Back In The USSA
The memory of listening to the Beatles as we flew over India reminded me of their song Back in the USSR as I returned home to my life in the USA. I had experienced a lifetime of postural, devotional, contemplative and meditative practices to process for many years. It has been over 14 years now and I still feel the grace of the subcontinent inspiring how I teach. I assisted in an Integral Yoga Hatha 1 teacher training in Yogaville that summer. It was a preparation for me to be the lead trainer in the first yoga teacher training offered in Erie. I had been asked by several students to be trained so I knew there was interest. I spoke to other trainers from different schools and one concern they shared was the fear of competition by “flooding the market” with more teachers. Another concern was the idea of teaching yoga can attract outliers and misfits. The hope is the screening process will reduce difficult trainees but I was told, “there’s always one” that can slip in. I would like to try and address these concerns.
Teaching yoga can be an attractive and even a glamorous occupation. It sounds cool. If we are born to teach yoga, the cool factor does not matter. If it is an occupational pursuit because nothing else has worked out or we don’t need the money but are just looking for something to do, teaching yoga can become problematic. I have discovered these folks tend to struggle with understanding the methodology of teaching and appreciating the philosophical, psychological and spiritual foundations of the practices.
To date, I have assisted in several trainings at other studios outside of Erie and led several 200 TT’s and one 300 TT and several mindfulness and meditation TT’s in Erie. I have mentored or trained over 80 people in the area. I am not concerned about competition. There are many messages in Yoga and many ways to deliver the message based on one’s interests, mind-set, depth of understanding and spiritual maturity. There are enough potential students available for every teacher. Over 36 million Americans practice yoga, and interest has quadrupled in the last five years. Ultimately, the student’s mindset will align with the messenger teacher’s mindset.
I tend to attract students who want to learn about themselves and grow in self-awareness. They value self-inquiry, meditation, pranayama and chanting as vehicles for awareness. They enjoy how the postures make their bodies feel better. They love how they experience levels of relaxation they never thought possible in restorative yoga and Yoga Nidra. I do not attract students who view postural yoga as another way to workout. That’s fine. There are plenty of places that offer exercise yoga. The hope in the traditional Yoga culture is that maybe the physical practices will open an interest in the other practices. Swami Satchidananda used to say, Hatha Yoga is a calling card for Raja Yoga.”
My “business model” is based on cooperation, collaboration, and creativity. It is inspired by support and transparency. A recent graduate said, “I want to thank Michael Plasha and recognize what happens at Plasha Yoga that is unique in the yoga and wellness industry. Michael provides inspiration and guidance that strengthens each of us as individuals but also as collaborators. So often you have teachers, mentors and those operating within a shared community who are in competition with one another and hold back from collaborating and teaching the secrets of the trade in fear of others growing in competency and becoming the competition, which can result in a loss for the community and limits action and change! My experiences at Plasha Yoga have been the exception to this rule… Michael’s encouragement for collaboration and inspiration of how each of us can take his lessons into the world and inspire change and grow more successful personally are commendable.” – Nadine
I know teachers in Erie and elsewhere who are respectful, friendly, supportive and transparent. I know teachers who are disrespectful, unfriendly, competitive and guarded. In my trainings, the former love the self-growth work but the latter resist it. Of course, the latter don’t show this usually during the trainings but after they get their certificates. Some of this can arise from a dogmatic adherence to my yoga is better than yours. It can also manifest as a deep insecurity in one’s own competency as a teacher. I have given workshops and assisted in trainings in several cities and generally, the Yoga community is divisive and competitive. Of course, this must strike you as it does me as ironic.
However, the irony of hostile and territorial yoga teachers is an unfortunate reality. We live in a competitive culture and this attitude seems to have infected the current Yoga scene. The wisdom tradition of Yoga explains that Yoga encourages harmony, oneness, and community. I always experienced this in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. I noticed a shift at the turn of the century when the fitness culture embraced yoga.
Sports and fitness are inherently competitive. They attract a competitive mindset. Competition has its place for promoting self and group athletic goals but Yoga has always been inherently non-competitive and non-athletic. The traditional model is the fit yogi is one who has mastered his mind. It has been about realizing what you have already attained internally as a human being instead of striving aggressively to attain an external goal. Now, there are postural yoga competitions.
I opened the first Yoga studio in Erie in 1996. Around 2004, a second one opened. They ran an ad campaign with the headline, “We are the non-purist yoga for everybody.” Friends and students said they might have put my face in a bullseye on the ad. The teachers came out of the fitness culture and were trained in a fitness style of postural yoga. Apparently, they equated traditional yoga with being a purist.
I prefer to promote yoga and myself through education. The person shopping for a yoga class might find it helpful to know about contraindications, different styles, credentials, benefits, intentions and the background qualifications of the teacher. One time a teacher I had trained in a rare moment of candor said, “I refer people to you if they want the spiritual yoga.” As if Yoga is not spiritual! But some teachers have stripped it of its spiritual, psychological and philosophical roots and have reduced it to a physical practice.
It is my hope and the hope of other “spiritual yoga teachers” that the physical practice will awaken the other dimensions of Yoga and the student will find the teacher that can connect with those deeper realities of being. These students have sustained my studio for almost 20 years. I have taught over 11,000 classes and I have been motivated and inspired by the endless content that arises from the timeless teachings of Classical Yoga. These teachings have sustained me. They are the source of whatever creativity I can manifest. Creativity taps into the abundance of the infinite resources of the Universe and attracts prosperity. Competition can arise from the fear of not having enough. It can be a disconnect from the Yamas: Aparigraha (non-greed and non-possessiveness) and Asteya (non-stealing) and the Niyamas: Santosha (contentment) and Ishvaripranidhana (surrender).
I have seen teachers and studios come and go. I have enjoyed the camaraderie of warm, open-hearted and supportive teachers. Graduates of my trainings either stay connected with me in meaningful ways or as soon as they have their certificates they choose to stay away and are not supportive. Other trainers have shared this is the norm. They get what they want and show no interest in collaboration.
I am told I have excellent name recognition in Erie. Folks say when they think Yoga, they think of me. When I opened my studio, there were a few other teachers. I worked hard at making it mainstream in secular settings like companies, gyms, schools and hospitals. My hope was that this would be good for all yoga teachers trying to teach somewhere. There are over 90 teachers in the Erie area now and growing. Some have reached out to me for support and I have been happy to offer tips or assess their teaching skills and be available for mentoring. Collaboration creates community.
Since India, in addition to teaching and training others, I have continued my love of continuing education by becoming certified in Thai Yoga Massage, Ayurveda and Yoga and Yoga for Kids. I have also attended numerous workshops and teacher’s conferences. I have presented at Yoga Alliance and Integral Yoga teacher’s conferences. I have led local and national retreats. I have taught in Spain, Mexico, India, Jamaica, Guatemala, Ethiopia and Canada. In some countries, a translator was needed! The Spanish group treated us to a vegetarian Paella on a Mediterranean beach after my class! I am truly blessed. I have met beautiful, soulful and inspiring teachers and students at these programs.
My wife, Allison, who majored in drug and alcohol addiction for her Social Work Master’s degree, and I have done a lot of work around trauma and addiction. At least four out of ten Americans have been the victim of trauma and trauma can lead to addictions. I aspire to teach in a trauma-sensitive way. I have also focused my yoga education on chronic diseases. My many years of practicing meditation and learning from meditation masters has informed how I teach meditation and mindfulness.
Today, I am comfortable identifying myself as a Yoga teacher and as an Ayurveda and Meditation Educator and an Addiction, Trauma and Chronic Disease Specialist. In addition to directing a studio, I am a Mindfulness and Stress Management Consultant and my clients include Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, and school districts. Please go to https://www.plashayoga.com/michael-plasha/qualifications/ to learn more.
During this time, Allison and I chose to adopt two children. My process was described in the last chapter. Saul, 13 was born in Guatemala and Tizita 7, was born in Ethiopia. We love to travel and being in their countries to bring them home was meaningful and delightful. I hope we can return when they are older. I have learned so much from them. They have truly been cosmic gifts. The karma of these children being with me is amazing! If I don’t do the math, I am okay. If I stay in the present moment, I enjoy the joy of who they are. They are helping me have a youthful mind.
Conscious parenting for me is the key to creating a society based on the Yamas. The Buddha’s (Buddha means to be awake) in my life at whatever age continue to nudge me in a compassionate and persistent way to waking up. My daughter reminds me to take a deep breath when I need to relax more. My son reminds me to be grounded in non-reactive self- awareness when he is on a roller coaster of hormone-driven emotions. My beloved wife Allison, is committed to holding my hand as we both aspire to waking up.
I will share further reflections in the final chapter.