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The Ethics of Yoga

The Ethics of Yoga

A New York Times article has been brought to my attention, written by Sarah Herrington, questioning the ethics of yoga teachers.

This article details the more widely publicized cases of sexual inappropriateness that has occurred by “celebrity” yoga teachers. The author demands a change to our industry, which often attracts emotionally vulnerable participants. She cites Yoga Alliance’s “Code of Conduct” and admits that most wouldn’t know it exists unless they knew where to look. Sarah urges trainings to include ethics and to abide by the YA Code.

But there is one thing Ms. Herrington, and Yoga Alliance, do not include in their writings. The Yamas and the Niyamas.

The postural yoga practice, or asana practice, is one of eight limbs in the yogis’ quest for enlightenment (the last limb, Samadhi). If practiced in order, Asana is the third limb. The first two limbs are, as I call them, the ethics of the yogi.

The Yamas are the ethical values that guide our interactions with the external forces in our lives (people, places, things).

  • Ahimsa – non-harming (in word, or deed), this can also be applied to how we treat ourselves
  • Satya –  truthfulness
  • Asteya – non-stealing, or appropriating that which doesn’t belong to you (possessions, energy, time)
  • Brahmacharya: non-excess (often interpreted as celibacy)
  • Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed

The Niyamas are the ethical values that guide our internal forces (heart, body, soul, mind).

  • Saucha: cleanliness of body, environment, food, attention
  • Santosha: contentment and acceptance of your best works
  • Tapas: self-discipline, dedication to your life’s practices and works
  • Svadhyaya: self-study, a meditation on yourself
  • Ishvara Pranidhana: surrender (to God, or a power greater than ourselves, Nature)

 

Does this list sound a little familiar? Does it possibly sound like ten commandments? Isn’t that supposed to guide the leaders of Judeo-Christian faiths? Are they all perfect? I don’t say that to pick on Catholic priests, but to highlight that we all live in a society with laws, but there are still people that choose to live their lives outside of these norms. It becomes imperative for us, as practitioners to protect ourselves and bring these immoralities to light. And, as a teacher, it is vital for me to share these guideposts of yogic living with my students so they are armed with the knowledge that can lead their discernments wherever their practice may take them.

YamasNiyamas

 

 

The Value of Yoga

The Value of Yoga (in an over-scheduled world)

I want to share an article with you, about the value of yoga, that has stuck in my head. Yoga Classes Should Be Shorter by Olga Khazan, of The Atlantic (to which I subscribe).

As a yoga teacher, I’m angry that she’s devaluing my work and insulted that she’s backseat teaching. As a yoga student, it’s bewildering that she had such a different experience from my own.

Her view on the intention of “most yoga studios” notwithstanding (“monetizing relaxation” – ha, she should see my paycheck). She has missed the primary function of yoga. From the first Sutra, “yogas chitta vritti nirodha” – yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. I argue that Ms. Khazan needs this cessation more than most to find the true value of yoga.

We live in a world full of “20-minute yoga session” and “12-minute yoga routine” studies/articles/videos. When looking for an in-person yoga class, you may see options for yoga dance, Pi-Yo, and aerial yoga. What these mini-sessions and Ms. Khazan’s own experience seems to be lacking is the non-physical aspects of the yoga class.

The regular, enthusiastic practice of yoga leads the practitioner to a place of enlightenment, or spiritual serenity. 108 sun salutations alone won’t succeed. Let the body rest, guide the mind within. Classical yoga uses chanting (sorry Olga), relaxation (without a smartphone in reach), and meditation (which I’ve taught my own one-hour class versions of).  

The author could satisfy her true intentions with a gym membership, rather than a thirty-minute postural practice. My intentions, as a student, are to calm my anxious mind and shine a light on the darkness of my own depression and this is NOT accomplished by just working my body to its limit.

I’ve taught 45-minute and 60-minute classes, in gym settings where there is an emphasis on physical fitness over spirituality. Even here, my students often request LONGER classes and insist that their final relaxation, in shavasana, is not to be skipped. In my 90-minute classes, I need not pad or stretch things out. With a complete practice of spiritual, postural, breathing, and meditation, I find 90-minutes isn’t always enough.

I would love to know how other yogis feel. Does the value of yoga exist in drive-thru speeds? How much time supports the value of yoga in your life?

P.S. If Olga Khazan reads this, please come to my class, it’s on the house!

Is a private yoga session for me?

Do you have a busy, unpredictable schedule?

Do you have physical challenges that influence your exercise routine?

Do you have a personal intention for your yoga practice? A certain pose you want to reach? A deeper meditation practice? A home practice routine?

If you answered, “yes” to any of the above, you might be ready for private yoga instruction!

Private yoga sessions can be designed around your intentions, your abilities, your desires, and YOUR SCHEDULE! You could want to work one-on-one for the long-term, or just for a few sessions to change your practice’s momentum, or overcome a physical or mental obstacle that is holding you back in your group class.

Interested in pranayama? Use your session to practice new breathing techniques, with the time and space to ask questions and advance your knowledge base.

Interested in Ayurveda? Use your session to balance your dosha and learn techniques (postures, diet, lifestyle) to stay in physical and mental balance throughout the year.

Interested in meditation? Use your session to get into a comfortable physical space and prepare your mind for what comes next.

Private sessions are held in your home, your space, to help move your practice into a more personalized space. Don’t worry about your cat/dog/doorbell. Accepting life’s obstacles is a part of making your yoga practice YOURS.

Before your session, we would talk about your intentions, your commitment (1 session, 4, indefinite), your concerns, and anything else that may influence our sessions.

Pricing is based on length and number of sessions.

For more information about how to personalize your yoga practice, contact me!

 

Starfish

As a man walked down the beach, he came across another man. He observed this man picking up starfish and throwing them back to the sea. 

He calls out to the man, “you there! What is it that you are doing?”

The man responds, “the starfish were left behind by the tide. As the sun rises, the sand heats up, burning the starfish to death. I’m throwing them back to the sea, to safety.”

The other man looks at him, incredulously, “but there are hundreds of miles of beach, and thousand of starfish. What difference can you make?”

The man shrugged, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the water, “it made a difference to that one.”

— Adapted from The Star Thrower
by Loren C. Eiseley

starfish

In a world of big problems, it is easy to feel helpless. It can be easy to do nothing and make up excuses, lamenting the seemingly meaningless results that I, as a person, can accomplish.

The question repeats: What can I do?

  • I can smile at a stranger.
  • I can hold the door for the next person.
  • I can let the car alongside me merge at construction.
  • I can recycle.
  • I can re-use bags at the grocery store.
  • I can treat every person I come into contact with the respect and dignity they deserve as a living being.

I can control my actions and let my intentions guide their effects. I can use my actions as a means of service to those around me.

I can bow to the light within you.

Namaste!

Family Yoga

When you picture someone doing yoga, you likely picture a group in a yoga studio or a gym.

Many of us, however, do most of our practice at home. This can come with a variety of challenges. I have two kids, therefore, two challenges. When I practice around my children, my practice is not the quiet, smooth, graceful practice I have in a studio. My downward dog is used as a tunnel by son as my daughter commands my attention to look at HER downward dog. This is not my personal practice! This is MY Family Yoga practice!

Some people would ask me: why do you bother? Why don’t you pick a different time? I have a few answers:
                1)Honestly, I do not want to get up a couple of hours early most days. A tired Yogi Chelsea is an unfocused Yogi Chelsea.
                 2)My kids’ interest/participation in yoga makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. As a yoga teacher, I am extremely passionate about what yoga can offer and to see my children connect with it is rewarding beyond belief. 
                 3)They remind me not to take myself too serious. I mean really, you try not laughing as you “moo” into Cow and “meow” into Cat. I dare you.
                 4)They show me how much I’m really learning. Finding peace in a candle-lit yoga studio with soft music is pretty easy. Finding peace when a toddler sits on you in Cobra? THERE is the challenge!

So while, yes, there are days I long for a tranquil yoga space at home, I continue to greet my challenges with the inclusive love and acceptance they show me every day.

To introduce your child, or family, to yoga, learn more about Kidding Around Yoga and Family yoga classes and check the current schedule for my offerings!

Yoga Class Prep Q&A

If you’ve never taken a yoga class, you may have some questions. Here are some of the most common questions about class prep with the best answers I can offer.

What do I need to bring/buy?


 Many studios have mats that you may borrow/rent. However, if you are planning to commit to a practice, you’ll likely want to practice at home, which will require a mat. There’s a lot of great information on the internet about types of mats. Some mats are thinner, or longer, than others and they are also made with different materials, some eco-friendly, some with long-term guarantees. To get started, $20 will get you a mat from KMart/Target/Walmart/Dick’s Sporting Goods. You can keep your mat clean with a simple water/vinegar solution, as needed. 

What do I need to wear?


 Yoga clothes can be as simple or as complicated as you’d like. There is plenty of yoga-specific clothing to be purchased but you will find plenty of students choosing other options. What you need are clothes that you can move in, comfortably. In a yoga class, you’ll be standing, sitting, laying, reaching up to the sky, down to your toes, and may even find yourself partially upside down. Wear whatever you like that will allow you to do that. 

 Do I need to be flexible?

  No! This is one of the biggest misconceptions about yoga. No special skills are required. Yoga can help you increase your flexibility if done regularly over time. 

Can I even do yoga?

 YES! (Probably.) As with any exercise programs or regular physical activity, it’s always advisable to talk to your doctor before beginning. If you’re in a class and not sure you should be following the teacher’s instruction….DON’T! If the teacher advises students with a particular condition (unmedicated blood pressure, neck injuries, sciatica, etc) NOT to do a certain pose, LISTEN. Many times, teachers will provide alternate poses or you may enjoy a moment’s rest. 

What do I do when I arrive?

In a best case scenario, the teacher will welcome you, ask if you have any concerns about beginning yoga, and show you where you may set your jacket/purse/shoes.  If for some reason, the teacher is with another student, and not able to immediately make contact, you can usually follow the other students’ lead. Yogis are commonly a friendly bunch, so if you can’t find something or aren’t sure where to set up your mat, ask someone. We were all new once!

These are just a few things that I’ve heard from potential students (and myself). If you have any questions, leave a comment! If you’re ready for your first class, check my schedule here!

How I got here

This is how I got here…

In the summer of 2009, I signed up for my first yoga class. It was outdoors, at an amphitheater on the water. I knew that yoga was supposed to be good for stress management (which I was right about). I thought is was an “easy” workout (which I was wrong about).

When I left that class I knew that I would do yoga for the rest of my life. I felt alive and I felt strong and I felt peace. I didn’t even realize at first that I didn’t light a cigarette on my way home. I was breathing deeper and the air was fresher than I could ever remember.

Later that summer, the dream of teaching yoga seemed like just that, a dream. It became a whisper in the back of my mind. No matter what though, I couldn’t shake the desire to share what I was learning with others. The more benefits bestowed onto me, the more dedicated I became. To sun salutes (asana), to meditation (dhyana), to alternate nostril breathing (pranayama). I even chanted!

After becoming a mother, and making the decision to stay at home, I began to look for something that could fulfill me in the manner that my previous occupations had. I wanted something that could feed my soul and help me maintain my “non-mom” identity. When the opportunity presented to take a yoga teacher training at my favorite studio, with my favorite teacher, it was too important to let pass me by.

In that summer, I met some extraordinary women and dove into parts of myself long pushed aside for motherhood. I felt my yoga practice grow and slowly, but surely, I became a yoga teacher.

What’s Next?

I am excited to reach out and join the community to sharing all that I’ve learned and I am excited about introducing yoga to people that have yet to experience all that can be attained. I hope to be a good example. Find me here

I’m grateful to all the family, friends, teachers, classmates, and students who have helped me to arrive at this point.

Namaste!