200 Hours Isn’t Long Enough (for me…)

yoga

yoga (Photo credit: GO INTERACTIVE WELLNESS)

About halfway through my 200 hour yoga teacher training, I realized 200 hours was far too little time to even scratch the surface of yoga. It makes sense…how can you distill a several thousand year, multi-faceted system of mind/body integration into a mere 200 hours? You could probably spend that 200 hours just glossing over philosophy. Fortunately, I’m (occasionally) realistic and (somewhat) patient and have accepted that this learning process will be a lifetime one. I’ve also always been a little drawn to the jnana (path of knowledge) limb of the system. The more you start to learn, the more you realize there’s pretty much no end in sight. And that’s fine.

I can’t even imagine teachers that go through a week or month long intensive and that’s the only training they get. It seems like all you could cover in that ridiculously short span of time is cueing asana. And that’s fine if you’re going for a predominantly “athletic” style of teaching (i.e. gyms, etc…) But, that’s not my personal goal. So, to that end, I’m researching more education, which is really exciting. I’m almost positive I’m going to embark on a 500 hour training at Moksha Yoga in Chicago (where I currently do work/study.) I’m really impressed with their training program and I respect the opportunities they give their trainees. Beyond that, I’ve got a few more trainings in mind. Good thing I truly enjoy learning! I’ve got my work cut out for me.

Teaching kinda rocks!!

ImageWell, my Saturday Teacher Training class came and went. I was a little nervous about getting up in front of class and teaching my peers. We had a 2 hour period to fill, going around the room, each teaching short sequences. I had nothing prepared except a thorough review of the notes I’ve taken on the asanas covered in class. After at least 12 of my classmates got up to teach, it was my turn. Oddly, I wasn’t nervous at all. It was actually slightly exhilarating! I ended up not even teaching anything we’ve covered in class, instead opting for a hip-opening sequence, starring my fave: baddha konasana. Then, my turn came around a second time near the end, but we were very near the end of class, so I had to rush through instructing shoulderstand.

The next day, I got together with 2 of my classmates and we met at another studio to practice teach. I finally got to do what I’ve wanted for ages: start the class with an opening meditation. For some reason, I just LOVE that part. I love the transition from the hustle and bustle of pre-class life where the external world is so heavy on your mind, to the journey inward. I love slowing down. Slowing down thoughts and breathing and just softening into the space around you. I even led my very first OM chant! This was quite a step for me because sometimes I get a little creaky in OM. In fact, one time, I was in class next to one of my fellow trainees and my voice cracked like Peter Brady’s in his “Time To Change” era (ok, this might not resonate for the younger crowd, but if you’ve seen it, you’ll know….) We both ended up laughing. I couldn’t help myself. But, in this OM, my voice remained steady. Afterward, my classmates told me they really loved the opening sequence and they thought it really set the tone for practice. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!

I am so excited to really dive into teaching. I only have TWO classes left until I “graduate.” As I’ve said before, it’s so bittersweet.

Only Three Classes Left in Teacher Training

Gyan Mudra

Gyan Mudra

Such a bittersweet feeling…

Part of me is relieved to have my Thursday nights free again and to actually have TWO days off per week instead of the one I’ve had for 7 months. The other part of me is incredibly sad to be leaving the training program. I’ve met some really remarkable individuals and couldn’t be happier with the lovely group of people I’ve spent so much time with over these past months. I know it isn’t the end of the road, but as is customary, people get busy, schedules are difficult to coordinate and eventually you slowly drift. I hope that isn’t the case. In a way, I imagine it won’t be, since we’re tied together by a stronger force than just having been thrown together for a far less personal journey.

At any rate, today we get together for class to practice teach the class. Generally, we approach our practice classes by learning the alignment cues and verbage to instruct our students how to get into the asana, then we break into small groups and practice teaching each other. Only one other class have we each taken turns standing in the front of the class, instructing all 25 of us. It was a “round robin” class where we had to make an intelligent decision about which asana would most closely complement or counter the asana taught before. Lucky for me, my turn was after my very graceful and flexible dancer classmate came up and taught ardha chandrasana on one side. I was the last student, so I’d already prepared a savasana sequence. Foiled!

Round Robin, get it??

Fortunately, I’ve made my peace with Half Moon over the years. I used to HATE it. I could never maintain my balance, half of which was caused by fear of falling, so I wouldn’t even fully try. But, I got up there and taught to the best of my ability. Once I stood in front of everyone, I wasn’t nervous, which is strange because I have a long history of being absolutely PETRIFIED of public speaking of any sort.

I’m glad to have had that experience early on, because I’m a little nervous today. I have faith that when I stand in front of class this afternoon, it’s all going to fall into place. As one of my trainee friends said the other day, “think about it. We’re all in the same place.” True dat. It’s not as if ALL of us are even close to being expert teachers. I’m among a safe group of peers. No one’s going to laugh behind my back  if I forget a cue or say “right foot” when I mean left. It’s all good. Until then, I will just take a deep breath and when I get to the front of class, I’ll teach what I know, from intuition and my own personal practice, instead of sticking to a script.

Light in mind, light in body

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fly little elephant, fly!

Due to what I now identify as my vata nature,  I tend to have a very active mind when I’m out of balance. Not always in a good way, either. Sometimes I feel like I have so many thoughts in my head that it’s like a hamster on a wheel, constantly rotating, going nowhere. I can think about things so much that the line between truth and fiction get a little blurry. The past few months, I’ve been dealing with some internal and external issues in my life that I felt needed to be resolved, but I wasn’t sure how or when. I hoped that the teacher training process would give me some tools to deal with these situations. And boy have they!

For one thing, practicing being present has been incredibly grounding. It’s not healthy to spend too much time in the past or the future. When you’re stuck on either end of the spectrum, you’re taking energy away from dealing with the now, and the now is when you make the decisions that affect your future.

Breathing, the practice of pranayama, has helped calm me down in so many instances, that I now unconsciously “return to my breath” (in yoga speak :). It hasn’t always been easy, but the more you practice something, the more it becomes part of you without having to work so hard. I’ve had to continually consciously redirect my thoughts from ping-ponging back and forth from past to future. This process is almost second nature now.

After my last teacher training class (the one with the good ol’ yoga cry), I have been not-so-slowly moving toward this amazing sense of clarity. My two biggest worries required that I make a decision in order to move forward. One, I was working toward, but without a plan. The other, I was sort of trying to ignore, hoping that I’d know what to do eventually.

Since that class, I have had an entire mental shift that is leading me down the path of resolution. I took a step toward freeing myself from the burden of one of the things that was keeping me tethered and as soon as I took that step, almost immediately, I felt like an enormous weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Once that weight was lifted, I made a decision. Two actually, concerning both of the issues.

That was two days ago and today, as I have walked around from the train to the office, or just down the hall, I feel physically light. Almost like I’m floating. I’ve never experienced this sort of lightness before and it’s incredible! And I know with all the certainty in the world that this yoga journey has been the catalyst.

Kundalini’s killin’ me

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I’m finally back to my teacher training after a short holiday break. It’s so great to be back! On Saturday, we had a workshop on Psychology and Yoga and it’s truly interesting to see how closely related they are. As it happens, I came to yoga from a psychological perspective (I earned my bachelor’s in psychology and while I don’t work in that field, I am still very interested.) Through my years of practice, I can’t deny the psychological implications yoga embodies. It’s been such an integral part of my life in terms of giving me the tools to deal with life’s frustrations, stresses and anxieties. I kid you not, if the me that I was 10 years ago met the me I am now, we wouldn’t even recognize each other. And that is a good thing. To that end, I plan to focus my teaching energy toward yoga’s healing properties instead of how to get a perfect yoga booty. Not saying that an asana-based practice is a bad thing, but there is SO much more to yoga than the physical aspects.

One of my teachers (the little pixie sprite), in addition to being a yoga teacher, also works as a psychotherapist. It was great to have her discuss psychology with us. First, we did a 45 minute kundalini practice with a lot of focus on the 3rd eye chakra. I think I mentioned in another post that I’ve got a strange relationship with kundalini. I don’t necessarily love it and often I find it frustrating, but somehow, it never fails to evoke a really powerful response (even if it is anger.)

We did a kriya on our backs where we scissored our legs back and forth for about 5 minutes. That is an incredibly long time and it was so uncomfortable (and then we repeated it again.) I’d already done an intense 2 hour practice before training and was feeling a little cranky about having to go through a kundalini practice. Long story short, we did several uncomfortable kriyas. Two with our arms over our heads, employing kapalabhati breath (breath of fire.) It almost seems comical to me when I look at the words I’m typing, how it doesn’t seem like these exercises should be very difficult, but when you’re doing them for five minutes each and then repeating after a short rest, it’s seriously intense. During the last arms over-the-head kriya, I actually lost feeling in both arms. It’s challenging to focus on your breath, your third eye, AND to try to block out pins and needles in your limbs.

Finally, we ended with a meditation set to music. We sat, legs crossed, one palm facing up in guyan mudra, the other arm fully extended in the air. Our teacher invited us to listen to the mantra and join in if we felt like it. The song was “Bountiful, Blissful, Beautiful” by Bachan Kaur. It repeats variations of “I am bountiful, I am blissful, I am beautiful, I am.” Cue tears. I was trying so hard to keep it together because I am NOT a fan of crying in public. At. All. When I heard the words, I just had this feeling that the words were true, but I so very seldom apply those adjectives to myself, which just made me deeply sad. By the end, I just had rivulets of water streaming down my face. My poor friend sitting next to me was triggered by the sound of me sniffling, so post class, we just sat together crying a bit. Part of me was deeply embarrassed and part of me realized I needed this natural release and was grateful to have experienced something that moved me so deeply. Humans are feeling creatures and so often we’re prone to extinguishing our feelings. 

My biggest takeaway however, was the message of the mantra and really believing that about myself and others. And, again, ahimsa in the form of self-love/acceptance. That’s my goal for 2013.

Tom Selleck, Prana Vayus and Bandhas

Tom Selleck on the red carpet at the 1989 Acad...

T’Om’ Selleck, get it? Ok, I’m just being cheesy…

Last Thursday night I went to my usual 6-7:30 p.m. yoga class, which is a  practice class before my teacher training session. I was all geared up to go through some massive Kundalini with the pixie sprite yoga teacher, but alas, she was sick and we had a sub. I’ve had this sub once before and she got major points for showing up to teach in a Tom Selleck t-shirt. I really like it when a yogi isn’t deadly serious all the time. A little levity goes a long way. Although she had a really sparkly personality, she was no joke about the asana she was having us practice.

An hour and a half later, we had a little bit of time before teacher training started, so we ran across the street to get some nourishment, which we typically do as the teacher training Thursday sessions have thus far been lecture classes. Unfortunately, this was a practice class. Now, I’m all about the practice. The more the merrier, but I was starving. I hadn’t even had a chance to uncork my kombucha or shove more than 2 or 3 almonds in my face.

Once I got past my hunger grumpiness, it ended up being a pretty fascinating practice. We learned, via movement, about the 5 Prana Vayus (the 5 vital currents that are continually moving through us and the universe in all directions):

  • Apana: downward energy
  • Prana: upward energy
  • Samana: inward energy
  • Udana: outward energy
  • Vyana: expansion in all directions, all-encompassing.

To illustrate these concepts, we paired movement that matched the direction of energy. It was a fantastic way to reinforce what we were learning. Fascinating stuff in general!

Then, we learned about the bandhas. I’ve used the bandhas before, but I never really grasped their implication in the blocking and redirecting of energy. Even more fascinating! We also did asana to incorporate the bandhas. Let me tell you, downward dog is a whole different beast when you’re engaging your mula, uddiyana, and jalandhara bandhas at the same time! I love this idea of harnessing the energy and reversing its course and directing it where I want. So awesome.

Kundalini Yoga….It’s What’s For Breakfast

Kundalini

Kundalini (Photo credit: vaXzine)

I realize the title’s a bit silly, but every morning for the past week, while I’m drinking my coffee/eating breakfast,  I’ve been reading from one of the assigned textbooks for my teacher training, The 8 Human Talents, by Kundalini yoga teacher, Gurmukh.

I’ll be perfectly frank, my verdict is still out on Kundalini. I’d had no experience with that yoga system prior to starting my teacher training (aside from one DVD by Ana Brett that I tried approximately once…) One of the studio owners is this lovely little pixie sprite, whose delicate size belies a powerhouse of strength. She has trained with Gurmukh and incorporates Kundalini in her classes.

Here’s a little of what we’ve come to expect in her Thursday night class: Hold plank for 3 minutes (try it,  3 minutes in plank is a LOOOOONG time), your shoulders are burning, your arms are shaking, you think about dying, then she’ll instruct you to go into half chaturanga and…. BACK TO PLANK! Since our shoulders are already broken, why not throw in some dolphin? And then…back to plank. I hurt just thinking about it (and I’m actually fairly strong.) This sequence isn’t particularly Kundalini in nature, but more an illustration of the focus and determination this teacher is trying to instill in us.

It’s hard to even describe Kundalini, since it was quite different from the vinyasa flow classes I am partial to. For one thing, there were no sun salutation sequences. It felt a lot like pilates. A lot of repetitive, fast movement linked to breath. We were working on some 3rd chakra exercises, which relate to personality, self-esteem and ego. My teacher warned us that some of the exercises might bring up some emotion. I was skeptical. I’ve been practicing yoga for 6 years and I had yet to encounter a practice that evoked an emotional response, though I’ve heard it happens.

kundalini

After about half an hour, we moved on to one sequence that involved placing your fingers on your shoulders, thumbs to the back, fingers to the front (see picture above!) You then twist from side to side, inhaling to one side, exhaling to the other, keeping your elbows shoulder height. She instructed us to close our eyes and focus upward, where we imagined our third eye to be. This movement was done at a fairly rapid pace and I felt like that thing in washing machines that spins the clothes. All of a sudden, I felt this tightness in my chest, a lump in my throat and my eyes were getting a little moist. Damn it, I felt like crying. It was quite the experience.

These past mornings, reading Gurmukh’s book, I’m really getting into her explanations of the physical application of Kundalini. I’m starting to gain a deeper understanding of the chakra system and the physical ways we can address blockages via movement and breath. It’s also made me understand the exercises in class, why they’re so different from other vinyasa classes and the intention behind our teacher’s sequences. I’m intrigued to see where this leads!

I Challenge You To A….Downward Dog? (from jello arms to yoga teacher training)

yoga

yoga (Photo credit: GO INTERACTIVE WELLNESS)

After over a decade of working in various advertising, media, PR and related fields, I decided this past September to enroll in a 200 hour Teacher Training program at Nature Yoga.

This was a decision that was years in the making. After taking my first yoga class in 2006 at (the now defunct in Chicago) Crunch gym, I was hooked. Seriously hooked. At the time, I was working at a media agency and one of our health magazine clients came into our office every week for a month to give us tips on nutrition, fitness, and health. Those of us who participated in her program received free passes to Crunch as incentives to (join the gym) get in shape. One of the trainers was a woman I had worked with a few years earlier, and I knew she knew a thing or two about fitness, she was a seriously ripped little woman. So, when she told us that if there was ONE thing we REALLY needed to do during the program, it should be to try a yoga class, I thought, “Eh, why not?”

I’d always been a little fascinated by yoga and, not to brag, had dabbled in it a little myself when I was a small child, along with my mom and Lilias Folan, who was the Queen of Yoga on PBS in the 70′s (oh, I didn’t mean to date myself…) But, decades later, I never really thought to seek it out on my own.

Armed with this “challenge” from my trainer, a colleague and I made a date to hit one of the Crunch yoga classes over lunch. My first observation was that there was an interesting mix of people in the class, young gym rats, middle-aged people, nearly as many men as women. I situated myself in the back near a woman I gauged to be in about her late 50s. Seemed like a safe enough situation, surely I wouldn’t feel out-of-place next to this nonYoga Journal cover model.

Gads, I was so, so wrong. The class seriously kicked my ass. When I was in downward dog, my arms were shaking like crazy. When it came time to lower down into chaturanga, I basically belly-flopped. Holding warrior was like trying to walk a tightrope. There was very little balance to be had. All I could think was…THIS is yoga? What happened to the gentle stretching? I’ve always been fairly flexible, so I assumed it would be a cakewalk. By the end of class, I wasn’t quite sure what hit me and I was a little humbled by my lack of strength/balance, but somehow….I felt AWESOME.

I remember turning to the older woman next to me, who was firmly holding her down dogs – no shaky arms there – and fully in control of her chaturanga. “Does this EVER get easier?” I asked her. She replied, “It does if you stick with it.” CHALLENGE ACCEPTED! It also didn’t hurt that my colleague was similarly in awe of the difficulty, yet awesomeness, of this experience. So, we went back…over and over and over. Soon, my noon-time yoga class was the absolute high point of my days. And over time, those downward dogs stopped being shaky.

And that was basically the genesis of my love of yoga. Eventually, I started not just physically practicing, but reading about it any chance I could. I bought DVD’s to practice with at home when I couldn’t make it to the gym/studio. I purchased books that offered more insight from experienced yogis. I researched the Sanskrit names of the poses. I checked out different studios. I busted out warrior in the elevator when no one was looking.

Over the years, I’ve ebbed and flowed in terms of commitment and ability. There were times when I practiced every day and periods of injury where my mat grew dusty for months at a time. I still feel guilty periodically when I think about those down times. Sometimes my ego berates me for not having practiced consistently enough that I am able to just fling myself into scorpion pose (although, I feel like my rotator cuff injury may have nixed that particular pose for me…) at moment’s notice.

And honestly, the single largest reason I had only wistfully entertained the notion of yoga teacher training for a few years is that I felt like I needed to be perfect at it. But, let’s get real here…I’m never going to be a Yoga Journal cover model. I’m not getting any younger and with that realization, I need to accept that perhaps I never will be able to do scorpion pose. But y’know what? That’s OK! What I lack in sheer gymnastic ability, I make up for in passion. Besides, asana is merely one little teeny tiny bit of yoga. If I can teach even a few people here and there the things I’ve learned along the way, mission accomplished!

I’m so very glad I made the decision to pursue teacher training. It has been an amazing experience and dare I say, life-changing?