Category: Unnata Teacher Wisdom

What is your Response to Crisis? (My Experience of Aloha While on Maui During the August 2023 Wildfires)

If you haven’t been to Maui, think of it as a large County in the shape of two rings — like a lopsided infinity sign. The two volcanoes in the center can’t be inhabited, so everyone lives in the outer rings of land, some areas more developed than others. There are only three full cities: Kahului/Wailuku, Kiehe (partly affected by the recent fires), and Lahaina (now gone). The rest of Maui’s populated areas feel like pop-up suburban housing, towns you’ll literally miss if you blink, farms, and mansion estates. It’s relatively unpopulated here for the size (compared to the metropolis of Honolulu) and also quite spread out. There are 2 movie theaters on the island, and they only play blockbuster films. If you’ve lived on this island for a while, you likely have friends or family on both this island, and the others. People live in their main hub, but it only takes 1-2 hours to visit anywhere you want to go. Each area of the island has different weather and thus different vibes, but it feels cohesive.

We are the little county of Maui.

Comfort Zones During Crises

This morning my landlord paused his honeybee box-making to comment that the fires were really pushing locals out of their comfort zones. I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. Where in one’s comfort zone is a healthy place to be during a time of crisis?

I live on the north shore of Maui on a farm in “the jungle”, which didn’t catch on fire. However, everyone on this island has and will continue to be impacted to different degrees from the fallout of the fires. Of course those who are experiencing the biggest impact lost homes, livelihoods, family, friends and pets, and are now being forced to rebuild their lives elsewhere, on or off island.

But for those of us not directly impacted by physical fire, we are still affected. And, the response has varied. Some immediately jumped in to help those in need, offering their homes and resources to strangers or volunteering however they could. Others did not physically or financially help because they couldn’t – they emotionally froze.

Under the frantic rush to identify and help the people in need was a layer of trepidation; the experience of navigating personal time & resource boundaries can be deeply scary. How much am I willing to give to alleviate others’ crisis? Is that even needed? Will anything I have to give even make an impact? Will people judge me for not doing enough? For some, jumping into action is not only within their comfort zone, it’s what makes them feel alive and full of purpose. They may know exactly what they have excess of, and therefore what they can give to those in need. For others, their stress responders make them freeze, and they need to go inward to process and to grieve, even if the danger is just something they’re witnessing. They may grip tighter around whatever they have, afraid of what might come next.

There is a rainbow of responses people can exhibit when their comfort zone is threatened. And just like the colors of the rainbow, no one color is “more correct” than another.

My Story

Where I live, our wifi and cell service was knocked out. Because I had an appointment in town, I happened to be the first on my farm to learn about the fires. I saw aerial footage taken by the friend of a friend and my disbelief melted into grief. A sense of guilt and helplessness set in. I began to feel guilt for any creature comforts I was experiencing – the food I was eating, the electricity I enjoyed. Although I actively began volunteering to sort donations and cook meals, I still felt an overwhelming sense of helplessness, and that nothing I did could ever be enough. I felt angry that I was limited to volunteering with big organizations that felt inefficient and sterile. I felt ashamed that with all my education, I’d never bothered to cultivate a survival skill that would help others in an acute crisis. When not volunteering, I found myself organizing my tiny hut – cleaning, making lists, and stirring in the general anxiety of powerlessness. After talking with friends, I realized I was not alone with these feelings.

Luckily, early on, some suggestions made by a local, elder spiritual leader helped transmute things for many in my community. She let us know that the overwhelming sentiment of the people in the main emergency shelter was that they were grateful to be alive and just wanted the island to hold the spirit of Aloha (love) so they could feel supported in keeping their spirits up. My current state was nowhere near a spirit of Aloha, and my internal stories of inadequacy did nothing but ripple out to others as stress. Her permission to bring forward love and trust in myself as an act of service felt like a dam bursting open inside me. The relief shifted everything.

Most impactfully, she advised us to think back to the first crisis we could remember facing as a child, and how we reacted to it both short and long-term. How does our current response to the fires relate to our first reactions to crises as children?

Growing up, I remember my little sister used to cry for hours, constantly ill and in agony. I could hear her through our bedrooms’ shared wall, empathetically feeling her pain. I could neither control her sounds, nor shut them out. I also felt the fear and stress of my parents who were constantly tending to her. I struggled with sadness, feeling useless, and anger with my parents for not being able to stop her pain. And, I couldn’t give myself permission to be happy or playful in the presence of everyone feeling so concerned.

I was a witness to suffering I didn’t understand, and since I couldn’t control the circumstances around me, I started organizing what I did have control over: the objects in my room. I carefully positioned things on my shelves, aligned perfectly in arrangements dictated by my very specific and strong feelings. Usually, my feelings were never fully satisfied.

Though these memories were long forgotten, they laid the foundational roads of my nervous system and mental response to others’ suffering. The elder’s question brought my memories back so clearly, and I realized Maui’s crisis is like a semi-truck cruising around on the same emotional roads. Understanding the coping patterns I developed as a child was the key to understanding how to navigate out of the swirling fears and projected stories that were keeping me frozen, circling endlessly in the roundabout at the center of my comfort zone. Once I exited the roundabout, my childhood roads looked small in the rearview mirror, and I could drive right up to the edge of my comfort zone again.

The Breakthrough

Then, my attitude volunteering relaxed into positivity and openness. I now show up with a clear mind to cook, pray, sort, or donate exactly as I have capacity for. I didn’t know how to deal with emotional overwhelm when I was a child. As an adult, I now respect what my intuition tells me, and when I start to clench, I step away to take a break.

I now accept that my sensitivity to things is what makes me a compassionate human. Sensitivity is not a weakness. It just means I need to step away and recover sometimes, even when the pain is not my own. The mantra around Maui is that the recovery efforts are a marathon, not a sprint. This simple act of introspection (svadhyaya) allowed me to step back and assume a more sustainable pace, one fueled by care rather than by trying to resolve my own childhood trauma.

Just as important, my realizations erased any secret resentment I was projecting on others who seemed ineffective or not doing enough to “help.” Now that resentment doesn’t occur to me. I just ask people I meet about their fears and what would make them feel better – more comfortable. It doesn’t matter if they are a direct “victim” of the fire or not. We are all impacted as a collective community and I’m grateful to have had someone show me how to recognize my own limitations, so that I could expand my support & love for ALL of Maui, whatever level of privilege they have, whatever level of crisis they are in, and wherever they need to be within their comfort zone during a time of change.

Through introspection, I found my Aloha spirit.

I’ve historically thought of comfort zones as physical things that provide reliability and buffer us from stress- a home, a job, a relationship. Maui has rewritten that definition for me. Now I see comfort zones as the familiar mental stories we create about ourselves, our surroundings, and our ability to thrive. American culture peddles “being outside our comfort zone” as the place where all progress is made. However, this doesn’t seem reasonable or feasible in times of crisis. Crisis is the gift that brings us to the EDGE of our comfort zone. This seems like a helpful place to be – a place from which you can see old inner stories, and be open to what new realities are possible outside the zone.

Becky is currently volunteering at: Hungry Heros Hawaii, a volunteer-run organization on Maui delivering fresh meals and daily supplies to those in need. Read more about them and make a donation at:


According to ancient yoga texts, svadhyaya (introspection) is one of the 10 attitudes and disciplines to adopt in order to progress towards inner serenity (yoga). If you would like to learn more about how you navigate crises, try doing what I did, and ask yourself the following questions to help map the inner landmarks of your comfort zone…

What are your crisis patterns?
What are your emotional triggers?
What are your baseline needs to feel safe?
Who do you become when you step beyond your nervous system’s edge?
What makes you feel contracted, fearful, grasping? Expansive, hopeful, and generous?
What inspires you so much you are willing to live at your edge where things are less safe, but you have access to more possibility?
What is the wildest dream for your life that you are afraid to say out loud?
And if that’s possible, what else is possible?

I invite you to get creative, and draw a literal map.

My Favorite Place to Travel

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

It’s summertime, and many Americans are returning to travel vacations.

There is an allure to travel – seeing exotic places, experiencing completely different cultures from one’s own, meeting new people with openness and curiosity.

Where is your favorite place to travel?

I’ve been lucky enough to teach Unnata Aerial Yoga in several locations around the USA and in many different countries. As a result, I hear this question a lot.

I, like everyone who frequently travels, will tell you it’s impossible to choose one favorite place. Every place I travel to, nationally or internationally, is so different from each other. Rather than comparing apples to oranges, it’s more like comparing apple pie to a screwdriver.

I may not be able to choose my favorite place, but I can share with you some of the charm I find in the countries I visit (or have visited) often.


Most of the landscape of Finland is covered with lakes, and much of the country’s border is along the Baltic sea. Finland claims an archipelago of numerous small islands on it’s western side. Being so far north, they of course witness lots of snow in the winter, and explains the popularity of the sauna. (Sauna is a Finnish word, by the way.) Statistically, there is 1.8 saunas for every person in Finland! The landscape partly explains the colors of the Finnish flag: a snow white background, featuring a watery blue cross.

Imagine what it’s like to be on a wide, open lake, and you have a good sense of my impression of Finnish people. They are known to be somewhat quiet people, not keen on small talk, to the degree of even keeping a copious amount of space between themselves when waiting on lines (for example: at the bus stop).

Teaching in Finland

Some of the best students in the world! They will always show up on time, if not incredibly early. (Fun fact: the only time I’ve ever been on a flight that boarded early and left before scheduled departure time, was in Finland.) They have a great amount of respect for education, and as a result, like to study hard.

St Petersburg, Russia

I specify St Petersburg because I’ve been told that even though St Petersburg is in Russia, it is not necessarily representative of typical Russia. It’s a bit like New York City, to that regard. New York City is in the USA, but I wouldn’t choose it as the best example of a typical American city.

The feel of St Petersburg is surprisingly European, from the 1700-1800’s eras. This is most likely due to the great affection Catherine the Great and most of the tsars had with France and its culture during those years. Many of the buildings there are very ornate, and painted in a large array of pastel colors. The cathedrals and churches are each distinctive and unique. Almost every important or luxe building is gilded in gold, either inside or outside. Beautiful gardens and canals dot all of the downtown area, even many of the subway stations are ornate and gorgeous.

Imagine a city like that, and you’ll understand my impression of the Russian people who live in St Petersburg. They really appreciate and enjoy beauty and color. St Petersburg denizens pay a lot of attention to how they groom and dress. The majority of older women dye their hair various shades of bright red. There are 24 hour flower shops everywhere. Ask yourself this, have you ever had an urgent need for flowers at 3am?

Teaching in St Petersburg

Some of the best students in the world! Not many yoga teachers outside of Russia travel to Russia to teach. Therefore, I found the students were always highly appreciative. No one arrived already in their yoga pants. Instead, they dressed up a little, as if they were going somewhere special, and change into yoga clothes for class.


Everywhere I have traveled in Spain has been warm and dry. Stores and events seem to open/start a little later in the day, and go a little later into the night than in most places I’ve visited. Most people are familiar with the Spanish siesta, which means that numerous stores are closed for a good 2-3 hours in the late afternoon. When one considers how the hottest part of the day is in the late afternoon, it makes complete sense.

My impression is that the Spanish people are as warm and relaxed as their weather. This is a country where not only do I stay with the hosting yoga studio’s family, but we also eat most of our meals together, too. Even though we frequently give an extra long amount of time for the lunch break (after all, siesta), it still always feels rushed because meals are also socializing time, too.

Teaching in Spain

Some of the best students in the world! These students love asking questions, and are always really engaged in the course material. All the ones I have met are truly passionate about all aspects of a yoga practice, including yoga philosophy and meditation. Which, warms my heart in an entirely different way than the sun does.


Everywhere I have gone in Japan has been very humid. This makes for a lush, green countryside. But even in the biggest metropolis, I seem to see greenery and plants everywhere. I have the impression that every Japanese person has a green thumb, and embraces Nature in their daily lives. There is even a Japanese word or concept, shinrin-yoku, which means “forest-bathing,” and is the description of a contemplative walk in nature.

A contemplative walk in nature is exactly what I think of when I think of the Japanese demeanor. Quiet, introspective, but also observing one’s surroundings. Japan has evolved a culture of paying attention to the needs of others, sometimes over the needs of one’s own. Everyone truly cares if your needs are being met, most of the time before you realize you even had an unmet need.

Teaching in Japan

Some of the best students in the world! Japanese students are very good at listening. And whatever you ask of them, they work hard to precisely follow instructions. I have to give myself extra reminders to give breaks during lectures. Because, the students will never show signs of fatigue, and they will never interrupt to let me know its lunchtime.

How to Bring Your Vacation Back Home…

Can you see why I can’t choose one favorite place? Yoga students everywhere are amazing people!

The beautiful part of being a short-term visitor, is that one can easily focus on just the delights of the place one has traveled to. It’s not quite as easy to see only the delights of our home town/country, where we live. The longer we stay in one place, inevitably we will experience some things we don’t enjoy.

This is where a daily meditation practice can be a useful tool to help us feel the excitement and wonder of a tourist while in our own home. By settling the mind, and withdrawing from its natural tendency to delineate our experiences into good/bad, we take a mental break from whatever stresses of the moment dominate our mind-scape. When you meditate, you realize that the inner journey is just as rewarding as the most exotic of trips. And soon, your favorite place to travel, will be to your yoga mat.

Trying Too Hard

Trying too hard.

It’s a phrase that indicates the desired result cannot be achieved due to too much effort, usually caused by an over-zealous mind.

This common phrase demonstrates that some goals require finesse, as opposed to brute force, and can be used to refer to either physical, or intellectual goals.

Many traditional yoga postures – the balancing postures, especially, require this type of finesse, and are usually achieved through a relaxed focus along with the physical action. If you have a tendency to “try too hard” in your yoga class, then practicing balancing postures will encourage your mind to transition away from its overly-eager state.

In aerial yoga classes, the hammock can be used as an extra tool to help train eager minds to relax a bit. By allowing the body to physically relax into a yoga position supported by the hammock, once the body fully settles into the shape, one can practice re-engaging the muscles with the appropriate amount of effort, simultaneously training the mind not to over-strive. Because the body has already “arrived” in the position, if you notice re-engagement of the muscles either makes your mind too active, or pulls your body out of the position, it’s easy to return to relaxation instantly, without losing the position.

When we cocoon inside the hammock, we can develop this type of “mental step back” even better. Completely covered by the hammock fabric, our senses are partially blocked from our surroundings, which makes it easier to withdraw into our inner world, better focus on our breath, self-reflect, and loosen any tendencies to over-exert both physically and mentally.

Of course, when it comes to physical fitness, complete relaxation doesn’t help us develop strength, flexibility, or coordination, all of which are desirable traits we need to achieve our yoga postures. In order to advance our physical aptitude, we do need to continually challenge ourselves. No pain, no gain, and meet your edge, are the types of cues we most often hear from fitness trainers and yoga instructors.

Luckily, the hammock is a versatile tool, which can also be used for resistance training, in order to intensify strength exercises, and stretches. And, knowledgeable aerial yoga instructors will expertly balance a mix of resistance training with relaxing hammock-supported postures, so that the needs of the body and the mind can both be addressed.

Uniting physical efforts of the body with a relaxed focus gets us one step closer to the ultimate goal of a yoga practice – union of body, mind, and spirit. Uniting body, mind and spirit, otherwise known as self-realization takes many years of practice and determination to achieve success. It is necessary to try hard to get there. I just recommend don’t try too hard.

Reassurance From a Hammock Hug

Photo by Addy Mae on Unsplash

Due to a recent relocation, I was without a yoga hammock for a couple of weeks. Although I don’t practice my asanas with a hammock every day, nevertheless I was eager to jump back in as soon as I was able to erect my portable (and temporary) hammock stand. It’s easy to become ungrounded when our normal routine is disrupted, and when our surroundings are no longer familiar. And so I was craving to re-establish my familiar mix of aerial yoga along with “floor” yoga, pranayama and meditation.

One thing about moving to a new location, is the newness of it all really makes one hyper aware of all differences, everywhere – from big things such as different weather patterns, or how the water tastes, to more subtle differences such as different sounds from the refrigerator, or the feel of different bedsheets.

So when I jumped into my hammock, the differences between my past, familiar setup and my current setup stood out dramatically. Despite the fact that I am used to traveling and finding myself in different hammocks and hammock setups, frequently.

The first thing I noticed was the squeeze from the hammock.

The First Hug

My Brooklyn apartment had a fairly high ceiling. And naturally, a hammock stand is much shorter. Even though, thanks to experience, I knew what to expect with a shorter ceiling height, I was still surprised by the strength of the squeeze.

One of the reasons why I prefer a single point hammock (shaped like a teardrop) to a 2 point hammock (shaped like the letter “U”) is because I enjoy how the hammock wraps around the body more with a single point hammock, how it squeezes the body. I use this squeezing quality a lot in my practice to massage warmed muscles, to help stretch fascia, and to remind me to expand the lungs fully when I breathe. Because the hammock’s squeeze in my new location feels much stronger, I discovered a new relationship to it. When entered into/exited from slowly, the hammock’s squeeze gave me a much needed, comforting hug. This relocation to a new city has been stressful and emotional; the hammock was encouraging me: everything will turn out okay; I will be able to re-imagine a life I love in this new place.

The second thing I noticed was how calming and restorative being upside-down felt.

Another Hug

Being upside-down is always an adventure. It feels amazing for the spine and playful for the mind. At the same time, though, the sensation of more fluid in the head can cause discomfort, and the digestive system can feel pressured, causing nausea to arise even for long-time, experienced practitioners such as myself. This time, there was zero discomfort; I wanted to stay upside-down much longer than usual.

Due to elongation of the torso, the digestive organs are spread out and snuggled more along the length of the spine. This is not a new concept to me, I frequently speak about the inward draw of the abdominal organs during inversions, and the phenomenon is included as a topic of discussion in the Unnata teacher training course. But this time, the sensation was not just something I noticed intellectually. It felt soothing, and I felt worries melting out of my mind. Could it be my “guts” needed a squeeze, or a hug, just as much as my skin, muscles, and chest did? This time, gravity was reminding me: even when your world has flipped upside-down, you will be alright. Calm down, rest, digest, and you’ll evolve into your best.

The Last Hug

After the inaugural aerial yoga class I gave myself in my new home, I decided to practice along to a video from an aerial yoga class I taught a couple of years ago, while back in Brooklyn. I specifically chose a class with things I would be hesitant to practice on a yoga stand such as swinging (have to be careful of the poles and also of tipping the stand over), and standing on the hammock (not enough space to fully stand up), to explore how to adapt things I used to do, to my new reality.

I noticed how despite the limitations of the new setup, I felt inspired and creative, not restricted.

There’s the old saying, “necessity is the mother of invention.” Intellectually, I know these things. Intellectually, I know that moving to a new city doesn’t equate to something melodramatic such as failure and/or death or another unwanted trauma, and could instead be seen as an exciting opportunity. But for some reason, the heart doesn’t always understand or agree with the intellect. Sometimes, my heart needs additional convincing.

What’s in a Hug

Life rarely works the way I would prefer it. And, I’m not unique in that regard. Most of us wish for a life filled only with happiness and triumph. And yet, sadness and tragedy does exist, and frequently we experience a mix of favored and unfavored events on any given day. To ignore either side of this dualistic coin is to deny oneself the experience of a full and complete life. Rather than ignore the sadness, fear and awkward discomfort I’m feeling over leaving Brooklyn, I’ll stay in the moment and notice it and also recognize and embrace the fun and interesting surprises my new city and my new home offer. Emotions are impermanent, and can dissolve and disappear if you let them.

Every hug eventually ends; the hugger lets go of the hugged, and the squeeze transitions into expansion. If the hug felt good, and the expansion also felt good, that’s when you know you’ve experienced love. I suppose despite its imperfections, I really loved Brooklyn and New York City. And, my aerial yoga hammock is reassuring me that I will love my adopted city and the next phase of life, too.

Enlighten Up!

I was thinking recently about the word, enlighten.

At the root of enlighten, is the word, light.

Light can be what results from the rays of the sun, or it can be something with a small amount of weight.

Therefore, lighten could be defined as: to make less dark. Or, it can be defined as: to bring levity.

My husband and I watch a lot of comedy specials on Netflix. And, we’ve noticed that really good comedians use their talent to turn unpleasant, embarrassing, and sometimes even traumatic stories into stories that can be laughed at by others, but also by themselves.

It reminds me that stories are our interpretation of reality, and that we can choose to tell ourselves our personal stories in any multitude of ways. If we choose to re-write some of our stories using humor, that will “lighten” our memories, and can help us find a path forward into the future from a place of enlightenment.

For those of us who are not professional comedians, this can be quite difficult to do.

So instead of trying to train ourselves a skill that may be quite foreign to us, and take years to develop, we can instead simply use elements of comedy as inspiration to change our perspective.


Most jokes rely on the element of surprise. We expect the story the comedian is telling to go in one direction, and instead the comedian delivers an ending to the story that is unexpected.

Raising kids may be a thankless job with ridiculous hours, but at least the pay sucks.

Jim Gaffigan

When it comes to mulling over our own personal stories, it may be impossible for us to surprise ourselves. However, we can invite ourselves every day to try one new activity, or learn one new word, or meet one new person, etc. And, by embracing a small amount of “unknown” into our daily lives, we train our minds to curiously seek out surprises as part of our daily routine.


Some comedy relies on exaggeration. For example, a person dipping their hand into the jellybean jar to grab one jellybean isn’t humorous. But, if someone picked up the entire jellybean jar, tilted their head back, and tried to dump all of the candy into their mouth in one shot… that might be considered humorous.


In real life, of course you wouldn’t want to repeat and exaggerate any unpleasant experience you had. (If you burn your hand on the stove, no one would find it funny for you to then put your entire arm in the oven.) But what you can do, is remind yourself of how much worse your unpleasant experience could have been. This change of perspective teaches our minds gratitude, which will help us lighten our attitude a little.


Some comedy is just plain silly.

For an example of “silly,” you only have to picture Steve Martin in almost anything he has done during his career. Back in the 1970’s, during his comedy routine, Steve Martin would appear on stage with an obviously fake arrow through his head, and audiences at the time thought it was hilarious.

Wearing a fake arrow might just be one of the least “sexy” things a person could do. And, to don one proudly and on purpose in front of an audience of people demonstrates that the arrow wearer really doesn’t care about social norms. The gesture invites everyone to “let their guard down,” and perhaps let go of any stress that may be experienced with constantly trying to prove our worth and value to society.

If you’re someone who tries to be socially perfect 100% of the time, you are literally setting yourself up for a big disappointment. It is impossible to never make a public mistake. Perhaps being silly isn’t your style, but if every once in a while you allow yourself to stop trying to be the best or the most perfect (at whatever), and embrace your mistakes instead of cringe at them, then you might build the self-confidence necessary to accept your mistakes in a non-judgmental way, whenever they do happen.


Humor helps us find levity in many situations. And, you don’t have to be a professional comedian, or even consider yourself funny, to practice lightening your mood. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at training your mind to be light and flexible, just as we train our bodies to be light and flexible in our yoga classes.

As an aerial yoga instructor, I encourage you to… enlighten up! 😉

How To Dance Through Life

I’m not even sure how I came to this position on my journey in life. Whether I was placed here due to the fallout from pandemic disruptions, or if I would have wound up arriving to this same spot, anyway. In any case, I am on the verge of moving to a different city, in a different state, one where I have no relatives, no friends, no job, and I am considering the fact that I will indeed be starting over – establishing a new home, a new community, an entirely new life.

The idea of this move is both exciting and terrifying at the same time. On the one hand, there is potential to better my situation in many ways – perhaps I’ll be able to find a living situation with more space. Perhaps I’ll be able to create a daily routine that doesn’t require moving at such a fast pace as what New York City demands. Perhaps I’ll be able to create an income that will stretch further in a smaller sized city.

But with every big unknown, there is potential for both pleasant and unpleasant surprises. And although I have eagerly jumped into adventures in the past full of youthful optimism, at the age of 53, I’ve lost those rose-colored glasses. And so I also worry. Will I be able to re-create enough work in a new place? Will I even like the new city and its citizens?

So often, I look to ancient yoga texts to find some perspective and words of wisdom. And although I don’t have a specific story, the symbol of Nataraja is a perfect representation for times when you feel like you are starting over.

Nataraja is known as the “Dancing Shiva,” or a specific form that Shiva adopts. Shiva is a Hindu deity referred to frequently as “the destroyer.” And although Nataraja is indeed destroying the universe, the dance represents the simultaneous creation of a new universe. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “Out with the old, in with the new?” It is essentially the same idea – one must first throw out old, no longer useful items off of the shelf in order to create necessary space to house new items. Sometimes it’s not physical items we need to throw out, but ideas, or relationships, etc.

Sculptures of Nataraja usually include a lot of symbolism, some of which we can also think of in a non-religious way.

For example, one of Nataraja’s hands holds the gesture of protection, which is also a gesture meant to comfort the viewer. It symbolizes that “everything is going to be okay,” which is commonly seen as the best attitude to adopt in order to gracefully move through upheaving life changes – good or bad. No one can predict the future, and so why not hope for the best? Or at least, keep an open mind. If you walk into situations expecting the worst, it could easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The symbol of dance itself is also helpful to consider. Dance is graceful movement that no matter how frenetic, is still choreographed and purposeful. Even though we may not always “have a say” in the situations we find ourselves in, we do know we have choices in how to respond. And, the more we can realistically see and accept our circumstances, the easier it will be for us to learn how to “dance” inside of them, and respond “in synch” with our situation. It is when we are in denial of our current reality that we make things more difficult on ourselves, more awkward, and less graceful. Dancers are able to adapt to whatever stage they are given; it is part of the art.

And then, there is the symbol of fire. It is used in two places in most Nataraja sculptures. Surrounding Nataraja, there is a ring of fire which represents the current universe (filled with suffering caused by illusion). And, there is a smaller flame held in one of Nataraja’s hands, which he will use to destroy the universe in order to create a new one. (His instrument to create a new universe is held in a different hand.) I find it interesting that even though he is surrounded by fire, he holds a piece of it in his hand. The old adage, “You can’t fight fire with fire.” comes to mind.

From a human perspective, being surrounded by fire would most certainly be a frightening experience. And yet, having a piece of fire in one’s hand is also akin to a torch, which can be used to see one’s way out of darkness – usually seen as a positive. To me, the small piece of fire held in Nataraja’s hand is akin to the transformation we experience after an upheaval. It is as if a small piece of the experience stayed with us to help us grow, spiritually. Rather than trying to destroy the ring of fire with a torch of fire, Nataraja uses a piece taken from the ring of fire to balance out the similarly strong power of creation, which is held in a different hand.

Brooklyn and New York City shaped how I think and how I move over the past 30 years of living here. Perhaps coincidentally, I originally moved to New York City to become an artist, specifically a dancer! And so, it only makes sense that I leave New York with life lessons from the dancer Nataraja to help me find the ART in st-art-ing over.


Photo by Nic Y-C on Unsplash

Do you move fluidly through life, inspired? Do you have to force yourself to move when you feel stuck? Or maybe you move so rapidly it’s difficult to hold yourself back!

Movement is essential to life. Even while standing still or sleeping, the body is in constant motion: the breath moves, blood moves, the brain sends and receives signals in connection with the organs, muscles and glands. It’s impossible not to move.

Move. It rhymes with groove. And sounds like smooth. When you find your groove, life is smooth, and it’s easier to move.

Motion. It rhymes with ocean. And potion. And lotion. The ocean is in constant motion. Potions and lotions help stuck or dry things return to fluid motion.

What is the difference between move and motion?

Move starts from stillness. Motion is in process: something has already started, and simply continues.

Breath is in continuous motion, though sometimes we perceive it as “stopped.” It may pause for a few seconds: at the top of inhale, the bottom of exhale, or perhaps when we hold our breath in fear or shock. And yet, for as long we live, our breath continues in this rhythmic pattern: Inhale. Pause. Exhale. Pause. Repeat. The breath is both continuous, and intermittent.

Our life unfolds this way, too. At least, this is how we perceive it. We tend to remember important events in our life as punctuated moments when we were compelled to move or change direction. And yet, all events happen within the greater context of a flow of life in constant motion.

Most of the time, we are unaware of the continuous flow of breath. It happens spontaneously while we go about our day.

With yogic pranayamas (breath control variations), we may conscientiously choose to pause the breath to experience different states of awareness, like greater concentration or stillness. And yet, we can never hold the breath for too long. The breath must flow for life to continue.

Breath is the vital sign of life. It swells and ebbs, repeatedly. Emotions follow a similar flow – they rise and dissipate, inspired by the events in your life. When your emotions bring your spirit down, or excite you, you do not stay there permanently, even if the emotion lingers a long time. Like the motion of breath, eventually emotions transition into a different form.

The flow of emotion can help the process of moving from stuckness or struggle and into a more joyful, satisfying experience. Motion is the root of emotion. The “e” means “out.” And so emotion is a feeling that flows outward from within.

An emotion is not something that happens to you. It’s an internal signal that expresses how you feel about something external. Sometimes when an emotion is uncomfortable, we hold ourselves back from expressing it, and it gets stuck. Emotions need to move!

When we find ourselves stuck in an emotion like anger, fear, sadness or grief, we can find a positive outlet and allow the emotion to flow outward from within. Moving the body through yoga or exercise is one positive outlet that can help move the emotion. Allowing the emotion to move can shift how we feel.

Movement is essential to life. And though we may sometimes feel stuck or experience struggle, we can step back and remember that this moment is simply one moment in a continuous stream of moments. When we remember that movement is happening, (even when it doesn’t appear that way!) we can shift our perspective, and eventually find flow again. We can move out of stuckness, and out of struggle.

Have you been stuck? Are you having difficulties managing the events of your life? Look at the bigger picture: you are still in motion.

Perhaps this moment is like a pause between breaths, or the punctuation point at the end of a sentence. There may be a pause, but life is still moving. Focus on the continuity, rather than the pause, to help you flow with the changes that events bring. And if you find yourself swept away by the flow of life, you might choose to focus on the pauses between breaths, or the space between moments, to help find stability in the present.

The ability to dance through life requires you to hone your skill at being in the present moment and the continuous flow, equally. As you observe the breath… Inhale. Pause. Exhale. Pause. Repeat… you will sharpen your ability to switch between the pauses and flows of your life with more fluidity and ease.

To Speak Or Not To Speak, That Is The Yoga Teacher’s Question

What is my goal as a yoga teacher?

I’ve asked this question and answered it in different ways throughout my 15 year career teaching yoga. At this moment my answer is to HELP – to help students turn inward toward their true self, joining the path of yoga, and to share my practice and experience from my place on this path.

In this blog post I would like to offer some thoughts that I’ve had about the role of speech in helping students walk their path. These thoughts have come out of my own recent experience of teaching yoga in English (which is not my native language) and joining a new yoga community in Seattle. I am very grateful to John, my friend and yoga buddy who inspired me and helped me to structure this post.

We all aspire as yoga teachers to speak and explain well. What does this mean in practice? Fundamentally, to speak and explain well you need a pleasant voice, broad vocabulary, clear enunciation, and knowledge of a language that is understandable to students. Equally important is the ability to speak competently of yoga and anatomy. All of these elements are rather obvious and many teachers possess these skills.

There are, however, speech elements that transform our teaching from valuable to priceless.

Speak From Personal Experience

First, speak from personal experience. When our teaching is born from our experience, it adds a depth that transcends the actual words.

Interactive and Relevant Verbal Cues

Second, we should strive to make our verbal cues interactive and relevant to the needs of our students at the present moment. Our instruction should help our students to answer the questions that arise throughout each practice.

Evolve as Students Progress

Finally, our speech and explanation should evolve with our students’ progress. Asanas are alive; when our body changes, asanas change. Our explanations are alive, too; when our asanas change, our explanations change, as well. We should always be aware of where our students are on their path and consider what will best support them.

Silence Is Also Valuable

Regarding speech, there’s a fundamental question that we, as yoga teachers, need to ask ourselves: How much to speak in class? From my perspective, every moment that a teacher is giving verbal instruction (explaining what to do, how it should feel, and providing feedback) student attention is directed outside the body and stays outside the entire time the teacher is talking. When students are directing attention outside the body, it’s not yoga yet. It’s just making shapes that hopefully can become yoga asanas.

In Yoga, you need to direct all your attention inside, pull in your sensory tentacles, and explore the sensations inside the shape of the asana. You must listen not to the outside voice, but to your own breathing and to your own body voice. Therefore, students need time to create a shape (with the verbal guidance of their teacher) and some time to be in this shape. And while they are in their shape, they need silence. They need to own their practice. We should guide students into their asana and then give them time to witness their body in silence. This requires a balance of explanation and saying nothing in class.

I have a story about skill development from my previous profession in the fashion industry…

There was once a girl who really wanted to become a seamstress. She began to study sewing and decided to sew a skirt. It was a very plain skirt with two seams, a belt and a zipper because the girl still could not sew anything more complex. After a couple of years she became a well known and skilled seamstress. She sewed a skirt again but this skirt had different pockets, slots, frills, and edging.

It was a very complicated skirt and she managed to show all her skills and her quality in that one piece. People were impressed and she was proud. Many years passed and the girl became a Guru in sewing. When she sewed a skirt again, it was plain with two  seams, a belt, and a zipper, but all of her skill went into this one. It was the same as the first one but absolutely different.

The same is true of yoga teachers. When we start to teach it’s very difficult to speak, even to give instructions on how to get into an asana. It takes a lot of brain work and attention. Besides, we don’t know very much, so we speak less. Then we start speaking without overthinking, we begin to feel comfortable in the teacher’s place, and we can speak more. We’ve learned so much about yoga and we want to share it all. We end up speaking a lot, practically nonstop. All  the things we say are really important, useful, and helpful. It’s not bad, it’s just a phase in our development. In the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, it is written that mastery in certain forms of meditation will give us specific superpowers. But, it is also written that after we master superpowers, then we need to let them go. Non-attachment is the true goal of yoga. And once we find something more important than knowledge, principles, rules, and right and wrong, we will speak less, maybe only how to get into the asana. And this will be enough for students because behind these words, will be all our yoga experience.

As a teacher now I like to talk a little before class, something related to the upcoming practice. Maybe about yoga rules or Yamas and Niymas, or about energy moving. Then at various points in the class, I remind the students when it is related to what I spoke about. I  am working now on making clear and complete instructions (I have started to teach in English only very recently), and I give moments of silence when my students are in the shape. I think they need this time to feel how their body responds to the shape, to explore the breathing, and to find inner stillness, or maybe inner movement. It’s their time for themselves. It’s their yoga practice. And the teacher is always there to help.

Smoothly Add Beginners into a Mixed Level Class

There are so many different ways to set up and run aerial yoga classes. There’s no one perfect method for everyone. Today, I’ll dive into a question I often get asked by new teachers, “Should I have a separate class for beginners?”

Before diving in, I want to emphasize that in this article I’m writing about aerial yoga, specifically. In my studio, Aerial Fit of Charleston, SC, we typically take beginners in a mixed level class, but only for aerial yoga, not for aerial circus.

The reason why we need a separate class for beginners when we teach aerial circus, is because those classes are focused on learning how to use the aerial apparatus for fitness and artistic expression. We use more of a nuts and bolts approach where you learn the basics of the apparatus first, and then you build on those skills. That means beginners have a lot to learn! But, once they’ve learned the foundations, they’ll be quickly ready to build on them. Having a class focused on getting beginners up to speed, just makes sense for aerial circus.

The reason we feel comfortable putting beginners into a mixed level class for aerial yoga, is because in aerial yoga classes we’re focused on yoga, not aerial. Since yoga is a mind-body practice, and the hammock is simply a prop we use to enhance the postures, that means much of the focus of the class is on the internal experience. In aerial yoga, someone gets more advanced by going deeper inward, not by getting into fancier postures. So, I find it is possible to teach a beginner and a more experienced student at the same time, and to cue the more advanced student in a way that’s accessible to anyone ready to go deeper.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean it is easy to do! Mixing beginners with more experienced students presents many challenges, so let’s dive into them…

Aerial Yoga Classes

I know that in an ideal world, every student would get the perfect class tailored exactly to them. But in reality, and in the context of a group class, there’s a lot we need to do in order to balance the class to meet every student where they are, and move them forward from there.

How do we do that? Here’s our technique:

1. Keep the class small

This can mean different things to different teachers. As a new teacher, I limited my class to a maximum of 4 students. There’s a lot to look at when teaching aerial yoga, and even more so when you have new beginners in the class. You have to see the bodies, the faces, the breath, and the energy each student is giving off, just like in a regular yoga class. But in aerial yoga, you also have to be looking at where the student is in relation to the plumb line of the hammock, where the hammock is on their body, where their weight is in each position, and so much more. As a new teacher, I felt most comfortable keeping my classes small, so that I could make sure not to miss anything important.

Over time I felt comfortable growing my aerial yoga classes. And now, I feel comfortable with a maximum of 10 students at once in my particular studio. The number can be different in a different space, depending on how easy or difficult it is to get a view of the room that allows you to see everyone at the same time.

But in general, smaller is better when it comes to aerial yoga.

2. Start the class slow

If there are new or unknown students in my class, I always start the class with very simple movements and sequences that don’t require any fancy hammock wraps or supports. In fact, I start every class this way even when all of the students are experienced. I do it because I want students to tune into their body first, before connecting with the hammock.

3. Progress the class based on observation

Assuming the start of class goes well, I build on what we’ve done and begin to add more complexity. With new students in class, I always leave lots of space for exploring the simpler variations without needing to move on to more complicated skills or sequences. For example, let’s say I’m teaching an inverted pigeon pose from Back Straddle. Many students, even new beginners, love this pose and feel comfortable in it. But, that’s not true for everyone. So, I cue the important actions in the Back Straddle prep (breathing, allowing the stomach to soften, etc). And I emphasize that in the more complicated variation, those same cues are still incredibly important. So, students can choose to either do the complicated or not, and either way they’re still working on the same thing. Keeping the class together energetically is so important! Especially to keep new students feeling comfortable, safe, and really feeling what’s happening in themselves, as they practice new and unfamiliar things.

4. Don’t be afraid to offer different options to different students

I will often say “If you’re new, stop here and focus on (whatever cue I want them to focus on). If you’ve been coming awhile and you’re used to how this feels, then you can explore (whatever more advanced option I want to give the class). But, I never do this at the beginning of class. Always, I offer different options only after the class has merged energetically, and I’ve had a chance to see how the new students respond to my instruction.

I never want someone to feel like they’re missing out on something. So, giving a beginner a task to focus on can keep them in their own body and breath, while the more advanced students move into a trickier variation. And, giving the more advanced students something to focus on while I keep everyone in an easier variation, also does the same thing.

5. Bring the class together at the end

Yoga is not about what pose you get into; it’s more important what mindset you get into, and that you are breathing. So, I always end class with a centering or breathing exercise to bring the class back together as a whole. Oftentimes after class, the regular students will chat with the new students, and tell them about their first class and how new everything was.

Even though keeping beginners all together in the same class might be easier, it’s definitely not the only option. If you have the opportunity to make a class specially for beginners, go for it! But also be aware that with the right approach, it is possible to teach a great class to a mixed group.

No two students are ever exactly the same, or need exactly the same thing at the same time. And since everyone progresses differently, these tips are important to keep in mind, even in a class where there are no beginners!

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The Ground Is Still There When You’re In the Air

Photo by Olena Sergienko on Unsplash

When you take yoga classes, frequently you hear the term, “grounding.” Which, is an instruction given anytime students are asked to press down into the ground and connect to the Earth.

The term may at first appear to be a simple direction to coordinate students’ movement and to help them lengthen their spines. But, yoga positions affect us in many ways beyond strengthening and stretching muscles, beyond creating beautiful sculptural shapes.

Any sort of physical grounding correlates with a “mental grounding” as well.


Even if you haven’t learned much about the science of psychotherapy, everyone intuitively understands mental states of hyperarousal (think Stan, the java man) and hypoarousal (think couch potato). Here, I use the term “mental grounding” to mean the state that is neither too much nor too little mental activity, which determines our sense of how much energy and vitality we have.

There is scientific evidence that classic hatha yoga helps regulate our nervous system so that our minds are neither too active, nor too inactive. It’s this regulation that makes us feel alert yet relaxed after class. And, helping us “de-stress” for better mental and physical health is one of the main reasons why people seek out and practice yoga.


Whereas physical grounding is incorporated into most hatha yoga positions, it also happens to be one of the tools used in somatic therapy to help calm people down from hyperarousal. So, it is used by therapists for mental grounding, too.

Especially if you are prone to anxiety or irritability when stressed, you may choose to bring a bit more grounding into your yoga practice.


If one of the goals of a yoga class is to regulate our nervous system, we’ll want to do the same in our aerial yoga classes. But, is it possible to “ground” when you’re literally not on the ground? What does grounding look like for aerial yoga?

Here’s a couple of tips.

For the times in class when part of the body touches the floor, really focus on the connection to the Earth, and the physical sensation that provides. Perhaps press into the floor a bit more firmly than required for the position. This extra attention to the ground can help counter-balance the times in class when the aerial yoga position discourages touching the floor.

When completely elevated off the floor, you might think you should focus on what is closest to the floor. But, if you’re not actually touching the ground, this can bring about an unsettled feeling for some people, especially when hanging upside-down. Instead, I suggest bring your attention and awareness to the tailbone, the legs, or the soles of the feet. My long-time yoga teacher, Dharma Mittra, always says, “Wherever the mind goes, the Prana (energy, or life-force) follows.” What you focus on, makes a difference. After all, most stress is reinforced, if not actually caused, by the thoughts and fears we run over and over again in our minds. And, when you focus on the parts of your body most associated with the ground during the awake part of your day, you can still experience grounding through muscle memory, even when upside-down.


Everybody likes to have fun. And, you can always add a bit of playfulness to your yoga practice whether or not you use a yoga hammock. In general, it will help “lighten your mood” and de-stress you.

Be careful, though, because too much is too much! Life doesn’t really work if all we did was goof around. Perhaps you’ve heard the common phrase out of every parent’s mouth? “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.”

The hammock naturally speaks to the child in us, strongly encouraging us to play. And, I have seen many students get hyper stimulated when they take an aerial yoga class. And so, for safety, for mental and physical health, and to remember the actual goal of a yoga practice (self-realization), try adding a few grounding practices into your aerial yoga. You’ll create a healthy mix of play with respect for the seriousness of yogic tradition; you’ll have fun and you’ll gain the full benefit a yoga practice has to offer.