Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Lineage Project Teacher Training

I recently completed a four-day training in the Lineage Project‘s model for teaching awareness practices to teens living in at-risk environments. The Lineage Project’s work takes them to juvenile detention centers, group homes, alternative to incarceration facilities and suspension schools. Lineage works both “inside” and “outside,” teaching life skills that can make the difference between a kid becoming part of the juvenile justice system or not.

At-risk environments are legion in New York City, where the statistics about incarceration are still shocking (even if in our racialized society such figures have become common knowledge). It is incredible to hear these statistics: 60% of juveniles in detention are African-American, 35% are Latino. That means everyone else makes up 5%. These figures indicate the massive disproportion of people of color in the criminal justice system. Additionally, of this population, 60% are in foster care and 85% of the females have been physically, sexually, or emotionally abused (or all three). Beth Navon, the Executive Director of the Lineage Project, thinks the real percentage of abuse might be even higher. While the majority in detention are male, females make up 30% of the population and this percentage is skyrocketing every year, as more and more young girls turn to violence or criminality in the face of poverty, drug and alcohol dependence, abuse, racism, sexism, and lack of education that pervades the neighborhoods they live in.

More shocking statistics from the training: did you know that the minimum age at which you can be arrested and detained in New York City is 7 years old? Hearing that almost makes no sense, yet it is true and 3% of kids in the juvenile justice system are under 10 years of age. Teens make up the vast majority, with the largest cohort being 15 years  old (55%) because at age 16, you can be detained with the adult prison population on Riker’s Island.

The majority of 14 and 15 year olds in detention read at a 3rd grade level. In 2009, the Federal Department of Justice brought a suit against NY State finding the the juvenile justice system violated the human and civil rights of teens in detention because it denied them access to educational services, which are required by law. Additional lawsuits have been brought against the detention centers, on the grounds of civil rights violations due to physical and mental abuse.

In this atmosphere of oppression and hopelessness, the Lineage Project teaches youth awareness practices so they might have a better chance at making it out of this morass of criminal and legal problems, broken homes, substance abuse, poverty, and so on. Can yoga really make a difference here? Lineage thinks so.

Over this teacher training, we explored how awareness-based practices can really be anything: yoga, martial arts, dance, art, whatever, so long as the activity is done with a focus on creating awareness around themes selected by Lineage Project teachers. Common themes include focus, gratitude, and choice. We built on these themes using various movement and healing arts, including West African dance, Qi Gong, yoga, and meditation.

The premise of the Lineage Project is that even one meaningful interaction with a competent adult could have a protective, beneficial effect on a child from these at-risk environments. Multiple interactions could have even more benefit, as children learn life skills such as patience, focus, reduced impulsivity and increased self-awareness through the practices.

During the practice teaching segments, where we got into character and acted like teens, I had flashbacks to my one year teaching middle school social studies in Brooklyn. This experience was rather traumatic, actually. A fight broke out in my classroom with one student going after another with a desk, attempting to hit him over the head with said desk. As the chaos escalated, I restrained the violent student, and was suspended from my teaching position, later found “guilty” of corporal punishment and fired from my job. The middle school where I taught has since been turned into a charter school, and from the looks of the photos, has had a major rebirth with classrooms with working lights, students in uniforms, and windows that actually work instead of being stuck closed (in summer) or open (in winter).

The Lineage Project’s model encourages teachers to be creative to find ways to teach mindfullness. Breathing, meditation, and body awareness are introduced to the young people in ways that might not “look” like yoga or meditation, but which teach the exact same thing: to turn the attention inward.

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What’s Your Motivation?

In this video, the Rinpoche asks “what is your motivation” and asserts that without a clear motivation for your meditation, you’re just wasting time. That’s a strong statement and one which immediately hit the spiderweb of my consciousness…a small tremble that spread across the fabric of my mind.

I usually sit for the calm, the quiet, and to practice being with what is. I close my sessions with a small invocation: every time I work at this level, I become more available for health, healing, and transformation. I also sit to observe my thoughts, to know myself better, to strip away the dross and get to the heart of what is. I want to be challenged by my desires, my resistances. I want to break through and have great awakening.

But I had not considered starting my sessions with exploring or examining my motivation, or letting motivation be a guiding thread throughout a day. This is a concept which I find very interesting, and surely beneficial. I will try it.

What do you think? Do you have a motivation for your meditation sessions? Is this like “setting an intention” for a yoga practice? How does this video make you feel? Did it result in any new insights for you?

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Go Deeper With Yin Yoga: A Workshop

I will be leading a Yin Yoga workshop on Thursday, June 7 at Reflections Yoga in New York City.

This two-hour workshop will be a general introduction to the theories behind Yin Yoga, including a basic overview of Traditional Chinese Medicine meridian theory and the corresponding organs, learning about fascia, the connective tissue that literally binds the body together, and how to track emotional and physical sensations that arise over the course of the long-held Yin Yoga poses.

For more information and to register, please view the Reflections website. If you have any questions about the workshop or the practice, please contact me via my “Contact” page.

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Making A Living As A Yoga Teacher

If you pay attention, you’ll find that the Universe is always sending messages. It’s up to you to take heed and try to parse the symbolic language said Universe is speaking to you in. This week, the symbols have been in the form of blog posts about a particular subject: making a living as a yoga teacher. Just as my own mental rumination on the topic has reached fever pitch, no less than three blog posts in the same day on the same topic came across my radar.

I have been teaching professionally for nearly 2 years. Not a long time in the world of professional yoga teachers. Oh, let me qualify that statement. I teach professionally but I also have a full-time job. I have not become “well known enough” or spread into the yoga world enough to pay my rent. I haven’t even tried yet. Frankly, I’m not ready. I am planning so that soon I will be ready, but I digress.

So I’ve been teaching for nearly 2 years. In fact, the 2 year anniversary of my first class may be any day  now. In the last two years, I have learned so much. I have applied myself rather fiercely, if I may say so . I am always in workshops and teacher trainings. I read books about yoga, meditation, chakras, anatomy, nutrition, and yoga philosophy daily, almost to the exclusion of any other material. I plan my classes and am always looking for ways to add more value to what I offer. I live my life with the teachings of yoga as my spiritual touchstone.

I love (adore) yoga and consider my personal practice the reason why I am no longer depressed, why I feel better now than I did when I was 10, 15, or even 20 years younger, and why I feel I have finally found my purpose in life (to help people awaken to their divine nature, to awaken life force energy, to heal and transform). I am completely committed to my personal practice and my teaching.

I recently figured out a solution to a conundrum common to yoga teachers: how to maintain a person practice when you are teaching professionally? By some stroke of luck (actually, it was a teacher training I had to get up at 6am to get to on time), I have re-set my inner alarm and now wake at 6am for an hour of yoga and meditation before  I get in the shower. I have solved the personal practice dilemma to a degree, and am enjoying watching this new morning routine unfold (before, I only meditated in the morning, and some weeks would go by where the only yoga I was doing were the few poses I was demonstrating in class) .

I am confident in my skill as a teacher. I feel I have something to teach. I have been practicing for 12 or 15 years (on and off for many years, consistently for about five) and am confident in my “body intelligence,” that is, my ability to feel what’s happening in my body and mind, and translate those experiences into teachable moments.

So back to the subject at hand. This past week I have been a little blue wondering if I will ever actualize my dream of devoting my life to yoga as a teacher. There are several problems with this statement. The first one is that a) I live and work in NYC, one of the most expensive cities in the world and b) I could still devote my life to yoga, even if I can’t make a living as a yoga teacher. So there. But I want my life to be about yoga, health, wellness and healing full-time. I want my life work to be healing and transformation, as Ana Forrest says, “the hoop of the people.” You may think this is pie-in-the-sky yoga teacher talk, but the reality of it is, for every one human being becoming a kinder, gentler, more aware person, the world benefits. We all benefit. If I can help more people along that path, I contribute to healing on a world-wide, humankind level.

So I have been asking myself this week, “if this is all it will ever be, will I still do it?” If all teaching yoga will ever be is just another “hobby” or “part-time job” where I must keep a regular job to make ends meet, where the pursuit of this will put more on my plate, perpetuating this hyper-scheduled, always busy, almost no free time life into the unforeseeable future, where I will never have more than ten students in a class, where the paychecks barely cover the trainings I re-invest in…would I still do it? I begrudgingly answer “yes” because while my heart has no doubt about which answer is correct for me, my brain wonders if I can sustain this kind of lifestyle.

So as I have been humbling myself pondering this question, three blog posts in one week appear on the very same subject. If one were to take the collective temperature of yoga teachers from just these three posts, the thermometer would definitely indicate a fever has taken hold, complete with frustration, discomfort, irritation, and intense desire for relief.

Omily Yoga’s post is probably the most clear-eyed. She breaks down the economic reality of teaching in NYC, and the picture is not very pretty. Omily Yoga’s story is much like mine: an experienced and committed teacher questioning her ability to stay in the game due to the very nature of the game. She calls it the “yoga bubble.”

It’s All Yoga, Baby, a blog that is known for it’s no-nonsense attitude (no pixie dust and “yoga bleaching” here, this is a down-to-earth blog) posted on the class divide in the yoga teaching world.Then Good Magazine follows with “Making It As a Yoga Teacher: Not as Zen As You Think.”

Yoga teachers sometimes joke amongst themselves about the cosmic “yoga teacher memo.” We often seem to be working on the same concepts at the same time, in studios across the city, even if we don’t know one another! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been working out a theme, concept, philosophical nugget, or something else from the very rich world of yoga inspiration to find that every class I attend or every teacher I talk to is also on the same theme that week!

So following that maxim, I wouldn’t be surprised if teachers all over are wondering and worried about how sustainable this profession really is. One thing’s for sure, seeing these posts has validated my own ruminations (the cosmic yoga teacher memo in effect); these issues are not going away and will probably only grow in magnitude. Perhaps one of the problems is the sheer number of teachers milled by teacher training programs these days. And I’m one of them. Oh, ironic joy.

As I have no solution, and am trying to figure out my own transition to right livelihood, I can only follow one of the most basic tenets of yoga: breath and observe, be with what is, abide in the truth that this too will change.

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