Do-able Tasks.

A friend of mine recently posted a Facebook status about how to better keep your resolutions. In short, she suggested to break one huge task down into smaller, do-able tasks. So simple, but it was like that DUH lightbulb went off in my brain. So often we challenge ourselves with goals, resolutions, intentions—whatever you want to call them—and they are so massive that it becomes overwhelming and we eventually give up. 

When I was first learning to teach yoga I was overwhelmed by remembering an entire hour’s sequence—let alone a 75 or 90 minute class! I was so nervous I would leave something crucial out, mix up right and left, or just completely brain fart out and stand there like a deer in headlights in front of an entire roomful of people. 

My first few classes, I wrote down every single movement. I didn’t want to appear incompetent so I didn’t really look at my notes, but it was just nice to have them there as support or reference if I needed them. I would beat myself up if I left out a transition or mixed up the order I had arbitrarily set for my class, and just be so frustrated that I wasn’t at that place of teaching comfortably yet. I would watch seasoned teachers twirl into a room two minutes before class and ask people what they wanted to work on, and then come up with this brilliant sequence on the spot. I wanted to be at that place as an instructor so badly.

Eventually I learned how to learn. Things started to stick in my brain naturally in “chunks”. I’d remember all the open hip stuff, then the closed hip stuff, then what transitions worked well, what was easy to cue in and out of, and it all started to fall together and make sense. I started to branch out and teach really long and complex sequences, which now, looking back on it, was a little much. Simple is often so much better. 

I made this realization about myself, and maybe you can relate to it too. Oftentimes, as I start to get more comfortable with a process I have a tendency to make it more complicated than it really is because I think I subconsciously like to work in a state of frenetic energy that keeps me on my toes. In other words, I work better under pressure. When I start to become comfortable and there is no pressure, I have to create pressure for myself. This, as I’m realizing, is counterproductive. I begin to concentrate more on fancy transitions and less on what is going on in my student’s bodies. One of my goals in the practice of my teaching in 2015 is to really SEE my students. To stop making the practice that I offer about me. Every class does not need to be the most challenging, complex, and unique vinyasa sequence ever known to man. My goal is to be able to walk into a room, read my students’ energies and teach to that. To learn how to give people what they need rather than what they want or what I think they want. 

So this is a lofty goal and I am once again reminded that I must break it down into a do-able task. My first order of business is to simply ask people how they are feeling. To let go of my idea of what a “good” practice should look like. To notice the looks on people’s faces. To really watch body language. To hear, see, and feel my students. I love teaching yoga and I want my teaching to evolve to where I am not just offering a physical challenge, but rather being open and flexible enough to change my ideas and tailor them to the energy I feel in the room each day.

Spirituality and Yoga.

I’ve been thinking about spirituality and yoga a lot lately. I was never, ever a spiritual person before I began practicing yoga. It really wasn’t until my teacher training that that aspect of the practice clicked. Thank you Marsha Pappas and Caroline Myss! Anyhow, I’ve been reflecting on my teaching a ton recently, always questioning whether my sequences make sense, whether people seem to be enjoying the practice, am I keeping them safe, and whether or not what I offer is unique and inspiring. I know my students don’t necessarily need to enjoy the class to have had a “successful” practice. (And by successful, I mean showing up—no more, no less). Still, I’m a people pleaser and I like to make people happy. I have a tough time giving people what they need; I find it rather easy to provide them with what they want, which is why I’m so good at kicking their ass with a strong and powerful practice, but always seem to run out of time for that ten minute savasana I aim for. At one of the studios where I teach, we are going to learn a new asana format specifically designed for men. It claims to take all the spirituality, chanting, and sanskrit out of yoga and just focus on the physical aspect, which is really what a lot of men need. Have you SEEN how tight their hamstrings are?! Lord in heaven, I don’t know how they do it! :) I digress. At first, when I learned about this format and heard all of the spirituality would be taken out of it, it was like a knife jabbed through my heart. “But that’s not YOGA! That’s ancient Indian calisthenics!”, a little voice in my head cried. Yoga has 8 limbs, and really in order for it to be yoga, you can’t take the spirituality out of it. That’s WHAT IT IS. Ah yes. But didn’t I start out in a hot power yoga class because I wanted a good workout? Didn’t my yogini-enlightened ass hit the mat day after day for years before I even had any idea that there was more to the practice than just triangle and warrior? Yes, I think I did. I would love to meet the Westerner out there who hit their yoga mat for the very first time because they were interested in opening their mind up to the possibilities of the universe. Seriously. We all start somewhere. Is it not yoga if you show up to your mat with the intention to work on bettering your body, to take care of yourself, alleviating back pain and keep your muscles strong and limber? How is that not “real yoga”? The more I thought about it the more I realized I am a great asana teacher. I know the poses backward and forward. I know the body. I know alignment. I can see people’s physical issues immediately without having to ask them what hurts. I can see why they fall out of a pose, what they need to strengthen, and how to make the physical practice work for them. I grew up as a ballet dancer so my attention to physical detail is incredibly meticulous. Although my personal practice has really blossomed into encompassing spirituality and the deeper roots and branches of yoga, I’m not as adept at sharing that. I’ve only begun to explore that myself so I don’t feel as comfortable sharing it with others. In fact, whenever I try to give a real dharma talk, I feel like a hack. My skill set as a yoga instructor is physical. As yoga instructors we also need to stop being so harsh and judgmental. Asana is yoga. Just because a person begins their practice of yoga in the physical branch does not mean they are not practicing yoga. Asana is like the Westerner’s gateway drug to all 8 limbs. I am beyond grateful and honored to aid in that bridge between simple physical practice and a complete yogic experience.

notes from the floor.

lately i’ve had the pleasure of leading my yoga classes from the vantage point of sitting on my rear end. incredibly frustrating, annoying, and surprisingly enlightening. i like to think i see what’s going on in my classes but i’ve never actually, for 60 minutes straight, been on the floor and stared at everyone’s alignment. i’ll blame my vata dosha for my physical and mental body being all over the place when i teach. i’m demonstrating, adjusting, or really just scanning the room for major alignment issues and/or people doing stupid things that will hurt themselves. i know that doesn’t sound very yoga teacher-y of me. but seriously, people do some dumb ass shit. (i do not exclude myself from this list….) anyhow. a few basic things if i may.

  1. chaturanga (half-way lower). it’s a half-way lower, not a ¾ lower. the reason being shoulder and elbow alignment. once the shoulder head dips down out of alignment with the elbow, you’re putting some SERIOUS nasty pressure on that shoulder joint. and think about how many chatas we do. talk about an overuse injury waiting to happen. if your arms start to fatigue, which they will since you’re human, DROP THE KNEES. or take the variation where you lower all the way to the belly. or skip it entirely and hang out in plank (that is still work!) and shift to down dog.
  2. urdvha mukha svanasana (updog). get them thighs off zeee floor! roll the shoulders back so they aren’t creeping up by your ears and push down into those hands, engage the legs by pulling the kneecaps up the thighs and get those quads lifting off the floor. only thing touching the ground should be palms and toenails. if your low back is like NO THANKS, take cobra. ain’t nothing wrong cobra. if the low back hurts though, ask yourself if you are engaging your belly muscles. pull that navel in, get your torso supported.
  3. adho mukha svanasana (downdog). holy shoulders in your ears. keep pushing them awayyyyyyy from your earlobes. feel those back muscles engage and the traps and neck muscles chill out! who needs that extra tension? externally rotate the shoulders, aka elbow pits forward. spread the fingers wide and watch for “cupping” where your palm pulls up off the floor. spread those fingers out, push down through the entirety of the hand and put a little bit of extra pressure into the L shape that the thumb and forefinger create. this will help alleviate wrist issues. k, we’re not done with this one yet. ribcage. pull it in. don’t get all gymnast* on me here. if you are engaging the navel lock, your ribs should start to draw in. squeeze that belly button up to the spine, then engage those upper abdominals by feeling like you are wearing a corset and draw those ribs in. don’t forget the pelvic floor. always draw up the pelvic floor. you don’t want to be in depends when you’re 50, right? pelvic floor, friend. and finally the legs. same thing here, kneecaps up the thighs. reach the heels for the floor—it’s cool if they don’t actually touch but that energetic reach will lengthen the legs and engage the muscles to both keep you safe and stretch you out.

*note. gymnasts are the most amazing beings on earth in my opinion. their ludicrous amounts of strength leave me in total awe. but you know what i mean with those ribs popping open. like when they do their TA-DA pose at the end and their ribs are like BAM. that’s what we want to avoid in down dog.