I was once hired at a recreation center for a class called “All Levels Hatha Yoga”. The core group had been taking this class for a year. I soon realized they had never been taught alignment, pranayama...well, let's just say, they pretty much hadn't really been taught anything "yoga" in the course of the year. They were also all over 60 years old. Not surprisingly, I had to teach with a lot of modifications and props.
After nine months, a director (a non-yoga instructor) takes my class (they develop a performance assessment based on one class) for my yearly appraisal. A week later, we have my performance discussion.
Director: You do this weird breathing thing that I’ve never seen.
Me: You mean pranayama? No other yoga teacher here does pranayama? So, I then explained what pranayama was and why I have the class do it.
Director: We advertise this as a Hatha Yoga class. Why are you not linking breath to movement?
Me: Do you know what Hatha Yoga means? So I explained Hatha, Vinyasa, etc. and the differences between styles.
Director: Why don’t you use modifications like other instructors?
Me: The poses are already "modified" to the level of the students. I don’t show them the hardest version and then modify down-that’s demoralizing.
Director: You need to make the class harder, so more students come.
Me: So, the students you have are not important and you would rather I drive them out of the recreation center in order to increase numbers. It sounds like you want young students and don’t value your older students. You also understand that if I make it harder-your current students will get hurt, right?
And so the discussion went….which leads me lead this crazzzy concept called ETHICS!
There are certain values that informed my decision-making in this particular situation. They include:
What Where My Options:
So What Did I Do?
Based on my professional and personal ethics which are ultimately framed and defined by the yama-s and niyama-s, I could not stay in a place with that type of moral and ethical compass. I gave notice and I quit.
I use the yama-s and niyama-s daily in my professional and personal life. They guide me in developing classes and therapeutic offerings that are non-harming, truthful, honest and informed. I always put the student or client first and meet him/her/them where they are on the yoga journey. This has always included making my services adaptable and accessible both physically and financially.
How do the yama-s and niyama-s frame your daily life?
What ethics or values do you hold dear? Personally or Professionally?
How do you handle a situation when someone crosses those boundaries?
Albert Camus: "A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world."
Over the years, I have noticed there are certain wardrobe faux pas that yoga students (including myself) commit on a regular basis. So as the self-ordained yoga Blackwell (a long dead super famous fashion critic for those born in the 2000s), I will list them and their remedies.
Booty shorts: Don't not wear booty shorts to class. When half the poses I put you in require some variation of spread eagle, I do not want to see your lady bits and know the frequency of your wax appointments.
Remedy: Wear shorts/pants at least to the middle thigh. This ain’t amateur porn hour; it’s a yoga class.
Baggy Shorts: Likewise, do not wear baggy shorts and no underwear. I do not need to see your manly bits nor do I need to know that you have never manscaped in your entire life.
Remedy: Wear some flipping underpants, please!!! Preferably the boxer-brief stye so nothing down there can break free.
The Demi Pushup Bra: Whaaaaa!!!???? Keep control of the girls! Demi bras and, I don’t know, INVERSIONS do not mix well. Another possible test to use--If they pop out when you raise your arms in Warrior I, you are NOT wearing the appropriate bra for said activity.
Remedy: There’s this new fangled invention called a sports bra. Try it; you’ll like it.
Fabio Hair (another pre-2000 reference-Damn, I'm getting old!): It looks really pretty but I have a hard time teaching Cousin It. I will break out into “Dah-dah-dah-DUM" and start snapping my fingers.
Remedy: Pull it back, cut it off or let it dread. Trust me-I'm guilty of this one on a regular basis so I started carrying a supply of hair ties in my mat bag along with extra deodorant (another faux pas we wouldn't cover here but please for the LOVE OF GOD wear some!)
Makeup: Did you really think Harry Stiles (WOOHOO! A 2021 reference for ya!-we think he is cute, right?) was going to be in class today or something?
Or is the full makeup (complete with lipstick and false eye lashes) just for me! The average yoga student’s face touches their mat a few times during class--so does a yoga student's feet...and sweaty hands...and plumber’s butt. Now combine all that bacteria with all that makeup...YUM!
Remedy: Buy some makeup wipes. Your fresh clean zit free face will thank you.
The Mala: These are beautiful strings of beads to help a practitioner keep count when chanting and meditating. You may have noticed, I said...Meditating. Not practicing asana. By the time I have untangled you from your long strand of Mala beads, you will be unconscious. That’s not samadhi; that’s brain death.
Remedy: Leave the Mala at home. A self induced hallucinogenic bliss can be achieved on your own time--assuming your health insurance covers it.
And last but not least--I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried!--the Poker Dealer Visor. You know the kind--the one your grandma wears to BINGO. How will get your forehead to the mat? AND....What harsh firehouse bingo hall light are you shielding your eyes from?
Remedy: Yeeeaahhhh-just don’t wear those to yoga class. Unless you enjoy the completely perplexed look on my face when I see you wearing one, then by all means go forth and deal me in....after all, I do love a good round of Blackjack.
Comment below with your own yoga class snafus!
Sadhana (Spiritual Practice) means "methodical discipline to attain desired knowledge". Sadhana encourages the practitioner, known as the sadhaka, to use self-discipline in order to achieve power over the ego (to find relief from suffering). Sadhana enables the practitioner to attain peace and maintain a connection with universal oneness. In other words, Sadhana is our personal, daily yoga practice.
With a personal, daily yoga practice, we continually realign the inner self, slowly progressing toward Samadhi. Although Sadhana is centered around a spiritual "goal" (Samadhi), achieving Samadhi is not the intent. Sadhana is used to cultivate discipline and non-attachment. If we focus on the end goal, we bring the ego into the practice which creates suffering--What, I didn't achieve Samadhi? WTF?
Instead the key way to control a restless mind/ego and reduce suffering is to do the right action (Sadhana) for the pure sake of doing the right action. Sadhana is practiced for the sake of maintaining a practice.
Once again the Yoga Sutras explains it!! Patanjali writes about Abhyasa (practice) and Vairagya (non-attachment) in Sutras 1.12-16. "These mental modifications are restrained by practice and non-attachment (1.12)". More specifically, "Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break, and in all earnestness (1.14)."
So how do we get to Samadhi? Practice, Practice, Practice!...but with non-attachment. Easy Peasy! Yeah Right!
Ideas For Developing A Personal, Daily Practice
Your personal practice time doesn't need to be long. Start with 15 minutes a day. When and if you have more time, you can practice longer.
You Do You
What type of practice speaks to you? Meditation, asana (postures), malas, chanting, pranayama (breathing techniques), prayer, jnana yoga, guided visualization, Yoga Nidra, etc.
Pick one! Pick them all!
Show up at the same place and the same time every day. If you miss a day, don't fret. Start where you left off and reboot the next day.
Make It Special
Think about where you practice. Will it:
Props and Apps
Have props handy. Everyday is different and our bodies will need different support. One day you may be meditating on a floor cushion and the next day, as Shakira would say, the "hips don't lie"-it's all about meditating in a chair.
You can also check out my Guide on Yoga Props for helpful ideas.
Having an Accountability Buddy may be helpful of using a Meditation App like Insight Timer.
As you age, evolve on the path, and are exposed to different teachings, your practice will likely change. What needs to stay and what needs to change?
As you develop a personal, daily practice consider:
But It Doesn't End There
Because Sadhana is the surrendering of the ego, anything that is practiced with awareness, discipline and the intention of spiritual growth can be considered Sadhana. After we leave the yoga mat, we can continue to do the right action for the sake of doing the right action.
How do we do that? According to the Bhagavad Gita, there are Three Paths of Yoga:
Karma Yoga (hands) Action: Volunteer Time and Money
Bhakti Yoga (heart) Devotion: Attend Kirtans or Pujas
Jnana Yoga (brain) Knowledge: Read or Attend Lectures
What ways to incorporate Karma, Bhakti and Jnana Yoga into your life?
How I Incorporate Sadhana Into My Life
As a yoga instructor, Sadhana is my "walking the walk." Sadhana makes me a better instructor as well as empowers me on my path of self-realization. Currently, most mornings I roll out the ol' yoga mat, and do some pranayama and meditation. I like to keep it simple. Sometimes in the evenings, I might do Yoga Nidra. My goal this year is to incorporate more asana into my Sadhana since in recent years I have strayed away from it (and once again-the ever widening HIPS don't lie!).
I also incorporate other elements into my personal, daily practice. They add stability and grounding to my routine. They include:
Additionally, I volunteer as a yoga teacher for a local church and military base (COVID has put a damper on my Karma Yoga, unfortunately) as well as donate money, resources, and time to various community organizations (a local Montessori school, animal welfare organizations, homeless support organizations, and food banks). These activities are a huge part of my Sadhana because they keep me grounded, and remind me of what is truly important in life. I may not reach Samadhi but at least someone will have a warm meal tonight with their family.
Over time, my Sadhana has evolved and I expect it to continue as I age and as the world around me changes. Showing up for my practice, doing my Sadhana, is showing up for myself and others. Swami Satchidananda said it best, "Spiritual practice is not what you are doing, but what you are thinking. Remember that."
What are some ways you can take Sadhana out into the world and make it a way of life?
Jack Benny-"How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, Practice, Practice"
Swami Satchidananda The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Integral Yoga Publications 2012
Eknath Easwaran The Bhagavad Gita Nilgiri Press 2007
Shakira, Omar Alfanno, LaTavia Parker, & Vinay Rao "Hips Don't Lie" 2006
In the recent past, I had an extremely difficult supervisor. I couldn't concentrate at work due to the on-going conflict with my supervisor. My stomach stayed in knots. No amount of asana (yoga poses) or pranayama (yogic breathing techniques) ever relieved the stress. My self-worth and confidence suffered.
So I Turned Up The Volume Of My Meditation Practice
Through meditation, I was able to think more clearly, and be less reactive or impulsive when dealing with him. In other words, I didn't quit my job due to my emotions and make myself and my family homeless. I was able to use reason instead of just my gut response.
Meditation enabled me to keep these aspects of my Self in sync-my head and my heart. It empowered me to think clearly, in a non-reactive (meaning destructive) manner, and it motivated me to find a new job by decreasing my negativity and increasing the innate confidence I already had in my abilities.
Obviously, looking for a new job was a reactive response to the on-going situation with my supervisor. However, it is a healthy and productive reactive response as opposed to just quitting my job. The on-going conflict increased my passion (my heart, my gut) to create a strategy (my head) necessary to illicit change in my employment and in my life.
By cultivating a balance between the head and the heart, I was able to develop a healthy response to a life situation.
What Is This Balance Called? Equanimity
There are many definitions of Equanimity. They usually say something like "mental calmness", "composure", or "even temper in difficult situations." I personally define is as "not loses my shit."
With equanimity, we are able to engage with the world around us and see the changing patterns. Equanimity enables us to recognize that difficult thoughts, worries and feelings will change and pass.
Think about the world around us in this past year-COVID, the presidential election, George Floyd, and list goes on. The news cycle was contained with events, people and actions that caused many of us anxiety, worry, fear, and anger. Cultivating equanimity is a resource that can help us navigate all this unpredictability of the world without losing our balance.
How Can We Cultivate Equanimity?
Meditation!! Bring our heart and head in sync with each other. Create a synergy between the rational and the emotional selfs. Meditation lets us dive deeper. It lets us explore how all the parts of our SELF are intertwined. It reduces those fluctuations of mind chatter (yogas chitta vritti nirodha). It reduces attachments to unhelpful emotions...so that you can have an even temper in difficult situations. Meditation gives us the tools to develop stillness...quieting the ruminations, the what ifs, the could have beens, the attachments to identity or self-worth and the attachment to things, people and outcomes you can't change.
An Equanimity Practice
Take a few moments and when you are ready journal about your experience and throughout the day bring some awareness to meeting everything (good and bad) anchored and balanced like a mountain.
I AM Boundless Bliss Yoga. Just me. I'm a one-lady band. I'm a yoga therapist. I didn't start out to be a yoga therapist, I just wanted to learn more and SHAAAZZAMM...here I am.