If you told me 15 years ago that someday I'd be a yoga teacher and that a big part of my life would be spent training other teachers, I wouldn't have believed you. But if you told me I'd be helping people find health and balance, teaching them how to discover their passions and live lives with more depth, I would have said, "yep, that sounds like exactly what I want to do!"
My path to Floating Yoga School and leading yoga teacher trainings was not a direct one, but I don't regret one turn. At 18 I was an eager premed bioengineering major at Rice University, finding balance as an adult on my own, studying hard for classes I didn't really enjoy, and stressing out over whether or not I wanted to commit to a career that seemed so competitive and intense. I slowly realized that my passion for medicine was less about the science side of things and more about helping people. I switched my major to sociology, felt happier and lighter, and moved to New York City after graduation to pursue a master's degree in public health at Columbia University. I worked in benefits consulting for a few years and moved to San Diego to create more personal balance and shifted my career toward corporate wellness.
Although I found yoga in college, my practice didn't become consistent until a few years later. Now I can't imagine my life without it. That doesn't mean I'm doing handstand-heavy classes everyday. Sometimes my yoga practice is about sitting quietly, reflecting, or actively letting go of negative thoughts. Yoga is a personal practice and it looks and feels different to each of us. As cheesy as it sounds, I'm so grateful for what I've learned through yoga, and I feel very lucky to share the gift of yoga with others.
One of the biggest reasons I love leading yoga teacher trainings is because we really get to explore everything that is yoga; there is so much to learn and a 75 minute class just doesn't cut it. You don't necessarily have to want to be a yoga teacher to do a teacher training. All you need is the desire to dig a little deeper. We all have something personal we can work on, something we can heal from, something more we want from life. Whether you've just gotten into yoga, or you've been practicing for years, taking a yoga teacher training gives you a deeper understanding and appreciation of the ancient and ever-evolving practice of yoga.
Maybe you're a therapist, PT, OT, or personal trainer. Understanding yoga can add to your professional resume, enhance your current practice, and provide something extra to your clients.
Maybe you're a consultant or you work in sales. Learning to better understand how humans work on all levels can help you communicate more effectively, connect to your clients, and boost your sales.
Maybe you're a teacher or caregiver. Imagine giving your students or patients the gift of mindfulness and meditation in addition to everything else you provide. A personal yoga practice can help you feel refreshed and replenished, and taking care of yourself allows you to better care for everyone else around you.
Or maybe you're in a place of transition, ready for a new career but aren't sure what that is. Teaching yoga is a rewarding way to connect with people and can be an excellent source of primary or secondary income. Yoga can help clarify and solidify goals and future desires.
Whoever you are, whatever your reasons may be, I promise that a yoga teacher training will enrich your life. I work really hard to make our trainings fun, inspiring, approachable, and affordable. Our trainings are Yoga Alliance approved, 3 weeks long, and feel like you're on a yoga vacation with amazing people in incredible settings. We have two 200 hour trainings coming up in 2017 and I would love for you to join us for one: February in Encuentro, Dominican Republic and July in Lake Placid, New York.
Email me at Helen@FloatingYogaSchool.com with any questions or concerns you have!
I’ve always loved the water. Growing up with super hot Houston summers, my sisters and I would spend hours in the pool, playing “rock the boat” and “categories,” perfecting our back dives and flips, diving for coins or anything else that would sink, and trying to beat the heat. Most family vacations revolved around or at least featured water - lakes and rivers when camping, trips to beach towns, sailing my grandfather's boat - and if they didn't, we'd find our way to water somehow.
After college I lived in New York City and didn’t have much water time aside from vacations and when I first moved to San Diego the cool temperature and instant depth of the Pacific Ocean kept me on the beach for awhile. But there was always a part of me that knew I needed to find my way back into its healing arms. It wasn't until I started teaching paddle yoga that I truly reconnected with my carefree, happy inner child and decided I needed to make some changes in my life and refocus it around water.
There’s something romantic and idyllic about living life on the water. I remember seeing boats anchored in the remote and quiet Shark Harbor on Catalina Island and thinking “that’s the life.” At a time when I was busy building a business, navigating the ups and downs of a long term relationship turned new marriage, and trying to figure out how to balance everything, life on a boat seemed like a welcome escape from everyone, a rare sense of peace and simplicity in an overly complicated world.
When my relationship took a turn and I decided to move on without my best friend of 8 years, I was faced with finding a place to live and starting a new life on my own terms. What did I really want? With the opportunity to start fresh and do all the “crazy” things I wouldn’t have considered when I had a partner's needs and wants to take into account, I decided that I wanted to live on a boat.
I briefly looked at renting or taking care of someone’s boat, but without a lot of experience as a captain or crew, I wasn’t super desirable to anyone and didn’t know the right channels to find a boat owner looking for someone to watch their boat. It turns out the easiest, albeit more expensive, way of living on a boat was to buy one and call it my own.
I had some money in savings and started the search. (More on the boat buying process including getting a loan, where to find a boat, etc. in another post.) I found an older 32 foot Islander within my budget and the minute I stepped foot on it and saw its funky magenta cushions, striped curtains, and full teak lined interior, I knew it would be home. I named her Barefoot Adventures and she became my floating condo for the next year.
Fast forward a few months and it became clear to me that life as a liveaboard was pretty sweet, but that I wanted to use my boat for more than just day sails and play dates. I wanted to sail into different ports, explore different places, and experience different ways of life. I wanted to combine my love of travel, my desire to be on the water, and my passion for sharing yoga; thus Floating Yoga School was created.
Barefoot Adventures #1 just wasn't going to cut it in the Caribbean, so I sold her and started the search for #2. This time around, I wanted something bigger and somewhat newer that could handle island-hopping and some large crossings, something with enough power and electronics to feel safe in unknown waters and rough seas, and something that I could customize enough to feel like home for the next few years without breaking the bank. I found a 40 foot O'Day in Miami that fit the bill and have been living and working on her ever since.
Life as a liveaboard is certainly not for everyone. Depending on your set-up it can feel like permanent camping (or maybe glamping if you're lucky!). There are ALWAYS projects to be done on a boat and usually those projects require money, sweat, and hard work. It can be frustrating, confusing, and overwhelming if you're not an expert in all things electrical, mechanical, and nautical.
But despite all that, it's really rewarding. To me it feels like going back to a simpler way of life. People have lived and worked on boats for hundreds of years, crossing oceans and seeing the world, and it's exciting to think about everything I get to experience that I would have otherwise never even known was out there.
I’ll be breaking down the various aspects of living aboard in the coming months, from the freedom it brings to challenges that come along with it. For now it's back to the project list :) Stay tuned!
I've been wanting to go to Cuba for a very long time and it's finally happening! I'm so very excited to be teaming up with an awesome friend, Xenia Guido of Pura Vida Yoga, to put on this retreat.
We'll be spending time in Old Havana soaking up the culture and art, relaxing on the white sand beaches of Varadero, and exploring El Nicho waterfalls outside of Cienfuegos. With daily yoga and salsa dancing, this is going to be an experience you don't want to miss!
Mark your calendar to save the dates: March 24 - April 1, 2017.
Full details and registration available soon. Spaces are limited. Comment or email me to be the first to get the info email :)
When I was planning my road trip, I made sure that Santa Fe was on my list of stops so I could spend a day with my Reiki teacher, Sharna Langlais. She's a wealth of knowledge, a humble and beautiful soul, and an incredibly gifted healer.
Before I met Sharna, I had heard a lot about Reiki and experienced it a bit in yoga classes. There were moments in my life when I felt someone's energy, whether good or bad, and couldn't explain the gut feeling I had. I believed in something greater, a universal spirit or energy flowing through all living beings, but wasn't sure about "channeling" energy for healing.
And maybe it's cliche, but there's a saying "when the student is ready the teacher will appear" and that certainly felt true for me. I was going through big life changes, and preparing for even more when a friend suggested I reach out to Sharna as a potential teacher. I instantly felt a connection, and completed my level 1 and 2 certifications and attunements with her earlier this spring. Every time I talk with Sharna I gain new nuggets of wisdom, and I know I'll continue to learn from her.
Sharna and I sat down and filmed a 65 minute discussion on Reiki, energy, healing, lifestyle, and more. The condensed version is below, but if you have the time definitely check out the full interview. She explains things way more eloquently than I can. :)
So...what is Reiki?
"Reiki is a form of energy medicine, energy healing. It's a Japanese methodology that's existed for centuries in Japan. The word Rei-ki is actually two words in Japanese. [Rei] means god, goddess, universe, spirit, our connection to a higher plane, and Ki or chi is life force. So Reiki is that universally directed life force energy that comes through all of us. It's a form of hands-on healing touch in which we take that energy, direct it through our bodies, and put our hands on other people to help clear blockages."
To book a session, or learn more, go to Sharna's website - SeekSparkShine.
This may seem totally counterintuitive for a yoga teacher to say but I’ve found the secret for keeping my sometimes-problematic-back from flaring up. And it’s not yoga. In fact it’s less yoga, and more pilates.
Don’t get me wrong, yoga is definitely great for back issues. With a consistent and smart yoga practice you can improve flexibility and strengthen muscles in all the right places. Depending on what your back is like, and how physically active you are, you might find that a gentle restorative practice alleviates pressure and slowly opens you up. Or try hatha or yin to get more stretching and strengthening without overdoing it. I also love a super hot class when I’m just feeling tight (using lots of props and modifications).
But if you’re anything like me, sometimes you push it a little too hard in yoga. Especially in vinyasa or power classes that include creative and dynamic flows and transitions. And I’m not saying all vinyasa or power classes are no good, but you may find yourself transitioning without engaging your core, moving from open hip to closed hip poses, and going too deep into poses, especially backbends (they feel sooo good in the moment, and sooo bad the next morning). All that can wreck havoc on your already sensitive back.
I learned the hard way. During my yoga teacher training I was practicing a ton of vinyasa yoga. I was getting into a lot of advanced variations of poses and loved to push myself. I took a mini retreat in LA with my teacher training class and we took classes with some of the best: Steven Earth, Bryan Kest, and Andrea Marcum. I noticed on the last day that my back wasn’t feeling great - I couldn’t engage my core enough to step from downdog to a low lunge, something normally super easy for me. Two days later I had to call in sick to work because I could barely walk.
I slowly got my mobility back. Heat pads and rest definitely helped. A year later I threw my back into spasm when I was adjusting a student in a backbend. It was worse than the previous year; I literally couldn’t walk for 3 days, straightening my low back and putting weight on my legs shot pain up my spine and caused loud, terrifying sounds to come from my mouth. I had to be carried to the bathroom and crawled around the house until I could get a doctor’s appointment. Western medicine prescribed muscle relaxers and anti-inflammatories. Beau Casey of Chiropractique gave me an adjustment, and prescribed ice and pilates when the spasms stopped (thank you, Beau!).
My personal preference is to go as natural as possible when treating an injury or illness, and to find out the root cause so I can avoid or change my habits, so I super appreciated Dr. Casey’s advice. He’s also a former dancer and understood where my flexible back came from, and what core muscle strength was lacking in my body. He practiced pilates and knew that the systematic movements would strengthen my back and core, and help protect me from future injuries. In fact, pilates was first started as rehabilitation for injured patients in hospital beds by Joseph Pilates in England, and became popular with dancers when Pilates moved to New York in the 1920s. So it makes sense.
Since then I’ve tried (sometimes more successfully than others) to go to a pilates class at least once a week. I feel the best when I do pilates 2 – 3 times per week and yoga 2 – 3 times, and then either paddleboard, bike, hike, or swim for a little cardio.
And when I practice yoga, I check my ego at the door and do a more mellow, gentle flow if my back is feeling a bit sketchy.
Below is a 5 minute stretch sequence I like to do condensed into 15 seconds. A few of my favorite back-stretching poses are:
Psoas Release - supine with feet apart and knees together
Happy Baby – Ananda Balasana
Squat - Malasana
Ragdoll – Wide Leg Uttanasana
Pigeon or Reclined Pigeon
Cobbler’s Pose - Baddha Konasana
Child’s Pose (embryo) – Balasana
Bridge Pose Rolls Downs
Seated Rolls Downs and Roll Ups
So my advice is this: do your yoga, but watch your back!
It's been a week since I hit the road, leaving sunny San Diego for a month-long, roundabout trip to South Florida. It's been the perfect way to unwind from the stress of the last few years, see some of the most incredible and iconic parts of the United States, and reset my intentions and goals.
So far I've learned (or been reminded of) the following:
- A week goes by very quickly. I'm already a little sad that a month will be here before I know it, and I'm definitely working on savoring each moment.
- Camping in temperatures below 40 degrees is mildly insane. Once your fingers and toes are numb it's hard to warm up again. Hot showers help (thank you, Housekeeping Camp).
- Sitting too long can flare up your sensitive low back. I'm stretching whenever I can, taking yoga classes along the way, and making sure I'm not sitting with one leg up (which also happens to be my favorite way to sit).
- Don't spend too much time on your phone reading maps or researching the next destination. You might miss an entire town with one quick look down. I'm sorry I missed you, Peach Springs, Arizona (aka Cars' Radiator Springs).
- And speaking of maps, Google Maps is smart, but it's worth spending extra time off-roading or taking the scenic route if you really want to see the sights. And if you're driving past the Hoover Dam, DON'T follow Google Maps because you won't see anything!
- San Diego has spoiled me, especially when it comes to yoga, pilates, and coffee. Who knew it'd be so hard to find a good class and a place to grab some coffee and do a little work? I'm not against Starbucks, but I'd rather support local businesses. And I just can't understand studios that only offer one or two classes per day at really random times (yes, like I said, I've been spoiled).
Three more weeks to go! I'm posting photos along the way via Instagram & Facebook, and have some super fun stops coming up, including community classes in Santa Fe and Taos next week. Stay tuned :)
If you've been wanting to do a yoga teacher training but can't can't quite make the numbers work with your budget (we get it!), now's your chance to follow your dreams with our Yoga Teacher Training Scholarship Writing & Video Contest.
We're giving away at least one spot in each training we do in the Caribbean (read the fine print here), and can't wait to read or watch why you should be the one to join us.
All you have to do is submit your entry fee and send us your written or video submission. Tell us your story: what sets you apart, what you'll get from a yoga teacher training, how you'll give back, or anything else you'd like us to know.
Share with friends! The more submissions we receive, the more scholarships we can award. Email with any questions.
The end of teacher training is always a bittersweet time for me. Graduation day comes and I feel like a proud parent, teary-eyed and nostalgic about how far my students have come (our first day together feels like just yesterday!), excited to be able to catch up on Netflix again (mostly kidding), and so excited and eager to see where they’ll go.
As a new teacher you might feel a sense of relief that you’re getting your weekends back, you might feel a little lost as to where to go next, you might feel a mix of emotions, or you might feel nothing at all (I guess we wore you out, huh?). All of those feelings are valid, and in light of them, I share some parting words of wisdom to my teacher trainees and any other new teachers out there:
1. Keep practicing. Practice teaching, practice yoga, and remember that your yoga practice isn’t necessarily all physical. I have weeks where I practice asana daily, either on my own or in a public class, and I have weeks where my yoga is a mindful walk, a quiet moment with my phone off, or turning on loud music and dancing my heart out.
I’ve had people give me advice about how as a teacher I shouldn’t let go of my own practice. And while I completely agree, they never asked me what my practice was like; they judged for themselves and projected their ideals onto me. When I wanted to yell “you don’t know anything about my life, a$$hole!” I held my tongue, took a deep breath, tried to understand why I was annoyed when they were trying to help, and smiled and thanked them for their advice. So sometimes my practice is not letting my inner angry mean girl freak out at people (hey, no one’s perfect!). And I would argue that this practice is more important for me than picking up the latest trendy creative sequencing to get into headstand, or the theming of a Valentine’s Day class.
Don’t let society’s standards of what a yoga teacher’s practice should look like make you feel like you have to master handstand or meditate in lotus an hour every day. You’re a better yoga teacher by being mindful, compassionate, and present than by bending into a pretzel. Only you know how to get yourself into that state of mind.
2. Things will continue to change and evolve in your life. Find people who support you through those changes, and change out the people who don’t. Nothing is forever. You’ve probably noticed some shifts in your life since you started your teacher training, and will continue to notice them as time goes on. Change can be scary, uncomfortable, throw you off your game, or make you feel like you’re going crazy (or all of the above). Change can also be really awesome because it means you’re growing, you’re moving onto better things, and that you won’t experience the same year 90 times in a row and call it a life.
It helps to have supportive people around you, and a place where you can be yourself. Find your people (or person), a home studio that feels right, and don’t be afraid to change those as needed. When you’re honest and true to yourself you attract people who resonate with that truth. The people who matter don’t care how you’ve changed, and the people who care don’t really matter. And if nothing else, know that your teacher training family is there for you, even if you haven’t spoken to them in years.
3. Be authentic, and let that authenticity transfer into your teaching. Don’t try to be your favorite teacher. It’s great to borrow sequencing or cues that you like, but try to make them your own. If you learn something new and want to teach it, teach yourself, and teach from that place. Be honest about what you don’t know - no one can know it all, and no one likes a know-it-all.
Teach the kind of class you’d want to take and what comes naturally to you. Know that you will never be able to please everyone, and that’s totally fine. Do you, and the right students will find you.
4. Take care of yourself. This one feeds into all the others, but it’s a super hard one for me so I’ll reiterate it on its own. You may have been drawn to teaching because taking care of others comes effortlessly to you. You will lead classes and people will come to you for advice as a leader. They’ll ask about poses, and about life. They’ll share and cry, and you will be there for them. And it will probably feel really good to help them.
There may be a moment (or a few years, if you’re anything like me) that you realize you’re putting everyone else before yourself. You’re helping others reach their goals and feel better about themselves, while you’re still stuck in the same rut you’ve been in for so long. Don’t forget to help yourself. Take some of the advice you give, and give yourself a break from always being “on.”
5. Keep learning. I like to consider a 200 hour teacher training a buffet where you can only fill your plate once so you take a little bit of everything. Now is your chance to go back to the stuff you liked on the first pass and really dig in (go back for seconds and thirds; fill 3 plates!). Read, read, read (you can never read enough). Take workshops. Take classes from teachers you like. Take classes from teachers you don’t like. Take class from yourself. Research questions you don’t know the answers to. Work with people you don’t know. Learn a completely new style of yoga.
Figure out what makes you tick, and what ticks you off. Ultimately this practice is a self-study (svadyaya for the bonus points). We are each our own best teachers, and there’s ALWAYS more to learn.
One of my favorite things to teach in yoga is inversions: headstands, and handstands, and forearmstands (oh my!!). They’re fun, challenging, require strength and control, and help us push past fears on and off our mat.
In our Instagram age, it’s easy to get caught up in mastering a specific fancy-pants pose to take a photo, which many people will argue is the opposite of the goal of yoga. Students want to progress into poses they’re not necessarily strong or flexible enough for because they look cool or they think that’s what yoga is all about since that’s what the “celebrity” yogis do.
While there’s always a risk of injury to seriously consider, I try not to stress out too much over the obsession with picture-worthy poses. Even if you consider yourself a yoga purist, you know that if you spend enough time doing poses, you’ll inevitably get something more out of your yoga practice.
One of the things I DO love about Instagram yoga, or using a camera/phone to record your practice is that photos and videos can help you document progression, set and reach goals, and prevent some serious injuries from misalignments.
Lots of sports use video analysis. As a high school tennis player my coach showed us slow-motion videos of our serves and strokes to see where we could get more power and better control. (And she had to rewind a VHS tape, now it’s so easy!)
I used to have the hardest time holding my handstand. No matter how hard I tried, what cues teachers gave, or how often I practiced, there was something about it that just didn’t click. But as soon as I saw a video of myself, I realized what my teachers were talking about. My super flexible banana-back was causing me to flip over; and the “knit your ribs,” “draw your hips to your ribs,” “engage your core” comments made a lot more sense. By watching videos of my handstands, I was truly able to become an observer of myself, analyze what was happening without judgment or frustration, and become my own best teacher. For me, THAT’S what yoga is all about.
There’s no special club or magic shortcut to inner peace through inversions or advanced poses (and I would argue that holding poses in a more basic variation is actually much harder, but that’s another post!). The same can be said for being too strict with yourself and how you approach your practice. So play, have fun, flip, roll, challenge yourself, take pictures, film it, and then remember that it’s just yoga – whatever that means to you.
Helen's Adventures as a Traveling Yogi
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