Ready to be a Student

Friday I had to call a hiatus on Friday Drop-in Lunch Yoga.  I feel confident I can start back up that last Friday in November.  As I was chatting with Dori, one of my yoginis, in the hallway this week about all the things coming up in the next month at work she assured me a break might be in order.  As we parted ways I felt she had a point.  It would be better to take a break than to add to my stress by trying to be the kind of yoga teacher I want to be.  I have been less than focused these last couple weeks.  If you remember I was unable at the last minute to even make it to class two weeks ago.  I still feel terrible about that.

Next week I will be off work completely so that I may assist my husband post surgery.  The following week I will be working off site so that I can be available if additional care is necessary.  The week after that is the holiday week of Thanksgiving, so a class that Friday will be unnecessary.  It was with relief  I emailed the group that we won’t be coming together for yoga.

In the meantime, while I am taking this break I will be going back to my home yoga studio, the studio that is my place to hang out as a student.   It is a great studio.  The teachers there are focused and yoga centric while they are teaching.  Very few people there know that I am a yoga teacher.   I am ready to be a student again.  I am ready to  immerse myself in the motions of yoga with regard only to my own alignment, to allow my own focus to build back up.  I need to fill up so that I again have the enthusiasm I had when I started this drop-in class.  I look forward to freshening up my practise.  My hiatus may have just turned into a very short sabbatical.  I get to be the student.  A little break in the action is sometimes a very good thing.

Teaching

This first year of teaching yoga has been so full of getting out of my own way.  Fear slowed me down to an absolute snail (is there a snail pose?) in getting the class started for employees on Friday.  I have felt under-trained.  I have over-thought every move.  My private yoga class has felt the ripple effect of not being grounded, not being focused.  I want to move forward with more clarity for myself and my students.

The 200 Yoga Teacher Training I completed last year was not even close to preparing me to be the teacher I want to be.  I made flash cards and listened to Sanskrit translations.  I colored pages of muscles and ligaments. I drew up some sequences of my own and practiced them in class. I listened to lectures and took notes.  I participated.  I studied.  But nothing, no training can make you a teacher.  You have to teach to be a teacher.

My teaching may be very small, but it touches people.  I need to remember that.  I don’t do touch alignment, I prefer to verbally enhance my student’s pose.  There has been the occasional tap on Sunday’s knee to make her aware to adjust her knee over her ankle and not over the mat.  On Fridays when I see what needs adjusting I am able to call it out in the regular cueing for everyone.  And the offending student always gets the hint.  These people rely on me.  They rely on me to be knowledgeable.  They rely on me to guide them safely.  They rely on me to get it right.  Some days I really feel it.

I was going through the notes from the Northwest Yoga Conference 2017 when I was reminded that “A good teacher is a conduit.  As a teacher it is necessary to stay grounded.” (Seanne Corn).

Another note I wrote for myself said, “Get that vision of myself as the yoga teacher I want to be – then gather those skills.”

Along the journey this year I stumbled onto one of the modern masters, Seanne Corn.  She has widened my vision of what I can be in a teacher.  I picked up the books she suggested, Eastern Body Western Mind by Anodea Judith.  That one is so much more than Chakra work. And Moving Into Stillness by Erich Schiffman.  I’ve been digesting them.

I was given a great compendium of asanas that succinctly writes instruction for the breath work and the ‘feel’ of each posture, The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga by Srivatsa Ramaswami.  I remember things best when I read them. From this book I have gained a new respect for postures I have practiced for decades. Each week I have been able to incorporate nuances into these “old” postures for my students.  The postures have become new again for me.  There is a freshness is trying Uttanasana with arms outstretched.

I have so much more to digest and make part of me.  I keep referring to Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews.  The pictures with the muscles and ligaments highlighted is clear and concise.  I will need another copy before long.

To be that teacher that I want to be will only happen with my own grounding and stillness.  It’s not a matter of confidence.  I have the confidence to stand up in front of a group, or to work one-on-one.  What I want is effort and ease for myself.  I didn’t hear it, but Erich Schiffman has said, “…so filled with yoga it fills the room.”  With that I also want to be well-rounded, accessible, understood and understanding.

Theory and practice.  Enjoy the book, then apply it.  Some things can’t be taught, they have to be experienced.  Teaching is one of those.  And breathing.  We have to experience that singular life thing. Continue to breathe.

Do You Have a Thought or Does Your Thought Have You?

My home-base studio hosted a Gratitude Practice today.  Donation only.  The class was longer than usual.  The announcement made it sound that we would be practicing meditation, a gratefulness meditation focus, as the key component for today’s gathering.  I’m not sure that happened.  Regardless, the studio was packed.  We were making spaces where there wasn’t any space. I was feeling the community of it.

Four of the studio teachers tag teamed the session.  The meditation teacher, that’s all she hosts classes for anymore, did the final Savasana.  I did not get to take her classes while she was still teaching yoga classes.  She was the studio owner in fact, when I first started attending this studio.  Her classes just weren’t at times that I could make it.  Now she hosts meditation groups.  I so want to attend, and still they are not at times that I can make it.  Today was the first opportunity to take advantage of her mature instructor style.  I so appreciate a seasoned teacher.  There is so much to learn.

Savasana was not longer than usual.  I didn’t even reach that meditative state I am finding to be common place these days.  But her voice and some of her words still brought me mentally, to my knees in personal awareness.

As we settled into our asanas, and I could hear the rustling of people in the room so I was not the only one fidgeting into place.  Our meditation coach talked us down from our active minds.  Mid-way through her calming address she said, “What’s on your mind?  What are you thinking?  Do you have a thought, or does your thought have you?”  Right there all my thoughts turned to imaginary pixels and fell from whatever picture I had in my mind, just fell away, no trace.  No thought.  It was magic.  It was what I crave from meditation, that loss of thought.  The disintegration, the vaporization, thought never existed, or better…I was beyond thought.

Meditation has become my new love.  Allowing the lull in thought, to become unencumbered by thought, allows me to feel fresh, light, grounded and vibrant again.  There’s beauty sleep, which is a real thing, and there’s meditation, which is as wholly beneficial as sleep and only takes ten to twenty minutes.  So yes, the question is pertinent.  Do I have a thought, or does my thought have me?

While there was not direct instruction to set gratefulness or gratitude as our intention, other that at the beginning of class (grateful to be coming together, grateful to be warm, housed, with family and community) The Savasana did not come with additional instructions to be grateful – I was allowed to swim in the plasma ooze of the universe, thoughtless and flowing.

That such a thought would dispel my thoughts.  I find this phenomenal.

Why I am Not an Expert Yet

There is more to life than yoga.  I know…blasphemy.

Like most folks I know I have a hard time turning off the television.  If the television is off then my computer is on.   Usually they are both active, television and the internet.  Nothing is as hungry for taking up my time as internet.   I am in constant contact with media and advertising and brain-washing…I know better than to kid myself.  I’m not going to tell you that my personal media immersion is all from PBS and self-betterment sites.  I’ve had my fill of self-improvement affliction.  Still, I do love me some TedTalks,  I like just as well peeking in on my family and friends on Facebook.  If I would get off these media sites and power down I would be a whole lot closer to being a yoga expert.  Or an expert on anything for that matter.

I’m almost an expert at fishing.  When I am powered down I am probably out on the boat, fishing.  I would be an expert at fishing, but that is nonsensical.  Only fish are expert at fishing.

Good Teachers – For Whatever Reason

I have moved on from some really good teachers.  My first teacher was my best.  In essence I learned the yoga alphabet and how to read from her.  I was nineteen and soaking up information like a sponge.  I didn’t take the class seriously.  There were many in the class that did.  “Back in the day” it was required to have a physical education class completed in order to receive a diploma.  Yoga was my choice for physical education.  I was in San Francisco so naturally this was a legitimate choice.  I had no idea how this choice was going to follow me for life.

It was a participatory class, so I needed to be there to get my college credits.  This teacher was strict with her yogic philosophy of alignment, protect the spine, there is no yoga without pranayama, and inversions are the natural order of things.  She called this Hatha Yoga.  Of course Western Yoga has experienced a metamorphosis since then.

From this college teacher, not much older than anyone in her class, I put together a personal practice that carried me through my dating years, job changes, pregnancies, moving across the country, all those things that make up life. Until my thirties when yoga studios started popping up and television became inspired.  I did not see yoga studios in my small Wisconsin town, but along the west coast.  I would see these studios when I flew back to visit my parents.  I was envious.  The idea of a yoga studio would never fly in my little Wisconsin borough.  Not in the late 1990’s.  That’s when television put yoga back in my reach with – Inhale with Steve Ross.

My living room became my studio.  Yoga clothes began showing up in my local chain stores.  I bought yoga pants and – lo’ – a sports bra (the crowd “ooh’s” in astonishment).  At night after the kids were in bed I waited for websites to download through my dial-up internet connection so that I could drool over teaching studios that required a month-long stay to learn intense class work at hide-away enclaves before one would be allowed to teach on their own.  And these teaching enclaves costs thousands of dollars.  I ordered  a yoga mat online.  There wasn’t anything available in my town.   I was pleased with myself for actually buying a yoga mat…just for yoga.  It was all so thrilling.

In my forties there was finally a studio with a sole owner/only teacher in a town about thirty minutes away in this rural Wisconsin.  She was doing yoga three times a day with the group.  I don’t remember how much of her time she actually did the asanas with us, but I do remember feeling wonderful to have found a studio so close to home.  I only had to drive thirty minutes to get there, sometimes in the snow.  I don’t remember her name, or the studio name.  I know now that she kept me going.  I was so glad to find her.  My children were young and money was tight and time was even tighter. But I made it.  That woman kept me going.

By my mid-forties there was an annex to the local spiritual book store that allowed a woman to use this annex space for yoga.  This space was only fifteen minutes from home.  This was still not a yoga studio in my town.  But we were getting closer.  It must have been morning meetings, 9 am, so I only came once a week on my only day off during the week, Fridays.  I was the youngest one of the group.  Just five or six of us.  It didn’t matter.  We did yoga.  That woman was putting in the effort to get yoga to our small town.

I left Wisconsin in 2009.  We still did not have a yoga studio when I left.  Currently (2018) there are two – sort of.  One yoga studio with a store-front and regular classes.  One studio type thing that is using the local senior center and other various locations around town (rooftops and large parking areas) to bring in the next generation of thrill-seeker yogis.  It’s something.  And I am glad to see anything being offered.

Three years ago, maybe four, in 2013, Azer arrived as a contracted yoga teacher at my job for one year stint to teach yoga as part of Employee Health Initiative.  The reason Azer was a great teacher is because for a while, the first three months(?) we did the same postures over and over again.  The same sequence, every Tuesday and every Thursday.  After those first three months I was doing this same sequence at home.  I wondered if he really knew yoga or just those asanas.

Two things I learned: number one, familiarity puts things within reach of students.  Number two, the more familiar I am with something, the more apt I am to do it for myself and to show others.

It was Azer that inspired me to teach. If Azer can do it.  So can I.  Azer began teaching in April.  By January I had my friends over in my living room going through the exact same asanas.  They loved it.  More friends came.  Eventually we needed more room and we moved on to another house for more space.

The other wonderful thing about Azer is I watched him try some ideas with us that brought us out of our comfort zone, and I enjoyed those experiences even while I was feeling the discomfort.  Azer was always respectful but especially in his encouragement for us to try new things.  Inversions in particular.  What is outstanding here is that I hope I have brought some of Azer with me to invite my students to grow and try some things that may not be comfortable.  It seems balance poses are the out-of-comfort-zone element for my group.

I was on the hunt to find a studio to train for my certificate.  I scoured the internet and found plenty of studios to choose from.  They all cost the same, roughly about $3,000 for 200 Hour Yoga Teaching Certificate.  I found some wonderful teachers as I was searching a place to train for my certificate.

Kathleen Hunt at Yoga on Beacon kept me moving.  She wasn’t going to take my age as any excuse to not do any poses.  And I loved the challenge, because I knew the asanas.  I knew the right way to do them and she helped adjust me just right every time.  When I went looking online at her bio much later I found that she had founded a school previously.  The school was no longer available, but I realized I had stumbled onto a brilliant instructor.  Strong, stable, knowledgeable and compassionate.   Those may be my favorite words.

Heidi Krotzer at Yoga Soleil in Puyallup is one of these strong, knowlegeable and compassionate teachers as well.  I didn’t find her until I was already in training.  But now she is doing her own teacher training.  I want to re-train for another 200 hours.  Heidi will train me more completely than my original training.  It is only because Heidi is training that I want to re-train for that 200 hours.  I hadn’t considered it until I heard that Heidi is teaching.

I can only hope (and work toward) being considered strong, stable, knowledgeable and compassionate as I continue to breathe.

Instruction is Not Practice for Myself

The name for my yoga business is “Yoga with Friends”.  Being a yoga instructor has kind of changed all that, but I still like the name.  The intention was that I would have friends to do yoga with.  I now see that my own yoga practice is not actually available while I am guiding others.  To be the instructor I find I am demonstrating the posture and then scanning the group for alignment and facial expressions.  While I breathe into a posture, it is more for show than to actually feel the deepening for myself.  I don’t know why I thought being a yoga teacher would allow me to do more yoga (and be paid for it).  I still have to carve out time in my day for my own practice.

I see that even more now that I am instructing others I need to kick it up a notch for my own practice.  I am a better guide in class when I have myself well-grounded.  Yoga with Friends has morphed as I am shifting my focus to the friends in front of me.  In my classes I am doing yoga for friends more than with friends.  No, I don’t expect to change the name.  It will stay Yoga with Friends.

Yoga teachers still take yoga classes.  I spend more time in classes than I do teaching yoga to others.  Of course, I am a better teacher for it.  Some classes I take for myself, to deepen my own practice.  Some classes I like to go to because they have sequencing or cueing that helps me guide the people in my classes.  Either way it is a compliment to all of my teachers that they help me be a better instructor.

The more advanced classes, Level II, I enjoy for my own stretching.  The Level I classes and All Level classes I like for the review (again and again) of the basics.

When teaching a class I have to take into account the lowest common denominator.  The person that is new to yoga has to be my main focus.  Everyone that knows what a Sun Salutation is knows how to follow along.  For those new to yoga I repeat the sequence, the alignment cues, the left and right of the postures.  For the comfort of everyone I do not allow myself to go any deeper into a pose than the least flexible person in the room.  I take that back, I do go deeper and I show the next fullest expression of the posture for those that are ready to try that added benefit.  Then I come back to the level of the newest member and keep my eyes on the group.

People don’t want to admit to not knowing the postures.  I can tell who they are.  It’s okay, there’s usually more than one person that is trying something for the first time.  I have to keep it slow, basic, informed.  We all end together regardless of the level of experience.  And we continue to breath.

Top 100

I looked up the top 100 Yoga teachers in America.  I want to know if there are any Yogis in my neck of the woods.  Is one hiding nearby in Tacoma or Olympia, Washington?  Seattle yoga studios all sound ridiculously hip and absolutely have the best of the best for teachers.  But do they?  I needed an outside opinion.

Google sent me a list of sites that rate the top influential teachers in America.  That is probably what I meant anyway.  One list from Sonima gives 100 influential teachers in America.  With a hundred people to look through I scrolled quickly hoping to find someone I could connect with.  I wanted to know if there were any here in Washington state.  I would be willing to travel within my state to practice with someone that is truly knowledgeable.  I would consider Oregon or Idaho too. I could be up for a weekend trip.

There are some great people on this list.  Okay, so they are not near me, but it’s a pretty good list.  One of them not in my area (at all) that made the list is Rodney Yee.  Oh, how I love his cueing.  I don’t have to watch these videos, I only have to listen.  He understands communicating the posture.  I do like watching the videos though as he is always moving.  There is no such thing as a “held” posture, nothing static, he is constantly adjusting.

For my area I found Ana Forrest on Orcas Island.  Holy cow!  That’s just a day trip away.  SCORE!  Ana is listed as number 4 in this particular “Top 100” list.  But hey! She’s not even teaching in the United States.  On her website I see teacher training in South Africa.  Hmmm, that might be a little far away.

Almost at the end of the list is Patrick Beach in Seattle.  I make the trip to Seattle for my regular paying job five days a week.  It appears on his website that he doesn’t work in any particular studio nearby.  His next teacher training is scheduled in Los Angeles.

Most everyone else on the list are in New York and along the coast of California.

I suppose what I get out of this website wormhole of seeking influential teachers of our time is that the great ones are already out of my reach.  With an exception.  And this is the greatest exception.

Last year I attended the Northwest Yoga Conference.  (I have to say, I know how to pick ‘em.)  Speaking at the conference last year was Seanne Corn.  She hales from Topanga, CA.  Seanne Corn is on the list of “Top 100”.  This is my cue to keep attending conferences and events if I want to learn from the masters.

That was a great conference.  Seanne’s participation was THE BEST Dharma talk I have ever attended.  In her all day workshop I felt that I was being handed everything that I hadn’t gotten from my 200 hour yoga teacher training.  (That’s another blog post, maybe two.)  Seanne really laid it on the line, spoke regular people speak, and infused so much teacher training, personal insight and philosophy into her hours.  I have pages and pages of notes from that workshop.  She shared books to read, and more teachers to refer to.  Seanne said a couple things I still remember (but I checked my notes to get it correct here)…

“Teachers are bridges.  We don’t own our students…we are moving them on” to the next step of their journey.

When a student is feeling the internal energy, that “aha!”, it is our job to get out of the way to let them experience this. Let them feel. (paraphrased)

“A good teacher is a conduit.  As a teacher it is necessary to stay grounded.”

Seanne led a massive group (200? 300?) people in practice.  It was magical. Later she described the format she used and why.  The why opened my eyes to what is possible.

This year at the Northwest Yoga Conference there are three of the “Top 100”.  Featured speakers are Tiffany Cruikshank, Amy Ippoliti, and even Maty Ezraty.  I was able to get a spot in the workshops with Maty Ezraty and Tiffany Cruikshank.

I suppose the upshot of this is, search for the best, you will find it.  And continue to breathe.