Let’s Talk Shop: Collaborative Learning for Yoga Teachers

The squeaky wheel gets the grease, right? Ever since my 200 hour YTT ended, I’ve been squeaking away about wanting another opportunity to learn in relationship with others, in community.

I remember how awesome it was to move, observe and discuss the intricacies of anatomy, philosophy and politics with a diverse group of people, and I miss that. I’ve kept on learning on my own, and while self inquiry and practice is important, it’s just not the same thing, watching videos on my laptop and farting around on my mat at home.

Good news: with the announcement of the Queen Street Yoga Teacher’s Immersion, Leena and Emma have just greased up this squeaky wheel big time, and now I’m swirling like a merry-go-round! I know what it’s like to learn at QSY because I did my initial 200-hour training there, and what I experienced was excellent pedagogy, diverse and forward-looking perspectives, and outside experts brought in with intentionality and purpose. Beyond that, Leena and Emma are masterful at holding space, nurturing community and guiding both individual and group learning with consistent and clear support and care. The way they lead trainings with both wisdom and curiosity, experience and reflection is inspiring and makes for a true learning community.

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Don’t Tell Me to Relax: Body Positivity & Mindfulness

The other day, someone told me to relax.

I was feeling worked up, and they were feeling impatient with me. So their shortcut to harmony was to tell me to “relax!”

You can imagine how that went.

I didn’t lash out at them, but I did feel hurt. I wasn’t trying to be dramatic, but I had real feelings about the situation. And being told to relax was a quick dismissal of my feelings, rather than an acknowledgement of them.

I have this same thought about the phrase “Love your body,” which is a phrase I don’t really use, especially not when I am teaching yoga. I don’t think it’s bad, I just think it’s on the same end of the spectrum as “relax.” It is an instruction that, while well-intentioned, might miss the point. Telling someone (even yourself) to “love your body” may not acknowledge the real and complex experience that you have with your body. That it might be hard to love your body when you feel that the world has been telling you it’s ugly, dysfunctional, or bad your whole life. It might be hard to love your body if your body is the site of trauma. It might be hard to love your body if your body is in pain a lot of the time, or experiences anxiety or depression.

What I wish my friend had asked me (instead of telling me to relax) was simply “What’s going on?” Taking a moment to acknowledge my feelings might have made a huge difference in how I was able to be present.

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Let Someone Else Cook – Fall Retreat

I called it my artist’s retreat, to describe to others why I was going away all by myself.  I have always been one to juggle too many balls in the form of jobs, socializing, craft projects and learning new things. A few balls in particular had been dropped for too long, so I decided to set aside some time just for them. I began constructing an agenda of how I’d spend my time on my fantastic retreat: yoga practice, meditation, plenty of sleep, hikes and bike rides through the wilderness, and above all, making a lot of art.

I booked a cabin for the week leading up to the Summer Solstice. I was ready to get up early, tackle my art and get somewhere with my meditation and yoga practice. But my retreat had something else in store for me.

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Getting Better with Age

I need to tell you about Arlene and Julie.

Arlene started coming to my classes ten years ago, when I was teaching out of a small rented space in Waterloo. One day after class she came up to me and said something I have never forgotten. With a big smile on her face she exclaimed, “I think this yoga is actually making a difference! Yesterday I was playing with my grandkids on the floor, and I realized that for the first time in years, I was actually comfortable sitting on the floor with them!”

I think back to that story often. It has stayed with me and became my inspiration for learning how to make yoga more accessible and useful for people in their golden years. Arlene, who was now completely sold on yoga, rallied a crew of friends to help me get a Basics class going at a time that worked well for everyone. I have been teaching that same group of students now every Wednesday morning for the past 8 years. It’s been fun and fulfilling to learn alongside those folks, many of whom are 60-75 now. One of my students, in fact, just turned 85! These past 8 years of teaching this demographic of “goldeners” and the continued studies I’ve been doing in strength and functional movement, led me to develop courses and special content for people 50+, specifically my Yoga for Dynamic Aging course that launched last spring.

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Why we’re jealous of yoga teachers in KW

Emma from Queen Street Yoga here. And if you are a yoga teacher in KW, I’m jealous of you.  😉

When I did my teacher training, I had to travel. Not to glamourous locations like Costa Rica or India, but to small studios in freezing Winnipeg and land-locked Cincinnati. I travelled because I am picky – I knew who I wanted to study with, and I was willing to go the distance. I slept on couches, spent hours on Greyhound buses. One time I even got turned away from the US border (that is a story for another day). It was exciting to see new places and learn new things, but it was also a slog.

I experienced wonderful bonds and community with the people in my trainings (200hr and beyond), but it was hard to sustain the excitement and conversation once I returned homeLeena was the only other yoga teacher in KW that was studying the same type of yoga as me. So for a long time, it was just her and I, talking about teaching and practicing together.

Leena and I took over the leadership of Queen Street Yoga in 2012 and since then, have created the kind of yoga teacher trainings that we wish we could have taken. Leena also travelled a lot for training, and while it was cool for her to study with Ram Dass in Maui (just a little name-dropping for ya), it lacked the continuity and growth that comes with ongoing community. Our teacher trainings in the last few years have aimed to connect individuals to a lively and regular sense of community – that “thing” that most of us are seeking in our lives. With the practice of yoga and mindfulness at the centre, our trainings have evolved to become transformative communities.

Here’s where my jealousy comes in. This year, Leena and I have curated a Continuing Education program for yoga and movement teachers with some of the top teachers in Canada. All of them are leaders in their fields, and they are doing wonderful things for the world of movement education.

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Why Your Feet Hurt

You are not going to want to hear this.

Your feet hurt because of the shoes you wear.

Hold on a second! I can hear you saying. I wear practical, supportive footwear. I don’t even wear high heels! It is *not* my shoes.

I know. Your shoes may seem like a smart choice. But…it’s probably still your shoes.

Alright, the shoe thing is a bit of an oversimplification. Your feet probably hurt for a number of reasons. One is that our culture has created a flattened world so that our ankles, calves and feet are conditioned to walking only on artificially flat and hard terrain. This has consequences for our feet and our whole bodies, as our feet are deprived of the different kinds of movement and conditioning they would get if they had to walk on different textured and varied ground. And don’t even get me started on how much we sit. So partially your feet hurt because they don’t move enough, in enough different ways.

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“If you can’t do crow pose, you’re not a good person.” Nah. We don’t think so.

Sometimes when I am teaching, I feel a bit like a stand-up comedian. Depending on the mood and tone of the class, I might crack a lot of jokes, and add silly sound effects. Like a stand-up comedian, I try to poke fun at assumptions in our culture, usually those particular to the context of a yoga class.

With a sense of irony, I say things like:

“And if you can’t do crow pose, just know that you’re not as good of a person as everyone else.”

or

“Come out of this pose whenever you want. But you might not. Because peer pressure is real.”

When people laugh, I know I have struck a chord. The laughter denotes recognition of some sliver of truth. The truth that we still might be holding ideas about our physical abilities being equated to our moral character. Or how we have been conditioned to go along with a group, instead of listening to our individual needs.

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