Weird Stuff Happens Sometimes

The past week has been weird. And by weird I mean trying and enlightening.

The touchscreen on my iPhone 6 went out on a Thursday. Now this truly is not a big deal. In the moment I was frustrated. I rely far too heavily on that device, but it was time for its four year-old life to end. I went to the Apple Store and weighed my options. The husband recommended I get a used phone through a third-party provider, however, I’d have to wait a few days for the phone. In the moment I desperately wanted my phone back so I asked my husband to pay extra (like a lot extra) to have the phone express shipped. I would receive my phone in 2-3 business days, rather than the typical 5-7 business days. (Continue reading and you’ll see why this specific detail is comical.)

I survived over four whole days without a cell phone, and guess what? I was fine! On Monday evening I received my new-to-me iPhone 8 and all was right in the world!

The unexpected cell phone expense was a downer, but triathlon training was making me feel great! I crushed a 2000 meter swim in the pool. I created a 5.5 mile sweaty, drippy trail during a training run in what felt like a billion degree heat. Things were great! Until they weren’t.

Now it’s Wednesday and I’ve had my new-to-me iPhone 8 for almost two days. After a long day of teaching I had dinner with a friend. The humidity was breaking and it seemed like a lovely idea to have our dinner outside. After a great meal and even better conversation, my friend and I paid our bills. We were wrapping things up when all of a sudden a person on a Nice Ride rental bike rode by and swiped my clutch/wallet/false purse (describing it to the police made me realize its classification was too confusing) from the table. After a brief moment of shock, my instinct was to run after the person. Sadly my legs could only manage a few blocks and I lost him.

In the moment I knew what was happening, but it felt as though I was watching it from outside myself. That clutch/wallet/false purse was just stolen by someone on a Nice Ride rental bike, but that’s okay. It’s not your clutch/wallet/false purse. Unfortunately, that’s not at all what happened. It was definitely my clutch/wallet/false purse and it contained just about everything important. The person on the Nice Ride got away with my drivers license, debit/credit cards, car keys, passport (yes, I’m very much aware that one should not regularly carry their passport), and the iPhone 8 that was in my possession for 48 hours.

That experience sucked. I needed to let myself be upset. The police heard me drop more F-bombs than I’ve probably ever said in my entire life (totally false). Eventually all I could do was cancel everything, utilize my spare car key, and move on. I didn’t sleep a wink that night and literally made myself sick. Feeling out of control and vulnerable is the worst feeling ever, especially for a control freak like me.

The next morning I rolled out of bed and had to take control again. One by one I checked off the list of all the things I needed to replace or renew. I gathered every single important document in my possession to renew my license after waiting for an hour at the DMV. I shared my story with horrified bank tellers who replaced my debit card. I went to not one, but two AT&T stores to replace my new-to-me iPhone 8. It’s kind of sick, but by the end of the day I felt like a boss! I checked off that to-do list and felt incredibly accomplished. The person on the Nice Ride may have ruined my Wednesday night, but I was going to make my Thursday glorious!

Although I was busy cleaning up the mess the thief had thrown upon me, all day Thursday I kept being overwhelmed by gratitude. It was odd. I mean I should have been raging mad for weeks! But I wasn’t. As I waited to replace my drivers license at the DMV I was grateful I had a flexible job where I had a huge chunk of open time in my day. I didn’t have to take a day off, file PTO, or sub out classes to sit and wait for my number to be called. As I drove to the bank to replace my debit card I was grateful I had proper transportation to get from point A to B. When I was setting up an installment plan to pay for a new phone at AT&T I was grateful I had a job and the resources to pay for a new device.

Weird stuff happens sometimes. It’s the weird stuff, however, that keeps things in perspective. That jerk on the Nice Ride did what he did and I can’t undo his actions. I have the ability to dust myself off, move on, and take a look around at the brighter side. On that brighter side I had a husband who held me up when I was falling down on Wednesday night. I had an incredible friend who watched the madness unfold and afterward generously and kindly did anything and everything he could in that moment. I had two amazing women who, although they didn’t know, tried desperately to follow the person on the Nice Ride in their car to help me out.

People on Nice Ride rental bikes might swipe your belongings from your table, but I promise you there’s goodness out there too.

On a final note, I’m happy to share that my belongings, minus the cell phone, were found on Friday night. Of course this was after I had canceled everything in the clutch/wallet/false purse, but I’ve got my car keys back and the piece of mind that my belongings aren’t just floating out there somewhere.

Before I wrap up this blog post that went on for too long, I want to be clear that having your sensitive information stolen is terrible and looking at the brightside isn’t going to fix or change anything. Looking at the brightside in many instances isn’t even a freaking option! But when it is an option, take the option! If you’re like me and something as small as a hangnail ruins your month it can feel impossible to think positively. But the longer we allow ourselves to fall further and further into the hole of despair the harder it is to get ourselves out. When stuff gets weird, let it get weird. When you want to freak out, let yourself freak out! Just remember that perspective is also important. A brief look around might be exactly what you need even in the weirdest of times.

Thoughts on a Decade of Teaching Yoga: Five Ways My Teaching Has Adapted

This fall I’ll be coming up on my tenth year as a yoga teacher. As I get closer to my teaching anniversary I figured I’d write a little bit about my process, where I see myself going in my teaching career, and reflect upon some of my favorite moments.

I recently had a friend ask me how my teaching style has changed throughout the years and what motivated my changes. Oh, boy. My teaching has changed quite a bit! I figured I’d put together five ways in which my teaching has adapted and changed over these last ten years.

These are in no particular order, but beautifully layer on top of one another.

1. Different Understanding of Flow

I came to yoga as a dancer. It was a natural transition and ultimately yoga became my new form of choreography. As a young yoga student I loved to flow and move rapidly through postures. My teaching also mirrored that style. I would put together massive sequences that would flow more than a dozen postures together on one side of the body and eventually I’d get around to teaching the other side. I truly thought all yoga classes were conducted in this manner.

Now, my classes are quite different. As I exposed myself to more styles of yoga and different teaching communities, I learned that flow doesn’t have to mean moving through a million standing postures. Flow can be simply connecting your breathing to the lifting and lowering of your arms in a seated position. In the last couple years I’ve started to lean heavily on teaching quarter, half, and variations on lunging salutations. Most students leave my classes amazed that simple movement helps warm the body and allows for a deeper connection to the breath.

2. Simplicity

Piggy-backing off of number one, I’ve noticed I have simplified my teaching. No longer are big flows the draw. Students tend to appreciate my classes for their stripped down quality. I now pack in less content in my classes. Less content let’s me thoroughly drive home the concepts and information I’m trying to convey.

In the same realm, through simplifying my classes I develop curriculum that students can follow. I stick with concepts, ideas, and families of postures for one to three months so that students can soak up the information. Yoga is a subject to be learned over time. Massive flows that change each class aren’t always the best breeding ground for learning.

3. Strength v. Flexibility

Again, I was a dancer when I was introduced to yoga. I wanted to gain flexibility so that my degage was higher. I definitely gained mobility through the practice of yoga and I appreciate my ability to easily move my hips and shoulders as I get older.

However, my teacher, Jason, shed light on the fact that vinyasa yoga often includes a lot of lengthening and stretching of muscles, but not a lot of the opposite. Take Urdhva Dhanurasana—Wheel Pose as an example. In my first few years of teaching if I taught a class on Wheel I would emphasize shoulder, spinal, and front of hip mobility. All of those things are still great and necessary! But now my classes also highlight shoulder, glute, and hamstring strengthening and engagement to support Wheel.

Especially with age, I have found students are gaining more range of motion when keeping a posture active as opposed to passive. Now there’s lots of debates on the topic, but that’s what I’ve experienced in my own practice and in the classes I teach. Plus, adding a new element to a posture just keeps things more interesting! It’s like making a posture three dimensional when you address flexibility and strength.

4. There’s More to Yoga Than Making Shapes

This is something I’ve always been aware of as a student of yoga, but didn’t always take to heart. Early on vinyasa yoga was my therapy session, my hour to connect with a community, my meditation, but above all else it was my workout. I wanted to leave a yoga practice feeling like I had been worked!

Using a vinyasa yoga practice as a workout is great, and if that resonates with you then stick with it! For me, the attachment to yoga as a physical workout had to change. In the fall of 2016 I started working out at a boutique gym, Fly Feet Running. They got me running, lifting, and working harder physically than I ever had in my life. And I loved every minute of it!

Because my physical body was getting worked so hard in the gym I was less interested in working hard in my yoga practices. Everything slowed down for me. I started to use my yoga practice as a way to slow down and nurture my body. I became more interested in doing a seated meditation practice over working handstands. Again, approaching the practice of yoga as a workout is great! But, for me, finding a new physical outlet made my yoga practice more sacred and important than ever before. That same idea has bled into how I structure the classes I teach, too.

5. I Got Older

When I started teaching yoga I was 23 years old. I was insecure, drowning in student debt, and had zero direction in life. When I taught classes I wanted to please everyone. If I ever got a complaint I would carry it with me for weeks! I would even take requests from students because all I wanted to do was please the masses.

Inevitably I got older in this last decade. I truly think getting older has created the largest impact on my yoga teaching. A large part of my teaching has simply slowed down. Getting older will do that to ya! Also, getting older means you feel less pressure to conform. This might be unique to me, but the moment I turned 30 I started caring less about how others see me. Of course I still care deeply about my students and want to provide the best experience possible in my classes, but I am now secure in my teaching techniques and who I am as a human being. My confidence has allowed for me to grow as a teacher and fully explore my style of teaching yoga without doubting or judging myself.

Be Unapologetically Passionate

Every once and a while after I teach a class a student will approach me with something along the lines of “I love how excited you get when you teach.”

The Minnesotan in me immediately wants to crawl back into my shell and wait things out when faced with a comment like that. My internal reaction is bizarre but real. When a student comments on my excitement I instantly see myself as a circus clown parading around my circus ring (the yoga room) in my oversized pants and a ridiculous smile painted on my face. I am a caricature waiting to pull terribly unconvincing fake flowers from my top hat just to entertain the masses.

As I’ve written many times before, the internal dialogue of a human being is outrageous. When a student shares with me that they appreciate my excitement it means they appreciate my excitement. It’s not a jab. It’s not a slight at my occupation. A student is sharing an observation and there’s no need to read any further.

It’s absurd that excitement seems like an emotion that should be contained. Excitement expresses passion. Passion expresses a sense of caring. Teaching yoga is my passion. I care very deeply about teaching yoga and sharing the benefits of yoga with others. So what if I come across like an overly zealous clown? I should be proud that students see and appreciate my passion.

Perhaps my thoughts on containing outward passion is connected to being a woman and the fear of coming across as crazy or hysterical. (That’s another post entirely.) When someone approaches me and commends me for being passionate I should embrace the acknowledgement. And you should do the same. We should all be so lucky to have a passion that we get to share with others.

If you have a passion, lean into that passion. Don’t face appreciation with guilt or internal storytelling. Be passionate. Be unapologetically passionate.

I Got a New Toothbrush and Why We All Need to Slow Down

My husband recently got us new toothbrushes. They’re these fancy electric toothbrushes that are set on a two minute timer. When I first used the toothbrush I didn’t think much of it. However, this toothbrush has taught me some important lessons in just a few uses.

Please don’t think I have terrible dental hygiene. I mean, I might, but don’t let what I’m about to share with you create judgements around my hygiene. Prior to this magical electric toothbrush I used to spend my tooth brushing time as a way to get other things done too. For instance, in the morning I would start brushing my teeth, bite down on the toothbrush, leave the bathroom to pack my bag for the day, put on my shoes, etc. and then I’d go back to brushing. I’d use my tooth brushing time to multitask. I’d scramble around the house with my toothbrush just hanging out of my mouth. In all honesty, was I actually taking good care of my teeth? Was I intentionally packing all the things I actually needed for my day?

It’s not just during my tooth brushing time. In general I have this terrible habit of multitasking. I used to express pride in my multitasking abilities. I can do five different things at once! Look at how productive I am! But was I actually being productive? Or was I just doing a bunch of things with half-assed effort? My mind is literally like my internet browser. I’ve got too many tabs open at the same time. But why?

This new toothbrush forced me to change my routine. The first time I used it I found myself trying to bite down on it while I also pulled back my hair. Nope. That wasn’t going to happen. That darn thing vibrated my whole mouth and it did not feel good. Well, I guess I’m just brushing my teeth now. I also found myself trying to walk around while brushing, but then toothpaste started to dribble down my face. Okay. Looks like I’m gonna park myself in front of this sink. Another great thing about this toothbrush is the built in two minute timer. For two whole minutes I have to stand in my bathroom, in front of my sink, and only brush my teeth. IT IS THE ONLY THING I CAN DO IN THAT MOMENT! It sounds totally insane, because for most people this is probably a regular part of their daily routine, but this is new for me! At least twice a day I spend two minutes focusing just on brushing my teeth. A small signal to slow down a bit has become the greatest way to start and end my day.

Perhaps it’s the toothbrush epiphany, but I’ve found myself disconnecting from social media a bit lately. It’s so busy and loud and truly taking me out of what’s actually happening in front of me. When you step away from the action of constantly checking your phone you begin to realize how prevalent it has become. The other day I had to step out of someone’s way as I was walking downtown because they wouldn’t look up from their phone while walking down the sidewalk. Every time I drive by a bus station just about every single person is staring at their phone. Have we lost the ability to just be without letting visual and audible noises from a phone fill our space? Have we lost the skill of speaking words or communicating with those around us without a phone being involved?

This isn’t me coming down on society, because I’m 100% guilty of this too, but it seems like the moments where we slow down physically is when the mind runs rampant. We have the desire to just fill the void. I notice this in just about every yoga class I teach. The moment I get quiet vocally and ask students to slow down physically half or more of the students’ eyes start to wander and the focus (that I can perceive as an outsider) gets lost. Again, I am not innocent in this situation. I can barely drive my car in silence. I don’t like cooking or cleaning without music or a podcast in the background. I get bored after running a couple miles because my mind is too distracted!

Physical and mental quietness is freaking hard! But my daily habits, and perhaps yours as well, aren’t helping the situation. A yoga practice can absolutely guide us in the right direction. For me, yoga is all about awareness. The first step to getting comfortable with getting quiet is simply being aware of the discomfort. You might be asked to hold a yoga posture for a while and if your first reaction is to fidget and adjust, just be aware of it. Perhaps the simple awareness can calm your desire to adjust. Same goes for a seated meditation. Trust me. Meditation is no easy feat, but it gets easier with time. When in meditation your mind will wander. It just will. Let it start with awareness. Be aware of the wandering and move on. Rather than tracing the wandering and heading toward the origin, think of it as a tiny blip on the radar and that blip is going to pass on by. Just like your desire to fidget in a posture or fill silence by checking your phone. Let that blip pass you by.

Perhaps a seated meditation practice isn’t your thing. However, I think we all can benefit from slowing down, becoming aware, and settle into some discomfort. And if meditation isn’t your thing, perhaps a fancy electric toothbrush will do the trick.

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!