Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

The Yamas: Ahimsa March 23, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 7:46 pm
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Ahimsa, or non-violence, is the first and most important of the yamas: when you’ve got ahimsa down, all the other yamas will fall into place.  Swami Satchidananda describes ahimsa as not causing pain or harm; he says, “Causing pain can be even more harmful than killing. Even by your words, even by your thoughts, you can cause pain” (126).  This is an important point.  There are three main ways to be violent: physically, verbally, and mentally.  You might think, “But I’m not a violent person! I don’t punch people, I don’t say mean things!”, but we all have the capacity for violence in our thoughts.  Every violent action taken or word spoken started out as a thought, and even if that thought never makes it that far, it’s still hanging around in your head, causing tension, causing pain.  In practicing ahimsa, we should strive not to cause pain even to ourselves, and this is the really hard part.

Pantanjali has some suggestions for us about how to deal with these negative thoughts.  He tells us, “When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite ones should be thought of” (book 2, v. 33). When we feel hatred and anger, then, we should try to feel love instead.  Easier said than done, of course.  Both Satchidananda and Nischala Devi give the example of a married couple who are arguing, when their child crawls up or cries in another room.  Most likely, their anger will dissipate when they go to their child and hug him, because they’ve been reminded of love in the midst of their anger.

Satchidananda has this to say about how negative thoughts affect us: “But even before the other person is affected by my anger, I will be affected.  I’ll shake up my nerves.  My blood will boil” (128).  There might be something satisfying about getting good and mad, sure, but is it actually pleasant to feel that way?  Not for me.

I feel like I struggle with my temper all the time, but for a very long time, I never even used the word “anger”.  I would say, “I’m so annoyed at my boyfriend, he never washes the dishes”, or “That parking ticket really upset me.”  But what I really felt was anger – blood boiling rage!  And for some reason I wouldn’t admit it even to myself.  Maybe I don’t want to see myself as an angry person, but anger is still going to be there.  Not admitting to the anger doesn’t make it go away, it just makes it harder for me to deal with the anger and become a less angry person.  Now when I’m angry, I at least try to notice it, and say to myself, “Wow, I’m angry!”  Then that opens the door for me to do something about my anger.

If I’m not getting mad about something happening right now, then I find myself getting mad about something that happened days or months or years ago.  I’ll find myself standing there in the shower, holding the soap and not even doing anything, getting mad all over again about that stupid parking ticket from 2005.  This doesn’t do me any good.  I’m making myself late, ruining my experience of a perfectly nice shower, and getting all tense and worked up over something that’s past. Or, if I’m not getting angry about something long ago, then I’m getting worried about something that hasn’t happened yet, imagining how things could go wrong and how angry I’ll be!  I make up these long stories about how the man at the post office will be mean or how my friend will forget to invite me to her party, and I get all worked up about something that never even happened and is never likely to happen.  My friends are thoughtful, and I know the man at the post office (his name is Pete, and he’s kind of gruff but never nasty!).  So what good does all of that anger do me?  I squinch up my shoulders and get a crick in my neck, and that’s just the physical effects.  What’s worse is that my mind is disturbed, sometimes all day, sometimes such that it’s hard to concentrate on my work.  Sometimes I’ll be so busy yelling at someone in my head that I end up actually yelling at my husband when all he wanted to know is when we’re going to start dinner.  This is a violent habit!  It causes harm to me by affecting my moods, and it causes harm to those around me by making me grumpy and peevish.  It’s a habit I really want to change.

Instead of defining ahimsa as “non-violence,” Devi defines it as “reverence and love for all.”  I think this is a nice thought: it’s one thing to say, “don’t be violent, don’t cause harm,” but sometimes it’s easier to change a behavior by focusing on what to do instead – like Patanjali says, to think of the opposite, positive thing.  Now when I’m worked up about how my friend was inconsiderate, I try to remind myself about how busy she is at work right now or planning her wedding or  traveling lately, and how good a friend she’s been to me in the past and how much I care about her, and then I realize that it wasn’t a personal insult, she probably just forgot.  (I’m still working on loving the airport traffic cop who wrote that parking ticket, but hopefully throughout this training process I can get there.)

I think I have a lot more in me to say about ahimsa, so consider this part 1.  (It really is time for dinner!)


A Note on Books March 22, 2011

Filed under: books,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 9:48 pm
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So Friday night, just a few minutes into our first TT session, I had a happy moment.  I got to take one each from eight piles of books, and then I sat there with eight new books in my lap.  Yay!  Here are the books we’re reading:

There are few things I like better than a big stack of books!  I included a link to each book on Amazon in case you feel inspired to check any of them out.  As we move forward in class, I’ll post reviews here of each book as I finish.

This month, we’re doing The Royal Path.  I haven’t started it yet.  We’re also doing portions of the Yoga Sutras every month, as I mentioned yesterday.  I’ve read the Sutras before, in The Secret Power of Yoga, by Nischala Joy Devi.  Devi’s book bills itself as specifically a woman’s guide to the yoga sutras, which is why I picked it up.  I still found it difficult to get through, however (it took months!), and I knew as soon as I finished it that I’d want to reread it at some point.  Devi is actually a past student of Satchidananda’s, which I find interesting.  I’ve compared the commentary on only a few sutras so far (Book 2, verses 29-35 or so), and there are definitely some differences.

Satchidananda gives us the original Sanskrit, a direct word-by-word translation, and a restatement as a full English sentence, followed by commentary on each sutra, which is fairly brief. Devi, on the other hand, doesn’t claim to be a Sanskrit scholar; she is translating “the heart and spirit” of the sutras.  Her translation isn’t exact, but she strives to put each sutra in terms a modern woman can understand and relate to.  Devi specifically has chosen to translate the sutras into “positive, life-affirming language” (168-169).  For example, where Satchidananda defines ahimsa as “non-violence”, Devi calls it “reverence and love for all”; where Satchidananda refers to aparigraha as “non-greed”, Devi defines it as “generosity”.  Devi’s point is that, as soon as you see that “non”, you’re immediately thinking about what follows it (the violence, the greed), whereas by restating in positive terms, the focus is on embracing love and the divine.  I think she has a point, and it definitely leads to some slightly different translations, some slightly different commentaries.  I think it’ll be fun and enlightening to compare the two.

Tomorrow, hopefully: ahimsa!


Random Yoga Tips of the Day March 21, 2011

Filed under: Miscellaneous,yoga lifestyle,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 8:43 pm
  1. If you find that not just your hands and feet but, well, everything sticks to your yoga sticky mat, try using a regular ol’ lint roller to remove the excess gunk!
  2. Keep in mind that some gunk – for example, dog hair – is infinite, and no matter how vigorously or lengthily you lint-roll, you will never get it all.  It’s good to do your best, and then practice letting go of results.

Clearly I need to practice the art of non-attachment (and so does my mat, really, but I think I stand a better chance of attaining it, since the mat has the excuse of being sticky).

(This post brought to you by Blue and Linus, East Eagle’s yoga dogs, with whom I spent much of the weekend, and by the studio’s low-pile carpet.)


Weekend session # 1: Saturday

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:

  1. 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
  2. The benefits of doing this posture
  3. Contraindications for this posture and who should not do this posture
  4. 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!


Weekend session # 1: Friday

Filed under: teacher training,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:11 pm
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This weekend’s teacher training session was, first of all, pretty fantastic.  I drove home Friday night thinking, Wow, I think I’m really going to love this.  N & J are great and teach really well together.  There are 12 trainees in the program, and I really like all of them so far – and I’m not just saying that because we’re all friending each other on Facebook and they might read this, I genuinely do like them all.  Which isn’t all that big of a surprise when you think about it, because what kind of people are going to choose to drop $2K+ on a yoga teacher training course?  People like me, that’s who, people who like things I like and are passionate about things I’m passionate about.  We’re all different people, of course, at different points in our lives (some of the other students are younger than me, some older; some have little children or grown children or no children at all), but we have a common bond just by virtue of the fact that this was important enough to each of us that we plunked down our money and chose to be in that room.  So, yeah, I do like everybody, and everybody had something interesting to say at some point in the weekend.  N & J made the point that, at first, the two of them will be doing most of the talking as we cover the basics, but later on, the trainees will be doing most of the talking.  I’m happy to hear all of these people talk.

The class itself of course was really interesting.  We spent most of our time in lecture, which surprised me a little (although I’m not sure what I was expecting).  Friday night we did introductions (kind of awkward – I think everyone was about as nervous as I was – but by the end of class on Saturday we were all more comfortable and I think we all know one another’s names now).  Friday’s lecture covered, first and foremost, requirements for graduation, which are as follows:

  1. Attendance at the weekend seminars
  2. Attendance to hatha yoga class at least once per week
  3. Completion of writing assignments on time each month
  4. Ability to teach a yoga class by the end of the program.

Very reasonable, I think, but N wanted to emphasize that they’ve had a number of students in the past who might’ve made good yoga teachers but who didn’t complete their requirements and therefore didn’t graduate.  Point taken.  Friday’s lecture also covered the basics of our yoga tradition and lineage, and what it means to be a “householder” yogi (i.e., we’re not closeted up in an ashram, we live in the world with homes and families and responsibilities).  Much of this I had heard in some form before (probably in BKS Iyengar’s Light on Life, which I may have to reread after this program is over), but still, informative.  We finished class with a brief yoga practice together, which kicked my butt.  (This will be a common theme, at least for a while, because I’m used to vinyasa-style yoga, where you flow through the poses, and N & J are teaching us to teach classical hatha yoga, which emphasizes holding the poses for much longer, which I’m not at all used to and which results in the aforementioned butt-kicking.)  N asked us to pay attention to our practice and see where we were and what we learned about ourselves through the practice.  I learned that if I practice yoga after 9:00 at night, I fall asleep in sivasana.  Probably not quite what she was going for, but good to know nonetheless.


TT starts tonight March 18, 2011

Filed under: teacher training,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 12:50 pm
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My teacher training course starts tonight, 6-10.  I’m excited that after all this time it’s finally going to happen!  I signed up and mailed my check a few weeks ago, and since then it just feels like I’ve been waiting.  And planning.  F and I have had to keep the TT in mind as we make any sort of plans for the rest of the year – everything from our travel plans for his sister’s wedding in May, to whether and when we’re going to buy a house, has to be discussed with an eye to when my yoga weekends are.  Most of the TT dates aren’t even set in stone yet – we’ll be talking about that at the first meeting tonight, which I’m worried about, because F and I planned everything in May around that weekend.  My sis-in-law has booked her wedding reception and we’ve booked our flights, and my fingers are firmly crossed that no one in my TT class has a conflict.  I keep imagining possible scenarios where things don’t work out, which is unlikely and isn’t useful to anyone.  I have to keep telling myself that I don’t have anything to get upset about yet, so there’s no use getting upset.

I guess I’m just nervous.  This is such a big deal for me, and I’ve been wanting to do it and looking forward to it for so long.  I don’t know N & J (the teachers) very well yet; although I do like them, I don’t really know their teaching style well and don’t know what they will expect.  Of course I’m also worried about the other students in the class.  There will be 12 of us all together, only one of whom I know I’ve met and like.  In the regular yoga classes I’ve attended at this studio, it seems like everybody knows everybody else.  Will the other students be cliquey?  Will they be nice or mean, will we have things to talk about, will they like me?  More importantly, are we going to be able to work together for the next ten months?

Plus I need to coordinate all the details of fitting this commitment into my regular life.  What time do I need to leave work to get there on time, and what am I having for dinner, and what will I pack for lunch tomorrow, and what will F do all day on Saturday if he’s stuck at home without the car?  I’m hoping that these things will become more second nature as time passes and we get more comfortable with this additional lump on the calendar.

Today I am reminding myself to breathe, and to be excited, and that all manner of things shall be well.  I’m looking forward to updating next week with what an amazing weekend I had.


What does a yoga teacher training course entail, anyway? March 17, 2011

Filed under: teacher training,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:31 pm
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I thought it might be useful to go over what exactly is involved in a yoga teacher training program, for those you out there who might not know.  In the US, Yoga Alliance, a national yoga education and support organization, sets minimum standards for yoga teacher training, to ensure that yoga teachers understand and value yoga’s history and traditions.  Yoga Alliance advocates a 200-hour training program for new yoga teachers.  Yoga schools and studios can apply to have their 200-hour programs approved by Yoga Alliance.  If a student completes a Yoga Alliance-approved 200-hour training program, then she is eligible to register with Yoga Alliance as a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) and put fancy initials after her name.  Yoga Alliance keeps a searchable database of both registered yoga schools and registered yoga teachers.

Although it’s possible to teach yoga without being registered with Yoga Alliance, it seemed like a really good idea to go through the process.  First, if I choose a registered yoga school, then I know I’m getting a worthwhile education in yoga itself and in the teaching of yoga.  After completing the program, I’ll have a really strong foundation for my future practice and teaching.  Also, being able to register as a RYT means that I’ll have actual qualifications to show to prospective employers when I go looking for yoga teaching jobs.  And, theoretically, I may make good connections through the program and through Yoga Alliance that will help me to work as a yoga teacher down the line.

So what’s involved with the 200-hour training program?  Yoga Alliance standards including the following categories: 100 hours on yoga techniques/practice, 25 hours on teaching methodology, 20 hours on anatomy and physiology, 30 hours on yoga philosophy, lifestyle, and ethics.  The rest of the time is spent on practicum (hands-on practice in teaching) and electives at the school’s discretion.  East Eagle’s training program conforms to these standards.

So that’s what I’m in for!  It’ll be a huge challenge, but I can’t wait to get started.