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yoga teacher training

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Almost a yoga teacher!

I started my yoga journey via a 200-hour yoga teacher training program five months ago, on Valentines Day. Every weekend since then (with the exception of Memorial Day weekend and Easter weekend) I've been devoting each Friday night and three solid hours smack dab in the middle of each Saturday and Sunday to the study of yoga - specifically to the study of yoga history, alignment, pranayama, anatomy, yoga and pregnancy, assisting, meditation and philosophy. There are just a few weeks left, during which we'll cover sequencing. Then - come end of June, it's all over! Wait, what?

The last few months of training have reinforced for me that attachment is the root of all suffering. Despite all teachings though, I've acquired many attachments - okay, addictions - as a direct result of training. And I'm too addicted to say goodbye.

First off, I don't know just how I'm supposed to quit my fellow yogis and teacher trainees. It's hard to pay attention to our lecturers sometimes when all I want to do is turn around and gaze lovingly at the 30-or-so wonderful souls I've been traveling this strange road with and think about just how much I love each and every one of them. There's Abby. She's quiet but her crazy headstand variations and countless colorful tattoos speak volumes. There's theatre-star Kathryn with her half-shaved head and animal sounds. Every week I look forward to our Friday nights - starting with "happy hour" heated yoga class at Valencia (where the teacher thinks we're dating) followed by teacher training philosophy lecture and drives home during which we geek out together about silent retreats, self rediscovery and the simple beauty of life. Then there's dancer Andrew, a sassy, mystical, irreverent vinyasa master. We take class together often and we have similar teaching styles. I would love to co-teach a class with him someday. There's also Alissa, a fellow blogger. She's been through some major shit over the past few years and her healing process is visible. She's so strong and so smart and so beautiful - she's pure power. And of course there's Remington Bain - only his full name would do him justice - an ex-Marine turned acupuncturist, always sitting in full lotus, always interjecting with nuggets of wisdom about the human anatomy and the subtle body and life itself. These are some of the souls on which I've gotten hooked. I'm addicted to my classmates.

Then there's my addiction to the asana practice. At the beginning of class: "Come to a comfortable sitting position at the top of your mats." These words make me giddy every time I hear them, even though I hear them almost every day now. And I can't help but smile to myself when after a few namaskars the class starts to glisten and the smell of yoga begins to slice the room, specifically the piercingly tangy scent of our yoga mats and/or kombucha sweat (almost indistinguishable smells if you haven't yet noticed). It's gross but it pleases me. Conditioning. I've also become addicted to certain teachers and styles of yoga. I'm constantly checking the schedule to see who's teaching what where and when. If I can't find one of MY teachers, I generally choose to practice by myself in my room with my music at my pace. This lone-wolf practice, something rather new to me, is something I've become addicted to as well.

Finally, I must mention my addiction to the new outlook teacher training (and yoga in general) has given me. Over the past five months, I've renewed my spirituality, shifted my priorities and have begun the process of remembering who I really am. I can't help it. I'm attached - obsessed - addicted to cultivating inner Awareness.

All suffering results from the perception of loss directly correlated with attachment to that which was lost. The greater your attachment, the greater your perceived loss and, therefore, the greater your suffering. Despite knowing this, and reinforcing it regularly through my practice, I have developed the aforementioned attachments thanks to teacher training, and I'm not quite ready for the journey to be over.

But it isn't over yet. It's never over, just as the smell of kombucha will never leave the linings of my nostrils. The love will continue to live on and that comfortable seat at the top of the mat will always be there for the assuming. We can always come home, because home is within. And so is yoga.

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Who Am I?!

As the beat rocked and the candle flickered in the fading light, before my own mat a full class naturally unfolded. It probably lasted an hour, from all three Warriors to Dolphin to Hanuma to Wheel with plenty of Downward Dog pose in between. Through my free style, I learned that I like long sequences on one side before switching to the other and that I prefer to move slowly (but powerfully) through the poses as well as the flows. (Doing so helps me slow down my breath and feel everything more deeply.) I also learned that I really need to do more outer-hip openers or I'll never come close to Full Lotus (which is supposed to be the best position for meditating). But most importantly, I learned that I can trust myself. Completely.

It's my 24th birthday tomorrow. If we assume a life expectancy of 96 (just go with it), now would be an appropriate time to entertain a quarter life crisis. Thanks to yoga teacher training, it's already happening and somehow I never saw it coming.

Now I'm four weeks in and questioning everything in my life from the way I choose to I spend my time and the people I choose to spend it with to the books I read and shows I watch. 

It's exhausting, this thorough introspection and self re-evaluation. Not that I had a full grip on the affairs of my soul (let alone the universe at large) before I kicked off my 200 hours of yoga teacher training - which, by the way, I'm so happy I get to stretch over six full months. But now I have no choice but to deal with myself, my baggage, etc., because a lot of the principles we're being taught directly contradict the way I've lived my life so far.

Who knew yoga could be so therapeutical beyond the physical realm? (Not I.) But you know what they say about therapy: before it gets better it usually gets a lot worse. And that's what's going on right now with all the questioning. It ain't comfortable. And it ain't pretty.

Questions I've asked myself in the past week: Why did my parents have to raise me to be so damn competitive? Why does our need for validation so often outweigh our desire for happiness? What if I were to jump off the corporate ladder and teach yoga full-time? Why don't I have the balls to do that? Why do we have to suffocate kids' creativity? Why is my ego so out-of-control? Why can't I stop being so hard on myself? Do I have to be Vegan?? Is yoga completely bogus? Who am I, even?!

The below story will shed some light on where I've turned for answers.

Everyone ("everyone" being the YTTT program teachers as well as the authors of our required yoga books) keeps harping on the importance for teachers to have a daily practice not only of their own but on their own. Just you and your body.

"Practice what you teach" seems obvious enough, but the idea of practicing it alone has always freaked me out. I love going to class, yet there are days scheduling and logistics won't allow it. And other days I'm just too lazy to leave my house. Specifically for these days, I've adopted yogaglo.com, a Netflix for yoga, if you will, that, for a monthly fee, allows you to watch unlimited yoga class videos with the option to filter classes by duration, teacher, level and style. It's quite addicting, actually. 

Yes, alone with a video I can definitely do. But alone, calling the shots myself as I go? That, to me, has never sounded comfortable or effective in the slightest - instead, painfully awkward and frustrating.

But I thought I should give it a shot regardless. After all, if I can't teach myself without someone telling me what to do and when to do it, how can I expect to teach a room full of people? So Friday evening before our lecture on the ancient yoga texts, I re-arranged some furniture in my room, unrolled my bubblegum pink mat in the space created, lit a candle, put on some new trance-y jams, resisted the urge to pull up yogaglo, took a deep breath, and dove into sun-salutations, not knowing what would happen next. And that's when I learned we're each equipped with all the knowledge of all the universe within our very cells. All we have to do is learn how to listen.

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Beginner's Mind

Yoga Teacher Training was kicked off on Valentines Day in the original Yoga Tree location at Stanyon and Haight. That night, instead of pouring over prix fixe menus and gazing into our lovers' eyes, 33 of us chose to sit in a circle under painted clouds and opened our hearts to a new relationship that would last at least six months (and a lifetime if we are lucky). 

We didn't know each other, but I think it's safe to say most of us thought we knew what yoga was. A few of us probably even considered ourselves pretty advanced yogis. (I mean, I mastered side crow recently. Just saying.) But all it took was one weekend to clarify that none of us had a clue and even if we did, we would get the most out of our training (and our teaching) if we believed we didn't. "Knowing is the enemy of learning," they told us. "Your goal is to cultivate a Beginner's Mind." My first major Beginner's moment (in which I surfaced my own cluelessness)? When I was told that the sweaty vinyasa practice I hold so dear is merely one variation of one of eight limbs of yoga. The other seven aren't even physical!

In fact, Beginner's Mind goes beyond the idea of coming to the yoga mat with a humble and open mind. It's about approaching mind, body, spirit, community, the current moment, all of life, really, with a fresh outlook and a curious disposition, all expectations set aside. Our teacher gave the example of the difference between an adult and a child attempting a balance-challenging asana. Can you imagine a young child thinking, "What's wrong with me? Why can't I balance here peacefully? I hate my quivering feet. I HATE YOGA!" Who do you think gets more upset when they fall out of the pose - child or adult? Who has more fun?

But after just a few years of life, even children lose Beginner's Mind. They pick up detrimental thought patterns from their parents as well as from the wider world they know. Their teachers, their parents, the media, their friends' parents ceaselessly reinforce the false idea that we are our bodies and thus you and everything around you are separate, instead of united through spirit or universal energy. And by introducing the illusion of separateness, the world consciously or subconsciously creates Ego while narrowing children's internal exploration spaces. Thus children (who grow to become adults) learn fear and develop negative samskaras (habitual thought patterns or "imprints").

So, for me, to have a Beginner's Mind is to approach every moment not as a yoga novice or a blind person who just found sight or even as a child having fun with tree pose. I think the ideal Beginner more closely resembles a wide-eyed infant than any of these.

Babies have no ego. Babies are never looking for a means to an end. They don't know past or future, and so aren't distracted by either; they simply show up in every moment ready to observe and explore whole-heartedly. (On a slightly unrelated note, I love that there's an asana colloquially referred to as "happy baby pose." What's more beautiful than a happy baby, amused by every single feature on your face, drooling ecstatically, ready to burst out into laughter at the next peek-a-boo?) The point is: to get the most out of yoga, don't stop - START - being a baby.

"How many of you have spontaneously burst into tears during a yoga class?" Every teacher we've had so far has posed this question to the room and, to my surprise, about half of my peers admit that they have. "If you haven't yet," our teachers say, "You will." I personally have never experienced such spontaneous tears, but I know if I want to fully embrace Beginner's Mind I should be ready to. So I am. I'm ready to open up and I'm ready to be surprised by yoga. I'm ready to be a baby, baby!

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All you have to do is...

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All you have to do is...

Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.
— Carl Jung

It first clicked for me during a three-day "inversion immersion" retreat in Mount Shasta. (Mount Shasta, for those of you unfamiliar, is a small California town about halfway between San Francisco and Portland inhabited by a host of New Agers and believed by many to be a spiritual power center.) It was my first yoga retreat. I had never done a handstand before and wasn't sure I'd ever be able to, thanks to a lifelong fear of falling on my head and damaging my most precious resource. (My sister and I both practiced gymnastics when we were younger. When it became time to learn backflips, I gave it up in exchange for ballet where I knew my skull would be safe.) Still, I had been studying yoga with my teacher for about a year at the time and was ready to deepen my practice by attending a retreat, inversions not withstanding. Little did I know I would return to San Francisco with the intention of becoming a teacher myself.

It happened in the last few minutes of the last night of the retreat. Our teacher had finally cut the lights after an hour of sweaty flow followed by an hour of inversion-strengthening exercises, and we were in the dark but for a few candles in the middle of the hotel ballroom that served as our studio. We were already at the walls of the room where we had just been practicing supported handstands, headstands and forearm stands. He guided us to our backs and instructed us bring our legs perpendicular to the floor against the wall, sacrums pressed into the ground. "Close your eyes," he said. "Just be."

I was still worked up, heart pounding, still sweating. But then he turned on the song he always played for savasana, the one which evoked a vision of horse hooves, clouds and wet pavement for me, and, like a charm, the knuckles of self-control relaxed and my heart rate began to return to a place of calm. He let us lay in meditation for about five minutes before he spoke again.

"Bring your awareness back to your breath and to the sound of the breath of your friends to the left and right of you. Now," he said, "this next part is important so listen close. I'm going to fill you in on a little secret. All you have to do is..." He paused for several breaths. "Nothing."

"All you have to do is." He could have said anything. I loved that he said "nothing." It made all the sense in the world.

I got a taste of it then, with my legs resting against the wall of a ballroom in an old hotel in Mount Shasta. I got a taste of Self. Not the ego self with all its wants and needs and judgments and fear, but the Self with a capital "S," the higher version of who we are, collectively. The God Self within each of us, pure prana, or energy. The Self that can just Be. The Self I am now learning how to connect others to, within themselves, through yoga.

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