Archive for the ‘nothern virginia’ Category

How I Love Teaching Office Yoga

Last week I was grateful to teach a series of office yoga sessions for a huge global real estate company with several DC locations as part of their employee health & wellness program.  After spending three days in a row in Bethesda (Tues), Washington, DC (Wed) and Tysons Corner (Thurs) teaching the benefits of yogic breathing and movement (yoga asana) in conference rooms, I realized a few things:

  • Yoga is accessible to everyone, anywhere, anytime.  In these office yoga sessions I actually taught “chair yoga” – breathing, mindfulness and movement techniques people can do at a desk without a yoga mat, in work attire.  There were a few people with physical limitations and they were able to do most of the breathing & movement.  Again, yoga is accessible to everyone, anywhere, anytime.
  • I am doing exactly what I’m suppose to be doing – teaching yoga.  As a former corporate soldier, I can relate to my audience.  When I go into an office and teach yoga to people who are chained to their desks all day, I naturally seem to be able to speak about yoga in a way that they understand.  I can empathize as I lived and breathed corporate lifestyle for 10+ years.
  • P90X is turning people (men) on to yoga.  In both the Bethesda and DC offices, I had more men attending than usual.  On top of that, the men were asking multiple questions about yoga — breathing questions, pose specifics, how often they should practice, etc.  This was a shift.  Usually when I teach yoga in corporate settings it’s mostly women showing up and they have little experience with yoga.  When I would ask these “guys” about their yoga experience, they each had done the P90X yoga.  I’ve never seen P90X to give it a proper evaluation, though what I’m comfortable saying is that if it’s getting people (particularly men) to try yoga then awesome!
  • A lot of people have long commutes.  When a woman in the Bethesda office told me she commuted from/to Ashburn, VA each day I quickly realized a) I am grateful to no longer commute 60+ minutes each way/day, and b) commuting is the perfect time to practice yoga.  I’m not suggesting anyone bust out a downward facing dog on the bus/metro/highway.  Regardless of your commute time & mode of transportation, breathing is a yoga technique one can practice anywhere, anytime.  Breathing is an essential part of yoga and it requires no special equipment except for YOU to PAY ATTENTION to it.  The more you can practice actively slowing down the breath, the more you’ll be able to slow down your mind and relax your body.
  • People are enthusiastic about “their” yoga.  In each office I visited, at least a couple of participants wanted to chat me up about their yoga teacher or the style of yoga they practice.  I loved it!  Whether it was P90X, Bikram, Gentle or Vinyasa Yoga, I could see the glow in their eyes and feel the love for their practice.

I share all this as I realize I’m lucky to be what I’m doing.  I love that I continue to learn as I do what I love.  It’s also great to know I’m helping people open their eyes to doing yoga beyond a yoga studio.  So many think they need a yoga mat, 90 minute class or a special yoga outfit to benefit from yoga.  Not true!  Just a few minutes movement and active breathing every hour can do wonders.  Recent research from the Mayo Clinic shows that lack of movement (due to working at a desk all day, long commutes, watching TV for hours on end, etc.) can be worse than smoking and can defeat the efforts of a weekly exercise routine.  This is proof enough that office bound people need to find ways to feel and be healthy…and this is just another reason why I love teaching office yoga.     

The Buiness of Yoga (part 2)

Let me state upfront:  This is all about YOU.  My intention in sharing this “business of yoga” jazz is to simply offer you what’s worked for me.  Period.  It is not to say what I’m doing will work for you, or is even right for you.

In many ways I consider how I’m sharing these yoga biz tips to be similar to how I teach yoga to my private yoga students and corporate yoga clients…I’m just offering guidance through the process/class of yoga postures.  It’s up to you to dig deep and listen to YOU.

So here goes.  The following 5 yoga biz tips come straight from my heart.  These are simply lessons I’ve personally learned along the way as I built abellaYoga (a mobile yoga business serving Washington, DC, Alexandria and Arlington, VA)  from scratch.

1)  Be your own best ambassador.  Tell everyone you know what you’re doing, what type of people you want to teach (i.e. athletes, , moms, seniors, office employees, kids, corporate executives, etc.)  The point is whatever speaks to you “speak about it”.  Go beyond facebook.  Meet with people face-to-face.  Make notes to follow-up with people you met last month.  Thank people for listening and don’t expect anything in return.  This is all known as “networking” and it takes time and patience.  For those who have been following me on the Yoga Sutra path, reference my blog post covering sutra 1.13

2)  Decide where you will teach once you figure out who you want to teach (see tip #1).  Get creative.  There is plenty of space available to teach yoga.  A yoga studio is an obvious choice as are your local gym and community center.  Think outside of the yoga box…grassy fields, theaters, museums, office buildings.  Explore potential “free” spaces.  To this day, I have yet to pay for space to teach my classes.

3)  Do what you do best and outsource the rest.  Not a numbers person?  Hire an accountant — he’s one of my key advisors 🙂  Not very creative?  Barter for website services and a logo.  This list could go on and on.  Clearly the point is, focus on teaching and whatever else it is you love.  Pass the other “stuff” to those who like to deal with the “stuff”.   Writing this reminds me of Dharana, sutra 3.1:  Dharana is the binding of the mind to one place, object or idea.  Again, stay focused on what you do best and outsource the rest.

4) Teach during your peak energy time.  This was huge for me.  As yoga teachers, we need to show up awake, alive and ready to inspire.  How can you do that if you’re teaching tomorrow bright & early, yet you just went to bed because 20 minutes ago you left teaching a 9pm class at your local yoga studio?  Listen..If you’re a morning person aim to teach yoga in the mornings through the afternoon.  If you’re a night owl, then teach classes late day/evening.  Again, listen to YOU.

5) Practice, practice, practice!   I can’t say this enough.  Don’t sacrifice your personal yoga practice for teaching yoga.  Inspire yourself via your own yoga practice.  Burn through your doubts.  Hello tapas!  (See sutra 2.1 for Tapas details) It’s through your time on the mat you’ll find your creative expression as a teacher.  No practice = no expression.  It’s that simple.   As Pattabhi Jois said “practice and all is coming.”

Done.  Some of the above may be helpful or none of it may work for you.  Take what you want, leave the rest.  Most importantly, follow your heart.  PS:  Here’s  “The Business of Yoga (part 1)” if you missed it.

abellaYoga has been gratefully teaching yoga full-time in Washington, DC, Alexandria and Arlington, VA since 2006.  Thankful for experiences gained in the telecom/tech corporate world, this ex-marketing, yoga-chick is happy to share all she knows about yoga with all.

Satya Will Set You Free (sutra 2.36)

After teaching a corporate yoga class the other morning, I decided to head to the Clarendon Starbucks (sorry, Arlington, VA for those reading unfamiliar with the DC area) to grab a warm drink and read.  I had about 20 minutes to kill before heading to my private client’s house around the corner so I decided to sit.

After sitting at the community table (i.e. a long table with multiple strangers, each doing their own thing), I stood up to put my coat on, my book in my bag and exit.  The guy across from me said “that was fast”.  The guy’s friend just smiled politely.  Then the “guy” said “so you’re a yoga instructor?”  (side note:  Clearly this “guy”  just eavesdropped on a conversation I had moments before with someone who I use to work with eons ago at MCI.  The ex-MCI colleague happen to recognize me as he was making his departure.  He stopped and we caught up on jobs, life, stuff.)

The conversation with the guy/stranger went like this:

-guy:  I have a “good” friend who’s a yoga instructor.  He’s been teaching yoga “for like 12 years”.

-me:  “Oh really, what’s his name?”

-guy: (Long silence with his eyes squinting, and his friend & me staring at him)

-guy’s friend:  “I thought you said he was your friend???”

-me:  “…a good friend?”

-guy:  “His name is XXX”  (me here:  I don’t remember the name).  Then the “guy” continues to say “I wasn’t expecting you to ask for his name so quickly”.

-me:  “Well, I don’t know him (with a smile).  Have a nice weekend.”

As I walked away, I was thinking what kind of “good” friend was this…someone he met on the metro once and never saw again.  Or maybe he’s just a facebook friend.  And as we all know, facebook has somewhat become a violation of satya…I mean take inventory of how many of your “facebook friends” are truly friends vs. acquaintances.  I am at full violation here.  Do you think I really have 600+ friends?

Anyway, on the walk to my car after this brief Starbucks encounter I felt lied to.  Here I didn’t even know the “guy” nor his Starbucks friend (or the yoga instructor).  I’m assuming he was trying to impress me but why?  Suddenly I felt sorry for the “guy”.  If he’s telling a little white lie to a stranger, then what types of lies does he tell his “real” friends or even just facebook friends?

Why?  Why tell a lie even if it’s small and meaningless?  Coincidentally, I had a copy of The Yoga Sutras in hand (that was the book I had been sitting in Starbucks reading & placing in my bag as the “guy” tried to name his yoga instructor friend).  In hindsight, I should have opened it up and read sutra 2.36 that specifically speaks about satya (satya is Sanskrit for truth)…“To one established in truthfulness, actions and their results become subservient.” 

More on satya (truth) as explained further by Swami Satchidananda in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali“The more we lead a life of honesty, the more we will see the results, and that will encourage us to be more honest.  With establishment in honesty, the state of fearlessness comes.  One need not be afraid of anybody and can always lead an open life.  When there are no lies, the entire life becomes an open book.  But this comes only with an absolutely honest mind.  When the mind becomes clear and serene, the true Self reflects without disfigurement, and we realize the Truth in its own original nature.”

Start with your words.  Think the truth.  Speak the truth and then your actions will be true.  From there (with practice & patience), you’ll stand in your truth.  Trust me, satya/sutra 2.36 is a big sutra to fill and I often catch myself telling the little white lie.  So I must say:  thank you Starbucks “guy” for reminding me to speak the truth, act the truth and live the truth.     

Dharma Whispering in my Head

Sutra 1.2, as I blogged here, defines yoga as stilling the fluctuations of the mind.  Yet it is sutra 2.1 starts to address what yoga practice is all about. 

Accepting pain as help for purification, study and surrender to the Supreme Being constitute Yoga practice.  sutra 2.1 

This sutra really offers up the nitty-gritty of yoga and clearly demonstrates that yoga is so much more than just asana.  Of course, depending on one’s intention, an asana practice can (and should) contain discipline, self-study and total surrender.  Truly this is what can make the practice of asana a beautiful yogic experience and transform one’s life beyond the yoga mat.   Unfortunately I think most today practicing asana miss out on the three essential elements stated in sutra 2.1 (discipline + study + surrender = aka kriya yoga) as they are only drawn to yoga as a fitness regime.

Personally, I absolutely can’t read sutra 2.1 without thinking about Sri Dharma Mittra and what originally drew me to him.  It’s impossible to take a class with him and not hear him speak to this sutra in his own subtle way.  He always says things like:  Surrender the fruits of all actions.  Study yoga text every day, even if just for a few minutes.  Do a little asana every day (tapas) – a few minutes a day is better than three hours just one day a week.

Even as I do my home yoga practice and traverse around the streets of Arlington, VA and DC, I am constantly welcoming his voice in my head messaging sutra 2.1:  The key to success is repetition (tapas).  Invite every pose to be an offering (surrender).  You have to find your own tricks (study).  For the instructions of this sutra and the spiritual presence of Dharma Mittra in my life, I am forever gratefully humbled to be a Dharma yogi.

Happy Mind, Happy Life (sutra 1.33)

I opened my last post the exact same way…yoga studios in the Northern Virginia/DC area these days are showing up on every corner, becoming as commonplace as Starbucks.  Overall it’s an awesome trend.  I love seeing more people sharing yoga and creating a positive impact in the community.  I believe those teachers and studios who “practice what they preach” will succeed.  I also believe it will be rough for those opening the doors with expectations of high financial returns (particularly since 80% of small businesses close their doors within 5 years).

Without naming names there is one particular studio that keeps popping up on my radar.  Last year I met the owner, who just unrolled a yoga mat for the first time maybe a year or two ago, and really felt from the words conveyed that the studio is hopping aboard the yoga train simply for the money.  Sure the physical experience and benefits for this person on the mat has been good the last year or so, but the vibe of this person exudes a materialistic attitude and greed.  Who cares, right?  Right -and that’s the point of this post.

I realize my annoyance with this new studio and person stems from a sense of jealousy as I sometimes play with the idea of having a beautiful sunlit space to share yoga (but ultimately know it’s not for me at this time/stage in my life).  Obviously it also bugs me this person doesn’t know yoga beyond asana…I mean how can someone who doesn’t know yoga beyond asana walk the talk (i.e. practice what you preach).  Further I feel there is no intention of love behind the mission of opening the studio.

Melody, take a breath…as a yogi-in-progress, I realize what I’ve written above isn’t a very yogic way of thinking about others.  This type of thinking is also very energy draining and doesn’t bring peace in my life.  Recognizing my personal issues with this studio and person, I turned to The Yoga Sutras for guidance and am reminded of sutra 1.33:

By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.

Again, I’m a yogi on the journey that has a lot of bumps, twists and turns in the road.  No doubt the sutras (particularly sutra 1.33) are definitely a good road map to have handy as I continue on my way.

Being Yoga (sutra 2.2 – 2.9)

With yoga studios popping up on every corner in Washington, DC and Arlington, VA these days, there’s definitely a lot of talk about going to yoga.  Jump online or open a magazine and you are sure to find  talk about doing yoga.  Stand in the midst of voices buzzing at your local coffee shop and you’ll hear people chatting “Do you do yoga?  I do yoga.  I’m going to yoga.  I went to yoga.”  Blah, blah, blah.

On my morning dog walk yesterday it hit me that I don’t do yoga and I surely don’t go to yoga.  I am yoga.  Since I started studying with Sri Dharma Mittra last year in NYC, yoga has really become a way of being for me.  Sure I do asana (yoga postures), pranayama (breathing exercises), meditate, study yoga texts and try to follow the yamas/niyamas (note:  this list of yoga I’ve incorporated in my life is nicely explained in book II of The Yoga Sutras.  Of course, I will give my spin on it all in due time).

Beyond all I’ve just listed though, the nitty-gritty of yoga is really about letting go and surrendering to what is, as it is.  It’s about being the best version of you, just as you are.  The letting go/surrendering concept is tough, particularly for those Type A’s (probably you!) out there.  So let me just clear this up by saying surrendering/going with the flow doesn’t mean to give up and be ball of mush.  As Dharma always says (with a grin) when there are 30+ people in his class attempting a challenging posture “you must have angry determination.”  He also sometimes says “you must find your own tricks.”  And really this is true even off the yoga mat.  Yoga is about “finding your own tricks” (another Dharma-ism) to keep you calm, cool and collected in every situation in life.

Even with angry determination and a bag of tricks, there are plenty of roadblocks to being in yoga.  I face them everyday, but I’ve also been lucky enough to become more aware of what holds me back from showing up and being my best (not doing my best but being my best).

As sutra 2.3 points out there are five obstacles to yoga:  ignorance, ego, attachment, aversion and fear of death.  I’m not going to dig deep into each of these at this point (see sutras 2.2 – 2.9 for details).  I simply want to open your eyes to them.  Start paying attention in your life as to how these are present for you.  Notice your habits.  Recognize your reactions in situations.  Do you crave coffee every morning?  (attachment)  Do you curse when someone cuts you off in traffic?  Do you avoid unpleasant situations?  (aversion) Do you not try something (i.e. handstand in the middle of the classroom) due to fear falling over or dying?  (ego, fear of death)  What is it that holds you back from being the best version of you?  (ignorance)

Trust me, this is a tough batch of sutras (2.2 – 2.9) to write about as I’m still struggling with them in many areas of my life.  Hopefully though with some angry determination and a few tricks I discover along the way, these sutras will be a bit easier to write about and discuss.  Until then, I will keep trying.  As Dharma says “repetition is key.”

Key to Life: Tapas

Many years before I was familiar with Yoga & Tapas, I recall observing the practice of discipline in every day living.  For instance, my Father regularly changed the oil in the cars.  He would tell me if he didn’t do it often the cars wouldn’t run properly.  My Mom always insisted my Sister and I have our hair trimmed every 1-2 months growing up.  Unwillingly I did it because she said otherwise my hair would get out of control, knotty and dry.  I always noticed how my Grandparents went to church every single Sunday —even when they weren’t feeling 100%.  Personally, I discovered the more I did something (roller skate, play piano, study a subject) the more I improved in the activity.  As a kid, based on my limited life experiences, I remembering deciding consistency was key to everything in life.  Now I think, as a future yogini in disguise, the practice of Tapas was unknowingly being cultivated within.

When I did my first yoga teacher training program in 2005, I remember we discussed the Yoga Sutras in length.  At that time in my life I felt a lack of connection with the third Niyama in Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras:  Tapas.  I understood what it meant but I didn’t find it as important as the other ethical principles discussed.

My viewpoint has definitely shifted over the last few years.  I now believe Tapas is foundational to the Niyamas just as Ahimsa is foundational to the Yamas.  To fully progress, in what ever it is – creating loving relationships, learning to ride a bike, eating properly, abstaining from intoxicants, meditating, practicing Asana, Santosha, Saucha, etc. – everything in life requires consistent discipline.  In fact, last year I had t-shirts created for my DC based mobile yoga business (abellaYoga.com) that read, “breathe, burn, be” on the front.  Often people ask, “What does burn mean?”  They usually try to guess before I’ve had a chance to respond.  I’ve heard:  burn calories, sweat, hot yoga, and intense yoga.  In creating the shirts, I realized how important Tapas has become in my personal practice and life.  So the burning answer to, “What does burn mean?”   The simple answer:  Tapas

Just as burn has many interpretations, Tapas has many translations.  One of my favorite translations of Tapas is discipline.  Discipline is a practice.  And I believe it is at the foundation of everything we do whether one consciously practices yoga or not. In order to truly practice or accomplish something (whatever it is) and reach a state of peace and happiness in the process (whether it’s Samadhi or the perfect headstand) consistent discipline must reside at the core of the activity.  Along with discipline, there is an element of faith and trust we must cultivate.

Developing faith and trust enables us to surrender to the practice of discipline.  We may question, “Why do I need to keep doing this?” or  “Will it really work?”  These may be exit strategies to get us out of an uncomfortable situation/discomfort/burning sensation.  What we learn is Tapas/discipline isn’t always pretty.  In fact, sometimes it burns.  Tapas teaches we often must do things we don’t want to do (like getting my hair cut regularly as a young girl) or sit with discomfort in order to eventually reach a better state of comfort or a new stage of growth.

Keep in mind, there are definitely times when questioning the action/discomfort is necessary.  For instance, the adage “no pain, no gain” is true in the practice of Tapas (99% of the time).  Yet through the various practices of yoga, one learns to live mindfully and be present in the pain.  Being present in the pain enables one to know when to wisely back off to avoid injury or harm (the other 1%).  It is in this “no pain, no gain” practice of tapas, that a strong sense of faith and trust is yet again required so we are clear as to what is present in the pain (and in our minds) as we are experiencing the situation.

Lastly, tapas/discipline to me is similar to shedding.  It requires a mindset of letting go and trusting that the old ways of doing things are no longer of service.  It requires us to change habitual ways of doing and thinking.   In the midst of practicing discipline/Tapas, there’s space to keep burning/going or just to simply give up.  If you give up, you often land back at square one.  In asana if you give up after falling over, you will never advance to the next stage of the posture.  If you get back up and patiently try again, you move forward and learn something new about yourself.  The heart of the asana practice is to show up physically (discipline!), commit to being on the mat mentally (disciplined focus!) and practice from where you are in the moment (trust!).  Another example is mountain biking.  I’ve had to shed a lot of my limited thinking/beliefs about what I think I can’t do.  If I give up on the trail, I’m carrying my bike more than riding it.   So often when I begin to doubt myself, I tap into my yoga breathing & Tapas to get me up, down or through what looks like impossible feats (climbing steep hills, jumping logs, splashing through streams).  Letting go/shedding my limiting thinking of myself has required a lot of trust & faith.

Today, whether I’m on my yoga mat or mountain bike, I know things flow better when I fully breathe and relax into the situation at hand even when it’s a little uncomfortable.   I’ve learned to commit to me on my mat and bike so I can show up fully as me in my life, not just for me but for others too.  I’ve also learned that faith & trust are powerful and stronger than fear, no matter how big the fear appears on the surface.  I believe without discipline one remains stagnant in life –wondering around without guidance. Until one can commit to work through areas of stuckness/stickiness (whether in the body or in life), they’ll remain stuck.   In asana, one remains stagnant in a posture – always wishing to be at the next level.  Without regularly changing a car’s oil, as my Father taught me, it will one day die.  And as with life, we either evolve (which requires discipline/Tapas) or die.  I will conclude with a quote I recently stumbled upon by Dale Carnegie:

“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”