Quality is a Practice

passion led us here

Photo credit: Ian Schneider

In most of the conversations we’ve had with teachers about forming a DC Yoga Co-op, the concept of quality has been an over-riding concern.  In my conversation with a highly regarded Ashtanga teacher in the city, we discussed the proliferation of Yoga Teacher Training programs in the area and his concern that people are teaching without being rooted in a relationship with a senior teacher who is a guide and a mentor.  In the Ashtanga tradition, this is the only way to become a teacher — to invest time and energy in a long-term, one-on-one relationship with a teacher in a classroom, assisting and learning at the same time.  Regardless of style of practice, the teachers I most respect are life-long learners, and are careful about their place in the inheritance of this practice, bringing a special quality to their classes and workshops that I seek. But as I wrote about in Islands in the Sun there are so many of us who are working hard just to make a living without a larger community from which to draw wisdom and strength.

The proliferation of teacher training programs in the region has produced a baby-boom of sorts in the number of yoga teachers. This baby boom is impacting the quality of the practice for students and teachers alike. Yoga teachers have become a commodity in certain places — switched out for someone who will pack a class with students.  A friend of mine recently lost a position in a gym where he had consistently taught yoga for 10 years.  The reason given?  He wasn’t attracting enough students to his class.  No worries for the gym — there were plenty of teachers waiting in line for the slot and who were equally as disposable. The gym obviously wasn’t concerned about the students who had been with this teacher or for the passion he brought to his teaching from his continuing education and his lineage. This commodification creates a feedback loop that leads to homogeneity, not exactly anti-quality, but it sure isn’t the highest quality. If this class is growing because the teacher teaches this style, or can demonstrate peak poses effortlessly, or looks a certain way, or plays a particular kind of music, then we want to hire more teachers just like her. Who loses out, besides teachers who don’t conform to this box?  Students who also don’t conform to this box.

Diversity is quality.  This is one reason I want my yoga peeps to be from as many different traditions, backgrounds, cultures and perspectives as possible. All of us need these connections to become better teachers, better citizens, better people and to ultimately get to the heart of our yoga practice, to understand our true selves.

Here are just a few ideas for how a co-operative of teachers and practitioners could help the region keep a focus on quality teaching.  We could…

  • dedicate ourselves to educating each other– a “farm to table” concept in continuing education where senior teachers in the region are recognized for their expertise and their learning.
  • create a safe community where new teachers come for guidance, senior teachers turn for information and practitioners seek for unique opportunities to deepen their practice.
  • educate the public about the breadth and depth of the practice of yoga in the region be it style of asana practice…where to find a meditation group…a primer on bhakti yoga…so much more about the glorious differences between and among us… information they can use to make appropriate choices about the practice that speaks to their unique needs for health and well being.

We need people with a passion to build a diverse community that will positively impact the quality of the practice for teachers and students in the DC region.  Join us — drop me a line and let me know you are interested and I’ll send you an invitation to the meeting on Sunday, January 21 from 1:30 – 4:30 pm.

 

Power in Numbers

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9 to 5 cast: Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton and Jane Fonda. From hollywoodreporter.com

A long time ago now, I was the Director of Admissions for Trinity College’s Weekend College. Weekend College was a premier adult education program in the city, at one time enrolling over 600 women for their undergraduate liberal arts degree. Most of the women were mid-career professionals in the government and all of them made tremendous sacrifices to attend, since all the classes happened on the weekends. Not one of the women in the program failed to inspire me with her drive and her fortitude for breaking glass ceilings of race, gender or social status.

This was so long ago that the main way to market the program was to be invited to an educational fair at the some of the larger government agencies. Even though Trinity enrolled plenty of women from these places, it was still really hard to snag an invite. A friend at Johns Hopkins’ extension campus in DC was also having a hard time, since most HR folks at these government agencies wondered why they should invite a Baltimore school to their fairs. We decided to combine our energies and create a collaborative group of adult education professionals to get a bigger foot in the door.

By the time I left Trinity, there were over 20 adult education programs working together to meet students where they worked. It was a win/win/win.  Human Resources professionals only needed to make one call instead of 34 to arrange an education fair; those of us in working together collaboratively not only met our enrollment goals, but we met colleagues who could support and help us in our work; and students had a range of options — weekend college, graduate programs, credit for life experience, nascent on-line programming — that offered them choice, the right price for their personal budgets and access to education that wasn’t afforded to them when they were younger.

The DC Yoga Co-op could be win/win as well. Not only would we have the support of a broad and diverse community of teachers and practitioners, there would be power in our numbers.

Using my imagination, I see that together yoga teachers could…

  • provide quality continuing education to one another at a much more affordable rate.

I am lucky to work in a studio where there are more than a handful of teachers who E-RYT and/or over 500 hours of documented training.  Many of them are recognized for their expertise and their ability to run wonderful educational programs.  Yet I see many studios reaching out to nationally known names and these programs are costly to studios and to students. Couldn’t we do this for ourselves?  Speaking of education — couldn’t we educate each other on keeping physically and emotional safe on the job?  About keeping ourselves informed about sexual harassment or the latest in trauma-informed teaching practices so that we keep our students safe?

  • reach a broader and more diverse group of students than we can on our own.

I’m a lot like of my colleagues in that I teach other places in the community beyond my studio, but I have a hard time getting this information out to people.  I have this website — a blog really — but very little cash, expertise or time to get my message out to a wider audience.  If I pool my resources with other yoga teachers in a co-op, I could have a larger marketing footprint.  And this could be win/win for students:  right now, a yoga student must Google to get to a listing of studios near by or turn to Yoga Alliance for a list of registered independent teachers.  Then comes time spent researching every single one to arrive at an appropriate practice. Together teachers could not only market ourselves, we could educate new and seasoned practitioners alike about the diversity of yoga practices that exist in the DC metro region. And, just following my imagination to the nth degree:  What if the co-op was the best source for a new-to-yoga class in the area? What if we could get grants to take this program to places that need yoga the most? I know that together we could create something incredible for the community.

  • share information about job openings.

Likewise, as a collective group of teachers, we could be that one stop shop for studio owners and corporate entities looking to fill a yoga teacher position, or businesses looking for a yoga teacher for that lunch-time class.

  • sub each other’s private clients.

Right now, when I go on vacation or take a continuing education break, my private clients have to take a break from their practice.  I would love to develop relationships with others who work with older adults in their homes so that we could sub each other’s private sessions when we need a break or are sick.

My imagination about power in numbers can take me lots of different places — how about advocacy around job security and safety?  Or helping each other out with the basics of running a business — accounting, taxes and the like?  Could we share  professional services like these? A friend with a bold imagination even mentioned the co-op eventually owning a piece of land for a no-frills retreat center…all I can say is: wow.

The sky’s the limit in what we accomplish better together.  What value are you looking for from a yoga co-op in the DC region? Write me or better yet:  attend the meeting on January 21 so we can discuss in person.  Leave a message for me here and I’ll write you back with details.

 

The Heirloom Tomato Model

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My favorite all-weather, all year ’round tomato. Good for a salad at my desk.

I’m a big picture person.  That’s why I’m hoping that some of the folks that are coming out to the DC Yoga Co-op Exploratory committee on January 21 find joy in the details. We will need both the yin and the yang to make this thing work.

As a big picture person, I like analogies…models…”suppose ifs.” At the risk of driving my detail brothers and sisters nuts, I’d like to share these thoughts, starting with heirloom tomatoes.

Back when my Macdaddy grew his Beefsteak tomatoes on his little patch of land in Harlan, Kentucky, they weren’t considered an heirloom, they were just tomatoes.  They were as big as a small child’s head, intricately cavernous, full of seeds and juice and the occasional worm.  When he’d get home from work for lunch (Harlan wasn’t a big town — he could walk home for his mid-day meal), Nanny would have a lunch of green beans, creamed corn, fresh green onions plucked from the dirt that morning, maybe a sweet potato if it wasn’t too steamy to turn on the oven, and thick-as-steak slices of Beefsteak tomato.  You didn’t need anything but a bit of salt a pepper to make those slices sing.

You could only have fresh Beefsteaks in July and August.  After the growing season, we had canned tomatoes (the ones Nanny spent days putting up) or the ones you got in the store.  Now, we call these kind of tomatoes “heirloom,” since there was a concerted effort by local farmers to preserve these varieties. Big grocery store chains preferred tomatoes that wouldn’t bruise, were uniform in their shape and color, easier to grow and transport, like my favorite grocery store brand, above.

In my (albeit strange) mind, the DC Yoga Co-op could be a lot like an heirloom tomato.  Big, ripe, juicy, a bit messy perhaps, but worth the extra trip to the farmer’s market. Not something that you can eat every day on the salad you bring to work to eat at your desk, but instead a sweet treat savored with friends over Sunday brunch.

The group that came together a few months ago to discuss the possibility of starting a co-op in the region were motivated, just as those local farmers were, to preserve variety in our local yoga culture, to nurture quality, to tend to our little bit of land as yoga teachers.

Using this analogy to whet your appetite, can you imagine what we would be proud of accomplishing in our first year as the DC Yoga Co-op?  Who would we serve? How?

heirloom-tomatoes

Source: ohmyveggies.com

 

Brene Belonging

brene belongI was fortunate to have a 12 hour training in the work of Brené Brown when I worked at a non-profit women’s organization a few years ago.  Since people in the group knew that I was on the executive level at the organization, and they had paid good money to attend the workshop, I couldn’t share my deepest feelings about leaving my position or…anything really.  Each time we spoke of what happens when we can’t be our authentic self, I thought, “Here’s Meg, exhibit ‘A.'”

Nevertheless, I persisted in my own way.  I found a position where I could be authentically me and deepen my teaching practice. Like the quote says above, by living into my authenticity, I belonged to me.

But so many things have happened since November 2016 that have made me see that me belonging to me isn’t enough.  I have to belong to community — a big, broad, diverse, interesting, juicy community full of people who are unique in their background, their culture, their language, their perspective.

People in this kind of community bear a responsibility. We need to intentionally invite and welcome everyone, especially people who feel that they don’t belong.  We need to examine and rid our community of systematic injustices that create barriers. So, to amend the Brené Brown quote above, “Belonging is being your authentic self and knowing that no matter what happens, you belong to you, and you belong to a community that embraces you because you are authentically, uniquely you.

I would love to say that the yoga community in the DC region reflects this idea, but as I have taken a step towards being intentional about my yoga community, I have become acutely aware that there are yoga teachers and practitioners who cannot be who they really, truly are. They feel confined by the both the spoken and unspoken “rules” of asana or meditation practice, shamed by their bodies or the way in which they learn best, for straying from tradition or for having the audacity to claim ancient tradition — the list goes on and on. Next time you enter your yoga community, look around and note the predominant race, ethnicity, language, body type, age.  Allow yourself to imagine that you are different from the majority of these faces.  How would you feel practicing in this space?

That’s why as we come together to explore a regional yoga co-operative in the DC region, we must fight against homogeneity and work as a group to ensure accessibility, affordability and choice for all people interested in the practice.  We must ensure that people of color and people who feel marginalized by our current yoga scene are not only invited, but are present at the first meeting at the end of January to help us envision what we can accomplish together. Our intentional community must reflect the beautiful connection of belonging, if we can be authentically, truly who we are.

 

Belonging Brainstorms

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My writing, Dustin’s effusive illustrations of what the co-op will do for yoga teachers in the         DC Region. 

My conversations about the DC Yoga Co-op are sometimes telescopic other times microscopic, complex, invigorating and ultimately transformational.

In my recent conversation over coffee, Dustin Canter, entrepreneur, CFO, school and yoga teacher, all-around-good-guy and, by the way, the youngest ever DC Mayoral candidate, cut to the chase: Couldn’t a co-op make things easier for teachers? Help them become more productive, more effective, give them something of value besides a group that they can turn to for moral support? Aren’t there economies of scale that could be available to a large group of yoga teachers? Maybe an easy, cost-effective way to get subs or protection or even jobs?  Hey, what about building a retreat center?

Uh, hell yeah.

I have a vision for what the first year will look like for the DC Yoga Co-op.  For me, this vision involves not only serving many teachers in all these ways, but serious practitioners of yoga as well. It will provide something unique of quality (I’ve been dreaming of heirloom tomatoes…more on this later.)  It will also make sure that there is year-round, in-person outreach and education about all the myriad forms of yoga and meditation to the people who need it the most in our region.

But in a co-operative or even a collaborative, it isn’t about one person’s or one organization’s brand.  It is about collective imagination. I know that democracy is getting a pretty bad rap these days from every side in the tribal wars that we endure. But I believe there is still power in this kind of process and then the work towards a common purpose, especially on a local or even micro level.

We’ll be getting together in January to hash through what our goals will be for the first year and maybe even the first three years of our work together. Let me know you are interested in working on the big vision by sending me an email. I’ll put you on our expanding list for an invitation.

 

 

Islands in the Sun

IMG_3538 Though I belong to a large and incredibly supportive teacher community at my studio, I sometimes feel isolated from others, since usually we’re dashing from class to class.  As Carol and I have been talking with yoga teachers about forming a DC Yoga Co-op, we know that this feeling resonates — and is even more keenly felt by independent yoga teachers. (One described it as being an “island” in her teaching practice.) To counteract this feeling, in the fall I unmoored myself  and let the tides drift me to Upper Marlboro, MD to see how far out my yoga peeps live and work.

I was very early for the noon class at Spiritual Essence, but nevertheless warmly welcomed by Jakuta Dunmore, my instructor.  While we waited for her class to begin, we delved deeply into what was important to us as teachers, practitioners, and community members.  As our conversation turned to taking this practice to people who need it most, she shared the exciting news that she just been hired to teach yoga in the county prison. I could see that this new position was an expression of her compassion and practice of loving kindness.  As I said goodbye and we took pictures of each other and fellow students, I hoped that I would get to hear about how that first class went at the prison.

I’m always happy when I leave class blissed out after savasana, and I’m over the moon if I have learned something new — a few new moves  to incorporate into my sequences or a new perspective on ancient teachings.  This time I left buoyed by the knowledge that I had connected with someone who shared my values and my practice on and off the mat. Definitely a fellow yoga peep, my friend Jakuta.

When I envision the DC Yoga Co-op and what it could be and do for yoga teachers and serious practitioners in the region, this is what I imagine:  A place where we can gather, share support and wisdom.  For a brief moment, we could be islands in the sun.

If you are interested in hearing more about the DC Yoga Co-op, drop me a line.  Happy to include you in our work to create this community.

 

 

 

Big Mind’s Vision

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The Last Day in the Garden

When Erich Schiffman was in Yogaville, he spoke about his understanding of the connection we all have with what he calls “Big Mind” (what some of us would call the divine, and others might call universal consciousness.)  You can tune into Big Mind  by quieting your own little mind through practices that allow you to get out of your own way and “plug in” to the truth of this connection, and insights and sparks of intuition. As you saw from my horoscope recently, Big Mind has some plans for me.

So let me lay out the vision that has been laid on me and ask for your help, as Big Mind’s penchant for connection demands of me.

The Washington DC region needs a yoga co-operative. 

Yup.  I’ve been visited by a vision of an autonomous association of yoga teachers and practitioners united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned, democratically controlled enterprise.

Kinda nerdy was my first thought.

But though it is very different from the other creative visions I’ve played with here, it seems to fit the bill for a heart that has longed for a bigger, broader, deeper and more meaningful in-person connection with others who practice yoga.  [Nice going, Big Mind!]

I’ve shared this vision with close friends, and friends of friends and each time I’ve seen the spark ignite again, like it did in me. As we’ve talked the vision through, considered all the questions that arise, reached out to even more yoga teachers and practitioners for more listening and conversation, the spark has turned into a small flame.

An initial group met in person a few weeks ago to consider whether a DC Yoga Co-operative could come to fruition.  We decided to continue to reach out, to listen and to gather sometime in January to develop a focused mission.  Who do we serve?  How? What positive change do we hope to bring to our region? How would it benefit those of us who already practice or teach yoga?

As you read this, do you feel the warmth of this spark?  Want to know more?  We need you.  Respond here, talk to me or IM me on Facebook.  I’ll ensure you are part this connected current.