Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Restorative Yoga on a Budget - Cat Not Included

Restorative yoga is a wonderful way to rest, recuperate, gently stretch tight areas of the body, and to let the "thinking brain" slow down while we dissolve into relaxation.  An important part of the relaxation response is to feel comfortable and safe.  The yoga industry has created many props and tools to aid in comfort, and I own most of them!  However, we needn't make our wallets uncomfortable in order to be comfortable during class.  Here are some of the props you might commonly find in a restorative yoga class, and how you can use available items from home or the gym to make yourself comfortable.  Special thanks to our cat, Oreo, for modeling some of the equipment.  Cat is not required for restorative practice.


One of the most common elements in class is a yoga mat.  These can range anywhere from $10 to over $100.  My first mat was a $20 mat that lasted for four years, so good mats can be found cheaply. If you don't have a mat, at the facility where I'm teaching restorative yoga, Boom Fitness Tanasbourne, you may use one of the yoga mats in the group-ex room or line up two of the shorter but thicker black mats.  Even if you have your own yoga mat, softening it with two black mats underneath might enhance your comfort level.

Mat-recycling tip - when a mat starts feeling "old" to you (for me, it's when enough of the top surface rubs off that I feel like my feet will slide), don't throw it out.  You can set it below your newer mat to add more cushion between your body and the floor.  You could also roll it up and secure it with rubber bands to make your own soft foam roller or bolster (see below).


A standard yoga block is 4 inches by 6 inches by 9 inches and is tucked under knees, hips, arms, and any other places that can't reach the ground while you're trying to relax.  Ideally, you will be fully supported by a block, a towel, a rolled-up mat, or the floor in every part of your body so you can relax.  Boom has standard yoga blocks, so you may use what's available at the gym.  If you want a softer, more shape-conforming block (especially for back bends), there are fancy rounded blocks called "Namasteggs," which are quite comfy.  Also, the purple block shown is twice the size of a regular block.  If you have difficulty sitting on the floor, this block might be useful to you.  Just keep in mind that extra blocks are an option, not a requirement, for class.


Many of the poses in restorative yoga are done on our backs, and some of the poses are even more effective if the head, shoulders, and chest are raised so that the arms can relax at a lower height than the torso.  The softest and most comfortable way to do this is on a yoga bolster (see the black cushion in the second photo below).  Think of a yoga bolster as a tightly stuffed sofa cushion a little shorter than a foam roller.  They are very comfortable to recline upon, but they're not commonly found in our homes or gyms.  Here are some alternatives.  Most gyms have foam rollers, and that's what we'll be using during my classes at Boom.  When you compare the feel of a foam roller to the feel of a bolster, the foam rollers can feel hard and unyielding, making it hard to get comfortable.  Fear not!  There's an easy way to make a hard foam roller soft - simply cushion it with a towel.  If that's still too high or feels too stiff for you, folding two towels longwise and stacking them will also aid in comfort.

Here's an example of how to set up for a very common reclining pose, reclined bound angle pose, with "typical" yoga equipment and with two towels.

The bolster set-up with 5 Namasteggs to raise it and to support under the thighs will get you higher up, and it will be very comfortable; it will also cost you a little over $100.  Stacking a few towels, even if you have to buy them, would be much, much cheaper (and there are already blocks at Boom).

So, you might think you need all of this to relax.

But really, you might just need this.

No cats were harmed in the writing of this blog post.  She simply follows me everywhere when I'm home, so I didn't shoo her out of the pictures when her front end was facing the camera.

Namaste, and much relaxation to you.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

What Fitness Format(s) Should You Teach? Ideas for making a decision

Introduction and credit where credit is due:

One of the questions I've seen arise on several fitness forums that I frequent is, "What format should I teach next?"  I'm writing this article for my more practical friends who want to take the courses that will be the most salient, relevant, joyous and profitable for them.

My main inspiration is from two sources.  The first source is Chalene Johnson, who gave two lectures at the IDEA World Fitness Convention in 2008 about how to be a rock star instructor.  The inspiration behind her words has lingered with me for years - develop a fitness mission that matters to you and seek a client demographic who matters to you - and has shaped many of my career decisions for the better.  The second source is Kristin Benton, whose blog article on choosing the right fitness format intrigued me enough that I felt compelled to write my own laundry list and credit hers!  Here is Kristin's Article on choosing a fitness format

Where to start?  What's out there?  

When I see people post, "What should I teach next?" on social media, the inevitable result is dozens of posts with the names of currently popular brand-name formats and many, many exclamation points, emoticons and hearts.  This is a helpful start because it gives us a bit of a pulse for what's out there, and which formats are marketing heavily.  That's a good thing.  When an instructor is passionate about a format, there's no reason they shouldn't shout it out to the world.  However, there are fabulous formats that aren't heavily marketed, either because they're new, they're small, they don't have a huge marketing budget, or their inventor isn't trying to go global.  Further, many instructors who have group-ex certifications design their own formats and don't market them at all.

This is why I love playing fitness detective - finding the hidden gems and then tweaking them to fit my own clients' goals. If you want to learn about what else is out there in the fitness community that's non-branded or quietly marketed, here are some ways to get information that's more in-depth or more relevant.  Instead of posting, "What format should I teach?" I post something more akin to...

  1. What are the 5 most successful formats at the club where you work?  If they're not brand name classes, please tell me a little bit about the formats.
  2. What are a couple of the formats you've seen that are the best for (insert your target demographic here).  If they're not brand name classes, please tell me a little about the format.
  3. Have you ever taught classes for (insert target demographic here)?  What kinds of things did you include to make them successful?
  4. If you've ever launched a new format at your club and kept it going successfully for more than a year, what kind of format is it, and did you design it yourself or is it a format I can get certified in?

That's too much work.  I'd rather teach a branded format.

That's cool.  Here are some things to consider when exploring possible brands.  There are huge differences in fee structures, license requirements, continuing education, and creative freedom, so it may behoove you to ask about these items up front.  A few of these items are from Kristin's list (linked above).

Questions about the format itself.  

How much does the training cost?

After the training, what additional costs are involved - monthly membership dues, annual re-licensing, music, equipment, etc.  Are those fees optional or required?

If there is an optional monthly club, membership, pro team etc., what are my rights to teach the format if I don't join, and can I successfully launch and teach the format if I don't join?

Is the format 100% pre-choreographed, partially choreographed, or does the instructor design their own workouts using the main principles of the format?

If the format is pre-choreographed, how much leeway is there to stray from their choroegraphy, i.e. are there options for differing levels of ability or modifications for injury?

Does the course offer CECs from major providers like ACE, AFAA, or ACSM?

Am I required to hold a group exercise certification in order to teach the format?  If so, does the format itself design workouts that are consistent with the theories, principles, and contraindications of that group exercise certification (my personal pet peeve)?

Is there an exam, video, or other quality control feature in order to teach the format?  What about after I've received my training - are there quality control standards for continuing instructors?

What kind of trainer support will I get from the company?

What kind of instructor - to - instructor network is available for me?  How active is it in general?  How active is it in my area?  Meet-ups, practice sessions, conferences, masterclasses....?

When I correspond with the company, how responsive are they? Are they eager to help?

What, if any, costs are associated with cancelling my membership?

What marketing support is provided for the format?

Will I be encouraged to sell any products that parallel the format?  Does this opportunity interest me?

Questions about myself and my area.

Is this a format that I'm personally passionate about and feel like I would enjoy teaching?

Will my current clients be interested in this, or is this a format where I will need to expand my clientele in order to succeed?  If this is new territory for me and I need to attract a different type of client, am I willing and excited to do this?

Am I already good at this?  Am I willing to put the time into being good at this?  What skills / talents / attributes do I not yet have that will make me sellable in this format?

Do the company's ethics match mine?

Do I prefer to be the first to market, blazing a trail with a new format, or would I rather launch something that's tried and true?

Brand recognition - do people know about this format in my area?  And if so, what's the format's reputation in my area?  Is it consistent with my own reputation?

Market saturation - popular enough to be able to get a job and get subs, but not over-saturated.

How much prep time will it take me to prepare for my first class, and how much prep time will be involved in future classes?

Do I know any of the instructors in the area?  Would I want to network or collaborate with them?

What does my gut say?

Friday, April 03, 2015

Quarantining Bad Attitude in Class

This blog entry is for my fellow fitness instructors and trainers, on the power of positivity and its ability to continue upbeat energy in class.

We are all so different, and our member needs are so different, thus it's impossible that every member who takes our class will like us.  The more classes we teach, the more probable it becomes that someone will display a bad attitude during class or walk out.

I've given some time between the event this post, and will leave details as minimal as possible, so as to not identify or offend any individuals.

Some time ago, as I was just about to start a weight training circuit class, two new members entered.  As normal, I went over to introduce myself, explain the class, and ask if they had any injuries.  Person #1 was smiling.  Person #2 was frowning.  She was upset before ever entering my class, so I knew that deep down whatever was going on with her wasn't about me, but I took it upon myself to try and help her have a good class experience.

During warm-up, I chat with all of my attendees and see how they're doing.  It's a small class, about 16 people, so I can make a brief connection with each person, check in on injuries, progress, etc.  I found out that these two were new to the gym and that one of them had taken Zumba (another class I teach and love).  Aha!  An opportunity to connect with person #2, maybe helping her to warm up to me but if not to give her some customer service by letting her know about our fantastic Zumba program.  So I started chatting her up, asking her who she's taken from at our club.  She stopped walking, looked me in the eye and said, "Look, I'm going to be honest with you. I really just wanted to come to the spin class but we got the wrong time."

Well, alrighty then!  No matter what I did, she was not going to like me.  At least I gave her points for honesty.

What I wanted to say was, "The door is over there."  

What I actually said was, "Well, I'm sorry that my class wasn't your first choice, and I hope you enjoy the workout."

I've had people walk out of my class before.  I've had people glare at me before.  I won't detail each behavior, I'll just say that this was one of the rudest attendees I can remember in 24 years and over 11,000 classes taught. But there were 15 other people, most of them long-time regulars, so I remained my energetic, positive, goofy, professional self for the entire 30 minutes she was there, although the energy drain on me was huge.  (separate blog post, yes, I believe there is an overlap between goofy and professional and that my teaching style falls within it)

The last half hour of class went smoothy and it was a good class.  A few times, I examined the group that had formerly included "Ms. Grumpy," expecting to see signs of relief on their part that her negativeness was gone.  Everyone continued just fine, not one peep, eye-roll, or sigh of relief.  They were all so attentive to their own workouts, they hadn't noticed her negativity, nor had they really noticed her departure. 

OK, so here's the moral.  A bad attitude doesn't have to spread, and by staying positive as instructors, we can keep it from spreading.  As hard as it was to be in the room with this person, her attitude didn't infect the rest of the class.  By continuing to teach just like normal, and ignoring the attitude, I quarantined her effect on the rest of class.  While she was in the room, I had been absolutely certain that this girl must be draining other participants' energy, at the very least the group of members who were in her circuit team, and they'd be just as glad as I was that she was gone.  Nothing.  No reaction.  They were fine with and without her.

Quarantining a bad attitude so the rest of my attendees can have a great class isn't a dreary part of my job; is part of my POWER and skill!

Here are some things to help foster this outcome.

1)  Non-competitive environment defined up front - when we teach our members to work on their own goals and results, they don't compare to others and will focus on themselves.  No matter what class I'm teaching, I mention in my introduction an appreciation for each one's uniqueness, abilities, and ask that they work at their own pace.  If it's a Zumba class, I say, "Dance your own dance."  If it's a weight training class, I say, "Run your own race, work as hard as you want, and compare only to yourself."  If it's a yoga class, I say, "This is a non-harming, non-competitive class were all are welcome."  The point is, each member is responsible for their own workout.  

2)  My own attitude shift from victim to powerhouse.  Honestly, there were several times when I wanted to ask this person to leave because she looked so unhappy in my class, and her half-hearted movements weren't doing her any good.  But she wasn't hurting herself or anyone else, so I spoke to her as often as I spoke to everyone else and kept the energy up.  I did not change my behavior for her, because everyone else was depending on me to be, well, me!

This represents a huge shift in my own attitude.  When I was a newer instructor and someone didn't like me, I let it get under my skin and would feel devastated when I heard criticism in or out of class.  My next step in developing a thick teaching skin was to let the negative bounce off me, or toss a funny but passive aggressive comment back at the offender to preserve my own ego.  The problem with bouncing attitude back is that there can be casualties; it can then draw the attention of others who weren't previously aware of it. Now I've let a drama of one infect others in my class.  Not any more. My new plan, continuing on with the quarantine analogy, is that I'm going to act like a white blood cell.  When bad attitude hits me, it will sizzle out like a match in a gallon of water.  pfft.  I won't take on the drama - I'm too powerful for that - and I will insulate the rest of my class so they can get the good class they deserve.

3)  The following mantra - "It's not about me.  It's not about me.  It's not about me."  This person was frowning before she ever entered my room.  Since I wasn't her favorite spin instructor, it didn't matter who I was.  It's hard, sometimes, when we're in the front of the room to remember that the expressions on members' faces aren't always because of us. That goes for the happy expressions as well as the sad expressions.  That's not to say that there aren't these amazing moments in class where we feel like we've got them all in the palm of our hands and they're hooting and hollering and we helped them get there.  That stuff happens, and I'm grateful for it.  But I also try to remember that sometimes people bring in baggage that they can't set down for an hour and I have to honor that, or at the very least not let it affect the others who are depending on me.

4)  Even when it is about me, it's really not about me.  Most of the time, a member's baggage is their own, and they bring it in with them.  But sometimes, it's our teaching personality and they actually don't like us.  I've heard that I'm too loud, I talk too much, I tell too many jokes, I whoop, I cue like an air traffic controller, I act like a know-it-all, etc.  My favorite criticism of all time is that I'm too short, as though I'm going to be able to fix that!

Those critiques are all based in truth.  I teach with a lot of energy and I send it outwards, sometimes with whoops, hollers, and the occasional floor drumroll.  I tell jokes, but the moment after I tell a joke, I might make a very technical form correction and explain that by engaging their deep external rotators they're protecting their medial knee.  I choose to make big visual cues because I have young adults with special needs in my Monday morning classes and I love that they're there.  I wouldn't have it any other way.  My teaching personality is what it is.  I am who I am, and I'm not going to beg people to like me.  ...especially because people keep coming to my classes, year after year...  Those people are the ones to whom I cater, the long-term members who enjoy my class, and me, for who I am.    

Awesome classes to all!