Monday, May 30, 2011

Home Practice & my first yoga class sequence

I just spent at least FOUR HOURS in a home practice.  Probably more!  I don't remember when I started, but at some point after I started, I updated my Facebook status (got momentarily distracted, lol) and when I finished, it had been 3 hours since I posted it.

It was amazing, it felt like no time had passed at all.  Not only is 4 hours just a really long time to be practicing...anything, I'm just really surprised at the quality of my home practice today.  It wasn't just lolling around in restorative postures mixed with playing with inversions--I even worked up a little bit of a sweat!  Part of the homework from this past weekend of teacher training is to write a "level 2 YogaWorks sequence" leading up to Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1).  "YogaWorks Level 2" means that there are only certain poses that I'm allowed to include in the sequence and that I have to follow a specific structure.  So, that is what I was working on this morning into the afternoon (...still, whoa!  That was a LONG practice, lol).  I had already started writing it out at work, but it's just so different once you actually start doing it.

I'm actually kind of amused because I had to do the sequence the same way I wrote my papers in college:  I found a song that "clicked," put it on repeat, and then I had to work backwards.  Vira 1 is a really common pose for me.  I do it every time I do my Ashtanga practice and it's common in other classes as well.  So, my body is already used to it.  The squaring-the-hips action is the one that is usually the most challenging for people to do; but the stance that the legs are in during this pose is also one that I'm familiar with from my karate training back when I was 7 1/2 years old.  Those legs are the "front stance" in Shotokan karate.  My point is, that because I'm so used to it, I realized that I didn't really understand what it felt like--what was required of the body to do it: which muscles are getting lengthened/opened, which ones are working, etc.  I literally had to hold the pose for over a minute to understand what was going on: what needed to be taught in order to do the pose & enjoy its benefits and what needed to be done to counter it.

You know what I found out?  I didn't really like Vira 1!  Which could be another reason I'm not really aware of what's going on with it, lol.  Why don't I like it?  Even though it's easy for me to get my body in that position, there are a couple of old injuries that it bothers: the right low back and the right foot (when that foot is in back, angled in).   It also bothers a new tweak in my left knee that results in some frustrating sharp pain to outside of that knee whenever I bend it.  But, physical injuries aside, I didn't like how it felt.  Something about facing the front and having my arms up kind of bothered me.  Kind of felt like I  Maybe because my arms are up above my head?  Where as, in karate, they were down in front of me, making it easier to defend myself.

So, I sat with it some more and just focused on feeling what was going on in my body.  Took a while, lol.  Aside from the muscles in the hip flexor needing to be open in order for the back leg to straighten and square the hips, my biggest revelation was that, in this pose (at least for me) my back leg was working a hell of a lot more than my front leg!  I would have thought that it would have been more in the front leg because...well, you're facing the front.  But it's like the back leg was working harder to square my hips than the front.  Not sure why, that's just what it was doing.  So, my practice and sequence was focused heavily around waking up the muscles in the hip/butt area (a.k.a, the "external rotators") that are needed for the front leg to help square the hips, and give the back leg a break, lol (after all, that's the one getting the deep stretch!).  There was also a good bit of twisting because Vira 1 also asks for a little twist in the upper body (I don't think I was really aware of it before).  And, obviously, there was a lot of standing poses.  My legs weren't on fire, but they were definitely working hard.  And it actually felt really good!  It felt really warm.  So, not on fire, but like there was energy running through my legs.  I'd forgotten how great it feels to have strong legs.  Since hurting my foot and doing so much Ashtanga, my arms are now the stronger part of my body.  I could have stayed in those standing poses for many more minutes, they felt so good.

I'm also amused at how my running background informed my sequencing for this practice.  Mostly in the cool-down phase.  I was always better at cooling down than figuring out how to warm up my body before practice.  So, after I worked my way up to the Vira 1 peak, the "cool-down" part was very slow.  My reaction after doing so much leg stuff was to get to the ground as quickly as possible, because, even though it felt good, my legs were getting tired.  BUT...that's not the best idea.  After you finish a race or a practice, you never just sit down and stop moving.  It's like a shock to your legs and body to go from intense action to nothing.  It has to be slow and gradual, even if your legs say, "no more!"  So, keeping that in mind, I still did a few more standing poses but just shifted which leg muscles would be working.  I also combined it with some standing forward bends to start bringing the energy down.  Followed by a nice long hold in downdog.  Then I went to the seated-melt-into-the-mat poses.

It was also really cool to see the influences of all the other classes I've taken, teachers I've practiced with and the styles I've experimented with.  I could see the Forrest influence in the long holds, experimenting with different arm variations while holding Vira 2 legs, a sweet little variation to twisted Crescent pose that I learned in classes with Ame Wren and Georgia Reath that gets you using your core and not your arms to twist, a lot of the alignment cues are coming from Natasha (not surprising).  The warm-up part feels very Forresty (minus the abs, those are not YogaWorks moves, lol) but there is also some stuff that I remember doing with one of my very first teachers from Healing Tree.  I pulled a lot from the Ashtanga series for the sequencing the standing poses but also from the YogaWorks method (which makes sense, since they pull from there too).  Anyways, it was really cool to see them all come together.

A good amount of the 4 hours was start and stop between writing down what poses I did (and why, very important, lol) and then going back and putting them together to make sure they still made sense.  It was really helpful to have a specific pose to work towards and structure to work with.  Actually, the structure is more like an outline or "guidelines."  It also really helped knowing that someone was going to be holding me accountable to it.  Not just having to turn the sequence in for the training.  Last week, I was talking with Georgia about the shifts that it felt like my practice was going through and she encouraged me to practice at home more.  That's not the first time a teacher has suggested it, but it's the first time one was going to "hold me accountable" to it, lol.  She said that the next time she saw me, she would ask if I had.  Obviously nothing would "happen" if I hadn't, but just knowing that someone would ask gave me an extra nudge (which is what she intended).  Having a lot of time at my disposal really helped too.  On the rare occasions that I do practice at home, I spend a lot of time doing it--even if it's just lolling around in restorative poses.  Which is probably one reason I don't practice at home that much.  I like to be able to have plenty of time to work slowly and really feel the poses.  That's probably got a lot to do with the Forrest yoga background, but it also seems to be a general progression--like the more you practice yoga, the longer and more slowly people tend to practice.  That could be an over-generalization, but that's just something I've noticed.

Either way, I'm really glad I did my own practice today.  I'd been working myself into a bit of a funk with my shoulder and wrist hurting (something happened to the wrist about a week and a half ago, best guess: strain + ganglion cyst; whatever, it's getting better) and it felt really good to practice.  With all these injuries, it's becoming harder to do public classes, just because my body needs so many different things.  Such as, I have to warm up differently because I need my shoulders to be really open in case I have to switch to doing dolphins instead of downward facing dogs because my wrist is hurting.  But, I think that this is also a natural progression.  The yoga practice is meant to be an individual practice.  What and how you practice depends on what your body and mind need...and that is different everyday too.  I still love some led classes because it provides a different kind of relaxation for your mind, because you don't have to think about what to do next.  Doing a home practice/self-practice makes you use your mind--it focuses it.  And, as I've learned in reading about meditation, having just one thing to focus all your energy on is relaxing, because you're no longer trying to figure out which thing to follow or bouncing between a bunch of different things in your mind.  That's one part of the yoga right?  "Restraint/calming of the fluctuations of the mind."  Single focus = no fluctuations.  :-)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

"The Question"

"Do you still feel like you don't want to teach?"  "Are you going to teach?"...etc.

I think I'm going to stop answering, "the question."  In all its forms.  Not because I don't think the answer will never change.  But because I want it to be able to.  To be clear, that is not saying, "Yes, I actually, really do."  What I mean is that it's an option that I want to keep open, to keep available.  Natasha (the main person leading my training) loves to repeat a quotation from the Upanishads:

    Watch your thoughts, they become your words,
    Watch your words, they become your actions,
    Watch your actions, they become your habits,
    Watch your habits, they become your destiny.

 I've been asked "the question" so many times, and I've felt so resistant simply to the idea of teaching for so long, that it feels like it is starting to become habit for me to respond, "no" whenever I'm asked; even though I'm not feeling quite as resistant to it as I have been.  But I keep saying it.  Partly because the idea does still scare me, and I'm not sure if it is something I definitely want to do.  And because part of me is still just fighting the idea of teaching.  Probably because I was asked "the question" so many times before the thought of me teaching even entered my mind; like I was being pushed towards doing something "I didn't want to do."  So, because I've been resisting that perceived "push" for so long, it's kind of like it's just my automatic response, in the hopes that people will leave me alone and just drop the subject so that I can have my own experience, without anyone dictating what it "means."  Even though a different part of me is starting to feel more comfortable with the idea.  It's as though, now I can start to imagine myself in some kind of that form.  Whereas, before, I couldn't even visualize it.

And I feel like every time I respond in the "no" form--out of fear or just adamant resistance/rebellion--I close that door.  And I've finally realized that it's not a door that I want "closed" forever, as my "destiny."  Because, even if "I never teach yoga," there's a whole set of skills that come with learning how to teach something--whatever that may be.  To be able to translate what you know--inherently--in your own body and mind into information that other people can understand and use is a skill that can carry over into MANY other parts of your life.  Not to mention give you a deeper level of your own understanding.  For example, today, we had to practice teach again.  Just in pairs, one pose, on the spot--no preparation.  And every time, in that scenario, part of my brain locks down and I can't describe what I'm doing and what I know how to do.  Even as I'm doing it!  My words just won't come out, even though I know, somewhere inside my brain, exactly what to say.  I just can't seem to access it, it's blocked.  Again, even if "I never teach yoga," having the skill to move past blocks like that is HUGE.

I just feel like every time I say, "no, I'm not going to, I don't want to teach"--or even every time I think it--I keep closing that door to the experiences and skills that I could gain from even just learning how to teach.  As though just thinking, "oh, I'm never going to teach/I don't want to teach, so I'm just not going to worry about not understanding ________," rather than exploring it further.  It's like what Natasha said this evening before we left about the quiz that we are going to have tomorrow which she is never going to see (collect or grade), "study for the quiz like it matters."

So, I'm not going to answer "the question" with any sort of definite answer anymore.  I don't know how things are going to turn out or how I'm going to feel in 3 months when this training is over.  Or in the months following it.  This is something that has captured my complete attention for almost 2 years and is something that I love, so I am going to explore it to the fullest extent that I can.  That's my answer--that's my "intention."  A sort of guide that will hopefully lead to great experiences, deep learning and, maybe, even to some "real answers."

Monday, May 9, 2011

Yoga Teacher Training: Weekend One Reflection.

Yoga teacher training update:

I have just finished my second weekend of yoga teacher training.  Well, technically, I've had one weekend of teacher training and this past weekend was the anatomy intensive.  I'm really glad that they made the second weekend of the course the anatomy portion, because if it was another training weekend I think I would have been a little more wiped out this morning.  The first 3-day training weekend was a lot.  Not necessarily physically difficult, or even mentally difficult...just a lot.  I had a minor freak-out moment Sunday night after we finished and I was cleaning up the room.  It's like it all kind of hit me right then: how much there is to learn, staying on top of In-training-assistant responsibilities, being unsure of how I want to use this training, shoulder injury, expectations of other people, life decisions...ah!!!  I just felt this massive, "Oh my god, I can't do this!" feeling wash over and I broke down a little and started crying.  Good thing: none of the other people taking the training were in the room.  More embarassing: the main teacher leading the training was.  But she was very kind and understanding.  She was really good at trying to ease the pressure, reminding me that I don't HAVE to teach...or even take the final exam if I don't want to.  In the end, if all I want to do is audit the course and not be certified, then I can do that.  She doesn't think I will, and neither do I, but she was just trying to make the point that everything is going to be fine.  Sometimes I just really feel the weight of what I'm doing--I have high standards for myself and it also feels like other people expect a lot from me; expect me to be capable of doing a lot.  There were/are a lot of people who gently but consistently encouraged me in this direction and I've made a pretty big change in order to do this, I guess I just really feel the weight of that.  This fear of, "what if nothing changes?  What if I come out of this training no clearer about what I want in my life than I did going in?"  I'm almost more afraid of the continued state of "limbo," of no change, than I am of anything changing--even something drastic.

Anyways, the teacher said that I was going through what she went through at the end of her first training.  She said that, at the end of her first training, she didn't think she was going to teach.  Which is pretty ironic considering she's one of the most recognized and respected yoga teachers in the country.

I was kind of in a state of shell-shock the next day.  Partly from the minor freak-out and partly from taking in so much information over the course of 3 days...and so much physical practice.  Since my shoulder started hurting over 3 weeks ago, I've lost my daily practice.  I was practicing gentle yoga maybe twice a week.  It was probably needed, that's usually what my injuries are trying to tell me.  But it also made the 3-day yoga training a little more exhausting than it probably would have if I wasn't injured.  So, not only was I physically exhausted when I returned to work on Monday, but I was also mentally drained.  I brought a couple of the books to do my assigned reading for the month, figuring I'd start out light, but it was like my brain was shut down.  I saw the words, but there was no comprehension.  Almost like my brain said, "nope, no more information.  Done."  However, another component to the shell shock was that even though it was a lot--it was exactly what I've been wanting to do for months now: spend all day doing nothing but yoga--practicing it, learning about it, and discussing it with people that care about it as much as I do.  I got to immerse myself in something that I enjoy for THREE days--in a row.  Going back to the "real world," after that was kind of like getting sucker-punched.  Side note: that makes me very grateful for the new job.  Trying to do this training while working in a job that is considerably more stressfull and demanding would have been so much more difficult.

Anyways, it actually took me several days before my mind felt ready and willing to take in anymore information or do any work.  Surprisingly, the reading was not the most accessible thing.  I found that surprising because I've been a bookworm for the majority of my life and usually started my homework assignments with reading when I was in school.  No, the thing that broke my funk was actually working on my first teaching script.  It's nothing big, just one pose.  But I guess that makes sense too, because writing is also something that comes very naturally to me (if you can't tell by the super long blogs that I post).  It's almost as if my thoughts just flow more naturally when I write than when I speak.  Although, it was surprisingly difficult at first to find the words to describe HOW to move your body!  I've been doing these motions for so long and they came so naturally to me anyways, it was bizarre trying to think of describing HOW I do it.  I don't even think about it while I'm doing it!  I literally had to get up and do the pose while I was writing it in order to describe what I was doing!  Which is a fantastic excuse to do yoga while I'm at work :)  The pose I had to write a script for is also one of my favorite poses and one that I do regularly: Prasarita Padottanasana (wide-legged forward fold).  It's really a phenomenal pose--so simple, but so effective.  Stretches your hamstrings and inner thigh and completely allows your back and upper body to decompress because you're hanging upside down.  Ahh...

It's also funny that the teaching script was the one that felt the easiest because it was the one that I was avoiding/dreading.  Foreshadowing?  Possibly.  Or, maybe it's because the poses and the physical practice of yoga are the most familiar to me, so that part was actually easier.  It also got me thinking about the structure of a yoga class...or any workout for that matter.  You start out with easier, simpler poses to get the body warmed up and then do more complex/difficult ones.  Makes sense that exercising the brain should work the same way: do some of the easy work first, to get your brain on board, and then do some of the harder stuff.  I've been following that idea with my homework and so far it's been working, and I've been enjoying the homework too.  I've done all the anatomy, poses and physical practice aspects of the homework reading/writing and now all that's left is a few philosophy readings.  Hopefully, now with more of the homework out of the way, I can actually absorb the philosophy parts of it.