Today, I’m really excited for my guest, Livia Cohen-Shapiro of EcstaticUnfoldment.com. I first found Livia through the Facebook yoga community because she started posting some really intriguing ideas around psychology and yoga.
This is something that I think a lot of people are really interested in — how we can deeply serve people. Because yoga is a healing modality, it only makes sense — at least to me — that psychology is going to be a big component for how we operate as yoga teachers.
I’m really excited to have Livia with me today and dive into her journey and how psychology and yoga can help you serve your students even deeper. Thank you so much, Livia, for joining me.
Livia: Yeah! Thanks for having me.
Racheal: I kind of want to start at the very beginning for you because I know I first liked your Facebook page a while back. It’s only been maybe in the last six months that I’ve really seen you go gung-ho into talking about psychology and yoga and how the two can come together and help people.
I’d love for you to share a little bit about how you brought together and bridge these two worlds. What was your starting point and how did you get to where you are right now?
Livia: Sure. There’s a couple of pieces to that.
I’ve always been interested in psychology and yoga since as long as I can remember.
For me, I had a therapist from a young age. I’ve been to a lot of therapy. I started practicing yoga when I was 15. Those two worlds have been in my life very strongly for a long time. I guess I’m one of the lucky ones out there who had a very positive experience with psychotherapy from the outset.
A lot of times there’s a very big stigma against going to therapy per se. Rightfully so. Not all therapists are created equal. I happened to get lucky and I had really great therapists and I had really excellent experiences in therapy. For me, it always was an avenue of continuing self-exploration as opposed to, necessarily, healing some inherent flaw or problem.
I’ve had those two worlds present for a long time. When I graduated from college and was teaching yoga, I started a program at the time I was living in Maryland. I started a yoga program that was teaching yoga to people with eating disorders. I was working in a non-profit organization.
I very quickly realized I don’t have the skills to handle what’s coming up. I figured if I want to do this, I need more skills, so I ended up going back to graduate school and getting my Master’s degree somatic counseling psychology from Naropa.
All throughout that program I kept coming back to here’s this principle of psychology that’s already present in yoga philosophy. Here’s this concept of psychology that’s present in that text or that text. Or, here’s this thing I learned in Anusara yoga. I just started putting them all together.
Then, kind of the big… I don’t know what you would say. One of the bigger a-ha’s was when Anusara yoga started its demise, in a certain way, I found myself with an avenue to articulate some of the things that I had been learning and kind of percolating inside.
I kind of quickly stepped into and opening that was just like a doorway opened.
People had questions and I… It’s not even that I had answers. I just had ideas of what something could look like or what something might mean or concepts of, let’s look at this in the context of human development or let’s look at this in comparison to different diagnosis. Just various kinds of ideas and it was really helpful.
Applied Psychology for Yogis was born out of that, but I was still in school at the same time. I started this little Facebook page, Applied Psychology for Yogis, and was finishing my Master’s degree and planning a wedding and sort of just tootling with it kind of.
Then, about six months ago I was like, “Okay.” It just felt like the alarm went off and it was just go time. Ever since then I’ve been a lot more clear.
I just went for it.
Racheal: I love hearing that. There’s a few little nuggets in your story that I kind of want to tease apart.
One is you noticed when working with people who are facing eating disorders that you didn’t necessarily have the skill set yet to really serve them. This is something I hear for a lot of people who are working with specific populations. I mean, I’ve worked with people who are talking about yoga for 12 steps or addiction and yoga for eating disorders, yoga for everything. There’s a yoga for everything. Right?
Some of these things really do need a different skill set. There’s another skill set that’s being talked about right now, which is life coaching. Yoga and life coaching has kind of exploded. It seems like suddenly everybody’s a coach. I want to definitely ask you:
What would be the difference between the approach you’re taking — the applied psychology — compared to life coaching?
Livia: I feel like that’s such a great question because a lot of people, I think, are curious about that. I wish I could say to you, “life coaching is this and psychotherapy is this.” I can’t because I don’t really know enough about life coaching to say.
I know some incredible coaches out there, some of whom are very dear to my heart, and I think they do incredible work. My sense is that there’s a very strong goal-centered forward momentum. That’s what it feels like to me, but frankly I could be a little bit off base with that.
In terms with the psychotherapy piece, I sort of take the stance that human beings — we’re really smart. We’re really, really smart. We don’t do things that don’t make sense. We only do things that are efficient and things that are productive and things that make sense.
Now, is the addiction that someone has the most enhanced productivity they can have? No. It’s not like the most productive thing they can do, but they’ve chosen that coping mechanism for a reason. When I work with people at the clinical end, it’s more like that approach of “Okay, you’re doing this thing,” or, “You’re having this experience and that has a reason.”
We just sort of take the steps back and track backwards to what are the reasons why you do that or feel that.
For me, instead of going forward, I go back.
My sense is rather than going towards that goal and creating all these boundaries and rules and ways to achieve that goal, I sort of backtrack to the core — to the main core piece — and sort of flush that out.
It’s sort of to the same end. I mean, I think coaching and psychotherapy are both wonderful techniques of self-exploration and I think that both will help people move towards their goals. It’s just a different sort of meandering path. I think some times that level of directness and forward momentum can be really helpful for some people. For other people, the going backwards is helpful. It kind of depends.
Racheal: Definitely. As someone who’s had both ends of the spectrum — I’ve been through therapy and I’ve been through life coaching – I can see there’s definitely been a point in my life where I needed to go back and kind of clean up some messes and figure out why I was reacting a certain way — which is often unconscious or buried pretty deep.
I had to work through that before I would even be ready for the coaching piece, which like you said, is very forward focused. I can see that they both have a place, for sure. I can even see in my work because I’m not a life coach at all. I’m more on the business side of things, but I can definitely see when people are hitting some sort of ceiling in their own success.
Usually it’s at that point that if they’ve hit a ceiling, they’ve got to go back and do some cleaning up.
There’s some deeper stuff that they’re probably not aware of right now and a coach might not always be the best answer. It might be somebody who really has an understanding of the more nuanced elements there.
Very interesting. I think teachers need to be really aware of this because a lot of people, I feel like, when you’re a yoga teacher, suddenly you start having yoga students who come to you with these really vulnerable, intense questions and it’s something you should at least have some knowledge around.
You don’t have to suddenly become a psychologist or become a life coach, but enough to maybe say, “You know, maybe you should go talk to somebody about this,” or, “Maybe coaching would be good for you.”
Livia: Right. A lot of people choose to go to yoga because they’re scared to go to therapy. Going to yoga class where you can be anonymous and do downward facing dog and it feels good and you feel better when you leave is a lot less scary than going and talking to someone or being one on one with someone in that vulnerable way.
A lot of people end up going to yoga sometimes instead of going to therapy, but if the need for that level of work is there, eventually you can’t avoid it. Then that’s the student that comes and starts talking to the teacher and telling them they want to get divorced and blah, blah, blah and the husband’s having an affair or whatever.
I think that, as yoga teachers, we need to know at least enough to refer out.
We need to know where we end and begin. Everyone who comes through one of my courses, one of the main topics that we talk about is scope of practice, which is it’s not your business to be their therapist. That’s not why they’re paying you. They’re paying you to teach them downward facing dog.
You need to at least have your wits about you enough to refer them out. If you want to overtly take the role on the counseling end, then you do need to go get those skills. You can get them. It’s called go get those skills.
Go get a Master’s degree or whatever. Go to coaching certification or something like that and gain those skills. But, the scope of practice conversation, I think, is one that we really need to start having in the yoga world a lot more than we’ve been.
Racheal: Absolutely. I think that’s something that people like you and some of our friends who are all doing the life coaching spectrum, are definitely starting to step up and say, “Hey, guys. You either need to say I’m going to go after this and add this to my credentials or I’m going to say you need to go see so and so.”
Racheal: I also think, from a teaching perspective, this kind of protects you a little bit, too. Your own integrity and just your own scope of what you’re doing. Like you said, scope of practice. So, so crucial.
Let’s shift gears a little bit. Something that you just said there a little bit earlier is a doorway opened when kind of the Anusara blow up happened and you stepped through it. How did that feel? What was it that led you to really feel like, “Oh, now’s my time?”
Livia: Yeah. I should share that I didn’t realize that that’s what I did until sometime recently. Because I study a lot of movement-based rites of passage work with a woman named Melissa Michaels in Boulder — I’ve been her student since I moved there five years ago.
We would do a lot of body-based ways of exploring and expressing our natural creativity. One of the exercises that we sometimes do is imagine a large group of people in a room and you have to walk in all various directions very quickly. The only way you can possibly do that is if you look down and only step where there’s no other foot.
You learn very quickly and in a deep way,
“Oh, I can only step where the opening is. I can’t go where someone else is standing. I can only go where someone isn’t standing.”
I had been doing that practice for like four years before the Anusara thing hit — or maybe three and a half — and I guess, in recent months when I really went for it with the Applied Psychology for Yogis stuff, it was like I realized that there was a need in the community that I was just able to see.
I didn’t go about my business trying to make people believe they needed something that I wanted to give them. I just saw that people were suffering, basically. People were really having a lot of issues and so and so lost their entire business or so and so was betrayed or so and so was left furious.
People were just really hurting. I was like, “Wow. There’s a big need in this community,” and I just started inching out there a little bit and it seemed to be really working. Then I just started more vigorously doing that about six months ago.
Basically, there are lots of other people who know a ton about yoga and psychology. There are so many other skilled folks out there on this topic. I’ll never forget the day that my teacher whispered in my ear — we were at a dance event. She was like, “If no one’s in the middle, you should just step right in there.” I was like, “Uh-huh!” I’ll get close to the center, I’ll get in the middle, but I’ll always stay on the side.
I realized a couple of months ago no one else is standing in the middle, so I’m just going to go right in there. I wasn’t trying to take anything, I’m not trying to take anything, I’m not trying to make people believe they need what I have.
It’s just no one is standing in there, so I may as well stand there.
Racheal: I love that. From the business and marketing perspective, basically you just outlined how you found the market demand, how you saw the need, created the niche and built a brand around it. That’s exactly what I think people need to understand, from my perspective, which is it doesn’t have to feel forced or contrived or like you created something and then tried to force it upon the rest of the world.
You saw a need, it was pretty organic it sounds like, and there was an opening. There was no one who you are going to be “competing” with. It was like, “Okay, there’s a space and I can fill this space.”
Racheal: Ease into it.
Livia: Yeah. I feel like also it has been a very, very, very organic process. I didn’t create the niche. That niche was there. That seed was already there and I just happened to be like, “Oh, I can do that.” I matched with that. I think sometimes there’s this way in which we see the possibility for that niche and we can start to tease it apart and uncover it.
Other times the universe — to speak in the more esoteric terms…
I didn’t think I was going to be a yoga teacher. To be perfectly honest, I never wanted to be a therapist. Never in my entire life did I ever want to be a therapist.
I thought it sounded horrible. But, guess what? I’m a therapist.
You just find yourself in these situations and when you’re called, you have to answer the call.
You have to answer the call of your soul and sometimes you don’t get to choose, it chooses you.
I think being willing to be open and humble in the face of that and confident, also. It’s that sweet balance of humility and confidence and risk-taking.
Racheal: For sure. I’ve experienced that, too. Never did I think I would be running a marketing and business consulting with yogis. One of those things that serendipitously happened and I’m so glad it did.
As we wrap up, one other thing I wanted to ask you about because you are doing online courses and working with people in a way that I think a lot of yogis are interested in. I hear from a lot of yogis that they know just teaching classes isn’t going to hack it for very long. They have to do something else.
A lot of people are interested in creating courses and creating different programs. I’d like to hear from you. What has been your experience in creating the Applied Psychology for Yogis courses?
Livia: Again, another example of something being very organic. That curriculum sort of evolved over time and it’s still evolving and shifting and changing. I guess I started getting really interested in the concept of online courses because the yoga market where I live is very competitive.
To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t make enough money teaching public classes because I didn’t have enough public classes. I couldn’t get that. I needed another avenue with which to make money doing the thing that I thought would be of service. Hence, going online.
Then, the other big piece was that my marriage is such — I’m married to someone who I need to be able to take my computer somewhere across the world and still be working. He was in India for nine months and I was here and we were miserable. I was like, I’m never doing that again.
I need to figure out some way where I’m just going to go.
That was the other really big motivation.
The thing that’s interesting about the online course is that market is getting really saturated so you have to be really clear and specific about what you’re doing. I think we have to be in our organic, authentic niche for that for sure.
The other piece that I am very curious about is the difference between content that is prerecording and offered repeatedly versus content that is live. I’ve struggled with this a lot and I see a lot of my colleagues doing prerecorded content. It’s awesome because it creates residual income because you can sell that prerecorded content and you get paid for that and it’s a fabulous business model.
But, I don’t know if that works for the topic of psychology. That’s something I struggle with. Do I want the residual income? Yes. Yeah, that would be awesome. I love that. But, I also realize that psychology, like yoga, is a living, breathing, ever evolving organism.
I don’t think it would be of service to have the vast majority of my content be prerecorded because part of the reason why counseling, for example, changes people, or coaching changes people, is because of the interpersonal relationship. If I’m not live with the students in this interpersonal relationship, it’s sort of like it’s not really going to create that much change for them. Watching a video? Okay, that’s one layer. But, you can’t go as deep.
I recently made the executive decision that’s what’s going to set my content apart is that it’s actually not prerecorded. We were seeing this big funnel where everyone wanted to have prerecorded content so they could have residual income.
Now, I think we’re going to see stuff splitting off and we’re going to see people doing only prerecorded or we’re going to have some sort of hybrid with the prerecorded plus calls and talks, then we’ll see things that are totally live. Which, I think, is better because then it starts to spread out the market again and now there’s more room for all of us to be online, which I think is great.
Racheal: I like that.
Livia: That’s sort of a really long, meandering answer to your question. But, I like online. I do like it.
Racheal: I love that. I’m a huge fan of teachers finding a way to go online. I’ve seen the same thing, actually. I actually — when I first started putting some of my own content and courses online, I did a lot of record it live and let it sit for a while because that’s what I’d seen some other people do.
It’s the way that the “business gurus” tell you to do it. They’re like, “This is the way to maximize everything.” But then, people buy your program and they don’t feel supported; they don’t really feel like they can ask questions or that they have that real connection to you.
I decided to shift that piece myself and create a hybrid where all of the actual training is recorded, but there’s a lot of support from me that’s scalable. It’s via email or via Facebook groups or via group calls.
I think there’s always that sweet spot where you can kind of figure out what works for you and your people that ultimately, like you said, serves in a way that’s manageable.
Livia: Right. I also think that a lot of — I love that you said that because I really had a little bit of existential business crisis about it. Everybody’s telling me I got to make residual income and I got to do the prerecorded and I’m getting all stressed out. It just didn’t feel right to me.
I love that you use that phrase “your people.” I think that when you’re really in touch with your people, who your tribe is or who your circle is, who your people are, then you can tailor how you’re going to deliver the content to them.
Racheal: Yes. Absolutely.
Livia: I think that’s part of the whole concept.
Is your material best transmitted to 10 people at a time or 500 people at a time?
I think it just depends. I wish that our value system around how we labeled success in yoga was based on are you teaching the thing that you’re teaching to the people that needed in a way that they can understand.
That should be successful as opposed to… my program’s main — I don’t know yet, we’ll see but… Like, for example, this program that I just ran a couple months ago, which was the Emotional Literacy for Yoga Teachers, I had 13 people sign up. A lot of online people would say that was low.
I actually thought it was perfect because everybody there in that program went so deep. They got so much out of it. They built connections that are so strong and I felt like the material was so provocative that it really lent itself to a smaller group.
I don’t think it would have been good if 50 people had been on that webinar.
I think it would have been like… I don’t know. It would have been really hard. Considering what amount of audience at a time has also been really helpful for me.
Racheal: It’s like you just pulled out one of the worksheets from my training about how to create your programs and services and then outlined it. That’s something I talk about a ton and it’s something… Actually, there was a point when I had over 100 people in one of my trainings at one time and I ended up getting so frustrated with myself because I felt like I didn’t know any of these people.
I actually went back, restructured, limited the seats to 25 for the next round and then put in all sorts of ways for me to really get to know them. I asked a huge questionnaire at the beginning of the course, I emailed them all, and I had a Facebook group this time around so that I could really engage with people. Because, for me, it’s not about how many people I sold this course to.
It’s really about “Am I creating change for these people”?
Am I helping them get where they want to go? Ultimately, I don’t want to take their money if they’re not getting the value. I think for a lot of people, the value comes from — like you said — that relationship and that support.
Livia: Yeah. There’s a great saying in the psychology world. It was one of my favorite things I ever learned being at Naropa in the Sematic department. We’d say:
Your body is the intervention.
As in, you, the person, the therapist, the counselor, the teacher, whatever. You’re one of the main indicators of change and success. You’re the actual thing. Said in business language, you’re the product and the service.
Livia: You can give people worksheets and exercise and da, da, da, da, but your voice, your face, your presence, your connection with them is actually going to be the factor that changes them more than any worksheet you can ever give them.
Racheal: Absolutely. I think that’s a perfect point to bring it all together and let people know where they can find out more about you, Applied Psychology for Yogis and get your regular nuggets of wisdom for them to drop into their yoga classes.
Livia: Yeah. Obviously, my website: EcstaticUnfoldment.com has a great amount of stuff on it. But, really, the best place is if you just go on Facebook and type in Applied Psychology for Yogis and like that page. I put out an obscene amount of content every day. Basically, I wake up in the morning with a firehose and I have to get it out. I just schedule the posts and it’s just out there.
What happens is now I have all this free content on this page. It’s actually really great. I get these sweet notes. Sometimes people write in on the little Facebook private message. They’re like, “Thank you so much for your page! I incorporated this into my teaching and it’s so amazing! Thank you for the lovely insight.” It’s so sweet.
What’s great about it is I’m just being my crazy self. I’m just putting it out there.
Racheal: I love it.
Livia: For whatever reason, it sits well.
Racheal: A lot of wisdom on that page. I know that it’s marked on my feed to check all the time. Thank you so much for joining me. I know we could go on for a while about all of these things. I’m so excited that you are here.
Everybody, make sure you check out her Facebook page. I’ll make sure that the link is right below this video.
Racheal: Thanks so much! We’ll talk soon.
Livia: Thank you! Okay.
Racheal: Until next time…