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