Back when I was just starting out as a yoga teacher, I was faced with what you might call a “quality problem”: My classes were getting really popular. The problem was that although it was great they were getting popular, they were filled with a vast array of students. All ages, body shapes, and injury/disease statuses were showing up for class.
Students were eager to practice with me, but at the same time telling me about herniated disks, neuroma in the feet, osteoarthritis… and I had no idea how to help them modify their practice. Let alone how to offer specific techniques that could help heal their conditions. In many ways, I was teaching in the dark.
Around that time my friend Clio took me to one of Jill Miller’s Core Integration workshops.
I admit, it was way over my head. She was having us roll on little “therapy balls” that felt like river rocks under my (surprisingly tight) back muscles. She talked about the core as this whole integrated system – the coreso she called it. Her reasons for getting fit weren’t superficial. She said we’re trying to get “pretty on the inside”. Huh?
I left that workshop confused, but curious. I knew I needed more education in biomechanics and anatomy. I knew I needed to learn from someone energetic and passionate. I liked the idea of learning from a younger woman instead of the older gentlemen who were leading many of the yoga therapy programs.
So a few weeks later, in September 2010, I found myself in the Yoga Tune Up® Teacher Training.
Adventures in Assisting Jill
Although I learned a lot in the YTU Teacher Training, the main thing I learned is that I didn’t know jack. But my evaluation at the end of the grueling week showed promise. After much studying, I got 100% on my written test and Jill and the assistants (Sarah Court and Tiffany Chambers-Goldberg) said if I just get my anatomy down, I’d soar.
They gave me props for the talents I had. And they gave me hope for what I didn’t have yet.
Jill made it clear that she welcomed having assistants join her at YTU workshops and trainings around the country. Nowadays approximately a million people want to assist Jill when she leads trainings. But back then the operation was a little bit leaner, and she was always grateful for extra hands, eyes, body parts to demo with, and brains of course.
Just after I completed the training I got my arse to Ojai for the Ojai Yoga Crib festival and assisted Jill teaching a “Retrofit Your Down Dog” workshop in a carpeted chapel.
That was just the beginning. For the next couple years after that I followed her wherever I could, and wound up in some of the most hilarious and illuminating situations.
Now, years later as a lead YTU instructor, I’ve taught several of those same YTU teacher trainings that I originally attended. In fact, I’ll be leading one at Kripalu in April… which has got me thinking about some of my very favorite, and completely incomparable lessons, learned from the one and only Jill Miller.
I hope you enjoy!
Jill Miller Lesson #1: YOU Did It
One of the most powerful moments in the first YTU training I took with Jill, I saw re-enacted to the same paradigm-shifting effect with dozens of other students she taught on the road.
I had entered the training with persistent knee pain. I had run a marathon and the nagging knee pain wouldn’t go away. After doing the Day 2 Master Class Hips Focus to Twisted Triangle, my knee pain vanished.
I couldn’t wait to tell Jill about how her teaching had healed my knee pain. I thought she would be pleased as punch to know what she had done for me. But when I told her I was met with an unexpected response.
“YOU did it!” She said. “Huh?” I said… I had subconsciously expected her to take credit, but she didn’t… she pushed it back on me. “YOU did it, thank yourself! YOU got rid of your knee pain. I just made a few suggestions.”
The fact that she had empowered me to take credit for my own healing was revolutionary. I had never had a teacher do that before. They had always soaked up the praise I was offering them for themselves.
But Jill didn’t want to keep it. She wanted me to have it, because she knew that if I felt my own power to heal myself, I could learn to heal myself over and over again, instead of having to rely on others. Dude. Paradigm shifted.
I have enjoyed passing the credit back to many, many students in my own teaching career since then. It’s wonderful to watch their eyes widen and smile spread when I say “YOU did it! You healed yourself!”
Jill Miller Lesson #2: Love the Ones You’re With
I went with Jill to Miami Beach one year to assist the ECA World Fitness Conference. As a yoga person, I had never been to a fitness conference, and the whole thing was so strange. (Funny to think I presented at ECA in NYC several years later on Jill’s behalf when she was super pregnant! It was still strange.)
The Miami Beach conference lasted several days, with numerous presenters zooming around to different rooms to offer their formats. But almost all of the attendees came on the weekend, so the first couple of days were very quiet.
Jill was teaching several workshops over those days. On Thursday she was leading a Core Integration workshop in the morning and her FIRST EVER Roll Model Method® therapy ball teacher training in the afternoon. (But back then there was no The Roll Model Method book, there was only one size ball, and they weren’t even called Roll Model yet.)
These workshops were in a dingy little room half underground, completely shut off from the beautiful sunny Florida Day. The A/C was too cold. It smelled moldy. And the crew had constructed a rickety stage with mangled staples popping out for Jill to teach from.
Only four people showed up for the first Core workshop – very tanned and friendly local Floridians… definitely not movers and shakers in the fitness industry. Then just eight people showed up for the therapy ball training. Including the tanned Floridians who chose to stay on because they had fun during the morning session.
Friday night was a TOTALLY DIFFERENT STORY. Jill was in a a HUGE ballroom with giant windows and palm trees swaying behind her (not rickety) stage.
She was teaching a hips workshop with a microphone and giant speakers and at least 50 people attended. The crowd was pumped. The energy was mega.
But THIS is what rocked my world about seeing Jill lead these different workshops: She gave EXACTLY the same amount of energy and enthusiasm to both. She offered the same richness of education, the same big laughs, the same whole-hearted cheerleading for the students.
Later that weekend, just to make sure she wasn’t insane, I asked her “Jill, did you even realize that the workshops earlier this week had a fraction the amount of people in them? It’s like you didn’t even notice the difference… you taught exactly the same to both.”
“You gotta love the ones you’re with!” Said Jill.
In that moment I could see clearly how Jill wasn’t teaching for herself. She was teaching because she wanted to help others heal. And it didn’t matter if there were four or 80 people, those were still people she would give her whole self to help.
Makes me think of that Mother Theresa quote, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.”
Since then I have never canceled a class or workshop because of low attendance, and I have always worked to give my all, irrespective of who is (or isn’t) there.
Jill Miller Lesson #3: Inspiration to Action in a Split Second
Jill Miller is definitely of the Ready, Shoot, Aim style of teaching. When she gets an inspiration, it comes like a lightening bolt, and there’s no time like the present to put it into action. As happened with the erasable markers at that first therapy ball training.
When we were having lunch between workshops on that Thursday in Miami, Jill was going over what we would be doing that afternoon with me. As she talked about helping students learn “bony landmarks” on their bodies, so they can better map where to place therapy balls, she became pensive.
“It would be nice if we could draw them….” she paused again. Then, “Ariel, let me give you some cash, you’ve got to go get washable markers!” Two hours later she was drawing all over my body to show the students where different bones are located. And the washable markers have been a central part of therapy ball trainings ever since.
This was an epic lesson to witness because it was a lesson in self-trust. Jill didn’t need to quietly hem and haw and go back to the lab to find out if washable markers were a good idea. The second it came to her mind, she was ready to enact it. This kind of split-second intuition-to-action teaching approach leads her to so many brilliant places. Immediately.
After seeing this example of radical self-trust, my perspective on teaching changed again. I don’t need to be all precious about it. Just jump in! Paddle around! What’s the worst that can happen? A little purple ink on your jog bra?
This sort of aliveness is part of what makes Jill’s teaching so exciting. You are riding the cutting edge with her. And who wouldn’t want that?!
Jill Miller Lesson #3.5: Respect Your Spine!
It can be a little jarring at first when you’re trying to slouch in the corner of a Jill Miller training and she suddenly stops her lecture, looks you in the eye and calls out, “Respect your spine!” But two years later when you realize you’ve got excellent posture, you can’t help but appreciate her relentless commitment to your impeccable poise.
Mad Respect for Jill
These are only a few examples of the many incredible lessons Jill has taught me over the years. Lessons that aren’t just for the classroom, but are for life.
I’m feeling a little nostalgic right now since I’m planning on going on hiatus from leading trainings after this Kripalu one in April. I’m so aware of how deeply Yoga Tune Up®, and Jill Miller have positively shaped my thinking, my body and my life.
But perhaps one of the biggest lessons Jill has given me she has given by example. She displays the extraordinary bravery of doing your thing. Do not get too comfortable. Take a risk, step out on a limb… and by doing so build the proprioception to explore your leading edge.
And really, isn’t that the ultimate lesson in self-care?
*For information on Yoga Tune Up Trainings, check out the website here.
ps. Remind me to tell you the story of the last night in Miami Beach when I got kidnapped by a swarm of Zumba instructors and went dancing til dawn. I showed up to meet Jill at the airport at 6am having not slept a wink. Jill loves to recount seeing me walk into the airport dragging my suitcase with bags under my eyes and a “shmata” covering my head. As any good mentor would do, she took me directly to the American Airlines lounge for free coffee. Yeah, it was totally worth it. Viva la dance!