Reflections on Broga® Yoga Teacher Training.

This weekend I completed a broga® yoga training and I have many feelings about it. I’m still trying to process the weekend and the information, but here are my initial thoughts…

I originally signed up for it after the owner of one of the studios I work at raved about it. I trusted her instincts that it would be a great fit for our studio and her enthusiasm for the program sold me on it immediately. Leading up to the training we were sent manuals to review and a sequence to memorize and as soon as I began to thumb through the manual I became angry. Like actually had a visceral response of rage. Let me preface this with the fact that I NEVER get angry. I very rarely get fired up about anything, I tend to find the positive in everything and let any negativity roll off my back without even thinking about it. I’m just a naturally happy and optimistic person and assume the best out of everything. But something in this manual got to me. Something reached into my soul and pissed me off. To be totally frank, I was dreading the training because I was afraid I was going to get uncontrollably angry, say how I felt (I have a tendency to do that…), and in turn embarrass and piss off my boss who I really admire and respect. I told myself going into the weekend that I was not going to say anything, but just wait until after it was over to calmly express how I felt and politely decline any offer to teach this format.

Boy was I wrong. Fifteen minutes into the training, Robert Sidoti, the creator of broga® said something that really struck a cord with me. He said something along the lines of even though we aren’t directly addressing the chakras, the nadis, the energy centers, the spirituality, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. YES. That was all I needed to hear. An acknowledgment of the fact that the deeper stuff in yoga is there no matter what. You can teach a physical practice, sans chanting and sanskrit and touchy feely feelings, and still get the “good stuff". It’s still there. It’s happening within you whether you call it savasana, final relaxation, or corpse pose.

The vinaysa flow classes that I teach tend to be quite physical. We breathe, we do address pranayama, I get a little into energy, but I don’t tend to get too deep into the metaphysical. I know and I trust that the process is happening, and when I’m ready to be more vocal about it, I will be. Robert’s statement affirmed every fear I had about my own teaching. Every bit of discomfort or self consciousness that I wasn’t providing this deep spiritual experience. YOU DON’T HAVE TO TALK ABOUT IT FOR IT TO BE HAPPENING. And wow. It was like one of those mind blown moments for me.

The traditional set broga® sequence did pose some physical issues for me. It was a very squared hip class. Nearly every movement is performed in the sagittal plane. Personally I am very open in my hips so it was uncomfortable for me to be squared for so long. Then again, yoga isn’t supposed to be comfortable. Yoga is supposed to challenge you so that you can LEARN to find comfort in the discomfort. So really, this class is great for me. There were several of poses I didn’t like, and a lot of poses left out of the sequence which I love. I recognize that this is a good thing for me. I do think men in particular need to move a little bit more laterally, open their hips, and their hammies a bit more than this sequence offered. The cool thing about Robert was that he was open to that feedback, understanding of it and though he explained it’s purpose of meeting dudes where they are rather where they need to be, he was open to us trainees to alter the sequence in an intelligent and intentional manner. Not many fitness trainings I have been to give you that autonomy as an instructor, so I really appreciate that and thought it was super rad of him to be open to that.

Men are not coming out in droves the way women are (nowadays in the Western world) to the yoga studio. Stereotypically speaking, men don’t want to feel stupid so they tend to stick to what they’re used to. Bis and tris and chest flys at the gym, right? Of course yoga eventually asks us to remove our ego and step into that place of discomfort, but first we have to enter the studio. If broga® achieves this, how can that be wrong?

I find myself relearning lessons about keeping an open mind, about not jumping to conclusions, about trusting that there is good in everything. I was so happily surprised by how much resonated with me during this weekend of training. Whether I end up teaching this broga® sequence or not doesn’t matter. I’m a better yoga instructor for taking the time to step out of my comfort zone, learn something new, and also learn how much yoga really means to me. The fact that I got so fired up and defensive because I thought broga® was shitting on yoga just shows me how important all that other stuff really is to me. Sometimes I put the other limbs of yoga on the back burner because I am so in love with the physical part that I lose focus, attention, and patience for the rest of the process. What a truly great yoga practice or teacher does is show you more about yourself and I really feel as though that mirror was held up to me this past weekend.

If you are interested in trying a broga® yoga class, it is designed for men but open to everyone. In Bloomington, IN we offer twice weekly classes at Bloomington Body Bar. Please visit the broga® yoga website to find classes in your area and more information on the brogram ;) Peace out, brogis!

Ellie Bernstein Yoga

The other day I was asked to categorize the type of yoga teacher that I am. Well, how do you put that into words? This is the best I can do. I’m a pusher. I push people to find their edge because I believe in them and I know their edge is usually a lot further than they think it is. Just like it’s no fun to play it safe on the mat, it’s also no fun to lead a safe and predictable life. Travel, move, follow your dreams and your heart! Kick your feet up over your head! If you don’t risk falling, you’ll never feel what it’s like to fly. I firmly believe you are all a shit ton stronger that you think you are and I also feel a calling to be that yoga teacher to push your buttons. I want to help you have faith in yourself. To know that you can do it. And that you will! Whether it be a headstand or maybe you quit your corporate job to start a cat t-shirt making company. If you want something, go for it. I will help nudge you there, I will give you the tools in your practice to get onto your hands. I’ll support you and be your biggest cheerleader. But YOU have to take the leap of faith. My job is to challenge you, your job is to accept the challenge. Ready?

Ellie’s Top 10 Yoga Class Etiquette Tips

  1. Guys, never tell a woman she has a beautiful/lovely/amazing [insert pose here]. It’s super creepy.
  2. If you’re sweating so hardcore that your sweat actually reaches your neighbor’s mat, please use a towel.
  3. Yes, blocks are your friends but please limit yourself to two unless the instructor tells you otherwise or it’s a restorative class. You don’t need to build a block fort.
  4. Please wear deodorant. Especially in hot yoga. I understand that it has chemicals and whatnot, but for the love of Ganesh, practice at home if you want to marinate in your body odor.
  5. Really try not to, but if you have to leave early or exactly on time, make sure it’s before everyone is settled into savasana, and make the attempt not to jingle your keys, clean your mat, gurgle water, and shuffle out of the studio as loudly as possible. just. wait. til. you’re. out. the. door.
  6. STOP GRUNTING IN NAVASANA. If a pose is so challenging for you that you’re literally making noises, maybe it’s time to check the ego and modify.
  7. Don’t worry. Your pants are see through. Yes you, in the $98 crops. No one actually cares.
  8. That said, blatant underwear is not OK. I’m talking like actual panties (yeah, I said “panties”) or boxers. Not cool.
  9. I’m not against talking before class with your friends. It helps build and foster community, but no one needs to hear about your yeast infection. Keep the volume low for the personal stuff. In fact, I’m gonna go ahead and say you should probably not talk about your genital issues. In public. Ever. You’re welcome.
  10. Sometimes classes get crowded. Move your mat over and don’t be an asshole.

Do-able Tasks.

A friend of mine recently posted a Facebook status about how to better keep your resolutions. In short, she suggested to break one huge task down into smaller, do-able tasks. So simple, but it was like that DUH lightbulb went off in my brain. So often we challenge ourselves with goals, resolutions, intentions—whatever you want to call them—and they are so massive that it becomes overwhelming and we eventually give up. 

When I was first learning to teach yoga I was overwhelmed by remembering an entire hour’s sequence—let alone a 75 or 90 minute class! I was so nervous I would leave something crucial out, mix up right and left, or just completely brain fart out and stand there like a deer in headlights in front of an entire roomful of people. 

My first few classes, I wrote down every single movement. I didn’t want to appear incompetent so I didn’t really look at my notes, but it was just nice to have them there as support or reference if I needed them. I would beat myself up if I left out a transition or mixed up the order I had arbitrarily set for my class, and just be so frustrated that I wasn’t at that place of teaching comfortably yet. I would watch seasoned teachers twirl into a room two minutes before class and ask people what they wanted to work on, and then come up with this brilliant sequence on the spot. I wanted to be at that place as an instructor so badly.

Eventually I learned how to learn. Things started to stick in my brain naturally in “chunks”. I’d remember all the open hip stuff, then the closed hip stuff, then what transitions worked well, what was easy to cue in and out of, and it all started to fall together and make sense. I started to branch out and teach really long and complex sequences, which now, looking back on it, was a little much. Simple is often so much better. 

I made this realization about myself, and maybe you can relate to it too. Oftentimes, as I start to get more comfortable with a process I have a tendency to make it more complicated than it really is because I think I subconsciously like to work in a state of frenetic energy that keeps me on my toes. In other words, I work better under pressure. When I start to become comfortable and there is no pressure, I have to create pressure for myself. This, as I’m realizing, is counterproductive. I begin to concentrate more on fancy transitions and less on what is going on in my student’s bodies. One of my goals in the practice of my teaching in 2015 is to really SEE my students. To stop making the practice that I offer about me. Every class does not need to be the most challenging, complex, and unique vinyasa sequence ever known to man. My goal is to be able to walk into a room, read my students’ energies and teach to that. To learn how to give people what they need rather than what they want or what I think they want. 

So this is a lofty goal and I am once again reminded that I must break it down into a do-able task. My first order of business is to simply ask people how they are feeling. To let go of my idea of what a “good” practice should look like. To notice the looks on people’s faces. To really watch body language. To hear, see, and feel my students. I love teaching yoga and I want my teaching to evolve to where I am not just offering a physical challenge, but rather being open and flexible enough to change my ideas and tailor them to the energy I feel in the room each day.

Hot or Not?

Ok. So I teach hot yoga. I love hot yoga. And by hot yoga I am not referring to Bikram. They do their own thing, have their own claims, I have no idea why they do what they do, but people seem to dig it and that’s great for them. I teach and practice hot power yoga—vinyasa based. Here are a few tidbits I’ve learned over the years and thought I’d share…
  1. pleaaassseeeeee keep your sickness OUT of the studio. hot yoga makes you sweat WATER and SALT. you are not detoxifying yourself, you are just sweating and breathing your nasty sickness onto everyone else.  it’s gross, it’s rude, and it won’t help you. you’re only going to dehydrate yourself and make your sick body have to work that much harder to flush the sickness out of your system. in fact if you are sick, i’m not going to lie. hot yoga studios tend to be germ factories because they are, well, hot and moist. perfect conditions for viruses to thrive, so if you are feeling under the weather stay out of the hot room—for your sake and everybody else’s.
  2. speaking of detoxifying…what IS so detoxifying about yoga is the asana and pranayama (movement and breath) itself. not the dehydration factor. if you do practice a lot of hot yoga make sure you are sufficiently hydrated. not just water—electrolytes too. salt, potassium, etc. 
  3. if you think hot yoga makes you lose weight, i am so sorry to break the news to you. again, you are losing water and salt. there is no fat coming out of your pores. interestingly enough, you exhale it. crazy, huh? if you’re looking to lose fat, tone up, etc. most of that will be accomplished in your kitchen. if you step on the scale after a hot class, the scale is simply reflecting all the water weight you’ve lost. unfortunately you won’t keep that off…it’s only gone until you drink more water. 
  4. yes, the sweating does make your body work a little harder. your system has to work harder to cool itself so that does rev stuff up a bit. for me, i love a hot class once or twice a week, especially in the winter, but find that when i practice in a normal temperature room i can work much harder because my body isn’t fighting against me. hence, i’m more productive with my practice in a non-heated environment. just sayin’.
  5. if you do get overheated in a hot class, get LOW. find child’s pose, or better yet, hero’s pose or just a seated position with your head upright. you can gently apply pressure either to the top of your head or between your brows to help recalibrate your blood pressure. take deep breaths, focusing on the inhale. do not immediately run out of the room, as the temperature difference could kind of shock the system. take two minutes to get low, to breathe, and to let the teacher know. we all have systems in place for helping people who have fainted or are about to pass out, and a head’s up before it happens would be so helpful!
Hot yoga can be an amazing practice. Especially during the winter months, it just feels so damn good to walk into that studio! Please make sure you practice responsibly—for your sake, your fellow practitioners, and for your instructor. Namaste!! <3

Spirituality and Yoga.

I’ve been thinking about spirituality and yoga a lot lately. I was never, ever a spiritual person before I began practicing yoga. It really wasn’t until my teacher training that that aspect of the practice clicked. Thank you Marsha Pappas and Caroline Myss! Anyhow, I’ve been reflecting on my teaching a ton recently, always questioning whether my sequences make sense, whether people seem to be enjoying the practice, am I keeping them safe, and whether or not what I offer is unique and inspiring. I know my students don’t necessarily need to enjoy the class to have had a “successful” practice. (And by successful, I mean showing up—no more, no less). Still, I’m a people pleaser and I like to make people happy. I have a tough time giving people what they need; I find it rather easy to provide them with what they want, which is why I’m so good at kicking their ass with a strong and powerful practice, but always seem to run out of time for that ten minute savasana I aim for. At one of the studios where I teach, we are going to learn a new asana format specifically designed for men. It claims to take all the spirituality, chanting, and sanskrit out of yoga and just focus on the physical aspect, which is really what a lot of men need. Have you SEEN how tight their hamstrings are?! Lord in heaven, I don’t know how they do it! :) I digress. At first, when I learned about this format and heard all of the spirituality would be taken out of it, it was like a knife jabbed through my heart. “But that’s not YOGA! That’s ancient Indian calisthenics!”, a little voice in my head cried. Yoga has 8 limbs, and really in order for it to be yoga, you can’t take the spirituality out of it. That’s WHAT IT IS. Ah yes. But didn’t I start out in a hot power yoga class because I wanted a good workout? Didn’t my yogini-enlightened ass hit the mat day after day for years before I even had any idea that there was more to the practice than just triangle and warrior? Yes, I think I did. I would love to meet the Westerner out there who hit their yoga mat for the very first time because they were interested in opening their mind up to the possibilities of the universe. Seriously. We all start somewhere. Is it not yoga if you show up to your mat with the intention to work on bettering your body, to take care of yourself, alleviating back pain and keep your muscles strong and limber? How is that not “real yoga”? The more I thought about it the more I realized I am a great asana teacher. I know the poses backward and forward. I know the body. I know alignment. I can see people’s physical issues immediately without having to ask them what hurts. I can see why they fall out of a pose, what they need to strengthen, and how to make the physical practice work for them. I grew up as a ballet dancer so my attention to physical detail is incredibly meticulous. Although my personal practice has really blossomed into encompassing spirituality and the deeper roots and branches of yoga, I’m not as adept at sharing that. I’ve only begun to explore that myself so I don’t feel as comfortable sharing it with others. In fact, whenever I try to give a real dharma talk, I feel like a hack. My skill set as a yoga instructor is physical. As yoga instructors we also need to stop being so harsh and judgmental. Asana is yoga. Just because a person begins their practice of yoga in the physical branch does not mean they are not practicing yoga. Asana is like the Westerner’s gateway drug to all 8 limbs. I am beyond grateful and honored to aid in that bridge between simple physical practice and a complete yogic experience.

new year's intentions.

this afternoon in a yoga class i was practicing in, the instructor talked about moving into the new year with intention. rather than trying to fix a perceived flaw, what do we want to invite in? (you’re so wise, instead of dwelling on the negative, picking ourselves apart, and ultimately being angry, frustrated and defeated why don’t we shift our thinking and ask ourselves, what positive things do i want to add into my daily life? an intention is not a resolution. an intention invites you to try. it invites you to show up where you are, to fuck up, to be ok with fucking up, and to try again. a resolution is force. anytime we force our bodies or minds into something, it never works out the way we want it to, does’t it? what are your intentions this new year? what would you like to welcome into your life? i always have great ideas in january and then sometime in february completely forget, so i am going to write mine down this year and share them with you all. 

  1. i’d like to read more. specifically, i’d like to learn more about the subtle human energetic system as well as the religious texts of yoga beyond the sutras and bhagavad gita.
  2. i would like to be less rigid with my schedule. i’m a big schedule person. i’m early for everything, never miss an appointment and get all bent out of shape when shit happens and plans need to change. as such, i’d like to work on being more flexible.
  3. i would like to cook more and expand my culinary range from protein oatmeal and chili. perhaps i will even purchase more than one pot in order to get this ball rolling. 
  4. i hope to connect more with old friends this year. 

so that’s my hope for 2015. if you see me with a tupperware container of roasted root vegetables in one hand and the upanishads in the other, please give me a high five. share your intentions with the world and get them out there! be proud of your daily efforts and don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect. no one is perfect. perfect doesn’t exist and if it did, it would be incredibly boring. be the best YOU in the new year! namaste!

the evolution of my teaching through music.

When I first started teaching yoga I used a prescribed class format that I learned in my teacher training, music that every other teacher played, and the same fluffy language I had heard for years. My first 50, maybe 100 classes or so went something like this: Play lots of the XX while running through 5 sun a’s, 5 sun b’s, core work, two standing series, some backbends, wind-down stretches, and savasana, all the while telling everyone to swan dive forward and shine their heart to the sky. Vomit. Eventually I got tired of offering the same regurgitated shit and kind of just went rogue experimenting with non-traditional sequencing and playing music that made my soul smile. What a turning point for me in my teaching. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t but by doing so I’ve learned a lot about who I am as an instructor. I think it’s really crucial for all instructors to go through this phase and just try new things, see what clicks, and what makes them happy. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about music a lot lately. I was very lucky to grow up in a house with parents who FUCKING LOVED music. Something was always playing—whether it was Chaka Khan, the Rolling Stones, or Beethoven there was always, always, always music on. I have such a deep rooted love and appreciation for music and it didn’t really dawn on me until I was much older that most people did not grow up like this.  Music, unlike any other medium, has the ability to take you right back to a specific moment in your life. It triggers emotions and conjures up feelings like nothing else I’ve experienced. As an instructor I recognize this great power that the soundtrack to our practice possesses. The interesting thing is that the same song can mean such different things to different people so you never really know what emotion you’re triggering and you have to be ready for anything. I’ve had people both crack up and bust out crying in my classes. Music is so, so powerful and we can choose to ignore that by playing earthy, chanty, or electronic songs throughout the practice, or of course silence. Little else bothers me more than a silent yoga class. I get it. I get the point of it. I get why we listen to our breath. I KNOW. I still don’t like it and it’s OK to be honest with your feelings. I do practice in silence sometimes because I am aware of the benefits and the fact that I probably need to face my thoughts down on my mat occasionally, but it doesn’t make me an immature or bad yogi because I still don’t fucking like it.  Mostly I just get so much joy out of flowing to my jams. Every practice doesn’t have to be a chore and a mental challenge to work through. Sometimes you can make it FUN and play music you like! Say what?! Why do we feel the need to be so frriiiggggiiinnnggg serious all the time? Sometimes I just wanna flow to Whitney and not think about my problems. It’s a proven fact that you cannot be sad, angry, or stressed out when you are chaturanga-ing to How Will I Know. It’s just yoga science. Every now and then I teach a serious class—when it feels right or appropriate, but most of the time I just want people to have fun. There is so much seriousness in life that I want to provide them with a 60 or 75 minute reprieve of happiness. My hope is that people leave my class with a smile on their face and feeling just a little cheerier than when they stepped in. I purposefully choose each and every song and pick my language in a way that is both powerful enough to provide a challenge, yet still lighthearted to remind people that it’s just yoga. Embrace the challenge, find the moments of joy, and surrender when you need to. Yoga teaches us to find our true selves and to meet that self with acceptance. What greater way to accept myself than to be true to who I am, what I love, and share it with my classes? This is my yoga. Teaching what is real in my heart has brought me so much happiness and fulfillment. I’m still finding my way as an instructor but knowing that music is what makes my soul come alive, I promise there will always be a badass playlist in my classes! What is it about the practice of yoga that makes you the happiest? What actually turns your frown upside down? :) What excites you? As a yoga instructor, constantly ask yourself these questions to help refine your teaching, and as a practitioner do the same! Try new styles, new teachers, new studios. Soak up all of the goodness! Namaste and rock on yogis!