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.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

I pledge allegiance...

 my girl. Lu 

At times like this I remember something my friend, Jon said to me once.  "Yeah, but that's just how you think, right hon?"  I think of that often when I catch a thought pattern.  I've been tracing the thought patterns, trying to uncover the root of the pattern.  The belief behind the pattern.  It's been an interesting exercise.  Upon examination, some beliefs are completely bat-shit crazy, others seem fairly benign.  What I'm most curious about is where these beliefs started.  How was the seed planted? 

Once I trace the thought pattern back to the belief I have an option.  I get to decide if the belief is true, does it still serves me or is it  time to let it go.  The process does take way longer than I would like.  "There's got to be a better way." I tell myself.  If there is, I haven't figured it out yet.  When I do, I'll be sure to write a book and go on tour.  

I'm thinking of what Jon said because it's become increasing clear to me that Jon was right. Not everyone thinks like me.  Funny, isn't it?  I'm 45 years old and it's just now occurring to me that not everyone thinks like me. When Jon pointed this out to me I was shocked.  Then I wondered why everyone doesn't think like me.  "Life would be so much easier if everyone thought like me!" I tell him. ( Let's pause and give thanks that not everyone thinks like me.)


Loyalty is what I'm contemplating.  Hence, my girl Lu in the picture.  When I try to figure out what my beliefs are around the concept of loyalty I come to conclusion that I must have been a dog in a previous life.  That's the only explanation I can come up with as to why I'm fiercely loyal.  
I would even say loyal to a fault.  It's hard to believe that being too loyal can be hazardous.  (Wait, I think that belief may be worth examining...)

What does loyalty mean exactly?  The dictionary says "A strong feeling of support or allegiance."  I like this definition.  It makes sense in my head.  What does it mean to you?   What does loyalty look like?  I am loyal to Wawa.  I only buy coffee at Wawa even though 7-eleven is closer and McDonald's is cheaper.  That's one example of  loyalty.  It means that I support and have an allegiance to people even when it's inconvenience or difficult.  I sometimes feel like loyalty is a lost art. Sort of like cursive handwriting or getting handwritten letters in the mail. 

In my continuing effort to see the beauty in life I'm shifting my focus.  I'm looking for examples of loyalty instead of crying about the lack of loyalty I've been noticing.  As Jon points out, not everyone thinks like me but that doesn't mean it should stand in the way of loyalty.  Even if our beliefs are different can't we still support one another's right to our individual beliefs?  Can we be loyal to each other at the fundamental level of our shared humanity? 

You may not think like me but I would bet that we have the same basic human desires.  We all want to be safe.  We all want to happy. We all want to be loved.  We all want to be healthy.  Perhaps we can be loyal to each other's pursuit of these basic human desires.  Can you support that? Can you pledge allegiance to working towards these shared goals? 

Look at my girl!  She is the best teacher of unconditional love and loyalty. If you don't know what it means to be loyal get a dog.  

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Are you opening or closing? How does your choice feel?

I've often said that the greatest gift yoga has given me is the connections that I've made with some truly wonderful people.  Today was the perfect example.  After teaching yoga I had tea with a couple of the ladies that came to class.  It didn't take long to realize that God was serving the tea today. Turns out these two lovely ladies have walked in my shoes.  It was so helpful to hear their stories.

One of the women talked about her experience walking the Camino De Santiago.  The greatest lesson she learned during the Camino pilgrimage was how important it is for her to foster and nurture the relationships that are important to her.  The other woman talked about how close she is with her children.  How even though they don't get to spend a lot of time physically together she feels very connected to them.

With many of my relationships coming to an end and others strained I've been feeling disconnected. It seems easier to isolate rather than engage with people.  Endings seem inevitable so I wonder if it's even worth the effort of trying to connect with others.  Today I was reminded that personal connections feed my soul.  Spending time with people I love and care about is worth the effort.  What I hadn't considered before was that even the brief encounters are worth the effort.

As we sat outside the coffee shop a group of older women walked by.  One sassy lady stopped at our table and asked if we were enjoying our meal.  She was quite a character.  Dressed in her "Sunday Best",  she joked about watching her weight.  She was full of life and her cheerful demeanor made me smile.  I'll probably never see that woman again but she left an impression on me.  She was enjoying the summer afternoon with some friends... Maybe they were life long friends or maybe they just met. It didn't matter, they were enjoying each others company.

During meditation we are instructed to give our attention more to the mantra and less to the thoughts.  The thoughts will come and go but we continue to give our attention to the mantra.  Eventually, the thoughts become less and less distracting.  "What you give your attention to grows stronger in your life." 

This lesson holds true in daily living too.  We give attention to the relationships and connections that feed our soul.  There will be relationships that come and go.  There will be relationships that are very much one sided.  Rather than focusing on those experiences maybe we need to shift our focus to where we do feel connected.  "What you give your attention to grows stronger in your life."

I'm thinking now of Betheyla.  She was a teacher that I met years ago.  At the time, I had no idea the impact of that brief encounter on my life.  I can assure you that she had no idea how powerfully she affected the course of my life.  We just never know how much our connections affect others both the brief ones and the life long ones.

That sassy lady won't ever know how she made us smile and how her presence validated the message of the importance of nurturing and fostering connections. Whether brief or life long connections it's worth the effort.  For the 3rd time in 3 days I thought about the astrologer who told me it's my dharma to share the word of God with others.

Only now I'm realizing what that meant.  God is always sharing his message with us.  He speaks through the people we connect with.  We are all God's instruments.  It is our dharma to share the word of God with others.  How could we possibly do that if we don't foster and nurture our relationships with others?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Being human is hard

I'm feeling the inspiration to write and share my thoughts for the first time in months.  I want to speak my truth.  I want to express myself freely and authentically.  My old friend, self-doubt, whispers in my ear ... "remember what happened that time you spoke your mind?"   

It's been my experience that whenever I speak the truth in my heart  people get mad at me.  Years ago an astrologer told me that I need to take public speaking classes.  He told me it's my dharma to speak the word of God.   I laughed.  How can I speak the word of God to others when no one listens to me? How do I know if what I feel compelled to speak is the word of God or just my ego? 

My old friend, self-doubt, whispers in my ear...."why would anyone care to listen?"  "What could you possible contribute?"  "What could you say that hasn't already been said by someone else better?" 

I'm feeling the inspiration to write and share my thoughts for the first time in months.  At the same time, My old friend, self-doubt whispers in my ear... "Aren't there enough people mad at you already?" 

I've had this recurring dream for years now.   The details change but the essence of the dream is always the same.  I find myself in a crowded place like the mall,  sports event, or even the bank. I become aware that some sort of violence about to take place.  I'm the only one who notices. I try to warn people but no one is paying attention.  No one is listening.  I try frantically to get people's attention without getting myself killed.  At times it seems like I have to choose between protecting myself or protecting others.  I'm trying to protect others without bringing any attention to myself.

In the dream, and in my life it seems, when I feel strongly compelled to say something that I know to be my authentic truth I am faced with that same decision.  Do I speak up in an effort to protect others when I know that ultimately, it may hurt me?  I can't really explain it.  At times, the feeling that I need to say something is so strong.  The feeling is persistent.  It's like being in that dream knowing that if I don't speak up someone is going to get hurt.   That's the only way I can explain it.   The thing is that in the waking state the danger isn't so obvious. That's what makes it harder to decide if what I'm feeling compelled to share is worth the risk.  

It's late, I'm not making any sense.  Tonight, it doesn't feel like what I have to say is worth the risk. Instead of  sharing the rant that hijacked my mind the last couple of  days I'll leave you with a few questions to ponder.

*  Is enlightenment for sale? 
*  What are the qualifications to call yourself a master? 
*  Can you buy healing? 
*  Why is there a price tag on sangha? 
*  With so many "masters" and "healers" in yoga-land why is the world still so fucked up? 
*  Will we repair our  moral compass or are we destined for complete self-destruction? 

Being human is hard.  I'm trying to feel compassion for people who are doing things that make me want to smack them.   I remind myself that being human is hard for all of us.  We're all fighting demons, we're all trying to "win" at this game called life.   What makes the game so hard is that it seems we all have different rules.  Imagine playing the game Life but using  Monopoly pieces and the rules from Twister.  

Om Namah Shivaya