On Saturday we attended the morning hatha yoga class (butt = kicked), had lunch together, and then started on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (puh-TAN-juh-lee, apparently, I’ve been saying it wrong all these years). The Yoga Sutras are probably 3000 years old and contain the ancient wisdom of Indian gurus on which modern yoga is based. A natural place to start! Each sutra is a brief saying, as concise as possible to make it easy to memorize. The word sutra actually means “a stitch or thread” (where the modern suture comes from), with the sense that each sutra is a single thread of meaning. There are almost 200 sutras total, but get this: in all of these sutras, there are only a few that are about the physical practice of yoga. Like, fewer than five, out of almost 200. This is because the physical practice of yoga is intended to be secondary to the mental, emotional, spiritual practice. We do the physical practice to make our bodies healthy and well, so they won’t distract us when we sit in meditation. This is largely counter to the way yoga is practiced in the US (think power yoga at the gym).
We’ll be working with the Sutras over the entire course of our training, but right now we’re starting with Book 2, verses 29-45 (in the Sri Swami Satchidananda translation), which is the part on yamas and niyamas. The yamas are five practices of self-restraint:
- Ahimsa: non-violence, non-harming
- Satya: truthfulness
- Asteya: non-stealing
- Brahmacharya: control of sensual cravings
- Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed
The niyamas are a set of five observances:
- Shaucha: purity of body and mind
- Santosha: contentment, satisfaction
- Tapas: discipline, austerity
- Svadhyaya: self-study
- Ishvara pranidhana: surrender, devotion, faith
You got all that, right? Don’t worry, I sat in a lecture all afternoon on Saturday and I’m looking at my notes right now and I’m not sure I get it all either. But not to worry, over the next month I’ll be posting on each of these in detail!
After Saturday’s lecture, we broke up into groups of four and did a little teaching practice. Each group chose a yoga pose, and one person acted as a teacher while the others were students. The teacher had to give instructions on how to do the pose, without demonstrating the pose herself, and the students had to do the pose exactly according to the teacher’s instructions. Then we switched so that each person had a turn as the teacher. Being the teacher was much harder than you’d think, especially if you’re the sort of person who talks with her hands. I caught myself with my arms going up into tree pose completely unconsciously. It was difficult to describe exactly how to do a pose without reminding myself by doing it. It’s honestly hard to be in a yoga setting and to stay still. It was also interesting to see how each person’s instructions differed. I started teaching tree pose, and my instructions were pretty basic since I was the first. Michael followed me almost exactly, Trish added some new points, and then Joanna added some more information. Also, as soon as I finished teaching and took on a student role, just doing the pose I remembered all these things I should have included in my instructions on how to do it. We also taught seated forward bend, which was interesting for me because the others are most used to how N & J teach this pose, and so their instructions mimicked that, while the little yoga instructor in my head is my old teacher Gene, who taught it differently, and so I described it the way Gene would. Neither way was wrong, just different ways to verbalize how to complete this particular set of actions in doing this pose.
Mostly, the purpose of the exercise was to start getting us used to the sounds of our own voices. It also got us on our feet and moving around after an afternoon of lecture, which was nice, and also got me at least thinking about the essence of what a pose is, what’s most important about that pose, what does a beginner student most need to know in order to do the pose correctly. Which was a good thing to start thinking about, considering…
Our homework assignments! Each month we’ll need to do posture write-ups. This month we’re doing two, on forward bends. We choose two types of forward bends, and then we write:
- Step-by-step instructions on how to practice this posture, in our own words, written as if for a beginner – the bare essentials, in bullet points
- The benefits of doing this posture
- Contraindications for this posture and who should not do this posture
- My own experience with this posture (based on my practice this month, when I should be doing the two postures every day and paying attention to how I feel in the pose and my mental experience of the pose)
Our other homework assignment is to read Book 2, verses 29-45 of the Sutras and to write a reflection paper on the yamas and niyamas as they relate to me in my life. Since there are ten total yamas and niyamas, and five weeks until our next weekend seminar, I’m thinking that a good way to space this out might be to do two of them per week – which will make this a perfect topic for this blog!
Yes, you, my dear readers, will be keeping me honest with my homework assignments. Not exactly what I imagined when I conceived of this blog, but a nice side benefit. After all, this blog exists to document my teacher training journey: my reflections, concerns, joys and troubles along the way. And if said reflections can then be channeled into homework assignments that I can hand in, so much the better.
Overall, I think the first weekend seminar of the TT was really excellent. I’m looking forward to yoga class tonight (I’m hoping to get to the studio not just once a week, but 2-3 times), and I’m actually excited about the readings and homework. Whee!