Today, I started my second week of yoga teacher training (YTT) at Thrive Yoga. It’s a small group, five women and me, and we worked through the weekend. We get a half day off on Wednesday, and then we’re free on weekends.
With the loss of my day job at the OAS in April, a window of opportunity (motive, time, energy and money) opened up to take the July intensive course at Thrive. A month-long, 200-hour intensive allows me to drill down in the physical, mental and spiritual realms of my yoga practice. Other YTT formats stretch out over six-nine months (meeting one weekend a month) and would be hard for me to sustain because I can’t see that far into the future. In addition, I believe that it’s essential to feel safe and empowered within the sanctuary of a home studio, like Thrive Yoga, with teachers, mentors and fellow students that support a transformative process.
When I was considering the decision to take YTT, I listed the pros and cons in parallel columns on a legal pad (some of the considerations went into a previous blog entry). At the end of the exercise, I could not determine which way the balance leaned, but I knew that I wanted to take the YTT. It’s not a “career” move or “what’s expected of me” or therapy for a physical injury. I look at the July intensive as a yoga immersion experience. I don’t necessarily plan to become an active yoga instructor, but I do want to fine-tune my “inner teacher” by diving into the experience and letting yoga work its magic. If I don’t take the training now, when would I be able to take it?
Continue reading Taking the plunge into yoga teacher training
Easy—take a class the next day from the same teacher.
Yesterday, I took the 2/3 vinyasa class at Thrive Yoga with Sarah Wimsatt, who was substituting for this class for the first time. We had requests from several people to go deep in the hips. I was able to keep up with the pace, but Sarah did introduce a couple of sequences that I had not done before and ignited some muscle combinations that had been dormant in me.
At 9:00 pm in the evening, I noticed that I was tapped out energy-wise, and gave up trying to do anything productive that required attention and focus. I slept through the night. When I got up this morning, I immediately broke my promise to go to the 9:00 am yoga class because I felt my body dragging and stiff. My hips and lower back were sore. Over breakfast, I debated whether to make it to the 10:45 am class or just chill out for the day. With some caffeine to speed up my mind, I packed my kit and headed to Thrive Yoga.
What do you know? Same scene as yesterday—there was Sarah W. at the front of class (1/2 hatha yoga) and several students asking for work on hip openers. I cringed inside. But Sarah knew she had a less experienced class with her today so she eased into the hip openers much more gradually. By the end of class, I had worked out the stiffness in my hips and back, re-energized my body and mentally tagged a couple of poses that I want to work on during the week.
We’ll see what time this evening I tap out of energy.
Today I went back to yoga class for the first time in a month. I had done yoga, pranayama and meditation practically everyday in my home practice and interspersed yogic moments during my work day. But I could not gird myself up to go to a class. I felt as if I was going to walk into the class naked, stripped of disguises, handicapped by a body that seems to rebel against the abuses of work routine and the slow slog of a winter cold. I felt as if my personal melodramas were branded on my forehead, biceps and thighs, a yogic version of Scarlet Letter.
But today I attended Susan Bowen’s morning vinyasa class at Thrive Yoga. She was all bronzed and refreshed from her yoga retreat (and vacation) in Hawaii. She started out really simple, focusing on the breath, which was fine with me because I knew I did not qualify for a 2/3 level class. I was the perennial beginner, coming back to do remedial exercises, make-up work for all the time I missed.
But a curious thing happened. I laid on the mat and let the breath wash over me in small, delicate waves, that were contained withing the external sheaf of my skin, which was still porous enough to absorb the prana bubbling up from the wellspring of life. I did the asanas sequenced together in vinyasas, that all seemed as familiar as a walk through a favorite park but different because the sun,clouds, wind, trees, grass and path shift experience into an immediacy of perception. I tested my legs in the warrior poses, I wobbled in the one-legged balancing poses, I skipped to the flying crow poses because my knees and hips have not loosened enough to make it feasible, much less comfortable.
I discovered an unexpected strength in crow pose, shift into three-point headstand, eased myself into the L-shaped transitional dismount and then stuck the drop down to chatarunga, followed by upward-facing dog and back to downward-facing dog. I had never attempted that particular sequence before (indeed, I have avoided inversions so far this year), but I did not need to think about its novelty at the time; I did not even listened to Susan’s cues. It was just the natural flow of the poses unfolding on the mate.
The decompression phase of the class included supported frog and fish poses, which allowed for a grace-filled easing into stillness. It was a deceptively simple class that allowed me to participate at my own pace and with my own menu of discoveries.
Since Saturday, I’ve been able to carve out time to go to a daily yoga class, and also put in time at the gym to build up my aerobic capacity. It’s amazing how a dedicated exercise regime can improve my outlook on life.
Whenever I can string together three or four classes in a row, the cumulative effect is extraordinary, making the next class feel a little better than the previous one. Today, it was a Hatha Yoga class with Marylou McNamara at Thrive Yoga: it was less intense than the first three vinyasa classes and allowed me to settle into the poses and work on alignment. It also helped that my daughter, Stephanie, was on the mat next to me, just like in the old days.
I’ve signed up for the 40 days of yoga and wellness at Thrive, starting on January 6, the first time that I’ve undertake the challenge of sustaining a rigorous program of six yoga sessions a week (a minimum of three formal classes, the rest can be at home), plus meditation and other activities. It’s based on Baron Baptiste’s 40 Days to Personal Revolution: A Breakthrough Program to Radically Change Your Body and Awaken the Sacred Within Your Soulso I will have one and a half months to concentrate on my yoga practice. Thrive Yoga has offered this program once a year for the past four or five years, so it has become a kind of rite of passage at the studio.
Thrive Yoga sent me an e-mail message reminding me that May 17 marks another anniversary of my first visit to the studio back in 2005, at least as far as their database knows. It was actually February 27 when I went to my first class shortly after the studio opened. A few months later, I started hosting their website, which locked me in as a frequent user since I got classes in exchange for my geek skills. Last month, Susan Bowen and I ended the hosting arrangement because the site was switching to WordPress and hosting plans as a commodity now. You can get a monthly hosting plan for the price of one class.
Susan and I will shift our exchange relationship in another direction since I will continue to take photographs of classes, workshops and other events. However, exchanges only work when I can get to classes. I have yet to get to an evening class in the past couple of months.
I finally made it back to a yoga class at Thrive Yoga. I took the 30-minute pranayama and meditation class followed by the 2/3 vinyasa flow class, both with Susan Bowen leading. I knew that taking Susan’s Saturday class would probably exceed my diminished capacity since I have not taken one of her classes in at least a month, maybe longer, and I’ve been unable to take any evening classes during the week.
Susan had us all packed into a single room (they usually open up the partition to join two rooms for her Saturday class) and then cranked up the heat. I did fairly well for 20 minutes and then I could feel my thighs starting to burn and fatigue setting in. I also started to feel dizzy so I dialed back my exertion and even improvised some modifications, while everyone else was stepping up their pace. I’ve gained some weight (too much comfort food, broken routines, and lack of exercise) and that like wearing a backpack filled with bricks while doing half moon. Thankfully, Susan ended up the class with half-pigeons, twists and other reclined poses.
What I did not lose during my time away from the studio was my range of movement, in part because even during the worst, hectic, painful moments of the past two months I’ve kept up my restorative/yin yoga practice in the evening. There were some poses that required me to use some strength to get deeper into the twist and that’s when my muscles did not have the stamina to carry me through. That’s the nice thing about returning to the mat after a long absence: you get to re-examine where your body is and use some of the softness to rework alignment.
Any by the time that evening rolls around, the body starts to feel really tired.
At Thrive Yoga‘s recent Rumbaugh workshop, I had my mat next to a special yogini. I never caught her name. She was hearing impaired and she had brought a sign language interpreter with her. Dave and Susan gave them plenty of room in the corner of the studio (actually, my favorite turf for taking pictures, which is why I ended up next to her). The interpreter frequently stood off to one side signing Desirée’s lecture and demos. During the routines, she sat or stood near the woman and passed on the instructions.
I got a chance to partner with her when we were doing handstands in the inversion session. She was able to get up into the pose fine, and I goofed up a couple of times with the support. I also did not know the sign that she gave to let me know that she wanted to come down. I let her get out of having to support me for the hand stand, in part because she could never have supported my weight. I could see that she had a very good personal practice and she was capable of absorbing everything that Desirée was offering.
After the session was over, the woman and her interpreter approached Desirée and had a conversation. There are some obvious obstacles between a hearing-impaired yogi and an instructor because hearing is so important in cuing through a practice. In the workshop’s case, this was not even a standard class, but an extended demo/lecture/try-it-yourself format. I am pretty sure that the woman did not know exactly what to expect. Plus, Anusara has its own specific terminology for how a posture is put together and an interpreter would have to be familiar with it to translate that language into appropriate signs. At one point during the session, I was tempted to grab one of Desirée’s associates and ask them to actually help the hearing-impaired yogini get a clear idea of what Desirée was asking of us by actually laying hands on her and rotate muscles in spiral directions.
I had been meaning to blog about this encounter on the mats with the hearing impaired, but I forgot about it until I came across a tweet from the Deaf Yoga Foundation, based in New York City. It’s main mandates are preparing a yoga sign dictionary, teacher training, and community outreach. The dictionary is interesting because it is drawing on hand gestures in Indian (Hindu) dance. Check out Dancing for the Gods.
At the Brian Kest workshop at Thrive Yoga a month ago, I took it upon myself to be the official photographer of the event. I took my Nixon D40 and kept it near my mat. A couple of times a session, I got up and took some photos, as many as I could because so many uncontrollable factors (and my own inexperience) can cross up a photo. You can see a selection of the shots at the Thrive Yoga Facebook photo gallery
Kest was cool with the distraction of a flash and shutter going off. Susan told the people that if they objected to any of their photos that showed up on Facebook, they could drop her an e-mail and we would remove it. I made a point of taking lots of shots of student greeting Kest after class. Several people specifically requested photos as mementos. Saturday class was more packed and it was really hard to move around. For the workshop weekend, I positioned my mat in a spot in the corner that allowed me a little more leeway because it was “leftover space” — no one could fit another mat in there. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, it became so hot and humid that the lens started fogging up and everything took on a halo-like glow. I caught it on Sunday and could wipe it clean with a towel, but I was afraid that I would scratch the lens.
There were times when I did not feel comfortable taking pix. For instance, during the Long, Slow and Deep (LSD, get it!) session on Saturday afternoon. People were really zoned into their experience. Besides, by the time, we had actually tunneled into the sequence and deep restorative poses, I didn’t know if I could get up. And if I got up, whether I would be able to get back down again and in the same mind and body set. I decided that meditative sets were off base (well, the whole practice is meditative, but you know what I mean).
I don’t have any other lenses so I had no way to get around the limited anlges and focus depth. Susan had commented that I tend to show panoramic views of the whole (really a large segment of) class. I tried to focus in on individuals or smaller groups. As evident in this blog, I am working on a series of photos that concentrate on isolated shots, a hand, a foot, clasped hands in a bind. Rather than looking at the whole pose and the full practitioner, I am focusing on a small slice of practice — a kind of drishti.
There is this obsessive idea of the perfect pose in much of the Western practice of yoga, that you have to get the alignment just right, find your edge with ease and grace. So we want to see lanky models pose with perfect lighting. That’s why I like the isolation shots because there is no presumption of perfection. The foot of a novice on the mat is just as eloquent as the foot of a master. It tells a lot of things. My daughter, for instance, saw a picture of a foot and hand on a mat and immediately noted that the ball of the foot was slightly raised, putting more weight on the outer edge of the foot. In yoga, you’re supposed to distribute the weight over all “four corners” of the foot.
I find myself really draw to this subject matter. In part, I am grappling with words to describe the experience and frequently coming up short. Photography offers another approach, more spontaneous, direct, succinct. But you’re only working with the surface, which is only the first layer of the senses.
Taking pictures is a great excuse for stopping in the middle of a demanding vinyasa and taking a breather. It was a demanding practice so I welcomed the opportunity to get out of more hard stuff. I also welcomed the chance to get around and look at other people’s practices more closely. It was enriching to see the diversity of experience and ease on display.
Susan Bowen has announced the start-up of teacher training at Thrive Yoga. ISHTA Yoga founder and pioneer, Alan Finger, will be leading the four-month process. Alan knows a lot because he was born into a yoga-inspired family, knew original thinkers and grappled with translating these concepts into the U.S. culture as a business and as a philosophy. He co-founded yoga studios, like the Yoga Works studio in LA and the Yoga Zone studios in NYC, which later became the Be Studios.
The training will start in late March, mostly on weekends, and last until June. At 2:00 on January 20 at Thrive Yoga, Alan and Susan will present an overview of the program. Alan is actually based on New York City so he will be commuting a lot next year. I might add that you can take the course without wanting to become a teacher; it’s an intensive gateway into a deeper understanding of yoga.
ISHTA is an acronym for the Integrated Science of Hatha, Tantra and Ayurveda, and also a Sanskrit word meaning that which resonates with an individual’s spirit, according to Alan’s website. With Katrina Repka, he wrote Chakra Yoga: Balancing Energy for Physical, Spiritual, and Mental Well-being (Shambhala, 2005), which synthesizes his long evolution as a practitioner, teacher and thinker. There are also a bunch of Yoga Zone videos available that feature Alan.