragement to be kind in your thoughts, actions, and words to uplift all beings everywhere.

So here’s my challenge for you, start saying nice things to those around you. Even those who challenge and frustrate you, say something genuinely kind. And while you’re at it, be kind to yourself. Kindness won’t change our political climate overnight. Kindness won’t undo centuries of deforestation. Kindness won’t magically eliminate discrimination and violence based on sex, class, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, and age. However, tiny steps toward a happier, healthier world could start with saying one nice thing to the person next to you.

Mental Health Awareness Day

A few weeks ago I was asked to cover the Yoga for Dancers class at the University of Minnesota’s Dance Department by someone I admire and respect. Initially I was reluctant. I was reluctant because it’s been a long time since I stepped foot in one of the University’s dance studios. When I was regularly attending classes in that space I was a very different version of my self. I was a sad and destructive version of my self and I wasn’t sure how I would react to the space now.

I agreed to the opportunity, because, let’s be real, I have a hard time saying no to those who believe in me and value what I have to offer. Prior to teaching the class I had to mentally prepare myself. I was going to feel sad to be in the same space where I battled major bouts of depression. It was going to be uncomfortable to teach in a studio where I cried countless times as a young adult. It’ll feel odd to walk through the lobby where I would sit and stare enviously at those who were better than me.

Strangely enough I realized that the day I’d be teaching at the U of M was also Mental Health Awareness Day. It seemed fitting.

On the afternoon of the class I walked into the Barbara Barker Dance Center and instantly memories, both happy and sad, flooded my mind. Late nights were spent chatting with my best friend in that lobby. I walked in late and hungover to that studio on multiple occasions because I was sad, depressed, and thought late night partying on a school night was the answer. These were just memories.

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As I made my way to the studio in which I was about to teach I ran into some of my former teachers. It was kind of pleasant to see them. It made me feel like an adult. It made me feel like an equal. It made me feel like I was actually doing something with my life. A feeling I never embodied when I was a student in that space.

I taught the yoga class. The students were excellent. And then I left.

Once I got to my car I sat there for a moment reflecting on my experience. It was not the experience I had built up in my head prior to teaching the class. I thought I would be tormented by the bad choices I had made when I was a student. I thought I would be overly emotional by reliving the darkest days of my depression simply by being in that space. None of that happened. Memories came to me, but none of them truly affected me like I had anticipated. Instead those memories made me realize I’m okay. My present state is quite good. Although my time as a dance student was hard, I survived and became a stronger person because of it.

It felt validating to walk into a space that was once so challenging for me, look at myself in the mirror, and say, “You’ve made it to the other side, Erin.”

This is not to say every person should face their demons years later and they’ll magically be reborn. Trauma presents itself in different ways for everyone. I was able to put myself in a place that represented a lot of sadness for me and walked away grateful for the person I’ve become. I know I wouldn’t be where am, doing what I do if it hadn’t been for those experiences in that space.

One last note on my experience teaching yoga at my former college, not only did I reflect upon who I was while in that space and who I have become, but I became more aware of my current mental health and how it has transformed. My depression is kept at bay most of the time. I now have better tools to cope and an excellent support system to carry me through the tough times. However, I came to the realization that my depression has simply transformed into something different. Anxiety.

I deal with anxiety that keeps me up a couple nights a week. Anxiety that sometimes holds me back from trying new things or challenging myself to make my next move. Anxiety that often flares up when I’m in social situations. But it’s manageable. My yoga practice helps me through and leads me to the other side when I’m struggling. Yoga isn’t a fix-all for everyone. For some it can be a helpful tool to learn, grow, cope, and make it to the other side.

It often feels weird to share all of these details on my mental state, however, I share because I think it’s important to share. None of us should feel alone when dealing with depression or anxiety. It shouldn’t be taboo to discuss our mental states. Just as we might share with those around us that we feel a cold coming on, we should feel just as open to discuss our mental health.

Voyager Yoga

Many of you have been asking me about this Voyager Yoga thing. It’s a thing and I have zero idea what it’ll become.

Over the last year or so I think I hit some existential crisis. Who am I? What should I do with my life? You know. This big questions that keep you up at night. These questions haven’t suddenly popped up because I’m dissatisfied with my life. It’s actually quite the opposite. I’ve got a pretty rad life. I spend my days with inspiring people and teach them yoga. I surround myself with good people and even better pets. Most of all I have a partner who supports me and loves me even though I’m messy, stubborn, and a total workaholic. My life is great.

Of course my over-achieving personality isn’t content with great. I’ve been itching for a new challenge. I’ve been craving something new. I’ve been waiting to take on something that is 100% and completely me.

One morning last month I was listening to Yogaland Podcast. Andrea was interviewing J. Brown, a yoga teacher currently based in Allentown, PA. J. shared his experience as a yoga studio owner in Brooklyn for ten years and how he has no desire to establish the same thing in Allentown. However, he recently started renting space in an artist loft to offer a few classes a week. He shared that although he’s also teaching at other studios in Allentown, his classes at the loft allow him to offer the classes that feed him as a teacher.

Cue lightbulb in Erin’s brain.

After listening to that episode (honestly, I’m not even sure if I actually finished the episode because I was so inspired) I jumped onto Craigslist. Could I, too, find a space to rent to offer a few classes a week? Not that I need to teach more classes, because we all know my schedule is already jam-packed. But the idea of having a space to just do my thing lit me up.

Lucky me. I stumbled upon something amazing. Posted less than 24 hours before my podcast-inspired idea was a photography studio seeking someone to sublet. I inquired and within hours set an appointment to check out the space in person the next day. The moment I walked into the space I knew it was my space. A corner unit with exposed brick, big windows, and space for me to fill with yoga mats, props, and eager students.

Once the papers were signed I was quick to move onto the next steps.

First, the name. I am terrible with names and titles! I like literal things without bells and whistles. However, I wanted the name to speak to who I am as a yoga teacher and human being. My sounding board, my husband, vetoed everything I came up with. It was for the best since he came up with the best name of all: Voyager Yoga. The practice of yoga is about exploration. It’s a never-ending journey. We’re all on our own voyage when it comes to our yoga practice. Plus the conjured image of outdoor exploration and adventure suits me and my passions beyond yoga.

The name was born, a logo was made, and the brainstorming continued. Frankly the brainstorming will be a constant process as I explore Voyager’s future. Let me be transparent. I am not opening a yoga studio. I’m renting a space to teach classes that feel authentic to me. I’m a work horse with certain expectations. I am truly a miserable person to work alongside. Trust me. Voyager Yoga will give me the space to experiment with my teaching and have total ownership over the product.

I’m incredibly nervous about this endeavor. I’m already preparing myself for the days when no one shows up to take class. I will constantly question everything and dive deep into self doubt. But it’s an endeavor I need to take at this point in my life. My commitment is minimal and there’s a chance Voyager Yoga will just fade away within a few months. Before I even teach my first class in the space I’m trying to release myself from expectations and results.

It’s all a journey.

I hope you follow along with this journey.

You Just Might Surprise Yourself

On August 12 I did something pretty cool. I completed my first sprint distance triathlon. I swam 500 yards, biked 15.5 miles, and ran 5 kilometers. I've spent the last two or so months training pretty regularly and I'm proud of all the work I put into this event. 

This whole process started about four years ago when I told myself I'd do a triathlon before I turned 30. Well 30 came and went and I still hadn't done a triathlon. The funny thing is that when I got the idea to do a triathlon I wasn't exactly working out. I did my yoga practice, took a barre class here and there, and enjoyed hiking and going for long walks. Endurance was nowhere in my routine. I had this absolutely crazy idea I could just do a triathlon. I was okay in the water. Cycling was supposed to be the easy part, right? And running? Well running is what scared me the most. I am not a natural runner. 

Fast forward to 2016, the year I turned 30, and I was taken in by the Fly Feet Running family. The Running in Fly Feet Running almost scared me off, but I gave it a shot and was hooked from day one. They helped me overcome my fear of running. They trained me to move safely, efficiently, and sustainably. I got stronger. I got faster. And I surprised myself with every workout. FFR gave me the confidence to commit to a couple 10K races last summer and, just like my workouts, I kept surprising myself. The kid who would cry in gym class on the mile run day was now crying at the finish line of a 10K event because she crushed her PR by eight whole minutes. Who saw that coming?!?

Overcoming my fear of running was my last step before finally committing to a triathlon. I knew this year was my year. My summer was free of big commitments and I had the time and space to train. Of course April left me with a gnarly hamstring injury. Shortly after I developed bronchitis and had to lay off the endurance training. I didn't actually sign up my triathlon until five weeks before the event. I had been training, but wasn't confident I would be ready in time with my setbacks. But I stayed determined and focused. This was my year to finally do this thing!

Just about every day for six weeks I either swam, biked, or ran (or a combination of those). There were many days when I didn't want to do the work. I would drag my feet every Tuesday night when I did my open water training sessions at Lake Nokomis. (Turns out I'm actually not okay in the water and had to eat a giant slice of humble pie during my first open water session.) I biked farther than I had ever biked in a single ride. I ran through discomfort and boredom. Although I was putting in a lot of time and effort into my training, I was't sure if I was doing enough. I would only know on race day. 

Many of you know I'm a pretty independent person. I'm a terrible running partner. I like to get in my zone and stay there without distractions. However, I didn't want to be alone on race day. Thanks to social media I was adopted by some of the kindest women. I only actually knew a couple of the gals on Team Meaty Quads prior to race day. As we set up our transition stations I got meet the rest of the team. I couldn't have asked for a more welcoming and supportive group of women to accompany me for my first triathlon. Rather than instantly dropping into my competitive, over-thinking nature, this group of women helped me stay calm and remember to just enjoy it all. 

This triathlon was magical for so many reasons. The YWCA Women's Triathlon is the only all-women's triathlon in Minnesota. It was inspiring to see so many women cheering and supporting each other. On race day you get your body marked with your bib and wave numbers, but little did I realize your age gets added too. Women between the ages of 11 and 80 all around Lake Nokomis exposed their ages on their left calf. I heard some women grumble about the exposure, but I heard many more share their age and previous triathlon stories with pride. Women cheered for each other as they passed by on their bikes. Bikers supported the runners who were grinding through to the finish line. It was magical. 

For me, the swimming sucked. It was no surprise. It clawed my way through the 500 yards as quickly as I could. But once I got out of that water it was smooth sailing. I'm pretty certain a smile never left my face during the 15.5 miles on my bike and 5 kilometers of running. I'm pretty sure I shouted, "I'm killing this!" as I passed my husband after my bike to running transition. It was hot. The air quality was terrible. I was loving every minute of it.

Me with my celebratory popsicle after I crushed my triathlon. 

Me with my celebratory popsicle after I crushed my triathlon. 

Crossing the finish line was so empowering. I didn't cry like I thought I would. I cheered and shouted for myself because I had completed something so awesome. I was just hoping to finish the event in two hours. I completed my first sprint triathlon in one hour, thirty six minutes, and two seconds. I was in disbelief when I saw my results. I finished in the top twenty percent of all participants. I add this not to brag, but to remind myself that I am full of surprises. 

Guess what? You, too, are full of surprises. This triathlon reminded me that we are often the reason we are held back from opportunities. Our own thoughts and doubts limit how great we actually can be. So what big thing do you want to conquer? What causes the thoughts of fear and rejection to bubble up inside of you? Instead, what if you became your own biggest cheerleader? What if you celebrated your successes and reveled in your accomplishments? Seriously. There's so many surprises waiting for you. 

Slow Your Flow

Lately a lot of my vinyasa yoga students have approached me after class to tell me how much they appreciate my slower teaching style. Of course the critic in me goes into hyperdrive with comments like that. Are my classes too slow? Am I on own planet and no longer in line with what my colleagues are teaching? 

The inner dialogue that happens in my brain is truly maddening. 

Ultimately, a student wouldn't commend me for something if they didn't mean it. In general, people, no one will go out of their way to compliment you if they didn't mean it so let's stop being so modest and hypercritical. (There's your unsolicited advice for the week. You're welcome.)

When students started telling me they liked my slower style I instantly started to get uncomfortable. I wanted to own who I was as a teacher, but often found myself trying to sell my students on the benefits of a slower practice. At the end of the day students who like a slower flow will continue to take my classes and students who aren't into it just won't return. That's what's great about yoga! It's everywhere and you're pretty much guaranteed to find a teacher who offers you want you need in a practice.

In case you're not sold on this slower pace, I put together my top five reasons for why I think all vinyasa yoga students should give themselves time to slow down in their practice.

Take in the Lesson

If you're always whipping through postures at lightening speed how do you expect to actually take in the information your teacher is providing you? Perhaps your teacher has a great message to deliver that day. Or maybe your teacher is providing you with new insight on a common posture. Your yoga mat is a place to learn all sorts of things about your mind, body, and spirit. Slow your flow a bit to actually take in those lessons. 

You'll Get Stronger

Want to build physical strength and mental tenacity? Moving through Chaturanga as fast as you can will not help you in that endeavor. Have you ever held Warrior II for more than a few breaths? It's freaking hard! The more time you hold a posture the more engaged you'll be physically and mentally. Although I'm a big fan of cross training outside the yoga room, simply slowing down your vinyasa yoga practice can be a great way to get stronger. 

It's Safer

That's enough, right? Moving fast has to potential to compromise safe, sustainable alignment. Period. 

You Get to Actually Experience the Practice

When you're moving fast you don't actually get the chance to take in what you're experiencing. Do you actually know how the posture feels physically, mentally, emotionally? How can your body and mind compute all of the sensations that arise when you don't take a moment to let it all settle? This goes along with the idea that moving slower is safer. If you give yourself a moment to pause and actually experience a posture you can then adapt and adjust the alignment in a way that serves your practice and you.

We Move Fast Already

How often do you freak out in your car because you're stuck in traffic and you have somewhere to be? How frustrated do you get when the webpage isn't loading fast enough? How irritated do you get when someone isn't walking fast enough in front of you at Target? (None of these are from experience...) We already move so fast in our everyday life! Your yoga mat should be your place to do the opposite and find some balance. Roll out your mat and take 30, 60, 90 minutes to just slow down! 

There's nothing wrong with moving fast. I was initially drawn to vinyasa yoga because of its quick, athletic qualities. Moving fast has value! Plus vinyasa yoga is about connecting your breath with poses. However, a vinyasa yoga practice doesn't mean constant movement. When you want to get your flow on let your quicker movements be simple. Stick with basic salutations if you want to move quickly and then give yourself the time to slow down when integrating more complex postures. Your body and mind will thank you for it. 

You Have to Experiment

I have a very long list of yoga postures that I do not love. With time, however, that list has gotten shorter. What's helped me shorten that list? I gave myself permission to experiment and actually play with the alignment of my postures. For so long, especially in the beginning of my practice, I was simply doing what the teacher instructed me to do. Rarely did I actually take the time to investigate how the postures felt for me both physically and mentally.

Yoga postures have a general shape. Based on human biomechanics there's standard alignment cues that can get a body into a yoga posture, however every body is different. I've said it many times in my group classes and I'll continue to say it, this is not a one-size-fits all practice. What works for me may not work for you. In order for this to be a practice that serves you both physically and mentally you have to be willing to experiment and explore.

Take Wheel Pose, for example. Wheel has always been a posture I could get into, but it never felt great. My body did the shape and that was satisfying enough for the first few years of my practice. When I was setting up my Wheel Pose in the early years I did what most of my teachers told me to do. Point your fingers toward the front edge of your mat. Keep your feet parallel to each other. I would push on up and simply suffer through the five to ten breaths. But I did the pose! And that's what yoga is all about right? (Sarcasm is not well communicated through this medium. Just so that we're on the same page, yoga is not all about getting into the pose.)

With time I got smarter. With time I realized not all cues that a teacher provides are ideal for my body. I was also very lucky to find a teacher who opened my eyes to the wide range of alignment for all yoga postures. Now my Wheel Pose consists of fingers angled outward and sometimes my toes are angled outward depending on the state of my knees and low back on that specific day. 

Often when a student tells me they dislike a posture it's because they're working with alignment that just doesn't suit their body. Most students are just being good students and doing as their teacher tells them without realizing their yoga mat is a space for experimentation and play. Triangle Pose is a common thorn in a yogi's side. Considering the posture shows up in most vinyasa-style yoga classes, it's kind of remarkable how frequently students tell me they don't like Triangle Pose. I, too, did not like Triangle Pose for the first few years of my yoga practice. Now I LOVE Triangle Pose! I now love the pose because I gave myself permission to actually explore my physical and mental states while in the posture and adjust the posture accordingly. 

If you want some insight, here's how I work Triangle Pose and some adjustments I've made over the years:

 

 

 

My approach to Triangle Pose required lots of experimentation that stemmed from my teacher's guidance. But before the experiments could even begin I had to cultivate deep awareness of my physical and mental states. This deep awareness was missing in the early days of my practice. I had to be open to actually experience the various physical and mental sensations of the practice and not just go through the motions. Awareness, in my opinion, is the essence of this practice. It just took me some time to figure it out. Through my awareness I was able to make small adjustments to the physical postures and investigate how the shifts affected me physically and mentally. It's simply a trial and error process. 

Yoga sutra 2.46, sthira sukham asanam, states that asana, the physical yoga practice. must have the balance of effort and ease, alertness and relaxation, steadiness and comfort. Sutra 2.47, prayatna shaitilyananta sama pattibhyam, then follows up that the balance of effort and ease can only be achieved through observing the the reactions of the body, mind, and breath. Observation and awareness allows the practitioner to then merge with their focal point, the infinite, their deeper self, their intention. Bringing awareness to your hips in Warrior II isn't the end of the journey. That deep awareness of your physical state in Warrior II then leads to deeper awareness of your mental sensations, your connection to others, your relationship with something greater than yourself. 

In closing, I'm not encouraging you to disregard your teacher and their guidance. When you take a group yoga class you are there to take the seat as a student and learn something. Within the parameters of what your teacher has to offer you in a group setting also allow yourself to explore your own individual practice. There's no user manual to this yoga thing. There's just the mental, physical, and emotional sensations that arise which will then inform your practice.

Looking for a way to tap into those deeper sensations? Come hang out with me September 21-23, 2018 to experience a weekend along Minnesota's North Shore for my Fall Into Your Practice retreat. My hope is for the weekend to set the groundwork for you to feel a deeper connection to your practice and yourself. 

Give Cobra a Chance

In the vinyasa yoga world I hear a lot of the same ailments pop up for my students:

  • My low back hurts
  • My shoulders are bugging me
  • Why are my wrists always sore after class?

There's countless reasons as to why someone would be dealing with a limitation in their yoga practice. There's definitely no magic pill or easy solution to fix everyone's injuries. There are, however, approaches to the practice that might help students limit their injuries and extend the longevity of their practice. 

I recently started to take Upward Facing Dog out of my own practice and wanted to see how it would translate in the group classes I teach. Rather than Chaturanga to Upward Facing Dog I've encouraged students to go from Plank, lower to their mat, and lift into a very active Cobra Pose. In the few weeks that I taught the transition I found myself trying to sell my students on this transition as it's different from what most of them are used to. Apparently I had some insecurities in offering something different to my students. Of course no one expressed any issues and I found that many students continued to use the Plank to Cobra transition even when I offered Chaturanga to Upward Facing Dog. 

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So why Cobra? Why did I start to integrate it into my own personal practice and emphasize it in my group classes? It's an often overlooked and incredibly beneficial posture!

Have low back problems?

Cobra is a very mild backbend. Rather than asking the whole spine to move into extension, the pelvis stays anchored and just the upper spine is extending. Cobra is also an excellent back strengthening posture. The muscles around the upper arms and shoulders contract and help you open your chest. It's the best way to combat slumpy, computer posture.

Shoulders bugging you?

Not to vilify Chaturanga, but Chaturanga into Upward Facing Dog is pretty demanding on the shoulder joints. Say your over a half an hour into a fast-paced, physical practice. There's a good chance your form and alignment aren't spot on due to fatigue. The shoulders can easily round forward and dip a little too low and then the transition into Upward Facing Dog becomes incredibly taxing on the shoulder joints. Plank to Cobra, on the other hand, allows you to use your arm strength to lower all the way to your mat and then lift the chest and shoulders into a much less dramatic shape.

Wrists bugging you after practice?

Ideally you'll use your hands in Cobra to get the forward pulling action of the posture and activate your upper back muscles, but the pressure on the hands and wrists is minimal. In a typical vinyasa yoga practice the wrists work so hard in Plank variations and Downward Facing Dog. Cobra gives your wrist joints a well deserved break. 

Give Cobra Pose a chance! And I'd love to hear how it feels for you. 

Why I Don't Teach Headstand

As I begin to type this blog post I am mentally bracing myself for the feedback I'll get from my peers and students. Here's the deal, I don't teach any variation on Headstand in my group yoga classes. I could be wrong, but it's been probably at least four years since I've taught the posture to a large group of students, with the exception of on a retreat with a small group that I've worked with regularly and another teacher was assisting me. At the time of this post I can't even remember the last time I did a traditional variation of Headstand in my own practice. 

Back in 2012 I attended my first Yoga Journal Conference in New York City. I was so excited to take class from big names like Dharma Mittra, Shiva Rea, and Ana Forrest. Ana has a reputation in the yoga world as a strong, powerful teacher and I was so excited to learn from the master in her inversion workshop. Ana's class was fun and athletic. She worked us hard in a variety of arm balances, however, my excitement quickly came to an end when we switched gears. Ana vehemently called out over her microphone, "Please move to the walls if you cannot balance in Forearm Balance or Handstand in the middle of the room. Unless you have been practicing with me personally for a few years, I ask that you do not move into Headstand." What? Who did this lady think she was? I do Headstand all the time and, even though this is my first time studying with Ana, I should be able to do Headstand!  

At the time I was a pretty young yoga student and teacher. I was offended by Ana's request. It took me some time for me to figure it out. Now, after teaching thousands of group yoga classes, I get it. In a giant conference room full of over a hundred students that she had probably never met before I completely understand why Ana provided us with strict guidelines. 

I see a lot of students every day. Many students regularly take my class once or twice a week. Over the years I have developed a decent understanding of these students' practices. Even with the regular students that I know well I won't offer up Headstand. In a group setting I can't give every student my full attention. 

Here's some reasons why I don't teach Headstand in my classes:

  • Due to the nature of the posture, Headstand requires attention. I am only one person and I cannot give my full attention to every student in a single moment of practice.
  • Consider the shape your body is making. You are completely upside-down with the weight of your body on your head and neck.
  • Ideally your arms and shoulders will also be working in Headstand, however, it takes a lot of understanding of how the shoulder joints work in order to give your head and neck adequate support while upside-down. I struggle with getting a large portion of my students to just understand their shoulders in downward facing dog.
  • Group classes easily become a game of monkey-see, monkey-do. New students often try to do what their neighbor is doing without actually understanding the posture. (I know this because I was that student that regularly mimicked my neighbor without listening to my teacher.)
  • Most of the studios I teach in don't have the necessary props to support Headstand. In a perfect world I'd have blankets available and ample wall space for students to prop themselves up. 
  • Majority of the studios I teach in are heated. I've witnessed numerous students slip on a sweat puddle while trying to move into an inversion. I'd rather not see a student slip while bearing weight on their head.

With all that, I think Headstand can be an incredibly beneficial posture. There's a reason why Headstand and Shoulderstand (another posture I don't teach) are known as the king and queen postures of yoga. They're powerful, but they require a tremendous amount of practice, discipline, and understanding of the body. This is not to say that my students are not well practiced, disciplined, or out of touch with their bodies. As someone facilitating a group practice I have made the clear decision to just eliminate the posture completely from my classes as the benefits do not outweigh the potential risks. 

Rather than working on Headstand, I choose to teach arm balances, Handstand, and Forearm Balance when I teach inversions in my classes. The head and neck are in less vulnerable positions and they require the same, if not more, focus and discipline as Headstand. Can't balance in Forearm Balance or Handstand, but want to get upside-down? Use a wall for support, indulge in Legs Up the Wall with a block under your sacrum, or (even better!) get yourself a stack of blocks and prop yourself up into Headstand against a wall. By placing the stack of blocks under your shoulders you'll get the lovely inversion of Headstand without the potential pressure on your cervical spine. I've taught this variation to many students and every one of them eventually comes down with a blissful look on their face. Check out this video tutorial for more insight!

If you have a regular Headstand practice and feel comfortable in it, stick with it! It's never my intention to dismiss an aspect of a student's practice that they enjoy. It's just my choice, as a yoga teacher, to not include some postures in my group classes. Want to actually learn the mechanics of Headstand in a safe, supportive environment? Ask your favorite teacher for a private lesson or sign up for a workshop-style class that focuses on breaking down headstand in a slow, methodical manner. 

Yogi + Athlete

A couple weekends ago I led a yoga for runners specialty class. Frankly I was a tad surprised when my managers approached me to teach the class. Sure I run, but I'm still coming to terms with the label of "runner". Although I may not be the most seasoned runner, I do know yoga is essential for my own running and workout sessions. The yoga for runners class was truly a treat to lead. It gave me the opportunity to dedicate a good amount of time on key areas of the body and elements of the practice that can benefit runners physically and mentally. Afterwards I had a lot of great conversations with students on how yoga has been beneficial for their race training. The proof is in their stories. Reduced knee pain. Quicker recovery between long runs and hard training sessions. Increased focus and steady breathing. 

I, selfishly, love teaching specialized classes like a yoga for runners class. There's nothing wrong with approaching yoga as a workout. Yoga can be a very effective workout! When I started to practice yoga regularly it was definitely my main physical outlet. Now my practice is a little different. I regularly indulge in different physical disciplines that push my body to its edge. My yoga practice no longer needs to fill that requirement. I now focus on the subtlety of my asana practice and spend more time on my seated and pranayama practices. With time, I've grown to value the time I spend with students who also have other physical disciplines. I appreciate the conversations we have about integrating yoga into other disciplines. 

The strides I've made in my weight lifting and running sessions are because of my yoga practice. In moments when I want to quit while on a run the yoga reminds me to regulate my breathing and stay tuned in. Yoga has given me incredible awareness of my physical and mental states. Through that deep awareness I can better monitor myself. I know when it's time to back off and I know when I have more in me to give without going overboard.

On the flip side, I don't think I would hold as much value in my yoga practice if it wasn't for my workouts. Now that I'm no longer focused on a regular, physically demanding yoga practice to tone my arms or get in a good sweat (again, there's nothing wrong with this approach) I feel less pressure while on my mat. My practice now has less boundaries. I do more held postures with props and spend time doing self-massage with a foam roller and balls.  I, like many yogis, have dealt with a variety of yoga related injuries. The yoga didn't injure me, I was just pushing myself in ways I shouldn't have. I now have built up the strength to actually support my shoulder joints and balance out areas of my body that have been too mobile for so long. This is the current state of my practice and it feels incredibly fulfilling. 

In order to continue teaching yoga at my current capacity I have to stay engaged and constantly challenge myself. The yoga for runners class sparked a desire that has been sitting within me for some time now. As I've adopted the title of "athlete" over these last few years with running and training I have become more and more fascinated by the moving body. My deep obsession with soccer is all about the athletes and their fascinating talent on the pitch. I love the game, but the players and their physical abilities blow my mind! During a match I watch how their bodies move with intent. My brain goes into overdrive and considers all the various ways yoga could compliment the demands of their sport.

My brain enjoys logic and putting together processes. If the body regularly performs A, B, and C, how can yoga enhance those tasks and offset any potential overuse from those tasks? I've been so lucky to teach yoga classes at a climbing gym where I get to put my processes into action. Climbers tend to have overly tight hip flexors, shoulders, and upper backs. I love working with them on ways to increase their reach and range of motion while offering the areas of their bodies that are overworked some TLC. 

It's extremely rewarding to see a population appreciate what a yoga practice has to offer and I'm hoping to explore this area more with my teaching. I can go on and on about how yoga has benefitted my physical endeavors as an athlete. I can also preach on how my physical undertakings beyond my yoga mat have saved my yoga practice. But what about you? Are you an athlete that has integrated yoga into your training? I'd love to hear your stories about how cross training with yoga has benefitted your physical endeavors! Feel free to send me an email at erin.jorich@gmail.com with your stories on how a consistent yoga practice has supported your body and mind while training for a competition, event, physical goal, etc. I'm looking to spread the benefits of yoga for athletes and your stories will be helpful in this effort. 

Thanks for reading and thanks for your support! 

The Guru

Guru:

1: a personal religious teacher and spiritual guide in Hinduism

2a : a teacher and especially intellectual guide in matters of fundamental concern

  b : one who is an acknowledged leader or chief proponent

  c : a person with knowledge or expertise


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I recently binge listened to 30 For 30's podcast all about Bikram Choudhury. The podcast dives deep into the 26 posture practice he "developed", the yoga teacher's rise to fame, the students who have been greatly influenced by him (for better or for worse), and the disgusting accusations that have driven students and studio owners to distance themselves from the man behind the yoga trend that has swept the world. 

Although the podcast covers content I'm already familiar with, the five-part series brilliantly shines light on the dark side of yoga culture. Bikram's story is not special. A male yogi from India comes to America and gets famous for teaching yoga to celebrities and claims he can fix the ill. He acquires millions of devoted students and then feeds on those who put their trust in him. A quick Google search can give you the names of a handful of other yoga teachers who have walked a similar path to Bikram. It's gross, unsettling, and a big reason I've questioned my occupation for many years. 

I hadn't considered the word "guru" until I was in my first 200-Hour Teacher Training in 2009. During a lecture on Sanskrit and pranayama one of my teachers referred to the lecturer as "Guruji" while asking him a question. She was referring to him as an expert, a spiritual guide. This man most definitely was an expert and guide, but I instantly paused at the title of "Guruji". With the quick addition of a title this man was put on a pedestal. He suddenly become powerful in my mind. 

Some would say Bikram was/is a guru. Bikram was an expert in his field and offered guidance on how his students could survive on and off their yoga mats. Just as I allowed the term guru to elevate the lecturer in my first teacher training, millions of Bikram practitioners have elevated the man behind the practice to a level of power that became problematic. He exploited his power. He used his power in ugly, cruel ways. He, along with many other high level yoga teachers and spiritual guides, have made me wonder if I should continue on my path as a yoga teacher.

A few years ago I was leading a yoga teacher training when a student asked, "How did you find your guru?" I gave this student a blank stare. She then went on to ask if I had studied in India and had a guru there. Again, I stared blankly. Eventually I collected my thoughts and explained I had an influential teacher in San Francisco, but wouldn't consider him to be my guru. I gathered the student was dissatisfied with my answer. 

A year or so ago I had a student refer to me as her guru through a social media post. I don't want to diminish this sweet student's show of respect toward me, however the post made me a little uncomfortable. If I take the above definition of the word into consider I suppose some would consider me to be a guru. I've put a great deal of time and effort into my studies. Through those studies I have a lot of knowledge to offer, however I'm no expert. I'm definitely no spiritual or religious guide. 

Perhaps this all just means I have a weird, unsure relationship with the term guru. Perhaps the ongoing issues with yoga teachers exploiting their power as educators and guides steers me from labeling someone as a guru. Perhaps the simplicity of not considering myself or many of my teachers as Hindu paves the way for me not even consider the title. 

I've said it once, and I know I'll say it many more times, it's all about power. I do not blame the victims of Bikram's disgusting deeds for putting their teacher on a pedestal and handing him power. They trusted him. They believed in him and the practice he provided. The practice had offered so many of them a method to heal, cope, and revitalize their lives. Why wouldn't they put that man on a pedestal? Bikram is the villain, not the yoga. Bikram didn't realize he was simply the vessel in which the teachings are meant to be offered through. He was a crappy vessel, but he offered a method that'll hopefully outlive his distasteful name.

Bikram and many other influential yoga teachers have given all of us in the yoga world important concepts to consider. Yoga teachers shouldn't guide the practice to be powerful. Yoga teachers shouldn't guide the practice to be famous. Yoga teachers definitely shouldn't guide the practice for the money. Yoga teachers should guide the practice because they have a calling to offer up a method that benefits a student's physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing without the need to be the star of the show. 

More than a Retreat

I just returned from co-hosting my first yoga retreat at Prana del Mar outside of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The trip was booked in July of last year and it was a tremendous amount of work that spread over nine months. I'll be real with you and say that the build up to the retreat consisted of many days of questioning why I decided to take on such a huge endeavor. On countless occasions I got overwhelmed and cursed myself for thinking I was ready to facilitate such a big trip. Luckily I was able to pull myself out of my funk. I had to remember I was taking on this project for a reason. I'm passionate about yoga and dedicated to exposing the beautiful power of yoga to my students. A yoga retreat is the perfect opportunity to immerse oneself in the practice. 

Although the planning and organizing felt like it had gone on forever, the trip suddenly crept up on me and it was time to fly to Mexico. With my moderate social anxiety I was instantly concerned about introducing all of my students to each other and creating space for everyone to socialize. My concerns were quickly eased because this group was special. Everyone instantly clicked. It was magical to get to know my students beyond what I get to experience while they're on their yoga mats. I was able to be myself and allowed my own personality to shine. Even though the yoga was the priority on this trip, I often forget how fulfilling it is to connect with others. Especially others who are willing to carve out one week for their yoga practice.

I knew Prana del Mar would be an outstanding location to host a yoga retreat, however, words cannot describe how incredibly perfect it was. Every tiny detail from the lack of mirrors in the common bathrooms to the beautifully manicured grounds to the staff who took care of our smallest needs. The yoga studios were perfect. The guest rooms were flawless. The food... oh the food! Although my intention with this trip was to let the yoga take center stage, it was impossible to upstage our home for the week. 

I realized on this trip I struggle with relaxing. Sure I easily fall into a sluggish state when I put on the Netflix, but I rarely allow myself to unplug, unwind, and just relax. On the first couple of days I found myself mindlessly meandering from one chaise lounge to the next because I didn't know what to do in my downtime. Of course I was committed to my role as a teacher when I taught classes, but the resort created the perfect environment for my group and me to just let go for many hours. It was marvelous! 

Although my intention for the retreat was for my students and me to immerse ourselves in the practice of yoga, I'm realizing so much more was gained from the experience. We were able to reset. Although the week had to come to an end, I realized I need to create more spaces in my everyday life to slow down. Staring at the Pacific Ocean from the roof of a beautiful resort in the middle of the desert quickly lulls you into a meditative state. That meditative state doesn't require a yoga retreat at a fancy resort, but hopefully such an experience reminds us that even when copious amounts of snow are falling from the sky (was that thunder I just heard?), or when our work and family life stresses us out we can still fall deeply into a mindful, meditative state of being. 

To those of you who joined me on this trip, thank you. Thank you for trusting Dylan and me for one week of yoga in Mexico. Again, you were a special group and I'm grateful my first retreat was filled with your smiles and positive energy (and all of those laughing fits that led to tears!). To my trusty pal, Dylan, thank you for diving head first into this amazing trip with me. I've learned so much from you over the years and  it was an honor to guide this group with you. And to those of you who weren't able to join us for this round, there's a chance it'll happen again...

Although the label of "yoga retreat" is common vernacular in the health and wellness communities, I would much rather consider this trip an experience. It was so much more than a week of practicing yoga. It was so much more than a week away from the day to day routine. It was truly an experience to connect with others and connect with oneself. 

To Touch or Not to Touch?

Full disclosure, I really wanted to title this post: Can't Touch This... I figured it would just date me...

In all seriousness, there's something big going on in the world. I don't just mean the yoga world. I mean the entire world. The #MeToo Movement is exposing stories of sexual abuse and violence and shining light on those who have been harrassed and belittled by those in power. I could go on and on about how this movement has affected me and those around me, but I want to keep this post focused on yoga and the unfortunate issues that have popped up over and over again in the community I admire and love. 

When I started to dip my toes into what yoga had to offer I was in transition from a world rampant with body image issues, emotional abuse, and constant power struggles: the dance world. The yoga world offered a new space full of non-attachment and a lack of competition which I desperately needed in my early 20s. When I started to practice yoga I never thought much about sexual abuse or harassment and I never questioned my relationship with my teacher. Even if I didn't know my teacher I trusted them. I even regularly put my teachers on a pedestal.  

As I got deeper into my practice and my teaching my eyes and ears became open to stories of abuse and scandal. Stories of emotional and sexual abuse started pouring out of the Bikram and Anusara communities. I was shocked and saddened. How could a teacher prey on their students in such a horrendous manner? The stories that have come out of the yoga communities rocked by scandal seem, to me, to be all about power. Teachers abusing their power as teachers and educators. This abuse of power, of course, isn't unique to the yoga community. It's clearly abundant in politics, entertainment, work relationships, romantic relationships, athletics, etc. too. 

As I became exposed to the dark side of the yoga community I started to do some reflecting. I want to be clear, I have never been sexually abused or harassed by a yoga teacher. I have, however, experienced what I see as a manipulation of power in the yoga room. On countless occasions I have been physically assisted beyond my physical abilities. I have left yoga classes hobbling because a teacher muscled me into a shape. When I reflect upon these heavy-handed assists there's one thing in common: they were done by teachers who identify as heterosexual men. For a while I thought I was being overly sensitive. That was until I started to hear stories from other female identifying teachers and students who had experienced the same, uncomfortable, forceful assists from these same teachers. I absolutely do not mean to shame male hetereosexual yoga teachers. I know there's countless students who have been injured in the same manner by female yoga teachers. There's a very good chance these male teachers were simply using their strength a little too much and that was it. However, as a female who sees herself as an equal, I question those specific teachers' motives. I didn't feel empowered to speak up or ask questions and could only make judgements based on my gut feeling. 

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Situations like this have made me question my own intentions when giving physical assists in classes. There was a period of time when I thought physical assists were unnecessary and probably shouldn't be done due to the terrible physical and mental harm that had been done to yoga students receiving touch from their teacher. I now have a different perspective. I see manual assists as an important aspect of an asana practice as long as the student wants to receive touch. As detailed as my verbal cues are, there's a lot of information I cannot convey through my words. The tiniest hands-on assist gives so much information to my students. But I absolutely, 1000% think students have the right to waive me off of an assist or straight up opt out of any physical contact with me. All yoga students have the right to feel safe and respected at all times. Period. 

Action is desperately required in the yoga world. Although there's steps being made in the right direction, the Yoga Alliance needs to step up their ethics game. There needs to be more rigorous curriculum required in all teacher trainings around the topic of ethics and professional conduct. The Yoga Alliance needs to actually follow up on and check in with trainings that have their accreditation to make certain that curriculum is implemented. The Yoga Alliance has a stated code of conduct, however, registration with the Yoga Alliance is only voluntary and failure to uphold the code amounts in simply being removed from the registry. It's not enough considering countless other professions have a clear ethical code and face huge repercussions if there's allegations of sexual misconduct. A lot of yoga teachers don't like the idea of regulation, but this is an area where we, as a community, clearly need some definitive standards. 

On a more proactive level there is something that is happening via the #MeToo Movement and I hope it continues in the yoga world. People are talking. Students and teachers are sharing their stories and they are being heard. Andrea Ferretti, the producer and badass mastermind behind the Yogaland Podcast, recently interviewed Judith Hanson Lasater and Mary Taylor on sexual misconduct in the yoga community. Their stories and thoughts on the subject are important and should be heard. We as a community need to talk to each other in order to see change.

Through the conversations we have with our fellow teachers and students we need to do some deep self reflecting as individuals. Since we don't actually have a true regulatory power, we, as yoga teachers, need to set our own personal and professional code of conduct. Here's some of topics I regularly consider in my own teaching:

  • Are you open to feedback from your students? If the answer is no then I truly think you should not be giving physical assists in classes. Yoga teachers should be open to feedback in the moment and after class. I'm slowly realizing the fourth wall that exists in the yoga room needs to be broken down. Conversations can and should happen between the teacher and student in the moment. Yoga teachers need to ask their students about the pressure, placement, and comfort of their assists. Yoga students are absolutely empowered to verbally and physically react to the assist they are receiving. 
  • Be clear as to what areas of the body you will and will not touch. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, it's not. Teachers, set clear boundaries for yourself and stick with them. There should be no exceptions to your rules. I'm also challenging myself, and others, to keep the rules consistent between my female and male identifying students. 
  • Be clear as to what areas of your body will and will not touch your students' bodies. There's skillful ways to use body parts that aren't your hands when assisting, but you have to be mindful of which ones. Again, set clear boundaries and stick with them. 
  • Who are your assists serving? The time in the yoga room isn't about you as the yoga teacher. Your assists are there to deepen the students' understanding of the practice and keep them safe. You are simply the vessel in which the offerings of yoga are conducted through. The moment you find yourself trying to prove something through your touch it is time to step away from the student. 

I have faith our community is moving in the right direction. We need to continue to have dialogue with our students and peers. I can only imagine it isn't easy, but I am eternally grateful for the many students who have been open with me about their experiences on and off their yoga mats with sexual misconduct. I know too many people who have suffered abuse. It is deeply saddening. But these survivors have voices and deserve to be heard. Empower your students to speak up in class. Yoga teachers, you have to listen, reflect, and make choices based on the stories you've been told. For so many of us yoga has been a powerful practice for coping and healing. Let's continue on that path. 

Girl, Quit It. You Do You.

I might have a very clear, definitive perspective as a yoga teacher, but my life outside the yoga room is quite different. I have mild social anxiety. I constantly doubt myself. I have a terrible time making decisions for myself. I'm kind of messy. (My husband will disagree and say I'm very messy.) I'm incredibly lazy when I have an open schedule. I'm sure I could go on...

At the the top of my "I am" list is insecure. It's taken me many years to feel confident and comfortable while teaching yoga, however I still have a hard time turning off the inner critic. Does that person like my class?  They all hate me. They would much rather be in that other teacher's class. The inner narrative is exhausting. Especially when jealousy rises up, rather than defeating myself, I have to remind myself that not everyone is going to be into my classes. Everyone will have their preferred teacher. I will not be everyone's preferred teacher. 

I can't fail to mention, however, that the more I have developed my style as a teacher the more I feel like I'm finding my people. The students who are willing to deal with my attention to detail. The students who laugh at my stupid jokes. The students who ask questions and engage with content beyond the designated class time. It's been exciting to build and connect with this community. 

When I went through my 300-Hour Teacher Training last year one of my homework assignments was to clarify my "big picture teaching objectives". Who am I as a teacher? What do I want my students to gain from my classes? I have to constantly keep these questions in the forefront of my mind. I especially have to ask myself these question when the self doubt flares up. The answers to these questions keep me grounded in who I am as a yoga teacher and student. 

On top of reminding myself of my objectives as a teacher I've developed a new motto to chant to myself when I start to criticize myself or compare myself to others:

Girl, quit it. You do you. 

Any time I facilitate a teacher training I encourage new teachers to find themselves. You don't have to be a parrot of someone else. There's no rush to develop your voice, but you should take the time to internally investigate the teacher you want to be. And once you figure it out, be absolutely unapologetic about who you are as a yoga teacher and a human. I suppose I'm finally starting to take my own advice. 

Along with clarifying my overall teaching objections for my 300-Hour I had to brainstorm group classes, workshops, and retreats that aligned with my objective. Although everything I've been working on over the last year has aligned with my core principles as a yoga teacher, I have started to feel like there's been a disconnect between who I am as a yoga teacher and who I am as Erin Jorich, the person. I'm not just a two-dimensional, paper doll who thrives on teaching alignment-forward asana classes. I'm Erin Jorich. A person who loves the ritual of a warm beverage in the morning. A person who audibly squeals at the sight of a dog. A person who unleashes the crazy when attending soccer matches. A person who doesn't make enough time to get outside but feels nourished and whole after some quality time with Mother Nature. With that in mind my future projects are going to prioritize the many facets of who I am as a person and yoga teacher.

One last thought. I sometimes find myself buying into the cattiness that can be the yoga world. If another teacher has a huge following I need to celebrate that teacher's success rather than immediately feel envious. As a community we need to elevate each other, not tear each other down. Rather than comparing ourselves let's start paving the way for others to grow in this industry. There's room for all of us to flourish! 

Get ready, friends. I'm very excited for what's to come!

It's Hard Out There For a Yoga Teacher

I don't intend for this post to be a "have pity on me" post. I just think some perspective is important. 

I often find myself wanting to share my actual work schedule with people. Sure you can access my public, group yoga class schedule on this site. Teaching 15-20 60 minute classes a week might not seem like much, however, that schedule doesn't take into account the other time I put in at the studio, my drive time between various studio locations, countless hours I put into developing curriculum for my classes,  and effort it takes to promote my classes, workshops, retreats, and myself through various outlets. Again, don't pity me, I have a job I love and often slap myself mentally whenever I complain about my schedule. 

But this isn't about my schedule. This is about working in an industry that is hard. Don't let Instagram fool you. Being a full-time yoga teacher isn't all about doing yoga on a beautiful beach while wearing your cutest bra top with mala beads wrapped around your wrists. Being a full-time yoga teacher is about hustling for years to get enough classes to pay the bills so that you can someday quit your job in the service or retail industry. Like clockwork, once you finally think you can quit that part-time job the studio(s) you work for will go through some type of management change, rebranding, or straight up close. Suddenly you'll find yourself back at square one. 

It's been a while since I've been in the place of losing classes. If a class was taken off my schedule over the last couple years it was my choosing. However, this last week reminded me that nothing is permanent. Although I might have classes full of regular, recurring students I'm not immune to change.

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to catch up with a fellow teacher. She told me she recently lost a handful of classes due to a studio changing its schedule. A few days later I got word one of the oldest yoga studios in Minneapolis had shut its doors. Although I wasn't invested in that studio's community it broke my heart to hear the news. I had so many fond memories of studying with my teacher when he was in town and hosting workshops in that space. My heart broke for the many teachers who had invested so much time and energy in developing that community. To top it all off I found out from a friend who teaches in Georgia that she was removed from all eight classes that she teaches at one studio. 

Yoga teacher isn't a special occupation. I realize all at-will employees are at the mercy of the owner or company they work for and are at risk of losing their job without notice. It's just heartbreaking to see those who have worked so hard to develop their craft constantly feel the pain of uncertainty and doubt. 

It's definitely hard out there for a yoga teacher, however, if you are a yoga teacher I hope you stick with it. Even through the ups and downs and failures and successes. There's a reason you were called to share this yoga thing. To those of you who practice yoga and are yoga consumers, please continue to practice. Remember why you make it to your yoga mat. Remember how you feel at the end of your favorite teachers' classes. Rather than splurging on the latest and greatest yoga pants consider hiring your yoga teacher for a private lesson. There's a good chance their hourly rate is cheaper than the pants. And there's an ever greater chance the benefits from your private lesson, or even a group class you attend, will outlast the yoga pant's lifespan. 

You Are More Than Your Hamstring (In)Flexibilty

Lately some recurring questions have popped up after my yoga classes:

No matter how much I stretch my legs I feel like my hamstrings are still very tight. Why am I not seeing any progress? What else can I do?

I think these questions are fascinating for a few reasons. First, what's with the hamstrings? Why does everything think they have to have flexible hamstrings? Sure limitations in a forward fold are very easy to feel and notice, but why has it become the huge focal point for students?

Second, I have lost count of the number of people who say they can't do yoga because they can't touch their toes. When I tell someone I teach yoga it's frequently met with someone saying something about their lack of flexibility and their inability to touch their toes. What's with that? I won't deny that touching your toes does have some value. I once attended a workshop with Bryan Kest where he called Pyramid Pose "Tie Your Shoes Pose". He was explaining to his students that doing the shape doesn't really matter but having the range of motion to tie your own shoes allows people to have independence even as they age. I can buy into that. I cannot buy into the obsession of simply stretching the legs so that I can jam my nose into my shins in a forward fold. 

Paschimottanasana--Seated Forward Bend

Paschimottanasana--Seated Forward Bend

Perhaps I'm a tad sensitive to the whole hamstring stretching thing. Years ago I developed this nagging sensation high in my right hamstring. It wasn't necessarily painful. It was just irritating. I backed off of my forward folds for a while and spent some quality time in Legs Up the Wall Pose. Eventually the sensation diminished but only for a little while. Like clockwork the irritation would flare up again and I'd be frustrated again. Eventually I started doing some research (please don't be the cliché yoga teacher like me and diagnose yourself) and realized what I was experiencing was very common in the yoga world. It even had a catchy name! Yoga butt!

How does one get a yoga butt, you ask? By overstretching the muscle attachments of the hamstrings to the sitting bones, ischial tuberosity. This is a regular occurrence for those who are hypermobile in their hamstrings. It's so easy to just disengage the legs and let the hamstrings stretch. However, it's important to make the muscles of the legs engage even when your intention is to stretch them. When you're working forward folds or postures that emphasize hamstring length, consider where you feel the majority of the stretch. Ideally the stretch won't be centralized near the top or bottom of a muscle or muscle group. If that's what you're feeling back out, reset, and consider ways you can engage both the front and back sides of your legs more. 

Maybe you're on the completely other end of the spectrum. Do you find yourself looking around the yoga room in a Seated Forward Fold sitting straight up and cursing those around you?

This is all I've got! I've gone as far as I can while you jerks are literally sleeping with your bellies on your legs! 

Here's a little secret: No one cares how far you've gone in your forward folds except for maybe you. I don't want to dismiss your feelings. It might not be the answer you're looking for, but not all bodies were meant to have deep forward folds. Just as I will probably never figure out how to throw a frisbee (actual fact), you might be at the maximum stretch in your hamstrings. And you know what? That's okay!

Still not going to give up on the whole deeper hamstring stretching thing? Here's a couple things that might help you gain more range of motion:

Change Your Relationship to Gravity

If you've been working on increasing your hamstring range of motion in a yoga class there's a good chance you've focused a lot on your standing and seated forward bends. If you feel like you've maxed out your stretch consider flipping on your back and taking Supta Padangusthasana--Reclined Hand to Foot Pose with a strap. I love this posture! When your body is in this position the soles of your feet and sitting bones aren't anchored down so you might be able to explore a different kind of stretch than you might get while standing or seated. 

Maybe It's Not Just Your Hamstrings

Upavistha Konasana--Seated Wide-Legged Straddle

Upavistha Konasana--Seated Wide-Legged Straddle

Technically you have three actual hamstring muscles and one "pseudo" hamstring muscle. Adductor Magnus, the "pseudo" hamstring, acts as both an adductor (groin muscles that draw inner thighs toward the midline of the body) and a hamstring. In some bodies the limitation at the back of the legs is due to a tight Adductor Magnus. Postures like Baddha Konasana--Bound Angle Pose and Upavistha Konasana--Seated Wide-Legged Straddle can help lengthen Adductor Magnus.

Be mindful, however, to keep the stretch well distributed in the groin. I've found that many yoga practitioners who suffer from yoga butt aren't necessarily very flexible in their actual hamstrings, but have high mobility in their adductors. I believe this is cause of my ailment. 

You'll Be Okay

As I mentioned before, some bodies aren't meant to have deep forward bends and that's okay! As my teacher frequently says, not everyone gets to do every posture. That has been a hard lesson for me to swallow but it is the absolute truth. You might find yourself seated up on a bolster and multiple folded blankets in Paschimottanasana for the rest of your life. Your ego might get in the way, but you'll be okay. 

In closing, I hope your yoga practice is more than you simply stretching your legs. Of course if your primary goal is to stretch your legs then I am in no place to judge. However, your yoga practice and you have so much more to offer. 

Yoga & My Competitive Spirit

It took a hardcore workout for me to realize I am an incredibly competitive person. Last year I started taking a HIIT style class three to five days a week and at 30 years old I realized I secretly wanted to compete with myself and everyone around me. 

Hmmm... that 53 pound kettlebell I swung last week was pretty tough. Should I try the 62? Of course, I should try the 62! You can't settle with 53!

Sure it's probably a tad unhealthy, but I'm extremely proud of the gains I've made at the gym. I haven't injured myself and I'm (getting better at) being moderate in my workouts when my body is telling me to do so. However, the discovery of my competitive side has been fascinating. I spent a couple years as a competitive cheerleader in high school and I didn't find myself getting worked up at competitions. I put less pressure on myself because I had a badass group of girls to rely on and support me. At the gym it's just me. I have this deep drive to work hard and prove to myself that I can do anything. You want me to run my fastest quarter mile? You better believe I'll try to go faster than I did last week. 

Of course I thought only the gym brought out my competitive side. Turns out I was wrong. This realization of my competitive spirit has caused me to do some major reflecting on the unique qualities of my personality.

Recently I was taking a restorative yoga class and I had this thought:

Sigh... It's so nice to not feel like I have to perform in a certain way in this class. The teacher isn't even really watching me. It's so pleasant to lay on this bolster and feel like I don't have to prove anything to anyone. 

Why don't those thoughts come up in all other yoga classes?!? I should never feel like I need to perform. I should never feel like I have to do anything fancy. I've made huge strides in my personal yoga practice, but unfortunately, I reflect upon the early days of my yoga practice and my competitive nature was clearly present. 

The person next to me is doing Shoulderstand. I probably should do Shoulderstand too even though I know it's not best for my neck. 

I have a block next to me to support me in Splits. Although I know I should use the block, I refuse to be the only person in the room using the block. 

Yoga truly is an examination of the human condition. Perhaps it's my older age that has allowed for me to slow down and realize no one cares if I'm doing Shoulderstand and no one cares if I'm using blocks to support me in Splits. Of course I have learned the error of my ways and I now preach all day long about the benefits of using props in a yoga practice.

Although I have learned to keep my competitive spirit at bay during my yoga practice, I do think my competitive side has helped me. Due to my deep desire to do better and be better I was driven to complete my 300-Hour Teacher Training last year. I've been teaching yoga for quite some time and my competitive nature won't let me settle. It's not a competition between my fellow yoga teachers and me. It's a drive to be the best teacher that I can be. I want to continue to explore my teaching not just for myself but for the benefit of my students. 

Lastly, to my yoga teacher friends, the competition between us as peers can quickly rise up when we start to examine the number of students in our classes. There will always be someone who has more students than you. There will always be someone on Instagram who has more followers or likes than you. Get over it! Just be you. Give what you have to give. Those around you truly appreciate the gifts you have to provide. 

December Challenge: Get Cozy

Holiday got you stressed out? Me too! I have quickly fallen into my usual December pattern. I'm living one day ahead of myself and not sure which side is up. That's when my restorative yoga practice is there to save the day!

Yogis, take some time to get cozy with a yoga bolster in one of my favorite restorative yoga postures--restorative twist. It's super simple:

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  • Find a large, slightly squishy, prop like a bolster, pillow, couch cushion, teddy bear, or even a dog!
  • Place your legs in a narrow Z-like shape
  • Scoot your hips right up to the edge of your prop
  • Lay your torso across your prop
  • You can slide your hands under the prop or experiment with the placement of your arms
  • For less of a twist look in the direction of your knees and for a deeper twist look away from your knees

There's truly no right or wrong way to do this one. Cozy sweatshirt and socks are optional, but definitely worth it. Give it a shot! Snuggle on up!