blog and bio
thoughts on yoga...
at the end of a course.
One of my favourite parts of teacher training is the weeks that follow the end of a course- not for a minute because I am pleased to say goodbye - but because its the time that follows graduation where people begin to find their wings.
Teacher training is so often a process of unlearning, we need to go back to basics and not learn how to do yoga but how to teach yoga. I think for some students this is the biggest shock of all, we have an image of TT in mind where we will go to a beautiful location, switch off from daily life and do nothing but indulge and develop our own practice. And whilst this is certainly a big part of the course - after all, we cannot really teach what we dont know - I think a bigger part is learning who we are, who we might want to be as teachers - finding both our voice and our dharma - that message which we all have to share and which it would be unjust to keep hidden away.
So during the course - its emotional, its hard and its so often exhausting! But then - the pause - we go home, we take a break and we start thinking 'right - what now'. And for me, its then that the messages satrt pouring in - 'this is a picture of my first class' or 'I did it!' and 'gosh, I just never thought I'd be able to do this, but here I am - a yoga teacher - wow'
And this is by far one of the most rewarding parts of what I do. During Teacher Training, I am asking you to find your voice and hopefully creating an enviromnent where you have the sapce, confidence and freedom for this to happen - and once you go home, the pieces come together and it just works.
So today as I sit, with a sick little boy asleep and grabbing 5 minutes to put my thoughts down, I am grateful. Grateful for all the students, for all the personality types, and body types, and injuries and resistance and willingness to dive in and grow and change and become. I am grateful for every little thing the TT graduates have taught me over the years and most of all grateful that my job allows me to grow and change too, its never boring, its never the same and its always a total privelidge to be able to see people during a moment of transformation.....
Next TT starts September 2017...
some quotes from a recent CNN article, was a bit of fun and a look at the lighter side of yoga. Focus; do's and dont's - who we see on the mat
"Nobody wants to see the inside of what's happening in your shorts," Smith told CNN. "You do see a lot of that in yoga classes."
That's mostly definitely not OK," she asserts, but telling people to cover up is acceptable
THE SWEAT BUCKET
If you know you have the propensity to sweat buckets, then by all means bring a towel with you, encourages Smith.
"Absolutely, because then the teachers can lay the towel over you while they adjust you, or they can wipe their hands after they touch you," she says.
"I try to give everyone equal attention, so it's not fair to the student if you don't adjust them ... but, you know, make it easy (on the teacher).
THE RECENTLY RETURNED TRAVELLER
The traveler who just came back from India/Thailand/Sri Lanka/Morocco etc. is a fixture in most urban classrooms.
"Oh yes, always in their Thai yoga pants. Probably with a shaved head and a new tattoo," Smith says, knowingly.
"But I was one of these and I'm still here 8 years on, so I like having these people and the energy they bring in my classes...they remind me of my own journey..."
Nerves are a part of teaching, everyone feels them sometimes and they often take us by surprise.
I remember one of my first classes as a teacher, it was a group of three women who lived on my street, in my excitement of having an actual paying customer I forgot to ask anything about them and diligently set about planning and memorising a class. When the day came, I had practiced into oblivion and knew the sequence by heart.
I arrived, we said hello and I asked how everyone was; lady one was an ashtangi with ten years practice under her belt, number two was a complete beginner, had never seen a downward facing dog, the third was 6 months pregnant. The plan was out the window.
In the absence of my safety blanket – my well prepared class, I froze. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be and my brain was in revolt. Somehow I stuttered through the class and they even asked me back again, what I learnt was this;
Plans are good. We need them to keep us moving forwards, to know where we are going. Nothing kills ambition faster than a lack of a plan. What we don’t want is to become attached to the plan, to use it as a crutch and to become inflexible, shocked or angry when things end up taking a different path. Yoga teaches us to be flexible, yes this may start in the muscles, but that’s just the entrance point, you may have heard the adage that what happens on the mat is just a metaphor for what happens in life – and its true – our bodies and our minds are one, each reflects the other. As a teacher, i often note that those with the stiffest minds frequently have the stiffest bodies too.
Life will always throw us twists and turns and we cannot always control what we receive, what we can learn to control is our reactions, to try and stay fluid and adapt to a new reality. This is by no means an easy task and for every time I get it right, there are two more I get wrong – by stamping my feet, or feeling sorry for myself or just getting plain old angry. Sometimes I am so attached to the old plan – the one that went the way I wanted it to in my head, that I fail to see the emerging opportunities in the change of scenario.
As yogis we frequently talk about non attachment. When my teacher first introduced the concept, I out and out rejected it. To me it seemed like an excuse to remain aloof about life, to not engage with people or projects, a kind of not caring. I on the other hand, wanted to feel everything, do and try everything even if it hurt or went wrong.
What I eventually realised is that non attachment isn’t about not feeling or not caring – to me it is about being ok with an unforeseen change in circumstances – an alteration of the plan. We can really want something to happen, wanting is ok, but we must learn to be content if it doesn’t work out the way we thought.
I still want to experience everything life throws at me (i live by the philosophy that i would rather get to the end of my life and have done it than not) but I am learning to not be so hung up on the outcome that I feel a sense of loss or failure if things don’t go as planned. I am learning that sometimes the paths we didn’t take can lead us somewhere even more magnificent than we imagined.
Now when I go to class – i still have a plan, but it is an outline, something I would like to happen but not something that has to happen. If I have planned a high energy vinyasa class and I walk in and everyone is softly snoring on their mats I know I need to change the tempo. If I was thinking long, deep twists and there are pregnant women in class, again the plan must be adapted. OUR practice should be exactly that – our own, and it is not my job to impose my ideas of what I think the practice should be, what I can do is try to create an environment where each person gets what they need.
I still suffer from bouts of nervousness when I teach, but I have somehow learnt to live with them as a necessary part of the process. I think they help to keep me on my toes. The freedom afforded by my own flexibility allows me to adapt to each class, student or situation as it arises and to respond to the needs of the individual.
“the key to contentment is letting each situation be what it is instead of what you think it should be.”
I will never forget the feeling of a yoga class I took in Summer 2006. It wasn’t the first class I ever took, but it did provide my first real experience of what yoga is, the first time I ‘got it’, the first time I allowed myself to think that maybe I could teach this too.
I don’t remember the teacher’s name or anything much about him – he was an American living in India and he was covering a class called Yoga Bootcamp.
As the name suggests, Yoga Bootcamp was about sweating hard, looking good and showing off – it was a fun, soulless class in a busy London gym.
The day this guy walked in there were only 4 of us instead of the usual 40 or so, he chanted whilst I tried not to laugh and then proceeded to take us though a slow, mindful hatha practice. Despite my initial resistance, my body responded instantly. Without momentum, I needed strength, to gather strength, I needed breath and the slower the practice became, the sharper my mind grew. He taught us about the pelvic floor, about mula bandha and before my mind could question, my body did as it was told. I loved feeling the slowness of movement, the combined strength of muscle groups working together. I loved the way the breath made me feel awake and inspired and like anything was possible. I loved the instant ache in the belly of my biceps as I held warrior two for what felt like a lifetime and I liked him – he was calm and soft and completely at ease in this huge, empty room.
I was already thinking about visiting India and I remember running home to tell my mum how excited I was, that I would go to India and find this man and learn everything he had to teach. I dreamed of coming home a serene and happy being, leaving my job in TV and teaching yoga as my trade.
A few months later I did make it to India and although I never found the man, I ended in Mysore where I took my first teacher training. These days, I frequently fail in my attempts at serenity, thankfully the happiness is easier to come by. One of the many lessons I have learnt along the way is that yoga cannot make us someone we are not. It is not a panacea for our problems but it is a great tool to help us view them with clarity and balance. Happiness is a choice, we have to work hard at it, our other traits we need to learn to live with rather than eliminating them altogether.
“yoga is the practice of tolerating consequences of being yourself”
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