Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Friday Night Teaching Practice September 21, 2011

Filed under: teacher training — R. H. Ward @ 1:46 pm
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Friday night’s teaching practice session was good for me, but ended up being a little controversial among the group as a whole. We began when N told us that she and J had talked it over and created a list of what each of us ought to practice, so we’d go through and take turns teaching when called upon. I was really excited when I heard this: I’ve been wanting to challenge myself, and it sounded like fun to hear “Teach Pose X. Go!” and then have to go teach it on the spot.

Practice started off well, and my turn came when we got to balance poses. I was asked to teach Dancer (Natarajasana), Eagle (Garudasana), and seated forward fold. I hadn’t taught either of those balance poses before at the yoga center, so I was psyched, and thought I’d try moving from one directly to the other. Dancer pose went fine, but Eagle got a little complicated because we couldn’t figure out the correct arm position. Turns out that, if the left leg is over the right, then the right arm is over the left. Which I’m still not sure is totally clear in my mind. But we had a little debate about it and laughed and then I tried teaching it again on the other side and it went more smoothly. I taught forward fold next and that was easy. After I was done teaching, I got good comments from my classmates on my teacher voice again and on my sense of humor, and N complimented me on a few things I said (encouraging students that, in a balance pose, it’s okay to fall out, just come right back up again – which she said is important in a beginner class when people might be nervous).

As we got toward the end of our practice class, I did notice that we were almost out of poses to teach and some people hadn’t taught yet. But those people included some who I knew were pretty experienced teachers, so I just inwardly shrugged and moved on, figuring that N & J wanted to give the rest of us more time to practice teaching. Class ended with a really nice guided relaxation taught by Trish. (You can tell that it was a good guided relaxation because I relaxed but didn’t fall asleep, and it was 10:30 at night, way past my bedtime!)

After we were all dismissed for the night, I headed out the door to find a group of my fellow trainees were upset that not everyone had been called on to teach. When N had described the teaching practice session, it had seemed like she’d meant all of us would teach what we most needed to practice (although thinking back I can’t remember if she said the word “all” or not), and so the people who taught felt like the people who didn’t teach were privileged in some way, like they didn’t need to practice, or like the people who were called on to teach were being singled out as bad teachers who needed more practice. Some people felt hurt and angry over this.

It might be surprising that a group of aspiring yoga teachers would get upset over something like this, but yoga teachers are regular people too and we get our feelings hurt like anyone else, and issues of talent and ranking are tricky to handle in any venue. I didn’t feel angry or upset, but I certainly don’t blame the people who did.

For me, like I said, I did notice toward the end of class that some people weren’t called on to teach, but it didn’t bother me: two of those people I know to be very good teachers who have already subbed and taught full classes at the studio, and the others usually attend N’s classes – maybe she already feels familiar with their teaching abilities and just wanted to see more from the rest of us. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I would have felt hurt and disappointed if I hadn’t been called on to teach. I learned a lot by screwing up Eagle pose! I want to take advantage of every single teaching opportunity I can get, because I want to be a good yoga teacher. For me it’s not important to compare myself to others in our class, because we all have different levels of yoga experience and teaching experience. I want to learn from my classmates, and watch them grow, and steal good stuff from their teaching vocabulary, but I’m trying really hard not to compare my teaching to anyone else’s. For me, I want to take full advantage of this training course that I’ve paid for and looked forward to for so long, and put in the work I need to do to become a good teacher. I hope that my friends who were upset on Friday night were able to think this over and come to the same conclusion.

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September Teacher Training Weekend Summary September 20, 2011

Filed under: teacher training,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:53 pm
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This month, our scheduled teacher training weekend was complicated by the Haverford Music Festival. The yoga center is a Havertown local business so N and J wanted to participate in the festival (which could attract new yoga students), but we couldn’t reschedule our TT weekend either, so we crammed it all in: teacher training 6-11 PM on Friday and 9:00-10:30 AM on Saturday morning, then some of us helped to set up our table at the festival, and we all took shifts working at the table during the day. It was a good weekend, but a very full one.

On Friday night, we had our usual monthly check-in, then a lecture on yoga and emotions. We did some activities on this topic, and I got to work in a pair first with Sarah and then with Tonny, which was interesting and fun. After that we learned about the four primitive urges or fountains (which I’ll discuss in a future post), and then we had teaching practice (also a future post). A long night.

On Saturday morning we gathered to watch a video of a lecture by Swami Rama at the Himalayan Institute. The topic of the lecture was finding inner peace in a troubled world, and Swami Rama talked about the four primitive urges/fountains in the video, so it coordinated well with our lecture the night before. While Swami Rama seems to respect women highly, he also seems to think that a woman’s main job is to raise the children – which he acknowledges as the most important job in the world, but still. I may change my mind when I have a child, but I think working outside the home is important for women as well. Overall, though, the video was informative, and Swami Rama was definitely an interesting and charismatic guy – there are more videos of him on youtube that I’d like to check out sometime when I get a chance.

After the video, we were off to the festival. We helped set up by carrying boxes and tables and chairs from the studio over to our designated spot on the street, then we all took one-hour shifts to staff the table all day. We talked to people about yoga, handed out copies of the current yoga class schedule and passes for a free class, got people to enter a raffle for a free ten-class card, and I even sold a lavender neck pillow. It was fun and different to talk to people about yoga, and handing out the free class passes felt like I was giving out candy because people were so excited.

Our homework this month is to write up an intermediate level sequence of postures, which shouldn’t be a problem at all. Otherwise, no other homework except preparing for our presentations next month. My topic is yoga and sex – not in a Tantric way or a creepy way, but in a helpful practical way. I ordered two books online a few weeks ago and started reading one this morning – I’m halfway through the second chapter and so far, while the writing isn’t spectacular, the content is really good, matches up with what I think, and confirms what I’d been suspecting. I’m really excited to read further and look at the specific poses they discuss. So, dear readers, you can look forward to lots of information this month about how yoga can improve your sex life!

 

The Bhavas September 19, 2011

Filed under: yoga,yoga lifestyle,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 1:39 pm
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The Bhavas are four spiritual attitudes to cultivate as a student of yoga, or really as a student of anything! The Bhavas are:

  • Duty (Dharma)
  • Knowledge (Jnana)
  • Detachment (Vairaigya)
  • Self-Reliance (Aiswarya)

Duty, or Dharma, is an important concept in the Yoga Sutras as well as in the Bhagavad Gita. The idea here is to know your duty, understand what you have to do, and then perform that duty with a neutral attitude, without regard to whether you like or dislike the task. Some examples are going to yoga class regularly even when you don’t feel like it, studying and doing your homework for school, making phone calls at the office, or taking out the trash. Regardless of whether you enjoy taking out the trash, pickup is on Tuesday morning, so it’s your duty to take it out on Monday night with no complaining! To cultivate your sense of duty, try doing meditative yoga asanas, like a series of sun salutations or half-salutes.

Knowledge, or Jnana, goes hand in hand with duty. We should strive to know ourselves at every level: body, thoughts, speech, and emotions. Knowing yourself will help you to better know and understand your duty as well. To cultivate self-knowledge, work on concentration exercises (like, for example, counting meditation), and yoga asanas that require concentration, like balance poses. Pranayama breathing exercises (like these) are also helpful here – pranayama helps you learn your breathing patterns and how to calm your emotions using your breath.

Detachment, or Vairaigya, means living in the world without being of the world. We work not to get caught up in the trivial details of the world around, instead keeping a sense of our true Self, which remains unchanging. This also feeds back into duty – we do the right thing because it’s right, and with detachment from the results, without thought of reward. Overall, cultivating detachment in our lives usually means cultivating an attitude of humility and surrender. Yoga asanas that can help with this include forward bends and twists. These postures encourage us to surrender and relax into the pose: if you’re tensing your muscles and pushing hard, it’s more difficult to succeed with forward bends and twists, but if you let go and surrender to the pose without trying to push, you’ll often find that you can bend just a little bit farther, twist just a little bit deeper.

Self-Reliance, or Aiswarya, can also be referred to as willpower or self-confidence. It’s that deep inner sense that you can do what you need to do. Self-reliance comes from knowing yourself well and having a attitude of humility. Maybe we could also call it integrity! Backbends are yoga asanas that will help with this bhava. Backbends can be scary because you’re dropping your head backwards, unable to see anything coming toward you, so doing backbends develops confidence and strength. Backbends also work to open up the chest, heart, and shoulders, which helps posture – if you’re standing with chest open, shoulders back, you’ll project a much more positive, confident attitude than you would by hunching over!

For me, the bhavas are interesting and helpful to keep in mind as I follow the path of karma yoga, which requires following my dharma with a sense of service and without regard for reward. But the bhavas are useful for any yogic path, or for people following a different path entirely: the characteristics described by the bhavas are useful to cultivate no matter what your faith, religion, or spiritual path!

 

Aversions September 16, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:52 pm
Tags: ,

For our homework this month, we were instructed to make a list of our likes and dislikes, attachments and aversions. The purpose of this exercise isn’t to see if we like ice cream or whatever – we’re intended to look critically at ourselves, at the attachments and aversions that hold us back in our spiritual practice. Attachment and aversion are actually two of the kleshas, or obstacles to achieving enlightenment; when one is focused on enjoying pleasant experiences or avoiding unpleasant ones, then that person won’t be focused on meditation. Pleasant things come and go, and so do unpleasant things, but the true Self remains unchanging and unaffected by momentary events. Plus, even if you’re not worried about spirituality, it’s a good idea to examine your attachments and aversions: what’s really so great about this? what bothers me so much about that? The answers could be surprising!

Earlier this week I posted my list of attachments (here and here). Here’s my list of aversions, with some commentary about each one.

Broccoli

This is going to sound silly, but I hate the taste of broccoli. I read once that some people either have an extra enzyme or are missing an enzyme, and this makes certain foods (like broccoli) taste very differently than they do for most people. I am clearly one of those with weird taste buds, because I can’t find anything pleasant about broccoli. Further, I was forced to eat broccoli as a kid, and that experience has made a simple dislike deepen into true aversion (when I was 12 or so, I actually vomited after having to eat broccoli, and after that my mother never made me eat it again). So my experience with broccoli is both physical and psychological. I know that broccoli has a lot of nutritional value, but I just cannot bring myself to eat it, and I’ll actively and obsessively pick it out of any food I’m served.

Cold Weather

I hate being cold. The books we’ve been reading for teacher training all say that to the true yogi, heat and cold are the same, but I just can’t imagine getting to that point. Part of the problem is surely the lack of sunlight during the winter months – I feel cold and uncomfortable, and then without sunlight I just get depressed. I’ve started taking vitamin D supplements for this and it really does help. However, I really just don’t like being cold.

My Job

There are many things that I appreciate about my job. I’m paid well, I work with great people, my work is respected by my colleagues and I’m good at it, and my company gives back to the community, values its employees, and does provide a valuable service in the world. I’m grateful to even have a job at all in this economy, let alone a job as good as mine. However, I just don’t enjoy the work, and I never have in the five years I’ve worked here. I know that everybody hates their job sometimes and that I need to make the best of what I’ve got, but that’s just hard to do on Sunday nights and Monday mornings when I’m dreading going back to the office. When I imagine spending another five years in this job, I just feel bleak. I try to combat this by taking one day at a time instead of focusing on the long term, by focusing on all the wonderful non-job things in my life, and by trying to do my best at each task at the office regardless of how much I enjoy it.

 

Pose of the Month: Legs Up The Wall September 15, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:32 pm
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Legs Up The Wall 1Pose Name:

Legs Up The Wall

Sanskrit Name:

none

Steps:

  1. Move your mat to be perpendicular to a wall. Lie on your back on the mat.
  2. Draw your knees in and drop your legs over to one side.
  3. Skootch your tush up as close to the wall as you can.
  4. Lift and extend your legs, letting the backs of the legs rest against the wall.
  5. Rest your arms flat on the floor. Close your eyes. Relax here for a few minutes, letting the breath grow deep and even.
  6. To come out, drop the legs off to one side and skootch backwards until you’re able to roll up to a seated position.

Benefits:

This relaxing pose bestows the benefits of any inverted pose – inversions alter the flow of blood in the body, calming the mind, helping with depression, and stimulating the thyroid gland. Placing the body in an inverted pose also works the internal organs and the abdomen, aiding digestion. However, legs-up-the-wall doesn’t require the strength or stamina needed for other inversions like headstand or shoulderstand. Most students can accomplish this pose.

Contraindications:

Inversions are contraindicated for headache and high blood pressure. Some sources say not to practice inversions while menstruating.

My Experience with Legs Up The Wall:

When I was taking vinyasa yoga classes, I had never heard of this pose, so I only began practicing it in the past few years. I love how relaxing the pose feels, how I’m able to let my mind rest. I also love the simplicity of it – I’m able to achieve this pose no matter how I feel that day. As a teacher, my only frustration with legs-up-the-wall is that my front porch doesn’t have enough wall space for all the students in my little class to be able to do this pose at once!

Legs Up The Wall 2

 

Attachments, part 2 September 14, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:35 pm
Tags: ,

For our homework this month, we were instructed to make a list of our likes and dislikes, attachments and aversions. The purpose of this exercise isn’t to see if we like ice cream or whatever – we’re intended to look critically at ourselves, at the attachments and aversions that hold us back in our spiritual practice. Attachment and aversion are actually two of the kleshas, or obstacles to achieving enlightenment; when one is focused on enjoying pleasant experiences or avoiding unpleasant ones, then that person won’t be focused on meditation. Pleasant things come and go, and so do unpleasant things, but the true Self remains unchanging and unaffected by momentary events. Plus, even if you’re not worried about spirituality, it’s a good idea to examine your attachments and aversions: what’s really so great about this? what bothers me so much about that? The answers could be surprising!

On Tuesday I posted the first few of my attachments. Here are a couple more.

My Appearance

I definitely feel like I have major issues with my physical appearance. From a yogic perspective, physical appearance means nothing – we just do these yoga poses to make the body strong, so we can sit in meditation, and having Michelle Obama arms or looking hot in Dancer pose has nothing to do with it. But I constantly feel myself getting caught up in concerns about my looks. Maybe it’s because I was a nerdy kid. I made a big effort to change my appearance and the way others perceive me when I entered high school: I grew out my perm, got contacts, and it made a huge difference in my social life and even in the way I perceived myself. Maybe that’s where I got the idea that external appearance is linked to internal self. Another factor, I think, is that I went to Catholic school and had to wear a uniform, so that when I did get to wear normal clothes, I would agonize for ages over what I was going to wear. I don’t think I learned how to get dressed the way that other kids maybe did. Whatever, appearance is big with me, whether it’s weight, clothes, physical fitness, signs of aging, all of it.

Sleep

I feel really attached to sleep. This sounds stupid but really isn’t. I’ve read that getting enough sleep is critical to daily happiness and even to personal relationships, because we treat others better when we feel better ourselves. For me, my sleep issue is pretty childish: I don’t want to get up before 6 am. It’s bad enough that it’s dark out at 6 am, don’t make me get up at 5. This was actually a pretty big factor in me turning down a job a few years ago (and I don’t think I’ve ever confessed to anyone what a big factor it was) – the job was 8-5, and there was a long commute, so I would’ve had to get up at 5:00 to be there on time. I took a 9-5 job instead. I guess the flip side of not wanting to get up early is that I don’t like to go to bed early either; it’s just not part of my natural rhythm. 9:30 pm is about the earliest I can go to bed, and if I go to bed any earlier I just lay there. There are things I enjoy doing in the morning – I like going running or doing yoga, and it’s such a great feeling when it’s 7:00 am and that’s already done! But don’t push it. I know that at some point if I have a child I will likely be getting up very early every day, but honestly, not much besides a screaming infant seems worth it.

Next time: my aversions! Don’t worry, I’m the kind of person who tends to like things rather than hate things, so I have fewer aversions than attachments.

 

Attachments, part 1 September 13, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:38 pm
Tags: ,

For our homework this month, we were instructed to make a list of our likes and dislikes, attachments and aversions. The purpose of this exercise isn’t to see if we like ice cream or whatever – we’re intended to look critically at ourselves, at the attachments and aversions that hold us back in our spiritual practice. Attachment and aversion are actually two of the kleshas, or obstacles to achieving enlightenment; when one is focused on enjoying pleasant experiences or avoiding unpleasant ones, then that person won’t be focused on meditation. Pleasant things come and go, and so do unpleasant things, but the true Self remains unchanging and unaffected by momentary events. Plus, even if you’re not worried about spirituality, it’s a good idea to examine your attachments and aversions: what’s really so great about this? what bothers me so much about that? The answers could be surprising!

Here’s my list of attachments, with some commentary about each one.

Chocolate

I’m not sure if this falls under the category of “attachment” or “addiction”, but it seemed right to list it here. I used to have a much bigger issue with sweets – I could eat a whole bag of mini candy bars or an entire package of cookies (or, heck, raw cookie dough) in one sitting, just while watching TV or studying. I’ve worked hard to become more conscious of this and control it better. I purposely choose dark chocolates and try to avoid more processed sweets; I cut back on the sugar when I bake; I don’t keep many sweets in the house or at my desk at work; I’ll pack just four chocolates in my lunch and then space them out over the whole afternoon. Still, I find myself needing those little chocolates to get through the day, and when I don’t pack any I’ll sometimes have to make a candy run just to get by.

My husband, F

This is probably my biggest attachment. When we were first dating, F and I spent two years long distance, and I was constantly afraid that something would happen to keep us apart; now we’ve lived together for almost three years, but I still sometimes get that feeling, that our life together is somehow too good to be true and can’t last. Losing him is my worst fear.

Comfortable Lifestyle

When I was in grad school I was broke. I worked three jobs and my parents put money into my bank account every month. I had a roommate and an affordable apartment, and I lived cheaply, keeping careful track of every penny, but I still couldn’t afford many things. I would patch my jeans repeatedly because I couldn’t afford new pants, and a hot date out was a milkshake from Burger King. Now that I’m older, I have a lot more expenses (mortgage, house bills, car payments), but I also make a lot more money than I ever did before, and so I have a lot more financial freedom to buy clothes, shoes, organic food at the grocery store, and nice dinners out. I know it shouldn’t matter but I feel really averse to losing these things. I remember how it felt when I couldn’t buy pants – pants! Kind of necessary! And I don’t want to go back to that. I’m definitely more loose in my spending than I could be, but part of me feels like the reward of getting to where I am should be that I don’t have to count my pennies anymore. On the other hand, although I do give to charity, and pretty generously, I always feel like I should be doing more, that I’m selfish with my money. The other issue with this attachment to a comfortable lifestyle is that it means I need to stay in my current job – for financial reasons, I don’t feel I can leave my job unless I find another job that will pay me comparably. But more on worklife when we get to aversions.

Next time: Two other things I feel overly attached to! And then, some aversions!