Sunday, April 21, 2013

Calm yourself, fool! ~Sharath

Ok so Sharath Jois didn't exactly say "calm yourself, fool"...

But that more or less is what he has been saying and teaching for the past few days that I've been here in Encinitas practicing with him. I've had three led primary series classes so far, and have three more to go. As is expected, each day feels a little "worse"... More tired, sore, etc. It doesn't help that I'm in a lovely, hilly beach town and am walking everywhere. In flip flops. My shins and hip flexors are screaming!!! Despite that, I have really enjoyed my practice each morning at 6:30am in a room packed with at least 100 people, and a maximum of one inch between each yoga mat on all sides. Today I got full on head-butted rolling around in garbha pindasana, by my friend Lidia who was going a little slowly (usually it's a head to knee, or head to butt connection). It kinda hurt and I could help it, I said "DUDE!" really loudly... a few people around us looked and laughed. Lidia has scored a trillion adjustments so far from Sharath AND Saraswati, while over the three days I've been adjusted once. Which was great. On the first day we were dead center and front. Saraswati just happened to be standing in front of me during supta kurmasana and reach down to cross my legs behind my head. THANK YOU! It's technically the only adjustment I need in the primary series, although, who doesn't like their leg being held up a little bit in uttitha hasta? :)

Ok ok, on to what Sharath said in the little mini conference chats he is giving each morning right after practice.

Day 1
Sharath explains how asana (physical yoga postures) comes first. He says even though in the yoga sutras yama and niyama are the first two limbs of ashtanga yoga and asana is listed as third, he says that those develop concurrently with your asana practice. You refine those as you go deeper into your asana practice, so really asana is first, as is stated in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

He went on to create a metaphor. He said asana is like the foundation of a house. First, you must lay down a good foundation (asana). Then, when you go to build the rest of the house (your spiritual building) it won't collapse. He tells us that asana comes first in order to lay down the groundwork for gaining a deeper spiritual understanding and existence. If you want to go further, first start here, with your asana practice.

He also talked about how asana practice makes the body steady, light and strong, which are also pre-requisites for deeper study, especially pranayama. As we already know, a steady body equals a steady mind. How can we try to concentrate on spiritual endeavours if our body is very sick?

Day 2
Saturday morning after practice Sharath started to talk more about pranayama. First, the explanation. I love when he clears this up because it's commonly mistaken. Pranayama = extension of the breath. (NOT breath 'control'). Prana + ayama, instead of prana + yama, the "a" in the middle is a long "a". Anyways - I'm a Sanskrit geek!
He says that to extend your breath is to extend your life. We are each given about 100 years. If you get sick you will die sooner. If you practice pranayama, you can live longer.

He says we are doing pranayama, without even really knowing it, in our asana practice, since we are breathing through the nose only, in a slow and steady manner. If you pant, breathe too quickly, or hold your breath, you are agitating your mind. To calm the breath is to calm the mind. He said that the body is in charge of the breath, and the breath is in charge of the mind. When emotions (anger, laughter, any) take over then the breath and the mind become erratic, so we need to keep control of those. It sort of seemed like he was telling us not to be too happy. Which I suppose is in line with a lot of Hindu texts (Yoga Sutras, Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, etc), that tout holding your equanimity in the face of sorrow and joy and not being taken away by either extreme. He ended the chat by saying something jovial like, "I hope you extend your breath so you can extend your life, haha".

Day 3
Pranayama was the topic again this morning. He reminded us quickly of what he brought up yesterday then went on to saying that pranayama is very important. When done properly it can remove illnesses from the body and mind. If done incorrectly however, it can invite diseases in. So "be careful!" he said. He went on to talk about how much stress EVERYONE has in their life these days, that it's unavoidable and we need measures to reduce our stress. He showed us all a pranayama technique, which we all did along with him. It's called Nadi Shodana and it's an alternate breathing technique. I'll admit, this is one form of pranayama I have never really enjoyed (maybe the point isn't to enjoy them though). Danny Paradise has taken me through this exercise many times. I usually end up leaving to blow my nose because one nostril get clogged. Fail! No benefit!

So first Sharath showed us the proper hand mudra to use. Using your RIGHT hand (never left he says), hold the palm up facing your own face, thumb sticking up, index and middle finger curled tight into your hand, and last two fingers outstretched and together. Kind of like a Hawaiian surfer, but not quite.

-Put the thumb over your right nostril and close it completely.
-Take a long, easy, slow, natural inhale through the left nostril.
-Take off the thumb, close the left nostril completely with the last two fingers and take a slow, long exhale through the right.
- Do that five times.
Then do the opposite:
-Inhale through the right nostril, exhale through the left, five times.
This is one "set". (10 breaths total). He says if you have time, to do two sets. Morning, noon, night, whenever you need it. It's a technique to calm the mind. It's also very good if you have respiratory problems or allergies which affect your breathing, and is also good for anxiety and hypertension.
It actually did feel calming to me. Even though the left side was slightly clogged. Not as much as another guy's though. His nose whistled really loudly every time he exhaled! Teehee. Whistle nose.

Sharath finished by saying that you should always enjoy your practice. He mimicked us and talked about how after practice everyone asks "how was your practice" and if you were very 'bendy' you say "practice was good!" but if you weren't bendy you say "it was ok". LOL! So true. He knows his crowd ;) But he said, no matter what happens, if you are very flexible or not at all, you must enjoy your practice. I agree.

Three more led primary's and Sharath-chats to go. Will report back!

Here are a few photos from the practice with Sharath and Saraswati snapped this week...

Friday, April 19, 2013

Hotel California

The title of this blog is appropriate because I'm sitting in my hotel... you guessed it... in California! I flew to San Diego yesterday from Toronto, and took the lovely short drive up to Encinitas. It's my third year coming here for a week of Ashtanga practice with Sharath and Saraswati at the Jois Yoga Shala. Every year when they finish teaching their season at the Shala in Mysore India, they do a world tour, teaching classes and giving conferences. They visit the Jois Shala in Conneticut (closer to me, but not as lovely a vacation!) and they visit New York also. BUT, if I'm getting on a plane, it's going to be to somewhere hot and sunny with a beach, an ocean and some palm trees. It's one of those places that is starting to feel like home to me now, that I come back here 'every year' (I hope to continue this tradition!). I'm staying in the same hotel, Days Inn, a very humble but clean and well equipped hotel, cheap as dirt in my opinion, and walking distance from the yoga shala, the beach, and the main strip of shops, cafes and restaurants. Perfect for me!

This year I flew in with two friends, which is different and fun, Emma: amazing yogini and yoga teacher, and Lidia: one of my students who is basically just being thrown into the deep end here! Led Primary series with Sharath... Whoa! I'm excited for her, she's ready.

Yesterday we all went to the opening blessing ceremony, the Puja. The same priest from Mysore India was there, as was there last year. There were flower offerings, fruit, food, fire, incense, chanting, singing, the priest talking on his cell phone in the middle of the ceremony... LOL! All of the usual Puja goings on. Here's a photo of Ganesha being adorned, removing obstacles for the studio, the practitioners, the teachers...
So now I'm up early, woke myself at 5am (really feels like 8am for me because of the time change so it's no biggie), made chai tea, a small little cup of oatmeal (you're not supposed to eat before practicing yoga but I HAVE to! I've tried everything and I just feel ill and miserable and distracted if my belly is totally empty. Hits me about half way through, right at Marichasana... anyways). I'm showered, dressed, and about to go knock on Lidia's door to walk to the Shala together as the sun comes up. Emma opted for the 830-10am class.. LAZY GIRL! Just kidding. I get it. Sleep is nice. I just don't want any when I'm in such a lovely place. I want to be done my practice by 8am so I have the whole day to enjoy the beauty that is this place. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

5 Bad reasons to want to take a Yoga Teacher Training course

5 Inadequate reasons to want to take a yoga teacher training course

1.       You want your work clothes to be yoga pants, and/or you want a discount on your Lululemon clothing.
While it’s true that yoga clothing will be your work clothing, this is (obviously) not a good enough reason to become a yoga teacher! Lululemon does in fact have a ‘research and design’ program for those who work in the business to become members of, offering a small discount for their feedback about the quality and functionality of its products, but trust me, it is not very significant considering the amount of yoga clothing I go through, teaching up to 5 classes a day. It’s not cheap! If this is your goal, then maybe finding a sugar daddy/mama is a better option for you.

2.       You have recently learned that if you teach one class a week at your local gym you’ll get a free membership.
Again, while this may be true and a nice benefit of being a yoga teacher, it does not suffice as a reason to put yourself through a YTT program and then teach others who are hoping for a teacher who is passionate about what they do, and not just worried about getting a free pass to the gym. I work at various gyms and clubs, and trust me, there is no extra time or energy to work out anyways, after teaching multiple classes per day, travelling to and from them all, and keeping your own yoga practice regular.

3.       You already work in the health and fitness industry and getting another certification will look good on your resume.
Already having the education and knowledge from teaching fitness classes can be a great asset if you also want to become a yoga teacher. Familiarity with anatomy and energy systems, as well as being comfortable in front of people can really be handy along the path of learning how to teach yoga. But yoga is definitely not just fitness. It’s not a ‘certification’ meant to pad your resume, or something to add into the end of your step class as a quick stretch for the participants. Yoga is a rich tradition and a complex practice involving many more elements than most fitness programs and qualifications out there involve. Teaching yoga requires devotion, true understanding of and love for the practice, immersion in the lifestyle of yoga and deserves more than just a quick course and a stamp on a piece of paper. I think there are plenty of ‘mind-body’ certifications and classic stretch style courses and classes out there that would be better suited for someone merely looking to add to their fitness teaching repertoire. A yoga teacher training course warrants much more interest, fervour and dedication than that.

4.       All you friends are doing it so why not? It seems like a trendy thing to do.
While it’s true that yoga is gaining in popularity and yoga teacher trainings are popping up seemingly all over the place, this does not mean it’s the right thing or the best thing for you. Such a course is a big commitment that demands much time, passion and dedication. If you are just tagging along with a friend or a trend, you will be wasting your own time and money. Think about this choice until you are certain it is what you are ready to do.

5.       You want an extra job to supplement your income and this seems like a pretty fun one.
It is possible to make a living as a yoga teacher, but you will soon realize that this is definitely not a job you get into for the money! Teaching yoga is all about serving others. The time it takes to prepare for each class, travel to and from, use gas and parking money or bus fare, nearly makes the pay not worth it! Teaching yoga must be a labour of love, and if it is, then you will certainly be able to do it as a decent living. Getting into it as a means to extra income is unfortunate as you will be dissatisfied with the outcome as will your students who will feel your interest is not as much in them as it is in your remuneration at the end of the day. Save yourself and them the disappointment.

5 Good reasons to consider taking a Yoga Teacher Training Course

5 Good reasons to consider taking a Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) course

1.       You have been practicing yoga for a very long time and believe you have learned as much as possible from taking local yoga classes and you wish to go deeper and learn more about the practice, about your own practice and about yourself.
You have been taking yoga classes for at least 6 month, hopefully a year or more at the point where you decide you might be interested in taking a teacher training. If you have been practicing for 5 or 10 years, even better! The better developed your own practice is, the better chance you will have of being an effective teacher. Like most of us, you probably started out with one class a week for a while, and then gradually stepped it up to two, and then three, and started to really see things happening and changing. Maybe you have even realized that a daily practice with one rest day a week is the best yoga schedule if your time and money situation has permitted for that. What next? The postures and the breathing seem to be coming along well, but what are all of the other elements of the practice? You might be wondering, “How do I truly immerse myself in the practice of yoga and develop myself as a person committed to this lifestyle?”

2.       You have practiced yoga for long enough to realize the benefits and positive changes in your life and feel like you must share this with others.
You tell all of your friends and family members how great you feel thanks to yoga. Your body is strong and lean and healthy. Those aches and pains are gone. You sleep well and have loads of energy. You have changed the way you eat because after all of the hard work you do on your yoga mat detoxifying your body, you can’t imagine putting garbage into it anymore. Your mid is calmer and your thoughts are more positive. You have developed patience and compassion and really listen to people now when they talk to you. Your goals are better defined and you know what makes you happy. You can’t believe how yoga has changed your life for the better and imagine if you could help others find this path as well? Maybe being a yoga teacher is just the way to do this, making the world a better place one yoga student at a time.

3.       You feel like you can successfully do most yoga poses but want to understand more about them and why you are doing them.
You feel good and you know you are getting more flexible and balanced. But what are all of these yoga postures all about? You wonder who made them up, what their names mean, is it just gymnastics? Where do these movements come from and what is the point? You are curious about the energetic effects, and the connection to come concepts you have heard your teachers talk about like chakras, kundalini energy, bandhas and so on. And when all of these yoga postures have been attained then what next? Are there other yoga postures that are more advanced? Or are there ways to go deeper into these seemingly simple yoga postures? A good yoga teacher training program can definitely lend answers to these questions.

4.       You know that there is more to yoga than just the physical postures and wish to learn about the other elements such as history, philosophy, theory, chanting, breathing, meditation.
You recently learned about the yoga sutras and wonder if there is information in that treatise that would benefit your yoga practice or wonder if it’s all just mumbo-jumbo. You also heard that “Ashtanga” means ‘eight limbs’. Eight? Like an octopus? Or like a tree? What are all of these limbs? And how about those little statues and paintings around the yoga studio, who is that elephant god and what is the significance to yoga? You are curious about the roots of yoga and its links to the religion and culture from whence it came. You find chanting pretty scary since you have no idea what you are saying when you repeat after your teacher and you feel like you sound foolish. What is this OMing all about anyways? And meditation is a whole other story. You are pretty sure you have never sat still long enough to quiet your mind properly, but you would really like to learn how because you are aware of its rewards.

5.       You love practicing yoga and feel that a career serving others and making the world a better place would be fulfilling and is the path you want to go down at this point in your life.
If you are thinking about becoming a yoga teacher, you need to surrender to the fact that it is not a career path that will bring you fame or fortune. Unless having a few students truly appreciate you is what you consider fame, and having the ability to potentially change a few peoples’ lives for the better, to you, is fortune. You are someone who feels content just making other people happy as an end in itself. You are prepared to be a positive healthy role model for others and put your students’ needs before your own every time you teach.