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.

Pay attention to your audience

A yoga class.

A yoga class. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, I started a volunteer yoga teaching position at an artist community of developmentally disabled adults. And boy, do they LOVE their yoga. It’s so nice to see such enthusiasm and gratitude! I felt a little like a rock star :) While I’m dying to get my hands on a studio gig, I am pretty sure my first class in a traditional setting won’t be nearly as interactive and appreciative (on an outward level.)

I’m co-teaching this class with 2 of my other teacher friends and we alternate between teaching and assisting. Prior to the class, we met to go over our sequence, but once we got there, it was an amazing learning opportunity to realize that we really needed to be flexible in response to our audience’s abilities.

The artists can choose to join in if they want and we had about 12 students. I thought that since this was our first class, I didn’t want to go straight into a million sun salutations, but I wanted to make it interactive to see where they were in terms of comfort and ability, so we did sort of a round robin where the students could demonstrate their favorite pose for us and then we all follow along. It was great. They seemed to really get a kick out of it. It was also fantastic to see the variety of poses. One man, Dave, had a ridiculously flexible baddha konasana and when he forward folded, his forehead was all the way to the ground (he also had a mean lotus.) Another guy chose table with one leg up in the air. And of course, we had a tree. Then, as we went along and resumed more of our scheduled sequencing, it became apparent when they were losing focus and you just had to modify to keep their attention or move on to the next thing. Definitely a great opportunity to learn how to improvise!

My biggest takeaways were that:

  1. Even if you have a set sequence, you might need to just completely abandon it at times. Go with the flow.
  2. You need to tune in to how your students are responding. You can’t get too hung up on delivering elaborate alignment cues. For this group, since some had quite limited range of motion, or comfort level in certain poses, it didn’t behoove anyone to drill in that they NEEDED TO STRAIGHTEN THEIR LEG (when they couldn’t or wouldn’t.) This is their class, not yours.
  3. Whatever happens in class, it’s all good, it’s all yoga.

Finding Yoga in Unlikely Places

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This beautiful shot was taken by photographer Robert Sturman. (Click this photo to get to his website.) Check him out!

Ok, I’m not actually advocating attempting down dog on top of a horse, but more power to this yogini. What inspired me to write this post is the massive amount of gardening I’ve been doing lately, which has started to feel a little like a yoga practice to me. For some reason, I just lose myself in the planting and re-potting and digging and mulching…Not to sound like a hippie, but it’s very much a “one with nature” sort of feeling. The reason it feels like yoga to me, besides the nature unity sentiment, is that when I’m down on the ground with dirty paws, all I do is breathe and move. My mind is free from worry and I’m not absorbed with anything but the task at hand. If I knew gardening would be this therapeutic and meditative, I would’ve tried it sooner! Better late than never and I’m grateful to have experienced the joy of gardening.

A Yoga-Filled Weekend Ahead

Now that I have more free time in my life, I’m able to comfortably accomodate more asana practice outside the home and this weekend I’m looking forward to the Wanderlust Festival (Chicago version) in Grant Park! One of my favorite teachers, the lovely and talented Mr. Wade Gotwals is teaching a class that I plan to attend. Our festival isn’t as expansive as the Colorado and California ones, but definitely some great stuff. I’m also looking forward to taking classes with the Starnes sisters and Amber Cook. Hopefully the weather will cooperate! It’s been very rainy and stormy here in the Chi, which is great for the growing things, but not so great when you have outdoor activities planned. Fingers crossed for good weather!

Yoga in the Chi

Yoga in the Chi

I am also attending a lecture and experiential meditation session tomorrow at Moksha called Essence of Living Tantra with Pandit Rajmani Tigunait. Looking forward to hearing him speak!

And, in between, I plan to hit a few classes at my home studio, Nature Yoga Sanctuary. I just love my teachers there!

Have a great weekend and Yoga On!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gone Missing For A While

This song has made it to my super duper repeat playlist. I run to it, I listen to it while I’m working, I turn it on and sing along with it, regardless of the fact that I’m pretty much a shower-quality singer. It’s very relevant to both my absence from blogging and the path my life is taking.

My last entry was a little vague, but I’m in a major transition phase in my life. I’m going in the direction I want, but not exactly on my timeline. I told a yoga teacher mentor of mine that I had this plan to leave my corporate job at the end of the year because I frankly need to save money to pay the bills (and maybe if I admit it to myself, a little scared to do something different, even if it IS what I want.) I was very insistent that this was the way my plan NEEDED TO WORK, in order to work. She kept asking me why my plan was so set in stone? Could I deviate from it? My response was, “no, this is how it needs to be.” Yep, not exactly how it turned out.

So, perhaps I willed the change, but here I am, on my own, trying to figure out how to make it all work. I’ve learned during this period that I need to be OPEN TO EVERYTHING. It’s so easy to define yourself by the job you’ve been doing (in my case over a decade.) Now I need to relearn who I am apart from that particular situation. In yoga, we call these old patterns samskaras and I’m on the journey to break free from mine.

As for the title of this post, I’m relating to my buddies in Maximo Park (figurative buddies) when they say, “I’m going missing for a while, I’ve got nothing left to lose.” I feel like I’m taking a break from the self that I know myself to be to get to the next me. Part of that process has been pulling back a bit, which being super type-A was hard to do, but I’m learning.

If you bend too far, you might break

If you’ve followed current yoga news for a while (or at least the past year and some change,) chances are you’ve heard of John Friend. And the scandal (oh, the scandal…) If you HAVEN’T heard about it, a quick Google search yields article after article after article, a few of which I’ve linked to, so I’m not going to go into detail, nor am I going to proselytize. I have never had any connection to either Friend or his school of yoga, the now-relatively defunct Anusara, so I have no personal bias, but what I read didn’t sit very well with me. Any teacher in a position of authority has a responsibility to not cross certain boundaries and Friend, as such a public figure, and for goodness sake, a yogi, could possibly have been held to a higher moral standard. (Am I getting preachy? I’ll stop. Just wanted to offer a little context.)

At any rate, this video and article: “John Friend’s Advanced Variations of the Roots: First Set” appeared in my news feed from online source Yoganonymous (love you guys!) Naturally, I was curious and clicked to see what this Roots series looked like. And this is what it looked like:

Ouch

Ouch

I’m not gonna lie to you, it made me uncomfortable. There didn’t seem to be any rationale or intelligence to the asanas. There’s the “full extension of the pose” but, this was something else altogether. It felt like a contortionist act and it made me fear for the spinal columns of less flexible practitioners, who attempt to emulate this craziness. Again, another example thrown out there for the uninitiated who think they have to BE contortionists to “do yoga” or “be good at yoga.” It just seemed a little ridiculous.

What do you think?

 

Good At Yoga

Since my “graduation” from teacher training a week ago, I’ve gratefully accepted congrats from friends and colleagues. Very  heartwarming. However, this exchange inevitably leads to, “I would like to do yoga, but I’m not good at it.” Le sigh. But, it’s my task, nee mission, to let people know that asana, advanced asana, is only a tiny part of this massive moving organism that is yoga. Unfortunately, I’m still guilty of wishing I was “good at yoga.”

Case in point, I was in a particularly challenging class the other night. My normal vinyasa 2-3 class, with this particular teacher, is usually only very fast-paced, ashtanga-style, which presents its own set of challenges  when my old rotator cuff injury sparks up sometime after my tenth chaturanga. This class, however,  was very top-loaded with arm balance variations, forearm balances, handstands, full iterations of eka pada rajakapotasana, “advanced poses” etc…All well and good, but here’s where my ego gets in the way.

I can’t do a handstand. I can’t do the full form of eka pada rajakoptasana, there are a lot of things that I can’t do (yet?) And it still makes me a little sad.  For a long time, I felt like it was the one barrier between me and full yoga teacher-hood. I wanted to dive into the world of yoga teaching a few years ago, but I was worried that I wasn’t “good at yoga.” At that point, asana was my main focus (and I know I’m not alone!) All I saw was photos of yogis who were, as I imagined, “good at yoga.” Fortunately, over the years, the more I studied and made pranayama and meditation a more substantial part of my practice, I realized that asana wasn’t the end-all-be-all. Even more reassuring, I have had the good fortune to work with teachers who inform the students that there is no “good at yoga.” That you could spend the entire ninety minutes of class, in child’s pose on your mat and you are still practicing yoga!

A few days after that class, I brought my handstand conflict up to one of my yoga teacher friends (ooh, I love that I can call them yoga teachers instead of yoga teacher trainees!!) This particular yogini informed me that she’s been working on hers for THREE YEARS (this woman is quite adept at her physical practice, so the knowledge that she didn’t just kick up one day was very reassuring.) And then she reminded me that it’s the practice, the journey, that’s important.

Of course, the other extremely crucial element that I somehow manage to forget is that I actually have to PUT IN THE WORK. I’m not quite sure where I got the idea that by practicing vinyasa for a few years, I would all of a sudden be the next Kathryn Budig, who looks as comfortable on her hands as I feel on my feet. I actually have to work on the damn poses and if I don’t, I can’t feel sad that I’m not rocking pincha mayurasana in the middle of the room. I’m a quick one, right?

That said, while I still battle my ego, at least I am aware of the absurdity. I do feel that it is my duty to remind myself and others that there is no “good at yoga.”

I AM (finally) A YOGA TEACHER!!

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That’s right, totally certified. I haven’t stopped smiling since my “graduation” ceremony last night. We had a fantastic gathering at the studio where we shared our memorable moments. A lot of laughing, some tears (of joy) shed…It was just incredible that so many of us had the same pivotal moments along the way. I’m sure I mentioned several blog posts back about my crying in kundalini class. Well, that class made several people’s lists. It really was an amazing bonding moment. I am fortunate beyond words to have been brought together with a group of people who are all so wonderful and unique, yet we’re all sort of “one.” One girl requested a rolling OM and pardon my french, but that shit rocks. It was awesome. Then, we went out afterward and talked and laughed and hugged and had a few non-sattvic adult beverages and had a really wonderful time. Another girl  had brought bindis, so we were all wearing them.  Numerous people stopped us to ask what the heck we had on our foreheads. A few people even asked for some. I took some great pictures, which I was very much looking forward to posting today after I’d edited them.

I woke up this morning, still smiling. Absolutely beaming. Glowing. Floating. I walked to the bus with the biggest grin on my face, which stayed there until I got off the bus and descended the stairs to embark my train. I put my  hand in my pocket to pull out my iPhone to check the time and wouldn’t you know it? GONE. Nuts. 

I had had it just minutes before and had put it back into the pocket of my long, puffy black Chicago Winter coat and this guy bumped me and sort of blocked my way, so I had to push past him when I exited the bus, so my gut tells me it was him. I had to file a police report, a report with the Chicago Public Transit Authority and my phone network carrier along with blocking and deactivating my poor missing phone. Even though it frankly sucked in a huge way, I just let it roll off my back.

I’m still completely cool as a cucumber. The only thing I am quite sad about is the loss of the photos of me and my beautiful friends on the evening of our new beginning. I so hope my photos somehow got backed up in the cloud. I am not eligible for an iPhone 5 for 10 more days, so I have this sad little $14 pre-paid phone. But, it does the job. I showed it to a colleague who made a funny comment that I had to “re-learn an outdated technology.” Seriously, I got a text as a test from the guy at the store and I was poking the screen trying to get something to happen and then I realized, yes, this certainly is no smartphone. At least he made me laugh when he said, “NO ONE is going to steal this one…”

All that said, I’m still absolutely ecstatic! I have several new possible opportunities that I’m trying to firm up. It’s all so exciting. I can’t wait!

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.