Tag Archives: teaching

Being Observed

The yoga studio where I teach is finishing up with a round of 200 hour teacher training. I end up with a trainee or two in the classes I teach.

Last night, I had someone observe my Rocket Yoga class. I have been teaching Rocket for a while and received advanced training in it this past March. So it was fun to hear someone comment on what I’m doing.

First of all, observers love my music. Rocket Yoga was developed when Larry Schultz traveled with the Grateful Dead. With those roots, I embrace elements of Rock & Roll in my classes. You’ll hear the gamut from The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Marvin Gaye, Flock of Seagulls, Tracy Chapman, to Stevie Wonder and Santana. It peaks to a fervor during sun salutations and standing poses and starts to soften through seated and finishing poses. I am careful to craft the entire 75 minutes of class so that it ends with more Tamasic sounds. This ambience along with my vocalizations and dimming of lights makes for a complete practice. The lady last night especially loved Pink Floyd saying that it fit perfectly with the Rocket.

Second, and most significant for me, was the care that I gave students. From my own practice, I know when you feel tired and defeated. That’s not the time when you ask someone to do a very demanding pose. Instead, I opt for more of child’s pose than in most classes. As an Olympic weightlifter myself, we will often sit for 3-5 minutes between each attempt at the bar. So I know when we need some time before doing forearm stands or intense arm balances. I am also careful to know when someone needs assistance or correction. Sometimes, people simply step with the wrong foot or twist the wrong way. These are easy corrections that keep them within my instructions. But also being aware of injuries or limitations in students. I try to never say that a yogi is “tight”. Instead, I say that they are stronger in some places of their bodies.

Lastly, I was commended for my encouragement. Larry Schultz always said “you are stronger than you think”. I use that phrase often. Its easy to feel weak and defeated. But they really aren’t. Sometimes yogis are simply tired, but the strength is still there. Someone was working on Pincha Mayurasana “forearm stand” and I said this phrase. It was sorely needed at that time. I also say “just try”. Don’t think about it, just try. Don’t over-analyze or put yourself in a box. If you try, you never know what will happen. I was very stoked that she noticed this in me.

I’ve been teaching for several years now, but I still know I have a lot to learn. This student said she usually focuses on learning sequences from teachers. But with me, it was the nuances of encouragement and care that came through. I think of the melting pot of experiences I’ve learned and adopted from other teachers. I am unique. We all are. But we take what we can as students of the practice and make it our own.

Yoga for Healing

I am working with a private yoga client to deal with issues he is having.

Disclaimer: I am not a yoga therapist or other certified healer per requirements of registry with Yoga Alliance.

However, yoga has many healing properties. And, as old as I am, I have experience with pain and injury within myself and others with whom I’ve interacted. I am also a scientist and have had training in anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and many biology/chemistry courses through graduate level studies. So there’s that 🙂

This client, having a life of dealing with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) ahead of him, has a vested interest in finding ways to manage this disease. He provided me with literature, both anecdotal and research oriented, that relates to PD. Working with clients sometimes goes beyond the time constraints of class.

While I’m not in the business of diagnosis and treatment, I know aspects of body movement. PD is an autoimmune disorder that affects how the nerve impulses are sent throughout the body. The further from the brain, the greater the effect. So, I think a lot about feet, hands, and limbs. The spine is also a major emphasis, so I focus on keeping it supple and strong.

Specific effects of PD that I am helping with are:

  1. Posture – PD results in drooping of shoulders and head forward resulting in increased kyphosis of the spine. Besides general posture associated with all physical poses in yoga, I am working on strength in the entire back especially upper back and shoulders. Locust pose is an ideal solution. Both upward and downward facing dog is also crucial. Anything we can do to keep the posture upright is warranted.
  2. Feet shuffling – the most problematic effect of PD is a shortened stride length. This leads to falling forward and tripping with steps. The main aspect we are working is keeping length in the legs and strength. So we’ve started with long lunges (anjaneyasana) stepping forward across a room and back. This also has a balance effect. We hold at the first few steps to keep length in hamstrings and glutes.
  3. Balance – since the neurons and synapses between them are not functioning well, signals to the brain to help with balance are lost. So we are working on keeping all those stabilizing impulses firing. Tree pose is the go to for balance, which we do with a light assist at the wall. But, even Tadasana is used where we may lightly close or close eyes completely. This requires a lot of balance for most people. Warrior poses, triangles, and other standing poses are critical as well for balance.
  4. Pranayama/Meditation – our last area of emphasis is in meditation. Dopamine receptors are greatly affected with PD. Re-programming our brains to find calmness assists greatly in reducing the chaos of our minds. Also, in daily life, when hands begins to tremor and feet begin to shuffle, it creates anxiety and the feeling of helplessness in the mind. Any time we are stressed, we inhale, hold our breath, and breathe at a high, shallow register. So we are re-training our breathing to make us aware of what we do. When we feel anxious, we consciously need to breathe deeply and evenly to calm our minds. This is never more obvious than in meditation. We work with the breath and visualization to help program our bodies to find peace. This may be the aspect of yoga that contributes the most.

You would be amazed at the number of ways yoga can help with our lives. As a yoga teacher, it is amazing to experience what others go through in addition to our own experiences with life. Learn, adapt, teach, and learn some more!

Lose Yourself

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“Practice what you Teach, Teach what you Practice”

I took this to heart yesterday. My mind has been crowded with so much in life. I often practice yoga over lunch in my office. I lock my door, turn off the overhead lights, slide a table aside, and roll out my travel mat. I started easy into my Sun Salutation A’s since I was struggling. But before you know it, I was lost in what I was doing. I stopped analyzing my movements. While my breath lead my practice, I didn’t focus on it. I stopped counting. I went completely by instinct. When I felt it was time to come forward out of downward facing dog, I did. Sometimes I succumbed to child’s pose; not because I needed it, it just happened. We throw out the word “flow” in yoga a lot. This was truly a flow. It had no beginning or end. I didn’t even know where I was.

Ever notice how you cannot predict what an ocean wave will do? It moves where it needs to move

I wanted to badly share this experience, and that came about in my Rocket class later that evening. Without any fanfare, I had the yogis come to the top of their mats and begin. I told them we wouldn’t do Surya Namaskar B today. But we’d lose ourselves in a seemingly unending Sun A. I gave a few suggestions at times, but otherwise let them try to feel what I felt earlier. I told them to stop counting. To move when it feels right. To hold where they need to. To experiment with fingertips and closing eyes. Lifting mula bandha with lightness and ease. To gather their warmth and glow in it.

Sometimes we share hoping others will feel the deepness that we’ve felt. Even if one connected with my experience, then my sharing was a success.

Represent

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I used to take a yoga class now and then from a teacher who was “real”. I mean, she wasn’t the type of yogi you see on magazine covers. In fact, maybe she didn’t look like what a yoga teacher looks like in your mind’s eye. And she is a great yogi.

It is unfortunate that we have these stereotypes in our minds of how people should be. We should accept people as they are. If they can perform and do their jobs, then that should be enough.

Or is it enough?

I was an Army Infantry Drill Instructor in a previous life. Our duty was to “Lead by Example”. So we put up an image that went far and above what is required of a normal soldier. No wonder the divorce rate is so high among the Drill Sergeant ranks. We spent half of our time grooming, exercising, asking for extra starch on our uniforms at the cleaners, and shining boots to look like mirrors every night. Actually, most of us used two uniforms a day and at least two sets of boots. If we got scuffed or dirty or sweaty, we’d change into a new uniform so we always looked “perfect”. We were toy soldiers who taught people to be like us. And it was impossible for them to keep up. But soldiers looked at us like infallible gods. We were what they were to strive to become. It can’t work any other way.

As a yoga teacher, I represent “yoga”. I represent my studio or gym where I teach. I hope that when people look at me, they’ll think “that’s what yoga can do for me”. They say “Practice what you teach, and teach what you Practice”. I have to live by example. I can’t preach about Ahimsa and then go off honking my horn and yelling at people who drive too slowly. Everything I do hopes to meet that standard. At least that’s what my Inner Drill Sergeant tells me.

I know we need to give ourselves grace. Humility has its merits too. I often share if I’m tired or tweaked a knee or something. When I am a student in a class among my peers, sometimes I’ll take child’s pose or the easier variation of a pose. I am human…maybe more than people know.

But I still strive to be the best yogi I can be. I want to be a shining example of what yoga can do. When people say its just for the stereotypical cover girl, I like to show it can be for beefy, older guys and real people like me. Though it is still important for me to project my brand. In many ways, I’m selling a product. I’m promoting a lifestyle. I feel responsible to my diet, to my svadhyaya (self-study), to my cross-training, and to my yoga practice. Maybe it will inspire others to commit to something special themselves.

Be the best YOU that you can be. It’s always good enough!