Q&A With Jennifer

Q) The news can be so intense! How do I not sink into heart break? How do I remain engaged?

I think that in the last few days and weeks, at some point or another, we’ve all asked ourselves this question.

First, anyone interested in practicing at our studio certainly should know that whatever your political, cultural, religious, or sexual affiliation, all humans are welcome. We are human beings first.

I’ve written before about this life being designed to not only break our hearts, but break our hearts open. Many of us have faced huge challenges. Some of us have had to care for loved ones who have been sick. Some have come back from grave illnesses. Some have fled war-torn countries. Incredibly resilient people practice among us.

There are guidelines at the heart of this yoga practice that inform how we navigate life: non-violence & compassion, truth spoken kindly, an interest in making a situation better than we found it, using our energy well, and being present to life and to (all) others to the very best of our ability. These values inform how we move through life.

What characterizes those that can live with their hearts broken open is the quality of resilience. Resilience is the result of using one’s energy well.

One reason our practice is so valuable is that it provides the space to get quiet and “rest the mind,” or as I’ve been saying lately, “drop the mind to the ground.” Through practice, we learn to let the busy and often anxious mind pause at a moment’s notice. In the practice of yoga, a distinction is drawn between two minds: the busy mind which can get us where we’re going when well directed, but also can run us amuck (especially during times of uncertainty or conflict), and the mind of wisdom and discernment.

When we come to our mat, or sit on our cushion, and “let the mind drop to the floor,” to return to the innate awareness we all share as a function of being human, we’re developing the ability for discernment. We lay down what we think, and what we know, and what we think we know, and we listen inside. We befriend silence. This is how we cultivate the discernment that knows best where to place our energies, that knows how we can be useful. Meditation teaches us how to be vehicles for our greater good.

One of our favorite teachers, Mingyur Rinpoche, advises that rather than a long period of time once a day to sit in meditation, stop to sit five times a day, two minutes a piece, so as to slowly change the chemistry of the brain (by now I don’t need to site all of the studies that point to the physical and emotional benefits of meditation – I think you know). Internal navigation is a capacity we all have available to us with some training. This is one essential reason to practice. So that when life offers us more than we think we can handle, we go inside and with “unbearable compassion” a great term by Ram Dass, meet whatever is there. When we find heart break or any emotion we just assume not feel, best to wrap our awareness around it like a mother for her child, like a hug. Internally embrace all that is there. This way, heartbreak has the chance to become the heart breaking open. And this is good news. Because we can use the compassion we’ve generated for ourselves towards others the world around us. It sounds like a strange practice, certainly one we didn’t learn in school. This is the love that February offers disguised as romantic love. What we’re learning how to do is BE LOVE, not as a function of what someone did or didn’t do for us, but because we can. This practice brings freedom and enables us to meet the moment as it is and meet people wherever they are.

It is good to know that we always have the mat and the cushion to return to, to go inside into the best friend of our own breath and silence, to rest and to listen.

Jennifer

 

We have no evidence
of not being able to handle
anything life brings us.
How do we know that?
We’ve handled
everything
so
far.
~ Cheri Huber

“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.

Jennifer

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.

What Have You Learned About Running A Yoga Business?

Take at least one business class. Be sure you can run the business the way you want within the letter of current state, local, and federal laws. You don’t have to like all laws, but if you can’t abide by them, owning a business will cause you a great deal of suffering.

Make a business plan. Then assume reality will be different than the plan.  Prepare for any and every possible scenario. Have all your agreements in writing before you open the business. Know that whatever you hope never happens probably will happen because that is often how life works.


Hire a good lawyer, be sure you’ve trademarked and copyrighted your business and programs. If you hate the idea of “owning” a trademark or copyright, the fact is that you work in the United States of America. Someone else may very well legally lay claim on the name of your business or program and it can be pulled out from under you.

Know what you are good at. If you are not good at accounting or book keeping, don’t do the books. 

If you are running a yoga business or a business where you want to make a difference to others, “people skills” are essential. 

You must be able to make hard decisions, decisions that others may not be able to understand and decisions that because of confidentiality, you can’t explain. Caring about being liked all the time will be your demise.

There are times you will have to go to battle to defend what you believe is right or the business itself. People in our line of work tend to not like confrontation. Do so intelligently and with the intention of doing no harm.

Develop a strong spiritual relationship with the God of your own Understanding. Meditate, Pray often. Maintain your practice and self care rituals. 

Do not act on your first emotional impulse ever. Develop a practice where you “sit with” any circumstance or feeling that comes up before speaking or taking action.

Get used to making mistakes every day. And someone said to me, “if you are the best in the room, you are in the wrong room.” Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Know the difference between co-workers, colleagues, students and friends. Have a few trusted friends who are not part of your business and with whom you can confide.

Things will not turn out the way you planned, people will not come through the way you thought. Learn to “go with the flow” and trust that your business, like life, will unfold as it should. Your business won’t ever run itself perfectly because you can’t control it into perfect submission, especially if it involves “moving parts,” as in, other people. Think of it more as a living, breathing creature. Your work is to lovingly attend to what it needs.

Too many business owners get into a habit of not paying themselves or not taking care of themselves in other ways, and end up suffering as a result. Martyrdom is not sustainable.

Keep a pulse on those you are serving. You may have one idea of what your business will be about, but the people who are interested in what you have to offer inform your direction. Listen to your students or clients.

Get comfortable with apologizing often. Ultimately, you alone are responsible for everything that happens in your business. Always seek mutual understanding whenever possible, and give up the need to be right.

Question your own conclusions often. Especially snap judgments. The question, “is this thought I just had true?” comes in especially handy.

Seek wise counsel. Listen to their ideas. But at the end of the day, you are the one who has to live with your decisions. Once you have weighed in, trust your gut. Act from your own center.

Live ethically. Use the Yamas and Niyamas or any tried and true ethical guidelines and refer to them often. The cleaner you are in your dealings with others, the more likely you are to attract people with integrity. 

Truth and trust are your best friends. Surround yourself with people you can trust. Do the work on the inside so that when you communicate the truth, you do so with love or at the very least, don’t hurt people with your words. Even the difficult people.

Keep excellent records. Be able to pull up any file you may need in a moment’s notice.

If you hire people, remember that eventually they will leave and “institutional memory” will be compromised. Who will be left is you. Be certain that anything significant is written down.

You will likely become very close with those you work with because you will be working all the time. Personal and professional lines can get blurred. The fact is that close relationships are a function of the working relationship. The mother ship enables close relationships. Take care of the mother ship. 

Manage your time well. There is always something to worry about. You can work yourself to near death every single day. Create working hours and stick to them. If you are able to live without your phone during hours of the day, all the power to you.

Keep inspiration around you. Web casts. recordings, apps, books, read and listen to people that inspire you to keep your head out of minutia. Walk in nature.

Do not be a “helicopter boss.” When you trust the people you hire, you empower them.

Address issues directly as they arise. Anything you ignore or are confused by will later return as a larger issue. 

If you are working with a group, treat issues that arise as policy issues not personal issues. What looks personal often is really a result of unclear or undeveloped policies. Kindly communicated clear boundaries make professional and personal life so much easier.

You are always surrounded by everything and everyone you need. Every answer will be right in front of you and your work is to get out of your own way. A consistent practice supports this ongoing realization.

Everyone and everything is a teacher.

Get a dog. When you come home after a day of things you couldn’t control or can’t tell anyone about, your dog will always love you. If you aren’t into dogs, keep love close. Love supports proper perspective. What an opportunity we have in this precious human life to contribute to shaping a world of our own making, to grow people around us.

xoxo Jennifer

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 

Erika Abrahamian – How has Yoga changed my life?

Erika Abrahamian – Tehran, Iran

Yoga shifted my life when I realized that most of what I perceived as reality was in fact a colorful fiction that my mind projected onto everything and everyone. Practice methodically strips away the falseness, so that I may be in dynamic relationship moment to moment. Through practice, I have come to appreciate and be fascinated by the multiple facets of my mind. Rather than indulging in the extreme manifestation of desire and aversion to certain states of mind, I know enough through practice to know that as Rilke said ‘no feeling is final’. Yoga asana teaches me continuously that embodiment is essential if one is to be in true, authentic relationship, and, Yoga happens in relationship. The practice has given me a context to explore my sharp edges and boundaries, shadows and blindspots, weaknesses of heart, perceived limitations, self-inflicted wounds, fabricated dramas that run on a loop, ancient and outdated anxieties, existential and mundane fears, so that I can be less reactive and more responsive to the present moment. Practice teaches me to be softer, vulnerable, and fiercely honest; it requires that I be courageous on a regular basis. It has gifted me with radiant teachers and has put me in relationship with sincere students who break my heart open often with their willingness to drop in and explore. It has reinforced the importance of resilience and independence all the while underscoring the importance of a vibrant and compassionate community of inherently interconnected practitioners. It has taught me to trust the process, to trust my center, and has taught me that what matters is showing up wholeheartedly. It continues to fine-tune my capacity to shift and change all the while settling deeper into a self that is authentic and not based on any preconceived notions of who I think I ought to be. Practice has opened doors I did not know existed, so that I may be of service to others.

Katie Hoover – How has Yoga changed my life?

Katie Hoover – Fairfax County, Virginia

When it became obvious to me that yoga had changed my life, I wrote a poem:

Dearest Peace.

Dearest Peace, I have seen you written as prayer,

as symbols graffiti’d on walls.  I have heard choirs

sing of you and I have chanted your name

in languages I do not otherwise understand.

Dearest Peace, I have been your spokesperson, held your sign,

called on you to visit homes, hearts, bellies, countries,

but today, looking back, I realized, neither did I truly believe you existed

nor did I believe, if you did exist, that I would be worthy to receive you.

 Dearest Peace, lately, at the strangest flickering moments,

like being caught in traffic, or walking in to clean the kitchen,

a sweet sensation seeps into my shoulder joints,

a bubbling up, a smoothing over, a spontaneous giggling giddiness,

it’s a warmth that comes from the inside of my own bones,

luxuriates for a moment and then slips away like one wave receding the shoreline.

I think this sensation is you.

I spent my young life trying to get away from myself, looking up at the clouds, wishing to be somewhere, someone or something else. Around the agitated age of ten, I ran everywhere I went.  I was afraid to waste time or miss something important.  When running from place to place became socially unacceptable, I danced for hours to get the terrible feelings out.

About 20 years ago, I found yoga, meditation and energy movement.  I began to settle into the space behind my eyes, move into the quiet refuge of my body and, with lots of practice, greet the shadows lurking there with curiosity and compassion.  Grounded in the body, connected to earth and open to uncertainty, yoga practice has helped me experience life with more clarity and less fear.  Maintaining a well-rounded practice gives me a steady connection to the divine pulse of life including gentle waves of peace.

Sina Siar – How Has Yoga Changed My Life?

“Yoga has saved my life. It has enabled me to learn about my body energetics and be able to operate fully as a human being. It has enabled me to connect to the Mother Earth energy and harness the Divine Kundalini Shakti. Around this time in 2012, I was disabled due to severe lower back pain and was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at 275 pounds. I remember the very exact moment when I told myself – THATS IT!!! I no longer want to live in his way. I prayed for a method and the universe answered. Practicing Kundalini, Ashtanga, and Body Temple Yoga has been so integral in my evolution as a human being, especially with eliminating physical pain. I am glad to have been able to experience this transformation at a studio like Breathe, Los Gatos, the ultimate human playground for growth, wisdom, and consciousness. As one of my beloved teachers said “There’s nothing which can be more precious in you than your own relationship with your own consciousness.” My intention is to share this knowledge with whoever is seeking it. Sat Nam & Namaste.”

Larry Munoz – How has Yoga changed my life?

Larry Munoz – San Jose, CA
Connection!  Early on my practice was mostly a physical thing, trying to find flexibility while positioning my body in ways I’d never experienced.  Then I found mindful breath and realized balance of ease, softness and strength would best serve not only the asanas but life in general.  Here began the opening of the gates to further exploration of the other Limbs.  Time on the mat, each experience, is different.  Some days, the body moves easily.  Other days, wild thoughts of finding a new knee or other unhappy body parts appear.  The emotions, the voice of the ego, the divine, the body, the soul, all have this way of teaching me things about myself i hadn’t learned any other way. This daily journey on our own personal rectangular playground, with all of its lessons, magically spills over to life and in the most beautiful way goes beyond connection with the true self, touching others all around us.  Each and every day begins with a clean slate.  Showing up daily, with whatever I have to give and riding the waves moment by moment with laughter or tears or somewhere in between.  Life.

Kirsten Johnson – How has Yoga changed my life?

Kirsten Johnson – Hamburg, Germany

I was an avid gymnast during my childhood and loved the mat gymnastic exercises. One day I fell from the uneven bar during the competitions and injured my back. Years of doctors, instructions to rest – which I did not follow – and excruciating back pain followed. Even sitting on a chair for more than 30 minutes was painful. At the age of 13, I discovered yoga and Pilates, and practicing these disciplines helped to soothe the pain tremendously.

During my college years, I met one of Joseph Pilates’ students who taught at the Hamburg Pilates institute, and who helped me through classical Pilates and Pilates-based exercises to alleviate my back pain once and for all. Pilates healed my back, improved my posture and made me a better dancer.