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5 Q's with Dan Houston, Yoga's Reverse Engineer.

Interviewed by: John Holcomb

Quick and candid with Dan Houston about training K-12 teachers to teach yoga and mindfulness, school-based yoga research, reverse engineering your yoga (and life) and the value of watching Fail Army.

Why we’re psyched about Dan?

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Dan’s passion is empowering teachers and students to realize their fullest potential in the areas that matter most: yoga, work, school, goal setting, and family.

His scope of experience spans over multiple countries, a kinesiology and movement studies degree, a masters of education, and in-depth experience in a variety of Eastern practices (meditation, yoga, and various martial arts). Dan’s driving mission is to apply his depth of knowledge and experience to make a significant impact in the daily lives of the teachers and students he trains and serves.

Why we’re all psyched about what he’s doing?

Dan is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of In-Powered, and the Co-Owner of Mind Tribes, a yoga-inspired business and professional development company.

In-Powered is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that creates life-changing opportunities for those impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline through the transformative practice of yoga. They are committed to offering individualized yoga programs in schools, juvenile justice centers and prisons to create a powerful shift for individuals and their communities.

Mind Tribes is a yoga-inspired business and professional development company that empowers yoga practitioners, teachers and entrepreneurs through a suite of intensives and mindfulness trainings.

Our 5 Questions with Dan Houston

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JOHN: How do you feel your high school experience would have been different had your teachers been yoga-certified?

DAN: In-Powered’s mission has changed drastically since we founded the organization about 5 years ago. We use to teach yoga and mindfulness to anyone who wanted or needed it, which we discovered actually dampened our impact over time because it limited our output. In-Powered led programs in a prison, schools, juvenile justice centers, health centers – really, anywhere someone wanted yoga.

In-Powered (INP) now focuses solely on providing training, certification and professional development for school teachers. In almost every regard, INP has taken a major step back, which has empowered us to do exactly what we do best – to train and support educators to lead the charge!

Something magical has started to happen in school systems we currently partner with, which include KIPP Houston Public Schools, Yes Prep Public Schools, Houston ISD, and others. We’re witnessing teachers make conscious choices to step off of the hamster wheel of stress, burnout and silence associated with their profession.

INP’s contribution is by no means a silver-bullet, but teachers are beginning to make more mindful choices to take care of themselves through breath, movement and meditation. As a result, their students get authentic and present teachers

One of the ironies of the western education system is that it is typically exemplified by adults lecturing students about lessons that haven’t worked in their own lives. Had I had a yoga-certified instructor in high school, I’d be better able to be real, to practice self-care and choice, and to express empathy. My education would have been a more embodied and relevant one.

JOHN: Are parents embracing mindfulness at home (that their kids are learning at school)?

DAN: Using a school-based yoga research lense, it’s very difficult to assert whether the benefits of students’ yoga are spilling over into their home life. In fact, the research on the benefits of yoga and mindfulness on the students themselves is scant and inconsistent at best.

INP is working in partnership with Dr. Bradley Smith and his team of educational psychologists to integrate a number of well-being measures to account for an important question: Is yoga working for the youth, first and foremost?

Dr. Smith and his colleagues, Madeline Racine and Patrick Sajovec, have accounted for one very interesting finding inside one of INP’s programs. The researchers found that students who participated in a regular yoga class showed statistically significant higher level of life satisfaction, as compared with students in traditional PE classes

I’m excited about Dr. Smith’s research because school-based yoga research typical only focuses on how programs improve academic performance. Our University of Houston study, however, examines the proximal impact yoga has students’ psychological outcomes, and on their GPA as a distal measure. All that to say, I’d be interested to know if researchers can eventually scale this approach to examine the effects on parents

JOHN: Can you tell us about a particular “a-ha” yoga moment that led to a major breakthrough in your practice?

DAN: One of my most palpable “a-ha” moments came through the gift of pain. After practicing various forms of martial arts since the age of seven, and having been initially trained in vinyasa yoga, my general approach to movement stopped working.

The actual “a-ha” moment came as I laid in bed one night. I can still feel the radiating pain pulsating from my scapula into the front portion of my shoulder. The experience left me angry and, in many ways, feeling like a fraud. I regularly stood in front of 80+ students attesting that yoga was an access to greater health, mobility, and personal power; yet, my pain left me barely able to rotate or move my shoulder.

My initial inclination was to blame everyone and everything I could, rather than take any personal responsibility. I blamed yoga. I blamed my teachers and my training and my trainers. I railed against everything that didn’t work about the yoga community, yet I smiled and continued to teach something that simply wasn’t working for me.

Then, as I laid there, my “a-ha” was that I had yet to fully accept responsibility for my own practice. I realized that practice was not something we “do” or “go to”; rather, I chose to define my practice as something that moves through me. Most importantly, though, I had to stop trafficking in the world of “make wrong”

Stepping into this new space of clarity and responsibility empowered me to reverse engineer my practice and patterns of movement. And now, through an innovative Mind Tribes program called the Asana Deep Dive, I get to mentor yoga students and teachers through their own process of transforming and reverse engineer their practice.

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JOHN: What’s the key take away that students learn first once they begin reverse engineering their practice?

Dan: Your question is completely on-point, because our Asana Deep Dive provides three separate weekends oriented around you getting present to the “Attitudes” and “Start Points” that drive your practice (and your life off the mat, ultimately).

On a practical level, we tend to work with and solve problems, rather than addressing the mental state that led to the disempowering or limiting context in the first place. For instance, if a student in our Asana Deep Dive program asks, “How do I fix my shoulder pain?” Rather than dealing with the symptom (the shoulder pain), we coach her to look for how her way of being (e.g. impatient, stubborn, angry, etc.) has been impacting her actions. Then, after she chooses and manifests a new context (or “Attitude”), we can begin the process of teaching anatomy and functional movements to explore the shoulder issue

Our methodology is based on discarding and adopting different attitudes, and then learning relevant knowledge and tools to explore new actions to generate a quantum leap in results. To borrow an analogy from entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk that exemplifies our work: we teach students and teachers to “FIX THE WELL, NOT THE SINK.”

JOHN: Do you have a guilty pleasure you’d like to share with us to prove that Yogis are people too?

DAN: Two words: FAIL ARMY.

To the completely justified chagrin of my wife, I’ve lost too many late nights watching YouTube videos of people failing in unconscionable ways. The combination of my dedication to empowering others and my Fail Army fascination is absurd, even for me.

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But, in all seriousness, I’m fascinated with the phenomenon of failure and I think we attach too much significance to it all. Honestly, I think Fail Army gets me present to is how some people can subject themselves to legitimate risk and danger without a second thought

Yet, when it comes to relationships, saying what matters, starting that business we’ve always wanted, or quitting the job that’s breaking us spiritually, we’re so easily stopped by fear. I think we could all use more Fail Army energy in the areas of life that really matter.

JOHN: Is there a movie, book or song that has stuck with you recently that you’d like to recommend?

DAN: I’ll offer a two recommendations. On the music front, my wife and I recently had the chance to hear St. Cinder playing on the streets of New Orleans. I’m a big fan of folk band music, and I especially enjoyed their take on ragtime and Vagabond Swing.

My recommended read is Under The Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. I’ve always wanted to learn more about the history of Mormonism without having to dive into a stagnant, boring history textbook.

I appreciate Krakauer’s general structure of intentionally moving from the current-day story to the historical context in his books. Given the expressions and forms of fundamentalism in today’s culture, this book provided an interesting perspective on human nature and the pitfalls of extremism.

JOHN: Last question, paid forward from yogi Dr. Andrea Paige during her 5Q interview - 'What's your Dharma​, Dan?'

DAN: The way I relate to Dharma is that it speaks to my essential duty on the planet, as given by my Karma. My Dharma is to enable the world to be unconstrained and free of suffering such that the world transforms. If I can play a part in empowering someone to take on a new, empowering vantage point, my dharma is being fulfilled.

JOHN: Namaste Dan

DAN: Namaste John

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Dan Houston is a yoga & Mindfulness leader and trainer, entrepreneur, creator and coach. He’s based in Houston where he lives with Cristina Houston. You can catch up with Dan at Mind Tribes.

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JOHN Holcomb is the owner of Outrigger3 Media. He lives in Madison, WI with his two boys Teddy and Milo.