Coming home

As much as I enjoy being a professional traveler, I think I most love coming  home after a long trip. Lydia and I have learned to prepare our apartment prior to leaving, in anticipation of that comfort and joy – and also because the last thing we want to deal with when walking in the door is a mess. This means the refrigerator has been emptied of anything that might rot or sour, garbage cans are clear, laundry basket is ready for a new load, and surfaces cleared (as much as possible considering that Lydia is a working artist). I’ve been trying to teach my 17-year old about the joys of this kind of preparation, and it seems to finally be sinking it a bit.

Lydia painting in her studio (aka our living room)

Sharing a one-bedroom apartment with an artist and a full painting studio can make such organization challenging, but it’s worth it to return to a studio full of paintings left in various states of completion and maturity. It’s marvelous how quickly the studio resumes its joyful chaos as soon as Lydia starts up again. A lot of the paintings visible in the photo will be in her upcoming show in Truro, on Cape Cod.

After teaching annual workshops at a number of studios for the better part of a decade I also anticipate returning to these for the home-like atmosphere and the pleasure of relationships cultivated over the years. We got back from our highly successful Istanbul workshop on Monday afternoon and I managed to stay awake long enough to play basketball that evening. In spite of my body clock being set to 3AM, I managed to hit a couple of game winners but should have probably quit while I was ahead, as I was a liability in the last game. That night’s exhaustion helped me return to New York time as quickly as possible, which was good since I scheduled an airport pickup for my teenager plus 6 client sessions the next day.

Today we head back to Austin, TX to teach at YogaYoga Westgate for Rich Goldstein, Laura Forsyth and Lori Johnson. There will be meals at favorite – and new – restaurants, and catching up on kids/parents/romances and professional development. How lucky I am to get to *come home* to so many places and people!

Istanbul!

There’s such political turmoil in the world, and I admit I was a bit concerned about a trip to Istanbul, but now that we’ve arrived I’m thrilled. Later this week I’ll be teaching for Cihangir Yoga but for the next few days Lydia and I will be touring the city and enjoying this gorgeous view.

View of Topkapi Palace over the Bosphorus at dusk, shot from the Karaköy neighborhood

There are always challenges (see my Instagram of a mob waiting to go through John F. Kennedy Airport’s TSA last night) to the troubling state of our current government, but for now we’re loving this full moon rising over the Bosphorus.

Full moon rising over the Bosphorus

3 Questions for Three Dog Yoga

Recently I was invited to teach by Anna McLawhorn at her Three Dog Yoga studio in Santa Rosa, CA. Anna had signed up for my online course, Principles, a couple of years ago but had just recommitted to both her own and her studio’s education, declaring “2017 our year of learning.”

When I was first developing my online courses I had hoped to be able to to foster student/teacher relationships well beyond my physical sphere so hearing from Anna and experiencing her enthusiasm for ongoing learning was an inspiration. Often we invite workshop hosts to interview me prior to visiting their studios but this time we turned the tables. I was eager to hear about Anna’s process and path so I posed some questions which I’ve used as seeds for this post.

Q: How did you learn about my teaching?

Anna McLawhorn, founder and chief joy instigator of three dog yoga

Anna: I received an advance copy of the book “The Science of Yoga” (William J. Broad’s 2012 book). Upon reading it, I wanted a second opinion so started Googling and found your video “rants” (see them here: one, two , three, and four). I’d been a huge fan of the book Yoga Anatomy, so I was delighted that these led me to all your teaching videos. I signed up for the Monday email list and your online Principles course a bit later.

Leslie: I remember so clearly that storm of passionate debate William Broad’s article unleashed in the yoga/web/social media atmosphere 5 years ago, at the beginning of 2012.  Not only was I motivated to produce those video “rants” I went to the trouble of composing my Amazon review of his book in advance, so I could post it at 3:00am East Coast time, when the book officially went on sale!

Q: What made you reach out to bring me to your studio?

Anna: I’ve been exploring the concepts presented in Principles and in the various YouTube/email videos in classes, workshops and trainings for almost a year. Our students and teachers responded with enthusiasm and curiosity. In the wake of the 2016 election, there was a feeling of despair about where our country and the world at-large is heading. One thing that occurred to me is how powerful learning is for the human psyche. When we are learning, we are expanding. So, I declared 2017 our year of learning. Starting with anatomy only makes sense: the more one learns about the body, the more we understand ourselves…and each other, our connection and our uniqueness.

Leslie: I agree wholeheartedly. Early on we saw the potential of online learning for the yoga community, not as a replacement for direct human contact, but as a way of connecting with people to whom I would otherwise not have access.  To transform my virtual presence into an actual physical visit is really terrific.

Regarding the 2016 election, it’s clear that every generation shares a handful of singular, historic, transformative moments that are forever etched into our psyches. I can recall and re-tell every detail about where I was and what I was doing when the Kennedys and MLK were killed, when Apollo 11 landed on the moon, when the twin towers came down on 9/11 — and, on the night of 11/9 when the outcome of the 2016 election became clear.

That night, I recall thinking how many of my fellow yoga educators would be faced with rooms full of sleep-deprived, emotionally frazzled students seeking solace from teachers who were pretty much in the same boat. That’s when I posted to following to social media:

Our government does not own this country, or your life. Regardless of which gang is in power at any given moment, never forget that.

All yoga educators: stress reduction is now the world’s #1 growth industry. Let’s do what we do best – stay centered and offer safe havens.

That is also why, on that Wednesday afternoon’s class at The Breathing Project, I felt moved to put this slide up on the wall as my students entered the room.

Q: What has your experience with the online course been so far?

Anna: I’m addicted. It’s the only TV I watch. It’s usually hard for me to find 2 hours in the day for anything, but not for these sessions. I learn things I’ve always wondered about; I question and reorganize and open up dialogues about things I’d held as “fact”…this may sound weird, but I love the homework. At one point I was having trouble with a concept. I looked at the homework questions, then decided to sit with them/sleep on them. I woke up the next morning and everything had fallen into place. If I hadn’t needed to complete the homework, I may not have actually processed the lesson.

Leslie: That’s really good to hear. I always hated homework (to be honest, I mostly just hated school on principle), so asking my students to do homework didn’t come naturally to me. We’ve worked hard over the years to improve the quality of the homework questions, and to offer the best support possible to our online students.

Q: You described your community as “…wonderfully nerdy when it comes to all kinds of learning…” – this is very appealing to me, but can you provide an example?

Anna: Though we teach vinyasa yoga/power vinyasa, the classes that our students enjoy most are the ones where we get deep into a concept, where we explore different ways of approaching posture. They enjoy “stop action” sessions where we break down a pose in order to make it more effective in individual bodies. They ask good questions…and they LOVE it when the skeleton comes in for workshops!

Leslie: This sounds exactly like my kind of crowd! I can’t wait to meet you and everyone there. I’m certain we’ll have a lot of fun learning together.

So, if any of you reading can make it to Northern California over the weekend of March 11-12, please join us at Three Dog Yoga in Santa Rosa, CA.

First Workshops of 2017

After a brief teaching lull for the holidays, my 2017 schedule is getting off to a running start with four upcoming workshops — all at new locations — three of them driving distance from New York City.

First up, I’m teaching a one-day immersion at YogaSpace in Bethel, CT on Sunday, Jan. 29.  This event is already sold out, but there are two other local events coming up soon on Long Island and Westchester.

The weekend of Feb. 4 & 5 at Yoga Nanda in Long Beach, NY will cover some of my most popular topics, including an intro to breath-centered yoga and bandhas,  practice and theory of backbending and twisting poses, plus a deep dive into foot anatomy and healthy walking habits.

On Sunday, Feb. 19, I will lead a brand-new program designed specially for my good friend Patty Holmes at The Yoga Garden in White Plains, NY. Inspired by Patty’s role as clinic coordinator at The Breathing Project, I will teach a therapeutically oriented day of “Breath-Centered Asana and Vinyasa — Individualized Adaptation and Modification.”

We are also excited for our first visit to Louisville, KY on Feb. 11 & 12 at Bend and Zen Hot Yoga. A full weekend program features explorations of breath, spine, bones, muscles and alignment. We also have some schmooze time scheduled for Saturday evening’s wine and cheese meet-and-greet book signing.

So, come on out for one of these great events! I look forward to meeting you in person.

Yoga and the Respiratory System at Soul of Yoga

check out my workshop at Soul of YogaIn anticipation of my upcoming “Yoga and the Respiratory System” workshop at Soul of Yoga’s therapeutic training in Encinitas, CA, I’m posting a snippet of an article I’ve been working on to discourage people from feeling they must always get the deepest possible breath. This is a preview of one of the topics I’ll be covering in an information-packed two days of learning and exploration at Soul of Yoga. Other topics will include:

  • How breathing occurs on every level – from cells to systems and beyond
  • The basics of breath physiology
  • The structure and function of the diaphragm
  • The key structures involved in breathing
  • How breath coordinates with and supports movement
  • The physiology of meditative states
  • Western and yogic models of anatomy and physiology
  • The physical correlates of the koshas, chakras, nadis and kundalini

If you can get to Southern California (and who doesn’t want to spend time there in December!), come join me Friday and Saturday, December 9 & 10.


The working title of the article is “Breathing Myths vs Breathing Reality.” This excerpt addresses maximal oxygenation, an often misunderstood concept related to oxygen, carbon dioxide, hyperventilation, and metabolic loads.

To read many yoga and breathing books, one could get the impression that deep breathing and maximal oxygenation are the holy grails of health, well-being and enlightenment. The assumption is that the more deeply you breathe, the more oxygen you will get in, the more carbon dioxide you will get rid of and the healthier you’ll be. The facts are:

  1. not enough carbon dioxide is dangerous,
  2. deep (maximal) breathing is only occasionally appropriate, and
  3. too much oxygen is toxic.

Breathing activity should always be linked to your body’s metabolic needs. If your level of activity requires a larger than usual supply of oxygen, deeper or more frequent breathing is perfectly appropriate. That same level of respiratory activity, if applied to a resting state, would produce blood alkalosis (hyperventilation).

Your body has homeostatic mechanisms that prevent a toxic excess of oxygen from building up in the tissues. The idea that one can improve health by increasing O2 concentrations in the blood is physiologically incorrect, and shouldn’t be confused with the immense relief that accompanies a deeply satisfying breath. In fact, freeing the breath allows respiratory activity to more closely match body metabolism by releasing excessive, oxygen-hungry tension from the breathing musculature.

Your body is many times more sensitive to changes in blood levels of carbon dioxide than it is to oxygen. Carbon dioxide plays a critical role in helping hemoglobin transport oxygen from your blood to your body’s tissues. If you don’t have enough CO2 in your blood, the O2 gets held too tightly by the hemoglobin, and not enough oxygen will be released into your tissues. The idea that one can improve health by ridding oneself of excess CO2 is physiologically incorrect, and shouldn’t be confused with the simple act of exhaling more effectively (which is a prerequisite for filling your lungs).

This is why I have gotten out of the habit of using the phrase “take a deep breath” when teaching yoga. Instead, I try to say things like, “take a relaxed breath” or “let your body fill with breath.” These are ways I seek to help students trust that their body knows what it is doing, and the best breathing happens when we get out of its way.

My busy fall teaching schedule has gotten underway

Gorgeous Northeastern colors along the PalisadesI love the fall, love the temperatures in the Northeast, and the colors, but mostly I love that my teaching schedule always kicks into high gear.

On Wednesday October 12 I’ll start my final year teaching Anatomy of Breath-Centered Yoga: Appendicular Body Focus at my New York City studio, The Breathing Project – a bittersweet occasion because I love this teaching and love the students and community we’ve built, but I am also filled with excitement about the opportunities for change and growth associated with closing the studio next summer.

Right after Wednesday’s class I’ll be heading to the airport to fly to Yoga Center of Minneapolis where I’ll present a four-day immersion focusing on breath and re-imagining alignment. We had a magnificent time at this beautiful studio last year and we’re eager to return.

Then we return to Yoga on High in Columbus, OH, for a workshop focused on the therapeutic aspects of Yoga. We’ll be doing some of my favorite things: a Hands-on Assisting Lab during which I’ll share teaching techniques developed over the past three decades of working therapeutically with groups and individuals.  Also scheduled is Case Studies and Clinical Analysis, which follows the format in which I observed my teacher, T.K.V. Desikachar, work one-on-one with clients.

In early November I’ll be going to Philadelphia to teach for the first time at the Yoga Garden Narberth, then onto Chattanooga, TN for another first-time visit, teaching A Breath Centered Approach to Alignment in Asana for the Yoga Landing on Warehouse Row.

To finish out my year in December I’ll be returning to one of my favorite haunts, Soul of Yoga, in Encinitas, CA. Each year I’ve taught there has provided an engaged group of teacher trainees. This year we’ll explore Yoga and The Respiratory System, covering the energetic phenomenon of breathing and how it occurs on every level – from cells to anatomical systems and beyond.

If you’re near any of these locations, or willing to take a little trip, I’d love to meet you in person so make sure to introduce yourself!

“Who knows?…It may do something good.”

My upcoming weekend workshop at Yoga on High in Columbus, Ohio will focus on the healing potentials of Yoga. Whenever I teach this topic, I like to play a section of a 1996 documentary I helped produce in which my late teacher T.K.V. Desikachar talks about students who showed up at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram seeking help.  His simple words express very beautifully the essence of how yoga can help:

“The most important problem is suffering…but for some reason, the usual system of medical and health care is not able to understand the person who is suffering. They know a lot about the problem..but the relationship between this illness and the person is not so much emphasized. It’s not just illness, it’s what I call ‘the relationship to the illness’.  So, when the person goes to all these (medical) people, and still they are not better, they become desperate.

“We talk to these people. We say: ‘You have some resources which are not just medicine.  There’s something you have: you can still breathe…you can still talk…you  can sit and move. That means you still have the energy that can heal you. Let us direct and use this energy…who knows? It may do something good.’”

In my practice, this principle has evolved into a quick checklist for new students: “Are they breathing?  Are they able to focus their attention?  Can they move their body voluntarily?”  If the answers are even a little bit of yes, then they can practice yoga and reap immediate benefits. It is my contention that the most profound healing derived from yoga practice comes from the simplest things we teach, not the most complex.  The first, simplest thing that we ask people to do is also the most powerful: bringing the body and mind together through the medium of the breath.

I’ve provided a more extensive quote of Desikachar’s ideas about healing and the student-teacher relationship for Yoga on High’s blog, and the complete piece was a chapter in the book “Yoga Therapy and Integrative Medicine: Where Ancient Science Meets Modern Medicine” by Larry Payne Ph.D., Terra Gold M.A.LAc. and Eden Goldman D.C.

yoga-on-high-logoIf you’re available and can get to Yoga on High in Columbus, Ohio October 21-23, please come join me as we explore some of the therapeutic applications of yoga.

Breath-Centered Yoga Therapeutics: A Four Day Immersion in Southern California

YATMI’m excited about my upcoming return to Laguna Niguel’s beautiful You and the Mat studio for a four day immersion in my favorite topic: Breath-Centered Therapeutics. The 4- day series of workshops take place from May 20-23, and will feature a clinical observation day.

Sunday’s session will be Respiratory Yoga Therapeutics: Clinical Observation – offering a rare glimpse into what happens in a private therapeutic yoga session. Through observation, questions, discussion and exchange I will demonstrate the principles of how to customize yoga practices, read the body to identify patterns of holding and tension, offer hands-on assists from an anatomically-informed breath-centered perspective, and explore yoga philosophy with anatomical understanding of the human system.

Three guest clients will have a unique opportunity to work one-on-one with me on specific respiratory issues to build awareness of their particular pattern of holding tension and receive support and encouragement from a group of people interested in their wellness.

I’m inviting you to help us find great clinic guests.

Do you have a challenging client or student or know someone (even yourself!) who could use this kind of breathing help? The person need not be a yoga practitioner, but should be experiencing some kind of breathing disorder or challenge. The time commitment is 1-2 hours on Sunday May 22, 2016.

Please invite anyone you think is appropriate to complete a clinic guest intake form. The deadline for submission is Sunday May 15 at midnight. We will be emailing all who have submitted an application by Tuesday May 17 informing them whether they are on the schedule.

Help us get the word out!   Thanks.

On the Road for Return Visits – Austin and Fort Wayne

It’s always gratifying to return to studios and towns where I’ve had great experiences previously, and I’ve got two upcoming workshops on consecutive weekends that fit that bill.

YogaYogaFirst, from April 22-25, I’ll be heading for the sixth time to Austin, TX to teach for my good friends at Yoga Yoga.  It’s always a pleasure to teach in the big, beautiful room at their Westgate location (see below).

Austin2015

PranayogaThen, on the following weekend, April 30 – May 1, I’ll be returning to Fort Wayne, Indiana for a Yoga Anatomy Immersion at the Pranayoga Institute of Yoga and Holistic Health.  We’ve extended early bird pricing for this workshop through Monday, April 18 – sign up now to get the discount!

2015 – It’s been a helluva year…

This map shows where I traveled in 2015
Lower numbers in the chart are as of December 12, and don’t reflect the days or mileage for our return trip to New York on December 15. The 39 cities on the chart are inflated since they count every time we returned home to New York. The actual number of cities we visited is 26.

Tonight in Paris, after finishing my last day of travel teaching for 2015, Lydia and I exhaled deeply and decided to map all our teaching travel for the year just ending.  Seeing it all in one image fills me with many emotions.

First and foremost, I feel gratitude for the fact that I can do what I do. When I took my first asana class at the New York Sivananda Center 1978, I could not have imagined how profoundly my life would be transformed. I wasn’t alone.  Over the last four decades so many others have been touched by Yoga, the world has turned into a place where someone like me – who is profoundly unemployable in any other field – can travel the globe sharing these teachings with the sincere, dedicated groups of lifelong learners we call Yoga Educators.

So – in tribute to this amazing year of teaching, travel, learning, and connecting – I am going to give a shout out to all the folks who made it possible for me to spend 127 days of 2015 journeying more than 90,000 miles* to 26 cities, seven countries, and meet close to 5,000 students in my classes and workshops. It has truly been an honor and privilege to spend time with the amazing students they gathered in their diverse spaces around the world:

  • Los Angeles, California – Larry Payne and his YogaRx Therapy training at LMU
  • Winter Haven, Florida – Kerry Wilson at Inside Out Fitness
  • Austin, Texas – Laura Forsyth and Lori McDougall at Yoga Yoga
  • McCall, Idaho– Debra Murphy at Shanti Yoga Studio
  • Sydney, Melbourne, Freehold, Australia – Michael de Manincor and Lisa Grauaug of Yoga Institute of Australia
  • New York, New York – Renee LaRose, Alden Conant and the entire team at YJLive! Conferences
  • Washington, D.C. – Rexx Samuell and his team at Buddha B. Yoga Studio
  • Lambertville, New Jersey – Sue Elkind, Denise Orloff and Caroline Joan Peixoto at Dig Yoga
  • Monroe, New York – Nicole Lewitan at Ananda Ashram
  • Glasgow, Scotland – Mark Russell of Kridaka Yoga
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota – Sarah Jane Wroblewski at the Yoga Center of Minneapolis (special shout-out to her wife Kim Bartmann for making us so welcome at a number of her retaurants)
  • New York, New York – Everyone at the Breathing Project and all the amazing students who showed up for my “Transformation Through Touch” summer immersion
  • Honolulu, Hawaii – Rich Girolami of Silk Bridge
  • Madrid, Spain –  Blanca San Roman of Dhara Yoga
  • Vienna, Austria – Florian Reitlinger and Brigit Pöltl at the Yoga Zentrum Mödling
  • Asheville, North Carolina – Stephanie Keach and Julia Albertson, Asheville Yoga Center
  • Milano, Italy – Giulia Borioli of the Milano Yoga Festival, and my translator Vittoria Frua
  • Encinitas, California – Monique Lonner of Soul of Yoga
  • Cologne, Germany – Sonia Bach and her team at the yogaloft Cologne
  • Paris, France – Alia M’Hamdi Bolt of AliaOM Yoga

We’re almost finished nailing down an equally exciting teaching schedule for 2016.  As soon as dates are confirmed, they will appear on my Calendar Page. I will be starting off the year with my first-ever appearance at the San Francisco YJLive! event and would love to see you there!

Finally, Lydia and I would like to send a special thank you to my agent, Ava Taylor and her amazing team at YAMA Talent. Ava is an amazing partner, a great friend and a true trailblazer in the field of professional management for yoga talent and event production. She also showed us a great time in Cologne, Germany (photo evidence below).

The fabulous Ava Taylor showing us a good time in Cologne.

* Lower numbers in the chart are as of December 12, and don’t reflect the days or mileage for our return trip to New York on December 15. The 39 cities on the chart are inflated since they count every time we returned home to New York. The actual number of cities we visited is 26.