The Practice of Teaching

What is yoga teaching?

Are we really what or who we say we are?

Or can we simply allow things – ourselves – to arise and just see what comes up?

 

‘When you teach from your own practice it resonates more profoundly with your students.’ As a primary school teacher, this was a revelation for me as often you need to keep you as ‘Teacher’ and you as a ‘Human Being in The World’ quite separate. Clearly, it is all too easy to be blocked by my own ideas of what ‘teaching’ is or what it should be.

New teachers often have a natural ability to or affinity with trial and error. They don’t necessarily have the density of experience weighing on them. Of course, they have a gammett of other weights dragging them down – am I good enough? Do I know what I’m doing? Will people like me?

We have to let ourselves off he hook to be who we are as yoga teachers so that our students feel they have the space to do the same.

The habits of mind are extremely powerful. What we tend to practice is what our mind is focusing on at any given moment. When we use it as a focusing tool or energy source it can be a very powerful teaching tool. Often students don’t realize they have this access point, but as teachers we can see things that they can’t or may not realize that they are practicing. It saddened me to learn that more often than not people are practicing disgust for their bodies. Furthermore, the amount of information coming at us in today’s technological age is continually reminding us why we should continue to live in various states of fear.

However, if as teachers we can identify this in the moment, our language can ease them off of their self-punishment and direct them somewhere else. In this way, we can take students from distraction to direction. Distraction is our most common state of mind, but often this leaves us in a heightened state of anxiety or fear. The physical practice of yoga can be a great source of releasing students from these distractions.

Teachers are like tuning forks: we vibrate our energy out and others tune in. We make offers and our students are invited to try on these tools and ideas. But as teachers, we are always students. Teaching, in itself, is a practice. The contradiction of teaching is that we have to bring ourselves to the class but also get ourselves out of the way.

The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is yoga – Book 1, Sutra 2

What we practice on the mat as movements of our mind, this is what we take into our yoga teaching.

The books by the mystics say that what we are is LOVE.

Love is being the other.

Love is wanting for the other what they want for themselves.

Love arises when the division of connection is no longer present and we become an expression or extension of the other.

In practice: When we feel separate from our students we feel fearful, but when we are in it together this dissipates. When we want for them what we want for ourselves, then our self-concern for ‘doing a good job’ falls away. In other words, whatever the student’s get, I get too. Often we assume that the role of the teacher is one where they hold a position of ‘I know more than you and/or am better than you and you should listen to me and do things my way.’ Rather, the practice of yoga and of love is such that, as teachers we come to the practice with an attitude of ‘Here I am, sharing this experience with you.’ When we drop the limitations that we put on ourselves, we become more affective. What we are working towards in our personal practice and in our teaching is that the contrast of how we are before class is not so different to when we walk out. In this way we can live as an expression of our yoga, and our teaching.

An offering…

Set an Intention for Teaching Your students leave feeling better than when they arrived. They leave your class and they feel equipped, they feel recharged, they feel more inspired. They feel more capable and they go home feeling better about themselves and their lives. They may not know how or what made it happen but they do know that it happened and if they stay with it their lives will get better.

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Now or Nowhere

vulnerable

adjective

  1. 1.

    exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.

    “we were in a vulnerable position”
    synonyms: in danger, in peril, in jeopardy, at risk, endangered, unsafe,unprotected, ill-protected, unguarded;

    open to attack, attackable,assailable, exposed, wide open;
    undefended, unshielded, unfortified,unarmed, without arms, without weapons, defenceless, easily hurt/wounded/damaged, powerless, helpless;
    rare pregnable,impuissant, resistless
    “they evacuated children from the most vulnerable cities”
    exposed to, open to, wide open to, liable to, prone to, prey to,susceptible to, subject to, not above, in danger of, at risk of, at the mercy of, an easy target for, easily affected by;
    in the firing line;
    rare susceptive of
    “he is extremely sensible and less vulnerable to criticism than most”
    antonyms: well protected, invulnerable, resilient, immune to, above

Right. So this is just a little overwhelming.

In case you missed my Love Life post earlier this week, I’m on a vulnerability quest at the moment. But it’s proving to be a very tricky business to navigate. I think I found a starting point but now I need a road map. I need someone to throw me a freaking bone – or ten. Luckily, Baron Baptiste has stepped out a series of universal principles for stepping up to the edge in his book, Journey into Power. So in trying to get my head around them – and in locating where I left my courage to look out over the precipice – I’ve tried to summarise the main points here.

The Eight Universal Principles for Stepping Up to the Edge

Principle 1: We Are Either Now Here or Nowhere

All life happens in the present moment. All we really have is the moment that is right here, right now, in front of us. Any moment that happened in the past is a memory and any moment that will happen in the future is a fantasy. Memories and fantasies can be very nice, but they lead us nowhere except into the past, which no longer exists, or the future, which doesn’t exist yet. The past and the future are not places. They are, essentially, nowhere.

Principle 2: Be in the Now and You’ll Know How

20140416-061245.jpgWhen you tune into the present moment, you rein your focus back in from the distractions happening around you. When you make this directional shift from paying outward attention to paying inward attention, you can really hear what your body is telling you.

When you are in the now, a world of options opens up to you. You already have the answer to ‘how’ within you; our bodies are encoded with this innate knowledge. They key to accessing it is by coming into the moment. Each time you think you don’t know ‘how’ is a clue that you aren’t willing to trust your intuitions – use this question as a tip-off that it’s time to tune in and trust the light of your inner knowing.

Principle 3: Growth Is the Most Important Thing There Is

We have two choices: we grow, or we die. It’s that simple. Growth is forward movement; anything else is stagnation or, worse, regression. I would even go so far as to say that growth is the answer to the age-old question of the meaning of life. It’s the whole point of our journey: to grow and evolve so we can remove all the parts of ourselves that keep us from living in the light, living from our essence, living as our authentic selves.

Maybe you can’t initially touch your toes in a forward bend, or perhaps your upper body is not strong enough to sustain you in Chaturanga. When you hit that edge, you are faced with the choice to either move through or flee. The choice is always yours. But…

You can only grow beyond where you are if you accept where you are in the first place.

Principle 4: Exceed Yourself to Find Your Exceeding Self

If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. It’s that simple.

Principle 5: In Order to Heal, You Need to Feel

The irony of spiritual growth is that instead of being some miraculous experience, it feels a lot more like going to pieces. We spend our entire lives stuffing down emotional and physical injuries, but these wounds don’t really disappear. Cellular memory is a powerful thing, and deep within all of us is a record of every feeling we tried to suppress, every emotional scar we keep buried, every physical ailment we thought was healed. To truly heal from the inside out, this psychic debris must be brought to the surface so it can be released.

Principle 6: Think Less, Be More

You can psych yourself in or out of anything, not to mention think a pose to death. Analysis paralysis is the ego’s way of keeping you rooted in your intellect rather than in your spirit. But when you drop your brain, you actually give your body and soul a chance to chine.

Aerodynamically, a bumblebee should not be able to fly. But bumblebees don’t know that, so they just do it. They open their wings and take off, oblivious to the fact that their round little bodies weren’t designed for flight. Wouldn’t it be great if we were all like bumblebees, unaffected by beliefs in our limitations?

Principle 7: We Are the Sum Total of Our Reactions

We don’t really have experiences in life. What we have are reactions to experiences. Things don’t happen to us. Things happen in and of themselves, and what we do is react to them. Built into our hardwiring as humans is the fight-or-flight response, which we needed way back in the cavemen era to keep us safe. But there is a third option, which is neither to fight nor flee, and that is to just stay and breathe. Working your edge teaches you to rise above the stress you feel and move into equanimity. When you do that, you are operating from your centre, from cause rather than effect.

Principle 8: Don’t Try Hard, Try Easy

When you find that you are straining, whether in a yoga pose or in life, you’re probably trying too hard. Your ego is in it, and you are driven by an ambition that ultimately creates imbalance and suffering. That is the point when you should ask yourself: Where am I holding on? Am I holding on to tension, or to my ideal of what I am ‘supposed to’ be doing? Where can I let go more? Where can I struggle less? Where can I just surrender?

Iyengar and the Intelligent Identity

Patanjali’s Sutra 1.2 yogah cittavrtti nirodhah

Yoga is the cessation of movements in the consciousness.

The word citta has often been translated as ‘mind’. In the West, it is considered that mind not only has the power of conation or volition, cognition and motion, but also that of discrimination.

But citta really means ‘consciousness’. Indian philosophers analysed citta and divided it into three facets: mind (manas), intelligence (buddhi) and ego, or the sense of self (ahamkara). They divided the mental body into two parts: the mental sheath and the intellectual sheath. People have thus come to think of consciousness and mind as the same. In [Light on the Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali], consciousness refers both to the mental sheath (manomaua kosa) as mind, and to the intellectual sheath (vijnanamaya kosa) as wisdom. Mind acquires knowledge objectively, whereas intelligence learns through subjective experience, which becomes wisdom. As cosmic intelligence is the first principle of nature, so consciousness is the first principle of man.

– B. K. S. Iyengar Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1993:47

Consciously noticing the ‘self’.

What do you notice when you first wake up? Try to notice your natural ‘self’ before the identity has had time to establish itself for the day.

As an alternative: try going to sleep with gratitude for the day you have just experienced. What do you notice about your patterns of thought? Your ‘self’?

According to yogic philosophy, the world outside is a construct that we must learn to work within. These constructs come in different forms but often reveal themselves through ideas such as cultural differences. However, they are all constructed by the human mind. From the moment we wake up, this mechanism we call ‘the mind’ creates an illusion that screams and shouts at us. However, through yoga and the eight meditational limbs*, we can reach beyond language and mind-made stuff. The only reason the illusion continues is because it feeds off our energy and we continue to feed it with our life source.

Our personal identity doesn’t form until around two years of age. This is when we first notice the conscious thought ‘I am me.’ A sense of separation occurs at the same time as a sense of oneness.

We humans have a deep sense of lack at the core of our ‘me’. This keeps us in a cyclical state where we the following opposing ‘wants’ arise:

I want separation I want oneness
I want safety I want to die
I want approval I want disapproval
I want control I want to be controlled

The mind is wonderful at solving problems. However it is also amazing at convincing us that we are a problem. This tendency is so strong that when there is no opposition, the mind creates one in order to have something to solve. It creates trouble so that it has something to fix. We are then left living the reality of what our mind has created meaning for or opposition to.

As a teacher, and as in all aspects of life, we must ask ourselves how and when these ‘wants’ arise in our own internal dialogue. As we become stuck in the meaning we have attached to them, the core of our ‘me’ conscious generates our emotions. In doing so, we create and recreate the story that ‘I’m not ok’, just in wanting something other, something more. The ‘me’ consciousness is based on nothing but a thought which builds momentum.

Human beings are arguably one of the most violent species on the planet. It makes sense, then, that in recent years practices such as yoga have surged in popularity across the Western world. Yoga is not just about the body but about releasing us from the tyranny of the human mind. Thankfully, these ancient traditions remind us that rather than being or having a problem but we are, in fact, inherently perfect.

I believe that life brought me to yoga – and to its teachings – which is why I choose to explore these ideas through that particular lens. Something about it speaks to me in a way that means I am willing to accept that it was inevitable that I would take this path. The unknown in that equation was simply the ‘when’. We tend to resist what life wants to have happen to us – that being, our own experience of ourselves. Yoga helps me to come back to the natural expression of who I am.

Deep, huh? But so what? ‘Where are you going with all of this?’ I hear you ask. Unless you tuned out after you read the title – not a good time, am I right?

But when is there ever a right time? If not now, when?

So, I ask you…

What is your attention on?

What is your mind (not you) focusing on?

What are you giving your energy to?

Try this: Observe the ‘ME’ going about itself.

  1. Think of a situation where fear was present and you experienced physical reactions
  2. Think of an argument you have had. How did you defend yourself and then justify it afterwards.
  3. Think of a situation where you were dominating or avoiding being dominated.
    • How does your ‘me’ show up?
    • Did it lead to more distance or more closeness?
    • What is the cost to you and your relationships at being right?

When I reflected upon these scenarios, time and time again, I noticed that the cost to my relationships was that they often – if not always – became more distant and more separated. Being ‘right’ is an addictive ‘want’ because often the ‘wrong’ person is diminished, which by being ‘right’ we are ultimately ‘wanting’ to avoid.

Practice Instant Forgiveness. This is possibly one of the most powerful tools I have learnt so far in my yoga teacher training. Feeling guilty about things is just punishment in advance for the belief that you will do the same again. You create the story whereby you recreate the same action again and again – simply because you assume you will. Because you assume you are broken, that you are ‘not ok’.

This does not need to be the case. Forgive yourself for who you are – at the time that the event or action occurs. Not five minutes later, not the next day or the next week. Let it go in the moment. Stop telling the old stories of your ‘self’ and start creating those that you wish to see.

 

Only you can create your own happiness.

Or in the words of Zorba the Greek:

Life is trouble. All you can do is take your belt off and go for it!

*Sutra 11.29 yama niyama asana pranayama pratyahara dharana dhyana samadhayah astau angani

Moral injunctions, fixed observances, posture, regulation of breath, internalization of the senses towards their source, concentration, meditation and absorption of consciousness in the self are the eight constituents of yoga.

This sutra sets out the eightfold path of yoga (astanga yoga). The first five aspects of yoga are individual efforts for the evolution of the consciousness, while the final three are the universal manifestation or the natural states of yoga.

– B. K. S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1993:142

Gandhi: Greatest Hits

Be the change you wish to see in the world. 

 

gandhi

 

In a gentle way, you can shake the world.

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Keep your thoughts positive
because your thoughts become your words.
Keep your words positive
because your words become your behaviour.
Keep your behaviour positive
because your behaviour becomes your habits.
Keep your habits positive
because your habits become your values.
Keep your values positive
because your values become your destiny.

– Mahatma Gandhi

(1869 –  1948)

Baron Baptiste: Best of

For over 20 years, Baron Baptiste has been an inspirational teacher, author, and leader in the realm of transformation. Assuming his family’s mantle of health, yoga, and spiritual education, Baron brings a fire and passion to his teaching, creating a fundamental shift in how people perceive themselves and what’s possible in their lives. From his own true-life hardships, transformations and contributions Baron delivers a methodology that creates transformation in body and soul for people across the planet.

According to Yoga Journal Magazine: “If there were a royal family of American yoga, Baron Baptiste would certainly be a prince.”

– Visit Baron’s website for more.

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As we become gentler with ourselves, it is natural for us to have a deeper compassion for others and to live with true grace. – Baron Baptiste

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Teacher Training Immersion Week, Lumi Power Yoga, London, March 2014:

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Whatever you give positive or negative attention to, you will energize, for better or worse. Attention begets energy. – Baron Baptiste

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my world upside down

In my quest to practise as much as possible over the mid-term break, I opted for mixing it up with something a little bit different.

IMG_0647Ana Forrest is an internationally recognized pioneer in yoga and emotional healing, Ana created Forrest Yoga while working through her own healing from her life’s trauma and experience.
Forrest Yoga is renowned as an intensely physical and internally focused practice that emphasizes how to carry a transformative experience off the mat and into daily life. The practice challenges students to access their whole being and to use Forrest Yoga as a path to finding and then cleansing the emotional and mental blocks that dictate and limit their lives. Students cultivate an acute awareness of their own practice and life process, creating a unique and powerful opportunity for them to make practical life decisions based on their own experiences.

Forrest Yoga does not require strength or flexibility; it only requires a willingness to learn how to feel authentically and respond honestly. The practice is founded on four pillars — Breath, Strength, Integrity and Spirit.

Find out more here.

Brilliant! I thought. That’s exactly what I need to continue this theme of self love. Well I’m not sure if it was the self love that I found tricky or the tremendous lack of strength I felt in the ab sequence but boy, oh boy, this class was tough! Our wonderfully radiant teacher Aoife Kane warned us – with that signature cheeky glint in her eye – that this session would be all about abs and inversions. She also said some lovely things about Forrest Yoga being more meditative and internal than Power Yoga. That our breath would be our mantra. That we would be holding poses longer than normal, not flowing as much as we were used to in the downstairs studio. However, she assured us that the ab work would be the thing to build heat in our bodies. And let me just say this: Aoife is a delightfully honest woman!

The abs were one thing, but it was around the time we went into inversions that my ego really kicked in. I’m still yet to master the handstand-headstand poses so I was pretty chuffed with myself when I managed to get one foot off the wall at a time in my handstand. I even found myself staring in amazement (rather than jealousy!) at some other yogis who we’re moving into eagle legs in their handstands. It was inspiring! However, there is something about dolphin pose that sends my monkey mind into overdrive. Let alone getting my hips high enough to manage lifting up into an arm balance. I feel awkward and weak as I struggle and force my way in.
Side note: I should mention, at this point, that dolphins have always been one of my favourite sea creatures so it really gets my goat that this, of all poses, should be the one I dislike. Yep, I said it – the cardinal yogi sin – I don’t like that pose! And yes – I know – it just means I need to learn to love it, that it is a pose that I need more than others at the moment. Message received. But let it be known that at the moment something inside me steps away when I hear the words ‘come into your dolphin…’. My dolphin feels more like a dodo bird with their head pinned underwater, dazed and confused and struggling for air, surrounded by a pod of graceful, intelligent, lithe swimmers playfully jumping about.

However, the universe has a funny way of leading us back to where we ought to be. The next morning, I woke to find an introduction letter from Ari and Elina which just happened to say exactly what I needed to hear.

Powerful teachers are real, authentic human beings who share their yoga genuinely and from the heart. 

Our intention is for each trainee to appreciate the unique strengths and characteristics they have, to express themselves in a way that is true and authentic, with enthusiasm for life and how the practice of yoga makes a difference in their world. We are not looking for perfection in yoga asana, techniques or knowledge. We focus on cultivating teachers whose teaching is genuine and resonates with others. 

Needless to say, I walked into my power yoga class that morning with an open heart and the intention to just allow my practise to be mine, today, now. I moved into my first tripod headstand unapologetically assisted by Elina and finished my practise with my legs grasping desperately around her forearm in my headstand. So next week, when I walk out of Aoife’s Forrest Inspired class, not only will I bask in the afterglow of my River-Nile-wide shoulders and upper back, but a newfound sense of play in those places I instinctively walk away from.

And in the end, Child’s Pose is a wonderful thing.

20 days to YTT: who’s ready for this?

The countdown is well and truly on. The application is done, my money is on the table and I am stocking up on sweats and gear to see me through. I am absolutely, categorically, on the road to becoming a yoga teacher.

In preparation, I decided to set down some personal goals for the month leading up to the teacher training, including:

I will practise yoga every day to prepare for the physical task of the training;

I will eat clean, fresh foods to ensure my body and mind are happy and running on all cylinders;

I will not drink alcohol;

I will not eat sugary or processed foods;

I will start juicing every day;

I will not live beyond my financial means…

Umm…yeah right. Reality check. This is what actually happens:

I dash to the studio on my free nights after work, but never quite make it out of bed on those mornings I promise myself that I’ll get up and practise at home before work…

My internal systems are crying out for love. Trust me, just ask my partner. My belly keeps him up at night groaning and trumpeting for help while the rest of my body attempts to sleep. Probably due to…

mid-week dinner boozing (but I never – on a school night!!), weekend catch-up-with-friends-boozing, chill-out-at-home-with-a-movie-ON-MY-OWN booze…

chocolate blow-outs, ice-cream, lollies, Pringles, corn chips, wheat bread, bowls of popcorn (but homemade is fine, right? oh…wait for it…) covered in maple syrup…

hiding all my juicing ingredients in big dollops of peanut butter as a pre-yoga snack (read: dinner) and in so doing, saving them from the daily grind…

plunger coffee before work, strong take away latte on the way to work, instant coffee at work, tea in the afternoon…

skipping yoga classes I vowed to get to because I was too exhausted from all of the above…

The problem with this vicious cycle is that it is all linked. The booze makes me crave sugar, together they make me an insomniac, which leads me to binge eat on quick fix foods and drink loads of caffeine due to fatigue. This concoction reeks havoc on my digestive system, leaving me feeling like a ticking time bomb emotionally and physically.

I guess you could say I haven’t done so well with my preparation thus far. However, I keep hearing the word ‘rules’ rather than ‘goals’ in the back of my head and I’m wondering if this is, in fact, the issue. The idea of ‘rules’, ‘restrictions’ and ‘diets’ always feels a little bit like ‘sacrifice’, ‘punishment’ and ‘failure’. After crawling to the end of what seemed like an incredibly long week (think full moon, PMS and a classroom full of scared, angry children with daggers in their eyes) I actually made it to mid-term holidays. Time to regroup.

So after a big cry and a Friday night yoga and sushi date with a big-hearted girlfriend, my list looks a little more like this:

self-love

Rather than keeping on with the ‘I will…’ ‘I won’t…’ sentence fillers, my goal now is to gently remind myself each day to let go of any expectations and refocus my gaze on seeing how often I can answer ‘does this make me feel good?’ in the affirmative.

20 days. Here we come…