Monday, August 25, 2014

Student Guest Blog: Preparing for take-off. A Bali Yoga Teacher Training journey begins

by Guest Blogger, Samantha Smith (September 2014 200 hour Yoga Teacher Trainee)

The past few months have been a very exciting and nerve-wracking time. This trip to Bali for the Zuna Yoga Teacher Training follows some major life changes for me. I quit my job, gave up the lease on my condo, and decided to extend my trip beyond the three weeks of the training to see some more of the world. This is the first major trip I have researched and planned extensively; it's my first solo trip; and it's the furthest from home I will have ever traveled. 

In the past, I have been an indecisive person. However, planning this bold adventure has pushed me to recognize what I want for myself and to take the necessary steps to get me there on my own. Taking decisive action is still something I am not 100% comfortable with, but I am getting a taste for it. It has already been a huge learning experience, and the trip has not even begun!

I decided to sign up for the Zuna Yoga Teacher Training after a long road of physical recovery. At the time, I had recently begun practicing yoga to help with rehabilitation after a third and final surgery to fix a leg/ankle injury. I fell in love with the peace, mindfulness and ease it had already brought to my mind and body in the limited time I had been practicing. I found myself eager to learn more, and felt the only way to truly experience it was to separate myself from my current lifestyle, which left little time for practice, and immerse myself in it completely. I enjoy the physical practices of yoga, and I am also drawn to the history and ideologies that I began reading about before deciding to take on this adventure.

When I signed up, I was nervous that I would not have the experience and knowledge of the other students in the training due to my limited exposure, but decided that if I was going to go across the world to practice, I wanted to throw myself into the experience. As I continued to read about yoga and attend more classes, I gained more confidence in myself and am reassured that it is not a matter of how my experience and physical ability compares to others. It is a personal journey. I joined the training to learn more about yoga and myself, and to grow from where I am today. And I am okay with that.   

As my departure date approaches, I am still feeling very excited and nervous. But now that my bags are packed, my nerves have calmed a bit. I am not much looking forward to the 25 hours it will take to get there, but am quite looking forward to arriving and settling in for a few days before the training begins, and hopefully meeting some of the other trainees. I have heard only good things about Bali and the training, and cannot wait to get started. 

For anyone planning to attend a Bali yoga teacher training, here are a few practical things I have learned while preparing for my trip:
  • Apply for visas as soon as you can. The consulate temporarily misplaced my passport and application, a situation which could have ended badly had I not had the three extra weeks to get it sorted out.
  • Read the books ahead of time. I enjoyed the first one I read at a leisurely pace much more than the one I am currently reading under a time restraint.
  • Buy your books on Kindle or another app to save space and weight in your luggage. I bought the hard copies and then re-purchased them electronically.
  • When booking hotels, I was able to avoid PayPal fees by sending an email transfer. This option is not listed on their websites or in their methods of payment, but available upon request.
  • Pre-booking activities can give added discounts on already reduced online discounts – e.g. 10% off accommodation with purchase of scuba diving package, which is an additional 10% cheaper when booked before arrival.
  • You can fit much more in your bags when rolling a set of clothes together than packing each piece separately
  My tiny bit of lingering indecision has caused me to repack four times now. But I'm ready to go! Stay tuned as my journey on the other side of the world unfolds.

by Guest Blogger, Samantha Smith (September 2014 200 hour Yoga Teacher Trainee)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

5 things to know about yoga teacher training

So you finally took the plunge and signed up for a teacher training? Awesome. Or maybe you’re still mulling it over, doing your research, waiting for the right moment to escape daily life for a few weeks. Whether you’re already all in or still in planning mode, you’re probably curious as to what it’s really like to dedicate three to four weeks entirely to yoga. The Zuna Yoga team has spent a lot of time at yoga teacher trainings, both as participants and facilitators, and we’re pretty sure we’ve seen it all by now. Here are a few things we’ve learned to help you know what to expect from this life changing experience.

1. It’s really hard work

We don’t mean to scare anyone off, but let’s be real: a yoga teacher training is tough. It is not a leisurely holiday, nor is it a spa and wellness oriented yoga retreat. The days at a teacher training are long: you’ll be getting up at the crack of dawn, if not earlier. Your body will be sore from hours of practice. Your back will ache from hours of seated meditation that you’re not used to. Your butt will feel like lead from hours of sitting at lectures, trying to absorb new information. You might get cranky and feel bossed around, reminiscent of earlier school trauma. And your brain will be crammed with information - strange vocabulary, philosophy, science - and it will feel like you’re trying to drink from a firehose. You might even get sick, and have a hard time getting out of bed one day.

Yoga teacher training bali - 200 hour 500 hour yoga teacher training abroad
Like most things in life, you get out of it what you put into it. Superficial or half-hearted engagement in the work will produce lackluster results. There’s an upside to all that effort. You’ll get well acquainted with that magical time of day when the dark stillness of night gives way to an incandescent morning. You’ll bask in the calm energy and bright chatter that are unique to the dawn. You’ll have accomplished more before breakfast than most people do all day. You’ll learn more about the vast science of yoga than you ever dreamed possible. Your asana practice will become steadier and more focused. You’ll find that the passage of time becomes irrelevant during meditation, that an hour suddenly feels like five minutes and all your senses come alive. In short, you’ll be able to really make dramatic progress that could never be made at home.

2. Meet your new BFFs

A yoga teacher training, especially a residential intensive, can feel like an exhilarating mashup of sleepover party, boot camp, freshman year at college, group therapy, and TED talk. You’ll meet some of the best friends you’ll ever have, supporting those new relationships with powerful, life-changing experiences. These people will likely remain your friends for the rest of your life, bonded by revelations and moments you share together. You’ll suddenly have a bevy of spiritual sistren and brethren, bright souls from all over the world who were total strangers just a couple weeks prior. 

Yoga teacher training bali - 200 hour 500 hour yoga teacher training abroad That being said, you’re not going to love absolutely everyone. There will be some students in the mix who are decidedly not destined to be your best friend. As with any gathering of humans, some interpersonal friction will arise. You’ll realize that the people you like the least also have important lessons to teach you. You’ll have to face your own judgmental tendencies, observe your impatience, your knee-jerk reactions. You’ll have to manage any conflicts or tensions like the cool, detached, disciplined professional you aspire to be. After all, you’re going to have all types of students coming to your classes once you start teaching. And you’re going to need to develop the compassion to show to everyone, especially the ones who rub you the wrong way.

3. And now, here’s yoga….

This is a rough translation of Patanjali’s first Yoga Sutra (1.1), atha yoga anushasanam
“Now, after having done prior preparation through life and other practices, the study and practice of Yoga begins.”

This foundational text of Classical Yoga is referring to the milestone when you decide to get serious with your yogic study. It means you’re sincerely beginning the pursuit of Self-Realization, the true purpose of yoga. You’re making personal discovery and empowerment your top priority. The first word of the Yoga Sutras is atha, which means now. This particular word for now implies a preparedness in arriving at this auspicious moment. 
This prior preparation is important, as you need to enter into a teacher training with a basic understanding of postures and language, so that not everything is new and totally overwhelming. You need to have a general idea of the landscape, having tried different classes and practiced for a while. But herein lies the irony: it’s essential that you can put those preconceived ideas and judgments aside. Many students enroll in a training thinking they already know a lot from their years of practice or even teaching. If you can’t empty your cup, you might end up dismissing and missing all the new information being presented. Approach the teachings with an open mind, without ego, and give yourself time to objectively absorb it all. The more you know of yoga as a science, the more you’ll realize it’s an infinite universe of experience and knowledge that you’ll pursue your entire life.
Yoga teacher training bali - 200 hour 500 hour yoga teacher training abroad
4. Sh#t’s about to get real

Many students underestimate how huge a step is is from the largely physical practice of most yoga classes to a much deeper experience of the science. This is especially true if you haven’t yet spent much time in pranayama or meditation. A teacher training intensive will give you a more qualified understanding of yoga as far more than a rockin’ good workout with some feel-good spiritual verbiage thrown in for kicks. Whether it’s a 200 hour or a 300 hour program, it will provide an eye-opening glimpse of thousands of years of knowledge. It’s easy to feel intimidated by how much you don’t know, like a student who has just learned to read, stepping into a vast library. How does your ego respond to this challenge? Are you open and curious, or impatient and frustrated?

Prepare to be challenged - all this deep practice can have a strong effect. You’ll be facing the gravity that holds you back, as well as that part of you that seeks to soar. This process can be painful. It can be difficult. It is also amazingly beautiful. You’ll vacillate between total clarity and utter confusion. You’ll have moments where you question your life, everything about it - your job, your home, your path, your family, your future.  And you’ll be revealing who you really are on a very deep level. This is smarana, the beautiful experience of self-remembrance that is one of the goals of yoga. A well-structured teacher training is a safe place to meet yourself. If you’re courageous, diligent, and you trust in the work, you won’t be the same person afterward. 

5. So you think you can teach

Remember that going to a teacher training intensive, separated from everyday obstacles, is an extraordinary opportunity to grow as both a student and a teacher. This is an immersion not just in study, but in practice.

Yoga teacher training bali - 200 hour 500 hour yoga teacher training abroad There is no substitute for experience in the form of practice. As much as you learn important intellectual concepts that give you a foundation for teaching, your own personal practice is far more important. Yoga is a system of self development, and that process starts with you. Being a good teacher of yoga requires knowing yourself. The more work you’ve done personally, the better the teacher you will be. As a teacher, you’ll aim to inspire students with the work you’ve done, and not just on a physical level. Yoga is intended to make us better people. Your responsibility as a yoga teacher is to encourage students to seek their own authenticity, and to help them find it. If you haven’t walked the path yourself, you won’t be able to show anyone the way. This is how you embody the attributes of the guru: a dispeller of darkness, one who leads others into the light.


Describing a yoga teacher training intensive to someone who’s never done it is challenging. It’s like trying to explain what chocolate tastes like ("amaaaaaaazing....."). We can say it’s grueling, life-changing, intense, beautiful and deep - but until you’ve engaged in the deep practices of yoga, it’s hard to intellectualize and verbalize them. Come find out for yourself what yoga is all about, and in the process, what you’re all about. 

by Katherine Girling

Monday, March 24, 2014

12 tips for choosing a Yoga Teacher Training

If you’ve started shopping around for a yoga teacher training, you’ve already noticed the enormous range of styles, schools and content out there. A yoga instructor certification course is a considerable investment of your time and financial resources. You’ll want to choose carefully and deliberately. So how do you know which program is right for you? We’ve put together some tips to help you navigate the yoga training maze and move towards your certification with confidence.
Bali yoga shala 200 hour 500 hour yoga teacher training Bali intensive 2014 2015
Bali yoga shala
1. Where do you want to go?

Destination teacher trainings are a popular way to combine travel with continued education. If you want to explore an exotic (and probably tropical) country, yoga teacher trainings are being offered all over the globe. Have you always wanted to go to Bali? India? Costa Rica? Thailand? While the flight can be pricey, the cost of staying in these countries tends to be much lower than being at home or in another city in the Western world. Research the destination of your choice in regard to culture, best time to visit, logistics of getting there, and safety. 

Maybe this is not the best time for you to be traveling extensively, for whatever reason. Chances are, your local yoga studios are offering in-house teacher trainings. It may be easier to enroll in a program in your home town, especially if you’re juggling family, pets, a demanding career etc.

2. Which training format: standard vs intensive?

Most destination yoga teacher trainings are offered in an intensive format. That means you’ll complete your course in anywhere between 2 and 6 weeks. If it’s possible for you, job-wise and family-wise, to get away and completely immerse yourself, this format offers a huge advantage. Truly experiencing yoga goes a long way to an intellectual understanding of the practices. The deepest techniques of yoga demand uninterrupted and dedicated practice, in a way that is almost impossible when you’re trying to attend to your daily affairs on the side. The inward journey requires freedom and space. At most retreat centers, you’ll be completely taken care of. You don’t need to shop, cook, clean, do laundry, or run errands. Everything is pre-paid and you can focus on the yoga. And you only need to fork out the cash for one flight, rather than taking multiple trips for several separate modules.

Even if you don’t have the luxury of taking an extended vacation, you can still get certified. Standard formats allow you to keep your job while immersing yourself in a yoga teacher training from Friday evening through Sunday. These programs generally extend over several months. So you’ll be working your way slowly, but still surely towards your goal. This format also allows you more time to absorb the information intellectually. Ideally, you can enroll in program in your home town, as the cost of flying back and forth to another city for multiple sessions can really add up. 
3. What style of yoga?

With new styles of yoga being born every day, the variety of brands and philosophies can be overwhelming. This is where you really need to do your homework. Take as many different styles of classes with as many different teachers as you can. Read articles and blogs. Download online classes and courses. Try different guided meditations. Yoga styles range from very physical and vigorous (Power, Hot, Vinyasa, Ashtanga)  - to more gentle - (Restorative, Yin) - to more traditional, spiritual or meditative (Hatha, Tantra, Kundalini). 

You’re going to have a natural tendency to be drawn to one or more styles, depending on your personality and where you currently find yourself in your personal development.  It's common to fall in love with a style, and then stay in that comfort zone. Move out of the bubble and experiment with other techniques. Yoga is a big word, encompassing countless intentions and philosophies. The more diversity you expose yourself to, the more educated a decision you'll make for your yoga teacher training. 
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Teacher trainees at work
4. Is the school an RYS?

Check the Yoga Alliance school directory to confirm that the yoga teacher training is accredited. Registration by the school with YA assures that the training program meets standards for curriculum developed by Yoga Alliance and that training is conducted by experienced instructors. Only graduates of a registered yoga school are eligible to register with Yoga Alliance as RYTs®. You don’t want to spend a lot of money (not to mention blood, sweat and tears) only to find out your school isn’t legit and you can’t get your RYT certification. 

5. How experienced are the teachers?

Check the credentials of the primary instructors. How long have they been teaching? Where did they study? What other professional or educational background do they have that gives them perspective as a yoga teacher? The lead teacher training facilitator must be a Yoga Alliance certified ERYT (Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher). The highest level of certification possible is ERYT 500, which means the instructor has at least 2000 hours and a minimum of four years of teaching experience since graduating.

6. What is the school’s focus?

Carefully read the school’s syllabus. The Yoga Alliance defines minimum hours and loose content requirements. Each school is free to place emphasis wherever they choose, as long as they meet YA minimum hours. For example, “anatomy” could mean bones, muscles and joints, or it should mean subtle body anatomy (chakras and nadis). The same school might work with a variety of teachers, each with their own specializations. Read the program facilitator's blogs to get a better feel of who's leading the training.

Also, check the training program’s required reading list. Go to amazon and read the descriptions and previews of the books. This will give you a good indication of the focus of the training.

7. Will you get practical teaching experience?

Some yoga teacher training programs provide students with excellent academic content while falling short in offering practical learning. We personally know of teacher trainings where students don’t get any practice teaching at all. You’ll want as much experience as you get in the safe, supportive group environment of a teacher training before being unleashed into the world. 

8. What is the class size?

If it’s not clearly stated on their website, as the school what is the maximum number of students who will be enrolled in the teacher training. The numbers vary greatly, and can have a big impact on your experience. Ask about the teacher to student ratio. The more personal attention you get, the more you’ll learn.

9. What level of practice is required?

Yoga teacher trainings are not appropriate for beginners. Period. You will not benefit from learning yoga basics while trying to learn to teach at the same time. Would you try to become a Spanish teacher while taking beginner Spanish classes? No you wouldn’t. 

Make sure the school requires applicants to have a solid foundation in the basic and fundamental yoga postures. You don’t need to be an expert yogi with a perfect practice, but you and your fellow teacher trainees should have solid footing and a level of maturity and body awareness. Any beginners in the mix would not be able to keep up with the group, which would ultimately depreciate the experience for everyone.

Bali beach sunset 200 hour 500 hour yoga teacher training Bali intensive 2014 2015

Bali sunset

10. How much does it cost?

Yoga teacher trainings may be a dime a dozen, but they’re still not cheap. Expect to pay anywhere between $2500 and $10,000 for a 200 or 300 hour certification course. As with any product or service, a big price tag does not necessarily equate to a better training. Big brands command higher prices, even in the world of yoga. Some schools will offer payment plans, work exchanges or scholarships. 

11. What do graduates say?

Read blogs, testimonials and reviews of previous graduates. With the rise of social media, student feedback is published on a variety of different platforms, including Facebook, Yelp, Yoga Trail, and the Yoga Alliance website. You can also ask the yoga school to connect you with their training graduates for additional assurance.

12. Does the school offer continued education?

Investigate all the training programs being offered by the school. What classes, workshops, retreats, and advanced trainings are on offer? A school that also offers 300 hour, 500 hour programs and beyond will tend to have more experienced facilitators and a stronger community than those only offering 200 hour programs. Satisfied 200 hour graduates want to continue on to their 300 hour program with the same school. 300 hour graduates are looking for other advanced training opportunities.  Also, more program offerings means more opportunities for graduates to assist and gain valuable teaching experience in a training environment. If the road ends after the 200 hour program, the community can never really build.

Put it all together

Once you've done the research and have all the facts, let your intuition play a supporting role. Some yoga teacher trainings and teachers will simply speak to you more than others, for reasons you may not yet be able to define. A regular practice of yoga connects us with our truest self, and allows us to tune in and listen to what our soul longs for. 

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” -Rumi

by Katherine GirlingZuna Yoga offers yoga teacher trainings in Bali, Thailand and Cambodia

Friday, March 14, 2014

Recharging the creative batteries: an Art interlude in Missoula, MT

This week, while on a teaching tour through the US, I made a 1000 mile driving detour through Montana. This was uncharted territory for me, and Big Sky Country beckoned. The moniker is well-deserved, by the way. People and places are a constant source of inspiration for my "life above the neck," as a late beloved college professor used to call it. 

Checking out the neighborhood on Google maps, I saw that the well-reputed Missoula Art Museum (MAM) was just around the corner from my hotel. On a bright and crisp winter morning, I set out on foot to explore. The museum is a tiny jewel, tucked away in a modern downtown building. MAM’s mission is “to engage audiences and artists in the exploration of contemporary art relevant to the community, state and region.” The friendly staff explained the exhibit layouts, and I headed up to the third floor to begin an excellent cell-phone guided tour. On a random Wednesday morning, I was one of just a handful of visitors, not counting the gaggle of fifth graders who were taking a tour with their teachers. Where else do you hear the word “dodecahedron” these days? 

As I took my time to thoroughly absorb this small yet excellent collection of contemporary American works, a few pieces stood out for their message or technique. Many of the artists were unfamiliar to me, so I looked them up afterward, and found some pretty amazing biographical facts. Below, I discuss both the art that struck me, and then the fun facts about the artists I discovered later. 

1. Throwing Three Balls in The Air to get a Straight Line (Best of Thirty-Six Attempts), by John Baldessari

The Art
That's a pretty straight line.
This was a series of 12 offset lithographs depicting three pink balls suspended against a bright blue sky. Sometimes, treetops were visible. In other photos, just the three balls and sky. The viewer never sees who's throwing the balls, or what's happening on the ground. The balls were always captured in a slightly different formation. I loved the message here: chop wood, carry water. Try, try again. Practice makes perfect. I appreciated the dedication to the goal, and the rigid documentation of the process. What made me smile was the actual task the artist chose to pursue: trying to get the three balls to line up in a straight line in the air. I thought about a few instances in my own life, where I tried and tried to do something that maybe, in retrospect, didn’t make a lot of sense, or didn't really serve me. If I'm going to do something, I want to do it well. With a limited amount of time and energy in this life, it's important to spend it on something meaningful. 

Not so straight.
The Artist

John Baldessari is a conceptual artist working in photography, film, video, billboards, and public works. In his early career, he was a painter. Quite dramatically, Baldessari burned all of the work he produced between 1953 and 1966 in a ceremony in 1970 to mark his transition from abstract painting to text-based art. Subsequently, he focused on photographic work. While we can’t comment on the scale of the loss to humanity that the destruction of his work caused, we admire his courage and audacity in such a bold new start. 
2. Self-Portrait, by Chuck Close
The Art
From a distance, this print looks like a vivid photograph of a man with a striking similarity to Walter White from Breaking Bad. When viewed close up, however, the painting is a wild agglomeration of colorful circles and squares. The collector who loaned the work to the museum said it reminded him of the complexity of people, at how a first glance can be deceiving, and there’s so much going on we don’t know about. These words rang in my ears when I looked up Mr. Close later that day.
Self-portrait from afar
Mr. Close, up close
The Artist
Charles Thomas "Chuck" Close is an American painter and photographer who made his mark in the art world as a photorealist, creating massive-scale portraits. A catastrophic spinal artery collapse in 1988 left him severely paralyzed, but that didn't stop him. He continues to paint and produce work in high demand by collectors and museums. 
Interestingly, Close also suffers from prosopagnosia, aka face blindness. He is absolutely unable to recognize faces. Painting portraits serves as a memory aid for him. Talking about this disorder, Close has said, "I was not conscious of making a decision to paint portraits because I have difficulty recognizing faces. That occurred to me twenty years after the fact when I looked at why I was still painting portraits, why that still had urgency for me.” Talk about an a-ha moment. Another prime example of how strongly our minds shape our experience in the world. Had he not suffered from this disorder, what would his art have looked like? 

3. Debwe exhibition, by Karen Goulet
The Art
Debwe is the title of the current exhibition at MAM of recent works by the artist Karen Goulet. Debwe in the Ojibwe language means “speaks the truth honestly," a concept  that is a strong driving force for Goulet. The exhibition features a series of star quilts and paper weavings. We were reminded of the word courage, derived from the Latin root cor, or heart: “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.” Acting and speaking from a place of authenticity, a place of truth, is something that resonates strongly with me. I tip my hat to Goulet's ability to tell stories through these beautiful handmade pieces. 
Star quilt
Labrynth to the stars
The Artist
Goulet is a Native American - more specifically, a member of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation. She is a professional artist, poet, and educator. In an interview with the artist (made available as a cell-phone tour of the exhibit), she explains how she learned the craft from her parents, who in turn learned it from their parents. The knowledge is handed down through the generations, and she feels very connected to her family, her tribe, when she’s creating her works. She says, “Weaving and quilting are my way of talking about culture, weaving past and present together in a way that I aspire to keep stories new. In every piece of art I make is my admiration for the people I am from.” I appreciated the homage to tradition and to ancient knowledge kept alive. It was a reminder to pay respect to the millennia old lessons of yogic tradition that has, miraculously, made its way from India into my life, thousands of years later and thousands of miles away.
Finding inspiration
I don't claim to be a scholar of art, just a curious person who has visited more museums all over the world than I can recall. There is always something new to learn. I find inspiration for my practice and teaching in unexpected places and times, not just in a yoga studio. Yoga is so much more to me than a practice “on the mat.” It’s a way of thinking, a way of viewing the world, a way of connecting, a way of being. It's a cultivation of the core vibration we carry. I know that my soul longs for beauty, art, and intelligence, and I try to feed it often, from a wide variety of sources.

The MAM is located at 335 N. Pattee St. Admission is free.