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.

Yoga’s 21st Century Facelift & the Myth of the Perfect Ass(ana)

Yoga’s 21st Century Facelift & the Myth of the Perfect Ass(ana)

‘Since my sociological imagination and feminist radar first went on high alert, many other yoga practitioners have asked critical questions about the objectification and sexualization of women to sell yoga products, standard advertising themes when it comes to the representation of girls and women. Those critical questions have not always been met with critical and constructive dialogue. In fact, the responses were often hostile and defensive. Personally, I was disheartened by a “conscious” community that frequently speaks out against animal cruelty, genetically modified food and environmental issues that didn’t feel equally compelled to address the exploitation of women and their bodies.’

Link: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/11/yogas-21st-century-facelift-the-myth-of-the-perfect-assana/

‘Do your practice and all is coming.’

I have found a new love.

There.  I said it.

I have finally fallen for Ashtanga yoga.  It took me awhile.  In fact, there was a point where I didn’t think it would really happen for me.  But something changed.

One day, after watching a few online videos to help deepen my backbends, I stumbled upon Ashtanga videos that piqued my interest.  I’ve attended a few Ashtanga classes in the past, but I didn’t really understand this yoga discipline then.  I had difficulty with the varied posture sequences from teacher to teacher, and my very typical Bikram yogi self struggled.  I’m used to structure.  I don’t do well with random postures.  Or spontaneity (that’s only reserved for travelling).

After some more research, I realized it wasn’t as complicated as I had initially thought.  Surya Namaskar A and B.  Primary Series.  Intermediate.  Etc.

Every time.

Six days a week.  First thing in the morning.  No randomness at all.  It was only random because I didn’t go to an actual Ashtanga shala.  Ahhh!

I was drawn by the discipline, the rigour, but also the accessibility of it.  I didn’t HAVE to do all of it?!  I can add one posture when I’m ready?  And I can take longer than 5 breaths if needed?  Yet it’s still all so organized and structured?  Holy cow.  The more I read, the more I was drawn.  Could I possibly do it at home too…?

Well, it just so happened that my mat was home for the day for some cleaning, when I usually leave it at the studio.

Serendipity.

After years of avoiding it, I finally managed a home practice.  Not with my usual Bikram series, but with the Ashtanga Primary Series.  And I haven’t stopped since.  I love how it motivates me to practice at home, even at 2am.  I love how challenging it is but you are never so far removed from experiencing a posture – modified or not.  I love the silence.  I love that it has given me a different sense of ownership of my practice – where I feel like I can practice anywhere, anytime.  As much as I love Bikram yoga (hello, I teach it), it has never excited me enough to do it outside of the studio except once.  Ashtanga is a completely different story.

While I haven’t quite reached a daily morning Ashtanga practice (balancing it with my Bikram practice is a bit tough), I am so eager and curious to keep going.  I feel a loss when I’m unable to practice which makes me even more hungry to get back on my mat.  I look forward to adding a posture each day.   I feel at peace – and I haven’t felt this way about yoga except for Bikram.

Here’s a video of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga master leading the Primary Series.  I’ve seen this video many, many times and it only *clicked* for me this time around.  The universe does have a way of finding us when we’re ready :).

***Please note that the video is not to be substituted for a trained teacher.  I am familiar with some of the poses from the advanced Bikram series to get me through, but I will eventually go to a studio when I can.***

Loosening the grip: The pain of slowing down

I’ve been missing my hatha yoga lately.  Bikram, as you know is my yoga of choice.  Work, studying, and teaching is the formula I’ve been running as of late.

Unfortunately, I’ve been practicing less and less so when I do get my chance in the hot room, I push as far as I can go.  I want sweat dripping and pooling around me.  I want to go to my edge in the postures so I can go further next time.  I don’t allow myself to sit.

Until I am forced to.

The crappy mix of little practice, lots of work, not enough rest, too much intensity has finally caught up to me in the form of  illness.  Twice.  In a month.

Naturally, I had anger and frustration, as this has taken away what little practice I could squeeze in.  I was a yogi.  A teacher.  I needed my practice.  So at first I didn’t let it stop me.  I dragged myself to class, when I could.  It wasn’t an ego thing, but more of a ‘maximize what I can in the little time what I have’ thing.  I cram as much as I can into my days, as if the days are shoeboxes being filled with old photographs.  Yoga was in that shoebox.

What I had realized after my last disastrous Bikram class, was that I have been spinning and running and working so hard that I crossed the line between dedication and obsession.  I’ve been so focused on certain goals that I had applied the same level of intensity into everything else around me including yoga.  And I’ve become unforgiving to anything and anyone that got in my way.

But like any grip that is too tight, or a plant that receives too much sun or water, intensity can be harmful.  Even Bikram says ‘too good is no good!’

It gave me some food for thought: are my struggles lately been because of too tight a grip on those goals?  Would I have more success if I eased up a bit?  Am I willing to take a chance that I’m not going to fail if I slow down a just a little bit?

My challenge now is taking a step back, see what I might gain.

Only time will tell, and I’m resisting the urge to shove that into the shoebox, too.

Let’s get sweaty for 2013!

This is not another New Year’s resolution, it’s a sweat revolution.

I think that may have been the cheesiest thing I’ve ever written in awhile. Literary angst aside, this post is for a serious matter: sweat.

As a Bikram yogi and teacher, my world can easily revolve around sweat. Planning out which class/teacher makes me sweat hard (in a good way), how much sweat I like to see when I teach, the least amount of clothing for maximum sweat surface area, how much sweating hurts after a few wine glasses the night before…you get the picture.

Luckily, I’m not alone in this mindset. I’m fortunate enough to be around hard working, boundary-pushing yogis. There are those ones who could do the unthinkable with their bodies, the athletes, the dancers, and the yoga champions.

To these yogis, there are no weekends, no holidays. Where calendars only matter if there’s far too many days since their last sweat.

To these yogis, the measure of their being and happiness isn’t the calories they’ve eaten, the number on the scale, or the size of their clothing. (Lycra and spandex bode well for this group.)

To these yogis, success is being able to practice yoga on and off the mat.

It’s not about who is the most flexible or the strongest. It’s about keeping their patience and cool when all else around them is crumbling.

The best part about these people? They are the dedicated, everyday people you see in class next to your mat.

They’re also you and I.

Because health and happiness is just as important before and after Christmas and New Year’s Day, let’s get sweaty and happy all year round.

Convinced yet? Join a number of yogis who will be doing a 30-day beginning in January and sweat with the community wherever you are in the world. We’ll be on Twitter with the hashtag #30DCJan, short for 30 Day Challenge January. I’ll update this post of bloggers and writers as we go along. You can also drop a comment below and say hello. Or cheer on in silence.

Yoga, run, bike, dance! Anything goes here. All that’s required is we do our best to sweat 1x a day 🙂

It’s not another New Year’s resolution, but a sweat revolution!

Ahh, cheese. Happy 2013 everyone!

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There is no try.

I can’t remember a specific moment or injury that caused weakness in my left knee.  I also can’t remember when I finally attempted toe stand years ago.  Every class since, I’ve tried padangustasana, and every class, I’ve fallen out or released the left side of the posture because of pain (including in teacher training).

Yesterday, for the first time in a very long time, I thought, what if I stayed in tree. But because of habit, or years of practice, or the need to do the series as a whole, I went in even while still contemplating about not doing it.

Let me rephrase that – my body was doing things my mind was saying it could not or would not do.

My body, so disciplined in this yoga, went ahead and left my mind in the tiring debate of ‘to do or not to do’.

While this was just one posture, it was the one to show me what a regular practice has done for me.  It isn’t to help me be incredibly flexible, or build the strongest body but to eliminate the cant’s and the wont’s.  Who would’ve thought that was toe stand’s benefit?

In the words of Yoda, ‘Do or do not. There is no try.’