October 24, 2016

yourBuddhi Talks Yoga with Alexandria Crow

 Alexandria Crow

I first heard about you from the hilarious and awesome Jeremy Brook. He said, “my favorite teacher right now is Alexandria Crow. You should definitely bring her down to Buddhi.” I listened and our teachers and students loved your unique approach. We’re super stoked you are coming back next November to be a part of our 300 hour program. Tell our readers a little bit about your background and your teaching style.

Haha, Jeremy Brook. He’s a cool cat that one. I have a gymnastics background as well as vinyasa and ashtanga. Nowadays I’m into the therapeutic and meditation worlds for my own practice.

I have always taught in a very methodical way (think drills, or conditioning exercises) that allowed students to approach postures in a step by step manner making the complex ones more approachable or attainable in the future. That has evolved over time and these days I prefer to teach the bio-mechanics of the body and how that coupled with one’s personal skeletal structure relate to the efforts and benefits of doing a particular shape. Rather than moving everyone towards the textbook shape of triangle, I choose to teach what triangle is mechanically in the body and what it can give you as far as personal strength and wise mobility. There is no need to grab your big toe to achieve those gains.

I’m interested in teaching students to work with what they’ve shown up with today and to accept it at face value. There is no need to cling to an outcome or a goal down the road, just the work for the work’s sake based on the topic being presented each day. I think of class sequences as lesson plans on a particular physical topic, such as hip flexion and the corresponding spinal changes. My job is to teach students that topic as it relates to their individual bodies and then give them the space and personal responsibility to explore, learn and integrate the topic with their uniqueness in mind.

It seems like you had a “before” period when your physical practice was filled with lots of wild yoga moves like arm balances, deep backbends and inversions. Did you experience a particular injury or was it a gradual process that led you to this “after” period where you are more focused on restraint, mindfulness and honoring the body rather than on photo-worthy poses.

It was an injury, a bad one. I’m hard headed, so I don’t usually just evolve in big ways without a huge explosion! I hurt my SI joints, the bottom three lumbar disks, T12, and the labrum in my hip. I wasn’t taking my personal skeletal range into account, cranking into bio-mechanically unsound postures, and listening to unwise joint effort instructions that are commonly given in the asana teaching community. But man, on the outside before the crash, I could make it look good!

It was an eye-opening experience to say the least. When I couldn’t walk anymore because of the injuries I had to learn to meditate, which was a god-send at the time. To heal I learned to work therapeutically with my body and also my nervous system, which was locked into a fight or flight, sympathetic nervous system loop. The process of healing and examining my practice and what I taught in the classroom has forced so many changes that they’re hard to count at this point. I no longer think all of the poses can be universally applied to everybody that wants to try them. I no longer believe there is “correct alignment” that we should all blindly follow. We are all unique and different and we are meant to be learning about our bodies, thought patterns, and behavioral tendencies in yoga-asana and a yoga practice, which means that we each have our own unique structure, needs, and personal alignment.

I’ve gotten rid of so much of what is externally and visually pleasing on the surface level in both my practice and in my teaching, in favor of a deeper and more subtle work that stems from a desire to understand the body, the mind, and how they function.

Both of us became yoga teachers before the explosion of social media. In my opinion it’s been both a blessing and a curse. Where do you think social media has helped and hindered our profession and yoga in general?

Oh, the good old days, don’t make me wax nostalgic for the days before InstaTweetSnapBook. It is a blessing and a curse indeed. I started using social media well into my teaching years and I’m thankful that I waited to speak out. For years I didn’t feel I had anything that I could share on those platforms and it felt like a “look at me” gimmick for a long time that felt all wrong. One day I decided to participate because I had something to share from personal experience. It was a stroke of inspiration and intuition that I should start telling people what I see and have learned. It was during the healing process from my injuries that I began to post. I could see where I had gained clarity and where there were huge holes in the system as it was currently being taught.

It’s a curse because so much of social media misses the mark. The pictures give students and teachers alike the impression that the postures are yoga, and that they are the point. In addition the visual depiction of yoga-asana via social media causes a lot of people to think that an advanced practice is measured by the complexity of postures and by the visual perfection of the bodies and shapes in the photos. All of those ideas miss the real components of a yoga practice and it’s difficult to change that because the practice of yoga isn’t something that is measured visually at all.

I also feel the trend where people are trying to teach and learn postures via Instagram, etc, is very risky and unwise. Teaching postures to an audience you can’t see via an image of the pose and a few one size fits all instructions that are not at all individually tailored is putting the emphasis on the wrong notes. I see split screen images with a “don’t” photo on one side and a “do” photo on the other and I just cringe. Do and Don’t is completely individual and subjective and there’s not only ONE right way to do a posture. Often times I think the “don’t” image should be a single photo of a perfect looking fancy posture that is bio-mechanically unsound and generally unwise for people to do save the one person who has the EXACT structure to do that pose without risk. Put a big X through those and I’ll be your biggest cheerleader.

On the other hand, I see it as a blessing, at least for me, because I get to speak my mind in an unfiltered way and to reach a broad swath of students and teachers who I would otherwise have a tough time accessing in a quick fashion. It’s a place where I can bluntly call it like it is which I am often told is refreshing. I always find that funny, apparently on social media being a blunt, honest, asshole is refreshing. I interact with a lot of students who feel like there is a lot of smoke and mirrors type activity going on out there in the yoga world, and they’re not wrong in thinking and feeling that way, I have the opportunity to speak about it, so I do. There are a lot of REALLY great teachers and students out there who are hungry to learn. It’s a blessing that through social media I can speak to the ones that resonate with me and my way of teaching.

I know you’re not a big fan of Yoga Alliance. Why is that? Does it have to do with them banning the use of words associated with therapy or healing? Do you think that yoga teachers and trainings should be more or less regulated than they currently are.

Yeah, I have beef with them for sure, but no, it’s not for banning the words therapy and healing that is at the root of my issue. My beef with them is that they’re a complete sham at this point, to be blunt. I know it was well intentioned at the beginning. There were a lot of training programs starting around the country and there was a fear that they would be educating students poorly. The idea began as an effort to create some sort of standard that would prevent lack luster trainings from existing. They formed a registration that demanded teachers have a certain amount of hours before they educated other teachers, they set parameters up about what needed to be covered in a teacher training, as well as provided continuing education guidelines. The thing is, they were and continue to be just a registry who makes NO effort to ensure the legitimacy or quality of those they approve.

They’ll give you their stamp of approval for a training program so long as you have the time to fill out the forms correctly, create a syllabus that meets their guidelines, and pay them the money they demand for registration. They won’t, however, ever check that you’re actually teaching the material you said you would in the syllabus, or that the people who are teaching the trainings are the ones who were listed on the application. They’ll let you register your hours of teaching and continuing education as a teacher so you can get one of their handy dandy little E-RYT whatever labels for yourself, but they don’t actually check if ANY of what you put into their system as far as hours is actually factual.

My favorite part though, is that god forbid you should have a complaint about a program or teacher that they have given a stamp of approval to because they don’t have a system for taking complaints at all. They’ll gladly listen and file your complaint but that is it. If you read their FAQ page, it says that you can file a complaint but that “no further action will be taken”. When I read that a year or so ago on their website I almost lost it but was not at all surprised.

In trying to shore up what they saw as a problem what they have done instead is create a false set of beliefs in the industry, for studios, and for the yoga consumer. People believe that if it has the Yoga Alliance seal of approval then it must be a great program, above board on standards, and taught by skilled teachers, but that’s dead wrong in reality. All that seal means is that you jumped through their hoops and paid their dues, not that you are legitimate or skilled at all. It’s a sham and I think people should know about it.

I am heartbroken regularly by the stories that students I meet tell me about how they have spent thousands of dollars on lack-luster trainings, the injuries they have sustained because of unskilled teachers, and the misinformation they have received in both the physical and philosophical realm from teachers. It has to stop. I’m all for regulation if it’s done well, applied appropriately and has the proper checks and balances in place. Because of Yoga Alliance all we have is the illusion of regulation and legitimacy which isn’t helping anything at all. And don’t get me started on the banning of those words…we’ll save that for when I’m in La Jolla!

If you could open a yoga studio and staff it with just five teachers (not including you) living or passed, who would be your line-up?

Allan Watts – he wasn’t a yoga teacher in the physical sense and he spoke on more traditions then just Yoga, but I would hire him as a lecturer for sure. He’s my favorite, I just get him.

Matthew Remski – he’s another lecturer and teacher of philosophy. Matthew speaks about the current state of yoga and the topic of yoga from a different angle than me but we are in agreement about what we see and believe. I find it refreshing to see commonalities between people’s understanding and experience even when they seem from a distance to be completely different.

Leslie Kaminoff – I like the older guard, I jive well with them and what they teach. I may come in a younger package at the moment but I am on the same page with what Leslie says about the way the body works as well as his view of the practice as a whole.

Jason Crandell – We see things very similarly and I really respect Jason for what he teaches and how. I’ve known his wife for a long time and I support what they are about. Plus, Jason and I have the same humor and are both Virgo’s so we get along well.

Coral Brown & Giselle Mari – I know that’s six but these two ladies are rad and I can’t leave either of them out. They’re my partners for The Art of Teaching mentorship and teacher development program at the Yoga Journal Live events. They are both seemingly different from me, from each other, and from the previous teachers I’ve picked, but in actuality we’re all saying the same thing. I respect both of them so much because they teach in a very different style than me but they are equally as thoughtful and rebellious as I am. I learn something new each time I work with them and we push each other to be more refined and informed in what we do and offer as teachers. They’re forging their own paths in the yoga world based on wisdom, an incredible depth of knowledge, and badassery.

Let’s go a several decades into the future for a moment. When you look back on your teaching, what do you envision your over-arching legacy for both students and teachers of yoga to be.

Oh wow, that’s hard! I am not calculated like that in a future goal setting, this is my legacy, kind of way. To do that always seems to negate that a yogi is meant to teach from where they sit. That said, I can answer this way.

If I stopped teaching or died today what I hope students take from me that I wasn’t afraid to tell it like it is and to be absolutely authentic even when it wasn’t popular and made others uncomfortable. I would hope they felt empowered to call things like they are, to be courageous, vulnerable and bold. I hope they learned to be true to themselves and to accept who they are as people and as teachers even if they don’t fit the mold. My wish would be that they choose to never ever stop learning, discovering and growing, and that they speak loudly about what they know is and isn’t working from a place of discernment. I hope they would have learned how to question everything they are told to do or to believe so that they make choices based on their wisdom, personal experience, truth, and understanding.

And there you have it. Those last words are the nutshell of why we think Alexandria is so unique and so very awesome. Catch her at Buddhi Yoga in La Jolla as part of the 300 hour yoga teacher training on November 3-5, 2017. She tours the country teaching so check out her website to see if she’s coming your way. It will be a yoga experience that you don’t forget!

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