A Lesson in Humility with UnCruise Adventures Yoga Teacher Jo Zukovich

A Lesson in Humility with UnCruise Adventures Yoga Teacher Jo Zukovich
by Melissa Hagedorn

When I connect with yoga teacher Jo Zukovich on the phone, I quickly realize that I am in for a treat.  Though I am supposed to be focusing on learning more about Jo and her teaching methods, her humility guides her to share about her incredible teachers, including B.K.S. Iyengar.

IMG_0461Can you tell us about the beginning of your yoga practice and how you found your way to teaching yoga?
I sought out yoga in 1979 after a life of dance and ballet practice had led to shin splints.  I kept hearing great things about a local teacher, Mary Dunn.  Mary taught Iyengar yoga which is no surprise as her mother, Mary Palmer, was instrumental in bringing Mr. Iyengar to the United States for his first teaching tour in 1973.  Not unlike others, when I attended my first class, I realized how good the practice felt and started to attend classes with Mary as much as I could.  After a few years of dedicated study with Mary, I became an assistant at the yoga studio.  In 1984, I had the opportunity to study with Iyengar himself when he visited San Diego and it was the best class that I had ever taken.   Within the next year, Mary departed for New York City to start the Iyengar Association and I stepped into the role of teacher.  Because of my passion for the practice and sharing it with others, I opened several yoga studios, one by one, and started training yoga teachers in 1990.  It was not in the 200-hour format that is commonplace today but rather in a mentorship style.

IMG_0409Did you travel to India to study with Iyengar and if so, what was that experience like?  
In 1988, I traveled to India to study with Iyengar and completed the pilgrimage three more times in the 1990’s as well as studying with him when he traveled to the US.    Studying with Iyengar was different every time.  We would have class time with Iyengar in the mornings and practice time in the afternoon.  Iyengar would do his own personal practice alongside the students in the afternoons.  It was one of the most valuable learning opportunities for me with my practice.  Though Iyengar’s presence was notable during class time, it was subtle during practice time.  In fact, you might not even notice him.  While students were huffing and puffing their way through their practice, Iyengar moved silently with grace from one pose to the next without strain.  His practice was a moving meditation and it was a beautiful thing to watch.  Occasionally, he would come and adjust a student during the practice time.

I knew, and could feel that others knew too, that we were in the presence of somebody who knew what they were doing and what they were about.  Yes, there was a physical aspect to the yoga practice but ultimately, the practice was a tool to help you evolve as a human being.

Practicing with Iyengar lasted well beyond the time spent in India.  Once I returned home from India and started to apply all that I had learned, I had the realization that yoga was not only about the physical postures.  My understanding of the practice started to deepen, leading to new insights that were ultimately connected to this great yoga lineage.

You studied with Iyengar several times in the US.  Was that experience different than studying with him in India?
I remember attending a San Diego yoga conference in 1990 where Iyengar was present.  He wasn’t really teaching any workshops.  He was engaging and speaking with yogis and helping out.  On the last day of the conference, I was told there was going to be an impromptu yoga class.  My husband and I showed up and discovered that Iyengar was teaching the class.  It was the first class I had seen Iyengar teach where there were hundreds of yogis.  In India, there were typically about 50 yogis in class.  What I remember the most about this class with Iyengar in San Diego was his keen sense of awareness and ability to provide a verbal cue to one specific individual in a room of hundreds.

file (2)How did Iyengar come up with yoga props?
In 1937, Krishnamacharya sent Iyengar to Pune at the age of eighteen to spread the teaching of yoga.  Iyengar started by teaching strong and capable military soldiers but it wasn’t long before he was teaching people that had a wide-range of health conditions.  Iyengar felt that students needed to stay in poses for a certain duration of time to reap the benefits yet often times a student would be dealing with a health issue that would limit the students ability to do so.  It was during these early years that Iyengar first started to develop props to use during the yoga practice to extend the time a post could be held.  In class, he would provide the student with a piece of furniture or a rack to use as an aid.  Then Iyengar started experimenting at home and eventually came up with the block.  It was a statue that inspired him to create the yoga strap.  Iyengar saw a statue of someone sitting in Siddhasana with a belt around their knees and back and realized that a strap would help students stay in the poses longer.

What about the yoga practice has led to your life long dedication to the practice?
The first difference I noticed in my life from the yoga practice was in how I walked but it didn’t take long for me to discover that the changes would extend far beyond the physical.  The practice changes you physically and emotionally.  I feel strongly that each yogi should have their own personal practice.  I know that many people are intimidated by the idea of creating their own practice but it really can be something as simple as 10 minutes of practice.  A personal practice allows you to take what you learned in class and apply it to your life.  This is where transformation can happen.

I love teaching yoga and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  My favorite piece of advice is to go slowly on the path.

IMG_0480You have been practicing for a while.  Have you had to deal with injuries?
About 8 years ago, I had physical setback with my yoga practice.  All of a sudden, much of the physical asana was no longer available to me.  Honestly, I was initially devastated but I kept practicing and slowly I regained many of the postures that had been lost to me.  Now, when I reflect back on the experience, I feel blessed because I learned much about myself during that challenging time.

Speaking of physical setbacks, you have been acknowledged by paraplegic Matthew Sanford as his first teacher and helping him to cultivate a presence within his body through awareness, breath and attention.  What was it like working with Matthew and do you have any advice for yoga teachers in working with disabilities?
Matthew had been going to school in Santa Barbara, where I used to teach once a month, and someone referred him to me.  I would give him a few poses to try and he would practice them throughout the month and we would reconnect the next time I was in Santa Barbara.  He was an exceptional student and applied himself to the practice.  It didn’t take long for Matthew to feel inner body changes from the practice and soon we started to practice together intensively for many hours at a time.   I learned a lot from working with Matthew.  He has now gone on to found Mind Body Solutions and offers training on working with people with disabilities.  If you are interested in working with disabilities, I highly recommend seeking specialized training with someone like Matthew.  Beyond that, I would also acknowledge that each injury is different and the teacher must go slowly and have an ongoing conversation with the student to ensure the practice is helping them.

You and I connected because of our mutual association with UnCruise.  Have you ever UnCruise’d before?
Yes, twice.  About a year ago, my daughter took me on an UnCruise to the Sea of Cortez. I was impressed with how well planned and thought out the experience is with UnCruise.  There are endless options for activities from hiking, snorkeling, kayaking and more.  The food was amazing, the employees were kind and knowledgeable.  The dozens of fellow cruisers are like-minded and it is easy to make new friends.  I loved the experience so much in fact that before I even got off the boat in the Sea of Cortez, I booked another UnCruise for my husband and I to the San Juan Islands and Olympic Peninsula.

uncruiseyogaYou are leading a “Rivers of Wellness” cruise with UnCruise in October 2017 along the Columbia and Snake Rivers.  What can guests expect on this cruise and from your yoga classes?
The “Rivers of Wellness” UnCruise will offer daily yoga classes, nutrition workshops and sound healing as well as the typical excursions and adventures UnCruise is known for.  Yoga will be offered both on the boat and along the river.  In my yoga classes, I teach a mindful approach to the poses and I keep my eye on students to ensure that they are provided with modifications that best serve them.  One thing I am looking forward to in this immersive environment is the opportunity to be available for yogis to provide guidance and help answer questions about their practice.

This is the perfect opportunity to set aside the daily stresses of deciding what you are going to eat, tidying the house or running errands and shift your focus towards going inward.

In addition to daily yoga classes, the “Rivers of Wellness” UnCruise will offer a winery and vineyard tour and tasting, a jet boat ride into Hells Canyon, a tour of the Bonneville Dam, guided hikes and much more.  To learn more about the upcoming cruise, please visit:  https://www.uncruise.com/destinations/columbia-river-cruises/rivers-of-wellness





The Best of Both Worlds: Interview with Tiffany Cruikshank
by Jill Rivera Greene

Tiffany Fluid FrameTiffany Cruikshank has dedicated 20+ years to crafting her unique method of teaching yoga. She draws on a vast range of experience, including her work as a holistic medicine practitioner, acupuncturist, and sports medicine expert, as well as private sessions with thousands of patients, students and athletes, including Seattle’s own Russell Wilson.

These experiences laid the foundation for her Yoga Medicine trainings, which draw on both Eastern and Western notions of medicine to address each patient/student’s unique needs. These days, Tiffany spends the majority of her time sharing these teachings in conferences, trainings and articles internationally. She was generous enough to share a few juicy tidbits in a recent phone conversation with NWYC.

Where did the inspiration for Yoga Medicine come from?
When I started seeing patients about 15 years ago, I noticed that my patients who practiced yoga got better a lot quicker. That prompted me to think about how I could better help my patients who don’t practice yoga, by giving them postures and other things they could do on their own to be more proactive in their health care.

Yoga Medicine was meant to bridge the gap between the yoga world and the medical world, so yoga could be an adjunct to people’s medical care. Yoga teachers aren’t meant to replace medical providers. Our mission is to train teachers to blend Eastern and Western modalities, so they can work effectively with medical providers and help people with injuries or illnesses, or improve general wellness.

Do a lot of health care providers come to your trainings?
All of our trainings are for people who want to teach yoga in some capacity, but maybe a quarter of participants are also health care providers, from mental health counselors, doctors, surgeons, physical therapists, acupuncturists, and more. The common denominator is people who are interested in both the East and West—the Western understanding of anatomy/physiology in addition to the Eastern practice of yoga.

Tiffany-Cruikshank-Mind-Makeover-e1487196234285Has Yoga Medicine changed the way that you personally approach yoga?
I have never seen [yoga and Yoga Medicine] as separate. That said, I definitely started out with a more physically based practice. I did a lot of Ashtanga when I was younger, and I was intrigued with inversions and arm balances. Then I had a bad injury, and that’s what forced me to start incorporating more of what I did with my patients into my own practice and teaching. This eventually evolved into Yoga Medicine.

I think we all evolve over the decades of our lives. If we practice yoga long enough, the practice changes to suit our needs. Yoga Medicine has definitely changed how I approach my practice; I now approach it more through a therapeutic lens than an exercise or gymnastic lens, though movement is also therapeutic of course.

Do you have specific suggestions for people of a certain age (ahem), as our practice evolves?
I think it’s important to acknowledge that the practice isn’t meant to be one practice for everybody. The beautiful thing about yoga is that there are so many different approaches. As we go through our life cycles, hopefully we are able to find a practice that suits us. And if you practice yoga long enough, that will change many times. What exactly that looks like is going to be different for each person.

The hard part is just staying open to that. We can get kind of rigid about what we think we need. We only have so much time, and we often feel like we have to get a physical practice in, to move because we sit all day. The yoga principles and practices are based on a framework of not just physical flexibility, but mental flexibility as well. It’s really important to our health and vitality to allow ourselves to pay attention to what our bodies need through different weeks, years, and decades of our lives.  After practicing for almost 25 years now and spanning several decades of my life, my own personal practice has changed immensely over the years and only when I was able to be adapt to that was I able to tap into the therapeutic potential of my practice.

JasperPhoto_Tiffany_9895_lowrezCan you talk a little about the process you go through in developing a Yoga Medicine module?
The modules that I develop are all on topics that are personally meaningful to me. They are things I have experienced in my own practice, with students and patients. So I start by choosing subjects that are important not only from my lens but also for the people I work with.

I like to stick to what I’m good at and what I know. A lot of the course content comes from my own education, my 10+ years of training in holistic medicine, yoga, acupuncture, sports medicine, and orthopedics, as well as 15 years of seeing Chinese medicine/acupuncture patients with a specialty in sports medicine & orthopedics together with my experience of teaching yoga for the last 20 + years and running yoga teacher trainings for over 15 years.  And then I dig through my books, and consult with other teachers, doctors and health care providers who might be helpful. When we do modules that aren’t in my specialty or comfort zone, I bring in other people who are specialists in that area. We have a lot of doctors & experienced teachers who contribute to our curriculum.

One of the things that we do well in Yoga Medicine is keeping an open mind. We train our teachers to think for themselves, so that they can understand the lens of the human body and apply that to the yoga practice. Yoga Medicine is not a specific style or way of working with students. We always recommend that our teachers continue to study many different styles of yoga. We are helping our teachers to understand the body from an Eastern and Western perspective, so that they can decipher for themselves what might be helpful for their students.

One of the workshops that you’re offering at the NW Yoga Conference is on the SI joint. Can you talk about why you chose this topic, and share one or two key things that students in the workshop will learn?
The SI joint is becoming a popular topic right now, and rightfully so. In the medical world and in my training, almost 20 years ago, there was hardly any talk about it. Now it’s starting to get a more recognition, in the medical world, in yoga, and in the general population.

The SI is a really important joint, because it’s weight-bearing and a transition point between the upper and lower body. It doesn’t get a lot of movement; in fact, it barely moves at all. Most of the time it gets 2 to 4 degrees of movement. But there is a fine balance between not moving enough and moving too much that, in my experience, is critical to the health of this joint.

One of the easiest take-aways is the importance of having a balance of strength and flexibility. As a yoga practitioner you can do that in a general sense, by noticing areas that are tight or weak, and working on those areas.

For yoga students who are more flexible, it’s important to look at areas that they can strengthen around the hip, lower back, and core. You can’t really go wrong there. Any time there are recurrent SI joint issues, there is some layer of hypermobility. So in general, it’s looking at how to build symmetrical stability around this joint to help it function optimally within this fine range of motion.

I have found some specific techniques that are helpful in this area. In the workshop, we will look at some of the common tendencies and simple ways to work with them.

You’re offering another workshop, on myofascial release. Who do you find benefits most from this technique?
The thing I love most about myofascial release is that pretty much everyone can benefit from it. You can modify it to the individual pretty easily. Nothing is going to replace a great body worker or your medical provider, but it can be a great way to continue your care on your own.

Usually people feel results pretty much immediately, so that gives people encouragement to continue using it. Eventually, over time, they can reshape and shift the fascia and the connective tissue. We’re now starting to recognize, through research, that this is an important part of our physical health—not only our muscles, but our structural supportive system and how it’s all integrated together.

When people use myofascial release, they get to feel how one part of the body affects another. This is one of the reasons that I love teaching these workshops. A lot of times when we do myofascial release on our own, we just work on one specific area. But when you go through the body in a workshop, you may notice that there were completely separate areas that were even more helpful to the area where you have pain or limited range of motion. So it helps you uncover what I call “mystery areas.”

You have worked with a lot of athletes throughout your career. What do yoga teachers need to know about working with high-performance athletes?
We have a whole module on this in Yoga Medicine! I’ve worked with a lot of different kinds of athletes—from pro athletes to weekend warriors, in many different sports. Yoga is becoming a more and more prevalent resource for athletes, and there is a lot that yoga teachers can do with and for athletes.

One thing that’s really important to understand is that, in most athletics, there are very different stages of training. My goal as a yoga teacher is to meet athletes where they are, and to use the different tools and modalities of yoga to assist them through the different training & recovery stages, including joint stability & strength building, mobility, active recovery, passive recovery and the often over looked nervous system reset.

The great thing about working with athletes is that they are usually very much in tune with their bodies and changes in their performance, so that gives us good, quick feedback. However, depending on the athlete, there can also be a lot of parts that are very disconnected. I enjoy working with athletes because they generally respond really well to yoga and are usually surprised by all the things it affects not only in their performance but also their mental game and how they feel in general. They can really feel the differences yoga is making. Even simple additions can be very effective in an athlete’s routine.

What are some of the benefits, for yoga teachers and students alike, of attending an event like the Northwest Yoga Conference?
The great thing about coming to a conference like this is getting a sampling of a lot of different things. I enjoy being a participant as well as a teacher, and hearing the different viewpoints.

As a teacher, you not only get to take away new information from the classes, but it also sparks you to think in new ways. It fires parts of my brain that maybe haven’t been used recently. A conference is a great way to spark an interest to dig deeper and perhaps continue on to study more deeply with a teacher.

One of the things that I feel strongly about in Yoga Medicine is that often there isn’t a “right” or a “wrong” way. All of these teachings have some uses, otherwise they wouldn’t be around. They’ve worked for someone. So if I can go and see all of these different ways of working with the body, it helps me create more tools and resources to have at my fingertips when working with my students.

That’s the whole premise of our trainings: Being able to individualize the process, so that teachers can work in medical settings, or home settings, or wherever they are needed.

Being Present With What Is: An Interview with Jill Knouse

by Deb Geiger, Conference Blogger

jillknouse3“I truly feel like our greatest work is in being present with what is.  I see the human in you and the human in me and I want to love you.”

This is Jill Knouse.  And she does love you.  From the moment she meets you.  If you’ve ever come to one of her classes at Yoga Pearl in downtown Portland, you’ll sweat and jam, but more, you’ll probably get a hug, eye contact, a smile. Genuine interest in your life.  You will never feel more welcome in a yoga class.

Jill spoke to me about her “upbringing’ in the yoga world.  It didn’t start all that long ago.  Up until 2004, she was in the financial world in San Fransisco, living the Corporate “American Dream”.  She told me that suddenly, she just started needing change.

“If I didn’t make a shift, I was going to die,” she said.

We wear so many freaking hats.  Now I’m Corporate Jill.  And now I’m yoga Jill.  And now I’m wife Jill, and now I’m Jill Jill.  Who is that? It’s all the same Jill!  If we can find the common thread between all of these, that’s what it’s all about!”

jillknouse1In the past 12 years, it looks like she has indeed found that thread.  “My journey into this realm has been a long time coming,” she told me.  “A big part of my practice right now has nothing to do with the movement of my body.  It has to do with my mind movement…and it’s been greatly inspired by Tara Brach, Byron Katie and Pema Chodron.  I’m truly inspired by all work that teaches about acceptance and self-love.”

Now Jill’s business is her passion, and she is keeping more than busy.  She teaches yoga at Yoga Pearl, and runs her two programs that she has created: her own Yoga Teacher Training program, as well as Elevate Yoga Trainings, her mentorship program for yoga teachers wanting to take their teaching to the next level.  I asked her to speak to me about what it was like being a “salesperson” of yoga.  How is she able to keep her passion alive for something that she has to sell to people all day?  Her answers?

OMG.  I bought ‘em.

What makes my business thrive is that I don’t come at it from that side.  It comes from a place of wanting people to heal.  To soften scars.  To heal their bodies physically and emotionally.  I want to help people reduce suffering.  and show compassion.  That’s what I have to offer. 

These scars aren’t immune to her, or anyone else.  Possibly the greatest thing about a conversation with her is that she isn’t trying to pretend that she has it all figured out.

jillknouse2“I have spent 47 years not liking myself.  And I am ridiculously tired of that story.  I am practicing a new story.  One where I actually care about myself.  I love myself.  I never ever thought this was possible for me.  And, honestly, if there’s hope for ME, there’s hope for others and I want to connect with THEM!”

How beautiful is that?

If you want to come practice radical acceptance, learn a thing or two about yoga and truly connect with a joyful soul- don’t miss an opportunity to practice with Jill Knouse.  Just the smile will make it worth it. Learn more about Jill’s offerings at the conference here.

Yoga In True Form – An Interview with Julie Gudmestad

by Deb Geiger, Conference Blogger

Yoga is often defined in one word as union.  In two words: to join.  Yin and yang.  Shiva and Shakti.  Everything and nothing.  Spirituality and Science.  

Julie Gudmestad is yoga come to life.  

julie-gudmestad-portraitThis woman is sharp.  She is 66 and she is a professional.  When she walked up to me in a busy little café on a rainy Portland afternoon, she was in an ankle length black peacoat- short grey hair just so.  Put together.  This was the medical professional before me.  As we started speaking, it became clear that she has made a wonderful life finding the balance between the science and the spirituality of yoga.

I was curious…did yoga bring Julie to physical therapy, or did physical therapy bring her to yoga?

“Yoga first.” She told me.  “Always yoga first”.

“This is going to sound a little woo woo…I was in high school.  I was standing in my dad’s back yard and I heard a voice tell me to go find a yoga class…I can still remember the first class…I remember coming out of the class and standing on the sidewalk…I was hooked.”

Maybe you noticed…that’s not exactly the type of thing you’ll often hear from a Western trained medical professional…

astavakrasana_049Julie started teaching yoga in 1970.  She was attending Reed College, and had already been practicing for a few years.  Her friends and classmates were interested in it, so she started teaching them.

“Other students would come up to me and say ‘my back doesn’t hurt anymore’, ‘I don’t have headaches anymore’, so I wanted letters after my name so that I could work one on one with people.”

Thus started her quest for physical therapy.  She graduated from Pacific University in 1977, and started taking Iyengar classes.  Iyengar is known for its attention to detail, alignment of the posture, control of the breath.  It is no wonder that a physical therapist would be drawn to its structure and focus on the mechanics of the physical body.  She became Iyengar certified in 1988, and still holds that certification.  

After getting a bit of her history, I wanted to know what has kept her going strong for so many years.

How do you inspire your students?

julie-teaching-sm“I hope I am a positive role model for them. Not just in terms of talking; but doing and being. I’ve been known to say that I don’t talk a lot about formal yoga philosophy, but I hope by the way I practice and the way I have them practice with mindfulness and consciousness that the heart of yoga philosophy comes through.”

What is the heart of yoga philosophy, I wanted to know.

“Yamas and Niyamas. Compassion is top of the list. Honesty…Be honest about what kind of shape your body is in today. There is a lovely integrity about being present with who you are today. Not who you were a year ago. It’s not who you would be had you been doing x y and z…Compassion starts at home”.

What continues to inspire you?

Julie got a cheeky smile and discussed how she teaches an annual yoga class to the graduating physical therapy class at her alma mater, Pacific U.  

“Sometimes, depending on their interest, I show them something fancy…Some of the arm balances.  Because they are dramatic.  I want them to see that yoga can really keep you in shape, even in your sixties.  The looks on their faces makes it all worthwhile.  That’s what inspires me.  To get a look like that from twenty-somethings!”

That’s the type of honesty I like!

Do you have any other advice, or words or wisdom for the readers?

julie-gudmestad-pose“The nature of life on this planet is change.  And…sometimes it’s going to be change that we don’t like…But there’s no choice…we have to adapt.  Our yoga practice can help us stay centered…If you get scared and you’re not sleeping, you don’t function as well.  And it will be harder to support the causes that you think are important.”

Just like Julie was hooked after her first class…I was hooked to Julie after my first meeting.  Don’t miss her sessions as she focuses on the alignment of different parts of the body…and just wait for those snippets of spirituality that shine through the science.  

This is yoga in true form.

Learn more about Julie Gudmestad’s conference offerings here.

The Yoga Trilogy of the Dalai Lama, Yogi Bhajan and Raquel Welch?: An Interview with Kia Miller

By Autumn Feldmeier, Conference Blogger
We caught up with Kia Miller, who will be teaching five workshops at the conference. Find out what she had to say about her offerings as well as her insight about how yoga helps shape our lives in a beautiful, inspiring and important way.

You mentioned your initial introduction to yoga was a  Raquel Welch book?  How do you think yoga has changed and how has it remained the same? 
The yoga tradition dates back thousands of years, and offers a pathway toward self-discovery, awakening oneness consciousness, being in right relationship with the world, self and others, and living a life of service. This intention remains the same and is represented in all holistic and well rounded schools of yoga. However the teachings of yoga have also changed to meet the modern practitioner where they are. What I have witnessed is a huge focus on physical asana practice for the last 15-20 years, and now a shift where more and more people recognize that there are deeper and more powerful practices like pranayama and meditation that enable them to deal with the high stress lifestyle that many currently live.

You and your husband Tommy Rosen do classes and retreats together-what are the benefits and challenges of this?  kia-tommy-2
Tommy and I are blessed with a similar outlook on life and spirituality. This has enabled us to not only practice together, but also to work together. For many years we focused on developing ourselves, refining our skills as teachers and honing in on whom we can best serve. I focused on developing and leading Radiant Body Yoga teacher trainings, and Tommy focused on developing a business to serve the development of those in recovery from addiction using yoga and lifestyle teachings. More recently we have been co-leading retreats that bring together our skills and unique approaches.

The time we spent building our individual approaches has enabled us to teach together harmoniously, where our egos are in check and we have mutual respect. Much like Kahil Gibran says on marriage “And stand together yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

You have mentioned your struggle with bulimia when you were a model- how has yoga helped you heal from that?  
For many years I was very dissociated from my body and used the act of throwing up my food to avoid uncomfortable emotions. Through the practice of yoga I learned how to find the comfortable seat in my body. I learned how to correctly breathe, which enabled me to work through the tough emotions that would have me want to binge and purge. When I was fortunate enough to find Kundalini Yoga I discovered a real sense of my self. I came to realize that through my whole modeling career I was wearing all the masks I thought others wanted to see, yet had no faith and connection in myself as a unique and original human being. The practice of Kundalini Yoga gradually peeled off the layers of masks until I found a connection to my inner sense of self, my power, my creativity, and ultimately the gifts of this incarnation. Together with the practices of yoga, I also healed my eating disorder by eating a purely plant based raw diet for two years which took the inflammation and irritation our of digestive tract and enabled me to re-set and re-negotiate my relationship with food.

One quote of yours which I love is ‘If you give energy to negativity,  it will take you to places you do not want to go. How can the practice of  yoga assist in channeling your energy into the right places?  
Negativity is a poison that spreads when given energy. When we dwell on negative thoughts or emotions we empower them. Often when we are in the throws of negativity, we forget that we have a choice. In that moment we are choosing negativity, yet we could equally be choosing positivity. I have found the practices of yoga to be a great way to channel energy, in particular mental energy. The asana practice helps us to remove tension and to reclaim a sense of peace. The pranayama practices help us to shift the patterns of thinking. As the yogic texts state: “as the breath, so the mind” When we alter the rhythm of the breath, we are able to break the mental trances that hold our consciousness captive, we are able to liberate ourselves from negativity and the choices that lead to negativity. Once we have broken the pattern that has held us captive, we can sit with a meditative focus and learn to access our neutral mind, our witness. From this place we are able to be aware of thoughts without attaching our identity to them.

The Dalai Lama has said ‘The world will be saved by the Western woman’-do you believe  this to be true and (if so) how does this influence your teachings?  
If you look at the demographic of who is practicing yoga, you will see that it is over 70% women. This shows that it is women who are being turned on by these teachings and often because of a woman that men come to the practice!

Yogi Bhajan directed much of his teaching to the empowerment of women. He worked with women to realize and remember their true value, and said that when women reclaim their power they will lead the way forward.

In my own teachings I see all people as equal – both female and male, so I do not direct my teaching toward a gender however I do stress the importance of promoting qualities like: empathy, intuition, inclusiveness, neutrality, balance, compassion, etc.

In your podcast, you mentioned ‘information dementia’ whereupon we are constantly being bombarded with distractions (iPad, iPhone, Facebook, etc) and how that prevents us from critical thinking. But, as a busy yoga teacher, how do you prevent this from happening to you?  kiamillerreading
This is a great question! I have a few methods to keep my ‘devices’  time down:

  • I meditate every day which helps to clear my mind and allow me to connect inwardly to a still and expansive space. This is the single most helpful thing as it allows me to keep my neutrality throughout the day.
  • I have someone who helps with my social media. It is an important outreach for me with fellow yogis and students, so with help I can engage in the ways that are meaningful to me rather than it being another ‘job’ to tend to.
  • I check my social media once a day, which prevents the obsession to keep checking throughout the day.
  • When I am in the midst of a training or retreat, I have my assistant answer all my emails!
  • When I am sitting alone, I prefer to read a book over reading posts on social media

In  these seemingly hope less times, what helps you stay grounded and optimistic?  
I see a lot of hope in these times. I see many people in my workshops, teacher trainings and retreats working really hard to overcome their negative patterns and to be a light to those around them. I see a country in great change, where we are witnessing a large divide in outlook on life and beliefs. My hope is that we, as yoga practitioners, walk the middle path instead of polarizing and making others ‘wrong.’ This is one of the ways that we can lead. I invite all to meditate on the following statements left by Yogi Bhajan for this time. See what insights come to you as you dwell on each one:

  1. Recognize the other person is you
  2. There is a way through every block
  3. When the time is on you, start, and the pressure will be off
  4. Understand through compassion or you will misunderstand the times
  5. Vibrate the cosmos, and the cosmos shall clear the path

What can we expect from your classes at the Northwest Yoga Conference?  kia-prayerMy focus within yoga has led me to an understanding of the importance of connecting to and cultivating ‘inner radiance.’ When we are radiant, we are bright, enthusiastic, emitting positive uplifting energy, we are a light to ourselves and others. Some yogic texts reference the energy that emanates from the heart center as radiance. It is the power that enables us to share and teach through our presence. The more aware and connected we are to the Truth within, the brighter our radiant body.

In these fast paced and challenging times our Radiance easily becomes depleted through stress and distraction. These classes share essential tools for keeping our radiance bright and effective. I have found these teachings to be some of the most powerful and effective and cutting through the negative self hypnosis and awakening intelligence and clarity in the body/mind.

Learn more about Kia Miller’s workshop offerings at the Northwest Yoga Conference here.

The Courage to Live From Your Heart-Center: Guest Post by Terilyn Wyre

This year, we are asking conference presenters to share with us what the conference theme, “The Courage to Live From Your Heart-Center” means to them.  First up, the incredible, loving and inspiring Seattle based yogi, Terilyn Wyre!  Be careful, you might want a box of tissues neaby –  the beauty of this writing brought us to tears.

We can fall in love in an instant; utterly, completely, unequivocally in love. It takes but a moment for our hearts to open like a flower yearning for the kiss of sunlight and morning dew. We fall in love with our partner, our children, our friends, our pets, the sight of the sun setting over the water, the forest, the mountains, a piece of art, our favorite song. Falling in love is easy, natural, effortless even. It seems like the very thing we were born to do. Often we remember these moments as rare, monumental and fleeting. What we are witnessing in these magical moments is a reflection of the Beloved who resides within us. In essence, our outer environment is mirroring back to us our huge capacity to love and be loved. As tempting as it is to think we are falling in love with someone because they are so fabulous (which they very well may be) a deeper truth might be that our love interest is willing to hold space for us to dive into the unending well of love within our own heart.

So you might be thinking “well sure I’ve felt moments of deep love but it not a feeling that lasts, it shifts and changes and sometimes ends. How do I cultivate a feeling of open heartedness that guides my choices, my path, my life, when the risk of heartbreak seems inevitable? Won’t that hurt, a lot?” I’ve asked myself this question many times, especially when I see cruelty and tragedy in the world. Yes, you will experience pain, loss, heartbreak and unimaginable grief.

This is where courage comes in: to love without story, conditions or expectations; to love simply because it makes you come alive to do so; to love even in the face of disrespect, disregard and dismissal. This is the true work of a heart centered warrior. I’m not suggesting it’s the easy path, but rather one of integrity, authenticity and vulnerability.

I have found these three things are essential in living from the heart: forgiveness,  self-compassion and self-love. The courage comes in our willingness to look at our shadow self and all our wounds and old stories. When we are brave enough to bring the light of awareness to all the parts of ourselves that need healing we can begin the process of true forgiveness of ourselves and others which in time becomes the balm for our aching hearts. Forgiveness allows us to have compassion for our perceived failures and mistakes and love ourselves for all of who we are, the shiny side as well as the side we’d rather not look at or expose to another. When we experience this for ourselves first we can see our divine innocence and then eventually the divine innocence in others who deserve that same love, compassion, and forgiveness.

In every religion or mysticism there seems to be a yearning for God; the Divine, Beloved. We are yearning for the One who has never left us. When we recognize as truth that love is ours and the Beloved is within us, we lose some of our fears as we can never truly lose love or be abandoned.


In every moment we have an opportunity to contract in fear or expand in love, the choice is ours. It takes practice to trust the expansion of our hearts. Your very first down dog may have felt awkward or difficult but in time felt ease-full and familiar, so too is true of learning to live from your heart. The more we yoke ourselves back to love again and again, the less we shut down emotionally. We learn to navigate this world with grace and sovereignty and a steadfast willingness to open our hearts to each other and every moment of this wild life.

For me, the choice is clear: With my yoga practice as my medicine/ my elixir for the strength and courage it takes to live from my heart, I will continue to walk this path as a warrior of love and welcome home all the wounded parts of myself with a renewed sense of belonging. My prayer for you is to do the same.

Love Yourself from the Outside In

74ec699c-475c-45ab-8847-e4ed6ed1d347By Silvia Mordini

While in college, I vacillated between not caring what I looked like to being vain and caring way too much. My inside and outside didn’t match, and they were at odds. While I appreciated the specialness of who I was on the inside I sometimes lost my relationship with my outside.

I had a front row seat to watching this relationship evolve. The reality of being human is that we see other people from the outside first (the whole “judge a book by its cover”). Our dust jacket isn’t a bad thing, unless we make it a problem. And I made it a problem. I thought I wasn’t thin enough, so I withheld food. I over used food. I spent copious amounts of time and energy on my outward appearance. I was a sort of unconfident narcissist. I ping ponged between loving what I looked like to not feeling good enough. It consumed extraordinary amounts of energy.

Then it happened. I was in an accident. This traumatic event changed my attitude. I stopped bullying myself into needing my inside to feel superior to my outside. I made peace with my internal and external self, which led me to realize that loving what we look like is a very important part of our spiritual evolution. If you are evolved on the inside but treat your external appearance with disdain, then there is an imbalance. It is the inverse of what happens when we only focus on what we look like and ignore loving who we are internally.

3 Key Things To Promote Loving Yourself:

  1. Look at yourself in the Mirror. I don’t mean just to check out your hair or outfit, but sit down in front of a mirror and hold your own gaze for 30 seconds, then rest. Then try 1 minute, then 2 minutes. Really see yourself and how beautiful (or handsome) you are on the outside. Instead of using energy avoiding ourselves, we should make peace with seeing clearly what we look like.
  2. Get Naked. Make it a ritual to spend some time each day living in what Martha Graham calls “our most important garment.” Loving what we look like is a radical form of Self-acceptance. Instead of covering that up or shrinking away from your body, open your eyes to literally being comfortable in your own skin.
  3. Embrace your uniqueness. Do it for you. Loving what we look like means that we embrace our heritage and all that has created us. As Maya Angelou writes, “You alone are enough; you have nothing to prove to anybody.” Loving your external appearance means you believe yourself to be enough. By doing that, you give others permission to love themselves too.

Today, embrace the full spectrum of loving yourself unconditionally and find the balance between inside and outside. Love yourself, love your day, love your life!

f864e550-3535-47da-ba1f-63fda9e7fc84Learn more at Silvia’s workshop ‘Removing the Obstacles to Your Happiness’ on Friday, March 4th from 4-6pm.

Can We Build It? Yes We Can!

by Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

“Building community is not optional if you want a thriving yoga business.” – Jill and Michael Knouse

When my kids were preschool age, they loved to watch “Bob the Builder.” In each animated episode, Bob and his friends serve their neighborhood through a variety of building and repair projects. The group’s rallying cry, “Can we fix it? Yes we can!” reinforces the show’s message that people do more and do better when they work together in community.

The same can certainly be said of yoga. Although we often practice alone, on our mats and meditation cushions, so much of our growth as yogis takes place in communities—in group classes and trainings, on retreats and pilgrimages, or through social action inspired by yogic principles.

So we asked some of our presenters: What makes a strong yoga community?


Jill and Michael Knouse

Jill and Michael Knouse are the dynamic duo of community building, having proven their considerable skills in the worlds of both business and yoga. They write:

“‘Building community’ means cultivating a place where people can feel safe, seen and valued. It’s all about creating an environment that brings people together in a way that is unique and valuable to them. When people experience YOUR community, many of them will feel as if it’s their second home—the place where they finally get to let out a deep breath that they had no idea they were holding.”

The Knouses say that building community is “smart marketing”:

“When you create a place where people feel they’ve found their tribe, they will join you in your classes, workshops, retreats, and trainings.” (And, they point out, they’ll tell their friends.) “Having 100 really passionate people in your community is exponentially more effective at spreading a message than marketing to the masses.

The Knouses will be sharing the secrets of their success during their Sunday morning workshop, “How to Build Your Own Thriving Yoga Community.”


Molly Lannon Kenny

But they’re not the only presenters with a wealth of knowledge on the subject. Presenter Molly Lannon Kenny is the founder and spiritual director of The Samarya Center, a nonprofit service and training organization dedicated to individual transformation and radical social change since 2001.

She shared what she considers to be key elements of a successful community:

“You have to have somebody who is the fire-keeper, somebody who is at the center (not necessarily the top), who’s keeping the community alive. … You also have to define what your community is based around. Is it your studio, a value system, a person? Finally, you need some kind of community agreement, so that people really feel accountable to the community, and have ample opportunities to be involved and share ownership of the community.”

Kevin Graybill

Kevin Graybill

Kevin Graybill adds one more to this list: Communication.

“If you take a close examination of any communities of the past or present,” he writes, “they make meaning together, and share a collective understanding of some sort. Neither of these things can be done without communication.”

Not all forms of communication are equally conducive, though.

“Some styles of conversation, like debate for instance, intend to fragment and pull groups apart via the egoistic act of making someone right, and making someone wrong. Dialogue is on the other end of the spectrum, and can be described as a conversation with a center, not sides. The goal of dialogue is for everyone to contribute to this center, with the hope of creating and tapping into a unique collective consciousness.”

Graybill is offering a unique opportunity to participate in a specific type of structured dialogue, Yoga Circles, on both weekend afternoons during the conference. These circles offer an experience of authentic dialogue, in which participants learn to be more mindful in conversation, increase their compassion through patient listening, and realize the interconnectedness between us all.

Finally, Andrew Tanner of Yoga Alliance suggests that building community doesn’t have to be complicated:

Andrew Tanner, Yoga Alliance

Andrew Tanner, Yoga Alliance

At Yoga Alliance, ‘community’ begins with the firm belief … that yoga in all its diverse forms is a major force for good on the planet; and it deserves to be spread as widely as possible.” He adds, “A yoga community begins every time a yogi shares the yoga knowledge or technique that brought them health, happiness, or inner peace with another.”

Tanner will talk about some of the ways that Yoga Alliance helps nurture these communities during his workshops, “The Future of Yoga, Reading the Data Tea Leaves” and “Let Yoga Alliance Work for You!”

Whether you are looking to find your tribe, or hoping to attract more like-minded people to grow your yoga business, the Northwest Yoga Conference is a great place to start.

As Lannon Kenny says,

This conference is a tremendous opportunity. There’s nothing else like it in the Pacific Northwest. Community doesn’t happen by itself. If you want community, you have to show up!”


Changing the Self, Changing the World: An Interview with Molly Lannon Kenny

by Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

Molly Lannon Kenny spoke to me by phone from her home in Mexico, where she recently transitioned to living full-time. The slower pace gives her more time to focus on trainings, retreats, and writing. Her new book of essays, No Gurus Came Knocking, was released in November.

MLK6Congratulations on your new book! I’m intrigued by the title. Does every yogi need a guru?

Often when people start to go deeper in their practice, they realize there’s something more they could gain from someone who has more experience. One place I have learned that is through my relationship with my friend and mentor, Ram Dass, who gives me so much joy. It’s affirming to know that I am connected to lineage through him.

But I don’t want to promote the idea that if people don’t have that relationship, that lineage, they’re not legitimate. Someone doesn’t have to have a guru to be a really great student or to make a change in their own life and in the lives of others.

The idea of a guru is not something we are particularly inclined toward in our culture. We’re very focused on independence. The idea that we would be somehow subservient to someone, take someone on faith, is not a very American idea. And we don’t really have many opportunities to find and connect to gurus here. Many people have had experiences with someone who is putting themselves in the role of “guru” but who is not very evolved themselves. When their students figure that out, they may become wounded by the experience, and that turns them off to the whole idea.

Having a relationship with a guru (if it’s right for you) is really special.. But not everyone will have that opportunity.

But the search is still important?

Yes. On one level, you don’t need a teacher. The answers are already inside you. At the same time, if we skip the step of seeking, the risk is that we become egocentric in the idea, “I already know what’s best for me!” We do, at a soul level, but at a superficial level, we often don’t. It’s easy to use that phrase, “The answers are inside of me” and reinforce your own ego-identification without really getting to the depths of your own soul.

MLK4What led you to develop Integrated Movement Therapy®, and how does it differ from therapeutic yoga?

Integrated Movement Therapy isn’t “therapeutic yoga.” It’s actual therapy in a more clinical sense.  It’s focused on individualized goals and objectives, and it’s based in clinical experience.

I developed IMT when I was working as a practicing clinician in a hospital. I wanted to change how I was working with people, to put the emphasis on partnership and building people’s essential self-worth before anything else. That was not supported by the clinical model.

I had the incredible honor of being on the committee that created the standards for yoga therapy, but I ultimately opted out of seeking accreditation. All forms of yoga therapy differ from one another. But in general, the standards of yoga therapy adopt the medical model. The last thing I wanted to do was to take yoga and turn it back into a pathological, medicalized model. IMT is an individualized intervention, and it’s really based in the orientation of the practitioner themself. It’s their spiritual practice, their worldview that informs the therapy.

That being said, my specialty areas are traumatic brain injury, stroke, and autism … so there’s definitely an emphasis on practical outcomes. When someone comes to me with a stroke, I’m working on increased mobility and improving their general well-being, but it’s not “physical therapy.” It’s very holistic. When I’m working with a child with autism, I’m seeing inherent divinity in the child as she is already. I’m being deeply present with the family as they are. And then I’m working within the family system to support change.

Your bio mentions the idea of “healing the self as a means for healing others and our communities.” What do you mean by this? Is it just about taking care of ourselves so that we can care for others?

Taking care of yourself is really important, especially if you care for others. But the danger is in thinking that just by doing things to care for ourselves we’re actually contributing to some kind of greater social change.

There also has to be action. For example: I’ve been involved in a lot of conversations around race and privilege, as everyone is right now. I can often see a difference between people who have done deep inner work—their ability to contribute to those conversations in a meaningful way and elevate the conversation through their work—and other people, who are very passionate about what they’re saying but not very skilled at participating constructively in situations that are challenging.

I’m talking about making radical internal shifts. If we don’t acknowledge our implicit racism, then we’re never going to be a part of a solution, because we’re too busy saying “not me.” If instead I create a new understanding of myself, and realize of course I have implicit biases because I was raised in a country where that is the paradigm, then I can begin to create change.

So when I talk about changing yourself, it’s changing yourself so that you can bring that changed self to various organizations or activities. It’s both/and.

You’re offering a workshop at the conference on adjustments. What is your philosophy on that?

Molly on pilgrimage, bathing in the Ganges.

Molly on pilgrimage, bathing in the Ganges.

I use my hands a lot in teaching. I was brought up as an Ashtangi, so I assumed that’s what you do. I believe in the power of touch.

At the same time, I see too many adjustments in yoga classes that are basically micromanaging people. Students are trying to have their experience, and someone is coming along and judging the pose. Anatomically, the ideas that we are promoting often are not based in science. What people are doing is not necessarily going to be harmful to them. Even the idea that we all know what Triangle looks like … it looks different in different books, different philosophies … so we’re not really basing it on anything.

I love to teach teachers to put their hands on other people’s bodies with the sensibility of having a dialogue. When I am teaching, I’m in a conversation with someone, not just asking them to defer to what I tell them to do. I’m not looking at people and seeing “what’s wrong with you” so I can fix it. It’s not my job to make you different than you are.

This year’s conference theme is “a pilgrimage to the soul.” Can you talk about your experience with pilgrimage?

The one that comes to mind is when I made a pilgrimage to the Ganges river during Kumbh Mela [a mass Hindu pilgrimage to bathe in a sacred river]. Bathing myself in the river with all the other devotees was a powerful experience of humility, unself-consciousness, and transformation.


Pilgrimage in the Everyday: An Interview with Janet Stone

by Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

My plan to talk with Featured Speaker Janet Stone was initially disrupted by a call from the nurse at my daughter’s school, while Janet dealt with a few last-minute delays of her own. But in the end, these small challenges provided the perfect jumping-off point for a conversation about the intersections of yoga and everyday life.

Your Strong Mom yoga practice is featured in this month’s Yoga Journal. Can you talk about this practice and its inspiration?

yj_cover_featurebutton-300x287The inspiration really began with my own experience. When you have a baby, there’s prenatal yoga and postnatal yoga, but then there’s this moment that happens after postnatal, when everyone is cooing about the baby and you’re left alone. Your belly is hanging over your pants, your boobs are dripping with milk, your friends are out doing what they’re doing, and you’re home, steeped in the vital life care of these creatures.

I wanted to create a place where people could come together, feel seen, and honor this transition. Where they could truly embrace where they are in life. When you’re a parent of young children, you’re no longer going to have 3-hour practices, you’re not going out at night like you used to … so this is an opportunity to build a community of people who are in a similar place.

Strong Mom is an opportunity to be with people at their most vulnerable, no matter when that is. I have people come who have 27-year-old kids and others who have 11-day-old kids. It doesn’t matter. They’re all looking for themselves in the midst of that title of “mother” (or “parent”).

It’s so easy to lose yourself in that word, that role.

Yes! And then there’s shame, resentment, feeling selfish … so many feelings are just not allowed. There are not a lot of places to talk about it. Through this practice, you literally get back in your body, reclaim it, but you also find ways to nourish yourself so that you can nurture others. It’s so much more than asana—it includes grounding practices, meditation, pranayama, and energetic alignment as a framework to find yourself in the midst of all the stuff that comes up in this role of mother.

I’m excited to see that you’re leading a workshop on chanting at the conference. Can you talk about what chanting has brought to your practice?

Janet and DJ Drez. Photo by Melina Meza.

Janet and DJ Drez. Photo by Melina Meza.

Chanting is a Bhakti practice. It’s an opportunity to set down the mind for a moment, and what comes forth is just infinite love. In churches, tribal traditions, all forms of spiritual cultures, they’ve always included some kind of coming together of voice, as a way of collectively drawing our attention away from our individual drama. What opens up in those moments is really potent.

My practice of chanting began 16 or 17 years ago. My teacher chanted “Om” in class in a way that went past my mind, it went past thought, and spoke to a place inside of me that had never been touched before.

Inspired by teachers Max Strom and Jai Uttal, I began incorporating simple chanting into my own classes. The response was really powerful. I teach in a room where as many as 150 people can attend—people from every environment (from Google and Facebook employees to full-time mothers)—and when we are chanting, everyone is the same.

I recently released an album of chants with DJ Drez that is super simple, uncomplicated, from the heart. It has been very well-received (shooting immediately to #1 on iTunes world).

You are offering two asana workshops at the conference: “Ganesha: From the Ground Up” and “Rasa Lilasana: Divine play.” Can you talk about the role of deities in your asana practice?

The deities are a big part of my own practice, and therefore my teaching.

It’s really tied in to the mantras, the chanting, and I also do a lot of teachings around the stories about the deities. These stories weren’t just meant for “back then”; they’re so relevant and relatable to the lives we live today. They reveal themselves again and again in our daily experience.

I love this quote on your website: “She aspires not to teach but to allow the practice to emanate from her.” What does this look like in practice, to aspire “not to teach”?

It begins with always remaining a student and continuing my own practice, at a myriad of levels. So when I am in front of people at an event, the teaching is informed by the present moment.

Normally if you think of teaching, it involves gathering up the self, the “I.” We offer a teaching through all of our various filters. But my approach is to step out of the way and offer whatever is within me, my own practice, to simply allow it to come forth.

This year’s conference theme is “a pilgrimage to the soul.” Can you talk about your personal experience of pilgrimage?


Photo by Jennifer McNiven.

My pilgrimage is long term, it has been since Day 1. It unfolds daily: in my mothering, in yearly trips to India, in all of my practices.

To me, the soul is found through everyday interactions—so the pilgrimage is how I treat the barista at the coffee shop, how I manage difficult situations, how I attend to my body in asana, and in the totality of my living, both when I’m in studentship in India, but also as I am carpooling or picking up a sick child.

Anything else you’d like conference-goers to know?

I have a special relationship to the Pacific Northwest. I have family history there, and I lived in Portland for many years … it’s a place deeply rooted in my heart. I’m so looking forward to being there with all of you!