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Back in the fall, to commemorate my 5-year anniversary of graduating from the 200-hour Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training Program, I took on a very extensive and revealing blogging endeavor of transcribing and posting (most of) my journal notes from the experience. The posts were well received, and—judging by my WordPress site stats—I can see that they are being read by others out there interested in learning more about the Kripalu experience.

At the end of the month-long documentation, I promised I’d do a reflection post about YTT at Kripalu to summarize the pros and cons of the program. I loved my experience and wouldn’t trade it for the world, but there are certainly some things about the program to consider if you’re on the fence about where to study.

(Background: I completed the month-long, 200-hour YTT program in October-November 2006, led by Megha [Nancy Buttenheim] and Rudy Peirce.)

PROS

Exposure to a variety of teachers and styles. Our curriculum included twice-daily 90-minute yoga classes, which meant we had a lot of guest teachers who specialized in a variety of styles. Kripalu yoga can be gentle, moderate, or vigorous; we had mornings where we’d be squatting in utkatasana for a minute and others where we’d be nearly drifting off to sleep during a 6:30 a.m. yoga nidra practice. Where else does your day start with a playful and fun vinyasa class led by a grown man with pigtails and then conclude with a sensual and deep journey into asana and meditation led by a tantric master? Our classes were led by both senior and newly minted teachers, meaning we got to see where we hoped to be ourselves in the near and distant future.

Nothing to do but focus on yourself. When living in a yoga community in the mountains for a month, all of life’s everyday routines are removed: washing the dishes, feeding the cat, changing diapers, commuting to and from work, deciding what to make for breakfast/lunch/dinner, checking your e-mail, putting on makeup, changing the burned-out lightbulb. When the mundane necessities of life are no longer in the picture, the only thing remaining is…you. This can be scary but oh-so therapeutic. After a few days, the void normally filled by these little distractions fills with time for honest self-reflection. It is why every room at Kripalu contains a box of tissues: When deep issues are unearthed, they have nowhere to go but out; no running off to vacuum the living room or rearrange the condiment shelf in the refrigerator. Opportunities like this don’t happen often: Take the time away from “real life” to get to know the soul inhabiting that often-frenzied body you carry around.

It’s the yoga of life. Kripalu yoga teacher training goes beyond the asanas, the pranayama, and the meditation (all great thing, though!): You learn and apply the yoga of life, taking time to engage in conscious listening/communication, find and strengthen your voice, and practice compassion and lovingkindness. Several small group discussions in YTT went well beyond just mat-talk; people talked openly and honestly about past experiences, traumas, current struggles, and fears of the future. Everything you learn at Kripalu will follow you home and constantly remind you to live in the inquiry.

The food. It’s fresh. It’s natural. It’s chopped and diced and prepped lovingly by volunteers. Best of all, it’s there for you three times a day, along with a 24-hour tea stash. I could have my usual bowl of high-fiber cereal with walnuts and raisins and rice milk, or I could have a slice of frittata with a rosemary biscuit (or all of the above). If you’re there in the fall, THE SOUPS. A simple slice of toast with peanut butter and jelly becomes a special treat when your realize dessert is only served once or twice a week. Warning: It’s easy to go overboard, especially when you’re all vulnerable and shit. Let me eat my feelings along with this third helping of country-fried tofu, why don’t I?

Modifications a’plenty. Kripalu yoga is all about making yoga right for you. Kripalu teacher trainees are taught numerous variations on a pose, including different stances, prop usage, or just plain substitutes for certain asanas. What works for your body? Do you need a rolled-up blanket? A cushion? How about a block with a blanket and an eye pillow? I was super flexible 5 years ago and didn’t really consider limitations, but now that I have a hip thing, I am ever-so-grateful for my Kripalu training and the assurance that it is 100% completely OK to modify a pose or just not do it when something hurts. My training gave me the gift of creativity, so in my own practice I have the knowledge to play around with props or different forms of a pose when my body just doesn’t feel quite right. The “perfect pose” is the one that offers you openness and joy without pain.

Daily dance parties. Most of our daily sessions began with music thumping and bodies moving freely into the open space. Hey, if you’re going to be sitting for 3 hours straight learning about the yamas and niyamas, best to start the classes by getting the blood flowing and endorphins rushing. How I would love to start each work day with 5 minutes of booty shaking in the hallway!

Integration. After each session, we’d close with pranayama, meditation, or a round of co-listening with a partner. It was a way to take all the huge concepts we just learned and give them time to settle into our bodies, complete the download, so to speak. We crammed a lot into those 28 days, and it would have been easy to get overwhelmed. Even mini deep-breathing pauses in the middle of a class helped ground us and bring us all back to the same wavelength.

Quick turnaround. One of the main reasons I chose Kripalu was because I knew I’d be certified in a month. I was so gung ho on becoming a teacher that I was just too impatient to enroll in a program that only met one weekend a month and took 8 months to a year to complete.

International flavor. Studying yoga at a nationally renowned center attracts people from all over the country…and the world. My class included students from Hawaii, California, Florida, Ireland, Japan, Australia, and even a woman who lived just two towns over from me. The diversity at Kripalu is much greater than anything you’d get at a local YTT program, and even people’s backgrounds were simply fascinating: I mean, I shared a dorm room with a Cirque du Soleil aerialist!

CONS

An insular utopia. Yes, I mentioned above that being holed away in a retreat center allows your true self to emerge, but this can also be problematic once you try to leave the bubble. Kripalu tends to attract only kind, compassionate, mindful folks; step outside into the real world, and no one’s wearing nametags and giving you a silent Namaste when you pass them in the street. I only left the campus once or twice during my month there, and so even things like the sound of cars on the road and Christmas music piped into stores jarred my senses and made me feel very uneasy. If feasible, I suggest a day or two of re-integration, maybe getting a hotel room off-site and gently easing yourself back into reality instead of just hopping directly onto the Greyhound bus and heading straight into Manhattan.

All conditions are ideal. Ideal, not necessarily real. It’s why people get upset at shows like The Biggest Loser, where contestants live on a ranch, have world-class trainers by their side, eat only the best foods prepared by the best chefs, and work out 4 hours a day without having to worry about jobs or kids or mowing the lawn. Yeah, it’s great, but then it comes time to return home and try to apply everything you just learned in a shitstorm of deadlines, bills, morning gridlock, and insomniac toddlers. I went from doing at least 3 hours of yoga each day to maybe 1 hour three times per week…and consequently went through honest-to-god yoga withdrawal, my brain craving the biochemical reactions that daily yoga provided. Although it’s not always financially do-able, the 2-part monthlong program (split into two 12-day sessions) may be more realistic in terms of taking what you learn and applying it to real life.

Lack of post-graduation support/community. You eat, sleep, and study with a wonderful group of people for a month, share with them your deepest and darkest secrets, cry on their shoulder, massage their calves, declare that This Group is the circle of friends you’ve been seeking your whole life…and then after 28 days, *poof* Everyone boards their plane, train, bus, or car and heads home, back to Ireland, back to Australia, back across the country. Of course, technology makes it easy to stay in touch with a group, but it’s simply not the same as studying in a local yoga studio and being able to take class with a core group of mates from your YTT class. People who stay closer to home and do a local YTT have such a greater opportunity to keep that bond alive by, for example, meeting up for coffee or registering for a weekend workshop together.

Leaving your YTT teachers is also difficult, as they just don’t have the time to keep in touch with every student under their tutelage. With a local YTT, you may get to see your teachers weekly and rely on them for advice, suggestions, and support; at Kripalu, once your group of 60 graduates, the next group is waiting at the door. Kripalu teachers are generally fairly busy folks with rigid teaching/training/travel schedules and simply cannot offer the personal support you may need post-graduation.

Heavy responsibility. You’re training not just to be a yoga teacher but a Kripalu yoga teacher. The name carries a lot of weight; Kripalu has a history, a reputation, and prestige. This freaked me the hell out—people would expect me to be a Super Awesome Compassionate Yoga Teacher, but what if I couldn’t pull that off? In addition, the premise of Kripalu YTT is that you can change the world. Be the change! Spread the love! Take this knowledge we’re imparting on you and do something with it. Man, talk about pressure! I got home not knowing whether I should teach yoga, join the Peace Corps, or live in a leper colony in India. For me, I was so overwhelmed that I just sat in a relatively catatonic state for about a week afterwards, trying to process everything.

Practice-teach fail. Personally, I think this is one of the biggest downfalls of the Kripalu YTT: No opportunities to practice-teach real-world students. Many local YTTs have “practice-teach” weeks, a stretch of free or discounted classes—open to the public—where trainees can get guided experience in working with a variety of bodies, abilities, and personalities before they go solo. At Kripalu, the only students you teach are your fellow classmates…who, ahem, are already pretty adept at yoga. Try going from that to teaching a class with mixed abilities, where one woman has trouble sitting on the floor and the other is a seasoned yogi with ripped chaturanga arms. During our training, we had one opportunity to assist with a public class, but that was maybe 15 of us assisting all at once as a senior teacher led the class. We did our best to take on “beginner’s” minds for our fellow classmates during each of our three practice-teach sessions, but this is still minimal preparation for the task of leading actual beginners.

If you completed the Kripalu YTT, I’d love to hear your take!
And good luck to all the trainees headed out there this summer (::coughcoughLiberezVouscoughcough::). 🙂

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Ahhh, September. The start of National Yoga Month. Yet as all my fellow downward dawgs unfurl their mats to begin a month of celebration, contemplation, and meditation, I’m leaving my asana behind in New Jersey and heading to a land of not one but FOUR mountain poses: Space, Big Thunder, Splash, and Everest.

As the old saying goes, “I’m going to Disney World!”

Although I’ll still do a few hotel room sun salutations in the morning and most likely prop my achy legs up into Viparita Karani after a long day walking around World Showcase, the truth is that–for me–this first week of National Yoga Month will probably include very little yoga.

Well…let me rephrase that. It will probably include very little PHYSICAL yoga.

Unless you’re a yoga teacher, long-time student, or someone very devoted to the tenets of yoga philosophy, your vision of yoga is most likely the ol’ headstand-in-the-middle-of-the-room, foot-behind-the-head variety. The vision of yoga that makes you say, “I’m not flexible; I can’t do yoga.” The kind of yoga that requires a sticky mat, some kind of Lycra wardrobe, and either an instructional DVD or a gym membership.

But here’s the thing: That kind of yoga is only 1/8 of the practice.

The physical postures of yoga that we’re all most familiar with–termed asana in Sanskrit–is just one serving of a multiple-course meal. I didn’t know this myself until I had been taking yoga classes for about a year and was interested enough to pick up an issue of Yoga Journal, but it made sense. What had started as me taking some classes at my gym to improve my balance and flexibility gradually turned into something bigger. I felt kinder toward others after doing yoga. I developed a deeper appreciation of my body after doing yoga. I felt compelled to sit in silence and meditate and breathe after doing yoga.

Asana was the key into this wide world of yoga, a practice of not only physical postures but seven other “limbs”:

Yamas (ethical restraints).

Niyamas (personal observances).

Pranayama (breath control).

Pratyahara (sense withdrawal/control).

Dharana (concentration/inner perceptual awareness).

Dhyana (devotion, meditation).

Samadhi (union with the divine).

So, as you can see, asana is just a sliver of lunchmeat in this extra-long hoagie we call yoga, which means it is very possible to still do yoga while walking the dog, doing the dishes, grocery shopping, or traveling.

I’ll never forget the way yoga became my best friend during my 3-week trip to China and Tibet in 2006. I didn’t touch a yoga mat for 21 days and never once had the floor space to even get into Downdog, but the emotional aspect of yoga, pranayama, and lovingkindness meditation completely enriched the adventure. There were so many times I could’ve gone ape sh*t, cried hysterically, or lost it completely, but I’m certain that the mental clarity and focus I cultivated from my then 2 years of asana yoga practice got me through it all and let me go with the flow–even our three days on the pirate ship garbage barge Chinese cruise ship, where stowaways, cockroaches, and the residue of an uncleaned communal squat toilet punctuated our sweaty 72 hours out on the Yangtze.

Stowaways in the hall

Will I be doing Bakasana in the middle of Main Street, USA next week? Probably not. (Although man, that would make an awesome photo…!) Will I be doing yoga? You bet! In fact, I’m pretty sure I can apply all of the 10 yamas and niyamas to life inside the Magic Kingdom, and, as part of YIOM’s observance of National Yoga Month, I hope to blog about it. See what others have to say about the 8 limbs of yoga here…and then go out on a limb and see how you can incorporate a little slice of yoga lunchmeat into your life. 🙂

Free Yoga Classes and Event during National Yoga Month September.

Thursday was my office birthday celebration, which meant my manager brought in the treat of my choice (brownies!) and decorated my cubicle with the “Happy Birthday” confetti.

This time last year I felt anything but happy. I had never associated turning 30 with “getting old,” but then right before my birthday my hip situation worsened and an MRI revealed a torn labrum. At the same time, an x-ray of my leg revealed a mysterious “thing” in my femur, and I went for three agonizing months not knowing for sure what it was. Before I had a specialist deem it a harmless “bone island” (a true medical term, not the next FOX reality show, I swear), I spent my days making orthopedist and bone scan appointments, experimenting with antidepressants (which lasted for a week; I couldn’t stand the side effects), and having to take anxiety medication to go to sleep. The timing was awful, and I felt like my body was a cruel prankster, making everything break down at such a milestone year of my life.

Yet, even with those setbacks, being 30 turned out OK. The hip thing makes my body slightly more fragile, but I have learned to cope with it, taking my time getting in and out of cars, avoiding pigeon and related yoga poses, and always toting around an ice pack to strap on my side after a long day of walking or a cycling session at the gym.

I know I look older; I can no longer mask a night without sleep–the dark circles under my eyes give it away. I have a few more wrinkles on my face, and I am oh-so-crotchety. I am a 30-something, female version of the “Get off my lawn!”-yelling grandpa. Or a cuter version of Larry David. Either would be correct. Just ask my husband.

But, before I go grab a frying pan and yell at the local youth walking across my grass, here’s a look back at the high points of Year 30:

• I celebrated the big 3-0 down the shore with my sis. It was a great lil’ getaway; we went to Wildwood, a shore town we used to frequent annually as kids but then hadn’t been in years. We did some rides, strolled the boards, took goofy pictures, scared ourselves silly riding ducks suspended on an overhead track, took the “back roads”-way home to avoid an accident that left us thinking we accidentally drove into Kansas, and then sat our sandy and sweaty beach butts down at IndeBlue back home for dinner.

I dorked out seeing Morey's Pier after such a prolonged absence.

Even mannequinns get heatstroke.

Heads up!

I've been on countless roller coasters, but returning to the Sea Serpeant fuh-reaked me out! I'm Death-Grip Donna, fourth row from the top.

• 30th birthday celebration II: Surprise Riversharks baseball game with friends. Bryan coordinated the event with a respectable number of guests; any more and I would have cried. I made it very clear to him that I did not want any big birthday surprise parties!

My kind of crowd!

• Birthday celebration III: Another outing with my sis, which included mango mimosas and omelets for brunch, a random African flea market, and a friend’s production of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, during which I was asked to be a part of the cast!

• Birthday celebration IV: A trip to Atlantic City, to redeem Bryan’s birthday gift to me: Tickets to the Season 7 So You Think You Can Dance tour!

Robert and Dominic!

• One of the greatest moments of my 30-year-old life was visiting a Disneyphile’s Mecca: Disneyland! Walt Disney World in Florida is my home base, but our trip to California last September allowed us the opportunity to walk in Walt’s footsteps.

The very first Disney castle!

As an East Coaster my heart will always belong to WDW, but the trip allowed us to see lots of cool things original to Disneyland:

An outdoors "It's A Small World"!

The Matterhorn!

A Monorail that runs through the park!

A Haunted Mansion that switches over to a "Nightmare Before Christmas" theme!

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride (does my shirt scream "Geek"?)!

A whole new Disney park–California Adventure!

Totally awesome evening show: World of Color!

• Being in California also meant seeing some really cool sights in the LA area:

Hollywood from the hills

LA traffic

The Walt Disney Concert Hall

A frozen yogurt junkie's heaven

The beautiful Getty Center

Sepulveda Dam, which I thought was so lame at the time. (I have a new appreciation for it, now that I know it was featured on "24" and "Alias.")

• My 30th New Year’s celebration included some awesome rooftop fireworks over Philly, which we may never see again now that our friends who lived in the high-rise apartment complex have moved.

• After maintaining a fairly private blog since 2003, I started this here Flowtation Devices in March!

• After being without a “yoga home” for more than a year, I find a studio right by my office–and a teacher whose classes I love!

• I took time to polish up my resume, reminding myself that I done good.

• I put on my big-girl shoes and drove to Philly by myself so I could start attending 5Rhythms classes in the city.

• 30 became the year of fanatic plane watching:

• One of the best places to watch planes is Red Bank Battlefield Park, which became a go-to spot for Bryan and I on nice days:

• My dad won tickets to a Phillies game–my first time at Citizens Bank Park, and some SWEET seats, too!

• I finally got to bang on my djembe a little more at some rockin’ drum circles:

Facilitator Jim Donovan and Old-Lady Friend Carrol.

• Bryan and I spend the evening with fellow NPR nerds at a live recording of Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me at the Academy of Music. Things get even better after Christmas, when Bryan gets me a shiny red iPod Nano and I can finally listen to the podcasts!

• I enter my first sporty competition and complete the swimming portion of a team duathlon.

• A railroad crossing near our house that has been closed since the dawn of time OPENS, meaning we can drive from one side of town to the other without having to make a giant u-turn. I consider this 30th Birthday Celebration V; it was a huge victory in our town!

• Bryan gets a new job that allows him to work from home–more husband time! And weeknight dinners together, too–a brand new concept for the wife of a former newspaper photographer!

• I supervise some kick-ass interns at work. It feels good to work with young, intelligent minds…and even help one score a full-time gig!

Round II of physical therapy for my hip includes some odd moments (nothing like having a male PT assistant glue electric nodes to my “underwear” area), but I walk away from the 2-month endeavor feeling better and armed with some incredibly useful hip and back exercises.

• I take blogging to the next level by joining an online community. Ahhh, commitment!

• While delving into all kinds creative movement, I fall head-over-heels in love with Biodanza during an introductory workshop. (It’s returning to Philly in August!)

___________________________

…So there you have it, kiddos. 30 was such an odd year for me, because I do the pee-pee dance when I see Donald Duck dressed as a pumpkin (and break down in tears when he walks away before I get a picture), yet I grumble and scowl like an old lady when kids go splashy-splash in the pool during my lap time at the gym. How one can be so much like Dora the Explorer and Dorothy Zbornak at the same time is a mystery…but–yes, thank you Lady Gaga–dammit, I was born this way!

A real-time photo of me transforming from age 30 into 31.

Even though spring officially begins in March and we’re now more than 40 days past that starting point, I still feel like May is when the REAL spring begins. At this point, there’s absolutely no threat of snow, our trees and lawn are unquestionably green, the depressing rain/wind cycles of April have blown by us, and the temperatures are holding steady near the 70-degree mark. People just truly love May! So it’s appropriate then, that with this psychological start of spring—with all the blooming and colors and new life forming around us (it’s baby goose season!!)–that I plant my own new harvest—participation in the YIOM network!

 YIOM

YIOM (“Why I Om”) debuted last month as Yogis Inspiring Oneness Month, a sort of challenge for yoga bloggers to post regularly, if not daily, for one month about all things asana, pranayama, ashtanga, so on and so forth in an effort to form a vast collection of yoga posts from across the country. YIOM’s founder, The VeganAsana, was so successful at corralling this group that she didn’t want to see all of her efforts end after April 30, and thus formed YIOM II—Yoga Inspired Online Movement, an ever-growing network of yogis who blog. I wasn’t part of the original YIOM (I had just started my blog the month before and didn’t know if I could keep up with the challenge), but now that I’m feeling comfortable out here holding onto my precious “Flowtation Device,” I’m excited to join this group and wear the YIOM badge with pride.

To tell you the truth, I had been seeking a network like this for a long time. Before I hurt my hip and had a consistent running regimen, I was all about the fitness blogs, reading about how people fueled for long runs, what their training plans looked like, and what workouts they did on their cross-training days. After the hip went stupid and I had to stop running, these blogs simply depressed me! I no longer wanted to see the photos of their awesome early-morning runs around Central Park at sunrise or read their mile-by-mile race recaps. I had a few food-focused blogs in my Google Reader, but looking at pictures of the step-by-step process of making an omelet (chopping onions! slicing ham! whisking eggs!) or baking muffins (pouring batter in the pan! watching muffins rise through the oven window!) just wasn’t cutting it. I was thirsty for healthy living or holistic blogs, but whenever I searched for something to that effect, all I got were diet, food, workout, and green-living blogs. Not that those things are great—I just wanted something a little more stimulating, posts from people who were inspired by movement in general—not just running—breathing, meditating, appreciating the small wonders around them, learning how to connect more deeply to their soul. A big part of my life had just been eliminated, and I needed to refresh my Google Reader with blogs that were more than just fartleks and foodstuffs. I wanted feeling, depth, stories from people who are also suffering and adapting, simple metaphors about yoga and everyday living that make each day on this earth a little easier to comprehend, posts from yogis who challenge the status quo.

And that’s where YIOM comes in. I haven’t even digested all of the participating blogs yet, but the bloggers whose posts I have read thus far are feeding me. There’s substance here, and their posts make me hungry for more. And I totally want to be a part of it all too! It feels good to be part of a community that gets my posts about yoga. I used to write about my yoga experiences—struggles with the yamas, niyamas, yoga injuries, prana flow—in a restricted-access blog mainly composed of my real-life friends, and I always felt guilty writing about these things because I feared no one would read it or get it, and that it was simply a waste of time. On YIOM, it’s a bit like that beloved show-and-tell from elementary school: We pass around our treasures, and everyone gets a chance to ooh and ahh over our words, wisdom, and stories.

So hooray for May, for new beginnings, for Lorin for planting this little vrksasana sapling and getting it to grow!

P.S. How embarrassing is it that I’m the only blogger without a Twitter account?! (I just don’t like being captive to so many technology outlets.) Whatev, it makes me unique–I totally stand out (like a sore thumb). 😛

About the Author

Name: Jennifer

Location: Greater Philadelphia Area

Blog Mission:
SHARE my practice experience in conscious dance and yoga,

EXPAND my network of like-minded individuals,

FULFILL my desire to work with words in a more creative and community-building capacity;

FLOW and GROW with the world around me!

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