These New Year's resolutions can sure be hard!
Four months into a concerted effort to the Yamas and the Niyamas have been quite the challenge. Although super easy to think about each one individually, it has been my intention to simply add to the list each month. Keeping three and four in my mind has been challenging. I suppose that as time continues, I will be able to integrate the entire 10 teachings but right now, I’m finding keeping them straight and on the top of mind as something of a small feat!
This month was the perfect month for Aparigraha. We celebrated Easter as well as a birthday in my household. On a superficial level, these two events helped me think about how many physical objects can rush into my home. Aparigraha is all about non-possessiveness (things and thoughts), non-grasping (overdoing aspirations and achievements) and non-greediness (limiting the wants, sharing what you have).
Let’s see how it unfolded in the month of April…
I applied some restraint with the amount of goodies the Easter bunny brought to our house. And quite frankly the boys didn’t even bat an eye at the lack of candies. I probably cut the amount of candy in half from last year. It was refreshing not to have so much candy land in my house and the constant battle to when and how much candy could be had!
Keeping things of value, like decorations hand-made by the kids in the past and their baskets seemed to be more important for us this year. Ben loves to decorate for the season so he was just excited to make his own Easter egg hunt with the plastic eggs we already had and filled them with our Lego pieces or other nick knacks we had around our home.
Keeping things basic seems to fit for Aparigraha.
My son’s fifth birthday was this month as well. I get anxious thinking about the expectation of giving gifts. It’s a large part of birthdays for the kids but an overwhelming part for me. We kept the party at home and rented a bouncy castle (hopefully making memories not stuff) but I did overdo it (maybe) with the invitees! We had close to 40 people present, kids and all. I am excited to celebrate birthdays and want to include everyone. I suppose I’d prefer to give a party than receive a ton of new things. People are so generous with gifts.
Professionally, I also took time this month to think about striving and doing lots. I’ve paired back a lot of my commitments and professional volunteer roles in the past six months. I do consider myself a professional voluntary soul. How often my husband says ’and when will you get paid for this?’ Interestingly though, maybe that is part of Aparigraha too. I give of myself; yet, I need to approach it as just that - giving. And not striving.
I come to see that trying so hard to achieve can run your life. Taking a step back and dropping the ‘trying to grasp’ has been helpful.
I can’t lie, it’s a challenge.
This is how I roll.
But if I can take anything away from this month, it would be LESS IS MORE.
In my life and on the mat.
Raise a water bottle to that! Less is more,
I’ve been fascinated with the history of yoga since watching the documentary, Yoga Unveiled. It was recommended to me by Judy Murphy, the yoga teacher I was taking yoga classes with back in the late 2000’s. The documentary was full of details, dates and names and I recall thinking, ‘wow, there is a lot to learn!’
Fast forward to the present day, I was intrigued about the modern yogi, Yogananda, whom I kept hearing about. How did he fit into the lineages and what was his impact on yoga?
I was happy to purchase myself the copy of Autobiography of a Yogi, recognizing that I’d need a fair amount of time to read the entire book and hoping that it would be a good resource to have on hand. Both reasons were true. The 500 page book spans over 40 years of Yogananda’s life and includes 49 chapters. Each chapter rich in details of Yogananda’s life and the workings of Kriya Yoga.
Being the first yogi to the United States, I was certain the majority of the book would spend time describing his experience in the Western world. But I was wrong. The book starts by describing Yogananda’s desire and drive to reach the Himalayan mountains. Multiple attempts he made without success. Through his words you can feel the urgency and commitment he had to his spiritual quest. I appreciated the willingness to preserve even when I’m not certain he even knew where the drive was coming from.
In the end, Yogananda doesn’t reach the Himalayan mountains and still struggles to find his guru. The escapades that he endures to find his guru are entertaining and intriguing. His recounts of many spectacular yogis is a valuable addition to the understanding of yoga at the beginning of the 20th century. It was reassuring that if this yogi had challenges on his yoga journey, it was certain I would too. Knowing that Yogananda took years to find his teacher, it was okay that I took my time to find my teacher too
The month of February was dedicated to Satya or truthfulness. As a reminder, my goal over the next 12 months of 2019 is to focus my energy and attention towards one of the ten yamas or niyamas. Thus far it has been an enlightening and interesting journey.
This month was rattling and exposing to when or when not I am truthful. This perspective can be in regards to others but also towards myself.
Let me explain.
As a mom, I am daily in the kitchen prepping, serving and cleaning up food. Satya became very evident in regards to food. But how?
I realized how often I would eat left over foods of my children because I didn’t want it to go to waste. When in true fact, I either was no longer hungry myself or more importantly, I actually didn’t even like the food!
Case in point. I’m not a huge fan of processed cereals. Nuts coated in sugar, raisins doused in palm oil, and white flour based flakes are not what I like to eat. Yet, when cleaning up the breakfast table, I finish those last two or three cereal bites in my son’s bowl.
It hit me early in the month that I don’t like this cereal. I don’t like the taste and texture.
Stop. Honour that truth.
Struggles with others this month has also demonstrated how Satya resonated. Do I tell that little white lie to pacify someone? Do I run the red light at 7:30 am Sunday morning when no other car is in sight? Do I truly expose myself and how I really feel?
February, also known as heart month or the month of love, gave me a chance to show myself truth…truth of the heart. Although an anatomical organ, to me, there is much more to the heart. Lots resides in the heart. This month allowed time for reflection to what is good and not so good in my heart.
It can suck but also be well-worth looking into.
Satya pratisthayam kriyaphalasrayatvam
(2.36, The Yoga Sutras)
“To one established in truthfulness, actions and their results become subservient.”
(The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, translation Sri Swami Satchidananda)
Writing a book report hasn't been something I have done in years; yet it is a requirement of my teacher training program. Here is the first book report on The Bhagavad Gita.
Back in 2017 when I was starting my formal yoga teacher training with the Yoga Association of Alberta (YAA), I was presented the book, The Bhagavad Gita. It was at one of my first workshops with people I hardly knew. One teacher in training who was in my small discussion group, was rattled and unsure, if not outright dismissive, about of the Bhagavad Gita. She proceeded to tell me that it was about war and fighting and she just could not understand why it was a required reading for yoga teacher training. Her Christian upbringing (and lens) struggled with comprehending why we would need to study war and violence.
Unfortunately, this set the scene for me. I too stay away from violence and all things war-like sense. Avoiding violent television, terrorizing news stories, and sometimes conflict in general. I have no love for war.
So when I was expected to read a book about war, I was resistant to say the least.
Further into my YAA workshops, I was presented again with the ideas of The Bhagavad Gita. It was through Barbara Stoler Miller’s translation, The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishn’s Counsel in the Time of War, that I slowly began to consider the book in a new light. We were to read an excerpt from the Introduction and I soon realized that my earlier experience was not the lens I needed to look through with this book.
I purchased Stoler Miller’s translation and decided to start from there.
Then, and let’s be honest, the book sat on my shelf for months. Until it showed up again at a workshop. I finally said to myself, it is time to read it.
Having committed to read it, I usually don’t take half measures so I also bought two additional translations to guide me along. Realizing that one version, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-Gita: was close to one thousand pages, I soon decided to stick with only two versions, Stoler Miller’s translation and Stephen Mitchell’s translation, Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation. It boggles my mind how one text is translated by so many; with the translations themselves presenting the contents in differently. I felt that reading more than one version might help me understand what this ‘story of war’ was all about.
My strategy was to read one translation chapter and then the other. I always started with Stoler Miller and followed it with Mitchell. And here is what I found:
First and foremost, the book is set on the battlefield of Kuruksheta where the Dandavas are ready to fight the Kauravas. These two separate groups are cousins and they are fighting to secure power. Arjuna, the main character is plagued with the struggle of whether or not to fight his family. In the eighteen teachings, Arjuna is discussing this struggle with his chariot driver, Krishna. Krishna is the incarnation of the cosmic power and is there to support Arjuna on the battlefield.
As I read through the verses, it becomes apparent that I will not be bombarded with violent passages and terrorizing words. Instead it is a conversation between Arjuna and Krishna moments before the war may begin. The struggle is real but it is actually the struggle from within that the book is really about.
Coming to the end of the first month of 2019, I suppose I’m ready to write a quick post about what I’ve chosen to do in 2019. Although not really a New Year’s Resolution, I’ve committed to practice and focus on one Yama or Niyama each month of this year.
Now this is where the yoga gets deep…
The Yamas, as I will start here, are the framework for proper conduct with oneself but also with others. They are, shall we say, the 10 Commandment-like practices that are vitally important in the practice of yoga. Believe it or not, yoga is not just about the poses. The ancient practice of yoga includes Patanjali's Eight Limbs of Yoga.
I thought it would be helpful for me to take a month to dive deeper into each of the five Yamas and Niyamas.
So, I started with Ahimsa |a-him-sa
Ahimsa represents compassion for all living things and reverence for life. And in doing so, acting with non-violence. This can be with actions, words and thoughts about yourself and others.
This Yama hits straight to my heart. Peace, respect, love, non-violence align with me and my values and morals. Yet, I’ve had some challenges, personally and professionally this month in which my thoughts have not been supporting the goal of ahimsa. It is challenging to have kind thoughts about those who upset and annoy you and piss you off but also showing yourself kindness when you can quickly get ‘blamey’ and hurtful to oneself.
“Come on Lisa, what’s wrong with you?”
It takes a lot of discipline to speak nicely, without violence, in your own head. Be it about others or yourself.
This month has already taught me a lot about where himsa (the opposite of ahimsa, meaning harm) can show up in day to day life. Being conscious to the principle of ahimsa will keep me a student of yoga and LIFE for years to come.
To the continuation of learning and dedication to the yoga journey,
The sixtieth and final Yoga Association of Alberta workshop is complete. I am amazed I made it to all of them in the two year period without any real hitches. Thank goodness I did. If I didn’t, I would have to wait an additional two years to complete the workshop.
This last session dove into principles of teaching and the role of the yoga teacher. We also touched on the types, lineages and styles of yoga, which helped clarify some outstanding questions I had about how everything fits together. We wrapped up the session talking briefly about pranayama.
It has been a full circle for me. My first workshop in January 2017 was taught by Karen and it was very fitting that Karen taught the last one this weekend. I can’t believe how much I have learned over the two years. I am so very grateful for each and every one of the senior yoga teachers who shared their knowledge and expertise with me. Truly blessed!
Now – I’m going to be a teacher?!
Here are some tidbits of shared advice about how to be a good teacher, even before the class starts:
Check in with yourself before you check in with your students
Write a lesson plan…especially useful with your mind goes blank (and it will!)
Come to the class with authenticity, love, kindness, quiet confidence, humility and being present
Inspire trust and safety
As yoga teachers we are passing on the information from our teachers
Practice together, honour the energy of the room and build a community
We also reviewed ways to teach during class:
Bring people into their bodies by providing an opportunity for body awareness
Come to the mat with a beginner’s mindset (students AND teacher)
Show asana first, then have the class try it
Give the option to try a class as “this class might not be the right class for you”
Enter centering with a statement like “simply reflect on where you’d been and where you are”, “focus on one thing, not everything”
Your class will present with different learners and how do you teach all different types (see, feel, hear)
Always have your eyes open to pay attention to your students
Be the mirror to your students
Provide a space for Sukha and Sthira (comfortable and stable)
“Are you doing your asana in your body or in your imaginative body?”
Provide suggestions and giving permission to do what you can today
Ensure time for equalizing and integration
Prepare your practice space for self-acceptance, no judgement and no expectations
We dove into a handful of other ‘hot topics’ or more challenging scenarios that occur in the class such as:
Story telling after class (end your class in silence as to not be bombarded with students sharing or over-sharing after class)
Relationships (clearing not engaging in romantic relationships with students but being cognizant of your boundaries)
Chatting students in class (ask students to close their eyes; eyes closed = mouth closed)
Adjustments and touching (asking for permission)
Partner work (what is the intention? May need to avoid due to students comfort level)
These points are only a snapshot of things to consider. The discussion was very helpful to think about being a yoga teacher, out in public and what I might encounter.
I was looking forward to workshop #15 as the topic is very interesting to me. Working with people who have multiple joint concerns is typical for me and I see that this is where I’ll likely take my teaching. But interestingly enough, the senior teacher, Edie, make it quite clear that there are few and far between number of people who don’t experience some form of joint pain/injury/concern. When asking the group who has had issues with any of the highlighted joints - neck, shoulders, back and knee - more than 85% of yoga teachers-to-be raised their hand.
So really - it’s much more common than I have credited. Even regular seasoned students have joint concerns.
On a basic level, we reviewed the major contraindication for each joint. Then followed the contraindication with some alternative ways to do asanas. Here’s what we determined:
Neck: limit weight bearing asanas with the focus on releasing the base of the neck as well as the base of the spine
Light bulb burst - Well, that just makes sense! The neck is the extension of the spine! Releasing the back can only help the neck.
We worked on coordinating neck rotation with standing arm movements up and down, bridge pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) and single knee to the chest (Supta Ardha Apanasana). The movement of the neck was initiated after the upper/lower body movement AND moving to the opposite side or direction.
Shoulders: limited weight bearing asanas with the emphasis on all ranges of motion and asymmetry.
A lot of the attention in our practice was to minimize the compression in the shoulders with keeping the arms wide from the body. Further, highlighting the importance of multiple repetitions, going in and out of poses, rather than static holds. Movements, not necessarily asanas, included wall chest stretch with both arms (think of a cop saying ‘put your hands up’) at the walk and rotating the upper body side to side with one arm leaving the wall and side lying external rotation (‘moving the forearm through mud’).
Back: limit twists with a focus on side lateral bends instead and asymmetry.
Of course, knees bent is essential for protecting the back but also noticing how much the hamstrings want to work. Keeping them at bay can be helpful. For me personally, I have to watch that my glutes, mostly my right, doesn’t fire up.
Asanas we explored as side lateral bends options included cresent moon pose (Ashta Chandrasana) and wide leg forward fold (Prasarita Padottanasana) with alternating movements of hands to feet.
I really appreciated the emphasis on asymmetry especially for the back. It really put into perspective the alignment of the pelvis and how to continually work on finding good anatomical position. As with any of these joints, it is almost certain that one side is “worse” that the other. Asymmetry helps find the difference and almost acts like a reset button.
Knee: limit weight bearing poses with an emphasis on avoiding hyper extension but also hyper flexion of the joint.
Having to avoid weight bearing is truly challenging as it removes all kneeling asanas. That is a lot! Yet, flipping the pose around or using a chair can be the most useful way to help those with knee issues. And it goes without saying, adding padding to the mat for the knees to land is an act of self-care!
Walking away from this weekend’s training was one thing but the next best thing was practicing in a beginners class the next day. Not only doing my practice but watching the class in front of me. Every type of body, injury, age and sex....and all doing yoga! I challenged myself to watch because these will be the people I will teach. What a lesson indeed!
On a final note, I loved how Edie talked about breath. For all the joints listed, the breath is essential to allow for movement. She alluded to the breath as a distraction of fear; fear is what keeps the body rigid, trying to protect itself.
Here are some of her gem of quotes about the breath...
The essence of our practice.
Sweetness of yoga.
Is your guide, will lead you further than you think.”
The combination of learning and observing this weekend has given me a new found confidence in giving options and teaching on the fly when the people are presented in front of me on their mats.
Funny how you can not see someone for a couple years and then reconnect and time doesn’t even feel like it has past.
This is exactly what happened recently while attending a conference. Reconnecting, asking about work and family and well, the regular question..”what is new?”
I answered such question with “oh, I’m doing my yoga teachers training”. Which they promptly replied, “you are? I thought you have been doing it for years now”.
And internal laugh to myself...
“Well, yes, I guess so.” I answered. “I’m STILL doing it.”
Now looking at how many weeks I’ve been blogging about it, it is understandable that the timelines are a bit confusing. I’ve been blogging for over 328 weeks about it. But truthfully my official start wasn’t until January 2017.
I suppose the surprised of my dear colleague was warranted. It does speak to the fact that maybe this journey should be over by now. Yet, I’ve been very deliberate about how this journey unfolds.
Absorbing it all in.
I’m in for the long hall.
Well, what does that mean?
100+ hours YAA
200 hour teacher training with Yoga Within
= 300 hour YAA certification
Continue with more hours to...
500 hour teacher training
Then, as I see how it is going to work...
Yoga Therapist destination and more hours.
I’m all in.
I’m taking the time AND focus to rock this yoga teacher training.
For my future students.
The long journey is the best part!
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.
I was tasked this week to find a beginner student and teach them Surya Namaskara A with the understanding that teaching a beginner this sequence is not recommened! And this is what I found...
I inquired with my patients if anyone was interested in trying some yoga with me. A 29-year old female (who will remain nameless due to confidentiality) was open to trying what I had to teach her. She has never set foot in a yoga studio as she doesn't feel comfortable with her beginner ability. Attending the regular program, Open Gym, we offer at the Southside PCN, she was having difficulty moving today as she had hurt her back over the weekend. Chronic back pain is ongoing for her and she treated it with an adjustment at the chiropractor earlier in the day.
I was able to provide a centering that seemed okay with her. She was comfortable to lie on the mat and close her eyes while I did a toe to head scan. We continued into the teaching of Surya Namaskara A where I first demonstrated the sequence with modifications that I thought would work for her (hands on thighs in Uttanasana, no half Uttanasana, onto hands and knees to plank, cobra instead of upward facing dog, back to hands and knees before downward facing dog). She tried four cycles through the sequence with recognizing right away that Uttansana was not an option for her today. Instead we lowered arms towards the ground into a squatting position then into hands and knees rather than bending forward. I offered to bring the floor to her (via a chair) but she preferred to not do any forward folding.
After four rounds, we moved into Savasana where we practice a balanced breath for 4-, 5-, and 6-counts and then I was silent. I allowed her to rest for about 2-3 more minutes before I led her out of her practice and back on with her evening.
In discussion with her afterwards, she appreciated how "I changed" from my regular self (i.e., quieter, calmer voice). She felt successful with the movements she could do and if time permitted I would have preferred to block out the individual poses themselves in a prolonged fashion. She noted that the centering was somewhat anxiety inducing (she had trouble settling her breath) but found she was much more comfortable in the final Savasana.
Overall, I felt comfortable with the teaching. Time went very fast and it was very clear that trying to teach a beginner student Surya Namaskara A in its entirety is very challenging. As noted, it would have been better to teach each asana first (probably over many weeks) and then piece it all together as the full sequence after many weeks of practice.
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.