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BODY CONFIDENCE AND YOGA

Cindy Maddera

I skimmed through an article the other day about how yoga fosters body confidence. I say 'skimmed' because the article wasn't giving me any new information. Nothing profound jumped off the page. Yoga teaches you to let go of perfection and to focus on your inner self. Ideally...this is what yoga teaches, but letting go of the idea of perfection in yoga is not so easy to see visually. Not until recently, like in maybe in the last two years, has yoga magazines like Yoga Journal graced their covers with models who are not super thin and wirey with muscles. Iyengar and Brikram yoga practices put an emphasis on alignment and perfection in poses and I have heard stories of serious Ashtanga teachers sending students away until they have mastered a pose in the ashtanga sequence. 

It is not just the yoga media and some forms of practices that seem counter intuitive to promoting body confidence though. There have been many times when I have walked into a yoga studio, looked around me and thought "I do not belong here." I have looked at the other students, I have met the teacher and I have immediately started listing all the ways I am not enough for this class. I am not fit enough, strong enough, young enough, skinny enough, enlightened enough. All of those not enoughs dissipate once I am moving on my mat, but to someone new to yoga, that whole experience can be very intimidating. Though Yoga Journal has gotten a lot better at showing a more diverse group of yogis throughout their pages, many yoga studios feel a little less diverse. It can be difficult to cultivate body confidence in that sort of environment. 

There have been many psychological studies on the effects yoga has women's body confidence. A study released in the September 2016 issue of Body Image handed out questionnaires to a hundred and something yoga practitioners and a hundred and something non-yoga practitioners and found that people who practice yoga scored higher on body confidence than those who do not practice yoga. They also found that the people who practice yoga scored lower on self-objectification. A study released in Psychology of Sports and Exercise in March of this year focused on the effects of mirrors on yoga students in a yoga practice and found that women in yoga classes with mirrors had greater body image anxiety. It is clear that yoga is good for us, but it is also clear that it has it's own set of complicated pros and cons.

One reason I choose to teach at the Y is because it is a way to expose people who normally would not go to a studio to yoga. My classes at the Y are a diversity of age, size, color and fitness and it is beautiful. I try every week to put an emphasis on safety over so called perfection. I purposefully set my class up in a way that they are facing away from the mirrors. I tell them to find the joy in their practice and I have started to see my students grow in their own confidence. These lessons are all well and good and something any yoga teacher worth their salt teaches. Something I feel I could do better as a teacher is pushing my students to create their own personal practice. Because this is where true self confidence blooms into the sweetest flower. Those times I practice on my own are moments when I feel the most beautiful. 

I know that cultivating a personal yoga practice hard. There are days I unroll my mat and think "I don't want to do anything." but I do something. It may be simply sitting back in child's pose and counting my breaths to ten, but it is something. There are no hard set rules of how long you should be on your mat or what you even need to be doing. That's the joy of making it your own. If you are a teacher, I encourage you to impress the importance of a yoga practice outside of a class. If you are a student, I challenge you to spend just five minutes every day this week on your mat, on your own.

Namaste. 

CHUGGA CHUGGA

Cindy Maddera

Yesterday morning, I went out to start my car and the engine went "whir whir whir.....clickety clickety...ugh ugh ugh." I had a moment of panic before turning the key in the ignition again. Finally, on the third try, the engine puttered to life. My car is paid off in March (or April...something like that). My plan is to drive this car until the wheels fall off, but my plans and Murphy's Law don't always match up. So when there's a moment of starting hesitation, I get a little bit nauseous. Really, the only reason the engine struggled is because it is so awfully horribly cold outside. It really is the worst and I just go on and on about how one day I will retire to some place warm. I don't even care if it ends up being Florida. 

Once the car warmed up to a drivable temperature, I headed off to teach my first yoga class of the new year. I've been dreaming about teaching yoga. Really...not figuratively. I told you about the dream where I was teaching yoga in a room that had a potato bar (I still think Yogatado would be a great studio/restaurant idea). A few nights later I dreamed that I was teaching yoga in a space that was also hosting a birthday party. It was very loud and I had to shout. There were kids running around in between yoga mats. This dream turned out to be not too far off of reality. The space where I am teaching is an open space that also holds the free weights. A partial wall separates the room from the rest of the gym. You can hear everything from the work out area and people walk into the class area to get weights or just wander around. I totally had to yell to my students. 

When I first started teaching yoga to my coworkers at my old job, we had a hard time finding a class space. We ended up in stairwell. You opened the door and immediately to your left was a staircase but to the right of that staircase there was a closet/storage space. It mostly held a stack of folding chairs that fit under the stairs, leaving the rest of the floor area open for yoga mats. It was drafty or steamy depending on outside temperatures and occasionally someone would walk in to actually use the stairs or more likely hoping to use that space to make a personal phone call. I made a little sign to place on the doorknob outside whenever we were having class to warn people that yoga was happening in that room. Later on, I would end up teaching in real classrooms and yoga studios, but I never gave up the stairwell space for my coworker classes. 

I've been nervous and apprehensive about teaching yoga again after all this time of not teaching. The new teaching environment to most yoga teachers does not sound ideal, but to me, it's perfectly normal. In fact it was almost comforting to teach my first class of the new year after a five year hiatus in this noisy open space. It is familiar, which I know sounds crazy. One doesn't really link noisy open spaces with yoga. I see it as the perfect environment for teaching a student to be fully present on their mat and to guard their senses for relaxation. Because outside, in our every day lives, our environment is not ideal. I don't just mean the temperature, though saying the current temps are not ideal is being polite. Our world is busy with sights and sounds and things that make us uncomfortable. I don't necessarily want to teach people how to ignore all of this. Some times we need to be uncomfortable. I do want to teach people how to approach all of it with calmness though. This is a lesson that I needed to be reminded of, the practice of taking our yoga off the mat and into our daily life.

It is one thing to do yoga, but quite another to be yoga. 

WHAT'S YOUR MILK CRATE

Cindy Maddera

Years ago, Chris and I visited New Orleans together with Todd. We noticed that most all of the street performers had their own milk crate. That crate acted as a stage or a seat or even as part of the act as one performer balanced a milk crate on his head. If you had a milk crate, you had a job. The milk crate made Chris come up with an idea for a self help book called "What's Your Milk Crate?" The basic concept of the book was discovering the base for the job you wanted to do. It was really a great idea, one of the many on Chris's list of ideas, but nothing ever really came out of it. What's Your Milk Crate was a self help book for the creative type; at least that's what I believed for many years. It took me awhile to figure out that everyone needs a milk crate. It took me even longer to realize that I have many milk crates. Like a milk crate for science and a milk crate for yoga. Sometimes a crate wears out and needs to be replaced with a new one of a different color. Sometimes you have too many milk crates and you need to dump a few. 

Our kayaking tour group were all standing around on a beach eating lunch and chit-chatting. One of our guides, Katie, and another woman were talking about combining kayaking with yoga. Katie said that she'd love to take a group over to one of the islands to camp and do yoga, but she needed a teacher. Michael chimed in at this and said "Cindy could teach for you!" Suddenly, all eyes turned towards me like they expected me to start leading vinyasa right then and there. I stood there with my eyebrows raised and sort of stammered for a minute before I finally spit out that I used to teach. Meaning, I don't teach anymore. Though, I had to admit that it would be really great to be part of a kayaking yoga retreat. Then words starting falling from mouth in an effort to explain myself and why I don't teach any more. I feel like I've told this story a lot lately and it needs a rewrite. I talk about taking time off from teaching to get used to a new job and a new city. I talk about volunteering a little and then I say "my husband got sick and died and I just kind of stopped teaching all together at that point." Then I scramble back around and say something like "I didn't stop teaching because of Chris. I just stopped teaching."

My milk crate changed colors. 

That should be my answer when someone asks me why I don't teach any more. My milk crate changed colors. I am not opposed to teaching. I loved teaching yoga. Loved it! When I moved from a job that brought me joy to a job that was just a job, I taught lots of yoga. Teaching made feel good and balanced out the job that made me feel awful, but it made sense for me to take a break from teaching once we moved to Kansas City. Moving is stressful. Moving to completely unknown territory is a different level of stress and exhilaration. There was a whole lot of new happening around me with a new job, a new home, a new city. Adding to all of that with new classes and new students didn't seem like the smartest thing or the most economical. I spent more money maintaining my teaching certification than I did making money as a teacher. But these are not all of the reasons for stepping away from teaching. 

My yoga teacher once told me that people who really get yoga and the concept of yoga, don't teach. Those old gurus that hang out in Yogaville teach a workshop about once year just to help pay for their living, but they don't teach daily classes. I don't know if I "get" yoga, but I understand what happens to your personal practice when you are a teacher and I understand what can happen to your personal practice when you stop teaching.  I understand why those old gurus don't teach daily classes. When I stopped teaching, my yoga practice shifted. Before, my practice was one sided plus a savasana. I did all the poses on the left because I usually demonstrated by doing poses on the right and I never got a savasana. The shift in my practice was more than just one sided poses and savasana though. I've noticed this more lately. I find that being alone on my mat brings me the same kind of joy that teaching yoga did. There are times when being on my mat is so sweet, so juicy, that I don't want to leave. 

Up until this very moment, I struggled with what I guess I could call guilt over not teaching. To go through all that training and work and then not use it seems wasteful or worse, it seems like a failure. I was good at teaching. It is not often I am going to admit at being good at anything, but this? I was good at teaching yoga. My students loved me. I still get the occasional "I sure do miss you" message from an old student. And there are times when I hear something and my inner yoga teacher wants to blurt out an alternative way of doing things, but most of the time I keep my mouth shut. I do occasionally toy with the idea of starting a yoga podcast or putting together a workshop and that may or may not happen. Who knows. Right now though, I'm going to stop making excuses for not teaching. I'm going to stop making my decision for not teaching any more sound so negative. I'm going to stop apologizing for putting my practice first. 

I'm going to stop apologizing for putting me first.