“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.
“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.”
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 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.”
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.
Related Article: On Becoming an Empowered Educator: It Starts With Your Practice
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