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.

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100 ways to be..

In a few days, I will be finishing up an educational endeavour that has taken up a lot of my time the last 12 months.  It has taken me far away from my yoga practice, where I found myself too often having to choose between conserving my energy for long study days or getting on my mat.  While I know that yoga gives you energy (etc etc etc), sometimes, we just have to make peace with our choices and prioritize.

I am happy that I am at a point in my practice where I am ok with not being able to make it to class as often as I am accustomed to.  Observe me a year ago and I’d have move heaven and earth to make it to a yoga class or practice at 2 am if needed.  These days, each rare class has become this sweet indulgence, where I could savour each posture because I knew it would probably be my only one that week.  My years of dedicated practice is helping me stay in decent physical and mental shape, for which I am grateful.

Surprisingly, my physical practice hasn’t changed much.  In fact, there were days when I was shocked at how much stronger I have gotten – maybe it’s a byproduct of that pure indulgence and savouring (or that I have extra reserves to use up ha!).

Now in a few days, my time will be mine again to do as I please.  I am so very excited to return, happy that I was not made into the prodigal daughter or made to suffer each time.  The yoga gives and gives in so many ways!

In celebration, I am dedicating myself to new goals and new heights.  I know that I am stronger, and am very curious to know where this will take me.  So, with the help of fellow yogis, I am committing myself to 100 classes with them from now until April 30th, 2014 (150+ days).

It isn’t quite a 30 day challenge (it’s a kinder, more forgiving).  It is more of time frame where I will set small, incremental goals and see where I find myself at class 100 (think SMART goals for your yoga practice).  My goals: I want to be stronger.   I want to get past my plateau in standing bow.  I want to be able to transfer all the energy I had studying books into studying more yoga.

I’ll be a little more honest:  sometimes I get lost when my time isn’t filled and well, in a few days, I’m nervous I might just get a little lost again.  I swear I’m not one of those people who glorify being busy (I like my sleep and rest much more) – it’s just that I get really, really lazy and gluttonous when I have too much freedom.  I also tend to have too much time with my own thoughts and that’s not always a good thing.  A decent structure helps me thrive.

If you feel up for it, come join me and other yogis to discover the 100 ways to grow, to be stronger, to be freer, to be anything that you set your goals to be.  Join us on Twitter by sharing your experiences using #100ways.

As my sweet friend Catherine says, let’s find 100 ways to be awesome.

Cheers and see you on the mat.

A Tale of Two Yogas

My fellow yogi and writer Marina had asked me to write about my ashtanga practice.  Head on over to her blog at Bikram Yoga Musings and say hello.

🙂

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.

Dusting off

It’s been awhile since I’ve given a proper post.  I’ve been wordless, but I haven’t been absent.  I come every now and then, but no words would come.  So I lurked, read, liked, and absorbed behind the scenes.

I could’ve easily written about yoga or a recipe, but it didn’t feel honest enough.  So tonight, on a rainy Monday, I write once again.  This time, it feels right.

I’d like to say that my practice hasn’t been much to write about, but selfishly, I’ve kept it all to myself.  There came a point shortly after I started teaching when I just did not want to talk about my yoga.  Maybe because it was my turn to listen to others talk about their practice.  Maybe it’s all part of the teaching process.  Maybe I just needed a break from words, written and spoken, and just practice.  

I was also tired of the inspiring posts and quotes and trusting the process.  I didn’t want to see a picture of a yoga posture, no matter how beautiful.

I’ve been keeping a distance.  From the yoga community – both around me and online.  I’ve also been hiding – behind an injury, behind reasons insufficient in the past that have now become valid enough.  

But now, the time feels right to dip my toes again.  To really be on my mat.  Unroll the it wherever I can. and rebuild what had been lost.

So back to the yoga I go.  And hopefully, some words can be shared too.  

‘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.’ 

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