Monthly Archives: August 2012

Disguise my struggle?

So back in the day, I started to teach yoga way before my time. I started yoga back in 1990, when it was starting to expand quickly just like the american waistline is doing now. It was expanding at an elastic waistband pants kind of speed. Yoga was popping up everywhere. I was lucky, to have had such a good experience with yoga at my first sampling. Not good in the way you might think, like I excelled at it. Nope, I failed at it miserably. But that’s what made it good. That was the hook. I remember coming out of that simple hour practice scratching my head and wondering how approximately 12 basic poses weren’t within my capabilities. I had been lifting weights and running for years at this point. I was 28 and had also injured my back twice, both times doing leg press. I’m not a big fan of that movement even today, but I can and still do them as I am wiser, stronger and of course more flexible. My wisdom comes in the form of learning not to disguise my struggle but to remove it.

So I started to teach within the year of my first finding yoga. I had no business teaching. But I was lucky for a couple of reasons. I was so lucky to find some of the best teachers right at the start and studied with them as much as I could. Tim Miller and Sean Corne were extremely influential in my journey. I even remember a comment Tim made at the very first workshop I took with him, which was “No one should teach until they have practice at least 10 years consistently.” I now very clearly understand and agree with that remark. Another great gift of insight I was given by Sean Corne was to record myself teaching. I did, and I still do. There is no greater teacher, to a teacher, than him or herself being played back.  I teach some of my best classes when I am recording them. Why? Because then I am teaching that class to the hardest critic I know; ME. I try to do this about once a month. It really holds my feet to the fire in making sure that I am giving my all, all the time. When that little red light is on and I begin a class I hold myself to higher standards. Doing this often then never let’s me become complacent.

I stumbled upon this next great teaching tool by accident. The sound of my own voice teaching a class that I was practicing along with. Now, there will be many varying opinions on this, but hear me out firs,t because I think you might be surprised at how this has shaped me as a teacher and as a student. I have heard from many people over the years that they do not like when the teacher practices with them. I sometimes think the people who do not like this are the ones that want hands on adjustments all the time. I don’t know about you but I only want to be adjusted in the poses that I am doing poorly. Plus, an adjustment should only be a temporary assistance; that after having experienced a few times, I can then apply the action myself. It’s in the struggle of application that growth happens.

When a teacher see’s you struggling there is an appropriate time to intervene, but it’s not always appropriate. It is necessary for the student to first try and to then apply. I sometimes find that I can spend more time adjusting people who are just being lazy and not applying their own hard-fought effort first. I do treat everyone differently though and for different reasons. Ultimately struggle needs to be there, it means that you are in a new place. A place where effort is necessary. This struggle, though, needs to be appropriate.

When I would practice with the students I found that teaching and talking is extremely challenging. What became very apparent to me is that the struggle of trying to talk and move my body in and out of asanas was apparent in my voice. One of the poses I noticed this in the greatest was Camel/Ustrasana. When I would go into this pose and instruct the students on how and what to do I heard my voice. I sounded like I was being strangled. I thought, “That can’t be good”. So I started to realize that I was struggling. If I couldn’t do the pose without apparent struggle, how could I expect them to. So I taught myself how to remove the struggle and not just disguise it.

Ustrasana/Camel variation

My challenge became my voice. How to use my voice to inspire them, instruct them and to prove to them that even the most advanced pose can be accomplished with-out struggle. So as I continued to practice and teach, I listened very closely to the flux in my voice to point out to me where I needed to do the work. It’s what the student is supposed to be doing when listening to their breathing. The greatest reason we give a sound to our breathing, with ujayi, is to be able to listen. If our breath didn’t have this sound resonating it would be much harder to hear where the struggle is. So to make it even more apparent, in case the students haven’t yet learned to listen to their breath, or they are being forgetful, or they are getting lazy about it, I will have them speak, out loud, during class. I will instruct them how to do Camel and then I will ask them to repeat three times, out loud, “I love camel pose. I love camel pose. I love camel pose.”, while they are in the fullest expression of the pose. From the first to the third, I will ask them to remove the strangled sound in their voice. They will be forced to notice that there is a force that opposes effort, and that is relaxation. Hopefully they will remove the struggle by embracing where in their body they need to relax.

This same tactic is used with runners. It’s a good idea to run with someone and try to converse. If you can not hold a conversation with your running mate, you are pushing too hard. Or if you are dominating the conversation you aren’t pushing hard enough. Try it, you will be surprised at how your fitness level improves. Now, in a yoga class there is usually no talking, so my best advice to you then is to listen to your breathing. What you are looking for is the subtleties of change. Whether the breath stops, shakes, too loud, too soft, speeds up or slows down. It’s likely in a class that your breath will do all of these things. The more you practice, the more your breath will become equal and balanced just like your effort should become balanced to your relaxation. Stirtha sukham asanam. Asana should have steadiness and ease.

Voice is a beautiful thing. It has the ability to scare if you yell, soothe if you whisper, comfort if spoken confidently or inspire with enthusiasm. I try to do all these things with my voice while teaching. When I play back the recordings, it is those types of things I am listening for along with whether or not the information I am dishing out makes sense. Whether I’m speaking too quickly, too loudly, softly, bored, angry, frustrated or disinterested. These emotional nuances can be felt in our breathing as much as they can be heard in our voice. Yoga is teaching us not to disguise these things but to face them and see where they are coming from; to trace down the source of the struggle and remove it.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sounds like Namaste.

It took me a couple of weeks to figure it out, but I thought at the end of each yoga class the teacher was saying “Have a nice day” and we would respond back with “Have a nice day”. It seemed like such a polite way to end the class. I found myself thinking how sweet this was. Then eventually I bought my first yoga book and came to realize they were not saying “have a nice day”, but “Namaste”. But wait. Let’s think about this a bit. If namaste means “the divine light in me salutes and honors the light that I see in you, and your divine light salutes and honors the light you see in me,” could it be possible to simplify this? That I wish for you that you have a great day and you wish for me the same? Try it, quickly say “have a nice day” and “Namatse”. They sure do sound a like, don’t they?

My divine light might be able to salute yours, but can my divine light embody sutra 33 chapter 1? Maitri karuna muditopeksanam sukha dukha punyapunya visayanam bhavanatas citta prasadanam. Translation – by cultivating attitudes of friendliness towards the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness. Can we openly say namaste and mean it to these 4 types of people, the happy, sad, virtuous and the wicked? Can we believe these 4 types have a divine light? Can we see the light in the sad person? Can we see the light in the wicked? Can we wish all these types of people the wish of having a nice day? Can we really escape the jealousy, disdain, irritation and discomfort some of these types cause us? It seems like a tall order for my light to see all those lights and to salute and honor them. It might not be such a bad idea to just start by wishing them to have a nice day.

I once heard this expression “Have a nice day unless you’ve planned otherwise.” Making it apparent that we have a choice in the unfolding of our day. This can go along with another great statement I have heard which is “no emotion is final.”  So, the happy will not stay happy, the sad will not stay sad and the wicked and virtuous will not stay that way either. Everything is in flux. But maybe our light never is. Like the Motel 6 commercial says ” We will always leave the light on for you.” Maybe our light is always on. But is it shining with the same brightness when we are happy as when we are sad?

It goes along with that idea that no matter how much you might want to change someone it won’t make a difference if they do not want to change themselves. So does it make a difference if I wish for someone to have a nice day if they themselves do not wish to have a nice day. Have you ever noticed that the problem with having a nice day is there is then nothing to complain about? I have found some people aren’t comfortable with life being good. Isn’t there a major franchise that says “Life is Good!”? When things are good it take’s away the ability to finger point. Who do we blame for us having a great day? Wait, that sounds silly. But we seem more than ready to finger point when we are having a bad day. That happy person was gloating, that wicked person was mean, that sad person bummed me out, or that virtuous person belittled me. But what about “have a nice day unless you’ve planned otherwise?”  You do have a choice to how you react to the happy, sad, virtuous and wicked.

What if the light we are putting out is a color. Like rose-colored glasses. Well even a black light is light. You’ve all seen a black light at Halloween that illuminates white things at night. So even a black light is still shining, albeit different then a white one. So maybe we all do have a light that is shining, and should be honored, and saluted no matter if it is shining pure white happiness, or black wickedness. It’s still in each and every one of us. And if we do believe in all men are created equal then there is that ultimate right that we all deserve to have a nice day. If we all wish often enough for each other to get exactly what we all deserve then maybe, there is a chance that no matter if it’s “namaste” or “have a nice day” we will be able to keep are mind calm and carry on.

Have a nice day!

So to you, I say “hold strong”. No emotion is final. Choose to have a nice day and if you can’t get at least that going, then remember I see your light no matter the color that it is shining. Have a nice day ,or if you’d rather, Namaste.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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