Willing and Able

Developmental Levels









When I was a Drill Sergeant in the Army, and in the many leadership courses I’ve taken, we describe developmental levels as it applies to people we lead. In the case of Army Basic Training, we are talking about new trainees.

Truthfully, as Drill Sergeants, we can review the files that give backgrounds for every soldier. We are not supposed to use those histories against them, but it makes us aware of issues of concern and ways to build them as soldiers. Today, as a yoga teacher, I see similar traits in yoga students. We can see this in anyone who is developing into something new. And I see it in myself as I become a student over and over in various fields.

Developmental Level 1 – Unwilling and Unable

For whatever reason, a person walks in the door and signs up for a class. It may be that someone told them to, so they do so reluctantly. Maybe they think its to meet someone else’s expectations. Maybe their Father was a lawyer, so they go to law school. Regardless, they are there for reasons other than their own. In addition, you want to teach them a proper plank, downward facing dog, or chaturanga, but they don’t have the strength or flexibility to even come close. And as much as you want to push them to try harder, they are unwilling to put in the effort or additional actions to get there. This is surely a struggle.

Development Level 2 – Unwilling and Able

Through repetition and corrective actions, you may be able to get a student to successfully find strength in a pose. Maybe they are still unwilling. Maybe they are seeing you, like for a drug addiction or math tutoring; they don’t want to be there, but you slowly make them able to do their tasks. Even though they don’t want to read 300 gas meters a day, they know how to do their jobs. Unfortunately, some work toward retirement in a job they dislike and never move to Level 4. But this is still progress from Level 1. It makes a capable person regardless if they want to be there or not. In yoga, sun salutations is the best way that we can build strength, breath, and flexibility. Its the most basic and most advanced flow we can teach. It is the way to make someone “able” to do yoga.

Developmental Level 3 – Willing but Unable

Realistically, this is where we would always like to begin. You always want someone to be there because they want to, even though they can’t perform the tasks yet. After the attacks on September 11th, 2001, Pat Tillman gave up a career in the National Football League to be an Army Ranger. He was clearly willing, but hadn’t learned the ways of the soldier. Sadly, he was heroically killed in battle a few years later. When I have a yogi walk into class striving to be better, to go deeper, to hold longer; those are the yogis who see the most progress. They have an innate motivation to succeed. They want to be there and they believe in what we are doing. This is where we see the most growth in a person. A student has to trust that the teacher knows the way. This trust builds over time. Unfortunately, sometimes teachers fail us too. If you look at controversies with several prominent yoga teachers who fell into drugs, greed, and promiscuity, it can be difficult to trust in people. Sometimes, you find they have views or personal histories that are broken. They are still able to help a yogi develop physically, but their example of brokenness makes it hard for them to lead into other realms. I have several teachers that showed this heartache. Its not that I don’t respect them anymore, but I have trouble following them into their despair. If we want to make willing students, we as teachers have to set the example of what success looks like.

Developmental Level 4 – Willing and Able

This is a fully capable person in whatever field. They are happy with what they do and are able to do it well. This is the ultimate goal in development. Its hard to say much more about this other than an example.

Last night, I had a student who was both strong and flexible, but they haven’t done the specific shapes we do in Ashtanga yoga. This person was willing but unable (DL 3). So, as a yoga teacher, I walk over and talk the yogi through the shapes. I press the shoulder forward and wrap the arm around the leg. The student easily binds their fingers. Then I straighten the shoulders and have them look toward their toes. Then I press on the ball of the foot so it stays active, which presses the hip firmly in the ground.

As students learn the shapes, they become able to practice yoga. And in Ashtanga Yoga, once they know the shape, they can begin to focus on the Tristhana. This is the Breath, Bandhas, and Drishti. This is when we truly are able to understand.

What is amazing about Yoga and many other arts and skills, we never “arrive”. We are always students. We are always developing. We can never call ourselves “Guru” or “Master”. And if people call us that status, we know even more truly through humility that we have a lot left to learn.


Don’t Fight Angry


I probably should use angrily since its an adverb, but this is a better title. And, better yet, avoid a fight at all costs. We’ll all be better off with less fighting. But if you’re a fighter, then here ya go!

A top-fuel funny car or dragster can clock a quarter-mile time in 3.278 seconds. I mean, you have to admit that is super fast. The only problem is that a good percentage of the time, these cars blow-up, spin their tires, or crash due to some little wobble that makes it uncontrollable. But when they are on, they are something else.

Now take a Rally Car. It may run several hundred miles in a race on 4-cylinders without much horsepower compared to a top-fuel dragster. But it can go the distance making calculated strikes with gas mileage, speed at taking turns, navigation, and whatever it can to efficiently make it to the end with a win.

When I wrestled in high school, I was the dragster. I may have gotten “real” wrestling fitness toward the very end of the season. Otherwise, I was always gassed if I went the distance. Well, the distance is only 6 minutes, but you really have to be there to understand. Prepping for a match, I would mentally psych myself out. I would imagine my opponent hurting my little adopted brother. I would get foaming at the mouth mad and my adrenaline would crank through the roof. I would say that in about 40% of my matches, I pinned my opponent in the first minute, all with a lot of anger. But if we got past the first round, I was in trouble. I might hang on for dear life holding on to the points I scored in the first minute. Otherwise, I could barely fight at the end.  Sometimes, I had to be helped off the mat since I was so tired.

If you’ve ever gone to a powerlifting meet, the consequences of this psyching is clearly evident. Some of these guys will stomp around and yell, sniffing smelling salts while their coach pounds on their shoulders. They build their adrenaline and lift enormous loads. But you have to time that adrenaline dump if that’s your style. If they lose too much energy in the minutes before a lift, or even hours before, then they gas out and often don’t complete the lift. Elite powerlifter Travis Mash talks about this a lot. He was more even-keeled with his emotions. And he ended up being one of the greatest powerlifters ever. He timed his energy not wasting it on emotion, but on the lift itself.

Here is my advice:

  1. First, develop a good chin. Learn how to take a punch. Learn to resist the emotional first response. If you hear something that is politically or personally offensive, let that first shot glance off your bow away from you. The worst thing you can do is go off on somebody and make poor decisions in the heat of the moment.
  2. Second, make your jabs efficient and effective. Put power behind them, but not with a ton of emotion. Make them calculated hammers to the face & body. Use words that are crisp and calculated. Don’t be the quarterback who runs for first downs head first in the first quarter only to be taken out early. Don’t let emotions draw you into a brawl. Keep your elbows in and your guard up. Breathe and don’t let yourself get winded. Stay in a zone where you can recover and fight the long fight.
  3. Third, take the mindset of Iowa wrestling. Instead of conditioning for 7 minutes on the mat, condition for 30 minutes. Put that beast into 2nd gear and stay there. Keep grinding non-stop and don’t let up. Don’t blow it all on emotion and all out efforts. If you lift 30 reps of clean & jerks with 135 pounds for time, focus on how you’ll do the last 5 reps, not the first 5. Don’t let someone capitalize on your weakness when you’ve lost your endurance. Don’t end a fight not even being able to lift your arms. Finish strong.


Don’t Poke the Bear!


There is an Oklahoma University running back who got in trouble a few years ago for punching a girl. Let me begin by saying, I’m as chivalrous of a man as they come. I would never think of hitting a woman, nor would I want to be hit by one. I don’t condone that (well, unless she’s a tough lady who needs sparring partners in an MMA or boxing gym). But if you weigh like 115 pounds and you start slapping someone who is a very strong 225 pounds, well, that might sting a little.

I used to ride around with a little ball of fire who I worked with in the corn fields during grad school. She was like 5 foot if she was lucky and super petite. Yet, she had a mouth on her and didn’t take any gruff from anyone. She was also a very aggressive driver. She’d honk and yell at people and ride their bumpers. I told her to be careful because she may not know who or what kind of person she is up against. I also didn’t want to be the guy who ends up trying to defend her because I’m not exactly huge myself. I really hope for her sake that she didn’t poke at a big bear somewhere down the road.

One time, I was a kid riding around downtown Kansas City with my family. We were on a big overpass completely stopped in traffic. There was a big semi-truck right in front of us. Well, this portly little guy in a white t-shirt that was too small for him steps out of his little car in front of the big truck and starts yelling at the truck driver. Then his little wife gets out too and starts screaming. They went on for like 5 minutes without any reaction. He must have said some trigger word, because he poked the bear. This huge beast of a man in boots calmly steps out of the truck, lays his black cowboy hat on his seat, and shuts his door. In just a few seconds, that fat little guy with a big mouth had his t-shirt pulled over his head and his white t-shirt is now red from all the blood. His wife is trying to get him back up from the ground. The manly man opens his door, puts his hat back on, and sits down. I don’t think that little guy calculated the consequences of his actions very well.

Maybe you only see bears as these cute, cuddly beasts. I appreciate your naiveté. These people who let their little ones wander into the lions den at the zoo have learned the hard way. Bears can run as fast as a horse for short distances; they can climb trees; they have tendon attachments that make them super strong; they can swim very well; they eat anything from salmon to berries to stupid humans sleeping with a Snickers bar in their pocket; and they can smell blood for miles. You can shoot a .357 full metal jacket directly at its skull and it just might glance off and keep on coming. You can run, but you can’t hide. Take a look at Navy Seal or Army Ranger training some day. Maybe you’ll find out what I’m talking about. Go ahead and poke.

If some little Iranian boats are sputtering around a huge U.S. Navy Destroyer, I’d be careful. The rules of engagement have changed. Red lines drawn in the sand; well, don’t bother stepping across nowadays. We’ve grown some backbone since our paper tiger jabs in Syria. Killing our soldiers and police officers; nope, not a good idea. And quiet guys and gals in the shadows might not sit on their hands anymore. Its time we take our country back. Nobody is threatening anyone. But loud talkers have been stirring this pot about 30 minutes too long. Journalists used to get away with whatever they wanted to say. Now they are being called on it. Little people wearing pink carrying signs are nothing against a wall of grain fed beef. I suppose some will do it anyway if they’ve never felt what its like to be in a street fight. Take this one morsel of advice, don’t go poking at bears if you don’t know what you’re up against. I sure wouldn’t.

Why Glowga?


Why not? 🙂

Actually, it is a good question that was posed to me on social media. Why do we do things that seem opposed to what yoga is meant to be? Doesn’t it take away from our Dharana—our ability to have focused concentration? Doesn’t it distract Pratyahara—our exclusion of the external senses?


I taught a Rocket Yoga class this past New Year’s Eve. I actually embraced these concepts. Usually, when we get on our mat, we live in the now. We forget about the past, our current limitations, our negative feelings, and our expectations for the future. We live on our mat at this time and place without judgment (Ahimsa). But in this class, I asked students to allow the memories of the year to creep into their thoughts. I wanted them to “burn the bad” with their Tapas, or inner flame. Use their sweaty discipline to clear the negative from their lives. But then they were to savor the good, like a salty caramel treat in their mouths. Instead of wishing the New Year to come with haste, embrace all the good with every last fleeting minute of the year. It was the opposite of Pratyahara.

There are times when I’ve done yoga at the edge of the ocean; I’ve meditated amongst towering trees; and practiced my breath while perched inside of a kayak on still waters. These are times when we are not excluding the external. We become one with our surroundings. We are grounded to the Earth’s vibrations of AUM. There is a time to be at peace and time to celebrate.

Glowga, or glow light yoga with neon bracelets and blacklights, is a celebration! Its a time when we can share breath, dance to the music, and burn our inner fires. The 8th limb of yoga is Samadhi. It means we have found our bliss. It is an internal, spiritual renewal that refreshes us to live another day. Some may use other ways to build endorphins and allow serotonin to bathe our senses. But Yoga, or Glowga, is as good as it gets. And maybe it does get a bit chaotic and frantic. In the end, we burn all of that away. Once we settle into savasana, we can find Dhyana, our meditative state. We’ve charred the excess and savor the fragrance of peace.

My answer to why Glowga is many fold. Celebration. Chaos. Fire. Bliss. Peace.

99% Practice, 1% Theory


Pattabhi Jois “Guruji” often said “Practice and all is coming”. If you keep up your yoga practice, or really any skill you are developing in life, you’ll eventually find mastery and delight in what you do. You will never find accomplishment if you sit on the sidelines and never play.

The same is true when Guruji would say “99% Practice, 1% Theory”. But I’m of the opinion that this is only true as you begin your journey.  When I was a Drill Sergeant in the Army, we don’t often let trainees question why we have them do something. We just have them do things by repetition and eventually they realize why they are doing it. It may not come until years later when they are leaders themselves that they truly understand. In Rocket Yoga, we usually go to handstand after every navasana (boat pose). So I say:

Roll forward and go to handstand…don’t think about it, just do it!

A lot of times, if you are doing something skilled, it needs to flow naturally. If you overthink something difficult, you’ll often fail because your brain gets in the way. You’ve let the vritti, or chaos, enter into your mind clouding what your body should do.

This is what I think about 99% practice, 1% theory. If your body continues to practice something, the movement becomes more natural and instinctual. If you are running 3 miles a day and it is difficult, eventually the 3 miles is not enough. Your mind starts to drift to other things in life. The running becomes natural and your mind is allowed to think. At first, in Ashtanga or Rocket, you struggle just to do the pose. But with practice, you find your breath, your drishti is more focused, you find yourself more grounded in bandhas, and the real practice of yoga begins.

If you read the book “Guruji”, testimonials from students of Pattabhi Jois, you’ll find you are learning less about Ashtanga poses and more about the philosophy of Ashtanga yoga. The book becomes 95% theory and 5% practice. They’ve answered in their minds the “Why?” They’ve found mastery in their practice.

Guruji always said “You Do”. This was many years before Nike’s moniker of “Just Do It”. “You Do” and all will come to you. If you lift weights, run, read philosophy, whatever,…the more you do it, the more light bulbs of revelation go off and you find the deeper meaning in life.

Sweaty Hot Mess


So I’m chillin, enjoying my evening watching TV when all the sudden my wife asks “don’t you teach hot yoga tonight?”


It’s 7:07 PM and I teach at 7:30 PM and the studio is all the way across town! Yikes!!

I had some workout shorts on and it was freezin cold out. So I just threw on something over me, grabbed my gear, and ran out the door. It was a smooth drive there and someone set the heat on high for my hot yoga class. So not bad for having to rush around.

Then, I realize I didn’t finish my playlist. I add 3 more songs and put them in order and I’m set.

I have a full class. I mean, its a small room and I had 21 yogis. Wow!

You know, when you give speeches or presentations to a large group, they say you can over prepare. If you write out your thoughts word-for-word, you end up reading it word-for-word and boring the heck out of your audience. Instead, if you know your stuff well, you should be able to let it flow out of you. I usually have a few things prepared in my mind. But I had nothing planned at all…nothing even remotely in my mind.

So, with nothing prepared, I just rolled with my class. I asked yogis if there was anything in particular they’d like to do or bodypart of focus. Hamstrings! OK!

Cue the music…breathe…let’s begin.

It turned out to be one of the funnest classes I’ve ever taught. The energy was electric and the sweat flowed freely. We kept it simple since the room was so packed. We focused a lot on “core” and savoring the heat. And, I demonstrated a lot through the class since I positioned myself right in the middle. So it felt good for me too.

Afterward, I got a lot of questions. And my heart was full of joy!

Sometimes, whirlwinds are best savored when they bathe you with their fury.

High Intensity doesn’t have to Kill You


I’ve been a Competitive, Type-A person all my life. If I didn’t have a chance of winning, I didn’t bother trying. Its how I approached CrossFit for the first years I did it. I wanted to be the Top Dog; top of the leader board.

My stance has largely moderated mostly due to Yoga. Even when I did yoga, I was striving to achieve. I wanted to conquer all the poses. I would bludgeon myself into getting what I wanted often ending up in injury. But it was Yoga teacher training that changed all of that. I began to explore the more subtle, gentle, mindful aspects of the practice. It didn’t matter as much to me that I “got” a pose or not. Teacher says; teacher does. I also implore this in the students I teach. I always say, “We are all on a journey and where we are in that journey is just fine.” I mean that. This non-harming attitude should prevail in all of life. It leads to satisfaction, contentment, and feelings of self-worth.

As I apply this to CrossFit, I am starting to learn how this non-harming influence applies. You have to ask yourself, what is your intention for your workout (or yoga practice)? Is it to get your heart cranked up; to apply a technical movement with quality while tired; or to lift something heavy with good form in the midst of a good amount of discomfort. These are all qualities that sharpens the spear and makes you better. But, if 50 toes to bar or Heavy DT with 225 pounds only leads to injury and failure, why do it? We have to peel away the ego and meet the intention instead of padding our masculinity.

Here are a 5 tips to feeling successful in CrossFit:

  1. Focus on quality, near non-stop action in a 5 to 10 minute WOD (workout of the day); throw in a 20 minute Cindy now and then and keep moving.
  2. Forget Rx. Scale down as often as you can. Think in 3-6-9 rep ranges and move weight fast and hard. Do some 2 minute blitzes and 30 rep Grace workouts. Use less weight and keep it moving.
  3. Tabata workouts are our friends. If your intention is cardio, then these are perfect. Use “Tabata Songs” on Spotify and other places. You may do pushups, situps, kettlebell swings, double unders, or whatever. Its the perfect (scientific) solution.
  4. Mix up your sequence. Routine kills. Sometimes, do your WOD as a warm-up for an Olympic weightlifting session. Or add a heavy Powerlifting movement into an AMRAP (as many reps/rounds as possible). And anything Strongman is the ultimate CrossFit.
  5. Plan for success. Instead of feeling terrible after a workout, leave a little in the tank. Then you’ll be straining at the bit for more. Finish with a 1K Row or a run and you’ll feel just fine.

Leaving a little in the tank also means you aren’t hobbling with soreness for a week without working out or risking injury. You might find you can workout nearly every day if you want to. But you still get the benefits of strength and stamina that high-intensity workouts provide. Honestly, you don’t have to kill yourself to see progressively better results.