Friday, July 18, 2014

6 SUP Yoga Tips for Beginners

Image via Flickr User Neal bepko
Stand up Paddleboard yoga is one of my all time favorite summer activities. If you want to know why it's awesome, read this blog post I wrote last year for Yoga Journal. When I was starting I had a hard time finding many solid tips for taking my yoga practice to the water--below I share a few pointers to help you get started.

1. Find the center of your board. Most boards have a handle in the very middle of the board to make it easier to lift and carry to and from the water, but the handle is also a great marker that tells you where to stand so you'll be more stable as you paddle. That means it's also where you'll want to center yourself for most yoga poses. For standing poses, like Warrior I and II, plant your feet firmly, and keep your legs actively engaged and isometrically pull them toward your midline (which should also be toward the center of the board). If you feel wobbly, start with a more narrow stance than you might if you were practicing on solid ground--you can always go wider as you get more comfortable.

2. Stay low. When I first tried yoga on an SUP board, I was so pleased with myself when I was able to lift up into Crow Pose with relative ease. It didn't take me long to figure out that poses practiced closer to the board (like Crow and Bow Pose) are much easier for balance than those standing poses that are considered "basic" in a yoga studio. To make Warriors more accessible, practice from a kneeling position, with the back knee down first. Then, slowly, carefully, mindfully (see tip #3) plant the back foot and straighten the back knee to stand up.

3. Take your time. You might be able to move quickly from pose to pose in a vinyasa class, but if you do that on an SUP board, you might find yourself swimming with the fish! Go slow. Find your sea legs. Move with mindfulness and care, especially as you transition from one pose to the next. You'll be more comfortable on the board in no time!

4. Be a beginner again. A lot of people take to the waters when they want to find a little extra challenge than they might find in a yoga studio. Fine. But here's an important thing to consider. While you might rock your poses on land, it's a totally different experience when you take it on an SUP board. Your balance may be feel off--WAY off! You might even begin to get frustrated that you aren't able to float right up into an advanced pose like you've seen others do in your Instagram feed. Resist the tendency to compare (or compete) and really enjoy the adventure of being a beginner again. Go back to your basics--feet grounded, muscles engaged, gaze focused--and be OK with feeling fully present and alive in poses that you sometimes check out in during your studio practice. That's a more advanced practice than Scorpion Pose, really.

5. Connect. Yoga is all about connection. So take this opportunity to take connection to a whole new level. It's yoga, so you obviously want to connect with your body, your breath, your intention, the present moment. But don't stop there. Connect with nature--whether you're in a place with dolphins swimming by (my favorite!) or just a calm, serene landscape. Connect with other SUPers, kayakers, fishers... wave at people partying on their pontoon boat even though they're totally disrupting your zen and the motor boat making waves that threaten to send you overboard. Because it's the ability to connect that makes this practice different from other fitness activities.

6. Be safe! This is a "duh," tip, but oh so important! Bring along a life vest. And Find an SUP Yoga teacher in your area.  (If you're in the Charleston, SC area, look me up!) Rent a board that's long and wide--I like the Boga Yoga board.

Bonus Tip: Most importantly, have fun! You might fall off your board. It happens. It might even be funny to someone watching from a distance. So, what? When you fall, laugh at yourself, climb back up, and try again. Enjoy the process.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Broke A** Yoga Teacher?: 4 Ways to Pad Your Paycheck

Image via Flickr user The Yoga People

Did your invitation to headline Wanderlust get lost in the mail? Yeah, mine too.

Bill Murray isn't begging you to come to his vacation home for a $500 private yoga session? Don't take it personally. I'm sure his agent is just having a hard time finding your contact information.

That yoga studio in Paris didn't return your calls when you pitched them with your great new workshop idea? Bummer. I've always wanted to go to Paris, too. Maybe you should work on your elevator pitch?

Or maybe it's time to get creative! There are so many cards stacked against the small town, independent yoga teacher. I won't belabor the point--the brilliant Michelle Marchidon nailed it a lot better than I could in this post.  Unless you're one of the, oh, 25, yoga teachers nationally who get invited to travel the world teaching festivals and workshops, appear on the cover of yoga magazines, or teach the rich and famous, making a living as a yoga teacher these days is no easy feat. It's a nice dream, but it's time we ll came to the realization that for most of us, teaching lots of yoga classes just isn't going to be enough to pay the bills.

I 'm still figuring it all out for myself, but I've been paying attention to how some of the most financially free yoga teachers make a living. And it may not be what you think. Here are a few ideas I've been toying with.

1 - Create and Sell a Product. 
Whether it's a book, DVD, or online video course or teacher training, many teachers are supplementing their incomes by creating a product once, and selling it over and over again. Even if you're not a well-known teacher with a huge following, with a little Internet savvy it shouldn't be that hard to make enough on the project to make it worth your time. And of course, once you're a social media superstar, companies will be happy to pay you for your influence.. (But yoga teachers with that much influence, really don't need my advice, do they? So, let's move on!)

2 - Cut Out the Middle Man. 
Once upon a time, it was my goal to teach at cute, local yoga studios--then I realized that if I was lucky enough to get a slot on the schedule, the studio owner would take as much as 80% of what the students pay to take a class. If you're doing tons of marketing yourself anyway, you might as well set yourself up so YOU can pocket most of the class fees. I've done this by teaching in a public park (free!), renting stand up paddleboards for SUP Yoga classes, partnering with a painting studio to have yoga and painting classes, renting out a local dance studio, and even renting out a room in a yoga studio during their off hours. I've seen other teachers have lots of success by teaching at public beaches and even in their own living rooms! It can be a lot of work doing all the marketing yourself (and it's a liability going it alone, too), but most yoga teachers have to market themselves to fill their classes anyway. You might as well maximize your earning potential, too. You may never make tons of cash this way (I haven't yet!), but at least there's the POTENTIAL to make some if a class idea takes off. Plus, it feels good to me knowing your success (or failure) is completely in your own hands.

3 - Join a Network Marketing Company You Love. 
I admit that the first time I saw Elena Brower had become a high level "beauty ecologist" for natural skincare company Pangea Organics, my ick alarm sounded pretty loudly. Is it taking advantage of students to sign them up to be a part of a "network" and then make commission from the work that they do? (For the uninitiated, that's how companies like Pangea Organics, Pampered Chef, Arbonne, Young Living, etc. work. Person X signs on to be a consultant and works hard to get Person Y to sign up, too. Once Person Y makes the investment to become a consultant, Person X makes a small percentage on any sales Person Y does as well as her own sales.) There's a lot of money to be made for a persuasive go-getter with a lot of contacts and influence in her community. After I thought a little more about this idea, I came to the conclusion that while the way network marketing companies PAY is a bit different, being a part of one of these companies is a lot like selling your students any other product--even yoga class becomes product when you're getting paid, am I right? Why not share a product you love and make some extra income when someone you know decides to purchase it based on your recommendation?

4 - Don't Just Teach Yoga--Teach Life!
I know lots of yoga teachers who teach yoga part time because they love it. The other part of the time they pay their bills through one-on-one life coaching, health and nutrition coaching, or even business coaching. Of course, all of these things probably require a little more training (something I'm unlikely to do), but I wanted to throw it out there because coaching seems like a good option for teachers who are really gifted at helping others take their yoga practice off the mat.

Now, I want to hear from you! Do you have any other bright ideas? I'd love for this to become a lively conversation about what works and what doesn't in this crazy, saturated market.

*Full disclosure: I've recently decided to dabble in Young Living Essential Oils because I thought they would add a little special something to my yoga classes. I just enrolled so making money this way is an untested theory at this point. but I love the possibility! If you want to learn more about the company and/or the oils, give me a holler. I'm happy to share what I know, and maybe even send a few samples your way!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Spoiled Yogi's Summer Reading List

Image via Flickr user katerha

I haven't had a summer reading list since high school. That could be because that was the last time I had enough free time to sit down with a big stack of books to read for pleasure (Oh wait!, I had to do it for a grade?. Nevermind.)

This year I'm not working full time, so I've found myself with a little more down time. Sure, I'm writing whenever I get assignments, teaching a few yoga classes week, keeping my 2-year-old busy in the sweltering Charleston, SC heat, practicing yoga as much as I can, cooking a lot.... OK, I don't have time to read books now either. But, I am more motivated than ever to learn, grow, find financial freedom, clean up my act, and generally enjoy every moment as much as I possibly can. (If for no other reason, then because I've started to notice my daughter mimicking nearly everything she sees me do--from asking her Daddy to turn down the TV (oops!) to my Downward Facing Dog.) I want her to see me more often with a book in my hands and less with a screen in my face. (And, yes, I do read on a Kindle. It was just a figure of speech, OK?) So, I made my own summer reading list. You'll notice these are not all yoga books--but they all are very relevant to my life as a yoga teacher, mother, freelance writer, woman, etc.

Money: A Love Story. I think all yoga teachers should read this book by Kate Northrup about valuing yourself, spending money on the things you value, seeing sound financial decisions as a form of self-care, and understanding that there are a billion ways to create abundance in this world. This one was the first on my list, and I've already devoured it.. but still need to go back through and do all the journaling exercises.

It's Hard to Make a Difference When You Can't Find Your Keys: The Seven-Step Path to Becoming Truly Organized.  Kate Northrup mentions this book a couple of times in Money: A Love Story, and I knew it would be the next book I'd dive into. Even the title kind of strikes a nerve with me because I'm the type of person who has a million grand ideas and a ton of ambition and drive, but my life is just too chaotic right now to be as productive as I'd like. Case in point, the e-book I'm "writing" that's been collecting electronic dust in my Google Documents list for two years now... TWO!

Pushback: How Smart Women Ask--And Stand Up For--What They Want. This is another one that I think people in the yoga community have trouble with. Compassion is a part of the practice, and so it's really easy to think, "Yes, I do need to make X amount teaching this yoga class, but I certainly wouldn't want the studio owner to sacrifice what she needs to meet her bottom line... so I'll just take what she offers me." This attitude never helped anybody pay their bills, and settling for less than we deserve doesn't help the thousands of other yoga teachers out there struggling to pay their bills either.

Breathe: A Novel. Sure this sounds like just another fictional story of someone transforming through yoga... But, every now and then, I like to be reminded in a don't-take-yourself-so-serious way that yoga can be fun, healing, and, yes, even entertaining. I'd like to read this one on the beach, with a fruity umbrella-shaded drink in hand.

Miracles Now: 108 Life-Changing Tools for Less Stress, More Flow, and Finding Your True Purpose. I've followed Gabrielle Bernstein online for a long time now--and I have loved her video tips and tricks for using meditation and Kundalini Yoga techniques to deal with everyday life. So I can't wait to dive into this book, which promises to offer 108 simple solutions to combat complicated problems like "stress, burnout, frustration, jealousy, resentment" without spending hours meditating and practicing yoga everyday. We'll see. I'm skeptical of anything that offers quick fixes, but I don't doubt I'll learn at least one or two more things to add to my toolbox.

To keep myself motivated and honest, I'm going to review each of these books when I'm done reading them. Will you join me? What are you reading this summer?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Review: Juil Ballet Flats

I'm always on the look for cute and comfortable shoes I can wear to and from class and around town, so obviously I was thrilled with the generous folks at Juil asked me to try out a pair of theirs. These shoes are seriously cute, and I read that walking in a Juil shoe is like walking on sand. I live near the beach, so I'll be the judge of that. I've given these beauties a nice, long trial and here's what I found.


Cute as a button. I love the simple style of these shoes and the neutral, earthy color options available.

Comfort. I wouldn't say that wearing these is like taking a walking on fluffy beach sand, BUT after I wore them in (a process that took a week or two), they are super comfy. 

Like Barefoot. I have naturally flat feet--something that I've been able to change a bit through years of focusing on truly grounding the outside edges of my feet and lifting my arches every time I'm on my yoga mat. Because of this experience, I really do believe that being barefoot (and mindful!) is the healthiest thing for my feet. Most shoes make it difficult for me to make the kind of connections with the floor I can find during yoga, but Juil shoes are designed to facilitate that connection because of the design of their soles and those little copper dots on the bottom of the shoe (more on that later*).


No room for toes to spread. I can't really complain about this, because Juil has tons of styles of sandals to choose from that I'm sure would let me practice my yoga toes. The ballet flat confines my piggies so I can't really lift and spread them when I'm standing in line at the grocery store. What can I say? This is a sacrifice I'm willing to make for the cuteness of ballet flats. At least they're not high heels.

You have to wear them in. When I first got these shoes, they pinched my heel and gave me a blister. I couldn't wear them for longer than an hour or so at a time for a week (or maybe even two!) before they started to feel comfortable. 

Price. At $99 a pair, these shoes aren't cheap. But if you're in the market for a new pair of shoes that will get you from Point A to Point B without

*One more thing.. Those little copper dots on the bottom of the Juil shoes supposedly have health benefits. The company claims the copper discs (which can be seen on the inside of the shoe as well as on the bottom) help connect you to the Earth's magnetic field. The copper acts as a conductor, which can help us release environmental toxins and even stress and minimize inflammation. (I'm no scientist, but I think of it this way: If you're ever struck by lightning, you DON'T want to be connected to the Earth because it's the connection that allows the electricity to move through you and fry you like a piece of veggie bacon. However, if you're not out in a lightening storm, being connected to the Earth is a good thing.) 

But does it really work? I can't say for sure.

Did I notice a big, dramatic difference in my stress levels and overall health from wearing these shoes? Nope, not really. But that doesn't mean there weren't subtle differences. There are so many variables that go into health it's almost impossible to pinpoint what really causes little shifts in one way or the other. (As I've mentioned, I'm not a scientist!) Juil's explanation for those copper dots seems plausible, though. And if there's any chance these shoes can help reduce stress buildup in my body (even if just by the power of suggestion), it's worth a shot, right? I need all the help I can get!  

Anybody else ever try these shoes? What did you love/not love about them?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How to Get Your Om On: A Guide to Kirtan

Oooommmmm.  Did you know that one little syllable represents every single vibration in the whole universe? And it represents the myriad ways each part of the universe is connected.

When you read the word Om, you more likely thought of a very particular part of the universe--a group of yoga students sitting cross legged, getting grounded before their class begins. I've seen this often portrayed in mainstream media (and at numerous cocktail parties) as a joke--something people do with their tongue planted firmly in their cheeks to make fun of people like me, who take this stuff very seriously. 
Image via Flickr user Keith Ramsey

While I wish people would come up with a more original way to make fun of yogis, I don't take offense. I know most people don't get it. For the longest time, I thought Om-ing at the beginning of a yoga class was weird, too. But Om is just the tip of an iceberg. Kirtan, or the ancient practice of chanting in Sanskrit (an ancient Indian language that is now mostly just in practice in yoga studios). There's music. Lots of different Sanskrit chants. And it's interactive--so the audience is invited to sing along and get the benefits of the practice, too. If it's not a part of your culture, and you don't know what to expect, it can be incredibly foreign--like landing on a different planet.

I wish someone had told me what to expect before my first kirtan experience. because I recall several yoga classes when I sat uncomfortably waiting for the singing portion of class to be over so I can start my yoga. I guess kirtan is acquired taste, because after I was exposed to it a bit more--I realized there's nothing that lulls me into a sweet meditative state more quickly and efficiently than the sound of Sanskrit, a harmonium, and, oh yes!, my own voice! (Thank goodness they give the microphone to someone who can actually sing to drown out the tone deaf people in attendance!)
Image via Flickr user bradfordcoy

What changed my mind? For one thing, someone handed me a print out that explained (in English) what the Sanskrit words meant. I read it over and could appreciate the beauty and simplicity in the meanings. . 

Here are my favorite Kirtan chants and a rough translation.

1. Om Namah Shivaya. I bow to the Self.

2. Sita Ram. Sita and Rama are deities who are husband and wife–to chant Sita Ram is to unite with our own perfect masculine and feminine.

3. Shiva Shiva Shiva Shambho. Mahadeva Shambho. Shiva is the essence and source of joy. Lord, the bestower of good.

4. Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha. I offer my love and devotion to Sri Ganesha; please grant me success in my noble endeavor.

5. Lokah Samastah Sukino Bhavantu. (My favorite!) May all beings everywhere be happy and free.

The other thing that shifted for me was that, somewhere along the way, I realized that I could sing the sounds and appreciate the vibration, without really taking all meanings behind them to heart. I realized my own intention for participating is more important than any abstract meaning someone else attaches to it, anyway. For me, it has nothing to do with praying to Indian deities, and everything to do with being a part of a community, enjoying the music, and feeling my spirit soar.