Archive for the ‘yoga studios’ Category

Sh*t Happens, So Be In It

For those of you that know me, this blog post title is probably a surprise.  For those of you that don’t know me well, let me state upfront I don’t curse (well at least not 99.9% of the time).  Thanks to my parents & grandparents, I’m just not a fan of it.  Though I’m sure we can all admit every now and then it’s appropriate because every now and then sh*t happens!

Stuff happens all the time, right?  You’ve made it through airport security and you find out your flight is delayed 3 hours, how do you react?  Or you paid a bill online (on time) but for whatever reason the new statement you just received shows you’re “past due” with a finance charge…what happens?   Or picture this…You’re working on a big project for your company and you find out either a) it’s well exceeded the budget and/or b) a main contributor has just quit (or been fired, transferred, whatever).  Or how about…You wake up on a beautiful Saturday morning geared up for yoga class (dressed in your new lululemon or Athleta with your Manduka in tow) and in route to your neighborhood yoga studio you get a call from a good friend (insert family member, neighbor, whoever) who really needs to talk with you about a rough patch in his/her life.  How do you respond when life throws you a curve and interrupts your pretty plans?

When unexpected things happen, shifts within us happen whether we are aware of them or not.  We have multiple systems within us (think nervous system, digestive system, endocrine system, muscular system, immune system, etc.) that often go haywire simply based on how we chose to respond in the moment.  It’s natural to run the other way or emotionally react – fear, anger, anxiety, loss, etc. – but often this can be unhealthy.  It’s not just bad for our health to emotionally/automatically react but it’s bad for the health of what’s to come next.  We clearly can’t control the external stuff, sh*t and shifts.  What we can control is how we respond (or don’t respond).   When we take control of how we react, we are in control of the internal shifts and space within.

Let’s take it a step further.  I’m a huge believer that things happen for a reason.  So when sh*t happens, it’s better to go with it vs. against it, and not just for physiological reasons.  I’m not saying that you need to agree with it all but take the time to sit in it, be in it.  Be in the the space of “being uncomfortable”.  Be in the space of learning something new.  Be in the space of seeing something different than what you’ve been use to.  Be in the space so you can create new space for you to grow.  Sh*t happens because it’s often serving (not always) as the healthy manure your little seed that the universe planted needs to flourish.

Two personal examples.  First, I wouldn’t be teaching yoga today if I hadn’t been laid off from my last corporate job.  I lived and breathed marketing for over 10 years in various tech/telecom companies.   The truth is I lost my passion for it the last couple years I was doing it.  During that time, I did my first 200-hour yoga teacher training in Washington, DC and started teaching a Sunday morning yoga class at a local gym.  During this time, I never really thought teaching yoga was the end all/be all for me.  It was when I was walked out the door at my last corporate gig, I took it as a sign to sit and be.  I took it as a sign that maybe sitting at a desk all day was not my calling anymore.  It was through the sitting and being that I figured out teaching yoga really was my calling.

Another example is I was recently working on launching a 200-hour yoga teacher training program.  My web designer even created a new webpage for it (that will be up on the new abellaYoga.com website launching in June).  However, the brakes were slammed on the 200-hour teacher training (out of my control) and I took some space to think about it.  I took it as a sign to use this new space to help nourish a little thought-seed that’s been rolling around in my head for a year or so.    As a result, I’m in the midst of creating a yoga teacher guidance program (you could say yoga teacher mentorship program but I don’t like the word mentorship) to answer questions like…What are the differences between teaching private yoga clients vs. studio classes vs. office yoga classes?   Do you “Om” in corporate yoga (office yoga) classes?   Do you offer hands-on assists with private yoga and office clients?   How many classes do I need to teach a week to go full-time?  How much do I charge?  The list of questions is endless so back on subject with the post.

This “being” thing takes practice.  For me, the “being” alive in the midst of both the good and messy stuff is what my yoga practice has taught me.  My favorite quote from Swami Satchidananda captures the essence of this post:  “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”  And I say “roll with it, flow with it, be in it.”

Note:  Though this post didn’t mention a single yoga sutra (something I’ve been focused on the last year or so), Swami Satchidananda offers a great translation of The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali.

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.

The Business of Yoga (part 1)

I’m sure you’ve heard it multiple times…when you’re passionate about what you do professionally, it doesn’t feel like work.  I’m lucky to say I’ve been experiencing this for the last six plus years teaching yoga full-time in the vicinity of Washington, DC.  When I left my last marketing gig, I realized I no longer thrived in the corporate atmosphere like I once had just a couple years prior.  Already an Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT), I wondered how I could possibly make a living doing something I loved.  After some research and brainstorming, abellaYoga was born.

So yes I make a living teaching yoga.  I’m often asked “how?” both by other experienced yoga teachers and those just fresh out of a yoga teacher training program.  I’ve received calls and emails from several around the country asking for advice on how to start teaching yoga full-time.  More than once, the business side of me has thought “I could make additional money coaching new yoga teachers on “the business of yoga” (aka being a yoga teacher mentor).

It happened again last week.  As I hung up the phone on Thursday with a girl from California who wants to create a mobile yoga business like abellaYoga —offering in-home privates and office yoga classes— it dawned on me that maybe it is just in my karma to share what I know.  Sure I could charge for these 30-45 minute calls but why?  Why not simply help those who want to spread the power and joy of yoga?  I’ve had the honor to teach yoga full-time the last few years and continue to be blessed so why shouldn’t others experience this.  It’s selfish and non-yogic to not share what you know (think Aparigraha, sutra 2.30).

So here goes.  Let me first say the yoga times have changed since I started teaching.  There are way more certified yoga teachers than 5 years ago.  Secondly, when I started abellaYoga in 2006 there really wasn’t much information available on how to start a yoga business, or make a living teaching yoga.  My 200-hour yoga teacher training program didn’t cover this topic.  Unlike today, you can Google the business of yoga (or teaching yoga full-time) and you’re bound to find free articles on the topic or yoga teachers who are willing to mentor you on the subject for a fee.

Fortunately for me, my years in the business & marketing world came in handy.  The first thing I did was create a business plan and to this day I still use it as a guide to keep me on track with my vision, annual goals, marketing, pricing and the many “to do’s” that go on beyond just teaching yoga in homes and offices.  If you’re not sure where to start, again go to Mr. Google (as my Grandmother called it), type in the phrase business plan and you’re bound to find a slew of free templates.  No one has to see your plan especially if you’re not seeking a loan (i.e. to open a yoga studio).

As you go through the business plan process, keep a copy of The Yoga Sutras close at hand.  There are a slew of instructions in there that can be helpful in guiding your entrepreneurial spirit.  “Effort toward steadiness is practice” (sutra 1.13) is the first one that comes to mind.  A business takes dedication, through both the highs and lows.  To be successful, there will be plenty of times you’ll need to do things that pull you out of your comfort zone (think Tapas, sutra 2.1).  And through it all, it’s key to stay positive (think pratipaksha bhavana, sutra 2.33), grounded and focused (sutra 2.52 & 2.53).

In my next post, I’ll share a few other biz tips that come straight from my heart.

Santosha – Discovered in a Bad Yoga Class

“By contentment, supreme joy is gained.”  sutra 2.42

“Niyama consists of purity, contentment, accepting but not causing pain, study, and self-surrender.  sutra 2.32

Santosha is Sanskrit for contentment.  The word contentment/santosha is first mentioned in The Yoga Sutras among the list of five niyamas (sutra 2.32)Side note:  My take on the niyamas is they guide our internal compass.  They’re ethical principles (or observances) that strengthen our character and guide us to live life in the best, most purest way possible.  As a result, they help us shine in a way that inspires others to live richer lives.  Richer meaning all the wealth we truly need is deep within, and not found held in a bank account.

Back to contentment/santosha.  In my yoga studies, I’ve seen many deep definitions on contentment.  From a simple idea like contentment is being able to appreciate and live in the present moment to a more thought-provoking description of “Contentment is perfected in the absence of cravings.  It is the experience that nothing is lacking, that everything happens is an integral part of a Divine Plan.” (quoted from Inside the Yoga Sutras by Jaganath Carrera)

It’s often said that we already have everything we need.  Or as Sri Dharma Mittra says “all is within.”  Though our culture wants us to believe we need “things” or other people to make us happy.  The “things” list is long but a few examples:  new toys (cars, bikes, clothes, accessories), fancy restaurants, botox, a different boyfriend/husband/family.  You get the drift.  I have many friends who are always seeking beyond what they have and at the same time they’ve yet to take time to fully appreciate what exist in their lives.

The path of yoga leads us in the opposite direction…let go of external desires and internal contentment will be discovered.  Though the process of discovering contentment requires a huge mound of trust, courage and attention.  It takes a lot of trust to follow a notion, such as the niyama contentment, when no one is there to hold your hand and lead you through the dark moments of life.  It also takes a lot of courage to fully step in and feel life as it is happening – feeling the awesome, okay, bad, scary and all the sensations in between that show up.  It takes a lot of paying attention to the present experience – being in it, as it is and not mentally jumping ahead to what’s happening 5 hours later the day.

Total confession here…I took a not so great yoga class this past weekend in DC and it was there that I experienced santosha in a new wayLast side note:  My new goal is to try 2 new (new to me) yoga teachers a month in the DC area.  Not a tough challenge given there are sooooo many studios now in the DC Metro Area (defined in my mind as Arlington, VA;  Alexandria, VA; Washington, DC;  Bethesda, MD).  So I signed up for what was listed as a vinyasa yoga /intermediate level class.  Let’s just say after starting in a restorative pose for 10+ minutes and not getting into my first Downward Facing Dog until 20 minutes into class, I was not content.  Thanks to my Grandmother’s constant words of wisdom, I reminded myself that there is always something new to learn in every situation in life.  Though I continued to find myself way too often checking the clock, realizing I had no idea the end time for the class and feeling I was stuck there.  Then I thought “I’m stuck here for a reason”.  That’s when I settled in and tried to make the best of it.

I can’t say I learned anything “new” from the teacher but I had a total realization that my life could be way worse.  Here I was on a Sunday morning surrounded by 40 or so others in a yoga class, bending and stretching in ways that many people aren’t able to do.  I have a healthy body and a great life.  The sun was coming out and I had a full day off ahead.  Life could be so much worse.  It was there and then I reminded myself of santosha.

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.”