Saturday, August 27, 2011

Yoga Bookshelf

This is just a short post in response to a friend/teacher's post that she found on another blog site.  The site asked for people to take pictures of their "yoga book" shelf, just because he was curious what other people might have on their shelves.

It seemed like a fun game to play while waiting for Hurricane Irene to visit Boston.  I was actually surprised to see how many yoga books I had accumulated.  Some of them aren't specifically "yoga books" but they do share the same inspiration.  Some I have bought, some a former roommate left behind when she moved away in a hurry, and some are from my yoga teacher training that I just finished.  I've completely read about half of them, others I have skimmed through and some I have yet to read at all (like the Gita).  At least 3 of the books (2 of the Sutra translations and Desikachar's Heart of Yoga) usually live either in my back pack or on the small rolling stand next to my computer (which is also where the manuals from my teacher training are currently residing).

So, without further ado, here is my yoga book shelf:

Clicking on the picture should make it bigger and you should be able to read all the titles.  However, if you can't read all of them and are curious about what some of them are, just ask.
Want to play too?  What's on your yoga book shelf?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hip Hop Yoga and Vairagya

Last night, I did something very uncharacteristic.  Instead of exploring the Advanced Vinyasa class I had initially planned on, I went to a Hip Hop Yoga class.  For those who have never been in a Hip Hop Yoga class think blaring hip hop music (so loud that the teacher has to wear a mic so that students can hear her), crowded room, lots of "flow" in the sequence, abdominal work and lots of sweat.

So, what in the world is someone who just finished a training that is focused heavily on alignment and tradition and who regularly practices Ashtanga (where there is no music and a heavy emphasis on using the sound of your breath as a guide) and who does not particularly enjoy hip hop music doing taking a Hip Hop Yoga class?!  Well, I'll tell you.

#1).  I realized that I was beginning to have an "aversion" to it.  Aversion is one of the kleshas (a.k.a "obstacles") listed in the Yoga Sutras as preventing someone from acting correctly and is one of the causes of suffering, and, basically, it prevents you from fully experiencing yoga (at least that's my understanding of it).  So, aversion, is usually associated with identifying with a painful experience.  For a very simple example: you tried broccoli at one point in your life, hated it and decided that you were just somebody that hates broccoli and doesn't even attempt eating it ever again (even though it's good for you).  Or, this is one way prejudice can be explained.  You have one painful or unpleasant experience with one type of person, decide that all people of that particular type will be just like that and then end up treating them all poorly because of the one interaction with that first person.  You carry the hurt/painful/unpleasant experience with you, as a part of you, and allow it to influence/color your actions towards people and things.  So, what does this have to do with Hip Hop Yoga?  I don't particularly care for hip hop music.  I think I have all of about 5 hip hop type songs in my library of music.  I don't like the lyrics, the culture or behavior that usually accompanies it.  With regards to combining it with yoga, I understand that using that kind of music helps bring in a lot of people who might not otherwise try yoga, but it also strikes a nerve with the part of me that is getting annoyed at the "watering down" of yoga.  However.  The person who was teaching this class is a friend of mine and I've been wanting to take a class of her's for a while, especially after really listening to her teach the class on Tuesday night while I was running the front desk at the studio.  She wasn't just calling out poses and leading people through a sequence, she was actually teaching them yoga.  The problem was, "I hate hip hop music!...And just really loud music in general!"  I think it was at that point that I realized what this was turning into...that I had such an aversion to the music and what it represented that it was preventing me from taking a class from a friend and from learning from her.  That is when a preference or dislike for something becomes a klesha.

#2) I was talking with someone at the condo earlier that day about doing things outside your comfort zone.  For a lot of people, sitting in silence is really hard.  I'm well accustomed to it.  It is not usually hard for me to concentrate in silence or find that sense of "dropping-in" during a yoga class when there is no music.  Many times, I prefer it--especially after my experience in the Mala.  So, I realized that my challenge isn't practicing in silence--it's practicing among noise.  That reminded me of something I read in one of the many yoga books that I had to read during the training: that it is one thing to find concentration or bliss (or whatever) in an ashram, or holy place, or on a mountain top, but it is quite another to find it in the middle New York City.  I think it's also similar to the concepts talked about in sutra 1.12:

"Both practice and nonreaction are required to still the patterning of consciousness (Chip Hartranft translation)."  Or, as another translation puts it, "The mind can reach the state of Yoga through practice [abhyasa] and detachment [vairagya] (Desikachar translation)." 

It's the idea of not reacting to the things that happen around you, of not getting attached to the experience.  Chip Hartranft describes it as "The will to observe experience without reaction...the willingness to let a phenomenon arise without reacting to it."  So, this just seemed like it was an appropriate challenge: could I still use my breath, still keep my focus and attention to my alignment and still do my own practice without reacting to the hip hop music, or being in a super crowded room?  Not only did I start seeing that this would be a challenge in non-reaction, or detachment, but it would also require me to take my concentration to another level.

#3).  After listening to her class on Tuesday night, it also just sounded like a lot of fun.  And, as Jennie said during the training, "fun is a good reason to do something."  Even my Ashtanga teacher has said during class, "yoga is supposed to be fun, if you don't have fun, then you won't come back...and then we would miss you."  I just realized how serious I was getting about things and that it was starting to make me unhappy.  Something I wrote in my application to the YogaWorks training was that yoga has a tendency to get very serious, so it's important to balance it with a light heart.  This was an attempt to remember that.

So, with all that in mind, I went to Hip Hop Yoga class night with the "intention" of being open to what was happening in the class but detached enough from the hip hop yoga to hear it.  The class was fantastic, just my pace.  It ended up being really small for that class--maybe 70 people instead of the usual 100--and fairly mellow (again, when compared to usual classes).  My friend could tell that most of the people there were feeling very low energy--they were super quiet, very uncharacteristic of the "hip hop yogis."  So, she still did enough strength and ab work to make us sweat (since that is what the majority of people coming to that Hip Hop Yoga class are looking for) but not enough to kill everyone in the room...just enough to wake them up.  She's a very talented teacher who really takes care of her students--both with her attention and with her choice of instructions.  It was like she knew just what to say to get them to take care of themselves during the class--Jennie would call it "making them take responsibility for their own practice."  And you can tell that she puts a lot of thought and effort into her classes, that she doesn't just throw them together at the last minute.  I think she altered what she was going to teach a little bit because of everyone's energy, but that's the mark of a good teacher.  She also incorporated silence in all the right spots and did a fun thing during the Surya Namaskar section: she shut the lights off.  The only light in the room was from the candles and outside street lights.  One of the "limbs" or steps in yoga is "pratyahara," also known as sense withdrawal.  According to one book I've read, that is something that just happens as a result of increasing your concentration, but this was a good way to start introducing the idea--without even saying that's why it was happening!  Sneaky, sneaky :)

I was also really happy to see that I found my concentration again.  My friend said that I was "super mindful in my practice."  Wednesday night that concentration was missing, like I wasn't entirely present.  Last night, I was much more present and totally focused on what I was doing.  After a while it was like I was barely registering the music that was being played--which is exactly what I was working towards.  I was also reminded of something else--something I first told someone last year and try to live by but, immediately after the training, was forgetting: "it's all yoga."  Last year, I told someone that there were many different styles of yoga because there are many different types of people, so people need different ways to connect to it.  But, that they were all basically trying to teach the same things.  I could hear it in my head Wednesday night, "I don't want this, I want the way they taught in my training!"  Even though a lot of the language was the same.  Jennie had told us that there is a tendency for the YogaWorks training to turn you into a little bit of a "yoga-snob," where you won't settle for anything that's not as good as or as similar to a YogaWorks style class or instructor, but that it eventually wears off.  "Besides, it's all yoga."  The Hip Hop Yoga class was a good reminder of that.  It was a really great experience and a great learning lesson.  My friend is a good teacher and I could definitely see myself in that class again--hip hop music and all.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Post-yoga teacher training: Day 4

Ok, so apparently my sensitive post-yoga teacher training haze lasted only 3 days, lol.  I've now entered the stubborn, I-miss-the-way-I-learned-it phase, lol.  I went to a Vinyasa class last night with a teacher that I like and I had a mixed reaction to it.

First off, I was so excited to hear her use similar alignment language!  I don't know if that's a new thing or if I just never heard before because I wasn't listening for it, but it was comforting to hear it nonetheless.  I felt a little weepy during the beginning of class, especially coming into the Surya Namaskar section.  I really just missed the training, a lot.  I missed the super detailed instructions, the longer holds, the simple but purposeful moves that we did, the smaller group that allowed for more personal attention, and the sequencing of a YogaWorks class.  Everything in the sequences during the training had a purpose, even when we set up our props served a purpose.  It could very well be that it's the same in other classes and I just don't know it, but those were my thoughts last night.  I was also craving silence!  After the sensitivity faded off during the Surya section, I really wanted the music off, or at least lower, so that I could hear my breathing.  I was talking with another teacher prior to the class and I told her about doing the Mala in "silence" and she said that there is not enough silence in yoga these days.  I hear that.  During the class I was also craving my Ashtanga practice and I'll be returning to it probably on Monday.

I really miss the training and I want the learning to continue (which makes me a little annoyed that there is no YogaWorks in Boston to serve that field trip to NYC?  Maybe...).  So, now I think I'm starting to feel out the best way to do that.  The Ashtanga practice stays.  It's my foundation and I had no idea how much I was learning from it or how strong it was making me until I went through the training.  The practice and the way it's taught feels like such a rarity in the Yoga world and it feels important to keep it alive and carry it with me.  But, the training also made something else abundantly clear: I need to hear instructions.  Not just to aid me if I ever decide to teach, but also because that is one of the ways that I learn best--that's one reason I didn't like distance learning courses in college.  So, I'm checking out classes and really listening to the teachers words as well as paying attention to their sequences.  I have to start making up my hours at work that I missed during the training, so, sadly, I won't be able to go to Natasha's public classes for a while.  But, tonight I'll be checking out an Advanced Vinyasa class with the same teacher from last night.  It's a smaller class and I'm hoping for not just more "advanced asanas" but also for more instruction--teach me about the yoga, please, don't just tell me what pose to go to.  That's what I'm looking for right now, something to pick up where the training left off.  We'll see what turns up.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Post-yoga teacher training: Day 3

It's been an interesting 3 days since the end of yoga teacher training.  Surreal, yes, definitely.  But I've also felt very sensitive.  Monday was rough.  I felt very raw and hyper-sensitive.  I actually spent the better part of the morning crying.  It was hard to even exactly name why I was crying.  It just felt like a really painful heartache, like I had lost something really special to me.  It took a lot of effort for me to go to work that morning, I just didn't feel like I had the energy to function in the "real" world.  Which made me very grateful that I was no longer working at my old job in retail security--I couldn't imagine having to do that job or work in that environment after the day that I had on Sunday.  I didn't realize how much it took out of me.  I had said in a previous post that the Mala felt like the culmination of everything that I had learned in the training.  The whole last day felt like the culmination of the entire training.  It took everything that I had in order to get through that day.  All of my emotional strength to get through the rest of the day without breaking down into tears after such a disappointing practicum.  All of my physical strength to get through nearly 4 hours of asana practice (2 hours for the practicum sequences, about the same for the Mala) and all of my mental strength to stay so focused and present during the Mala.  Although, maybe that was a different kind of strength or effort, because at some point, the mind left and all that was left was intense focus.  I'm not sure if that makes sense, but that's what it felt like.  Mix-in the range of emotions that I was feeling and I felt like I had no energy left the next day.

Thankfully there were 4 kids joyously running rampant around the condo building playing hide-and-seek, because silence on Monday was very hard.  Because when it was silent, I felt that same heartache that I did that morning.  I went to the yoga studio that evening to take a gentle class.  Even though my body actually felt very strong despite doing 108 Sun Salutations in a row, it was still tired.  I could feel it whenever I tried to exert any energy, the muscles were fatiguing quicker than usual.  Which totally makes sense--that must have been the equivalent of running a marathon!  I saw my Ashtanga teacher at the studio and she checked in with me (both about the last day of training and about a medical issue that came up during the last week and a half).  I told her about how badly the practicum went and then how amazing the Mala was and that it was like being in the best version of a Mysore room.  She gave me a high-five and said, "Thanks for representing!"  It was truly such an honor to be able to represent and share that practice.  I'm excited to get back to practicing it--but not yet.  She told me to come back whenever I was ready, which is what I needed to hear, because I feel like it's going to be a little while before I practice again (in my world, that means probably a week, lol).  I went to a Yin class that night, and that was pushing it.  Not physically, Yin is not a physically demanding practice.  Emotionally, it was very hard to just sit with myself and silence.  After the day that I had on Sunday and the whirlwind that was these last few months, that was asking a lot.

I made a big change in my life in order to do this training.  Yes, that change needed to happen anyways, but it was signing up for the training that eventually made it happen.  Now I find myself in a similar place that I was in when I graduated from college, unsure of what direction to take.  One thing that was really nice about the training (aside from getting to completely immerse myself in something that I love) was that it gave me direction, something that I hadn't had for the last 2 years.  I think a lot of the heartache that I'm feeling is also realizing how much, somewhere along the way, I had started to believe that maybe I was "supposed to teach yoga."  I didn't realize how much I had been hoping that something would click in my head and I would be able to do everything that everyone told me I "should be doing."  Only to find out, that I'm no where near ready for it, or if I even actually want it.  I almost think that I have been so desperate for direction that I let myself believe something and try for something before I even knew if it was something I wanted.  That's one reason I think it will be a little while before I practice again.  Right now, that's asking a lot.  Even just running through a single round of a Sun Salutation or a single down dog is enough to bring tears to my eyes.  I don't have the energy for it right now.

I'm feeling more stable than I was on Monday, but I can feel that it wouldn't take much to make me lose it.  So, I'm "sitting with it" as much as I can tolerate and waiting for the "all-clear" from my body and mind.  And, obviously, writing about it.  I tend to forget things very easily, especially if they were stressful--that's my mind's "coping mechanism."  But, I don't want to forget this, what I'm thinking and how I'm feeling right now.  I don't want to languish in it; but this was a big thing in my life, and I want to remember what happened.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Last Day of Yoga Teacher Training (Part 3 of 3): Closing Circle

It felt like there was so much that I went through on the last day of yoga teacher training, that I had to break it up into 3 sections.  As this is number 3, there are two before this one: the first about my teaching practicum, the second about the Mala that we did afterwards.

After the Mala, we breaked for about 30 minutes and then we came back to the room and formed a circle, much like we usually do after our morning practice to discuss the sequence that we did.  Except this time the inside of the circle was cleared of mats, props, water bottles and anything else that might have been in the area.  On Saturday, Natasha gave us 3 index cards and on each of them we were supposed to write these things:

1.  A sutra from the Yoga Sutras that either resonates with us or that we feel we need to work on
2.  Something that we are taking with us from the training
3.  Something that we are leaving behind (this is why the circle was empty.  There was a small basket for us to place those cards so that we would have the support of the whole group in "leaving it behind." The teacher threw them away afterwards, I would have preferred a ceremonial fire, but that works just as well, lol)

I was back and forth on which sutra I wanted to write on that card.  The first 3 sutras have been speaking to me a lot lately.  They're so simple, but, at the same time, they're what the entire Yoga Sutras is about.  In the first 3 sutras, you get everything in a nutshell: who, what, where, when, and why.  The entire rest of the Yoga Sutras (as I understand it right now) is trying to explain the "how," with recurring emphasis on what the first three are trying to tell you. 

The first sutra, "Atha Yoganusasanam," Now begins the study/practice of yoga, gives you the where and the when of the yoga.  When and where do you practice it?  Now.  Right now, wherever you are, whenever you are.  It's not just reserved for the 90 minutes in a yoga class.  I was telling myself that a lot during the last couple of weeks when my nerves started freaking out over the tests.  That this is the real yoga practice.  Obviously, this isn't my first time dealing with stress.  But, it is the first time that it really feels like I have to use a different method of dealing with it.  From running, I learned how to deal with stress by ignoring sensation and continuing to keep moving.  Useful in many ways, but not when you need your full attention and brain to be working, that kind of disassociation feels like it closes off access to a part of your brain that you need.  Could just be me, but that's my take on it.  From karate, I learned to tense up in anticipation of an attack and start anticipating possible counter moves and how I might handle things.  Again, very useful way of dealing with some things, but not when you need to stay calm and react to the things that are happening in the present.  And that is what the yoga asks us to do: to be open enough to feel through all of the sensation to find the calm "still point" and then act from that place as whatever the present situation asks for.  As you may have noticed from the first posting of the "last day of yoga teacher training," I have not figured out how to do that yet, lol.  How to take that part of my yoga "off the mat."  So, I didn't feel very comfortable with the idea of talking about an idea that I couldn't really access myself.  The second sutra, "Yogas Citta Vritti Nirodhah," Yoga is the calming/restraint of the fluctuations of the mind, tells you the "what" of yoga.  Literally, "Yoga is...."  It also tells you, in that one sutra, that Yoga isn't an end point, it's a process, an action: "the calming/restraint of..."  Pretty significant little detail ;-)

But it's the third one that tells you why you practice it, and for me, it's all about the why.  Without the why you do something, everything else has very little meaning.  "Tada drastuh svarupe 'vasthanam," Then the Seer [Self/pure consciousness] abides in its own nature."  This is the sutra that I wrote on the card.  I went into the yoga teacher training feeling a little unclear of exactly what I was looking for.  Did I want to teach?  No, not really.  Could I see myself doing it at some point in the future?  Possibly.  It's pretty clear right now that it is not something I am ready for.  More knowledge, deepen my practice, etc.  Yes, a lot of that.  But I think now it was to remind me of why I keep practicing.  With all the turmoil of the last year and the uncertainness of my future, it was hard to remember why I kept putting myself through the practice when sometimes, it wasn't even enjoyable.  This is why.  Because when the mind is calm and quiet, you can feel and hear your true, big S "Self."  This is the part of you that never changes and is always there, despite whatever jobs you work, crises you go through or body parts that are injured.  There is always a part of you that is pure and free of labels, fears, habits and prejudices and knows exactly "what to do."  The whole point to doing all this yoga is to find and realize which is the big S "Self" and then act from that place.  It has only been when I practice yoga that I really feel that connection.  For however long, either the entire 90 minutes of a class or just the 5 at the end, I could usually find a point when I--big S "Self"--feel totally present.  During those times, I never want the practice to end.  That is the "why" I practice, and it feels important to remember it.

The thing that I am leaving too personal to share on here.  But, I will just say that it is something that has caused great inner turmoil that I have been working very hard to free myself from for the last 2 years or so.  This year, it loosened its grip a lot.  Now, all it feels like I have to do is let it go and calmly walk away.  No big drama, no big battle.  Just done, served its purpose.  That is what I left behind.

The thing I am taking with my from this training: my home practice.  I've never really had one and the small amount that I did ceased to exist once I started practicing Mysore Ashtanga.  I had "my" practice that I did every morning, I didn't "need" to do anything else.  On the contrary, that is not my practice.  I practice the Ashtanga series, yes.  But I don't practice it my way.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.  If anything, after this training my appreciation and respect for Ashtanga has grown.  But I have also had to practice a lot on my own--at home--in order to write the sequences for the training.  And I discovered something: I practice differently when I am at home and no one is watching.  I'm usually completely present and always give my best effort when I'm in studio classes.  But there's a part of me that only shows up when I practice at home--the "inner teacher."  When I'm in a class, that part of me is usually silent, largely because I'm letting myself be told what to do, rather than explore things and figure that out for myself.  When I'm at home, I hold things longer and the poses actually somehow feel less strenuous.  I also play and experiment with things in my practice when I am at home (like using blocks for my jump-throughs and using my camera to get a better sense of what my body is doing).  None of that is present when I am in a class.  The classes are important, because that's when I learn from my teachers.  But I don't think that the real learning is setting in because I don't practice at home.  It's as though I don't really practice something until I do it at home--away from outside influences.

So.  We shared our sutras and then ran out of time to share anything else.  But we did take the time to quietly drop our things to "leave behind" in the basket.  We said "namaste" to each other and then we were done.  We took group photos, which I hope to see soon, and spent several minutes sharing hugs, appreciation, etc...all the usual things that you do when you're saying good-bye to a group of people that you've shared an intense experience with (though with far more headstands and tree poses).  It was very hard to say good-bye to Jennie.  I really liked her teaching style and I learned a lot from her, I am sad that she teaches in another state.  However, that other state is not that far away...a yoga road trip could definitely be in order ;-)

All in all, it was an amazing experience, though not quite in the way I expected it to be.  I didn't come out "enlightened" or suddenly realizing that "I want to be a yoga teacher."  Just with a stronger sense of what I was doing and what I was capable of, with a stronger sense of Self  ;-)

Last day of Yoga Teacher Training (Part 2 of 3): The Mala

So, after the practicum finished, my nerves were fried.  I felt so emotionally unsteady that I didn't know how I was going to get through the rest of the day without breaking down.  Enter the Yoga Mala.

I've done a Mala before, with Natasha actually.  It's 108 straight Sun Salutation A's, and it was hard.  The first time I did it with Natasha, my shoulders started aching around the mid-to late 20s.  There was no consistency to how I did them (step back vs. jumping; low cobra vs up dog, dolphin vs. down dog, etc) and my hamstrings and shoulders felt like a wreck the next day.  This past Saturday, my right shoulder started bothering me again, and it felt like a struggle to hold down dog.  So, that combined with my unsteady emotions and fried nerves, I was not sure how well this one was going to go.  I was pleasantly surprised.  It was magic.

I ended up practicing between Jennie (the trainer I've been with during the last 3 weekends) and Tamara (teaching assistant and fellow Mysore Ashtangi).  Usually, Natasha treats to a rarity in the YogaWorks world: music, played during the 108 suns.  However, the music gods were not on our side as no one could figure out how to get the stereo and Ipod to work.  So, we practiced in "silence," no talking outside the one person saying the number of the sun that we were on (she was pregnant and practicing made her overheat).  It was like the best possible example of a Mysore class.  I felt like it was so much easier to "drop in" to the flow of the suns, as well as to hear and feel my own breath...which is the whole reason Ashtangis and other similar styles practice without music.  The "silence" felt like it heightened all of the other senses: the sound of everyone moving, of my breath and Tamara's breath (Ashtangis tend to be louder breathers, lol), the cars and the Duck boats outside, the gentle, steady count of the Suryas, the breeze coming in through the windows.  It was very peaceful, very calming.  Just what my nerves needed.

I was also pleasantly surprised at how strong I felt.  I ended up not modifying.  I started out by stepping back and lowering to a low cobra, pass through all fours and then to down dog.  Jennie was actually doing the same thing.  I kept stepping back and lowering until about sun number 54 (I started moving between chaturanga and up dog somewhere between 20 and 30, and added the jump forward from down dog somewhere between 30-40, I think).  Jennie started jumping to chaturanga before I did, but I waited until my body felt ready to add the jump back.  And here's a funny thing: the jumps make it easier.  It felt like less muscular effort to jump forward and back than it did to step.  It certainly helped to build up the rhythm of the flow.  Once I started doing the full Surya A (jumps, chaturangas, up dogs) I feel like I "dropped in" even further.  The whole time, my primary focus was on my breath.  Not just in keeping it consistent and steady, but letting it help support the weight of my body, so my arms and shoulders wouldn't get as tired.  And it felt so much smoother and easier than it did back in January during the first time.  I'm sure I'm probably physically stronger than I was then, but I also feel like I was really being supported by Jennie and they were my "wing men" (well, wing women, lol). 

Speaking of being supported and moved by something aside from my own efforts, there was something really cool that happened towards the end.  Somewhere in the mid-90s, after seeing Jennie resume stepping back to plank somewhere in the 80s, I thought I should probably start stepping back because (a) my shoulder was starting to ache, and (b) we were almost done, so I thought I should start bringing the energy down.  From the moment I stepped my leg back, I could feel that it was wrong.  I felt like I had been moving along a steadily flowing river and decided to stop and go against the current.  I evened out on the other side during the next sun and then resumed jumping, doing full Surya Namaskar As until the very end.  It was like something said, "No.  You keep jumping."  I have never felt that kind of energetic connection before, it felt like such a gift and I feel so touched to have been able to experience it.

When we finished our 108 suns, Natasha gave us the go ahead to do whatever we needed to cool ourselves down.  My first thought, "bend the knees."  So I held Utkatasana for several breaths.  Aside from needing to bend my knees after so many forward bends, my energy still felt really high.  After Utkatasana, wide-legged, extremely bent-knee Pada Hastasana (where you stand on your palms, usually in a straight-legged forward fold).  Boy, did my hands need it!  After we finished the suns, I tried to move my fingers and my hands were so tight it felt like I had been clenching them for several hours!  I didn't realize how strongly I had been grounding my palms into the floor--which was needed in order to keep me from sinking into my shoulders.  What followed was a mix-up of Ashtanga binded-twists to release the back and shoulders and gentle hip-openers and a modified Viparita Karani (legs up the wall, except in the middle of the room with the sacrum supported on a block--because I wasn't near a wall).  It felt hard to settle into savasana when it was finally time, like my energy was still too high.  When I finally started to settle, that's when the tears came.  This time, I just let them come, quietly, but I let them come.  All the frustration and disappointment from the practicum, the confusion as to what to do next/where do I go from here, and the sadness at the training ending...they needed to be let go.

When we sat up, I felt calm and I felt strong.  I also felt like I had experienced something so special, as I said before, like it was such a gift.  Everything: the Mala itself, getting to practice next to a teacher I came to really admire and next to my "fellow Ashtangi," I feel like she's been quietly supporting me during this whole training; doing the Mala in silence, it was like I got to share everything that I love about a Mysore practice with my fellow trainees (even though I had no control over the music not playing).  Me, Jennie, Tamara and even Natasha (who was to the right of Jennie) were totally in sync during many parts of the Mala.  It was really cool to be moving at the same pace and in the same rhythm as the people that I admire--like there was no difference between us.  This was definitely one of the highlights of the training, almost like it was the culmination of everything that I had learned.  I feel so amazingly grateful for that experience and to see that there is that kind of strength in me--both physical strength and to be able to connect to that energy.  It's a very good feeling, a very special gift  :)

Last day of Yoga Teacher training (part 1 of 3): the practicum

Fini.  Yesterday, I completed my first 200-hour yoga teacher training.

Today feels kind of surreal--a little bit like it did after I graduated from college; with a "what now?" kind of feeling.  Especially after the day I had yesterday.

Yesterday was the practicum--where we have 5 minutes to teach one pose to the whole group, with our 2 teachers and the teaching assistant watching and critiquing.  Contrary to my usual response to having to teach, I actually felt really confident the day before--when we had to practice teaching it to each other.  I was quite surprised.  It felt natural and easy, I felt calm and oddly confident.  On Sunday morning, that feeling remained.  I even practiced teaching it to a friend of mine who took the same type of training last year and I said something about the pose that she said she never thought of before.  So, I was feeling really good, like I really understood it and had something I wanted to share about it.  The practicum started and I still felt fine.  One by one everyone went up to teach their pose in the sequence.  And little by little, I could feel my nerves rising.  I thought, "No, no, no!  We got this, we're fine!  Breathe, relax the shoulders, we're fine!!" 

Unfortunately, that strategy did not work.  I got up there and I felt like I was a shaking bundle of nerves speaking in a robot voice.  There was an odd sort of calmness too, but only in the sense that it felt "out-of-body," like I wasn't really present.  I walked around, gave the instructions that I had been giving, gave some random adjustments without really "seeing" what I was doing--but I did not feel like I was there, like I wasn't in control of what I was doing.  I believe the technical term for it is "disassociating," which is not an uncommon "escape route" for me.  I finished and Natasha (the primary trainer and the one I had for the first 3 weekends of the training) looked at me and said, "you were nervous, right?"  Yes, I was nervous.  She said, "you love yoga, we all know that.  And you have a 'sweetness' about it.  But you have to find a way to calm your nerves so that can come out when you teach."  There was so much that I didn't say that I should have.  I understood the pose, but I couldn't teach it.  Basically, I was telling people what to do, but not how to do it--and that is what "teaching" means, telling people "how" to do something.  Jennie (the teacher I've had for the last 3 weekends and the one who has seen me do the most practice-teaching) gave her feedback next.  She said that it may not seem like a lot, but she remembered how I was when she first came.  She said that I've gone from inarticulate and barely able to get words out of my mouth, to a robot voice--that's improvement.  The teaching assistant, Tamara, empathized, as an Ashtangi, because our practice is silent, we don't regularly hear "how to do" something.

I appreciated all of it, but I was disappointed in myself.  I had told myself the week or so before hand, that if I just managed to get words out of my mouth that made sense, I would be satisfied.  That was before this past Saturday, when I felt so confident and clear going in.  And yes, I practice a lot of Ashtanga, but I didn't start out that way and I still take other classes where they do tell you what to do.  Although, now that I think about it, maybe that's part of the issue, that all the non-Ashtanga classes that I take tell me "what" to do but not very often "how" to do something--or at least not as specific as they do in the YogaWorks world.  Either way, I was disappointed in myself.  My pose was a little less than halfway through the sequence and it felt like so much work to stay there and keep practicing with the rest of the group through the practicum.  I could feel the tears brimming behind my eyes and it was so hard to hold it all in.  But I did, somehow I managed to get through the rest of the practicum to support my fellow trainees.  I finally let some of it go during our brief savasana after the practicum, but a lot of the remaining day felt like a struggle to stay present and to keep my emotions in check.

I passed the practicum, but it didn't feel earned.  The purpose of the practicum is to see if you are capable of teaching.  I clearly showed that I wasn't.  Passing this portion of the program does not feel like an accomplishment, it doesn't feel like I deserve it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hard realizations in the "final stretch"

This past Sunday of yoga teacher training was a bit of an awakening for me.  I felt the blunt truth of what I've been saying for a while now: I'm not ready to teach.  This past Sunday we had to teach one-hour privates to one of our fellow-trainees.  We partnered up, my partner picked the pose, I wrote the sequence and taught it to her, in theory.  In reality, it didn't feel like there was a whole lot of teaching being done on my part.  Half the time it barely felt like there were adequate words coming out of my mouth.  It wasn't a "freeze" like it has been in the past--that was actually something that went surprisingly well.  When all of your attention is focused on the person in front of you, there's simply no room for your nerves.  So, no, it wasn't that I couldn't get cohesive, clear and fluid words out of my mouth because my nerves had frozen my brain.  It was more like I couldn't find the words to transfer what I knew in my head out of my mouth.  I also couldn't remember my sequence, even though it was fairly simple, I had to keep looking at my paper.  It's like my brain couldn't handle remembering the sequence I wrote and trying to teach.  So, that I part I figured would probably happen.  Not freezing and not feeling nervous was a pleasant surprise.  I'll get to my "blunt truth" in just a minute, but the other truth that was really comforting to know is that (A) I know how to write a sequence that works, and (B) the poses work for themselves.  Even if I can't get the knowledge out of my mouth in a spoken form, if they're properly aligned and sequenced well, the poses speak for themselves (which is probably one reason Mysore Ashtanga works so well).  I may not have been able to get too many words out or done any "authentic teaching" (as opposed to just saying words), but it still worked.  My partner told me at the end, that the savasana was one of the best ones that she'd had in a long time.  That's a huge compliment seeing as who we're both learning from and who I know she takes classes with.  So, at least I got that part right :)

So, the "blunt truth," even though I understand the yoga and it's energy, I'm not ready to actually teach it.  I can teach you one pose, but not a whole class.  It feels like I lack the ability to pull everything together and actually apply it.  What's weird is that even though I kept saying "I don't want to teach," after hearing so many people say, "You should teach...You're going to be a teacher...It's your 'calling' to teach yoga...I think you would be a great teacher...Tell me when you start teaching, I want to take your class, etc..." at some point, I actually started believing it.  I actually felt sad realizing and admitting that I am no where near ready to teach yoga.  Again, at some point, after hearing so many people that I admire and respect say it, I started believing it.  It was a nice idea, a nice dream.  Unfortunately, it's not reality.  At this point, I am tired of and don't want people trying to encourage me to teach just to make me feel better--I want people to be honest with me and tell me the truth.  I would rather hear, "No, Tara, I don't think you're ready to teach," than have someone say, "You should teach!" only to find out that it's actually not something I am capable of doing.  Just because someone can do something well and enjoys it does not mean that they're capable of teaching it.

Which begs the question, "What now?"  Was it all for nothing?  No, I've learned a lot and simply taking the training has been a step forward.  If this training accomplished anything it was kicking my butt out Saks, where I felt like I was stagnating and dying.  What now?  I kind of feel like I've returned to a similar place that I was when I graduated from college--spinning my wheels without any direction.  Well, to be perfectly honest, technically I'm not done yet, I still have one weekend left--this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Saturday is the in-class exam, Sunday is the practicum where I teach one pose to the entire group for 5 minutes.  It's Wednesday, I won't know what pose I'm teaching until Friday.  It's a little aggravating to not have more time to practice teaching whatever posee it's going to be, but at the same time, I like it better this way...less time to stress over and nit-pick it to death :)  I keep trying to remember what everyone tells me--don't repeat a script, just share what you know, but at this point, I just want it to be over.  I'll miss the group and being completely immersed in exploring and discussing something I enjoy (did I mention my teacher had me to a walk-over from Urdhva Dhanurasana to the other side in something resembling Uttanasana!--basically it was a back walk-over.  I ended up landing in something more like a squat than Uttanasana, but it was an awesome experience!) but I will be glad once the tests are done.  After nearly 20 years of school and the emotionally turbulent years I've had since then, I can't handle that stress anymore, even in the smallest form.

4 more days.  That's all that's left.  "Catch you on the flip side" :) 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Gearing up for the final push

2 Weeks.  14 days. 

That's how much time I have left of my very first yoga teacher training.  It's really hard to believe that it's been 5 months--since the start of the training, since I left my job at Saks that I felt like I couldn't leave for one reason or another.  It still feels kind of surreal.  I've gone back to the store a couple of times and some people still had no idea that I had left!  They thought I had been on some really long vacation or leave of absence!  But it's felt really good to go back and just talk with the people I used to see everyday--without wondering if I was being watched on the cameras, without wondering if someone was stealing while I was talking to people, without wondering if I was going to get in trouble for being friendly and talking to the people there (since I worked in security, it was ok for me to "act" friendly, but not actually be friends with the people there).  Now, when I talk to the same people there, there's a lightness and openness about it, and that is really nice; there are a lot of really good people who work there.  It's also nice to hear so much encouragement from them and how much they have missed having me there.  People I rarely talked to (as in, more than just a passing, "hello, how are you doing?" kind of way) gave me the biggest hugs when I came back into the store.  It just reminds me that you never know how much the things that you do mean to people, even just being nice.  Many of the people who worked there told me that me just simply being nice to them and asking how they were after a full day of dealing with customers was such a welcome relief.  And I feel the same now, when I see them.  Just them remembering who I am is really nice.  I work pretty much entirely by myself these days.  Most of the time, I barely notice it. But when I went back and saw all the people that I used to see everyday for over 4 years, I didn't realize how much I was missing it--just simply the contact with other people, didn't even have to be super deep and engaging conversations.  I guess I kind of felt the same way some of them did: sometimes, after a full day of sitting in a dark office while waiting and looking for someone to do something wrong, just a simple pleasant interaction with someone brought a lot of light into my day.  And now, when I hear so many of them being so excited for me with the training that I'm doing, it means a lot.  To hear them say that they think that I will be a great teacher and that they would like to take my classes whenever I start...really means a lot.  Even if I don't teach, hearing that people think so highly of me is both uplifting and humbling at the same time.

Speaking of the training (which is what got this post started, lol) it's winding down.  I feel this odd mixture of relief and anxiety.  A little anxiety for the in-class written exam, and hoping my brain doesn't shut down on me.  A lot of anxiety for the 5 minute teaching of one pose (yes...just one pose, lol) to the entire class and the teachers (I don't even know which pose yet).  A growing anxiety over the inevitable "what-now?" question that will need to be addressed (but not yet :) ).  And a well of relief waiting to be released.  That the pressure of the exams will be finished--they're not even that strenuous, but just having the pressure to perform well kind of feels like this constant weight on my chest, however small it may be at times.  The relief of not having to have things done by a certain time.  It's basically the same relief I felt once I graduated from college--which has been a BIG reason why I have not had the slightest interest in going back to school.  I feel like doing that for so long really fried my nerves.  I have definitely enjoyed learning and totally immersing myself in something that I'm interested in, but not the pressure to perform well that comes with it.  I know that most of it comes from me, but I also feel it coming from outside as well.  People think highly of me, which is really nice and, as I said, means a lot to me--but it also stresses me out, I feel like I can't make a mistake.  Even though it's been very nice to have something to focus on for these last 5 months, I'll be glad to have that pressure be gone, however slight (or not slightly, lol) it was.

So, what am I doing to relieve some of the anxiousness building up?  I'm trying to free up as much space as possible for myself during the last week--so I can focus more of my energy on the teaching portion and less on the littler things.  We were given our take-home final last Sunday and I've spent the majority of this past week working everyday on it, and I'm one question away from being finished.  This is where I'm really grateful for my current job: I sit at a desk all day long with almost no daily work tasks that need to be done.  So, I've been taking my time and working on the final.  The sequence that I had to write has been written, practiced and tweaked.  The teaching script (a verbatim account of what I would say to teach a given pose...foreshadowing much?) has been written as well and just needs a little editing, same for most of the other short answer questions on the test.  I'll finish it up this week along with the actual homework that was given for this past weekend.  And here's where I really like how this training is run, as opposed to college: the homework isn't graded.  A simple, yes, you turned it in with feedback from the teacher.  That's it.  And that is one area where I can really relax right now.  "It doesn't have to be brilliant, it just has to be right."  That's what one of the teachers in my training said this past weekend regarding the final, and it's kind of become my mantra this week, along with "allow yourself to be less than perfect."  Sounds cheesy, but it feels really important.  There are no GPA's here, no Honor's lists or graduated "Summa, Magna or Cum Laude," just a, "yes, you passed."  The final is graded, in order to establish a baseline (70% and up is passing), but it doesn't really matter in the end--except to me of course, lol.  I feel like there's always been a lot of pressure on me to "be the best," either from my own expectations, parents, teachers, society, whatever the source, the pressure kind of feels like it's always there, however slight.  Allowing myself to not be perfect and not guilt myself for it is both a challenge and a welcome relief. 

So, my aim for this week are continuing to free up as much space as possible for me to think and breathe next week (maybe even getting some of the written homework done for this next weekend, I've let go of a lot of the non-essential reading right now, a.k.a "not on final," lol).  Especially since these next 2 weekends will be back-to-back (the only time this has happened in the training) and I have Saks-related issue that has followed me and that I have to deal with on Wednesday (not pleased about having to deal with something that is associated with a job that I no longer have, but am very pleased with how Saks is helping me with it).  So: keep freeing up/clearing away space this week. 

Next week, I think my focus needs to be on doing things that help me stay I imagine that I'll be spending a lot of time in the Mysore room, the Ashtanga practice has been feeling very grounding and very strong lately.  I'll probably be clinging to my cereal and toast diet, lol.  I know, not the healthiest, but it is the most comforting because it's so easy and I know it agrees with my stomach.  And I feel like I might actually be talking to people a lot, and maybe even practice teaching whatever pose I get, rather than just writing it out.  Because the speaking thing has tended to be the biggest hurdle, lol.  And if I'm going to simply get enough words out when I have to teach in the training, I'm probably going to have to talk more just in general, lol...and practice teaching the pose to people.  Maybe even talk myself through the pose--which I've done in small amounts a handful of times and is so weird...but I do talk myself through it in my head, does that count, lol?  Anyways, I also feel like it's going to be tremendously helpful for me if I can practice before teaching on the last day.  The Mysore teacher who usually teaches on Sundays is usually there really early doing her own practice, I might see if she wouldn't mind me coming in as well.  If anything, I'll probably get there super early myself and chill in a headstand for 5 minutes--it's amazing how effective and how powerful that pose is, there is a reason that it is called the "king pose!"  Whatever it is, I feel like I just need something, to help me pull in, focus and ground myself.  Focus, pull-in, center myself and ground...that's the aim for the last week of training.

And now, to sleep and, hopefully, find some rest before I really start this "final push."  Keep breathing, "don't get too nervous," that's what my Ashtanga teacher said.  I'm working on that :)