Category Archives: Teaching

Best cue I heard all week: Take your Xiphoid process in… ???

I heard something in a yoga class, with Kim Weeks yesterday that I hadn’t heard before… As I was in class tonight, with Marie Belle, it was hard because MB has lots of great cues, but I found myself thinking… “can I tuck the xp here?, what happens when I tuck it there?, how have I never done this before?”

Let me interupt myself to say something about those two teachers I just mentioned, one is famous, one is going to be.  Kim has been voted best teacher in DC for two years.  Why I only took a class from her this weekend is beyond me, but at least I’ve started.  She taught me quite a bit in 2 hours, especially this XP thing we’re going to talk about.

Dr. Marie Belle… I could fill a blog explaining how when I call her incredibly gifted, in terms of practice, intellect, communication ability, presence in the class room… it is an understatement.  She’s off all the charts.  But I’m not sure you’d really get it.  If you are in DC, take a class from her.  If you aren’t, don’t worry, she’ll be famous soon, I’m calling it.  Since I’m not going to explain how good she is, I’ll leave you with her FB profile shot… this picture is incredible. (Someone send this to YJ!)

Back to the XP… How many times have you heard it?  “Tuck the tail bone.”  It is generally heard in the vicinity of “pull the tummy up and in” or “draw the pubic bone up” (which often results in confused newbies!)  But these are all after the same thing, shortening the front body; containing the energy, expanding through the back body.  All good things which improve the integrity of a variety of poses from Mountain to Wheel.

It matters because many Yogis walk around with hyperflexible lumbar joints… In English: Yogis can crank their lower back way open, some of them seem like they have a hinge joint where the rest of us have a spine.  And while this is good for photoshoots and contortionists, it may not mean they are using their front body which means less integrity, less solidity, less connection.

If you are willing to believe that shortening the front body is useful, keep reading.  If you need convincing, this isn’t the blog for you, I’m just trying to share a good cue.

Tailbonetucking, pubicbonepulling, tummyinsucking, is all well and good, but it only addresses the bottom of the core.  Especially for those of us who have cultivated open lower backs.  What about the top?  Again the anatomy-inspired teachers come up with something like “Broaden your back, pulling your ribs up and in, lengthening your back body…”  And I’m confused.  After years of A-inspried classes, I’m still not sure I know how to move a rib. 

I need one point, on my body that I can touch, that will help me move all those other things I’m not sure I know how to move.  I need the Xiphoid Process.

Try it.  Pick a pose.  Heck, sit at your desk reading this.  Tuck, pull, etc. Pretty good.  Now, take your Xiphoid Process and, on the exhale for good measure, pull it into the body.  Put a finger on it, to be sure, it is the little bit sticking out at the bottom of sternum, between the ribs.  When I do that with the TuckPullEtc.  My whole back opens up.

Even better, when I do it backbends, yes, backbends, I feel all sorts of wonderful stretches.  Let me know if this was helpful.  What are your favorite cues?

Have you hugged your yoga teacher lately? A guest blog by Cara George

My Dad introduced me to yoga in the mid-90s when I was an angst-y teenager who refused to wear anything other than my maroon Doc Marten boots. It was a big deal for me to be barefoot in spandex and co-mingling with hippies, but I loved it too much to allow the hippies to ruin it for me (I love hippies now, by the way!). Fast forward 17 years and here I am today, having just finished a Yoga District Teacher Training. It was teachers like Mike who intensified my love for yoga and inspired me to finally do a training after all of this time. I had taken Mike’s class a gazilion times before doing the training, and he was kind enough to allow me to observe a few of his classes as part of my training requirements.

Observing a yoga class was new territory for me. Honestly, my expectation was that I would grow frustrated as I sat idle watching fellow yogis sweat it out over a few rounds of Eka Pada Koundinyasana. But that wasn’t the case! At the risk of sounding like the recent “Shit Yogis Say” youtube video, watching a yoga class unfold is a wildly illuminating, psychedelic and energetic experience. One that will make you rethink the power of collective energy, and further acknowledge the intense appreciation you have for your teacher.

Teachers are the train conductors. And by train, I’m not referring to the civilized Amtrak quiet car, but rather Ozzy Osbourne’s crazy train going off the rails. Think about it: there they are with a room full of passengers ready (or not) to be taken on a trip through breath and posture, and perhaps even feed their spirit along the way. They all differ in body, mind, experience, and attitude, but all of them hope the conductor will get them to where they need to go. In addition to ensuring that the train leaves on time and all are, indeed, aboard, teachers are also conducting the sequencing, music, timing, demonstrating, people who aren’t listening, people who aren’t thinking, and people who are thinking too much. And once they have a handle on all of that, they, of course, also need to make sure that no one is going to break any one of their 206 bones (a number I learned in Teacher Training!). This requires intense preparation, or an uncanny ability to innovate and improvis

But there’s one more thing that they do. As you already know, there is an intense amount of collective energy in a yoga class. Up until I observed class, I experienced this energy from my own mat. Always grateful to my fellow yogis for their energetic contributions, I still internalized it and channeled it for my own body and mind. The energy can be uplifting, intense, sad, filled with joy, or some combination of them all. Watching this energy evolve was fascinating, and it’s the teacher who plays a vital role in the evolution. The energy is the constant. When that many people get together to breath, reflect, practice asana and meditate, a build-up of energy is simply unavoidable. The variable, however, is the power we give to it and the methods we use to channel it. And this is where the teacher comes in.e on the spot. Or both.

The power of collective energy is palpable. I’ve observed two classes thus far, and each one had their own energetic identity.

The first class was filled with an intense joy and lightheartedness, but only after about 30 minutes of intense asana. People arrived to this class quiet and almost somber, but strangely the energy shifted and joy was all around. Mike played a major role in this by allowing the energy to evolve naturally, but also guiding it, knowing when to let it ride, when to make a joke, when to talk dharma.

The second class was practically the opposite. People arrived jovial and giggly, to the point where it became necessary for Mike to do a longer centering practice in the beginning that included pranayama and chanting. This set the energetic tone and there was an undeniable intensity in the room. Yogis seemed to be entranced by the music and the collective breath was loud and full of life. As the class progressed, the intensity continued to build and it was impossible to ignore. Mike, once again, knew when to let it build, when to take it down a notch by cracking a joke, and when to bring people’s attention to it. At the end of that class we sat together, riding high from the collective energy. We listened as Mike spoke about the energy in the room, guiding us to tune-in to it, internalize it, share it, and use it for powerful transformation.

I suppose this blog post is a really, really long-winded way of saying that it takes a lot to be a great yoga teacher. So….have you hugged your yoga teacher today?

About Cara Her dad introduced her to yoga in the mid-90’s and…wow! what a gift. Since then, Cara has moved around a lot, but has never forgotten to bring along her yoga and meditation practice. From Pittsburgh to Prague to New York and most recently to DC, Cara has been incredibly lucky to have found amazing yogis along the way. Yoga and meditation have allowed Cara to see that the divine is truly everywhere. She has a fondness for aesthetic, artistic and visual expression, which is what inspired her to go to architecture school and what makes her job as a designer really, really fun!

Careful with those stones, windows are expensive… (Re: JF Anusara Scandal)

In case you haven’t heard, John Friend of Anusara was recently accused of many things and has said that he did have relationships with students.  The blogsphere has gotten hectic.  You can follow a gillion links from the most recent Yoga Dork posting, if you are hungry for the details.  My favorite post so far is Naomi’s which reminds us to calm down.  I agree.

Predictably, we have seen other postings that remind all teachers not to have relationships with students.  My teacher Peg posted a thoughtful teacher reminder list today where #4 spoke to this.  My friend Michael Hall posted a very clear statement today entitled Why Fcking your Students is Wrong.  Let’s leave the JF Anusara scandal for a second and think about this…

I am not defending John Friend and I’m not suggesting that teacher should have free reign to sleep with the student of their choice.  I am saying that a broad sweeping statements saying that a relationship between a yoga teacher and a student is categorically wrong might go too far.  It is just not that black and white.

I am well qualified to speak to this since I’m hopelessly in love with and about to marry someone who took my class once.  Furthermore, in my six years of teaching, I have dated people I met at Yoga.  Many of these relationships were great, some were mistakes but most were the beginnings of good friendships.  It was just like real life.

Here are 5 discrete thoughts to consider, take or leave them.  But please think a bit before letting this scandal result in throwing lots of stones and making lots of rules that might not serve us.

Community: We talk about the Yoga community all the time.  This group of friends that forms around a shared experience is just wonderful.  Whenever I have a single friend who tells me they want to “find someone,” I always respond with: “Go do what you love and find them there.”  If that person loves Yoga, joins that community and finds someone there, so be it.  If that person loves Yoga enough to be teaching it… still ok.

Reality check: I remember in one of the TT’s I took, this question came up: can we date people we meet taking class?  There was discussion and one fellow male teacher said it best, I will paraphrase and if he wants to claim or amend this comment he can:

…let me get this straight, I love Yoga.  I teach Yoga.  All I do is teach, travel and do Yoga.   I am single and I would like to find a partner.  My classes are full of wonderful women who also love yoga.  If I have a connection with one of them, am I supposed to turn my back and… go to a bar in the hopes of meeting someone?  That seems silly.

We are not religious leaders: Yoga is a spiritual practice and as “teachers” we are helping other Yogis explore this great and mysterious practice.  But that’s it.  Here is what I know, here is my experience of it, take what you want leave the rest behind.  I have not and will never claim to be enlightened or a ‘guru’, nor do I tell my students to do anything that they disagree with.  (I only say “trust me” when I’m teaching handstand.)  I did not take a vow of celibacy nor do I confuse myself with a priest.

I am a seeker who offers classes, some people take them.  Some take them often and some people call me a teacher and I consider them students.  And we have mutual respect and enjoy time together.  If I violated that relationship to exploit them sexually that would clearly be wrong.  If, however, two grown adults meet in a classroom and they experience a connection and want to explore that outside the studio, then I don’t see that as wrong.   If that morphs into a romantic relationship… it is nothing more than part of the human experience.

Use your judgement: Having said all this, there are times when young attractive students come up to teachers after class and they are in a zone and have confused the wonderful state of higher connection they are feeling with other forms of connection.  And they would like to connect.  If you have been teaching long, you are nodding right now.  I completely agree that it is our responsibility to kindly give these students space rather than to suggest we talk about a down dog over a nice martini.  This is a obvious case where Yoga Ethics are clear.

Bottom line? If I had seen my fiance and said “Wow, that woman might just be the one.”  But then said “shame I met her in my class, guess I can’t talk to her.”  That would have been a huge mistake.  Like most other things in Yoga and real life, when in doubt, leave it out.  But to live our lives with an abundance of rules dogma and a minimum of judgement, that just doesn’t feel right.

The events around John Friend and Anusara will play themselves out.  But come on Yogis,  righteous indignation and broad sweeping commandments do not become us.  Let us instead reflect and practice.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

– Plato