Rikers Island Yoga

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This post is for the introverts. As much as the big personalities make themselves seen in a place like Rikers, I also see those that are quiet.

In the summer the city gets hot but it feels even hotter at Rikers. Despite the heat students asked if they could work on the core. This made me smile for a variety of reasons. First, it’s awesome to see students feel empowered enough to ask for something. This takes courage. Second, it was HOT and I can’t believe they were looking to get even sweatier. But who am I to argue with passion? I had planned on talking about compassion for the self but instead we discussed our inner fire. How do we light it? Honor it? How does it inspire us?
Miriam practiced with a peaceful determination. She didn’t chat during class but smiled at certain points and it seemed that she was looking inward. In side plank her leg floated in the air and in half-moon she smiled to herself as she explored her possibilities by lifting her hand. This was yoga in action. Half-moon was a way for Miriam to embrace the moment rather than getting the pose right. Miriam had touched her core and lit her inner fire.
So much happens in the boisterous conversations at Rikers but it was really Miriam’s inward reflection that moved me. Sometimes I feel guilty to witness such beauty. But because o know it’s not mine I’m able to let it go and hope that Miriam knows what a powerful spirit she is. Shout out to those who are quiet. Sometimes it’s not the loudest voice that gets heard,but the most sonorous.

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5 Tips to Teach Yoga from a Mindful and Trauma Sensitive Perspective

Yoga keeps him young

Creating a safe space for students should be the number one priority of any yoga teacher. As a teacher who is moving into the world of yoga therapy, I understand that the idea of what’s ‘safe’ varies. Getting properly trained in trauma sensitive yoga has been an invaluable tool when it comes to teaching in a wide variety of non-tradtional settings. The more I’ve learned, the more I have been encouraged to share my experiences and tips for creating a meaningful class.

1. Do your homework

I’m constantly reading about new approaches to teaching in this ever evolving field. In addition, I spend time talking to my former teachers who are experts in yoga therapy, trauma-senstive yoga and doctors. There isn’t an end to the learning process. Spending time learning about where you are going to teach a new class can provide assurance that your first class will be provide the best experience possible for your students.

2. Be prepared and flexible

Having a clear plan is always the way to walk into a studio and this is certainly the case when teaching in non-traditional environments. But when class starts and how people are moving doesn’t fit the plan- I must adapt. The same holds true when I teach a trauma-senstive/therapeutic yoga class. A few weeks ago I had planned a class for a group of students at Riker’s Island Correctional Facility. When I walked into the dorm there was a lot of talk about a search that had been conducted overnight, as a result the group was very stressed. Rather than work through the more powerful flow I had mapped out, it made sense to cut that part of class short so I could teach a few poses that released stress. In addition, I took the class through a longer guided meditation. The more tools you have in your toolbox the easier it is to adapt on the fly.

3. Know your audience

When you are teaching in a space with people who have suffered trauma it’s vital to understand their backgrounds and potential triggers. When I am working with women who have suffered sexual abuse, I’m careful not to do poses that could be deemed sensual. Cat/cow provides a good example of this. It’s a fairly innocuous pose in a traditional yoga setting, it’s great for warming up the spine but with women who have had a history of abuse it’s potentially a huge trigger.

4. Listen. Listen more. Listen again.

Active listening skills are required in trauma sensitive teaching. It’s vital to be able to listen to verbal and non-verbal cues. Are students comfortable? Are you talking too much? Or not enough? In a traditional setting with experienced yogis, silence is golden and allows for exploration. But when working with women who have been abused or PTSD patients silence can be scary. Listen with your eyes, ears and EQ (Emotional Intelligence).

5. Know your limits and have a network

As yoga teachers it’s easy to get connected to your students especially when you work with folks who suffer from PTSD, have physical illnesses or are in challenging situations like prison or rehab. I stay true to what I know to do with the body as a yoga teacher. I stay honest with myself about my skills and training. I am a certified therapeutic yoga teacher who has done trainings to work with folks who have chronic illness, addictions, are in prison and who suffer from PTSD. I’m not a therapist, a physical therapist, nutritionist or doctor. But I have built and continue to build a strong network of these folks who understand the value of yoga. Having a rolodex of names allows me to refer a student to the right person when they ask something out of my depth.

One last critical component to teaching trauma sensitive yoga is self-care. Providing a space for healing is rewarding but can be draining physically and emotionally. Knowing how and when to recharge is a part of my routine. I make sure that there is one day of the week when I am not teaching- at all. That is my day to take my own classes and relax. My daily meditation practice is also a way that I stay  emotionally fit. As a Therapeutic yoga teacher I’ve also reaped the benefits of the TY practice. My bolsters, blankets and blocks are never far from me. Practicing what I preach has become a necessary part of my practice.

Yoga is now being widely recognized as a was to compliment many traditional treatment plans. The more that I’m educated, the larger impact I can have.

Namaste y’all.

Adventures in Yoga – Trust Me and Surrender

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I talk a lot about  the idea of letting go.

And the truth is I really mean what I say, but saying it over and over again can sound at best repetitive and at worst, disingenuous.

It got me to thinking- what do I really mean when I say let go? Do I mean that or am I trying to say something else?

Hmmm….

Let go…

At first, I think I meant letting go of control.

Last week, I found my deepest expression of ustrasana.

Oddly enough it was on a day that I didn’t feel particularly inspired to practice. In fact, I had to really slap myself around to get motivated.

I had spent a few days out of town and was beat. Every step toward the studio made me feel more put out than the previous one. I was rolling my eyes at myself (useless really…who loses when that happens? Silly rabbit) as I swiped my card to get on the train.

With headphones on and Esthero blaring the two sides of myself battled.

Can’t move on
But I can’t go home
And I’m not so strong
But I make my way
To the place I know
Inside my heart
Where I used to go
To get brave and
I don’t wanna be lost anymore

Hurumph. I’m tired. (Just shut up and go to class. You’ll be so happy when you get there)

Who needs class? Not me. (Yes you do, when you don’t want to go is when you most need your mat) 

Alas, the smarter side of me won. I got to class.

When I sat on my mat in the darkness I realized I had no fight in me. Maybe it was being tired from travel. Maybe it was lack of sleep. But I was able to turn myself over to my practice.

It was in a word, magnificent.

And while I found my new expression of ustrasana, I was more elated about my discovery.

It’s not about control. It’s about trust. 

I surrendered my body and breath to the pose. I didn’t let go with a ‘what if’ I can’t do it. With my chest lifted and hips moving slightly forward I bent backwards. There was no worry about whether I could. There wasn’t baggage about the last time I tried. Maybe it was because my brain was fried I wasn’t screwing around in my head.

There is a difference between letting go and complete surrender. Well there is for me.

The act of letting go doesn’t implies trust but doesn’t require it.

I can let go and stay in my skeptical shoes, but when I surrender it means that I’m turning myself over.

And that’s where trust comes in.

I’ll just say it- this is a big deal for me. The whys of this story aren’t as interesting as the now.

Yoga builds trust. It builds trust between your body and breath. Each complimenting each other working in unison to create harmony.

Yoga builds trust between me and the world. With a better breath my heart expands and with that I let more and more in.

This is yoga, and I surrender.

Namaste y’all.

oneika stripes

Adventures in Teaching Yoga – Being Wrong Feels So Right

Yoga Costa Rica

I was wr- wr- wr- wrong about something.

Clearly this yoga ish works because despite the false starts, in the past the word wrong was the ‘he who shall not be named’ of my vocabulary.

Back up, back up!
In the not so distant past, it (this notion of wrong) wasn’t even a thought.
There was what I knew to be true. That’s it.
I know- what a maroon.
Enough of my silly past- the point of the story is far more interesting than my arrival at said point..
How or why one starts yoga doesn’t matter to me.
Let that marinate.
Let me explain, of course I care why someone decides to come their mat. The catalyst matters to the extent that I shape a class or a program for private clients.
As a teacher and yogi it’s my job show them a path that helps connect body, breath and individual goals.
I think I wanted students to arrive at their mats with grand plans of a seeking higher awareness. This was a secret I kept to myself until I realized yesterday that it’s unfair to impose such expectations on anyone. What the hell Neik? You know better… I came back to my mat for good because someone broke my heart. No grand shit there. Pretty cliche actually.
This is a little icky to admit, but isn’t that the point of yoga- to share what makes me feel awkward and dorky so I can embrace it?
This acknowledgment is my connection to the world I suppose. This is how I breathe.
Learning to breathe is a funny thing. If you have been living life with stifled, ragged breathing learning how to exhale can be revolutionary. It can change your way of thinking.
It can also make you face some shit. That’s the dirty, happy secret about body and breath. Once you learn how to do it, all sorts of truths can rise to the surface, some good, some not so much.
No such thing as a little bit of freedom- you are free or you are not.
Not everyone wants to sit with that on their mat.
That’s cool.
Really it is.
If a student discovers that they are a fellow traveler, a seeker if you will- she/he will ask questions and it will be apparent.
Some people just want to relax.
Some people want to learn how to touch their toes.
Some people want to learn how to sit up straighter.
It’s all good.
It’s not my job to judge. It’s my job to teach, love and grow.
Most days I feel like two steps forward, two steps back.
Today, I can flip that.
Ha! It’s a good moment. I’m going to enjoy it.
This is yoga and it loves me even when I am dead wrong. Word.
Namaste y’all.
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Adventures in Teaching Yoga – Who Are My Students?

You know what? There’s something that isn’t discussed that I didn’t really hear until after I started teaching. 

It’s been my biggest lesson so far. I’m sorry that I haven’t talked about it earlier.

As a new teacher you teach people who are new to yoga.

Yeah, and you say?

Check it.

I practiced yoga off and on for more than a decade before I did YTT. In the year and a half before I was brave enough to do it, I was practicing several days a week. Then I spent YTT with women who had advanced practices. I started practice at least once a day. Progress in my practice was exponential. I don’t just mean on my mat either. My approach the the entire world was underlined with a broader sense of compassion.

To say that I was livin’ the dream is a gross understatement.

Cool right? I know. I had managed to cultivate a pretty bad ass existence.

Throughout the process our primary teacher told us that we’d be teaching new students and that would mean that we would have to focus on the basics. I heard her, but didn’t listen.

Isn’t always the damn case?

Most of the people I teach have new or newish practices.

It’s my job to help them find the best expression of a pose.

My job break down the connection of body and breath in a way that is accessible, challenging, peaceful and hopefully lots of fun.

Many people I see are just getting started or coming back to their mats after a hiatus. It can be intimidating and scary.

It’s critical that I remember that not everyone has a keen sense of body awareness.

Not everyone knows what the quadricep is or where it’s located.

When you say connect with your breath- you have to explain what that means.

It’s the reality of teaching new folks. And that’s cool. When I’m ready to headstand I will. Right now, I’m learning how to be a beginning teacher who has students who love learning about yoga.

The Answer Man is a fun little film about a curmudgeon self-help guru who learns to love the people he inspired. The woman he begins to date gives him (and me) sage advice:

  1. Don’t take advice from people you wouldn’t trade places with.
  2. Try not to say things that you can’t take back.
  3. Something is what it is, so it can’t be something else.

Number 3 is my mantra.

Modifications, encouragement, space to breathe and a soft place to fall is my job for my students.

I let them know that their best pose in a moment is the very best that there is.

class

 

Not comparing today to yesterday. Not worrying about tomorrow.

I show them how to feel from the inside out and outside in. And it all takes place in the now.

I smile at the thought.

It’s a blessing that this is my new career.

As my own practice grows my students will grow and my style will evolve.

It’s what is. It’s pretty incredible. You can set the tone for someone deciding whether or not to continue with yoga.

It’s a big responsibility. One I do not take lightly.

I keep my sequences simple but interesting, I give lots of modifications. I celebrate. And I make adjustments to my class if it seems too challenging or if a class seems ready for something more.

Life. Is. Good.

This is yoga and it’s for everyone.

Namaste y’all.

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Adventures in Yoga Teaching – You Need a Blog.

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I’m a baby when it comes to new media. It’s a wild west of  words in a new world.

It seems that everyone is writing. Social media is becoming literary. I know it may make the more conservative readers cringe, but hey it’s true so get on board because the train has pulled out of the station and you better run pretty damn fast to catch up.

I love it. On NPR last week someone mentioned that if Dorothy Parker were alive in the age of Twitter she’d rock that shit. They didn’t say it like that, I did, but I think my emphasis is better. Her quips would be retweeted and favorited in an instant. It makes me giggle just thinking about it. Aside from being a cool medium, it’s a way to engage an active audience who shares the same interests!

This brings me to yoga. I know you’re thinking, what doesn’t bring me to yoga. This list is short and even then with a glass of wine I could Kevin Bacon my way there with a swallow.

Yoga- social media. Right. I still manage to digress even when I’m racing to type and be ‘ret to go’ in time to make the 6:30 Yoga to the People class.

My friend Stephen is a tech guru. His job is pretty cool, he helps companies find their voice and brand build online with unique apps that connect with their audience.

He asked me when I finished teacher training if I had set up a page that talked about my teaching schedule, rates and availability.

I did want to get hired didn’t I?

Um- yes in fact I do.

Blogs are a great way to talk, vent, muse and pontificate but they also can be your calling card and resume.

I don’t know what I was waiting for but I finally added my google calendar to Oneika’s Teaching Schedule section of the site.

Slap me.

Now when I meet someone and hand them my card- they can see that I’m not foolin’, I do actually teach classes and have clients. It’s also a great way to connect with yogis who bump into me online while on their way to some other site. I mean Oneika has got to be the most popular word searched on Google, right?

I also set up a facebook page for Oneika’s Yoga Life. Twitter and I have been friends for awhile, but I do need to remember to chat more about when I’m teaching and where.

As a new teacher I get to let folks know I’m out here and ready to teach! When my classes grow and change, so will my site.

What a great networking tool too!!!

This is yoga. Wired.

Namaste y’all.

oneika stripes

Adventures in Yoga Teaching- Back on Track

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Friday was beautiful round these parts.

I was strolling home from my community class taking in the sights when I bumped into Daba Briggs, one of my yoga inspirations.

Daba is the kind of teacher the imagination conjures when you hear the words ‘yoga teacher’. She’s knowledgable, humble, talented, giving and powerful.

My mind always get to mull over a nugget of wisdom when I talk to her. On this sunny Friday, we chatted about how my new teaching journey was progressing.

I’m not ready to pursue the next yoga education (formerly) yet. But I’ve been craving- something. So I’ve been reading a lot. I blurted out my concerns, am I moving in the right direction? I feel like I want to fill in some gaps…Am I doing the right things? 

Keep taking classes, teaching classes and exploring self-study she advised. As I meet teachers and go to studios, I’ll know when the right mentor and  teacher training will present themselves.

Daba also mentioned a few studios that offer great classes for teachers. She reminded me that I can always take her classes when I can.

I’d gotten so caught up in my hot yoga practice and trying new disciplines that I’d strayed a bit from the basics. A good practice starts with a good foundation.

Her class provided one of those building blocks. Daba’s focus is structural yoga, where alignment is queen. Her use of props and cues allow a yogi to grow in a pose even if you have been doing yoga for years.

Her prop workshop rocked my warrior world.

My Virabhadrasana I and II have never been the same. Seriously. Standing with my back foot pushing against a wall, I could feel my heel truly ‘root down.’ People have said that before, ‘root down the heel.’ In that moment, I got it.

Huz-zah.

How could I let myself slip out of those great classes? No bueno.

I committed to go to her Saturday morning class. I felt a little exhale and smile rise from inside.

Okay. Feeling more centered.

It’s important to keep reaching out when you start teaching. Shit, it’s important to keep reaching out all of the time.

I’ve never been great at this. Once again yoga is gently nudging me so I can stay on track.

Are these mini revelations yoga?

Methinks so.

Of course her Saturday class was just what I needed. The tweaks and adjustments were an ass kicker. I mean that. My ass was killing me. But more importantly, I had an aha moment as a teacher. There were great adjustments and cues that I could be using in my own classes.

Another smile and exhale.

I enjoy the notion that for every piece of knowledge I glean, the ocean of what I don’t know about yoga (and well everything) gets bigger. So big that I can’t see the horizon.

Exciting stuff.

This is yoga, and it stretches on forever. Maybe.

Namaste y’all.

Adventures in Yoga Teaching – New Teacher Update!!

photo credit Etsy
photo credit Etsy

It’s been about three months since I finished my teacher training.

I’ve already learned a ton, check it:

  1. I love teaching yoga. I’m excited before I go to sleep and smiling when I wake up in the morning. 
  2. Can’t stop learning. ‘Required’ reading may longer be asked of me, but staying inspired is key. I’m reading a few things right now starting with The Bhagavad Gita and Pema Chödrön’s Start Where You Are. I love the practicality of Buddhism and Pema’s words consistently influence how I see the world and this in turn I think shows up in how I teach (at least I hope so).
  3. This learning has extended itself to taking as many classes as I can manage. It’s incredible how you can glean some insight from every teacher.
  4. I’m teaching as much as I can. This is for the obvious financial reasons, but you really need to sink your teeth in right away. The more you teach the better you get. This sounds fairly obvious, but if you are looking to become a teacher full-time (or even part-time) confidence is critical.
  5. Planning my classes has been helpful. I think no matter how experienced I get, I’ll always have an outline of what the class will look like. Now to talk out of the other side of my mouth, remaining flexible is just as important. If a class is more or less experienced, you’ve gotta modify your plans. As a teacher, I’m there to guide and inspire, not jam my ideas of yoga down their throats.
  6. Getting on sub lists gets you exposed to new students and potential clients if you teach privately! My sister said compared subbing to open houses for real estate agents. Sure you’re selling a house but you are also meeting more potential buyers for your business. (She’s so smart).
  7. Be authentic.

 

 

This journey has been pretty amazing so far. I’m not sure what’s down the road or around the corner. But boy I sure love the present.

 

This is yoga. And it is teaching me something every minute.

Namaste y’all.

 

You Can Run, but You Can’t Hide Sasangasana (Rabbit Pose)

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My spirit takes a journey

My spirit takes a flight

Could not have risen otherwise

And I am not running

I’m choosing

Running is not a choice from the breaking

Breaking is freeing

Broken is freedom

I am not broken

I am free

– Alike from the movie ‘Pariah’

Hellbent, Benjamin Lorr’s book about a regular dude who becomes obsessed with Bikram, both the yoga and the man and writes a journalistic account of the Bikram world. There’s a quote from the movie Pariah that begins one of the chapters.

I am now crushing on Benjamin Lorr.

So savvy to quote a brilliant and understated film about the coming of age of a Black lesbian teenager in Brooklyn.

The journey of healing so many attribute to hot yoga and the parallels with Alike’s journey to self was enough to make me giggle and tap my feet as I read my nook on the PATH train to my own hot yoga class.

I sat on my mat feeling so ready and sure. Reading Hellbent on the train had me stoked to be in the hot room!!!

My bag had been packed to perfection(bag packing for hot yoga is crucial). My water bottle was solid ice. My post class  clothes were in a separate bag.

Couldn’t be more ready. The lights were still off and I looked at myself in the mirror. Suddenly my sukasana felt wobbly. No longer was I easy in my seat.

A lump rose in my throat.

What was I doing taking a class? Had I really decided to make this change and teach yoga? And write? And figure out a strategy to make all of this into a living? Serving the world with yoga? 

The craziness in my head continued….

Panic. Why was I thinking about this now? How did all of those thoughts rush through my head in 20 seconds?

I took to my back to exhale. Class started- and it was a hot, brutal freaking mess. Poses seemed to go on for hours.

But I kept looking at myself in the mirror. This mirror aspect of hot yoga really irks some folks. They say it’s narcissistic. I think it depends on the person. Yoga is what you make of it, no?

Sometimes, I need to square off with my sweaty reflection.

Sometimes I need to look at myself and say, cut the shit Oneika. You. Have. Got. This. So. Suck. It. Up.

I plodded on…One of my favorite teachers adjusted my Rabbit pose. I knew I looked pretty broken throughout class. She was gentle with the adjustment. My legs are long and I am flexible in my back and neck, but I rely on my leg length to get into the pose.

That’s not how yoga works. Yoga is about using strength but finding new ways to reach the final expression of a pose…

Once that is done, you find new ways to grow.

She told me to relax my shoulders – I did. She told me to lift my hips, but my shoulders hunched up. Relaxed my shoulders but my hips dropped. She couldn’t see my face but I think she could feel my frustration and fear.

‘That’s okay, next time’, she said.

I exhaled. Next time. There is a next time.

I didn’t like my life before because I felt broken. Sometimes in class I feel like I’m breaking…because I am free.

I got home and pulled out my plan. The time has come to readjust. I want and need new things.

Change. It’s familiar and scary at the same time.

I always feel this way jumping off the diving board, that tickle of excitement in my stomach and a big bounce- afraid for a second….flying up…

But then I remember, I am an excellent swimmer.

This is yoga. And I am free.

Namaste y’all.