How Yoga Teacher Training Changes Lives

Westside Yoga Teacher Training Graduate Liz Jin shares her story of transformation!

Contrary to popular belief, Yoga Teacher Training is not just for people who want to teach yoga. It is a comprehensive course that is designed to pride a broad view of the power of this practice, perfect for anyone who wants to understand the fundamentals of yoga, as well as those who want to teach the practice to others. Topics covered include anatomy, physiology, pose alignment, energy management, philosophy, and much, much more.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my YTT experience lately, as we prepare for our next 200 Hour RYT yoga teacher training Westside Yoga, this fall. I will be co-leading the training with Rebecca Galla-Jones, along with some of our experienced teachers, and some very special guests from our yoga community.  Preparing for the course, and talking about it with our students, has reminded me that YTT was the beginning of all of the major health transformations in my life.

When I first got into yoga, almost 20 years ago, I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. I was recovering from a life-altering car accident at the time, and was living with a lot of chronic pain. My first yoga experience felt impossible–everything hurt and I had to rest a lot. But I did what I could, and I was shocked that, afterwards, I felt less pain.

There was also this happiness thing. After class I felt happier, and more hopeful, than I had in quite some time. Maybe ever. I left that first class knowing that I would do this practice for the rest of my life, and I still feel that way today.

Back then, though, actually practicing yoga was really hard. I struggled a lot, but it was something I just knew I had to do. I added yoga classes to my weekly routine, never missing a Tuesday night class. As my gym added more classes, I put those on my schedule as well. I also started practicing in the mornings at home, with videos and TV shows. As I grew more comfortable on the mat, I was sick less often, and I had a lot more energy.

Daily yoga practice was life-changing. I noticed that the more I practiced and studied the meaning of yoga, the more the pieces of my life fell into place. I felt more confident, more empowered, and more ALIVE than I had ever been. My friends could see the change in me, but it was hard for them to understand what had happened. The power of yoga is difficult to put into words, and much easier to understand in practice.

Unfortunately, there were few easy ways for people to practice yoga back then. One day I had this funny thought: “If no one else is going to teach, than maybe I should.” It seemed ridiculous, to say it outloud to my husband: “I think I should be a yoga teacher”. We both giggled the first time I mentioned it.

But that thought turned into a calling I could not deny, and THAT is why I walked into LA Fitness and applied to be a yoga teacher. They didn’t care that I had never taught yoga before, and I didn’t care that the class only paid $17. It was just something I felt I had to do; it gave me purpose.

So…it was 2001, when I taught my first class, and there were no RYTs, no Yoga Alliance, and certainly no standards for yoga teachers. The manager at the gym didn’t take me seriously at first–at least not until I started filling my classes, and the members demanded more yoga on the schedule.

My Tuesday and Thursday night classes grew quickly in the months that followed, and it was exciting, but it also made me even more nervous about my teaching. Am I teaching this right? What if someone gets hurt? What if I get fired? My fears grew, week over week, so when I saw an ad for YTT in Yoga Journal Magazine, I jumped at the chance to get certified.

I applied to Peachtree Yoga Center in the summer of 2002, and began training that fall. I’ll admit I was intimidated at first, but it was clear that the struggle was there to serve me. Those long weekends of training added more to my life than I ever could have imagined.

It was during YTT that this practice really came alive for me. I discovered why yoga makes me feel so happy (samadhi, or bliss, is actually one of the eight disciplines of yoga), and learned new ways to add yogic techniques to my life. As I embraced yoga philosophy, and applied it to my life, I figured out how to control my migraines without medication, and finally got off the painkillers I had taken for years. I learned how to breathe more effectively, think more clearly, and be more of the person I always hoped to be. It deepened my faith, and made me feel like everything really is going to be ok. Most importantly, YTT gave me the background and confidence I needed to teach others in an effective and inspiring way.

Looking back now, YTT was, by far, the most empowering experience of my entire life. It opened my mind and my heart to possibilities that I never would have considered otherwise. Ask anyone you know who has completed YTT, and I expect you will hear the same.

The truth is that yoga is for everyone, and this training can help everyone. No matter what you have been through or what you are facing, learning how to apply yoga to your experiences can improve your life. They say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Yoga is the teacher, and it will call to you when the time is right. Answer the call, and give yourself the gift of becoming a true yogi.

We are thrilled to be leading Yoga Teacher Training on the Westside of Atlanta this fall. The course will run from September 8, 2016 -December 17, 2016 at Westside Yoga, and students of all levels and backgrounds are welcome. Feel free to contact me if you are interested, and I’d be happy to help you get started. Or if you just want to follow our adventures in YTT, like us on Facebook and find us on Instagram.

Much love,

Amber

 

Photo by Jamie Annarino at Westside Yoga

 

 

Seek The Truth Relentlessly

MONDAY MANTRA: Seek the truth relentlessly.

We all have stories about who we are, and what we can or can’t do. We repeat the stories so often in our mind, that we start to believe that they are the ultimate truth. I’m not strong enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not good enough, and so on and so on. It’s an endless cycle, and the more we repeat the story, the more it sticks to our perception of who we are.

Until we recognize that the stories in our minds are limiting, and self-imposed, we can never realize our full potential. The only way to become who we are intended to be, is to examine the story, and get rid of the parts that don’t serve us.

What are your stories? Which are founded in reality, and which are not? Don’t let the story stand between you and what you might become. Seek the truth relentlessly, and do what must be done to be happy, even if it seems impossible. We are all capable of so much more than we know. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, and believe that what you want most is waiting for you, on the other side of the truth. ॐ

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Feed The Faith, Question the Belief

MONDAY MANTRA: Feed the faith, question the belief.

As a new year begins, we feel a renewed sense of hope for what lies ahead. We make resolutions to do better, and be better, but what can we do to ensure that we actually become a better version of ourselves this year?

Our best hope for transforming our lives is getting to the root of how we make choices. Are our decisions founded in faith, or founded in belief?

Faith is who we are and what we know at our core; the undeniable truths of our lives. I like to think of faith like the roots of a tree, because faith grows strong from the inside out. No matter how intense the storm, what we know for sure will never change. When we are connected with our faith, we feel free and happy. Everything is exactly as it should be, and we can do anything we set our mind to.

Belief is that which is founded in ego–it can be easily swayed by the world around us, like the leaves and branches of a tree. Belief emerges from our experiences, and is influenced by the expectations and ideas of others. Because belief grows strong from the outside, and forces its way inward, it can make us feel imprisoned, and incapable of change. We might know that we can change because of our faith, but because we have given power to belief, we are not able to live up to our resolutions.

Through the practice of yoga we learn the value of satya, seeking universal truths, and being truthful, in every situation. Satya encourages us to be honest with ourselves, to question our beliefs, and to invest in that which is undeniable. We are worthy. We can grow stronger. We can control our responses to the world around us. These are all things that can no one can take away from us.

As you make plans for an amazing year ahead, remind yourself to feed the faith, and question the beliefs. Watching your thoughts will open new possibilities in your life, and faith will empower you to make those dreams come true.

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I Am Not My Circumstances

MONDAY MANTRA: I am not my circumstances.

Sometimes life is so wonderful, that we believe this is how it always should be. Sometimes life is overwhelmingly difficult, and we wonder what we did to deserve such challenges.

Throughout our lives, our circumstances are constantly changing. As our situations change, our minds label what is happening around us as good or bad. We believe that life is good when things go the way we want, and life is bad when things do not unfold as planned. Our analysis of what is happening founded in perspective, and not necessarily truth. And because analyzing our experiences is engrained in our thought patterns, our conclusions often bleed into our opinion of ourselves. In the process, we can damage our self-esteem, our motivation, and our judgement. We cling to a temporary and false sense of who we are, founded in that which is fleeting.

In order to be happy—truly, sustainably happy–we must anchored that which never changes. We must remember that, although circumstances are always changing,  who were are at our core can never change. Our essential, authentic self is created at birth, and we remain that same person through our entire lives.

Think about who you were at age 5, age 15, age 20. What made you, you? Has that changed?

You will face many trials–everyone does–but the challenges are there to refine you. They are your greatest teachers, leading you to become more of who you are intended to be.

Stay present through the good and bad times in your life, and never forget what makes you, you. Circumstances are simply part of your journey. Nothing that ever happens can change your essential self.

 

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Rejoice In The Way Things Are

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MONDAY MANTRA: Rejoice in the way things are.

There is an important distinction between happiness and excitement. So often in life we think, if I only had this or that, I would be happy. The truth is that we already have everything we need to be happy.

Happiness comes from being connected to who we are. It is the byproduct of believing that everything is exactly as it should be. Good things happen, bad things happen. It all works together to teach us to appreciate the blessings in our life. When we are grateful, we feel happy.

Happiness is very different than excitement. Excitement is what we feel when when we achieve a goal, or receive something that we feel we are lacking, such as a new car, a promotion, an invitation to a party.

Unlike happiness, excitement is not sustainable, because it is dependent on circumstances. Happiness is only dependent on self-awareness. It is what we feel when see ourselves with clarity, and remember that we each serve an important, unique purpose in the world.

At our core, we all want the same things–to know that we are seen, that we are heard, and that we matter.  This is what makes us happy, and it’s not something that we can buy or be given. It lies in how we see the world.

When we believe that we already have everything we need to be happy within, the whole world belongs to us.

The Other Side Of Fear

MONDAY MANTRA: Everything you want is on the other side of fear.

Fear is the great deceiver. It amplifies our doubts and toys with our imagination. The more we believe our fears, the less likely we are to take risks, and the more limited we become in our lives.

Fear and faith are like weeds and flowers in a garden. If we feed them both, both will grow…but the weeds will ultimately overtake the flowers. However, if we do the work to eliminate the weeds, clearing space for the flowers, what is beautiful will ultimately flourish.

The next time you find yourself wrestling with fear, push the negativity out of your mind, making room for good thoughts to grow. Doubt the fears, and believe in the possibilities. Tell yourself that life is limitless–you will never know how big your life might become, until you try.

 

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I Am Peace

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MONDAY MANTRA: I am peace.

December is, for many of us, the busiest time of year. Ironically, though, it is also the time of year that we talk most about peace on earth and goodwill to men. So, how do we reconcile the demands and extremes of the holidays, with our fundamental hope for peace?

By recognizing that peace is not something to wish for in the future. It is not some elusive ideal that we can only hope to achieve. Peace is a state of mind, a choice we make to practice ahimsa (non-violence) in every moment of every day.

Ahimsa is one of the highest values in the yogic practice. It is much further-reaching than physical non-violence. Ahimsa teaches us to refrain from negativity in all aspects of our life, including our actions, speech, and thoughts, about ourselves and others.

Every single one of us can be peace, by reminding ourselves that peace is a state of being. Any time it feels out of reach, use the mantra “I am peace” to remind yourself that peace is a who you are at your core. No matter how circumstances in life may change, peace is something that is always waiting within, ready to be revealed and shared with others.

We Can’t Get Happy, We Can Only Be Happy

MONDAY MANTRA: We can’t get happy, we can only be happy.

What’s the one thing everyone wants in life?

We all want to be happy. We chase happiness, as if it is a material possession that we can claim as our own. We think if I only had this or that, I would be happy. If only I was richer, thinner, or smarter, I would be happy. The longer we wait to “get happy”, the further out of reach it seems.

The truth about happiness, though, is that it is not as elusive as we think.  It is not a thing to be chased, but a state of being that we choose. We are, at our core, already happy. Our bliss might be hiding behind our attachments to the past, or our fears about the future, but happiness is always within, waiting to be revealed.

All we have to do to connect with our inner joy is learn to quiet the chatter of the mind. Be the witness to our thoughts, and practice non-attachment to outcome. In so doing, we realize that our thoughts are the only thing standing between us and happiness.

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Be Here Now

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MONDAY MANTRA: Be here now.

The only way to be truly happy is to live in the present moment. The worries, doubts, and fears that rule our minds are often founded in repetitive thoughts of prior traumas, and uncertainty about what lies ahead. These are things we can not control. The only thing we can control is the here and now. If we set aside thoughts of the past and future, and commit our focus to the present moment, we see our lives with greater clarity. We find new freedom in how we think, and we accept that the our life is not what happened yesterday, or what might happen tomorrow. Life is what is happening in the here and now.

It Is What It Is

MONDAY MANTRA: It is what it is, but it will be what you make it.

Our minds are constantly labeling our experiences as good or bad–this is human nature. But what would happen if we simply accepted experiences as they are, instead of judging them? This is the true purpose of yoga. Learning to still the mind so that we can find freedom in how we feel, how we think, and how we move. When we let go of judgement, and embrace what is, we realize that we already have everything we need to be happy.

How To Use Coconut Oil For Healthy, Glowing Skin

It’s been really cold and dry in Atlanta this week, and my skin has paid the price! Chapped lips and dry hands are no fun, so I’ve kept a bowl of coconut oil on the bathroom and kitchen counters, as a reminder to moisturize throughout the day. I also wash my face with coconut oil every night and morning, using only warm water to rinse. A little oil remains on the skin, along with a lovely glow.

I first tried coconut oil as a replacement for soap and lotion two years ago, when my friend Lisa (AKA The Charmed Yogi) told me that it’s a great practice for removing dirt, moisturizing, and leaving the skin refreshed. It seemed too good to be true, so I asked her to write about it for this blog. I was so inspired by the simplicity and wholesomeness of the practice, that I played around with it in the months that followed.

At the time, I was also experimenting with Retin-A, and a few other products that my dermatologist had suggested. Although the synthetic products did seem to brighten my skin, I didn’t like the idea of using all those chemicals.

When I first started cleansing my face (and eventually my entire body) with coconut oil, it felt strange, rinsing with water, instead of washing the oil off with soap. I was afraid my skin would break out, and I would feel dirty afterward. But, after a few weeks, I got used to the changes, and learned to love the light layer of oil that is left on my skin for protection.

I also love that my coconut oil regimen is simpler than washing with soap, and toning and moisturizing afterwards. It removes waterproof eye makeup in a snap, which is much easier and cheaper than using an eye makeup remover.

When I travel, coconut oil saves space in my suitcase. I used to pack a cleanser, toner, and mosturizer, but all I need now is a little block of coconut oil in a small container, to get me through a few days away from home (I freeze it before I travel and double bag the container to prevent leaks).

I know cleansing with oil might sound strange, but it not only works, it works better than anything else I have ever tried, and feels so much easier than my old routine. It has taught me that we don’t need all of those chemicals to stay clean, and it saves me hundreds of dollars each year.

Could you toss your commercial cleansers and switch to coconut oil skin care? You never know until you try, so give it a whirl, and let me know what you think!

coconut_oilphoto:thechalkboardmag.com

10 Tips for a Healthier Lunchbox

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Research shows that children think more clearly, and perform better in school, when fed a steady diet of nutritious foods. According to Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of Eat to Live, “The foods children consume early in life…ultimately supply their brain power. A diet rich in vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts and seeds is the only way to ensure children get an array of phytochemicals, antioxidants, fatty acids, and other micronutrients to adequately supply their growing brains.” This means that moms like me can greatly influence our kids’ potential for success in school, by making healthy choices for their lunch boxes.

Packing snacks and lunches is also a huge opportunity to teach strategies for long-term, sustainable health. If children are at school for more than half their waking hours, then at least 50% of their dietary habits and preferences are being formed during this time. Every food you pack sends a message about what they should or shouldn’t choose to eat.

So, as you think about what you will send for lunch this year, remember that you are not just feeding your kids–you are also shaping their approach to lifelong wellness. Do your best to teach them how to create sustainable energy, and long-term health, with nutrient-dense foods. You, and your child, will be glad you did!

Here are a few strategies that work for our family:

1. Pack fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, and seeds first. Figure out what your kids like, and pack those healthy foods before anything else. Raw fruits and veggies have more nutrients than most other foods. Apples, bananas, cherry tomatoes, carrots, and pitted olives are some of my kids’ favorites. Let meats, dairy, chips, and sweets take up the smallest fraction of the lunch box, so that the majority of their foods are nutrient-dense.

2. Make it fun. My kids love to play what we call “The Rainbow Game”: pack fruits and veggies of every color of the rainbow except one, and tell your kids they need to report which one was missing when they get home. Use cookie cutters to create different shapes for fruits and sandwiches. Or create your own unique games to make them smile at lunch and snack time, when you can’t be there to do it in person.

3. Take your kids shopping! Empower kids with nutrition information, and encourage them to choose healthy foods at the store. Teach them how to read food labels, and let them decide what’s best (make sure to veto unhealthy choices with love). Keep a positive attitude, and let it be their idea whenever possible.

4. Start an ongoing dialogue about nutrition. Talk about the power of nutrient-dense foods, and why you make the choices you make for their meals. Ask your kids about the foods they ate at school. What vitamins and minerals were in your apple? Why were strawberries a healthy choice? If they don’t know, help them look it up. The more they understand the reasons behind your decisions, the more likely they are to accept them.

5. Save time with leftovers and prepared soups! Make sure you have a lunch-box sized thermos on hand, so reheated leftovers and soups stay warm until lunchtime. Get in the habit of doubling dinner recipes, so you have enough to send for lunch the next day. Boxed and canned organic soups can also be lifesavers, on days that you are short on time, or low on groceries.

6. Empower kids make their own trail mixes. Kids love to be creative! Make it easy for them to design their own trail mixes. Keep a variety of nuts, dried fruits, and gluten-free cereals on hand. A small handful of mini dark chocolate chips can make trail mix more palatable to picky eaters; it also adds antioxidants, and the sugar content is negligible.

7. Teach kids to choose water over sugary drinks. Milk and juice are high in sugar, and are therefore not good choices for kids that are trying to learn. And, of course, sodas and sports drinks are a big no-no. Kids that have too much sugar from these kinds of beverages at lunch, are bound to crash in the afternoon. Sugar also decreases their immunity, creates inflammation, and adds empty calories to their diet. Water is always best in the lunch box.

8. Don’t forget about healthy dips and stuffings. Kids love to dip and stuff foods. The trick is to give them nutritious options. Try to avoid ketchup and ranch dressing. Fresh salsas and bean dips, however, are great choices! Hummus is widely available, and comes in a variety of flavors. Nut butters are also a healthy option–try cashew, sunflower seed, or almond. Stuff baby bell peppers with hummus, and teach kids to dip and fill fruits with nut butters. You might be surprised how much they like it.

9. Forget the bread. Even if you are not allergic to gluten, bread is just not good for you. It is lower in nutrients than whole foods, and hard for the body to process. Why? Because wheat has been genetically modified so much over the years, that our bodies no longer recognize flour as food. It can create inflammation, sinus problems, insomnia, and stomach issues. If your kids insist on bread, try to limit how much you serve (maybe send half a sandwich instead of a whole, and double up on the fruits and veggies), and ask for gluten-free breads at your local store.

10. Put dessert in its place. It’s okay to send dessert to school, just not every day. Teach kids that dessert is a treat, to be enjoyed on special occasions, or sometimes just because! And remember, not all desserts are created equal. A piece of organic dark chocolate with cherries and almonds is always a better choice than a gummy bear with high fructose corn syrup and artificial coloring.

Most of all, try to be grateful for the chance to influence your kids’ eating habits. It might feel like a chore, but trust me on this: teaching our children about nutrition is one of the most powerful ways we have to show them how much we care.