The exact words my four year old son said to me the Sunday night after 14 hours of yoga teacher training. We proceeded to practice ‘his practice’ of made up poses on my two sticky mats. I have no idea how he came up with so many moves - 20 plus! I was so proud of him at the end when he knew to close with Namaste. How sweet!
This momma was away from her family a large part of the weekend and it was so sincere that my youngest wanted to connect with me through yoga. He knows I just can’t get enough!
Fourteen hours over three days is hard to summarize into just a simple post. But let me share some of the highlights.
Friday night was the first session of my new Teacher’s Training. Kinda confusing, I started Yoga Within’s 200 hour Teacher’s Training to help fulfill not only my hours and senior teacher requirement but also to provide the much needed structure and community I was looking for in my training.
More time, yes. More practice, yes. More knowledge, fore sure!
But right from the beginning my decision to take on more was solidified with the beautiful presence of Melanie and other senior teachers. We participated in a marigold ceremony, or what I like to call it, to represent a new beginning and initiation to the program. Each new student was welcomed to the circle and presented a small marigold. Tara Woltjen
provided a detailed back story and meaning of the marigold. Some of which include marigolds as a sacred offering to the Gods and promotion of cheer and good relations in relationships. It was a thoughtful and elegant way to begin a new page in my yoga journey.
The following day I needed to switch group, literally, a jump back into the YAA’s Teacher Training program. The focus of this workshop was the Bhagavad Gita, headstands (Sirasana) or supported headstand (Salamba Sirasana), and a brief review of pranayama (Kapalabjati and Bhastrika). I can see how they all fit together. The common thread was the head and/or skull.
Right off the hop, we dove into the Bhagavad Gita. Although I’ve read parts of it, I still need to take a deeper look. For one who is very pro-peace, reading about war isn’t one of my favourite past times. Yet, our discussion opened my mind to inquire about the themes in the Bhagavad Gita not necessarily the obvious story line. Can I see the struggle of Arjuna and his inquiries with Krishna as a reflection of the human struggle and connecting with God?
Needless to say, I’ve got more reading to do and to be honest, I a bit more intrigued now. What I did like most about learning more about the Bhagavad Gita was that it was written as a love song. Something that I don’t completely understand yet, it leaves me more to learn!
With all the talking, I almost forgot about the asana practice we had coming. It was headstand! ***sense my fear and uncertainty***
Although there was fear, I don’t think the fear was rooted in truth. I was super nervous about trying it but solely because I thought I’d need to literally put all my weight on my head. Never really been taught how to do it, I clearly had no idea.
Teddy, the senior teacher, took us through multiple progressions to the final wall supported pose. I hadn’t realized how important the forearms and shoulders are for this pose. Ninety percent of the weight should be in the arms with only a small amount on the head. We worked on mountain pose, cow faced pose arms (Gumukhasana) and eagle pose arms (Garudasana). Also on downward facing dog and wide leg forward fold (Prasarita Padottanasana) with the sole purpose to prepare for headstand.
We finally went to the wall to give the asana a try. With clasped hands right up at the wall, the head is cradled in the palms and the forearms are firm (pressing into the ground), it is then and only then that it is safe to try to get the legs up the wall.
Slowly I walked my feet up towards my face and what felt smooth and somewhat magical, my legs went up and I was in head stand. The fear vanished as I was completely comfortable in the pose. Now I respect it takes a lot of pre-work to get to this place and respect that I am only just beginning my headstand journey. It isn’t going to be something I teach any time soon as it is known as the King pose!
Headstand’s mystic and anxiety-rising appearance is not longer. I am incorporating it in my home practice and look forward to the pose. It’s completion brings along a bit of a [head]rush and I’ve been following it with a supported child’s pose then a bridge. It is important to follow the headstand with a shoulder stand (the Queen pose, of course). Although I struggle with the shoulder stand (getting the chest opening), it is nice to pair these two together for my home practice.
What a whirlwind weekend of yoga! I can’t lie…I loved every minute of it!
Off I go to my third installment of YAA's yoga teacher training this week. It is yet again with a new senior teacher, to me, so I'm ready to not only learn but figure out if this teacher is a possible senior teacher.
The plan was to focus on Surya Namaskar this week. Something I've blogged about before. Yet, this was a chance to gain some new insight into one of the most common yoga sequences there is!
Technically made up of a handful of yoga asanas, Suyra Namaskar has its history in sun worshiping. Hence, the name sun salutations. Believed to begin as chanting to the sun and morphing into movements, Suyra Namaskar was likely one of the earliest forms of yoga.
Some interesting tidbits include:
1. There are many, many sequences that make up Surya Namaskar. The version David McAmmond shared with us over the workshop seemed like a skeleton or bare bones approach. I even inquired about Standing Half Forward Bend (Ardha Uttanasana) part of the series which he didn't include. It seemed to be missing. I always have done a half way lift in my sun salutation. He seemed to think it was just some yoga teacher's iteration of the sequence.
2. Bringing of the hands together at the heart in namaste is like bringing together the sun and the moon. The two energies needing to be balanced.
3. Sun represents the energy of the day, right hand, front of the body and the male energy.
4. Moon represents the energy of the night, left hand, back of body and the female energy.
Within the Sun Salutations, we took a laser focus to Tadasana, likely because it is the starting and finishing pose of the sequence. Although a possible side tangent, we chatted about how to find the same body position no matter what position a body is in space. Other words, how can Tadasana be found in supine position, seated position and its traditional sense, standing position?
After our asana practice, we dove into some philosophy. This workshop focused on the Kleshas. Again, this was new to me.
The Kleshas are the obstacles we find in life and the attachments we hold on to. Life is ever evolving and changing and the Kleshas are our attachment to status quo. For example, if we have the desire to recreate something pleasant that has occurred; it can be suffering to oneself as we can’t recreate the pleasant situation as it was. David hinted at the involvement of ego but also ignorance and aversion.
Post workshop research, I was able to find a great article in Yoga Journal talking about the Kleshas. Noting that the Kleshas are the afflictions of spiritual ignorance that can block your progress. There are five Kleshas outlined in the Yoga Sutras (around 2.2) and they are listed below:
The inability to see things for what they are; this causes you to mistake transient, ego-related matters for permanent, soul-related ones.
The tendency to over identify with your ego; this keeps you from connecting with your soul.
The flame of desire that causes addiction to pleasure; this discourages you from leaving your comfort zone for more evolved territory.
The aversion to pain; this creates a quicksand-like cycle of misery and self-hatred that sucks you under and suffocates your will to evolve.
Abhinivesha (will to live)
The fear of death or a clinging to life; this dilutes your focus and interferes with your ability to experience the spiritual freedom that is the goal of yoga.
On the surface, yoga looks like a physical practice. But when diving deep into the philosophy, there is so much detail! On self-reflection, it is amazing how each of the five Kleshas are relatable and have occurred in my life.
Hooray for yoga philosophy and spiritual insight!
The Cause of Suffering: The Kleshas
Another excellent session with senior teacher, Paula Carnegie Fehr, from Red Deer this weekend. Focusing on all things anatomy and yoga.
This workshop’s primary focus was on the skeletal and muscular systems. The handy skeleton was working overtime as we all poked and prodded, twisted and turned, and moved the bones every which way to see how yoga asanas would work. I have been loving the use of the words stability and mobility. It amazes me that the knowledge I already have is coming alive in a yoga scenario. What parts of the body allow for stability? And what parts of the body allow for mobility? It is easy to make these reflections outside of a lab and on the floor of a yoga studio.
The skeletal system is HUGE for yoga. Yes, you’d think the muscles are paramount, but with this weekend’s practice it has become more clear to the intricacies of alignment via the skeleton. Dare I say, the skeletal system is what makes yoga asanas happen.
Here are some of my light bulb moments from my yoga anatomy work…
I’d always recognized the importance of foundation. I’ve been working on mine for years. However, I believe there is always something to be learned on how we are placed on our mat. Two specific areas of the skeletal system that, let’s be honest, don’t always get my attention - the hands and feet - are so intimately linked to a good foundation.
We played with multiple ways the feet hold us up in space, from a standing to a lying position. Initially, we worked on the foot placement during a forward fold. I can fully admit that the practice of tadasana at my last workshop shook me a bit. My partners watched as my left foot supinated and literally my left big toe didn’t even touch the floor. Exciting insight! I took this to my tadasana today to only watch how things change with the feet facing outward, inward or in neutral position by rotating the thigh at the hip. On self reflection, I soon realized that if I want length through my sacralillio (SI) joint, I am better to position my my thighs slighted rotated outward (laterally) or in a neutral position. The length across my back was so welcomed.
How did I know?
We palpated the SI joint with our thumbs (thumbs up anyone?) and felt as the joint moved and flatted between the two ilium bones.
The second way the feet played into my foundation today was in table top position (Bharmanasana). I had been conscious in the past about pressing the “shoelace” side of my foot down into the floor but never took the time to feel what actually was happening. Looks can be deceiving. What looked easy was tremendous effort into my hips. I had no idea that by pushing my feet down, it helped activate my hip abductors and it too helped to lengthen through the SI joint.
My SI joint loves me!
Now talk about the neglected and well worked part of the skeletal system! How often do I work to take care of my hands? Dare I say never.
The work we did was extremely valuable as I think it can be said that the hands are crucial to asana foundation but never really considered.
At least not in my body!
Yes, I’ve thought about pressing my “finger prints” into the mat from time to time but always struggled with getting my thumb down (thumbs up again!). We tried a basic flat hand approach to placement, which to be honest, was quite uncomfortable. Then Paula suggested tenting our hands slightly and slowly placing only the outside edges of our hands on the floor. Soon I realized that in fact, this was something I never considered. By doing so, the middle of the hand stays ever so slightly lifted off the ground. The lift protects the flexed wrist but provides a super stable foundation.
Clearly, not me.
Now to the thumb. I asked Paula about my thumb. I was demonstrating something fairly different with my hand than my fellow yogis. Since she was aware of my anatomy knowledge, she simply said, contract your thenar (thumb) muscle. And like magic, my body did what I asked and my thumb flattened (mostly) to the floor.
Awareness and intention are powerful things!
All in all, the thumbs showed up multiple times during practice so I would be remiss if I didn’t give them an additional shout out.
After our lunch break, Paula led us through a meditation with mudras. What showed up? A thumbs up. We placed our hands in a thumbs up position and sat with our hands on our thighs. One fellow teacher wanna-be even reflected that the position just felt good and that things were “all good”. We proceeded to supinate our hands so that the thumbs faced outwards. This opened the chest and I thought it was a time to dump out what I don’t need. To follow, we pronated our hands and the thumbs landed inwards where I felt a charge of energy. This energy flowed between my thumbs…can’t explain that one!
The “thumbs up” mudras, similar to shiva linga is known for energy charging. Maybe there is something to the energy I felt through the two thumbs! But more like merudanda mudra, a mudra focusing on breath.Much more to learn about the mudras!
All in all, I’d give this workshop a thumbs up, literally,
Owning multiple yoga mats and straps is very useful as I've placed my props on both the main floor of our home and basement to allow "spontaneous" yoga as time permits. Well, in this week's case, having to share the house with my husband (what - I have to share!?! :) ), I practiced on the main floor. The only catch is that I don't have many blocks so they reside in the basement where most of my practice occurs.
So, instead of using blocks this week, when prompted by the new teacher and DVD, Yoga for Stress Relief, I used throw pillows instead. I was pleasantly surprised on how well they worked to assist in the poses. I might even have to go as far as saying they may have been more suitable for this practice as they were a welcomed soft place to land my "needed to be supported" body parts!
Moving from mountain pose into a forward fold was the first time I was prompted to grab my "block". I opted to three stacked pillows (two firm and one soft) and slowly folded toward them. With flexible hamstrings, I typically can fold pretty far but once my head hit the pillows, it was an interesting sensation. The support of the pillows completely released my head and neck. There was no strain or pull that can sometimes occur when I just do an unsupported forward fold.
As the sequence of forward folds continued, I moved into a wide stance forward fold and there too, allowed my head to rest on the pillows. Instantly, my head and neck relaxed again and I was able to focus on my low back and leg stretch than worrying about the "pain in the neck".
The most, what I'd say, advanced forward fold that I did with support was a downward facing dog. This was a new adventure for me as I'd never thought to use a block in this pose. The pillows were placed just at brow line and my forehead rested on the pillow. This position was heavenly. The soft pillow allowed my face to sink down and soften whereas if it was a block I'm not sure I would have experienced that sensation. What felt like a second, I was instructed to move on whereas I could have stayed in that position for many minutes! It will be on my hit list to do again soon!
The final pose that I did with the pillows was the bridge. The posterior pelvis rests on the block once it is lifted off the ground. I've done this pose in the past in more of a restorative practice and do find the pillows were not firm enough to get the intended stretch and restoration. Out of all the poses, this one would have probably been better with a block. Oh well, you never know until you try.
So, lessons learned. Props rock! Pillows can act as a good, if not better prop than a block. And I continually need to be flexible (no pun intended) with my ever expanded and growing practice and journey as a teacher. Oh - and I guess sharing space with my husband should be listed too!
How can you use your average throw pillows in your yoga practice?
I've alluded to in previous posts about when I started yoga and why I took on a practice. It was after an major impact injury (a running collusion and a resulting fall onto a cement floor) that propelled me (and my parents) to find whatever mode of therapy to help with my back pain and injury.
After years of various rehabilitation treatments, I had thought I'd got my back (and hip) to a place of health and maintenance. I soon realized that after years of compensating I wasn't standing straight. The picture below is a prime example of how I use to stand. It wasn't until I saw this picture that I realized I'm not standing straight even when I think I am. Note: Left leg slightly externally rotated and such a wide stance!
Mountain pose (Tadasana) has been an excellent pose to work on my foundation and stance. Even outside of yoga classes, I have been consciously thinking about standing straight (washing dishes is a prime time when I can really go back to my old stance!). Mountain pose seems like such an "easy" stance but in fact it is one of the hardest poses for me. Not only do I stand crooked but I also have hyper mobility in my knee joints whereby I hyperextended and lock out my knees frequently. This isn't conducive to proper mountain pose positioning.
One of the key points of mountain pose that I learned from Judy, was weight distribution on my feet. This has allowed me to stand properly. Have you ever tried to equal distribute your body weight to your pinky toe, big toe and heel (think of it as a triangle - similar to the picture below)? I rarely allowed my pinky to take on any of the load! Now it is the triangle I think about when standing and particularly when practicing mountain pose.
The benefits of yoga have been many over the years and it is likely that this is one of the greatest benefits for me. I am by no means completely straight all day every day but I know my foundation has been improved. Who knew standing upright would be so hard!?!
Standing straight (most of the time),
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.