How to attract and maintain yoga and pilates students

students

For most of us, the most important thing about teaching yoga or pilates is that we are authentic in our teaching and give our students something that enriches their lives. Most of us, of course, do it for the love and I’m sure we would all agree: If we could do it for free we absolutely would. Many of us offer donation-based classes to make the practice accessible to everyone and find ways to give back to the community. However, at the end of the day we all need to make a living. And if we can do it by sharing something that we love then that’s a very big bonus in life – and we feel eternally grateful for that. Of course, making a living teaching yoga or pilates full time can be a little easier said than done. And a very big factor in making an income from teaching relies on how many bums are on those mats. So, how do we do it? What’s the secret to student attraction and retention? There are so many factors to consider, but here’s some food for thought to inspire you on your path.

Be consistent and reliable

This should go without saying but many of us give up before we’ve given our classes a chance. You may only get one or two students for a while. Be patient and give your classes the opportunity to grow. Once you get the word out, it won’t take long before the numbers start to grow. Depending on where you live, give yourself at least six months to build your community. At least. Don’t cancel classes at the last minute, try to teach your own classes as much as possible (no covers), have some consistency in your sequences so students can see themselves improving, don’t change around your class times and locations too much and always be on time. People like consistency and predictability. They will be loyal to you if you respect the time and energy involved in committing to a regular practice with you.

Run regular beginners’ courses

This is a wonderful way to get new students. As you’ve probably experienced, once people have been to a handful of classes they notice the difference it makes to their lives and have a genuine desire to continue. Choose a time (first thing in the morning or in the evening often works well so 9-5 workers can participate) and run the course for a minimum of six weeks. At the end of the course offer a discounted pass or membership to your regular classes to encourage them to continue their practice. Share the course details on community noticeboards and Facebook groups, and tell your friends.

Find your niche

With the abundance of yoga styles on offer, it helps to know what you’re good at and build your tribe from there. I personally love teaching beginners, office workers and mums. I feel like I can be completely myself with these students, without the fluff. I can drop the Sanskrit and the end of class omms and teach from a really grounded and often humorous place. For me, these are the people who can really benefit from the practice. What’s your vibe and who do you love to teach? If you’re good at creating killer, dynamic sequences then other teachers might be your tribe. If you love to be playful and integrate more gymnastics into your classes then you might love working with kids. Be clear about what you love and reach out to students who fit your unique niche.

Ask for feedback

It’s so simple. It lets your students know that you’re willing to evolve with them. And it helps you to become the best teacher you can be. At the end of class simply tell your students how much you value their feedback and be open to receiving when it is offered.

Keep in touch when you’re off the mat

Don’t think of it as marketing, but staying connected to your community. Share snippets of wisdom on social media and through emails. You can set up a simple and beautiful email newsletter with Mailchimp. If it’s appropriate, take students’ details when they first start practicing with you and stay in touch. Become Facebook friends with your students so they can see what you’re up to. Give away information for free without asking anything in return. Be consistent and open in your communication and timely in your sharing (i.e. if it’s the end of the year, simply share some tips about the holiday season rather than advertising your offerings for the following year).

Keep learning and working on your craft

Keep growing and evolving as a teacher to keep your students challenged and getting the most from the practice. At the end of the day, it’s not really about you. And anything you can do to help your students evolve is a bonus – and probably the reason you started teaching in the first place. It’s not always practical (or affordable) to do all the trainings – but you can keep studying, practicing with other teachers (online and off) and participating in the occasional workshop to maintain your enthusiasm and stay on the path.

It’s all about connection

And, having said all of that, throw your goals and expectations around numbers out the window and instead focus on connecting with the students right in front of you. Get to know your students’ names and what’s going on in their lives, be their friend, be honest and authentic (you don’t need to be up on the teacher pedestal all the time), give hands on adjustments and focus on how you can serve. The irony is that by letting go of the need for numbers, they are likely to increase!

Maintaining your Mojo: Self-Practice tips for yoga and pilates teachers

practice

By Jessica Humphries

You know the story. You start teaching because you’re in love with the practice. You fantasise about teaching all day and enjoying the lifestyle of a dedicated practitioner. You’ll go to classes at the studio where you teach. You’ll get up at the crack of dawn and practice before you leave the house.

You have all of the best intentions but when you’re in the full-time teaching flow, you are soon confronted with the harsh reality that having your own practice requires a lot more commitment and discipline than you had anticipated.

If you’re finding it hard to integrate a regular practice, try these simple steps to maintaining your mojo.

Create the space

The first step to creating a practice that sticks is creating the space – both internally and externally. Think about when the best time is for you to practice. If you’re teaching first thing in the morning, perhaps a gentle practice before bed will work best. Visualise this in your mind. What would it look like to do your practice every day? How would it feel? Write it down. Schedule it into your diary. And make a commitment to yourself. After a week or two it will be the most natural, easy thing in the world, and you’ll feel so good for it.

Now, create the space externally. It might be a simple mat and some props in a clean corner of your bedroom, or you might dedicate an entire room to your practice. But make sure you have a space that feels comfortable and inviting. Keep the space clean and tidy so that you’re free from distractions. Adorn it with your favourite paintings, textiles and crystals, or make it outside amongst nature. Let it be a place that you enjoy and want to spend time in.

Wake up and move

When you wake up in the morning, commit to just five minutes. It could be meditation or movement. It could be one simple pose. Wake up, clean up and practice. You might find that you go way beyond the five minutes, but that’s all you need to commit to.

Let it replace the morning social media check or take your coffee with you instead of drinking it at home. If you have kids, especially little ones, you may need to be a little more flexible and make do with whatever time and space you have. Bring them to the mat with you or create a practice that you can do together. Remember, it’s only five minutes and it’s a beautiful way for the whole family to start the day.

Do this one thing each week

Make the commitment to go to one class with a teacher each week. This will fuel your enthusiasm for the practice and give you inspiration for your own classes. If you live far away from a studio, try a class online. You could choose the same class each week or mix it up depending on your schedule.

It’s all a practice

Do everything with mindfulness, allowing your practice to be infused into everything you do. As the weather warms up you might find more joy in walking than being on the mat. So let yourself walk! Start or finish your walk with a short meditation, and commit to feeling the connection between your feet and the earth. Drink your morning tea mindfully, find discipline and commitment by going to a regular fitness class. Your practice doesn’t need to look the same every day. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t make it to the mat.  Simply invite your practice into everything you do.

How to make money as a pilates or yoga teacher: 8 ways to diversify your income and enhance your career

make money as a pilates or yoga teacher

I remember when I completed my first yoga teacher training. I couldn’t believe the stereotype that pilates and yoga teachers teach for the love with little reward. Surely, it would be easy to make money as a pilates or yoga teacher. I did the maths and thought to myself, ‘I could make a decent income from working 20 hours a week!’ Little did I know at the time that teaching 20 classes per week is not only a lot more than 20 hours of work, but that it’s almost completely unsustainable.

There are certainly people who thrive off this kind of work (probably the same personalities who love acting, public speaking and performance arts), but many of us are sensitive souls and having a full teaching schedule leaves us feeling burnt out, missing our own practice and slowly losing the enthusiasm that brought us to teach in the first place.

How can you create a sustainable teaching career without losing your love for the practice? How can you feel valued in your profession, stay challenged and motivated and receive the rewards that come with dedicating yourself to your chosen career? How can you make money as a pilates or yoga teacher?

Take what works for you from our smorgasbord of suggestions for diversifying your career as a teacher and find financial freedom outside of the traditional studio setting. We start simple with options for newbie teachers and finish with options for the more experienced.

Workshops and Masterclasses

Teaching workshops and masterclasses is a great opportunity not only to make a little extra income, but also to work on your skills as a teacher. Think about the pilates and yoga scene where you live. If you’re from a small town or rural area a beginner’s course is a great place to start. This could be run once a week for up to 3 months, or as a simple 2 to 3 hour workshop. If you’re in an area saturated with pilates and yoga, you might consider offering something a little more unique. What’s your passion? Art? Massage? Kombucha? Yoga teacher invoicing systems? The possibilities are endless!

You could approach owners of studios that you’re already teaching at, or hire a space locally. If you have a following beyond your local area or something unique to share, you could even take your workshops interstate and collaborate with studios outside of your local area. For this you’ll need a clear description of your workshop and a bio to introduce yourself to potential collaborators. Profit shares between yourself and the studio you’re working with are usually around a 30/70% split, with the studio taking care of the administrative side of things. A 2-3 hour workshop is usually around $30-$100 per person and a 6-week course (60-90 minutes per class) can be up to $150 per person.

Private and small group classes

If you love working one on one or have experience in massage or counselling, private classes will surely float your boat. These are much more in depth than a regular pilates or yoga class, and you will need to invest time and energy into understanding your clients’ unique, individual needs (as opposed to standing in front of them and teaching a standard practice). And for this reason, you can charge more for a private session. $80-$150 is the standard, going rate, and you can modify this according to how often you will be working with the client (discounts for ongoing work).

You may already have friends or students interested in working with you one on one, or perhaps you can get a little creative by collaborating with accommodation providers, wedding venues (think small group classes for hens’ weekends or wedding mornings), other healing professionals or studio owners.

Corporate classes

Corporate classes are not only great for you to make money as a pilates or yoga teacher, but you get to bring the practice to some of the people who need it most (balancing out those stiff, desk-bound bodies). And the great news is that you can increase your rate (corporate organisations have budgets for these things!) to up to $150 per class. Source corporate clients through friends, the web or by contacting organisations directly.

Retreats

Retreats can be a little hit or miss – with a plethora of competition out there. While you may not always make money as a pilates or yoga teacher running your first retreat, you will likely receive a free holiday, a bunch of new friends and a launch pad for future ventures. Check out our recent article on running your own retreat to delve in.

The World Wide Web, baby

Many of us have probably found ourselves resisting this for a while. But let’s be honest, the way we operate businesses is changing dramatically in the modern world. We’re slowly saying goodbye to paper and embracing the world of websites and social media. We’re looking up pilates and yoga teacher invoicing systems and throwing those old invoice templates out the window. It’s not as simple as putting an ad in the paper anymore. And this has its pros and cons.

Do you love being on camera? Perhaps it’s time to record a meditation or movement practice to offer through your personal website or another streaming site (they are growing rapidly in popularity).

Do you love to write and organise? You could try running an online course to share your skills and words of wisdom with others. Have a look around and see what others are doing in this area.

Finally, and a little controversial, do you have a following on social media? If so, you could consider collaborating with businesses that you are passionate about to become an influencer (if have a small but niche following you could become a micro influencer), sharing products on your personal social media in exchange for a fee.

Writing and blogging

Writing and blogging requires a lot of experience to translate into a decent income, but one of its major benefits is that it offers an opportunity to promote your business and drive traffic to your website. If you have a skill for writing or something unique to share, check out the abundance of yoga and wellbeing-related websites, blogs and print media and connect with them to introduce yourself and what you’d like to offer.

Insider tip: When you’re making a connection be clear and succinct. Editors are busy people who receive a lot of writing requests. Get straight to the point. Who are you (not your whole life story please)? What’s your pitch (a short paragraph explaining what you’d like to write about)? Why are you the best person to write the piece?

Teacher Trainings

Running teacher trainings is an incredible way to make money as a pilates or yoga teacher can lead to so many beautiful connections and travel. While it’s not out of reach, it’s not to be taken lightly. You really need to either know your stuff or have connections with teachers who do. If you’re reaching for this career goal, keep a record of your studies – as there will be some red tape to consider down the track.

Work for other pilates and yoga businesses

Finally, there are so many yoga and pilates businesses out there who can benefit from your skills. Do you have a background in marketing, web design, IT or copywriting? Many yogis know very little about these things and would love to have you as part of their team. Stay connected to the community and put yourself out there. You could take on a handful of clients who you work with to create beautiful online content or design websites. This should also allow you to work remotely around your teaching schedule.

 

For more about the author, Jessica Humphries, see www.jesshumphries.com 

How to start your own yoga or pilates studio: 9 tips for success

studio

As a yoga/pilates teacher, it’s not unusual to dream of one day having your very own studio. A space to share what you love most about the practice in your own unique way. A space to let your creative juices flow – developing schedules and workshops and maybe even eventually teacher trainings. A space where you can decide what to adorn the walls with. A space that you want to practice in. A space that feels like your very own home away from home. A space for you to create your own community, and an opportunity to allow others to receive the benefits of a practice you’ve found so very fulfilling in your own life.

I have been practicing yoga for 15 years and since becoming a teacher 7 years ago have been immersed in the industry through my work as a multi-tasking manager of a big yoga business and now the editor of Australian Yoga Journal. During this time, I have managed a studio, visited a plethora of them, met an abundance of amazing owners and read countless articles on the topic of studio ownership.

But I never saw myself as a studio owner until recently, when I finally decided I wanted to settle. Now that I’ve made Lismore my home, I’ve decided it’s time to create my own space. A mere few weeks into studio ownership and I’ve already learned so much. Based on my own experience and the experiences of many others before me, I present to you my top tips on starting your very own yoga haven.

  1. Accept that you’ll never be fully ready

Just like having kids, you’ll never feel fully prepared for studio ownership. And, just like kids, this little baby is going to simultaneously suck the life out of you and reward you with more love and joy than you ever thought possible.  Like with many things in life, if you think too hard or for too long, you’ll never take the next step, and you’ll miss out on opportunities as a result. Dive on in.

  1. Start small, with minimal risks

Of course there’s an element of throwing yourself in the deep end when it comes to creating your own studio. But that doesn’t mean you have to commit to a lease right away. If you don’t already have a big following, you could try renting a space a few times a week or teaching some classes from home.

Removing the financial pressure from the scenario means that you can rock up and do what you love, without the burden of that little voice in your head reminding you that you need X number of students to cover costs. You can lovingly teach your 2 students – who will become your biggest fans and your first clients when you are ready to sign that lease.

  1. Don’t forget the boring bits

Yep, I said it. There are going to be a few items on that ‘to do list’ that will make you cringe, but they’re no less important than the fun stuff, and are essential in allowing you to clarify your goals and take the steps towards achieving them. First things first – you’ll want a business plan. Depending on the size of your business and what you’re hoping to achieve, this can be a simple one-page document, or 20 (or more!) pages that outline your mission, finances, marketing plan etc. There are plenty of templates online that will help you to develop this, and you’ll feel so accomplished when it’s done.

The business plan will allow you to really refine your vision (which is fundamental for selling your services), figure out how many students you need to cover costs (and if you can accommodate them all) and understand the market and competitors in your area.

  1. Work smarter, not harder

As yoga and pilates teachers we have so much passion and enthusiasm for the work that we do, and sometimes this means we pile our plate so high that we end up burning out. You might become so excited about offering an abundant timetable that you end up teaching 15 classes with 2 students each, instead of filling a handful of classes. I know you love what you do, but anything can become exhausting if you do too much of it. Start small, build up your classes, then add more to the schedule when the demand is there. Look at the facts and the numbers, and even consider partnering with someone who has the skills to compliment what you have to offer.

  1. Be patient

The first time I hired a space to teach yoga from, I had one student. After that class I went home and cried. These days, if I have 2 students I’m stoked. I know that by nurturing and sharing the gift of yoga with these 2 people, they will eventually become 4…and so on and so on and so on. These things take time. Years. Enjoy those small classes while they last. They are the seeds of your community. They are your friends. And they will likely be your students for a very long time.

  1. Community, not clients

While the business side of things is essential, it’s also important to remember that a part of what we’re doing is building a community. And this is one of the things that we love about what we do. Keep asking yourself, how can I nurture my community? How can my studio give back? At many studios (my own included), you’ll see donation classes on offer. Let’s be honest – not everyone is fortunate enough to have a spare $30 a week to spend on exercise and wellbeing.

Offering a donation or discounted class shows that you’re committed to sharing the practice, and you’re about building community, not dollars (Note: dollars are also good and it’s okay to make some of them in the process of building your yoga family – you need them for essential things like shelter and food).

  1. Never underestimate the power of WOM

You may only have a few students now, but if you give them what they need, they’ll keep coming back – and not only that, but they’ll tell their friends. Our recent survey showed that for yoga and pilates teachers Word of Mouth is still their most successful form of advertising. And the best thing is – it doesn’t cost a thing! All you have to do is keep taking care of those students you have now, and the rest will come.

  1. Choose teachers who you like and trust

I don’t know about you, but I have always found that if I like the teacher, I’ll like the class. They don’t have to be the best or the most experienced, but if I feel safe and supported in their presence and like them as a person – I will always love being in their class. Skills can be improved, but a kind and genuine personality is hard to create. Forget about how many followers they have on Instagram. Choose teachers who you love being around. If you’re doing your job well, you are going to be around them a lot!

  1. Remember what you love, and keep doing that

Don’t forget why you’re here. You love the practice. One of the great things about owning a studio is that you can participate in other teachers’ classes for free. Keep showing up as a student. Keep learning and nurturing yourself as a teacher. Keep discovering more about the things that you love and enjoy sharing them with your community.

 

More about Jessica Humphries or her studio, Peoples Yoga.

 

 

Ayurveda: 5 tips to stay balanced this spring

Posted in Yoga
ayurveda

We can feel the energy of spring upon us! With winter there’s a natural tendency to turn inwards, slow down and keep warm and cosy. As the season starts to change we find ourselves with more motivation and energy. But sometimes, as a result of all of these changes, we can become overwhelmed or even unwell. According to yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda, the Vata dosha dominates in spring.

Some of the qualities of Vata are:
– Irregular
– Rough
– Quick
– Moving

So when Vata predominates, there is a lot of movement and change. You might find that you feel creative, inspired and full of energy. However, if Vata is out of balance, you may feel anxious, overwhelmed or experience digestive problems.

Inspired by Ayurveda: Practices to balance Vata

While you may feel the urge to go go go, see if you can allow yourself to slowly transition into spring, using these tips to maintain balance in this time of fast change.

1. Rise and shine

See if you can develop the habit of rising just before dawn (around 6am). This will allow prana (life force) to be easily absorbed into your system and set you up for an energised and balanced day.

2. Exercise light

While your increased energy might have you feeling like indulging in more movement, be mindful of how hard you work. Over exercising or pushing yourself too hard can quickly lead to burn out as your body adjusts to this new environmental energy.

3. Stay warm

Although you’ll be excited to get back into your summer gear, make sure you stay warm, as the cool will increase and imbalance Vata.

4. Self massage

A great way to start your spring days is with a warm, nourishing self-massage. Using warm, cold-pressed sesame oil, massage your body before you shower. Focus on your belly – this will allow you to connect with your centre and encourage improved digestion – something that can become compromised when Vata is out of balance.

5. Eat and drink

Since Vata is drying, cooling and light, you can balance this dosha by favouring foods that are oily, warming or heavy. To pacify Vata enjoy foods that are sweet, salty and sour, and minimise those that are pungent or bitter. Include cardamon, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, fennel, oregano, salt and pepper for balance, and enjoy a daily cup of warm lemon, ginger and honey tea to nourish and detoxify.

Denise Payne: Fearlessness And Mercy

denise

In the 1970s, as a teenager, Denise Payne was introduced to Kundalini Yoga by her teacher Sat Jiwan Singh. It became more than “a life saver”. Yoga became her life’s work through practice and teaching. Many Australian and international yogis have met Denise through her regular Power Yoga and Yin classes at The Yoga Barn in Ubud, Bali. When not speaking (not entirely fluent) Indonesian or Sanskrit, there is the  accent that reminds us that Denise is originally from Phoenix, Arizona.

It was in Portland, Oregon – her home of 10 years – that she owned Yoga Bhoga and campaigned for the working rights of yoga teachers to continue as contractors. This is also where her son, 14-year-old Charlie, was born.

Denise has a rich and nuanced understanding of yoga which culminates in classes where stories from the Bhagavad Gita are seamlessly interwoven with smart anatomical and energetic cueing, sutras and explorations into bandhas, mudras and pranayama.

At 55, Denise has become even more physically strong and her inversion practice continues unabated. Her motto of being fearless, brave and loving life emanates beyond words and into practice. She holds regular Yoga Teacher Trainings in Jakarta and Ubud, and has travelled worldwide to host training, workshops and courses. Throughout the year, she runs Yoga Teacher Training, enabling Yoga Barn regulars and those who are new to her teaching to be enriched by her experience in yoga practice, teaching and teacher training for over 30 years.

Whether it is her thorough knowledge of the chakras and nadis, or the art of mudra, there are many aspects of yoga which are not commonly taught either in classes nor the standard 200 hour Yoga Teacher Trainings in Australia. Denise’s particular focus is on the koshas and their relation to every other aspect of yoga and life. The body, breath, mind, inner wisdom and sense of bliss are integral to the experience of living yoga on and off the mat. In Bali, the spiritual life is not an afterthought – it is in the morning and evening rituals, the approach to nature, food, dance, art and life. This has been attracting Australian yogis, surfers and spiritual seekers for decades.

While Denise has best been known for her Power Yoga practice, chakras and mudras workshops over the past 8 years at Yoga Barn, and prior through One Song in Portland, she has also won over many yogis with her meditative approach to Yin Yoga. She describes the experience of Yin as “a deeper conversation with the body and the self”.

Yoga has become even more of a sanctuary for Denise now that she has moved back to the United States after 8 years of living in Ubud. As anyone who has faced a major move or life event knows, the practice of yoga can provide a sense of groundedness in uncertain and challenging times.

Denise took time between teaching, planning an upcoming Ubud Teacher Training and finalising her book on Yin Yoga to answer questions.

How did you first discover yoga?

I was 8 years old when I first met my teacher and 15 when I was first introduced to Kundalini yoga. I was kind of a sick kid that wasn’t allowed to do anything really, and being introduced to that was literally a life saver.

Do you feel that you chose to be a teacher or that it was almost inevitable once you immersed yourself in study?

Teaching has always come naturally to me, and my teacher, Sat Jiwan Singh was very pushy and determined to get me teaching, as well. But I never thought yoga would turn into what it is today. Back in the 70’s you did it in a back room, and didn’t really talk about it to friends!

Your classes weave the yamas, niyamas, stories of the Bhagavad Gita, the yoga sutras, chakras and koshas into a vinyasa context. Is this a challenge?

The wonderful qualities of yoga open us up to always learning and studying some new aspect. As I continue to grow and evolve, so do the elements I bring into a class. I do strongly believe in the power of the combination of philosophy and asana, and it’s always a work in progress.

When you first moved to Ubud, you initially planned to write rather than teach. How did you come to join Yoga Barn?

I did want to write, but was really without direction! About 3 months in, I was lucky enough to become friends with Meghan Pappenheim, one of the founders of The Yoga Barn. The rest is history!

What are the challenges of teaching short-term, international yogis in Bali?

I really appreciate this question. There is a lot to be said for the regular students I had at my schools in Portland. It was a natural progression for us over the years. In any given class during the week the most incredible yogis would show up to practice. In Ubud, I feel more of a sense of urgency with students at times. If I feel I really have something to offer any particular student I’ll ask them how long they’re in town for, I’ll give them homework and always ask that they email me with their progress. I also ask for requests before every class to ensure I’m working on what they want to work on; maybe I have some fresh ideas for their technique.

The physical asana practice can take a toll on the body. Have you altered your practice at all to prevent injuries or overuse?

Honestly, it’s yoga that helps me recover from injuries from doing things other than yoga! I just turned 55 and I’ so grateful for the practice. It’s something I’m always making progress with and there’s always work to be done. I’m actually relearning handstands right now to change my technique. I think it would be tough to do that if I didn’t have all the years of yoga keeping me strong.

Yin Yoga is being embraced by major gym chains here in Australia. Can you tell me what role Yin Yoga plays in the system of yoga compared to styles such as Power Yoga and typical Hatha yoga?

That’s really cool to hear that it’s becoming more mainstream in your neck of the woods. Yin is so new, relatively speaking, that interpretation is up for grabs and just about anyone can teach it. I think the tattvas, or principles of Yin Yoga, are essentially the same as a yang practice in many ways. Stillness, holding poses, finding the edge in a pose can be translated equally in both styles. The breath, as I do recommend a soft breath in a yang practice, the meditative qualities, as well can play a roll. Because yin transcends the yang elements of the physical body, slowly creeping into those nooks and crannies of the plastic parts, the role of yin becomes more about a deeper conversation with the body and the self. I love to support a daydreamy type atmosphere, in fact, and allow for the students minds to wander. This might get some thumbs down in the comment box. But, seriously, daydreaming is a lost art. We are so busy being mindful, or scrolling, or whatever. Yin offers the perfect environment for such an important and healing practice like mind-wandering/mindlessness.

Tell me about Waheguru and how this affects your approach to daily life and meditation?

Waheguru translates to Wonderful Teacher. Everything is Waheguru. Samadhi, the 8th limb of Astanga yoga is Samadhi, which means to See Equally. To see equally, one must let go of any judgement and increase their compassion 1000 fold. When you begin to see equally, you see that everything is your wonderful teacher with no judgement. Waheguru!

One of my most memorable moments in class with you was being half-way into the splits and you recounted the story of Hanuman leaping.

I’m so glad you remember that! The philosophy is vast and many teachers play with it so well! I have my moments, glad you were there to witness one of them. But me, I’m a great big chakra geek. It’s how I see students, how i sequence, and most of the language I use in class revolves around the system of the sacred chambers. Every now and again I’ll bust out a story, a few weeks ago it was Trivikrama, however my chakras studies never end, so I always have something new to work with in class. There are so many dimensions to the physical practice and so many elements to focus on for students. That’s the magic of hatha yoga.

The book that you had intended to write when you first moved to Ubud… how’s that going?

Well that book will get written someday. In the meantime I have a gorgeous book coming out on Yin yoga and myofascial release work. It’s based on a class I’ve been teaching for almost 15 years. Hopefully it’s in full swing by the time this article is published.


Interview by Cat Woods – a Melbourne based yoga, barre and Pilates instructor and writer.

Denise is holding Yoga Teacher Training at The Yoga Barn in Ubud, Bali in September. More details at www.denisepayneyoga.com

5 reasons NOT to practice meditation: The dark side

meditation

By Jessica Humphries

As yogis we are well aware of the benefits of a meditation practice. Discovering those places within your psyche only accessible through deep listening. The elation when you experience the sensitivity that accompanies stillness. And, eventually, the feeling of union with something greater than your little, drop in the ocean Self. Personal practice aside, meditation these days is often touted as a cure-all. With mindfulness apps aplenty and courses on every city corner, many well-meaning individuals are now capitalising on this ancient practice created as an act of devotion.

With meditation’s many benefits, more and more research is being dedicated to the practice. However, not all of the findings reflect the many positive experiences. In 2017, a study from Brown University and the University of California examined the experience of 60 meditators, discovering a number of adverse side effects – from negative thinking to social impairment.

Although meditation can undoubtedly enhance your quality of life, that’s not the case for everyone. As students and teachers in a world now saturated with meditation for the masses, it’s important to understand that for some, meditation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and can, at worst, exacerbate mental health challenges.

Here are some instances in which meditation can harm more than heal.

Trauma

For many, meditation gives us the opportunity to sit with unpleasant experiences from the past – finding a sense of release, and ultimately closure. However, for those who have experienced serious trauma, the meditation cushion can be a place of extreme anxiety, flashbacks and fear. Without the necessary tools to manage these flashbacks, students can be left feeling overwhelmed and unsafe.

Relaxation Induced Anxiety

Although meditation can have incredible positive outcomes for some people experiencing stress and anxiety, for others it can increase it – a phenomena known as ‘relaxation-induced anxiety’ or RIA. Research shows that about 15% of people are prone to this, experiencing anxiety every time their body switches into the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). Overcoming this fear of relaxation is certainly possible, but should be done in a therapeutic environment, not on the mat.

Depersonalization

For experienced meditators, a level of depersonalization may be a familiar part of your practice. That sense that you are not quite real, or that you’re looking at yourself from the outside in. However, for some people this can be terrifying. Sometimes, this depersonalization is the body’s stress response removing you from yourself when faced with extreme difficulties or emotional triggers.

For someone with Depersonalization Disorder, meditation can exacerbate their feelings of disconnection, leaving them feeling less grounded in reality. There are some styles of meditation that can be helpful for this disorder, but they should be practiced with an experienced teacher who is trained in mental health.

Decreased Motivation

If you are someone who tends towards procrastination, meditation could be bad news. Meditation may lead practitioners to lose interest in previously enjoyed activities – similar to the effects of depression. Although this non-attachment is often something long-term meditators strive for, for someone who doesn’t understand the philosophies behind the practice this lack of motivation could be damaging.

Meditation Addiction

Like anything that momentarily relieves you from life’s inevitable suffering, meditation practice can become addictive, leaving some people unable to function without their daily practice. Those who experience bliss during their meditation may find themselves sitting relentlessly, constantly chasing that elated feeling and, ironically, becoming attached to it.

Of course meditation is a much healthier addiction than many others, but it still has the potential to create upsets in relationships and other practical aspects of life. Compulsive meditation may have the negative impact of becoming a competition, moving you further away from the true goals of the practice.

It’s not meditation itself that causes these problems. However, the practice has the very real potential to exacerbate existing mental health issues when not practiced carefully. Students should practice with an experienced teacher who can support them through the peaks and valleys of their practice, and provide them with all of the necessary information to facilitate their journey – including the darker sides of the practice.

Your ultimate yoga guide to Ubud: Eat, Play, Namaste

Posted in Yoga
ubud

Arriving in Ubud felt like coming home. This little yoga paradise is colourfully vibrant, with so much to see and do – especially around health and wellness. Ubud is a must-visit for any travelling yogi. I could easily have spent a month exploring the many deliciously healthy cafes and amazing yoga studios.

It was my second time in Ubud, and two years after my first visit it felt pretty much the same – in a familiar and inviting way. In true holiday style I easily forgot what day it was and wasted hours wandering around finding fun places to eat, getting massages, bargain hunting, sunbaking and yoga-ing. It’s easy to accumulate a handful of favourite digs and spend your days at the same places, but with a goal in mind, I set out to discover as much as I could of the Ubud yoga world in the relatively small amount of time I had, especially given the abundance of wholesome, yogic goodness to discover.

YOGA

Of course my first stop was Yoga Barn – Ubud’s biggest yoga studio that feels like a small village. Arriving at Yoga Barn I felt aware of my urge to fit in. Beautiful, svelte yogis laughed and socialised, or floated into one of the many yoga classes. It’s true, Yoga Barn is the place to be and the place to be seen for all the young, Lullulemon clad yogis. But there are so many pockets of magic within it, and as soon as I began exploring the classes I was soothed by the teachings of some of the most inspiring yogis I’ve had the pleasure of practicing with. There are lots of beginner friendly classes too, and you can just as easily leave your trendy threads at home and practice in shorts and t-shirt.

Yoga Barn is home to four yoga shalas (two that are hired out for private teacher trainings and retreats), a healthy café, juice bar, healing centre and shop, as well as chic bungalow accommodation with beautiful rooms and a relaxing pool area. All of this is surrounded by pockets of lush rainforest, fields, streams and natural beauty right in the heart of buzzing Ubud. The shalas have huge windows that show off the luscious nature, and there’s an authentically Balinese feel to the design. A beautifully shabby spiral staircase accesses the top shala, and as you wander up to your class you can admire the ponds of fish swimming beneath. The teachers at Yoga Barn are world-renowned and there’s an abundant class schedule of up to 17 sessions a day comprising of yoga, kirtan, ecstatic dance, sound healings, meditation and more.

During my first class, my teacher Bex spoke about Bali being a place of offerings, and how that energy infiltrates the community. This resonated strongly. That same morning at a cafe I watched as a woman performed her morning offering ritual, something that became part of the landscape of Bali. Offering bowls filled with flowers lined the footpaths, and the role that ritual plays in the culture is inspiringly beautiful.

When I visited Radiantly Alive it was pumping. This spacious studio with two beautiful light filled shalas and windows looking out onto rainforest green (despite being in the middle of the city) was packed with devoted students. American expat and owner Daniel shares his knowledge and passion through his signature style RA. A must visit for any serious yogi, and of course there are plenty of options for beginners on the expansive timetable of up to 7 daily classes.

A visit to Intuitive Flow was absolutely worth the walk up the many stairs to arrive, I reflected as I admired the expansive view of the Ubud treetops from the classroom windows. This down to earth, cosy space was full of students of all levels and was inviting and accessible. I took a class with a Balinese teacher whose cues and energy were encouraging and clear.

A short stroll from the hustle and bustle, Ubud Yoga House sat amongst the rice fields, so I could combine a morning of yoga and rice field wanders (a popular tourist activity in Ubud). The serene studio felt authentic and well established, with views overlooking the rice fields and several traditional styles on offer.

I attempted to attend a class with Ketut Arasana at Ubud Bodyworks, but was turned away as the class was full. Don’t you know who I am? I felt like yelling. Now move aside and let me in! Instead I sulked away and gently reminded myself of the opportunity to surrender, then drowned my sorrows in a chai tea. The moral of the story? Email ahead and make a booking. His classes came highly recommended by yogi friends, and apparently this guy is the real deal. He also teaches regularly at a nearby Ashram, Ashram Munivara.

Other classes that came recommended by my yogi friends but I didn’t get a chance to visit (I may have been distracted by the amazing, vegan food) were Frog Lotus and Taman Hati – where a Balinese teacher offers classes in his family compound.

EAT

Ubud is a playground for yogi foodies. Many cafes are at least vegetarian and have a huge variety of vegan options as well.

Earth Café had an infuriatingly abundant menu that makes it impossible not to experience a little food envy. Think macrobiotics, vegan and raw (plus a few indulgent options) in a bright and airy upstairs space. There’s also a health food store downstairs with all of your home favourites and more.

Just across the road, Kismet was authentically Balinese with a vegetarian menu. I couldn’t go past the Asian bowl with tempeh skewers and still dream about that glazed tempeh with peanut sauce.

Atman is a bungalow style café with something for everyone – including a huge vegetarian menu and a great selection of kombucha on tap. It’s also a perfect place for people watching.

Kafe is where I spent most of my time. This trendy space is filled with digital nomads and expats, and has an amazingly yogic menu including kitchari for breakfast and every raw desert you can imagine.

All of the above are within easy walking distance of Yoga Barn and Radiantly Alive – the most central yoga studios.

As I moved further towards the busy streets of Ubud I found Seeds of Life Café with all sorts of healthy treats and yoga classes on offer too. In the same street, Biah Biah was a real treat with lots of Balinese indulgent offerings with a cosy, buzzing atmosphere. It was great value (the cheapest place I discovered), and the line out the door didn’t deter me from indulging in a deliciously authentic meal.

Clear Café had temporarily relocated when I visited, but was one of my favourite places the first time I was in Ubud, and a delight to go back to. The amazing healthy smoothies and vegan menu are served in beautifully chic surrounds.

If I had to choose a favourite, it would have to be Alchemy Bali. Maybe it was the huge hill I had to walk up to get there, but this place just felt special. Alchemy served the mother of all smoothie bowls (think subway but for vegan smoothies) for breakfast in a deliciously quiet pocket of Ubud.

PLAY

With so much to explore, no yogi is at risk of getting bored in this bustling yoga playground. I spent the time between vegan indulgence and yoga wandering around the rice fields, hunting for bargains at the Ubud Art Market and moseying about. If you’re not into bargaining, there are plenty of air-conditioned shops with set prices and a plethora of yoga fashion stores. Utama Spice is home to lots of essential oil goodness and the best, most natural incense. Ganesha Bookshop is just across the road from the Radiantly Alive studio and sells lots of yoga reads that you can later sell back for half price.

My favourite central place for massages was Zen Bali Spa, on the path towards Yoga Barn, but there are so many spas and treatment spaces to explore. Away from the hustle and bustle, Bali Botanica Spa (bookings are a must) offers amazing traditional Balinese and Ayurvedic treatments (the Ayurvedic Shirodhara will change your life).

The fun doesn’t stop there. There are plenty of offerings of ecstatic dance, ceremonies, traditional Balinese rituals and healings, cycling tours and so much more. Join the Ubud Community on Facebook with over 40,000 members to stay up to date with local news and events.

When I left Ubud I felt invigorated and in love with my practice again. With a slightly heavy heart I left a place that I could easily call home. After only a week I’d found myself in a comfortable groove and eased into a routine that felt so yogic and natural. It had been so easy to delve back into the healthy, active life that I’d abandoned over the winter months and I felt noticeably lighter and more energetic. I romanticised over my next visit (there’s always Spirit Fest in March) as I tucked a little piece of Ubud in my heart to take home.

Words by Jessica Humphries for Australian Yoga Journal.

How to hold space: The ultimate guide for yoga teachers

Posted in Yoga
hold space

By Jessica Humphries

As yoga teachers we are responsible for holding space for students. In this space physical, emotional and mental experiences will arise and dissipate. It is part of your role to ensure that people feel safe throughout these waves of experience. This requires both strength and compassion as you allow yourself to be a container without taking responsibility for what arises within others, as well as offering the gentleness and empathy that allows them to feel both held and inspired.

Here, we explore some essential elements in holding the energetic space that allows students to move to the next stage of their spiritual journey.

Centre yourself to hold space

Let’s be honest: As teachers, we sometimes come into a yoga space feeling rushed and frazzled. But creating the space within yourself to contain the experiences that arise for others is the beginning of the class. It allows students to come into a place of relaxation and ease – positively impacted by your energetic state.

Before any class – ground yourself, come into the present by tuning into your breath, and as much as you can, leave your ego at the door. This way you can completely focus on your students and effectively hold space. If it’s possible to do this in the classroom then that is ideal, but if not, you can even do this in your car or before you leave home to teach. Set a silent intention for your class and commit to being a supportive force for your students. Do not seek validation, nor fear judgement from your students. Simply allow yourself to be a conduit for the teachings of yoga to move through.

Teach from a place of compassion

In a world saturated with powerful, fitness inspired asana, bringing softness and compassion into the way that you teach can feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable. For many of us, it’s so much easier to jump on a stage and teach a strong, fast-paced practice than it is to feel the vulnerability that sometimes arises when we tune into our own empathy and compassion. But, as teachers, it’s not our job to place ourselves on a pedestal. It is, however, a great honour to hold space in a way that facilitates transformation in others – an important step on their own path to becoming a yogi.

Notice where you can bring more softness and compassion into your teaching. Most people are already quite hard on themselves. So, while a light-hearted reminder to work harder/faster/stronger might make you feel like a superstar, perhaps what is really needed is the invitation to stop pushing and simply let go.

Allow everything to arise

By becoming centred in your own presence, you hold space and provide the opportunity to be open to whatever arises.  It is not your job or responsibility to control the experiences of your students. But by allowing them to be exactly as they are, you give them the opportunity to come to a deeper place of self-acceptance and love.

Just as you do in your meditation practice, be the witness to all that arises without the need to change or fix anything. Of course if a student is in physical pain then you can provide modifications and variations for that student. However, if someone experiences the natural emotional catharsis that often accompanies the release of deeply held tension, know that that is all perfectly normal and okay.

Without singling anyone out, you might hold space by gently acknowledging that experiencing strong emotions during a yoga practice is all a part of the journey. If appropriate, when you notice strong emotions arising (during hip openers, for example), you may support a student with a gentle physical adjustment. Use your intuition here. This may not be suitable for a student you have only just met or who is not comfortable with physical touch. It’s a good idea to ask permission early on in the class so that students who prefer to be left to their own practice can let you know.

Allowing all experiences to arise (particularly emotional ones) with a gentle, nurturing approach gives your students permission to arrive in their own space of truth and eventually, transformation.

Allow space and silence

Learn to be comfortable with silence. As a teacher, it can sometimes feel awkward to be in a space of quiet stillness during class. You might feel as though there’s so much knowledge to share, or fearful that your students will think you have forgotten about them if you stop speaking. But this is one of the most important lessons as a yoga teacher and in life: Only speak when you really have something to say. By allowing silence, we not only give our students the opportunity to look within, but ourselves, as teachers, the chance to really tune into our intuition and listen within the silence.

The late psychiatrist Karl A. Menniger sums it up well – “Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, and makes us unfold and expand.”

Providing silence when you hold space is a great gift that empowers people to understand the teachings of yoga on an experiential level.

Embody authenticity

Give yourself permission to be beautifully, authentically you. If you’ve had a rough day, don’t be afraid to share it in some way. You don’t have to tell your life story, but you could share a little anecdote and relate it to the philosophies of yoga. Your students are much more likely to trust you if they can relate to you on a human level.

You don’t have to be a perfect yogi all the time. Accepting your own flaws and connecting from a place of humility allows your students to do the same.

Learn and practice counselling skills

Finally, as teachers we often find ourselves in the role of ‘unofficial counsellor’, which can feel confronting – often leading to awkwardly fumbling your way through some pseudo-psychological advice. By taking the time to learn the foundations of interpersonal communication and counselling, you can learn to step back from the desire to want to fix your students, and instead learn to actively listen and paraphrase – giving them the tools to resolve their own conflicts rather than authoritatively advising on what they ‘should’ do.

Thank you so much to the following wonderful yogis who provided expert comments that assisted in the development of this blog post: Rachel Zinman, Lauren Tober, Delamay Devi, Tiffany Cowley, Kristen Bentley, Ginny Clarke, Lisa Thodore, Ana Davis, Diana Timmins, Ulyana Michailov, Nikola Ellis (whose business, Adore Yoga,includes counselling skills as part of its Yoga Therapy Teacher Trainings),Denby Sheather, Jennifer Quail-Allen.

About the author: Jessica Humphries is a writer, editor and yoga teacher. Learn more at www.jesshumphries.com 

 

 

 

How to host a yoga retreat

Posted in Yoga
yoga retreat

The idea of hosting your first yoga retreat can be both daunting and exhilarating. There are so many variables to consider. As yoga teachers and lovers of all things wellness, our expertise can often be far from that of the business-minded. The pressure is on to promote ourselves, but it can feel nauseating just thinking about it. Despite the fact that self-promotion is ‘not yogic’ you have to overcome it to host a retreat. If you’re reading this you’re ready to surrender. Remember, what you have to offer is special and beautiful and you deserve to be rewarded for that so that you can flourish in this world. Some of us have been fortunate enough to discover yoga and build our careers in the industry from a young age, but many, like myself, have come to the practice via the corporate world. We combine our skills in logistics and marketing with our passion for yoga – and we’re here to help!

My personal experience in events spans almost a decade. Before pursuing a career more focused on yoga, I worked a nine-to-five city job in corporate conferences. Eventually I was able to use the skills I gained in the industry to manage yoga events, notably, the Evolve Yoga Festival and regular retreats with Byron Yoga Centre.. I asked a few regular retreat organisers what the best approach is when considering hosting a retreat. First off…

Think about your location and venue

Hannah Chapman is the National Marketing Manager for Power Living, a thriving yoga business that holds up to 7 retreats every year and has since 2010. Hannah says it’s important to build an awareness of the local area “to ensure everything will be suitable for a comfortable retreat environment. It really depends on location, but seasons and visas are things to consider.” Once you’ve decided on your location, research some venues. Know their cancellation policies and find out about the required deposit as well as how much of that would be returned if your event does not go ahead.

If you’re new to the retreat process, it helps to go with a well-established centre that can facilitate the business side of things. Wayne Moffat is the General Manager of Komune, a Bali retreat centre catering to yogis, surfers and wellness events, and site of Power Living retreats. He explains that when an enquiry comes through to Komune, he calls the organiser to discuss the details: What what is required, how many people are expected to attend, the type of retreat, accommodation required, length of the retreat, additional activities to book such as tours or cooking classes, massages and treatments required (available at the resort) and the spaces or yoga shalas needed. “A detailed proposal outlining the various elements enabling a clear costing for individual costs is then prepared and explained.” Choosing a venue with staff that are easy to communicate with and hold your hand both in the lead-up to and during your event will substantially decrease your workload and stress levels throughout the process.

From there, begin to build a budget. Look at it realistically. Starting tinkering with variables and begin to understand the finances of your retreat. Next…

PLAN YOUR MARKETING

Depending on how established you are as a teacher and how confident you feel about getting attendees, you may like to consider this step before even thinking of where you’ll be hosting your retreat.  Do you have a website, collection of email addresses and a social media presence? Platforms like Instagram provide effective, free marketing. Some social media savvy teachers are able to book out their retreats using this medium alone (especially if their pictures consist of them morphing themselves into pretzels with a stunning, tropical backdrop). Let your current students know about your retreat. It might feel a little awkward promoting yourself at first – but your students know and love you, and will be far more likely to come along to your retreat than one hosted by a stranger, even if that stranger is a little more ‘Insta-famous’. Power Living markets its retreats through studios and an online database – a collection of email addresses gathered from students and contacts over the years. Other businesses are finding success through targeted Facebook marketing. Of course there’s always word of mouth. In the yoga world, making connections is a great (often unintentional) marketing strategy. The industry is still relatively small in Australia, and the more people you know, the more opportunities you have to spread the word about your event. How do other people do it?

Consider whether the venue provides any marketing support. This is a great, low risk option if you don’t have much marketing expertise. Komune are always happy to assist and provide imagery or suggestions on activities that will assist with the appeal of the overall package. Some retreat centres will offer to take care of all the necessary marketing themselves in exchange for a share in the event’s profits.  Now you need to decide…

RETREAT NUMBERS

There is no ‘ideal number’ of retreat guests. For Power Living, retreat numbers range from 25 to 90 people. “The energy and support within the communities taking part in these retreats is what makes the experience so powerful and unique. Everyone forms friendships and supports each other on their individual journeys” says Hannah.

In terms of the group dynamic and the emotional rewards, as long as you create an open and loving space you can facilitate a beautiful and intimate experience with anything from two to one hundred people. Remember that you may not only be teaching, but also answering questions and entertaining during outings and meals. If you’re running a retreat solo, you don’t want to be responsible for a huge number of people asking you questions 24/7. The maximum number of guests you consider taking should depend on how big your retreat team is. Once you’re there, you need to be present for your students to create the best experience for them. When creating your budget, Produce a budget for yourself to identify how many students you will need in order to cover costs. If you don’t reach that number you can still choose to run the retreat as a kind of working holiday or for practice in hosting. You might even make a couple of great contacts who choose to join you on a retreat in future. If you’ve done your planning and marketing now you have to set a…

PRICE

The price of yoga retreats varies greatly from business to business. Hannah explains: “There are so many variables when considering the cost of a retreat – location, teachers facilitating, length of time, level of retreat (open, 200hr or 500hr training) we really work it on a case-by-case basis. For teachers looking to create their own retreats, we’d advise them to look at what is out in the market and then consider their offering.” Whatever your price, ask your students to pay a non-refundable deposit at the time of their booking so that you’re covered if they cancel at the last minute. Finally…

You arrive at THE RETREAT

You’ve organised your venue, marketed your event and the day has arrived. One of the most important elements in hosting a retreat is ensuring your guests feel nurtured.  On arrival be approachable – people attending retreats often feel quite apprehensive on the first day as they ponder what strange, new- age activities they’ll be engaging in. Begin your retreat with an opening circle so that everyone can meet and you can discuss logistical details. Prepare a retreat schedule so guests know what activities are happening when. Remember to nurture yourself throughout the process. Be vulnerable and allow yourself to connect and be present with your guests. A retreat can be a very powerful and transformative experience and you are a big part of what they will remember. Hannah explains that the Power Living program allows students to “confront beliefs that are holding them back in life to discover their ultimate Self. The retreat will facilitate the awakening that is required to become truly powerful. The process can be intense but if they are ready to do the work they’ll be amazed at the transformation.”

In the end, hosting a retreat truly is a labour of love. It takes planning, work and , patience, but the process can be deeply rewarding, emotionally and spiritually. So long as you respond in a loving and helpful way to challenges that arise, your guests will respect and love you and want to join you again in future.

Things will go wrong…

No matter how prepared you are you can’t control everything. Sometimes a guest will be unhappy with their snoring roommate, afraid of a spider in their room or struggling with physical or emotional sensitivities. Be aware that these things may arise. Be prepared to respond, rather than react, to any stresses that come up. If people can see that you’re doing your best and are approachable and available, they will make allowances for things not being one hundred percent perfect. At the retreat centre I worked for, we had a resident cat. We would always ask guests to keep their doors closed but sometimes they were left open and the cat would sneak into the room for a nap: not such a big problem if your guest isn’t allergic. At other times we had construction going on as we built a pool and new dwellings at the centre. During that retreat I organised more day trips to the beach and in nature, and at the closing circle I gave everyone a small gift and a voucher for a discounted retreat in future. We never received any negative feedback from any of these guests.

Written by Jessica Humphries for Australian Yoga Journal