You’re unique–shouldn’t your yoga be?

Yoga has a dirty secret: it’s not perfect, it’s not a panacea, and it’s not one-size fits all.

When I began a regular yoga practice over a decade ago, I was amazed at the benefits–my body felt better, my mind clearer, my heart lighter. I wanted to share this practice with EVERYONE. But when I began to try teaching to obliging family and friends, it immediately became clear to me that a few of my favorite poses just weren’t accessible to everyone. Not only that, but I began to feel the niggling sense that something was missing. Luckily, in 2011 I began yoga teacher training with our lead-trainer, Amanda McMaine.

Amanda has spent decades as a dancer, a trained kinesiologist, an Iyengar yogi, a Level III Yoga Nidra teacher, a practitioner of Body-Mind Centering, Alexander Technique, tai chi, and qi gong, a hiker, climber, swimmer and hula-hooper. In my years of study with Amanda and a community of like-minded practitioners, I’ve been able to cultivate the understanding that body and mind are meant to MOVE, and thrive on variability of demand. We can’t practice the same 26 (or 30…or 50) postures every day or week and expect to avoid injury, much less to flourish. While yoga certainly offers some diversity of movement, it doesn’t offer everything – for the body OR the mind.

Our  yoga teacher trainers come from diverse backgrounds, both in life and in yoga. We believe being open to exploring the breadth of styles and knowledge that the yoga tradition has to offer, while learning the kinesiology and safe practice of asana, AND being open to experiencing other modalities, allows us to teach the yoga we want to teach. 

Check out this article from Yoga International on Cross-Training. What are your thoughts?

And enroll today if you’re ready to begin your exploration into all that yoga has to offer, without limiting yourself to that rectangular yoga mat! You’re unique–shouldn’t your yoga be?

Post by Cara Sparkman

Why do we practice?

Most of us come to yoga as a way to help ourselves–to relieve pain, to breathe, to feel the body moving, to still the mind. And it works! Evidence based research is beginning to catch up to what we feel in our bones: that yoga just flat-out works. Studies have shown that yoga does, in fact, relieve pain, that it improves the quality of the breath, that it enhances overall physical health, and that it helps relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression. We feel more connected. More bright. More free.

So we go along doing yoga for ourselves, and then one day, we realize that the benefits of our yoga reach into our jobs and our relationships. We feel ourselves getting angry about so-and-so, and we pause. We take a step back. We make a different choice. We share our light.

And finally, one day, we reach the conclusion that when we get on our mat, we’re doing it for the world. The time we spend on that two by six piece of sticky mat creates ripples that reach out into our local, and even global community. We don’t always know how our down dog will affect someone else, but we know somehow it will. So when we begin to feel the dark divisiveness of the 24-hour news-cycle, we step onto our mats, we practice, and we SHINE.

Here at The Essence of Yoga Center, our vision is the ‘higher purpose’ of evolving the consciousness of the planet, one student at a time, starting with ourselves.  We want to set new standards for yoga practice and teacher training that combine modern, evidenced-based, scientific research and reflective methodologies with ancient philosophy, and mindful, spiritual practices. Interested in learning more about our 200 and 300 hour Yoga Immersion and Teacher Training Programs? Contact us!

Yowza!

Our lead trainer, Amanda McMaine, has been hard at work transforming her studio into a supportive environment for our Community of Practice. Check out these gorgeous photos!

Sneak peek!

We’ve been continuing to work hard to refine our offerings for our 200 and 300 hour Yoga Immersion Teacher Training Programs. Whether you’re already enrolled, or still thinking about enrolling, but looking for a bit more information, check out the coursework descriptions for the first weekend of the 200 hour Yoga Immersion Program!

Saturday October 21

9:00am-1:00pm & 3:30-6:00pm

Breath and Posture:  Growing into greater harmony

  • Amanda McMaine, MS, E-RYT 500 YACEP Lead Teacher

Description:  What is optimal posture and how does it affect our future? Learn a safe way to practice yoga through the study of anatomy and kinesiology and refinement of basic postural poses.  Understand how to create optimal alignment and axial extension in the spine to support a sense of balance in the musculoskeletal system and ease in the breath. Learn common postural patterns and therapeutic applications to encourage a sense of safety and fluidity in movement. Breath work will provide a sense of embodiment, body-mind awareness, and freedom from unconscious restrictions.  This class will also introduce sanskrit terminology for postural poses.

2:00pm-3:00pm

Yoga Anatomy:  Postural Skeleton—The Spine

  •  Mark Bisesi, MD, RYT 200

Description:  What is the anatomy of the spine that supports our posture? Learn normal boney structure—joints, ligaments, tendons—and function of the postural skeleton.

Sunday October 22

9:00- 10:30am

Postural Poses & Breath Work: Establishing a personal practice routine

  • Cara Sparkman, RYT 500

Description:  How do we begin a personal practice routine following the principles of alignment-based, therapeutically-oriented asana? Review, discuss and practice asanas and breath work that are the building blocks of better posture in a safe and supportive yoga community of practice.

11:00pm-12:00pm, 1:00pm-2:00pm

Yoga Anatomy:  Postural Muscles—Inner core unit & postural diaphragms 

  •  Mark Bisesi, MD, RYT 200

Description:  What are the postural muscles? Learn about the structure and function of the three postural diaphragms and the inner core unit which stabilize and support our postural poses and breathing. Understand the differences between the intrinsic stabilizer and the extrinsic mobilizer muscles of the core.

2:00-5:00pm

Establishing a Yoga Community of Practice (CoP):  Learning circle rituals & reflective self-inquiry

  • Tanja Bisesi PhD, E-RYT 200, RYT 500, YACEP

Description:  What is a yoga Community of Practice (CoP)?  What are Learning Circles and reflective practices and how can they support personal transformation and growth within community?  Participate in a Learning Circle as we engage in reflective self-inquiry and establish a yoga (CoP) for ongoing personal and community learning and development.

 

(photo courtesy of Mandy Kiley, LMT, RYT 500)

The Heart of Community – Nonviolent Communication in Practice

Community is the space where most yoga practice, learning, and teaching takes place in the modern age. While one-on-one yoga therapeutic relationships are also growing as an approach, particularly in yoga therapy, the guru-student model of ancient yoga, and critiqued by VK Harber in her Yoga International article, Does the Guru-Student Model Work in Modern Yoga? (April 26, 2016), appears to be giving way to more contemporary, community-based perspectives.  One need only google ‘yoga community’ to quickly discover the countless options for yoga community that exist today across the globe—communities of practice with diverse self-inquiry intentions including, but not limited to, self-care, self-discovery, and self-empowerment for both individual and social justice. Participating in yoga communities as a student and teacher, as well as studying these communities as a yoga researcher, have led me to believe that community is the most common, and probably the most potent, context in which we learn and teach yoga in modern times.  Thus, having a better understanding of the nature of modern yoga community seems like a worthwhile goal for both students who are learning in community, and teachers who are working to build and teach within them.

If we embrace and apply a community-based model to yoga, such as Wenger-Trayner’s Community of Practice (CoP) which I outlined and advocated in my last blog post, then, the next question that arises is, how do we as yoga CoP members build and sustain them? And, while yoga practices and knowledge also help define and perpetuate these CoPs, the community aspect is probably the requisite feature for their emergence—the physical, psychological, and social space that is required to practice safe yoga and inspire greater self-knowledge and understanding. But how does this physical-psychological-social community-space become the protective, nourishing energetic container necessary to promote engagement in and experience of deep yogic self-inquiry?

As yoga practitioners, we intuitively sense when we have entered a yoga community that provides the energetic container for safety and growth.  But sensing and recognizing these communities is not the same as knowing how to establish and maintain them. As students and teachers, what specific techniques, skills, and understandings could we adopt and use to facilitate the emergence of these nourishing and enriching yoga communities?  As I recently reacquainted myself with the classic text, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg in preparation for The Essence of Yoga Center teacher training program, I was reminded of how the communication I use in my yoga classes has been shaped by his work on Nonviolent Communication (NVC)—an approach that fosters space for both ‘safe sharing’ between community members and ‘belief challenging’ for innovation and growth.

So what, specifically, does Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (NVC) process offer in terms of the creation and maintenance of yoga CoPs?  First, the term nonviolent communication has always resonated with my yogic tendencies, reflecting the spirit of ahimsa, one of Patanjali’s first-limb yamas, or ethical rules for right living, laid out in the Yoga Sutras.  While nonviolence is the most obvious, yoga-relevant aspect of NVC, this approach embodies at least three additional features that may contribute to the formation of secure and nourishing community spaces, including: Honesty, Empathy and Self-Awareness. Honest NVC occurs when a speaker expresses their truth clearly and authentically from the heart.  The listener must also receive the speaker’s truth, by hearing the verbal message but listening through to the heart of the speaker and their intention.  This kind of ‘heart-connecting’ communication occurs when one shares their thoughts and feelings openly and accurately—in as precise and complete a manner as possible.  The idea of speaking truth, again, resonates with a yogic ethical principle, satya (truth), which asks the practitioner to be truthful in intention, word, and deed.  Honest communication sets clear boundaries for a safe and nurturing community container to form.  When we add trust to truth, confidentiality becomes an additional boundary-establishing element of the community space.

Empathetic NVC transpires when a listener receives a speaker’s truth with sensitivity to their feelings and needs.  For truly heart-connecting, empathetic communication to takes place, the speaker must also assume the challenging task of balancing both their own feelings, and the needs that give rise to them, as well as the feelings and needs of the listener.  Both listener and speaker share responsibility for expressing their feelings honestly and with compassion for the other.  Rosenberg suggests that empathy in communication emerges, “[w]hen we hear another person’s feelings and needs, [and] we recognize our common humanity.” One of the most valuable contributions of Rosenberg’s NVC work is the rich language he presents for describing emotions and feeling states.  His feeling vocabulary is both descriptive and extensive, but may seem somewhat unfamiliar to most of us due to the fact that our Western culture does not emphasize or encourage the skills of emotional identification, regulation, or (constructive) expression.  At times, we are in ‘cultural-denial’ of the very existence of our emotional inner world.  Learning to observe, recognize, label, accept and empathetically express feelings establishes a positive, nonjudgemental community space to conduct self-inquiry for healing self-care and personal transformation.

Finally, self-aware, reflexive NVC ensues when a speaker is fully-present and conscious of both their own emotions and needs as well as those of their listener.  As yogis, we cultivate this state of embodied mindfulness or ‘witness consciousness’ through regular asana, pranayama and meditation practice. The witness state, or direct observer sakshi (saa-kshe), refers to the capacity of awareness to detach itself from its identification with the shifting thoughts and feelings of an individual and rest in its own expansive and unifying nature. When we learn to stay consciously aware of thoughts and feelings that arise in our minds and hearts, which allows us to label, acknowledge, and embrace them in nonjudgmental and potentially healing ways, we can more easily extend this practice beyond ourselves and empower our communication with others. Thus, the first step in addressing how we as yoga practitioners can facilitate the emergence of nourishing and enriching community-heart spaces critical to the effective functioning of yoga CoPs, is to model and encourage the loving, heart-connecting practices of honest, empathetic, and mindful nonviolent-communication.

Post by Tanja Bisesi

Journeying Together – What is a Community of Practice?

Communities of Practice: a Brief Introduction by Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayners (2015) introduces a concept that has resonated with me since I first encountered it during my graduate studies nearly 20 years ago.  Anyone who has ever practiced yoga in community intuitively understands its power to foster and inspire self-awareness, transformation, and empowered action.  As modern yoga practitioners we know the energizing sensation of a community practice that balances the body, expands the mind, and brings the blissful realization of life’s unity.  This embodied consciousness is our collective purpose, a path of yoga which spiritual seekers have followed for centuries.  And while practicing yoga in community is a relatively recent phenomenon, the Wenger-Trayners’ Community of Practice (CoP) model, borrowed from research on social organizations, challenges us to reflect on how it might further enrich our beloved yoga journey.

The Wenger-Trayers suggest that the primary intention of CoPs is to help “groups of people who share a…passion for something they do, learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”  They identify three elements that are essential to any CoP.  First, CoPs are made up of groups of people coming together, a community, around a common practice.  Second, CoPs take up a shared practice which includes common goals, dialogue and activity—intentions, words and deeds.  Third, the focus of CoPs is the generation of a knowledge domain, new knowledge in all its forms— information, concepts, understandings, beliefs, identities, insights, skills, and wisdom.  So, what do we have to gain by adopting this teaching-practice model in yoga?

The simple answer to this question is: we unleash the power of this ancient spiritual practice to support practitioners’ needs for embodied connection, through community participation, ownership and innovation.  The CoP model is highly responsive to modern yoga practitioners because it reorients us toward dedication to the practice, rather than to the teacher. At least three features of this model foster this reorientation: it is decentralized, collaborative, and generativeDecentralized means authority and expertise are not concentrated in the teacher or the lineage, but determined by the unique experiences and needs of the community members.  In other words, this models is inherently student (and teacher-as-student) and practice-centered.  CoPs are designed to support the individual yoga path, practice flexibility and innovation, and the yogi’s search to find the teacher within—instead of the mindless allegiance to a single yoga lineage or a teacher’s pre-determined goals.  Because new understandings and practice innovations emerge from student need, knowledge and, therefore, power are distributed among members of the community.  This fact makes CoPs highly resistant to the corrupting influences of ego, lineage-brand attachment, conflict of interest, and self-promotion.  The teacher, as founder of a yoga CoP (i.e, class), is a model for self-inquiry practice and becomes a container—a reservoir that collects and holds knowledge established through community practice over time as new members join and leave the community.  Furthermore, the teacher releases control of and shares responsibility for learning, becoming a resource and guide for dedicated students on the path. Emphasis on the unique journey of each member naturally fosters a safe space for physical exploration, emotional healing, intellectual curiosity, and spiritual expansion.  And because everyone is viewed as an active participant, with unique challenges and talents, each member is encouraged to take ownership of their practice and growth.  In CoPs, individual spiritual seekers, students and teachers alike, come together to support each other on their self-directed paths of self-care, self-discovery and self-empowerment, while simultaneously transforming community knowledge and identity.

CoPs are also collaborative, in the sense that individual growth is dependent on and takes place as a result of participation in a practice community. Community is considered both the means and source of new practices. From this perspective, all knowledge is negotiated through community dialogue and practice, rather than through direct transmission of teacher experience or lineage expertise. Not only does every member take responsibility for their own body-mind-spirit growth, regardless of experience level, but also, the transformation of the community is every bit as important as the individual.  Both teacher and students share ownership over their own learning and the development of the entire CoP.   The primary role of the teacher in CoPs shifts from power-authority expert to community-support builder.  In this context, the teacher watches students mindfully for opportunities—teachable moments—during group practice to offer direction, advice, and encouragement on their unique yoga paths.  In addition to facilitating the practice of self-inquiry, CoP teachers also encourage student-to-student collaborative dialogue that benefits the entire community.

Finally, the CoP model is generative in the sense that it recognizes the fluid nature of knowledge and supports innovation both for individuals and communities, rather than the strict adherence to a fixed lineage or teaching authority. Individual practitioners grows their expertise as the group practices together over time.  And because practitioners, both students and teacher, share as they gain new wisdom, the community practice is not fixed.  It also grows and changes as fresh techniques and insights become part of the community ‘treasure chest.’   Thus, CoPs continually generate new understandings and practices—shaped over time by the diverse needs, voices, and self-inquiry paths of all practitioners—while spurring growth and innovation at every level of the community.  In VK Harber article on the pitfalls of the traditional guru-student yoga model (Yoga International, April, 2016) she poses a critical question for modern yoga practitioners: “how do we reconfigure..[our] relationship toward dedication to the practice, rather than the teacher?”  I believe that embracing the CoP model in yoga, as we have here at The Essence of Yoga Center for Self Inquiry, may be one strong move toward this teaching-practice ideal.

Post by Tanja Bisesi