by Elise Bowerman
"Yoga is not about self-improvement, it's about self-acceptance."
- Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, Kundalini Prenatal Yoga Teacher
Brief Yoga Background
Since 2009 I have been teaching Hatha, Vinyasa, and Prenatal/Postnatal Yoga in group and private classes. My personal practice started in 1999, at the age of 18. I have taught athletes, people with limited mobility, or healing from medical treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation, along with folks looking for a new method to maintain or improve health.
As a child I was a classically trained dancer, and received a B.S. in Dance (Pre-Dance/Movement Therapy.) I have a strong foundation in anatomy and physiology, along with an understanding of psychology. You'll find our time spent together offers a connection between the physical body and emotional body. These two bodies are deeply intertwined. You'll be invited to look at yourself on subtle levels with curiosity and compassion.
Prior to becoming a yoga teacher I had about 20 years of dance training; and was an executive assistant with 15 years spent in corporate America. You can learn more about my yoga training here.
My wise local yoga teachers / influencers (in alpha order) include:
- Laurel Hicks, MSW, RSW, CLD, and founder of Mindful MamasTM
- Linda Makowski, owner of Namasté Yoga
- Nancy McCoachan, Yoga at the Wall author and Kundalini Yoga teacher
- Ronda Pretzlaff-Diegel, LCP, Enneagram teacher, and developed Yoga for the Emotional Body
- Katherine Schaefer, Vedic astrologer and yoga as therapy teacher
- Valerie Weir astrologer and Kundalini Yoga teacher
Renowned teachers I've had the pleasure of attending workshops and/or master classes include Amy Mathews, Doug Keller, Michelle Cormack, and Doug Swenson.
Throughout my life, from my earliest days as a child, I strived to do better, and be better. There was always room for improvement. Whether focus was on my behavior, grades, friendships/relationships, athletics, being a "good" person (ugh, I hate that word: good), etc. You name it, I thought about how I should be better... because I wasn't good enough the way I was.
Even though I was taught to believe these things about myself; I still had a huge amount of curiosity. I knew others weren't as hard on themselves as I was. They seemed truly happy and content with how things were going for them. Inside I was driven to see if I could possibly get the skill-set to feel an ounce of their lightness.
It wasn't until I took my first yoga class at a popular athletic club in 1999 as a freshman in college. The class was packed. I rolled out my mat in the back of the mirrored walled room, and waited. A beautiful young woman walked in with grace and confidence. Although - she was ordinary in so many ways. It was her self-acceptance that drew me in.
From the time I was eight years old I was dancing in front of mirror at least two times a week for two to four hours at a time in a leotard and tights. Trained in ballet, tap, jazz, modern, and hip-hop, my body was a big issue. Not having a typical "dancer's body" was tough. I had beautiful lines from the waist up... the hips down was another story. Flat feet, knocked knees, and strong birthing hips is where my (and the teachers') attention always went to. But I had to dance. I LOVED it! (Bear in mind, this was all before So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars were on TV. The only people I saw dancing were background dancers for singers, Broadway performers, and dance company performers. The traditional "dancer body" has shifted greatly since these shows arrived in 2004.)
My long-time dance teacher did a fantastic job of being inclusive in the dance training. Our dance school was eclectic and had such a warm and loving feeling... but we were still staring at ourselves in a mirror and "fixing" and adjusting and going for more each time. There's always areas for improvement in athletics.
Anyway, back my first yoga class. I found the class as a place to be curious. An opportunity to play. Nothing had to be perfect or forced! Wow - Is this really happening?! It was my first experience of moving and challenging my body and mind without fear of doing something wrong.
Getting To Know Yoga More
Dance and yoga have a couple similarities, which I enjoy. They are both disciplines that offer people an opportunity to be in-tune with their movement/body while in a meditative state. Once on stage, as a dancer, pure bliss that takes over. All the practice, all the mind imagery goes into automatic mode when performing. It's amazing.
Both, also, take practice. The more one practices, the more growth in movement vocabulary, and in the ability to focus or meditate enhances.
Finishing up my Bachelor's Degree in Dance at Eastern Michigan University in 2004 I decided to do my senior thesis on dance and yoga. My professors of dance saw a noticeable impact when I would practice yoga the day before technique class; compared to the days I didn't. This made me want to learn more about yoga... because I didn't really feel the difference, but it was clear in their eyes.
My undergraduate training included study in anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, adaptive physical education, field study with a recreational therapist in a hospital rehab setting, plus a minor in psychology. The track I was on included all the prep-work to apply for a Masters program as a Dance Movement Therapist (DMT.) Once I experienced the profound healing and expression yoga offers, that was it. I was sold to yoga... a life-style for well-being.
After graduating I continued to teach dance at local studios, and strayed away from yoga... sound familiar? (We all go through commitment issues in the yoga practice. Par for the course.)
First Teacher Training (RYT 200)
Realizing I wasn't a very good dance teacher, because I wanted the students to feel good and enjoy moving, I went back to yoga. I completed my first 200 hour teacher training program at Namasté Yoga in Royal Oak in 2008. (A few months later I got married!)
Namasté Yoga's teacher training emphasized anatomy, proper alignment for various body types, the importance of transitions between postures, Ayurveda (the healing system and other half of yoga,) and a deep understanding of philosophy studying by The Bhagavad Gita, and Samkhya and Vedanta philosophies. There's so much more, too, like the Sanskrit, chakras, mudras, yoga-at-the-wall, meditation, etc. Training is about seven months of "in school" meetings, then if someone would like to become a yoga teacher they teach a certain number of yoga classes to a group for free ("karma" yoga,) and finally mentor about 15 hours with a Registered Yoga Teacher.
Advanced Yoga Teacher Training (RYT 500)
After getting married I started teaching then soon welcomed our children in 2009 and 2012. In the fall of 2013 I started an advanced yoga teacher training program of an additional 300 hours, again with Namasté Yoga in Royal Oak. Upon completion I was certified as a Registered Yoga Teacher 500 with Yoga Alliance.
This program was amazing! It had been five years since I did the first training, which was ample time for me to apply what I learned then. Now I was ready for more. We completed the training in the summer, and started late fall. This training emphasized meditation, mantras, Sanskrit, Yoga Nidra, building comfort in giving hands-on adjustments, we covered a lot about the mental/emotional state of the mind to support students recovering from various traumas (and we all have traumas!,) energetic qualities of the physical practice, visualizations, somatics, and an opportunity to attend workshops, and a year-end retreat to Song of the Morning Ranch as a group.
Choosing to Work With Childbearing Women
Since the moment I started teaching I was urged to teach Prenatal Yoga. Few teachers were comfortable with working with expecting women. I wasn't that into it, as I wanted to work with "regular" people who maybe had physical or emotional traumas they were healing from. I wanted people to have a positive yoga experience, and feel good about themselves through movement and their breath!
After a few years of attempting to nudge Prenatal Yoga off my schedule I decided to embrace it. The pivotal moment came right after I birthed my daughter, our youngest, when the nurse came up to me and thanked me. For what?! I was confused - she was one of the caregivers who helped me birth without intervention!
Her shift had ended an hour before my daughter arrived. She had asked if it was okay for her to stay, and apparently I said yes. (When you're birthing you typically go in and out of an altered state of mind to focus on yourself and baby.) The nurse thanked me because she had never witnessed or been a part of a truly natural birth.
This didn't sit well with me. As a labor and delivery nurse she ought to be seeing low-risk women giving birth without intervention on a daily basis. At that point I knew I had to share what I know with other women, and their partners. Birthing is about accepting our bodies, accepting this pregnancy, accepting being uncomfortable in order to meet bliss once baby enters the world. Ultimately trusting our bodies and minds are fully capable of birthing a little human!
Don't Shoot the Messenger!
Please know I'm referring to low-risk women, and yes, every woman is strong in mind and body. It doesn't take a non-interventioned birth to know our strength and resilience.
Each baby needs to enter this world their own way for their own purpose. Each mom needs to experience labor and delivery for their own personal growth, as well.
The concern I have, as with many birth workers, is that in 2016 the U.S. has about 30-33% c-section rate (double what the World Health Organization recommends.) Here's more alarming facts according to Childbirth Connection's 2013 Listening to Mother's III: Pregnancy and Birth study:
30% medically induced labor;
83% used one or more type of medication for pain relief during labor;
68% birthed and pushed baby out on their back;
Of 48% interested in a VBAC only 2% were approved this option.
Studies like this prove there is a problem with the healthcare of women giving birth. Ina May Gaskin, a world-renowned midwife practicing in Tennessee, has studied her own patients through her 30 years in practice. Her c-section rate is 1.7%. That's enough for a wake-up call for our medical providers. Another amazing statistic: 68.7% of vaginal births have an intact perineum! (Meaning no episiotomy or tearing!) How exciting!!!
It's not just about the statistics. Birthing children while you feel nurtured, protected, continually reassured you experience is healthy and normal - all while being present with the process - creates an energetic component words cannot describe. But I'll try: empowered, powerful physically, powerful mentally, grateful to feel the sensations of elation after the last push entering baby into the world! You feel completely exhausted for a moment, then full of energy, because nothing is compromising your mind or your body.
I truly believe the more women experience these naturally raw, powerful sensations - our world will be in a better place than it is now. More women will be in powerful positions to create great change to better our country, and world. Because we know we can. When we feel defeated at the most pinnacle and primal part in our lives as women - that has the possibility to remain with us forever... affecting many aspects of our lives. It bears a great weight, only we know it's depths.
Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training (RPYT)
In the fall of 2014 I started the 85 hour program with Mindful Mamas (Laurel Hicks) to be certified as a Registered Prenatal Yoga Teacher through Yoga Alliance. The program was four whole weekends over a few months. This program paid special attention to preparing mom for childbirth, helping mom accept and enjoy pregnancy, ensuring proper alignment and care is given for her changing body. Mindfulness was the key ingredient in supporting mom as she prepares to welcome baby into the world.
Postnatal Yoga Classes
The Prenatal Yoga teacher training program covers a bit about teaching moms and babies. Ultimately, since I'm a mom of two and was a yogini before having kids I've developed my own style. My classes are focused mostly on mom. We work with the pelvic floor, core strengthening, building strong arms and legs, opening the heart area, and most importantly - decompressing through mindfulness, breathing, or guided imagery techniques.
Sometimes babies want to join in in during Momma + Baby Yoga, so we sing songs, learn baby massage techniques, explore cross-lateral movements, and bring baby along for yoga poses! It's controlled chaos - everything goes!
Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training
Sweet Momma Yoga: Bump, Baby and Beyond is the longest operating Registered Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training program in Michigan and the Toledo, OH area.
We need more teachers supporting those in their childbearing years. (Plus, I need more subs!) Southeast Michigan has hundreds of pregnant people at any given time. There's ample opportunity to grow and be a helper to our communities. Let me help you get started.