Friday, December 21, 2012

Not Always Personal

Well, I am enjoying a bit of time at home to catch my breath, connect with my friends and family and to make plans for the upcoming year of travel and teaching. I have lots on my mind these days and as is natural during this time of year, I am spending some time in reflection and contemplation about what the year has brought, what I have done with what came my way, what I want to release and leave behind and what lessons I want to move forward with into a new cycle.

I was in a Bikram yoga class the other day and reflecting how the community of practitioners at PURE Bikram yoga held a space for me in this last year and a half that was really profound. Having a place to go to to learn, to practice, to be quiet, to sweat and to listen to myself in the midst of so many other changes and upheavals was  nothing short of profound. It's an interesting thing because I think the staff, teachers and students at those studios were simply -albeit skillfully and professionally- doing their job. On a very real level it was not personal at all and it had nothing to do with me.  Those folks are well-trained, dedicated and good at what they do and  they were doing it before I came around and they will be doing it if I stop coming.

So having said that on one level it was not at all personal, my experience of being part of their community has been deeply personal and tremendously beneficial. As a teacher this gives me a lot to think about.  Being a student, it seems, is both a personal and an impersonal experience. As is being a teacher. For instance, I have had the great fortune lately to receive some letters and notes from folks in some of my recent trainings who articulated how they grew and how they benefitted from their participation in the programs I have offered.  One of the coolest things about these letters is that the students reported "getting" exactly what I would hope anyone would get from these trainings. And in those very same trainings, other people were disappointed by me, by the curriculum, by the group, etc.  The very same program landed differently on different people.

Maybe Bikram yoga is the perfect metaphor for this because I am not sure if any method has such strong feelings associated with it. Rarely do I run across someone who is like, "Oh, yeah, that. It's okay." People seem to love it or hate it. They get it or they don't. Maybe because it, as a system, so squarely lives in itself it becomes the perfect screen upon which to project personal observations and feelings. I mean, it is not going to change- same heat, same humidity, same script, same poses, and so its very easy to like it or hate it since it is  holding so steady. Other classes change a lot so you may like what the teacher  does on Monday and not on Tuesday and think the sequence was great on wednesday but hate the music on thursday and so on and so on. But at any rate, my point is that the very same offering- no matter what it is-- is not going to land in the same way for everybody.

I talk to a lot of yoga teachers over the course of my days and our conversation vary from the frustrations regarding finances, competition in the market place, the challenges of teaching alignment in flow-based studios as well as the challenges of getting people to move in alignment-based studios. We talk about the joys of witnessing growth and transformation and we suffer our shortcomings in skills, knowledge and capacity when we fall short of the challenges the transformational path presents us as practitioners, students and teachers.  Different teachers respond to these challenges differently, make different choices about how to teach, where they see their responsibilities and even about what our role is as teachers these days.  Yoga teachers seem to place themselves on a continuum from PE teacher to life coach to therapist to spiritual counselor to motivational speaker to spiritual guide and even to guru. There is no single role we fill and no single need we attempt to meet.  The industry doesn't decide for us and it is up to us to carve our way in all of it, it seems. But anyway--

As I was lying there in a tired, sweaty heap in the Bikram class I somehow took a bit of refuge in this "it is not really personal" idea. Because the truth is we just do not always know--good and bad-- how our offering is landing. I mean in the case of me and the Bikram folks, you know, well, it's me and I have a blog and a big mouth and I write a lot about my inner experience so maybe they do have an idea that they have really helped me a lot this year. But my guess is that in a lot of cases, we just do not always know. People may be coming to our classes, getting a ton of benefit in ways we can not imagine and we may never know. And I know that the opposite is true- we may make off-the cuff remarks that cause harm and hurt other people and never really know. (And many times we get great letters of praise and many times we get letters expressing upset and disappointment. So sometimes, we do know.)

So to be clear, since this is a hot topic these days,  when I say it is not really personal, I am not excusing the ways we sometimes miss and fuck it all up as teachers. I am just saying, there is an impersonal element going on also. As a teacher, I have a calling to teach. I want to do my best to serve that calling and to teach the yoga as I understand it and personally, I happiest when I am anchored in that remembrance as the intention for my teaching work. Some people like the way I teach. Some people hate it. I am very clear about that- I am a bit of an acquired taste as a teacher, truth be told. Always have been, probably is not going to change now. But my point is that it is a beautiful thing when the way I  teach lands for someone in a way they can  make use of it to deepen their own practice, their own path and their own unfolding. And it is a great blessing when, as a student, I can make use of what a teacher is offering in their truth.

I suppose I never get tired of exploring the student-teacher relationship and the layers of responsibility in each. More could be said but I am going to see Kelly now for an acupuncture treatment in his new office.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Flow-ish Sequence

So we had a good time at Bfree last night for advanced flow. I thought I would share the sequence in case anyone needed some inspiration or ideas for a strong flow class for capable students. Lots of these could be broken down and modified for an all-levels class for sure.

We had a hot and sweaty room, some good tunes and willing group. One thing I love about teaching at Bfree is that everyone is pretty okay with my "flow-ish" style when I teach there. Flow-ish means that I mostly keep everything flowing and linked together somewhat creatively but at times the choreography is not stellar or seamless and if, at any point  I look around and see an obvious way to help people improve their poses I will cut off the music and give an explanation or demonstration or partner assist, particularly on the hard stuff, so that people can learn how to advance.  Other than that I try not to micromanage and we have a pretty good time together. So, flow-ish.

Flow-ish Sequence from Last Night at Bfree:

Centering Sequence:
Childs Pose
Down Dog
walk back to uttanasana

Warm Up Sequence:
(This is morphed from the Ghosh Lineage's Salutations to the Gods and Goddesses. Inspired by and not identical to, etc.)
1. step forward to high lunge/vira 1 variation with right leg--turn to back of mat, left leg lunge/vira 1--turn to front of mat for right leg high lunge/vira 1- hands to floor--down dog-- uttanasana to standing
Repeat with left leg first.

2. Same thing and on the last lunge, add on: back knee down 3 inches behind front foot, take  forehead to knee, place prayer hands in front of front foot, round spine, come upright, place hands and go to Down dog then back to uttanasana to standing
repeat with left leg first

3. Same thing and after rounded spine on right leg, stretch high to the sky and then back bend as far as you can go--anywhere from straight up and down to touching the floor behind you and then upright`, place hands, down dog to uttanasana to standing

(It occurs to me a little video of this might be useful... Anyway, I will do that for asana junkies for sure but it is simliar to this opening on the yogaglo class- DEEP HIPS FLOW

Simple lunge surya namaskar variation borrowed from the Ghosh lineage-- 4X-
1. anjali in tadasana-
2. standing back arch-
3.uttanasana with hands to sides of feet--
4.squat down--
5.leg back to lunge with forehead to knee-
6. look up--
7. high plank
8.low plank
9. high plank
10step to lunge
11. forehead to knee
12. squat
13. uttanasana
14. anjali
15. standing back arch
16. tadasana
note: the squat position is key here to really open and prepare the hip joint. not super flowy and fluid at this point but very effective.

Standing Poses (which become the basis for the flows)
crescent/side stretch
standing back arch
step wide and keep feet wide for fairly quick holds to create movement and familiarity with the baseline poses. Do the right side of each pose then the left, do not do all right side and then all left as it would be brutal to the legs and hips! (Those of you in sequencing part 2 and in TT will notice these as our very familiar postures from the sequence we were working with.)
trikonasana *
parsvakonasana **
vira 1***
vira 2 ****

quicker for more fluidity:
crescent/side stretch
standing back arch

trikonasana flow* (2X each side)- trikonasana- sweep foot in front of you, grab outside of foot with top hand and come to visvamistasana variation- one-legged down dog- wild thing/flip dog- one-legged down dog- parsvakonasana- stand up in a one breath vira 2 and repeat on second side.

Parsvakonasana flow **(2X each side)- parsvakonasana- grab outside of foot with bottom hand- place opposite hand on floor and go to vasistasana 2- parsvakonasana- ardha chandra chapasana- ardha chandrasana- parsvakonasana- stand upon a one-breath vira 2 and repeat on second side

Vira 1 flow*** (2 X each side)- utkatasana through vinyasa- vira 1- eagle arms in vira 1- step into eagle on front leg- step back to vira 1 stretch eagle arms into back bend then to upward prayer then vinyasa and repeat on other side.

Vira 2 flow **** (2X each side) Vira 2--clasped parsvakonasana- clasped uttanasana-- Bird of Paradise--clasped uttanasana--clasped parsvakonasana-- vira 2

Parsvottanasana with gomukhasana arms
adho mukha svanasana

pigeon with a forward bend

Flow-- from pigeon with right leg in front,  take back leg across front leg for ardha matsyendrasana twist--then take left  leg toward the back of mat for janu sirsasana starting position- twist over bent leg- fold over straight leg- then place right hand by right leg, lift hips, sweep left arm overhead  for stargazer pose. From stargazer, place left hand on floor shoulder width apart from right hand,  take right leg and cross it on left thigh for baby cradle in down dog. make sure your left leg is bent and then pivot on your foot and balance on your left foot and left hand and take you right foot into bow for kapinjalasana variation then go to one-leg down dog and switch sides.

pigeon with a quad stretch
anjaneyasana with deeper back bend
supta virasana then place hands like Urdhva Dhanurasana then come up to kneeling
setu bandha
chatush padasana
urdhva danurasana

work on:
supta virasana to urdhva D arms to kneeling
toes tucked under camel to urdhva D to camel
tadasana to urdhva dhanurasana to tadasana

then we did a few more  refinements on urdhva D

supta padangusthasana series
succirandrasana, flexed foot on upper thigh
succirandrasana, pointed foot on middle thigh
reclined twist
sukhasana forward bend (alternate leg in front)
sukhasana, seated meditation


Have at it.

In terms of theme, I talked last night about Light, my very favorite topic. After all, tis the season to contemplate light. And in the midst of the various acts of darkness plastered all over the media this week, it makes for a good consideration, I think. Lots could be said about that but I will save it for another time. It is a beautiful day outside and I am going to spend a little time outside before I go inside and practice some asana this afternoon.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Asana Junkies Practice Club

I have spent a lot of time writing these days about the power of group practice and watching my own passion for teaching in that forum grow and expand with appreciation for all the possibilities that exist when a group of people commit to practicing together over  period of time. And so many recent webinar participants have been asking for an asana-based webinar in which to participate. So here it is- THE ASANA JUNKIES PRACTICE CLUB WEBINAR!

The basic run down is that I am going to teach a weekly webinar and introduce a sequence each week that will start more basic and fundamental and will work towards some more advanced postures over the 3-month program.  This progressive approach will be optimal to build a strong foundation, learn the various ways to work in and towards the harder stuff and will help people grow together and will help teachers see how to sequence not only within one class but over the course of several months. In addition to reviewing the sequence I will share some tips about how to modify and how to wok into those poses deeper, answer questions, , give teaching tips, etc. In general, the webinar is  a place for me to give the intellectual "how-to" for the week's sequence. Also, I will give some suggestions for how to work on the sequence even if you do not have a full 2-hours to practice it.

And each week, I am going to teach a group practice here in Austin at Bfree Yoga.  In this way I will be working directly on the sequence and  practice and exploring the content first hand as well. So one the webinar "how to" is offered for the intellect (Along with some inspirational pep talks for the heart and spirit) each person or group of people will practice the sequence or parts of it  in their own way and put the information into ACTION. I am not providing a script or a led-class format via webinar but instead want to help people really learn how to generate intensity on their own and how to advance through both individual and group practice. Also, teachers will get lots of information that will be immediately relevant to their classes. 

I have this vision that people will sign up for the webinar wherever they live and if they are alone they will have group support, and if they have a group they practice with already they will have access to hints, tips and camaraderie through which they can  build an even stronger group. I also hope that this program will help people start group practices where they live to build their local communities through practice and the direct experience of being on the mat together.  

To me this is an exciting program because it has the possibility to  strengthen individual practitioners  and teachers and bond local communities AND can provide a hub of connection to a larger network and community  of practitioners.  Already we have people participating here in Austin and across the states as well as in Canada,  Patagonia, Ireland, Denmark, Mexico, etc. The program is both local and global.

 I will be writing more about the course as time goes by but here is initial course description and the link for registration.  As usual, the webinar tuition is tiered to accommodate different budgets and to encourage participation. Let me know if you have questions.

Asana Junkies Practice Club Webinar
January 9, 2013 - March 20, 2013

Are you a teacher who wants to deepen your practice and work on more advanced postures but you are not sure where to begin?

Do you often wish you had a group of yoga enthusiasts to inspire you, urge you onward into more advanced postures and with whom you can explore creative ideas and sequencing strategies?

Are you an experienced student who has always wondered how to advance your practice and can’t find a public class where the “how to” of the postures is thoroughly explained?

Are you looking for a way to refine and expand your practice this year and would love some help and comraderie along the way?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, the Asana Junkies Practice Club is for you. Designed especially for dedicated students and teachers who want to work on intermediate and advanced postures in personal and/or group practice, this 11-week course utilizes webinar meetings, video lessons, web-based group sharing and the power of group intention to create a dynamic personal and shared experience.

The course is divided into 3 sequential and progressive parts:  Establish a Foundation, Deepen Your Knowledge and Expand Your Expression. Each month, Christina Sell will develop three to four suggested sequences to help you explore and refine your asana practice. Each week, she will host a webinar to review the upcoming week’s sequence. Christina will provide options and suggestions for how to work with the suggested sequences in a 2-hour practice, a 90-minute practice, a 60-minute practice and a 30-minute practice. Throughout the course, an online forum will be open for Q&A, group sharing and inspirational quotes, video clips and lessons.

Christina Sell is known for her clarity and passion as a teacher and is quickly becoming recognized as an expert on sequencing strategies, teaching methods and group process. She was the 2012 Art of Asana columnist for Yoga International Magazine and conducts seminars and trainings locally, nationally, and internationally on yoga practice, yoga teaching and conscious living. Dedicated to the transformational power of group practice, Christina will be teaching a 11-week course in Austin, TX throughout the duration of the online course and encourages you to create a group practice using the course materials as well. In this way she hopes to keep the content fresh, immediate and relevant to our personal and collective experiences.

Webinar Meeting:
Wednesday Mornings 10:00-11:00 Central Standard Time

Begins Wednesday January 9!



Tuition: $360 ($33/week)

PLEASE NOTE: This webinar is tiered with a sliding scale to accommodate a variety of budgets. If you need financial help use the following tiers and discount codes when you register:
Tier #2- $300 ($25/week) USE DISCOUNT CODE 25
Tier #3- $220 ($20/week) USE DISCOUNT CODE 20
Tier #4- $165 ($15/week) USE DISCOUNT CODE 15


Asana Syllabus (a general plan)

A copy of Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar is suggested.

PLEASE NOTE: You do not have to be able to do all of these postures! These are the postures that we are going to work on, learn how to modify and how to approach safely. The emphais of the course is on finding good ways to prepare for and work towards advanced postures.

Establish A Foundation
Peak Postures:
Urdhva Danurasana
Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana
Pinca Mayurasana
Head Stand
Shoulder Stand
Side Plank
parsva bakasana
baddha konasana
uppa vista konasana

Deepen Your Knowledge
Peak Postures:
Drop Backs
Headstand drop -overs
rajakapotasana- royal king pigeon pose
Headstand and introductory variations
Shoulderstand and introductory variations
mayurasana- peacock pose
eka pada galavasana- one leg partridge
padmasana- lotus pose
pascimottanasana- intense west stretch

Expand Your Expression
Peak Postures:
eka pada raja kapotasana- one-leg royal king pigeon pose
natrajasana- dancer pose
vrisikasana- scorpion pose
headstand and variations
shoulderstand and variations
eka hasta mayurasana- one-arm peacock
kukkutasana- cock pose
visvamitrasana- friend of the universe p
eka pada sirsana- leg behind the head
hanumanasana- full splits

This is going to be great!  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Inner Authority and Outer Teachings

Kelly and I got home from Tucson, Arizona late last night/early this morning. I woke up, had some tea and offered my last Gift of Practice Webinar. The topic today was on The Power of Play which was an awesome way to bring so much of the work we did over the course to a close.  The webinar course exceeded my own expectations in a lot of ways. I originally wanted to offer an affordable, cost-effective course that would support people in staying connected to themselves and their practices through the holidays which is often a very stressful and busy time.  I had thought I might offer some asana tips and so forth however as the course developed and I dove into my outline more I found myself exploring the inner aspects of practice and clarifying topics such as what is practice exactly, how can we bring an integrated approach to our life of practice, how can we productively work with anger and practice forgiveness, how does gratitude help propel us forward on the path and what is the role of play in a life of practice and awakening. 

As is so often the case, we had a great group assemble for the sessions, both live and via recording, and the work was relevant, useful and thought-provoking. I told Kelly today that I actually taught myself some things over the course and clarified some important  issues for myself.  Really, that was an unexpected bonus for me.

If you didn't do the course live, it is not to late to sign up for the recordings. That is a picture of the online classroom and so you can see what it looks like if you have never joined me for a webinar. There is a lot of meaty material in the six sessions- plenty to chew of for a whole year, really. But at any rate, it was an awesome experience for me overall and a lovely way to spend the morning home after a wonderful week in Tucson. 

The week in Tucson was our sixth week of a year-long Live the Light of Yoga  program we began in January. The first three weeks were Sadhana Intensives and the second three weeks were Teacher Training weeks. Many people combined the experienced for a 200-hour Yoga Alliance-approved program while some folks did the first half and still others joined us only for the teacher training portion. Many of you have been following that journey via my blog so I won't go too deeply into it now, but I must say that I feel like came through a big personal process throughout this program.  Nothing like a year-long program to hold a container in which we can see and experience our growth.

I often wonder about the correlative and causative relationships between these kind of programs and personal growth. I think on one level most of us grow and change a lot in a year. I also think that when we sign up for year-long yoga programs, we initiate a kind of growth that might not otherwise occur. AND I also think that having the container of a group and a program provides a kind of structure through which we grow more aware of the changes that would occur anyway as it also does its work of helping us accelerate a kind of inner process. I see it every year in the students who enroll and commit to the process and I watch myself as a facilitator of the process have to step into my own grow deliberately with each group and with every program.

The big thing I felt by the end of the training was an appreciation for my Anusara Yoga experiences and training and gratitude for the support I had during that phase of my life. I feel like something healed inside me throughout the year that feels very freeing. In a lot of ways, I feel more "anusara" than ever, ironically. (I did chose to write that in lower case to simply say I feel more in my own flow,  more concurrent with the greater  flow which is what the word means, not to indicate yoga style or brand.) 

I also feel more clear about my direction as a more "independent agent" yoga teacher, which, pardon the pun, actually has a lot to do with owning a sense of my own Independent Agency or Inner Authority in my own work as a yogi, not just as a teacher. I feel more comfortable then ever bringing  parts of my past forward into my new work and I feel more clear about my aim for my practice and teaching in the years to come.

I have long been interested in the dynamic relationship between the outer teachings and  the outer teacher and one's inner wisdom and how these two domains  inform one another. Outer teachings and teachers give us references points, instructions for "how to know" and "how to recognize" and can be instrumental in helping us clarify and sort through the various aspects of ourselves and our sometimes competing urges and ideas.  Too much reliance on outer teachers, however,  and we doubt our inner instincts. Not enough doubt of the inner makes us subject to narcissistic tendencies and the pitfalls that come from being too self-referential.  I watch a lot of sincere yogis doubt their inner knowing, particularly  if it, on the surface seems "negative" because we do not want to be "judgmental. I know I have made that mistake many times.

The truth is I need to judge what is good for me and what is bad for me. I need to judge where I will be most likely to grow and thrive and where I will most likely wither or grow malnourished. It is important that I learn to judge good character influences and bad. And so on. Outer teachings help with this and so do those uneasy, uncomfortable and often times, seemingly negative feelings that arise from within. At any rate, I have made some progress with this work personally this year. 

As a teacher, I am more clear than ever that I do not want to teach a system of yoga or to represent a singular darshana or viewpoint, no matter how inclusive and brilliant it may sound or may indeed be. While one is never free of a viewpoint that informs their work, the main thing I am interested in as a teacher is  providing practices and experiences that help point people inward to their own wisdom. About as far as I can go right now in terms of clarifying  "what I believe" as a practitioner and teacher is the following:  I believe each one of us has intrinsic wisdom and dignity.  I believe that the yoga tradition- for all of its problems and pitfalls- has some pretty amazing tools that can help people of all faiths and those without religious orientation  recognize their inner authority, strengthen their awareness  and to build their capacity to live from such a recognition. (yes, I know, sounds a lot like Chit-Ananda as we learned it in Anusara.)

I believe yoga  practice- even if it is the physicality of asana divorced from any philosophy- still contributes to this inner knowing because it can build mind-body awareness in the practitioner. So to me there is not "physical only" asana even if someone is only looking at, caring about or dealing with the physical sheath. And I have said it more than once, I love asana as exercise.  However, I believe the other layers of our being  are affected even if we do not consciously cultivate them or mine them for what is happening. But I digress. 

My main point is that I think the tools of yoga are useful to the extent they help us grow into ourselves, not to the extent they help us fit into an outer ideal, even if that outer ideal is a spiritual community of like-minded people. And I believe that a community is most helpful if it nurtures the  individuals within it, rather than continually asking for people to sacrifice their personal ideas, needs and feelings  in its name, even if it is "for the good of the group" or "for the continuation of the teaching" and so on.  (Keep in mind this is coming from someone who considers herself a creature of community with  long-ranging experience in communities like 12-step groups, several spiritual schools/cults, several yoga methods, etc.) From my observation and experience I believe the "needs of the individual" must be balanced and supported by the needs of a group and to repeatedly ask individuals to sacrifice their needs guarantees a toxic mess will be brewing somewhere beneath the surface. 

Well, more can be said and all that may be read in all kinds of ways and all kinds of conclusions may et drawn but I feel really great these days. I feel very happy to look back and see immeasurable support and to look around and see the same. I am indeed, hopeful for the future, as the year comes to a close. I have learned a ton.

On another very practical note, as some of you know I have been posting weekly "Yoga Tips" on my blog and on Facebook as an effort to support people in practice and in teaching and to return the  content of my offerings back to asana practice and proficiency and away from so much subjective content and inner musings. Yoga Tips has its own Facebook Page now, so please go there and "like" the page and post questions and requests for  tips on postures of problems in postures you might like to explore.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Good Company, Great Yoga

Well, it is Wednesday and I am here in Tucson, Arizona. Today we had Day One of our Teacher Training. It is the third week of our three weeks of teacher training and it is the sixth week of the six weeks of the whole 200-hour program we started this January. What a year it has been. Wow.

I do not think I know anyone who had a mellow and relaxing year this year.  Seems like 2012 packed a punch no matter who you are or what you do. And yet, as the year is coming to a close,  Darren and I are looking back with gratitude and ahead with anticipation for our work together. And personally, I feel in the middle of some important contemplations about authenticity, boundaries and I feel very hopeful about my ongoing direction.

I spent last weekend teaching an intensive down in San Marcos which was a highlight of the season for me. Coming on the heels of a great Thanksgiving week, the weekend workshop was a new offering for me in San Marcos. Up until now I have been teaching mostly intensives there. By intensives I mean longer-term programs where full attendance was the only option for enrollment. I love that format because a solid bond is formed among the  group and, with  everyone there for every session, we can capitalize on the sequential and progressive nature of asana instruction,  lay a foundation and build on the basics. So I love that.

AND that format leaves a lot of people out who have families and 9-5 jobs and so on and people have been asking me to offer a program in which they could come in parts and parcels. So I did just that. I offered 6 sessions in the weekend- 3 sessions were all-levels classes and 3 sessions were instructional group practices where I practiced along with the group. I had so much fun and I really learned a lot as the teacher. And with no travel expenses and very little overhead I could offer it at an affordable price which I also felt good about.

On the whole it was a rich a deep weekend for me. I always love watching people relax on the property, work hard in the asana and generally soak in the intention of the School which is all about connecting to one's Heart through asana, chanting and the simple joy of being together with a common interest. I was also reminded how much I love to work on the poses and to explore my own boundaries in group practice. It really is like my favorite thing these days.

Here are a few scenes.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Money, Value and Worth

Well, it has been a good week here in Texas. I am enjoying the time at home and having a chance to practice a lot and connect with my friends and students here. I started teaching a few public classes at Black Swan Yoga last week which has been an interesting foray into a completely different class format- 60 minute flow and 60-minute routine-based static holds- in a different type of studio. Black Swan is a donation-based yoga studio which is a very interesting, and for some, controversial, business model. Not to be confused with "free yoga" donation-based yoga invites the student to donate for the class they are taking rather than require them to pay a set amount in order to attend.  This business model involves a radical sense of trust in the student's willingness to support the studio and the teacher and invites everyone into an immediate relationship with value, money, respect and worth.

I have been thinking a lot about money these days and the various challenges that come along with monetizing the yoga practice and supporting oneself as a yoga teacher.  In the age where many students feel that the cost of  yoga classes, workshops and trainings  is outside of their budget, studio owners everywhere are struggling to keep their doors open and teachers are often unable  to pay their bills. So it is easy to say that yoga is too expensive, except that running a studio is certainly not cheap. Money is a really hot topic and so I definitely want to tread lightly on the subject lest it come across that I am being critical because I do not feel that way. Not at all. I am really thinking deeply on the this very difficult and personal subject.

Recently I offered a webinar at a sliding scale (in fact, I  am offering all of my webinars that way this year) and a colleague of mine told me that I was "devaluing the teachings" by making them so affordable. Another colleague told me that I was "ruining my brand" by teaching at a donation studio and that by teaching locally at a discounted rate I was cheapening my image.  I am always sensitive to this kind of feedback so I really gave the comments a lot of thought to see if I had some kind of blind spot or self-esteem issue that was operative of which I was unaware.

As I thought about it, I wondered where is the value on the teaching placed? Am I placing the value on what you have to pay or on what I might earn from the time and energy expended to offer a course? How does one value something like yoga? Does the money received and/or paid determine the value? Is there a reasonable way to put a price tag on the inner value we all receive from great instruction? If I pay more does that mean I am paying better attention or that I value the teaching more? If I charge more does that mean I have self-worth and if I charge less does that mean I do not believe in myself? And if someone is wealthy then $50 is a drop in the bucket of their monthly yoga budget but if someone is less financially solvent then $50 might be a proportionally huge amount of money.

 The first workshop I ever did with John Friend was in February 2000 and Desiree Rumbaugh, his host,  called me up and said there was a spot that had opened up and did I want it? If yes,  it would cost $450 for the 5-day intensive. So I tell this story now because at the time Kelly and I had exactly $450 dollars in our checking account and truth be told, it belonged to the people we owed it to for a car payment, rent, etc. I will always remember being at that workshop and parking my 1993 Toyota pick up truck in a parking lot filled with Lexus, Mercedes and BMW's in Scottsdale, Arizona.  My point being is that we all paid $450 but the cost of that  $450 was not the same for everyone in attendance. For me it was 100% of my money. For other folks the tuition represented a much smaller percentage of their financial resources. (And as anyone knows who travels for workshops the tuition is only part of it- there is travel expenses, lodging, food, etc. to make the journey as well as the days of not earning money while you are in training.)

The finances of yoga training  gets further complicated now that we live, teach and practice in a global yoga community because $100 in USA is not the same $100 as it might be in Mexico or India or in other regions.

And of course, we all have our financial needs, our families needs and our own personal boundaries to explore and to uphold when it comes to the amount of money we need and want. Each one of us is absolutely free to charge whatever we want for the services we are offering as teachers and studios. Of course, as students we have to be real and honest about what we can and can not afford and also whether or not the trainings are "worth it" to us relative to the percentage of our budget that the tuition for any program represents. I have no issue with people charging a lot for what they offer. I look at some things I would love to do and while it may be more than I want to pay, I am in no way upset they are asking for it or getting it. That is the beauty of capitalism,  I suppose.

And the longer I go about teaching the more I am aware of the time and energy it requires to have something of real value to offer. It  looks like a yoga teacher is being paid for the time they are in front of the class "teaching" but the teacher is  actually being paid for the time he or she spends practicing, studying, reflecting, learning, integrating their experiences on and off the mat.  All of that inquiry behind the scenes informs the presentation called "class" where the monetary exchange happens.

I was thinking about how even with all of these complexities there are still some very affordable ways to enjoy great yoga instruction. First is home practice with a great book like Light On Yoga or Yoga Resource. Home practice is one of the best values around as it costs you only your time and energy. There are also so many great online resources like Yogaglo where for only $18/month you can take as many yoga classes as you want. And if you end up in someone's class you do not like, no big deal- press stop and just pick another! There are lots of other online resources as well, not to mention a plethora of DVD's,  podcasts, CD's and iPhone apps offering a way to practice yoga  affordably. (Of course, these require a computer which is an expense and is not available in some areas of the world.)

I was thinking about my own "Schedule of Services" as a yoga teacher these days and how I have little free snippets called Yoga Tips that I have started offering, a free blog like this one, and I offer a few group practices locally for free for the fun of being together in the name of yoga. I teach some local classes that are by donation and some that the studio sets a fee for. I have classes on yogaglo.  I offer webinar programs that are set up on  a sliding scale. And I offer workshops, intensives and trainings that are more specialized, more time-consuming and more professionally-targeted and they still come in generally lower than the national average but are certainly higher-priced than public classes.  And I have some minimum financial requirements I request to pack a suitcase and leave home for a weekend or more. So, it's a range.

A marketing expert once told me that I should market my teaching work  as the BMW of yoga trainings and I think now I might rather be a Honda. But I digress.  My point in all of that is to say that I completely get that yoga is pricing itself out in some ways and this great practice is often cost-prohibitive for many people. And I also get that teaching is more competitive than ever and studios are struggling more than ever to stay open. I suppose I do not have any conclusions  or definitive answers for anyone else- I am simply trying to offer a variety of programs at different price points as a way to offer the teachings as widely as possible and I would love all of us yoga teachers to have financial freedom to pursue what matters most. So there is my dream- students who have wide access to yoga and yoga teachers who can afford to buy houses, put their kids through college and pay for health insurance. Is that too much to ask?

At any rate,  Yoga Tips continues with a short clip on how to teach and practice putting active weight through the top of your head in headstand. Enjoy.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Learning and Doing

I had a great time last night up at BFree Yoga. I taught the Level 3 Vinyasa which is always a blast.  The folks who come to that class are always a lot of fun to work with. They are generally hard working, light-hearted and very courageous when it comes to trying new things. Given that I am guest instructor for that class and we extended the class time a bit, I took some liberties with the format and after we had worked very hard for a while I offered some demonstrations, partner assists and some trouble shooting to help folks out. There was so much capacity in the room, I hated to let a good teaching moment go by without offering some tips for improvement. I joked that my teaching style that night was "flow-ish" meaning lots of flow but also some long holds, some demonstration and explanation and so forth.  We had a great time and I left very inspired from the time there. I always do. We had a good time with a foray into rajakapotasana, eka pada rajakapotasana, urdhva dhanurasana, dropping back to urdhva dhanurasana and standing up. Loads of fun.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the way that we actually learn yoga and the way that we teach it and how different trends in the marketplace affect both the teacher and the student's role in the process. I was  talking recently to a colleague about the function of group practice. I was reflecting about how when I first took yoga classes the classes were totally instructional with lots of explanation, demonstration and a ton of "how to" and refinement was involved. I am grateful I had that kind of introduction to yoga because it provided a great foundation to the practice, to how to study the subject and how to learn. And even in the early days of my  Anusara training we spent a lot of time "learning" the method through demonstration, partner work and what I affectionately refer to as "come-watch-asana."  I still love being taught that was from a good teacher.

Over the years the trend of public yoga classes has moved more and more away from instruction-based classes toward practice-based classes and vinyasa-style practice. I personally like vinyasa yoga and have a great time practicing like that and so this is not me grinding an axe about either approach or positioning one style above the other. I am being a bit of a yoga sociologist or historian at this point. At any rate, the practice-based class is awesome because the doing becomes the teacher and the students have a chance to really feel the flow of the practice and the conditioning effect of movement and so on. And when a sequence stays fairly similar or even the same over time, less demonstration is needed because the repetition is teaching the refinements instead of each class providing something new that needs to be learned. Also the student gets a chance to gauge their progress and change against a sequence that is not changing so much. Lots of value in this approach for sure.

So anyway, none of this is a new consideration and I have gone over these things before. Suffice it to say there are pros and cons to both ways and we all have our preferences. Why I got to thinking about this again recently is that a colleague of mine was talking to me about introducing a group practice at a studio that has never had a group practice. We got to talking about what the best approach would be- the keep the moving approach v. the explain some things and see if they can go into new territory approach: the practice-style practice or the instructional-style practice.

I was reflecting how when I was introduced to group practice with Desiree Rumbaugh and John Friend, it was when the classes were really instructional and so the group  practices were more doing- based and with the extra time allotted and the focused group intention we got into deeper, more advanced territory and applied the information we had learned in class. Classes were for learning and practices were for doing.  Now that classes are more doing, I was wondering if group practices actually need to be a bit more instructional in many cases.

Of course, it is never one way or the other and there is no need to make it some rigid thing. I personally know that it is possible to have classes that create a great practice, a good conditioning effect AND provide some valuable information about how to advance in one's practice. I know it is possible to have practices that do the same thing. One thing that drives me crazy these days is being forced to make it one way or the other. I have had such a diverse education in the asana practice that it is impossible for me to say that one way is best. I really feel like I have benefitted from many different approaches and from many different stylistic influences. My asana practice is a combination of instructionally-based classes and workshops, practice-based classes and workshops, LOTS of time on my mat alone with a timer and Light on Yoga, group practices with my teachers, group practices with my students and a lot of study as well.

At any rate, my love of group practice has been rekindled lately and my appreciation for hard work, done intelligently and passionately over a long time with others is burning brightly these days. Next weekend we have some classes and some group practices on the books down in San Marcos and I am scheming about some ways to establish some ongoing group practices and resources for practice here locally as well as via some online technology for those of you farther afield, so stay tuned for that. 

All right, more soon.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving Day Practice

I had a really great Thanksgiving Day. We started off with a lovely group practice down in San Marcos. As is probably somewhat  predictable, we worked on some back bends.

Here is the sequence I taught:

1 minute timings:
Adho mukha virasana (AMV)
Adho mukha svasanasana (AMS)
prasarita paddotanasana

Sirsasana- 5 minutes
handstand- 1 minute timings 3X
pincha mayurasana- 1 minute timings 3X

surya namaskar variation-- lunging with backbends- 7 minutes

  • upward prayer to standing back arch
  • uttanasana
  • lunge to backbending anjaneyasana
  • plank to chataranga
  • up dog or cobra
  • down dog
  • lunge to backbending anjaneyasana
  • uttanasana
  • standing back arch
  • tadasana

1 minute timings:
standing back arch
virabhadrasana 1
prasarita paddottanasana
urdhva prasarita eka padasana- at wall- 2X
utthhita hasta padangusthasana, hands around foot forehead  to shin, top leg high up on the wall
utthita hasta padangusthasana- same set up, this time take top leg off the wall and balance
urdhva prasarita eka padasana in the middle of the room, working on balancing

upper back opening with the chair (see my last Yoga Tips Post)

shalabasana- 2X
makrasana- 2X
dhanurasana -2X
parsva dhanurasana- 2X each side
Standing Bow Pulling Pose- 4X (we really worked on this)

vamedevasana prep- 2X (think massive  quad stretching in a lateral angle pigeon, knees in one line to the side- or just do pigeon quad stretching if that seems confusing)
supta trivikramasana

Urdhva Dhanurasana- 1 minute timings-5X
drop backs to urdvha dhanurasana 2 and standing up- 5X
scorpion in pincha
scorpion in handstand
eka pada rajakapotasana 1, 2, 3, 4

down dog
parsva uttanasana
down dog
childs pose

sarvangasana- 5 minutes



After practice we cleaned up, posted some photos and headed over to Mom and Dad's for Thanksgiving festivities. We had a great group of people  assembled- Me, Kelly, Mom, Dad, Anne, Jeff, Jason, Brooke, Jason's two boys, Devon, Gioconda, and Sam. As we went around the table to share what we felt grateful for I shared that I was very happy to be with my "family of origin" and my "family of choice" and that these two circles overlap.

Practicing yoga and teaching yoga has expanded my family of choice in some really amazing ways over the years. I have friends, students and colleagues from  all over the world who are sisters-and-brothers on the Path. I am very grateful to have so many people with whom the shared love of practice and the Teaching lives at the heart of the relationships we share. Also,  as I reflect a bit here, it seems clear to me that because of the teachings and practices of yoga I have cultivated love, forgiveness and compassion for myself and others that allows me to enjoy my family of origin in ways that would not have been possible if I had never considered the teachings.

We had a very fun and funny evening with great food, drink, and conversation. It was probably one of my favorite thanksgivings ever, which is really great since this year has been a bit of an ass-kicker. I really enjoyed blowing off a little steam and being with people I love and who love me in a casual and open-hearted way.

At any rate, I spent a lot of the day practicing asana today and then met Gioconda to talk a bit about our plans for a Teacher Training in 2013 here in Texas.  Stay tuned for details on the program and if you are not on my mailing list, make sure to sign up for it so you will be in the loop for the announcements that will be out soon.

Okay, more reflections soon. Hope your holidays are going well. (And if they are not, that at least you are being nice to yourself in the midst of whatever challenges are arising.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Yoga Tips with Christina Sell - Upper Back Opening

Here are a few tips for keeping your heart open this week (otherwise known as upper back opening!)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Preaching to the Choir

I had a great time in Portland, Oregon this weekend at The Bhaktishop. Lisa Mae, the owner of The Bhakitshop invited me to teach almost a year ago. I figured she wanted me to come and teach asana but she suggested a weekend for teachers on sequencing instead. I love to teach sequencing and Lisa did my online programs and so I took the materials from my two webinars, created a new handout (155 pages!) and we spent the weekend diving into the topic of sequencing which always dovetails into lots of other topics on yoga practice, teaching, etc. It was a really wonderful weekend.

One thing I enjoyed so very much was being in the good company of a roomful of experienced teachers from a variety of styles and systems. Because there was such a depth of experience in the room we were able to have a very collegial and professional discusssion about teaching yoga that was full of nuance, honesty, humor and the collective passion for the subject of yoga and the craft of teaching. Like in so many areas, the Porland yoga community is diverse and talented and yet not often in the same room together- physically and, at times, metaphysically. I talked a lot about how we have an opportunity as yoga teachers to come together as colleagues and as students of a great art or we can compete, tear each other down and otherwise sink to the lowest common denominator of human drives. 

Obviously, this kind of event allowed me to preach to the choir which is my favorite way to teach, for those of you who know me. I am not one to convert the masses. I know plenty of people who love that work but me, well, I am always interested in speaking to people once they have been converted. And if teaching yoga for 15 years has taught me anything it is that those of us in the choir need the sermon also. It is big work to teach yoga. It is full of great times that provide an amazing affirmation of our gifts and contributions. It is also a big ass-kicking where we get to confront our unresolved issues like scarcity, competition, fear of rejection and every little pocket of ineffective communication patterns that live inside of us. So, yes, those of us involved in the affirming ass-kicking that it is to teach yoga need a good pep talk now and then. For sure.

Having a chance to “provide the sermon” for a room of teachers is a true delight and a great honor and the time in Portland was a real highlight of the last few months for me. I felt very free  to speak directly about all the analytical stuff I love about sequencing and also to share honestly about the context in which all those details exist. And the group got on the ride and went with me so it was great in all regards.

I taught one asana class all weekend- a very mixed level class with an age range of 25-72. Here is the sequence we worked with. Enjoy.

1 minute timings:

lunge surya namaskar

back arch
back arch
utkasana - X3

classic gomukhasana, legs only
classic gomukhasana, legs and arms together
virasana- 5 minutes
baddha konasana- 5 minutes
uppavista konasana- 5 minutes

Supta Padangusthasana- 4 stages

prasarita paddottanasana, 2 stages
malasana to uttanasana
maricyasana 1

setu bandhaX3
chatush padasanaX3
urdhva danurasana X5

SPG, hands clasped around back of leg
adho mukha sukhasana- alternate which shin is in front

Seated ujayi


Today I head out to Paulden, Arizona for a few days at Lee’s ashram there. Tonight we have a kali puja and Thursday begins his mahasamadhi celebration. I’ll be off the grid and in the throes of the festivities there and will check back in to internet life on Monday. 

Have a great weekend. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Yoga Tips with Christina Sell - Urdhva Dhanurasana

Here is another Yoga Tips with a few gems for urdva danurasana. Enjoy.

More soon.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Four Minute Mile and The Power of Group Practice

Every Tuesday I practice the Advanced Series at the Bikram yoga studio. Most weeks there are 8-12  of us in the room, many of whom are competitors and champions in the state and national yoga championships. Afton leads the practice and Kathy is always there and so is Mardy and Gianna and many other very accomplished asana practitioners. 

I was introduced to Bikram yoga in 1995 when my mother used to practice Bikram yoga in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I did not know, however, there was an advanced series until last year when Pure Bikram Yoga opened their studio in south Austin and offered an open advanced practice as part of the celebratory festivities. Ida Ripley, the Canadian National champion was in town and she was leading the practice. I talked Anne into going with me and was blown away by the depth and breadth of the postures on the syllabus, the design of the sequence itself and the proficiency of the teachers and students who practiced at Pure. The advanced series involves 84 postures the and takes a little over 2-hours to complete whereas the beginnning series has 26 postures, each of which are repeated twice, and takes about 90-minutes to perform.  Seeing the advanced series put a lot of the beginning series into perespective for me because it was obvious how the two formats relate to and inform one another.   Anyway, I have been practicing with these folks for over a year now and they have helped me tremendously. 

All that  backstory is there to say that on Tuesday, while I was balancing in one-arm peacock I realized once again that practicing with people who can do things that I can’t do is both a physically and  mind-expanding opportunity. (Well, truth be told, I realized this  after I came out of that pose because there is not really any room for other thoughts during that particular posture.) I came down from my pose and looked up and saw Kathy, Mardy, and Afton all balancing on one hand in the same posture and I realized that I had been practicing yoga since 1991 and never even thought to try one-armed peacock  until last year when I was introduced to it in as part of the Bikram yoga advanced series.  At the time and for most of the last year, I didn’t really think I would ever do the pose but I would try it every week and watch other folks in the room do it. Then lo and behold, last week, in our group practice at BFree, I did the pose for the first time and held it. I had been getting closer and closer throughout the year but I actually did it! Big moment. 

So my main realization yesterday was that the only reason I even tried and kept making attempts to do the pose was that I saw other people doing it. The very fact that they could do the pose confronted my  “that is impossible” mindset. I realized advanced group practice is a lot like the  4-minute mile. Prior to 1954, no one had ever run a 4-minute mile. Once Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile, an invisible barrier came down. What had been impossible was accomplished and now it has become the standard for male middle distance runners.

Advanced postures like one-arm peacock involve strength, balance and tremendous focus. And like every other challenging posture,  what is required in the posture is also what is cultivated through the practice of the pose. Before we go any further,  let’s also remember that what is advanced for one person may be different than what is advanced for another. Depending on our physical capacity, these same principles apply to postures like trikonasana, uttanasana, etc. so don’t get distracted by what syllabus the  advanced posture may be on. What is challenging in asana is always relative to the one practicing. The real boon of any posture  lives, not in the physcial expression itself, but in how the performance of the challenging form  shifts our perceptions of possibility and challenges our preconceived notions of limitation.  (And of course, we have to be intelligent practitioners and work within certain boundaries and allow the process to unfold in its own time relative to our capacity and all that. I am very clear that yoga asana is as much about honoroing one’s limits as it is about transcending them and  those two aspects of practice are always in a conversation with one another. But I digress.)

Yesterday I told Mardy, “You know, the only reason I can do that is because I watched you guys do it every week and I knew it had to be possible since people right in front of me were actually doing it.” She told me that over the years, in the Bikram yoga community, the competitions have served that same function. Not only do individuals have an opportunity to focus and refine their personal practices much in the way a runner might train for a race, the competitions are also a demonstration of practice and become a testimony to what is possible. Mardy told me that people are practicing postures  now that even 4 years ago were considered unachievable. I call it the Four-Minute-Mile Phenomenon, (FMMP) where what was once considered impossible becomes the standard. 

What excites me the most about  the FMMP  is that the testimony of practice and the living example of possiblity is not limited to asana. After all, asana  always embodies and teaches us larger lessons than asana itself.  For most of us, postural profiency will fade before we do in this lifetime, which make it all the more important that we harvest the deeper teachings implicit in the pursuit of these challenging  forms. In the same way that a seemingly  impossible yoga posture enters the field of possible because other people in the room are doing it, so too do we become living testimonies of possibility in our lives off the mat. Think about it--our practice rooms are filled with people who have overcome  the ravages of abuse, addiction, and the personal darkness of depression, anxiety and self-doubt. In our very midst are people who are practicing compassion, love, forgiveness in the face of betrayal and injury.  In our communities of practice are people who assert faith and hope in the midst of unthinkable loss and impossible odds.  

There is no one in the room without a story to tell. There is no one I know who has not been given an “Advanced Life Posture" to practice. Each one of us has fallen. Each one of us will fall again in some way. Each one of us has struggled to overcome something. In my opinion, these are the terms of  living, not a design flaw that can be shortcut by positive thinking, vision questing or any such new-age technology.  We learn through the power of direct experience and this is the power of group practice: we can benefit directly from one another’s experiences.  

Our various personal challenges, triumphs and struggles are the living guru, the true teacher living amongst us. If I learn how to make it through death, divorce, depression, and/or any form of disheartenment then  I become a teacher for someone else who will encounter those Advanced Life Postures in the future. And if today, I am the one falling on my face in the advanced pose life has asked me to practice, group practice  shows me I am not falling alone. When I practice within community even falling is testimony. Perhaps I can fall more consicously, more honestly and model how to reach out, how to tell the truth,and  how to be humble in my shortcomings. Or maybe I simply become an example to someone else of what not to do and just what to avoid.

More could be said, but these musings were  my takeaway from 2+ hours in a hot room on Tuesday. Hopefully there is something in there you can use. 

After practice I met with Jason and Michael at Black Swan Yoga. I am going to teach a few classes there starting November 20th. More on that soon. (Tuesdays, 4:00 and 5:30. Black Swan Yoga-South. Not for folks who like alignment-based hath a with Christina Sell but perfect for those who want some hot  vinyasa with good tips for how to practice and improve.) 

Also, for Austinites- come practice with me on Thanksgiving in San Marcos from 10-12:30 and at Bfree on Sunday, November 25 from 4-5:30 for Level 3 Vinyasa. 

And on the last weekend of the month, I am having a weekend workshop down in San Marcos also. 

Yesterday, Kelly and I flew to Portland for a few days of R&R before I teach over the weekend at The Bhaktishop. On todays agenda is a hike along some amazing waterfalls. 

More soon.