Friday, April 20, 2012

An Offering To New Teachers

     This spring marks my one year birthdate as a yoga teacher. I use the label “teacher” out of convention but I think of myself as more of a guide. I show the students in class possibilities as they are their own teachers. It is up to them to know when to push and when to back off, what is discomfort they can commit to and what is pain. What is accessible to them on that day and what is better left for another day. Maybe it is because I feel like I am in my infancy on this path of “teacher” that I am reluctant to use such a bold title. Yoga has been incredibly healing, centering and empowering for me and I get great joy out of sharing the fruits of the practice. I love witnessing people’s paths evolve. I love watching a students transition from a worked up ball of energy before class to peaceful mush with a new light in their eyes after class. But, I am still more of a student than a teacher. I learn so much more from them than they do from me.
This last year hasn’t been easy but it has been joyful and full of rich lessons. As I reflect, I’d like to share a bit of what I have learned with the new teachers coming up.  

  • From the moment you step into your own class you are responsible for the energy you bring, for creating a nurturing and inviting space and for the safety of your students. Safety is key. Don’t allow your students to do anything crazy that they are not ready for or that puts other students in danger. I give the class space to make the practice uniquely theirs by encouraging them to add to the flow or modify as needed. A fellow teacher took this liberty a little far and while we were in down dog she was in handstand (a dangerous one at that). While we were in wheel she was arm balancing. I drew her back into the class but I was disappointed in myself that I didn’t take a firmer stance earlier than I did. 

  •         Every class will “feel” different. Some days you will be on fire and the words seamlessly pour out of your mouth and other days the energy will be flat. Don’t project your perspective on the class. Just hang in there and go with it because chances are it is all you (unless you are hungover or sick). 

  •          But there will be days when you will suck. No candy coat here. You will. Be ok with it. It gives you a platform to work off of to do something differently the next time.

  •          People will walk out. Again, get ok with it. Most of the time it has nothing to do with you. People come to class for all kinds of reasons, one being to feel better when they are sick. It backfires and they leave. Don’t follow them out. Don’t ask them why. Just allow them the space to quietly roll up their mat give them a smile and a courteous wave.

  •          Music. Either have it or don’t. But don’t have a non-music class then turn on the jams during savasana because it’s your favorite song. It won’t have the same effect on them. The introspective focused vibe will change to restless energy in what is supposed to be the most restful of all poses. 

  •        Teach from experience and from what you know and not straight from the books. This goes for philosophy, spiritual pearls and the postures. If you don’t fully understand it and it doesn’t feel authentic to you the students will see right through it and it’ll fall flat. 

  •        Share from your heart and grow a thick skin. As a new teacher, people will give you feedback whether you welcome it or not. Take it in with a filter. Keep what you can use constructively and let the rest go. The more you chase opinions to appease people the less true to yourself you will be.

  •        You are not alone. Even the most experienced teachers started where you are. Reach out and find a mentor. There is a wealth of knowledge and experience you can tap into for support. 

And finally...

“Teach for yourself and practice for your students.” ~ Judith Lasater

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My Feet ARE Straight!

     I recently attended a workshop at YogaOne with Les Leventhal (who by the way is amazing and if you haven't had the pleasure of practicing with him don't miss it the next time he comes to town) and we were doing a morning intensive on back bends.
     I hate back bends. I always have. They just don't feel good physically they are restrictive and uncomfortable. Not to mention the emotional panic I feel coupled with occasional arrhythmia .
     I have always played safe with heart openers by sticking with camel and bridge, never daring myself or pushing too hard to try something new. But on this day we did a vigorous yet slow warm up to prepare for full wheel and I felt obligated...I mean...ready. (Actually we did MANY full wheels. He asked us pick a number between one and ten and not realizing what we were committing to we all agreed on the awesome number seven.) So, I pushed up. I felt good, somewhat at ease even. Les happened to walk by me (of course) and instructed me to straighten my feet. What? "My feet are straight" I said. He said, in his very comedic and loving way, "That's interesting. You look like Charlie Chaplin".
     Interesting is right. I was so convinced that Les was wrong and that my feet were straight without having ever seen them for myself in this pose. And he said to me, "What if you took the risk and shifted, just a little, away from whatever you are resisting and the outcome was so much better than what you are used to."
     Sometimes we get so stuck in our own mindset that we try to convince others they are wrong and we are right or we won't even listen because why bother? We are right. But what if, during every disagreement or challenge we were able to shift our view and at least investigate another perspective? It's not the same as giving in. Giving in comes from defeat, laziness and weakness. Shifting comes from strength. It's having the confidence within yourself to say, "You know what? The other way may be better. I have something to learn from this."
     Turns out he was right. Turning my straight feet in fired up my legs to make my back bend stronger, more stable and more free. You know what else? I LOVE back bends. I took the risk and it was worth it.
     Where are you resisting in your practice and in your relationships? The next time your teacher throws out a cue that you repeatedly ignore can you be willing to give it a shot? What if the outcome is worth it?

(By the way, Les will be back in Houston at YogaOne in November.)

Monday, January 16, 2012

You and Your Body Are On the Same Team

     With what attitude do you challenge your body? Can you create balance in your yoga practice between the need to challenge yourself and the need to nurture yourself?
     When we practice from a place of pure challenge, the motivation comes from wanting to accomplish or "do" the pose as opposed to simply relaxing in the joy of being in it. We muscle our way into postures that the body is not ready for or we hold onto this idea of what it should look like instead feeling it from the inside out. The breath becomes shallow, erratic or non-existent. We create tension in the mind and body instead of dissolving it and often we end the practice feeling residual tension, agitation and fatigue.
     Yoga is nurturing, it's joyful, it's loving yourself. It's knowing that you and your body are on the same team. Practicing to nurture means practicing with just the right amount of effort balanced with equal ease. It's exploring your own edge by challenging yourself just enough that you still hold space to relax and be calm. The breath-your most sensitive BS meter and your greatest ally-stays even, calm and deep. Sometimes it's as simple as backing off just a bit or it may be changing your internal dialogue at that moment. If you are repeating the "This is hard my quad is on fire" mantra it will be hard, it will suck. Instead, draw your awareness back to the breath and find something in the pose to celebrate. Do you feel stronger? Where do you feel more open? Do you feel more balanced and grounded?

     In today's practice, move from a place of integrity with an intention to nurture yourself. Explore your edge but without creating more stress. Simply allow your practice to support you.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Om Namah Shivaya

"I bow to the goodness within who is the true teacher."

     In cultures around the world, the sun is celebrated as the illuminator of life for without it, nothing would be born. The ancient yogi's taught that each of us represents a piece of the greater whole of the universe. The outward greater sun is analogous to that which illuminates us from within, our spiritual center, the seat of intuitive wisdom, the heart.
     It may seem counterintuitive that the heart be the seat of wisdom as we typically look inside our heads for wisdom and guidance. But just as the moon reflects the illumination of the sun without creating any of its own, so too is the relationship between brain and heart. But the brain has a limited view of the world. It takes in all that the heart has to offer but reality is then filtered by perception, desire, ego and expectation. That is why what we feel intuitively is not always in line with our actions. We feel with our hearts yet act with our heads. How do we tap into and live from that intuitive wisdom? Listen, trust, and act with love.
     As an asana practice, Surya Namaskar (sun salutation) is an outward celebration of all that is within you; your divine goodness, your lessons learned, your generous heart, your capacity to love and your ability to stand firmly in your truth. All of this together is your light that illuminates from within you. Take a few minutes to do several rounds of sun salutations. There is no firm recipe...make it yours. Make it as creative and juicy as you want it to be. The key is to connect breath to mind and mind to body through movement to find the joy and love deep down within you and let it SHINE.