At the 13th YAA teacher training workshop this weekend, I was challenge to think of the roles we play in our lives. Soon to be, I hope, yoga teacher will be one of the roles I play. And what does that mean?
Melanie, the workshop facilitator, reminded us newbies that when we are teaching yoga, we are yoga teachers. We must be cautious that we keep to our role (and our scope of practice) instead of ‘playing’ other roles we play in our lives.
It got me thinking.
Will I be able to take off my exercise physiologist hat when I teach yoga?
I suppose the mom hat will be off as well as the sister, daughter, wife and friend hat will be off too. But there is an obvious link to what I do as my profession to some of the responsibilities of a yoga teacher. The most glaring is the physical body aspect.
It might not be a total removal of the exercise physiologist hat as I won’t be able to deny proper biomechanics and alignment. But, I do like the idea that “you are responsible for you” and giving yoga students the reigns when it comes to how they practice on their mats. My job will be to guide students not dictate what they should and shouldn’t do. I suppose I already do that in my job yet, it will be a bigger part of my role and tool box as a yoga teacher.
Lending to the discussion on being a yoga teacher, we also discussed the intermingling of the word “restorative” versus “Yin” versus “therapeutic” yoga. Thinking I would dabble in these forms of yoga, it was a great discussion on the differences and not the interchangeable use of the terms.
Restorative yoga is to provide support and relaxation. Hence the word restore. This practice is not only for the physical but also for mental and emotional restoration. Yoga students are placed into asanas that allow for letting go and rest. No pain or discomfort should be present. I personally love this type of practice particularly at the end of a busy week or when I am feeling overwhelmed. It would be a gift to provide this practice to future yoga students!
Now to Yin yoga.
This yoga practice I am not as familiar with as most of my practices have been at home in the privacy of my computer screen. I am intrigued to learn more about ‘taking students to their edge’ and holding an asana. We reviewed the basics which include picking a pose, taking the pose to the ’edge’ and then being still, both mentally and physically. In past practice and also in this workshop, it is emphasized that the ‘edge’ is sensation not pain. So differently than restorative yoga, Yin yoga isn’t necessarily a relaxing process.
The final type of yoga, that is clearly different than the rest, is therapeutic yoga. Although it might be relaxing and/or take one to the edge, therapeutic yoga’s sole purpose is to focus on a specific condition or what I heard someone say this weekend, “issue in the tissue”. It makes complete sense that an asana practice could be suited to a specific condition and/or focused on a specific part of the body. This type of practice is very intriguing to me working in primary healthcare. I see people daily who are dealing with a chronic disease and/or injury. I had always seen myself teaching this type of class.
On a final note, that wraps up my workshop experience, was again more about logistics that anything else. Melanie provide wisdom and insight on class planning. I had never thought about structuring a class in this fashion but it makes so much sense. Here’s the gist:
Think of the climax, peak portion of your class; essentially what you are working on. It would include the main asana you wish the students to do in class that day. Your goal is to lead yoga students to that peak thoughtfully that they can successfully (whatever that looks like) complete the pose. After the peak, it is your job as the teacher to slowly take them away from said pose. What a brilliant way to formulate a class!
This workshop, although very focused on restorative asanas, I gained so much more insight into being a teacher and how I can teach than the physical pieces themselves.
I’ve made it over the 300 week mark. Say what?!
What an amazing journey this has been! Some would say long but I’d say worth every single week!
The asana practice for this month’s teacher training was all about arm supported poses. Quite frankly, the harder or shall I say hardest asanas out there! Before the workshop we received multiple handouts on the anatomy of the shoulder joint as well as the biomechanics of the associated joints. I took a read through ahead of time and thought to myself, we will have our work cut out for us!
The upper extremity, in some cases, is the poor, neglected area of the body. The larger, more stable pelvis tends to get all the attention. This is no exception in my practice. Yes, I use my upper body but do I really USE my upper body to my advantage? Over the years, I’ve felt my mobility start to wane as I focus more on my hip and back (this week leading up to the workshop being a prime example). Even though I prepped ahead of time, I never know what learnings will come from my workshops.
The biggest take away was about alignment. I’m fully aware of scapular retraction/protraction/elevation/depression and humerus flexion/extension but it is one thing to have book knowledge and the other to put it into practice. Judi, the senior teacher, was adamant that we had proper alignment in the wrist, elbow and shoulder joints. Her main focus was on pronation of the wrist and external rotation of the humerus.
Another way to say it was the arms acted like ropes, you know, the rotation of the rope fibres curling around to provide integrity and support. The bones (ulna and radius) and muscles (forearm flexors and extension, too many to name) below the elbow going one way and the bone (humerus) and muscles (biceps and triceps) going the other. This opposite action around the elbow joint amazingly lengthened the arm and made it as solid as a taut rope.
The triceps was the key for me. How often have I outstretched my arms without really engaging my triceps to their full capacity?
Lots…and my posture (read: that hunched forward position) definitely can show the internal rotation of my humerus!
We went through multiple variations of Adho Muhka Svanasana (downward facing dog) to ensure we had proper movements before we headed into more complex poses as Chaturanga, Purvottanasana (inclined plank), Vasisthasana (side plank), Bakasana (crow pose), Parsva Bakasana (side crow), Mayurasana (peacock pose), Pincha Mayurasana (upright peacock, forearm stand) and Adho Muhka Vrksasna (handstand).
Thankfully, the pre-work we did, although exhausting, was exactly what we needed for the advanced poses. In every asana, I continually focused on the proper alignment, always thinking that my strength and foundation is coming from my wrist, elbow and shoulder joints.
In Tadasana, we mindfully worked through proper alignment in shoulder hyper-flexion, adduction and extension (similar to the arm movement initiation of sun salutations). What might have seemed like old hat or easy movement, was very difficult to do with full attention to alignment. Subsequently, my arms had increased mobility that even showed up in Utkatasana (chair pose).
Very much welcomed mobility!
Although I write about the physical, we also dove into the third Pada of the Yoga Sutras. We talked at length about Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (pure absorption). To be honest, I see these words on paper and since they are still somewhat foreign to me, I find it difficult to recall what they mean. Yet, after the workshop, I have a better understanding of the link to mindfulness and what Samyama is (the three - Dharana, Dhyana and Samahi - together constitute perfect disciple and self-control).
So much more work I need to do more on the philosophy! Probably another 300 weeks to do so!
Can you think of anything better than to be greeted at a workshop with a hug?!
I walked into my most recent Yoga Association of Alberta workshop to be straight away embraced by the facilitator/senior teacher. How lovely was that!
We dove deep into the philosophy of yoga this session. This is where my ears perk up and I am all in. I need to be on my game, especially with the sanskrit words and their meanings. Although I am comprehending much more than when I start my teacher training, I still need laser focus on the words (and spelling!) and how to weave them into my understanding of yoga. The key pieces this time around include:
1. Right off the hop - The Gayatri Mantra…
This mantra, when recited, bestows wisdom and enlightenment, through the vehicle of the Sun (Savitr), who represents the source and inspiration of the universe. What a fitting way to start a practice. We repeated the mantra over and over while adding a line at a time. I really needed the time to process how to say the words, and let’s be honest, feeling comfortable chatting in the group. It is still something very new to me and I am not really at ease with it. Not that I don’t think it is beautiful, because I do, yet I just lack confidence in the process. Chatting a mantra reminds of a singing which over time I think will give me ease.
In my notebook, I had to write this word out three times before I got the spelling right! Pratyahara is the fifth limb of yoga with the focus on quieting the mind. I loved the analogy of a tortoise, an animal who can remove the external and just be inside. How can I be more like a tortoise and restrain my senses? Likely through my yoga practice. I would argue that my time on the mat usually requires a lot of focus, especially on the breath. When I work on my inhale for eight counts, two second retention and eight count exhalation, I am within myself. The second I fall off my breathing, then I start hearing all the noises in the room or the people around me. This might be why I like to close my eyes for a majority of my practice. It shuts out all possible visual cues.
3. Anahata Chakra
The heart chakra, Anahata, is the most central chakra in the body; it is thought to link the bottom three chakras (earth, water, fire) to the top three chakras. Interestingly enough, the element of Anahata Chakra is air which stokes the fire in the Manipura Chakra below.
Connecting the dots!
The Chakras have been very intriguing to me of late. With reading, Caroline Myss’ book, Anatomy of Spirit, I have had a greater understating of the Chakras. After the workshop, I went straight to the book store and found a Chakra book. Bought it on the spot! As always, so much more to learn!
With all this philosophy talk, we did work through some chest openers such as cobra (Bhujangasana), spinx (Naraviralasana) and camel (Ustrasana) poses. How fitting for Anahata Chakra.
Continuing to open and make my yoga practice come from the heart,
It was refreshing to get back to teacher training workshops after the holiday season. Although the break was good, I was happy to get refocused on my journey as a yoga teacher.
This workshop was focusing on the abdomen - not only with the poses we were to review and teach but also Manipura Chakra, the navel Chakra. I’m first to admit that I’ve only explored the Chakras by reading a couple articles and doing some minor research on the concept. It was interesting to not only learn from a senior teacher but also others in the room who have studied the Chakras more extensively than I.
I can’t lie, I have had some stomach upset over the past week and was hesitant to see how my body would react (good or bad or neither) in regards to the practice ahead of me.
The mental practice, however, was probably the most intriguing. In discussion about Manipura Chakra, it was discussed as the “City of Jewels” where we learn our gifts and talents (senior teacher hint…that is a quick and dirty summary of what the Bhagavad-Gita is all about; more on that another day!). Since this Chakra is considered the navel, if the diaphragm is tight then the flow of energy (prana) can get stuck or not move easily through this area. Why a tight diaphragm? Maybe an anatomical reason due to poor breathing or tight abdominal muscles (‘suck in the gut!’) or maybe related to more emotional reasons like holding on to ones fears.
I loved the quote “take courage to be who you are” which was stated by the senior teacher. Prompting to release, soften and open the navel Chakra.
As we practiced, connecting to Manipura Chakra was the thread through the entire workshop. During our pranayama practice, we directed our breath to the navel but also incorporated breath work to the pelvic floor and the root Chakra. One such sequence was on inhalation to lift the root Chakra to the second Chakra (sacral) and finally to Manipura Chakra with breath retention. With exhale, release the Chakras back to their originating positions. This was new to me and have never focused on the Chakras this much with my breath.
Our asana practice consisted of:
Urdhva Prasarita Padasana
We focused our attention on Jathara Parivartanasana (straight leg spinal twist) as it can be a challenging pose for alignment. The version we practiced as an individual and as a group was the bent knee supported (with blocks between the knees and under head) asana. Funny enough, I got to be the 'demo girl’ showing my tight scapular region. Oh was a stretch I had when supported by fellow students. I also found that I haven’t been positioning myself correctly with spinal alignment and arm placement. AND maybe most importantly, I could not necessarily connect to Manipura Chakra in the pose. Something to work on…or as the senior teacher said, ‘explore’. It was a great time to explore my version.
Needless to say, this single session was jammed packed with lots of learning. More things that I can’t expand on today but maybe another.
Oh - and how did my abdominals fair? Really good! My GI symptoms subsided and felt back to normal…if not slightly more aligned, physically and energetically.
Fired up in the belly,
“The role of the yoga teacher: take the hand of the student and lead them back to themselves.”
I just love this quote and idea of being a yoga teacher. I know for myself that the various yoga teachers I’ve had, have really done just that. Given me a space to be with myself and practice for myself to find what truly matters to me.
This was the opening to Workshop #4 of my yoga teacher training. We covered nine asanas that encourage us to work through the GROSS body. Feeling the muscles, joints and connective tissue. This is only one level of yoga practice.
What we dove into next was the SUBLTE body. I know I’ve said it before, I feel quite connected to my body. But really what I am saying is that I am connected to my gross body. The subtle body, not so much. And thus, I fully appreciated the discussion, dare I say lecture, about the subtle body.
How did we reach the subtle body?
Through the Koshas.
This idea and topic was new to me. I can’t say that I have ever heard about the Koshas before. Essentially, the Koshas are translated to “sheath”, meaning that they each fit within the next. I’d like to think of them as a matryoshka doll, also known as a Russian nesting doll, one fitting into the next with the largest being the physical, gross body. The Koshas are interconnected and are each made of increasingly finer grades of energy.
Here is a quick list of the five Koshas:
1. Anamya Kosha
2. Pranamaya Kosha
3. Manomaya Kosha
4. Vijnanamaya Kosha
5. Anandamya Kosha
Now, let me dive a bit deeper into each Kosha. The first being more of the gross and the last more of the subtle body.
- the physical body whereby we obtain energy from food sources. It is the Kosha where the root of suffering comes from.
- the energy body that is made up of 72,000 points or meridians (think acupuncture) which allows prana (or sometimes called Chi) through the body. This Kosha is key to pranayama practice. Since this Kosha is our life force which regulates the unconscious physiological processes such as breathing; if it shuts off then our physical body does not survive.
Sidenote about prana that was discussed at this workshop was that prana is present everywhere, present in the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, and the sun we absorb. It rides into the body on the air and it is not the air itself.
- the mind body where our thoughts and emotions live. The Samskaras also reside in this Kosha. Meditation and/or using a mantra helps keep this body functioning at its best by decluttering the excessive negative energy that may be bringing us down.
- the intellectual body which encompasses the higher consciousness including conscience and will. The Yamas and Niyamas fall nicely into this Kosha as a reflection of free will and acting with a moral conscious.
- the bliss body is the most subtle and spiritual of the Koshas. Generally, the average person has an underdeveloped connection to this Kosha and it is left to the sages, saints, and genuine mystics who have done the work to connect with this Kosha. Being the thinnest veil, this Kosha is what is standing between our ordinary awareness and our higher Self.
Reflecting on the five Koshas, really helped to reinforce the quote at this beginning of this post. Yoga works not only the gross body but more importantly, the subtle body. And the responsibility of a yoga teacher is to guide students to find the Koshas for themselves, potentially not even labeling them as such.
The final quote from this beautiful workshop is…
“Yoga are not the doer. Yoga will come through you.”
Reference: The Koshas: 5 Layers of Being
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
I am super grateful for the chance to attend a workshop this weekend with Marcia Langenberg. So lucky because she only had four of us and we got to really focus on a couple interrelated topics. Topics I have a very superficial understanding of so you can imagine how interested and keen I was to learn.
The workshop was named simply Pranayama. But I'll tell you it was much more than that. We dove deep into what the breath is able to do within a yoga practice.
Relaxation - check.
Settling of the mind - check.
Changing ones habitual behaviors - what?!
I would have never thought that this was what concentrated breathing could do for me. Of course I recognize the power of the mind body connection with yoga practice but it had never occurred to me how pranayama would also influence the mind. Makes complete sense but I had never put two and two together. We dove into the topic of Samskara. A word I recognize in written form but honestly can’t say I knew what it meant.
Samskara are those ideas, thoughts and habits that we all carry. Yoga philosophy believes that we are all born with certain samskaras. Samskaras can be both positive (like good dental care) and negative (like poor self talk). Depending on the samskara, it can either keep you in a rut or move you forward in life by limiting suffering. By breaking down the sanskrit word, SAM means accumulation and SKARA means to act. Everyone builds and grows certain behaviours which dictates how we ultimately live.
This drawing demonstrates that both positive and negative samskaras exist and will always exist. It is with yoga that the quantity of each is influenced (i.e., yoga can help weaken the patterns of the negative samskaras).
Talk about a new way to self-reflect!
What are my not-so-great samskaras?
Good thing that I asked because we discussed all the “triggers” we can use to help identify our samskaras. Potentially not a comprehensive list, this is what we came up with: Body + Breath (physical self), Mind (mental, our rational thinking it out self; psychological, emotional), and Spiritual. Needless to say, they are multiple arenas where I could find some negative samskaras. But let me give you a context for the week leading up to the workshop and what I was feeling just before diving into my own samskara…
I can’t lie. It’s been a more challenging week. First and foremost, my grief encompassed me. Although, not ready to think about the anniversary of my grandma’s death, I breezed through the day back in February that she past. However, her birthday, March 14, was much more of an emotional day for me. I even anticipated it a week in advance. It is surprising how grief can come back like an ocean wave. I had been “in check” for the last six months yet, the month of March is much more difficult than I ever expected.
The physical symptoms of grief. Or what I think is the cause of my physical discomforts this month. Ya, I’m busy and yes, my body likes to react to force me to slow down. But this time was different. My GI system basically stopped working. Drink lots of water, eat fibre rich diet, exercise, get enough sleep…all done. Yet, the nausea of constipation was almost unbearable. My head went into a tales spin trying to figure it all out. Was it a problem with my pelvic floor injury? I finally realized that my emotions we on high alert as the grief rolled in.
So sitting in this workshop, I was ‘bunged up’ so to speak and only just making the connection to my emotional state and the state of my GI system. When asked what one of my samskaras was, I fought back tears and only said it was much more emotional than I thought.
However, it was probably the best example of my rut. Not the grief part, but HOW I chose to deal with life’s stresses. Keeping it all in. Not expressing my true emotions to myself and in some cases, if appropriate, to others.
Cue the mind blowing explosions!
We didn’t explore my samsara example any further. Recognizing that none of the other women in the room are psychologists, we just let it lay.
But for me, it was clear what was going on.
Not something I can solve in one pranayama practice but something to further explore with my new found knowledge of samskaras and using the breath to work through them.
Since the workshop was only four hours, we wrapped up with more useful concepts around pranayama. We even used the hand counting technique I learned in my workshop with Rosemary Jeanes Antze. I realized that a pranayama home practice would be super beneficial for me. Not just as a future yoga teacher but JUST FOR ME. Maybe a little gift to myself. Because as we learned in the workshop, “Give it up” - let the pranayama do the work! And I can’t argue with that!
Two helpful videos I found on Samskara are also listed below.
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,
Off to my second YAA teacher training workshop of the year!
I have been thoroughly enjoying my experiences with many different yoga teachers from Edmonton and area. This weekend also was a chance to meet another senior teacher whom I seem to know by name but don’t know in person. Funny enough, I clearly didn’t know who the teacher was because I began setting up beside her! Not sure if you’ve ever experienced a yoga class where you set up facing one way to only set up a completely different way with another teacher. This is essentially what happened...
I had assumed we’d continue facing south in the community hall space so I positioned myself behind others. What I didn’t know was that Beth, the senior teacher, was also in the process of positioning her mat - in front of the group! Needless to say, I felt a bit silly; yet, she wanted all of the wanna-be teachers in a circle anyway. So, lucky me, I got to sit beside the facilitator and absorb her yoga knowledge.
I love the variety that each teacher brings to each workshop. It is almost one of the reasons for excitement as I walk through the doors. What will we talk about and practice today?
We dove straight into practice with a focus on verses from the Bhagavad Gita. Something that I am not totally aware of, let alone have read. So I just absorbed what Beth read from the verses. What she was quoting was chapter 14 versus 1-20. This portion of the sacred text is highlighting the Gunas, the three strands of nature. Not something I am familiar with in the least.
Let me explain…or at least my understanding thus far.
The Gunas are believed to be the main forces of life. There are three Gunas - Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Each have their own specific attributes that one can relate to in life. What makes this interesting to me, is that there are only three. I would have thought that there are many more ways to look at the nature of our lives. But nonetheless, within this philosophy, these three must encompass all parts of being human.
Sattva, in simple terms, means joy. The energy is radiant with purity, calmness and light. Whereas, Rajas, is more focused on action and attainment. I took it as more driven and “full of restless energy”. Maybe a good analogy is the Energizer Bunny who keeps going and going and going. The third and final guna, is Tamas. Tamas is linked with being fixed or immobile. It can be dull, lethargic and unmotivated. I almost think Tamas could be defined by depression and apathy.
To pull these three Gunas together, my mind wants to put them on a continuum whereby Tamas is on the far left, Rajas on the far right and Sattva is in the middle. Although I have no evidence that this is the case, it make sense to me that falling too far into busyness takes you away from Sattva. Conversely, being listless can take you too far into the Tamas end of the spectrum. In the interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita it is explained that being one with Sattva, you must be absent of Tamas and Rajas. It only makes sense that being one and not the other is true. But maybe it isn’t an all or nothing thing or what I might think is a “good” Guna versus a not so good Guna.
So you might be wondering how this worked in a yoga practice? How do you bring in the concepts of the Bhagavad Gita into a class setting?
Beth did a wonderful job of setting the ‘how-to’ scene. First she had us sitting in a crossed-legged position (Siddhasana). We were directed to focus on the sits bones and to centre ourselves over the two bones (ischial tuberosities to be exact!) From there, we were directed to shift to the right sits bone then to the left. The emphasis was to feel the support of each bone while the body was positioned off centre. After moving sideways, we then moved forward and backwardly coming to the front of the sits bones and on the back of the sits bones. And then once again to a centred position on the sits bones.
This direct and purposeful movement helped us settle into our seated position. Following this movement, Beth verbally described the Gunas by reading the Bhagavad Gita, The New Translation by Stephen Mitchell. She asked us to reflect on ourselves. Specifically, she asked about two scenarios. The first was how we were feeling when we arrived that morning versus how we felt in that moment of yoga.
That was easy for me!
My life is Rajas all over the place. So when I arrived, it was definitely Rajas. But as we settled into practice, I surely had moved into Sattva.
My life is a constant go. From the moment I wake to the moment I put my head down on my pillow, I’m off with a purpose. At times my head is swirling with things to do, people I need to call, items I need to put away, big life things like fantasizing about getting my children’s photos albums up to date. Constant!
But to be honest, I do take one small moment in the morning for one thing. Time to say the Lord’s Prayer before I do anything else (like move out of bed) in the morning. I’m not super religious but very much spiritual. I honour that with gratitude every morning I wake.
Needless to say, this chapter of the Bhagavad Gita hit home. With further exploration and thought (and some small group work), I realized that when Rajas gets too busy, I fall hard and fast into Tamas. And even on a weekly basis, I can go-go-go until I give myself the break on Sunday whereby I don’t want to do a thing!
On the whole, this teacher training workshop hammered home how important yoga is for me. It is the time for Sattva. Now don’t get me wrong, there are other times Sattva does occur in my life, but most times it is Rajas.
Good? Bad? Otherwise?
My understanding though is that all three Gunas are key to life. Not necessarily having Sattva all the time is feasible nor good. At least that gives me pause.
Rockin’ Rajas, tolerate Tamas and smile into Sattva,
Oh - and one other interesting piece from this workshop. An off hand comment about my legs from Beth. Having over toned thighs represents anger. I just thought it meant I rode my bike a lot. Something to ponder…
It has begun!
My formal yoga teacher training has started. The first of 16 modules over the next two years was this past weekend. What a whirlwind of information and excitement to begin. From mudras to chants to highlighting the first yoga asanas. Yes - there are three fundamental seated asanas. Who knew?!
Now I do!
Where to begin? What to say?
Here is a Coles notes summary of my take always:
1. Chanting. Say what? Yes, chanting. This was very new to me. It hasn't been part of my regular practice but I am aware and have listened to Krishna Das in the past. Incorporating sound in practice, beyond the a teachers' voice, was a soothing and calming part of practice. Almost felt like church, but not really. We started the workshop with the Teacher-Student Chant/Mantra, which was so lovely. It heightened the senses and really settled the mind. Totally new to me, as I said, but lucky that another teacher-to-be asked to go over it in more detail. We practiced together multiple times.... Needless to say, I will need more time with this!
2. History. I've been craving an explanation of history for a while now. Now this was no University level history class but it did fill in some of the gaps in my mind. Interestingly enough, yoga has Aryan roots from the Indus Valley Civilization. It didn't reach India until later (I had always thought that is where yoga began!) The modern practice of yoga comes from the Himalayas and has been passed down from sages to aspiring teachers.
To put in a sequential order for me, it goes from Vedic era to pre-classical to Classical to Modern (post 1893). Asana practice has only been over the past couple of hundred years!
3. Major Texts. One of the major texts of yoga is Hatha Yoga Pradipika. In this text, only 84 poses existed. Of those, three are seated poses. We covered Siddhasana (accomplished pose; sage pose), Simhasana (lion pose) and Badda Konasana (bound angle pose; cobblers pose). Funny enough, Simhasana was the one asana I volunteered to teach. Not many participants had done it before and since I had, I felt confident that I could explain it. It went well as my first try at teaching. I concentrated hard to keep my words succinct and calm, which is a bit different from teaching exercise classes. A great chance to try it!
4. We covered another handful or so of poses, mudras and pranayama. Much more than I can add into one blog post. But very important information to absorb and reflect back on (so much so that I purchased three books off Amazon the next day!)
My intention and hope is to continue to blog my highlights from all and every training I will be doing over the next couple years. Nothing like stopping and reflecting and writing about ones learning.
Anything I may get wrong, or you know about, PLEASE comment below!
I know I say this often but it is so true...so much more to learn!
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.