Unnata Teacher Wisdom

Yoga articles and wisdom from Unnata Yoga course leaders and senior teachers.

How To Dance Through Life

I’m not even sure how I came to this position on my journey in life. Whether I was placed here due to the fallout from pandemic disruptions, or if I would have wound up arriving to this same spot, anyway. In any case, I am on the verge of moving to a different city, in a different state, one where I have no relatives, no friends, no job, and I am considering the fact that I will indeed be starting over – establishing a new home, a new community, an entirely new life.

The idea of this move is both exciting and terrifying at the same time. On the one hand, there is potential to better my situation in many ways – perhaps I’ll be able to find a living situation with more space. Perhaps I’ll be able to create a daily routine that doesn’t require moving at such a fast pace as what New York City demands. Perhaps I’ll be able to create an income that will stretch further in a smaller sized city.

But with every big unknown, there is potential for both pleasant and unpleasant surprises. And although I have eagerly jumped into adventures in the past full of youthful optimism, at the age of 53, I’ve lost those rose-colored glasses. And so I also worry. Will I be able to re-create enough work in a new place? Will I even like the new city and its citizens?

So often, I look to ancient yoga texts to find some perspective and words of wisdom. And although I don’t have a specific story, the symbol of Nataraja is a perfect representation for times when you feel like you are starting over.

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Photo by Nic Y-C on Unsplash

Do you move fluidly through life, inspired? Do you have to force yourself to move when you feel stuck? Or maybe you move so rapidly it’s difficult to hold yourself back!

Movement is essential to life. Even while standing still or sleeping, the body is in constant motion: the breath moves, blood moves, the brain sends and receives signals in connection with the organs, muscles and glands. It’s impossible not to move.

Move. It rhymes with groove. And sounds like smooth. When you find your groove, life is smooth, and it’s easier to move.

Motion. It rhymes with ocean. And potion. And lotion. The ocean is in constant motion. Potions and lotions help stuck or dry things return to fluid motion.

What is the difference between move and motion?

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To Speak Or Not To Speak, That Is The Yoga Teacher’s Question

What is my goal as a yoga teacher?

I’ve asked this question and answered it in different ways throughout my 15 year career teaching yoga. At this moment my answer is to HELP – to help students turn inward toward their true self, joining the path of yoga, and to share my practice and experience from my place on this path. 

In this blog post I would like to offer some thoughts that I’ve had about the role of speech in helping students walk their path. These thoughts have come out of my own recent experience of teaching yoga in English (which is not my native language) and joining a new yoga community in Seattle. I am very grateful to John, my friend and yoga buddy who inspired me and helped me to structure this post.

We all aspire as yoga teachers to speak and explain well. What does this mean in practice? Fundamentally, to speak and explain well you need a pleasant voice, broad vocabulary, clear enunciation, and knowledge of a language that is understandable to students. Equally important is the ability to speak competently of yoga and anatomy. All of these elements are rather obvious and many teachers possess these skills.

There are, however, speech elements that transform our teaching from valuable to priceless.
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Smoothly Add Beginners into a Mixed Level Class

There are so many different ways to set up and run aerial yoga classes. There’s no one perfect method for everyone. Today, I’ll dive into a question I often get asked by new teachers, “Should I have a separate class for beginners?”

Before diving in, I want to emphasize that in this article I’m writing about aerial yoga, specifically. In my studio, Aerial Fit of Charleston, SC, we typically take beginners in a mixed level class, but only for aerial yoga, not for aerial circus.

The reason why we need a separate class for beginners when we teach aerial circus, is because those classes are focused on learning how to use the aerial apparatus for fitness and artistic expression. We use more of a nuts and bolts approach where you learn the basics of the apparatus first, and then you build on those skills. That means beginners have a lot to learn! But, once they’ve learned the foundations, they’ll be quickly ready to build on them. Having a class focused on getting beginners up to speed, just makes sense for aerial circus.

The reason we feel comfortable putting beginners into a mixed level class for aerial yoga, is because in aerial yoga classes we’re focused on yoga, not aerial. Since yoga is a mind-body practice, and the hammock is simply a prop we use to enhance the postures, that means much of the focus of the class is on the internal experience. In aerial yoga, someone gets more advanced by going deeper inward, not by getting into fancier postures. So, I find it is possible to teach a beginner and a more experienced student at the same time, and to cue the more advanced student in a way that’s accessible to anyone ready to go deeper.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean it is easy to do! Mixing beginners with more experienced students presents many challenges, so let’s dive into them…

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The Ground Is Still There When You’re In the Air

Photo by Olena Sergienko on Unsplash

When you take yoga classes, frequently you hear the term, “grounding.” Which, is an instruction given anytime students are asked to press down into the ground and connect to the Earth.

The term may at first appear to be a simple direction to coordinate students’ movement and to help them lengthen their spines. But, yoga positions affect us in many ways beyond strengthening and stretching muscles, beyond creating beautiful sculptural shapes.

Any sort of physical grounding correlates with a “mental grounding” as well.


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New Series: Language of Metaphor

New video series alert! The Language of Metaphor

Definition: A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes an object or action in a way that isn’t literally true, but helps explain an idea or make a comparison. (Grammarly.com)

In this series of short videos, Michelle demonstrates how we can use the hammock and a little imagination to help students dive even deeper into images, and layers of meaning each asana can hold, in order to assist their journey inward. More videos to be added, soon!

To watch and subscribe to our YouTube channel, click here: The Language of Metaphor Playlist

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Do Setbacks Really Set Us Back?

It happens to all of us. The idea for a project arrives, we devise a comprehensive plan for its completion, we work diligently to achieve it, and SLAM! A wall stands in our way, stopping our progress.

Sometimes the walls that confront us are short enough and small enough to climb over, dig under, or walk around. But sometimes the walls are insurmountable, and we abandon the project. No matter the size of the wall, we need to make a decision about if and how we continue. How do we make this decision? How do we find the motivation to reach our goals when we encounter obstacles or setbacks? Personally, I like to use metaphors to help me through these decisions.

Let’s try an example together!

Okay. So, we’re on our way toward achieving some goal, and then, WHAM! We experience difficulties.

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Yoga and the Art of Attention

Frequently, when I meet someone new, in order to begin to know me, they ask, “What do you do?” This question has always made me a little uncomfortable, and not because I regret the career I’ve chosen, or wish I could be doing something else. It’s just that the question is so limited. As a person, I am so much more than my job. And yet, the question is reasonable to ask. What else are they supposed to say?

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Ode to Eleanor

I don’t know if my grandmother was a singer all of her life, but she was a singer for all of my life. I remember an important part of her week was being in the church choir, even as she moved residences, and therefore moved from church to church. When I was in my late teens and early 20’s, I would sometimes go to rehearsals with her, because I also loved to sing. I sang in high school, so I could read sheet music and follow along well enough.

Grandma was a lover of the arts, but especially music. I remember attending several musical and theatrical performances with her over the years, from a local musical at Leisure World put on by residents, to regional shows at the Olney Theater, to national touring shows at Lincoln Center. All four of her children studied piano, she almost always had music playing whenever she was home, and she even sang a duet with grandpa as a part of their 50 year wedding anniversary celebration. Many of us did a short performance of some sort as part of the celebration, but of course, grandma and grandpa stole the show with their wit and comfort being at the center of a room full of loving friends and family.

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“Inside My Hammock” Series Announcement

Michelle Dortignac is starting a new series entitled, Inside My Hammock. This series will take a closer look into the inner workings of Unnata® Aerial Yoga, from decisions made, to advice, thoughts, and wisdom of Unnata founder Michelle Dortignac.

Take a look at the first two videos Intro to “Inside My Hammock” Series and Awkward Isn’t Forever.

And keep an eye out for upcoming videos!

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