Finally the tears came today, seemingly out of nowhere. I had just gotten off the phone taking care of some business, while sitting at the laptop getting sh** done. I started sobbing. I don’t know why, and then I realized that’s part of why I’m crying. I. Don’t. Know. Dear Transition, Change, Growth Opportunity: I embrace you, thank you for answering my call. Now leave me the fuck alone.
That’s right I can turn you off if I want to, if I am not ready to process or unsure where even to begin.
Ha ha, I wish.
Two days ago I attended the Private Riot with Sheila Kelley at S Factor San Francisco. This was a unique opportunity to learn from the creatrix of my beloved movement practice herself, and it’s as intense as the name might suggest. I did manage to spend all day yesterday feeling only from the shoulders up. My brain was lit up, and I was hurting from a knee injury I got dancing at the Riot the night before. But this isn’t about the injury, which I know will heal with time. This is about what I was trying to sort out, make sense of and understand. You see, I got pulled apart at that Riot. So it makes complete sense that I’d spend the day after nursing my knee, texting friends who were there to make sure everyone else was ok, and btw did you see me? Can you tell me who I am? I don’t know anymore.
My brain tends to be very active anyway so it’s not hard to crawl up in there and hang out. She likes to KNOW. She is very uncomfortable with the not knowing. And I’m deep deep into not knowing presently. (BTW I hated that fucking book on my required reading list for my yoga teacher certification, “Only Don’t Know”, like an arch nemesis!) Crap it’s coming up again, I’ve been pushed to the brink, hanging off the edge of the abyss of Don’t Know and I’m clawing my way back to safety, clinging to the vines keeping me connected to knowing, to figuring it out, to constant fucking questioning. And then it happens, I just start crying and let the tears come. So I lay down on my yoga mat and cry until it stops – for the moment.
What we do at S Factor is truly impossible to describe in words to someone who has never experienced it. We sometimes call it “Fight Club for Women”, but that language draws me into some unsavory images that aren’t exactly right…however the mystery, the initiation, the rites of fighting for your truth with a fierceness, leaving everything out on the floor – sure do sound like a “Fight Club” of sorts. However you probably shouldn’t start there, so let’s go back.
I’ve been dancing at S Factor for 10 years. It started as a fun little hobby, but quickly became a practice as dear to me as my yoga. My delusion was that I’d walk away from this movement once I’d been filled up enough, finally satisfied and whole. Obviously that’s not ever going to happen because well, who the fuck is whole? As in yoga, you practice and just get more deeply raw and real, more connected to your essence. Shining light into our deepest darkest corners is an ongoing practice in and of itself. Purposefully dark places like to stay dark thanks, so you need to keep at it. Then when you become whole again, you need to practice staying whole. The perfect cycle – the domain of the feminine. In addition, it’s a community of women whom I trust to hold me up; they understand because we speak the same language. In short, nothing gets me the way that S Factor does.
We’ve all grown up in a world dominated by the masculine concept of power being power over something rather than true power generating from within. When I got my period my mom said “that’s bad blood, don’t touch it”. I listened because I was thirteen, and I didn’t have any other women to turn to. I listened, but only partly. I gave her the day, straddled the gigantic cotton canoe she insisted that I wear. Later I told her about tampons, because I’d thankfully learned about them in sex ed in school. My mother (born in the Dominican Republic in 1929) didn’t know that they existed, so I must have taught myself to put them in.
Let’s pause here and consider my mother – Latina, Catholic, native Spanish speaker from a 1929 machista culture, a dictatorship – she didn’t have a chance in hell of growing up to be the rebel that I am. Unfortunately her role modeling taught me not to trust my femininity, and at times to hate it. From there I grew into a rebellious teenager who experimented with sex, alcohol and hated her body. In my early 20’s I wore baggy clothes to hide my curves, and proudly walked with a masculine strut. I’ve always known that I was going to disappoint some of my ancestors and live out the wildest dreams of others. I challenged my mother by not wanting to have children early in life, which turned into never. Her whole training around being “ladylike” got an angry middle finger in the air from my spirit. When I found S Factor in my late 30’s, my whole body knew that I’d found my home. I walked out of my first intro class, handed over my credit card; and I’ve been a part of this glorious movement ever since.
Through S Factor I learned how to both celebrate my femininity and feel strong in it for the first time. I started to wear really high heels, and experiment with lace lingerie. For once I could give my anger a name and a healthy way to move me out in the world. I used to fight with the masculine for power in relationships, out of fear of losing myself and also from the distrust I’d learned. Anytime I felt attracted to a man, I moved into my fighting stance. Thankfully, I’d healed that dynamic through dancing at S Factor by the time I met the man who became my husband. The more I loved my femininity, my curves and felt empowered as a woman the more I could allow men into my life. I had my first straight male friend then. I learned that in allowing myself to be supported by the masculine, I didn’t simultaneously lose my own power. I was able to see my now husband’s unique gifts as comforting rather than a threat.
Most recently in my S Factor journey, I feel as if I’m bringing light to some new feelings that have managed to stay dark and hidden through a decade of dancing. It may be in a song, a walk or a tender caress. I never quite know until it happens. So I’m on the floor writhing in the middle of this “Riot”. Sheila calls to me “How do you want to be loved, Michelle? Show me.” WTF? This song makes me sad, just let me melt into my puddle of despair please. “Louder, Michelle. I can’t hear you. Louder.” Can’t you hear me? Can’t you see me? I’m trying. Isn’t this enough? And there it is, my archaic wound. I am not enough. I feel everything, it’s too much, too overwhelming. And then I put my hand on my chest and throw my head back. Time stops, I feel myself melting to the floor…I found it, I was loud in my stillness, fully embodied in my ache as well as my erotic charge, feeling my passion so deeply. It was profound and sacred. I’m unwinding the threads, and shedding whatever tears may come.
I still haven’t told you what a Riot is, and I’m not going to. Because the words just simply cannot do it justice. And you should really start at the beginning and see for yourself. If you are seeking a way to reclaim your femininity, your power, your sexy or your body; if you seek a path back to wholeness; if you want more than just another way to workout, and you are down for an amazing circle of women to rise up around you. If you are ready to see and be seen, to be held and protected while you dive deep, rage, play, hide, cry and explore; take an intro class sometime. Then maybe someday I’ll see you at a Riot, we’ll look in each other’s eyes and just know. It’s on.
Working Struggle Free: What’s It Mean to Have an “Advanced” Yoga Practice?
By Michelle Cordero
I’ve taught a level 2/3 class off and on in my 15 years of teaching yoga. There are things that I love about it, and things that I wish I had the power to change. First, please, please, please do not come to the level 2/3 class just to get a workout. There are always a few serious athletic types or intensity junkies who self-elect to take an advanced class because they live in extremely athletic and capable bodies. Yet they aren’t necessarily a level 2/3 yoga student. I can spot these folks from across the room struggling and striving with forced exhales through the mouth.
Just last night, I had a young man take my class who was so sweet and nice when I approached and gave him gentle adjustments. If I hadn’t approached him, I might have written him off as a hard core athlete turned yogi who believes that he’s doing this correctly by breathing extremely loudly and going as deep as possible in every pose. No one has taught him anything else. Friends, this is not a level 2/3 practice. It is actually a prescription for pain later in life. Your yoga practice shouldn’t hurt, and it’s not a competition with anyone – even yourself.
So, what is a level 2/3 yogi? In my experience, it’s most often the humble student who has been practicing with me for several years yet still asks me if they are ready for a level 2/3 class who really gets the most out of the experience; having advanced physical ability and flexibility is not the prerequisite. An advanced yogi is embodied, present in both their physical and their emotional body at the same time. What I like to call being in feeling. Yes, you can get a great physical challenge from taking my class. For others, the greatest challenge will be to stay focused and breathing.
I really don’t like the direction that I see the yoga world going in…with the rise of social media challenges and instagram where all we see are beautiful people doing beautiful poses in exotic locales sometimes scantily clad. When friends tell me they think yoga is competitive – I have to pause. It hurts my heart, but I can’t say that they are having a misperception. It’s true: for many people yoga has become a platform of youth and beauty. I’m very excited to be leading a level 2/3 class at this time so that I can offer an alternative approach. Yes, we will try out extraordinary poses. . . and we will be supporting each other by staying embodied, knowing our limits and focusing on breath and movement of energy.
Here is an example on an advanced yoga practice that might surprise you: Sandra, an older woman in her 70’s, took my intermediate/advanced class years ago. Sandra would come with her yoga mat, a blanket and a pillow. When Sandra got tired, she would lay down and do a lying down meditation for the rest of the class. I used to point her out and say – “See! That’s advanced practice.” You see, Sandra knew she didn’t need to come into any pretzel poses. She desired to practice in community and she needed the accountability of coming to class.
You might think someone lying down in class is quite distracting. Actually when an advanced student takes care of themselves, figures out what they can do, or accepts help and practices in a way that works for their body – they don’t pull focus. An advanced student staying with their breath and their body might not do the entire sequence with the rest of the class, but they stay in integrity with the community pulse.
I’ve never had another yoga instructor take my class and do absolutely everything that I put in my sequence. If getting your foot over your head led to enlightenment, I’d be living in an ashram just sitting around letting you hang out with my coolness. The practice only gets more real and gritty as you advance. Nothing ever gets easier, in fact you begin to realize that once you find your way to the next level of a pose there is another one just beyond that. I’ve learned that focusing on feeling and breathing has gotten me deeper in my yoga practice than anything else. I believe it’s learning to relinquish control, instead of trying to get somewhere, that allows you accept where you are and breathe. You let go of ego, and that my friends is one of the reasons to practice. Remember, it’s a practice, not a perfect.
Join Michelle’s new Level 2/3 class Saturday mornings from 10:45am – 12:15pm at Innerstellar Yoga in Berkeley, CA.
When I named my third annual Mexico yoga retreat seven months ago, I had no idea how much we would all need to “Restore, Relax, Rejuvenate“. How has this year been treating you?
Internationally recognized Buddhist Mindfulness and Meditation teacher, Sylvia Boorstein, says that people have 5 different responses to stress:
Which one of these coping strategies do you use? Be honest.
I’ve been turning to numbers 1 and 2 as coping strategies a lot lately. Most recently the dreaded number 3 reared it’s ugly head. I’ve donated to causes, gone to rallies and marched for what I believe; but after the Northern California fires started I felt quite frozen and unable to take action. I was so flooded with emotion. When there is a constant barrage of stress and perceived threats, our body goes into hyperdrive and can get stuck in a cycle of readiness to take action, fight or flight. Now, I’m fortunate because my number 5 comes in healthy soothing activities like yoga and dance. I’ve been dancing a lot this year, believe me. Through my physical practices I’ve been able to move through this stressful time. Here is my offering to you to help stop your body’s stress cycle and reset.
Come on my yoga retreat to Mexico in February. There are still a few spots left, and we’ve got a fantastic group already signed up. Won’t you consider giving your stressed out self this gift? Every day you will receive: two yoga classes, three delicious farm fresh meals cooked for you, and plenty of down time to do as your heart desires. The resort is incredible, and most of us choose not to leave. If you are feeling more adventurous, you can sign up for an excursion like kayaking, horseback riding or visiting a local coffee plantation and family farm. We will also have an optional Temazcal or sweat lodge ceremony to get rid of the extra baggage you might be carrying around. It’s the ultimate reset.
Now more than ever we need to program regular downtime to relax. I know you won’t regret it, flights are still cheap and I’ve got a few spots left waiting for you.
Our retreat center is small and intimate ~ Space is limited!
Jan 13/14, Feb 17/18, Mar 10/11
1 – 7pm
at Innerstellar Yoga, Berkeley
$547 Early Bird until Dec 20.
Three Master Classes with Michelle
Get fresh inspiration for your practice and teaching. Content includes Working with Injuries, Deeper Backbends, and Arm Balances/Inversions. Saturdays January 13, February 17 and March 10.
Resonant Class Planning & Sequencing
Study the art and science of sequencing asanas and crafting entire classes. Learn to include variations for different levels of students as well as modifications for injuries. Hone your skill at working with different intentions and thrilling apex poses that help your students grow and deepen internally as well as physically.
The Art of Seeing Alignment & Working With Energy
Learn to observe, appreciate, and feel what is happening with different students in each asana so you can truly See your students and address their individual needs.
Making Skillful Assists – connecting verbally and through your hands
Develop your skillfulness in working individually with your students and giving appropriate verbal cues and hands-on assists, and using props so you can support your students in more meaningful ways in your mixed level classes.
Each practice teaching session includes extensive and supportive feedback as well as discussion of teaching techniques and methods. Learn to feed your soul through authentic teaching presence and honest care of your students.
Prerequisites: Completion of a 200HR teacher training, open to teachers of all asana styles and lineages
Continuing Education Credits: This Teacher’s Intensive will provide you with 35 hours of continuing ed. credits with Yoga Alliance, fulfilling the requirement of 30-hours per three years to sustain your credential.
These intensive weekends will be filled with my best stuff, I’m so excited to bring it to you!
I’ve been doing some very deep soul searching work, as well as investing time and money into creating a new program for women facing 50. (Stay tuned, It’s really exciting stuff!) This process is bringing up a lot of feelings for me, especially around my own fear of failure and of being seen. I was reminded of this great story that I wrote a few years ago in a newsletter, so here it is:
In the span of time it took for a traffic light to cycle through, my teacher Ana Forrest asked me a question that brought me to tears. I was driving, and our conversation turned to my shyness of speaking in front of big groups or teaching in front of my peers or my teacher, Ana, herself. Ana asked if I could “talk to the Shy One and have her step aside while the Leader stepped forward to run things.” She then suggested that I calm the Shy One who doesn’t have the tools that the Leader does.
Now this is a lot of information to process while waiting for the light to turn green. I teared up because the wisdom was so right on. I felt my heart quicken. My teacher was Seeing me, all of me, and acknowledging my ability and skill as well as what holds me back.
The light turned, and we started looking for parking. Ana said, “How old is your Shy One?” and effectively turned on the tear faucet. Through the tears of resonance, of being seen and accepted, I found the parking spot – both literally and figuratively. I have a space, safely out of the way of my goals, to park my fear of failure and of not being enough.
This is just a taste of what happens when I spend time with my teacher, Ana. I will again be Lead Assistant for the Forrest Yoga Foundation Teacher Training next year in May 2018. I expect to have breakthroughs daily – even in the span of a traffic light or a downward dog.
“Oh, the places you’ll go!” – Dr. Seuss
Dolphin Method Women’s Yoga RYT 200 at InSoul Yoga in Qingdao, China… is finished! So proud of all of us: students, teachers and organizers. So much gratitude for making my first trip to China such an incredible experience. Already looking forward to next year!
It was so rewarding teaching yoga philosophy, sequencing, hands-on assisting and much more in this beautiful yoga studio. (Check out the view below). It’s fascinating teaching to a whole group of different body types than we have in the US.
What a fantastic experience, and I’m so proud. Thank you Jennifer More – our teaching and collaboration was and is impeccable. So much to love!
I just returned from my second annual yoga retreat to the Pacific Coast of Mexico just south of Zihuatenejo. Last year, I heard about the option to attend a traditional Mexican sweat lodge ceremony or “Temazcal” with a local “curandera” or healer. Naturally, I organized a private optional “Temazcal” for those who wanted to join me this year. We had a total of eight intrepid yogis who headed out Thursday afternoon to meet Lupita, a Mexican woman whose ancestors have been leading these ceremonies for thousands of years.
Lupita told us that the colonizers would break the legs of her people so that they couldn’t dance, but they would still sing using their voices to express their truth. Lupita led us in her native five directions ceremony using Nahuatl names for each of the cardinal directions and calling in PachaMama as the fifth. We all knelt and put our hands on the Earth in that moment in gratitude for all of her gifts, we – her children – bowing our heads in reverence.
The natives of the area we were in are known for the mats they weave from a local palm, and Lupita shared the symbolism of the craft. These woven palm mats are like individuals woven together in community: we are much stronger when we stand together. Basically, everything this woman said had so much resonance to me it was like a neon blinking sign “PAY ATTENTION” of how much we as a country have strayed as well as the vital importance of standing together now.
I encourage you to join me soon for a yoga class where you can move, breathe, and feel your feet on the Earth. In our modern day Northern California “sweat lodge” – I will always teach and hold space for you to shed unwanted layers, reconnect with your heart, and align with the strength we have as a community. Stay strong dear ones!
Hey I wrote an article for the September 2016 edition of Common Ground Magazine. Check it out here!
Ladies, are you part of a tribe? I thrill at inspiring the women I love to come together for common good and empowerment. In undergrad at Dartmouth College, I created a collective Women’s Theatre Company called “The Untamed Shrews”. We brought pertinent women’s issues to the forefront in our provocative traveling theatre. At the time, women barely made 40% of the student body; times have changed and the issues are surely different yet I understand that the “Shrews” are still performing on campus!
Today in my Sensual Yoga classes and ongoing workshops, I create a safe space for women to play and share their stories. I’ve found that my most powerful connections, ideas and aha moments come when I go inside. I close my eyes and practice a moving meditation and follow the desires of my physical body. I dive deeper into who I am by seeking out what I’m feeling.
Sensual Yoga Leadership training has been in gestation for years now, and I’m so excited to finally be bringing this out into the world. A powerful blend of what I most love and hold dear: women’s empowerment, yoga and great music. This three day training will be an amazingly fun journey unlike any other yoga training. Every day will start with a powerful sensual yoga practice followed by a diverse range of practices and training exercises I’ve personally designed to help women get to know themselves in a new way. I’ve taken the best of many different teachings and distilled them into what I feel is most essential for being our most authentic feminine self.
We lead by example, and you will use the gifts of this training in anything you do in the world. Learn to create a safe space for women to relax and go deep into their own movement and sensuality; use music to elicit and experience emotions and move them in a way that creates healing; find out what type of leader you are so you can better access your personal gift for leadership. Connect your emotions to our body, EM-Body, so you can relax and begin to feel your innate feminine power. Take time away from your busy schedule to get to know yourself in a whole new way. Set an intention to begin to develop heightened self confidence, increased sensuality and ease in your body.
When we risk trying something new and different, we free ourselves up to discover new ways of being. The collective energy of the tribe can hold you up when you feel down. From raucous music to whole hearted sharing, we take ourselves to the next level. For more information and to sign up click here.
It is my great pleasure to invite you to join me in February 5-11, 2017 for a blissful yoga retreat to Mexico. When I arrived to lead my retreat this year at this beautiful site, I was stunned by the incredible beauty. Pictures do not do it justice, and it’s not often that we have our dreams not only met but surpassed. I’ve been to a lot of beautiful beaches in my life, yet none have moved me as much as this one. Maybe it’s because I’ve stayed at busy hotels with other tourists…maybe because I’ve never stayed right ON the beach before.
The retreat center is simply magical. You are surrounded by nature at all times: unobstructed ocean views, majestic blue skies, green plants, ocean breezes, sunshine and tropical air. The sound of the waves lulls you to sleep. I dreamt of storms and waterfalls. Practicing yoga every day, twice a day on the newly constructed yoga platform open to the elements facing the vast beachfront lends toward deeper breathing, greater calm and a sense of oneness with nature. I had to use all of my vocal training in order to be heard over the sound of the waves.
The food is impeccable: fresh eggs and salads from the onsite permaculture farm, fish right off the boat, aqua fresca in new tempting natural flavor daily, fresh tortillas and avocado with every meal. It’s the definition of “fresh mex”, and you eat oceanside in the open air dining area. Our last night we dined on Pozole, a popular local dish, they even make vegetarian Pozole! Unlimited coconuts to quench your thirst, attention to detail and friendliness to the environment even down to details like cloth towels instead of paper, glass straws instead of plastic – it just won me over. And baby turtles! The neighboring turtle sanctuary brings baby sea turtles over when they hatch, so we had three opportunities to guard these being s safely into their new ocean home. Truly an unforgettable experience. Click here to see more photos.
If you seek to leave your cares behind and be completely pampered in a beautiful natural setting, this is the trip for you. We will dive deep into a nourishing, fun and sometimes challenging yoga practice twice daily. Your hardest choice will be whether or not to leave your chaise lounge for an optional excursion. Most of our group decided to stay put because frankly, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Every casita faces the ocean and some with sliding walls that can expose or cover you as you wish. We swam in the ocean every day, playing in the waves, riding the boogie boards provided. It was absolute bliss, and I cannot wait to go back. For more details and to sign up, click here.