"I can’t handle the silence."
Never have such words been so deafening to my ears.
Seated on the couch, this came out as we gently prodded our friend about coping mechanisms. Our conversation had budded from talk of suicide...Read more
writings for the empty cup
"I can’t handle the silence."
Never have such words been so deafening to my ears.
Seated on the couch, this came out as we gently prodded our friend about coping mechanisms. Our conversation had budded from talk of suicide...Read more
The following post was written by Caitlyn Johansen, a dancer, yogi, and administrator. She received her BFA in Dance from NYU, and her 200 hour yoga teacher training from The Perri Institute for Mind and Body.
Since completing the 200 hour yoga teacher training program with The Perri Institute for Mind and Body, I have been teaching yoga to private clients, at dance programs, and to office groups. I’ve also made a huge career switch, and started working in administration for large corporations. Before this career change, I worked in restaurants and studied dance at NYU. When I decided to make the switch, I was worried that I was ill-prepared for office life. However, I quickly realized that teaching yoga had unknowingly prepared me for my switch to corporate life.
Large companies spend a lot of time and money selecting, educating, and training managers. The idea behind this is that stronger management creates a stronger company. Employees count on managers to be educated and knowledgeable, communicate clearly, allocate tasks, manage time, and maintain team morale. I expected the culture of the corporate world to clash with my yoga teaching. However, I quickly began to notice commonalities in my two lines of work.
Corporations generally offer educational programs such as online training modules, live training sessions, and educational reimbursements. These educational programs serve to expand and fortify a manager’s knowledge of relevant subject matter. Ongoing education is vital to successful management, because employees are more apt to respect and trust a manager’s decisions if a manager is well educated with diverse sources of information.
As a yoga teacher, one must continue to train as a yogi. An important part of my ongoing education as a yoga teacher has been diversifying my information sources. I take classes and read literature from as many different yogis as possible. I have found that exploring a variety of yoga methodologies and practices has grown my teaching vocabulary. For example, when I experience a yoga-class-planning block, I go take a yoga class. Hitting the mat as a practitioner often inspires my teaching practice. Inspiration can come from a theme, an adjustment, or a creative sequence presented by another yoga teacher. By diversifying my yoga training, I have more knowledge to draw upon. Therefore, I am more confident that I am prepared to manage whatever situation I am presented with.
Corporations rely on managers to effectively communicate information to employees. Effective communication is the thoughtful presentation of subject matter, tone, and phrasing. When a manager leads a meeting they provide an agenda, set a tone for the meeting, and phrase their statements with care.
In the past year, I have been fortunate to teach yoga to an incredibly diverse student body. Teaching to a diverse student body has taught me to consider the class demographic and setting when deciding upon what subject matter to present and how to present it. For example, the class theme ahimsa, non-violence, should be presented mindfully to a group of military veterans or domestic violence survivors.
Tone is used to energetically support a class. For example, an early morning class of adults may need a more vibrant tone of voice to wake them out of their early morning sluggishness. On the other hand, an after-lunch group of young children may need a firmer tone to focus them during their post-lunch jitters.
Phrasing is particularly important for verbal cues.I have found that dancers are more likely to be able to locate their sitting bones than non-dancers because of their prior movement education. Therefore, reach the sitting bones on the upward diagonal may be a more effective cue for dancers, and reach the hips on the upward diagonal may be a more effective cue for non-dancers. The difference is subtle but impactful. As a teacher, I prepare myself with multiple phrasings of the same cue. When administering cues, I take note of how practitioners are responding and continue trying new phrasings until practitioners are physically responsive.
Corporate managers are responsible for allocating tasks among their teams. Task allocation is more than simply ordering team members to achieve certain tasks. Task allocation requires a manager to intelligently guide and challenge their employees.
From the moment students walk into a room, a yoga teacher allocates tasks to practitioners. Yoga teachers guide students to their spots in the room, and guide them through a series of asanas by giving verbal commands. For example, “Grab a mat and two blocks and set your mat up facing the center of the room,” and “bring the hands onto blocks and step your right foot back to low lunge.” Beyond providing practitioners with physical challenges, yoga teachers provide practitioners with mental tasks, such as, “Focus the attention on the breath,” and “bring your attention to the room.” As a yoga teacher, I have to continue to challenge practitioners with mental and physical tasks. I have found that this is particularly important with private clients, as teachers are able to customize their class plans to the capabilities and needs of one practitioner. In my past year of teaching, I have had the opportunity to guide practitioners consistently from week to week. Challenging practitioners to grow their yoga practice over an extended period of time has been incredibly rewarding.
Along with task allocation comes project management. Corporate managers are responsible for ensuring that tasks allocated to their team members are able to be completed on time. Project management is the setting of goals within a time frame, to ensure the completion of a project by a certain date. Managers often have to make adjustments to employee workloads and tasks to meet deadlines.
A yoga teacher must manage class time in a similar fashion. Beyond starting and ending a yoga class on time, a teacher manages class time through class preparation and class pacing. When I first began teaching, effectively managing class time was a challenge. I would become so excited by the students’ responsiveness to an asana workshop or pranayama that I would lose track of time and have to rush through another part of class. I have found that when I class plan, I now keep in mind what aspects of class are optional to teach and what parts must be taught for students to be well-prepared for future asanas. I sometimes make on the spot adjustments to my class plan and pacing in order to provide practitioners with the healthiest and most fulfilling practice possible.
Corporate managers determine team morale by assessing factors like resources, productivity, and accuracy. When team morale is low, managers employ strategies such as work assignments, promotions, and fiscal compensation to motivate their team members. However, a manager must employ motivational strategies to individual employees while prioritizing the needs of the entire corporation.
A yoga teacher listens to the verbal and nonverbal communications of practitioners, and makes teaching choices that best support the individual practitioner and the entire class group. Attending to the needs of the individual and the entire group is challenging. A yoga teacher must simultaneously take note of patterns occurring among the entire group and individual practitioners. A yoga teacher then tries to use verbal adjustments, physical adjustments, and self-adjustments to benefit the entire class. When I first started to teach, I would sometimes sacrifice the pacing of class to focus on adjusting one student. Through teaching experience, I have learned how to dive in and out of individual adjustments quickly in order to provide continued support to the entire class group. I have also become more sensitive to the class group’s energy when they first enter the room. I take note of whether the majority of students seem restless or exhausted and may adjust my class plan accordingly. I also check in personally with students as they enter the class. I ask students if they have prior yoga experience, injuries, and are comfortable with hands on adjustments. I have found how to balance my attention between individual practitioners and the entire class group.
In closing, I am extremely thankful for my yoga teacher training. For the past year, I have been sharing yoga with others! Beyond the sheer joy of teaching, my yoga teaching practice has made me a better employee. I shifted into a corporate job with more ease than I anticipated and my career has continued to flourish. Yoga constantly sneaks ancient wisdom into my modern life. I look forward to a lifetime of teaching yoga and being taught by yoga!
The following piece was written by Kathy Hartsell, a fellow yoga instructor and mind-body practitioner who studies alongside the Mind Body Dancer® community. She writes from Boston, MA.
Even in the heart of winter, our bones beg to be walked. This particular winter has been kind in personality, releasing shoulders that customarily brace for bitter cold and steadying a cadence that habitually ticks in haste. With nature as the companion, walking offers a shift out of the direct, linear rhythm that drums out daily life. The stretched out pace of an unhurried walk is at once wecolmed by my legs and lungs, even when resisted by an impatient, jogging mind. As did many, I spent endless childhood hours outside, learning lessons that only time, space and nature can preach. Like a coveted jar of fireflies, I tightly sealed in reverence for these lessons, even as I adjusted to the walls and screens so present in our modern habitats. I now walk to simply remember all I intuitively knew as a child--that the sky is worth seeing every day...that nature is a magical teacher...that work becomes stale without breaks. The gentle wholeness hidden inside walking tames my impulsive pushes and pulls through life.
While as a city-dweller it's practical to live at least a chunk of life on foot, what always proves difficult is finding unaltered earth to tread on. With priorities of convenience and safety, cities have smoothed out nearly all our pathways. We have essentially genetically modified the art of walking. Each foot, unasked to experience the pureness of the earth, forgets the nearly limitless dances that its thirty-three joints can choreograph. Registering this loss, we routinely purchase "support" through shoes, seek familiar ground and accept shiny alternatives (escalators, elevators, subways and cars). Walking has been downgraded to an automatic and mechanical experience. Quite often, this whole-body experience is replaced by clunky feet that mindlessly shuffle, while heads, shoulders, and arms curl towards a cradled smartphone. I speculate that this blocked sensory experience has a sneaky a way of locking in our particular ways of being in and understanding the world we move in.
In Being Mortal, author Atul Gawande suggests that as we age, we start to prioritize security over engagement. He explains that we are quick to latch onto safety, even if the quality of life can be significantly compromised. I would add to Atul's insight that our attachment to security is observable at every life stage. I have many times watched my decisions, actions and thoughts be silently dictated by a desire to have what seems predictable and secure. While ahimsa, or nonharming, is imperative, we know that the body adapts, grows and sustains itself through the variability and challenge that punctuates our existence. The difficulty then is to find enough comfort to keep us balanced, and accept enough discomfort to keep us developing. It is, of course, a tricky task.
Explorative walking doesn't typically threaten our security. But it certainly can feel inconvenient, unproductive and unnecessary when held against the laundry lists that tug us up each morning. Safety isn't merely the handrail we cling to as we age; it is also our attachment, at any age, to the routines, circles and boxes that are most familiar to us. While a little of this comfort helps us feel grounded in the chaos that is life, it’s variety, adventure, and even discomfort that feeds our souls with other essential nutrients that comfort cannot. As I experience the value of outdoor walking - with the way it oils my hips, weights my feet and frees my neck- I notice that my willingness to explore my "walking ways" (especially in January) directly relates to my overall sense of connection to the world. Walking reminds me to find ground that isn't paved and to seek detours that ask for time. It kindly turns my gaze towards patterns marinating in my mind and body. It gives me a moment, even in winter boots, to feel the earth that I so easily forget I am part of. I have found that walking helps capture a broader sense of home that, like each of us, has seasons and weather just waiting to be explored. If we lean just outside the security of our routines, and soothe the racing mind, we will find trails and skies and trees that speak to us, whispering songs that stir ordinary days awake. Even the darkness of winter can brighten us up, if we take a walk, hand in hand with nature.
Photography by Brianna Goodman
Mindbodybrew is ultimately about providing a space for written reflection at every step along the yoga path. We hope that by sharing assignments from our Teacher Trainees, we can expand their deep investigation into community-wide dialogue. The following is a piece written by one of our newest, current trainees, Marissa Wiley, in which she ties the Yamas, a limb of Patanjali's Eight Limbs of Yoga, to her practice, on and off the mat.
While reading B.K.S. Iyengar’s book Light On Yoga, I was extremely fascinated by the ethical disciplines of yoga. In the west especially, there seems to be a physical focus on yoga more than anything. However, there are eight different facets of the yoga practice in Light On Yoga and asanas, or the postures many of us associate yoga with, aren’t even the first or second facet. The first of the Eight Limbs of Yoga are the Yamas, the honorable and humane disciplines. These disciplines are also called the “great commandments”, for they are applicable at any time and in any community on the face of this earth. They are commandments for leading a humane and moral life.
One of the yamas described is ahimsa. Ahimsa guides us away from killing and instead, towards love. This commandment directs the yogi to love and embrace all forms of creation, for we are all children of that same creation. This commandment also specifies that killing or harming any piece or form of creation is an insult to the Creator himself. It’s described that this violence and desire to kill comes from a sense of needing to protect ourselves; this really could either relate to anger or fear. Iyengar writes, though, that men cannot protect themselves, and thus, the thought that they could is wrong. He encourages the yogi to rely on God, which in his eyes will bring about freedom from fear, or abhaya. Abhaya is described as the main way to curb violence, as it brings about an inner peace and love for creation.
This had me thinking about what I’m fearful of in my life and in my yoga practice and what brings me back to a calmer place. Many times I’ve attended yoga class exhausted and mentally drained. I don’t feel up for the challenge, and I certainly don’t want to take risks. There is no desire in me to play; instead, I want to continue with my habitual flow of my safe little bubble. In class this week, TaraMarie Perri shared a Kurt Vonnegut quote with us: “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down”. This quote really struck a chord with me because of my tendencies to avoid risks. This opened up a door in my thought process that related not only to my yoga practice but to many facets of my life. I’ve always been the hesitant kid. I was afraid of fire, afraid of the dark, afraid of strangers, and very afraid to put myself out there. But why not jump off a cliff and figure it out on the free fall down? What’s the worst that could happen? Of course, this requires a lot of patience with oneself. I’ve been trying to work on this a lot in my daily life and in my dance practice recently, but it was extremely refreshing to hear it in my yoga practice as well. It has me thinking of what risks I could take and how I can bring that feeling of play into my practice.
I also can be pessimistic when tired. It can be hard to change my attitude once I get to a certain level of exhaustion, and it’s been something I’ve been working on in yoga. Once I start moving through flow, thoughts will start to bubble up. What always helps bring me back to my yoga practice is pranayama, the recognition and subsequent manipulation of the breath. Bringing my focus back to my breath always helps me dispute these negative thoughts and “what ifs” and brings about a feeling of starting fresh. It’s almost like a reset button for my thoughts and my energy. Now that I’m starting to deepen my yoga practice, I’ve been paying attention to my breath during daily activities. When I start to feel anxious or worried, I bring my attention to my breath and try to focus on it. I almost immediately feel more relaxed about the situation and am more patient with both the situation and myself.
When I have more patience for others, I become much less bitter and angry. Without this excess frustration, I am able to see more clearly. I move through the day with more ease and awareness. With this awareness, then, I am more appreciative of the things around me and the things I am particularly blessed with. This is why I feel that taking risks and pranayama are perfect examples of abhaya and ahimsa. If more people could be affected by yoga and pranayama, I feel like this world could be a better place. It would be a more patient, more playful, less violent, and more appreciative world. People would be open to new things and would be more aware as to how their actions affect others.
- Marissa Wiley
I have fallen in love with this pairing of words devised by Drake, an attendee of Tuesday night’s discussion at Shambhala Meditation Center of New York. In being asked who he was and how he aspired to be, he offered those two incredibly specific, and perhaps uncommonly paired, words: Gently. Resilient.
As an artist and yogi, and as a teacher, I find these words to be quite relevant and stimulating. Making an effort to be this way in the world excites me. I appreciate the suggestion of nonviolence (ahimsa in our yogic realm) towards ourselves. Between the heat of the summer and the tug of war between all of the opportunities and responsibilities that lay before me, I have been reaching for gentleness in a myriad of ways lately and promoting that compassion amongst my students as well. Because let’s face it, roadblocks appear in our paths more often than not. If you haven’t happened upon any yet, I have to wonder if you are really human….
Whether we are growing older and dealing with the previous years’ effects on our bodies and minds, or we are young and wishing we could accomplish more professionally, socially, or financially, we all live an obstacle course sort of life. We can breeze through some parts mindlessly or joyously, then a moment, a day, or a month later bump into combatants that bar our passing. I believe each piece of our journey offers us a lesson, whether we enjoy it or not; each piece accumulates into the greater story of an inimitable life. But that of course doesn’t make our roadblock moments any less upsetting physically or mentally, emotionally or spiritually.
In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron offers artists techniques to free themselves from creative blockages – techniques that I find can most certainly be applied to every individual. Plus, it fits perfectly with Drake’s aspiration: to be gently resilient. One of the exercises she endorses goes by the name ‘Morning Pages’. By journaling for half an hour or three pages at a time, allowing a pure, unedited stream of consciousness flow through, Julia says we can rid our minds of the clutter that enhances our artistic jams. We can glean more clarity by blurting out all that our mind is obsessing over and with that clearer focus, acquire a sense of empowerment, a realization that we have the capacity to continue forward rather than remain stuck, trapped by thoughts that tie us down.
She similarly promotes meditation as a means of finding clarity and empowerment:
We meditate to discover our own identity, our right place in the scheme of the universe. Through meditation, we acquire and eventually acknowledge our connection to an inner power source that has the ability to transform our outer world.
Julia Cameron’s methods have led me on a gentle, yet resilient path of self-reflection (svadhyaya) and resultant action recently. The way gentle and resilient work as two halves of a whole in the frame of progress parallels the nature of reflection and action that she promotes and that our meditative and mat practices similarly uphold. If we are gentle but lack fortitude, we will be stuck forever in the same place, and if we overlook the power of gentleness, we can become harsh in our thoughts, words, and actions, just as study benefits our actions and actions are necessary in sharing what it is we discover in our self and interpersonal studies.
The breath too has this dual nature. I feel like I constantly reference it in my classes these days, but I consider it such an essential reminder for my students and myself – to observe that which keeps us alive that we tend to pay little attention to. If we are contemplating this ‘gentle resilience’, we can look to the breath. This sinewy tissue that connects one moment to the next and molds our inhales and exhales into a cyclical pattern that continually drives us forward along the path of life serves as a perfect tool to practice such gentle resilience.
I would encourage you to try – this morning or sometime this week – to set aside a half hour to let your mind stream onto a page, just to see if you can discover if there is anything blocking you. It could be an experience full of surprises; it could bring up the same old fears, arguments, or confusions that come up every day. Maybe you will find your life filled with joy now - not such a bad thing. Or, you could try sitting with the breath for a minute or two, or five or ten. Regardless of your personal choice of practice, you can take your life patterns and choices into your own hands, gently. Such work doesn’t have to be thrown into the cheesy self-help category that has overtaken our society. As constantly evolving human beings, we can be resilient and persevere through the changes that occur around and inside of us and let our svadhyaya self-studying practices continue on and on, in order to stay present with ourselves and thus be able to share that genuine self with all those we encounter.
- Liz Beres