Paying it Forward: A Thank You to my teachers

People ask me what my favourite part of teaching is, and I would say that it would be when students realize that they can do anything.  ANYTHING.

Why?  Because I know that feeling, too.  It’s utterly intoxicating.  There’s just no greater feeling.

To me, a very important part of teaching yoga is trust.   In my experience, students move forward more bravely when they trust the teacher – when they feel their progress actually matters.  Sharing the joy of progress also fuels  more growth down the road.

The past couple of classes I’ve taught, I’ve witnessed several major (physical) breakthroughs in the regulars.  Had it not been unprofessional, I would’ve jumped for joy in the hot room for them.  An even better part is when the students are in shock of what they had just done!  In those moments, I cease to exist, it is all about them.  As their vulnerability lay in a puddle of their own sweat, their inner power grows.   I don’t know who wouldn’t humbled by witnessing that.

I’ve had amazing teachers who helped me find those moments, those breakthroughs in my practice.   The only way I know how to thank them properly is to give the same to my own students.  And as a reminder to my fellow teachers…one day you may inspire a student to return your good will to others.

As I continue to teach, I pay it forward in gratitude.  I encourage you all to do the same.  Your world will be better for it.

‘The biggest challenge in the practice of yoga…’

‘…is to be present. And if you’re present, even if you do the same thing 10x, every time should feel unique so there is never repetition.’

~ Luiz Veiga, Ashtanga teacher

My current Everest

A few years after I started practicing yoga, I started to notice little habitual movements I had formed in class.  I would scratch my head during awkward/utakatasana, take an extra breath or three before lifting my leg in eagle/garurasana, and the biggest tick of all, suddenly becoming tired right before rabbit/sasangasana when I had been just perfectly fine a few seconds before (and then skip a set).

Despite becoming aware of them, some of these ‘ticks’ continued.  Fortunately, as a teacher, I am forced into facing my own weaknesses and quirks.  Because one thing I never wanted to be was hypocritical when I would ask students to challenge themselves.

So as part of my ‘service’ in this yoga progression, I will share with you what I am working on right now.

I have always struggled in rabbit, hence my reaction to it in class. I would look on with sadness when people are able to get the posture correctly because I wanted to feel so badly what they felt in the posture too.  When I am in it, I feel like a drowning rat.  Tucked chin, compressed belly, holding onto the heels, while sweat is dripping in my nose.  Yay.  Not.

Earlier this year, I’ve decided to dedicate more time in understanding the posture and let go of my built up limitations (long spine, horrible forward bends, the list goes on..).  Finally, I felt that extension of the spine I never had before!  Although it was short-lived, I was able to taste and feel what I was missing out on for almost six years.  Six years!!!

With the decision to open myself up to rabbit (figuratively and literally), I started picking up knowledge that I ignored in the past.  Like earlier this evening, a fellow teacher with similar woes sent me some notes from a senior teacher’s seminar (thanks, Jo) and instead of having an avoidance reaction, I am excited to try them!

So maybe I was supposed to feel like a drowned rat until I let go of my inhibitions.  Who knows.  But I do know that I have new things to try in my next class.

And perhaps this post can inspire you to let go and try something that’ll challenge you.  You never know what you may discover 🙂

Gloria Suen, 2012 International Yoga Champion

Gloria Suen, 2012 International Yoga Champion

Photo courtesy of IYSF.

A note to Bikram students

I’ve worked in my fair share of jobs: babysitter in junior high, grocery check out girl in high school, bartender and waitress in college, as a counselor and a teacher as an adult.

But never have I encountered such sheer level of complaints as I have working in the yoga community (not to me directly, just a general observation).

The room is too hot, too humid, too cold. The teacher is too loud, too quiet. The room is too small, too empty. The posture is too hard. Or it’s not doing anything at all.

In response to all the Goldilocks out there, here are 10 things to keep in mind when we go to our next Bikram class.

Please kindly remember that:

1. Bikram yoga is…hot.

2. The more bodies in the room, the higher the humidity. If you complain about the class being humid, look at your neighbours. Unless you have the guts to ask them to leave, just breathe and deal with it.


3. Each person is a mini heater. The body’s temp is roughly 98 degrees Fahrenheit. (it wasn’t just a boy band). This rises as you exercise, as stated in Gym Class 101.


4. Heat makes a person sweaty. Exercise in a heated room makes you more sweaty.


5. Speaking of which, Bikram yoga IS exercise. Not a spa treatment.


6. Bikram yoga is 90 minutes. Just like a marathon is 26.2 miles. A 25-mile run is just a long ass run so why not do it properly? 


7. You get back what you put in. It’s as simple as that. Results come from hard work, plain and simple.


8. We teachers are specifically asked by Bikram (the dude) not to touch students. So don’t take it personal that I won’t ‘adjust’ you. Plus I have no idea where your hands have been.


9. When was the last time you complained to the treadmill that it was making you work too hard? Probably never because you get on it prepared to work. Same goes with Bikram yoga. You paid for the class. Why not get the most out of it? 


10. Lock your knee. No, seriously, lock your knee.

Above all, relax dudes and dudettes. It’s just yoga.

‘It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or how much money you have. Just do the yoga.’ ~ Bikram Choudhury

To be a yogi

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I’ll be the first to admit that I fear change, especially when I know it will be uncomfortable or inconvenient, or worse, painful. But change is supposed to be all those things, otherwise, it would just be another version of the present.

I’ve been teaching Bikram for almost a year now. I relished having a regular class with regular students who are strong and dedicated. I was able to fight off new-teacher nerves because those students can pretty much can take care of themselves in the hot room. Additionally, opportunities weren’t always available at other studios, so I hid behind that reason to stay where I was. Teaching a good group of students every Wednesday, solid and concrete.

Then one day, I finally decided I was ready. I was done hiding in the shadows of comfortability and convenience. I sought out other studios far away from me, one at a time, signing up for whatever came my way. My students became even more varied the further away I went. Broken bodies, broken hearts, yet the kindest of souls. Mostly older, and some who don’t speak English at all. Their profiles resembling my immigrant upbringing and my parents’ generation more than anything – a generation that put hard work and families before their own health and happiness.

I was looking to grow as a teacher, for anything that can be thrown at me so I could be better, stronger on the podium. Maybe play with my voice, as has been a feedback for me to work on. To say teaching this group as tough would be an understatement, at times driving me to the edge of frustration. I thought, it sure is a lot of work to improve!

But when a student shared with me that she was grieving a loss and didn’t know if she could be in that hot room, suddenly the sound of my voice nor my ability to recite the dialogue became a useless. Since it was just the two of us, I practiced alongside her instead, almost in silence except for Bikram’s voice in the background and a few lights instead of the blaring bright ones traditional to a Bikram room.

I had teach not with my words but with empathy and patience.

While my regular classes have been monumental in my first year of teaching, the past month with my new group of students have made me remember that to be a yogi, you must be human too. And to be a good teacher, you mustn’t forget to be human.

I have one more Sunday to spend with them, and it has been well worth the commute.

Strangers

As yoga teachers, we see many people in our classes.  My regulars downtown?  The die-hard yogi, the dancer, the athlete.  The lawyer, the soccer mom, the hippie, the banker, the walking Lululemon advertisement.  They’re all there.

Today, I had a group of strangers.  Strangers to me because I had just started teaching at a new studio north of the city.  Strangers because I didn’t know their bodies or their names.

I was excited to teach because it was something new.  Never could I have imagined what I would take home with me today.

As class went on, it had become apparent that these group of strangers weren’t like my regulars:  the husband whose toes wouldn’t touch together no matter how many times he tried, his wife who was every bit his partner across the room, the mother and daughter who practiced side by side, and the 60-yr old jubilant lady with the smile who kept on wiping her sweat guiltily in between postures.  And these strangers were teaching me something.

How exactly were they teaching me when it was I who stood on that podium, speaking dialogue and directions?  Well, as the husband attempted to bring his feet together for umpteenth time and the jubilant lady sat down to catch her breath, they both smiled.  They smiled at me despite the sheer effort that I know it took just to get through this tough practice.

Teachers know that the poses aren’t the object, but the body.  Most students do not.  But these strangers, my beautiful strangers, their effort wasn’t for the full expression of the poses, a locked out knee, or how good they looked in Lululemon shorts.  Their effort was for themselves, fuelled by the sheer determination that maybe one day the feet will touch.  And that if that day never does come in their lifetime, they will still continue to try.  And they will continue to smile along the way.

After I finished the class, the jubilant lady came up to me and said that she found my voice inspiring, so she tried her ‘best’.  I was humbled and in shock, not for the flattery, but because she has no idea just how much she had inspired me with those words.

She tried her best.  

I had been so excited to teach, when it was a group of strangers who taught me more than I could ever have imagined in 90 minutes.