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Teaching Yoga Full-Time in California

A photo posted by Elliot | ET (@pada_yogi) on

Challenging My Self w/ Teaching Yoga

I am a yoga teacher. This past weekend I taught seven yoga classes. Nine if you include Thursday and three of them were on Saturday. By the end of the class I was a bit delirious; my mind blurred all three class sequences together and couldn’t even remember what we had done so far in the class. I did my best, no doubt, but I was definitely pushing my limits in a lot of ways. It felt great.

Since returning to the states I have been looking for as much work teaching yoga as I can find. Mostly this has amounted to substituting classes for other instructors that are busy or sick or whatever. I think its time to see how much I really like teaching yoga and to push my boundaries to be as flexible as possible.

Teaching Intense Yoga

I prefer teaching yoga at a high level of intensity in my yoga classes; I believe this lends itself to self-discovery and stress releases during the yoga class, especially in the integrative poses of inversions and savasana.

I am teaching all levels classes, which offers a particular set of challenges for an instructor, most notably making the stretches available to the vast majority of the room (sometimes it is inevitable that a stretch isn’t possible, especially with the elderly). So this requires explaining variations, giving people alternate stretches and being fully present in the room. Ideally, each person can spend the entire class finding their own personal focal areas to stretch. The outline comes from me.

Yoga was never meant to be really intense, but in today’s modern world I think we need the intensity. Yoga teachers have to structure their class to provide this, making teaching yoga at high-intensities taxing on the instructors. It helps to wake us up out of our delusions or the lies that we tell ourselves. It makes everything more real when you start to hit your limits. It helps us to realize our humanity.

Teaching Yin Yoga

Yin yoga has been particularly prominent in my practice and in the practice of the people at my studios. I really enjoy teaching yoga in the different yin and yang styles because it gives us an opportunity to balance our asana instruction between talking and stillness, intensity and softness, and helps to keep things dynamic. I wouldn’t like to always teach the exact same class; this is part of the reason I don’t practice Ashtanga or Bikram every day anymore.

Yin has been a sweet spot for me, because I do love silence when I teach. I am focused on creating stillness and meditation in each class for my students.

Appreciation for Yoga Instructors

Sometimes teaching yoga is a bit rough. The pay is not great. It is okay though. The amount of effort that the classes require is probably more than a lot of other jobs, but that also makes it extraordinarily rewarding. I don’t think I need too much appreciation beyond the normal appreciation of being paid enough to make a living, which I am hoping to be able to do at this point. But there is a special kind of respect reserved for yoga instructors in the area for many people, coupled with a disregard and skepticism of others. It is somewhat of a conundrum to be honest.

Since beginning to teach yoga, I’ve been extremely poor. I didn’t even make money for the first six months of teaching yoga. My trip to Asia was nothing short of a miracle and I wouldn’t be able to do a trip like that again. Making ends meet is difficult mostly because it is hard to find work, but I think that I have a good shot at filling up a weekly schedule with 12-15 classes, ideally. I am hoping that August is the month where I can make that happen!

No doubt the area is fairly saturated with yoga instructors because of the emphasis on fitness in California, but I think that differentiating myself from other teachers will be possible with my experience traveling and practicing yoga. I’ve also been teaching yoga for nearly two years now, which doesn’t hurt.

The Future of Teaching Yoga

Yoga is going to change drastically over the next 20 years, I would guess mostly in terms of customization and personalization. People want to feel personally attended to, personally connected to their instructors. We may very well see the rise of some very down to earth and high quality yoga teaching, but I really hope the emphasis on celebrity yoga fades away. Hopefully it will all be even more casual and playful in the next five years; I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see Tai Chi and Qui Gong techniques start to emerge in the yoga rooms across the country. Only time will reveal which direction the art is taken in.

As for me, I am setting down some roots in Sacramento. I have just moved to Northern Oak park and am hoping to find another studio on top of East Wind Yoga and Asha Yoga that I am teaching yoga at a few times a week. Here’s to the future! (If you want to see when I teach, check out my schedule)

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ashtanga workshop w/ Elliot cover

Yin Yoga Meditation

A Unique Approach to Meditation

Meditation is one of my favorite things. Yoga, sitting cross-legged while doing various mental exercises, running, teaching yoga, and performing other focused exercises are examples of what I define as meditation. Anything where there is focus and concentration.

Yin yoga has become more and more prevalent in my own practice, as I have seen it grow in popularity in general over the past few years. I prefer ashtanga for a more regular practice, but Yin offers an excellent counterbalance to the strenuous application of the four ashtanga series. And best of all its all online for free at from a guy named Bernie Clark. It’s a really cool website and you should explore it if you want slow deep ligament and tendon focused stretching.

The Balancing of Yin and Yang

Yin yoga is not a complete package, however, as no system of yoga or even physical condition can really provide this. If too much time is spent lengthening, softening, and stretching the muscles then they will be easily strained when performing physically demanding tasks. There needs to be a balance between the soft stretching of yin and the more active stretching of yang yoga like Iyengar, Hatha yoga, or Ashtanga and other more active physical activities. Even more engaged, active physical activities like running, circuit training, even weightlifting can be combined with a yoga practice to extraordinary gain.

The Benefits of Yin Yoga

Because the benefits of yoga are extraordinary. Yin yoga, in particular, has a myriad of physical benefits for the body, not to mention the mental and psychological benefits for the mind. The benefits of yin yoga are a bit different from those of the yang styles, but in a way that is completely complimentary.

Science has shown that Yin yoga has the following benefits:

  • Myofascial releases of tension resulted in increased healing processes
  • Improved immune response
  • Increased metabolism and serotonin levels (happiness neurotransmitter)
  • Improves sleep performance
  • Improves circulation around joints which can alleviate arthritis, osteoporosis and chronic pain
  • Stress reduction
  • Anxiety reduction
  • Depression reduction

As you can see, Yin yoga boasts quite a few benefits, though some people have a hard time starting the practice. It can be difficult at first to breath properly for the duration of a long-held stretch and it is easy to get agitated or just lose focus. Yin yoga is something that you practice over time and its pretty normal to have a slow start and to take some time to develop a consistent practice; but when you do you will be very happy with the ever-increasing depth of a yin practice.

As you become more advanced in one style of yoga, particularly Yin yoga, you start to find yourself becoming almost too good at poses; sometimes muscles can be too flexible and not strong enough, but this is fixed with a changing yang practice. This is also one of the reasons Ashtanga is easier when you practice it every day; the muscles get used to the same stretches. This is also why you perform poses twice in Bikram classes.

Yin Yoga is a long road that I know I will continue to talk about and expand upon. I might even have a bigger section of my blog eventually devoted to the practice, so please let me know what you are interested in learning/reading about!

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Taoism and Modern Yoga

In Westernized yoga, there appears to have been a bit of a confounding of eastern traditions in regards to their application in yogic philosophy. We tend to mix up Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, even Jainism and put them all into the same category of “mindfulness” aimed towards stress reduction and happier, more meaningful living. Not that mindfulness isn’t an appropriate subject, but I think it can be important to differentiate between the Eastern religions especially to understand their unique, individual philosophies.

Yoga doesn’t really have a category. Traditional yoga is very similar to Buddhism, but the yoga sutras of Patanjali seem to be the most authentic “yogic” teachings from a historical perspective. Many scholars would also agree that Patanjali’s sutras are heavily influenced by Buddhism. Ujjayi breathing is influenced by Taoist practices and many of the meditational practices in yoga come from Jain and Buddhist traditions.

Most modern yoga teachers seem to be most influenced by Buddhism when teaching, focusing on concepts of Dharana and Dhyana for meditation that are the same in buddhist texts.  Many bring modern science and anatomy into the practice which is a more efficient way to practice because it allows us to understand what is happening while we are performing asanas. With these tools we can avoid injury and progress safely into a fuller and easier practice.

Buddhism teaches that at the center of all things is peace, which is a bit different from the Hindu belief that all things have a divine core. The yoga sutras of Patanjali seem to be more influenced by the Hindu side of things and his concepts in the 8 limbs of yoga support a divine core of all beings. However, the Buddhist state of Nirvana and the Hindu state of Samadhi seem to be very similar conceptually.

Most modern yoga is geared towards balancing the body not necessarily towards complete purification. This is because the whole body purification is more of a youthful activity, it requires a lot more effort once you are older and the body is increasingly more toxic with age (at least as a general rule). Aging well in a yoga practice is not necessarily aligned with yang style of ashtanga or Bikram yoga, but rather a combination of Yin and Yang style of exercises. In this way, modern yoga is more Taoist than Buddhist or Hindu.

The yoga sutras are undoubtedly Hindu, but they borrow many buddhist teachings and concepts. The past of yoga, Hinduism, and Buddhism seem to be vastly intertwined with the rest of the eastern traditions, most notably Taoism to produce a modern hybrid western style of yoga. Patanjali’s famous quote to still the fluctuations of the mind might be very similar to finding Lao Tzu’s Tao. It is important to remember that eastern traditions tend to be less ordered and regimented than western religions because the religions tend to cross over into each other. If you get a chance to read Patanjali’s yoga sutras then enjoy searching for the different influences of the texts.

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