Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Breath - First and Foremost

I had a conversation recently with a fellow yoga teacher recently about the breath. I was explaining to her how insightful it is to work with someone one on one, and specifically, how interesting it is to see breath awareness evolve. (It's sometimes so much easier to understand this unfolding from the outside in, and to this end I am incredibly grateful to have the chance to work one on one with someone in this way.)

To give you more of an idea of what I'm talking about, a client of mine is learning a very common breathing technique that helps to relax the nervous system and slow down the heart rate as a way to ease the body into a more relaxed state. It's a breath I learned a few years ago and have been practicing regularly ever since, it's a breath I don't think about anymore during my posture practice, it just happens as I need it to. Sometimes when I am working with her, she is reporting to me that she feels very relaxed, very calm and happy during practice; and her breathing patterns and the way her face is held and the way her belly moves while she is in the postures, tells me something very different. I can literally see where she is holding her stress in the body, and I can also see that the breath-work is not yet integrated. a student learning these techniques, I don't think that I was aware of how my body was held as I was learning them. I know that I wasn't aware of my holding spots or what my diaphragm was doing. The learning curve is such a cool unfolding!

Anyway, it came up during our conversation something that I had read in a yoga sutra translatiion - that is, that you cannot teach another person how to breathe. I told her that when I read that, I thought to myself, "that isn't true! you can teach people how to breathe. that's what pranayama is...breathing exercises...' Then she said to me, "You can't teach people how to breathe. All we can do is teach breath awareness."

And now I get it. Now that I have seen the beginning of this learning in another person's body, now I get it. I cannot teach another person how to breathe, but I can teach another person how to become more aware of their breath. The tools and techniques that yoga offers is and always has been a personal practice, one that must be integrated into each individual's livelihood as much as it is their body. Meaning that, even if the intellectual mind understands what the tool is and how it is used, the body-mind must take-up the technique in it's own way.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Learning on the Job

I interviewed at a fitness studio recently. Part of the interview included an audition so that my potential employer could see my teaching style. The audition took roughly one hour. I taught to 3 very fit women who are all personal fitness trainers. In preparing for the class, I anticipated their general physical needs and created a sequence of poses that I hypothesized would suit their physical abilities and still synch with an "extreme fitness" environment.

To my surprise, I realized that although each of these women were very strong and very fit, they were beginner yogis! I had planned to teach a moderately difficult flow class with poses that used their obvious upper body strength and cardiovascular endurance...but in moving them through the warm-up sequence, I saw that they support their bodies in a very different way then those used in yoga. I was thrilled! Here I was, intimidated to teach to a group of people whose work and lives revolve around being in the body, knowing body mechanics, fitness, health, etc... and yet I had information to offer them that was of real value. Even before class started, I was able to realign hand and wrist support in her push-up position...a position she and her clients take many many times during a regular work out. She told me right away, 'that feels so much better. I don't feel [the pain] in my elbow." Wow...

I remember my teacher, Sigrid Matthews, telling us during teacher training, "Yoga is a balance between strength and flexibility." This couldn't be more true... I see it a lot when I teach now: flexible people do not use their muscles as much because they can get their bodies into positions with less energy than those who are less mobile. Therefore, they don't hug their muscles to the bones, which can cause stress on the ligaments... Flexibility is not necessarily a sign of strength, just as a toned body isn't a sign of flexibility. My students that day had beautiful, toned bodies, and they were strong in many ways. But it was unwise of me to assume that because they were toned, that they were also flexible or that a move advanced practice would suit them.

A few key points I've been reminded of via this experience:
1. what I think is a plan is actually just a blueprint - I can come ready with a lesson, but I might just have to throw it out.
2.I cannot guesstimate what a class should look like based on educated guesses. I ultimately have to go off of the student's physical status and demonstrated abilities.
3. Even physically fit people can benefit greatly from learning the foundations of hatha yoga and physical alignment.
4. Being aligned in the body-mind dissolves the perception of 'pain'
5. I am a student first and a teacher second

Here's to continuously being humbled and remaining loyal to my studentship!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Principles of Alignment

"Come what may"

Practicing yoga offers us opportunities to open beyond our habits of normalcy.
Working within the breath-body we connect to our mental, physical and emotional bodies and this offers us opportunities to expand our perceived limitations, which ultimately offers us to experience a truer quality of our life.
In order to do this, agreements must be settled internally.

First, a commitment to the cause [surrender/Ishvara Pranidhana]. Then, a willingness, a real willingness to move in this direction [fire/tapas]. Lastly, but hardly the very least, an agreement to be honest with yourself [honesty/santosha] about the process, the expectations, the grievances, the desires, the complaints, the reasons, the excuses, the habits and the fear.

Whether you practice yoga postures or you don't, moving beyond discomfort in any area of your life is first and foremost a private decision that must embody these 3 elements.

Today, as I move toward limits of normalcy in pursuit of what is natural, I am reminded of this mantra:
Come what may.

may we all move with such grace and softness.

enjoy the rain Los Angeles.

With love,