yoga teacher training: assisting my first class

This last teacher training weekend had a heavy focus on the anatomy of the body. Fully armed with her MacBook, a projector, a display screen and our skeleton model we lovingly call “Slim”, our teacher Laura lead us through the muscles of the lower half of the body. As she has an highly in depth medical background, I feel like I’m getting a little something extra out of my training at Nishkama Yoga.

I am a brand new student to anatomy and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the medical lingo. All the terminology was going in one ear and out the other. Even terms I thought I knew – fibia, tibia, femur – I was still managing to mix up. It all started to sink in once we were on our mats. As we held poses, Laura would ask, “what muscles are working right now?”  I very rarely was the one to answer, but every tenth question, I’d squeak out something. I did my best to soak everything up as it was being presented, both physically and verbally.

Saturday morning’s 9:30 class was a sweat fest and by Saturday night, I was FULLY aware of my gluteus muscles. Sunday morning I was ready to learn bright and early by 8AM. First thing, we continued our discussion of the anatomy while learning various assists to regularly taught yoga poses. As the hour creeped on, I wasn’t sure if I was ready for another intense 90 minute vinyasa class at 9:30AM. Lucky for me, I had an out.

As we cleaned up the studio in prep for students to arrive, Laura asked if anyone wanted to assist the day’s class. It only took me a hot second to say I would like to assist. She looked back and said “okay, you’re on.”

That’s when the anxiety kicked in and I crawled into my head. I grabbed a yoga strap and hung out in the office until it was time to begin, trying to remember all that we went over that weekend. I quickly remembered the importance of jumping right in as it was the first steps towards reaching my end goal of becoming a yoga teacher.

For 90 minutes, I followed Laura’s assist cuing as Lori taught one intense vinyasa flow. As we worked our way around the room, I learned a few things…

Assisting is mentally TOUGH.  We had 15 people in class that day and trying to remember each person’s preferences was intimidating. Who had the fused hip? Who’s knee has been tweaky lately? Who’s the uber flexy person that I should be reminding to bend their knees? Who’s the person that said “I really prefer not to be touched”? I did my best to stay present with each student as I joined them on their mat in order to give them the right assist for their body.

Don’t expect to remember the flow of the poses. If someone would have looked at me half way through class and said “what’s the next pose”, I would have shrugged my shoulders. An assistant’s job isn’t to remember the flow – just be there to support it.

An assistant must be nimble. Rule number one: don’t hurt your students. Rule number two: don’t get kicked. I almost got a love tap from one of our taller male students, but managed to sneak about without getting a foot to the face.

You will sweat just as much assisting as if you were practicing on your mat.  Assisting is not passive by any means. Different students meant exerting different levels of strength. I think I actually surprised a few when I nearly lifted them off the ground in a few downward facing dog assists!  I was just as sweaty as the students were after class – and was very thankful to sneak home for a lunch break shower!

Don’t teach what you don’t know. Follow up: don’t assist what you don’t know. We’ve gotten into a wide array of assists, but by that point on Sunday, we hadn’t discussed savasana assists. Since I hadn’t learned them, it wasn’t right for me to do them, so Laura and I took that time to step outside and talk about my first assisting experience.

Second follow up: You don’t have to be able to do a pose to teach/assist a pose. While I’m pretty strong in standing poses and back bending, arm balances are still something I’m working on in my own asana practice. That said, I know the correct cuing to guide someone into a crow pose or a headstand. Precise and concise communication is the key.

Sometimes, a squeeze of a hand is all the assist you need to give. As our class was filled with fellow TTs, I tended to gravitate towards them as I knew they would be more understanding if I gave them an awkward assist. During the building of the flow, Lori threw in an extended side angle pose towards the end. When she called it, I found myself near a certain TT (one that I tend to bear hug whenever I see her – I just love her to pieces). As her top hand was extending outwards, I reached out and gave her two first fingers a squeeze. Nothing more than that – I just wanted to give her a little extra love in that moment. Turns out, that’s exactly what she needed as she later told me she was about to collapse on her mat. My small assist gave her the motivation to regroup and finish strong.

LONG STORY SHORT: I was incredibly grateful that I stepped up that morning to assist as I learned a lot that morning. I learned more about my fellow TTs, my teachers, our students and myself – all which will help as I continue this journey. As we’re four weekends done, I can’t believe we only have five more until I have that RYT certificate. Before you know it, I’ll be the one telling you what to do on your mat. AND I CAN’T WAIT!

What’s your feeling on yoga assists? Happy to get a massage during savasana? Want to be manhandled in a twist? Happy to just be left alone?

event recap: Nishkama Yoga North Olmsted’s Grand Opening Fiesta

What happens when an event planner works for a yoga studio? That studio ends up throwing a lot more get togethers than its owners ever imagined possible. Case in point: the GRAND OPENING Community Day Fiesta this Saturday at Nishkama Yoga North Olmsted!

NYNO (as I affectionally call it) opened its doors on Sunday, April 1. As word spreads in the West side of Cleveland about its existence, we notice the numbers climb each week. After a month of working out the kinks, the Nishkama staff was ready to celebrate by offering FREE 45 minute classes every hour on the hour as a way to say “thank you” to our new community.

The morning started out with Yoga Basics with Melanie Tessmer:


…then Slow Flow with Ginny Walters…


That’s one happy yoga teacher!

…then Nishkama Vinyasa Flow with Robert Moreno. Can you spot the blogger?


Hint: her booty isn’t tooshed enough… damn tight hamstrings!

…and continued on with more classes throughout the afternoon taught by Nishkama teachers Lori, Kelly, Whitney, Marie and Bethany. Several folks – including some of my blogger friends – stayed around for more than one class to really get a feel of what Nishkama has to offer!

While I managed to sneak into Robert’s class that morning, I was mostly in the back half of the NYNO space prepping for our Cinco de Mayo inspired taco bar fiesta. And it isn’t a fiesta without a piñata! NY teacher Whitney created this awesome one in the shape of a sombrero filled with granola bars, fruit snacks and candy.


It was just too pretty, we couldn’t imagine busting it open! The piñata and the decorations put the perfect touches on the space which was furnished by Event Source, whom gets a shout out for sending the nicest delivery man to ever deliver folding tables and chairs.

Before the taco bar began, guests enjoyed goodies from Whole Foods Market Cedar Center. They provided this rockin’ fruit tray:


…plus an array of chips, salsa and guacamole. They were all a big hit with the yogis!

As for the taco bar, it was catered by yours truly (because I’ve officially lost my mind). Actually, it all came together pretty easily once I remembered this slow cooker chipotle chicken recipe that Allison from Green Dog Wine posted on her blog. Using it as inspiration, I ended up with the perfect protein option that was hardly any work and seemed to be pretty well received!

As another way to give back to the community that has supported us so much, we held a chance raffle to benefit the Cleveland APL.


Prizes included beauty products from Origins, a gift certificate to Momocho, yoga class passes, private yoga sessions and an unlimited year of yoga at our studios. Our modest raffle raised $252 for the APL that day! I’m excited to not only help out the APL in this small way, but I also get to contact the raffle winners today with the good news!

But the best part of the day was seeing so many friends – both old and new – come out for the big celebration. Every class that day had a familiar face. Seeing others enjoy this thing we call yoga is what I’m living for these days. When I get to combine it with my other passion for event planning, I’m truly living the good life. Thank you all for the support you share with me to make this all a reality!

LONG STORY SHORT: More than 100 people came out on Saturday to get their downward dog on at Nishkama Yoga North Olmsted, making the day a huge success. If you’re interested to see even more photos from the day, visit Nishkama’s Facebook photo album. You’ll even find a badass pic of me in Warrior 1 over there! Again, so so many thanks to everyone whom came out to celebrate with us! Now let’s see if the owners will go for my latest idea for an event: who’s down for a Saturday night yoga dance party…

Eka Pada Raja-what??? (or when my head touched my foot)

This morning, I received an email from a familiar place:


Three years ago today, I stepped into the Nishkama Yoga studio in Independence and took my first studio class with Jennette Zimmerman. She recently returned to teach on Thursday mornings but I haven’t had many chances to take class with her. But today, the Universe happened to clear my schedule. 75 sweaty minutes later, I’m feeling as energized after my very first class with her in 2009. To go along with today’s originally forgotten yoga anniversary, I had already planned to share a yoga post on a recent discovery on my mat.

Like my first yoga teacher training session in March, the April TT weekend was filled plenty of mental, physical and emotional experiences. They left me feeling drained but also filled with an intense energy and want to continue my learning. So on the Monday nights following a teacher training weekend, I practice with my teacher Laura at her vinyasa flow class. I like the opportunity to have the lessons from the weekend sink in via a physical practice the following day.

All day Monday, I questioned my decision to take her class that evening. Boy, I’m tired. Wow, my abs hurt. Wait, EVERYTHING hurts. Is this a good idea? But even with all that him-hawing, I was on my mat at 5:45 and ready to work. I did my best to fix my alignment in chair pose and the various twists we worked as they were a highlight of Sunday morning’s lesson. I was feeling strong – amazingly strong, considering how tuckered out I was earlier in the day. There was serious energy working in me that was taking me to some pretty cool places.

As it came time for the hip openers, Laura called out half pigeon pose, giving me the look of “don’t you dare start growling at me”. I’ve written and reminded you all about my distain for that pose, but in the past month, I’ve tried to be more open to it. No more growling. Minimal brow furrowing. More breathing. I’ve played around with arm placement as well as some twists in the pose which have made it less uncomfortable. I’m still not happy in it, but I’m learning to be more neutral than angry.

As I was starting to settle into my pigeon, Laura said “if you have Eka Pada Rajakapotasana in your practice, go there now”. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, or for those of you not regularly speaking Sanskrit, One-Legged King Pigeon Pose, looks like this:

(photo source from

As I was trying my best to remember which pose she was referring to, Laura came over as she was going remind me by assisting me into it.

It’s important to note that there’s A LOT going on when you take this pose. So so so many areas of your body have to be open. I’ve seen others play with the prep of getting into it, but only seen a few in person make contact of the foot and head like in the above picture. But I knew I could at least bend my back knee up and reach back to start the learning process.

Laura gently guided my body into the proper alignment: shifting my hips level, guiding my arms into the appropriate location and helping me to grab onto my toes. While it started as a hip opener, she lead me to a backbend. With her supporting me, she said “add a backbend and look who likes pigeon!” The intense stretch felt amazing all over and I couldn’t help but smile at her comment.

As our body has two sides, we switched and I settled into my pigeon on my left side – which is the side that tends to be looser. Laura again did the same assists that she did on the other side but then asked me to drop my head back. And before I knew it, I felt something on my head. Which was also paired with feeing something touching the bottom of my foot. And in that moment I realized: my head was being cradled by my foot.

My awareness quickly shifted to my eyebrows as they rose in reaction to such surprise and I whispered the only thing that I could in that moment: “holy crap.” And after a breath, I said it again. But while I was nearly speechless, my mind was chattering away: My head is touching my foot! My head is touching my foot!

Laura held me and reminded me to breath and to stay in the pose. While I actively stayed strong to hold it, the energy seeping from my body was so tangible it made it so much easier. As I let go of the emotion of surprise, that energy lead me into a place of calm where I felt like I could have stayed there for the rest of the evening. Unfortunately, we had shavasana and a meditation still to get to, so that wasn’t an option.

As she guided me out of the pose, I was fully aware of what I had just experienced – in more than just the physical sense. To think that pose that I’ve growled my way through lead me to this moment of openness and awareness. To think of how that lesson applies off the mat: dealing with the not so great times to then rise up to a moment of greatness. In that pose, I felt like all my hard work from that class, that previous TT weekend and the past few months of progression off my mat was showing me just how far I’ve come.

But it wasn’t without help from others. And sometimes being open to allowing for that help is the hardest part. I’m always down for a good assist when I’m on the mat. But I still need to be reminded that it’s okay to ask for help when I’m off of it. To reach out when I’m feeling overwhelmed or lonely. I constantly talk about the practice of synergy: alone we can only do so much, but together we can do so much more. Maybe through some more assists to Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, not only will I be touching my head to my foot on a more regular basis, I’ll be doing even greater things in those times outside of the yoga studio.

Damn pigeon pose. Now look at what you’ve gotten me into…

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