“You can learn something that you’ve known again for the first time. You can see things in brand new ways if you approach them with the mindset of wanting to understand instead of thinking that you already know–of wanting to understand anew.” Laurel Beversdorf

Laurel Beversdorf is a powerful “Roll Model” in the Tune Up Fitness community for her thoughtful insights and novel contributions to popular movement practices.

As a yoga and multidisciplinary movement instructor, and teacher trainer, Laurel always seems to be on the brink of some new discovery. 

Over the past couple of years, these discoveries have evolved into unique classes, workshops, and video programming that bring greater resistance to the yoga room. Born of Laurel’s personal need to address the gaps in her yoga practice, she has incorporated elastic resistance bands into popular yoga poses. 

Laurel adds resistance to triangle pose

“I’ve become very interested in how to add external resistance to the movement we do in a yoga class, or a space where yoga happens,” says Laurel. “Which tends to be a pretty sparsely equipped room… This sparse decor can mean that the way we are able to load our bodies physically is limited. So one of the pieces of equipment I’ve become obsessed with is the resistance band.”

Laurel’s tenacity when seeking understanding of a topic, paired with her openness to complications (and even major “fails”) along the way have made her a leading voice in yoga and functional fitness.

I caught up with Laurel recently to find out more about her process of discovering, and sharing, new practices with students–then turning them into professional programming she teaches around the world.

Laurel’s story provides a helpful roadmap for how to turn physical injury, or limitation, into an area of strength and expertise. Here are the four distinct steps you can follow to do the same.

Step 1: Study with Teachers Who Think Creatively and Critically

The first step toward expertise, according to Laurel, is to study with inspiring teachers. 

“First, study with teachers who inspire you to think critically, creatively, but also thoughtfully about what they’re doing and why… That’s first.”

As many devout yogis have learned, for all the good that yoga asana (movement) practice can do, it isn’t necessarily a complete form of fitness. This dawned on Laurel when her career as a yoga instructor entered full swing. 

“As I continued teaching and practicing, I started to feel in my body that I wasn’t always as strong as I wanted to be,” recalls Laurel. “I felt like I was always on the verge of injury or this chronic soreness…the soreness of having done a lot of the same stuff for a long time. So I sought out weight-lifting help from Elizabeth Wipff, who is a strength and conditioning specialist and an extremely experienced strength coach as well as a yoga teacher.”

Laurel Beversdorf adds some serious weight to a yoga sidebend

Wipff taught Laurel the basics of weight-lifting while also encouraging her to lift heavy and to progress slowly over time. Part of this meant using resistance bands to “prepare me for the really heavy lifts but also some movement or positional acumen for those lifts.” 

Although Laurel had experienced resistance bands in classes with Jason Ray Brown years earlier, this was a lightbulb moment. At this time she realized they could help her overcome the chronic soreness that had set in. “It was really in an effort to address my own pain and discomfort that I felt like my own asana practice wasn’t addressing for me.”

This leads to the next step in how Laurel turned injury to expertise…

Step 2: Get Curious and Play in Your Own Practice

“Practice is second. Make sure that you’re regularly engaging with the material that you’re engaging with as a student,” offers Laurel. 

The work with resistance bands didn’t stop when she left the sessions with Wipff, instead she dove in deeper back home. “I went home and took out the resistance bands and just started playing… and playing and playing and playing,” recalls Laurel. 

This at-home exploration furthered the work into “a practice of self-discovery” by experimenting with using resistance bands in a variety of postures and exercises.

During at-home explorations, Laurel suggests inquiries like: “What do I feel in the moment? And how does my body feel later on that night? And the next day…?” 

Beyond what your teacher shares, be interested in your direct experience of the work on your own. This experimentation means coloring far enough outside the lines that you make mistakes, you discover stuff that doesn’t work, you fail and try again. 

“This is really the attitude of curiosity… If we’re on a path of learning ourselves, and honest about what that actually means, it means being wrong. It means failing. And it means then reflecting on that and doing it differently,” offers Laurel.

A great benefit of this, as a teacher, is that you then model open-minded curiosity for your students. “When we approach learning with that attitude we necessarily model it for our students. That becomes, without even trying to teach it, what we end up teaching.”

Speaking of teaching, step three is all about taking your at-home experimentations out to play by sharing them with the world.

Step 3: Share Your Discoveries (in Small Doses)

“Then share it!” Says Laurel. “Don’t keep it to yourself.” 

However, she warns to not suddenly change your entire class, as it might give your students emotional whip-lash to walk in expecting what you typically teach, then be asked to practice in an entirely new way. 

Laurel adds resistance to a half boat post

Laurel recommends sharing new material in small bite-sized chunks.

“When you come to your students with new ideas, just do one or two new things in the class. When I started with resistance bands, I’d just bring one or two things in. Same as with the therapy balls. So that people got a little taste.”

As students gradually start to feel the longer-term effects, you can incorporate more of that new work, or begin to develop programming around it that the interested students can participate in.

Furthermore, Laurel encourages sharing new movement findings with a light touch. 

For example, if while experimenting in your home practice, you discover a cool new way of strengthening your shoulders that helps address your own physical issues, don’t assume it will have the same effect for your students as it does for you. 

“[When bringing a new technique into the classroom] I wouldn’t project it as this magical exercise that will ‘heal shoulders.’ Or that it is universally the best way or that it is better than other ways of exercising. The reason is that I don’t have any evidence to back that up. So it’s purely anecdotal…at the end of the day if you aren’t backing that up, it’s just marketing.”

According to Laurel, separating marketing type messaging from exploratory teaching language will help to share new practices with your students ethically. She notes that you don’t have to make something wrong, to be right. 

“I think this is an important piece because our teaching does not exist separately from the capitalistic forces that motivate us to represent ourselves in certain ways. And these capitalistic forces can sometimes be directly at odds with our deeper, truer motivations to help our self, and to help others feel better.

“So what I try to do is that when I talk about what I share, I try to couch it in terms that convey—rather than an air of certainty—an attitude of curiosity and play… I’m more into creating the type of place where there is no hierarchy. ”

Step 4: Keep Studying 

The last step Laurel recommends on the path to specialization is to educate yourself on your topic continually.

“The other piece of it is to expose yourself to the body of work out there that’s going to help you think critically about what you’re doing and why,” states Laurel. 

“So that when you talk about why you’re doing what you’re doing, you’re avoiding positioning it in a way that is misleading, or that isn’t backed up by modern movement science…share it in a way that is responsible and not misleading.

“I think the phrase ‘you know enough to be dangerous’ is very true. You can know enough to teach a class, private, a posture. But not enough to know that you don’t know anything and therefore make some really classic mistakes.” 

A handstand with resistance band assisted hip depression

Laurel notes that the more experience she has gained as a teacher, the more comfortable she is not having all the answers. “The real switch was a path toward willingly humbling myself to the enormity of the subject matter I’m taking on and how small I am in relation it.”

However, it is precisely this humility that makes her teaching more influential by leading “with an attitude of open, nonjudgmental inquiry, creativity, and compassion… But I have to keep learning more to be able to do that. Because my job is to help others discern the right path for themselves.”

 

Want to learn with Laurel? Check out her upcoming Yoga Tune Up® Certification Course here.

 

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Ariel Kiley

Ariel Kiley is an NYC-based yoga and meditation teacher, teacher trainer, published author, and IAYT certified Yoga Therapist. Ariel is spokesperson and program designer for Equinox Fitness Clubs Regeneration classes. She created the 2018 "Yoga Fundamentals" program on DailyBurn.com. She is a lead teacher trainer for the fitness therapy system Yoga Tune Up®. Ariel also is co-creator and co-director of the Dou Yoga 200-hour teacher training. Ariel has published numerous posts and articles on the topics of yoga, meditation and yoga therapy. Additionally she co-authored the book Smitten: The Way of the Brilliant Flirt about self-realization and dating (Chronicle 2013). She has been featured on Extra!TV, CNN, NY Daily News and has worked as yoga consultant to the TV show The Affair. Ariel specializes in stress reduction and Somatic Experiencing® trauma resolution.

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ROLANDO MTZ

Is great to recognize the place of your body during your practice in which you can feel weaker, there’s nothing wrong with it and by recognizing this you can be more able to stregthen this parts of the body. Using other tools like Laurel using the resistance bands can be very useful and make a great difference on your daily practice in order to feel better and getting further in your practice.

Marnie Werner

Ariel, thank you so much for sharing this! I have been doing my best to separate marketing type messaging from exploratory teaching language to give my students the best experience possible. So important are our words. Offering postures with an attitude of curiosity and play I very much agree with. Most people take themselves and the movements (or lack there) of their body way too seriously… it’s so vital to encourage the freedom to just see what happens, without attaching harsh self judgement to the outcome. I most definitely feel you about the more experience I’ve gained as a teacher,… Read more »

Matty Espino

Wow! I really resonate and agree with all of these points points. It’s very full circle – study with teachers who are creative and curious (but also explain why), explore with your own self-inquiry (i.e. personal sadhana), teach what you discover, and then study some more. I believe that a teacher is, first and foremost, always a student and it is important to continue discovering more and challenge ourselves critically as to why we do things. To seek out what our “weaknesses” are and turn them into our own strengths is very inspiring and one way to further evoke the… Read more »

wendy

I love this article! It is so true, for any fitness instructor, always be curious about what, how, and why, so a creative and critical teacher will inspire us in a complete different aspect with their knowledge, then take their knowledge into our own personal practice, experience in our own body, then share with our students little by little.

Kimberly McWilliams

The quote of Laurels when she states “convey ,not introduce a concept with a hierarchy attitude” is excellent advice.

Jenny

Thank you for this. I’m partway on this path of having created some exercises through my own curiosity and slowly introducing them to my classes. I like your inclusion of approaching it with humility. That makes it less scary to teach and puts us and our students more at the same level. I feel so much better when I feel like we’re all equal and on the same page.

Margaret Hillier

Continually learning has been what I have enjoyed most in my yoga teaching and my own practice. I am always amazed at how many different takes there can be on any one pose by simply changing one’s focus and perspective. Being inspired by a variety of teachers really does help to keep my teaching and own practice fresh and pushes me to be more creative. For example, you have inspired me to get out my bands and play mor e. Looking forward to seeing what I can bring to my students next.

Charlotte Bradley

Some great ideas! I am in the process of incorporating more strength and resistance into my training. It’s what got me interested in Yoga Tune Up 🙂 I will play around with my resistance bands today and see what comes up!

Daniel Zachrisson

I love the muscular engagement that using resistance bands and or weights into classic yoga moves. It brings a solid strengthening component to classic mindful yoga moves.

Dominique Lim

I love incorporating resistance bands and kettlebells into vinyasa-style movement! It add another level of awareness when moving in space and allows for more muscle engagement in mindful movement!

PATRICIA DUANE

From personal experience, I also believe that resistance bands and weights are a perfect compliment to yoga as a means to strength train. However, most certainly requires guidance from a trained professional. Thank you for the interesting approach .

benedikte handal

first thank you for sharing. i love this idea of a yoga tune-up blog, i very much agree that we need to challemge ourself in our practice in order to grow, but also in a safe environment with healthy guidance. i find your adho muhka vrksasana(handstand) with the resistance band very inspiring and i am in my practice trying your guidance, thank you again.

Julian

As a relative newbie to yoga using bands had not occurred to me, but reading this blog is certainly an eureka moment! I would certainly use this to help with my alignment as i am definitely in the phase of knowing enough to be dangerous!

Natasha

Using the bands during yoga looks really challenging in a beautiful way! I would love to try that. I do agree that yoga is not a complete form of fitness and would love to take a class that adds weights and bands, perhaps giant yoga balls too. I wonder why those giant “yoga balls” are called yoga balls, yet I’ve never in my life been to a class that incorporated them.

Samantha

“You don’t have to make something wrong, to be right.” It’s so true! I love YTU but don’t tend to do a lot of traditional yoga, but that doesn’t make it wrong. The tendency to want to pitch the thing you love as “the only way” is so limiting, and a surefire way to keep your area of weakness, weak.

Maggie Zaleski

“The first step toward expertise, according to Laurel, is to study with inspiring teachers.” Step one is complete! I am so honored to have had the chance to study with Laurel recently at the Yoga Tune Up® training in Cleveland. I had been following her on social media for some time and have been so inspired by the work she puts out and all the interesting things she talks about on podcasts (like on Mindful Strength or Practice Human). Also, adding external load to yoga poses is so fun! I’ve been playing around with kettle bells in my practice but… Read more »

Annie Siegel

I truly feel so fortunate to be a student of Laurel Beaversdorf. She is an inspiring force; not only is she teeming with anatomical knowledge, but she is truly a gifted teacher. This interview beautifully captures Laurel’s keen sense of inquiry and humility. She is a teacher you should seek to study with; I am so glad my path led me to her!

Lisa Bourque

Study with teachers who think Creatively is something I have always tried to do. I want to learn from people who challenge me and my thinking. If I am excited to learn from someone I respect the learning curve is huge! Play and sharing has made my movement so much more fun- and the learning never stops. Ever.

jisook park

I totally agree with your experience with
“As I continued teaching and practicing, I started to feel in my body that I wasn’t always as strong as I wanted to be.”
My body changes a lot through yoga .
but some part of body remain as it is, and some part are struggle with over use.
How do I make those things in a balanced,that is bring me here to YTU TTC in Cleveland. Thank you !
Way of your teaching very impressive .

Jill D Sansom

There are so many magical nuggets in this article, first of which is the suggestion to find a creative and and critically thinking teacher. This always inspires me and somehow motivates me to seek even more understanding. The idea of being curious is one we have to foster for ourselves if we are going to guide this to our students. And leaving the constraints of rules in our practice, to wonder outside of the “normal” lines can have all kinds of positive consequences. I am looking forward to adding another prop to the yoga playground!

Agata Wojno

WoW! WOW! I am positively overwhelmed, speechless, and extremely amazed and thankful for my new experience of being the part of Laurel Beversdorf’s yoga tune up teacher training in Cleveland. Laurel is a phenomenal teacher, very dedicated and so skilled in her scope of practice. Her classes are very informative, the yoga practice she provides is absolutely unique and wonderful! She, with no questions, thinks creatively and critically, and I am more than happy, that I have decided to take the challenge and sign up for her teacher training. This new experience is changing my thinking of yoga, it inspires… Read more »

Doug Wright

It’s interesting to see how different exercises/practices can compliment one another. Individual experimentation can also significantly enhance the feedback from an experience, and Laurel has demonstrated that by incorporating resistance bands into her yoga work. Lastly, it’s always important for teachers to recognize each students unique abilities and not theorize that one way is the best way for everyone.

Julie

I couldn’t agree more with the yoga movement of critical smart forward thinking teachers like Laurel leading the way to create strength in yoga for everyone especially the end range of motion sensation lovers. This practice with bands makes perfect sense to load the body and then move that movement with strength and mobility to barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells. However, I don’t like those implements moving on to the yoga mat, moreso we need to engage in other functional fitness off the yoga mat to complement both practices and create gains.

shelley krug

I love the use of of the resistance bands. reminds me of a poor man’s reformer.