Posts Tagged ‘teacher training’
Learning to listen
Since starting Yoga Teacher Training at Boundless, I’ve often stood in awe of my classmates as they describe the subtle movements of muscles and bones that they experience within poses. Before the training began I’d expected that the greatest challenges would be physical, but as it turns out my most significant difficulties so far have been in learning to listen to my body.
In the past I had predominantly attended classes in the more flowing, Vinyasa style. After 2 months of intensive immersion in the alignment focused classes at Boundless, I’ve now begun experiencing yoga in a very different way. While I still love the graceful transitions of Vinyasa, I now realize that I never had enough time to learn to listen to my body as we rapidly moved from pose to pose.
During Vinyasa classes, I realized, instead of focusing on sensations of the body, I would frequently zone out, losing myself as I transitioned through poses that frequently ran in predictable patterns. Muscle memory became the driver and my mind released, bringing about a relaxed, meditative state.
My classes at Boundless typically feature much more unpredictable series of poses, and each session is designed to elicit epiphanies of sensory experience and muscle control. We disentangle the experiences of each muscle group, learning to use specific muscles while releasing others. At the same time, through our practice we develop a conscious awareness of the complex relationships between the bones, muscles, and connective tissue which bind them together. As a result of this intense focus on the actions (and sensations) that comprise each pose, our yoga evolves alongside our knowledge of our self.
Upon discovering the contradiction between the mental surrender of my Vinyasa practice and the self-consciousness I’ve been striving to foster at Boundless, I’ve nearly completely stopped attending Vinyasa classes. Since changing my focus over to alignment-based classes I’ve been excited to find that I’m slowly becoming more attuned to my physical experiences. There’s still much to be said for the fluidity and grace which define Vinyasa, however, and I looked forward to the point at which I feel I’m ready to once again give in to the mental surrender of a flowing practice.
a trainee’s thoughts on meditation, pt. 1
The Advanced Teacher Trainees and I have been talking a lot about what meditation is over the past couple of months, and I’m sharing on this site their recent writings on the matter. AM writes:
I have heard people explain that the mind is like a lake and that the fluctuations of the mind are the ripples that flutter across the surface, implying that a level of awareness and stillness of the mind will bring the lake into such peace and calm that the surface of the lake is flat and tranquil so it appears to be a mirror.
In thinking about meditation and asana, I’ve come to realize that the lake metaphor described above, for me, is an over simplification of fluctuations of the mind. This metaphor implies that that the water and the land underneath the surface of the water are still. But realistically, the earth (as are our physical bodies) is always moving and changing. For the earth, which is the foundation of the lake, to come into stillness means it must come into relative harmony with the forces of nature. To bring this from a lake metaphor to the context of yogic practice in today’s reality, I believe that the fluctuations of the mind of the average person come from a more fundamental, internal source. Much as natural disasters such as tsunami are caused by movement deep within the earth and whose source are miles away from the resulting waves, so are the originating sources that cause fluctuations of the mind. For many of us, the quest to seek a still mind is as much about bringing awareness to, observing, and working to bring harmony to these fundamental imbalances. In relation to the physical body, the connection is clear, as tightness and imbalance may be more readily identifiable.
Meditation is an ancient practice that, like asana, has different histories, schools of thought and techniques. I searched “types of meditation” on the internet and found meditation through virtually any means: dance, sex, martial arts, chanting, breathing, walking, stillness, concentration, and prayer, to name a few. As the types of meditation vary, so do the definitions. The Princeton Dictionary describes meditation as continuous and profound contemplation or musing on a subject or series of subjects of a deep or abstruse nature. I’ve often heard people say they meditate “on” something. I find this interesting, as when I sit in meditation, I do not have a particular subject matter or concept in mind. In my experience, meditating “on” a specific concept increases my mind’s restlessness. However, in Satchidananda’s commentary of the Yoga Sutras, he also translates “The practice of concentration on a single subject [of the use of one technique] is the best way to prevent the obstacles and their accompaniments.” In regards to what that subject may be, Satchidananda comments “Anything can take you to your goal, because you are not concentrating on the object for the sake of the object but for the sake of your goal.”
Wikipedia states that meditation as oftentimes part of a religious tradition. Meditation is yet another aspect of yoga that may seem to many as religion. Much like religious prayer, meditation is surrounded by ritual – the posture, the state of mind, the mudras that may resemble hands together in prayer, the incense or candles, the chanting, etc.
While some see meditation as related to religion, others categorize it quite differently. Many websites online consider meditation as a medical treatment that falls under the holistic or alternative therapies umbrella.
And finally, Krishnamurti defies all of these definitions with his description of meditation. “Man, in order to escape his conflicts, has invented many forms of meditation. These have been based on desire, will, and the urge for achievement, and imply conflict and a struggle to arrive. This conscious, deliberate striving is always within the limits of a conditioned mind, and in this there is no freedom. All effort to meditate is the denial of meditation. Meditation is the ending of thought. It is only then that there is a different dimension which is beyond time… When you learn about yourself, watch yourself, watch the way you walk, how you eat, what you say, the gossip, the hate, the jealousy – if you are aware of all that in yourself, without any choice, that is part of meditation.”
practice is the goal
Last week I was working with a new client. She’s 52, and she’s been practicing yoga for a long time. It shows in her attention to the detail of the poses, and, as important, in her ability to find meditation and stillness in her daily life.
As we discussed what it takes to revive a stalled yoga practice, she said, you know, I need this work with you to get restarted for 2010, but I’m so grateful that I actually do know how to quiet my mind. She went on to say:
I wasn’t sure I ever believed that you could just turn your mind off, but then, after practicing for these years, I’ve figured out that, yes, you can. It just takes practice.
She stated this fact so simply, without any drama, discomfort or complaint. She said it better than any teacher I’ve ever had, in fact: You can still your mind without any real issue — you just have to keep at it. It isn’t a drive-through experience, and it cannot happen while you are moving, unless you have figured out how to meditate while you are actually still, sitting, for a little while. Then you can be anywhere — walking, in conversation or relationship with someone, in a fast-paced vinyasa class — and you can observe whatever is happening at that moment and be still in your heart with it.
Yoga teaches that the heart is the true mind. I believe that my client was talking about being at peace when she talked about “turning off” her mind. This was a powerful teaching for me, and I am grateful to share it here.
I wish you a still and peaceful 2010, filled with practice and gratitude.
I hear students in class often talk about how they “can’t do” an asana. It just occurred to me that if the student has a goal for improving her practice through doing more complicated poses, the question is not “why can’t I do that?” It’s rather “where can’t I do that?”
Your whole reality will change if you start looking at your body as an instrument that you play in class, versus a thing that holds you tethered to the physical, mental, and emotional patterns you know. This small step — of detaching just enough from the body to see its behavior more objectively — represents a quantum leap in healing the body, mind, and spirit through yoga.
Leaky Yoga Syndrome
Hey all you teacher trainees—I know you’re reading. Has anyone been noticing bits of yoga teacher training leaking into other areas of your life? Here’s the latest for me:
Part of my job at the American College of Nurse-Midwives is to teach new employees how to make changes to www.midwife.org. This week I was training a new employee and she stopped half way through to say, “You’re really good. Are you a teacher?” Surprised and flattered, I said, “Yes, actually. I’m about to graduate from a yoga teacher training program.”
Who knew yoga teacher training would translate into new job skills?
Benefits of teaching
I¹ve been worrying about the prospect of teaching yoga for months now. It was sort of unfathomable to think of myself as a teacher. I have been afraid of the exposure inherent in teaching—the sharing and the vulnerability. What if I’m not good enough? What if my students evaluate me and find me wanting?
To prepare, I recruited my boyfriend, who had never taken a yoga class in his life. During our session I wondered: is he bored? annoyed? does this make him more resistant to yoga? But when we were done and I looked into his eyes I felt a new kind of connection, a generalized sweetness between us. Yoga has the power to do that.
A coworker volunteered to be a second guinea pig. My first reaction was “no!” but sleeping on it calmed my anxiety and I agreed to teach a lunchtime class. On the day of class I had four students instead of one. But the previous night’s experience with my boyfriend made me calm.
It wasn’t the class so much as my experience after that I remember. I found myself open and happy. I saw my coworkers through new eyes, with love and compassion. I wanted to be close to them. I wanted to ask about their lives. I appreciated their chatter instead of resenting when it took me away from work. I felt radiant and loving. Who knew that teaching yoga would bring these gifts to me? I always thought it was the other way around. That teaching transferred energy from teacher to student. But these early experiences with teaching have enriched me, and brought me energy and joy.
Do I have to?
One of the things I’ve dreaded about becoming a yoga teacher is having to teach even when you don’t feel like it. You couldn’t sleep last night; you had a fight with your spouse; you have a cold—but you have to teach yoga at 9 am. Well, last Saturday it happened to me.
My wrist and ankle were sprained from a nasty tennis fall, I hadn’t slept well because I was nervous about teaching, and when I showed up to the studio 45 minutes early to savor some alone time, I couldn’t figure out how to unlock the door.
I took a deep breath and proceeded to wander up and down U street looking for a payphone to call a staff member. (In an effort to keep life simple, I’ve avoided getting a cell phone.) The one phone I found didn’t work. So, I wandered up and down W street trying to remember where Andrea, the teacher training admin, lives. I found her house. She wasn’t home.
Eventually, I walked back to the studio, greeted the first student, and invited her to try to open the door. The lock wouldn’t budge. At 8:57 am, the second student showed up and took a turn, and like magic, the door unlocked. This left all of three minutes to prepare for class.
I always thought this would be the part where I would launch into a panic attack and decide teaching isn’t worth the trouble. But instead, everything flowed just as smoothly, if not more smoothly, than the last time I taught. I enjoyed teaching an intimate class of four and had fun with the uplifting series of poses I prepared. Maybe it was my students, my mellow music, or a mix of both. But somehow, teaching when you don’t quite feel like it isn’t so bad. It’s kind of like how practicing yoga isn’t so bad even when you don’t feel like it.
boundless teacher mission
so the teachers and i just finished co-authoring this, the boundless yoga teacher mission.
i asked all of them to write me a manifesto on what their teaching style and interests were, and what they were really intending to do in a yoga classroom. i collated everyone’s overlapping and/or potent ideas, and then we all edited together.
we are a multi-disciplinary yoga studio, and we want to be clear in 2009 about the tremendous value that every class brings to you.
i’ve just finished reading the last of boundless’s 2007-8 boundless teacher training papers, which is a requirement for graduation. omg love them! i asked the trainees first to take one page to define yoga — to put this vast word into a few paragraphs that would then serve a their thesis for the paper. here’s what one trainee wrote on p. 1:
in the modern western world, the understanding of what yoga is and how it is practiced in the mainstream has been reduced to one limb — asana. facilitated by the reductionist principles of western medicine and the fitness movement, with its focus on the physical well-being of the body separate from the emotional, mental, and spiritual body, asana has been extracted from a whole and has come to represent what was intended to be a multidimensional philosophy.
this student goes on to pose the following questions for her paper:
How does this extraction of asana and reduction of yoga affect the efficacy of the practice in stilling the modifications of the mind? What are the benefits and the possible harm induced by only practicing asana? What happens if you practice yoga with selfish or misguided intent? Do you create karma for yourself as you would if you gave to charity based on self interest? does the simple act of aligning the body and increasing your awareness and concentration make you more open to learning and seeing the world through clearer eyes? By allowing the body to function at a healthier leavel, do the mind and the heart function at a healthier level? What can a modern mainstream yogi achieve by knowing only a small part of a holistic system intended to offer a path for the balanced and healthy physical, physiological, emotional, and spiritual existence?
clearly a lot!
i think everyone is well served touching their own tailbone once in a while. for sure they should check out that bad boy during yoga class.
though this might not be the case for others, i find my own tailbone (coccyx, actually, and check out the groovy diagram on wikipedia) to be thinner and, well, bonier, somehow, than i always imagine it to be.
this is the base of your spine, the thing that holds you up so well. it’s amazing to think that the tailbone is where it all goes down.