You Teach Yoga For Men?

Ricardia Bramley Yoga

Hi, my name is Ricardia and I’m a yoga teacher. That in and of itself doesn’t usually come as a great surprise when I meet new people. When they hear of my target group, however, their faces change from somewhat interested to curiously amused. That is because I have – accidently – specialized in teaching men-only classes. The avalanche of questions that has ensued over the years, ranges from weird to hysterically funny. So I thought I’d share a small portion of the funniest things people say to me.

Do you Dress Differently?

I wonder what people imagine? Maybe they think I slip into a leotard and hop around the studio like the little Energizer rabbit, you know, 90’s step-class style! Or the opposite is the case: I annihilate whatever traces of femininity there are, so the students don’t get too distracted? The answer to both is no. Neither do I dress up particularly eye-catching, nor will you find me in a full-blown Burka. I look like any other Western yoga teacher on this planet.

Wouldn’t it be better if a Man Taught a Men’s Yoga Class?

Well, no idea, would it? Is a woman better at teaching art classes? Are men always the better mathematicians? Is it 1950 and no one told me? Truth be told, after a very short while, I just became one of the guys. One time they even asked if I cared to join them for a post-yoga beer. They tell me about their families, work, even how they catch themselves secretly doing small yoga moves during meetings and conference calls. The gender thing actually only came up once at the very beginning when I told them to place their hands on the floor for cobra. I believe the exact location I mentioned was next to their breasts instead of their chest. That did make for a good laugh.

So, are you, like, more the Dominatrix or maternal?

I have to say that one had me laughing so hard, I needed a moment. I truly never thought about what “role” it was that I would have to take on. I always saw myself as somebody who still has a lot to learn, so, in the meantime, I teach what I’ve learned so far. I don’t think I give the kind of care that comes across as maternal. I have my own children already! I also don’t tell the guys to “drop down and give me twenty”…and the only accessories I incorporate are blocks and straps!


Be sure to check out my upcoming sequences just for men. This one’s great for beginners and advanced yogis, since we’ll be focusing on those areas that are important for the dudes in our lives such as necks, shoulders, hamstrings. Oh, and no, you don’t have to be super-bendy or super-Zen to join. I can’t guarantee that either of those may not happen though. See you there guys!


6 Great Meditation Hacks

Some yogis will, some yogis won’t. A regular meditation practice, even after years of having a yoga practice, isn’t always easy. I myself can get rather creative when it comes to skipping practice. Wanna know some of my favorite evasion thoughts? “My knees hurt when I rode my bike today, so I won’t be able to sit on the floor. I’m hungry. It’s too bright outside. I need to call my mom. Construction work at this time of day?” You name it, I’ve used it.

But why? After all, when we meditate, we often have the best ideas, our headspace feels less cluttered with old, repetitive thoughts and afterwards, we probably go about our day with more purpose and patience. So why is it so hard to get started or even stick to a practice? I thought about this (again, probably during a meditation) and examined all the things that made meditation harder both in the beginnings but even today occasionally. Here are some remedies to cure the meditation blues.

1. Have a Seat
When I teach beginners’ yoga, I spend the first 15 minutes getting everybody to sit comfortably on the floor. This process can require quite a bit of rearranging, building, shifting this way and that. Especially men tend to find it extremely difficult to sit cross-legged and/or on the floor. So we slide blocks under their knees, try hero’s pose (sitting on your heels), even stack several blocks, so there’s more freedom in the knees and hip flexors. What I’m trying to say is, find that seat! Take as much time as you need. Take a chair! I don’t care if you have arthritic knees or ants in your pants, there is a seat for you and once you find it, you’ll be able to maintain that position.

2. Blinded by the Light
This one is just too simple. If you, like me, live in a part of the world where summer daylight hours range from 4 am to 10 pm, it can get quite bright out there (not to mention if you’re living in Scandinavia!). So grab that sleep mask or a comfy shawl and cover your eyes. Or if you find, keeping your eyes closed is just too difficult, sometimes even giving you a headache, just keep them a slight bit open, thereby relaxing fluttering eyelids.

3. Pencil me in
If you and your partner, family, work staff share the same calendar, why not make it official? Talk about social accountability, here’s a great way to broadcast that you are going to commit to a meditation practice. After all, we pencil in doctor’s appointments, dinner with friends, child care. Why not our meditation time? Set a reminder while you’re at it and never forget to take that time for yourself. Adding this time slot to your ical or outlook has the extra benefit of scheduling the practice at the same time every day, which will also make it easier to establish a suitable meditation time that fits your daily schedule!

4. Carry a Tune
What if I just can’t stand the sound of silence or I live in a crowded or loud neighborhood? Do not fret! There are so many meditation apps out there, where shall I begin? I like Calm, where you can take your pick of different nature sounds and sceneries. Insight Timer is also handy. It allows you to time your meditation, pick interval sounds to let you know where you are in between, and gentle sounds (I like the singing bowls), to end the meditation. A student of mine suggested Headspace, which has fun graphics and lets you meditate on certain areas of your life, such as relationships or anxiety. What he likes about it, is the fact that there wasn’t too much “spiritual stuff” as he liked to put it. Lastly, let’s not forget Spotify, which has a sheer endless bouquet of meditation and Chakra/Healing Music as well as famous Yoginis’, i.e. Tara Stiles’ favorite playlist! If you use your earphones, even better to shut the world out for the time being.

5. Guide your way home
Many times, especially as beginners, we’re just not sure yet what we’re meant to be doing or maybe we’ve already taken so many meditation classes, we’re starting to get confused about which ones are right for us that day. Again, coming back to basics, is the way to go. Find a guided meditation. Check out your app store for countless free apps, visit your favorite yoga blog for inspiration or find podcasts by the spiritual teachers you follow anyway! I like some of Gabby Bernstein’s “Letting go” and “Forgiveness” material, for example. Also, the Kundalinis feature a whole bunch of invigorating, more active meditations. They’re just a YouTube click away! If you want to record your own voice on your voice memo app, some of my favorite meditations for the big stuff in life (and death) can be found in Stephen Levine’s book Healing into Life and Death. Finally, some great ways to use our smartphones!

6. Repeat after me
Before you decide a certain technique really isn’t working for you, give it a few days. In many yoga traditions, yogis find that sticking to a ritual for at least 21 days, is the way to break ourselves into new habits. Think about it, the most comfortable pair of jeans, didn’t become that by being worn once or twice, then getting tossed into the Oxfam bag. No, we wore those things mercilessly, over and over, washing them (or not), driving, traveling, sitting anywhere until they felt like a second skin.

Before they become part of our tradition, we need to practice rituals for a while. If after, let’s say, 21 days you still feel the technique just isn’t doing it for you, find something else. Or, maybe, come back to the good ole’ focusing on the in-and exhale for a while.

Feel free to share in the comments below, if these tricks were helpful or maybe you have some of your own hacks and apps you’d like to share. Lemme know!

40 and Lovin’ it!

It was my birthday and I was turning 40. In the months following up to my big day, I did have the occasional harrowing thought: “Whoa, 40? That sounds awfully like middle age!” Or: “Shouldn’t I have been somebody by now?”

Even my well-wishers somehow seemed to forget to wish me well and went straight to: “So, how do you feel?” “Are you ok with it?”. One, admittedly much younger, friend asks: “So is this when menopause starts?”

You’d have thought I had just come down with a permanent disease rather than reached another milestone. Sure I took stock, asked myself where to from here? Did I pursue my dreams or give up too soon? But I also thought, do I want to go back to 30? 20? Absolutely not! Truth be told, I felt relieved in many ways. Here are some of my best reasons why:

1. At 40, looking younger than Miley Cyrus when she was still Hanna Montana is not an accomplishment, it’s a race without a finish line.
2. Life is not about how much we have achieved but how much we have survived and still emerged optimists.
3. Younger women are not necessarily happier women.
4. A change of scenery may take us around the world. A change of attitude at any age takes us anywhere.
5. Comparing ourselves to that female CEO, with 3 kids and 5 published books is absurd. Just because somebody is female, my age, shares other similarities with me, does not make her ME, or a more perfect version of me. We each have our own path.
6. All that talk of the pursuit of happiness has us constantly looking to the future, or yearning for apparently happier days long gone. In the meantime, we’ve turned 40, life continues minute for minute without our presence. Let’s stay here and enjoy!
7. If it is change we struggle with, let’s stop and think: how often did I end up feeling grateful for that change? Possibly more often than not.
8. If we can’t laugh about it now, wait. Try again when you’re 40.
9. Mom is always right, especially at 40.
10. We’ve made tons of mistakes, we’ll make tons more. Don’t explain. Don’t apologize. We’re 40-something now. We own this.

Yoga in Bali? Do I Have to?

A few days ago, I got back from a short road trip through Eastern Germany. We had decided to rent one of those iconic VW buses and hit the road, yoga mat, guitar and back pack on board. With an old bus like this, the journey really becomes the destination because, well, you’re just not moving any faster than 50mph, a little more when you’re going downhill!

In between, we posted our locations on facebook. If you followed those, it became obvious we weren’t going far and we certainly weren’t visiting much sought-out travel destinations. One of our friends commented in jest: “ Wow, you guys sure get around!”

It was a comment like thousands of others on social media but it did get me thinking: Why do we always seem to have to go far away for it to be “postworthy” or “something to write home about”? Is it because having money to travel is a status symbol? Is yoga in Bali more liberating than Yoga in Berlin? Do we need to escape our everyday lives so badly that only tens of thousands of air miles will do the trick? Maybe it is a combination of all of these things. But here are a few reasons why it doesn’t always have to be palm trees and sandy beaches to be a great yoga practice.

Sandy Beaches
Ok, let’s check out of Hotel Faraway for a moment, shall we? Have you ever practiced yoga on the beach? It can be a wonderful experience, agreed! But, it can also be a bit of a pain in the …, um, wrists for example. The uneven ground offers very little support for prolonged arm balances or even a solid Down Dog. I often found myself patting the sand into the right shape, so as to be able to achieve some sort of balance or stability in the pose. It must have looked rather weird, as a small group of people started to stand up to see what I was doing! Additionally, if there is any wind, you’re constantly busy unfolding or rearranging the mat while trying to keep at least some of the sand off the mat or out of your eyes. Kinda hard to stay focused, while battling the elements but, hey, some of us, do enjoy the extra challenge I suppose!

Same Same, not different
I’ve been lucky enough to practice yoga in some beautiful, lush and green surroundings – sometimes. It’s nice practicing in warm weather, where my body is more forgiving of the cold climates I have subjected it to and my heart and soul seem to grow in size. As much as I can, I try to get out there and do so. However, if you, like me, live in a climate zone whose summer temperatures are a hit-or-miss game and whose winters seem to last for-roughly-ever, you might not often have this opportunity. Add the fact that we only have a certain amount of vacation days per year and we realize, “oh, well, yoga at home it is”. Yes, the cold is an added challenge. After all, Yoga was created in the humid-warm climate of India. But, is the Yoga itself any different? Are people practicing in far-off lands automatically happier than we are? Are the benefits of their yoga practice greater than ours? Hmm, probably not, because to quote the unbeatable Jon Kabat-Zinn, “wherever you go, there you are”…and all that baggage you brought just gets packed into the suitcase along with your sunscreen and Deet.
National Trust
If nothing else, Yoga is whatever we bring to it. The more honest we can be with ourselves, the more our Yoga practice will be able to break us open and help us unlearn all the stupid myths we either were told or have been telling ourselves for years. What could be better than making this journey of discovery in a place you feel safe in? In fact, practicing in our own country or surroundings allows us to trust and, therefore, to let go more easily. Think about it: There is no hassle to organize shelter or to find a hot shower and you won’t be wondering whether the street food may or may not give you a stomach bug. It’s just you, your Yoga and a hot shower whenever you need it.

So when you find yourself staring at Instagram pictures of yoginis in bikinis again, grab your mat (and a beloved girlfriend!) and find a new studio (hot yoga anybody?) or engage in some heat-building Kundalini warm-ups beforehand and get your own hot yoga on! Maybe make a weekend of it and hit the road to some nearby places. You’ll be surprised what you’ll discover just around the corner.

Yoga and Heartbreak

Like everything else in life, yoga is easiest when we’re happy, right? We feel fluid, our heart opens effortlessly and even if things, let them be asanas, aren’t working out that great, we can handle that. Who cares? Life is great and so am I!

But what if we’re not doing so well. And what if it isn’t the „small stuff“ we’re sweating? What if we’ve been really hurt, we’ve lost somebody or a relationship ends? What can we do when our hearts have been broken open and seem to have poured out for everybody to see? How do we handle all this vulnerability and rawness and still dare to “look within” and stay connected? There are no quick fixes, to be sure, but maybe there are some strategies. Here are 5 that just very recently, I myself incorporated. I may not be healed yet but these tools continue to work for me:

1. Writing Meditation
During the very first few days of this rough patch, I tried to meditate. I would sit down for my usual time and begin my silent practice. Several silent mantras came to mind, left again. I couldn’t settle on a single one, started fiddling, my seat became unbearably uncomfortable and the sadness I felt, was overwhelming. It was then I realized, it wasn’t going to be the usual spiel. After all, something big had happened and it required more dedication, or “digging in”.
I’ve always felt writing to be therapeutic. So, I got out my journal and started jotting everything down that came to mind-and heart. It took on a feverish action and I just kept going and going and when 8 or so pages were filled, I dropped my fountain pen and felt I could face my situation just a little better, less fearful because now I had everything “on paper”, so to speak. Whatever we write, is ripe to leave our system. It has been released into the universe. Don’t worry about grammar, poetry, sentence structure, just keep writing as if your life depended on it. Maybe it does in a way.

2. Mantras
As mentioned, my silent short mantras (a.k.a. Japa Mantras) weren’t providing the comfort I’d hoped for. I literally would forget which one I was on and none of them seemed fitting. I dug through my mental library of Sanskrit Mantras but came up empty-literally. I sat there, a little desperate for a moment, until suddenly I was saying the words “I am strong”. Granted, this won’t be the “deepest” mantra, I’ll ever have practiced, neither is it particularly filled with the light that our beloved Sanskrit Mantras are known for. BUT: it was what I felt. I felt I could be strong and saying these basic words, spoken in my own language was suddenly the only way forward. And so it was for the entire 15 minutes that I sat. I am strong, I am strong… For you, it might be I am brave, or I am full of love, whatever bubbles up first is probably right! If you, like me, need comfort more than anything else in this moment, keep it simple. Say what your heart dictates. It knows what it needs.

3. Your Tribe
This one might seem so simple, you’ll laugh at me but if it hadn’t been for my girlfriends literally feeding me, I don’t know now how I would have kept from falling down. Most of them, at the time, didn’t even know what was going on. I wasn’t ready to talk about it and I wasn’t ready for the multiplying effect it would have if they, too, were sad for me. By some weird coincidence, however, they made time to cook for me in the middle of the week, invited me to lunch or bought me smoothies. It was just so obvious that my heart and body required their company because they kept giving me the right things at the right time, without possibly being able to know what was going on. I felt safe and cared for. So I’m here to ask you not to stay alone with your pain. Find those women in your life who have been through it all before and be nourished by their love and wisdom.

4. Keeping your heart open
OK, this one was really tough for me. Everything inside me wanted to shut down, to not feel what I was feeling but my heart wouldn’t have it. Years of conditioning it to keep the walls up had been undone by years of yoga and meditation. I realized I couldn’t go back to the unhealthy days of blind anger, self-doubt and fear, followed by a bunch of shortsighted decisions. So when the sh… hit the fan, I remained open. I cried, when the tears invaded and let the pain move in when it needed to, even if it meant my stomach would turn into knots and I found it hard to breathe.
The odd result was, I met some extremely kind people during this period. I don’t fully understand how it happened but even these strangers would either strike up a conversation (not very common in the city of Berlin, by the way), or just smile when I asked a simple question, offer help in some sort of a way. By keeping this schizophrenic heart–broken but willing– I understood that I wasn’t alone with this. There were other people in this world and there is a way to move beyond the fear of spending the rest of your life heartbroken and alone.

5. Find your favorite Yoga

Maybe you have a favorite teacher or a studio that makes you truly comfortable. Either of these aspects of trust, I found, were key when I felt brave enough to continue my practice during these times. For a few days, I practiced at home because I didn’t feel like falling apart with tons of strangers around me. But when I did go to my studio, I took my favorite Kundalini teacher’s class. The inevitable happened and I did shed a few quiet tears. “Oh, well”, I thought, “I’m at the back of the class, I’ll be fine”, and I was. If it is financially possible, maybe even consider taking a private class. Whichever environment you choose, go easy on yourself and if you decide not to practice, maybe refer to some of the other strategies here or simply do what heals you. There are no rules for heartache, after all.
I hope one or all of these work for you and until then, let us, as women (and men!), be brave with and for each other.

Women Make the Best Friends

(c) Grit Siwonia

Just yesterday, I was supposed to meet one of my best friends for lunch. She is the mother of two small children and a stay-at-home mom. I’m a mom to a teenager and I work full time. That morning I texted my friend to let her know, I’d only have an hour to spare. What followed was a surprisingly upsetting text message letting me know that I wasn’t making enough time for our friendship and if this was all I was prepared to invest, it was implied, that maybe we weren’t the kind of friendship she thought we were.

To be honest, I was completely floored. This was one of my best friends for a number of years after all! I thought we understood each other blindly without having to explain why we’re not in touch all the time. I knew we didn’t spend a lot of facetime but that never changed my perspective of who she is to me; one of my closest friends and confidantes. I replied with a fiery message of my own. A job well done, I might add. Great.

The whole thing got me thinking, as long, angry text messages will do. Why do we, as women, have these high expectations of one another? Shouldn’t we be the ones with the ultimate understanding and compassion for each other? Aren’t we all in the same boat here? Trying to raise children, have a fulfilling career, work on our relationships with our partners, maintain a healthy diet, squeeze in yoga, maybe do some charity work…the list goes on and on and on. Why do even our closest female relationships require all this effort?

The truth is, as women, we value time spent with each other. In the company of our fellow women, we are free to laugh, cry, vent, all in one sitting. If I did all that within an hour with, let’s say my kid, a coworker, or even my husband, it would become a Woody Allen comedy at best. At worst, one of them might suggest a long stay on a quiet, remote island.

Toxic friendships aside, women friendships may be our highest good. Children move out, lovers may move on but our tribe, which may have taken years to build, is here to stay. Whenever my life became unbearable, frightening, dreadful, it was the women who empowered me. I’m not saying I haven’t received support from the wonderful men in my life too! They’ve been great problem solvers! Women, however, reminded me, that I myself am strong, brave, smart enough to fix what is wrong. It was women I spent hours on the phone with crying my eyes out, and women cheered me on, when I needed cheerleaders. Always.

Also, as adults, it’s actually not that easy to create meaningful long-lasting friendships anymore because our work and family time simply don’t leave enough time to “hang out” and get to know each other without a deadline. Ever notice how you seemed to have endless time for that in your teens and twenties, thereby, creating the women friendships in your life today?

With life speeding up not just with age but also with over-digitalization of practically every aspect of our lives, solid friendships don’t come easy. Sure we have Skype and whatsapp and can stay in touch with friends in New Zealand but we might never actually see her, like, ever! Add to that the fact that social media is turning us all into viral personalities, omnipresent but rarely present, well, you get the idea.
My friend and I went the old-fashioned route. We picked up the phone and arranged to meet the very next evening. As is the case for most of us, here was a clash of expectations and misunderstandings that had built up because we simply weren’t participating in each other’s lives that much anymore.

No, it isn’t easy to meet our friends even on a monthly basis sometimes. No, spending tons of time does not mean a friendship is good one. Making time for the women in our lives, however, is the best investment we’ll ever make, you know, something like stock in Google or Apple, only better because when those stocks take a downturn, you’ve still got a friend.

Faking it Spiritually

When you’ve practiced yoga for a while, sooner or later, you come into contact with a whole variety of spiritual workshops, yoga retreats, Ayahuasca for the weekend, “red-tent“ events for women or silent meditation trainings. There’s an ever-growing number of groups you can join these days and trying to find the right fit, especially when you’re fairly new to the spiritual aspect of yoga, can be quite a challenge! Considering the hefty price tag some of these workshops come with, it may also be a financial question of whether we can afford to “advance“ our learning in this way at all!

I have been delving into some women’s history in the spiritual realm and due to this rising interest, have met some true woman warriors and mentors. These have been women who understand our historical role as medicine women and healers and how this tradition almost disappeared with the rise of organized religion and, of course, a shift to patriarchal societies. I have been guided, supported and truly honored to meet them and wouldn’t want to lose this connection to my tribe ever again. When women come together in acceptance, love and compassion, nothing can stop us and the real power we have, is palpable.

So, here’s me, the other day. I signed up for a women’s circle. I thought the price for two hours was a little on the expensive side but the person holding the workshop assured me this wasn’t “just another women’s circle, this was an initiation”. Well, that certainly sounded like something I might want and so, I signed up. After all, where good work is being done, it’s ok for good money to be spent.

When I got to the location, there was the usual dimmed lighting and candles as well as a few tarot decks to pick a card from. I liked the setting right away and felt happy to explore this women’s theme a little further, even if I didn’t really know much about these spheres or who these women were.

As we started to get into a “healing touch” exercise, I began to experience something resembling resistance. Three women would touch you all over (except, of course, private bits) and we each took turns doing so. When it was time to share the experience, the women –all seasoned vets of women’s circles– were very enthusiastic and genuinely touched (excuse the pun) by the experience. For me, it was more like the woman in the movie “A Chorus Line”, where she describes how in acting class they did an exercise where they pretended it was winter. Everybody felt the snow, the cold wind, the sleighs, when they were asked to do so. She, however, felt nothing! Alas, that was me. When it was my turn to share (I had tried to avoid saying anything at all), I said as much. I mentioned that I thought the touching bit was a little sudden for me and though I tried to lean into the experience, I just became more and more uncomfortable. I felt the room pull back immediately. This was not something people seemed to want to hear. It was the oddest moment where you move from being part of a group to being excluded from it. The shift was subtle, I’m not sure whether I imagined it or whether anybody else felt it. But to me, it was like I had dropped a loud singing bowl or something.

Before I get into the next part, a little side note: The woman holding the workshop struck me as pretty authentic, operating from a place of learned and experienced knowledge as well as something like, I don’t know, love? That feeling stayed with me fro the most part, even as things became a little more strange…

The next task was to go around the circle and each of us would say what they would like to “receive” from the group. Options were words of any kind, to be touched, maybe some essential oils on our hands and foreheads, anything really. The first woman to go for it had been to several of these sessions. Here was a woman who had spent significant time contemplating her role in this (spiritual) world. How did I know? The jargon.

The woman started to cry profusely, even hyperventilating at times. I felt really bad for her but wasn’t sure how to respond and also felt this was the job of the woman hosting the gathering. Maybe there was a reason, she just let her talk and talk, you know, get it all out there. Still wailing, she released a narrative of her working through tens of thousands of past lives. She also described her battle against her dying ego, and finally, there was a –partially inaudible– bit about her soul and how her director was being what sounded like a total jerk.

OK, confession time: I caught myself judging like a pro! My own ego raised its ugly head and I started to think, “why doesn’t somebody talk some sense right now, like, “stop confusing yourself with spiritual talk and empty catch phrases about ego!”” I know, harsh right? Sorry. But here’s my defense: I get tired sometimes, not because this lovely spirit was crying or laying bare major parts of her private life. So what! If it’s cathartic, let it out girl! Rather, it is the barrage of spiritual verbiage I don’t find helpful. The woman had all the words down, from Eckart Tolle’s ego talk to Gabby Bernstein’s spirit junkie advice (both teachers I absolutely treasure, by the way). Clearly she had read or studied a lot of spiritual literature and employed it to describe her experiences here on Earth. Nothing wrong with that, but…

This is a phenomenon so omnipresent in the yoga scene, it could really turn you off when you’re starting out on this path. In fact, as a teacher, I’m constantly monitoring myself for empty catch-all phrases or stuff I heard some smart teacher say and I’m sure I’ve gotten it wrong sometimes too. The truth is, it’s rather tempting to substitute the experience with proverbs, books or motivational talks on youTube. It’s quicker too! It seems, we want to stop our suffering and to move on with our lives so badly, we don’t want to get down and dirty with it. But to get there, you guessed it, is a long, winding, annoying, sobering, humbling, often painful path. Many times we will feel things, we don’t like, reveal aspects of ourselves we find deplorable. And then there’s all the times it just ain’t working! We do the work, we put in the meditation hours and next thing we know, we’re yelling at this guy for cutting us off in traffic. This whole spiritual thing is hard! But that’s the path. Bummer, I know, I’m not there yet either.

The alternative of “faking it”, though, well, as women, I think we can agree…it’s just not a solution when you want the real deal, is it? If we want to experience life in its totality, we’ll have to go through it for real. Workshops, traveling, our tribe can help us, yes. Using well-said quotes and jargon without honoring our very own experience, however, will stunt our spiritual growth eventually. It’ll get confusing too. Is my ego dying, or is my soul soaring? Am I feeling this pain from a past life or is it this one? Useful questions, surely, when the time is right. But first maybe: what is going on, here, now? What’s my learning?

So how do we know which workshops are right and what experiences are truly ours? Maybe it’s different for you but I’m guessing, we simply feel it. We know when somebody is authentic, when they speak from a place of wisdom rather than pure intellect. We also recognize authenticity in ourselves, don’t we? When I wasn’t sure, like in this workshop, I asked myself, “does this resonate with me? Do I feel the words are connected to some deeper inner source or are they just, sort of, spilling out?” Asking friends and fellow yoginis was also a great way to find something more suitable to my own journey.

The important learning for me was, not to hide behind spiritual feel-good messages or to incorporate certain words that make me “fit in” with what is spiritually en vogue but to continually explore a path of my own learning and stick to those circles that feel nurturing and authentic to me.

Have you been to any women’s circles and had some great experiences? Would love to hear about them in your comments below!

Don’t Listen To Your Yoga Teacher!

(c) Grit Siwonia

There are thousands of gifted yoga teachers out there! Whether we take a class in New York, Cape Town or Berlin, there are plenty of opportunities to meet some truly inspirational and knowledgeable teachers. Sometimes, their approaches are so different, we feel like we’re doing a normally familiar asana for the first time. Isn’t that just the greatest feeling? But regardless of how „great“ a teacher is, or how experienced, or how motivating, here are 3 reasons why you shouldn’t listen to your teacher.

1. Anatomy
Yup, you and I may have similar body types but we have very different needs, don’t we? Just because a teacher says, go through your Catturanga, doesn’t mean it’s right for you! Even if you’re doing exactly what she says, the movement may not help build strength but instead really hurt your shoulder joint. Am I saying stop trying? NO. But if you notice that the 10th Catturanga is doing a number on your shoulders or elbows, by all means stop and settle for good old chest, knees and chin to the ground, coming up in Cobra instead. Same journey, less wear and tear.
2. Breath
In Yoga we often talk about the body’s own intelligence and how to tune into it. One fast lane to doing so is, of course, your breath! But what do you do when the teacher actually walks you through entire sequences telling you when to breathe in and when to breathe out? Tough one, since a certain synchronicity helps the class community, right? However, whenever I noticed I was actually shortening my breath to, well, “get with the program”, I first thought I have to try to keep up, or it’ll be disruptive to the class. I was wrong again. Simply “skip” a round by coming into child pose instead or take an extra breath, if it is what is called for. Same sequence, less hectic.
3. Alignment
As teachers, we have learned about alignment cues to help students reap the benefits of the pose. One of those cues might be to look up in triangle pose, to lift your gaze skyward. Anybody with neck pain will attest, looking up in this pose can cause quite some tension in the neck muscles. In these cases, looking straight ahead or down makes more sense. So, with all due respect to Iyengar and correct yoga anatomy, making sure you enjoy practicing vs. trying to obey or fit in will not only keep you safe, it will also keep you coming back! Same pose, less tension.

Sounds nice but what if I’m new to yoga or just not much of an alignment buff? Here are some good questions to ask yourself: Do I feel stable? How is my breathing coming in and out of a pose? Is there any pain beyond that of a muscle being lengthened? Respecting your yoga teachers is one thing and we are grateful when you do but we love it even more when you respect your own body because it means you’ve understood one of the key principles of yoga: Love your Self.

My Favorite Top 10 Yoga Books


As a teacher, it’s important to have some idea about the eight limbs of Yoga and a few details from the Bhagavat Gita. It’s even better, when we’ve got our Yamas and Niyamas memorized, even implemented to a certain degree.

To learn about all things yoga, there are numerous fantastic and inspiring yoga books out there by Patanjali, Iyengar, Gurmukh, to name just a few. Nevertheless, I’m always hunting for new inspiration for my classes. That, and I have the odd talent for finding tiny bookstores with out-of-print editions of all sorts of wonderful literature. So here is my treasured list, some of which is a little off the beaten Yoga-book path. These gems are suitable for beginners AND advanced Yogis and I keep coming back to them frequently. I bet you will too:

1. Stephen Levine: Healing into Life and Death
Why I love it: Levine does not shy away from the really big stuff in life of which terminal illness and death certainly are a part. At the same time, he teaches us that healing can happen, even if our physical bodies do not recover from illness. Truly powerful and worth reading over and over.
2. Hugh Prather: I touch the Earth and the Earth touches me
Why I love it: Prather writes, sort of stream-of-consciousness poetry or snipits on spirituality, sexuality, really just daily thoughts that we can all relate to and that make us human first, maybe enlightened second.
3. Ana Forrest: Fierce Medicine
Why I love it: The woman warrior among the yoginis of our time, Ana offers a very honest perspective, whether she talks about her own battle with addiction or a specific asana. She encourages us to take a good, hard look at what isn’t working for us and invites us to commit to transforming trauma or bad stuff until it becomes a thing of beauty.
4. Josephine Fairley: Yoga for Life
Why I love it: This book was a completely coincidental find on an overloaded sale table. Even though it addresses women in their 40s and up, I think it is great book for any aspiring yogi. I’m not sure it is still in print but Fairley’s unpretentious and down-to-earth recommendations make it so terribly easy to start your own home yoga practice, you should try to get it anyway!
5. Stephen Bodian: Meditation for Dummies
Why I love it: That’s right, one from the …for Dummies series. It’s an oldie but goodie because it features so many techniques to get you started and even if you have meditated for a long time, you’ll probably still find inspiring ideas or ways to look at meditation in a new way.
6. Thich Nath Hanh: Peace is Every Step
Why I love it: Having grown up with many bibles in the house (and never really enjoying the reading that much), this book became my chosen bible. I take it everywhere I go because the words are very simple and comforting and I always seem to open it up exactly on the page I need that day-magic!
7. John Mundahl: Soul to Soul
Why I love it: This one is especially great for yoga teachers, offering little stories, intentions and inspiration to begin or end your class. You’ll want to finish reading it in one go, then start again right away.
8. Paramahansa Yogananda: Autobiography of a Yogi
Why I love it: Even if this one is a little more obvious than the other books on this list, it belongs here because once you’ve gotten through the sometimes slightly awkward writing style, the pearls of wisdom by one of yoga top wisemen, are indispensable and at times, even mystical.
9. Liz Lark: 1001 Pearls of Yoga Wisdom
Why I love it: This is a beautifully illustrated tiny book to take along with you anywhere or maybe keep it close to your altar for spontaneous pick-up. There are literally 1001 useful and inspired teaching and learning moments in there. Great gift idea too!
10. Timothy Mc Call, M.D.: Yoga as Medicine
Why I love it: Here’s a real go-to manual for some serious conditions that students come to yoga with all the time. Anything from back pain to fibromyalgia to depression and cancer. This book gives you the scientific insights as well as asanas to try out with students or by yourself. I’ve referred back to it over and over, especially for my private classes.

I hope you enjoy these books as much as I did and still do. What are some of your secret best yoga books? Lemme know in the comments below!