Teacher Training: Finding a Pose

Several times during our teacher training, I’ve been either practicing or in the class and have suddenly “found” a pose. Now, I know I’ve just talked about how you’re not supposed to focus on the achievements or doing things right.. you’re not. But sometimes, you just happen to get adjusted in such a way or hear a description of alignment in such a way that you’re body suddenly realizes “oh, this is what it’s supposed to _feel_ like.”

For me, this weekend, I actually discovered two things. Yesterday, I felt low lunge for the first time. For me, I’ve always felt the strengthening in the front leg, but I’ve never felt the stretch in the back quad. At Kerri Kelly’s class yesterday, I discovered where my back leg should go to get that stretch. Let me point out, though, that I’m focused on how to get the pose to feel right in my body.. and not what it looks like. It felt amazing.

The second, was the hop between downward dog and forward fold/uttanasa in the sun salutations. In the rare instances when I have hopped forward, my legs clump to the floor. But I realized that it’s actually all core if you’re doing it right. How did I miss this?! I love jumping back/forward now. Another trick that I learned from Kerri this weekend, just based on the way that she queued some of the transitions. Loved it.

After practicing with her twice this past weekend, I’ve decided that I really admire her teaching style. She’s very core-focused and isn’t afraid to make people work through challenging sequences — but teaches with enough off-the-mat philosophy that it helps you breath through it. I definitely plan to observe one of her classes in the next few weeks.

Despite not being in teacher training this weekend — I spent a lot of time focused on own practice. But it makes a huge difference when you can practice on your own schedule.


Teacher Training: What is Yoga?

On my drive down to SLO, I spent several hours listening some seminars by Amrit Desai as some make-up hours for my Yoga Teacher Training Program. My favorite two sessions were focused on the Wisdom of Yoga and of the power of intention. His philosophy makes so much sense to me, that the time flew by as I was driving back home today.

But, I think what struck me the most was his description of what Yoga is. I have hard time putting it into words, but this sums it up completely.

Yoga is not the physical practice of exercise. It’s true, this is a very important component and it’s great for people to do as a way to stay healthy. To do Yoga, you must establish your intention that you will integrate the principles in your life that prevent you from: comparing, self-judging, fighting or fleeing from what you encounter (what you’re afraid of), and learning to relax and breath to find new ways to cross the boundaries, to be released from your pre-programmed belief system that holds you back.

To do Asana, or to go through the poses, is only one part. But it’s the actual act of trying to not compare or judge yourself in a pose. You can hear it in your head: “Am I doing this right? Theirs looks better than mine. I’m not straight enough. I’m not strong enough. I can’t balance. ” All these thoughts are things we hear in our heads not only when we’re on the mat practicing yoga — but also in your day-to-day lives. At work. At home. Out shopping. Everywhere. We all judge ourselves and compare ourselves to others.

To put intetionally put yourself  in this situation, time again, it helps train your brain how to focus and deal with these thoughts. How to breath and relax in times of stress or discomfort — physical or mental. It’s the repetition of this technique that re-wires your brain and changes your habits.

Just like any other hobby or skill or craft — you have to rehearse and practice in order to do it well. To train your brain how just the right time to swing to hit a 95 mph fastball. To speak a foreign language. To  speak in public. After a while — your brain just knows how to handle these situations. You don’t think about it. You practiced it enough that it’s automatic.

So if  you can train your brain how to respond in these situations — why  can’t it work to handle the anxiety you encounter every day?

Conversations with a guy in a bar in Atascadero

An excerpt from a conversation I just had with the drunk guy sitting next to me:

Him: What are you doing?!
Me: What?
Him: What are you doing..? You know, why are you here?
Me: Oh! I’m staying here at the hotel for a wedding.
H: Erica’s wedding?
M: No, who’s Erica?
H: She’s Erica (points to the bartender)
M: Oh, she’s getting married tomorrow, too?
H: What? No, I don’t know when her wedding is.
M: I hardly know her, fuck, I don’t know her at all. I just ordered a drink with her. I’m not invited to her wedding.
H: No? Stranger things have happened.
M: Are you going to her wedding?
H: Fuck no! And to you the truth, I couldn’t fucking care less. And that’s the gods honest truth.

From there he went on a rant about how everyone at the bar was a pretentious douchebag, except for himself. I actually kind of agreed with him.

Teacher Training: Practice Teaching

A few weeks ago, Darren started picking out people to lead the warmup for our class each Saturday and Sunday. Missing the first weekend of the exercise, I watched the second group go two weeks ago before I volunteered to do this myself.

Last Saturday, it was my turn and I prepared throughout the week planning my 15 minute meditation and warmup sequence that I’d lead the class through. Of course, even the best-laid plans sometimes fall apart because I panicked at 2am on Friday night and ended up re-doing everything I was preparing to do and started from scratch.

That said, come Saturday, I was still ready (yet a little nervous) to teach 30-some students for 15 minutes. That morning, I was in the shower going over my game plan in my head and I was trying to rationalize that I often have to do large training at work in front of dozens or hundreds of people and it’s never a problem… I asked myself what the difference was and why I was getting nervous for this 15 minute “lesson.” I realized that the reason I am so confident at work is because I know the material so well, that I just felt comfortable with it… So when I thought about the class I was going to teach, I tried to put it in the same context. Sure, everyone knows the poses, but nobody knows better than I do the order or ways I’m going to teach each of them. I think this was just enough to fool my brain into being confident, because it worked.

I actually really enjoyed leading the class for my brief 15 minutes. Sure, there were things I could’ve done better and things I wish I had done differently, but it was a great experience. I wanted to get my first practice teaching session out of the way so I could move on and feel more comfortable with it… Again it worked.

To keep up the momentum, I emailed my coworkers this week and set up a quick 30 minute yoga class for this morning. A handful of people from my team volunteered and we ran through a quick little practice. It was fun, but I was a little more of a disaster. This disaster included a 3 minute dialog around which side to do for ardha matsyendrasana and I still dont know if all three students did it correctly. Oh well. I think I shouldve prepared a bit more, but live and learn. I wanted to try to be a bit more dynamic in the poses I chose rather than to have everything pre-planned, but I don’t feet as though that worked too well. Either way, it was a good experience and i’m slowly becoming more comfortable with my teaching voice.

I’m trying to schedule my full hour practice teach for mid-June, so I know a bit more now, how to handle it. It’s been a great week and even though I have the weekend off for Memorial Day, I am hoping to keep up the momentum through to next week!

Teacher Training: Meditation Part Two

This past week was a struggle. Coming back from Jazzfest in New Orleans, dealing with my birthday, trying to make my way back into Yoga. The highlight going into the weekend? The High Roller’s 3-2 victory in Kickball to go 6-0 on the season and potentially take back first place.

Friday night came along, and I was dreading going to class. Spending a full weekend in Yoga Teacher Training. Missing Bay to Breakers. I’ve had so much fun the past few weeks, it wasn’t top of my list of activities for the weekend. As soon as we started class, though, most of it dissipated. The topic for the two hours was meditation, the second of our two classes on the subject taught by Dina Amsterdam.

I was reminded of the concept of “ease,” helping my to find that ease in my daily life. We also did a great exercise involving a partner, where one person repeats four statements aloud about what’s going on in the mind and physical body at that moment. Doing this for several minutes helps you quickly see how much your mind flutters in a matter of moments. I did this exercise again today before class with my partner — and it really has helped me let go of things of all those troublesome thoughts throughout the day.

It was also my first exposure to doing physical assists to students, taught by the main instructor Darren Main. This was really interesting — I really enjoyed it. We learned how to assist a dozen or so poses, mostly standing/balancing poses. We also learned a fun assisting tricks, which were really neat.

Even though I didn’t hit Bay to Breakers, I had a great weekend. I’m feeling extraordinarily relaxed this evening, ready return to my regularly scheduled program. It’s Sunday night — Movie night.