What kind of a teacher are you when you can't respect the history of Yoga


I remember my first yoga class vividly. The teacher used a lot of words that were not in English and I didn't understand what was being said. I followed along as best I could by doing what everyone else was doing. The more I came to class, the more I picked up some Sanskrit terms phonetically.

To my Western ears, Sanskrit sounds weird, strange, hard to pronounce and harder yet to spell properly. I rarely use Sanskrit terms when I'm leading class, because I found it distracting as a new student. In my opinion, using Sanskrit names for physical yoga poses is unnecessary and can over-complicate the physical practice. We heard the word "ujjayi" a lot in yoga but rarely does anyone explain WHY nostril breathing changes our body and our mind. Recently I read "Breath" by James Nestor which delves into the scientific evidence supporting the positive physical results from nostril breathing. Now I'm making nostril breathing a primary focus with the why to support it.

What this comment is in actuality is an attempt to shame me because I used the word weird with regard to the word ujjayi. Perhaps I should have chosen another word - strange? unusual? unfamiliar? These are all synonyms of the word "weird." I won't be shamed. I won't accept the judgement of this comment. I will get a little angry and write this blog post though...

What kind of yoga teacher am I? The kind that strives to simplify the practice for students to experience themselves. The kind that puts their classes online for free, unmonetized, just because. The kind that blogs about the journey from student to teacher. The kind that will research  the history of yoga to educate myself on the spiritual or secular origins of the physical practice. The kind that brings scientifically based evidence into the physical practice. The kind that resists deleting comments full of judgement and shame and instead uses them as educating moments (for me and for others).

Let's talk for a bit about the history of yoga. The yoga limb that I lead is one of but eight of the limbs of yoga as inscribed by Patanjali. The first record of asana (the physical practice of yoga) appears in the 15th century (1401-1500) in the book Hatha Yoga Pradipika. According to this article on ElephantJournal, "the earliest asana from the three major treatises of Hatha Yoga. More than half are seated. Tree is the only standing pose. There is no mention of sun salutations or inversions." We can trace the physical asana practice that we know today (Sun Salutations, Warrior poses and Headstand) to T. Krishnamacharya. This YogaJournal article reads:

"Thus began one of Krishnamacharya’s most fertile periods, during which he developed what is now known as Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. As Krishnamacharya’s pupils were primarily active young boys, he drew on many disciplines—including yoga, gymnastics, and Indian wrestling—to develop dynamically-performed asana sequences aimed at building physical fitness. This vinyasa style uses the movements of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) to lead into each asana and then out again. Each movement is coordinated with prescribed breathing and drishti, “gaze points” that focus the eyes and instill meditative concentration. Eventually, Krishnamacharya standardized the pose sequences into three series consisting of primary, intermediate, and advanced asanas. Students were grouped in order of experience and ability, memorizing and mastering each sequence before advancing to the next.

Though Krishnamacharya developed this manner of performing yoga during the 1930s, it remained virtually unknown in the West for almost 40 years. Recently, it’s become one of the most popular styles of yoga, mostly due to the work of one of Krishnamacharya’s most faithful and famous students, K. Pattabhi Jois."

Mark Singleton's book "Yoga Body" refers to the 1925 book "Primary Gymnastics" by the famed Danish Olympian coach Niel Bukh includes "at least 28 of the exercises in the first edition of Bukh’s manual are strikingly similar (often identical) to yoga postures occurring in Pattabhi Jois’ Ashtanga sequence or in Iyengar’s Light on Yoga.” So where did the physical practice of asana begin? Is it Scandinavian or Hindu? Matthew Anderson writes in this article:

"If nothing else, the question of what yoga is and where it came from is far more complex than people realize.  In fact, it’s so complex that yoga proponents haven’t quite figured it out.  The possibility of a “secularized” yoga simply for the purposes of health has some proponents decrying its commercialization and yearning for a return to its more spiritual roots.  Yet if Singleton’s thesis has any weight at all, then the “return” may not be as far back as advocates suggest, and yoga may have more to do with the secular west than they realize."

So best case scenario here: I received a shaming comment from an anonymous person on the Internet, I got steamed, did some research on the reverence required for the history of yoga and will probably never use the word "weird" in a yoga class again - but I can't promise that. I did learn about Mark Singleton and Niel Bukh and for that I'm grateful.

Making Baptiste Yoga Stickers for Instagram Stories with GIPHY

I haven't played around with Instagram Stories very much, but when I was posting an IG story from Wax Wednesdays at Ella's and found a "rickroll' sticker - my first thought was "How the heck do stickers get into IG?"

I did some googling and found a few great "this is how you do it" posts:

The short version is: Create a Giphy account and get "brand" verified. If you're branding your account for your yoga studio, use a an email address that tied to your studio domain name - not a gmail or yahoo account (as an example).

Once you're approved as a brand account, you can make and upload stickers to GIPHY. When you upload your animated gif (sticker), you have the option to tag the image with words that will help it be found when people are searching on IG. 

It takes a while for your new sticker (gif) to be visible in an IG search, so be patient.

GIPHY has very clear guidelines posted for stickers: Requirements for Sticker Approval.

Knowing that the Baptiste community is global, utilizes IG quite a bit - I made stickers of each section of the Journey Into Power sequence, the Baptiste logo, one for Sara Page, Mike Murdoch, Leandra, Baron and Luca (so far). The search phrase is 'Baptiste Yoga' to find all of them!

Making an animated gif on a transparent background can be done several ways. 
I'll leave it at that - there are so many different ways to make animated gifs with transparent backgrounds. There's no one way to do it. I have a copy of Photoshop, but using Unscreen.com works pretty well if your clip is short. I've used Camtasia to record video snippets off my laptop screen and then turned those video snippets into gifs. If you're handy with using software to record video/edit images - making your own stickers (animated gifs with transparent backgrounds) will come naturally. If you've never worked with images or video in this manner, you'll find the online tools that do the work for you to be the easiest way to make your own IG stickers.

Gratitude for constructive feedback


I've been working on leveling up my yoga teaching skills recently. I would say it started with Leandra's "Lizard Tail" class, but I didn't start putting concept into creation until I received constructive feedback from my friend Julie Bergfeld after she took my class via Zoom on 8/25/2020. Essentially her feedback was that I should use student's names and be specific on who I am speaking to, it would be helpful if I had a specific theme, and what I spoke to was good, but was enough for two classes worth and I should leave more space (less instructing, more holding space). Her feedback was accurate and helped me get real with how I was holding the container for the students to have a yoga practice. I'd been winging it, waiting for inspiration to hit me with what I could/should speak to during the class. I began deconstructing Leandra's Lizard class, looking for a pattern to work from in order to lead more powerfully.

Julie took my class again on 9/26/2020 and by then I'd themed twelve classes in Leandra's styling & the theme for the class that night was "using resistance as a catalyst for growth". Julie's feedback for me after this class was she wanted to hear more from my share (I'd cut it short) and I say 'good' without directing the encouragement to a specific person.

Luca Richards held a Grow Tips Live webinar on  9/9 on the "The Shape of Sharing" which was all about theming a yoga class powerfully. It took me a while to digest what Luca covered in his webinar, but I began to put it into action in the class on 10/7. Simplifying the theme of the class to a single concept or single word has been my biggest challenge. I started out with "unconditional self-acceptance" and have whittled class themes down to justice, love, connection and gratitude.

This is a mountain with no top. As with everything in life, the only constant is change and as I grow and change how I hold the container of a yoga class, I'm able to look back at the classes I've recorded (especially the videos classes) and see pivotal points in the work that I've been doing to grow as a Baptiste yoga teacher. I'm grateful that video recording your classes was required at the time I was seeking Baptiste certification. I have mile markers that show me messy, hiding and awkward. The first video I made was way back in December of 2016, four months after attending Level One.

In 2017 I was recording classes to apply for Baptiste certification and receive feedback for how my teaching was landing. Messy, awkward, all the cues. First attempt, second attempt and a full class of YTT students I led the same day as the second attempt video. 

Fast forward to June of 2018, I had the opportunity to lead Sunday yoga at the Tampa Lululemon store and I setup the camera to record the 10/31 class at All Y'All Yoga because C. S. Hoback commented on one of my audio classes on YouTube and asked for a new video class. 

Luca says that leading yoga classes is not about you the teacher, it is about the students. Holding the container of the studio space (in person or over Zoom) is all about the students' experience. I'm able to hold the container more clearly as I leave more space, less teaching, more sharing from the space of "I" in a way that creates connection and triumph for everyone listening.

What does all of this mean? It means I'm committed to showing up fully for you. I am committed to honoring and respecting your practice and I am committed to putting my attention on creating more connection.

If you are a yoga teacher and are interested in one-on-one coaching, reach out to Julie or Luca. You'll be glad you did.

Theming a Baptiste Journey Into Power Yoga Class - How do they do it?

A masterfully themed yoga class is a beautiful thing to behold and to experience. I recently had that experience in a class led by Leandra Antonutti where she wove the concept of a lizard losing or shedding its tail into the class theme. She linked a lizard losing its tail into our practice by having us do lots of lizard-based poses but she also spoke to where a lizard doesn't make losing its tail right or wrong and it doesn't try to fix it. She then spoke to how people often get caught up in experiencing a loss of some kind and we go into trying to fix it rather than seeing the loss as an opportunity to regenerate, rebirth and begin again. I had the experience of "HOW DID SHE DO THAT?" while I was practicing.

I like to break things down and try to figure them out, so once her website went live, I took the time to dive into the pacing of what she said, when she said it, how often she gave us silence and when she spoke to the physical cues of the yoga practice of Journey Into Power.

I know this is WAY overboard behavior. I was hoping to find a magical pattern in her lovingly themed classes so I compared the theme in "Give Up The Small Fights" with "Shed Your Tail", but I did not find an obvious A+B+C=D pattern. What I did find gave me enough of a structure to play with creating themes for my classes.

First there's the theme - clearly stated - "The theme of today's class is X". For this I called it the concept. Where I saw a clear link to Baptiste Methodology, I simply called that methodology. Any phrases that supported the action tied to the concept, I called those action/access. Anytime a phrase was used to describe something counter to the action/access, I called those constraints. 

From here I started color coding and underlining the types of phrases throughout the class. I made notes on when she was speaking to anything OTHER than the physical yoga practice. Making notes with timestamps of when she was speaking, when she was quiet and what pose we were in when this was happening. I then used the Journey Into Power outline (which she didn't teach strictly from) and color coded the sections where she spoke to THEME, METHODOLOGY, ACTION/ACCESS or CONSTRAINT. I was looking for a pattern, but none was obvious even after comparing the lizard class with the small fights class.

Luca Richards is holding a Grow Tips Live - How to Deliver an Impactful Theme In Your Classes on September 9th. I'm excited to learn about how Luca themes classes, now that I've dissected two of Leandra's powerfully themed classes and come up with a hypothesis of sorts.

Until then, I used the CONCEPT, METHODOLOGY, ACTION/ACCESS, CONSTRAINT quadrant to theme two classes so far. The feedback I received on the first class was that I should not use the word 'maybe' when offering modifications for poses as the word 'maybe' is disempowering, and that I should speak to my experiences around the theme of the class. Here is the worksheet I used for the second class I themed with the quadrant method so you can see my thought processes.

With time and practice, it will get easier to speak to themes, action/access concepts and constraints without needing notes. For now while we're teaching from a standing desk in the yoga studio, I don't think that having notes with me is such a terrible thing while I'm trying on this new way of teaching.

Leave me a message about how you theme classes? I'm curious!

Black Lives Matter - Black Baptiste Yoga Teachers

Like a great many other people right now, I've been reading Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad. One takeaway from her book is for me to do more to uplift, center, pay and elevate Black leaders and teachers.

As I am a Baptiste yogi, it seemed an obvious task for me to put together the most comprehensive list possible of every Black Baptiste Yoga Teacher I could find online. This list is not complete (obviously), but I will continue to update it as I get more information.

Finding the North America based Black yogis was challenging and I know there are a lot more than those I found online. Do you know someone who isn't represented here? Tell me!

Baptiste Yoga has a huge presence (practiced in over 22 countries) in Africa via the Africa Yoga Project. I reached out to Danielle Cosgrove and she put me in touch with Catherine Njeri (Director of Teachers for the Africa Yoga Project). Catherine kindly provided me with the list of names of the AYP Academy and Alumni teachers. I did some googling and Facebook searching to find an online presence for as many AYP teachers as I could, and Catherine helped me with some errors I'd made in identifying people (thanks!!).

The list of teachers is in THIS google spreadsheet. I've put links to studios, instagram accounts or Facebook profiles so that you can get out there and uplift, center, pay and elevate Black Baptiste yoga teachers.

If you know of someone that is not in this list, please let me know so that I can add them!

I am pleased to have Catherine Njeri's help to put 218 faces to the list of 238 names! More names and faces will being added as I get them. 🖤#blacklivesmatter #whybaptisteyoga #baptisteyoga

Ericka Jones is a Baptiste Yoga Leader, works in diversity & inclusion and has created the Minnesota Yoga Coalition (MNYC) I recommend getting on the email list so that you can keep up on the advancements Ericka and her team are making.

The MN Yoga Coalition (MNYC) is a diverse community of yoga studio owners, teachers, students and supporters working together to create and sustain a more inclusive, equitable and diverse model for yoga spaces in our home communities.
This practice is a philosophy of being. It is a practice to promote physical and psychological well-being. It is devised as a means to end all suffering; however, it has become segregated, privileged and has marginalized people in many communities. 
Our vision is a yoga community that is accessible for people of all colors, ages, identities, abilities, and socioeconomic statuses from all walks of life in order to cultivate Sattva and spiritual healing. 
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Black Baptiste Yoga Teachers