3 Important Questions to Ask and 3 Questions that Really Don’t Matter if You Are Considering a Yoga Teacher Training Course

It’s a thought you can’t unthink — “I want to do a yoga teacher training.” Once that thought crosses your mind, it’s just a matter of Where and When until you find yourself locked in a yoga studio for 8 hours a day on all of your weekends. I’ve noticed over the years at Dhyana Yoga that people enter the program in different ways. Some have absolutely no questions at all. Others have a rolling list of questions that spills over into the first day of class, every discussion throughout the program, all breaks big and small, and requires multiple emails threads to complete. I’m equally appreciative of both approaches and find that the mix of personalities that land in any given semester of training keeps my excitement level about being there as a trainer really high. Although the content may remain consistent, every training program is wonderfully different based on the energy of the group that comes together. For each of these two types, though, I offer the following “Do” and “Don’t” lists which I think will help teachers-to-be understand the program they are considering much better.

Do ask…

1. What is the lineage of the school you are considering?
I was surprised recently when speaking with a yoga student who is currently enrolled in a teacher training program at her home studio to get a blank stare when I asked her what the school’s lineage was, as if she had no idea what I was talking about. Do your research! What you will learn and how you will be taught will be a direct reflection of the lineage. This blog entry from YogaDork (regardless of the spelling issues) gives a pretty understandable overview of lineages if you are wondering about your school. You may be able to bounce from studio to studio and teacher to teacher when you are starting out practicing, but when it comes to training and what you will graduate being able to teach, this question needs to be answered and understood!

2. Do the lead teachers teach yoga full time, and/or how much actual experience do they have?
There is no substitute for time spent teaching, and no short cut either. Your teacher trainer will only be able to pass onto you what they have experienced, so why not connect with someone who is not only a great teacher, a great person outside of the yoga room, and someone you feel comfortable with, but also who has a good chunk of time put in actually teaching, interacting, navigating different situations, and learning how to pass on content in a generous and practical manner? Find out how long the trainers have been teaching, how much they actually teach, and how long the school has been offering their teacher training program. I’m not saying there aren’t good new trainers out there, but if you have the choice between someone with a little bit of experience and a lot, or between a school that is offering it’s first teacher training or 21st, finding out the answer to this question may give you a little more insight into the program you are considering.

3. Who did the lead teachers train with themselves, and/or who are their greatest influences?
The lineage question will give you a school of practice and philosophy to track back to, but this third question will fill in the gaps. For example, someone may tell you they practice Ashtanga Vinyasa in the lineage of Krishnamacharya, but it is unlikely they actually studied in the direct presence of Krishnamacharya. However finding that out, and then finding out if they either studied with BKS Iyengar vs. Pattabhi Jois, or even with Tim Miller vs. Erich Schiffman, or a teacher under either of those teachers, will tell you a tremendous amount about the program. Check out the teachers noted or thanked in your teacher trainer’s bio and you’ll start to understand where their teaching is flowing from and that will help you decide if the program is a match for you.

Don’t bother asking…

1. Is the program Yoga Alliance certified?
In my opinion, it means absolutely nothing. That’s all I’ll say for now.

2. How many people will be in the program?
There are benefits to having a big class, and benefits to having a small class. I think some people get hung up on wanting to have a small class thinking that they’ll get more attention, not feel overwhelmed, or not get lost in the shuffle. While this may be true, you also interact with fewer people in a small training, which means fewer ideas and opinions are offered, and fewer body types and practice levels are part of such a training. All in all, I think it’s a pretty even race between pros and cons of each size, so don’t over emphasize either.

3. Will I be able to teach after taking this program?
There are no guarantees in life. Yoga teacher training is as much an opportunity to get to know yourself better and examine your choices as it is to practice more yoga and potentially teach yoga. Some people enter yoga teacher training with a background that makes them more comfortable in front of the room than others, and some make major leaps in self confidence just because the time is ripe for them. Others enter thinking that they want to teach immediately and then realize they need more time being a student or just want enjoy practicing without teaching for a little longer. In any case, yoga is a lifetime of study, so whether you teach after the program or not doesn’t matter very much. The best thing to do is go into the program with a desire to learn and see where that takes you!

If you’ve had the thought you can’t unthink, CONGRATULATIONS! You’re on your way… Swaha!

More info about Dhyana Yoga here

ALTERED SPACE // WHAT WE EAT

In 2002 I moved back to Philadelphia after 14 years mostly in Southern California, and partly on a journey literally around the world (more on this later). I came back in July, and it was hot. By August I had found a little room at 12th and Walnut and rented it in a handshake deal with plans on opening a yoga studio. I sweated it out the next few months getting that room ready by refinishing the floors, painting the walls, and doing a 3 layer lotus stencil design 108 times around the top of the walls. I wasn’t used to the humidity, and as I sewed curtains and made pillows and even stapled in some carpet, I longed for the cool breezes of San Diego. On October 5th, 2002, Dhyana Yoga at 1212 Walnut Street, 2nd Floor had it’s Grand Opening celebration, though, and my friends and relatives showed up in support… and in sweat. The turn out was great, and the room was HOT! It got even hotter as more people arrived, and even more so as my new friends Simon Park, Marni Sclaroff, and Phil Migliarese did asana demonstrations in the front of the room.

And then it got cold. So very cold. I hadn’t endured an East Coast winter for quite some time. I thought I owned a coat. It was not a coat, it was a thing with sleeves. In San Diego, a nice, heavy, cozy sweatshirt is a coat. In the middle of winter in Philadelphia, that sweatshirt did nothing to protect me against the biting wind as I walked my also cold dog, Santa (AKA “Bob”) morning, noon, and night. I fell on the ice in my Puma sneakers and Bob ran home without me. It was almost too much to take. I had to rally. Winter lasts awhile. So I bought a big, unflattering, puffy jacket at a thrift shop on South Street and my neighbor gave me a hat. And I practiced a lot because at least the practice room was warm! I’ll admit, I wondered more than once that long winter why I ever decided to leave San Diego and come back to my hometown.

Now 11 years later I have a little stockpile of winter gear, the right boots for snow and ice, and that gritty Philly girl that got soft on the West Coast resurfaced, and even enjoys the winter cold these days! I also have support from the inside, via my Ayurveda practice, to keep me warm. Below is an amazing, easy, and absolutely delicious recipe for a hearty soup that will keep you toasty, nourished, and going back for another bowl! Also keep in mind that Ayurveda says when you feel wet and cold, to favor lighter, warmer foods and spices that balance out Kapha (the earth and water elements that may make you feel cold, damp, and lethargic). Also, during times of transition, be they seasons of nature or seasons of your life, it is wise to pay special attention to the basics of good health: meditation, regular exercise, sensory nourishment and emotional healing. I hope this healthy soup recipe will warm your body, delight your taste buds and make you happy! Enjoy!

Heart-y Ginger Vegetable Soup

Ingredients: 3 carrots, 4 rutabagas, 3 stalks of celery, 2 inches of ginger, 3 garlic cloves, 1/2 an onion, 1 turnip, 2 cartons vegetable stock, 1/2 small carton of Pomi tomatoes, 1 tablespoon evoo, salt & pepper (parsley to garnish)

John's 3rd bowl of this yummy soup!

John’s 3rd bowl of this yummy soup!

Preparation:

1. In a stock pot, warm oil. Add diced garlic, ginger, and chopped onion, stir 3 mins (don’t burn the garlic!). Add chopped celery and turnip and cook on medium heat stirring lightly 5-7 minutes so they can soften.

3. Add chopped carrots and rutabagas, which look like crazy carrots. If you have knife skills it’s best to chop them by hand because your shakti (love and power) goes in them, but I don’t have knife skills so I do them the in the food processor and say a mantra instead, which is also fun! And fast…

4. Stir up everything in the pot and keep cooking for 5 more minutes, then add the crushed tomatoes and vegetable stock. Stir more. Everything should be in the pot now. Bring it to a boil.

5. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes.

6. Stick an immersion blender in the pot and blend everything up. You might end up with a few chunks of rutabaga or carrot but that’s kind of fun to come across in a bowl of this soup so don’t worry about getting it perfect.

7. Salt and Pepper to taste, but you won’t need a lot. When you serve it up, put some fresh Italian parsley leaves in the bowl if you have them, totally optional.

This yields about 8-10 bowls, but everyone will want seconds! Enjoy!

ALTERED SPACE // WE DON’T CARE WHAT YOU WEAR

My husband, John Vitarelli, is about the most drama-free person you could ever meet. Nothing sticks to this guy, he just has a good vibe inside and out and because of that, drama doesn’t get too close to him. So last week when John said, “Send the letter,” I knew it was time to finally send the letter.

John V Bakasana

John pictured here in a pretty fantastic parsva bakasana wearing a Patagonia shirt he still has and a pair of pants he wore so much I did eventually make him get rid of them. Oh wait, he just told me he still has them. They’re Patagonia, too. Photo taken at Yogawood in Collingswood, NJ

Our letter asking Lululemon to consider us “Ambassadors No More” (coined via Jennifer Kries) was a simple one, opening with “This letter comes after a long time of consideration regarding our personal affiliation with your company, Lululemon, for which we served as “Ambassadors” in 2011.  We do not feel aligned with Lululemon, and are sending this letter as a request for Lululemon to cease using our images in any way and to remove us from all contact lists.”

Now I should back up and mention that when Lululemon first came to the Philadelphia market many years ago, the manager of the showroom at that time asked to me to lunch. She brought a bag of clothes and was talking about this “Ambassador” thing, which I didn’t quite understand. The whole Brand Ambassador title wasn’t part of the Yoga culture lexicon as of yet, or at least, it hadn’t hit Philly. I took the clothes home and tried them on. They didn’t fit and were too athletic looking for me (I’m more Bohemian swirls than sporty stripes) and a few days later I returned the bag to an absolutely stunned looking Lululemon representative and just said, “thanks, but I’ll never wear these. Maybe try giving them to some other girls at the studio.” That store manager was never nice to me again. I was just being truthful and not taking a bunch of clothes that I wouldn’t wear just because they were “free.”

I should have stuck to my gut. But when Lululemon approached my husband and I to be “Co-Ambassadors” many years later, we agreed. I have to say, John probably could have cared less. He practices in what is reasonably clean and won’t get in his way in Marichasana D. But I thought it would be fun to do together, and that having him by my side would make me feel more comfortable doing whatever we had to do. I don’t know what they do everywhere, but here, the Lululemon staff comes to your class and brings you a big bouquet of flowers or a giant plant and makes a big fuss over you in front of people when they ask you to be an Ambassador. It’s kind of like being asked to the prom in the middle of the High School pep rally. They don’t tell you what the “job” entails or educate you about their company and product, they just ask you out and then everyone hugs and takes pictures. Then you get invited to the store for a New Ambassador meeting where you meet the other Ambassadors, and they give you a bunch of self help books to read, and a folder of papers explaining what a “goal” is and how to crush one! Yay! Usually the person coaching you on how to “goal crush” is half your age. One of our teachers tells a hilarious story about this happening to them and it ends with the Yoga teacher saying, “Look, there are no goals in Yoga.”

As the months went by, we were required as Ambassadors to offer free classes to Lululemon shoppers. This is pretty standard fare, and basically your payment is the gift card they give you to pick out “free” clothes in the store. John and I did what we agreed to do, but as I got increasingly pregnant and dealt with an extreme case of morning sickness that lasted 3 months, John taught more of the classes alone. One thing you will notice in these free classes is that there are A LOT of people. Sounds great, right? Lots of people doing Yoga. The next thing you will notice, though, is that there is one teacher sprinting from one end of the room to the other trying to adjust people. A large majority of the people are just trying Yoga out and many even show up in shoes and jeans, so a lot of adjusting is needed to keep things safe. Also, you are either in a Lululemon store with all the clothing rounders pushed somewhat out of the way or you may be outside which presents all kinds of other complications, like people cranking their necks to see what’s going on because they can’t hear the teacher. Put simply, it might be a fun time, but in our opinion, these classes are generally unsafe. After our year tenure was up, Lululemon continued to ask us to teach these classes, and still does to this day. We politely decline.

You might ask, if it’s so bad, why are there so many Ambassadors? I might answer by asking, why are there so many Ambassadors? It’s not really even a special thing to be asked, eventually they get around to almost everyone in a market. But there’s another side to this that no one is really talking about, and that’s what we, as Yoga teachers, are getting out of the whole deal. Yoga teachers get what they see as “free promotion” by having a huge photograph of themselves in their local Lululemon store and by the store employees supposedly referring shoppers to their Ambassdor’s classes. This is going to take some radical honesty from Yoga teachers, like us. I have personally heard something along the lines of, “just take the free clothes and the free promo” from Ambassadors I know. Which is why an important part of our letter to Lululemon reads, “In our experience, teachers bash Lululemon in general conversation but can’t seem to sacrifice what they perceive to be free promotion from the local store by being open and honest about it. This is akin to being in an unhealthy relationship. Both sides, yoga teachers seeking promotion and Lululemon stores seeking advertising by outfitting those teachers, are being opportunistic and parasitic. It is our aim as not only yoga teachers, but as parents, and as people seeking to better ourselves, to not engage in what we find to be inauthentic relationships.”

If you are one of those “Ambassadors,” one of those teachers taking the free gear but making snarky remarks about the Lululemon brand in general conversation or even in your head, then you should not be an Ambassador. If you look at your colorful pile of Luon pants differently now that you know more about the company, then you should not be an Ambassador. If you have thought about how to cover up the little reflective logo so you can keep wearing the one piece you really like, then you should not be an Ambassador. I’m not trying to rally an “Ambassador No More” movement, but I am saying if you don’t love it and live it, if you don’t defend it when other people are trashing it, if you aren’t proud to walk down the street in your head to toe Lululemon outfit, if you can’t stand behind their marketing campaigns and public statements, then you have no business using them for promotion.

In fact, I don’t think Yoga teachers should sell out and be “Ambassadors” of or be “Sponsored By” anyone at all. If you like something, wear it, use it, share it, promote it, go actually work for the company! If it’s really what you use and suggest, let people know in your blog or on Facebook. But I think it’s kind of gross for teachers to get all free-geared up by any one brand, and that it’s a distracting goal for so many young teachers to nab these “Ambassador” titles be it for shoes, jewelry, or clothing. We regretted it from the beginning, but we really liked some of the Lululemon staff people and managers, so we never made  a big deal out of how we felt. I did personally meet with one of those staffers and pass on our feedback along with complaints I had heard from other local teachers as well (at the Lulu staff’s request for such “feedback”). We quietly gave away all our free clothing, much of it with the tags still on. Like I said, John is drama free. Until recently, and I think the Steven Colbert piece was the tipping point, he has encouraged me to just chill on it and enjoy my sabbatical.

I want Yoga teachers and studios to know that it’s ok to say no. Our local Lululemon store recently asked to make the Dhyana Yoga Seva Center, a studio set up as a charitable foundation with the goal of donating all profits back into our community, the “Studio of the Quarter.” This is another one of these free class scenarios Lululemon promotes, wherein you open your studio up to a weekly, complimentary class for Lululemon shoppers and they write your studio name on the big chalkboard in their store and presumably promote your studio above others during the months that you have this honor. John and I had already talked at length about disassociating from Lululemon, and so we did the only thing that felt right. Regardless of the fact that we would be sacrificing their promotion of the Seva Center, we said no to Lululemon. It really is ok.

Lululemon, by the way, is an athletic company with a clothing store. It’s not even necessarily a “yoga clothing store.” A “Yoga Brand” would very likely appeal more to the sensibilities of a person actually dedicated to Yoga by offering organic cotton tops and bottoms and items that you can wash and dry for years and still look great like Prana and Patagonia do. Lululemon is just an athletic clothing company that focused on the yoga population because there was a need in the market for brightly colored leggings and matching tops with thumb holes in them. My overall feeling is plainly that they should keep to their business in their stores and stay out of Yoga studios and stop trying to subtly advertise in those studios by giving the teachers who stand in front of the rooms free clothing. A lot of those teachers are poor and struggling. They are going to take the free clothes because they are broke and probably need them. They cannot afford to actually shop in Lululemon though, and given a choice even if they could afford to they might choose another brand, like Athleta, Zobha, Hyde, Teeki, Liquido, Be Present, or Hard Tail.

And it’s not just the teachers in the studios that are being influenced. I was surprised at how Lululemon seemed to be running the Philadelphia Wanderlust Festival earlier this year and you guessed it, they offered every teacher on the bill that day a free Lululemon outfit to wear the day of the festival in front of all the attendees. A friend even texted me, “(Lululemon store employee name) from Lulu asked me to teach at Wanderlust,” to which I responded, “Really? The Wanderlust people aren’t making those calls? Is it a Wanderlust event or a Lululemon event?” John and I were not on the advertised roster of teachers, but instead our friend Simon Park, who showed up to headline the event in Be Present pants and a “No Corporate Yoga” tee shirt from what I remember, secretly invited us to “surprise” guest teach the last class of the day with him. I’ve always loved Simon’s renegade spirit.

Did you know that Lululemon also pays for Ambassadors to go on special trips where they all meet up to “Create Awesome”? One “Ambassador No More” gives a well written peek into her experience in a brainstorming session on one of those trips in her recent Huffington Post article. I remember another Ambassador telling me, “Lululemon is flying me to Hawaii!” and me saying, “for what?” and getting the response, “Some festival or something, who cares, it’s Hawaii!” Do people have to pay $98 for a pair of pants in order to cover the expenses from these trips? It almost feels like the “Pay for Play” technique record companies used to employ to get radio stations to play certain bands…before that became illegal.

We closed our letter with the following statement : “Quite simply, what we learned from our time spent as “Ambassadors” is that we don’t wear Lululemon clothing and we don’t represent the Lululemon brand… A clothing store, it’s owner’s antics and politics, and it’s advertising and marketing campaigns have no place in the yoga room. Yoga teachers do. Yoga students do. All that matters when you practice is THAT you practice, not what you wear when you do it.”

John and I know first hand what being criticized publicly feels like and because of that I can tell you with certainty that if you can shoulder it, if you can accept that you made mistakes and not try to blame everyone else, and if you can put your ego aside for a bit, it is really there for your own benefit. If you are willing to let it be a catalyst for change, you will transform into an even higher version of yourself and you will make better choices moving forward. It’s not easy to take, I know, but everyone who puts themselves out there garners a few critics along the way. Criticism is feedback from the universe about what you have done, how that worked out, and how you can do better in the future. I think a lot of brands, and a lot of teachers, can do better. “Be the Change You Wish to See in the World” is not just a slick slogan to print on a bag, Gandhi knew what he was talking about!

Overall, we don’t care what you wear, we are just Yoga teachers striving to make better choices for ourselves, our daughter, and for all the people of all shapes and sizes that get on the mat to heal, not to be made to feel like it’s another place where they just don’t “fit” in.

Me smiling my way into a little tittibasana with my little sweetheart guiding me! She's wearing a romper her Nonna gave her and I'm in my favorite Hyde bottoms and my most comfy old tank, it's threadbare and I love it! Photo by YuJean Park

Me smiling my way into a little tittibasana with my sweetheart guiding me! She’s wearing a romper her Nonna gave her and I’m in my favorite Hyde bottoms and my most comfy old tank, it’s threadbare and I love it! Photo by YuJean Park

 

ALTERED SPACE // Origin Magazine features 10 Philadelphia Yoga Teachers!

This photo is so special because Joe, who has a way of catching special moments on film, took our baby's first picture here! That's Joe himself in the photo under the pink line.

This photo is so special because Joe, who has a way of catching special moments on film, took our baby’s first picture here! That’s Joe himself in the photo under the pink line.

Kudos to the editors of Origin Magazine for recognizing some of the teachers in the Philadelphia yoga community in their latest issue, which you can pick up now at Whole Foods! John and I are so happy to be snuggled in this feature with so many good friends and respected peers, and we are especially grateful to Joe Longo (www.joelongophotography.com) who I suspect orchestrated the entire situation! A lot of the other teachers in the photos you’ll see did their Teacher Certification at Dhyana Yoga and nothing could make us happier than their success in pursuing a career teaching yoga, which is not a path for the faint of heart. My Kundalini teacher, Yogi Bhajan said the students should become 10 times stronger than the teacher, and while I keep up in my own right, I always remember that, and revel in the victories of others.

All 10 of the Philly teachers in the article are unique in their lineages and styles, but I’ll tell you something we all have in common — At a certain point, every person you see there took a risk. There’s a point when, no matter what vocational path you follow, you come to a fork in the road and have to decide, do I go forward or go back? Do I take a risk or take the easy way out? There is a lot of processing, perhaps some uncomfortable but honest conversations, and ultimately a moment when you step forward into your destiny in such a powerful way that it inspires everyone around you to do the same.

The photo Joe chose to submit of John and I is especially dear to me because it is the very first picture of our whole family, including baby Raine, together. It was just hours later that I took a pregnancy test and it was positive, and we were positively overjoyed! That was such an amazingly happy time in our marriage, and boy, what a fork in the road! I feel like yoga was our training for all of the adventures parenting has presented to us.

An interesting sidebar for anyone who has read this far…

In my former life as a young woman working in the music industry in Southern California, I dated a musician for a few years who broke my heart. It turned out he had a “karmic connection” with someone else, of course, and this someone else (NOT a yoga teacher by the way!) is also in the very same issue of Origin Magazine. It just struck me as funny somehow that all these years later she and I end up in the same magazine just for doing what we love to do and are enjoying wonderful lives because of it…. Both of us WITHOUT that musician I might add!

The real victory for me is that I can look at this woman’s picture and truly harbor no lingering resentment for that whole messy situation. I can appreciate her beauty and talent  and not feel like it takes away from my own. I’m so grateful this article came out this month but without this karmic layer it would just be some passing press. Instead it’s been a great reminder to me that we are all, at our origin, intimately connected and infinitely entangled, and even if it’s messy, it’s up to us to wrap those connections in peace and love.

Connected and Entangled

Connected and Entangled

 

 

 

 

Sat Namaste,

Diana

ALTERED SPACE // WHAT WE EAT

People ask John & I all the time, “What do YOU eat?” Basically, we eat healthy, we eat fresh, we eat organic, we eat local, but most importantly, we EAT. We love food. We are Italian after all, so our taste buds are as developed as our unibrows. So it is with a great deal of pleasure that I will occasionally bring you a little Menu. Here is “What We Eat!”

This recipe is one that I could easily eat every week if there weren’t so many other great meals begging to be subbed in. It’s fast, it’s easy, and it’s seriously delicious. Don’t ask me about calories because I don’t know, but I feel safe saying this is a “light” meal. Unless you put sour cream on the side, which I sometimes do, but that’s your call my friend!

Rainbow Chard & Rice

Ingredients: 1 bunch of Rainbow Chard, 1 medium yellow onion, 1/4 cup oil (your choice, I prefer evoo), 1 cup water (OR broth for extra flavor), 2 tablespoons of curry, 2 cups rice (again, your choice, I like basmati), flax oil

Preparation:

1. Start rice. Chop Onion. Separate chard stalks from leaves & chop each pile up.

2. Warm oil in skillet or wok on medium. Put in chopped up onion until soft, about 3 mins.

3. Add just the chopped up chard STALKS w/ half of the water or broth, about 3 mins.

4. Add chard leaves & stir in curry powder, stirring occasionally, about 3 mins.

5. Add rest of water or broth, cover and steam 3-5 mins (to your preference, I like mine really green).

6. Plate, squirt on some flax oil, add any condiments you like (sour cream or even a chutney) and ENJOY!

This will serve 2 hungry people as your main meal or 4 regular people if you also offer a salad or something else. I’m sorry I don’t have a photo but we ate it before I could take a picture! It’s that good 🙂

OM,

Diana

ALTERED SPACE // A POEM FOR KALI

My Old Dog, Kali, and her buddy Raine

My Old Dog, Kali, and her buddy Raine

 

My Old Dog

My old dog is black and the size of a loaf of bread.

She stinks no matter how often or how seldom I bathe her.

My old dog has more gray hair these days.

She has a wrinkled face and doesn’t hear when she’s called (or doesn’t listen).

My old dog has a pot belly. She snores.

She lives up to her name, and she still has a lot of fight left in her.

My old dog makes a mess on the floor and expects someone else to pick it up. She just sits there and looks around like, “that’s not my shit” and waits until it gets bagged up and tossed. She wants to be fed and watered and nurtured and loved in all of her adorable filthiness and dumbness.

My old dog is me. And so on my knees, I clean up after

My

Old

Dog.

 

Achintya Bheda Abheda (simultaneous oneness & differentiation),

Diana

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