I never really knew what travel writing was all about. Sure, I’ve read an article here and a blog there, sensing that I, too, would like to write while traveling. My imagination led me to believe that throughout my travels I would need to be diligent, carving out a few hours every other day, sitting down and squeezing out a piece about where I had been and what I had seen. I imagined it a chore, a job. And to write more frequently, one of my New Year’s resolutions, is a part time job. But to my surprise, suddenly, on a quiet morning in a southern archipelago along the western coast of Thailand, I can’t help but to write! Pure inspiration, awe struck! To have found such a beautiful place filled with beautiful people! From the inside and out. Radiating love, compassion, honesty, and truth. Living in a simpler way than mine despite the modern times.
If you know me, you know that I’m very much grounded in the actions, skills, and efforts of teaching yoga. I rarely talk about feeling my way through teaching, as I see teaching yoga as very practical, tangible, and real. I have the utmost respect for those who can resonate with their upper chakras to guide their classes, but it’s just not who I am or how I get the job done. I have carefully crafted my craft and I am proud of the hours of study, trial and error, and just plain experience that has fine-tuned my teaching abilities. Still there is this inexplicable thing that happens, especially during savasana or final relaxation, which I can only describe as this warm, encapsulating bubble. It’s the action of holding the space.
The first time I heard this term, “holding space,” it sounded like just another hippie, new-age term, and in my field there are a lot of them. I remember nodding my head as if I understood its meaning. To me, a good teacher creates the right atmosphere in savasana, dimming the lights, assuring all students are comfortable, describing how to relax, and then meditating or at least trying to keep their own mind clear as their students took this final pose. Apparently, but not so apparent to me, there was something else that I was doing in savasana, that one day a student described as “holding space.”
Over time I received news that during the course of my entire class I “hold space” for my students. What does this mean? My mind started analyzing, and analyzing, because I don’t feel for the answers. After a lot of analysis and time, because maybe analysis takes longer than intuition, I came to a conclusion!
Holding space is so simple to do, and important, in a yoga class or in any healing practice! And here’s is how you create an atmosphere that is inviting and accepting in which your students will want to journey with you:
Some things I see as just black or white. This or that. It is or it isn’t. Even when it comes to my job of teaching yoga. You are either in correct alignment or you are not. But as I’ve continued to teach I have learned that practice makes progress and if progress is not allowed how can a student grow? There are so many aspects that make a good teacher. The very necessities are understanding anatomy, knowing asana alignment, and being able to safely sequence a class. But so often what is overlooked in training programs are the more subtle qualities that can make one teacher stand out from the rest.
I once work beside a teacher who lacked humility, liked to show off her sense of humor constantly in class, and would cross ethical lines by becoming friends with most of her students. My black and white perspective lumped her into the category of “bad teacher.” But as time passed, as I continued to grow as a teacher, and as I had similar experiences of my own, I was able to see what stood out the most about her teaching, and what stood out the most to her students. She had the ability to observe what students needed on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level. She met her students’ needs. She met them where they were on the mat that day and each day they came to class, and they continued to come day after day.
Her students kept returning to her classes not because they thought she was their new best friend, or because they enjoyed the gossip or the jokes that she would tell in class. They continued to follow her from class to class and from studio to studio, despite what I viewed as her “disruptive” or “inappropriate” behavior, because she had a gift for seeing what her students needed.
Recently I spoke with a yoga teacher who graduated from one of my past training courses. She was agitated that the senior students in her class who, disgusted by the droning sitar chords she would typically play, asked for some golden oldies instead. I thought of my poor mother when I was 16 and decided that three sticks of Nag Champa incense must be burning at all times while I locked myself in my room. Frankly, most baby boomers are over Hare Krishna’s, sitars, and incense. They lived it! So if you’re a yoga teacher who just created a playlist filled with kirtan, play it for your 20 somethings, not your 65+ crowd.
At this point in my life I have not had the privilege to be a mother. Although I have created many forms of art and birthed my own business, I have not physically given birth to another human life form. Maybe someday I will, maybe I won’t; it has yet to be decided. I cannot speak from the experience of motherhood, all I can do it speak from what I imagine are similar experiences, and from there I am writing this tribute to all mothers.
Motherhood is a rite of passage, and although in this day and age it is not a required rite for everyone, it still deserves the respect and honor that comes with a rite of passage. In Ayurveda, it is believed to be a heightened spiritual time in a woman’s life, especially the period of post-partum in the weeks, months, and even years after giving birth. It is a time when a woman is challenged, when more is asked of her than ever before, when she experiences her edge and with strength lives there without collapsing. It makes 40 days in the dessert look like a vacation.
With red tents and women’s circles slowly on the rise again in our patriarchal society, our view of womanhood, and along with it motherhood, is shifting. This Mother’s Day has me reflecting on and admiring those specific qualities and characteristics that are natural to and/or developed as a result of motherhood:
This blog post is all about when to stick by the sequence you had previously written for your yoga class and when to ditch it all together. This post was inspired by a new yoga teacher, who was once my yoga trainee, who recently wrote the following on a private yoga forum:
"Although I had been taught to keep my sequence and modify it to fit her needs, I felt that I could not ask her to do multiple asana that I know she simply cannot do. I have done this when I have a pregnant woman and a student with an ostomy bag. It's not that I can't or don't modify. However, if I was planning a twist class and my ostomy student came, I would teach a hip class instead. I feel like asking the student to modify a few times is fine, but asking them to modify for the majority of the class can be discouraging. Am I the only one? Is this an issue? And if so, how can I overcome this?" ~Concerned Yoga Teacher
Most of us are aware of the programming we've received throughout our lives. Various messages embedded into our psyche about how the world should work and how we should be. We grow up and discover these messages, their roots, their depth, and we work towards rebooting, redesigning, and reprogramming ourselves.
Part of me dreads Christmas. It’s a holiday filled with triggers, and the buttons of my deepest programming are set off. Another part of me is thankful for this time, as it forces these yet to be faced programs to surface. During the holiday season I fondly think of the honest and funny quote, “If you think you’re enlightened, spend a week with your family,” attributed to Ram Dass (pictured).
To prevent myself from slipping into my judgmental programming, I remind myself of truths such as this. We are blessed to have our family, not for the more obvious reasons of love, support, comradery, and sense of belonging, but also because the ultimate button pushing trigger happy human beings in your life are those closest to you. And they don’t even know it most of the time. That’s why it’s so beautiful! And depending on your bend, hysterically funny :)
More words of wisdom from Ram Dass come to mind when attempting to find the blessing in your button being jammed in at Christmas dinner – “When you know how to listen, everybody is the guru, speaking to you, it’s right here…always.” There’s not much wiggle room with the word always. No ifs, ands, or buts about it people, they are all gurus speaking to you right now. But can you hear the message? Can you sift past your emotional reactions, overwhelming thoughts, deep set programming, and find the guru’s words? No, it’s not easy. If it was we would all be flying around, reading each other’s minds, and bored with this existence. We are not masters of this reality. Nor have we yet mastered our human predicament. And that’s why it’s all so interesting, the known, the mysterious, all of it!
So when you’re debating if this is the holiday season you'll finally reach over and strangle that loved one, call upon Ram Dass’s infinite wisdom. Laugh at how ridiculous these buttons and programs are. Love how fortunate we are for having family, for having these souls travel this journey along our side and challenge us to continue growing.
Leaving you with one more quote from Dass to contemplate as you enjoy any remaining days with those who may push your buttons, “Everything changes once we identify with being the witness to the story, instead of the actor in it.”
Yesterday was my first day of filming for my newly launched YouTube channel, Spira Yoga & Wellness. Hours of takes and retakes were almost deleted when I first began the editing process. Yes, it’s common to hate the way you look on film or cringe when hearing your own voice recorded. I've always thought the saying that the camera “adds 10 pounds” was a ridiculous statement and obviously coined by vain individuals.
With a background in theatre and a healthy self-esteem, I was surprised to find myself experiencing these cliché feelings when watching myself on film. It was horrifying.
First of all, I have a really expressive face. Almost comical! This isn't “news” to me, as I've been told so by everyone from a bus driver to my best friends to my acting teacher. But I've never seen it so explicitly. It was painful to watch! So I forced myself to watch it. Hearing my voice patterning, the way I move my hands, all of it, really, was so annoying that I debated deleting all of the takes!
Learning to love myself has taken many steps and I feel that I'm still at the beginning of the journey. After an hour or so of watching myself, I began to accept my own image. This is who I am. This is how others experience me. If they can love and support me, surely I can do the same for myself.
So if you’re one to dodge mirrors or avoid any and all recordings and images of yourself, this challenge may not be for you. But if you’re feeling brave, or ready for self-acceptance, I dare you to listen to a voicemail you've left someone or watch a video of yourself on repeat until you fall truly, deeply in love with yourself. Let’s take self-care and self-love to a deeper level. Let’s accept ourselves, the flaws we perceive, the judgements and all! Love starts with the self, and then it can radiate to others. Love yourself this holiday season, and then spread that beautiful love around! <3
"At the center of your being you have the answer:
you know who you are and you know what you want"