Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Reminder to Self: This is Why You Teach Yoga

Like most people, there are many high-lights as well as challenges to the job that I do. Teaching yoga and helping people are the high-lights. Paperwork and staff issues are the low ones. But that is all part of running a business - and as much as I want to think that a yoga and wellness center is not a "business," well, it is. There are weeks when the things that are challenging keep mounting. There have even been moments when I have considered closing the doors because it can sometimes be overwhelming. What keeps me going - every single time - is that a student or students, at the very time when I am considering closing, remind me why I do what I do.

This past weekend was no different...

This past weekend was my birthday. Not a significant one in the numbers category, but, as usual, I was telling people that I was older than I am. I am not good with numbers, so at 46 years young I really was convinced I was 47. No matter.

My birthday was on a Saturday and I had a light teaching load scheduled: only 2 yoga classes - one at 9:30 am and another at 12:30 pm. No real reason to get subs or cancel classes, so I headed in to teach my regular classes, thankful to be getting home early to spend a little time relaxing before the holiday weekend took off. Because it was a holiday weekend (Memorial Day), I had been advertising my classes all week. I wanted to make sure that folks got in their yoga practice, so I was all over social media telling everyone to come take a yoga class with me on my birthday. Really, I was only hoping to get people in the door for class...I was not expecting any more than that.

I arrived at 9 am and to my surprise and delight found balloons and a birthday card from a new student of mine. It was very thoughtful of him to arrive early and have them waiting for me before class. Soon to fallow another student came in with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. I was yet again surprised with home-made Roti from another student and his wife. Roti is a delicious Thai treat that is difficult to replicate from that in which the street vendors in Thailand make. I was about to go in and teach my class, but I had to eat that Roti first while it was hot. Man, it was good!

So, stuffed and feeling happy I waddled into the yoga room to set up the playlist for class, asking everyone to come into child's pose. Normally it's a pretty quiet moment in a yoga class. Not this time. The class broke out in a round of "Happy Birthday," to the surprise of myself and a couple of new students that had just dropped in to take a class while in town. Again, the sentiment was sweet. I had never gotten a round of "Happy Birthday" in class before and was truly touched.

After class another student came up to me to give me a birthday hug. She admitted that she wished she had known because she would have gotten me flowers. I told her that it was not necessary and truly, that her being there for class was enough for me.

I went to lunch with a friend and came back to a bouquet of roses and a card from that student in the door of the yoga studio. She had also left me a phone message to tell me that she had left them there for me. After class I called her back and left a message on her machine. Really, I was truly touched by such affection from everyone, and she most certainly did not have to come back with flowers.

Later that afternoon I received a text message from the student that had left me flowers (I had called her back from my cell phone, which I often do). Her text brought me to tears of joy and happiness, as I was once again reminded why I love teaching yoga. It simply said:

"Hi, it's _______. Was in shower after planting in garden...You deserve the flowers and more. I wonder if you know how important you, my practice & the studio have become to me. You all came at a crucial time in my life when I am desperately searching for a community in which I can be my best me & be comfortable. Thank you! Bless you & Namaste!"

I love all of my birthday gifts: the vegetarian muffins, the balloons, card, flowers, lunch and Roti. But, come on!

This is not the fist time that I have received such a message form a student. I keep the hand-written ones in a box and the emails in a folder. There have been days when I really just needed to pull them out and read them again. Not that this day was one of those times, but that message will certainly be added to the box.

I have always said that the reason I teach yoga is to help others heal themselves. When a student is touched by my classes or the community that I've created, well, that is just the best present that I could ever receive. And I guess I'll keep teaching for a while more.

The Light in Me Honors the Light in You.

Friday, May 16, 2014

My Big "Phat" Greek Yoga Teaching Adventure

I recently returned from a trip to Greece where I had the tremendous opportunity to teach yoga. A student of mine moved to Greece several years back with her husband who is a native of the island. Back when she arrived nobody was teaching yoga there, so she began to incorporate a yoga practice into her workout at the gym. People quickly began to take notice and before she knew it she was teaching yoga to a few people. Over the span of the few years she has lived there, her teaching has grown to about 5 or so classes a week and the interest on the island is growing every year.

Since she had not taken a formal yoga teacher training, she approached me about doing a long-distance teacher training program with her. At first I thought, "how am I going to do a teacher training with someone half way across the globe?" But the thought intrigued me so I looked into it further. As a registered yoga school with the National Yoga Alliance, my first call was to them. I realize that YA only deals with schools in the USA, but I was not sure as a registered school what my role would be internationally. Turns out, you can do pretty much whatever you want in most other countries as there really are no regulations by them out of this country. This put my mind to ease, however, I wanted to make sure that what I was going to embark on with my student had integrity to the program I teach in the US. I didn't just want to throw something together. I wanted to give her the best training that I could given the distance.

So, I came up with a long-distance training program and we began to embark on it together first through readings, discussions, questions and projects. I even included recorded DVD lessons of several of my own teachings here in the US. Via email and telephone, we were able to do a lot of the program and I was very happy to see how this long-distance training could actually work in the right conditions.

As it was important to visit her and do some training in person, a trip to Greece came up. I was curious to see just what she was doing in her classes and how she was instructing yoga in Greece. The important line that we needed to find was ensuring that the practical applications of the practice of yoga were being taught with integrity, while allowing for the energy of the island as well as the authenticity of my student to emerge through. In short, I was not going to "critique" her as much as I was to teach her more about yoga, answer questions that she had, and try to help steer her towards a beautiful merging of a natural and cultivated yoga practice for her students.

I often remind students in my teacher training program of the importance of having their own yoga practice. As fledgling teachers often do, teaching yoga overshadows the ability to have one's own practice and this is a very common and a mistake. I tell all my trainees that you need to have a regular yoga practice yourself because when you are teaching yoga, that is not your practice time - that is the time for you to be a teacher. In the 5 years that she had been in Greece, my student had not been exposed to the teaching of her own teacher nor had she been able to immerse herself into her own yoga practice - and I wanted - needed - to give her that opportunity as well. So I designed a week of yoga including private lessons as well as group classes to share with her own students in Greece, and I set out to travel there and teach these lessons.

What an amazing opportunity it truly was. In the process of creating something that would bridge the language barrier and give the students as well as their teacher lessons that would be practical as well as memorable, I became a new teacher myself. In the first class that I taught, I felt butterflies in my stomach. I hadn't felt that type of anxiousness in a long time, but there it was! I suppose a lot of it came from my worry about being understood by the students in Greece as I did not know a lick of Greek. And although I was assured that the students coming would know some English, I wondered if the Sanskrit language would fit in or create more of a communication barrier.

I chose to kept it very simple. The first class was the most physically challenging one of the 5 that I was to teach them (in hindsight maybe not the best idea), but they all followed along like troopers. I think that there were about 15 people in that first class. It was a "Solar" based class and I had made handouts for them with words in English, Sanskrit and Greek that we went over together before the class. And then we dove right in to the energy of the sun!
The evening class that day was a gentler one because I wanted them to understand that yoga is diverse and also to empower them to come to more of the classes to find out how. Both of these classes were able to be held at a gym called Yuppiyanna, where my student teachers her yoga classes. Unfortunately we would not have that room for the next few classes, but arrangements had been made to practice at a lovely hotel on the water called Golden Beach. The owners of Golden Beach were very gracious in providing us with a space to practice yoga and the setting, although not directly on the beach due to the wind, was a lovely space to be. Click here to Check out Golden Beach's website

The next day I taught the second specialty class dedicated to the moon where about 20 people showed up. I was told that the word "got out" that there was an American Yoga teacher in Tinos. I was extremely happy with the energy of the class and the openness of the people in which to learn from me. We laughed, we chanted, we saluted the moon and the stars. It was a beautiful coming together. And now with being in Greece for a few days, talking to the people, and getting to understand the area, I could see that I was able to communicate with them a little more in English. A wonderful student offered to interpret for the couple of women who spoke only Greek as well. My hope is that she also got to enjoy the practice herself! 

I was supposed to take a class the next morning taught by my student, however, there was so much new energy emerging that I felt it may be a little overwhelming. When I told her that I would teach the morning class for her and we would make it open questions, smaller lessons and allow everyone to ask specific questions she said it was the best gift I could have given her. And it was one of the best idea I had all week, truthfully, because I got a chance to explain things in more detail to them. In this class I had the opportunity to explain some things that I wouldn't have been able to if I had not decided to teach the class, and in the end was able to share a lot more information and experience with them than I had originally thought that I could. 

My final yoga class was on Friday in the early evening. This one was the culmination of the entire week of classes and training. I'd chosen the most challenging sequencing for a teacher to instruct, to a group of people who only partly understood me. Having just started to feel a comfort with the students and the language barrier, the morning of the last class my nerves kicked back in. But that wasn't the only thing that kicked back in...the wind was back again and with a force! The irony? I was teaching an elemental class: earth, water, fire, air and ether experienced through yoga. Hahaha!

Well, air was already present! It was such a challenging class to teach. In addition to the wind storm, it was a little cold and we were again outside at Golden Beach. The mandala sequencing required us to be in a circular form with me in the middle. This also meant that at times people would be facing away from me and in some cases, into the wind. Our little alcove only protected a portion of the students and during class I watched those sitting in the back struggle to keep their yoga mats down on the ground instead of blowing away.

The mental struggle for me was tremendous. I did what I tell my students: "come back to your breath." As the night got later and the sun started to go down making it even cooler, last minute adjustments in the class were required. My "sequence" went out the door and I pulled everyone together into the alcove and took it in a different direction so that we could huddle together. We pulled together and held hands in Savasana. Afterwards we sat up, chanted to keep warm inside, and spent some time moving inward, now sheltered from the wind.

As soon as I went with the flow of the natural energy around me, the class smoothed out and felt natural and just right. Perhaps it was my imagination, but I even felt the wind start to slow down. My lesson in teaching the elements? Listen to them when they are trying to tell you something!

I had many high points in teaching the yoga classes in Tinos, but I was most thrilled to have started to remember some of the students by name by the end of the week. Although it sometimes takes me a while, I do try to remember all of my regular student's names. I hope that it conveys to each student that in my mind they are all special and important to me. Greece was no difference. By the end of the week I knew many of them by name, we were digging deeper into their own practice, and everyone was learning so much - including myself.

A handful of students came to every single class that I taught. I loved that they smiled every time - even while doing challenging things. Some of the new things that I taught them that they really seemed to enjoy were: laughter yoga, shitali (cooling) breath, woodchoppers and goddess squats with "HA!" And I'm sure those moments will be the most memorable as they continue to discuss the week.

I am forever grateful to have had this opportunity to teach in Greece. I am grateful for having prepared a long distance yoga teacher training program that I can now instruct anywhere, any time, for any student or friend that may move to another country and wish to undertake a teacher training. I am grateful for the overwhelming positive response from the yoga community in Tinos and from my student, who I do not name only because she enjoys her privacy and I respect that.

I definitely see more international yoga teachings in my future. I love to travel. I love to teach yoga. And I love to challenge myself as a teacher as well. This trip merged all three and I am very happy with the results.

The icing on the cake was a short trip to Athens before my return to the states where I got to visit the Acropolis. That was a life-long dream of mine - fulfilled. As I approached the top of the hill, emotions overcame me. I needed a moment. I just sat and looked up at ancient history, feeling for a moment that I had been here before. It was the perfect day: sunny with a slight breeze as the wind storm we had experienced in Tinos had moved out of the area. It was not very crowded at the Acropolis and there was time to just sit, take in the energy, and feel. I was amazed that the most overwhelming feeling was simply that of comfort and ease - like I was home. Whenever I visit an ancient temple, which I have had the tremendous ability to have done in many countries, I always feel like I never have enough time there. I was thankful to have had the time to sit here in Athens without feeling rushed to move on.

My lessons will continue with my student because the journey never ends for any of us, really. No teacher is ever a "master" of the practice and we are all always learning and growing as teachers. I am feeling that another trip to Greece will be in my future at some point. To do my lessons or to host my own yoga retreat - Heck, or maybe just for my own rest and relaxation?! I'm not sure. Time will eventually tell. But for now, I am thankful to be home and headed back to my own studio in good old East Windsor, NJ. I missed my students and friends, my family and pets. Each time I travel to an exotic location I realize that as much as I love traveling there, meeting new people and taking in ancient things, that I also very much enjoy coming home to the comforts here. Ever take a shower in Europe? You miss an American shower after 10 days abroad for sure! Don't even get me started about Thai toilets...that's a whole other blog...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

May Flowers

May Flowers

We have all heard the saying, "April Showers Bring May Flowers." I don't know what to say about the morning of April 16th when we got some snow, but let's just go with the shower part! 

I was never much of a flower person until I got my own house. My husband, the landscaper, likes to plant lots of green. While I like green, I have discovered that I also like color and beautiful scents. This got me thinking about aromatherapy and energy and symbolism of different flowers - especially this month with the blooming of life around us. So whether you burn incense or candles, make potpourri or cut fresh flowers, any particular flower and its scent holds an energy and intention. I wonder if your favorite flower is trying to help you bring in the energy that you need? Check out this small list:

Cornflower = Love & abundance, fertility. The world is a generous place!

Daisy = Everyday life. Use to enjoy the simplistic things about life when stress has covered over your capacity to.

Lavender = Cleanses unresolved feelings of distrust. Often used to help promote relaxation.

Jasmine = Pleasure, joy and sensual love.

Rose = Love. Red = passionate affairs. Yellow = tender ones. Pink = romance. White = a pure love.

Sunflower = Invokes very strong energy. Used when dealing with a particularly taxing situation.

Sweet Violet = Softness, vulnerability.

Tulip = Mends breaks of the heart.

Water Lily = Soothes and takes pain away so that you can smile again.

White Lily = Purify a love with too much anger, jealousy o misunderstandings.

As you take a nature walk, notice what flowers you come in contact with. Notice what flowers you have naturally selected to plant at your home. And observe what flowers you are given as gifts. Everything is energy. What energy are you putting out with the scents that you wear or the flowers you surround yourself with? Spring is for planting, so if you don't like it, this is a perfect time to change it up! Use your flowers on your meditation alter? Meditate to their scent or just enjoy their beauty.

Another Index of Meaning of Flowers

Yogi Corner - The Sutras of Patanjali: Asana

Yogi Corner: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Asana)

The most famous part of the Yoga Sutras is called the "eight limbs." Sometimes referred to as branches, these limbs are to be worked on until the impurities are dwindled away in order to achieve yoga. For May we get to the most commonly known yet still little understood section on the yoga postures.

"Prayatna Saithilyananta Samapattibhyam." 
B.2, V.47
Translation: By lessening the natural tendency for restlessness and by meditating on the infinite, posture is mastered.

"Tato Dvandvanabhighatah." 
B.2, V.48
Translation: Thereafter, one is undisturbed by the dualities.

You see those two sections above? Number 47 & 48? That is all that the Yoga Sutras gives us about our wonderful world of yoga postures or asanas. And yet every yoga class across the country dedicates just about 90-99% of their entire yoga class to this section. Funny, isn't it? There are no directions on how to perform "Downward Facing Dog" or what muscles to engage or where to focus your vision or drishti
Begs the question, "so why do we spend so much time with the poses?" I suppose the easiest answer is that the body is the most identifiable aspect of our self that most of us have (and trust me, most of us are cut off from at least some of it anyway). Upon further reflection, the answers are already given in the sections.
First of all, attaining a perfect Crow or Handstand is NOT the goal of your yoga practice. The "goal" is union, achieved by a completely relaxed and settled mind into oneness. How do we relax the mind? Well, first we have to relax the body. How do we relax the body? Well, first, let's release the toxic build-up in the tissues so that we CAN actually find comfort. How do we release the toxic build-up in the body? By stretching, squeezing, twisting, inverting, and strengthening the tissues. Notably, for each of us we store our own specific areas that need more tending to than others. Of course we have already started to eat cleaner (thanks to our earlier lessons), so now we have to work the stuff that we have accumulated out - on a cellular level.
Ever had the urge to cry in class? Laugh hysterically? Well, guess what? GOOD! Cry. Laugh. Let it go!!! This is how we sometimes release on a cellular level. Otherwise, we can bend and twist and work more and more, but if we never let it out, where is it going? Nowhere. It's staying inside - all the toxic energy we have taken in.
The second sutra tells us how to feel in each posture: firm and comfortable. While performing a posture, that is the equanimity that we are looking for. To be able to perform the asana, firm and comfortable, still and relaxed, means that you have cleared the toxic energy out.
Does this mean that there will be a time when Frog pose becomes a meditation for you? I hope so! Not there yet? Not even sure what Frog is? Keep coming to class...you'll hit upon it one day. You will probably dislike it a lot at first. You may have the strongest urge to use the bathroom or talk to the person next to you when you first try it. But, try this instead: breathe into it.
Yes, we all have our postures that we are working on. We all have toxic energy to move out. But thankfully we have our yoga classes with our supportive teachers in which to help us understand what we should be feeling in them! 
Now, get your asana to class soon!