Originally written for Yoga Parkside's blog 9/21/20
The first time I stepped onto a yoga mat I felt a powerful sense that I had finally arrived where I needed to be. I had no idea how much this practice would shape the next ten years of my life or the direction the world would take to bring us to where we are today. When I took my first yoga class I was twenty years old and a typical product of our social conditioning. I was burned out, self-medicating with alcohol, in a long-term relationship that felt empty, and in the throes of an eating disorder that lasted for many years later. In a society that gears us to be self-destructive rather than self-aware, yoga is a radical invitation to consciously live.
The Yoga Sutras are a set of ethical principles behind yoga philosophy. Ahimsa is one of the five yamas, the first limb of the yoga sutras, and means nonviolence, not just towards yourself, but towards others. Yoga has taught me how to practice Ahimsa by working not only with my physical body as seen or imagined from the outside, but the body that we can feel from within, when we breathe and move. Yoga is the practice of coming into embodiment through movement, breath and attention.
Shortly after I first started practicing yoga I realized that where I needed to be was advocating for myself mentally, physically and spiritually. Like most things, my practice has fluctuated over the years, but every time I step onto my yoga mat I make the radical decision to advocate for myself. While it’s an ongoing journey, I had to learn how to advocate for myself before I could advocate for others as yoga teacher, doula and white, cisgender, able-bodied woman.
For a long time, and for many various reasons, I didn’t occupy my body, nor did I know how to. Yoga has taught me how to practice Ahimsa with myself, but as a system I do not think that Western yoga has embodied Ahimsa.
For too long our society has associated yoga with white, able-bodied, females. For years I taught yoga strictly to these demographics, maintaining the patterns of white supremacy and colonialism. When I became acquainted with the idea of decolonizing yoga I started to shift the way I thought of myself as a teacher and the privilege that is held in this role. Just like all things ebb and flow, I knew that it was time for me to take a break from teaching yoga in order to evaluate what I stand for.
Now when I step onto my mat I ask myself what I stand for. I know that I am capable of practicing Ahimsa towards myself, but do I practice it towards others? As a yoga teacher, am I advocating for others? What about as a white woman?
This is an ongoing journey, learning to hold the dichotomy of a practice that is healing to some like myself and at the same time may be causing pain to others. May the radical potential of yoga be something we all consider, especially now.
Originally posted on Yoga Parkside's blog on 9/7/20
2020 has given us a lot of negativity intertwined with beautiful glimmers of hope. While there have been many unforeseeable challenges, sparks of resilience and creativity are happening all around us. We’re all doing our best to work through several different emotions and experiences. Each of us is navigating this journey in our own personal way, adapting to new digital and social ways of being.
Most of us have adapted to a new routine, whether it’s working from home, socializing with others, homeschooling, etc. While a regular routine is important, it is often done out of habit (like brushing your teeth) and can feel mundane. Our daily routines can be transformed by the power of rituals, or meaningful habits that connect us to the present moment. In his book Peace Is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us how simple tasks like washing the dishes or eating an orange can be a ritual. “Each thought, each action in the sunlight of awareness becomes sacred. In this light, no boundary exists between the sacred and the profane.”
Here are 4 practices to turn your daily routine into a sacred ritual.
A morning ritual is a great way to ground yourself and awaken your mind to the day ahead. It can be simple and it doesn’t have to be a big activity. Most importantly, it should energize you.
Here are some simple ideas for a morning ritual:
Set aside time for at least one ritual before logging onto your computer or checking your phone
Create a comfortable space
Designate a small area, separate from the rest of your home, as a sacred space. This doesn’t have to be a large space. It can also be outside. Keep it simple and create an altar using pictures or other meaningful objects (crystals, figurines), plants, candles, etc. to designate the space. Choose objects that energize and inspire you to get into your morning ritual or connect with yourself throughout the day.
Declutter your space! Whether it’s an entire room, a closet, or your desk drawer, start small and commit. The Buy Nothing Project is a great way to give away things you no longer need to your local neighbors. Find your local group here.
Make time for creativity
Despite the challenges of the last few months, we have been given an opportunity to reimagine our personal and professional lives. Set aside some time for the project you’ve been thinking about doing, or the hobby you’ve wanted to pick up. Disconnect from your devices and find an activity that centers you and cultivates a sense of ease and playfulness.
Click here to register for the series.
Originally posted on Yoga Parkside's blog on July 29, 2020
Yoga Parkside teacher and doula Theresa Church explains the benefits of prenatal yoga, even if you’re new to yoga.
Now, more than ever, fitness and wellness services are essential to well-being. The Covid-19 pandemic is changing the way we interact with others and undoubtedly transforming the fitness industry. Whether in a studio or through a computer screen, yoga is changing to meet contemporary needs. The practice itself is timeless, however, and whether you’re expecting a baby or simply want to add connection and balance to your daily life yoga is a powerful tool. One of the best aspects of virtual yoga is that it can be safely modified from the comfort of your home. You do not need to have prior experience to start taking virtual classes at Yoga Parkside. Whether you’re a doula looking to provide information on prenatal yoga to your clients or wanting to get started yourself, here are some benefits to consider.
If you’re looking for a healthy way to kick your self-care routine up a notch, there’s really no better option than yoga. Carving out time to slow down and become more aware of your physical and emotional well-being can help you feel more grounded and present. If you are pregnant yoga is a great way to feel more relaxed and prepared for birth. Prenatal yoga emphasizes meditation, breathing, asana and stretching to prepare your body for labor. You will leave class feeling a greater sense of confidence and renewal. Following class have a cup of tea or draw yourself a warm bath to finish your self-care routine!
Isolation during the pandemic can quickly weigh on you. Virtual yoga provides a safe place to connect with others in similar situations, creating a sense of community. In a prenatal class for instance, it is often the case that someone else is experiencing the same excitement, fear, anxiety and/or physical changes or they can relate from previous pregnancies. Prenatal yoga classes offer an open forum for discussion and referrals which can lead to friendships both in and outside of class. Taking the time to connect with others and create a base of support can enhance your confidence, community, and your health!
Yoga helps circulate blood flow from your heart to the rest of your body through physical movement. By the end of class, your blood circulates back to the heart so that by the time you’re enjoying Savasana, you’re left feeling at ease. There is no better reason to take a yoga class than to recharge and relax. Pregnancy in particular is a time of change that can be better navigated with a peaceful mind, body and soul. Even if it’s just for an hour or so each week, give yourself permission to escape the never ending “to-do” list and either take a class from the comfort of home. Make it a point to be fully present on your mat by focusing on your breath.
Interested in prenatal yoga classes at Yoga Parkside? Visit https://www.yogaparkside.org/schedule/prenatal/ for more information.
Theresa teaches prenatal yoga every Thursday from 6:15-7:30pm. To register for class visit https://www.yogaparkside.org/schedule/prenatal/
T-minus 5 days until we leave Colorado. The apartment is almost empty, our things have been either sold or shipped, the car is being packed and most of our loose ends have been tied up. After being in Boulder, CO for two years, I am ready to find somewhere else to call home. For me, this has been an imperative period of growth and transition in my life. As expected, attending Naropa University was transformative, but so was teaching yoga, and for reasons I did not anticipate.
Yoga plays such an important role in my life and it took me teaching in this community to figure out exactly why. I moved here without any intention to teach yoga, especially after hearing that the industry was extremely competitive. After only 4 months, however, I weaseled my way into two well known studios. I like to refer to this point in time as the beginning of the end.
I fell madly, deeply, in love with teaching yoga, more than I ever have before. If you don't know me, I cherish simplicity, am grounded and authentic to the point of fault. It is these qualities that make me a great yoga teacher and exactly why I have flourished in this industry. As with all things, however, there is a shadow side to teaching yoga and it is directly related to ego.
My relationship with yoga began almost a decade ago with the purest of intentions. I was living in my hometown in Upstate New York and really feeling the emptiness that is so often a result of our social conditioning. I was in my early twenties and deeply unfulfilled by my path in life. During one particularly unfulfilling run at the local YMCA I stumbled upon an article in Seventeen on the benefits of yoga and meditation. I wish I saved that article because looking back I believe it changed the course of things. Soon after I attended my first yoga class and it's still hard for me to describe this experience, but I was definitely hooked. I bring this up because the thing I remember the least about this experience was the physicality of the class. I do, however, remember sitting on the edge of my seat listening to the teacher's dharma talk. I remember her presence, which felt supportive and safe, my first attempt to meditate and of course, my very first Savasana, which was pure bliss.
I mourn the loss of these experiences by new and seasoned yogis alike in today's classes. As a yoga teacher in this community I was picked up and swept away by the physicality of yoga, a.k.a. ego. From an outsider's perspective I was excelling as a teacher. Within one year I was teaching regularly at four studios, subbing at three more and managing one. My classes were fast paced, hot and well received. They resembled little of the practice I fell in love with. Looking back, I felt like I was on top of the world and something tells me I am not the only teacher that has felt this way before.
Right around the time I signed up for my 300 hour advanced yoga teacher training, I realized that I was burnt out. Not only was I burnt out with my schedule, but I was burnt out with the practice. In a community that values nothing more than how hot or hard their yoga class is, I had lost my zest for yoga for the first time ever. Fast forward to now, I stopped teaching at the end of May and took a break from attending studio classes, which I was doing almost every day. I have allowed myself to slow down and reignite my home practice, along with tapping into other ways to move my body.
The thing that struck me the most in all of this was how easy it was for me to leave all of these studios. While I did not set out to teach at so many studios, it was almost like an addiction, where one thing is never enough. I think this is where I really got lost, not planting my roots in one particular place. At the same time, this is not particularly encouraged in this community due to an over-saturation of yoga teachers.
I realize that Boulder is not the only community like this and that yoga and our egos have become inseparable on a larger scale. As I said, I love this practice deeply and these experiences have served to show me exactly the teacher I do NOT want to be. This is great news, especially at a time when so many practitioners are questioning what the practice has become and what it will look like in the future.
All of this to say, I look forward to seeing where this next journey, this next chapter takes me. I have learned so many things about myself, but nothing more than what it really takes to be a yoga teacher. It takes finding your truth and being brave enough to stand up for it, even if that goes against the norm.
See you on the East Coast!
Have you ever sold all of your material possessions, except for what you can fit in the back of your car, and driven across the country? This summer I will be taking my third road trip across the United States and it will be my second time purging everything in three years. I'll stop right here and warn you, it can be addicting, but it's so worth the adventure.
When I first landed in Boulder in August 2017, I had no idea I would be moving again in just two short years. Part wanderlust, part disinterest in the Boulder community, my partner, our dog Zoey, and I are less than a month away from our next big road trip. When asked about this decision I am mostly met with confusion, as if we all share the same affinity for this pompous, overcrowded town. Like everyone else here, we are transplants from Upstate New York, with a lot of time spent in one of the realest cities I've ever known, Buffalo, New York. It didn't take long to see and experience "The Boulder Bubble," but unbeknownst to me at first, I became involved in bubbles within this bubble.
Are you still following?
The first bubble I steeped myself in was the yoga community. Yoga in Boulder requires a blog all to itself and quite frankly, I'm still a bit too exhausted to touch on that just yet. I know what you're thinking, typical white, female, yoga teacher, but believe me, this town made me resent just how much this practice has been appropriated. The other bubble, Naropa University, is where I just graduated from with a M.A. in Resilient Leadership. I'm still waiting for my actual diploma to arrive in the mail, so this seems a little too fresh to touch upon just yet. Naropa is a private, liberal arts university associated with Buddhism and contemplative education. Of course it drew me in, and my program is actually quite brilliant, however, it's unconventional and draws students that aren't always in touch with reality. Boulder is a quirky mix of white privilege and wannabe hippies. It lacks diversity on all fronts and quite frankly, has left me disillusioned. I'll also add, it's no place for a broke millennial to try and make a life for herself.
While the 300 days of sunshine have felt great on my Vitamin D deprived, NY skin, it's time to move on. This summer we will spend 2 months traveling South and then back up the East Coast to scope out a new home in New England. This trip will be shorter than our epic 8,000 mile road trip last summer, but there are plenty of new sites for us to explore.
I've learned that each trip is special and memorable in their own ways, filled with both wonderful memories and less desirable memories, like our car not taking gas or experiencing the most terrifying storm of my life while in a tent. Most importantly, these trips have taught how to savor this one short, sweet life of mine. They've taught me how to be present and find appreciation in this Earth that we have so easily taken for granted. On July 1st we will officially leave our apartment for a short stay in Rocky Mountain National Park before exiting the state. Stay tuned for updates and insights on what's sure to be another great road trip!
I recently saw an Instagram post that said "STOP THE PRODUCTIVITY GUILT" written across a stovetop espresso maker. This couldn't have come at a better time for me. The idea of giving up everything to live in an RV is directly correlated to what I am terming as "21st Century Burnout." In some way we all know what this means. As a society we are constantly overloaded with information and sensation. We are overburdened with expectations to survive in a world focused on consumerism and capitalism. The result is that we are separated from the earth, separated from each other and most importantly, separated from ourselves. We are burnt out. I am burnt out. After years of constantly wanting to do more, wanting to be more I am feeling this burnout more than ever.
It has left me with a deep desire for simplicity. In a world dominated by technology this might seem like a bit of an anomaly. Quite the contrary, however, I would argue that it is on the verge of becoming an epidemic. Why else would our careers, our socioeconomic statuses, money and our day to day lives leave us feeling empty and unfulfilled? Well, the answer is simple. It's because we are. We are unfulfilled on a much, much deeper level.
I know this because the more I try to keep up with "business as usual" the worse I feel mentally, physically and spiritually. Little by little I have experienced "busy-ness" as a sickness that drives me away from the present moment on a personal and a social level. If we are just busy enough we can avoid our failing relationships, our failing health, our bad habits, you name it. It also makes it easier to dismiss what's going on around us-climate change, global warming, political upheaval-because if we just keep carrying on it will all go away. I firmly believe we are at a revolutionary crossroads where that is not the case.
We get to choose how we want to live at this crossroads. For me, I choose to live with intention. I choose not to wake up every day feeling tired and utterly drained from the world around me. I choose to live in a way that is nourishing, free and rooted in simplicity.
Recently, someone asked me to tell them who I was. I did what most people would do and gave this person a list: I'm a yoga teacher, a graduate student, a studio manager, a personal assistant...blah, blah, blah. It's a seemingly simple question that most of us have no idea how to truly answer. In Western society we have been conditioned to define ourselves by the work we do. I have never been able to accept this, although it has taken me some time to understand my inability to conform. I certainly tried with all of the different career paths and jobs I worked hard to get only to turn around and quit them all. All of these experiences, however, have led me exactly up to this point where I am on the verge of another nonconforming adventure. So who am I really?
Most 30-something-year-olds are planning for their futures-a house, a family, a career-and there are certainly some aspects of all of those things that I want too. Almost two years ago though I made a life changing decision that sparked a sense of adventure that has only grown. Luckily, before all of this I made another life changing decision that led me to meet my partner, and the love of my life, who also shares this craving for adventure. In August 2017 we packed our SUV to the brim and left New York for Colorado. Our lives were comfortable, safe and ordinary to say the least. Everything we owned was either sold, donated or tossed in the garbage and we only took what we needed with us. This was by far one of the most freeing experiences of my life.
After about a month on the road we landed in Boulder, CO, which we hardly knew anything about at the time. I started graduate school at Naropa University, a contemplative school started by Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa. I also became extremely immersed in the yoga community here where I teach at numerous studios and also manage one. It didn't take long after being here, however, that I realized we settled into a place that felt more like a bubble than it did a community. Our first year here was a little rocky, but we made it work and even adopted a puppy into our family that summer. Much to our surprise Summer 2018 presented us with another opportunity to travel, this time with our blue heeler pup Zoey. Once again we packed up the same SUV and drove back to New York. From New York we drove to Portland, OR with many stops along the way and then traveled the Coastal Highway in California. We took this to San Francisco and then eventually drove back to Boulder after spending another month in the car and traveling over 8,000 miles. After that the Boulder bubble felt nothing short of claustrophobic.
So here we are January 2019 and planning for our next trip this summer, which includes an RV, selling everything once again and leaving Boulder. I graduate in May and will spend a couple months after that working to save money and get clear on our intentions for this trip, I've learned a lot of things about myself over the past couple of years, especially about what's actually important to me. After spending numerous evenings last summer curled up next to my partner and our dog in the back of our car I realized those were the moments I felt most alive. I have learned to embrace my desires for travel and adventure, rather than forcing myself to live a life that society deems "normal."
I realize that on the surface living in Boulder and teaching yoga might sound like a dream come true. Why would I want to give that up? On the other hand, why would I want to settle?
So often as a doula we are helping others find and maintain their sense of center. A huge aspect of being an effective doula is teaching others to mindfully respond to all of the stages of pregnancy. From before birth, to the delivery room, to the hours and days following baby’s arrival, being able to come back to center, something I would describe as an internal compass, makes a world of difference for our clients.
As a doula it’s important to check in with this internal compass. Before we can coach someone else on finding their center we need to make sure we are working to cultivate our own. We all have this internal compass; however, like anything it takes time, practice and nourishment. It also takes truly understanding the concept of centering.
This idea of centering has become common language in the birth world, as well as other modalities, including yoga and meditation. As an avid practitioner of both I hear this idea all the time, often followed with little explanation, and the assumption that we understand what it means. As I mentioned, my personal translation of your center is comparative to an internal compass and placing intuitive trust in the body and mind.
Of course, this is an intangible place that some find synonymous to the core and a deep sense of self. To find this you can start by checking in and asking yourself a few questions. What do you need right now? Are you aware of your innate goodness? What do you need to feel nourished and cared for? It is also commonplace for me to relate my sense of self to my center. As it goes, getting clear on a sense of self creates a deeper connection to your center. I also like to think of the center similarly to how I think about my home, which elicits feelings of comfort, safety and intimacy. For me, my home is my sanctuary, something I pine for after being away for too long. Similar to coming home after a long day, you can come home to your center any time and in any situation.
When we think about this in terms of birth, the importance of guiding clients to their center becomes obvious. Birth can pull you in so many directions and centering helps to refresh and refocus whenever you need to. There are so many ways you can teach clients to find center. Some techniques include mantra, breath work, meditation or visualization. They can also be simple, as simple as closing the eyes and remembering to breathe. Or maybe you have established a mantra to use during birth. Or maybe everything you talked about previously has gone out the window. The idea is to subtly bring a sense of control in situations where control has been lost. After a particularly tough contraction, for example, try placing your hands on the client’s shoulders and gently remind them to breathe, rest and restore. Time and time again remind them to return to center, or whatever sense of home they have cultivated, so that they can continue forward.
In order for you to help someone find their center, you have to establish this within yourself first. This can be especially difficult for a doula who so often takes on the role as caretaker, sometimes for prolonged periods of time. This time can be wonderful, but it can also be trying, for both the client and the doula. In order to sustain yourself the ability to quickly drop into your center-to find renewal, restoration or whatever it is you need in the moment-is invaluable.
Hopefully by now I have brought some understanding to what it means to find your center and why it’s important. Ultimately, how you cultivate this is very personal. If you’re feeling off balance or like this is a difficult task here are a couple techniques I use:
Of course these are just a couple techniques, but there are so many others out there that you can make your own. You can also try these techniques with clients, but I suggest trying them on first. Make it personal and find resources that truly resonate with you in order to be your best self not only as a doula, but also as a human being.
Original blog posted on Doula Trainings International
No matter what trimester you are in consider adding prenatal yoga to your list of things to do. It is important to stay physically active during pregnancy and yoga is an ideal physical activity that is often recommended by health care providers. Prenatal yoga is safely modified for personal comfort and safety of mother and baby. Best of all, you do not need to have prior experience to start taking classes at home or in a studio no matter trimester you're in. Here are a few really good reasons to take prenatal yoga:
Being pregnant is the perfect excuse to kick your self-care routine up a notch. These 9 months are an especially important time to nurture and take really good care of yourself as your body prepares to bring baby into the world. This is not a time to overload your schedule and constantly be on the go. Rather, it's a time to slow down and be more aware of your physical and emotional well-being. Look for a yoga class that encompasses meditation, pranayama, asana and a delicious supported Savasana to round it all out. You will leave class feeling a greater sense of confidence and renewal in your pregnancy. Following class draw yourself a warm bath and really indulge in some self-care!
Whether it's your first or third, pregnancy can sometimes feel like a lonely time. Even if you're not feeling particularly lonely, we all crave connecting with others in similar situations to our own. Prenatal yoga is a great opportunity to do just that in a safe place that allows you to open up and connect with others. There is often genuine concern for one another in a prenatal class that feels close, even sacred. It is often the case that someone else is experiencing the same excitement, fear, anxiety and/or physical changes that you are or they can relate from previous pregnancies. Prenatal yoga is an open forum for discussion and referrals that often leads to friendship both inside and outside of class. Taking the time to connect with others and create a base of support will do nothing but enhance your confidence and experience during these 9 months.
Yoga works by circulating blood flow from your heart to the rest of your body through physical asana. The goal by the end of class is to circulate tha blood back to the heart by the time we are enjoying Savasana, leaving us with that "blessed out" feeling at the end of class. There is no better reason to come to yoga than to enjoy some time for relaxation. For better or for worse pregnancy is a time of change that can be better navigated with a peaceful mind, body and soul. Even if it's just for an hour or so each week give yourself permission to escape the never ending "to-do" lists and either take a class or practice at home. Make it a point to be fully present on your mat by focusing on your breath and allow yourself to relax. Your body and baby will thank you!