Posts in yoga teaching
The Means We Use.

When I asked on the Applied Psychology For Yogis Facebook page why people taught yoga, the responses were lovely, heart warming and frankly, as I suspected. Mostly those who responded, reported wanting to 'help' others. They reported wanting to 'offer' or 'pass on' the health, healing and discoveries that changed their lives. The ‘change that people  Yoga it seems, is a way people can transmit their message.

What I find ironic is that no one said specifically (two of them were close to the notion though) that they teach yoga because they love asana. Perhaps this is a given. Perhaps the love of this kind of movement is just assumed in the question. But the fact that everyone chose to write something yoga offers rather than the yoga itself, leads me to believe (or rather I should say, confirms my hunch) that those commenting all see, realize and know yoga asana is a vehicle for something more.

It seems we can agree that yoga is a method of change, expansion, shifting, creating self-love, etc. It seems though that the skills needed to transmit and share the teachings listed above is different in some ways than teaching asana.

Now don’t get me wrong. I believe a lot can get done through the asana practice itself. The shapes have potent medicine for us when we open to their possibilities. At the very least, teachers of yoga should know when to stop preaching their teachings and let the simplicity of the shape be the profundity of the practice. There are the teachings of yoga, which everyone is free to receive through asana. And there are your teachings. Or I should say perhaps, you as a teaching. In my book these are linked but different. I believe we should know when to offer which. I also believe teachers of yoga need to know when to steer their students to qualified professionals in other complimentary fields.

This leaves me with some earnest questions for my colleagues.

Why do you teach yoga? If the answer to the why is something underneath the asana's or something the asanas may afford, then do you have the skills to transmit THAT? Do you think you learned those skills of transmitting and transformation in your teacher training when you took it? If not, did you get them elsewhere? Do you think you need other skills?

I see many teachers wanting to use asana as a method or vehicle to some other end. It is that saying ‘Its not about the pose’. Teachers know that asana is the beginning, not the end. It seems teaching great asana is half the issue. It is a big part of the picture obviously, but not the whole picture. Good asana teaching skills are absolutely necessary because you need your technique or vehicle to be strong. It needs to be strong to carry the teachings you have inside them. The stronger you make your vehicle and the technique that built it, the more powerful and sustainable your teachings carried by it are.

So lets say you are good at teaching asana and you want to really teach self love. Let’s say self-love is your core value and at the end of the day it is what yoga is about for you. What are the skills then that you are using to teach self-love? It is not only the asana itself. If you try to incorporate this into a theme by saying 'love yourself' that is not teaching. That is talking.

Teaching is giving someone an experience of the topic so that it becomes their own. Talking about it might land at the intellectual level but experience lands in the cells of our bodies not to mention stimulates the emotional centers of the brain. Our brains pick up the emotionality or the context of a sentence before its content? Teaching is creating an environment for the embodied actions of the topic to arise. If you say 'love yourself', sorry, you aren’t teaching self-love. You are teaching asana and talking about and around self-love.  But if you emanate self-love, if you are the teaching of self-love, if you create an environment where the experience of self-love is more likely to occur, then the person learns.

But of course the difficulty here is that self-love is an individualized experience. It’s presumptuous to assume we have what a student needs. So then we come full circle.

Perhaps it is better to teach plain asana. Perhaps it is better to let the experience of good ole’ fashion asana practice elicit whatever it is going to for each particular student. Perhaps it is better to let each student glean their own teachings from the practice, whatever they may be. You learn self-love through asana practice. You do. You do not need a teacher to knock you on the head with it always. I mean, sometimes maybe, but not always. As teachers how do we be overt enough and clear enough with our teachings and core values without being overbearing or suffocating? It is grand to be on a mission but not at the expense of a student’s own path.

Even if we only taught straight up asana for the sake of itself and let the teachings unfold student to student, you still need skills to help students regulate themselves. Obviously I do not think yoga teachers need to be their students’ therapists. I just think that sometimes teachings come to us, and its actually not some joyful experience of pleasantries. Sometimes those teachings come to us and it hurts like hell. The student-teacher relationship gains much of its preciousness through the power of witness. Students pay not only to learn, they pay to be witnessed. As teachers we need to remember the great weight we carry, the great honor really, of being a witness. The witness needs skills to hold space and keep the container of a class or session safe. Otherwise, why have a witness?

So lets take away all the theme-ing in the world. Even then, we still need skills to be good witnesses of what happens in asana. And anything can happen in asana. I think the psychology world would say these witness skills are called ‘psychotherapeutic’ skills. Frankly, all psychotherapeutic skills are simply being-a-good-human skills. Many people conflate psychotherapeutic skills with analysis.

While analysis is one skill required in psychotherapy, it is about 5% of the entire picture. The majority of psychotherapeutic skills are things like, listening, unconditional positive regard, witness, etc. I am not advocating for yoga teachers doing psychoanalysis. I am advocating for the usage of psychotherapeutic skills because although yoga is not psychotherapy, it is inherently therapeutic. A lot of these skills you do actually learn in yoga teacher trainings but certainly not all of them. And I think if we want to be good teachers. And I mean like really deep amazing teachers we need those extra ‘psychotherapeutic’ skills.

I think there should be delineation between asana pedagogy and training teachers how to use the asana technique as skillful means to teach their core value. Asana teaching skills is one part of the pie. It is a huge part. But what if the person wants to use asana as a vehicle? We may actually need to take them through a process that helps them know and understand what their core value is. This process is really what rites of passage work is all about. What is your core value? What is the thing you must give back to the world?

Once someone goes through this threshold, skillful means must be trained. This is where yoga asana pedagogy comes in. It is also where psychotherapeutic skill training comes in.

So I say we need to ask ourselves what is it we want to teach? Is it asana for the means of asana? Is it asana for the means of a core value teaching? Is it a combination of the two?  You could teach asana. You could teach asana and have good application of psychotherapeutic skills to maintain the health and safety of the room. You could teach a core value through asana. The trainings for these might overlap but they are different.

We now have an oversaturated market of yoga teachers who teach asana. Mostly because we keep putting people through the same kinds of trainings regardless of their intentions. Most teachers though, are desperately trying to make a difference in peoples lives through asana. Few of us, as leaders in the field, are asking them (let alone ourselves) what their core value is and giving them the skills (a combination of yoga and other things too) to teach that through yoga. We keep using the same hammer of ‘yoga teacher training’ to meet a whole variety of needs. I think its time we choose some other tools. Like maybe some of us need to be leading rites of passage. Maybe some of us need to be teaching pure asana pedagogy. Maybe some of us need to be teaching the psychotherapeutic skills. 

its just a thought.


It seems as though there are teachers of yoga whose aim is to get more people doing yoga period. I call these folks the yoga evangelicals. And I don’t mean it negatively at all. I use it to refer only to the active conversion of the population not doing yoga to the population doing yoga.

We need these kinds of teachers.

These kinds of teachers help others cross over the threshold onto a path of wakefulness. It is an important job these Bodhisattvas have. The great boon these teachers have is that they are constantly pulling from a large pool of people. The population not doing yoga is still larger than the population doing yoga. So the yoga evangelicals or bodhisattvas or whatever you want to call them are lucky in the sense that they always have the opportunity to contact new people, new clientele. You can make big business actually out of this market.

Then it seems there are teachers concerned with some percent of the population already doing yoga. These are the choir leaders. These are teachers like myself, who want to help along the path once the person is already converted and committed. The difficulty with this kind of teaching is that our pool is inherently smaller by sheer number. But at the end of the day, an active five members is more powerful than an inactive fifteen members.

Once you get into the pool of people already doing yoga we come into the sea of competition. I will tell you, competing is a waste of time, money and energy. We all have stories around this word ‘competition.

“Little Suzy wouldn’t play with me.”

“I was the best at soccer.”

“She stole my idea.”

And it goes on and on.

The sea can start to feel pretty crowded rather quickly. So if you are a preaching to the choir kind of teacher, how then do you find your specific choir?

For me I always consider the natural development and progression of a yogic path. We need guides for each developmental stage of our practice. We also need those special ones who can help us cross thresholds. The teachers that are best within a particular stage itself are not always the best thresholds ones. But they can be.

Once we are committed—once we are born onto the path—we need a nurturing teacher to carry us through yoga infancy. We need a teacher who will show us the magical nature of this practice as young children on the path. In our adolescence we need a teacher who can challenge us and tolerate us challenging them. We learn how far away can we go and still feel connected. As we move into young adulthood on this path we need equality, companionship, mentorship. We need time for self-discovery and asking questions. Teachers becomes like touchstones rather than those whose hand we hold. We then move into a place of older adulthood where we stand in the truths of our experience. We stand next to our colleagues with pride. We are humble and magnanimous as we begin to give back to others what we have gleaned, digested and made unique. In our old age on the path we are wise from being sculpted by the teachings and from the experience of actively teaching. We are full and empty. We hold all but hold onto nothing.

In this spiral I lay out above, please remember that psycho-spiritual development in regards to yoga specifically does not always match up with our physical development. Many people start yoga when they are already adults. So in some ways we are going back to go forward.

No one place or juncture on this map is better or worse than the other. In fact, each part is necessary for the next.

Think about the baby that doesn’t crawl and just starts walking. That might be amazing at first, but it can create sensorimotor hiccups down the road. Just like yoga poses, sometimes we have to go back to go forward.  If you don’t learn the basics well and have the imprint strong, eventually it will bite you in the ass.

The yogic path is a path of spiritual development that involves the development of motor skills in conjunction. It is one of the reasons asana is so powerful. Its also why we say all asana does is prepare us to sit. Asana is preparing us to give and receive wisdom when we can no longer do asana. But we can sit, in stillness, shining radiantly.

The pool is crowded. Yes I know. Many people do yoga now and many people teach yoga. But we are not a dime a dozen actually. How does a fish find its way through? It looks for the openings where another fish is not swimming. And it also is willing to swim in a school. It is willing to swim next to and in conjunction with its mates. One fish leads and the other follows and they switch. Its actually really simple. You cannot go where someone else is already standing. Go where they are not standing. And you have to be willing to follow sometimes. And you have to be willing to lead sometimes. There is more than enough room. I learned this metaphor and teaching from my teacher and I truly do believe it is pure truth.

Personally, I am really awesome at teaching the adolescent yoga practitioner and transitioning them to adulthood. It’s just my natural inclination. I can teach people newer to yoga, and I am okay at it. But I am not as good at as I am with helping people through the push and shove of growing up. Also, I am not the wise quiet one in the corner with the mysterious twinkle in their eye. Well, not yet at least. I’m not good at working with people in that stage. I may remind them of their youth, but I bow humbly at their feet. I don’t pretend to be at a stage in my development I know I am not.

Anyways, the point is this; if you think the sea of teachers is crowded and the pool is too small, shut up. You are not helping the problem. You are creating the problem. The truth is that the yoga evangelicals are not going to stop converting people into yogis. Which is awesome because we need the converts! It’s a great thing! They are helping us. It means our pool is always renewing itself. So don’t dismiss those teachers pounding the pavement to get people into the pool. They are working hard for all of us.

Furthermore, us choir leaders are invaluable to the evangelicals. Converts need a place to go once they are committed. People will always seek out their like-minded friends. They will want to find where they belong and fit so they can best harmonize. So the way in which we are teasing out and finding openings is actually crucial to the sustenance of the whole yoga ecosystem if you will. If we have a huge sea of people wanting to do yoga and there is no place for them to call home then turning them onto yoga is a disservice.

We need the choir leaders.

I guess from a ‘business’ perspective it would be good to have part of ones yoga business be in the converting and another part be in the support and development of current practitioners and teachers. I honestly believe  though that its fine to choose as well. If we do the things that seem like they will make us money, we often miss the very thing that naturally produces income because it is our birthright to be sustained by it.

Lastly, I don’t have a neat and tidy way to wrap this post up because development is rarely a neat and tidy process.

Neither is yoga. 

The Soul Must Flow

When Anusara Yoga fell to its knees and I made my very wise exit, I was forced to decide on a name to call my current public class. I settled on the name soul flow, which I now affectionately refer to as SoulFlow. (Please note there is not a trademark on that right now. Nor am I suggesting you read this and then name your class as such.) At the time, to be honest I had no idea what I was doing. I actually thought the name was pretty lame, cheesy and actually frankly, stupid. I also felt like I wanted to call the class 'yoga' but no one would come to a class called 'yoga'.

Like we name our babes we name our intellectual and creative children. So I gave SoulFlow its name, not fully realizing the thing I had birthed. But it was a birthing. I am clear about that. 

Through trial and error I learned how to nurture it, care for it, grow it and be with it. I learned who its friends are (the people who come to the class). So no, SoulFlow isn’t 'just vinyasa'. Like a child that is given a nickname and then outgrows it, this class should not be nicknamed vinyasa because it is a misrepresentation.

It is fringe in a way because it boldly takes the leap that many of its schoolmates have yet to take actually. The class explicitly reaches into the psyche. We do not apologize for, or cover up in any way the fact that we are working at the deep emotional level in the class. Many other yoga classes work at this level, but few make it explicit. (The few that do by the way, are the classes I go to and the teachers I steep with).

People do not come to SoulFlow unless they are ready to be worked over at every level.

Some people find this annoying. Cool. When I was in grade school I was super annoying too. Mostly because I asked a lot of questions of the Rabbi's. I would get sent to the principles office for all the questions and rebellion. SoulFlow has been sent to the office once or twice so to speak. It too, is a little rebellious. It is an outspoken class that gives students the space to question the authorities within themselves and around them.

The class has some tenants to its 'style'. I profoundly dislike the word 'style' when it comes to yoga. It’s all fucking yoga okay? But if it is all yoga and we are all going to the same place, are we not entitled to take the road that most entices us to get there?

So yes, SoulFlow has its specific elements. You will always find those four elements in every class. Now before you go all ‘that’s like Anusara’ on me, you can trust me deeply that its not.

We need structure and continuity to learn and grow at every level. We actually will not feel safe enough to deepen if those pillars of stability are not present. It is difficult to work on issues in a marriage if one person keeps threatening divorce. So the four pillars of what happens is just the guidelines of how the self-selected community organizes itself within and around the context of the class. In this way you can sort of prepare yourself for what is about to happen. This is good.

Do not fret; I am not making a style of asana. I am not trying to trademark or patent asana. Asana is free. Anyone can do asana. It is just that there is a way to study and practice asana. That is what SoulFlow is. It is a way to study and practice asana. What places SoulFlow into its own uniqueness though, is that it is also a way to study and practice your SELF. And when I say self, I mean the little self and the big Self. The class is about learning asana yes. The class is also about learning to take the seat of your self. This isn’t much different than any other yoga actually. All yoga helps us, in the end; take the seat of our selves most fully and comfortably.

The difference in SoulFlow is that the study of the SELF is explicit. There is tremendous power in transparency and making the covert overt. So the inner workings of yoga are brought to the surface in this class. It is in the practice of using asana to make ourselves transparent creatures that this class gains its power. It seems most of all, that SoulFlow is an embodiment practice using yoga asana as its vehicle. SoulFlow is a practice of embodiment—of coming home to your body, mind, and soul. It takes a practice that has many ways of ascension and relies on and emphasizes the ways we can ever more descend into our bodies to be radically full--radically, painfully, and ecstatically HERE.

It is magic and it is science. It is ritual and it is routine practice. It is deep exploration and radical enjoyment.

All the pieces I speak and teach to through Applied Psycholgoy for Yogis, show itself in SoulFlow. Think of SoulFlow as the living and breathing example of what Applied Psychology for Yogis looks like in action. There are other ways to utilize the teachings from Applied Psychology for Yogis. SoulFlow is just one of the ways. That though, is another post. 

Creatures and creations must always live into their names. We create not knowing the form it will take. We birth without knowing what our children will look like. We see the meaning of our creations develop over time. And eventually 'our' creations come to stand on their own without the handholding and carrying of us anymore. They no longer belong to us. They belong to world. 

Each creation, whether a child or an intellectual creative expression, must come to exist on its own. It has its own Life Force, Soul and Essence. And this essence must have room to flow.