“Right Thought, Right Speech, and Right Action”

How did “Right Thought, Right Speech and Right Action,” the phrase that you say at the end of all of your classes, come about?


I heard the Kent Bond of Willow Glen Yoga say “Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action” in the late nineties when I was attending his classes very regularly. That phrase felt essential to my personal practice. Upon a little research, I learned that the words encompass three main ideas inherent in the very useful Buddhist Noble Eight Fold Path (which you can look up for further elaboration). I added the phrases below over a period of several years.

“Right Thought. May we be steady, present and joyful.”

Stirham, Sukham Asanam (YS 2.46). The posture must be steady and grounded in comfort, ease, or in some translations, joy. In order for those two to be possible, we must be present. Every moment of every day we’re in a posture, or shape, of some sort, whether we’re aware of it or not. So the yoga practice is about being present for this moment and for the next. It’s about being really here, and rooting ourselves to the present (since there is, in essence, very little to hold onto) as a means of establishing steadiness. Being present to the the ridiculous odds of being alive right now at this very moment is a simple means of experiencing joy.

“Right Speech. May our words improve upon the silence.”

They say that silence is golden. And if you’ve been on a silent retreat, you know this to be true. We’re often afraid of silence, but that space is precious to a yoga practitioner. Out of it arises everything. Thought is incessant. Thoughts so easily leads to words. Words are the pillars upon which actions are built. Before we know it, we’ve created a world largely of our own making. We know how easy it is to slip into talk that does more harm than good. I use this phrase to remind myself daily to use words well, because it’s so easy to forget. Words are energy. Restraint of opinion, gossip, judgement and small talk is a powerful expression of non-violence and a tenet of the practice.

“Right Action. May we be the change we wish to see.” 

On the way home from India in 2007, while in the airport in Delhi, there was a billboard with one of Gandhi’s most famous phrases, “Be the change you wish to see.” Right action means acting with kindness and compassion, telling the truth, being as non-violent as possible, and leaving every proverbial room cleaner than we found it. And each infinitesimal action counts. Being useful in whatever seemingly tiny way is method of meeting the sometimes overwhelming suffering of the world.

I’ve been saying these words at the end of each and every practice to remind myself daily ever since.  Thank you for asking.


Lorien Neargarder

I met Lorien Neargarder in 2009 as her much gentler yoga class followed a vinyasa I was teaching at Willow Glen Yoga. As we passed each other at the door, she was always so friendly and welcoming, and she quite obviously had a sense of humor. Her students would wait patiently in droves at the door. They loved her.

When it was time to open our studio, my business partner, Rob, and I had put cancer recovery at the center of all programming, because our studio was built upon that mission. We needed someone who would tirelessly and graciously give themselves to providing cancer support. When I spoke with Lorien, she was enthusiastic and dedicated right from the get-go (and I learned that she was oddly tied to our location in so much that she used to teach aerobics in the building that our studio is in now when it was a ladies-only gym in the late 70s).

This studio is built upon relationship. Everyone who works at BTY has an integral part in the greater workings. Whether they are a staff member, wellness professional, or teacher, they care deeply about their work and constantly and intelligently look at how they can even be even more effective. Lorien represents the best of us. Since 2011, Lorien Neargarder has served thousands of people with cancer at our studio, provided thousands of students classes in yin/restorative and pranayama, run three festivals to support cancer care through Cancer CAREpoint, and trained dozens of teachers to offer cancer support in order to make her important work more accessible to those who need it.

Lorien is moving to Florida with her family to begin a new adventure. Her last Yoga for Cancer Survivorship class will be June 27th (yes, chances are excellent that we’ll continue to see her, albeit in a more limited capacity, through workshops and trainings).

We are fortunate that the brilliant and kind Lindsey Kolb will step into Lorien’s big shoes and begin teaching Yoga for Cancer Survivorship beginning July 3.

On behalf of all of us, we thank you, Lorien, for being everything one could hope for in a teacher and a colleague.

Jennifer and everyone at Breathe Together.

A Letter to California Yoga Studio Owners, Yoga Teachers & Workshop Presenters

California yoga studio owners, yoga teachers and workshop presenters: 

 My hope in writing this is to educate yoga professionals at all levels in California.

 Have you heard that the California Employment Development Department is targeting yoga studios and yoga teachers trying to make the teacher the employee and the studio the teacher’s employer regardless of how many different studios you teach? Do you understand the financial and life changing impact this may cause?

 Historically, most independent yoga studios have operated under the private or independent contractor model with the premise that yoga teachers are running their own business, teach or run their workshop without any supervision, are compensated in a variety of negotiated ways, chose their own schedule, etc. The EDD does not care about these and other legal “independent” factors. The EDD wants studios to be employers and teachers of all varieties to be in an employment relationship.

 We built our studio business model on the private contractor legal foundation; we wanted yoga teachers to have the freedom to create and follow their own initiative. A few years ago the EDD’s actions became obvious to yoga studio owners. Breath Los Gatos was one of those studios. So we consulted a lawyer in case we would be audited. We have never dictated or supervised yoga teacher actions. We contract with professionals on various discussed and agreed terms and conditions. We believed we created a very good private contractor business model.

 The EDD has audited two studios in our area that we knew of; both lost their cases. Two years ago, the EDD sent a notice of “employment tax audit” to Breathe Los Gatos. 

 We wanted assistance, so we contacted Yoga Alliance. Since teachers at Breathe Los Gatos have paid thousands of dollars in dues, many for over a decade, we hoped that they were working to protect yoga studios and teachers independent status within our California government. The YA President returned our email saying YA offered an online course to determine if your studio should consider switching to the employer/employee model. Not much assistance. 

 So we contracted with an attorney specializing in independent contractor issues to present our case to the state. We and our attorney have analyzed our business model: Breathe Los Gatos contracts with teachers performing a variety of styles of yoga, tai chi and chi gong. The teachers contracting to work through Breathe Los Gatos create and manage their own businesses, are highly trained (at great expense), knowledgeable and experienced, most have been teaching close to ten years, and they teach through contracts with a variety of venues (corporate, private, other studios) throughout the Santa Clara, Santa Cruz County area, and the peninsula, and many teach workshops and at conferences in and outside of the United States. They teach patients in hospitals, the Veterans Administration, and work with prisoners in state prisons. Our model stresses contracts with highly trained professionals.  We purposely do not supervise or direct the manner and means they chose to teach. All these factors support independent contractor status. Also these factors allow us to offer the public a more complete expression of yoga and to a very wide demographic. From the beginning we have aimed to offer “yoga for everyone,” and this model makes that possible. 

 We know of no state wide professional organization addressing these issues. If you are interested in starting or joining such an organization, let us know. With enough positive response, maybe we could start something in that area.

 In the meantime, we’re writing from our own experience. Hopefully the above information and the below suggestions may save you and your studio(s) from our suffering and exasperation. 

 If you are a teacher bidding or contracting for scheduled times at a studio, you may want to consider:

·      Create a fictitious business name for your business. (Go on line and check with your local County Clerk. Find how simple this is.)

·      Read enough about your (any) business so you understand the basics. (Every business makes profit or loss. Keep records [revenue and business expenses] and have your tax preparer complete a Schedule C for your Federal 1040.)

·      Every scheduled class you accept creates a contract for you to perform your professional services timely during that short time. (Failure to perform is a breach of your contract and subjects you to damages you cause.)

·      You may perform your services at many different studios (including your own – privates or whatever) when you want.

·      Negotiate your compensation; even rent a studio’s room for your own students.

·      Keep track of the amount you earn from each class. Then prepare and send your business invoice to the studio.

·      Advertise by word of mouth, website, flyers, newsletters, etc.

·      Remember you are not an employee – do not act like one.

 If you own a studio and contract with yoga teachers as independent contractors, look at the above and treat those independent contractor businesses like a business/independent contractor. If you treat them like an employee, you will be their employer.

 If a studio faces an EDD employment tax audit: you need an attorney who knows that special law and the EDD; you will pay exorbitant legal fees, live under the stress of a long drawn out audit process. (And likely lose the audit according to the EDD anyway. They do not necessarily follow that law. There are appeals.) That whole audit process and with ultimate assessment could cost tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars. Our advice is do not pretend that this issue doesn’t affect you. You will eventually be audited. Talk to an attorney about either converting to the employer/employee model or strengthen the studio’s independent contractor relationship with its yoga teachers in case of an EDD employment tax audit. Whether or not you’ve known about this, we highly recommend not pretending this issue is just going to go away. Many studios will not survive once they are audited. The process, assessment and aftermath is expensive. 

 Special words for workshop presenters or teacher trainers: Take heed of the above. While you are the most likely yoga teachers to be found by the EDD as independent contractors, there are no guarantees. Ask the studio owner where you contract whether or not that studio is following the hiring employees model or contracting with independent contractors model. Be sure you are filing invoices in order to be paid. Be sure the independent contractor relationship between you and the studio is clear. 

 Generally speaking, evidence suggests the California EDD wants to convert yoga studio/teacher relationships to employer/employee regardless of what the studio/teacher may want and may think they have created. While I can understand their impetus, (i. e., easier to collect taxes) and we may be able to live with that, we do object to the way the EDD is implementing their change. Make the rules clear and allow the companies that follow the rules to maintain independent contractor status. Don’t penalize all yoga businesses, including those that do follow the rules.

 A new highly reputable study was published last week stating that yoga was an effective anti-depressant in relieving depression. Yoga and mindfulness based practices save all of us millions of dollars in taxpayer money. We have high hopes that those running the EDD and overseeing the EDD auditors get to know the industry and the benefits it bestows on the yoga public. Perhaps then EDD could lighten up by applying the law to yoga businesses that effectively benefit thousands of residents at relatively low cost and no tax dollars. California could actually decrease medical costs while benefiting thousands of resident yoga students and teachers by following the law.  

 Breathe Los Gatos is well within the EDD audit process and will receive word soon – assessment or no assessment. So it’s too late for us. But it’s not too late for you. If you know yoga teachers or studio owners, please send this to them. I’d love to save anyone from having to go through this experience. 

 Jennifer Prugh

Owner, Breathe Los Gatos 

Ticking Clocks and Other Blocks to Meditation

A student walked out of my restorative yoga class because the clock ticking in the room was irritating her and she couldn’t relax through it. This was a long time ago, before Breathe even opened, but I notice students experiencing the same difficulties with distracting sounds even now. I feel empathy, since I am also easily distracted by repetitive sounds.

At the time, I went to meditation teacher Sharon Allen and asked her what she recommends for this type of distraction. The first thing she asked me was if the distraction could be avoided; in other words, can we remove the ticking clock? (I smiled at that because I was expecting her to give me a lecture about how we need to learn to practice with the distraction.) After we determined that I couldn’t take down the clock and remove the distraction, she offered me a practice that I have found priceless, one that I have expanded on and that often helps me during meditation. Read more

When the Pose Doesn’t Fit (Part II)

Psychological Barriers to the Imaginary “Perfect” Pose
Memory plays such a big role in our yoga practice. Music, imagery, certain cues, touch and all the other sensations can help – or hinder us – as we practice. I once had a student whose foot fell asleep each time she practiced swan pose in my yin class (similar to a folded pigeon pose, held for 5 minutes). This reminded her of when she was a child and would have seizures, because each of her episodes was preceded by her feet falling asleep. She couldn’t tolerate the swan pose for more than a few seconds. She became afraid, anxious and uncomfortable, and the more she practiced, the worse it became. Together we worked with her body to find another way to practice this pose, because she wasn’t ready to address the trauma that the sensations brought from her past to the present. At times yoga teachers are treated like therapists, and some do have training, but since I don’t, I worked around the issue which made sense to me at the time. Read more

When the Pose Doesn’t Fit (Part I)

There are many reasons why a pose doesn’t work for someone, which means there are many ways for me to address it when someone tells me they can’t practice the pose that I’m offering that moment. Some students will set out on their yoga adventure with shining enthusiasm, but are met with difficulty stemming from their current situation and their conditioning. These barriers can be physical or psychological. Read more

Using the Breath as a Path to Healing

“How is your body feeling? Are you stressed? Are you reacting? Do you have anxiety at this moment? Notice your breath. Your breath will tell you every time.”

I begin every class inviting people to notice their breath. Many teachers do this as well, but because I work with students who have stress, anxiety, PTSD, and depression, among other things, the breath, and how it affects our emotional well being is one of the essential components that I always invite people come back to. I also want to give students an opportunity to notice how their body feels when they are completely at ease, which is what I attempt to establish in the beginning of class when we do grounding and breath work, so that they can pay attention to sensations that invoke a sense of peacefulness, to use as a sensation baseline, as this is something tangible that can be a take away when they leave class. Getting people to relax and ground themselves can take a while and there have been times where we start the class with a full 15 minutes of just breath work.

Read more

Yin and TRE as a remedy for Fascia Issues

The “buzz” around fascia has been picking up during the last several years. And while there has been a fascination with how fascia connects the entire body (which I have to admit, is quite fascinating), it may be interesting to point out some of the psychological effects of fascia particularly when it comes to stress and trauma.

Read more