Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Yoga Teaching Update April 11, 2012

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:37 pm
Tags: ,

I realized I haven’t talked about my yoga teaching here for a while. I’m still teaching at Awaken in Media, PA, now on Tuesday nights at 6:30. Two weeks ago I hit my highest turnout with five students; last week I had two students; and last night I just had one, but that’s okay because it was Stacey and she really really needed some yoga. Kyle is still working on improvements and upgrades in the yoga space – every week something new happens (this week: marker board in the stairwell, folder holder for the yoga binder, and major progress in the third massage room). The space looks better and better every week! I’m looking forward to when he feels ready to do a grand opening and start getting some more people in the door, although if that happens in May, I won’t have a ton of teaching time left before Yoga Baby’s arrival. Last night’s odd moment: when a young woman opened the door mid-class looking for the doula training workshop. I sent her downstairs to the Wellness Center, but it must have been pretty odd from her perspective to be looking for a doula workshop and to find a pregnant lady doing yoga. I hope she comes back for yoga class sometime, I tried not to be scary.

My tenure teaching prenatal yoga has now come to an end: the person who was teaching the class at EEY has now returned, so she’ll be resuming the class this week. I really loved teaching prenatal, but I have to admit I’m relieved. The Sunday morning timeslot wasn’t ideal for me, and the fact that a teacher was needed in March/April also wasn’t ideal, since I had pre-existing plans for three out-of-town weekends (friends in NJ, a business trip to AZ, and family in Pittsburgh). N was very understanding but all the travel meant that I only had the chance to teach the class three times. I was also so busy last month that I didn’t have time to research prenatal yoga nearly as much as I would have liked, and ended up relying on (1) how my own body feels during yoga right now, (2) things I have heard from my midwife, other pregnant ladies, or other yoga teachers, and (3) some things I picked up in the few prenatal classes I’d taken as a student. I’m incredibly grateful to have had this experience, though! At some point in the future, I’d really like to get some training specifically in prenatal yoga and have the chance to teach it properly. In the meantime, now that original teacher is back, I’m looking forward to taking the class with someone who actually knows what she’s doing! I’m also looking forward to going to church more often, and occasionally sleeping in and eating a leisurely breakfast with F in our jammies, neither of which is possible when I had to teach at 10:30.

I’ll be really interested to see what happens to my teaching after Yoga Baby arrives. I definitely don’t want to push myself to do too much too soon, or to teach when I’m exhausted and sleep-deprived (which I’m sure will be the case for at least the first month of YB’s life). On the other hand, I don’t want to lose my confidence as a teacher, I think it would be nice to have one reason a week to leave the house, and I know that picking up my yoga again will help me get back in shape after the birth. Overall I just want to be sure to be kind to myself and not to push it if what I really need is rest.

 

Prenatal Yoga and Modifying Postures March 20, 2012

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 12:45 pm
Tags: ,

So far I’ve taught prenatal yoga at EEY three times, and I’ve learned a lot from every single class. I try to focus on poses that anyone in the class can do, but that’s a difficult task. At 12 weeks, a pregnant woman is likely to have most of her usual mobility and flexibility, and it’s possible she feels great and has lots of energy, but she may also be feeling tired or sick. At 38 weeks, a pregnant woman’s mobility is much more limited and she’s likely to be moving more slowly and getting tired more easily. And every pregnant woman is different and has different needs. At my current 25 weeks, I definitely move more slowly and tire more easily than I did a month ago, so I’m finding that the yoga I need is changing: a vinyasa class used to invigorate me, but now it just wears me out. I’m still capable of a lot of what I could do before, but as a yoga teacher my pre-pregnancy baseline is a little different from most women’s, so I can’t assume that my students can achieve certain poses just because I still can. I also can’t assume that my students, many of whom are new to yoga, will be able to catch when a pose isn’t quite right for their bodies to do. I’ve had a lot of experience and a lot of training and even I still occasionally do too much or press on through a pose that doesn’t feel right; I can’t expect a student in my class, especially a student new to yoga, especially a pregnant student dealing with her body feeling all kinds of different lately, to be able to make those calls with the level of accuracy and safety that I can for myself.

My experience as a pregnant yogini really brings home to me the importance of giving my students options for modifying postures. I feel like I spend a lot of my class talking through different options. For example, in a lunge, you can leave your hands on the floor, bring them to your knee or hips or heart center, or raise them to the sky. Depending on how I feel on a particular day, I’ve taken every one of those options at least once in the past few weeks, whereas before my pregnancy I’d almost always lift my arms overhead. I try to emphasize to my students that they should do whatever feels right for their bodies today, regardless of what I or the others in the class may be doing; I remind them to focus on their breath and to rest whenever they need to. I try to remember to tell them that if they need to run downstairs to the bathroom at any time during class, they should go ahead. And I try to give them tidbits of knowledge about what their bodies are doing during pregnancy, things that I’ve read or learned from my midwife or experienced myself. Here’s why it’s helpful to stretch the pelvic floor muscles; here’s what’s going on with our joints right now and why it’s important not to overstretch; here’s a pose that will give you some relief if you get leg cramps during the night like I do. But mostly, I try to give them options. Lots and lots of options.

And I think that these experiences will make me a better yoga teacher overall. Most of the time, the students who come to my regular hatha yoga classes are fit and able to practice at or near my level, but that won’t always be the case. I never know when a new or older or differently abled student might show up, and I want to be able to give that student options too. I never know when one of my regular students may be feeling extra tired or have a cold coming on and want to take it easy. I never know when a pregnant student may show up for a regular hatha class. Part of the challenge is being able to think on my feet and adapt to a particular group’s needs, but the real challenge is to be able to provide options to my students in a regular class, any regular class at any time, while still engaging the more advanced students. That’s pretty hard to do, but it’s an essential part of my job. My yoga is not about making every person do each pose exactly the same way; my yoga is about helping each student to find what his or her own yoga is.

(Unrelated to the main content of this post, I just wanted to let folks know that Awaken Massage and Yoga has moved to a new location and my teaching schedule has switched from Wednesdays to Tuesdays. Check out Awaken’s website or my Schedule page for details!)

 

Misc updates February 27, 2012

I taught my first prenatal class at EEY yesterday. It was awesome (or, at least, it seemed so to me – I hope my five students also enjoyed it!). I focused primarily on standing postures and included plenty of squatting poses as well; I’ll try to post the full sequence later this week. I felt confident teaching and the class seemed to flow really smoothly. Next time I want to walk around more, and also encourage the students to use a blanket as a prop or cushion (since personally I am far more comfortable these days sitting on a blanket/cushion than I am on a hard floor, and this class is based pretty much entirely on my own experience). I definitely need to do more research, watch a few more videos, maybe get a book, and hit another few prenatal classes myself, but I’m really happy with this beginning. And today my arms, hips, and thighs feel sore, which is a good sign. I hope my students aren’t suffering too much soreness, especially since some of them are still dealing with morning sickness!

When I thought about it, I was surprised to note that this is the first time in a while that I’ve taught yoga to students I don’t personally know in some way. It’s also the first time I’ve taught at EEY since graduating from teacher training. I was nervous, but not overly so, and I don’t think I seemed nervous; once I started teaching, I felt confident and like I had something valuable to share. This was a great feeling, and reminded me of how much I love teaching yoga! The Sunday morning timeslot for this class isn’t ideal, but I’m so glad I made room for it in my schedule and my life.

Unrelated to how awesome teaching yoga is (or perhaps tangentially related!), I just read this article by Mike Lux titled “What Bible is Santorum Reading?” This is not a political blog, but just last month I blogged about how frustrating I find it that many people who claim to be Christian do not seem to support the values that Jesus describes over and over again in the Bible. Mr. Lux makes a much better case, citing the specific number of times that Jesus told his followers to do things like help the poor, and providing examples from the Old Testament as well. I really appreciated his article so I wanted to share.

 

Teaching at Awaken February 15, 2012

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:37 pm
Tags: ,

I’m excited to tell you all that I’m going to be teaching yoga at a real yoga studio! And I’ll be paid, even! Tonight is my first class at Awaken Massage & Yoga in Media, PA. Teaching yoga on my front porch has been incredibly rewarding – I’m so glad that I could provide that class to my friends and so grateful that they kept showing up. Now I’m delighted to gain teaching experience in a professional yoga studio setting, and to get to know everybody at Awaken.

I created a Schedule page with Google Calendar so it’ll be easy to find out when I’m teaching right here on the blog. One more step towards turning this blog into a professional website!

 

Hip-centric Sequence October 13, 2011

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:40 pm
Tags: , ,

One of the students in my little yoga class has tight hips despite a lot of flexibility elsewhere, so I came up with this sequence to challenge that student a bit. (And then, of course, he got stuck at work and couldn’t make it to class, but we went ahead and did the sequence anyway last night, and I liked it well enough that I’ll pull it out again later!)

  • child’s pose
  • cat/cow and curving side stretches
  • down dog
  • down dog twist
  • 5 half salutes
  • 2 full sun salutations (first time, regular high/low lunge; second time with lunge twist)
  • standing sequence:
    • warrior 1
    • warrior 2
    • radiant warrior
    • triangle pose
    • half moon
    • wide-legged standing forward bend
    • goddess pose
  • standing sequence other side
  • tree pose
  • seated poses:
    • squat
    • cradle
    • cobbler
    • forward bend
    • seated twist
    • pigeon
  • bridge pose
  • savasana

I particularly loved doing goddess pose last night. It was fun to teach, and it just feels empowering to do. I think I’ll be pulling this out more often!

 

Subbing at the yoga center! September 28, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:37 pm
Tags: ,

Last night N wasn’t feeling well, so she sent out a call for subs for the evening classes. I volunteered to sub for the 6:15 class. This marks the first time that people paid money for yoga taught by me! I was nervous during the afternoon, but when I thought about it, I was less nervous about actually teaching yoga than I was about the logistical things like filling out the paperwork properly and using the credit card machine and the stereo.

I arrived around 6pm and N showed me what to do: how to log the students who come in, where to put the money, how to run credit cards, how to work the stereo, and she helped me pick out music for the class. Six people came to class: one of them also teaches at EEY, a few were more experienced students I knew, and one person was brand-new. It was a smaller class, so I rolled out my mat and taught while doing poses myself, which is what N & J usually do. At my home classes I walk around more and I’m working on making adjustments to people, but last night I just wanted to give them a standard EEY class.

Overall I was pretty happy with the class I taught. Usually at home I teach a one-hour class, but classes at EEY are an hour and fifteen minutes, so I did feel like my timing was a little off: I felt like I moved faster through the standing poses than I should have and ended up with more time at the end than I wanted, so it felt like I was stretching out the seated poses. A couple of extra sun salutations would have helped a lot, I think, but we still did good seated stuff too: camel and bridge and cobbler and forward fold plus some twists. I don’t think I shorted the standing stuff, though: I was definitely sweating a bit by the end of the standing poses and some of the students seemed to be puffing a little too. (I reminded everyone to lengthen and calm the breath while we stood in mountain pose, and I immediately heard breaths calming and lengthening! It really works when you say that!)

One thing I did mess up is that I started the standing poses with the right leg stepped back, and then stepped my left leg back to mirror what the students were doing, only then I forgot I had done that and was verbally cuing the poses on the wrong side (i.e., “lift your left hand” because I was lifting my left hand, when the students were all lifting their right hands). No one seemed to get off track, though. When we started on the other side, I realized what I had done and started cuing poses as front/back instead of left/right to keep myself from getting mixed up again.

I ended class with a guided relaxation that I thought went well. I really worked on slowing it down and waiting a few breaths between lines. The class started a little late because someone needed to pay with a credit card; we ended right on time just after 7:30pm, so I guess I cut it a little short, but by that point everyone had savasanaed and was ready to go.

Since it was my first time really teaching a full class, I couldn’t help thinking, “oh god oh god they hate me”, which I am sure is not true, but it’s impossible not to think it. I had some very experienced people in the class and some who were brand new, and so I taught to the middle as best I could – I worry that the class may have been boring for some people. I hope it wasn’t, but I taught the best class I could teach, and that’s all that’s in my power to do. Teaching yoga isn’t about me: I’m not going to get feedback on my teaching at the studio the way I do from students at my home classes, because that’s not what the purpose is! The students who go to the studio are there for themselves, the same way I am when I attend classes there, and I gave them the best class I could. I know I can do better next time, but I feel good about my teaching last night and satisfied with what I did.

 

Home Yoga Class, September 21 September 22, 2011

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 3:34 pm
Tags: , ,

Last night’s yoga class was possibly my best yet. (I really like this thing where every class I teach is my best one yet. If I keep this up, pretty soon I’ll be a yoga superstar.) I taught a sequence I came up with a few weeks ago that focuses on breath and on thighs, with the idea that poses that are tough on the thighs are an opportunity to lengthen and deepen the breath. Everyone seemed to enjoy the class even though it was hard work.

I started out by teaching ujjayi breathing (which apparently I did only partially successfully, since I ended up really confusing my husband, so I’m planning to go over it again next week in case anyone else was confused and didn’t say so). Then we went through the following sequence of postures:

  • child’s pose
  • thread the needle
  • downward dog shifting to plank
  • locust
  • lifting to plank and back to downward dog
  • forward fold
  • 4 half salutes
  • 2 classic sun salutations (low lunge the first time, high lunge the second time)
  • chair pose (everyone was so excited!)
  • standing sequence:
    • warrior 1
    • warrior 2
    • radiant warrior
    • side angle pose
    • triangle
  • standing sequence on the other side
  • crane pose, transitioning directly to eagle pose
  • camel
  • hero
  • cobbler
  • seated forward fold
  • bridge pose
  • savasana

Everyone commented that it was both a challenging class and a really good class. I was glad that it was challenging both for my beginner and for my more experienced students.

 

Home Yoga Class # 2 August 26, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:25 pm
Tags: ,

On Wednesday I got some rather shocking news at work: my boss, who’s been with the company for 20 years, is leaving for a new position. My coworkers and I spent the afternoon in haze; although we’re happy for her to have a great new opportunity, the announcement was a huge surprise and an injection of uncertainty into our work lives. On the way home that night, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to focus my attention on my yoga class. It turned out, though, that teaching yoga that night was the best thing for me.

We had five people in the class again this week. Starting class at 6:30 definitely helped everyone’s commute, so that all my students were present and ready to go on time. This week I was more proactive about arranging people in the room and we came up with a good layout for five mats in the space. I put one of the more experienced students up front, since I wouldn’t be demonstrating poses myself, so that the beginners would have someone to look to. During class, I moved around the room more, made more adjustments, talked more confidently, and felt more confident. I think I did a better job of teaching this week.

Some notes: I had meant to teach Chair pose but totally forgot. I’m now considering this to be not a failing on my part but an unplanned gift to one of my students, who was evacuated from the 23rd floor of an office building after the earthquake on Tuesday and whose thighs were still sore from climbing all those stairs. He will be very happy to read that I forgot to teach Chair pose! Next week I’m definitely planning to teach it (I’m not sure why I want to teach Chair so much but I’m just going to go with it). We tried half moon pose and it was hard, but people seemed to like the challenge. That’s how I feel about half moon myself so I think I’ll definitely be teaching this one again. At the end of class, I did a guided relaxation again, but chose a tense-and-release relaxation rather than just the awareness one I did last week. Not sure what I’ll do next week.

I also taught shoulderstand for the first time, which was difficult. N & J have cautioned us to be careful teaching shoulderstand, because it’s possible to injure your neck if you do it incorrectly. I found it hard to remember all the little details that I wanted to mention about alignment in the pose, and my beginning students weren’t able to do the pose at all, which distracted me from describing it well to the others. I helped lift one person into the pose, and now she understands where it’s going, but she couldn’t hold the pose on her own and seemed a bit downcast that she wasn’t able to do it. I think this weekend I’m going to experiment with doing shoulderstand on a blanket for extra support, and also with doing shoulderstand at the wall, which will give me more options for teaching it. I’m thinking that next week I may leave a little extra time at the end of class just to play with inversions. We don’t have a ton of wall space in our yoga area, so doing legs-up-the-wall or using the wall for support in a harder pose won’t be an option for everyone; what I’d like to do is give my students a good foundation so I can tell them to go ahead and do whatever inversion they like, and then some people will work on shoulderstand or bridge and some can use the wall. Doing a bit of an inversion intensive next week may help with that, so people know what options they have.

Next week I think I want to teach ujjayi breathing. F told me that he thought he could use more reminders to breathe during class, so if I teach ujjayi breathing that will give me a concrete way to do that (rather than just saying, “don’t forget to breathe” repeatedly). I’m also considering some themed classes – breath is an obvious theme, and I’d start that class with crocodile pose instead of child’s pose and then try to work on the breath more throughout class. Another theme I thought of is surrendering/letting go. At least one of my students is very much an on-the-go person, very in charge, and practicing letting go might be good for this person, a benefit of yoga beyond the physical. Not that I want to plot out my classes weeks in advance, but I am happy that I’m getting excited about the things I might teach.

 

Home Yoga Class # 1 August 19, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:10 pm
Tags: ,

This week I taught my first of a regular series of free yoga classes held at my home. Our house has  a nice big enclosed front porch that’s perfect for yoga: we can fit up to six mats lined up two by two, and it’s a tight fit but it works. For the first class I had five students, a good mix – a couple of brand-new beginners and a few more experienced people who hadn’t practiced in a while.

Overall I think the class went well. There were a few logistical problems. We started late because several people had traffic trouble, but that’s easily fixed for next time – we’ll just plan to start 15 minutes later to give people more time to get here after work. One person got stuck in really bad traffic and then got so lost that she missed two-thirds of the class and had to call for directions, which was unfortunate and a little disruptive but wasn’t something we could have foreseen or avoided. Starting later next time will help, and we looked at a map together after class to make sure she knows some alternate routes to get here. I put on music at the beginning of class, but I found it distracting, and my little ipod speakers weren’t loud enough to really project to the whole room, so I won’t use music next time. We’re thinking about getting a new stereo anyway so I’ll just see how I feel about it then.

In terms of my actual teaching, I was definitely nervous. I didn’t walk around the room at all and spent more time than I’d planned demonstrating poses myself, which we didn’t have much room for. On the other hand, one of my beginners was at the front of the room and I wanted to show her what to do. Next week, I think I will arrange people more consciously, both to use the space better and to make sure the beginners have someone they can see (because if we end up with six students instead of five, there will definitely not be room for me to demonstrate poses). I still struggle with timing – how long to leave students in a pose? – but that will improve with time. There were things I neglected to mention in each pose: alignments and cues, and info about what the pose is actually stretching and why that’s good. At the end of class, several students mentioned that they’d like to be adjusted more – I was definitely holding back there, not wanting to do too much and trying to focus more on verbal cues. So adjustment is something to work on in the future, since it’s something my students want more of and something I need to practice doing.

On the positive side (see how I saved this for the end!), I think it was not a bad class at all and would have been passable if it had been taught at a real studio to paying customers. I have my “yoga teacher voice” down, and I feel like everyone could hear me well. I did give good verbal alignment cues on many poses, and I did talk about the benefits of some poses. I mentioned breathing pretty frequently (although I need to walk around more and teach ujjayi breath, because I can’t actually HEAR anyone breathing, which would help me to know that they are in fact doing so). I think I did my best teaching, surprisingly, in savasana relaxation, which is the one part I had not planned at all. I did a guided relaxation, which felt right to do in the moment, and which at least one person commented was helpful. I plan to do this again next week.

The best sign is that my students seemed to enjoy the class and feel positive about it afterwards. One of my beginners said that she really enjoyed the half sun salutes, that it seemed to flow really nicely, so that made me happy (since half salutes are becoming one of my own favorite things to do). Another person is coming to my house (west of Philly) from his office in center city, and after class will be taking the train back to center city and then catching another train home to Trenton, and seemed to judge the long commute for yoga to be abundantly worth his time. I didn’t realize that this person was coming from so far, and his excitement and commitment are really inspiring for me.

So, to sum up: I am already learning a lot from my five students! I’m excited about trying again next week!