Category Archives: Blog

Answers to the top 5 questions about how to choose a yoga teacher training program.

During my first year as a yoga studio owner, I received an e-mail from a woman who was considering taking a 2-week yoga teacher training program in Mexico. She asked me if, as a studio owner, I would hire somebody who had completed that training. I wrote back to commend her on having the common sense to do this basic research before jumping in, and told her the truth:  I would be unlikely to hire somebody who had done such a short training. For me, it is important that the teachers I hire have completed a program that is longer than a few weeks, and I look for teachers who have studied with people who I know and respect. At the time I had not yet launched my own teacher training program, Yoga Conservatory, so I recommended a local program that I admired. She ended up studying there, and a year later she reached back out to me. After she demonstrated  an impressive integration of her knowledge and training, I offered her a job at my studio!

With so many yoga teacher trainings on the market these days, and the level of investment of time, money and energy involved, it is worthwhile to put careful consideration into which program you attend. I have compiled these FAQ’s based on the many conversations I have had with potential teacher trainees over the years.

FAQ #1: What does it mean to be a “certified yoga teacher” vs. a “registered yoga teacher”?

It is important for potential yoga teacher trainees to understand that the yoga industry is unregulated in most states. What this means is that anybody could start calling themselves a yoga teacher at any time, and there are no legal restrictions around that. Even while there are no legal regulations, there are plenty of ethical and professional implications.

“Certified”: Any program can say that they are “certifying” you, whether or not the program meets common industry standards. For example, I could create a “coffee drinker certification”, have my graphic designer whip up a beautiful certificate, and award my husband with this honor any morning of the week. Yes, he could easily become a “certified coffee drinker”, and would only have to meet the standards of my made up program. This is not to say that all certifications are meaningless–there are many great training programs out there that offer certifications, but do not confuse that with a professional license, and remember that these certifications do not have to meet any industry or peer reviewed standards, so it is more important than ever to research the integrity of the teachers and programs that offer “certification”.

“Registered”: The most common industry standard for the minimum training somebody should receive to become a yoga teacher is set by the Yoga Alliance. There is some disagreement amongst yoga professionals as to whether or not it is important to become a registered teacher with the yoga alliance, and whether or not their standards are sufficient or well enforced. That being said, most potential yoga teaching opportunities will prefer or require that candidates are at least a 200-hr RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher) with the Yoga Alliance. Once you have been teaching yoga for a while, you may qualify to become an ERYT (Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher), and if you complete a 300-hr program at a qualifying Registered Yoga School you can become a 500-hr RYT or ERYT. To learn more about the Yoga Alliance and their standards, visit their website

FAQ #2: I have seen ads for online yoga teacher training programs that are a fraction of the cost of most live programs. Can an online program really make me a yoga teacher?

One important consideration is the distinction made in FAQ #1. Yoga Alliance standards require a minimum of 180 live contact hours, which means that all online yoga teacher training programs would not qualify for Yoga Alliance registration. They may still “certify” you, but whether that certification is sufficient depends entirely on your goals. In my opinion, the best yoga teacher training programs are ones that:

-offer you live, embodied instruction with qualified teachers

-build a strong sense of community with your fellow students

-give you plenty of hands on experience teaching to people in the room

None of these things can happen in an online training, but you could potentially learn some of the more cerebral aspects of yoga teacher training in an online program.

If you want to work in the yoga industry, online programs are unlikely to get you very far with most of the people who hire yoga teachers. More importantly, they are unlikely to equip you to master the craft of teaching yoga. Overall, I cannot recommend pursuing an online YTT unless you are supplementing it with a live training.

FAQ #3: What about these programs that can be done in 2 weeks in an exotic location? I like the idea of becoming a yoga teacher quickly.

Similar to FAQ #2, some of these fast and furious training programs may be skimping on the actual requirements to become a registered yoga teacher. Remember, you need 180 live contact hours, minimum. If the program is able to cram that many hours into a short period of time, it may qualify you. However,  it is my opinion as a yoga professional and somebody who frequently hires yoga teachers that these programs are not sufficient to prepare you for teaching yoga. They may be a good jumping off point, but most of the yoga teachers I know who are working professionally who have done one of these trainings have gone on to do secondary or supplementary trainings in order to build their career and viability. Here are some questions I would ask before signing up for an international training that is done in short periods of time:

-Is this training and/or teacher internationally recognized? Will the people who hire yoga teachers in the town where I live know and trust this brand?

-Will this training give me the time I need to practice and integrate what I am learning?

-Does this training qualify me to become a 200-hr Registered Yoga Teacher with the Yoga Alliance?

-Will this training allow me to build meaningful relationships with my teachers and fellow students?

FAQ #4: I have always wanted to do a yoga teacher training, but I don’t know if I want to become a yoga teacher. Is that a thing?

Yes! In fact, 80% of the people who attend yoga teacher training programs are doing it for personal development, or to supplement their skills in another profession. If you are looking for a program that emphasizes personal development, I suggest meeting with the program director to determine whether their YTT is a good fit. 

Side note: This is one of the areas that Yoga Conservatory specializes in. Our diverse group of graduates includes educators, therapists, social workers, life coaches, corporate professionals and more. The thing they all have in common is the desire to grow personally and to integrate the tools of yoga and mindfulness in the way they serve others. You can find out more about our program here.  

FAQ #5: Do I need to be able to perform specific poses (asanas) in order to do a yoga teacher training program?

This depends on the program you are looking at. Some programs are more focused on the physical aspects of yoga, and do require that students can accomplish specific poses to either enter or graduate from the program. Yoga Conservatory does not have this requirement. We welcome teacher trainees from a variety of ages and physical abilities. Our program puts more emphasis on the whole experience of yoga (philosophy, mindfulness, ethics, therapeutic and functional movement, the ability to modify and adapt yoga poses to the individual) than it does on the accomplishment of specific poses.  

If you have additional questions about how to choose a yoga teacher training program, request a 30-minute free consult with me here and we can chat.

If you are interested in finding out if Yoga Conservatory, the innovative 200-hr yoga teacher training at Yoga Refuge, is a good fit for you, please consider joining us at our next info session on June 8th

Ready to sign up? Apply now for the fall cohort of Yoga Conservatory! There are just 10 spots left, and our early bird deadline is July 1st, 2019.

Social courage comes from healing your voice. Here’s one place to start.

People who know me now might be surprised to learn that I was pathologically shy as a child. I didn’t speak up in class, I quit my piano lessons because I was too embarrassed to talk to the teacher, and I made my mom do all of the speaking for me in public places.  Discovering theater as a teenager changed my relationship to self-expression in a profound way.

When I entered grad school for theater in 2008, I thought I understood the concept of vocal training fairly well. I had been in choirs and musicals, I had practiced projecting and enunciating while delivering monologues, I had dabbled in dialects, I had a firm grasp of the nuts and bolts of using the voice as an artistic tool. I loved using my voice, especially in singing, especially when nobody was there to hear. Having been in performance for most of my life, I had collected a laundry list of stories and beliefs about my voice, mostly picked up from little snippets of feedback from others. I had a “good” voice. My voice sounded “too young”. I was a “great soprano” but probably shouldn’t try to be an “alto”. My voice faltered and trembled in front of others at times, but when I belted in the shower I could hear and feel my vocal power, and had the sense that anything was possible in there.

During my first week of graduate studies, I was introduced to the Roy Hart method of working with the voice, and my whole perspective was changed instantaneously. I learned about the voice as an energy, a source of power and clarity that could open up awareness in parts of the body and psyche that were otherwise difficult to reach. The approach was so simple and accessible that my graduate ensemble of 13 people all had a palpable catharsis in our first hour of working with it, and yet the method also had enough depth that I studied it with fascination for the next 2 years of daily practice. I came to understand my voice practice as both complimentary with, and at times equivalent to, my yoga practice. There were days when I left my voice class feeling as if I had just done 2 hours of yoga: my body light and clear, my energy humming with resilience and a sense of well-being, my mind totally present and engaged.

There were other days when my yoga practice helped me to explore how my voice lived in my body, and vice versa. I realized that what I was experiencing in this mind/body/voice work was equivalent to the mind/body/spirit work of yoga, but with a decidedly more expressive bent. It filled a need that I could not find being filled anywhere in mainstream society-the need to use the full range of our voice, and to understand how our voice is a vital part of our wholeness and well being. I became a “voice-positive” activist in a way, determined to contribute to a culture change until I no longer hear people say things like “I have a terrible voice”, or worse, “You have a terrible voice.” I resolved that if I ever had children, I would encourage and allow them to explore any sounds they wanted to. (You can ask my husband how that’s going now that we have two young boys.)

Over the last 5 years, I have been offering embodied voice workshops, based on my training in the Roy Hart voice method, in the non-actor community, specifically with yogis and yoga teacher trainees. The results have been inspiring and moving.

One of the participants in my last workshop wrote to me afterwards to thank me with this feedback:

“I have no idea how I sounded or looked. After the first note, I didn’t care. I was totally embodied and while I heard your notes and was faintly aware of eyes on me I was lost in something so life-giving and life-producing. The next day I ordered a coffee next door, and usually have to repeat myself because I am quiet and timid in things as simple as ordering coffee! And I found myself in a pronounced conversation with the barista. This work goes deeper than ordering coffee 😉 But it re-ordered my cells and my identity around what it means to just be heard and to think, “My voice is valuable no matter what.”

If you would like to open up your self-expressive superpowers, heal your relationship with your voice, learn more about the practices that can open up your throat Chakra, or just have a great time playing with the power of sound, please join me on Saturday, June 8th for my next Embodied Voice workshop

Plant Your Dreams! A springtime Yoga & Creativity Retreat

Plant Your Dreams: Yoga & Creativity Retreat

A weekend of nourishing yoga & creative practices, balancing inspiration and restoration.
With Kate Holly
At Heaven and Earth Retreat, Banks, OR
May 3rd-5th, 2019
$375-$495 depending on lodging choice (includes all retreat programming, meals, snacks and lodging for 2 nights/5 meals)
The return of spring can stir our passion, our inspiration and motivation. Ideas and desires may be blooming faster than the cherry blossoms. Yet, as any gardener will tell you, this is the time to ground into the embodied solidity of the earth, to hold your dreams as tenderly as a seed sprout and give them nourishment and roots.
This lovely weekend away will balance grounding, nourishing and embodied practices (yoga, meditation, hiking, restoration) with inspired activities (journaling, creative process, guided visualizations, deep community support).You will leave feeling both inspired and restored, with CLARITY about the specific steps you will take to support the growth of your current dreams into reality, whether you are dreaming of deepening your self-care routines, connecting to your creativity, building a business, or simply enjoying your life a bit more.

ONLY ONE SPOT LEFT: SAVE YOUR SPOT NOW! 

About the facilities:

Heaven and Earth retreats is located just 45 minutes from Portland, on 5 lush acres deep in the woods of Banks, Oregon.

In addition to the lodging spaces, retreat participants can enjoy full use of the facilities, including a 900 sq. foot yoga deck, a 900 sq. foot yoga barn (heated, with hardwood floors), a hot tub, fire pits, and a private meditation tent with a beautiful view. The property is located 3 miles from the start of the Banks Vernonia State Trail.

Meals: Traditionally prepared, intentionally crafted, organic whole food nutrient dense nourishment is provided throughout your entire stay- including all snacks in between meals. All food restrictions are accommodated.

Rates include 2 nights lodging, guided yoga & retreat activities, all meals and snacks:

Ladies Lounge: 3 single beds, one bunk bed (double on bottom/single on top) (Occupancy 5) $375

Upstairs Shared Loft (upstairs room, 2 single beds, occupancy 2) $395

Shared Sun Room (Double bed and single futon, occupancy 2)  (SOLD OUT)

Private Lotus Room (double bed, occupancy 1) (SOLD OUT)

Private Glamping Tent (one queen bed, privacy by the pond!) (SOLD OUT)

Private Alaska Room (1 queen bed, occupancy 1 or 2) (SOLD OUT)

SIGN UP NOW! 

RETREAT SCHEDULE: 

Friday, 5/3 

5-6pm Arrive and relax with happy hour appetizers

6:00pm Group dinner 

7:30-8:30pm Intention Setting Ceremony

8:30pm Optional Hot tub time & ukulele jams by the campfire

Saturday, 5/4 

8-9am BREAKFAST

9-10am Morning Brain Training: Meditation, Visualization and Journaling

10:30-12 Slow and Strong Yoga & Inspired Movement Session 

12-1 Lunchtime  

1-3pm Optional group hike/forest bathing or Free time

3-6pm Dreaming Session with art supplies, journaling and guided meditations

6-7:30pm Dinner 

7:30-8:30pm Restorative yoga with guided visualizations & sound bath 

8:30pm Optional hot tub time and ukulele jams by the campfire 

Sunday, 5/5 

8-9am Light Breakfast snacks

9-10am Morning Brain Training: Meditation, Visualization and Journaling

10-11:30am Slow & Strong Yoga Session 

11:30am BRUNCH

1pm Checkout and Closing Group Ceremony

2pm Leave

SIGN UP NOW! 

Private Lotus Room (one double bed) (SOLD OUT)

Sun Room: SOLD OUT

Ladies Lounge (sleeps up to 5, single beds)

Alaska Room (one queen bed for 1 or 2) (SOLD OUT)

Loft room for 2 (2 single beds)

Private glamping tent (heated, one queen bed): SOLD OUT

CHOOSE YOUR ROOM HERE

 

The Yogic secret to surviving winter.

When I was studying Ayurveda, there was one concept in particular that stuck with me, and has guided a lot of my intuition about my own health and self-care routines. The idea is a simple image: think of an inner flame that burns quietly and constantly, held close to the center of our bodies in our digestive area. This flame burns through our entire life, and represents our life force in a way. Our overall health can be measured by the quality of how this fire burns.

In Ayurveda, the work of self care involves balancing the 3 main energies, which are known as Kapha, Pitta and Vata. If we get too distracted (one aspect of Vata imbalance) its like too much wind on our fire: it gets smoky, flickering, and has trouble burning brightly or may spread our fire too thin. If we get too muddy (one aspect of Kapha imbalance) its like throwing dirt and water on a fire: we struggle to get enough inspiration and air, and our fire barely burns. If we get too aggressive (one aspect of Pitta imbalance) its like a fire that burns too hot, raging out of control, consuming everything too quickly.

Ayurveda observes these elemental qualities in everything that exists: our bodies, our minds, our food, the seasons, the times of day, the phases of life, etc.

Right now we are in “Vata season”, just coming up on the edge of “Kapha season”. Our healthy little flame is contending with an intense amount of fierce wind, combined with the increasing weight of Kapha’s stagnant mud. Keeping a fire lit can be overwhelming in this atmosphere!

Luckily, there is a concept in Eastern philosophy that points to the way to keep our fire burning, all winter long. It is sometimes called “Right Effort”, or in yoga it is also known as sthira and sukha: the balance of steadiness and ease. It sounds simple enough, but after 20 years of practicing yoga I can tell you that the mastery of yoga does not come from the accomplishment of a specific pose–it comes from learning to integrate the balance of steadiness and ease into all that we do. Our culture has a tendency to be both too hard on ourselves and too soft on ourselves at the same time. We go from piling on the excuses to why we can’t do something we want to do, to admonishing ourselves for not doing it. The mindset that is missing? Right effort.

“…the mastery of yoga does not come from the accomplishment of a specific pose–it comes from learning to integrate the balance of steadiness and ease into all that we do.”

Does this scene sound familiar?

I woke up this morning with the best intentions to go for a run. I put on my gear before dropping my kiddo at school so I would be ready to hit the streets as soon as I returned. Then I got back inside, and started to wonder if I really wanted to go out into that blustery, 38 degree, 12mph wind and scattered showers landscape. What if I just found a way to move my body in my cozy house instead? This is where I am reminded of the children’s book, If you give a mouse a cookie. The first excuse gives way to a mountain of follow up excuses. If I tell myself I will do yoga inside instead of run, then I’m going to need to sweep the floor. Then I’m going to need to download a new yoga video app to my roku. Then I’m going to forget my password. Then I’m going to hem and haw about whether I really want to substitute yoga for cardio, because I prefer a slow and mindful yoga practice. Then I’m going to finally start a class with one of my favorite online teachers, and then my internet is going to slow down and keep stopping the class. Then I’m going to realize that its getting late and I haven’t had breakfast yet and I have a lot of work to do.

Finally, after wasting half an hour on my trail of excuses and diversions, I decided to get outside after all. For about 2 minutes I wondered if I had made the right decision. The cold and wind burned my skin and my resistance had settled in. And then, as always occurs, my internal fire started heating me up and motivating me from the inside out. By half a mile out I was ready to go another mile. By the time I was running against the wind I was laughing at it. By the time I got home, I had done a full run and had to turn off the central heat because I was completely warm and comfortable in my own body. The obstacles, which seemed so huge before I left, evaporated in only a few minutes with the application of “right effort”, but caused me to waste over 30 minutes before I was willing to apply that effort.

I share this story because it is a perfect example of the challenges we face in this season. Vata season made me struggle with indecision and too many possibilities, while Kapha season beckoned me to lay on the couch under a cozy blanket and drink tea instead. When I found the right effort to apply to keeping my fire lit, I got in the flow and everything became easier. We often tell ourselves that we can’t do something because it will be too hard, take too long, cost too much or otherwise burden our resources, but often the real reason is because it will very slightly challenge our comfort zone. The truth is, the thing we are avoiding is often the most efficient decision we can make for our combined resources, that will use the least amount of effort overall. Since becoming a mindset coach, I witness stories every day of people spending way more time, energy and effort on their resistance than they would on the actions they are resisting.

Once we can “get out of our own way”, their is an incredible ease that can come after just a little bit of application of right effort.

I am currently enrolling for a program that I developed around this concept of Right Effort. Its called “The Year Long Yoga Habit”, and it blends group yoga classes with one-on-one coaching and accountability, using mindset shifts, strategy, and the wisdom of yoga to keep discovering the moving line of that balance point between ease and effort. One of the fundamental concepts of my approach (in life, and in this program) is to begin from a place of absolute and unconditional self-love, with no aggression whatsoever. All too often, we think that we need to get aggressive with ourselves in order to get momentum going and meet our goals. That aggression may motivate us for a little while, but inevitably we crash and burn under its brutal heat. Believe it or not, yoga and self-care should actually feel good and enticing-not punitive. As one of my clients brilliantly put it, “I want it to feel like putting on a cozy sweater, not a work uniform”. The way we do this is by building the habits that work for us, and continually checking those habits against the changes in our lives, the seasons, our growth goals, etc. so that we do not become complacent or committed to stagnant habits that no longer serve us.

My intention for those of you who are willing to join me for this pilgrimage, is to create a year of deep and long-lasting transformation, using slow-simmer baby steps, rather than huge sweeping dramatic gestures. There is a saying that we vastly overestimate what we can do in a day, but vastly underestimate what we can do in a year.

Join me to find out just how far you can go with just the right amount of effort this year!

Kate Holly, Yoga Refuge PDX

Kate Holly is a Yoga therapist, Life coach, and founder of Yoga Refuge and the teacher training program, Yoga Conservatory. Want to chat with her directly? Schedule a free consult

Are you coming to yoga?

I’d like to share a little story:  One of my early yoga teachers was a man named Bill Counter, who was also the original owner of Yoga Bhoga, and the first person to officially hire me as a yoga teacher. I was once like so many of you: a burgeoning yogi seeking a home studio, skipping from one introductory special to the next trying to stretch my yoga budget as far as it could go. One night during my 2-week trial, I went to Bill’s very popular Ashtanga class. It was packed to the gills, and I was clearly the last student to arrive. I looked around, and decided it would be easier for everybody if I just left, so I quietly crept out. I was almost to the elevator of the 3rd floor galleria space (Yoga Bhoga’s original home, for those of you who are not Old Portlanders), when I heard a voice. “Are you coming to yoga?” It was Bill’s benevolent, jokingly admonishing tone, offered with an eyebrow raised in amusement. I turned around, marched back in, squeaked out a place for my mat and had an excellent yoga practice.

That moment stuck with me. It was the moment my teacher noticed I wasn’t there, noticed I was finding an excuse not to practice, and lovingly intervened on my behalf. It was also a moment when I realized that it’s not always convenient to practice, but its still important.

I practiced with Bill for a couple of years very regularly, and then dropped off at some point, probably because I was busy with the rest of my life. When he left Portland, we organized a goodbye celebration for him, and I told him that I had been meaning to get back to his class, but I just hadn’t made it happen. He said in a knowing way “Well, that’s why people need to go to classes when they are happening.”

This comment also stayed with me all these years, as I myself went on to become a yoga professional. It’s a challenging industry, because we require a live audience in order to do our work, and live audiences are increasingly hard to find with so many people leading overworked, over-scheduled, overwhelmed lives. At the end of the day most people are turning to their electronic devices for connection and engagement, out of sheer exhaustion and the challenges of making the effort to gather together. Despite all of our best intentions, new actions need to form that reflect the priorities we actually hold. We must prioritize in-person human connection, self-care, experiencing the loving expertise of a live yoga teacher, coming together in community to learn and grow. These things are no less than the foundation of our humanity. 

Are you ready to meet your intentions with action? Try these 6 easy to follow tips to start building the yoga practice you dream of today:

  1. Respect that building a new habit is almost always more difficult than we think its going to be, and take the extra steps outlined in this list even if you don’t think you need them.
  2. Sign up for classes online, in advance, and put them in your calendar. Respect your calendar. Do what it says.
  3. Pick 1-3 classes that work for your schedule almost every week and commit to them as if you were in school on a semester system. When teachers see you in class regularly, they can get to know you and your practice better and offer you more individualized support. 
  4. Invite a friend to go to yoga with you so you will be accountable to somebody else.
  5. Sign up for a free 30-minute strategy session with me or a YR staff member so we can help you get clear on WHY you want to be doing yoga and how to get the most out of it.
  6. If you keep putting off group classes, consider starting with private yoga sessions, which will keep you more accountable and support you in your unique yoga journey.

Journal prompt for meeting your intentions with action: 

What do I want to get from my yoga practice? If I had that outcome, what would it do for me? What will it cost me if I don’t have that outcome? 

Should yoga be “comfortable”?

“Comfort” is getting an increasingly bad reputation these days, and yet is is an essential human need. So what is the deal with the “comfort zone” and yoga? 

Should yoga be “comfortable”?

The word “comfort” is a loaded one. We all need and deeply crave comfort from the moment we are born. We may associate comfort with the nurturance of a parent, the supportive words of a friend, or the relaxing sensation of sinking into a warm bath to soothe our aching muscles. We may also associate the word “comfort” with indulging in an excess of cookies, binge watching Netflix when we have a pressing deadline, or avoiding looking for a new job because we fear rejection. So, is the “comfort zone” really what holds us back from love, money, success, self-actualization and creative accomplishments? Or is it just the ideal setting on a thermostat?

The other day I saw a comment thread on a yoga studio owners group in which one person said that they wanted their students to feel comfortable in their yoga studio, and another person said that “yoga can never be completely comfortable”. Images like the one above (depicting “The Comfort Zone” as a place where no magic can happen”) seem to be popping up more and more on social media, indicating that comfort has a complicated reputation, at best. I find this debate worth unpacking.

When I first started studying yoga, it was definitely not what I would describe as “comfortable”. Physically, it was one of the more awkward and often downright uncomfortable experiences I had ever had, though at the end of the practice while lying in savasana (the final rest pose  in all yoga classes, or “yoga nap time” for those of you who are new to yoga) I did feel more comfortable in my body than ever before. Mentally and emotionally it was not comfortable to walk into a strange new room with people I didn’t know and try to follow along with a practice that was outside of my range of cultural experiences, but after the practice none of that seemed to matter at all, and my comfort with the studio quickly solidified after the initial discomfort. This is a classic example of the journey of comfort. It is both the initial obstacle and the end goal. We do need to challenge and overcome our need for comfort at times, but ultimately we need to return to comfort. We are not necessarily trying to reject our “comfort zone” with this process, but rather expand it.

So, should yoga be “comfortable”? Here is what I believe: The yoga studio should be a safe space for as many people as possible, and it should be as comfortable as possible, and at the same time, just entering the yoga studio will be uncomfortable for many people until they become more familiar with it. Yoga will always involve deep inquiry, which is an investigation into the unknown spaces within, and unknown spaces are often outside of the comfort zone. However, if we take a line from the great Pema Chodron and practice being “comfortable with uncertainty”, we can greatly expand our comfort zone, even to include the unknown spaces.

What is your relationship to comfort? Is it compulsive and self-admonishing? Do you treat yourself to comfort in a self-nurturing way? How do you know when you need to rest in easy comforts, and how do you know when you need to grow beyond your comfort zone?

Journal prompt for examining your comfort zone:

What do I know I’ve always wanted to do or try that I have held back on because of my discomfort? What am I afraid of? What is one small step I could take outside my comfort zone today that would prepare me for expanding into the life experiences I truly long for? 

Action Step (and shameless plug for my upcoming series):

One of my superpowers as a yoga teacher is bridging the gap between the comfort zone and the journey into a yoga practice, which is why, even after I took a hiatus from teaching group yoga classes last year, I still offer a seasonal “Yoga 101 for Absolute Beginners” Series. I have met too many people who had an initial encounter with yoga that left them feeling embarrassed, out of the know, ashamed or incapable, which is never how a yoga practice should leave you feeling. If you or somebody you know is thinking about trying yoga but is holding back for comfort zone reasons, please come to my spring series! I promise it will be welcoming, accessible, and we will move back into comfort quickly.

Kate Holly is a yoga therapist, life coach, theater artist and the founder of Yoga Refuge.

Overcoming the myth of the body object.

Today, I am 38 years old.

Yesterday, I took a yoga class with my teacher, Todd Jackson, a modern day wizard of bodywork who likes to offer such cues as “let the inner edge of your left lung relax forward”. The first time I took a class with him, about 10 years ago, he was instructing us through bridge pose using only the liver as a reference point. At the time, my rational mind thought he was nuts. “Flex my liver? As if…”, but even as I was finding the whole idea preposterous, my body was responding.

At this point, I have grown accustomed to relating to the different nuances of my body as if they have a life of their own, because, well…they do. These bodies are made up of literally trillions of individual cells, in each moment these cells are shifting; some dying, some being born. In just one of the eyeballs you are using to read this blog post, there are more atoms than there are stars in the known universe. So of course it makes sense that as we focus our awareness on the nuances of our personal ecosystem, these different individual components respond appreciatively.

It was profound to work with the lungs for an entire yoga class, particularly on the eve of my birthday. It brought up a visceral body memory of the vulnerability of lungs, being one of the last organs to completely develop in the womb. I felt tears of appreciation that my lungs were given the time and space to develop fully, that they were born into a world with relatively clean and breathable air, that I had the incredible good fortune to emerge with these phenomenal pieces of organic technology in full function. In Chinese medicine and other mythologies of the body, it is thought that grief lives in our lungs.  I could feel that in my practice too: a 38-year collection of sad moments and the grief of major life changes, a lifetime of bracing myself for constant change with my inhales and exhales, all accessible here in the powerful yet delicate space of the lungs.

Working with this kind of attention to specific, deep and subtle regions of the body is a simple concept, but I believe it is a revolutionary practice.

Recently, an opportunity has opened up for culture change. People are talking about how and why we have allowed the objectification, sexualization and exploitation of the bodies of women, and many people are ready for this to change.  I am hopeful that this vital conversation will create the impact that is needed. However, I feel doubtful that we will be able to uproot and transform rape culture until we learn how to stop objectifying bodies entirely. Bodies are not objects. They are not tidy shrink wrapped packages that you buy off the shelf with a warranty, you do not get to select the exact color and size you prefer, there are no refunds or returns, they cannot be shoved into the capitalist consumer paradigm, no matter how hard we try. Our bodies are living ecosystems, and we are the stewards of these lands. Other people’s bodies are living ecosystems, not products on Amazon that we have been invited to rate and review.

When yoga becomes just another way to dominate, control, sexualize or sell the body object, it loses its potent ability to heal individuals and cultures. But when yoga becomes a playground for engaging with our living ecosystems, for enjoying the organic and lush spaces within, for noticing and healing and repairing and resting, for inquiry, study and a deepening understanding of the microcosmic universe that we have the unique honor of living within, then yoga changes everything.

Here are just a few of the things I encourage in yoga culture to shift away from the myth of the body object:

-let go of judgement/hierarchy words when talking about your yoga practice: “right”, “wrong”, “good” and “bad” are some examples

-close your eyes more and learn to feel your yoga practice from the inside, rather than looking to see it on other people’s bodies

-stop using judgement words when talking about other people’s bodies

-Let go of judgement/hierarchy language when talking about the different tissues of your body. Muscle is not more important than fluid, fat is not worse than bone. These are all just vital parts of our living ecosystem.

-Practice noticing some of your internal systems: learn a new cool fact about one of your fluids, organs, or nerves, and then practice experiencing that part of your body in your next movement practice.

-Take excellent care of yourself: Eat good food, exercise, go to the doctor and dentist, get bodywork, learn to shift your negative self talk into positive self talk (and for more on that giant undertaking, consider scheduling a life coaching session)  

And if you would like to experience first hand some of the amazing inner body yoga that Todd Jackson teaches, consider nabbing one of the last spots in his February Immersion (it will sell out very soon!).

Intention Setting Part 1: Want your Resolutions to stick? Meet the 5 parts of yourself that you need to know better.

As the holiday season wraps up, many of us find ourselves ready for change and renewal. The New Year is an auspicious time to let go of habits that are no longer serving us, and commit more earnestly to living in a way that allows us to thrive. The cultural tradition of New Year’s Resolutions gets a mixed response: Some people (self-help nerds such as myself) get more jazzed for this intention-setting ritual than they do for Grandma’s rum cake at Christmas, while others are deeply skeptical of the whole charade, or have a bad taste in their mouths from years of not following through.  I hope that I can help some of you find inspiration and an approach to New Year’s Resolutions that will feel authentic,  integrated and bring you closer to how you want to feel.

In today’s post we will look at some common archetypes that emerge from within when we make attempts to grow or develop new healthy habits. In the next post we will look at some practical steps for intention setting.

Meet the star of today’s show…The Excuse Maker: It can be surprisingly difficult to notice when we are making excuses, because, well, excuses are just reasons. Why didn’t you go for a run today? It was cold out. Why didn’t you go to yoga? I did not have time. Why did you eat half a pie? It was delicious. These all sound like rational reasons for our behavior, so when and how do they turn into what we call “excuses?”

First of all, let’s begin by defining an excuse: An excuse is an unconscious lie or limiting belief that we tell ourselves in order to frame what is actually a personal choice as an inevitable circumstance that we have no control over.

The word “excuse” can sound like an accusation, so when the word comes up we often immediately start looking for proof that we are, in fact, hopeless victims to our circumstances. This is, of course, the problem with excuses. As soon as we make one, we are beholden to look for (or create) proof that we are helpless pawns in a game we have no control over. This further disempowers us and makes us believe in the inevitability of our circumstances, despite what we may want for ourselves.

In my opinion, most of our “reasons” are actually excuses if they are keeping us from doing the things we have identified as important, meaningful and essential to our own well being. It is natural that challenges and obstacles arise when we attempt to change a habit, improve our lives or take on a worthwhile new endeavor. But when we let the challenges stop us in our tracks, there are probably some deeper reasons at play that we haven’t been willing to admit to ourselves or others. And what happens when we get stopped by challenges and then use excuses instead of facing the real reasons why we have shut down? We unwittingly summon our next character, who none of us are particularly fond of…

The Drill Sergeant: We all have our own versions of internalized authoritarians. It is from this place that we admonish ourselves for every little mess up, we shame ourselves into becoming as small as possible, we tell ourselves that we are worthless failures when we don’t do the things we set out to do, and most of us would do just about anything to avoid feeling like failures.  So we do what any sensible person who wants to avoid encounters with drill sergeants would do: We don’t enlist. Maybe if I just avoid setting any New Year’s Resolutions at all, then my inner drill sergeant won’t be invited to the party. If I set the bar really low, how could I fail myself? However, most attempts to keep the Drill Sergeant out just make him bang on the door even louder. When the Drill Sergeant arrives, we need a visit from our next guest…

Self Compassion: Self Compassion is a crucial teaching of Yoga and Buddhism, and it is where we sow the seeds of our compassion for others. Self Compassion sees us suffer, falter, take a tumble, and it has no judgement-just loving presence. Some people accomplish hugely impressive things in life and keep a perfect GPA and eat kale for breakfast and run 10 miles every day, but they do these things because of the brutal demands of their inner drill sergeant. Self Compassion asks us to be motivated from a different place.

Self Compassion asks “How can I love myself better right now?” Self Compassion forgives you for all the excuses you have ever made, it sees how hard this is, it loves you anyway. Self Compassion doesn’t care if you eat half a pie, but after encountering it you are much less likely to want to eat half a pie.

I adore Self Compassion and hope everybody gets the chance to meet this part of themselves (one easy way to do this is a Loving Kindness Meditation, many examples of which can be found in Contemplative teachings), but do be aware that Self Compassion has a sneaky, look-alike cousin who often crashes the party…

The Coddler (aka “Self Indulgence”). I can’t tell you how many times I have put myself through the above cycle of internal visitors, only to conclude that I give myself full permission to go back to (insert self-destructive behavior or habit here). “I have been so hard on myself for putting on some extra weight, I really should be compassionate towards myself and resume my nightly ritual of tv and ice cream. Who even cares about extra weight anyway? That is just some bullshit conditioning I received from my materialistic, misogynistic, patriarchal culture. I feel fine-why do I even need to change?” and the Coddler and the Excuse Maker go on a drinking binge together, egging each other on for the rest of the party and sloppily proclaiming to each other: “You’re my best friend!” Like all good parties that are getting out of hand, there is an inevitable reckoning, and this is where we get to decide who we want to reckon with. For some of us, this may be where the Drill Sergeant takes over, but there is another guest who I strongly recommend intervenes  at this point…

Self-Respect (aka “The gentle but firm Parent”). Ever since my oldest son was in preschool, we have been dabbling in Montessori education. The thing that baffled me when I first encountered the Montessori classroom was that they were able to get such young children to behave in such a civilized fashion. From the age of 2, they encouraged me to let my son drink out of open mouthed glasses instead of plastic sippy cups. I looked at them incredulously. My son was the kind of toddler that did not eat meals, he annihilated them. Everything was thrown, shoved, banged, squished, toppled and squirted. It was like living under the rule of an emotionally charged dictator with an arsenal of food products that could, at any time, fall out of favor for no reason. All of our energy was spent running around cleaning up his messes, begging him to eat, and trying to keep him from stabbing his own eye out with a fork gone wild. 

The Montessori way is similar to other early childhood education approaches that have surged in popularity for the current generation of parents of young kids, and there is one thing they all seem to have in common: respect.

Respect for the child does not mean coddling them, respect does not mean shouting or punishing them into submission. Respect is believing in and trusting the child’s innate ability to learn, to grow, to be challenged and survive it, to become a high-functioning member of society. Respect means preserving the safety and trust in the relationship at all times. Respect means creating boundaries for the child and holding those boundaries steady, without ever losing sight of the loving compassion that is the motivating force of it all. Respect does not settle for excuses, but it also does not berate you for making them.

When it comes to self-leadership, I like the image of evoking the part of me that already knows how to be a respectful parent. If my inner toddler is throwing a wild and out of control pity party, I can sit calmly with them, observe them, listen to what they are telling me, hug them while they feel the big feelings, and then gently remind them of the boundaries and what I know they are capable of. I can wait, patiently, for as long as it takes. Sometimes it takes an hour, sometimes it takes a day, sometimes it takes a year.

You may set a Resolution for yourself this New Year’s Day, and the resolution will trigger a cycle of challenges, excuses, resistance, self-judgement, self-admonishment, self-indulgence, and on and on, until you want to give up. Take a moment and check in: Who is running the show? Can you have enough respect for yourself to wait patiently, summon Self-Compassion, and begin again the next day? 

As you are getting ready to don your party hats and ring in the New Year, I encourage you to notice who you are inviting to the party with you. Set your intentions from a place of compassion and respect for yourself, and those resolutions may finally break through this year.

If you do want some one-on-one support and outside accountability for your goals, growth or transformation in 2018, I currently have 4 spots open in my life coaching and private yoga therapy practice for the new year, and I am offering one free 60-minute discovery session to the first 10 people who sign up.  Schedule a time by e-mailing kate@yogarefugepdx.com
Kate Holly is an Educator, Life Coach, Yoga therapist and the Director of Yoga Refuge. Find out more at www.yogarefugepdx.com. 

Find the deeper meaning of gratitude.

Gratitude is one of those words that has been used so much it almost seems to lose its meaning. We have probably all experienced the invitation to give thanks for what we have around a Thanksgiving feast, but enthusiasm for this activity can vary greatly (or is that just my inner eye-rolling teenager projecting her complaints?). I probably don’t need to tell you that research has revealed many profound health benefits of gratitude, but how do we access our deepest well of true thanks?

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1.  Contrast the experience you are having right now with a time in your life that you desperately longed for that experience. It could be something as simple as remembering a time you had a cold and felt miserable, and realizing you don’t have a cold today and you are breathing easy. Perhaps you find yourself in a better financial situation, a better home, a better relationship than at another time in your life. Perhaps you are wiser, have an easier time forgiving others, or have learned to accept yourself. I recently captured the above photo of a light bulb that had somehow survived a perilous voyage at sea without a single shard of glass shattering. Have there been times in your life that you survived a perilous journey, whether real or metaphorical? What did it feel like to return to abundance, shelter, warmth and belonging? Gratitude comes naturally in these moments of return.

2. Practice selfless service. When we reach out to help another, we realize that we are the recipients of many gifts that others would love to enjoy, and these gifts have come so easily to us that we don’t even recognize or appreciate them. Whether those be our natural talents, strengths and skills, or the physical or material pleasures that we enjoy, we all have something to offer someone else that is of profound value. The opposite of taking our gifts for granted is appreciating them–another natural wellspring of gratitude.

3. Practice “santosha”, or contentment. In yoga, santosha is one of the Niyamas, (positive duties or observances), and is a recommended practice for anyone who wants a healthier and happier life. There is a Chinese proverb which states, “People in the West are always getting ready to live.” Can you take this holiday as an opportunity to slow down, stop striving, let go of perfectionism and bask in each moment? Can you really live in each moment, rather than getting ready to live? If we live only for the moments in between the furious cooking prep and the mad rush to clean up, what are we left with? How do we enjoy and savor each moment, even doing the dishes?

4. Avoid “FOMO” at all costs. I first heard this phrase a few years ago when my best friend kindly suggested that I might suffer from FOMO. “What’s that?” I asked, wide-eyed. “Fear Of Missing Out”, she informed me. My heart sunk a bit as I realized how true it was.  I am an expert over-scheduler, always sneaking in one more thing, never quite satiated by any one experience. I am initially motivated by my enthusiasm for life, but I quickly spiral into a feeling that I am always in a hurry, that I can never settle into the enjoyment of the present moment. Yoga has helped me immensely–I never experience FOMO when I am connecting to the joy of being alive through my breath and movement. So I have started to notice: when do I experience FOMO? One of my primary triggers is social media, though really FOMO comes at us from all directions in an information saturated society. My friend, Yasmin, is a master of what he calls “gratitude inspired living”, and I love his suggestion. Instead of indulging in FOMO, become a MOFO (Manifestor of Fantastic Opportunities)!  These days, if I am scrolling Facebook and I feel that old familiar tinge of FOMO creeping in, I immediately put down my phone and look for an activity that will ground and connect me to the fabulous life I am already living in.

Looking for a way to do all of the above this Thanksgiving? Join me for a donation-based fundraiser yoga class on Thanksgiving morning. We will practice gratitude in community, while raising funds for Puerto Rico, to support hurricane recovery efforts.

Show the world you’ve got that fire…

I would like to take this moment to celebrate a win: I recently started running again, and I… am…killing it.

Lest you imagine that I am one of those naturally athletic marathoner types, please let me set the record straight. As a child, my least favorite day of each year was “mile run day”, where the gym teacher took a group of kids who had not been asked to do as much as a speed walk for the other 364 days of the year, got out their stopwatches and said: “Show us what you can do!”. Cruel. It’s no surprise that my daily practice of watching Little House on the Prairie reruns and eating Kraft mac n’ cheese did not prepare me for what I would endure in this run. Much worse than the physical torture of, you know, running, was the humiliation. I was always one of the last kids to finish, limping back into the classroom to hear snickers of “I heard it took somebody 13 minutes to finish!” In retrospect, I’m pretty impressed. I think it still takes me 13 minutes to run a mile some days. But the other 3rd graders weren’t having it, and I resigned myself to my place as a loser on all days except for spelling bee day, when my light could really shine.

I started running in earnest in my 20’s, because I really wanted to achieve the holy grail for all insecure young women in America: Thin-ness. Yes, I knew that my body was a big part of my social capital as a 20-something, and I was determined to make the most of it. I did enjoy some of my runs in those days, and I did get in shape, but when I look back I am struck with the amount of self-loathing and people-pleasing that was motivating it all, and how heavy it felt to try to run under that mental burden. I tried to keep running in my 30’s, but in the transition to having two babies, opening a business, and generally hustling to keep up with ALL THE THINGS, I was lucky if I got out once or twice a month, and I really had to drag myself. Last winter I tried getting a gym membership, and while I did run more frequently on the treadmill, I became drained by the negative and exploitative messages from the tv wall, the bad lighting, and the stale smell of socks.

About 4 weeks ago, I woke up one day and decided to go for a run. The next day, I decided to go for a run again. And the next day, I decided to go again! Instead of giving me a hard time for leaving him alone with two kids in the middle of our morning routine, my husband kept looking up in surprise and admiration: “You’re going running again? You’re a monster!” Not only have I been running almost every day, but the really strange thing is…I have been loving it. That is certainly the reason why I keep going. I am a very self-indulgent person and I don’t suffer chores well. If there is no delight in an activity, I will find every way to get it off my daily to do list. So I have been trying to understand why it is that I suddenly run loving so much, and I have also been thinking about how this relates to those who aspire to get into the yoga studio but keep dragging their feet on it.

The weird thing about the mysterious and invisible force that I simply call “Resistance”, which I have personally observed work its dark magic on hundreds, if not thousands of would-be yoga students over the years, is that it does not make logical sense. People will come in for their first yoga class in a while and leave with a blissed out smile, promising to return immediately, acknowledging that this was the very thing that was missing in their life, swearing to themselves and the world that they would, indeed, be making a habit of it. You can probably guess how this story turns out. The great majority do not return, and the more they don’t return the more they bury themselves in shame and guilt and “shoulds” over how they never returned, bury themselves in excuses for why they never returned, expend their energy upholding the unbreakable logic of their self-administered excuses, and then eventually give up completely because they are so tired of disappointing themselves.

As a yoga studio owner and teacher, of course it is part of my work to encourage people to commit to self-care in the form of yoga, but more than anything I feel like doing back flips when I see people showing up for themselves in any kind of loving way, and this can take many forms. Here are my 6 tips on building a healthy inner fire of motivation for whatever your personal self-care goals are. You DO NOT have to become a runner or a yogi to implement these. Everyone has their personal journey in falling in love with the self, but perhaps the things I have learned from my revived running practice will be relevant to you:

  1. Positive self-talk and visualization:

    The biggest thing that has changed from my 20’s to my 30’s is my mindset and motivation. I no longer run because I am inadequate without it, because I’m punishing myself over an indulgent meal, because I think I can be perfect, or because I need to get a rock solid bod to impress anybody. I now consciously watch my thoughts while I am running, and I infuse myself with encouraging mantras and visions. I picture myself living my life courageous and unafraid, strong and proud, totally on fire. I start to feel the Yoga (or “union”) between my mind and body synching up, as the empowered mind and the empowered body work in tandem, and it feels awesome.

  2. Engage the senses.

    I have realized that I can’t do the gym anymore, because the aesthetics are demoralizing to me. But when I run outside under the swirling autumn colors while listening to my meticulously crafted playlist of self-empowerment pop rock anthems, I am engaging the pleasure centers of my brain, connecting to nature, tapping into my creative flow, and getting inspired with each step I take. Whether you are looking for a yoga studio or developing a new workout routine, consider the impact on your senses. It should be pleasurable, not miserable to take care of yourself. Do the sights, sounds and smells lift you up or suffocate you?

  3. Don’t have the time? Make the time.

    Look, our conversation about time is big enough that it deserves its own post, but for now let’s just get clear on a simple fact: What you spend your time doing reflects what you prioritize. That is actually how simple it is. Yes, we all have reasons why we are too busy, why we don’t have enough time for all the things we want to do, we all have to make hard choices. But when you go through 24 hours each day and spend zero of them taking awesome care of your body and mind, we have a priorities problem, not a time problem. Set a clear goal, keep track of it, and put it in your calendar as an unbreakable promise. Notice the habits or lifestyle choices that are getting in the way of your goal, and adjust accordingly. In my case, I have had to be more conscious of not booking appointments first thing in the morning, because this will not leave me time for my run. I am drinking less coffee so I can get to bed earlier and feel more energized in the mornings. Whatever your barriers, it’s a process to uncover them, but it’s totally doable.

  4. Have an attitude of gratitude (or, if you prefer to live in the shadow side, consider your mortality).

    As I get older, one thing becomes perfectly clear to me: Not only will I die one day, but in between now and then my body will experience all kinds of smaller deaths. A root canal here, a torn ligament there, a hamstring injury, and pretty soon you start to realize that every part of these beautiful shells we came here in is temporary, and we are entitled to none of it. Its an incredible privilege and gift to have this beating heart, these healthy lungs, these fluid muscles and bones. I won’t have them forever. Every time I run I am aware that this is experience is coming to me as a limited time offer, so now is the time to appreciate what my body can do. And when I can’t run anymore I hope to be walking, and when I can’t walk anymore I hope to be speed-walkering, and if the day comes that I am wheelchair bound I hope to be out there on the track, free-wheeling in style.  It’s possible that by treating my body with diligent care, I will prolong my capacity to be healthy and live a high quality of life, but of course it’s also possible that I could die tomorrow. Either way, I want my self-care to be a celebration of the life that is in me today.

  5. Get hooked.

    Whether you are trying to revive a cardio routine that would rather lie in a fetal position, or get back into a regular yoga practice, remember that your body’s built-in pharmacy of feel-good drugs will naturally kick in and help get you hooked if you give it time, so keep slogging through the hard parts, breaking down your resistance and trust that you will soon love doing this more than a Netflix binge with a gluten-free chocolate cake by your side (not that we have to choose).

  6. Get help.

    Work with a coach, mentor, teacher or accountability partner, or invest in some private yoga sessions. I have not been working with a running coach, but I have been working with life coaches all year, and you can bet it’s been rubbing off on me. All this “go after your purpose” business, breaking through my own limiting beliefs and BS excuses, and generally unleashing the awesomeness that has been in the waiting room of my life for way too long has got me bursting at the seams to MOVE, and I feel myself working it out on the track. I have been flexing the muscles of habit-change, positivity, motivation and inspiration in all the other areas of my life, and it’s becoming second nature for me in a pretty fantastic way. If you are feeling stuck in all areas of your life, chances are your body will feel stuck too. Invest in some help to get your flow back.

Next steps: If you have finished this whole blog post and you’re still not racing to the closet for your your yoga pants, roller skates or Wonder Woman costume, then let me offer you some more support options.

-I am now offering a unique blend of private yoga therapy and life coaching to my clients. Whatever goals you are needing a boost with, I can totes help you with this. Want to find out what this would be like? Schedule a free 30-minutes, on me.

-Yoga Refuge offers some fantastic memberships and custom packages designed to help you commit to yourself. The best places to start are signing up for our Welcome Special (seriously, anyone can commit for 14 days, right?), or signing up for a free 30-minute consult with one of our staff so we can help fit you with the right classes, teachers and class packages for your personal goals. E-mail us at info@yogarefugepdx.com to schedule your consult today!

-Finally, you can watch this sweet music video from one of my favorite songs on my run playlist to get yourself up and moving.  And yes, about 50% of the songs on my playlist are from movies I have watched with my kids. I will totally share it with you if you want. #noshame

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Kate Holly is a Teacher, Coach and Yoga therapist and the Director of Yoga Refuge. Say hi at kate@yogarefugepdx.com!