Preferences

I don’t know if I’ve said it before here at Continue to Breathe – but I prefer meditation to yoga.  Maybe yoga is supposed to be a moving meditation.  But let’s get real, I don’t have to move to meditate.  I can sit and enjoy the ride.  And it is a ride.  It’s an internal ride with complete surrender, yet grounded in joy.  I prefer meditation.  Yoga is good.  I love leading my classes, but for myself I prefer mediation.

In the Now-ness of Life

I suppose my own favorite meditation lately is the exercise of getting my body and my brain together in the ‘now’ of each moment in meditation.  I don’t know how long ago I started really thinking about slowing, no stopping, the futurism of my brain and bringing that racing brain back to where my body is (seated comfortably in a chair).

The whole exercise started as I found myself reaching back to my buddhist roots during a simple meditation session to call forth my buddhist nature.  In the forty years I have been practising buddhism I have found the most fulfilling times, moments days and years, of my practise were when I was ‘filled’ with a presence greater than myself.  That filling came while I was in active buddhist prayer and chanting.  I have to admit, I could spend an hour easily in buddhist chanting prayer – it felt so good.  I would come away feeling high.  My then boyfriend (now husband) asked me one afternoon if I had been smoking something.  That’s when I realized how strong this inner being can be.  I came to rely on this prayer to calm and strengthen me.  It’s not a bad thing to fall back on.  But an hour is a long stretch of time to pull from one’s day.  My meditations now are fifteen minutes, and silent and overwhelming me still with insight, and calmness and a self that is more than self.

Yes, I do miss the time I spent in buddhist prayer.  I loved the ritual, the sounds, the smells, the postures, the sacredness of it all.  I have my alter, my Budsudan.  I love that it waits for me without screaming at me for attention, or complaining that I don’t come visit anymore or hardly ever.  Inanimate objects are amazingly patient.  Much like the dishes in my sink waiting to be rinsed and put in the dishwasher.  They’ll  wait all night without a peep out of them.

Meditation does not come with these accoutrements.  No need for candles and incense or offerings of any kind.  Meditation only requires my time.  I am finding these simple meditations to be as powerful as the peace and authenticity I found with the formal buddhist format.  Meditation is almost an anywhere thing.  I only need a comfortable chair and fifteen minutes undisturbed. Twenty years ago in the throes of full on buddhist fulfillment I would have called my bluff.  I would have told me that nothing comes easy.  Do your time.  Get on your meditation perch (assume the position?) and power through till enlighenment arrives.

I guess enlightenment arrived.  for these days I am satisfied.  I am happy.  The timing in my life is exquisite and I am fortunate every single day.  I wish the same for every one.  Every single person.  May they find this when they are ready – but of course they will.  As  the dishes wait for attention and we continue to breathe.

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.

Successful Blogs Require Video

Successful blogs require video.  Successful blogs have a great social media following and include video blogging or video instruction/information.

I filmed a video.  Okay, I filmed four days of video. I learned a lot in four days.

Number 1. Don’t wear crazy yoga outfits.  They only look crazy.  I think the reason people wear crazy yoga outfits is because they haven’t really seen themselves in it.  When you do a quick pass in the mirror this simply does not get across the entirety of a crazy yoga outfit.  I learned this information on day one.

Number 2. My living room does not look like a studio, or a nature center, or a film set.  It looks like a carpeted living room with a lot of big furniture in it. As I reviewed the video I see that it would take a week to get all the furniture out.  And then I would have to paint the walls, or cover them with curtains.  HEY!  Maybe I can just go pick up curtains to hang in front of the entertainment center – the one that no longer holds a television in it.  How do I disguise the fishing poles?  And where do I hide the couch off-camera and still have a hallway in the house?  I am still thinking on these questions.

Number 3. I have a common thread in each of my yoga practice days.  I have a favorite modification.  It seems that modification shows up every single day.  It may be because I did the video in August.  This modification is the Towel Swipe modification.  Towel Swipe modification is available in pretty much every posture – Downward-facing Dog, Wild Thang, Gate Pose, Locust, Any Warrior.  Even trees and mountains modify with a towel swipe.  It was hot.  I am not meant for Hot Yoga.

I would set a video in here.  Video as a challenge to myself.  But I reveiwed it again.  No way.  I’m just going to sit back and continue to breathe.

The Best That I Can Do

The best that I can do as a teacher is to inspire my band of merry yogis to continue their practice.  I don’t get to own my students.  They are merely passing through.  I see the “passing through” part every time class opens with a different set of regulars.  They rotate in, and out and back in again.  They show up out of the blue and it feels like old friends coming back to say hi.  I like that.  I want to be sure that I give them something they can use.  There is no assurance – everyone gathers what they need – regardless if I had anything to do with it.

My hope, other than the immediate benefit of each practice we have together, is that they will want to move on, that they will want to keep going with yoga.  Of course, it doesn’t matter if their practice is at home, or with another teacher.  My hope is they find what they need out of yoga.

Second best thing that I can do is that I do no harm. Two years ago January I was holding yoga classes for my friends in my living room.  And they kept coming back.  We focused on cats and cows, forward folds, and floor twists mostly.  I did the sequence almost word for word from the instructor I was attending at the time.  This Yoga with Friends class got too crowded for my living room, so we changed houses.  I was leading five of my dear friends through a full hour of yoga practice twice a week.  Eventually, timing was an issue and one or another couldn’t come.  We went down to once a week.  Then old injuries and scheduled surgeries started to keep people from class. All but one fell away from coming over for yoga.

The injuries and the surgeries my friends were going through made me want to get certified.  The last thing I wanted was to make any of these illnesses or injuries worse.  These women were all hurting one way or another.  Between them there were knee surgeries, a hip replacement, reconstructed foot and osteo-arthritis.  Spring chicken does not describe the group.  The youngest of us was 49 at the time.

I don’t know that being certified has made me any more competent at assessing these issues or teaching with and around them.  I am just as aware now as I was when I started that there is a lot of healing that needs to be addressed.  Maybe I am more aware at how much this healing is truly the responsibility of the one hurting.  The best I can do is offer an option toward this healing.  And yes, I am partial to yoga benefits.

I’m also partial to benefits of chocolate, a glass of wine and a great night’s sleep.  That may be a different kind of healing…as we continue to breathe.

 

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.

Subject Matter Expert (photo)

They think I’m an expert.

I still hold a full-time job.  I like being able to pay my bills. I like having the lights on at home and good food in the cupboards.  At work, when people hear I am teaching yoga, I get visitors stopping by to ask about quick fixes and physical or health advice.  It is flattering to be considered the subject matter expert.  Even when I know that I most certainly am not.  I am not supposed to be flattered.  I am supposed to be humbled, and I am actually.  When the questions come up, I am very humbled that my co-workers would ask me health and yoga questions.  It is after they leave that I feel all full of myself.  I feel like maybe I am pretty good at this and of course they would come ask me.  I am as ego driven as the next person.

So far I haven’t steered anyone wrong on the yoga and health questions.  So far, I am two-for-two.  Okay, so this advice thing is not an everyday occurrence.

I had been visiting in the office with one friend – the kind of work buddy that makes work bearable.  She has been feeling miserable lately.  Her legs are swelling, her feet hurt, etc.  Now my buddy has some physical ailments – her back, her hips, extreme weight, I don’t know what all else.  But I hate to see her in such pain.  She shared with me when I said I had finished yoga instructor training that her doctor recommended for her to practice yoga.  For me, I would love to be her yoga instructor.  But I would want to be there every other day like clockwork – or she won’t do it.

In the meantime I told her there is one yoga pose that may do her more good than any other right now and that is Legs Up The Wall.  I told her to go home tonight and for the next week and put her legs up the wall.  I even got on the office floor, real quick before anyone could come by, to show her how easy this is, and to prove it is just what I am saying it is.  This asana is to simply lie down and put your legs up the wall. (Insert Photo

Together we laughed at how crazy we are to be getting onto the floor and how the visit had deteriorated into one of those visits.  I did tell her before I left her area to do it.  Put her legs up the wall every night for the week and then tell me how she feels.  My buddy has not told me how it felt.  We haven’t talked about it.

But she must feel okay, because a week later an old supervisor stopped by my desk to tell me her doctor has recommended yoga for her ailments as well.  She has issues with hips and joint pain.  We were chatting away and I described some hip-openers she can do in bed before she gets up and some floor twists to just gently “wake up” her hips and knees.  I didn’t demonstrate this time.  I know better now.  My old supervisor seemed to understand.  I only shared maybe three things to help.

Is she feeling better?  I think so because I got word that the two of them have been talking about how they do yoga now and Sarah helped them with their yoga moves.  Between the two of them I only shared maybe four different asanas.  There was no assist.  I spoke of alignment, but how much information was retained?  How can this be considered “doing yoga”?

If I jump rope for one revolution is it considered jumping rope?  Well, yes, I suppose I did jump the rope.  But hey, the full effect of rope jumping (and yoga) is lost on these one-hit wonders.  And yet, hey, if each of them are doing these postures, semi-regularly even, they are doing themselves good.  It’s not about me.  It’s not about the yoga.  It’s about feeling better.  It’s about individual healing.  I need to step away now that the advice is given.

I am no expert.  And they are only doing a yoga posture or three as far as I know.  I hate to burst anyone’s bubble regarding the full nature of yoga, it’s not in a posture.  Who knows when they will want to expand or deepen their practice?  I would like to be there for that.  In a dharma talk I was able to attend the speaker said, “These are not your students.  They are here for a little while for you to prepare them for the next teacher.  You are only the bridge to what is next.”  Maybe my advice is all I get to give them.  I need to be okay with that.

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.

User Friendly Band of Merry Yoginis

We did a quick Savasana.  I meant to be quick.  We had done some great postures and had worked on allowing a strong Flying Warrior (Virabhadrasana III) for our peak pose.  This isn’t the first time this Flying Warrior is my go to.  Today was particularly nice for everyone.  They looked strong.  But we had taken our time and now there wasn’t much time left for a strong Savasana.

This is a day I am glad there is no clock in the room.  My battery operated clock is facing me.  I guide the gang down onto their mats and started the slow relaxing mantra as I walked over to the light switches to calm the room.  I had to think about staying at a calming pace with my guided relaxation.  I can’t just say – be calm for half a minute – and expect it to work.  I thought about it.

I came back to my mat at the front of the room and sat to watch the group.  Usually I watch for twitching and restlessness to know when the Savasana is no longer serving its purpose.  Today I was watching the clock.  We went into Savasana at the time we usually are done with Savasana.  There isn’t going to be enough time to clean our mats and roll them up if we get in a full three minutes.

I don’t know how long Savasana is supposed to last.  I just know that around three minutes everyone is done, put a fork in them and let these folks sit up and get about their day.

At a minute and a half – I am getting crazy nervous about ruining any relaxation by having to get up too quickly and vacate the room – I called it.  “It is time, already, to bring yourselves back into the room.”

Shelby smiled, she must have known it was coming.  Steph didn’t’ twitch once to be released.  She is the first one to start getting antsy to be moving.  I feel like I beat her to the punch.  Usually I am pleased to have her learn to wait it out a little.

Even with a short Savasana the cartel seemed pleased with our practice today.  It is going to be difficult to have a bad practice with this group.  I am extremely lucky.  I am so honored to be practicing my skills with them.  I got really lucky.

Private Gigs can be Cancelled

My private gig was late on Sunday.  Okay, my private lesson was late and then cancelled.  When I received the first text requesting late, I was a little miffed, but I agreed.  When it got a lot late and I was getting hungry and ready to move on with my day – well, that’s where I found myself glad that I don’t do yoga teaching for my only means of support.

When she had requested late, she hadn’t specified how late and at the really late mark I was feeling jerked around.  My text to her at the hour late mark (I can’t believe I waited an hour), “Do you want to do this next week instead?”  For all the things I wanted to say, I kept it simple.  And nicer than I felt.

It actually really pissed me off to be hanging here waiting for somebody.  And it isn’t until just now that I can see how thoughtless, how unaccepting I am of other people’s problems.  I was thinking total jerk thoughts…okay, just for an hour maybe.  It just goes to show me that I am no angel, I am no bodhisattva, I’m no yogini.  I am just another Joesephine with an agenda.  Being a yoga-meister does not make me better, or more accepting or enlightened.  I’m still who I am.

And I am truly sorry she started her day off with a flat tire.  It’s no way to start anyone’s day.  I’m sorry she didn’t feel the need to share that with me until late.  We will try again next week.