Posts Tagged With: yoga studio

Fast food yoga anyone?

Yoga has succumb to the fast food influence. Everyone wants the cool poses and they want the cool poses NOW! People would also like to pay as little as possible for their time spent doing these trick postures. These circus trick postures seem to be as tempting as the little plastic super hero figurine in a happy meal. The “high” from these postures is addictive, and it has power that can alter your life. But not all things we do are good for us. The surgeon general warns us that cigarette smoking is bad, yet people still do it. So what are we to do when we feel tempted to only be pleasure seekers and pain avoiders? Always start with awareness.

We have gone mad with yoga in the United States with classes called happy hour, wisdom warriors and rockasana. These classes branded with big promises of happiness, knowledge and the “Cool” factor. If anything, when I head to a yoga class I am usually looking for less, not more. I want to walk away feeling liberated of the heavy load I’m carrying. I don’t want to worry about how cool I look, while losing a percentage of my hearing because I’m jamming out to Eminem in Triangle pose. What has happened to yoga in America? In my opinion, it has just become another thing we have tried to control, stamp a label on, and declare it ours. Now let’s see how cheap we can make it, how trendy and nutritionally devoid. Sounds a lot like fast food doesn’t it?

Now I don’t want to be the Grinch that stole Natarajasana from the towns people, but I wouldn’t mind stealing a few things away from this Americanized yoga. Like Loud music, cute little names for the postures (like fallen angel and baby grasshopper), lavender-scented hand towels, foot rubs in savasana, and arm balances. Now hear me out, I know I few of you just gasped; If you like loud music, listen to it in your car on the way to yoga because it’s not possible to listen to your breathing in a Rockasana class. Which is the primary tenet of yoga’s methodology. If you like foot rubs, pay a trained massage therapist to assist you in your healing. If you like lavender-scented towels then launder your clothes with a little lavender added to it. Remember the 4th limb of yoga Pratyahara – sense withdrawal, not sense overload. And if you like your practice to have a heavy portion of arm balancing, this could be a good time to examine why? Has your yoga become a place for an addiction? Is this kind of yoga possibly feeding narcissism?


I know arm balancing postures are very empowering! I’m not trying to say that they have no place in yoga, as they have many benefits, different for each student. I’m not saying that we should take any of these things I speak of away from the students. But teachers should ask the question “Am I teaching this class to be popular? to be famous? to fill my ego and get my number of followers to a million on social media?” or “Am I teaching it for the people who show up? Evaluating their ability and analyzing their patterns of weakness and or stubbornness. Is it for me, or is it for them?” No doubt there is a “high” that can come with being up at the front of the room demonstrating great skill in front of 40 people, their eyes wide from being enamored by your grace and beauty. It is this “high” we must be careful with. I took a great workshop from Sean Corne, a very beautiful and gifted teacher. She said, “do you want to be popular, or do you want to be a good teacher?” That question has always stuck with me through 14 years of teaching. I try to check my motive behind my teaching with that question. Sometimes you have to sacrifice the trick poses so that you can teach an intelligent sequence that informs and educates as you go.

Some teachers do a beautiful job, sequencing, cueing and supporting the student, but too many times I have seen the opposite – where 80% of the students are at a basic level ability, but the teacher is handing out advanced level postures. 20% of the students achieve the asana, 50% are plain sitting it out, 10% are putting in good effort and 20% are setting up patterns of future injury. This is not good teaching. I believe the source of this kind of teaching has to do with the fast nature of the industry now. Yoga studios are graduating large groups of trainees every couple of weeks. This side of the industry is becoming like an assembly line. The fact is that you can get certified to teach yoga in 1 month, accumulating as little as 200 hours of knowledge, and in the end all you have to do is pay your 95$ to Yoga Alliance. Which only proves you finished the training. It proves nothing of your knowledge or commitment. Graduates do not have to take a test, or submit competency of any kind to the governing body of yoga. This seems like a slippery slope for yogas future.

In traditional ashtanga yoga, a teacher can hold you back from future postures until you have done the work necessary to move your body into and out of it in a safe and appropriate way. This is just one of the reasons why I love Ashtanga and its old school principals. There is nothing wrong with taking things slow. I love that my Ashtanga yoga teacher, who I greatly respect, doesn’t even offer a 200 hr course. He offers instead two separate 100 hour trainings and they are spaced a year apart. This helps to ensure that the student stick with it for at least a year. It proves a teacher’s level of dedication when they are willing to wait, continue to practice and come back a year later to complete the course.

Now a days, a student can start yoga in February, practice on and off for a couple of months, take a 1 month teacher training, and maybe a few months later they open their own studio and begin teaching something that they have only just begun. This would be like opening a restaurant because you own some cook book’s. Or opening a doctor’s office because you are really proficient at taking temperatures, and giving boo boo’s kisses. There is a reason why so many professions take years of schooling. Many have boards that you must pass before you can practice your profession. It’s the reason why restaurants receive reviews from the board of health, to help prevent you from getting bad food. Who is going to protect the public from getting bad yoga?

Change will come when people no longer want it fast and cheap. When they decide to no longer be glazed over by the shiny big promises of the cool poses and fancy tricks, but start to enjoy the simplicity of what yoga can do for you – like a better nights sleep. Maybe it’s time to teach “bran muffin-nutritionally packed” kind of yoga, with thoughtfulness to the actual students that show up and organized progressively towards a specific posture. Instead of teaching a “donut-empty of nutrients” kind of class, devoid of any substantial thought and or observation to the students participation and progression. These kind of classes that has as many arm balances thrown in as possible, with each one behaving like a sugar spike the way nutritionally devoid food behaves. These sugar spike postures are bound to create a big crash, or as I have seen – a real crash to the very hard and unforgiving floor.

Yoga is a lifelong journey that requires time on a yoga mat – alone and with a professional teacher. It requires time to digest and adapt the information. It requires the student making wise choices to practice with qualified teachers who have done their time on the mat. So don’t be afraid to ask your teacher qualifying questions like “How long have you been teaching?”, or “With whom have you studied?” There are enough qualified, elder and senior teachers out there – with more than 10/15 years teaching experience. You don’t have to settle for the studio that is the closest, the cheapest, or even the fanciest. That could be buying you yoga devoid of any expertise.

Keep your awareness sharp and make sure you aren’t falling for nutritionally empty yoga. Be ware of gimmicks. Play with those postures within reason. Stay aware of some of the poisons there are in a yoga practice like aversion and attachment.

When are you an addict? When you are so attached to something that it causes you great suffering to go without. It’s easy to get addicted to just about anything. By constantly re-examining your motives you will keep your addictions in check. Go for sustenance, commit to the long haul and enjoy the subtle flavorings of a good practice with a very qualified teacher. Sometimes the best flavors come out of a long slow cooking process. Soak in the wisdom from the years some of these teachers have invested. Be willing to let your yoga progress slowly at times. A good teacher will help you do that by calling you out on your aversions, and your attachments. And always try to remember this simple advice from the yoga sutra’s.

Sutra 1.12 Abhyasa Vairagyabhyam Tannirodhah. Mental fluxes are restrained by practice and non-attachment

Sutra 1.14 Sa tu dirgha kale nairantarya satka-rasevito drdhabhumih. Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnest.

Sutra 2.3 Avidyasmita raga dvesabhinivesah klesah – There are five primal causes of suffering: ignorance of your True Self and the value of spirituality, egoism and its self-centeredness, attachment to pleasure, aversion to pain, and clinging to life out of fear of death.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , asana, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A very exciting workshop!

CrossFit and Yoga, do they work? Absolutely! So many of their principles align. CrossFit believes in having a coach to call you out on bad form and impatience, and yoga believes in having a principal teacher to do the same thing. Both practices believe in showing up to your yoga Studio, and or your Box 6 days a week. No excuses, get it done. They both believe that good form – creates good function. They both believe in not cheating through your weakness to advance. They both believe in learning to use your body as an instrument for exploration of your limits. Because of all these similarities, and more I am excited to be teaching the CrossFit Community what I have learned from being a dedicated student and teacher of yoga for the past 14 years.

I have always been into fitness. From a very young age I wanted to be a bodybuilder. I grew up in the 80’s when Cory Everson was quite the fitness star of her time. I worked hard then, and continue to do so now. I have become a body builder just by a different definition, instead of lifting weights to build my body, I lift myself up off the ground into all sorts of yoga postures. I am making my best possible body built to handle anything.

1989, the summer of bodybuilding.

1989, the summer of bodybuilding.

I have been a runner pretty much since I could walk, well not really, but you know what I mean. I have been a runner longer than I have been a yogi. I have stayed injury free through four marathons because of my years of having a rigorous yoga practice. If you’ve read my past blogs you know that I find parallels between running and yoga. Now I look forward to finding the parallels between yoga and CrossFit. I intend to share all of my hard-earned breakthroughs with the fitness industry, or as I like to call it the “Grateful I have this body industry.”

Pittsburgh Marathon finish 2010.

Pittsburgh Marathon finish 2010.

The reality is the body was designed to do great things. If this weren’t true there wouldn’t be an olympic swimmer breaking a record right now, there wouldn’t be an olympic dead lift weight being conquered this very moment and there sure as heck wouldn’t be another great athlete being voted into another Hall of Fame. The human body is so exquisite and resilient. It’s sadly resilient to obesity as much as it is resilient to being pushed into new feats of disbelief. I have been witnessing feats of strength and flexibility in yoga for 14 years now from my body and others. I have overcome adversities, from a full ruptured L5/S1 6 years ago, to running 3 marathons since then. I don’t accept “no” as a final answer.

If you are not yet inspired to do great things with your body then maybe it’s time to get up and get going to your closest Box or Studio. Your potential is limitless, discover this for yourself.

If you are interested in hosting a similar workshop at your CrossFit Box, contact me for details. If you are interested in attending this workshop see below.
January 17th – 19th 2014
Pittsburgh, PA
Registration is OPEN!

Categories: For the beginner | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Ninja skill

Yoga has brought me some very interesting talents over the years. And yes, contortion is one of them. I can squeeze into tight spots that most wouldn’t try. I can also shave my legs while standing on one foot in the shower. But better than that is I have acquired some great ninja skills. Don’t freak, this doesn’t mean that I’m attacking people with nun chucks or anything like that. It just means that I can sneak around like Bruce Lee in “Enter the Dragon” without being noticed. Because of yoga I am more aware of how I move my body which allows me to walk softly and gracefully. This in no way excludes me from the occasional bumped knee or stubbed toe but it definitely lessens my chances of having that awkward moment at the E.R. trying to explain how exactly it is that I need 13 stitches. Yes, it probably is saving me money on my health care cost. I recently attempted yoga on top of a paddle board which reassured me of my great newly acquired ninja skill. How, might you ask am I sure that I have mastered ninja skills? The proof is in the number of times I have snuck up on yoga students, my dog and even my husband. And they were all slightly startled by my presence.


This idea of walking softly reminds me of an expression I had painted on the walls of my old yoga studio back in Ohio: “live gently, walk softly.” Yoga is a great place to become aware of both of these things. This old studio of mine was on the second floor of a building that had beautiful old hardwood floors. These floors called great attention to just how heavily we moved our bodies. Every time students would step forward into virabhadrasana it would sound as if they were trying to kill a cockroach. Or when they would jump forward to standing, it could sound like they were trying to break through the floor to make a fast escape. This became a great teaching opportunity for me to point out the heaviness of their movements and to educate them on using their bandhas. While doing yoga, the idea is for your movements to not be heard, to become like a superhero that can sneak around, unnoticed. I often joke with my students that this could give them the ability to eavesdrop on their children. Of course, only if necessary. It sure could make it easier playing the role of Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus. But generally speaking, walking softly makes you seem like a more compassionate and relaxed person.

Some Buddhist cultures take walking softly to a whole new level, they go so far as to sweep their path every where they go as to not step on any living creature. Most of us aren’t going to go to such extremes but it wouldn’t hurt to become a little more aware of our movements and the impact they have on others and even our-selves. It could do us some good to become more aware of our body language. There was a study done about how many years slouching ages us. You shouldn’t be surprised to hear that we look 7 years older when we slouch. Ha, did you just sit up a little straighter when you read that? Another negative to slouching is that you collapse at your diaphragm which is the muscle that facilitates breathing for you. If your slumped over, I guarantee you are not breathing optimally. Imagine what effect that might be having on your mood and energy. Forget that liquid crap – 5 hour energy. I guarantee you sitting up straighter and moving around more will give you energy that you are lacking.

This idea of “live gently and walk softly” is the same as “leave no trace”. When you venture out into wilderness you are to respect it enough to feel no need to change it. Leave things just as you found them, do not leave any trash, do not break any branches, attempt to not wear away the beauty that should be left for others to see. It should be as if you were never there, just as you should never know when a good ninja has passed through. We shouldn’t need to try to change yoga either, but we should try to become one with our environment. Now a days, many people in the yoga community have this need to put their stamp on yoga’s history, to lay claim to something that was a gift to us all by the benevolent God Shiva, as the story goes. Just as the divine mother gave all of us this beautiful earth. All the more reason to live gently, for future generations. All the more reason to leave yoga unchanged so the richness of its history isn’t watered down. Samurai were a bit more refined than ninja’s were. The samurai acted by a code of conduct and they were devoted to serving their king. So maybe a little ninja skill and a little samurai skill could do us all some good.

People are clomping around as if they are Frankenstein. If you’re scaring small children with your mannerisms and behavior, there is a problem. I often say to my students that the expressions they make while doing yoga should never frighten a small child. I remind them that if someone accidentally walked into the yoga room they shouldn’t think it’s an anger management meeting. From the way we move our bodies, to the way we breathe, to the expressions on our face, we should apply the softly and gently approach.

I love how sometimes students are forced into walking softly when they choose to skip savasana. Yet I am never surprised that some people can’t pull it off. As they clang, jingle and stomp their way out of the yoga room. I have always thought two of the most unattractive qualities are being oblivious and irresponsible. Yoga is great for changing both of these behavioral problems. I’ve heard it said in a much more poetic fashion than this, but once yoga awakens you, you can’t go back to sleep. Meaning once your awareness has moved into your physical being (niyama) and outward towards others (yama) you can’t undo those positive affect’s its bound to have. This is a blessing and a curse, but I can’t imagine living any other way. So I live gently and I always try to walk softly. Matter of fact, I like to try to practice it, in the most literal sense possible by walking around the yoga room when they are all peacefully tucked into savasana. Every now and then a creak in my knee or ankle gives away my movement, but for the most part I have mastered being a yogi ninja.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Samtosa vs. Samadhi

Samtosa vs. SamadhiI would like to challenge your thinking about the pinnacle stage that yoga is supposed to lead us to samadhi. Samadhi gets the top rung on the Ashtanga ladder.  Seems to be the inspiration for all our expiration, frustration and conversations, this one included. Yogi’s love to flaunt their samadhi around to people who seem not to know how to pronounce it, let alone experience it. Some yoga studio owners are even bold enough to name their yoga studio, Samadhi. Which, I would believe implies that if I practice there, I would receive my bliss way ahead of all those other hard-working students of yoga. But is all this sweating, bending, breathing, meditating and chanting really going to make me blissful or take me to a super conscious state?

I’m not so sure I want bliss or a super conscious state. I have found the thing that I experience the most from yoga is samtosa (pronounced Saam -to-sha) Just saying the word for me seems to put me linked right into its meaning, via feeling. Samtosa means contentment. Sutra 2.42 says “Samtosat anuttamah sukha labhah” translated simply as contentment brings supreme happiness. I find that because I do yoga, I am more content, more often and more easily. I sometimes think that samtosa should be given more respect and attention. Right now it’s just tucked into the second limb of yoga; the niyama’s. (which are methods for how I interact with myself) Where-as the first limb; the yama’s, bring’s me into my relationship with the world. (everything outside myself)

I feel like people are grasping for this eternal bliss in many of their activities in life. It’s kind of funny, because if I read up on samadhi, I find that there is not that much mention of this state of bliss. It is said as such ” The bliss OF samadhi”, because samadhi is actually where the mind becomes one with the object of its attention. Samadhi is a heightened state. Or it could be said that it’s a heightened state of dhyana – meditation, which is an unbroken flow of awareness. Somewhere along the way, people just started to say that the end goal of yoga or that the meaning of samadhi is Bliss. Bliss to me is happiness with euphoria.

We seem to be a society craving happiness more than anything else. Advertisers use this happiness desire on us endlessly to get us to buy more, do more, eat more and overall MORE of anything. I have read a book called “The Happiness Project”, and “The Geography of Bliss”, (by the way, good book) “Stumbling on Happiness”, and “Hector and the Search for Happiness”. I’m sure there are many other books out there touting their promise of achieving greater happiness. Campbell’s Soup has a whole ad campaign currently around the notion that “You can bring your happiness to work.” by bringing Campbell’s Soup to work for lunch. If all I need to do is eat Campbell’s Soup to be more happy, then why am I doing all this bending, sweating, twisting, and breathing to try to achieve it? Seems like there might be a short cut? Can soup really make me happier? Can reading all those books get me there quicker? Can doing all this yoga really lead me to Bliss?

If happiness was so easy to achieve, then there wouldn’t be such a large percentage of the population on antidepressants. I find that contentment comes way easier for me then bliss or happiness does. When I am content, I am at peace with what I am doing, or where I am, or who I’m with, or even if I am all by myself, no where in particular, doing nothing of great importance. I can find myself content walking my dogs. I can find myself very content reading a book, or right in the middle of my yoga practice, or even while raking leaves.  In order to achieve samtosa I must not want more than what I have in that moment. Which would mean, I am not grasping for MORE! Aparigraha, or non-grasping is another golden nugget from the great limbs of yoga. It also falls under the niyama’s.

To me, I like that when I am content I don’t feel pressure. But when I am happy, I sometimes do feel pressure. Happiness’s dark shadow would be sadness. The expression that  “the higher you go the further you fall” says to me the risk people take with all this bliss seeking. I figure that if I am content, I am neither sad nor happy but equally established in my reality. It’s not that I don’t want to be happy. Happiness is fun and joyful, and I like feeling that way. It’s just that I don’t need all my moments in life to be off the Richter scale. I am comfortable with the mundane, familiar and the dependable parts of my life. I know these moments of samtosa/contentment will be interrupted with moments of great joy and sadness but I’d rather have my life 80% of the time be where I am at ease and steady in my attitude, mood and energy. Being content does makes me happy, not euphoric, but happy. So does that mean happiness, a.k.a. bliss really is the top rung?

Samadhi is becoming one with what I direct my attention towards. When I’m content, my attention is no where in particular. I think that’s the difference between samadhi and samtosa. I think samadhi is for a higher form of spirituality but santosa is for daily practicality. To grow into being content more often in my life on a day-to-day basis would then probably help me create more room in my life to experience samadhi. So I think this a great example of chicken or egg? Cart or horse? I need samtosa to experience samadhi, without it, it’s not possible. I first need to learn how to become content with the mundane, necessary moments of my life before I can experience the bliss OF samadhi. So Samtosa is the egg and samadhi is the chicken that’s born from the egg. So does samtosa need more attention brought to it? I think so. I think if you were pitting the two against each other, as which is more important, it would definitely be samtosa.

Ding, ding, ding! So in this corner, we have the heavy weight of contentment and in the other corner we have the lightweight samadhi. I first need to  learn to become content with the necessary things. Contentment is like the drill work a boxer must do to win a fight. The repetitive, day-to-day work that prepares the fighter to get in the ring and to go up against his/her challenging opponents of life. I must first become content before I can experience that one pointed focus necessary for samadhi. When a boxer is in the ring he/she is thinking of one thing and one thing only. If he/she separates from that one thing for even a moment he might take a hit that could take him out of the fight. He can only get to that one pointed focus by first becoming content with doing the humdrum, redundant, but unavoidable skills of his craft.

So my advice: enjoy the moments you are neither happy nor sad, with people or by yourself, busy or bored. Become comfortable in the familiar, necessary patterns of your day, you’ll stop swinging so drastically between extremes and find that the place in the middle is a very nice place to be.

So the winner of this competition samadhi vs. samtosa is… yep you guess it, SAMTOSA!

Now be content with that.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment


I had a yoga studio – a great space for people to practice together. We practiced breathing, moving, supporting and maybe growing together as like minded people who knew inspiration was a great fuel for fire. To help that happen, I had stenciled words on all the studio walls, with the help of a dear friend. These words were there to be glanced at whenever the eyes would wonder off the yoga mat, and to help the student remember their optimum self.

Cathy Woods in Padmasana @ The Practice Space

Here are those words-

Flourish • Cultivate • Strength • Breathe • Forgive • Patience • Courage • Trust • Believe • Resonate • Embrace • Flow • Give • Dedicate • Bliss • Laugh • Nurture • Heal • Discover • Ease • Luminous • Health • Sense • Devotion • Happy • Express • Organic • Listen • Achieve • Content • Balance • Pride • Kindness • Power • Intent • Faith • Joy • Create • Receive • Shine • Peaceful • Honesty • Progress • Silence  • Beauty • Honor • Quiet • Smile • Clarity • Release • Learn • Exercise • Celebrate • Grow • Share • Encourage • Live • Respect • Accept • Love • Practice • Support • Care • Change • Engage • Gratitude • Play • Hope • Heart • Try • Appreciate • Imagine • Commit • Explore • Study

Ryan Stone in Utthita Parsva Konasana @ The Practice Space

Categories: Asana, For the beginner | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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