05 December 2010

YTT - Week 5 Sunday

Backbends and more backbends... Wow.

I was so stiff and sore from yesterday's standing twists practice I didn't think there was any way I would make it through today's... I had to take quite a few breaks because my legs were trembling. I think this has been my hardest weekend since inversion weekend.

We went through Salambhasana (Locust), Dhanurasana (Bow), Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog), Salambhasana with variations, Ustrasana (Camel) at the wall, and Salamba Setu Bandha (Supported Bridge).  That's a lot of backbends!  (You'd likely never do that many in a regular class, but this is teacher training and we are hard core. LOL) Ustrasana at the wall is fantastic for learning the legs work for the pose, but it was so hard because I felt as if I were going to fall backwards. The wall was just a little too close for comfort!

More fascinating information this weekend too about my back injury: I need to be doing backbends to help heal my posterior slipped disc.  I have avoided backbends for years because I thought they would do more damage than good. Little did I realize that I was doing precisely the wrong thing for my particular injury.  I have long had a love affair with forward folds, especially Utanasana (Standing Forward Bend), Prasarita Padottasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold), and  Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend). As it turns out, forward folds are likely to exacerbate a posteriorly slipped disc.

So let me explain the disc. Check out this picture from Wikipedia contributor Edave. (This is where my injury is, but this is NOT my spine. My herniation is not this large, but it works nicely for my explanation.) Look at the third disc down. It's herniated out the back of the disc (i.e., posterior). If it were out the front of the disc, the herniation would be anterior.

So, as it turns out, for those of us with posterior slipped discs (herniated is technically the correct medical term), backbends help to encourage the protruding disc material to reenter the disc - and forward folds have the potential to squish more fluid out of the disc. It's the opposite for someone with an anterior slipped disc: forward folds help the fluid back in, backbends would push more out.  That's not to say that someone with a posteriorly slipped disc can't do a forward fold - BUT, it should be done slowly, with caution, body awareness and ideally, guidance from a teacher.

I no longer do the seated forward folds the way I used to... I would get into a position and just hang out there for minutes, working on lengthening my hamstrings. Never realizing I was at the very least, irritating my back injury, and at worst, making it worse. I don't hold seated forward folds for a long period of time now, though I will hold the standing folds for a while because they feel amazing on my neck (which is a whole different story of injury...).  I am very careful to ensure I have more extension in my spine than "bend" when I do them, because I want to increase the space between my vertebrae in an even manner, and stretch the intercostal muscles (tiny muscles between your ribs). Oh, and another thing I avoid now, which I did for years and years...  If you are in a standing forward fold and the teacher instructs you to "roll up, one vertebra at a time)... ick.  This is not a good thing to do for anyone with a posteriorly slipped disc. It hurts. For me, it's much better to press down into my feet as if I am pushing the floor away and come up with a flat back. It might sound silly, but just give it a try.

YTT Week 5 - Saturday

Standing Twists... What a day!

The biggies in today's practice were: Parivritta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle), Parivritta Ardha Chandrasana (Revolved Half-Moon), and Parivritta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Extended Side Angle).  I was surprised that the revolved half moon seemed easier than the unrevolved half moon...

After practice and lunch, we did some hands-on adjustments and then practice teaching of several poses and switched partners each time. That was fun because it got us working a bit out of our comfort zone. I feel so clunky right now when trying to instruct on the spot like this.  Definitely need to work on my "yoga voice."

One of the most amazing things about this experience for me is how healthy my back feels. I've had years of chronic back pain and earlier this year discovered thanks to an MRI that I have a posterior "slipped" disc between L4 and L5. The practice we are doing in this teacher training is generally an advanced level practice, and yet, for the most part I am able to keep up (with modifications) AND feel good while doing so. It's just a reminder to me that this is where I belong... Not in a chair at a computer (which is really hard to accept since that's been my life for so many years).  But on the mat. That's my future, and it's the best thing I can do for my body.

Did you know that the blood supply to the intervertebral discs stops around age 25? Check out this WebMD quote: "By early adulthood, the blood supply to the disk has stopped, the soft inner material has begun to harden, and the disk is less elastic."  I was rather surprised to learn this - I mean really, wouldn't you think that if a part of your body has a blood supply, it would just always have it?  Anyways, this simple fact explains a lot about why disc injuries can take such a long time to heal. This is the great thing about spinal twist poses in yoga. They have what B.KS. Iyengar calls a "squeeze and soak" effect that helps to squeeze out old fluids and then allow fresh fluid to flow in upon release of the twist. It doesn't have to be the fancy twists either, the simple relaxing ones have the same effect. My favorite is a nice reclined twist. Here's an article on this pose at Yoga Journal.

I probably shouldn't be surprised, but I am a little that my back is staying so healthy these days. In March, I was up to having a major "back outage" every 3 months for the previous year+ (which had been a gradual increase over a period of 5 years with the disc problem).  Now, I'm on my ninth month with nothing more than a little soreness or general feeling of misalignment. It's amazing and wonderful, and I'm incredibly lucky to be recovering from this recurring injury with no medical treatment (injections, surgery, etc.).

20 November 2010

YTT Week 5 - Friday

Friday night was a philosophy discussion night.  We started by opening up in Salamba Supta Badha Konasana, which my hips and back liked but my thighs and hamstrings were not completely happy about afterwards. Next time: blocks under my knees.

We reviewed the latter half of Patanjali's Sutras, Pada I. This one really stuck out to me:

1.33 In relationships, the mind becomes purified by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, goodwill towards those who are virtuous, and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked or evil. 
We can reduce our own suffering if we will keep these four "keys" in our pocket when dealing with people in our lives. And by reducing our suffering, we reduce the overall amount of suffering in the world, which will benefit not only ourselves, but all of those around us.

Friendliness, Compassion, Goodwill, and Indifference

The indifference one is the one I need to work on the most. It's challenging not to want to fire back when one is confronted with another person's wickedness (ok that word is a little funny to me but I get the intent of the meaning). It all comes back to: Let it go.

Just breathe and let it go. As Jackie would say, this is my work.

After class I stayed over with a classmate who has 1. the most comfortable guest bed ever (with the softest sheets ever) and 2. the cutest Aussie Shephered puppy ever. Oh, and she made a fabulous breakfast that keep me not hungry all the way through practice on Saturday, but also not feeling overstuffed and uncomfortable. Thanks Lori for your hospitality!

YTT Week 4

So, I hate to admit this, but here it is actually YTT Week 5 and I never wrote about Week 4.  It was a magical weekend and words really just can't touch it.  Pranayama Friday night, Surya Nasmakara Saturday and Sunday.

All I can say is that I am so glad I am in this class with these women right now. It's an amazing experience and I wouldn't change a thing even if I could.

08 November 2010

YTT Week 3 - Sunday

Sunday, I was back for more. Really, as stubborn as I am, I'm not about to quit, even if I have days when that seems like an option. It's not.

I was surprised to wake up Sunday morning and not have major DOMS from Saturday's 2.5 hour practice. I felt very tired, but the Tiger Balm on my shoulder and the arnica montana helped to prevent major discomfort, for which I was thankful.

We started our Sunday with a quiz, and almost by sheer luck I got a perfect score.  The last couple of questions were worded a bit oddly and everyone was questioning what they meant. Our instructor was not able to explain it further, and simply repeated "think about the foundation." Somehow, that clicked for me and I figured out it was asking the position of the feet (the feet - or whatever parts are touching the ground - are the foundation of a pose).

After the quiz our practice began, and 5 minutes in my body decided that was a good time to demonstrate its soreness. Wow. I literally thought I would not be able to make it more than a few more minutes into the asana practice at that point. Every muscle in my body hurt. Especially my rhomboids. Another 5 minutes in and it didn't get easier, but the worst of the agony seemed to have passed. By the time we got to Surya Namascar A, my body was complaining but I knew I would make it through the practice.  Not without a few other instances of near tears simply because my body was protesting throughout the entire 2 hours. Not in a "ow, that hurts" way but in an "OMG my muscles are so tired" way.

Every weekend we have training brings such a new experience. Inversion weekend was incredibly challenging for me, physically and mentally. Having to fight the natural frustration that rises from not being able to get into a pose (heh, even the prep position of the pose) is a real struggle in my head. This is something that I hope to conquer during my training; it is something that I have struggled with in a way all my life. The feeling of not being good enough and the frustration that brings. And you know what? No one is telling me I am not good enough except me. IT'S ALL IN MY HEAD. Not a single person in this training has ever made me feel like I do not belong there - except for me. I wish I could find the words to explain how incredibly supportive this group of women is... it's something I have never experienced before and it's quite magical.

We are all our own worst critics. Why create suffering for ourselves when the world is full of suffering already? It's a hard lesson to learn I suppose, since it keeps recurring for me I clearly have not managed to learn it completely. One day at a time though. Habits take a while to build up, it's the same with breaking them as well.

No matter how difficult this journey becomes, I will not stop. I have never before felt more certainty about where my life should go than I have since the beginning of this training. This is what I was meant to do, what I *am* meant to do, this is my place. And I am cherishing every step of the journey, because though the destination may be great, the journey is something to be savored. I will never be this person again, with these exact people on the journey with me. It's not something that can be recreated, and it's all the more precious for it's uniqueness.

25 October 2010

YTT Week 3 - Saturday

Week 3 was inversion weekend. I went into the weekend knowing that I currently don't have the strength to get into most of the the big inversions (Salamba Sirsasana, Adho Mukha Vrksasana, Pincha Mayurasana, Salamba Sarvangasana). And that's ok. They haven't been part of my practice - ever, in most cases - so I wasn't about to expect myself to get up the first weekend we work on them.

Saturday was a major shoulder opener warmup to prepare for headstand, handstand, forearm balance). I am constantly amazed at how physically challenging yoga can be.  I used to practice yoga simply to stretch my body and still my mind.  In the past year, trying to combat my chronic back problems, I have started to look at yoga more as therapy: a way to get stronger, gain awareness of my body, and learn to prevent further back injuries. Yoga can be whatever you want it to be.  Simple stretching?  Sure.  Strength building? Yep. Meditative practice?  That too.  Connection to the universal Divine? Yes, even that if that is what you seek.

So, back to Saturday.  As usual, it was pretty much the hardest physical practice I've ever done. Every day in this training is more challenging, and all I can do is try to keep up. I did my best, which was ok. Not as good as I would have liked, but I can only push myself so hard to keep up with everyone else before I run the risk of injury. And it's just not worth that risk.  After the first weekend of YTT, I decided I would make an effort to just not notice how far "behind" I am everyone else physically, because my journey is my own, and it really doesn't matter how my Vira 2 compares to someone else's Vira 2, or that I have to go to my knees in my Chaturanga Dandasana every.single.time.

But telling yourself you won't notice that everyone else is on the third round of SNA without a rest or modification while you yourself are taking breaks every time we get to Adho Muhka Svanasana and actually doing it...well, clearly I didn't succeed in not noticing since I'm writing about it. Knowing my abilities and limits thereof does not mean it wasn't a challenge to watch the rest of the class get up into all of the prep and full poses, while I could barely hold the prep poses. The thing is, when you have one pose you can't do in a class, it's not too big of a deal. But when there are two, three, even four poses for which you aren't ready, it feels like a sign that you don't belong. It's like repeatedly ripping off a bandaid; the problem just keeps getting shoved in your face over and over again. And it hurts. That was me on Saturday. I felt like I shouldn't be there. I kept having to fight back tears of frustration at not being able to do anything. As we moved into our cooldown I still struggled with the tears and for the first time during this challenge seriously considering getting up and leaving class (for a while). I don't really care that I cry in class (every single class so far, aside from the anatomy weekend, of course). I hate being disruptive. It's one thing to cry a few tears that wipe easily away, but on Saturday I was into the wracking sobs type of crying before I managed to control it.

It was a tough day, physically and emotionally.

10 October 2010


Our third weekend of yoga teacher training was our anatomy weekend.  Being the geek that I am, I enjoyed the information and especially the graphics.  A lot of it was review for me, but the best part about anatomy taught by a yoga instructor is that she relates the information to yoga. This is the action of this muscle in this pose, etc.  Check out the cover of this book, which our anatomy instructor highly recommended for further understand of the way muscles work while doing yoga:

It's simply amazing to take basic practical knowledge and then physical put it into practice. External and internal rotation of the hips are my current obsession (which is probably not surprising when you consider that overdoing the external rotation of the hips puts stress on the low back, my biggest "problem" area).  Even if I never move into yoga teaching as a career, this training has been worth the time and effort simply for the incredible amount of knowledge it's given me on working with my own body. Granted, that information is only any good if I put it into practice - I have been, but I need to remain diligent and banish complacency!

So today I learned that I hyperextend my elbows. This is SO exciting to learn!  It may sound ridiculous to be excited about such a thing, but the knowledge will help me to practice yoga more safely and allow me to strengthen my upper body better because I know how to work with it instead of just dropping into a position without awareness. I've long struggled with poses that involve upper body strength because my upper body isn't very strong - and it turns out that part of the trouble is because rather than fully working the muscles, I tend to "lock out" my elbows and make the joint do some of the muscular work.  This is BAD and can lead to joint injury! As well as weak shoulders and arms. My "prescription" so to speak is to always have a microbend in my arms in poses such as Adho Muhka Svanasana and to concentrate on rotating my arms so that the "eyes" of the elbows face one another.  I have SO much to work on putting into my practice between this, learning to lift in my palms (to protect the wrists), spiral my inner thighs back (to increase space in my low back), it's like a whole new yoga practice to learn!
After class today I met my husband and son at a friend's for a BBQ dinner.  I monopolized the conversation for some time about yoga. LOL  I was just on a roll! I am so excited about this change in my life... I really am not sure what it will come to at the end of 6 months of training, but I do know that in just these few weeks what I have learned has already made a significant difference in my yoga practice and my life. I am so grateful for this place and time in my life, and to have this opportunity to improve my health and awareness of my own body so that I can heal my back. I would not be here if it weren't for the support of my amazing husband; he's given me the gift of time to devote to this study and the chance to change my life, and I couldn't be more thankful to him.  

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” JFK

Who deserves your gratitude today? What action does your gratitude inspire?

05 October 2010

YTT Week 2

I wrote this on my laptop as hubby drove us from YTT to Disneyland after class on Saturday. I thought I'd posted it already!  But apparently hadn't, so here it is, a bit late.

My theme for this training is courtesy of that great master jedi, Yoda.  Pardon me as a geek out a bit here. This quote from Star Wars 5 (The Empire Strikes Back) just reverbs through my mind.

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

Maybe Lucas had read Patajali’s Sutras…
Our Friday night was full of the history and philosophy of yoga, finishing with Patanjali’s sutras 1.1 through 1.6.

Saturday we practiced externally rotated standing poses, including Ardha Chandrasana and Virabhadrasana II. Lots of forward folds, which felt fantastic on my back, and fewer Surya Namascars than the previous Saturday, which my wrists appreciated. We finished our practice with a modified Salamba Sarvangasana. Even before that pose, I was feeling tears come on from the awesomeness of a few of the earlier poses in the practice. I kept waiting for them as we worked from the shoulder stand to Savasana – I’d somewhat expected the tears as soon as I came out of the modified Sarvangasana. But they didn’t come on until after Savasana. Weird.  I just sat in a supported child’s pose for a few minutes and cried. Not really sure if the awe of attaining poses that I’ve never tried for was the source today, or if there’s something else going on.  It felt like that was the cause, so I’m going with that as the explanation. (Yikes, listen to me analyze everything. It’s all those engineers at my day job rubbing off. LOL)

One of today’s poses was Vrksasana. I have done this for years, though it’s never been one of my “go to poses” since I tended to avoid balance poses (because I wasn’t good at them… which is actually the precise reason to go them *sigh*). Anyways, so one thing I used to do in this pose that was wrong was placing my foot on my knee. I didn’t press my foot into my knee, just rested it there. Which is probably why I could never balance well in the pose, since the actions of pressing the standing thigh and the raised foot together is what gives stability to the tree. As it is, my flexibility limits where my right foot will go; it just won’t stay on my left thigh. So on that side, after attempting a few times to coerce my foot onto the thigh, I placed it on my calf and continued on with the pose. However, while standing on my right leg and raising my left, I was able to get my foot to my inner thigh and keep it there reasonably well. That was really cool, because it’s not something I’ve been able to do previously.

We did my favorite pose today – Ardha Chandrasana (half moon). We did it against the wall and then again on our mats. Although this has been my favorite pose for a long time, I have never done it without the support of the wall.  My goal was always to just get into the pose and let my hips open, so I wasn’t too concerned about the balance component of the pose.  However, learning how to get in and out of Ardha Chandrasana the correct way was very cool, and is especially important for doing the pose unsupported. When we took it to the mat, I used the blocks to get into the pose and only managed to get into the full pose with the top arm extended on one side. Despite that, it was so cool to get there on the mat and get into the pose. I managed far better than I expected, which is probably an indication that I am mentally limiting myself – if I think I can’t do it, obviously, I can’t. Which is why there are no can’ts for me in this training. I will do everything to the best of my ability. Just trying isn’t good enough… “Do or do not. There is no try.”

I received a card from my secret yogini (think secret Santa concept…). It was so sweet and it’s awesome to have the encouragement. Everyone in our class is so great and supportive, I am really fortunate to be in this place and time and sharing this experience with them.

Also, since I have to miss Sunday's class, I have scheduled a makeup with Jackie, and today at the end of class Dede suggested we do our makeup together since she is missing the same day too. I hate to miss at all, but I think it will be great to have a shared makeup session.

24 September 2010

Teaching Script for Prasarita Padottanasana

To prepare for Prasarita Padottanasana, place your blocks on the long side of your mat, shoulder width apart. Remember to keep a slight bend in your knees if you have tight hamstrings or back problems, especially when getting into and out of the pose. Standing in Tadasana, inhale slowly. On the exhale, step your feet to a wide stance, toes pointing directly forward. Inhale and ground down through your feet, connecting to the earth through the four points of each foot. Exhale slowly, releasing the tension in your neck and arms as you drop your shoulders down your back. As you inhale, float your arms to the sky, palms facing inward, as if your breath generated the motion. As you exhale, slowly hinge forward from your hips with a straight back, placing your hands on the blocks in front of you. Hold this position for three breaths, lengthening your spine on the inhale and releasing tension from the back of your legs on the exhale. As you feel your spine lengthen in this forward fold, continue to ground down through the four points of each foot, keeping the weight slightly forward in the ball of the foot. Not so much that your heels lift, but just a slight weight shift forward. On your next inhale you will move your hands in between your legs.  You can adjust the position of the blocks if necessary, or if your back has relaxed enough, move the blocks to the side and place your hands directly on the floor, palms open and fingers spread widely.  If you can, on your next exhale, walk your hands back until the fingertips align with your heels, keeping your palms flat on the ground and your elbows stacked above your wrists. Stay here for three breaths, lengthening on the inhale, releasing tension on the exhale. Feel your neck become longer and the tightness in your hamstrings melt away. On your next inhale, press down with your feet and raise yourself up with a flat back. Step your feet together with your arms at your sides, palms forward, to return to Tadasana.

19 September 2010

I Made it Through YTT Weekend 1!!!

Wow. It has been a long weekend.

I opted to stay in a hotel Friday night since our class was in the evening - with an hourish drive each way, it seemed like the wisest option. However, I slept horribly, so it may have been better to have driven home after all. Between getting sucked into a movie on USA (Tristan and Isolde), which I finally had to turn off at midnight, my neighbors trying to get into my room instead of their own at 1 am, and my anxiety about Saturday's class, I accumulated about 5 hours of sleep.

Saturday as we opened class with our chant (see previous day's post) I started crying. It was a bit of a surprise and I found it annoying because the last thing I wanted to do was disrupt the class.  Fortunately it wasn't an overwhelming cry, and once we got through the chant whatever those vibrations were bringing up settled back down.

We went through a very physical 2 hours of asana.  Loads of hand work (Surya Namascar), which I used to do years ago but haven't for quite some time because it often causes a flare of my repetitive stress injury (RSI) in my arms. The goal pose was handstand, which I didn't do since, in the words of our trainer, I'm on "my holiday." Just as well, since I don't have the arm strength nor the balance to actually get into a handstand (though I would have tried anyways were I not on holiday). After a lunch break we had another hour of asana. I was nervous about the third hour since the first two had exhausted me, but as it turned out, the third required less physical exertion. Still challenging, but not as much hand work. The last two hours were discussion and posture lab, which was a lot of fun.  It's beyond cool to practice physically then have a posture lab where we have the chance to make corrections with what we've heard Dani say during our practice. I can't imagine a better way to cement the concepts into a foundling teacher's brain (ok, so what do I know, I've never done this before. But seriously, it's fantastic.).

Today (Sunday) the tears were back again. A little bit in the chanting, which was again controllable. They reared up again during Uttanasana after Utkatasana at the wall, but were still fairly brief. I was doing well as we worked up to Virabhadrasana III, though my right hand/wrist/shoulder were a bit irritated from Saturday; I modified my Adho Muhka Svasana to Dolphin and Plank to Dolphin Plank. It's definitely a bit awkward to vinyasa through a Surya Namascar and get into a lunge from your forearms, but my hands were happy that I did so. We eventually worked our way down to our mat and into Salamba Sarvangasana (shoulderstand).

I haven't done shoulderstand in a long time... I stopped doing it some years ago because I did not feel like I had adequate balance to do it safely with regard to my lower back, and it NEVER felt good on my neck. The problem with my neck (other than my spinal stenosis) was more than likely that I never tried shoulderstand with blankets.

Anyways, I've been determined with this training to make the most of every opportunity. Meaning, when we come to a pose which I don't normally practice, I will do it to the best of my ability. I'm not going to let "can't" get in my way. I was so focused on this that I forgot I'm not supposed to be inverting this weekend (see previous comments re: "on holiday"). So, I prepared my blankets and mat as instructed, got into position, and had second thoughts. But my neck felt good, and my low back has been feeling good, so I decided I needed to at least try to get up. It took a bit of effort, both physical and mental, but I did it. And not too badly either. Not perfectly, but perfect really was not the goal anyways.  Jackie came by and gave me some adjustments, which helped me strengthen the pose.  I managed to stay in the shoulderstand for almost as long as everyone else (which again doesn't really matter, but it's hard to break the Western mindset of comparing one's performance to others).

As soon as I came out of shoulderstand I started crying. Not small enough to just wipe away unnoticed either. I hate disrupting the class. I love that it's totally ok to cry there, and I know it is. But I still hate being a distraction.  Dani asked me what was going on - I shrugged, I honestly had no idea other than I couldn't help but cry.  Jackie came over, rubbed my neck, and helped me breathe through the tears. I managed to gain a modicum of control, but the tears only slowed down. They kept going all the way through our last pose (Savasana) and I felt as if I could have easily just curled up into a ball and cried for a while.

I've been working on determining the reason for the tears ever since they happened. It's not really surprising that shoulderstand triggered tears since the pose is an inversion (which combats depression and anxiety). Though I don't normally have anxiety problems, I have had loads of it in anticipation of starting this teacher training. And I've combated mild depression for... well, as long as I can remember.  Turning the world upside down changes your perspective in more than just the literal sense. There's a great article at Yoga Journal by Barbara Benagh on Salamba Sarvangasana. She covers not only the movements of the pose, but the internal actions as well, including the chin lock, or Jalandhara Bandha, "which regulates the flow of energy in the head, throat, and heart" in this pose. Babara has this to say about the bandhas:

"All of the bandhas intensify the cleansing effects of hatha yoga. According to traditional yogic understanding, a fire called agni, located just below the navel, cleanses the body by burning away toxins. When the flow of energy throughout the body is disrupted, the lower body accumulates excess apana, the downward flowing energy responsible for elimination. This excess contributes to weak breathing, lethargy, poor elimination, and other ailments. Inverted asanas turn the flame of agni toward this waste, enabling us to burn it off more efficiently."
Although I technically should not have gone into this inversion today, I'm thankful that I did. I think the tears were a sign of this cleansing release, which I quite obviously needed, all the more so for not having practiced any inversion besides Viparita Karani for years. As happy as I am to be taking this training (over the moon), I'm scared that I am not strong enough to make it through. I'm determined, and determination has always gotten me through past challenges. But yoga teacher training is so far outside of my comfort zone, I don't know that my usual tools are enough. I won't give up, it's just not in my blood. But I'm scared out of my mind of failure.

18 September 2010

The First Day

Last night was our first session at yoga teacher training (YTT), and it “officially” began in a rather surprising way. The entry was typical – students entering the lobby, signing in, chatting with one another as more students joined. Eventually it was time to begin, and the trainer advised us each to pick up our books from the stacks and head into studio 2.

We opened with three Oms. After some chatting about the benefits of the training and introductions of the trainer (Dani), her assistant (Jackie), and the student assistant (Ashley), Dani had us open one of the books to a page with a chant.

We officially started our class with singing. Yes, I know, singing and chanting are not really the same thing. But for someone who has developed a bit of a phobia of singing in public over the past few years, they are similar enough that this caused more than a little mental discomfort. I even experience that in my regular yoga classes when we finish with an Om.

I don’t like the sound of my voice when singing. This did not used to be a problem for me… I have sung onstage (in a chorus, but still, quite publicly!). As a matter of fact, I sang “solo” in a theatre production years ago, though thankfully for my nerves, I was offstage (a lullaby at the opening of the second act of The Crucible, in which I played Elizabeth Proctor). But since I’ve had my son, I’ve sung more around the house. And well, I really have no natural talent for it. When I practice and train my voice, I can be a decent chorus component. But without diligent practice, I just sound goofy and off key. Which is just fine when you are singing for a 2 year old, because he likes to be goofy and could care less if you can carry a tune.

So, back to the chant. To get over my anxiety about “singing” in public, I focused on the vibration in my chest rather than listening to the sound of my voice. It mostly worked. Lucky me, I’ll have plenty of time to work on this – we will open every class with this chant. *sigh*

Despite my whining, it is a beautiful chant, and I know that once we are all familiar with it, the sound in the studio as we chant together is going to be amazing. This is the invocation between teacher and student from the Katha Upanishad. Hear it here (youtube link)
Sahana Vavatu
Sahanau Bhunaktu
Saha Viryam Karavavahai
Tejasvinau Adhitamastu
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantihi

And it means:
Protect both of us together
Nourish both of us together
May we work, both of us together with great energy
May our study be vigorous and effective
May we cherish no ill feeling toward each other
Om… Peace, Peace, Peace

Other than the chant, we reviewed basic information about the training – the homework schedule, the various books provided by YogaWorks (5 workbooks – and this is on top of the 5 textbooks… I’m going to need a bigger yoga bag!), and then moved on to introductions. For our intro, we were supposed to give our name, how long we’ve practiced yoga, list of our injuries, a sentence from our essay (What is Yoga?), and one unusual thing about you. It was really amazing to listen to so many women (yes – it seems we have no men in our training class – which is sad in one way but very cool in another) talk about what had brought them to this point on their yoga journey. There are a lot of mothers in the class, quite a few with young sons. One who is starting doula training soon and hopes to eventually teach prenatal yoga. Several women who are schoolteachers, several who want to teach yoga to teens and/or kids with ADHD.

It’s amazing to find a group with which I have so much in common. It’s a bit surreal actually. When each woman was speaking, I felt as if I had similar experiences and could feel the unity between us. The woman power in the room was so awesome – in the real meaning, not the 80s meaning LOL – when it came my turn to speak I had to laugh. I was so wrapped up in what everyone was saying I forgot what I was supposed to say.

I have more injuries than most of the women in the class. Those who spoke before me all had none, so I pointed out that I had plenty to cover those who were injury free. LOL  I need to remember to bring my MRI and x-ray images, it’s always fun to see injuries in graphic detail. (Ok, maybe I’m weird in that. However, Jackie said she would love to see them.)

I guess that is all for now. I’m getting packed up from the hotel and then lying down for a rest in Viparita Karani for a while. Today’s (Saturday) class is going to be a major challenge for me… of the 5 hours of class, 3 will be asana (2 hours of practice, then a break, then another hour of practice). It’s a bit daunting. No, it’s more than a bit daunting. I am a tsunami of emotions – panic, fear, anxiety – rising to face this challenge. I feel like this is the “weed out” day… you know how in university professors often would assign stupidly difficult homework the first week to weed out the lackadaisical student? Yeah… that’s what this feels like; even if that is not the intention (and I honestly believe it is not).

17 September 2010

My essay

What is Yoga and What do I Expect from Teacher Training?

Yoga is many things to many people… Over the years, yoga has been many things for me: a haven, a path to health, and a place to learn to let go. I’ve had chronic back trouble for 5 years, and though I’ve practiced yoga at home for over a decade, it finally took a consistent “back outage” every 3 months for a year to make me realize that I had to change my lifestyle. I can no longer afford to sit in a desk for 8 to 10 hours a day, no matter what the pay. My health comes first. This affirmation led me to find this training.

A little over 7 years ago, I met my husband. We dated for a while, split up because I felt we weren’t at the same stage in life, and then got back together when he made a major change, proving that he was indeed the partner for whom I’d been looking.  During the couple of years between when we met and when we married, yoga was a haven for me. I was working two jobs – about 80 hours a week – and it was imperative that I maintained my physical fitness (one job involved lifting heavy boxes, repeatedly, for hours). I had long been a subscriber to Yoga Journal and at some point during these few years Cyndi Lee wrote a home practice article on hip openers as the link to happiness (http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/1334). I loved the routine so much I eventually did it on a daily basis. It is the reason that I not only survived the challenge of working two jobs, but also was open enough to fall in love with the man who would become my husband.

Fast forward two years to 6 weeks before my wedding: my back “went out” for the first time. I sat down on the coffee table and was suddenly in excruciating pain.  I had to attend my bridal shower while on prescription painkillers and using my grandmother’s old walker. The girls in my wedding were discussing exactly how they would decorate the walker for the big day if I was still using it. You’d think the severity of this alone would have woken me up to the fact that I wasn’t paying enough attention to my health – but sadly, it did not.  Over the following years, life progressed: I cut back to one job, I had a child, gave up my dedicated yoga room to my son, and had my back go out several more times with increasing frequency.  Finally, between 2009 and January 2010, my back went out every 3 months, including once while we were at Disneyland for my husband and son’s birthdays. I finally had an epiphany that despite my efforts to lose weight at the gym with cardio and weightlifting, my body demanded something more. I’d long enjoyed reading articles in Yoga Journal by Elise Miller and her video Yoga for Scoliosis was in my “yoga toolbox.” With that last back outage, I decided I had to try something new. I learned that Elise was offering her beginning session of the scoliosis training at a yoga studio in Aptos, and if I traveled up for that, I could also schedule a private session with her. The initial plan was for me to go on my own, but because of my latest back outage, my husband decided he needed to go with me… It made for a fun weekend getaway (the first time we both left the 2 year old), and I learned so much about how to adapt for the curve in my spine from working with Elise. The experience reinforced the idea that I needed to make a permanent change in my lifestyle to bring the practice of yoga to the forefront.

I began looking for a way to make this change happen.  The timing was apparently perfect, because it didn’t take long for me to discover the new YogaWorks studio, where a teacher training was going to be held later in the year. I decided to invest in a membership so I could get a feel for the studio and see if the teacher running the training would be a good fit for me. My first class was Dani’s Therapeutics; actually, it’s been the only class I’ve attended since I joined in the spring. I knew immediately that I had found the path I sought. I still can’t believe I’m moving forward with the idea to become a yoga teacher. It’s rather surreal.

Along with this radical change in future profession, I’m been working to heal lingering hurts from my past. I’ve always had trouble letting go, and learning to leave things in the past and stop visiting them is something I need to learn. I am hoping that yoga again will help me to implement this change in my life. Old baggage just becomes heavier with time, but it’s been a struggle to let go. I’m not sure how to do it, but I have faith that just as it has many times before, yoga will get me through. I know that by going through this training, I will grow, both in my knowledge of yoga and myself. Yoga is my future.

12 September 2010

The Final Countdown

Teacher training begins in 6 days...  I went to Theraputics today (awesome as usual - my back loves this class) and also picked up my schoolbooks.  I had a "new" injury to add to the list... I've pulled a muscle in my right hip somehow this week.  I would guess it's from belly dancing - except that I first noticed it the day BEFORE dance class. But it's definitely more aggravated since yesterday's performance at Prestige, so the hip waggling is certainly a factor in whatever is going on.  It feels looser after yoga though, so hopefully it's on the mend and won't inhibit me this week.

I still need to write my "What is yoga to you" essay - I've started composition in my head actually, playing with a few different ideas and trying to decide which way to take the writing.  Just need to set pen to paper (or, fingers to keyboard) and get things going.

In general this week is just focusing on preparing myself and the boys for the start of my training. I'm immersing myself in the idea of preparation... Tonight's project is meal planning and prep so that we all eat healthfully this weekend, and I have easy meals ready for them to have on the weekend when I am not around.  We have loads of awesome produce from our CSA, and I stocked up on proteins today at Trader Joe's, so I'm ready to play in the kitchen for a few hours tonight (and looking forward to it too!).

6 days... I am so excited!  Also terrified. But I'm paying attention to the excitement and trying to ignore the terror. LOL

29 August 2010

My favorite yoga class is like an old friend

I haven't managed to get to my Therapeutics class for a few weeks - last weekend we were down in OC to visit my father in law, and the week before was the introduction to the teacher training.

So today I'm looking forward to being back into my regular routine, for one week at least. Once the teacher training begins, I will only be able to attend Therapeutics class every other weekend - I don't have the stamina to do an additional 1.5 hours of yoga on top of the 5 hour training.

And I'll digress to a bit off topic here... My body is sore from all the belly dancing - I spent a large part of the day on Friday practicing at home, then it getting ready (makeup, makeup, and more makeup - oh and a costume too). Then we were off to the fair to perform...  It was a lot of fun and once I was on stage, it went so quickly!  I wished I had been able to dance in a few of the other numbers, but as such a neophyte to belly dancing, one was enough this time.

My belly dance teacher said in class that she does yoga to support her belly dancing...  I guess I'm the opposite - my belly dancing will support my yoga. I had a hard time earlier in the week when I watched myself in the mirror at the last class. I am not happy with my body right now - I've put on weight since having my son and have had to buy larger clothing. I considered not performing... but decided to just put that uncomfortable feeling aside because I was pretty certain I would regret NOT performing more than I would actually performing. So I bought myself some new eyeshadow and costume jewelry to distract me from my lack of confidence, and I managed to get up on that stage and have a good time despite not having a "perfect" body.

I need to work on accepting my body for what it is, as it is, and just move forward with my dancing and yoga and work to clean up my diet.  The body issues will resolve themselves if I focus on these things - I know that, but sometimes it is a challenge to ignore the mirror and the mental ideal I wish I could be. I hope that through my teacher training I will learn more about acceptance and how to bring it into my heart and mind. I am going to get a copy of Ram Dass' Remember Be Here Now to read along with my textbooks for the training... It's something I have struggled with for a long while - not just in relation to body issues, but other issues as well.  I am looking forward to the growth possible on this path, and hope I will become a better me for the changes I work into my life.


23 August 2010


Oh Friday I received an email that began with:

Hello Yogi,

I am excited to let you know that you have been accepted into the September 17 – March 20, 2010 YogaWorks Teacher Training led by Dani Ibarra. Congratulations!!!

So. In roughly 25 days, the journey really begins. I'm doing my best to ensure I am adequately prepared, though I'm not even sure at this point what else might better prepare me. I'm rereading one of our textbooks that I started years ago (Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar). I need to purchase my other textbooks this weekend so I can review them a bit before training starts.

Oh, and there's homework already, a three part writing assignment:
  1. What is Yoga?
  2. List injuries or medical issues
  3. What do you want to get out of this course?

I need to get started on the writing assignment soon, but I have to admit my focus is a bit off of yoga this week. Someone talked me into taking belly dance classes a few months ago, and then further talked me into dancing at the AV Fair with the class.  So, this week is belly dance week at our house.  Tonight there was a full show run through. Tomorrow I'm getting my pre-performance pedicure. Wednesday is our last night of class before the Fair. Thursday, well, ok Thursday isn't belly dance related, but I'm booked (preschool orientation!). And then Friday, we perform.  I must be insane to be doing this. I'll look fabulous at least - Trish loaned me gorgeous harem pants and a skirt and Coli loaned me a fringe scarf and all sorts of shiny things. And Mindy told me about some kind of makeup for the tummy that will help me be not so glow in the dark white. Now all I need to do is PRACTICE so I stop messing up the transition into doubles. Ugh, that spot gives me the most trouble!

We're performing this Friday night at the AV Fair. The show begins at 7:30 on the community stage. Be there and see the best belly dancers in the AV! (Um... no ego, I'm not really including myself in that statement. But some of the other ladies are really fantastic!!!)

14 August 2010

The Journey Begins

Today was my yoga teacher training information session at YogaWorks. It was a two-hour meeting - the first hour of which was asana, basically an Yoga Works Level 1 class.  We did Surya Namascar, which I haven't done regularly for quite some time - I just don't have the upper body strength or wrist stamina to spend that much time on my hands.  So it was very challenging.  And even more challenging - we did handstand (well, I didn't, but the class did).  I did a half-handstand with my feet on the wall (which everyone did a few times before progressing into a full handstand). And wow, is my upper body weak.

Generally, I focus on hip openers and abdominal strengthening since I do yoga to reduce/prevent my back problems. And I could really tell that's where I put my focus since I was so physically challenged in today's practice. On the one hand, I was familiar with everything we did, having done it all before (ok, except handstand, which I haven't done because of strength, not unfamiliarity) - so that was great. But on the other hand, I found myself frustrated at the weakness of my upper body.

However, I felt great after the practice - I made it through everything without having to make many modifications.  Not that there's anything wrong with modifying, especially in the type of yoga I want to teach (therapeutics/restorative). But it's reassuring to know that when I challenge my body within reason, I can do what I want to do.

After the asana practice, the teacher trainer (Dani, who teaches the class I normally attend on Sundays) and the training administrator talked about the training and its benefits, then we had a Q&A session. Dani signed my application after the class, so all I need to do is complete and submit my application. I can't believe this is actually starting. It's both awesome and scary.

On my drive home an idea popped into my head. When I was a kid and went on Wider Opportunities with Girl Scouts, I sent letters to different community organizations requesting donations to support my Wider Op. (Wider Ops - they have a new name now - were themed Girl Scout "camps" for older girls that usually lasted for 2 weeks and were all around the country, so - not cheap.)  After my trip, I went to the organization and gave a presentation on the trip - my experience, what I'd learned, etc.

Like those trips, yoga teacher training isn't cheap... $3250 if I pay by the early registration deadline of
26 August. My idea is to write to similar organizations - maybe businesses too - to ask for sponsorship for my yoga teacher training in exchange for a free class (or multiple classes) for their group after I complete my training. I am also considering tossing out the idea of personal sponsorship too - i.e., perhaps some friends would be interested in a private lesson for a donation. I need to develop a schedule of XX donation = XX classes. I have no idea how it might go over, but I'm thinking even if I could raise a small amount of "scholarship" money this way, I'd get three benefits. First obviously - financing. Second, I would have a few places lined up after my training to get experience.  Third, I would make contacts in the community which could lead to people interested in private classes.

I just need to work on a letter... Obviously it needs to give the benefits to their organization, which is easy enough to do - the health benefits of physical activity in general plus yoga in particular are fairly well known and so I shouldn't need to be too detailed.  I'd ideally want to keep the letter down to one page - brevity is the soul of interest...