Thoughts on Confidence/Yoga Teacher Training – Weekend 8

Somehow I never ended up writing about Weekend 7. It’s funny: as soon as I think I’ll have extra time to study and write and start practice teaching, life accelerates even further and the opposite happens. I remember Weekend 7 being a good one and for the actual physical practice, Kate led us through a beginner’s level class. It was great. She is so good at what she does that even her beginner’s classes have value for anyone at any level due to the way she links poses together and has her students focus on fine-tuning. I may not have sweated, but I still felt like my body was put to work.

I am only halfway through Weekend 8 but I wanted to put fingers to keyboard on a significant thing that happened. We started today with Philosophy and had lots of discussion about Book Three of The Yoga Sutras. (I could probably write a whole post on just that.) But the actual physical practice was a more vigorous one and Kate had us doing Inversions again. One of the written assignments from Weekend 6 was to compose an essay about one of the Kleshas that resonated with us. I wrote about Abinivesa, which is literally translated as a “fear of death” but can be interpreted much more widely than that. There was a lot of personal information that I shared in that essay which explained why I had this fear, but ultimately I related it back to my mat and how it held me back from getting into poses like Headstand. I did not grow up very flexible or strong – physically, but probably in other non-tangible ways as well – but both of these things have certainly improved due to my asana practice. I feel like I am at the point that I could lift up into Headstand but then I (literally) feel my head getting in the way. During today’s more vigorous class, Kate called me out on this. I started to well up into tears; not because Kate was being cruel – because she was right. And she knew from my essay that I would know she is right. (Also, I have my period.)

But even when Kate was preparing us to do Headstand, I could feel myself getting anxious. I started to feel the tears welling up then, long before she said that my confidence was getting in the way. What’s crazy is that I have been criticized in the past for how confident I am and here I was being called out for not having any. Which is it? 

And as Demi Lovato sings, what’s wrong with being confident? But I am confident about the things that I know that I am good at. I am not taking this course because I think I am “good” at yoga or because I think I would make a “good” yoga teacher. I am truly trying to push my boundaries of comfort and see where this journey takes me. Although it has been stressful at times, so far it has taken me to a place that I haven’t regretted going. After this weekend, we only have four weekends left. We are 2/3 of the way through! But it’s true that I keep psyching myself out – which honestly is unusual for me. How humbling it’s been to step outside of my confident zone.

Weekend 6 – Yoga Teacher Training

We are officially halfway through! The most amazing part about that is that I almost dropped out last week. Our homework included a number of time consuming written assignments on top of a LOT of reading. I knew I had a busy month of work travel ahead so I jumped right into it. In fact, I was determined to finish all of my homework within the first week after our last session so I could spend some extra time memorizing the Sanskrit names for the postures and studying anatomy. Best laid plans, as they say…

I got very frustrated/overwhelmed by the class sequencing assignment and wasn’t able to finish up early as planned. I ended up having to cram in all my written assignments the few days before our next weekend session and even took a pass on one of them. Thankfully, we are allowed to miss two but they CANNOT be the sequencing assignments – which are, of course, the hardest! I guess this makes sense because we are being trained to develop a class according to the YogaWorks methodology – so if we can’t actually DO that, we probably shouldn’t graduate. Unfortunately, the sequencing assignments require us to develop a Component Part Chart first and then identify poses that will help lead the students to the peak pose of the class – a couple of backends to help prep the students for Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand), as an example. I say “unfortunately” not because it’s silly to do – it’s just VERY time consuming. I have a whole new respect for YogaWorks certified teachers after learning what they do to prep a class!

The other assignments I turned in came back COVERED in green and I was totally deflated. (Our Instructor uses green instead of red ink; I assume it’s more yoga friendly.) She offered me the opportunity to redo my homework but I had already spent hours on what I turned in and was overwhelmed by the thought of carving out that time again. I have not had any time off from work since a couple of days in October and I am simply burnt out! When my alarm went off on Saturday morning, I debated not going to class – which I knew would mean that I’d be dropping out. I had peeked at the next set of homework and it had even MORE written assignments to turn in. I finally had a weeklong (and much needed!) vacation booked in February and I did not want to have to be doing homework on it when I really needed to honor my burnt out self and relax. But at the very last second, I got ready and packed my lunch and decided to let the universe make the decision for me. I would see how I felt at the end of that day’s session and then make the call. And surprise, surprise – it was a great class. As soon as I walked in and saw everyone smiling at me, I felt so much better. We started with philosophy and I was totally engaged. Then we had a great physical practice and I felt fairly strong despite having a couple of cocktails the night before.

I realized that I was just freaking out. I knew I would feel less overwhelmed after taking an actual vacation and throwing everything away that I had invested so far in this was silly. At my request, Kate pulled me aside to have a chat and I told her that I was already all set; I knew what I had to do. She gave me a hug and assured me that I’m doing really well – despite all the GREEN. When I got home, my BF gave me a yoga mat bag as a gift and I realized what an amazing difference it makes to feel supported. When I saw the smiling faces of my fellow students – my community – I immediately came down from the ledge. And then Kate was so reassuring throughout the entire weekend, which I started to realize that all of us needed (not just me). And then the icing on the cake: how lucky am I to have a BF who understands all the work I’m putting into this – and even buys me thoughtful gifts in support of what I’m doing.

Sometimes you truly just need to take a breath.

Weekend 5 – Yoga Teacher Training

Thankfully, we spent less time on Anatomy this past weekend! (Although I really shouldn’t say that because I should be spending MORE time on Anatomy in order to actually start retaining some of what I’ve learned.) We are now spending more time on the Yoga Sutras and Class Sequencing. We actually had to get up and teach the entire class through a sequence of three postures – Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior 2) into Utthita Parsvakonasana (Side Angle) into Trikonasana (Triangle). We are only supposed to be using the Sanskrit names of the postures now, but I am still struggling with those as well. My BF actually got me the second set of Yoga flash cards for Christmas (I had purchased the first set already) so now I should have cards for almost all of the postures I need to learn.The postures are broken out into different categories: Neutrally Rotated Standing Postures, Externally Rotated Standing Postures, Backbends, Inversions, etc. We are learning to develop classes based on a logical (and safe) progression of these postures. The idea is that you select either a peak pose or theme, break that pose or theme down into its component parts, and then take the class through a sequence of postures that either prepares them to practice the peak pose or relates to the overall theme (backbends, as an example). Sounds easy, right? Not necessarily. One of our homework assignments is to develop a class sequence leading to Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand) and I am struggling with it. In YogaWorks, there is a specific way to order the poses (asymmetricals before neutrals, standing before seated, etc.) and you also have to provide counter poses (a forward bend to balance off a backbend) and give breaks (a rest in Balasana, Child’s Pose, as an example). It gets a little daunting to try to stick to the “rules”, but the rules make sense. When I have surprised myself in class by being able to make great strides in a difficult pose, it is because everything the teacher had me do leading up to that pose readied me for it.

My day job continues to be busy and I am traveling a lot for work right now, but I have still found a way to dive into my homework. I am trying to get it done by the end of this weekend so I can spend any free time I have over the next couple of weeks memorizing the posture names and improving my understanding of Anatomy. I am getting very concerned about passing the final exam. Kate, our Instructor, says that we will be very well prepared but I feel my lack of confidence in these areas is giving me too much self doubt when it comes to thinking of myself as a potential teacher. I chatted with one of the studio assistants when I went to a regular studio class last night and she mentioned that part of the tryouts to teach at the YogaBalance studio is to do exactly what we had done in our YogaWorks training class this past weekend: lead the Studio Manager/Interviewer (who in this case happens to be Kate, the same person running our training) through Virabhadrasana 2 to Utthita Parsvakonasana to Trikonasana. I was like, really?!?! I felt that I actually did an okay job of that so maybe if I start mastering the rest of this stuff, I could even think about being a sub at my beloved home studio.

Thoughts on Life

I’ve been reading a lot about the “life force” as part of my yoga teacher training and how many people think the breath is the actual force of life (ie. you are no longer living when you stop breathing) – and how controlling the breath (pranayama) means you are connecting with this force. But according to the Yoga Sutras, the “life force” is an entity of its own – and it is one of divinity. Controlling the breath helps clear the mind and calm the nervous system so one can tune in to the divine vibration within them – the true “life force” – but the connection is not made solely through the use of pranayama. Pranayama is just a tool.

While digesting this information, I began to think about watching my beloved cat Norman die. He ultimately died of renal failure but the root cause will never be known despite many tests and procedures. His vet felt that he could pass at home with me – if I was up to the challenge – and he would not be in pain. I could tell that he was fighting to go home again after so many days in the hospital, so I did take him home and began a death vigil. It was a 2-day process. I had never watched any living creature die before, so I started googling what to expect. Will it be gross? Will I think he’s dead when he actually isn’t yet?

When the final process started, he laid on his side on the floor breathing quickly. Then, he lifted his head and neck to cry out and his eyes went dark and his head fell back to the floor. Some stuff came out of his mouth but nothing too gross. There was still air in him and his chest was still moving, but I knew he was gone. Looking at his body, you would think that he was still alive, but the life force had left him. What happened over the next twenty minutes or so was similar to putting a small pinhole in a balloon and watching it deflate. His soul escaped out that pinhole when the puncture occurred and the remaining air slowly seeped out. It was not the air in his lungs that gave him life; it was whatever had just escaped him. I covered his body (but not his head) with a blanket; in case anything else gross happened, I wanted him to have his dignity. My father, who also had a strong bond with Norman, was with me and was the one to remove the blanket. Before I looked, I asked him if he saw anything I should be prepared for. “He looks beautiful,” my Father said.

Norman Polaroid

What does animate us? What gives us life? I was raised Catholic and grew up believing in God. I disengaged from organized religion as I got older and simply started ignoring my own beliefs; I just didn’t bother to think much about religion or my own spirituality anymore. But this teacher training is the study of yoga in its entirety – not just the postures (asanas). What I’ve learned is that yoga is truly spiritual. A person who practices yoga postures to build strength or to get a good stretch is not necessarily practicing “yoga” – just one element of it. But if you are truly doing YOGA, you are connecting with the divine thing – whatever it is – that is the root cause of the life force.

Air did not give Norman life. He was no longer living when the life force left him. I saw it with my own eyes: there is something greater than us.

Weekend 3 Homework/Weekend 4 – Yoga Teacher Training

To be honest, I almost didn’t go to Teacher Training this past weekend. I work full-time and the holiday season is a particularly demanding time of year in my industry (we are not allowed to take any days off in November and December, just to give you an idea) and I have been on the road a fair amount. This gave me a smaller window to complete my homework and attend regular yoga classes than usual. The Weekend 3 Homework was more reading-heavy with only two written assignments: one to write a teaching script for Surya Namaskar A and the other was to write TWO variations for two different poses, Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) and Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose). I stress this because even with my propensity for detail, I somehow overlooked that two variations were required for each pose and only wrote one. Ugh!

Since we only meet once every four weeks, there is a long stretch between sessions. At the end of this past weekend, Kate asked us all for feedback on the course that she could share with YogaWorks. Some students shared that they are struggling with the amount of time between the sessions, whereas I wouldn’t be able to do this training otherwise due to my schedule. From what I’ve ascertained so far, these students do not work full-time and would have the flexibility to take a more condensed version of the course (there is a version of the YogaWorks 200-Hour Teacher Training that meets every weekend for three months instead of one weekend a month for twelve months, but there is not a version of this offered in NH). I have been thinking a lot about this and relating it back to my philosophical readings. Even though scheduling might not be as much of a challenge for these other students, a challenge is still presented to both of us. The student struggling to keep everything fresh due to the time in between sessions is now challenged with reviewing the materials more frequently on his/her own; the student that is balancing a packed schedule and trying to fit this training in is challenged with giving this study the attention it deserves. I feel like I have been able to rise to my challenge successfully so far. After each weekend, I analyze the homework assignments and put them in an order of completion that makes sense to me. I usually do the anatomy work last because it is the part that I struggle with most and like the least – but also because it will be the most fresh prior to the next session.

When planning out my Weekend 3 Homework, I was staring down my work commitments and the Thanksgiving holiday. I decided to complete all my reading prior to Thanksgiving (including the anatomy readings) and then I could watch the assigned videos and bang out my written assignments the week after Thanksgiving since writing comes more naturally to me. This would mean that I would turn my written assignments in the week leading into Weekend 4. I prefer more of a buffer on turning in written assignments since Kate always takes time to email us with thoughtful feedback, but it was the most logical way I saw to approach this set of homework.

I completed all my reading as planned prior to Thanksgiving and then the holiday came and went and I had to re-energize myself to dig back into my homework. I also ended up having to travel for work that week (not originally planned) so the number of evenings I had to finish my homework was reduced. When I finally sat down at my computer, I was so exhausted and almost out of steam. As such, I missed the fact that I was supposed to write TWO variations of each pose. Kate returned her corrections/feedback to me the next day and offered the opportunity for me to redo the homework, but I was simply out of time. I could’ve stayed up on Friday night and crammed the rewrites in, but then I would be even more exhausted for Saturday’s session. I seriously contemplated dropping out of the course. I thought, what on earth am I DOING? I don’t have time for this. And I still don’t know the names of all the bones and joints like my fellow students do! Why on earth did I take this on??

But then I found myself calling upon the Yoga Sutras I had read earlier in the month. I took a breath and tried to quiet the noise in my mind. It’s FINE. You are doing what you can. After Christmas, you can spend extra time on your studies in order to feel more comfortable with anatomy. And you’ll have more time to memorize the names of poses.

I opted to honor my need for rest and not do the re-write. I didn’t even spend time on Friday night packing my lunch for the next day. I just needed a BREAK.

But apparently I set my alarm a whole hour earlier than it needed to be set (that shows you how tired I was on Friday night!) and woke up on Saturday with lots of extra time before class. I took my time getting ready and was able to mentally prepare for the weekend while my BF still slept. It’s a hard stop between my work week and these training weekends (it’s so funny going from the rat race to sitting around discussing karma and reincarnation) and it was nice to have some time to be one with my thoughts that morning, even though I’m supposed to be freeing my mind of them!

And surprise, surprise – Weekend 4 turned out to be my favorite yet. We each had to teach Surya A to the entire class (which means we did a LOT of Sun Salutations this weekend – my biceps are sore!) and one of my fellow students led us through such a touching close on Saturday that I teared up. I also found myself remembering the names of bones and postures! Somehow I am absorbing the information without even realizing it. Isn’t that the best way to learn?? Kate also reassured us that we are all doing great and totally on pace. Apparently I am not the only one feeling like I am not keeping up.

So, I feel MUCH better. I am actually excited about diving into my Weekend 4 Homework!

Weekend 3 – Yoga Teacher Training

The most unexpected outcome of this training so far has been the sense of community I have with my fellow students. Kate, our Instructor, has been throwing us more and more into practice teaching situations where we work in pairs or small groups. She said that this typically does not occur until after Weekend 4, but she sees no reason to wait. And she is right, the more we say the words out loud, the more comfortable we become; and the more we interact with each other, the more supportive we become of each other. It’s really awesome how we cheer each other on.

But still, the amount of information is overwhelming. I am still struggling with Anatomy, whereas many of the other students are doing just fine with this subject. I am thinking that part of the challenge for me might be because I have suffered very few injuries and illnesses in my life, which is great in theory but has not afforded me the opportunity to learn the names of bones and understand how the body works like others who may have spent more time around doctors and/or in recovery. In addition, one of the other students has a medical background and at least two others are already working in the health & wellness field (a pilates teacher and a fitness trainer/coach), so they have had to previously study anatomy for their careers. Knowing this, I will just have to rise to the occasion and work harder to master this subject. It is officially the holiday season now, which is my busiest time at work, and my BF and I host Christmas for our families, which I love but is exhausting, so I am going to try to not overdo it with my yoga studies during this time. I figure that the dead of winter (January/February) will give me the chance to do some extra studying and get more comfortable with the anatomy stuff. I’m also hoping to start practice teaching during this time.

As far as sequencing poses and actual instructing goes, I think I am coming along nicely. I did order some flash cards from Amazon to help me learn the sanskrit names for the postures. One of my fellow students brought a deck to class this weekend and they were super helpful – she was quizzing all of us during breaks – so I figure I can task my BF with quizzing me at home. The other benefit of the flash cards is that you can lay them out to design class sequences, which I learned from reading the comments on Amazon. I look forward to using this tool!

Thoughts on Being Competitive

My writing assignment from my second batch of homework was to reflect on the sutras that I’ve read – so far, we’ve had to read up to Sutra 1.20 of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – and make sense of the somewhat conflicting ideas of effort (“virya” in Sanskirt) and non-attachment (“vairagya”). While pondering what I would write, I started to realize that I have been living my life this way for a number of years now – most likely as a result of the things I’ve heard my yoga teachers say in class. It’s so funny how things creep into your subconscious.

As an example, my BF and I ended up dressing as David Pumpkins and one of his skeletons for Halloween this year. This appealed to me on two levels: 1. the David Pumpkins skit from the Halloween 2016 episode of SNL cracked me the hell up – to the point that I’ve been using his picture as my user icon in a number of places, and 2. I found myself really wanting to dress as a skeleton – in general, not just as one of David Pumpkins’ skeletons. I had no idea where this urge to dress as a skeleton came from; it wasn’t a sugar skull thing, even though I have a strong affinity for Mexican culture. For Halloween, I typically channel an iconic character as part of an ensemble cast (think Darth Vadar, The Tin Man or Medusa), with my ultimate fallback costume being a witch with a prosthetic nose. But a skeleton? It was a whole new thing. And then I happened upon a slideshow of memorable celebrity costumes – Kim Kardashian in a skeleton bodysuit being one of them. Apparently that image was burned into my subconscious.

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But back to effort and non-attachment. It’s so funny because I, like most people, work in a sales-oriented industry. We sell a product and we are constantly “winning” or “losing”. We hire people that want to WIN. No surprise, a lot of these people have heavy sports backgrounds and our conference calls and meetings are filled with sports analogies. Let’s hit it out of the park! This sales meeting is our Superbowl! Go team! Do I like getting a bonus? YES. Do I work my ass off and have pride in what I do? YES. But this whole idea of “winning” – crushing someone or something else – just doesn’t resonate with me. I have never been competitive in that way. I have always been a “go getter”, an innovator, a task hacker, but I’m just not a mindless executor of plays. Does that make me not a valuable member of a team? I guess everyone has a role and I am probably in the right one, but I just cringe over battle cries of winning when there is no clear reason why we NEED to win. Are we curing cancer? NO. Are we trying to keep our jobs? YES.

At the end of the day, I do have faith in the universe. That faith has served me well so many times in my life. The best things have happened to me when I have truly turned over the reigns and let the universe do its thang. That is not to say that I didn’t put in any effort in these situations. I tuned up the car, put my seatbelt on, and let the universe take the wheel. What I learned in doing so is that the universe won’t actually show you any results unless you are truly genuine in your intention – unless you are truly okay with the outcome. Cause it can not be great. I mean, hey, you’re speeding down the road without your hands on the wheel! There can be casualties. But you need to know that going in – eyes wide open. And you need to have faith that when it’s not great, there might be a good reason. So you must detach yourself from the results. Vairagya.

But the best part of virya – the effort – is that we are supposed to be putting our effort into living selfless lives. Oh man, that is HARD. Especially when there are so many ASSHOLES out there. But honestly – I know it’s cheesy – I do really have the best time when other people are having a good time. That’s a very superficial way to put it, but I mean it on ALL levels. I just want us all to have the best time possible, no matter how long we have. That is my new mantra and it will continue to bubble up on this blog.