Let’s Get Practical…


If you have been through any teacher training or are currently in a teacher training, you know that meeting the practical requirements can be one of the most challenging parts of the training.  As I approach the end of 2011, I find myself still one client-feedback short of my Relax & Renew assignment for Judith Lasater, Ph.D., that I began in March!  However, I think we find ourselves stuck in the mindset that the teaching needs to occur in front of a live studio audience (meaning, one of the already-existing classes in your favorite studio).  Unfortunately, I think I can attest that this is actually one of the least gratifying ways to meet the practical requirement.  Yoga is a gift that can be shared with any audience, anywhere, with very few resources.  Here are my top ten ways to offer a good karma yoga class:

  1. Church or Fellowship–Check with the administrators of your spiritual organization first.  Often, they are open to offering a free or donation-based class to the fellowship as one of their community activities.  Kids yoga is a great way to fuse stories, song, movement, and creativity.
  2. Girl or Boy Scouts–Kids love to explore their bodies’ potential!  While my son was involved with Boy Scouts, I often ran the physical exercise stations teaching the kids balance, strength, and flexibility… topped of course, with partner and group poses for the added challenge, cooperation, and pure fun!
  3. Local High School–Enough cannot be said about the need to build self-confidence and body awareness in our youth.  Teen and tween yoga is an opportunity for expression, acceptance, and grace amidst one of the most turbulent stages of development.  Hip playlists, jokes, and off-the-mat challenges awaken the best in this group!
  4. Support Group–When I was in Georgia, one of my favorite karma classes was for the Multiple Sclerosis support group.  I cannot express how important it is to get to know the audience, educate yourself about the issue at hand, and to listen to their needs.  I was overwhelmed with gratitude, though, after teaching simple chair yoga, with pranayama and meditation.
  5. Senior Center–Senior Centers are always looking for ways to light up their occupational activity programs.  Chair yoga, pranayama, and movement are a great way to brighten the residents day!
  6. Family and Neighbors–You don’t always have to think outside the box to find a supportive audience.  Family, friends, and neighbors are a great way to put together a class.  Check with your church, studio, or community center and see if you can use or rent (for a small fee, $25-$30 is the commercial standard for off-peak hours).  Even gyms don’t use their fitness rooms 24/7, I’ve used the base gyms to teach Marines from my husbands unit.
  7. OB-GYN–While it is important that you understand the physiology of the pregnant body, a simple yoga class offering standing or chair poses, deep breathing, relaxation, and massage will make Mamas-to-be very happy.  A few simple rules: mamas should not be on their bellies or their backs (backs after 2nd trimester), they don’t need big back bends, and they may not be able to touch their toes.  So what’s left?  Standing-strong poses, squats, balances, kneeling poses like cat, wall supported poses, heart-openers, and hip circles on the exercise ball. Restoratives are great, especially for active or working mamas.
  8. Art Studio or Gallery–Many art studios actually teach art therapy as a means to support or refine fine motor skills, but gross motor skills like movement, balance, and body awareness are an important part of the effort.  Sometimes studios have a classroom that is open for modeling that can be used at off peak hours as well.
  9. Local Spa–Spas that offer massage, thai yoga, and shiatsu understand how important movement-based therapy can be for their client base.  They often have a small room that will hold a few mats for yoga and meditation.
  10. College sports teams–Athletic trainers of competitive sports teams will tell you how much easier their jobs would be if their athletes spent a little more time warming up and stretching.  I have given team classes to college baseball, football, and soccer teams.  Not only does yoga warm up their bodies, but it helps alleviate the anxiety and nervous energy of the team before a game!

I have also developed up with a workshop based on my Circles for Change concept that I lead to support charity organizations like Off the Mat, Into the World; Global Mala Project; and Red Cross.  It’s called Simply Practical, a weekend chocked full of fun mini-workshops (3-hour) for teachers and students alike.  Each playshop will include an hour of technique or theory, one hour of application, and one hour of actually teaching each other… the weekend will present a total of 5 playshops led by various teachers, including myself.  The workshops are open to all teachers, teachers in training, and prospective teachers.  Free for Transcending Yoga Teachers in Training, $20 Donation per workshop for the public.  Proceeds will go to a charity decided on by the group!  To Register Online go to http://transcendingyoga.com/Simply_Practical.html .

Now that I have given you a few examples of how you can offer yoga as a gift to your community while fulfilling your goals as teacher, maybe you can think of a few venues to teach!


TY Favorite Summer Recipe: White Bean Pesto Minestrone

White Bean Pesto Minestrone
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 leek, sliced
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
6 1/2 cups hot veggie stock
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of fresh thyme, 1/4 tsp dried
3/4 cup peas
2-3 medium zucchini, finely chopped
3 medium tomatoes, peeled & chopped
1 1/2 cups white beans (cannelli, great northern, or navy)
3 tbsp pesto sauce  (recipe: evoo, toasted pine nuts, garlic, salt, romano cheese blended well in food processor, then blend in lots of chopped fresh basil:)
fresh parmesan, salt, and pepper to taste

1) Soak beans in 3 cups of water for 6 hours or overnight. Pour off excess water, then add stock and bring to a boil. Cook for 40 minutes over low-medium heat, or for 2 hours on high in a crockpot.

2) Heat oil over medium heat in saucepan. Stir in onion and leek, until translucent. Then add garlic, carrots, celery, and potatoes. Cook for 2-3 minutes, veggies will not be tender.

3) Pour beans and hot stock into saucepan, add fresh herbs, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat or return to crock.  Cook until beans and veggies are tender.

4) Add zucchini, peas, and tomatoes, cover and simmer for 8-10 more minutes.

5) Stir in pesto before serving. Garnish with fresh ground pepper, slivers of parmesan, and a dallop of pesto or fresh basil leaf;)

Options:  Also good with short cuts of cooked pasta, rice, and other veggies from the garden… green beans, broccoli, baby greens (finely chopped).

REALLY EASY VERSION: Soak the beans overnight, drain & then throw it all in the crockpot on low, for 4-6 hours, and see what happens;)  Still tasty, just not as much texture.

Why Am I Here?


Personalize your practice by setting an intention.

You’re in a yoga class, everyone else in the room has their eyes closed, you begin to sense your breath, then the teacher invites you to set an intention… and suddenly your mind draws a blank ____________, then the panic sets in… “What do you mean set an intention? You’re supposed to tell ME what to do.  I am here to listen and follow directions because I want to be a good student.  I don’t know what an intention is. Huh? Why am I here? Serious?”.

Bringing mindfulness and intention to your practice, whether it is in your living room or in a bamboo floored aromatherapy filled eco-studio, is the difference between being instructed to perform the latest parlor trick of foot-behind-the-head and being invited to move inward to touch the deepest layers of your self.  Some say it’s the different between a fitness class and a group yoga practice. It’s the difference between being a puppet on a string and becoming a pioneer of your mind, body, and spirit.  Intention takes you beyond the confines of the obvious physical challenges to the challenge of knowing why your are moving there to begin with.

Yesterday, you may have gone to class with the intention of giving something, anything, back to yourself , starting with time.  One hour of just you on the mat: a token, a gesture, a bow, to honor your self with pure undiluted attention to yourself. And you discover in this hour that through the mindfulness of breath and awareness in asana, you can master pure bliss in even the most obscure shapes and situations. A lesson you can carry away from the mat.

Today, you may have gone to class with the intention of healing an injury incurred over the long weekend. One hour dedicated to honoring your limitations, protecting the limb from further injury, and building vital energy, prana, to sustain the healing process. And you discover in this hour through the mindfulness of breath and aware in asana, you can master pure bill in even the most obscure shapes and situations, even if it means modifying the practice. A lesson you can carry away from the mat.

When you set an intention for your practice, the external aesthetics of the practice begin to dissolve into the deep internal inquiry of mindfulness of the body, mind, and spirit. You may begin to discover unhealthy habits or patterns that may be causing pain, or you may uncover hidden vitality within the body that you never knew existed.  Perhaps you fell asleep as soon as your head hit the mat in savasana. Note to self: sleep. Perhaps in adho mukha svanasana, you felt the sudden urge to do a handstand. Note to self: do more.  The scenarios are endless, but the practices and sequences offered are often repetitious. Each asana becomes more and more personal, intimate, and prolific as you align your practice with your intention. Each action becomes more focused and proficient when you align your efforts with complete mindfulness. Namaste

For more on aligning your yoga practice with intention, Valerie will be giving a weekend workshop on Topsail Island, NC, October 1-3, 2010 “Yoga Alignment 1-2-3: A paint-by-numbers approach to aligning body, mind, and spirit.”  Valerie Baltzer is an experienced yoga teacher registered at the 500 hour level with YogaAlliance®, E-RYT 500. She regularly leads yoga teacher trainings, workshops, and classes in the Onslow County area.

Take a bow…


So many beginner students walk into their first class with one simple wish, “I just want to touch my toes.” Forward folds, as demonstrated by a yogi established in their practice, exude a deep sense of peace, serenity, and grace. And truly, forward folds have a rich calming effect on our cardiovascular and nervous system, allowing us to draw our attention inward to our true nature. However, the journey to our toes can be rather frustrating and those ten tiny appendages can be almost allusive at times.

What we need to remember is that we must honor what is behind us… both literally and figuratively. Our backside and all of it’s mechanics allow us to stand tall and face the challenges of life. Our experience is deeply rooted in the past, which also gives us the strength to come to the mat each day. The essence of Hatha Yoga is not to erase patterns on one side or the other, but rather to bring balance to both allowing you to master the present.

The Sanskrit root “Ha” translates to sun and “Tha” means moon, Hatha Yoga implying a means to bring a sense of equanimity between our solar nature and our lunar nature. From sun up often to sun down, we relentlessly tap into our solar nature: walking, working, and even battling everyday complexities. But, what about resting, nurturing, and listening to the guru within? Those of us still trying to grasp those piggies may be startled at the imbalances on and off the mat.

If our mat is a mirror, then our practice is the reflection. And, it is important to accept the reflection and work from where (and when) you stand. Fortunately, the mat allows us to look within and feel through the postures, rather than an aesthetic approach. And, if we were to turn our awareness internally during a forward fold, you will most likely find tension behind the knees and in the lower back. These are the areas where tension manifests, however the forward bend begins at the hips… which is often overlooked, or under played in most asana classes.

The hip extensors, the hamstrings and gluteus muscles especially, pull the sitting bones downward in a standing position. And the spinal erectors, or the back muscles, hold the torso upright. These are going to be the two areas to dynamically work with in practicing forward fold, but the area of origin–or starting point–is going to be the sitting bones and pelvis.

Begin by sitting with legs extended on the floor with your spine flush up against the wall in Dandasana. If the back is rounded, place blocks, books, or a wedge underneath the sitting bones until the pelvis is no longer rocking back. Inhale, extend the arms overhead, arch the back, lift the heart, extend the legs and flex at the ankles, hold for 3-4 breath cycles. Then soften the knees, maybe even place a rolled mat or small bolster behind the knees. Hinging at the hips with a straight spine, begin to close the gap at the hip. When your inner guru tells you that you have reached your limit, support your weight with your arms (you may need blocks), and surrender your spine and your legs to gravity. Practice this dynamically 3 or 4 times with each practice. Paschimottanasana means stretch of the west, signifying the surrender of the sun as it sets over the west. Relinquishing our solar nature and turning toward our healing, lunar nature.

Trick: very often the hamstrings are the culprit. Which means, since it is muscular, that it is mind over matter, because our nervous system controls tension in the muscles. There are two ways to go about “tricking” your nervous system.

1. Bind at the attachment. The hamstrings begin at the sitting bones and attach behind and below the knee. Try Janu Sirsasana binding or creating a tourniquet above the knee while the knee is bent and the hamstrings are soft. Extend the leg and begin to fold forward from the hip again. Rather than feeling the stretch behind the knee, you may feel it in a lower decibel in the belly of the muscles. The sensation of pain or tension is sent from the attachment. Once your release the bind, you mind has already decided that you have safely made it through the stretch.

2. PNF. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation is using targeted flex and stretch technique to “trick” the muscles. Utkatasana (chair pose) and Uttanasana (standing forward fold) are a perfect example of this dynamic. Come into Uttanasana and observe the distance from your fingertips to the floor. Then settle into chair pose for 6-8 breaths. Inhale the arms up, and exhale as you push the hips back and gently swan dive forward into Uttanasana again. Note the progress.

By learning to open the hips first, then gradually soften the muscles of the hamstrings, and finally surrendering the spine, we take many of the highly advertised contraindications of the disks and spinal column out of the equation. We shift our awareness and attitude toward deeper movement, honoring our constitution, and listening to our inner guru, the Atman. Namaste

Taking the Easy Way out…


Ever get into a heated debate where the last words were “Yeah, well, Life is hard!”. And so you walk away, feeling defeated and hopeless because you actually agreed with the statement. Then you go to an intense yoga class, burn through the surya namaskars (sun salutations) and standing asanas, and just when you are sure those words are the formula to life… you take a seat. In that moment, a sense of stillness and inner peace floods your senses reminding you that life doesn’t have to be so hard.

Sthira-sukham asanam, Patanjali tells us in the Yoga Sutra, “Stability and Ease are the defining qualities of asana.” When he speaks of asana in the eight limbs of yoga, he is not referring to Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III) or even the auspicious Salamba Sirsasana (headstand), but rather Sukhasana, Easy Pose. Sukha is the quality of being relaxed and Asana is the state of sitting in stillness. And so the practice of being still with ease is cultivated in Sukhasana.

If you have ever sat on the floor with crossed legs for any length of time, however, you know that Easy Pose is easier said than done. First the knees start to feel stiff, then toes get cold, the hips feel tight, the lower back gets sore, and eventually the shoulders get so tired, they no longer wish to support your head. So, how do we aspire to the state of Sukha, the quality of comfort and ease, when the asana instigates so much Dukha, the quality of suffering? Yoga comes from the root yuj which means to yoke, to bind, or to bring together. And so often it is simplified to mean union… union of mind, body, and spirit… you’ve heard the cliché. But, Yoga is more than that… it’s the means to get from where you are now to where you want to be! So, if you are sitting in Sukhasana and it feels more like Dukhasana, then the yoga is the means or practice of preparing your body-mind for Sukhasana.

The Practice: If you have not had an opportunity to go for a nice walk to warm the body and get your circulatory system pumping, try a few sun salutations, marching in place, or just circling your limbs for a minute or two. On a mat or a blanket, take a seat with legs folded gently at the ankles. If your knees are elevated above the hips, you will inevitably notice some strain or tightness to the hips and lower back after several minutes. So, you can modify the pose by sitting on a few folded blankets, or a meditation cushion until your knees comfortably descend towards the earth. Feel your sit bones firmly plant into the mat or cushion, draw the tailbone towards the earth, and lengthen the spine so that the crown of the head gently opens toward the heavens. Let the palms rest up or down on the knees or gently fold them in your lap. Allow yourself to be still in the pose, letting go of thoughts and impulses, adding the affirmation “Let Go” when needed. If you have a meditation timer, set it for 1-2 minutes to start, gradually increasing the length of time as you comfortably begin to master the asana.

Benefits: Sukhasana calms the nervous system and regular practice of coming “into stillness” transcends the mat, so that when difficulties arise, you are able to move through challenges with clarity or sit through them with ease. Easy Pose strengthens the back, tones the abdominal muscles, stretches the knees and, when practiced on hard surfaces (advanced practices), can help improve bone density in the hips and pelvis.

Mat Matters… Because our practice on the mat, matters!


Yoga for Busy People

As a teacher and practitioner, I value the commitment to a personal practice and often ask my students and student teachers if they commit to a personal practice.  Hands down, the most common response is… “I wish I could, but I don’t have time.”
The nice thing about personal practice, however, is the freedom to make time for with whatever parameters are available.  Truly, you do not need a yoga mat, a quiet atmosphere, or even a full hour to practice yoga.  The essence of personal practice is about making time and space for “good”.  Rather remaining attached to the normal conditions of a yoga class, let go of the usual format and get creative with your practice!
Meditation—Give yourself 5 minutes in the morning, 5 minutes in the afternoon, and 5 minutes before bed to just sit and meditate.  If your joints are too stiff or your back is tired, sit in a chair or lean against a wall.  Use your watch or kitchen timer.
Asana—Take time to bow to your Self in uttanasana (forward fold) from your chair at work. Stay in the forward fold for 10 long breaths, or more if you’d like.  Energize in purvottanasana (reverse plank) by placing your hands your chair or desk, a great way to counter wrist and shoulder tension (use caution if you already have carpal tunnel).  Take a seated twist, sit side-saddle on your chair and holding the back of the chair and arm strength to deepen the twist.  Use the wall for adho mukha svanasana (down dog) or parsvottonasana (variation) to release shoulder, back, and hamstrings.
Pranayama—Practice your favorite pranayama, whenever you need to regroup. Ujjayi is always a great technique for releasing inner fire built up from stressful situations, whether it is a 3 minute Virabhadrasana III, or dealing with the boss.
Making time in your schedule and devoting sacred space for your personal practice is still important.  So, try to block some time and a space in your schedule.  It’s like cleaning up around the house, just in case someone special stops by.  So that, when a special guest shows up, and we’ll call this guest “Truth”, we are ready to invite them in and we have time to listen. But, you can practice your cleaning skills (or kriya) throughout the day in small increments, if your schedule didn’t permit the full white-glove detailing!

“Transcend the Mat, Transform your Life!”
Valerie Baltzer, E-RYT 500