Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

August Teacher Training Weekend: Friday and Saturday morning teaching practice August 17, 2011

Filed under: teacher training — R. H. Ward @ 1:42 pm
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At Friday night’s session, we just met with J, as N was caught up with errands and things at home (she just moved to a new house last week). After our regular check-in, we did teaching practice, and it was a really great session. We didn’t make it a structured yoga class, but rather, each person just got up and taught whatever pose he or she felt like teaching or wanted to practice. Someone would teach a seated twist, and then someone else would have us all stand up again so she could teach a balance pose. It was fun and different! Mimsy taught us a neat gormukhasana-to-pigeon transition that she picked up from a British yoga teacher on a cruise last month, and that was really fun. I taught ardha chandrasana, which personally is one of my biggest challenges and is also swiftly becoming one of my favorite poses. I was really impressed with my classmates’ teaching, too. Some people I see teach semi-frequently (for example, it seems I’m always in class with Nancy lately), but other people I rarely see (like Elyssa or Tonny). Everyone is making just terrific progress and doing so much better at teaching than they were even a month ago. J agreed and was really pleased with all of us. We’re all going to be awesome teachers.

At Saturday morning’s hatha yoga class, there were six or seven of us in the class who were teacher trainees, so N asked each of us if we wanted to teach a pose. Initially I said no, with the idea that I wanted to give some of the others who felt less confident a chance to teach. But then I sat there thinking to myself that this is my teacher training and I need to practice too, and I felt silly for saying no. But then, as N got the class started, she came over to me and asked if I could teach half sun salutes so she could run to the bathroom, so I still got to teach! Five rounds of half sun salutes turns out to be just enough time for a yoga teacher to run to the bathroom and back. I hadn’t taught half salutes before so I was glad I had the chance. It was also an interesting class because Tonny taught us this version of pigeon pose with the neatest transitions I’ve ever seen – clearly stuff right out of his martial arts background, and he moved so quickly and smoothly it looked impossible, but when we tried it we were all able to do it no problem. Really fun! N taught a cool transition from gormukhasana (seated cow face pose) on one side directly to the other side, so that was also cool. A lot of interesting and different transitions in our yoga practice this weekend, a lot of fun.

In other news, I’m going to start teaching a free yoga class at my home this week. I hope to teach this little class every week as a way to practice my teaching more and deliver some free yoga to my friends. Right now I think we’ve got a full house (i.e., around six people), so we’ll see how that goes and if I’m able to establish a regular group!


July Teacher Training Weekend: Saturday (and a little Tuesday) July 20, 2011

Filed under: teacher training,yoga,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 2:19 pm
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At Saturday’s teacher training session, we spent lunch and a little class time on one-on-ones, so J & N could meet with each trainee individually to see how we’re doing. The one-on-ones lasted longer than planned, so some of us had to wait and do ours during the week. (I had mine last night, Tuesday, after class, and got to enjoy a really good conversation with N that helped me clarify that, yes, I’m on the right track; yes, I’m doing the best I can right now and once things calm down in my life my practice is going to take off; and yes, I should talk more in class; and yes, my papers are really good, but you all knew that part already because you’re basically reading my papers all month long. N also says she needs to see me teach more, which I totally understand, and that I am to thwack her in the head and remind her next time I’m in one of her classes so that I can teach a pose. I told her about my practice class at the pond and she was really glad to hear that I’d done that. Again, I’ll be trying to bank some teaching practice at home once we’re more settled in to our new house. Can’t fit more than one yogi on the porch right now since there’s still a queen-sized box spring sitting on it. Which reminds me, does anyone need a queen-sized box spring?)

Our actual class lecture on Saturday was Intro to the Bhagavad Gita. We talked about the four paths of yoga:

  • Karma Yoga: the path of action
  • Raja Yoga: the path of meditation
  • Jnana Yoga: the path of wisdom/knowledge
  • Bhakti Yoga: the path of love/devotion

We also discussed the three gunas. Guna means “strand or quality”; the gunas are three moods or influences or qualities that affect pretty much everything that happens:

  • Sattva: peacefulness, calm, contentment
  • Rajas: activity, sensuality; full of desires, attachments, and enjoyments
  • Tamas: confusion, laziness, lethargy, ignorance

The four paths and the three gunas are discussed in depth in the Bhagavad Gita, which is our reading assignment for this month. You can probably all predict that you’ll be hearing a lot more about these things later this month. We also talked about karma and about the four duties of a yogi, which I’ll describe further in a later post too.

My homework for this month is to read the Bhagavad Gita and write a reflection paper on which yogic path seems to suit my personality the best, including why I think that, what about that path resonates for me, and what evidence in my life leads me to this conclusion. We’re also doing two posture write-ups this month on twists (any ol’ twist: seated, standing, or reclining). It seems like a light homework month, but I think the intention is really for us to focus on the Gita and the four paths and to think carefully about it.

I already owned a copy of the Bhagavad Gita: Stephen Mitchell’s translation. The rest of the class is reading Eknath Easwaran’s translation. At first I figured, I already have the book, I don’t need to buy another copy, but now I’m reconsidering. First, I absolutely loved Easwaran’s Passage Meditation, so I would be very interested to see his take on the Gita. Also, given that we’re being provided the time to do some real hard work on this, I think it might benefit me to read the thing twice. I’ve already started on the Mitchell translation (just finished chapter 3, I think), and I’m a fast reader, so I’ve got plenty of time. It seems like, of all the books on yoga and spirituality out there, the Bhagavad Gita is one that it might be nice to own two translations of.


July Teacher Training Weekend: Friday night, teaching practice July 18, 2011

Filed under: teacher training,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:16 pm
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At Friday night’s teacher training session, we spent a lot of time on our monthly check-in, so that each person would have the opportunity to talk about their meditation experiences this month. After check-in, we worked on teaching practice.

We broke into two groups: five of us with N, and six with J. I was in N’s group, and working with her was really different from practicing teaching with J. We went through a basic class structure – she had one student teach a pose, then she’d talk with us about positive things she’d observed and other things to try next time, then another of us would go and then we’d talk over what that person did. This was useful because J will often remind us of things when we practice teaching, or correct us when we get something wrong, but N made a specific point of highlighting things that each person did right. That’s helpful for both the person doing the teaching and the rest of us, to know that Miriam made a good point when she said this or that Gillian had a nice way of phrasing that. A couple of people in our group weren’t too confident in their teaching, so highlighting what they did well helped to reassure them; I tend to be overly critical, so it also reminded me that each of us had smart, useful things to say.

The thing N mentioned that she liked about my teaching was my voice. She said that I have a good, soothing yoga voice. Then she went on to give some strategies for what you can do if you don’t have that kind of voice: you should never fake your voice, but you can pay close attention to your tone and modulate your volume. I really liked N’s approach here: she was able to tell me something positive, and then use that as a teaching moment to help others develop their skill.

I taught two things: sun salutations, which I feel pretty comfortable with, and shoulder stand. I volunteered to teach shoulder stand and told N it was because I’d never tried teaching it before. Teaching shoulder stand was a different, unique challenge. With many yoga poses, the teacher should tell you how to do it and then shut up and let you have an experience; shoulder stand is different because a student can actually seriously harm herself in this pose, so it’s better to teach through the whole thing, continuing to talk so that the student can learn more about the proper alignment. I got some things right (use your hands to support your back; don’t let any weight rest on your neck; try to bring your elbows parallel to each other) and missed some important things (your hips should be square above your shoulders; your back should be perpendicular to the floor; and I said that your weight should be in your shoulders, but I neglected to say that your weight should be in your upper arms too). And hearing N talk about the pose afterward was really helpful. (N told us that this will be a pose that we will be required to write up later on, so you’ll hear more about this in the future.)

Overall this might have been my favorite practice teaching session. The other group, working with J, did not have such a nice time, which made for an odd energy in the room; the other group had some people getting upset and some people getting angry, but my group was very pleasant and very supportive. I’m not sure how this can be avoided in the future. Maybe next time we’ll keep the same groups but swap teachers, which could be enough to mix things up.


June Teacher Training Weekend: Saturday: pratyahara, meditation, and teaching practice June 29, 2011

In Saturday’s teacher training class, we continued our discussion of relaxation and moved on to pratyahara and meditation.

Pratyahara refers to the drawing-in of the senses. It’s a gateway to higher levels of consciousness, which makes sense when you think about it, because it’s our senses that distract us from meditation and spiritual practice. We want to look out the window, we hear a strange sound, we adjust our clothing or shift around, something smells funny, and it all leads to distraction, whether you’re in a church or on your yoga mat. Our senses exist to protect us and help us to survive, but in the modern day and age, we rarely need to rely on our senses for survival anymore. Drawing in the senses, blocking out the outside world, can help us to focus on our meditation or spiritual practice.

J gave a great talk on meditation as well. Meditation begins with concentration, and we actually start meditation right in the middle of yoga practice as we concentrate on our asana postures. Then we take that concentration and apply it to focusing our minds. This month, I’ll be talking a lot about concentration and meditation as I practice these things every day. Here are this month’s homework projects:

  • Read the book Passage Meditation by Eknath Easwaran
  • Read book II of the Yoga Sutras (we’ve read some of this; just need to finish whatever we haven’t done yet)
  • Practice meditation daily
  • Keep a journal of my meditation practice; write a reflection paper based on the experience
  • Write up a guided relaxation sequence
  • Pose of the Month write-ups: two backbends

When I first heard the homework assignments, I was excited because I’ve wanted to do more with meditation for a long time. Then J began to talk about how important it is to practice meditation every single day, always at the same time and in the same place. This month, F and I are going to be moving to a new home – there won’t be a same time, same place for a while, at least not every day. As J talked, I began to feel discouraged before I even began. I asked J for advice, and he said, “Then practice meditation sitting with your boxes.” He said not to let the situation get in the way of my practice, and to focus on appreciating the boxes – after all, they mean we’re moving to a beautiful new home! I felt so much better and was glad I’d said something.

Saturday’s class was a big help to me because I always feel like I’m doing meditation wrong. I read a lot of books by Buddhist monks and other spiritual authors, and they always say that it’s difficult to calm the mind, but I figured, a Buddhist monk has no experience with the insanity going on in my brain. I thought I must be terrible at meditation because I keep getting so distracted. Now, though, I feel a little more reassured that getting distracted is part of the experience – that’s just what happens, and it happens to everybody. I’m not doing it wrong, and I’m actually doing it not too badly. I have a variety of meditation exercises to try this month, and I’ll share them all with you here.

At the end of Saturday’s class, we did some yoga teaching practice. J told us to pair up, but my pair decided to join with another pair into a group of four. This meant that none of us got quite as much teaching practice – instead of teaching half of the time, we each taught a quarter of the time – but the experience more than made up for this. It was really good to work with my classmates and hear their voices as teachers. We’re all getting much more confident! We also had the freedom this time to teach poses that aren’t necessarily part of J’s or N’s usual repertoire. Sarah gave us some challenging standing poses to do, and I taught some of my favorite seated poses. We’re all getting there! I don’t know if I’ll have time to practice teaching on friends and family this month, but I hope I get the chance soon.


June Teacher Training Weekend: Friday: relaxation/savasana discussion June 28, 2011

Friday night was the start of our fourth teacher training weekend. This month, our topics were relaxation, pratyahara, and meditation; on Friday we talked about relaxation, and savasana in particular.

In Western culture, we tend to rely on external things in order to relax: TV, computers, music, video games, alcohol, social events, all kinds of things that are external. We fill our lives with these things, telling ourselves that they help us to relax, but really when we depend on external things to help us relax, we become unable to relax without those things. In yoga, all you need to relax is yourself. Relaxation in savasana is an active, conscious process, but one that relies on nothing but your own mind and body.

Savasana, or corpse/rest pose, is the final pose at the end of a yoga class. After working hard and exerting yourself throughout your yoga practice, you come down to the floor, lie on your back, let your feet flop open and your arms rest and your eyes close. Although it’s an easy pose physically, savasana is said to be the most difficult of all yoga poses, because it’s here that you lie still, quieting and slowing down your mind. For many people, it’s incredibly difficult simply to be still; for others, it’s hard to release all the tension that builds up in the body. Many students come into savasana but can’t keep their eyes shut, can’t stop moving (maybe scratching an itch, maybe adjusting their clothing, maybe just moving around), can’t quiet the mind. I’m a victim of this too as much as anybody.

What I learned on Friday night is that savasana, like any yoga pose, needs to be practiced actively. In most yoga poses, you’re active physically; for example, in Warrior 2, I’m always thinking, is my knee right over my ankle, is my back leg straight, am I pressing through the back foot, are my arms high enough, is my core balanced, are my abs engaged. Even when I’m just holding the pose, I’m actively working to improve my posture. In savasana, you do the same work, but you do it just in your mind, working to observe the breathing and observe the mind, to let the body relax, and to learn to enjoy being still. In yoga asana practice we exert conscious effort; in savasana we enter conscious relaxation.

As a yoga teacher in training, it’s important that I learn how to teach savasana. If even I still have trouble surrendering and relaxing in this pose, then my future students certainly will. Many yoga studios, and especially yoga teachers at gyms and fitness centers, do not really teach their students how to relax, so this is crucially important for me to learn.

Savasana is valuable because it allows the body to truly relax. Did you ever have a night where your dreams were so vivid and so engaging that, when you woke up in the morning, you felt like you didn’t get any rest? The mind interprets dreams as if they’re really happening, so all night long while we dream we’re still working. In savasana, when it’s done correctly, you can properly, consciously relax. J told us about a past teacher of his who never seemed to sleep, because he got all his rest during savasana so that he didn’t need to sleep at night. That’s a little extreme, but savasana or conscious relaxation can give us that little bit of extra rest to help us feel refreshed and ready to tackle the day’s problems.

On Friday night, we talked about all these aspects of savasana. We did a little basic stretching, and then N put us into a deep relaxation. She used a 61-point relaxation exercise and talked us through it. We all left the yoga center on Friday night feeling profoundly relaxed and calm. I got a great night’s sleep on Friday night (although at least one of my classmates reported a restless night, as if the deep relaxation had thrown off her usual rest patterns). The experience made me think a lot about my usual practice of savasana, and ways to consciously improve my experience of this pose.


Teacher Training Weekend: Saturday Pranayama May 25, 2011

Filed under: breath,teacher training,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 6:45 pm
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This month at teacher training is Breath Month! At Saturday’s teacher training session, we started work on pranayama, which are breathing exercises designed to improve the flow of energy in the body. Life energy, or prana, is what enlivens all of us, what makes us alive. Prana courses through the body, giving us energy, helping our cells do their work, and healing any problems. Breath is the mechanism by which prana is able to move in the body, so by deepening the breath, we can increase the flow of prana, and by practicing other breathing exercises, we can affect our energy levels and our mood and even heal illness.

So far in teacher training, we’ve studied the yamas and niyamas (moral practices), and asana (physical postures), all of which I’m completely on board with. Now, though, we’re getting into the realm of New Agey stuff. I don’t know how much I buy into the prana thing, or the concept that by practicing certain breathing techniques we can heal illness. I know the body is capable of many miracles, and so I’m trying to keep my mind open.

I’ve started on this month’s reading in Science of Breath, and one thing so far has made a lot of sense. In chapter 1, the authors point out that breathing is a unique biological function: it’s involuntary, like heartbeat or digestion, so it will happen automatically no matter what, but unlike heartbeat or digestion, breathing is a function that we can also control if we choose. It’s the only involuntary function that we can control. Ancient yogis noticed that breathing is unique in this way and decided that, because breath is the only function that is both voluntary and involuntary, breath might be the link between the body and the mind and controlling it might be the key to controlling other bodily functions. That sort of makes sense to me: breath is already in a special category, so maybe it does other cool stuff too. More to come as I continue with this month’s homework (see below).

We also had teaching practice on Saturday afternoon. We formed one big class together and J tapped each person to teach a part of the class to the whole group, telling us which poses to teach. I was given sun salutations; I taught the classical version with lunges, which I hadn’t taught before, and I think I did well. It was interesting, as always, to see how my classmates teach and what they say versus what they don’t say.

Here’s our homework for this month:

  • Complete an ayurvedic profile, tally the score, and read the results about your body type
  • Read the book Science of Breath by Swami Rama
  • Start on the book Moola Bandha: The Master Key by Swami Buddhananda
  • Practice daily pranayama exercises: diaphragmatic breathing, three-part breathing, and alternate nostril breathing (I’ll define the types of breathing for you in a later post, but what we’re talking about here is ten minutes or so, ideally twice a day)
  • Keep a journal about the pranayama exercises, my reflections and observances; this will evolve into being my paper to hand in next month
  • Do two posture write-ups on standing poses (choose any two)
  • Suggested: recruit friends and family to be yoga guinea pigs and practice teaching

This feels like kind of a crap-ton of homework this month. Luckily, I’ll be on a train for a good 8-9 hours round trip this weekend, which should help with getting the reading done, and I’ll be traveling to visit with friends who are willing yoga guinea pigs.

I had been upset that last month was Asana Month because I was so busy last month and I wanted more time to actually be able to practice the poses, but I honestly think it worked out for the best: being busy, I had to complete the work when I could, and I couldn’t be a perfectionist about it. This month the homework is less active and more thoughtful, and I am almost as busy this month as I was last month, so I predict insanity to come.


Teacher Training Weekend: Friday Night Anatomy Class May 20, 2011

Filed under: reflections,teacher training,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 10:58 pm
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Tonight was our May teacher training Friday night class, and I’m too excited to go to bed. Tonight we had an anatomy lesson with a special guest teacher, Jeanne, who is both a yoga teacher and a physical therapist with 20+ years of experience. She gave a talk about the anatomy of the spine and how it applies to yoga. Some of you might be thinking, “Anatomy lesson? On a Friday night?!”, but this may be the best thing that has happened during teacher training yet.

First, some background. My dad is in his 50s. He did hard physical labor all his life, and it took a toll on his body. He’s had knee problems, foot problems, and back problems, most recently resulting in two spinal surgeries in the past year, with another one possible on the horizon. He’s a bigger dude and thinks his weight might not be helping the problem, so since his last surgery he’s been trying hard to get in shape. He goes to the gym every day, does some aqua aerobics classes, swims some laps, puts in time on the stationary bike. This in spite of severe daily pain. I admire his dedication so much and I’m so proud of him.

Last month, Dad offered to be my beginner guinea pig so I could practice teaching, and asked me when I was going to come up and do yoga with him, but I put him off. I was too nervous – I didn’t want to hurt him by accident. My dad’s health is so close to my heart, I couldn’t stand it if I made his pain worse. My aunt and cousin, who are also beginners at yoga and who have a few health problems between them, have also been asking when I’m going to come teach them. Plus, at the middle school where my mother teaches, apparently the entire faculty want me to teach them a class too. The whole thought was just overwhelming.

Tonight at training, we started the evening by doing our group share. Most of us talked about the experience of doing the posture write-ups this month and what we learned, but one woman mentioned that she’d been really nervous about teaching beginner yoga classes, so she experimented on her mom and her husband, and learned a lot. Another classmate chimed in that she’d been teaching her husband too, and J told us that this is our gold, finding family and friends that we can practice teaching on. My first thought was, but how do I work with my dad when I’m afraid I’m going to break him?

And then Jeanne started her lecture. We learned about how the spine is constructed, how each spinal disc sits like a little jelly doughnut in the vertebrae. When you put pressure on the disc wall, it pooges out a little, and presses on the nerves coming out of the spine; depending on where in the spine the pressure is, this can cause pain in the arms or legs, because the nerves going to the extremities all originate in the spine. When you put more pressure on the disc wall, it cracks and the jelly oozes out, which really impinges on the nerves. And I’m having these revelations: this is what is going on in my father’s back! We talked about each section of the spine and the common problems that occur there, and what poses can be used to counter those problems. I’m taking notes like a madwoman and starting a list in the back of my notebook of poses that might work for my dad and poses that we should avoid doing. After class, I approached Jeanne, explained my situation and asked what she might recommend, and we had a good conversation and she gave me some ideas.

After class I felt so incredibly inspired and jazzed up that I tried to call my dad from the car on the way home, but I couldn’t get the speakerphone to work, so I drove home and then called from the parking lot. I had to tell him how excited I was. Now I can work with him without having to worry about hurting him. I’ll still be mindful, of course, and watch him carefully, and I want to see what exercises his physical therapist gave him so I don’t contradict anything, but now I know what to avoid (specifically: lengthy forward bends). I have a short list of poses that shouldn’t hurt his back and might possibly help a little, and when I see what his capacity is, we can go from there.

Having a little bit of confidence that I can try to help my dad gives me some confidence that I can try to work with other beginning students, too. (Apparently that was the key – kind of a weird key, but I’ll take it.) And just the whole night tonight! Jeanne is doing work that I’m really passionate about. She teaches yoga at a retirement center. That is exactly what I want to do. I really want to work with older people, help keep them healthy and flexible. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time now, but the thought of it is a little overwhelming because, well, older people are more fragile and have more health concerns to worry about. There’s so much more I need to learn before I can do it effectively and safely and helpfully. This lesson tonight is only the tip of the iceberg of all I need to know to do any part of what Jeanne does, but I have a little faith now that I have the capacity to understand this work and the enthusiasm to make it happen.

And I may never get to sleep tonight but it’s totally worth it.