10 Top Tips for New Teachers

DSC030451. Have a Teacher.

Find someone who resonates with you and who can grow with you because they also have a teacher and a regular practice. I choose teachers who inspire me off the mat more so than on the mat. For example, I choose teachers who live Yogic lives full of principal and love, people I can use as examples in my personal and professional life. If your desire is to teach full-time, find a teacher who actually teaches full-time. It’s hard to learn the skills required of a full-time teacher or be advised by someone who has yet to take that leap. A recent graduate from my teacher training program was advised in her previous YTT program that it was not possible to support herself as a Yoga teacher. I found this interesting, seeing as I am less than a mile away and have supported myself and my family (including my husband for a few years) for the past decade and everyone who has stuck with my program teaches as much as they want to teach.


2. Practice…Really Practice.

As it says in the Yoga Sutras, consistent, continuous practice over many years is the path of Yoga. The learning never ends so that means you have to keep practicing to continue learning. Yoga is the practice of replacing what you know with new, more valid knowledge gained through experience. If you don’t practice you don’t grow and if you don’t grow your students won’t grow and they will move on. How can anyone who is not inspired to practice inspire others to practice? Always remember taking a class is not the same as an actual home practice. You need to be a scientist, exploring your own body and studying it through experimentation to understand how Yoga truly works in order to be able to share what you know and not just regurgitate your favourite teachers’ experiences.


3. Take and Make Every Opportunity.

With thousands of Yoga schools pumping out “Yoga Teachers” by the hundreds of thousands it can be a challenge to land classes. So you have to put yourself out there with every given opportunity! For years I taught by donation classes to get the experience needed to build a community of students. If you follow my first two tips, you need not worry because you will have the skills needed to turn one class into many because your students will get hooked. I built a Yoga business having never taught a single drop-in class in a Yoga Studio, so think outside the box. Never, ever turn your nose up at an opportunity to share Yoga with your community. When I started out, I taught nine gym classes and six chair classes every week for years, learning what I needed to and meeting the students I was meant to meet, to end up where I am today. We all have a different Dharma, or life path, so learn to embrace yours and learn your lessons without envying another person’s path or expecting yours to be similar.


4. Fall Down Seven Times Get Up Eight.

Not everyone is going to like you and not every class is going to be a home-run. Just because you have chosen a ‘spiritual’ path does not mean your days will be all rainbows, puppy dogs and cupcakes! The expectation that life should be without suffering and struggle is the cause of much unnecessary unhappiness. The road of a Yoga teacher is full of bumps and mountain size challenges, as it should be. How can you set an example for students who are struggling if you have not had to get through your own share of personal challenges? Learn to see each new situation as a learning opportunity providing you with the experience required to better assist your students on their Yoga journey. Never give up on your dreams, while leaving space for acceptance should your intentions change. Change is part of any path so don’t be attached to what you thought you wanted if it is not truly what you need.


5. Himalayan Salt and More Water.

Consuming Himalayan salt is an absolute must if you wish to maintain the ability to demo and talk for hours a day. Without Himalayan salt in my diet I find my thirst unquenchable! Even with the mineral rich salt, my water intake is between six to eight litres per day. It definitely takes some time to integrate this type of liquid consumption into your schedule but it really is a must. I find drinking a litre during class and a litre after but avoiding water consumption right before class the best option for avoiding bathroom breaks or discomfort during class. Remember all things it takes time…10 years into teaching, I teach numerous four hour classes without the need for a potty break and with patience you too can consume the needed amounts of water in a way that will work with your system and schedule, so be patient.


6. Eat More Bananas.

I am no nutritionist but I can speak from experience that the Yoga body loves and benefits from bananas. The solution Mr. Venkatesha (my teacher in India) recommends for most ailments is to eat more ripe bananas! When I am studying in India, I eat 20 per day and I pretty much demand students on my intensives eat a minimum of 10 per day. I have yet to encounter anyone who did not agree that the bananas help big time with energy, muscle fatigue and general body functioning. During my regular work week I eat a minimum of one banana per day but usually have three. They are portable, quick to digest and more powerful than any protein bar or energy drink on the planet.


7. Chant to Build Confidence.

I doubt there is a person on this planet who was not scared and anxious for his or her first class. I know amazing full-time lifestyle teachers who still get nervous before every single class. It is very difficult to get in front of a room full of people and tell them what to do. Chanting regularly has worked for me and every single person I have ever taught to teach. You can chant silently to yourself or at the top of your lungs, in perfect sanskrit or with the worst pronunciation in the world and it is going to work. I find Ganesha and Shiva chants to be extremely useful for this particular purpose. Confidence is an attractive trait in teachers and I believe chanting connects us to Atma (divine, universal knowledge and understanding) which allows us to teach an incredible class without thinking or stressing! For more information on the benefits of chanting and to get started, check out my blog on chanting.


8. Believe in Yourself and Yoga.

Have faith in your ability. Have faith in the practice. Watch your words and your thoughts for they have a direct impact on what you attract. If you don’t believe in yourself and Yoga how on earth can you teach others to do so? As the Upanishads (an old yogic text) say: “be mindful of your thoughts for they become your words, be mindful of your words for they become your actions, be mindful of your actions for they form your habits, be mindful of your habits because they create your character, be mindful of your character because it chooses your destiny.” So do your best to think kindly of yourself, your surroundings and those who are attracted to your teaching.


9. Accept the Work.

It is hard work being a Yoga teacher!!! It will challenge you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually on a fairly regular basis. Accepting that you know nothing is tough, and it is harder yet to authentically share your limited understanding of one of the most complex systems of mind control: Yoga. There is so much depth to Yoga, it can be overwhelming and inconceivable. It is a humbling path full of highs and lows and in order to make it your career you will need to embrace the task. Truly accept that healing is hard work and encourage others to do the same through your example.


10. Accept Where You Are At.

Be honest with yourself. If you don’t have a regular practice, don’t teach. If you don’t really know something, admit it. If you don’t know how to confidently and safely teach something, don’t teach it. If you have no experience or expertise on a subject, remain silent. Do not expect to have a Yoga career handed to you, as it takes years of discipline and learning to have knowledge worth sharing. A little bit of understanding can easily be a dangerous thing, so be conscious that what you share is true and real. Be your authentic self and if you don’t know who that is yet, keep practicing and you will find yourself.



A Vision Worth Backing : Deenabandu Children’s Home & School

I can’t express how wonderful it is to be a small part of such a functioning vision. I can’t even imagine how Deenabandhu founder Mr. Jayadev manages to get so much done in so few years… He truly does what he puts his mind to, and then some. Back in 2007 when Energy 4 Orphans raised the initial $12,000 to get the home for girls built, we had no idea that additional donors coming forward would turn the small project into a $150,000 environmentally conscious facility !!!

All I can say is WOW!

How far Deenabandhu has come in the past six years since my last visit. The amount of work that has been done is outstanding:

– new green home for girls

– almost triple the number of young girls living on site

– two new class rooms in the school

– new guest house

– new textile training centre (opening soon)

– new computer training centre

– an international volunteer program

The children are happy, healthy, clean, well fed and most importantly LOVED. There are 31 girls and 32 boys living on site with roughly 10 children per “house mother” and you can truly feel the love between them. The older children help with the younger ones just as it should be in any family. The children are supported through college or trade training of their choice until they are financially independent. Each child is truly recognized for their own special talents and taught how they can contribute to society and reach independence through developing their skills. The on site school which educates 250 local children is cutting edge and functions as a training centre for teachers in the surrounding areas. Local children are not only taught academics but also basic life skills to help them introduce healthy choices into their family dynamic. Local children who excel are eligible for collage scholarships and trade training regardless of caste, religion or background.

When I founded Energy 4 Orphans back in 2005 my motivation was to support such visionaries and true Karma Yogis such as those found at Deenabandhu. It is fantastic to see that so many other organizations and private families from all over the world pulling together to donate as much as they can to continue finical aid to such an outstanding project. Mr. Jayadev is an expert in tribal lifestyle and is a women’s rights advocate, he tirelessly writes and shares his knowledge freely to educate local women on becoming independent and building confidence to better their future and the future of their children. He is an inspirational and formative figure at Shaktidhama, a Mysore based rehabilitation and development centre for women in need.

Fund raising is a huge part of Mr. Jayadev’s role and he was thrilled to inform me that a private donor has just agreed to fund the entire primary school for the next three years!!! Funding includes all of the kids meals, tuition, clothing, etc!!! Mr. Jayadev told me this frees up his mind, easing his stress and allows him to get on with the work. I am mesmerized by his humility and kindness; as if transforming the small school and residence he started in 1992 for six boys in a rental house into this outstanding facility in under 25 years wasn’t enough work for a life time. I can not wait to see what the future holds for Deenabandhu and it’s children!!!

Mr. Jayadev and I are still considering the best way to invest the remaining $2000 of our Energy 4 Orphans funds. It looks like I will be emptying our reserve account here in India so expect some FUN – D – RAISING in our future. I’ll keep you posted on what we decide to do both spending the money and raising more!

In the mean time there are great ways to get involved !!

Child sponsorship is a great investment at $500 / year you can be guaranteed ALL the money goes to bettering the child’s future. Major bonus being that you can come visit your sponsor child and get to know them or I can help you keep in touch as I plan to continue visits.

Alternatively if you have always dreamed of making a hands on difference volunteering your time here is a fantastic way to share your energy with the most appreciative and loving children I have ever know.  By spending a few months or a year teaching English, Yoga, Art, etc. or just sharing your love with these amazing children you will return home with a lot more than an incredible experience. The more interaction these kids get with the English language and the more confidence they build the brighter their future will be.



Mysore Musts : Ayurvedic Massage

India has not so subtle way of teaching you to go with the flow… you may not get what you want but if your open to opportunity it has been my experience you will get exactly what you need.

This evening I headed out for dinner… 6:15 pm not early by my standards but here in India it is impossible to get a curry before 7:30. Disappointed and very hungry I started to wander. The moment I became conscious of my annoyance I reminded myself that good things happen when we embrace the natural flow of things. BOY OH BOY did great things happen.

Not even 10 minutes down the road I stumble across the find of all finds Santhigiri Ayurveda & Siddha Hospital. For the nominal fee of 800 RS I had an experience to write home about… literally. Two skilled Ayurvedic practitioner Shreekala & Chinchu gave me a hot oil massage followed by a steam that still has be buzzing. Talk about getting the energy flowing these ladies have massage in their genes, literally. Both born and trained in Kerala, Ayurveda Mecca and the state to the south of Karnataka , come from long lines of therapists and it sure is evident in their skills.

Click on photos to see a larger image.

I guess you’ll know where to kind me most nights this week. Check them out next time your here in Mysore.

Santhigiri Ayurveda & Siddha Hospital Mysore :: #141, 1st block, Adichunchanagiri Road. Kuvempu Nagar, Mysore 570023.  Phone 0821-246-2344  Mob 903-547-5590


What Makes You Stronger?

This is what Acharya (short for Yogacharya, translates to spiritual teacher, and is what we call Mr. Venkateshe) asked me today. I answered the mind. He paused, and asked me what makes the body strong? Like most of his questions you are left to answer them yourself. He wants us to figure it out for ourselves, to be our own teachers and make our own conclusions. He wants us to struggle to have to learn in order to deepen our understanding.

What makes your body strong? I know how to make my body strong by challenging it. By studying myself through asana, often with the help of a teacher to figuring out where i am physically weak, and then through hard practice and discipline strengthening those areas. I believe he asked me this question because I know the answer and it’s a metaphor for the question I’m here seeking an answer to: How do I make my mind stronger?

A basic example of this is evident in his response  to Yoshiko, my Japanese house mate, when she asked him where she could buy the standard plain white t-shirt required for classes. He said you can buy them in any shop around here. She spent the whole day searching our local area until finally she discovered the one shop which sells plain white shirts.  What’s the lesson here? Through that exploration Yoshiko learned every inch of our neighbour hood and what it had to offer. As a new student this understanding of her surroundings would prove be a life saver as her body and mind would not be up for the challenge of seeking out other basic needs once classes had begun. Lets just say after a practice with Acharya you don’t want to make any wrong turns and walk any further than you have to or make any major decisions (yoga brain!). Through her struggle finding her shirt she gained the awareness and independence that she needed to survive the first few days as her body detoxed and became accustom to the intense physical nature of the Asana here. He could have easily told her exactly where to go but that would have encouraged her to depend on him for answers to unnecessary questions. That day’s struggle made her stronger. Thankfully her lessons were not my lessons and after he gave me the exact same shopping directions she kindly guided me to the local white t-shirt store, and to Kumar, our coconut hero who always serves up only good coconuts and never rips you off. She also introduced me to a restaurant so fabulous that I’ve had every meal there since. You never know who’s going to teach you what you need to know to make that next step in your journey easier. We all have our own paths and our own lessons, and it’s important to realize no one’s journey is any less important than another’s.

Calm seas don’t make skilled sailors
In order for us to go beyond our current blockages we need to face struggles. Whether that struggle be physical like in Asana or perhaps less apparent like a mental, spiritual or emotional weakness that we wish we didn’t have to see in ourselves. Observing our role in the drama or disease in our lives enables us to identify where we need to strengthen our character to prevent similar struggles in the future. The Sutras teach us to prevent the pain that is yet to come. It’s hard and gruelling work!
Nobody wants to do what they are not good at, and I for one had to fly across the globe to enlist my teacher’s help to do what I know in my heart I need to do, but was to darn stubborn to do on my own.

How do you prevent the pain that is yet to come? For some of us it may mean following an online yoga video because we know we’ll never do brain washer series as long as I’ll make you do it in the video, or driving across town to go to a new studio. It could require letting go of whatever’s holding you back from picking up the phone and calling that friend you know you miss but had an argument with. Perhaps cutting ties with a person or a habit that you know in your heart is causing you pain. All and all it’s about doing the work, facing your challenges, knowing your habits and facing them head on in order to create the happy, healthy life of your dreams. Learning to embrace the struggles life sends you as best you can is the best way I know of to get through the tough times. See your role when the ship goes off coarse and make a solid effort to adjust your actions in the future to weather each storm with more ease and grace.
With that said, I’m going to embrace my aching muscles and haul my tired ass the 15 minutes to my restaurant and eat Idly because even though I would rater curl up and not move, I know without that effort I won’t make it through practice tomorrow. After today’s 20 minute holds in my nemesis poses, this girl has got to eat.


Day 1 India:


After 2 days of travel I jumped in a taxi at the Bangalore airport and began the 5 hour overland adventure to my new home for the next 5 weeks.

Indian Livestock

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I’ve learned from past experiences that when traveling to India, make the arrival as easy as possible. I’ve spent too many nights in dirtbag hotels to save a couple of bucks.  The extra splurge of hiring a driver and a decent hotel may or may not buy you the comfort that you’re used to, but in my opinion it’s best to be gentle on yourself and make arriving as easy as possible.

My last trip to Bangalore consisted of me rocking up to a Lonely Planet recommended hotel at one o’clock in the morning, which I had a reservation at. It had been one hell of a taxi ride to get there as the driver who had assured me he knew where the hotel was did not.  After 5 planes, a ferry and a bus tour in the dark, the sketchy Bangalore streets with a lying Taxi driver was NOT the stress free Yoga experience I was hoping for. Upon finally arriving at our destination (I THINK), I discovered that there wasn’t a bed reserved reserved for me and there were numerous men sleeping in the lobby. After much negotiation (AKA I was not going ANYWHERE) the Hotel manager offered me a small cot off the front desk where I lay fully clothed, head on my backpack eagerly awaiting the light of day. I took the train to Mysore the next day which was wonderful and found what seemed to be a step up, if only a slight one, from the night before in an affordable hotel. It wasn’t until after dark that a fire was lit beneath my window causing billows of black toxic smoke to stream into my room and men were banging on my door ALL NIGHT – I’m sure happy to assist me in finding alternative accommodation. Yet another sleepless night awaiting the light of day . So my top tip…. Just get to Mysore & stay wherever Hema from the Atma Vikasa school recommends.

That being said, my current adventure though not quite the sleepless adventure of my past trip… was a mission in itself.  Once again the taxi driver who for sure, absolutely,  knew exactly where he was going DID NOT. Our journey together included a side line off the highway into a sketchy deserted parking lot to collect “documents” which had me strongly demanding he return to the well lit roads around the highway. After 50+ pit stops to ask for directions, we finally made it. He then proceeded to demand a tip as I retrieved my maps which he had graciously horned all over when missing the window.
My New Home:

I decided to take the easy option here in Mysore and stay a 3 minute walk from Atma Vikasa Yoga School in a local family’s home which came highly recommend by Laura whom most of you will know since she has been a well loved (and stretched) fixture at my home and studio since she took her first yoga class in the first real (as in indoor and for money) class that I taught. Quite the location in the quiet suburbs of Mysore… And a major step up from the downtown intersection location of where the School was located last time I was here. I love it the area. It’s cleaner, quieter, full of parks and open fields… but I do miss the old hood. I knew the old hood and the people in it! So I have begun making new haunts, trying out different fruit vendors, restaurants and shops. Thankfully I have a sweet house mate (also a Yoga student) who has been here for 3 weeks and knows all the “hot spots”. Great tips like ” the young coconut man will be sure you get a good one and won’t try to rip you off”, best place for Masala Dosa and treats all within a 15 minute walk from our home… Ahhhhh, India. The home I am living in has 3 grown daughters with 3 children of their own, their father, a friendly jovial man who I don’t understand a word out of, and my sweet friendly yoga friend from Japan. My mantra since the moment I arrived has been ‘I think i can, I think I can’ and it’s 100% directed to learning all of their names. It’s the hardest practice of concentration and memory that I’ve faced in years!!!


School starts tomorrow. Only slightly terrified… He wants me to do my own practice while he watches!!!!



Homeward Bound : Photos of Our Recent Alberta Trip

This Fall Steven and I headed east to Alberta for some long over due family time. We spent a few days at my Brother Jay & Sister in law’s home in Edmonton before heading North to my old stomping grounds, the Peace County. High lights to the trip were my cousins wedding, driving around in combines and seeing our family… especially our nephews Graham and Malcolm. It was the first time Steven has seen farming on that scale and he was able to capture some great shots of rural life in Alberta. I hope you enjoy!!!

Grain Storage

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To Chant or Not to Chant?

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Believe me, if you are sitting in the back of a studio hoping no one will notice that you are not chanting, I can totally relate. For the first 15+ years I practiced yoga I refused to even OM. I thought it was awkward and strange. By the time I decided to become a certified teacher I had tried pretty much every possible style, temperature and level of class available to me, still I had not uttered a peep during a class OM. I decided to jump in with both feet and enrolled myself in a teacher training program that was way outside of my comfort zone and included lots of chanting. I spent three months chanting hours a day. Soft and timid at first but eventually I was fully committed and I LOVED it! One of the most valuable yoga insights I continue to learn through my practice is that aversion to something can often be one of the biggest obstacles of any path.

I can honestly say chanting changed my life. I’m not here to tell you about vibrations, or opening chakras. I’m just here to tell you the experience of a converted chanter.

The Top Five Benefits I have seen first hand from chanting:

1. Increased Confidence as a Yoga Teacher.

Many new teachers (including myself) are nervous and anxious before teaching classes. I began chanting thirty minutes to an hour before each class and within a week I was confident enough to forget I was ever nervous. At a recent workshop I was teaching, (with several yoga teachers in attendance who had learned this chanting practice from me) I posed the question ‘who here was nervous as hell their first few times teaching?’ All the teachers raised their hands. I asked ‘who here tried chanting before each class to put themselves at ease?’ All the teachers raised their hands. So I continued with ‘who here still gets nervous?’ All agreed it took around a week of chanting pre-class to get over their jitters. Chanting also brings an element of Bhakti yoga into your practice and that just feels damn good and authentic.

2. Free Plane Tickets.

Yes, I have experienced this! I found a Yoga Therapy Program in Mysore India called the Atmavikasa Centre of Yogic Science. I was sure this school was for me and spoke to the teacher, Acharya Venkateshawhom told me all I had to do was come. This possibility seemed to be in the very distant future for a full-time, fully broke Hatha yoga teacher. Immediately after our brief conversation I went to the beach and without attachment to a specific outcome I chanted my little butt off and left feeling content. Within 4 days I was gifted a plane ticket and a full scholarship! Chanting helps to keep us on our path. It also helps us to be less distracted by doubt or expectations, which allows energy to flow without resistance as you begin living your destiny. Trust without expectation that the universe will provide and in my experience it does. The interesting thing is we have to let go of all possible outcomes. Had I chanted for enough classes to be able to save the money I needed to go to India it would have taken me years to get there. Understanding that the universe has a far better plan then we could possibly conceive is part of the magic of chanting.

3. Free Money.

Also during my ‘just getting by’ teaching era, Ronaldo my senior rescue Doodle came upon rough medical times. The bills added up until eventually I was $500 overdrawn at the vet. I went immediately to the beach and chanted for an hour. The very next day I received a cheque in the mail for exactly $500 from the Primer of Alberta at the time, Ralph Cline. A tax credit from the time I had spent living in Alberta many years earlier. When I became a yoga teacher, before the time of ‘celebrity yogis’, I dedicated myself to teaching with humble expectations of what I could possibly earn. I accepted modest living as part of the territory when pursuing your passion. I saw my share of financial and physical struggles in the early years of bike riding to 15 different classes per week. Having a limited food budget and very few trips to see family and friends was challenging, though I always had enough of what I needed. Through gratitude and perseverance of an authentic practice including chanting all of my financial obstacles have been removed. There was a time in my life pre-teaching where I dreamed of a time when I could afford to have any type of cheese I wanted without even thinking twice about it…those days have come!

4. Your Voice Improves.

Not only can I project my voice so much that my husband often has to remind me after class that it is now time to switch to my inside voice. I also think I sound more clear and harmonious now. Perhaps that could be credited to benefit number one, more confidence, but just like my asana (yoga pose) practice has improved over the years I believe my singing and speaking voice has greatly improved with the practice of chanting. I was always afraid to have my voice be heard and now I lead Kirtan without even a moment’s hesitation. My voice has also built up the stamina required to teach full-time with minimal strain.

5. Improves Concentration & Decreases Stress

I believe Sanskrit to be one of the hardest languages in existence, so call and response chanting requires a lot of mental concentration. When you’re focusing very intently on words, pronunciation, tone and pitch so you can repeat the chant back accurately, it is impossible to think of what may be stressing you out. This beneficial practice teaches us to still the mind and be able to control our mind, stopping us from obsessing about real and unreal situations.

If you’re still not sure, just give it a shot! No one cares if your Sanskrit is perfect… mine sure as hell is not and I have experienced amazing results!!! Was your triangle pose perfect the first time you tried it? Heck no and it’s not perfect today but it sure feels good and is great for your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual heath. So is chanting, so give it a good solid chance and experience it for yourself. Chanting makes the amazing feeling you get when you sing along with your favourite song on the radio feel like small potatoes in comparison to the heart warming vibration of chanting.

Try these links to some fun & modern chants to start with… they are easier than you think.

Krishna Das -Sita RamJai Uttal – Ganesh Sharanam Kirtan ChantOng Namo by Snatam KaurHara Hara Mahaadeva – Krishna Das

Or Join us @ MY Studio


Happy Chanting !

XoOxOXoOXoXo Michelle



Teacher Training Essays :: Lara Jeletzky

Yoga as a Catalyst for Personal Evolution

Over six years ago, the first aspect of yoga that I practiced was asana or physical posture. My attraction to yoga grew, as did the various permutations of practice I was willing to experiment with over time. So many aspects of yoga have changed not only my life, but also my character and how I perceive the world itself. Before beginning a yoga practice I viewed the world in a cynical way, always keeping other people at a safe distance. I believed that the brain and body were separate – completely ignorant of any possible method of integrating the somatic with the cognitive. Suffice it to say, yoga changed EVERYTHING. Looking back, I could never have anticipated that practicing yoga could become such a powerful catalyst for personal evolution.

At first yoga was all about the physical – I enjoyed getting stronger and feeling more flexible. Within less than a year of practicing asana several times a week, I noticed a shift in the way I felt towards other people. Not only did I begin caring about the welfare of others, I even started volunteering for the peer counseling program at university. After four years of peer helping, finishing my psychology degree, and practicing yoga even longer, I found myself caring so much for others that considering a career as a counselor was not far from my mind. Yet again I felt pulled toward practicing even more yoga; little did I know the urge to teach would soon emerge.

As self-awareness grew, my body became my laboratory, a special context within which to stage valuable experiments. Issues I had long struggled with became more and more visible, as I developed greater self-awareness. Exclusively focusing on academics, I was highly cognitive, but sadly dissociated from my body. As self-inquiry became an important practice for me, integration of mind, body and breath followed, each step acting as a preparation for the next. Challenges with binge-eating, negative body image, depression, social anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder all became battles on my yoga mat; each step forward became a preparation for the next. Slowly my yoga mat became a safe place to head when I was feeling emotionally distressed – it is now a place for challenging the dark and embracing the light that yoga has to offer. I discovered that self-awareness and self-consciousness are mutually exclusive concepts – they cannot simultaneously exist. I found as I cultivated self-awareness, my anxious tendencies toward self-consciousness decreased. Fascinatingly, following experimentation with chanting, I noticed an even more significant drop in physiological anxiety symptoms. It became clear that lengthening my exhalations, while taking short inhalations tended to create a physiological state of calm in my body – quickly and effectively slowing down my heart rate.

Yoga, particularly asana, had become the medicine I took to alleviate the physiological symptoms of emotional fluctuations. According to western psychology, trauma experiences frequently leave residue on our nervous systems, manifested through habitual tendencies, such as dissociating from body sensations and avoiding unwanted external sensory experiences. Asana allowed me to consciously begin to release the issues in the tissues. According to yoga psychology, every experience leaves an impression on the nervous system, also known as a samskara. Peter Levine, a noted psychologist and medical biophysicist, argues that “trauma represents a profound compression of survival energy that has not been able to complete its meaningful course of action.” I would additionally argue that yoga is the ideal method for slow titration and release of the physiological energy that can be compressed and held within our systems due to highly stressful events, whether the event revolves around childhood abuse, surgery, car accidents, etc., until we are able to free it from our bodies. Yoga has taught me that the human nervous system can be injured just as any muscle, joint or bone can be damaged. Furthermore, yoga provides a web of interconnected principles and practices that can bring a balance between stability and flexibility in any aspect of the human system.

After a few years of practicing asana, and guided meditations such as yoga nidra, I became curious to study additional books concerning yoga rather than exclusively western psychology and trauma origin. Studying the yamas and niyamas or ethical observances related to yoga, ever so briefly, revealed some fascinating personal insights. It appeared as though yoga had been working on altering the structure of my mind, body and breath, all from the inside out – without conscious intention. I was intently curious how what appeared to be a purely physical system of postures could yield significant changes in a human being’s self-awareness and character on so many levels.

Two of the ethical observances associated with yoga are non-harming and self-inquiry or svadhyaya.  Non-harming, or ahimsa, can be perceived and applied in many different ways. As I practiced more and more yoga, both ahimsa and svadhyaya started to manifest in my behaviours and habits. Yoga was literally shaping my thoughts, words and actions from the inside out. I found myself drawn to practice more challenging asanas or physical postures, and discovered novel interest in other practices of yoga such as chanting, and most recently pranayama or breathing exercises. I also felt compelled to seek out a consistent teacher for deeper study of the practice and to gain confidence as a teacher. Ironically, looking back, it is easy to observe the gradual integration of the principles of non-harming and self-inquiry into my life. Throughout my practical experience with yoga, these principles are present in varying degrees. Initially, the only way I could experience these concepts was being self-aware enough to know yoga was good for me, even when I felt like doing anything else. During periods of depression, I practiced little to no asana, embracing yoga nidra and other guided meditations as the only form of yoga that felt accessible at the time. Conversely, during periods of acute anxiety, I became aware enough to practice many standing poses as a way to ground the emotional fluctuations. With self-inquiry comes self-awareness; with self-awareness comes noticing of harming actions, which gives me the opportunity to shift previous patterns. Slowly, long-standing negative, self-harming patterns of thought and behaviour shifted, as yoga practice allowed my consciousness to be more equally distributed throughout the body – no longer exclusively tied to the mind and its neural pathways. As the inherent link between thoughts, words, behaviours, habits and human character itself became revealed to me – the desire to practice with further discipline grew. As a long-standing yogi, Mr. Iyengar shares my belief that “density in bones is a virtue, but in brains it is a vice.” In other words, focusing all of our energy on the mind is a mistake; we must do the work to integrate the mind and the body – equally distributing our conscious intelligence throughout the entire body, not merely the brain. Use the entire laboratory we have been given and run fascinating experiments until the end. For years I heard yoga teachers refer to how at some point they felt they could not help but start teaching – the urge to share the gifts that yoga had bestowed on them was too deep to ignore. I finally understand what that means and why I will practice, practice, practice, aware that all is coming – whenever I’m ready for it.