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.

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.

Dusting off, yet again.

Ahh.  It’s been a very long time.  In between my last written words here and today, life has been happening.  A lot of hard work, a little less yoga, and a lot of steps towards a better future.  Details will come when they’re ready.

In the meantime, I will hang around here and get reacquainted with my space, and yours too.

I promise, I will share the stories that need to be told once the storm before the calm settles (all good things, no worries).

Here’s a beautiful story of a yogi to close off the night.

Excerpt from My Journey as an Overweight Yoga Practitioner. ~ Frank de la Cruz:

 
“What they don’t see is the nearly two and a half years of dedicated yoga practice that has taken me through Anusara, Kundalini, Kripalu, Integral, Yin, and Ashtanga.

They don’t see the getting up at 4:30 am to get to the Shala for 6:00 am Mysore. They don’t see the five classes per week that I teach and the Yoga Teacher Training program that I assist in. They don’t see the tears in the eyes of my students, that it was my story that gave them the courage to get on the mat and begin reconciling their body and breath.”

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.

🙂

‘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.

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.  

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/

“Keep your steadiness.”

“The terrain keeps changing, it’s not smooth all the time. So, don’t get disturbed by these things. You keep your practice. Keep your steadiness in whatever terrain comes into your life. Keep on practicing yoga. Never leave practicing yoga. That is how we balance ourselves in whatever difficult times or happy times. So I want you to enjoy that, keep that steadiness until I see you again. May God bless you all with lots of happiness–and sorrow, sometimes…”

~ R. Sharath Jois, ashtanga master Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’ grandson

‘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.***