During yoga teacher training this past weekend, I found myself discussing a topic that often comes up when we begin to chat about the throat chakra . . . WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE ASSERTIVE? When I look this word up with a Google Search, this is what I see first, the word FORCEFUL. Does that word effect you the same way it does me? Does some part of you cringe a little or shrink back? Here is the full definition, "having or showing a confident and forceful personality". I can't help but wonder, why this word, FORCEFUL, effects me in such a visceral way. Why does it make me feel so uncomfortable?
Here are some synonyms for you to sit with, like the word forceful, a few of these make me cringe too but some of them whisper to some part of my heart that doesn't want to be hidden anymore.
Believing in oneself
As a young female, I feel like I embodied many of these qualities in my early years. I could whip down a hill standing on the crossbar of my bike, yes you read that correctly, standing. I remember liking myself and liking qualities about myself, my hair, my sense of humour. I enjoyed movement and expression and yes, some of that entailed some fairly loud noise. . . what happens to us, between that time and this one? Why do we change? What are the messages that were communicated to you either directly or indirectly?
While some of the words in the above list, may not be a demeanor that I wish to embrace, such as being an assaultive individual, I can feel some of the other words on the list, brimming to the surface, just itching to be released. I think that for those of us who are raised under a female umbrella, there is often a squelching of our inner fire that occurs, a breaking of our spirits or a message that 'girls', 'women', 'females' are not supposed to exhibit or express anything that can be perceived as aggression. But this is to silence one of our most poignant and important emotions. When we learn to suppress our anger and stuff it down, that energy is left lingering in our bodies and the nature of energy is that it has to go somewhere.
Back to the discussion we had in our teacher training, I found us tying it all together, what it is to struggle in the arena of the throat chakra, to struggle with speaking up, with being heard, with expressing our needs, with saying 'NO'. I so often, learn immensely profound things, and this day is such a beautiful example. 'C' gently shared something that left me speechless and . . . please forgive my adding to her words . . .
When we suppress our natural, innate, human right to feel and express anger, as women, we often move that emotional energy downward in the body and find ourselves expressing our anger is more socially acceptable ways through the realm of the sacral or root chakras. When this occurs, the emotional energy that should be expressed from these places becomes perverse. In the sacral chakra, which is where we are meant to express creativity, our anger becomes passive aggressive and in the root chakra, where we are meant to feel grounded and safe, our anger deflates and we surrender our power entirely. It was this reflection, thank you 'C', that led me to ask, what does it look like when we allow ourselves to acknowledge and express that anger in a healthy way? If stuffing it down leads to a loss of our power and passive aggressive behavior, what does it look like to move that energy upward into the heart? 'C' replied 'ASSERTIVENESS'. Mind blown. Full stop.
I plan to chew on this for some time but there are some things that I will be doing in my own practice that I hope will help you too. I plan to move through this list, word by word and meditate on how each word feels for me. For those words that I want to grow, I intend to meditate and reflect on these qualities and I intend to savour their meaning, to plant these words in my heart, so to speak, to invite their qualities into my practice and my day to day life, to breath these qualities through my body. And for the words, that don't feel so comfortable, I plan to explore these too, to see if there are any latent parts of myself that I can RECLAIM and CONNECT WITH and BIRTH into EXISTENCE.
But I AM NOT, going to just stop there. I refuse to simply meditate on what it might be like to be ASSERTIVE. I am going to step into and own it. I am going to speak up during those times when I don't agree. I am going to ask for what I need and want. I will take action and honour what is on my heart to say and do. This is a good thing to step into. When we can assert ourselves from the heart, from a place of love, we are actually able to practice Ahimsa in its truest form, from a place of loving kindness and compassion and we are able to do so without throwing Satya, our truth, under the proverbial bus.
I hope that you feel inspired to do the same.
The final evolution of the practice of equity, is to deepen into the grounded-ness of your own inner calm, so completely, that the ebbs and tides of the emotions of others, no longer sway you off your course. In its first manifestations, you learn how to be the face of calm in the midst of your own experience, learning how to recognize the signs that indicate an emotional storm. When you truly step into who you are, there are always going to be people who do not like you or who do not like your choices. You could spin forever in trying to accommodate them. You were not put on this earth to accommodate the happiness of others. Your existence here is not some accident that you need to apologize for. Stand firmly into your own feet and reclaim your body and your right to be here. Breathe fully into your belly without apology. Take up space. Make choices and take actions and stay true to your own heart while holding love and kindness for others.
Your body has not betrayed you.
Your body dances in response to life.
The truth is that,
it isn't possible to do everything.
You do not have to do it all.
You do not have to do it all right now.
You can give yourself permission
to be soft
to slow down
to embrace those things that connect you to your heart.
In every moment, we must choose what to focus our energy on.
Sometimes we focus on the work in front of us
or our family or our homes.
Sometimes the focus is on our minds and
sometimes our bodies.
Your body will change and shift a million times.
But so will your emotions and your thoughts
and your life experiences . . .
Your body is just responding
and whatever experience you are in,
it isn't going to last.
I wanted you to know that you aren't alone.
You are an embodiment of beauty.
10 Things You need to stop doing if you are a Yoga Teacher
1. Stop telling your students to roll up from a forward fold to mountain pose. This damages the vertebrae in the spine.
2. Stop telling students that they need to line up their pelvis as though they are between 2 panes of glass while in triangle pose. Triangle pose isn't about flexibility in the legs or squaring the pelvis, it is about side body release and engagement and utilizing your obliques.
2a. Stop telling your students to try to put their hand on the floor in triangle pose. See note above. Students are damaging the SI joint because of entering the pose this way.
3. Stop throwing pigeon pose randomly into your sequences. It is a complex posture that requires preparing the body for safe entry.
4. Stop pushing your students deeper into pigeon pose. As an RMT, I have seen some of your students for injuries related to this one!
5. Stop teaching your students to flow from Warrior 3 to Half Moon Pose or Revolved Half Moon Pose. This causes damage to the femur head and acetabulum of the pelvis and is a road that ends with hip replacement surgery.
6. Stop demo-ing the most advanced version of the pose so that your students know your qualified to teach them. Your students love you and they already know you are amazing. You don't need to impress them. What they need to see is how to access the pose from its rudimentary stages. They are there to learn. So teach them how to understand what it is that there own body needs. Show them how to actually practice yoga.
7. Learn what Vinyasa Krama is. Full stop.
8. Learn how to hold space for yourself and then bring this to your students by learning how to hold space for them.
9. Stop selling yourself short. Stop telling yoga studio owners that you aren't doing it for the money. Not everyone out there is ethical. The message you send, when you say this is that you are a person who can be taken advantage of. You may not have gotten into this profession for the money, but you are now in this profession, and you like everyone else on this planet, need to eat and pay your bills. Your time is valuable and what you offer is valuable. Stand up for yourself and expect fair compensation that honours your time for transit, preparation and teaching.
10. Continue to learn. A 200 hour certification is just the beginning. It may feel daunting at first, because most 300 hour trainings are going to cost more than your 200 hour did. But, a 200 hour certification is just the beginning. If this is your passion. Give it your whole heart and take the leap. If you ask those of us who have been in the industry and survived the industry these past 20 years, we will tell you, you have to LEAP. It won't always be easy, but it you set the intention and take the steps, things really do have a way of working themselves out. And it isn't WHO you have studied with that will distinguish you, but what you have LEARNED. It isn't about marketing or setting yourself apart from the pack. It is about doing the SELF work and the SELF care and experiencing the transformation of yoga on a deep level. And this will only come through going deeper into your sadhana.
10a. DO NOT GIVE UP YOUR PERSONAL PRACTICE BECAUSE YOU ARE TOO BUSY TEACHING. You will burn out and what was once your joy will be stolen from you.
I thought I would share a few words about why I feel Mandorla trainings are dear to my heart. There are so many wonderful yoga schools, but each of us has something unique that we offer and that isn't always easy to see at first glance. So, what makes Mandorla special?
First off, our trainings are taught with incredible student to teacher ratios, about 6 to 8 students per teacher and that intimate support doesn't stop after graduation. We are a village of women. We believe in our community and we are always looking for ways to support one another, in not just our teaching but in our lives. We get together for meals and coffee and wine.
We are passionate about sharing the fusion of Thai Yoga Massage and Yoga with our students. The element of healing touch that we teach in our programs is a healing experience in and of itself that prepares you to become a profound teacher and healer. Our two main offerings, Embodiment Yoga Teacher Training and Thai Yoga Therapy Training are designed to support you first and foremost in your own healing journey. We do this by ensuring that we create an atmosphere that it is safe and non-intimidating. We keep our class sizes small and we make sure that we, your teachers, are accessible and approachable.
The 200 hour Embodiment Yoga Teacher Training is a personal journey of self reflection that supports you in establishing a personal yoga practice that will last you a lifetime. From this foundation, we share with you our tried and true techniques for offering inspired group yoga classes. This training goes more deeply into teaching you the specific yoga asana and how to properly explore and teach them and includes a thorough teaching on sequencing, modifications and hands on assisting for group classes.
The 200 & 300 hour Thai Yoga Therapy Training is reflective both emotionally and physically. Rooted in yoga therapy and Thai Yoga Massage, this offering prepares you to offer one on one yoga classes (private yoga classes) and Thai Yoga Massage sessions. In this program we share with you techniques for supporting emotional health with a focus on anxiety, depression and stress. Additionally, you learn to work with the physical body through the lens of yoga therapy by acquiring skills for releasing and re-patterning the myofascial meridians and musculature. This training goes more deeply into how to support an individual with tailored breath-work, energy work, restorative and yin yoga and massage.
We believe in the whole journey that yoga offers us and are intentional about leading you in a thorough exploration of all its tenets. Exploring meditation, reflective journaling, inspired dialogue, mantra (chanting), mudra, pranayama (breath-work), and asana (yoga postures) each of our programs is an opportunity to begin to know yourself on a deep level and an invitation to come home to yourself.
We believe that the mastery of yoga is not the mastery of a specific yoga posture or series of postures, but the mastery of your own body. It is the development of an intimate understanding of your physical, emotional and mental patterns and perceived limitations so that you might, through this understanding, uncover a life where you begin to live past these limitations.
As much as is possible, we make our programs available to anyone with a sincere desire to begin this journey. You do not have to have a previous background in yoga, nor do you have to register to take the entire training program. If you find yourself with financial limitations, we will do our best to work with you. We also endeavor to make our programs accessible scheduling wise. We offer a combination of week long immersions, weekend trainings, weekday and evening traingings and online courses, so that you can find the options that work for you.
It is important to us that students know they are receiving a quality training.
My yoga practice hasn't changed my life in the way that you might think. I don't float through life on a blissful cloud while performing gravity defying, pretzel shaped movements worthy of Cirque du Soleil. My practice did not elicit a poignant moment of enlightenment where all of my prior life changed in an instant. Rather, I have experienced a series of poignant moments, both on my mat and off it over the years. This is not to imply that these shifts have been any less profound for me.
The truth of the matter is that mental resiliency is not something that came easily in my early life and I have struggled over the years with strong surges of emotion that felt like they would consume me. And at certain points of my life, these surges of anxiety and depression left me feeling incapable of functioning at any capacity, other than to crawl into my bed in defeat. When you experience emotions as strong as these, the sensations that you feel throughout your physical body, leave you feeling unsafe in your own skin . . . betrayed and wary of the next episode.
There is something important that I would like to speak to here. So many people, over and over again have expressed to me a difficulty with getting onto their yoga mat when they are feeling this way. Often with an air of guilt or shame over the matter, again and again, like a dirty secret that only they are guilty of. What I would like to say here, is that when you are feeling these emotions, it is a very physical experience. Your breath feels restricted and the tension in your body can feel so palpable that you would claw it out of your body if you could. IT IS PERFECTLY UNDERSTANDABLE THAT YOU WOULD GO TO THE SAFEST PLACE YOU KNOW OF WHEN YOU ARE FEELING THIS WAY. And for many of us, this safe place is our beds.
I think that for many of us, there is a perception of yoga that prevents us from seeing ourselves engaging in yoga and even for those of us who do practice, there are stereotypes that subconsciously, we feel we need to live up to. When the truth of the matter, is that yoga, quite simply, is the choice in any given moment, to take an action that better connects us to ourselves. It is an action of reclaiming our bodies and becoming at home with ourselves again. It is a learning of how to release those overwhelming bodily sensations that coincide with challenging emotions and a way to retrain our nervous systems and our minds to cultivate ease and contentment.
As I said earlier, I have experienced a series of small, yet not insignificant moments through my yoga practice that over the years, have helped me in a profound way. It is my intention, to share a few of these yoga epiphanies, here in this post and also, to continue this thread through the month of March.
Yoga Epiphany # 1 - Create a safe space
While crawling into a cozy bed can feel wonderful at first, when you are feeling stuck, your bed can quickly become a trap. Create a safe space for yourself in a sunny spot in your home and make it as inviting and nurturing as possible. I keep a yoga mat rolled out on my bedroom floor by the sunniest window in the house. If I am feeling upset, it is natural that I will start to head toward my bed, my go to, but having the mat there allows me to make a choice in those mere moments when I may not feel like a have a lot of energy for decisiveness. If I feel immobilized by my feelings, I put myself into a gentle back bend lying on a bolster and even take the duvet off my bed and snuggle into it. (I have even on occasion borrowed the table warmer from my massage table to make my mat that much more enticing and nurturing.) I am still lying down because that is what I feel that I need when I am feeling overpowered by my emotions; but I am lying in a posture that forces me to keep my chest open, instead of allowing myself to lie in a closed off position.
Yoga Epiphany # 2 - You don't need a yoga mat to do yoga
Listen to your body. If you feel fidgety and agitated, you may respond well to movement. If you are feeling stuck mentally and physically your body is charged with frustrated energy, this can be especially hard. I have found that when I am feeling this way, that the hardest thing, is for me to do something new. In fact, I am painfully resistant. This is about safety too. The more you can remove the barriers for yourself to engage in something that you need, the more likely you will be to engage in the activity. Ayurveda classifies stuck emotions and feelings of depression as Kapha dosha and according to Ayurveda, when Kapha is in excess, we need the help of others to help us regain our momentum. Reach out to others and get them to help you in making healthful movement based activities FAMILIAR to you.
Yoga Epiphany # 3 - Just Stand Up
You do not need to do something grandiose to shift into a healthier head space. In fact, it is the smaller, more attainable actions that you are more likely to repeat that will give you the greatest success. All that you need is to do one small action that gives you enough momentum and inspiration to do the next small action. For example, if your house is a mess and you feel overwhelmed, just stand up and pick something up and put it back where it belongs. Repeat. If you are feeling stuck and movement feels inaccessible to you, try the breath of joy that we demonstrate in the clip. That may just give you the momentum that you are needing to take the next small action, that over time, will lead you in a healthier direction.
Everything in practice has meaning, intention and purpose. This is what I love about yoga. There is no such thing as just doing a yoga pose. Each posture has an effect on me physically, emotionally, mentally and energetically. And like any human, I feel my emotions in a very physical way. I wanted to share a short peak of my personal practice during Elle's nap today. I have been dealing with a lot of frustration lately. Turns out, it is very hard to be a loving mom and run a company and still make time for your own needs. The truth? This was my 3rd attempt at posting a practice this week. My computer also crashed while uploading my online course that I teach and I lost the entire 2 hour session. It hasn't been the easiest week. But this is something that I know to be true. Yoga poses are not just random postures. They are profound and unique and we can choose the asana that we need for our specific circumstances at any given time. My practice draws from yoga therapy and ayurveda, so I can experience release of these frustrated feelings. I use twists to help myself move agitation and anxiety out of my tissues, so that I can feel like I can breathe again. I use core engagement and arm balances to reinstill my confidence and to strengthen myself to move past this challenging point in my life.
Stefani shares a short 15 minute yoga practice that can be helpful during those times when you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed and only have a limited amount of time for self care. This is a practice that speaks to mothers but is supportive for anyone who is feeling this way.
I wanted to share something quick with you all around Trauma Informed Care today. You can now take Trauma Informed Training through Alberta Health Services, ONLINE and for FREE. Trauma sensitivity is quickly becoming a very important topic as so many individuals in our fast paced society have experienced some form of trauma in their lifetime. Especially for those of us who are supporting people in holistic professions like yoga and massage, I would say that this information is an absolute must. So glad that AHS is being proactive and releasing this information to the public. And, if you ever want to chat with me on my own experience or perspective, my proverbial door is always open. Please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is the link:
Stefani Wilton and Contributors
Finding beauty in the midst of joyous imperfection