23 April 2020No Comments

For what we’re worth — is offering free online yoga going to ruin our business?

Spring 2020, half the world was on lockdown and yoga teachers rushed online to offer their services and community support. Many of them didn't charge for their classes on zoom or via facebook livestream, degrading the value of yoga. Is the yoga world going to bounce back from that once this pandemic will be history?

Read more

30 April 2019No Comments

The principle of joy

In yogic circles, setting an intention isn't the same as a new year's resolution. It doesn't mean bending over backwards to reach my goal. You formulate your intention in the privacy of your mind and leave it at that. Still, something within re-aligns. It's like the act of unfurling the sail on the mast. Then all there's left to do is to wait for the wind to blow in the right direction. And one day, you just take off.

Read more

27 March 2019No Comments

Addicted to control

he root of the problem is that I'm addicted to control. Why? Because it soothes my anxiety. Other people might have a couple of drinks, to feel more relaxed, or snort cocaine to feel invincible. I get high on control, on that high-strung feeling inside. I get a kick out of the illusion that personally holding things together will prevent the world from falling apart. But like any proper addict, the moment the craving is satisfied, I don't feel better. There's already the next thing to worry about and the next hit to procure.

Read more

11 February 2019No Comments

Heal your heart first

Ethan Nichtern, a widely respected Buddhist and meditation teacher in New York City, recently wrote something on Twitter that resonated with many: “Been meditating for almost twenty-five years. Self-critical thoughts still come. I still think 'I suck' on a regular basis.” Self-love and self-acceptance don't come easy. Not even for those who have had a lot of practice.

Read more

11 January 2019No Comments

Setting sail

I noticed myself constantly reaching for something: coffee, sweets, social media, the odd glass of wine on a weeknight, and Netflix. While none of these self-soothing strategies sound particularly alarming, the frequency with which I was applying them was bothering me. I may not be addicted to caffeine or alcohol. But to some extent I was using these coping strategies to alleviate the pain of good bye.

Read more

11 October 2018No Comments

The nasty email

I believe we've all been on the receiving end of a nasty email before. This is how my last week started, with an abrasive email on Monday morning. I find myself itching to ask: What do you do when this happens to you? Because after all the soul-searching work I have done – from meditation to family constellation, from shamanistic rituals to therapy, from kinesiology to astro readings – these emails get me every time.

Read more

23 September 2018No Comments

A clear signal – about speaking our truth

I know mitigating the truth is not lying, but it's not exactly saying the truth either. Plus, there's something incredibly frustrating about biting your lip and not feeling safe enough to say what you mean. It feels a lot like the white noise while you search for a radio channel.

Read more

31 August 2017No Comments

Teaching yoga and selling honesty

Teaching yoga and selling honesty

Six months ago, I began writing a book about yoga, addiction and recovery. Since then I have been interviewing people in the international yoga world on the subject. I was thrilled when celebrity yoga teacher, author, meditation teacher and former tobacco and marijuana addict Francesca* agreed to answer some questions from me by email.

*not her real name

Francesca attributes her sobriety to the power of mindfulness and the process of becoming aware of one's own psychological make up. (The term sobriety originally denotes abstinence from alcohol, but is now loosely used to describe the recovery from substance abuse in general). Today, Francesca champions the self-healing effect yoga can have, which makes her a perfect fit for my book.

In recent years Francesca has given several interviews about her recovery from tobacco and marijuana addiction. But when I send my questions to her she tells me she can only answer four of them as she is extremely busy. She makes it clear that she wants final say on what will be printed. I feel like my hands are tied before I have even written the first line.

From yoga teacher to modern heroine

Francesca started out as a yoga teacher in the late nineties when, according to her, there were only three major studios in New York. (I assume she means only three with a strong reputation). Later on she co-owned a big studio in Manhattan for twelve years.

Over the last few years she has made a transition that most New York based yoga teachers would die for. Now she is and does so many things that I have trouble wrapping my head around them. She is a producer for an online meditation platform, business owner, mentor, online teacher and public speaker, as well as being a mother and an author.

Francesca is artistic, eloquent and graceful. It seems like there is nothing she can't do. She's a modern heroine. As I watch her videos and listen to her talks, I am struck by her perceptiveness and honesty. Her way of sharing is personal. She speaks like she's one of us.

Her answers to my questions have a different ring to them. She is concise and no fuss. But I get the feeling of being held at arm's length. And I wonder why.

Reconciling mindfulness and escape

When she became a yoga teacher, Francesca had already been smoking marijuana and tobacco for years. She says she used to smoke to escape, to hide, to celebrate, to be sad, to handle hard moments. It was, like so many addictions are, an attempt to run away. But Francesca was lucky enough to be surrounded by friends who, as she puts it, are leaders in the sober world.

At some point one of her mentors told Francesca she couldn't serve “God” if she was getting high every day. One day later she quit.

I cannot help being surprised that these two contradictory lives – the one of the yoga teacher and of the secret smoker – could co-exist for so long. What did it feel like to encourage clarity and self-awareness in her students while not telling the whole truth about herself?

Talking about recovery

Unlike other yoga leaders who have been in the media for this or that scandal, Francesca has been open in talking about her former addiction and the process of recovery. I wonder how she found the courage to go public with her story. Or was it a calculated move?

According to Francesca, discussing her own addiction story publicly has helped hundreds of people become clean. I don't doubt they feel empowered by her story. It's comforting to know that, whatever the issue at hand, we are not alone. Yes, Francesca has struggled with addiction, but she floated out on top. She found a way to turn her redemption into a engaging characteristic.

What is real?

If I compare Francesca's answers to my questions to her other interviews, I can't help but feel that they sound rehearsed. It feels to me like there is an image to be preserved and a story to protect. Which makes me ask the question: What is real about Francesca, her addiction and her story?

Francesca was one of the stars in a North American yoga community that emerged in the late nineties. Around fifteen years later the unethical behavior of its founder was exposed and the community started to decompose overnight. Francesca was one of the first to resign her teaching certification. At the time, she claimed she had been planning to leave and pursue her own path for a long time.

Ever since then Francesca has kept her record clean, even after admitting to her former addiction. However, I have an inkling that a lot of thought and effort goes into watching over how she is perceived. And that started me thinking.

Am I selling honesty?

Yoga helps us arrive at honesty by becoming still and observant. One of the big questions yoga asks is: Can we be honest with ourselves and still embrace the parts of us that we are not proud of? To me, that is the essence of spiritual, or just human, maturity.

At the same time we want to please, to shine, to be seen and appreciated. We have the impulse to cover up the ugly parts of us. Also, I'm sad to say, it has become essential for any yoga teacher to build some sort of public persona to make a living.

As I write this I am spending a week in Andalucia, teaching a yoga retreat. As I observe myself during the yoga sessions, I realize that it's almost impossible to teach without slipping into a role. I think about Francesca and my own work as a yoga teacher and I find myself considering whether even talking openly about our shortcomings has become a sales strategy for yoga teachers. Isn't that how we make people feel at ease and okay with who they are? And isn't that part of what makes them come back for more?

You must be enlightened

Yoga teachers are in a tricky position. We are expected to teach by example. So we feel compelled to understand our own psyche and acknowledge our imperfections. At the same time, there's the undeniable pressure to present ourselves as the one who is already there, already enlightened. We think that to be seen as a leader we need to be flawless.

About five years ago I gained a lot of weight. I felt so ashamed. I was sure people would think: “That's not what a real yoga teacher is supposed to look like.” I finally lost the weight when I became a mother and the world stopped revolving around me, myself and I.

Why do we think taking the seat of the teacher means climbing on a pedestal? Because to some extent it's true. We do need to appear to be leaders to inspire. Over dinner tonight my students here in Andalucia discussed how they would never go to a yoga teacher who doesn't have a more advanced practice than their own. I involuntarily found myself questioning whether my practice is actually “better” than theirs.

This desire to be honest while also projecting a yoga teacher my students can trust creates an inner tension in me. In the yoga world and when more is at stake, the consequences can be terrible.

It breaks my heart to see how many internationally renowned yoga and meditation teachers have been hiding a secret. The recent death of Michael Stone, yoga and meditation teacher and author of eight brilliant books, such as “Awake in the world” and “Yoga for a world out of balance”, is one tragic example out of many.

All his life he had been suffering from bipolar disorder and only a handful of people knew. I think the most powerful thing he could have done for his community would have been to share that even he had a shadow. A recent article by his brother reveals that he was on the brink of revealing his condition. On top of all his suffering he chose to add the stress of hiding and living in fear of being found out. I can hardly imagine how desolate he must have felt.

I believe nothing gives us more credibility than being authentic and vulnerable but putting yourself out there takes courage.

My moral high horse

I have always been adamant that a true yogi shouldn't hide behind a facade. In my heart of hearts, I condemn people like Francesca who have sold their soul in order to appear on glossy magazine covers and be the talk of every Wanderlust yoga festival.

I've always thought that honesty should be rewarded. So deception should be punished right? All things being fair, how can someone who carefully choreographs their own appearance have so many followers? I have friends that I respect who consider Francesca their spiritual mentor. This perplexes me and leaves me with a sense of bitterness, and yes, maybe even envy.

From my moral high horse, I always felt that I have succeeded in being one hundred percent real. When I teach I try to sound like me. But yesterday, as I was listening to myself instructing pose after pose, I realized: It's not possible. I try to sound natural, but I still use a softer voice and more poetic language. I'm not being fake, but this is also not the way I talk to my friends over dinner.

The teacher's persona

All this time I have prided myself on my authenticity. But isn't presenting yourself as the real thing just another strategy in constructing an image as a yoga teacher? I have convinced myself that I am superior, but maybe I'm not. Perhaps none of us can completely help the impulse to control how we are perceived.

After the retreat, I asked a wise student of mine to share her view of the projected teacher's persona. She told me that as long as the yoga teacher isn't obviously putting on an act, the subtle role play makes her feel safe and guided. So perhaps the persona of the teacher is actually necessary for the transmission of knowledge.

I wonder if someone like Francesca has these thoughts too. I can't imagine that a yogi would go through life without questioning themselves time and again. There is only one thing that reassures me: The self-doubt I'm having is a sign that at least there is awareness. This is not so different from an addict shaking off the denial and recognizing his pattern of dependence. Outwardly nothing changes, but being conscious makes all the difference.

8 June 2017No Comments

The typical yoga teacher

The other day I was sitting on a park bench with a friend and fellow yoga teacher. She was thinking out loud and debating whether she should cut back on her part-time job and take on more yoga gigs. Then she turns to me and says: “I don't dare because, you know, I'm just not a typical yoga teacher. I don't feel legitimate.”

My jaw dropped. What on earth is a typical yoga teacher? Because I'm certainly not one of them.

Next thing I know, she tells me how some new yoga teacher moms are doing feverish research into vaccination. Because apparently they're on a mission to find the one correct yogic way to do this. Which is not to vaccinate at all or if you must, then only after age one and a half.

What it takes to be legit

A few moments passed and I started to grasp the deeper meaning of this. Indeed, there are many unspoken rules to being a yoga teacher. There's a lot of shoulding out there. You would think that these rules derive from what students expect from their yoga teacher. But come to think of it, it's the yoga teachers who have set the bar so vertiginously high for each other.

I started thinking about my own situation. The pressure to be and behave a certain way has definitely increased over the years, even though I have always refused to change in order to fit in. Since I have added “mother” to my job description, the dos and don'ts seems to have multiplied.

Here's a little taste of the high ideals we – the yoga teacher guild – impose:You should be at least a vegetarian, if not a vegan. You should eat lots of healthy meals, enriched with super foods, and ideally post photos of them on social media. You should show off your inversions and other contortions on Instagram. Don't forget the hashtags.

If you become a mom, you should breast feed your child for at least a year. After giving birth, you should stay home for as long as you possibly can. Daycare before age one is frowned upon.

You should know about herbal remedies and globuli, because God forbid the child should ingest any Western medicine. You should always be calm and collected. Even with a toddler going through the terrible two phase.

Truth time

I am not vegan. We refrain from eating meat at home. But if I'm a guest and someone offers me meat I won't turn it down. I am fond of the Ayurvedic idea that if someone prepares food for you, it's an offering made with love. So it will be healing.

I only nursed my son until he was four months old. I went back to work because I was self-employed back then. I had no paid maternity leave in Switzerland because I had previously been abroad for too long.

Also, I experienced intense surges of aggression that were directed at my husband. I was up nursing during the night and he was slumbering peacefully by my side. I will be honest, I couldn't handle the (biological) unfairness. I knew that if I didn't gradually start weaning my relationship would pay for it.

So I chose me. I chose the way that made me more relaxed about everything.

I'm not telling my story to make my choices sound good. I am telling it to make a point. If you look behind closed doors, you realize that every situation is different. We cannot apply the same rule to everyone out there.

Being a mother to yourself

Yes, the decisions I have made seem selfish, but were they? They have kept me healthy, balanced and sane. They enabled me to function. Physical and psychological well-being are essential to being a yoga teacher and a mother. Or to anyone who wants to be at service.

I am aware that many people may disagree with me. However, these were the right decisions at that time. I may opt for a different path today. And yet for another one tomorrow.

As yoga teachers, we encourage our students to become inquisitive and observant in order to respond to what they need. And how many times do we speak about the kind of compassion that begins with yourself? “Don't push in your Asana practice, respect your limits, be gentle with yourself.” Yet when it comes to our own decisions, we have the impulse to follow the guidebook. We think that there are some golden rules that can't be bent.

What yoga teaches

About a decade ago, yoga changed my life completely with one simple tool: It has taught me to gaze inwards, make out what is there and react appropriately. When I was newly pregnant, I was still a vegetarian. But one night, I was craving fish. I didn't even know I was pregnant yet. But a voice inside was telling me I needed animal protein.

Any mindfulness practice, not just yoga, gives us the chance to pause, listen and be honest about what would be beneficial at that particular moment. Not what made sense three months ago. Not what we believed in when we were going through the rebellious phase. Only what is wholesome right here, right now.

For me the phrase “typical yoga teacher” implies that there is a right and a wrong way to do things. I might be biased, but it feels to me like we have to fit into that category in order to be a good yoga teacher. Or a loving mom, or a respectable human being. This also means that anything outside of that spectrum is not okay and not good enough.

And how is that compassionate? How is that typical for a yoga teacher?

28 May 2017No Comments

Yoga and business – is it a paradox?

If you had told me a few years ago that I would be involved in running a yoga studio, I would have laughed. I never wanted that kind of responsibility. I have seen too many solid yoga teachers losing it when confronted with financial pressure. It messes with your head.

My naive former self

About five years ago I was teaching a regular class at a local yoga studio. One day the owner sat me down and told me she was going to cancel my class.

I was confused and disappointed because I knew the flimsy reasons she was giving me could not be the truth. I also took it too personally. I thought it was bad press for my teaching. Yes, it was true the attendance had been low, but wouldn't she give me a little more time than a few months to grow the class?

Today I understand that it was a pure business decision. She couldn't justify to keep paying with those numbers. From a business perspective it was only reasonable to take the class off the schedule.

Back then, of course, I couldn't see it that way. I was sullen and hurt. I protected myself by being condescending. I told myself and others that this person couldn't be a real yogi. A yogi would know that things need time to evolve. You need to trust and surrender and give people another chance.

Inner conflict

Today I understand that yes, you have to trust and surrender, but that's not enough to keep a yoga studio in business. Or have you ever tried telling your accountant they need to trust and surrender? I now regret this naive reaction of my younger self.

They say you should never judge until you have walked a mile in someone else's shoes. About a year ago I was handed these particular shoes. I became a partner in one of the largest yoga studios in town.

It seemed like a good time in my life to take on more responsibility, but I still had no idea what it involved.

In the past I had always observed the inner conflict of teachers who own the place in which they teach. I didn't want that. I was afraid I would end up sitting at the front of the class counting bodies and figuring out how much money the studio was making with that particular class. Not exactly what you'd want your yoga teacher with the welcoming smile to think while you roll out your mat, right?

A fine line

But that's the sticking point: Yoga teachers are expected to always be calm, serene and compassionate. Business, however, may require you to be outspoken and to have your own best interest at heart. Sometimes you have to draw a line. Sometimes you have to say to a student: “I'm sorry your class package expired three months ago. I can't renew it, you will have to get a new one.”

Having to be a business person can mess with a yoga teacher's head. One minute you're accepting money for your class and the next minute you take the teacher's seat and deliver a nice dharma talk on life's abundance and selfless service.

And yet, as a business you have to have rules and you have to ask people to kindly respect these rules. Otherwise you eventually will have to shut down the place because you couldn't pay rent. And that won't make anyone happy either.

The thing is, I don't think there is actually a paradox. I refuse to believe that yoga and business don't go together. Why shouldn't it be possible to reconcile being kind-hearted and business-minded at the same time? Why can't we be outspoken and compassionate at the same time? It is my deep inner conviction that you can say and do anything with love.

Running a business is a bit like being head of the family. You want to take care of your employees and clients, as if they were your children. You want to see them happy.

Sometimes you have to be strict and you have to say no. As any parent knows, that won't make you popular. But in hindsight, it may make sense.

And yes, it is a fine line. When you try to balance, you're bound to fall. That doesn't mean I will stop trying.

© Copyrights 2022-2023 | Elisa Malinverni | All rights reserved                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          | AGB| Kontakt & Newsletter

© Copyrights 2022-2023 | Elisa Malinverni | All rights reserved | AGB | Kontakt & Newsletter

© Copyrights 2022-2023 | Elisa Malinverni |
All rights reserved | AGB| Kontakt & Newsletter

© Copyrights 2022-2023 | Elisa Malinverni | All rights reserved | AGB | Kontakt & Newsletter

© Copyrights 2022-2023 | Elisa Malinverni
All rights reserved | AGB | Kontakt & Newsletter