What I've recently learned before, but maybe didn't necessarily think much about until now, is that a yoga class includes book ends. Book ends? Kind of like in a workout, there is a warm-up to start and a cool-down to finish. Although those are included in a yoga class, there are also two additional pieces.
1. Centering. Bringing class participants to the present and readying them for practice.
2. Savasana. Final pose. Time for the practice to integrate.
My assignment this week was to write one of each. It was somewhat tricky to write out. At first, I asked my dear Siri to help me. I spoke to her and asked her to scribe the words out for me. That worked okay. But the real work was sitting in front of my words and tweaking them to sound like the best version of what I want to say.
Here is a look at what I wrote:
Come to a seated position. Relax your shoulders take a deep breath in and a deep breath out. Let the body relax and forget the rest of your day. Leave it at the door. There's no need to think about the past or the future. Think about the present moment. Settle to yourself on your mat.
Slowly lower yourself down on your back and allow the mat to support your bodyweight. Take a deep breath in and let it slowly trickle out of your mouth. Take another deep breath in and slowly let it come out of your nose. Feel the difference in your breath when coming out of your mouth and when coming out of your nose.
Slowly take another deep breath in and exhale what feels the most comfortable to you.
As you relax into the mat, feel the weight of your body and all the contact points on the mat. Feel where your heels meet the mat. Feel for the back of the knees and where they meet the mat. Feel where your hips and low back meet the mat. Feel where the shoulders and back meet the mat. And as you reach the top of your body, feel where your head meets the mat.
Slowly take another deep breath in and exhale your body deep into the mat.
As you become increasingly still lying on your mat, start to think about a mantra or a purpose to your practice today. It might be simply “relax” or “calm” or “present”. You may make it more specific to you as “I am relaxed”, “I am calm”, or “I am present”. Create a mantra for yourself to remind yourself throughout your entire practice why you came to the mat today. This mantra will guide your practice and take you through a practice that is needed not only for the physical body but for the heart and the soul.
Slowly take another deep breath in and exhale as you say your mantra to yourself.
***few moments of silence***
Begin to connect back to the physical space and your place in the room. Begin with slow movements and when you are ready slowly lift your feet to plant them on your mat. Knees bent, facing towards the ceiling. As you feel you can bring more movement to your body, slowly lift your knees to your chest and place your hands gently on the legs for a gentle hug.
Sometimes you need yoga, just to be yoga.
For me and this blog, it is at times challenging to keep my head out of the practice. That being, thinking to technically about the practice as opposed to being present in the movements, breath and with myself.
This week’s practice took two run throughs. Earlier in the week, I practiced not realizing that yoga needed to be just yoga this week. Come to write a blog post and I can say with certainty that I had NO recollection of what I did nor what I wanted to write about.
I checked out.
And rightly so.
It’s been a busy, hectic (read: somewhat stressful) beginning of September. Obviously I needed to check out.
Do yoga for yoga sake.
When it came to round number two (and checking my notes from earlier in the week), I was able to recall and write about what I was thinking, feeling and learning with this week’s practice!
In a nutshell, September. Oh - September. It brings on such memories of starting new things and getting back into routine. I was inspired to try a September kind-of practice with Adriene’s Dorm Room Yoga. I’ve been out of post secondary school for over 10 years but I couldn’t resist a try!
It was not so much about the physical practice this week but more about her statements and guiding words.
"getting your money’s worth"
"not ignoring how we get in and out of things but considering that part of the practice too”
"experience the space between the poses"
Adriene’s words were instrumental to staying focused on the practice (I did that well this week!) and realizing that it is so easy to just run through the poses.
This fits well with a cool program I’m taking part in right now called Everyday Mindfulness. I’m taking it for personal reasons for quick little hints and tricks to be present and not get hung up on the past nor anxious about the future. But many of the mindfulness concepts align well with the yoga philosophies. I can see myself carrying these concepts over to my teaching practice.
Thank goodness I took the time to practice twice this week and get these golden nuggets again. I would have to say that I am pretty proud that my unconscious self was able to get what it needed during my first practice and my intellectual, blog writing self got second fiddle this week. Regardless, it all turned out in the end.
But sometimes you just need yoga, for yoga sake,
It's 6:30 am Tuesday morning.
I wander sleepily down to my yoga mat and prep the TV for my practice.
Whoops! Technological malfunction (surprise, surprise) and the DVD I want is playing but there is no image on the screen.
Well, no point in walking all the way back to bed, I must just follow along with the teacher's words.
And by the end of the hour practice, I didn't miss a beat or pose for that matter.
This week's practice was a clear indication that yoga teachers' words are quite honestly their best asset. The flawless description of each pose enabled me to follow along without a visual cue. I was forced to LISTEN to each sentence and follow what she described.
I am the first to admit that during my early morning practice I frequently keep the lights off and my eyes closed. So most visual cues are limited by my behavior. Yet, I had no choice this week. My practice was dependent on how well each pose was described and how well I listened.
Now, Shiva Rae, is one experienced teacher. How can I emulate her use of words once I am a yoga teacher?
Slow, controlled voice. Precise descriptions with just enough detail. Pleasant tone with appropriately matched intonation. This is how Shiva Rae does it and it is what carried me through practice.
The technological hiccup was the perfect learning situation this week.
Listening to the words of yoga,
Over the past 50 weeks, I've barely touched on one of the essential components of yoga, breath or pranayama (the art of breath control). As I write this week's post, I'm actually very surprised that I haven't put much time and investigation into the breath. Well, better late than never!
This week's practice was with a new instructor, Edie Cassidy, who is a well-known local teacher and yoga therapist. The session was fortuitous because I was looking at my week and was wondering where yoga was going to fit. At my part-time job at the Edmonton Southside Primary Care Network, we offered sampler classes such yoga sessions to our patient population over the summer months. It just so happened that I was working while one of the classes was being offered.
What a blessing!
I alway enjoy listening to teachers' cueing especially when it is my first class with him or her. Edie did not let me down. She had many words of wisdom and advice for our patient population and I too gained from her experience and expertise as I situated myself in the back corner of the room.
The primary message that Edie relayed was to "lead with the breath". I stopped for a moment and thought - wow, I've been missing this cue for a while not only in yoga but also in day to day life. I instantly focused on my breathing for the duration of the class. It was amazing to move with ease but with great concentration.
Inhale and exhale, inhale and exhale, inhale and exhale.
She continued to say, and I'm paraphrasing, "You can do anything as long as you breath". How true is that?!? I hope the patients present were able to receive and contemplate Edie's message. I was inspired.
I love getting gems of wisdom particularly when it relates to yoga. The concept of breathing or pranayama will take may posts but my practice this week has refocused my attention.
I was fortunate to be on vacation this past week and travel to Saskatchewan, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota. I have to admit, I tried quite hard to actually "vacation" and leave the normal hum drum of life (including this blog) behind.
Photo: Devil's Tower, Wyoming
Yet, I had to try at least one yoga class at a new location while away!
My yoga class journey was interesting to say the least. Living in a large city, a yoga studio is relatively easy to find. In smaller cities, not so much. I tried two locations with no success so I ended up with the option of a hot yoga class. Yikes! No preparation with the necessities (i.e., towel, water) and the mental prep it takes for me to do a hot class!
The class was called Hot 26 which I think it related to the number of poses we did during practice. Each pose was completed two times and I enjoyed the repetition. Overall, the session was intimate and challenging.
What struck me the most was that the teacher taught by only using her voice. We were placed in front of a panel of mirrors and watched ourselves throughout. She did not demonstrate any of the poses. I have rarely used a mirror in practice and typically fix my gaze on the floor in front of my mat or at the teacher. So this was a new way to practice.
The teacher's voice was exquisite as she used tone to help guide us through the poses. Instead of using my eyes, as in typical practice, I actually just focused on using my ears for guidance. Interesting new perspective on practice.
It got me thinking on how I would like to teach. It takes a lot of experience and skill to only teach using your voice. The teacher spoke during most of the class (with the exception of savansa) and if I were to do this, I would need to speak eloquently, concise and detailed all at the same time. Cueing every single aspect of the pose was essential for the teacher. Lots of work to be done to get to that point!
As always, I have been shown another way to practice and another way to teach.
Some weeks it is nice to just have a laugh and not get hung up on the yoga terms and poses. In my humble opinion, yoga is suppose to be fun and not taken too seriously. I found this hilarious YouTube video that I couldn't help but share. If you need a good "yoga laugh" have a watch and enjoy your week with some yoga!
Keeping life and yoga on the light side,
The start of a yoga class quite often opens with reciting "OM". If memory serves, it is repeated three times. I suppose it is for some reason or another. In parent and tot yoga as well as postnatal yoga, it is often used to calm the babes to start practice but also at the end of class as a closing.
This week, our class was provided some additional insight into what OM really is. Our yoga teacher explained that it is a sound and a vibration more than a particularly meaning of the word. I had one of those, "oh,of course" moments.
The sound resonates in the back of the throat starting with "OOOOh" which has this amazing way of relaxing the body. I instantly feel my shoulders drop and chest open. Air seems to move effortlessly in and out of the mouth. The circle of the lips softens the muscles around the mouth and allows for the sound to deepen as the lips flatten and start the "Mmmmm" sound.
Talk about instant feedback for a purposeful action!
With no real hang up about doing OM with others, I do anticipate that when I am a yoga teacher, leading participants in three OMs may be more intimidating than I would like! To me, it is similar to singing solo in front of a crowd (which never interested me) so I've got some more practicing to do in regards to feeling comfortable in leading the OM.
Here's to the practice,
"The divine in me greets the divine in you."
One of the things I love about yoga is the poetic language. It's not like yoga teachers are using words other than English (okay - maybe when they are using the Sanskrit name for a pose) but it is how they are using words. It is the flow, the sounds, and the feeling they are able to invoke. It is amazing!
Striving to be a teacher one day, it dawned on me that I too will need to be able to do this in a class. Now what I currently do, as an exercise physiologist and group fitness leader, is different in a sense as I typically use my voice and word choices to invoke intensity, effort, and energy. Whereas in yoga, it's different. Maybe peaceful is the way to describe it?
It also just dawned on me that cueing in yoga requires more thought...or at least it seems like that to me now. The cues are not only about alignment and proper position (which I love! Yay biomechanics!) but it is also about the breath - inhale and exhale at the right movements - and highlighting the inherent benefit of doing the pose a certain way at the time of actually doing the pose. Again, it's different and not something I provide when describing a resistance training exercise to a client. I suppose that is more mechanical and direct.
For example, in Triangle pose (Utthita Trikonasana), we stand with one foot forward and the other at a 45 degree angle behind (alignment cue), inhale to fill out the pose with arms lifted at the sides to shoulder height, exhale and fill out the pose while lowering the body and placing front arm on the ground (breath cue). Remembering to lengthen the side body to allow space in the ribs and thus, assist with proper breath (benefit cue) Yikes! That is a lot to say about what I would think is a simple body movement. But it all needs to be there!
By the way, I love Triangle pose!
So note to self, being a great yoga teacher requires good communication skills, a relatively large vocabulary of descriptive words and the ability to convey a feeling that the pose should invoke.
I've got my work cut out for me!
Aspiring Yoga Teacher
I've practiced yoga since I was a pre-teen and have always found it to keep me centered. I will be a teacher one day and this is my journey to discover teaching and practice.