Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Weekend session # 1: Saturday March 21, 2011

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.


Letter of Intent March 16, 2011

Filed under: teacher training,yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 12:39 pm
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In order to sign up for the teacher training program, I had to send the instructors a letter of intent.  I thought it’d be nice to post it here, since it describes how I got into yoga in the first place and talks about why I want to teach.

Dear Nicole,

I would like to participate in East Eagle’s 2011 teacher training program.

I first started practicing yoga in the spring 2003 while in graduate school, and I loved it right away.  Shortly after that class ended, I moved to Boston, where I continued my practice, attending yoga classes twice a week from 2004 to 2006.  My teacher, Gene, taught Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, and was a stickler for keeping a straight back and doing poses accurately.  He  provided me with a great yoga foundation.  When I left Boston for Philadelphia in 2006, I knew I wanted to pursue a teacher training program.  Of course, life intervened: I moved to a new city, found a new job, and fell in love with a man who lived in California, so for a long time my weekends were devoted to traveling to maintain our relationship.  Eventually F moved to Philly and we were married last year.  Through all of this, yoga has been my lifeline.  When I didn’t have enough in my budget to attend yoga classes at a studio, I would practice at home, rolling out my mat in the tiny space between the back of the couch and the hall closet.  In my new home with my husband, I am fortunate enough to have a dedicated yoga space, and I wake up early several mornings a week to practice before heading to work.  On our recent honeymoon, one of the places we visited was a yoga retreat in Belize (and it was heavenly!).

During the past few years, I have been reading books on yoga, meditation, and Buddhism as a complement to my yoga practice.  To provide just a few examples, I recently read BKS Iyengar’s Light on Life, Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita, and Nischala Joy Devi’s guide to the yoga sutras for women; I also spend some time every night reading authors like Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chödrön on meditation.  I subscribe to Yoga Journal and read it cover to cover every month.  The reading requirement for the teacher training is something I’m truly looking forward to!

Yoga is an important part of my daily life.  Over time, my practice has deepened, from simply accomplishing the physical poses, to relishing the emotional calm and spiritual growth that yoga makes possible.  Yoga is something I love and something I want to share with others.  I get excited about yoga the way a young child gets excited about a flower and wants to show it to everyone.  Yoga is so incredibly good for us, physically and emotionally and spiritually, and I want to help others  realize those benefits.

One of my long-term goals is to teach yoga for the elderly.  My former teacher Gene told us about the classes he taught at a retirement home, and how much yoga helped those older students stay strong and balanced and flexible. When I was a teenager I watched my grandma gradually decline and lose her sense of balance until she could barely walk. I don’t know how much of that was medical in nature and how much was a result of her sitting in a chair all day, but now I wonder if things could have been different for her. How many grandmothers could be helped by yoga, staying mobile and living longer on their own?  This is a subject really close to my heart, and it’s work I feel called to do in the world.  Completing my teacher training is the first step to eventually realizing this dream.

In short, I want to participate in East Eagle’s teacher training program in order to deepen my personal yoga practice and live a more yogic lifestyle, not just for myself but for the life that I share with my husband and the children we may have.  I want to learn how to teach this practice and share it with others.

I look forward to hearing from you.  Thanks very much,



Why I chose East Eagle’s program for my teacher training March 15, 2011

Filed under: teacher training,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 9:47 pm
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I’ve been wanting to enroll in a yoga teacher training program for a while now.  When I was laid off from my job and moved to the Philadelphia area in summer 2006, I deposited my severance check into a savings account and mentally reserved it to pay for my teacher training.  I hadn’t looked into programs yet, but I knew that I wanted to do it.  So… what took so long?

Life, mostly.  I moved to Philly; I found a job; I moved into a new apartment.  Then I fell in love with a guy who lived in California and spent the next two years traveling, planning trips, and recovering from jet lag.  At the end of 2008, we got engaged.  Then he moved cross-country; we got a bigger apartment, planned our wedding, then our honeymoon.  It’s amazing how much time all that stuff can take up. I was practicing yoga all along, at home, at the gym, and at studios in the area, but didn’t have the time to invest in another big project.

When my now-husband F started looking for jobs in Philly in fall 2008, I started researching teacher training programs and found some good options in our area, like Yoga on Main in Manayunk, where my friend Lucia did her training.  Then F got here, and having him actually around all the time was a big change, plus we had to find a larger apartment. I started researching again in summer 2009 after we moved to our current home.  That’s when I saw that Jennifer Schelter, a teacher I really admire, was going to be doing a teacher training… in the neighborhood I’d just moved away from.  We’d moved from one side of Philly to the suburbs on the other side, and from our new home, it would take me close to an hour to get to Jennifer’s studio.  I couldn’t commit to a commute like that, not while planning my wedding too.  I knew that when I did my training, I wanted to be truly able to devote my time and energy to it, not just to squeeze it in.  So the timing just wasn’t right.

F and I got married in June 2010 and had an amazing honeymoon in Belize in November.  We came home to all the usual holiday activity, but after Christmas, he encouraged me to start looking at teacher trainings again.  And, as my friend Kristina often accuses me, I don’t seem to be happy without a project.  So I started looking, and about an hour later I clicked on East Eagle’s website.  They were having their teacher training again this year, and in fact would be hosting an information session in one week!  Perfect timing.  I went to the session, practiced at the studio a few times, dragged F along for his expert opinion, and consulted with some other yogis I know in the area.  I heard, observed, and experienced nothing but good things, and East Eagle’s approach to teacher training really clicked with me.

They set up their program over a series of ten months so that students will have time to absorb what they’re learning – different from trainings that take a fast-paced approach, where you drop everything else for a month and just do yoga.  Those programs have many benefits, of course, but I imagine it’d be a challenge to really retain everything you learn.  I had considered finding an intensive program and taking a leave of absence from my job – part of me wanted to just get the teacher training over with!  But East Eagle’s approach really appeals to me, and they’ve structured their program so that it’s reasonable to accomplish it during your normal life. I’ll be there one weekend a month, Friday and Saturday, from March through December.  Once a month is do-able, and I’ll still have Sundays for, you know, life stuff like errands and laundry.  I’ll also have to attend yoga class at least once a week (complimentary yoga? I’m there) and read books (hang around this blog for a little while and you’ll see the great enthusiasm with which I’ll tackle that particular requirement).

I also like East Eagle’s approach to yoga itself. They don’t want to teach me just a series of poses – they’re most interested in where yoga leads us, the spiritual benefits of meditation. And that’s something I want to explore too.  So the timing is right and both the course schedule and content fits with my lifestyle.  This training really seems like the right fit for me. And it starts this weekend, so we’ll soon find out if all my hypotheses are on the mark!


Why I Love Yoga March 14, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 9:02 pm
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For my first real post here, I thought I’d write about the obvious: why do I love yoga?  What is it about yoga that makes me want to devote 200 hours of my not-so-copious free time over the next ten months to learning how to teach it?

I love yoga because it feels great.  Yoga stretches can be as simple or as challenging as you want them to be.  When I’m practicing at home, sometimes I want a fast-paced practice that will get me sweating, and other times I just want some gentle stretching.  When I’m sick or injured, I can scale back my yoga practice and still benefit from it.  No matter how old or young or fat or skinny or flexible or stiff you are, you can still enjoy yoga.  I love the feeling of stretching during a practice, and the slight soreness afterward reminding me that I still have more to do.  I love the feeling of working on a particular pose for a while (sometimes years!), and gradually being able to move farther and farther into the pose.  I love that moment when I’m suddenly able to do a pose I hadn’t been able to do before.

I love the physical benefits of yoga.  I’m much stronger and more flexible now than I was before I started doing yoga several years ago.  Then, a year and a half ago, I committed to practicing yoga in the mornings before work three days a week.  I have firm, shapely Michelle Obama arms now, and what 30-something woman doesn’t want those?  I’ve also lost weight and gained muscle just about everywhere. And after yoga practice, my body feels hungry for healthier food.  Dunkin Donuts?  No thanks, please pass the bananas.  I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since high school, I’m happy with how I look, I have plenty of energy, and I feel great.

I also love the emotional and spiritual benefits of yoga.  Yoga practice calms me and lifts my spirits – I almost always end with a smile and feel great for the rest of the day (or at least until I get to the office).  I’m a busy person with worries and fears like anyone else, but yoga helps to make it all feel manageable.  When I’m practicing yoga regularly, I feel like I can do anything.  As trite as it sounds, yoga really does help me to be my best self.  And bringing a calmer, happier me to my family and my friends and my job means that I have more to give to them.

I want to complete a yoga teacher training program partly for myself, to deepen my practice and continue to learn.  But more, I feel like yoga has done so much for me, and, like a little kid with a cool new toy, I want to show everyone just how awesome it is.  That’s why I want to be a yoga teacher.  I hope you’ll follow along with my journey.