Many levels of ‘restoration’

Midway through my yoga teacher training experience I took a workshop on Yin Yoga – which is an extensive (and intensive) form of restorative yoga. If you have been following along with my yoga journey, you may recall that my yin yoga experience didn’t exactly go super-“well” for me. So when it came to signing up for these final tech sessions to wind down my training experience, I opted out of the yin yoga session – but felt compelled to try as many different yoga forms as possible. I wasn’t sure how “restorative” yoga was different from “yin” yoga (or if they were even different at all), but I felt like I owed it to myself to invest the 90 minutes of tech time to find out.

The teacher who conducted this restorative tech session was different from the instructor who has taught all of the yin/meditation/energy/emotional healing/shakti/deva/mudras/woo woo classes I have had to this point. Today’s teacher was also big on chakras/nadis/koshas/visualization/etc., but her presentation of the content was just, well, different than the other teacher. Both instructors shared a lot of similar content, but expressed it in rather different ways. For whatever reason, tonight I could ‘hear’ the information, and be more open to receiving it non-judgmentally, than I have been before. Maybe it’s because of the teacher, maybe it’s because I’ve grown over the past eleven months, maybe it’s because I’m continuing to evolve and become more open/receptive/tolerant/willing/inquisitive… Likely it’s a combination of all of those factors, plus other causes and conditions I’m not even conscious of. But for whatever reason(s), during this class I began to understand how important these restorative aspects of yoga are; and I felt myself begin to have more acceptance of – and compassion towards – restorative yoga as a “valid” asana form.

Okay, so what *is* restorative yoga? The teacher told us that restorative yoga is the yoga of being rather than doing. There are many different reasons why people might be drawn to restorative yoga (stress reduction, recovery from illness/injury/accident, healing from child birth, emotional support during a major life transition like a marriage/new job/divorce/death/etc., to supplement a meditation practice, or just to chill out and do something physically soothing and replenishing/rejuvenating/relaxing for a change); and one of the key components of restorative yoga is an emphasis on the mind, and on connecting with the mind (as well as soothing the body). Now yes, the mind (and mind/body connection) is important in every yoga class; but when a person is struggling through a tough asana practice, sometimes the mind can get downplayed (or even ‘forgotten’)… whereas in a restorative class, because the body is more still and more quiet, it may be easier to connect with the mind more fully.

The teacher then talked a bit about the power of the mind. For people who may question if they really need a restorative yoga practice, the teacher commented about how our body and our mind don’t know the difference between what is real and what is imaginary. The example I have heard many times is that of a rope/snake: If we see a rope coiled in a corner, but we think it is a snake, our bodies will respond exactly as if it were a snake – even though it’s just a harmless rope. This same concept applies to negative self-talk, to engaging in ‘pretend’ violence (i.e., movies, video games), to thinking all tasks are *mission critical!* and imposing unnecessary stress in our lives, etc. etc. – and suddenly it becomes a bit more clear that an unconscious, untended mind really can kill us – quite literally. (Think high blood pressure resulting from chronic stress as just one example: the high blood pressure leads to a heart attack or stroke, and there you go – death.) So while this body/mind/imagination connection can be really devastating to us, it can also serve us – if we learn how to use it to our advantage. We can use/teach/train our minds to help us rather than hurt us – and that is one of the many benefits of restorative yoga.

One last comment on the mind, and then I’ll move on: Actions follow thoughts, and thoughts follow intention. If we are unaware of our thoughts, we can’t possibly know our intentions. And if we are unaware of our intentions, we can get into big trouble – and we won’t even know why. But. If we work to at least try to set our intentions, and attempt to become aware of (and then over time to guide) our thoughts, we can learn to be more authentically “conscious”; and when we genuinely “know” better, we can then do better.

So, in restorative yoga we are looking to become aware of, listen to, and enhance our own body’s wisdom and intuition.

Alrighty, so how does one actually do restorative yoga? There are a whole bunch of poses that are “restorative” in their nature (think forward folds, child’s pose, legs-up-a-wall, legs-on-a-chair, savasana…) – entire books have been written on restorative yoga. Basically, one makes a regular ol’ asana “restorative” by getting into the pose with a sense of steadiness and comfort (so no pushing/straining/struggling), breathing deeply and consciously (use 3-part breathing), making deep relaxation the ‘goal’ of the practice, and visualizing the prana (energy) moving through the body as appropriate.

One thing I found interesting in the class was the instructor’s comment/caution that people *can* get injured in a restorative yoga class, especially if they don’t receive a proper physical warm-up. While the poses may be more gentle and static than intense or dynamic, it is still yoga – the body is still being challenged in physical ways.

Along those lines, I also appreciated the teacher reminding us that a tiny adjustment really can make a big difference in the experience of a pose (both in physical feeling and in emotional feeling). In my own practice, I’ve been amazed at how a teeny-tiny tweak of a body part (sometimes as slight as a single finger) can deeply change the experience of a pose for me! And when a pose is held in a restorative fashion (so, for longer than just 3-5 breaths), I can understand and appreciate how the concept of adjustments are all the more important in a restorative class.

Okay, here’s the last thing from the class that I thought was cool, and then I’ll end this post: The teacher informed us that if a person can’t enter a certain pose (let’s say a woman had a c-section so she can’t do a forward bend, or a guy had some knee/hip trauma so he can’t invert his legs, or whatever…), even having the person just breathe into an area of the body that feels pained, stressed, fatigued, etc. can be a very effective restorative method to employ. Physical asanas are good, but they simply aren’t the ‘only’ path to health: even ‘just’ directing breath (prana) into a part of our physical body (or mind, or both) can yield tremendous benefits. [So, on days when I might be feeling ill, and want to do something healthy for my body but don’t feel up to doing yoga, I can lay in bed or on the sofa and engage in conscious breathing – and really can practice yoga, and really can consciously help by body heal. That’s cool.]

Indeed, to that end, the teacher closed with the following comment: “The universe knows where to go, and what to do – all you have to do is be willing to receive it.”

So, wow…. After all of this reflection and writing, I guess I do see some value in restorative yoga. I guess it just took the right person, at the right time, to share the ‘right’ message. (Or probably more accurately, for my mind/heart to be in the ‘right’ space to receive it.) :)

Stef

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My last (core) class

Today was my last core class of my yoga teacher training program – and (quite appropriately) the topic was the Yoga Sutras, Part 2.

I had taken the Yoga Sutras Part 1 waaaaaaaayyyyyy back in January.  My training cohort was then supposed to have Part 2 the following week; but because of a wicked snow storm, that session was canceled.  The next time this topic was offered was in March, but I couldn’t make that date because I had a conflict with my yoga mentor session; so today was the first chance I had to make up this class.

Tonight we spent the first hour of class discussing yogic philosophy of the mind.  Basically, yoga believes that we humans are inherently good, pure beings; but that from the moment we are each individually born (or, perhaps more accurately, from the moment that our former body died and our soul was re-released into the universe and found the body that we now occupy) we have experiences that begin to cover-up our inner, essential goodness.  We experience cold, or hunger, or fatigue – and we react.  We get upset, we cry, we scream – and it’s our reactions to those events that get recorded in our memory (samskaras), and that cause us to begin to form habits (vasanas).  Act out the habits enough, and eventually they become what we think of as our “personality”.  And it’s all of these traits, the habits, and the memories that keep us from seeing/experiencing/being our inner goodness.

So, we have this problem: Our goodness is being covered up by yucky crap.  The natural question is, “Well, then, how do we get rid of the yucky crap so that the goodness can be revealed?”  The answer: Yoga.  :)

Specifically, the 8-limbed path of ashtanga yoga.

Even more specifically: living an ethical life (i.e., yamas and niyamas), inhabiting a comfortable body (asana), regulating our breathing (pranayama), and meditating (pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi).  Ethics, physicality, and breath all support ‘successful’ meditation; and through meditation, the junk is processed/removed from our body/mind/spirit/soul – and what remains is our essential, inherent goodness.

To use an analogy: Think of removing algae from a pond.  Pulling strand after strand of algae from a body of water takes a LOT of time and effort, but if you keep at it, slowly the algae will begin to thin out, to lessen.  You’ll see less green in the water, and more blue.  If you keep going, at some point in time the blue water will be more dominant than the green algae.  If you keep going even more, one day every last strand of algae will be gone, and the only thing that will remain is the beautiful, clear blue water.  What an amazing pond that would be to swim in!

But most of us don’t want to spend the time, energy, or effort to pull out all the algae; so we just push enough of it out of our way to take a swim.  And in doing this “shortcut”, we can swim; but we also get some algae stuck on our toes, or we accidentally stick our hand in a big clump of algae as we try to do a breaststroke, or we might find some algae stuck to our legs as we try to leave the pond….but whatever.  Yeah, our swim was less enjoyable because of the algae, but we were willing to accept that, to compromise, because we just didn’t want to try and remove all of the algae.

However.  I don’t like algae.  In fact, I might even have a mild allergy to it.  So while some people are okay splashing amid the green goop, if I spend too much time in it I won’t only be bothered by it, but maybe I start to break out in hives.  And if I ignore the rash and stay in the pond, maybe the reaction becomes even more severe, and I begin to have some difficulty breathing.  And if I still don’t take some action, maybe I start to experience pain in my chest, numbness in my fingers…maybe I start to die.  And at that point, I really *need* to end my exposure to the algae – or else I’m screwed.

Unfortunately, I can’t get out of the pond.  (Not yet, anyway.)  So the only thing left to do?  Get rid of the algae.

Happily, tonight’s teacher spent the second hour of class teaching us algae-removal methods: i.e., meditation.

I have been meditating daily for nearly 2 years now, but I learned a lot in those 60 minutes.  The instructor began this segment of the class by showing us three different seated meditation postures.  I have always struggled with sitting cross-legged for meditation – my feet fall asleep after only 5-10 minutes.  So when I meditate, I sit on a bench.  However, I tried the postures the teacher showed us – and one of them was terrific!  I was able to sit relatively comfortably for a good 15 minutes, and I felt very stable and solid, yet also at ease with a nice long, relaxed spine – it was great!

The instructor then told us a “trick” we could do to help us establish and maintain circular breathing: basically, to give the body permission to gently relax just before the change-over from inhale to exhale, and from exhale to inhale; and that one rather ‘small’ adjustment had a very significant impact for me.  Again, terrific!  After a mere 10 minutes of instruction (and then just 2-3 minutes of experimentation), I found myself in a lovely, deep meditative state.  (Like, in a state of meditation I usually don’t ‘achieve’ until a good 20-minutes into my own personal practice.)  It was phenomenal.

I really appreciated tonight’s class session; and not only for the very helpful meditation instruction and guidance, but also for the meaningful philosophical discussion and teaching that was shared, too.  I have missed spending time with others pursuing a spiritual path; and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that tonight, I realized I had kind of ‘drifted away’ from the genuine inner peace and authentic compassion that was more dominant and readily-accessible in my heart, and more easily shared with others, than I had experienced only a few weeks ago.  Hmm….. How can I maintain those qualities in my life, as my intensive year of training ends?  How can I continue to have experiences of connecting deeply with myself, of experiencing delightful spiritual growth, of revealing the person my soul so deeply wants me to be?

I don’t have any answers.  (I am very willing to hear suggestions.) But I do know I need to – have to – keep removing the algae.  I just hope I can pull it out faster than it grows.  I’d love to see my pond be clean, clear, radiant, beautiful.

Stef

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Yoga Anatomy

As part of the anatomy section of this yoga teacher training program, all students are required to complete 10 hours of anatomy study on their own.  Our anatomy teacher gave us a pre-work assignment to do before each of our anatomy classes, but it took me an average of 30 minutes to complete each homework item – so by the end of the formal, structured anatomy training of this program, I had only completed two hours of anatomy-related independent study.

One option I had to fill the remaining eight hours was to read/do The Anatomy Coloring Book – which many consider to be the quintessential med student’s guide to the human body.  The book is definitely remarkable; it’s technical, precise, detailed, interactive, visual, and does a very good job explaining crazy-difficult concepts in as relatable and understandable a fashion as possible.  However.  In engaging with 20-or-so pages from the book (as part of my formal anatomy class pre-work), I found it to be an exercise in memorization, but not necessarily application.  For example, after studying the page on the axial and appendicular skeleton, I understood the general jist that the axial skeleton is the spine and ribs, and the appendicular skeleton is the arms and legs – but 1) it took me a good five minutes (literally) to extract that information from the technical jargon on the page, and [more importantly] 2) this information was pretty void of meaning.  It was data, but not knowledge.  It was facts I could memorize if I worked hard, but that I couldn’t really apply.  So while it is critical that a medical professional memorize every term and fact in the coloring book, that isn’t the same level or even type of knowledge I need as a yoga teacher.

Fortunately, in one of our anatomy classes, the instructor mentioned a reference text that he has found helpful over the years: Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff.  This book is all about the way various muscles, bones, joints, and the breath are impacted/affected in a variety of standard yoga poses.  This was information that I felt would be more valuable to me than rote memorization of body parts – so I purchased the book, and over the past month got very cozy with skeletons and a highlighter.

I completed the book yesterday – and I think it is truly fantastic.  The author explains “the basics” of human anatomy clearly and concisely, yet also at a pretty decent level of detail; and he always ties in the yogic application to the physical/physiological topic at hand.  In my opinion, his first two chapters on the breath and the spine are ‘must reads’ for every yoga teacher; the information presented there is completely understandable, yet so important and profound…  I also adored the asana illustrations and explanations that comprised the majority of the book – they were much easier for me to understand than the illustrations and explanations in The Anatomy Coloring Book (and, therefore, more valuable to me as a tool to learn from).  I suspect when I have questions in the future about how a pose should align/be held/feel in the body, I will reference this text.

It’s funny – I’ve spent 36 years living with a body, but I have really learned more about it in the past year of this yoga teacher training program; and certainly a lot in this past month of yoga anatomy study.  Interesting… and amazing.

Stef

P.S.  If you are curious about the Yoga Anatomy book, and want to get a few semi-detailed samples of the type of information the text holds, you can read over some of the notes I took from it.

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Beautiful breath

Tonight I had a tech session about pranyama – which is basically breath work. (Prana = “life force” [spirit, breath] and yama = “restraint” [control]. So pranyama loosely translates into actions which control the breath – breath work.)

Interestingly, almost exactly one year ago today I had my very first tech session ever, and the focus of that session was the breath, too! (If you are curious, you can read that post here.) Now, considering that breath is an integral and absolutely critical part of yoga, it’s not too shocking that I’ve had more than one experience related to this topic. But still, I thought it was cool that things really are coming full circle as this yoga teacher training experience is winding down for me….

Anyway, back to the present. Pranyama is a skill that is cultivated through practice. We all breathe automatically and unconsciously; unfortunately, that isn’t always a good thing. Yes, it’s good that we breathe even when we aren’t thinking about it so that we can stay alive; but our breath influences so much of our experience in the world. When we breathe in tiny, shallow inhales and exhales from our upper chest (as so many of us do), this physical action contributes to physiological feelings of constriction and tension, which contribute (often unconsciously) to emotional and psychological feelings of anxiety and stress. But when we actively change our breath, when we breathe in deeper, slower, fuller inhales and exhales, we create a sense of physical expansiveness in our bodies – which contributes to emotional and psychological feelings of relaxation and calm. When we then practice specific methods of pranyama, we have the ability (and power) to create and cultivate other states in our bodies, and our minds. So, pranyama isn’t “just breathing” – it’s breathing in a very specific way, to create very specific results. It’s quite amazing, actually. (As one of my yoga teachers likes to quip: “When you change your breath, you change your mind. When you change your mind, you change your life.”)

And just like any other skill we want to get good at (be it physical asana practice, or developing musical abilities, or learning a new language, etc. etc. etc.), if we want to get good at this skill of pranyama, we have to practice it. So we spent the first half of the tech session learning and practicing two basic forms of pranyama, then we spent the other half of the session applying those forms of breathing to a moving asana practice.

The first type of pranyama we did is called “square breathing”. I actually learned this technique several years ago as a stress management tool, and I have found it to work incredibly well. It’s super-simple to learn, super-easy to remember, and can be done discreetly, literally anywhere. So, if you’re stuck in a line at the grocery store and feel your patience running thin, or on an airplane and feeling a little claustrophobic, or sitting in the dentist’s chair and feeling some anxiety, you may want to consider practicing this breathing technique. It’s helped me out many times.

Okay, so here’s square breathing:

  • Inhale for a count of 4.
  • Hold your breath in for a count of 4. (I.e., don’t breathe, don’t move any air at all. Just keep the air that is currently inside of you right where it is.)
  • Exhale for a count of 4.
  • Hold your breath out for a count of 4. (Again, don’t breathe, don’t move any air at all. Just keep the air that is currently outside of you right there.)

So, to simplify, square breathing is:
* Inhale 4.
* Hold 4.
* Exhale 4.
* Hold 4.
Repeat as many times as desired.

If you’d like to try this method of breathing for a round or two right now, go ahead. It will only take you 30 seconds, and I think you might be surprised by how you feel afterwards.

[Pause. I’m waiting for you.] :)

The second type of pranyama we learned is more complicated, and more challenging. It’s called visamavrtti pranyama. (vi = “not”; sama =”same”; vrtti =”length”) Here’s how this one goes. [For this description, I’m also going to include comments about which bandhas to engage for my yoga friends; if you have no idea what a bandha is, don’t worry about it – feel free to ignore that part.]

* Inhale for 4 [engage mula bandha]
* Hold for 16 [engage mula bandha and jalandhara bandha]
* Exhale for 8 [engage mula bandha]
* Hold for 12 [engage all three bandhas]

This breath work was quite a bit more challenging for me; I felt myself being pushed quite a bit on both holds. I was rather surprised at how well I was able to maintain the bandhas; but I could absolutely feel the desire to exhale and inhale “prematurely” come on pretty strong at different points in the pranyama. This is absolutely to be expected, and as our teacher explained, “Yoga is about meeting stress, and moving through it – not running from it or avoiding it all together.” It’s in the moving through a discomfort or a stressor that a person genuinely learns about the internal strength and power that was previously ‘hidden’ (untapped) inside of them. Pranyama is a very effective (yet still safe) way to experience stress, so that a person can encounter all of the internal resources they have – like resolve, courage, determination, dedication, and so on.

After we felt semi-confident doing pranyama from a seated, still position, we then applied breath ratios to dynamic asana. We did arm raises coupled with forward folds, then returning to a standing position (so, from standing, raise arms for an inhale of 4; fold forward with arms raised for an exhale of 8; return to standing with arms overhead for an inhale of 4; lower arms to the sides while still standing for an exhale of 8). We also did dynamic bridge poses with arms raising and lowering overhead for a 1:2 (inhale:exhale) breath ratio, and we practiced seated spinal twists with a 1:2 (inhale:exhale) breath ratio.

As we practiced coupling pranyaya (breath) with asana (movement), I felt myself falling in love with yoga again and again. There is something truly beautiful to me about the union of breath and body; and every time I get to experience it, I am humbled, awed, and delighted. I left this evening’s tech session breathing freely, and smiling broadly. I simply adore yoga.

Stef

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The Business of Yoga

This evening I had my last yoga teacher training core session.  (Technically, I still have one make-up session to complete because of a class that was canceled due to a snow storm back in February… but effectively, tonight’s class was the last piece of content to be addressed in the training series curriculum.)  This evening’s topic was “The Business Of Yoga”.

Though I work in business (and have worked in a corporate setting for the duration of my career [14 years so far]), I don’t know much about being a business – which is in effect what a yoga teacher is: a business.

However, being a business is quite different from running a business.  Tonight’s teacher made that distinction very clear: A yoga instructor is basically an independent contractor.  A yoga studio owner is a manager of people.  These are two very different things.  A person can be a great yoga instructor and a crummy business/studio owner; and a person can be a wonderful studio owner and not know the first thing about yoga.  The two are very different skill sets, and really are mutually exclusive.  Just because a person can do one skill really well, don’t assume the other skill will also be a strength (or even a source of enjoyment!).

I was curious about what information might be shared with us this evening.  What does the merging of aspirational yoga and tactical/practical business look like?  As I have decent experience in the business world, I also wondered how much of tonight’s information I would already know, and how much of it would be new to me.  I’m amazed (and delighted!) to report that probably 80% of the information presented was new to me; I’m honestly a bit surprised by exactly how much rich, valuable knowledge I learned in just two hours.

And I think this material extends well beyond the scope of yoga.  I think any individual who is working as an independent contractor in a ‘softer-skills’-type setting (be it consulting, or life coaching, or photography, or personal organization, or as an artist, or dancer, or massage therapist, or dietician…. [you get the idea]) would be well-served to apply these same learnings to their own practice/professional life.  It’s good stuff.

Okay – so what did I learn?  :)  Here’s the scoop.

[Oh, but wait a second; before I get started, here’s a standard disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, or a financial advisor, or a security professional.  I’m not dispensing any legal, tax, or personal/public safety advice.  I’m simply sharing information that was shared with me because I thought the content was good, and it had an impact on me.  If this same information benefits others, wonderful.  But don’t do anything I say simply because I say it; use your own mind, consult your own experts, make your own decisions, and live your life, not mine.  Okay? :)  Okay.  Here we go…]

Topic #1:   What does it mean to be a yoga teacher/independent contractor?  What does one need to do?

  • Get liability insurance!  A yoga teacher works with other people’s bodies – and therefore needs to legally protect him/herself.  Relatively ‘cheap’ insurance can be secured through IDEA (http://www.ideafit.com/) or Yoga Journal (http://www.yogajournal.com/) [and probably other places, too].
  • Require all students to complete a liability form (BEFORE you work with them).  And if teaching children, require their parents/legal guardians to sign a liability form.
  • Become CPR/AED certified.  (This is something I’ve been ‘meaning’ to do for a while, and honestly just haven’t made it a priority…)
  • Make yourself an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation).  A yoga teacher makes money, but lacks the protection of an employer – and therefore needs to financially protect him/herself.  Creating an LLC keeps any contracting assets separate from all other assets (namely, one’s home, one’s savings accounts, one’s independent investments, one’s potential future income/revenue streams, etc.).  Creating an LLC is done at the state level (so a person needs to go their state’s government website to find the application information.  And if a person lives on a state border, and wants to teach/work in multiple states, they need to create {become?} an LLC in all those different states).
  • Manage finances well; keep detailed (meticulous) financial records.  1) Open a separate checking and savings account for the LLC.  2) Document the names and dates of students/classes taught, the amount of money earned per class/lesson taught, all receipts for expenditures [parking, photocopies, supplies], etc.  3) Pay tax estimates on a quarterly basis.

One thing that was extra-surprising for me was the strong suggestion that a yoga teacher take all of the actions listed above even if he/she is teaching strictly on a volunteer basis.  In reflecting about it for a few minutes, this makes a lot of sense; but it also made me kind of sad.  While I’m not super-confident that I’m going to be teaching a lot in exchange for financial compensation, I have considered volunteering yoga instruction services to a variety of different underserved populations.  Innocent little me, I thought that if I were simply volunteering my time and talents out of the goodness of my heart, that I would be ‘exempt’ from being sued, from being held liable for any accidents that might occur, from people trying to get money from me…. When the instructor brought awareness to taking the above steps even if one wants to do volunteer work only, it did make sense; but it also kind of disappointed me.  (“No good deed goes unpunished,” as the saying goes.)

But anyway, all of that was just part of the total package of really good advice we were given.  The teacher continued:

Topic #2:  In addition to what a yoga teacher needs to do, what should one do as well?

  • Become a member of Yoga Alliance.  Becoming an ‘official’ RYT 200 instructor is a powerful marketing tool.  However, if a person does become ‘officially’ RYT 200, he/she needs to be sure to complete the necessary number of continuing education hours each year in order to maintain that status.
  • Develop marketing tools.  Business cards, a website, a yoga resume, a Facebook page….
  • Manage your brand.  We talked for a bit about the need to maintain a ‘brand’ image, in all facets of one’s life.  As an independent contractor, the line between ‘professional’ and ‘personal’ suddenly (immediately) becomes razor-thin; so this means actively managing all of the ‘stuff’ about you that might be ‘out there’ for people to see or find.  Specific actions we discussed included cleaning up one’s personal Facebook page (i.e., remove anything unsavory, embarrassing…); Google-ing your name and your LLC name (if they are different) and cleaning up anything that needs to be addressed from the search results; then maintaining the type of image you want to have from that point forward.

This last point about “personal brand” is an excellent one, and one I learned several years ago ‘the hard way’.  While at the time the experience I went through/created out of my own poor decisions was pretty awful, I am grateful I had that tough lesson in my life path, because it really opened my eyes – and it kicked me in the butt to take a long, deep, hard look at myself.  The painful introspection that resulted was one of several factors that converged to prompt me to make pretty dramatic and sweeping changes in my life.  It took some wicked hard work (and some angst, and some tears), but now (a few years later) I have a life that I not only love, but am truly proud of.  And I think it’s both an honor and a delight to be able to live that way.  Here’s to positive maintenance.  :)

Okay, on to Topic #3: Things to be aware of when working with businesses.

In this segment of the class, we discussed standard methods of payment for yoga services rendered (i.e., getting paid per class versus per student); we discussed standard rates of payment (which vary from state to state, and area to area; in this metro, $20-35 per class and $4-6 per student seem to be pretty average); we discussed what it means to teach ‘a lot’ of classes in a week (personally, I think this is a matter of individual preference – but the guidance we were given is that 4-5 classes per week is manageable, while 6+ gets to be ‘a lot’).  We also discussed good strategies to use to build a client base (i.e., maintain a regular teaching schedule so that students know when and where to expect you; only teach at studios you like/respect), and we talked about a few different ways to get exposure in general (i.e., get on substitute teaching lists, teach a Community Education class, do some volunteer yoga work…).  

One really interesting item that came up was the notion of teaching yoga while on vacation.  Specifically, when going on a cruise, or to a resort, or to some other ‘yoga-friendly’-type destination, some teachers have contacted the management of these entities in advance of their trip, and asked if the vacation resource might be interested in using their yoga teaching services in exchange for a reduced rate, or a nice upgrade, or some comps…. What a concept!  I never would have thought of this; but it does seem like it could be cool to do.  Wild!  I really might have to try that one out…

Finally, we segued to Topic #4: Safety. 

  • The instructor began this talk by stating, “Public yoga classes are just that – public.”  Again, this awareness made me a little sad.  I like to think that people who are interested in yoga are interested in bettering themselves, and so can be trusted…. And this discussion point was a really, really good reminder for me that my assumption simply isn’t true.  Not everyone has good intentions.  And that’s sad.  But it’s real.  And I need to deal with what is real – for my own health, well-being, and literal safety.  Point taken.  So, to that end, some good safety reminders:
  • Never teach in a studio alone.
  • Never leave a studio alone (especially at night).
  • Don’t let students know where you live.
  • Be very careful if you choose to teach private lessons – especially if the lessons are occurring in a client’s home.  Never teach private lessons in your own home.
  • Trust Your Instincts.  Don’t worry about being unkind, or “overly worried”, or “over-reacting”.  If something feels ‘wrong’, ‘off’, etc., it probably is.  Better safe than raped or dead.  (Sorry to be blunt; but it’s true.  And if I offend someone but help them to stay safe, I am absolutely okay with that…)
  • Keep your body balanced when teaching/demonstrating asanas.  (I.e., don’t demonstrate a pose on only one side of the body.  If you demonstrate a pose on the right side, demonstrate it on the left side, too.)

In the past, some students have complained that this last class is a “downer”.  After all of the time we have spent chanting and meditating, and discussing intentions and volunteerism/public service, we end our training focused on the topics of money, and legality, and marketing, and safety… “What a depressing way to end!” some people say.  Interestingly, my take on all of this is quite different.  I’m grateful that we spent two hours discussing the realistic implications and practicalities of our idealistic goals and aspirations – I know I’m naïve, and I know I can be entirely too trusting; and I appreciate the reminder to keep my heart open, yes; but to use my head, too.  I needed this instruction.  I needed tonight’s session.  I’m grateful that all of this information was shared with genuine concern and compassion; and I’m grateful that I was ‘teachable’ enough to receive it.

Stef

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The power of a forward fold

It has been a long time since I’ve been at a tech session – three months, in fact.  (I was curious, so I looked at my attendance log, and was a bit surprised when I realized it had been that long!)  I feel like March and April were plenty busy with yoga-related tasks; and then I remembered, oh yeah, my mentorship!  That took a lot of time in March and April.  And, oh yeah, the Karma Yoga project!  That took a good chunk of time, too.  So I haven’t been a complete slacker; I just set aside the tech sessions for a bit in order to make time and space for these other items in the program.

But now those other tasks are complete, so now I’m back to the techs.  And tonight’s session was a terrific one to get me back into the tech groove.

The topic of this evening’s tech was forward folding.  Specifically, standing forward folds and seated forward folds.  The teacher began by explaining how truly important forward folds are – in yoga, certainly, but also in life.  Think about it: How many times a day do you bend over?  (Standing forward fold)  And how many times a day do you sit down?  (Seated forward fold)  If you don’t think you do either of these movements very often, I invite you to try and go a day without them.  Heck, try to go just one hour without them.  It’s pretty amazing how truly critical these movements are.

The teacher continued stressing the importance of proper forward folding by talking through not only the frequency with which we engage in these movements, but also the benefits we can realize by engaging in these actions correctly both in our lives, and in yoga asana.  In our every day lives, folding forward properly can help a person heal from an injury, can help protect against further injury, and can help prevent future injury.  (Proper forward folding can also help maintain the body if a person is presently healthy.)  In yoga asana, forward folds help organize energy in an up-and-down pattern (specifically, up-and-down our back body [from our toes, up our legs, past our booty, up our spine, past our neck, all the way to the crown of our head]).  Energy that is organized in a clean up-and-down line (versus energy that is all scattered every which way within us) helps us feel much more physically calm, emotionally balanced, and overall grounded and stable.  (Energy that is chaotic in our bodies makes us feel, well, chaotic in all aspects of our lives – from our thinking minds to our emotional senses to our physical being.)  [So, think racing heart, inability to mentally focus, impatience, etc.]  So for what might seem like a pretty ‘simple’ action (i.e., bending over or sitting down, these seem like no big whoop), it’s actually a pretty powerful one.

So it’s important that we learn how to fold forward properly.

Which I now know how to do.  :)

For yogis who like knowing the details of asana practice, here’s the quick step-by-step of how to do a proper standing forward fold.  (And if you don’t care so much about these details, feel free to skip past these bullets and on to the next paragraph; I won’t be offended.)

  • Put the feet hip-bone-width distance apart.
  • Put a micro-bend in the knees.
  • Ensure the natural small arch of the low spine is present.  (I.e., ensure the spine is in neutral.)
  • Hook the thumbs under the armpits [“farmer’s position”].  (This ensures the shoulders go down the back, and the heart/chest opens.)
  • Begin to slowly fold forward from the hips, using the heart (not the chin) to move out-and-down.  Don’t force the ‘down’ (gravity will take care of the down); focus on and encourage the ‘out’.
  • Fold as far as you can while keeping a neutral back.  Once the back begins to experience flexion (i.e., ‘rounding’), the integrity of the forward fold has been lost.  If the back begins to round, move back up a bit until the neutral spine can be recovered.  Stop folding forward at the spot where the back begins to round, and breathe there for a few inhales and exhales.

I’ve been practicing “correct” forward folding for the past six months now, so today’s tech session was a nice refresher/reminder of key concepts I really do know.  What was particularly cool for me about tonight’s class was that, when I was called on to fold forward, my body absolutely knew what to do without my brain needing to ‘think’ about it; and my body’s internalized knowledge and inherent wisdom is what I listened to – not my mind.  (That’s a pretty big deal for me.)  It was also awesome for me to see how much stronger I have become in the past six months!  Correct forward folding takes a LOT of abdominal/core strength; and I had the strength to fold forward with integrity, and to come back up to a standing position equally smoothly and strongly.  When I had finished folding forward and standing back up (and impressing some of the other students in the class, which, I admit, did make me feel pretty good), the teacher made a comment along the lines of, “Now, this pose might be just naturally easy for some people, so don’t get discouraged if you struggle…”; to which I looked the teacher right in the eye and said, “Oh no, this pose isn’t ‘naturally easy for me’ – I have worked for this pose.”

And I have.  I have worked day in, day out, slowly building strength, and balance, and flexibility over the past year.  Every single morning I get up, and do sit ups, and push ups, and sun salutations.  And once a week I engage in a kick-my-butt yoga class.  And once every other week I sit on a wood floor for several hours, listening to yoga teaching, and building my back and ab strength in the process.  And every single day I eat right, and walk, and meditate, and do my very best to treat myself well, and take care of this precious resource I have been given (indeed, this amazing body with which I have been gifted); and in tiny little increments (like grains of sand and drops of water), I have begun to accumulate benefits, one tiny unit at a time; until, over time, I have a small bucket of sand, or a small glass of water.

Tonight’s class was a wonderful opportunity for me to see, to really objectively experience, precisely how far I have come from where I was a year ago.  I had the opportunity to see my increased strength, to witness my increased emotional stability and confidence, and to feel the true sense of calm within me that is becoming less the exception, and more the rule.  Yeah, forward folds are amazingly powerful.

Stef

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Coming to a close

We have approached the second-to-last class.

Well, that’s not completely accurate.  Today was the second-to-last core class.  But in my journey on this teacher training path, I still have one make-up core class to finish (the one that was canceled due to a fierce February snow storm), eight tech sessions to complete, and a few miscellaneous tasks to wrap up (basically, reading a few more books, and writing brief reflections on them).  However, the end is approaching; and I’m beginning to feel a sense of closure to this project.

But, not yet.  Today was the second-to-last class.  :)

The previous two core classes were teaching labs, where we practiced giving voice to (and adjustments of) small 5-minute segments of an asana sequence.  Today’s session was a bit like a ‘final practicum’, where we pulled together everything we learned in those previous teaching labs, and taught a longer 20-minute segment of an asana sequence.  However, there was a new twist.  In today’s session, everyone was given a not-so-great “behavior” to exhibit while our fellow teacher-in-training attempted to facilitate their 20-minute class segment; in effect, today’s core session was designed to show us what could go wrong in a yoga class, and to challenge us to address the various issues as best we could.

May I pass on this one?

I’m not a fan of role plays in general, and I’m particularly not fond of role plays that attempt to catastrophize a situation.  I understand the spirit behind this task (i.e., our program teachers want to do what they can to ensure we know what to do should problems occur in our classes – a very noble and good intention), but the execution of such tasks is usually flawed.  Generally speaking, these role-play events go one of two ways: the ‘actors’ either under-state their role (because they feel uncomfortable giving one of their peers difficulty), or participants over-state their role (because they want to really push their peers – sometimes from a place of skillful intention, and sometimes not).  In either case, the role play lacks realism, and does little to truly prepare the student for what they might face in the ‘real world’; however, these role plays can (and sadly, frequently do) backfire, causing the student discomfort (sometimes even angst) in the moment, while also introducing doubt and insecurity that previously wasn’t present – all of which can lead the student to question their skills, abilities, and sometimes even interest in the subject being studied.

Ugh. No thank you.

Alas, the situation is what it is; today’s role plays were going to occur whether I agreed with them or not; and I was required to participate, whether I liked it or not.  So I picked up my mat, met with my two other classmates, and the three of us each took our turn teaching our 20-minute segment.

I was the first one up (just to get it done) – and my ‘problem students’ were pretty reasonable.  One was told to complain that her shoulder really hurt (fine, I told her modifications she could do for various poses), and the other was asked to not do the poses I cued – in effect, ‘go rogue’.  So, when I told my ‘class’ to step their right foot forward, he stepped with his left.  When I cued Warrior 1, he did Warrior 2.  Et cetera.  Fine, whatever; I simply repeated the correct cue until he caught on (i.e., “step your right foot forward”), or demonstrated the correct pose at the front of the class and stressed its’ name (i.e., “Warrior One, arms overhead like this”), or if the error was minor, I just let him go on his own.  It’s all good.

My peers had similar experiences teaching myself and the other student in our mini-class; my first issue was to have a sore wrist, and my second issue was to have hunched shoulders.  One of my classmates was told to ask a LOT of questions (which she did well, almost to the point of being obnoxious), and the other classmate was told to whine and complain (which he did effectively as well).  Near the end of the 90 minutes, all three of us were giddy (as some of the questioning and whining became almost comical), and during the last 5 minutes of the experience we were all laughing out loud – which was actually quite lovely.  This potentially problematic situation turned into something light and fun, and it really was a terrific way to end the teaching experience.

After we three had taught our segments, we returned to the main room of the studio for a final debrief.  During the review of what worked well, what didn’t work out so well, what questions we had, what we might do different next time, etc., the session facilitator made a comment about how the ending of each program was always bittersweet for her: she would miss us, but she was also excited for the next group of people to come after us.  She then made a bit of a ‘kidding’ comment encouraging for us to be nice to the next batch of teachers-in-training, closing with the sentiment that “current students tend to get possessive of the space.”

I found this last sentence particularly interesting.  One of the primary focuses of yoga is learning to be present, to focus on what is here and now (instead of remembering/re-living the past or anticipating/fearing the future).  Yet clearly, both students and teachers alike have difficulty retaining and practicing this concept – even in the heightened-awareness space of a yoga studio.  When the facilitator mentioned that another wave of students was to arrive, my immediate response was, “Well, of course more people will come; such is the ebb-and-flow of life.  The old make way for the new, and the new become old, and so it goes.”  And I was truly content with this in my mind and my heart.

It looks like yoga really *is* taking hold of me – and I know this is a result of the past year of focused attention, study, instruction, and guidance.  And for all of that (for all of the work I have done, and for all of the knowledge so many teachers have shared with me [usually lovingly and skillfully]), I am deeply, deeply grateful.

Stef

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