Tag Archives: yoga teacher training

A Modern Yoga Philosophy for an Awakened Heart and an Embodied Mind

AHEMI recently read Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind (A.H.E.M.) by Julian Walker. It’s an expanded version of the manual Walker and Hala Khouri use in their yoga teacher training by the same name.

Having just recently finished yoga teacher training myself and keen to learn more about leading people through an experience of yoga and not just yoga poses, I knew this book was for me. While an understanding of anatomy and alignment are foundational cornerstones for teaching yoga safely, I wanted to learn about the sometimes intangible and energetic experience we can tap into through our yoga practice.

Having felt this in my own body through yoga, I wanted to know how to make this accessible to my students. I was particularly interested in how to weave the holistic form of therapy known as somatic psychology into a yoga class. Yoga by its very nature connects, honors and respects the mind, body, and spirit. Balancing this mind-body-spirit approach with the fascinating and respected field of neuroscience was sure to be a powerful combination.

A.H.E.M. almost seems to come to life, with its asana and pranayama practices sprinkled throughout, as well as the introspective questions and suggested writing practices. It felt like I was stepping into the book more than just reading it. As I read and practiced the movements or contemplated the questions from both the perspective of a teacher and a student, I could feel an inner shift happen.

A.H.E.M. spells out a modern yoga philosophy that is not bound by the yoga sutras while staying true to the heart of yoga. The mind, body, and spirit are all players in this approach to modern yoga, and all are honored and embraced.

In the exchange below Walker answers a few of my questions on his background, experience, and unique approach to yoga.

*****

Monique: Julian, how long have you been teaching yoga and what experience do you have in the fields of neuroscience, neurobiology, and somatic psychology?

Julian: I have been teaching yoga since 1993. I came to the USA alone as an immigrant/refugee when I was 19 from South Africa and have largely educated myself whilst initially working minimum wage jobs. I have been fascinated with finding ways to understand and experience the relationships between spirituality, psychology, and science both in my own process and practice and in the work I have created to share with my students and bodywork clients over the years.

My initial deep yoga training (5 years as a student and 11 years teaching at her school) was with Ana Forrest, who has pioneered work in yoga and psychology. I went to a massage school called the Institute of Psycho-Structural Balancing, and have studied with various mentors along the way. Mostly I have studied the history and theory of body-based psychology as well as the burgeoning field of neuroscience through extensive reading and immersing myself in lectures online.

392244_326277700735072_451275225_n-194x300Monique: I found your section on the chakras especially interesting. You refer to them as “embodied and psychological experiences that most likely have their basis in our neurobiology.” For those of us unfamiliar with neurobiology, can you expand briefly on how mind­-body energy might have its roots in the nervous system?

Julian: Ah, great question! I think an elegant way to describe my theory here is that subjective experience – consciousness and our feeling of energy – are all expressions of our biology. For example, when we feel scared we know that there is adrenaline and cortisol coursing through our bodies, our heart rate is elevated and blood is rushing into our large fight-or-flight muscles.

Likewise, when in deep states of meditation there is a correlation between the quieting down of brain areas that track the boundaries of our bodies and location in time and space on the one hand, and a beautiful experiential sense of being at one with all things as we rest in the eternal void, on the other.

I became fascinated with how the chakras correlate with key nerve plexi (bundles of nerves that branch off the spinal cord to communicate with muscles, organs and glands) and with how we experience life through our bodies. For me, the chakras are a kind of map of how the mind lives in the body; and the nervous system (as well as the endocrine system, which secretes our powerful hormones and neurotransmitters) is a key component of this.

What if the chakras are a heightened awareness of our capacity to experience the neuro-endocrine system from the inside? What if our lived emotional experience is a whole body phenomenon involving the brain, nervous system and musculature?

Monique: Throughout A.H.E.M. you refer to both “mindfulness” and “embodiment.” I’ve seen the two placed into separate categories, and I wonder if you can comment on whether you see them as separate processes or if they can coexist and/or contribute to each other?

Julian: When I talk about embodiment, I am referring to a sense of being really aware of our bodies. Feeling grounded, empowered and in touch with our emotions and sensations, are all aspects of body awareness. We come to this awareness of the body via mindful attention. In essence, it is a brain function we can train ourselves to access more deeply. If our mindfulness does not include embodiment, then we feel like a floating head! Ungrounded, disempowered, out of touch. If our embodiment does not include mindfulness we can be reactive, impulsive or negatively self-indulgent.

With yoga, we can use mindfulness to facilitate a more integrated sense of being alive in our bodies and in touch with our emotional and intuitive wisdom

Monique: In another of your published writings you say, in reference to modern yoga, “We get to define what yoga means for us in the 21st century. This is Enlightenment 2.0.” Where do you see A.H.E.M. fitting into the dynamic picture of modern yoga as it continues to evolve?

Julian: Looking at the history of yoga, it has always been in a dynamic process of evolution. Always influencing and being influenced by the various cultures with which it has come into contact. Yoga is deeply concerned with psychology, science and ethics, and our human understanding of these fields keeps evolving. For me, any field of knowledge, practice and inquiry has to be open to the progress of human understanding.

We maintain yoga as a living tradition that serves our current needs and reflects our current knowledge when we keep it open. I see yoga more as a methodology, a mode of inquiry, than as a dogmatic belief system set in stone. For me, whatever is really true about what yoga is and what yoga does for human beings can only be more deeply revealed by looking at it through the lens of science, philosophy and psychology. It is an exciting process!

My book is the culmination of 20 years reflecting on the relationships between ancient and modern, spiritual and psychological, experiential and scientific. It is an expression of what I have found and how I teach and offers teachers and students a modern and integrated way to think about and experience yoga. I hope it can be of service.

Photo credit: Julian Walker

Disempower Your Fears by Exposing Them to the Light

Screen Shot 2013-05-28 at 12.38.59 PM“So I just discovered Intent.com,” she said looking up at me from long dark lashes.

I nodded.

“And I found your writing,” she continued. “I found your piece about giving voice to your fears. So I wrote some of mine down.”

[Read the article here.]

I felt a smile crawl across my face. This private client is young and hungry and beautiful beyond her ability to even fathom. Her bravery never ceases to amaze me. She is about to embark on her first yoga teacher training; she just got accepted to her desired master’s program. We have been meeting with the intention of preparing her for yoga teacher training — both physically and mentally.

“Can I read you my fears?” she asked in a hushed whisper tone. She looked absolutely terrified. I could tell if I made one false move, she might bolt for the door.

“Absolutely,” I said. I steadied myself, uncrossed my legs and sat up straight. I wanted to be fully present for her. I took a deep breath. In her ever-wise ways, my young student did the same. And then she began.

The first fear came with tears. Her bottom lip was trembling. She had articulated it clearly with essential language. She wasn’t hiding anything. Her courage was astounding. Ironically, her fear centered around not being able to speak clearly and be understood. I knew it to be relevant as I had mistaken her name when I first met her. She has one of those names that has many similar derivatives. I called her by the wrong one for the first couple of weeks of knowing her. She didn’t correct me for some time. This was a good fear of hers to squelch. I could see how this would serve her well. I encouraged her to continue.

Her second fear was easier to share. She was getting more confident in this process. It was not wholly unrelated to the first fear and it is one that many young women suffer: the fear of not being taken seriously. This one was familiar. I too had suffered this one, but I was not as wise as she at her young age. I wasn’t working with the tools of awareness and integrity in quite the same manner. I knew this one wouldn’t hold much power over her for long. She only needed to see the value in what she has to offer. I gently persuaded her to go on.

The third fear was the most cliche, the most predictable, the most common. She laughed as she read it. But the laughter was an attempt to cover great, long-standing sorrow and self-loathing around this very common issue of body image. I let her release this anguish. I did not attempt to mask it. I let her see it for it’s gruesome self — a man-made demon, the product of programming and media assault, wholly and completely without merit for her or any woman.

That was it. She survived. She looked so relieved, already lighter.

“Ok,” I said. “Let’s discuss them.”

We went through each fear, point by point. We traced them back to their earliest known similar fears, memories, and origins. I explained to her the teaching’s of Eckhart Tolle in his book, A New Earth. I relayed to her the ways in which he explains a pain body and how we each have them as large, energetic masses of pain that we carry around. They start early, when we are young. Then we add to them. We build and build them until before we know it, they are making decisions for us and acting without our permission. Many people are ruled by their pain bodies — spending their time looking for misery in the outside world with which to feed it. This is why you see some people’s eyes light up when they hear of someone else’s misery. This is why some folks gravitate towards gossip and gore, rather than light and love. This practice of voicing your fears helps to dispel your pain body’s existence. If we clear these dark energetic masses, we no longer have the need to add to them or feed them.

My student was nodding. She was doing great work. She was sharing fearlessly each thing that came to mind, no matter her perceived limitations.
Fears are universal. There is no greater connection than that which we share over our fears. What’s more is that we all have a similar reaction to our fears. We do a fascinating exercise in Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training’s where we take the time to verbally describe our reaction to fear:

  • Sweaty palms
  • Increased heart rate
  • Constricted throat
  • Dry mouth
  • Arm pits sweating
  • Shallow breathing

And so forth.

Then we share these descriptors with the group at large. Some one hundred and fifty plus people share their reactions to fear. The amazing thing is: we’re all the same in our response. It’s biological. It’s the fight or flight response. It’s primal stuff. And yes, the fight or flight response is a very handy mechanism when you are actually in a life threatening situation. But that’s not what we are talking about here. We’re talking about being afraid to speak in public for fear of our inability to clearly communicate and being afraid to be seen because we have a negative body image. And no matter how terrifying that may be, we’re not going to die from it. There isn’t a dinosaur that is about to eat us. Our biological response is not appropriate for the situation. Therefore, we have the unique opportunity to begin to overcome these fears.

As we discussed these principles, my student began to perk up. She became lighter and lighter and soon, she was smiling with incandescence and ease. Once she became so effervescent, I asked her to teach (and practice) some sun salutations. She bounced up and beamed her way through them.

I offer you this practice humbly. Dis-empower your fears by exposing them to light. Darkness cannot grow in the light.

The Importance of Connection & Community

touchingWeeks 7 and 8 of Yoga Teacher Training

In our last week of teacher training a quote by psychotherapist Irvin Yalom comes to mind.

He said, “It’s the relationship that heals,” and he was referring to the therapeutic relationship between a doctor and a patient as being a powerful catalyst for healing. That it was more the human connection than the technical therapy that contributed largely to the healing process.

We’ve learned a lot these last 7 weeks about yoga. We’ve learned about anatomy, philosophy, asana, pranayama, and how to be more mindful yoga practitioners and teachers.

What is also becoming inescapably obvious is that we have learned each other as well, and this has been a subtle but significant aspect to our learning process.

What started out as a group of strangers is now a supportive group of friends. We’ve seen each other’s personalities, strengths, and weaknesses, and have come to admire each other for continuing to show up to our individual and collective practice.

We each bring different histories and struggles to our mats every day. We’ve brought these since Day 1. The only difference is that we now appreciate where we are coming from.

This is the beginning of community and this is the essence of connection.

One of the teacher trainees is a man named Kim. The first week of training I had the opportunity to work with Kim, and I noticed he rocked back and forth on his feet quite a bit while standing. When I asked him if he had difficulty in standing poses, he said yes. When I asked why, he said simply that he had some nerve damage to his feet.

The last few weeks I’ve seen him quietly use multiple props and the wall for support in many poses. He always has an easy smile and while some poses seem challenging to him, he never seems to be overefforting.

It was only when Kim shared with the class how he had fallen off of a second story building onto a two-by-four and become paralyzed from the waist down that I began to appreciate the true beauty of his yoga practice and the powerful potential of yoga.

Doctors told him he would never walk again due to his spinal cord injury.

After having surgery he was told in order to be eligible for physical therapy he had to be able to wiggle his toes. His determination to commit to this first step, wiggling his toes, allowed him to take the next step to recovery. After two months he left the hospital in a wheelchair. Month by month he progressed from a wheelchair to a walker and eventually was able to walk with crutches. From crutches he progressed to using two canes. After a year on two canes he was able to walk with only one cane.

A friend taught him how to meditate and provided both hands-on and distant healing that supported Kim as he reentered his new and different life.

It was 5 years until he began practicing yoga. He has mindfully deepened his practice over the years and continues to see steady progress. He’s been practicing about eight years now and this picture of him in headstand with a headstandsmile on his face really captures his strength, grace, and determination.

Kim still deals with what he calls “sensation,” otherwise known as pain.

Seeing how he works with his sensation and challenges is a humbling example for those of us who take our health for granted or who get disappointed about seemingly “slow” progress in our yoga practice.

In Kim’s words, “Things will never be the same. But that’s okay.” While many therapies and people have assisted him on his path, he mostly credits his progress to his “will to survive.”

Kim taps into his will to survive every day. It allows him to do what many people would call impossible.

It makes me wonder, Are we tapping into our will to survive? Are we even tapping into our will? What are we calling impossible that would become possible if we stopped limiting ourselves?

When we tune into our potential instead of our pain, we find our current limitations are merely a starting point.

This is just one example of how we have learned from each other through this training. We’ve learned to be sensitive to other human beings, whether it be through the words we choose or our physical touch.

As I disembark from this life-changing journey, I feel supported by a community of friends and teachers and well-equipped to follow my own yogic path.

The amount of knowledge and wisdom our teachers have shared with us will be sinking in for months to come. The words of Abraham Lincoln sum up my attitude as I step out of the world of teacher training and into the world of teaching yoga:

“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.”

*****

This is the last part of a series.

Week 1: My First Week in Yoga Teacher Training
Week 2: Confronting the Unknown
Week 3: Learning to Lead by Example
Week 4: The Practice of Transitioning Mindfully
Week 5: The Beauty in Being Imperfect
Week 6: Redefining Attitude & Attention

photo by: maessive

Redefining Attitude & Attention

Week 6 of Yoga Teacher Training

Patience is my work this week.

Being on my mat more than ever before is giving me lots of opportunities to work with this concept. Right now there is not that great yoga session after a few days of no yoga, where my body and mind are craving it. There is yoga every day and sometimes twice a day. My body and mind are not necessarily craving it, but this is where it gets interesting. This is where it gets new.

This is the “deepen your practice” aspect that teacher trainings promise. I’ve never been here before. This is a unique kind of “deep” that involves revisiting the same foundational poses in my same body and learning something new every time.

Learning to stretch my patience and sit with patience, both in myself and in my process is a little uncomfortable. As I settle into it more and more, I’ve started to notice a freedom that didn’t exist before. A little more space within the tightness. A relaxing into the discomfort. An acceptance.

A seeing where I am and a growing ability to not have to run from that or to that. Not into a deeper pose and not into a better place.

Since I’m working through the same postures multiple times a day, I get to observe my attitude and attention (or lack thereof) each time. I am seeing my limits reached and then asking myself what I need to do to last a little longer, to dig a little deeper, to honor my present moment more fully.

Surprisingly, there is something new and untapped every time I return to my mat. My legs are tired, but my standing poses have never felt more solid. My body is achy, but every down-dog feels like the first one ever. My mind is so alert from the accelerated learning that stillness has never been more clearly defined, and when there is silence I hear it more loudly than the sounds.

And so it happens that Patience invites me into my own body. Have a seat, she says. Everything you need is here.

Perception & Perspective

A spring daydreamer.

This is a concept I was reintroduced to this week. During class when a teacher was using a student to demo a particular asana and the rest of us were gathered all around, she pointed out an aspect of the pose. One student commented, “It doesn’t look like that from here.”

Her angle didn’t allow her to see what those of us at a different angle could see; and unless she got up and moved, she would never get a true visual of what was happening.

Thus I was reminded to take a closer look at my apparent perspectives. When I change my angle or my attitude in life, how quickly my perspective shifts and how profoundly what is perceived changes shape.

The Path

Through this teacher training I’ve come to appreciate on a new level that yoga is not about how it looks on the outside. It’s about what’s happening on the inside.

To this end, one of our teachers pointed out that as teachers we will often need to give different people different instructions to get to the same place.

The path we take to a pose is our own. The so-called end result is more about how we inhabit it than how we form it.

Throughout our lives we will find at times we can access our asana or meditation practice easier than other times. Our bodies and our minds change as our lives change. It will always be slightly different conditions we travel in, and our path will never be the same as someone else’s.

To travel our own path with our eyes and hearts wide open delivers us to our pose or our place of choice fully alive and fully lit up. We will all arrive at the same place through different processes. The place we arrive at is called Here.

Once we get Here, all we have to do is breathe. It doesn’t matter if you got here faster or slower than anyone else or what you look like on the outside. We are all breathing on the inside, and we are all Here.

Welcome. Take your seat. Settle in. Light It Up. This is it.

*****

This is the sixth part of a series.

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4 
Week 5

photo by: graftedno1

The Beauty in Being Imperfect

Minding the Mind: Week 5 of Yoga Teacher Training

Things are starting to get intense. I knew it would get here, but I wasn’t sure how. We’re learning anatomy, new poses, practicing yoga five to six days a week, doing homework, practice teaching, and trying to stay present for all of it, not to mention our lives and jobs outside the training.

There is so much learning happening that my mind feels like it’s on overdrive. It’s so stimulating that it can be very challenging to keep an internal balance and perspective. Interestingly enough, just when I feel maxed out on yoga, I then go to yoga and feel refreshed. The irony makes me laugh.

Wabi-Sabi

One of the highlights of our anatomy training is when we learned about the spine. We looked at each others’ spines standing erect and folded forward. One of the physical therapists teaching us anatomy spotted a student who had scoliosis. We all gathered around to take a look. As the student bent forward, the uneveness in her spine became amazingly prominent. Many of us were so focused on the apparent “wrongness” of her spine that we were gasping in awe.

The therapist looked around and started to point out what we had missed. “Look how beautiful and even her hips are. Look how even her shoulders are.

Le Grande

It was true. She was perfectly aligned. We had failed to notice all that was right with her pose because we were looking at what appeared to be wrong.

Our anatomy teacher commented on the beauty of scoliosis, marveling that, “The body will do what it needs to do so you are upright in the world.”

This reminded me of the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi. The idea that the imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete are beautiful. And not just in terms of physical imperfections. Wabi-Sabi goes much deeper and is more of an “aesthetic consciousness that transcends appearance.”

A growing interest in anatomy is one of the reasons I’m in this training in the first place. The more I practiced yoga, the more I became curious about my own muscles, bones, and how they function. The more I saw how body movements affected my state of mind and being, the more I wanted to learn the how and the why.

Every week I have fascinating experiences that confirm my choice to make this investment. We are just scratching the surface of anatomy and how it relates to yoga, but I feel like a clear path of learning is being laid out for me to travel in the years to come.

The Why & The How

I had a really beautiful experience in class this week. We partnered up to assist each other into handstand. My partner was a wonderful yogi I hadn’t worked with yet. She expressed doubt about whether she would be able to come up before we started. As she set up I reminded her to press into her hands firmly, hug into her own strength strongly, and trust herself as I assisted her up.

She came up strong, stayed up strong, and exited the pose strong. The smile she had when she came out of the pose was so authentic, sincere, and clearly lit up from the inside out. I knew then that this is why I will teach yoga. Not to force people into a pose, not to give them a workout, but to support them as they challenge their doubts, face their fears, and experience their own power and being.

The strength we experience in challenging yoga poses is, in my opinion, not our true strength. It is merely an external reflection of our true internal strength. We sometimes don’t know it in our head until we feel it in our body.

If standing on our hands teaches us we can stand on our own two feet, that’s the deeper value of our yoga.

We can stand our ground in yoga and in life. We can commit to difficult processes in yoga and in life. We can grow in many directions as we root firmly in yoga and in life.

At the end of our day my partner expressed gratitude for my help; however, I really felt like I was the one who had been helped. Helped to remember my intention for teaching, my responsibility as a teacher, and the value of supporting each other as we grow.

The Starting Line

When things get challenging in yoga, it forces me to focus even more. The more tired I am, the more I need to be present. So it is with where I’m at in the training and going forward. I breathe in my poses as best I can. I stay present as best I can. It’s the same thing we need to do in life when things get intense or tiring.

Breathe. Stay present.

I try not to get overwhelmed with the process or the practice because both are more than an 8-week program. This is a lifelong practice and process of learning to teach, and I’m just at the beginning.

*****

This is the fifth part of a series.

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4

photo by: wildxplorer

The Practice of Transitioning Mindfully

“Life is one big transition.” -Willie Stargell

Week 4 of Yoga Teacher Training

I’m at the halfway point of this journey, and it’s an interesting place to be. Like any unknown process, you can never tell from the outside what it will look like from the inside. Where I came from is no longer in sight and where I’m going is a speck on the horizon.

It’s a free place to be. There is nothing to hold onto here except this moment.moon-in-phases

Transformation

We are playing a lot with sequencing lately. Sequencing of a class and starting to put together everything we’re learning. It is where form and movement meet, and it is much like watching a flower open. Slowly but surely and with grace and beauty.

Within the aspect of sequencing, we are spending a lot of time discussing and practicing transitions.

Transitions. The moments between the poses. The times we often disengage and disconnect because the pose is “over.”

Transitions are interesting because they often require more attention, balance, and presence than the poses themselves.

To transition is to “passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another.”

It is to transform.

It requires movement, a destination, and a way to get there. In life or in yoga, mindfully transitioning takes patience and focus.

In the restorative class I attend the teacher instructs us to “relax fully in the transitions.” I find this reminder so helpful because usually in a transition we are anticipating what comes next instead of inhabiting where we are. Our minds are already guessing, Where are we going?

It has become my practice to stay simultaneously engaged, relaxed, and present in my transitions, be they simple or complicated, be they yoga transitions or life transitions.

This will be a lifelong practice.

Looking in the Mirror

Expressing how a teacher had showed him a different way to get into a pose that made it much more accessible for him, a student in our class commented, “It was right in front of me all the time.”

We have all experienced this moment of clarity. Someone points out a strength or a perspective or a stability we didn’t see. They haven’t given us anything necessarily. They’ve just shown us what we already have.

This is one of the many gifts yoga teachers (and teachers of any kind) give their students. Showing them what is within their reach, what they are capable of, and allowing them the experience of being in their body as never before.

While helping a student into a deep backbend, our teacher commented, “She can do that. She just isn’t that familiar with it yet.”

And so it is for all of us. The expansive world of what isn’t familiar yet. Our untapped potential, our unknown strength, our unimagined lives.

When teachers see their students, it’s like they’re holding up a mirror. The student can look into the reflection and see, sometimes for the first time in their lives, a true reflection of themselves.

This clarity is what keeps us coming back to our mats week after week, year after year. At least it’s what keeps me coming back.

The opportunity to unveil who I think I am so that I can see, if only for a moment, who I really am.

*****

This is the fourth part in a series.

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3

photo by: Spirit-Fire

Learning to Lead by Example

“Not the cry, but the flight of a wild duck, leads the flock to fly and follow.”
Chinese Proverb

Week 3 of Yoga Teacher Training

The dust is starting to settle. If my yoga was a house getting remodeled, the clearing out has happened and the rebuilding has started, from the ground up. I am starting to realize, as I suspect many ofYou're in Good Hands us in the training are, that the yoga we’re learning is much different from the yoga we thought we knew.

This is necessary. This starting point, this unlayering, this seeing clearly where we are. As our teacher pointed out, a map is no good if you don’t know where you are.

In this third week I’m starting to get a clearer visual of where I’m at and a clearer vision of where I can go.

This part feels so grounding. This placing my feet with care, pressing into the support of the earth, blending my energy with gravity and receiving the earth energy in exchange. Setting my foundation both figuratively and literally.

How do you define “There”?

This question was posed to us in the course of discussing how to get into a certain pose.

Isn’t this always the question? In yoga and in life. Where are you trying to go?

The answer is different for everyone, but for me there is no there. There is only here. Here becomes there, but it is always really here. I forget this often because it sometimes seems like there is a “there.” A pose, a success, a peak, a result.

In my heart I know time only exists in my head and that everything is fleeting. This reinforces to me that yoga is not the culmination of a class or years of practice or getting stronger. It’s every moment, transition, movement, inhale and exhale along the way.

In the words of our teacher, “Yoga is a how, not a what.”

When I step into my own skin, the container for my own spirit, and listen, this is yoga.

As much as we mentally comprehend that yoga is not about a pinnacle pose or pushing through to the end, we can often lose sight of this higher truth when we get tangled in patterns of perceived truth. The perceived truth of, My hips should be more open. I should be more balanced. I should be better at this by now. As if our practice and the poses were something we need to conquer.

I am learning to listen the voice that asks, How does it feel instead of How should it feel.

Backing Up & Diving In

These are two concepts I’ve started to appreciate on a new level this week. Although they seem mutually exclusive – to back out of something (such as a yoga pose) versus diving deeper into something – I’m starting to see them as two sides of a whole. As is often the case, two opposite energies create the balance, not just one alone.

When I back out of my deepest version of a pose, I have a chance to reexamine my alignment, my breath, and where there is freedom and tightness in my body. This cultivates in me a deeper connection to then unfold from. Perhaps the final version of my pose isn’t the one I’m used to doing, but it’s a truer, fuller version of it.

And that’s what I want to offer. True and full. It’s only from that place of true and full that I actually have something to offer.

I once heard a teacher say in Paschimottanasana (intense forward fold), “You work so hard to reach the floor only to find that the floor gets in your way.”

Just as in life, backing away gives us perspective, time to reconnect, and a deeper place to reengage from. This is sustainable opening. This is planting roots that will support us as we grow.

God vs. The Universe

We dove a little deeper into yoga philosophy and history this week. All of us in the class come from different religious backgrounds, and it’s a fascinating experience for me to sit in a roomful of people and be able to hear differing concepts and questions on spirituality aired in a nonjudgemental way. In a world where conversations on religion usually result in a heated debate, the curiosity and investigation of my fellow teachers-in-training is refreshing.

This openness is something I hope we all carry with us off our mats and into our lives. This respect and curiosity for the new, the different, and the difficult.

Leading by Example

I’ve been blessed with exceptional teachers on my yoga path, and they all have one thing in common. They lead by example. They are imparting as much knowledge by their actions as through their words.

I am learning so much about how to teach yoga by how they are teaching us yoga. How they relate to students, to each other, in and out of the classroom.

I believe leading by example is the invitation for all of us. I believe we are all leading by example, whether we intend to or not. People are learning from what we do and how we live. Our words are just the icing on the cake.

*****

This is the third part of a series.
Week 1
Week 2

photo by: MikeBehnken

Confronting the Unknown in Teacher Training

Breath Meets Body: Week 2 of Yoga Teacher Training

As I navigate my way through Week 2 of Yoga Teacher Training, it feels a lot like I’m walking through my house in the dark.

Walking blindly through a space I know well from having lived in it for years, it seems to change shape. In the dark I can’t walk quickly unless I want to bump into things.welcome new light

So I walk slowly. I feel with my hands the smooth wall, the ridge where a mirror juts out, and anticipate the drop-off where the wall ends. Between the walls I blindly walk through dark, empty space, trusting my instinct and my familiarity to guide me to the next wall.

It’s the same with this learning process. This relearning process I should say. In order to stay truly open and learn fully, I’ve turned off the light of what I think I know. Now I must feel my way through new concepts, old concepts, and have an altogether new experience of yoga.

Breath, Meet Bones

One interesting aspect we’ve been spending a lot of time on is the breath. Ujjayi breathing, different kinds of diaphragmatic breathing, and pranayama practices.

We all know the breath is a big part of yoga. We hear it in class all the time, and we can probably turn on our breath at will.

But letting the breath lead the body, this has become my practice.

Sure, I can keep up with a vigorous vinyasa class. Yes, I can make my breath loud enough for my neighbor to hear. And I routinely write on the importance of breathing.

But when I tried to actually let my breath (instead of my mind or body) lead me through every single pose of a simple flow class, I struggled.

I would be halfway into the pose and then begin my exhale.

This is the first step of yoga, linking breath with body. Since I don’t always do this, I came to the realization that, to my surprise, in much of my practice I haven’t really been doing yoga.

This revelation my mind calls “interesting,” because I don’t know what else to call it. I know it isn’t good or bad. It is just a process of rebuilding a stronger foundation, of reviewing what I think I know, of revisiting the home of my body in the dark, feeling my way around my breath and my bones and introducing them to each other.

Breath, meet bones. I thought you’d have met by now.

Parallel Processes

This breath-leads-body concept parallels interestingly with the bigger picture of the training. With so much mental focus and thinking, physical practice, and interaction required, it feels like a real-life vinyasa flow. Meaning you only get through it if you take one breath at a time, one step at a time.

If I let my head lead in this process of learning, I will become unbalanced. If I let my body lead, pushing it too hard, I will become unbalanced.

It is only by staying present and focused on what’s right in front of me that I will stay in sync, maintain balance, and enjoy the amazing process I’m involved in.

Although on the surface we are covering many nuts-and-bolts of yoga asana and philosophy, under the surface there is a refining going on. I think this is true for all of us in the class.

I’ve begun to treasure restorative yoga and the powers of resting, finding in it a wonderfully complementary and rejuvinating counterpart to intense flow practices.

As the new moon peaks on Saturday, its astral process seems to parallel mine. An erasing of what is visible, of what appears to be clear, of an obvious guiding light. A returning to the source, a deep introspection, an unlayering, a finding of an internal sense of balance, and a learning to see in the dark.

*****

This is the second part of a series. You can read Part 1 here.

photo by: AlicePopkorn

My First Week in Yoga Teacher Training

Salutation Nation - 069

I’ve embarked on an 8-week Yoga Teacher Training course. Yes, embarked, as in it will be a great voyage.

I hope to share my experiences with you as I travel this new and fascinating path. It’s a bit uncomfortable for me, as I usually prefer writing about my experiences after the fact. After I’ve got it all figured out and compartmentalized and ready to share.

In the spirit of stepping into the unknown, into the possible, and into the wonderful space of learning and practicing what I preach, I’m sharing a few of my thoughts and experiences from my first week of training while I’m still in the first week of training.

THE STORIES

It’s a fairly large group of yogis (about 20 or so) participating in this training. On our first day we were asked to share our story. Why we were there, what brought us to yoga.

I’ve had my own experience with the healing powers of yoga and have read about how it can cure everything from heartache to backache, but I’ve never heard a real person, sitting a few feet away from me, express how yoga had kept them alive or healed their body or become their “religion.”

Everyone had a different story. Some had been practicing for years, others not so long. As everyone told their story, we all felt there was something we could relate to in it. It was all human and all heart, and that is one strong common thread.

Listening to the stories reinforced to me the power of listening and the power of being heard.

Has anyone ever asked you for your story?

The How did you become who you are story. The Where do you want to go story.

The one where you spill your guts and free your mind.

Have you ever asked someone for their story?

While holding on to our stories can trap us, releasing our stories can free us. Releasing takes many forms, but I believe a healing component is to feel heard and to feel seen.

We cannot always fix someone’s problem or make them feel better, but we can listen to them and we can see them, as we would love to be seen and heard. When we do, we honor both the human and the being in them, and we tap into both aspects in ourselves as well.

THE PRACTICE

We all learn basic alignment from our yoga classes. The longer we practice, the more we start to think we’ve got it down pretty good. We know our yoga, we know our body.

The detail I’ve learned in just a few days has already improved my practice. Concepts that I thought I had a good grasp on before are being broken down in all their intricacies, allowing me to see their many parts in sharp relief.

They say the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. I guess that’s the process I’m going through here. Learning how to put what I feel in my body into words serves to highlight subtleties and nuances I had overlooked before.

THE PROCESS

Now that I’ve started this journey, I can’t believe I ever contemplated not starting this journey. It’s that amazing, informative, mind-blowing, and completely worthwhile.

It’s an intense but invigorating process. As we dive deeper into all aspects of yoga, external and internal, I expect to face my own mental walls, tight spots, stubborn areas, and fears. I hope to experience a breaking down of old patterns and a breaking through to what awaits me on the other side of this journey.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...