Yoga: union, or to yoke. What are you looking for in your yoga practice? For me, union is definitely the goal. Union of body and mind, that was what drew me in from my first ever yoga class. After not listening to my body for years, my mind got blown by how good it felt to feel my body, at home in my body. But getting there, creating more connection, that’s tough! While I do believe that Iyengar yoga is one of the best techniques to get there, I understand why one of my best friends told me that she wasn’t going to Iyengar classes anymore because it was too challenging and sometimes she doesn’t want to work that hard.
In Iyengar yoga, I’ve often heard that you’re a beginner for the first 10 to 15 years of practice. Students often laugh when they hear this the first time, they think it’s a joke. But it’s serious, and I agree with it. I still feel like a beginner, because I am still trying to make connections. And I’m not talking subtle things. I’m talking actually straightening my arms / legs and not overextending. I’m talking connecting the thigh bone into the hip socket. These are large connections which are sometimes still missing in my practice. I feel like only after these “gross” connections have been made you are not a beginner anymore, because you can start focusing on the connections of the soft tissues, internal organs, and the skin direction. Not that it’s completely separated; of course I already feel some of these things at times.
From August 19th-23rd I followed a course called the Wisdom Body, with Lara Warren and Nikki Costello. I could only join the afternoon sessions since I was working in the mornings (I was actually going to work before 7am so that I could be at the course at 2:30pm!), which were kind of “teacher training”. Or maybe I should say “continuing education” which is the name of this type of classes at the institute. Mainly people working on the Intro I-II syllabus, one other teacher working towards the Intermediate Junior I assessment.
It’s always humbling going to teacher ed. Of course, you willingly subject yourself to criticism so that your teaching improves. Of course, senior teachers are there to help you improve. Yet you have to be ready to accept the feedback, accept that your knowledge is limited, accept that you are really not that far along that yogic way. And usually your teaching is sub-par because you’re being watched and assessed. Yet these are some of the most useful classes I have ever been to, usually because when you teach, it becomes obvious what part of the pose you don’t understand, and the feedback you get is really on point.
I finally “got” Lolasana (which interestingly is the first arm balance of the syllabi). It’s one of the poses I had a hard time getting into, not to mention teaching: how do you teach a pose you cannot achieve yourself? It’s not impossible, but you need to understand the actions needed in the pose, which you can do from understanding which other poses it’s building on. This is how Matthew Sanford can teach standing poses incredibly well when he cannot practice them himself. Anyhow, some time ago in continuing ed. I was trying to teach Lolasana and it wasn’t working – I got some feedback which I didn’t really find helpful, and all in all I couldn’t teach it because I didn’t understand it. I started working on it with Light On Yoga, got better at it, and this week it was the first pose I tried to teach. Not only did it work, but the feedback I got made the pose so much clearer to me! The last pieces of understanding I was lacking suddenly got filled (for the curious: I was placing my blocks *hum, still T-rex arms here, hum* in front of my hips to “launch myself up” when really I should have had my hands on the blocks as in Dandasana and pulled my hips back!).
Anyhow watching the teachers preparing for Intro II teach, especially the silent demonstrations, there was so much for me to see. It’s hard for Lara not to “go into content” when assessing teaching, and I understand why. At my humble level I can already see so much about what they don’t understand about the pose, and it is clear why their teaching is difficult. Practice, practice, practice. Practice to understand the pose. Once you know the actions, show just that. A clear demonstration of the actions in the pose is better than a thousand words. So if the actions aren’t understood, how can you teach the pose??? It’s so funny for me to see how much I can see on others, when when I started teaching seeing aka observing was definitely what I found the hardest. I remember having to look at the Tadasana from my co-teacher trainees and not knowing what to look at. Now I look at people and their body tendencies everywhere, it’s a professional deformation at this point (my boyfriend even says I am obsessed with people’s feet…). Still, I know that it is easier to see the lack of action on other people than to feel the lack of action in my own body. So back to the mat I am, to deepen my understanding and give clearer instructions. ’cause that’s the reward in teaching yoga: when you see students making a connection.
What about you? Why do you practice? What was the latest connection you made?