Falling Down

May 16, 2013 at 2:53 pm | Posted in compassion and connection, coworkers and colleagues, holding myself accountable, observations, poses and asana | Leave a comment

WOW.  How long has it been since I’ve been HERE?!  Is anyone still following?

Regardless, I was inspired to come back and write in this space when my friend Liv posted this article on facebook.  Go ahead; read it.  I’ll wait.

This part stood out to me:

“Because if you don’t practice it, how can you teach it?!”

While a part of me honors those who leave out certain poses because they’re simply not in their own practice, I find that I use this principle as inspiration for moving outside of my proverbial “comfort zone.” I WANT to try new things so that I can share them with my participants, and I think that there’s a LOT of under-appreciated value in having participants watch an instructor wrestle with a pose.

I think that too many people come to yoga class thinking that they’ll NEVER be as good as the instructor. Hell, I’ve been practicing for going on 13 years now, and I STILL think that every time I walk into someone else’s class.  Despite my exhortation that students NOT compare themselves to other people (or judge themselves too harshly), I find myself doing just that.  Every teacher is more graceful and flexible than I am, and I’m particularly bothered by the fact that I can’t (yet) execute a full bind and that my standing straddle is, in my estimation, wholly insufficient.

Letting that go is still a deliberate practice for me.  Someday, maybe, I’ll get past it, but for now it’s still something that I’m actively working on.

I think, though, that letting my participants see me fall out of half moon – sometimes spectacularly – or fight for a bind that I can only maintain for one breath gives them permission to fall down and fight, too.  Watching me struggle, seeing me shake and sweat, and listening to me talk about the places where it doesn’t just flow demonstrates to them that this yoga thing really IS a process.

Though it sounds counter-intuitive, falling down makes us better.

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My Own Words Coming Back at Me

March 28, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Posted in compassion and connection, inspiration, practice off the mat | 5 Comments

(Hey! I’m still here! Didja miss me?)

I’ve been feeling like I’m on the verge of something for a while now, and the truth of it is that I’m probably on the verge of a lot of somethings. For the purposes of this post, though, I’m going to talk about something very specific.

I, like everyone else who’s ever lived, have heard my elders complain as they watched me eat whatever I wanted to no ill effect. “Just you wait,” they’d tell me. “Once you hit 35, your body’s going to betray you.”

Well, I don’t know if I’d call it a betrayal, exactly, but I do know that, in this stage of my life (the 40-something stage), the rules of the game have definitely changed.

I’ve been thinking for a while now about the condition of my physical being and recognizing that the events in the last year or so of my life have not been conducive to the healthiest me I could be. I spent most of last year on the couch at my mother’s bedside, and my level of physical activity since she died hasn’t increased much (though, to be fair, my level of activity goes down when the weather gets cold, anyway; don’t think that I’m blaming my current state on my mother, because I’m not).

My observation is that human beings don’t effect change until things get “bad enough” that the status quo can’t – or shouldn’t – be maintained. I’m pretty sure that I’ve gotten to that point, and I’ve been doing the typical stressing that I do before something gives. I’ve become far more aware of the fact that I don’t “do” anything – that is, I’m not moving my body around nearly as much as is probably healthy. I’m reminded, every work day, that I’m not in very good shape as I huff and puff my way up the five floors of stairs I climb to get to school. I have noticed that my clothes don’t fit the way they used to, and I’m starting to get self-conscious about the way I look.

I was talking about this to my Weeble after yoga class today. He’s someone I can bitch to about this stuff because he gets it; he isn’t going to give me that “just make the time” crap because he has a job and a wife and a son and a life, too, and he knows that it’s not always that easy to take time for yourself when you’re intimately tied to other people. Anyway, just a few minutes ago, this popped up in my inbox:

Chili,

We are all so fortunate to have you and your words every week. Based on our conversation today, it is fitting that the spirit of your words reflects back to you…

There are things in all of us we don’t like. It is OK to have self-critical thoughts but always try to be patient and kind to yourself. Celebrate those things that you do so well and use those positive feelings to propel you forward in areas that you feel need improvement. Ask friends what they do. Try something you’ve never done. If that is not fun or effective, try something else. Be discouraged, laugh it off and bounce back.

Be happy for the journey even if the destination seems unreachable.

Weeble

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THIS is why I keep teaching this class (the only one I teach at the health club. I’m pretty sure I spend more in gas to get there and back than I earn a week). In it, I have a strong, supportive, loving community to remind me to be kind to myself and that doing what I can is enough.

I think I’m the fortunate one in this story….

I Adore Him

May 18, 2009 at 8:07 am | Posted in compassion and connection | 1 Comment

My husband rocks my world in tiny little ways every single day.

An example? This morning, I was wondering whether or not my yogabalance@comcast.net email address was working properly. I hadn’t received any email though that address in ages, and I used it as the contact for the certificate I made for Beanie’s Teacher Appreciation Week (every year about this time, I make up a certificate for a free hour of personal yoga instruction for the TAW raffle).

ANYWAY, I sent a note to Mr. Chili at work and asked him if he’d send me a test email to make sure that I could still get messages through that address. Here’s what he sent me:

This is a test of the emergency yoga email system!

OOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM

OOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM

OOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM

This concludes the test of the emergency yoga email system. IF this had been a real message you would have been told how to contact your nearest yogini for immediate help.

🙂

I adore him.

I Love the Idea…

April 1, 2009 at 10:50 am | Posted in compassion and connection, inspiration, learning and growing, questions and conundrums | 5 Comments

….but I’m not sure it would fly.

What do you think of this?

I mean, I can TOTALLY get behind the premise, and I completely trust the science, too; it just feels like laughing would be a huge component to a healthy life, so the scientific findings bearing that out make sense to me.

What I’m wondering, though, is would you come back to a class where the instructor started off by telling you to take a deep breath and just start laughing?  Would you think the instructer were off of his or her nut?  Would you feel like an idiot doing it?

Before the video was even over, I was chuckling, so I think that the infectious nature of laughter would help to take care of any initial awkwardness.  I love that laughing would do all the physiological things that it does AND that people would kind of be forced to not take their practices so seriously (it’s supposed to be FUN, People!).  I wonder, though, if I’d turn someone fatally off by trying this at the end of one of my classes.

Thoughts?

Twice in One Day

February 1, 2009 at 3:32 pm | Posted in compassion and connection, observations, philosophy, poses and asana, practice off the mat | 2 Comments

Today was a GREAT yoga day for me.

For starters, I had 38 people in my Sunday morning class.  Yep, you read that right; THIRTY EIGHT.  I’m more than a little surprised that my numbers are still that high, frankly; I’m used to a surge in attendance after the new year – resolutions and all – but the herd usually thins substantially by now.  I am heartened and humbled that so many people are willing to leave their warm beds on Sunday mornings to come and play with me.

I had a couple of brand-new, never-been-to-a-yoga-class-ever folks in class today.  I LOVE it when new people come to my class; I feel like it’s an opportunity to hold open a door for them.  So many of them come in nervous and apprehensive, and most of them leave feeling like this yoga stuff isn’t so scary after all.  I love that.

Anyway, we had a great class.  I worked ’em a little harder than usual, though don’t ask me why because I have no idea where the energy for a warrior series AND a sun salutation came from.  Through it all, though, I was mindful of my new folks and made sure that my directions were very clear.  I reminded people, again and again, to only do what they could – that their best was, and always is, good enough.  When it was all over, I laid them all out for a little rest, settled into a seated posture myself, and waited for the Universe to tell me what today’s lesson was.

What I got was an impression of Thich Nhat Hanh eating a tangerine.  In his book, The Miracle of Mindfulness, Hanh tells the story of eating a tangerine – really EATING it – to remind us that we can receive so much more of life’s wonders and blessings if we just stop long enough to actually NOTICE them.

“So much of our lives,” I said, “feel like riptides.  We’re so focused on keeping our heads above water – on just keeping UP – that we often look around and realize that days and weeks have gone by without our ever feeling like we were present in our lives.  As you take your practice off the mat and into your world this week, try to be mindful of the opportunities that the Universe offers you to BE here.  When you’re walking somewhere, be aware of all the wondrous things that happen to keep you upright and moving forward.  Really TALK.  Really LISTEN.  Be where you are.”

I woke everyone up and started rolling up my mat when Gail came to talk to me.  She’s an accomplished practitioner and rarely comes to talk, so I was concerned that perhaps she’s acquired an injury or wanted to express a concern about something that happened in the class (why do we always go to the negative first?!).  Instead, she wanted to tell me that the closing thoughts I shared with the class were exactly what she needed to hear.  She told me that she’s dating again after more than a decade, and that she’s finding it difficult to let go and trust.  “Being where I am – being mindful right now – is exactly what I need to do.”  It brought goosebumps to my skin to hear her say that – and it’s bringing them up again now as I retell the story.

After Gail left, one of my brand-new folks came and introduced himself.  HE had something to say, too, and he touched on something that I occasionally worry about as a yoga teacher.  “I know that some people, especially people who come to your class all the time, might find it repetitive, but it was great that you kept telling us to only do what we could.  I can’t do much, and the only reason I stayed for the whole class was because you told me that what I could do was good enough.”

More goosebumps.  I love my job.

golden-statues

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What’s Your Agenda?

November 14, 2008 at 9:13 pm | Posted in compassion and connection, inspiration, learning and growing, meditations, philosophy, practice off the mat, questions and conundrums, The Eight Limbs | 2 Comments

In addition to teaching yoga, I also teach college-level English.  I’m writing here about both of them because, where this question is concerned, they intersect quite nicely.

I wrote here about a student who left a comment on an  end-of-term survey at one of my jobs.  The short version of the story is that the student felt that I used the class to forward an agenda, and that s/he felt that the class was less about the reading and more about my opinions.

I don’t think that the student was wrong, exactly, but I don’t think that s/he was right, either.  It is not unreasonable for ANY teacher to be who s/he is in the classroom; teachers are not heartless computer programs – it’s never just about the material for the course.  What makes teachers good – or not – is, I think, the level of themselves that they choose  – or not – to share with their students.  I said as much to my boss – you can read my full response here.

I’ve been thinking about this question as it pertains to my yoga instruction, as well.  How much of my “agenda,” which can best be described as lefty-humanist, would I be appropriate in bringing into my classes?  Was it okay for me to remind my students to vote on election day?  Is it appropriate for me to remind my classes that there is much suffering in the world, and that each of us has the power, though our thoughts and words and deeds, to help ameliorate that?  How far can I go in encouraging my participants to take love and kindness and compassion off the mat with them?

inner-light-the-energetic-heart-low-rez-85x11

I am careful to leave faith out of my yoga classes.  I ask students to play with their own energy, and I refer only to “the Universe” and never to “God.”  I want, though, for the people who come to my yoga classes to leave with a feeling of connection to a higher power, and to feel as though they are a representative of that power in their world.  I tell them that this habit we have of coming to class and unrolling a mat and twisting our bodies into funny shapes is only a tiny portion of a complete yoga practice.  I remind them that yoga can work to help us locate and nurture our highest and best selves, and to use that to inform our choices in everyday life.

I can’t go into a classroom and leave myself at the door, and I don’t think that I should.  Bringing myself – my passion and my energy and my love and my questions – makes me a better teacher…. and a better person.  Isn’t it part of my responsibility as a teacher to model the lessons I’m seeking to teach to others?

Hot Yoga

September 12, 2008 at 3:41 pm | Posted in compassion and connection, learning and growing, philosophy, the Universe craves balance | 3 Comments

And no, I don’t mean the kind of yoga practiced in a 105° room, either.

I’m talking about me, being hopping mad about the experience a friend of mine had in a yoga class.  Go on over to Ciboulette’s site and read about what happened.  Go ahead, I’ll wait; you’ll need to read it to understand what I’m so mad about, anyway…

You back?  Okay, first of all never, and I mean NEVER, stay in a class where the instructor tells you that pain is to be expected!  EVER!!  The very FIRST thing I say at the beginning of EVERY yoga class I teach is that if it hurts, don’t do it. Challenging is good, painful is bad, and unless one is in labor, this is ALWAYS true.  Please promise me, y’all, that you’ll get up, roll up your mat, and make for the door as soon as you hear an instructor tell you that you need to work through the pain.  You NEVER work through the pain unless you’re delivering a baby.  Promise me.

Look, I have nothing against Bikram yoga in principle.  The poses themselves are very similar to yoga poses taught in other traditions (not much changes in that respect – yoga poses have been pretty much the same for the last 5,000 years) and, as long as someone is well-hydrated and not prone to heat exhaustion, I think that hot yoga is fine, if you’re into that sort of thing (personally, I don’t particularly enjoy sweating/melting, so I’m not really a fan).

What I DO take issue with are teachers who teach students not to honor their bodies or their intution.  I dislike teachers who don’t offer modifications to students, who expect students to do the pose THIS WAY, DAMMIT! without any consideration for the different levels people occupy or the different ways in which people are physically built.

It may be true that, because of someone’s bone structure, they will never be able to get into a “full” expression of a pose, and no amount of focus or dedication or practice will change someone’s bone structure, folks.  If someone (like me) has a short neck between the body and the head of one’s femur, for example, one is never going to be able to do a full split; it’s not a matter of making the muscles work in certain ways, it’s a matter of the physics of bone against bone – once the head of the femur hits the hip bone, it’s not going any further no matter HOW much yoga one practices.

I really think that responsible yoga teachers would encourage their students to work within their physical edges.  I tell my students to do what they can and ONLY what they can.  They are certainly allowed to gently nudge those edges – if you don’t go a little beyond what you always do, you’ll never really improve – but they are admonished to never, ever force themselves into poses.  It’s just not worth the risk of injury.  And for the love of Goddess; if it hurts, stop.  Let’s not fail to take into consideration the fact that you may have tweaked your shoulder lifting the baby out of the tub, or that you slipped on the stairs and have a fussy ankle now.  Those bits need to be treated gently while they heal, and your instructor should be telling you that during every single class.

Finally, a good teacher is one who will encourage you to be kind to yourself.  Don’t allow yourself to be bullied or intimidated in a class – yoga, at least as I understand it, is intended to teach us how to interact with ourselves, each other, and the world around us.  We’ve got plenty of influences telling us to compete and strive and push ourselves.  What we really need are loving, counter-balancing messages of relax and accept and flow.  You should leave your yoga class feeling joyful and renewed.  If you don’t, don’t go back; keep going to classes until you find a teacher who clicks with you – you’ll know them when you find them.

Holding the Space

August 8, 2008 at 8:33 pm | Posted in compassion and connection, learning and growing, meditations, observations | 1 Comment

My Friday yoga class is the one in which I include a bit of restorative yoga.

I’ve mentioned restorative yoga before – here, specifically – and I think that it’s an important component to my teaching practice. SO many people in our society just do not know how to be still and quiet with themselves. They can’t relax, even for ten minutes.

I give my participants the opportunity to practice settling their bodies and minds at the end of each Friday class, and I tell them that it’s okay if they don’t get it this week – or next, or the week after that. I’m going to continue to provide this as a part of our practice, and I implore them to not be harsh or judgmental of themselves if they can’t quite sink into these ten short minutes; what’s important is that they try-by-not-trying (just try explaining THAT to a group of over-achieving health club members!). I’m asking them to release, to exhale, to let go of themselves for a little bit, and I make a point of being firm but gentle in what I expect them to do. I want them to know that they are safe here with me, but I also want them to focus – I think that the effort is well worth the reward.

This morning, as I do every Friday, I explained what was involved in the restorative part of the practice.  I told people to get into whatever position was most comfortable for them, let them know that there were blankets and blocks and chairs and extra mats for their use, then went around the room making sure that everyone was settled.

One gentleman, who’s been in my class many times before, was lying with his heels on the seat of a chair.  I knew that his knees were going to hurt in just a few minutes, so I had him lift his feet while I slid the chair under his calves.  Then, I went to get a blanket for him – he was only wearing shorts and a tank top, and when the A/C kicks in, it gets cold in that room.  I laid the blanket gently over his chest and arms, all while talking the class into relaxation.  Then, I noticed that my gentleman was crying.

I know what it’s like to cry in a yoga class.  I can’t really tell you what it is about certain environments or certain situations that allows for the walls to come down, and I can’t really tell you exactly WHY I sometimes feel the urge to weep in a class – there’s nothing specifically upsetting; it’s more as if a hatch gives way and allows something amorphous to come bubbling up.

I also know that it’s terrible to have specific attention drawn to you when this happens; it’s hard enough to be crying without knowing why, but to have the entire class know it makes it even worse.  Finally, I know how wonderful it feels to feel connected, quietly and unobtrusively, to someone else.  Knowing that someone knows you’re struggling without having to explain yourself or feel embarrassed is incredibly freeing and, I think, helps to work out whatever emotion is trying to escape in the first place.  A nod, the touch of a hand, a smile, or a hug are really all that’s needed for that connection to be made, but those small gestures are profoundly important.

Knowing all of this, I continued to talk in the same tone and pace to my class, but I moved to kneel over my gentleman’s head.  I put my hands gently on his temples, all while directing the class to release their toes and fingers, to let themselves either sink into the floor or float above it, while I stroked the sides of his head.  I wiped tears away.  I stayed there until he began to calm, but I left before he was quite there because I didn’t want him to calm for me; where he went with this was entirely his journey, and I didn’t want to influence it in any way.  He knew I was there, he knew he was safe, and he knew that I had no judgment; I tried to vibe as much love and warmth as I could.

I let the class stay in their pose for about 10 minutes, then guided them to be brought back in the arms of a strong, loving presence.  I wanted them to feel light and clean and safe; held and loved unconditionally, the way a parent would carry a sleeping baby.  I asked them to feel themselves being lowered gently back into their bodies.  I brought them back to a seated position, thanked them for sharing the hour with me, and invited them to come to see me with questions or concerns, then I dismissed the class.

Before he left, I went to my gentleman, bowed to him with prayer pose, then wordlessly offered a hug, which he accepted.  I don’t need to know what his emotion was about, but I do need him to know that he is loved and cared for.

I’m feeling pleased and proud that I created a safe space for him to take this trip today.

He’ll be back.

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