Yoga with Mirella Nicholson

Yoga with Mirella Nicholson

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

I apologize in advance...

Yoga-land is all a buzz about Yoga Alliance's new requirements.  Apparently, you need to prove your credentials before you can claim to be a yoga therapist on their yoga teacher registry.  It's interesting that I see this "news" just days after I see a new Facebook post about yet another teacher promoting her/himself as a "yoga therapist/counselor".   A teacher that I respect asked my thoughts.  Truth be told, I hesitated to share my honest opinion on the matter. 

I've been told, more than once, that I am too hard on people.  I expect too much of others.  I have what's been called "a strong personality".   Apparently, some people are uncomfortable with my honesty and straightforward talking so I hesitated.  I'll apologize now if what I'm about to say offends anyone.   

When  I read the Facebook post I reminded myself that I'm not the fairness police.  I reminded myself that it's none of my business what others are doing.  I told myself that I need to start deleting people on Facebook.   I have way too many yoga related posts on my news-feed.  I don't need to know what everyone else is doing. 

Then I received the Yoga Alliance email and emails from a couple of my fellow teachers wanting to know how I feel about this new requirement.   Remember, the new requirement is that unless you have the proper credentials and have proof, you can no longer promote yourself as a "yoga therapist" on the teacher registry.   Here's my honest opinion:  I think that it's a perfectly reasonable requirement.   I actually wonder why that wasn't a requirement all along.  

Let me speak first as a teacher. I have completed several yoga teacher training programs.  I have been practicing yoga for more than 20 years.  I also graduated as a Certified Ayurveda Lifestyle counselor. 
Does that make me qualified to counsel people who struggle with mental illness?  Does that make me qualified to give medical advise?  NO!!   Absolutely not.  Can I offer emotional, mental and physical support to someone dealing with mental illness or physical illness?  YES!!   Can yoga and Ayurveda be used therapeutically?  YES!!  Does that make me a yoga therapist? NO!!  Bottom line, for me?  I share what I've learned not just through my training but also (most importantly) through my own personal practice.  I also recognize when a student needs to be referred to a professional.   As a yoga teacher I take the vow of ahimsa (non-harming)  The student's well-being is the most important thing to me.  More important to me than my ego.   Perhaps it's time for the yoga community to come up with a more appropriate term for what we can offer students.  Let's leave "therapist" for the professionals.   After all, Physical therapists and mental health therapists have completed more than 200 or 300 hours of training.  They are licensed as a therapist only AFTER they pass a test to make sure they actually know enough to be called "therapist".  And let's not forget they have malpractice insurance in case they injure someone.  I would bet that your "yoga teacher insurance" would not defend you if you get sued for claiming to be a therapist of any kind without the proper credentials. 

On a final note, I would like to speak as a student.  I've taken workshops with teachers who clearly didn't have any working knowledge of the topic they were presenting on.  I took a workshop on how to make your own malas.  Aside from the fact that we didn't even have the right materials, the hand-out was an exercise in copy/paste from the internet.  What a bummer that was since I convinced 20 of my friends to join me for that one!   I've had the experience of sitting in a class with a "guest teacher" who likes to wear a lab coat and refers to his "students" as patients.  I found out later than he only completed 1 semester of pre-med.  Why be a doctor when you play one in yoga-land?! Oh, and the teacher who tells me that she's never had any formal meditation instruction and then proceeds to offer a meditation workshop.  When I invest my time and money in a class or workshop I expect that the teacher has some working knowledge of the topic they are presenting.  Is that an unrealistic expectation?  Would you consider that being too hard on people?  I don't.  I do expect truthfulness in yoga-land.  Before I take any class or workshop  I read the teacher's bio.  I've learned to read between the lines.. "I intuited this information"  translates as "I'm good at smoke and mirrors.." 

I could go on and on with examples but the bottom line for me is the safety of the students.  I know this post isn't going to make me any friends in yoga-land but truthfully,  I think it's about time that yoga alliance steps up and does what they have been claiming to do for years.  Make sure that teachers are upholding a professional standard.  Tell the truth, if you found out that your Therapist  or your medical doctor didn't have any formal training and was only presenting themselves as such how would you feel?  I would guess you'd be outraged to find out that the surgeon who's operating on you learned how to remove your appendix from watching YouTube.  What if you found out that the psychiatrist that you are taking your mentally ill family member to turns out to be just a well meaning computer tech who reads a lot of self-help books?  

If you want to be a yoga therapist then BE ONE.  Put the work into the training.   Just because you're not a "yoga therapist" doesn't mean you can't still do great work as a regular old run of the mill yoga teacher.  Be truthful always.. Even if that means people think you're too hard on others.  It scares me that a few rotten apples are spoiling yoga-land. It scares me that sick, vulnerable people are being taken advantage of.   The fact of the matter is that I really do hold yoga students and teachers to a much higher moral standard than I do the average citizen.  I feel that if the people of yoga-land actually practice what they preach then Yoga Alliance wouldn't be needed.

Don't be angry at Yoga Alliance for the new requirement... Be angry with your fellow teachers for making it necessary.   Or better yet, teach your ytt students about teaching with integrity and honesty so that the next generation of yoga teachers won't need Yoga Alliance to set the standards because they will be upholding their own moral standards. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016


Last week someone said to me "I'm struggling with the uncertainty of everything".   I could feel her pain while she spoke.  I could feel it so powerfully because I too struggle with the uncertainty of everything.  Whether it's about our health, finances, or even relationships, uncertainty is at the core of our struggle.

When I teach a yoga class I almost always share my own struggles as the theme for the practice. Having pondered uncertainty all week I decided to use it as the theme for today's class.  The focus of our practice was shifting the fear that comes from uncertainty to seeing it as holding the potential for something magnificent.  

The uncertainty I was thinking about was whether or not I would be staying in my house.  My mind has been so focused on the struggle.  I thought that I was on the right track when I started to look at the uncertainty as a great adventure but that was just the beginning.  Uncertainty holds infinite possibilities.

"Our greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another."   

As I continued the practice of shifting my perspective,  I started to wonder,  what was I certain of?     I expressed in class that there wasn't a damn thing that came to mind.  "You'll die." offered Cari.
Yes!  That is something that certainly will happen.   My thought wave shifted after that.  The perspective expanded.

What thoughts or emotions come up for you when you think about the fact that it's 100% guaranteed that you will die?  Can you see the potential it offers?  We can choose to stress over how, when, where, why...  or we can choose another thought.... How can I live today to the fullest?   

Note to self:   It's not about where I live, it's about HOW I live.  

When life serves up a heaping helping of uncertainty you have a choice. 

a) focus on all the terrible outcomes that may or may not happen 
b) look at it as holding the potential for some magnificent adventure 

It doesn't come natural for me so I have to re-train my mind to see life as a great adventure filled with infinite possibilities.  Re-training the mind takes diligent effort in shifting the perspective.  Remember that we can't always choose the hand we're dealt but we certainly can choose our perspective.