Tag Archives: yoga

Teacher Training: Iyengar Class

As part of the Teacher Training requirements, we need to attend four basic types of Hatha Yoga classes: Anusara, Ashtanga Vinyasa, Restorative and Iyenger. I had saved the “best” for last, as we’ve talked quite a bit about the Iyengar style throughout much of the training and I have been somewhat nervous to try it. I decided to take the class at Yoga Garden on Divis this evening and it was an experience.

The focus of Iyengar yoga is alignment. You spend a lot of time in each pose, focusing on each body part and where it is supposed to be and act during each pose. I enjoyed this part of the class, however, I had a very hard time connecting with my breath and found it very difficult to find a rhythm because of all of the constant interruptions. In order to focus on the alignment, you end up using a ton of props and various “accessories” during the class to get the alignment just right. At one point, I looked around the room and each of the 7 students in the room had: 5 blankets, two blocks, 2 straps, 1 sand bag and one pole. You heard me right, a pole.

There was a lot of discussion in the class, asking about how to do something or what should I do with some body part. This is fairly unusual, as conversation and discussion with the teacher during a vinyasa class are generally not recommended. Each student is supposed to have their attention focused inward, not involved in discussion with the teacher about specific poses. I don’t disagree with this aspect of yoga — I think students should be able to ask the teacher questions about specific poses, but it’s usually a more one-on-one thing as opposed to disruption to the larger class.

Speaking of discussions, I’ve never been in a yoga class before where we had a 5 minute discussion on a philosophical topic about yoga. Again, I enjoyed it, but it was not something I’m accustomed to. The teacher had asked us if it was possible to find “God” in Asana, or yoga poses. A few people spoke up. Considering my mind state lately, I jumped at the opportunity to share my thoughts. I said most definitely. By focusing your attention inward, you can find your inner Self, which in my opinion, is God. The teacher countered by asking if you couldn’t do the same thing riding a bicycle or playing guitar. I said “Yes, but you didn’t ask that. You asked if it could be found in Asana, which it can — much like riding a bicycle or playing guitar. The difference being, though, that when you are in Asana you are focusing inward and looking for that quiet space. When you are riding a bike, I hope your attention is on the road ahead of you.”  He didn’t appreciate my answer. I didn’t appreciate his.

Needless to say, it was an interesting discussion and not part any other yoga class I’ve been to in the past few years. I think the most interesting point in the class came when he instructed us to use our poles and sit on them (legs perpendicular) so that our sits bones are balanced on the pole in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Not only was this challenging, but very uncomfortable. I had to remind myself that this was the point of yoga, as I breathed through it.

I don’t feel I got that great of a workout tonight. I don’t very grounded or centered. I wasn’t able to connect to my breath. The interruptions were annoying. But, it was a different experience. I really enjoyed some of the poses, including uttanasana (standing forward fold) as we really focused on each muscle being stretched in the forward bend. It was probably the deepest standing forward bend I’ve experienced, for sure.

I’d go back to an Iyengar class. I was expecting something much more harsh and serious — but it was fun. Would I choose it over a hatha flow or vinyasa class? Probably not. But it was fun for a change.

 

Teacher Training: Coming to an end

It’s Sunday. Today was our last full day of Yoga Teacher Training class. Next week, we’ve got our final exam on Saturday followed by the graduation ceremony on Sunday. And that’s it. Six months. Over.

I’ve learned so much in the past six months… about yoga. About myself. About my fellow students. It’s been an amazing experience. I loved every minute of it — even in those times when I didn’t. Our class has grown so close that the saddest thing is to say goodbye to everyone. Many of them I’ll see in classes here and there — but some of them are leaving to go back home.

Just like any other experience, these things have to come to an end. Burning man. Jam Cruise. A vacation. It’s time to say goodbye. It’s time to enjoy our last moments together as a group and to move on to whatever comes next in our lives. For many of us, we plan to teach. For others, it was more of a learning and self-discovery experience. Either way, it’s been great to getting to know everyone and while I’m looking forward to having my weekends back. At the same time, there’s so much I’m going to miss. Friday nights at waiting outside Stanyan Studio waiting for class to start.  The great conversations and discussions we had in class. The fear and excitement of learning to teach. The immense sense of calm I feel on Sundays, after spending nearly all of my waking weekend hours in the Yoga Studio.

Whatever happens, there will be something just as amazing for each of every one of us coming just around the corner. I’m just so fortunate and grateful to have shared this incredible experience with all my wonderful classmates and teachers. Thank you.

What’s next for me? I do plan on teaching. I’m setting up a weekly evening class at work. I’m also looking at various opportunities to rent a studio in SF to teach an evening or weekend class for my friends and classmates. I’m also going to continue my education and hope to assist one of my favorite teachers here in San Francisco. On top of that, I’m considering starting my “graduate” program with a one-week intensive class in October… But I’m still tossed up about that. Like most “graduate” programs, I might want to teach for a while before I embark on that journey.

So that’s it. My notebook’s full. My books are read. My homework’s turned in. All I have left to do is study for the final exam.

Teacher Training: The Powers of Pranayama

With only a few weekends left of Yoga Teacher Training, we’re entering the final stretch. This past weekend’s classes were a wonderful after our weekend off. It actually all started on Friday night, when Darren led our advanced pranayama class focused on pranic breathing. Pranic breathing is very similar to other techniques known as Kriya Yoga, Holotropic Breathing or Rebirthing. Earlier the training, Darren had mentioned a night when we’d have a very long meditation — though I don’t think any of us quite knew what to expect.

Earlier in the week, Darren sent us a list of instructions which resembled a pre-surgery checklist.  We not supposed to eat or drink anything several hours before class. We were not supposed to consume any intoxicants 24 hours before and after the class and caffeine should be avoided. I couldn’t imagine what this was going to entail.

Once we were settled in class, each of us had a blanket to lie on, a bolster to use as a pillow and an eye pillow to help block out the light. Darren taught us the basics of the breathing technique which we were going to use, which was very straightforward — deep breaths through the mouth, sighing on the exhalation.

By continuously focusing on this breath throughout the meditation, regardless of what happens, was the only other instruction. We did this breathing for about 5 minutes and then were told to do a breath retention technique known as Kumbaka until the moment it became uncomfortable. Immediately after this first hold, I had noticed a tingling in my arms and legs. We continued in this fashion for 2 more holds, each time I felt more and more relaxed when I regained my breath.

And when I say more and more relaxed, I literally felt as though things were getting even darker and I had less and less actual sensation in my body. Everything just let go a little more each time. After the third hold, we were then focusing our inhalations and exhalations on people we cared about in our lives for several breaths followed by another hold. At this point, I started to become somewhat emotional as did many other people in the class. You could hear that some people were starting cry.

This continued into the next hold and when I regained my breath I slipped even deeper and my eyes started to tear up without any real reason that I was consciously aware of. I then started to have a shortness of breath, as if I was balling — though the tears wouldn’t quite come. I could hear other people in the room become much more emotional, some people sobbing very loudly. I am fairly certain I was making some sort of noise myself. Keeping with the long slow breath was getting quite challenging, though I had known this was my sole task.

We then continued through several dedications of our breath which only got myself and others even more worked up. Once we were done with the breathing exercise, Darren guided us into savasana — or corpose pose — to help us relax from this intense journey.

It was at this point that I had noticed that there was music playing in the background. What was strange, though, was that I could hear a hissing in the background of the soundtrack. It was as if there was a blank cassette tape being played — just that quiet white hissing noise. The noise continued to get louder up to the point where it was actually louder than the music. I assumed this was part of the song, though I later learned I was the only one that heard this.

When we were guided back into consciousness, I remember sitting up with my eyes closed and practically falling over. We had been in this practice for about an hour, though it felt as though it was maybe 20-30 minutes at most. When we opened our eyes, I was in a state of shock — quite literally. I was confused and rattled. I looked at my friend Tiffany next to me, and I feel as though I gave her a “where am I?” type look — because she immediately gave me a very compassionate hug. Things didn’t make sense — though I wasn’t quite sure what I was trying to figure out. It was just this general haze. I had a hard time forming sentences.

I felt as though I had just been in a car accident or maybe woken up from surgery and was still under anesthesia. Several other people had experienced similar effects after waking up, and listening to everyone else’s experience was just as interesting yet completely different than mine. I had plans to go out that night — which were immediately canceled. I was trying to figure out if I was going to be able to drive home.

I felt out of sorts most the night and even the next morning was a little blurry. I don’t know what happened. I can’t explain it. But I know one thing for certain… There is something very powerful about the breath. You may be still be reading this and think this all mumbo jumbo. I would too. But having experienced this first hand, I now know for certain that pranayama, and even yoga as a whole, is incredibly powerful.

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?

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.

Teacher Training: A Weekend Off in the Universe

In case you forgot, I was really looking forward to this coming weekend — a time off from teacher training. Well, I’ve realized that TT keeps me from indulging too much in the freedoms of the weekend and spending too much money.

I found myself going shopping on Saturday and spending more than I had planned on new clothes. There goes my April budget.

My muscles are also tweakier than normal this weekend: my right heel feels tight, my right shoulder is strained a bit from Kickball, and I took a minor tumble in class in a balancing pose bruising my hip / thigh.

Speaking of class, I did go to some great classes this past weekend! Les Leventhal‘s Saturday morning followed by Stephanie Snyder’s Sunday Level 2 class. I’ve heard rave reviews about Stephanie and have wanted to check her out — but the timing has been somewhat inconvenient with Teacher Training, but more than that, her classes are packed! A sign of a great teacher, obviously, but not something I want to deal with all the time.

I really liked her class though. Her alignment cues were very unique and thoughtful — and I ended up feeling quite emotional toward the end of savasana. I don’t think I’ve ever really processed the popular Namaste reading towards the end of class. I had a profound connection to it.

I honor the place in you
in which the entire universe dwells.
I honor the place in you
which is of love, of truth, of light, and of peace.
I honor the place in you where,
if you are in that place in you,
and I am in that place in me,
there is only one of us.
Namaste

I really like the idea that there really is some concept of the universe in all of us. I believe this. The place in me, where the entire univese dwells — I envision atman, this divine spark, within all of us. The spark being some kind of physical tie to the entire universe.

With all of the cosmology, spirituality and particle physics that I’ve been immersing myself in — I can’t help but think about our lives in this way. But, if this is the case,  you can take a moment to focus on that spark –realizing that every other person we meet has this same place inside them. Connecting every one of us. It’s a really comforting idea. Makes me glad to spend my weekend off in the universe enjoying my friends and the city that I love.

Teacher Training: A Weekend Off

Whew. I can’t believe that almost two months have gone by since I started teacher training. For the past several weeks we’ve spent most of our time studying philosophy on Friday nights followed by two alignment classes on Saturday and Sunday. The one exception being a functional anatomy weekend hosted by physical therapist extraordinaire, Harvey Deutch.

This past weekend marked the conclusion of the first segment of our training, with our final alignment classes with Chrisandra. We concluded with learning the intricacies of head and shoulder stand — as well as spent some time in small groups leading our own practice.

All-in-all, my alignment is much better than it was before I started. Poses that never felt like a stretch are now a challenge — even child’s pose feels like a brand new experience. Each time I practice in class, I discover a new sequence or a new way of taking my practice deeper. It’s exciting.

All that said, though, I’m very excited for my weekend off. It couldn’t come at a better time. Last month, we were told that we’d likely come to a point where we feel tired and frustrated with the training — I hit that point this past weekend. I’m glad that I can take some time to practice on my own or in class and not have to worry about readings, homework or spending next weekend in class. I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do with myself — but it’ll probably include Yoga to some degree.

I am most definitely still enjoying it –I’m just looking forward to my weekend off.

Teacher Training: My Inner Struggle

One thing that I’ve noticed over the past few weeks is how interested I have become in the philosophy and teachings behind the yoga practice. This past week we spent our Friday night class discussing the ideas of the Kundalini and the energy chakras in the body. I’ve found all of this to be incredibly fascinating. Ironically, after spending two hours talking about the energy that we can produce and give off, I rushed over to the Fox Theater in Oakland to see Girl Talk perform.

I had gotten there about 15 minutes after he had started and was immediately overwhelmed by the vibe the minute I walked in the door. As I’m entering the Mezzanine level, a stranger with a huge smile on his face walks by me with his hand raised saying “High Five, Brother!!” I look over the balcony and see a sea of bodies rushing to the music and everyone on the mezzanine dancing, jumping, going crazy as Gregg Gillis (Girl Talk) worked his magic.

You could feel the “energy” in the theater. Much like we had talked about earlier in class, there was something in the air that everyone could sense. Much like the rest of this past week, the evening was incredibly synchronous. Here’s where the conflict comes in.

Continue reading Teacher Training: My Inner Struggle

Teacher Training: Standing Poses

Another weekend has come and gone and I’m starting to realize that I’d have a hard time telling you whether I prefer the philosophy or alignment classes. This Friday night’s class focused on the Yoga Sutra and The 8 Limbs. I knew little of these ideas before, however, I really enjoyed learning about these concepts.

I find it particularly interesting to learn why these ancient philosophers explain why yoga makes you feel the way it does. Explaining why it is that you leave a yoga class with that “high” or “blissful” feeling and how to take what you learn during class and apply it to your day-to-day life.

We talked for a bit about meditation and the concepts of being a witness of your own mind in the present moment. To be able to sit patiently by as your mind does its thing, each time you drift off slowly bringing your attention back to the clarity. You can think of it as though the skill you are practicing is learning how to bring your mind back from these distractions — not to never get distracted.

Take today’s alignment class, for example. I don’t know if other people felt it, but I felt as though there was an incredible sense of peace in the room today. We started with a 10 minute meditation — and for whatever reason — I was able to completely let go, feeling completely relaxed in a trance-like state. Other times, though, I struggle to count to two before thinking about something else. It doesn’t matter, though, as long as you’re able to practice letting go.

After the meditation, we continued talking about external rotations of the hip and how this relates to standing poses. We then had a great hour-long practice where Chrisandra talked us into some very detailed standing pose variations. She would describe very specific muscle groups and you could pinpoint them tweaking your poses with very precise movements. The combination of the clarity from my meditation and this very focused practice made me very aware of my body and how it moves.

I attended Christopher Love’s hatha flow class afterwards — which was a great way to end the evening. I never felt I was struggling too much in any pose — I had a very strong sense of Sthiram Sukham Asanam throughout the practice and never felt as though I was pushing myself too far. Especially when we worked on the standing poses — being able to put into use what we had just learned was exciting.

I still have a ton of reading to do this week — though it’s always interesting. Another very intense and insightful weekend — I loved every minute of it.