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.
It's hard to come up with a better idea of a dream job than a yoga instructor. Yoga instructors help people to realize their physical and mental strength, which is an incredible experience.
Many yoga lovers sign up for teacher training to chase their dream of becoming an instructor and sharing their passion with others. Some yogis sign up just to deepen their understanding of yoga and enhance their practice. Regardless of why you signed up, these tips will help make sure that your yoga teacher training is one of the best experiences of your career!
Going to a yoga school will be enough to become certified and begin a career, but being ready for the challenges of a course lets you delve deeper into the art. You can prepare by watching yoga videos before training in order to understand the dynamics of the training process, or to get a leg up (literally!) on new routines.
In the 21st century, who you know is often more important than what you know. The training process shouldn't just be about learning new things but about meeting new people. A retreat or training initiative lets you get to know other yogis from around the country and maybe a few who are close to home. Make friends, trade stories, discover new routines and trade tips. You may even find another instructor to go into business with.
Reject the Normal
How many job training functions allow you to discover your life's passion while on a boat or at a resort? There's a reason why we got our name, and it's not because we put trainees in a crowded room to stare at a PowerPoint slide. Yoga teacher training should be as dynamic and vibrant as yoga itself, which is why trainees have the opportunity to break out of the usual and embrace the fantastic.
You spend so much time in yoga focusing on inhaling and exhaling that a funny joke might throw you completely out of your breathing rhythm. That's not a bad thing! Research shows that laughter offers many of the same health benefits as yoga itself, including lowering blood pressure and boosting mood. Take the time to laugh and make others laugh during training so that you can incorporate humor into your own classes.
It's one thing to go to a yoga school and learn how to push yourself to new heights, but training is made even more amazing when you get the opportunity to do it in one of the most beautiful spots around. A yoga retreat is perfect for those who are new to the occupation as well as those who have been practicing all their life. Not only can you hone your skills, but you will meet new people in an inclusive atmosphere with everyone committed to improvement, support and success.
Why bother training with the ordinary? Our yoga school offers everything you need to launch a career and have the most fun possible doing it. Check out the upcoming travel schedule and future retreats to become a yoga master and enjoy every second of it.
I had the pleasure and honor of recording a Dreamchasers podcast with Lucas Barra a couple of weeks ago.
Lucas and I have known each other for a few years, and he’s seen me grow from a new yoga teacher about to quit her day job, into a business owner launching another venture in a brand new place. He was fresh out of college when we first met, and now he’s living his dream by helping others chase theirs. Pretty awesome.
We talked for a good 45 minutes about my journey and process of finding balance, learning to say no, crying in the shower, and the general rollercoaster of life. For all the juicy bits, listen here.
While your own dreams may be way different than my own, the universal chase of the dream is something most everyone can relate to. Lucas has different guests every week, so stay tuned!
SchoolofDreams.co and iTunes.
Helen's Adventures as a Traveling Yogi
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