Last night I was trying to catch up on my required reading for yoga teacher training, and some thing in Mark Stephens’s Teaching Yoga: Essential Foundations and Techniques:
But yoga is not a practice of attainment: it is an unending process of self discovery and self-transformation.
So the first intention is to become a self-discoverer and self-transformer, and then to become a facilitator and guide as a teacher. Although the Stephens book is supposed to be about yoga teaching, it actually is an insightful reference about a whole spectrum of yoga-related matters, including the underlying philosophy, history and practice.
Don’t let anyone tell you that yoga is for wimps, for slackers who don’t want to work up a sweat or for those who are only interested in the spiritual side.
I’ve gone through three weeks of yoga teacher training (YTT) at Thrive Yoga. That translates into a daily 1.5 hour hatha/vinyasa practice, additional work when we’re doing asana labs or practice teaching. Five days a week, plus the first weekend.
It has taken me a full 36 hours to recover this weekend (including celebrating my daughter’s birthday and taking my wife to Frederick for her to pick your exhibit space for Artomatic). My body felt as if it had been put through a wringer while my mind was put through the rinse cycle. My hips and shoulders still ache. Maybe, a 63-year-old guy, overweight by 30 pounds according to my BMI, is not meant to put his body through this kind of regime. I don’t have the recuperative capacity I used to. I’ve been practicing for almost 10 years, so I know the ropes, my muscle know many of the poses instinctively, though that can be detrimental to practicing mindfully — no asana is ever the same each time you do it as your body changes dynamically. I had been trying to get in shape before YTT because I knew it would test my conditioning. Continue reading Learning from the physical practice→
This week we passed the midpoint of the yoga teacher training (YYT) at Thrive Yoga. On Wednesday, Pierre Couvillon flew in from Indiana to deliver a double whammy: Sanskrit and ayurveda. With utmost patience he coaxed and prodded us to give up clinging to our tortured pronunciation of asanas and the Yoga Sutras. Who knew that a language class could be as grueling, focused and liberating as our first taste of leading a yoga session, as we did on Monday. Certainly in two days, we were not going to master Sanskrit, but Pierre’s enthusiasm for the lanugage and his understanding of the surprising logic and consistency of Sanskrit let us appreciate the value to digging a little deeper, and he has made available audio files that will allow us to finetune our ears and minds.
Repeat, repeat, repeat. Connect your vocal chords with the nadis spiraling up the spine.
Breaking down yoga asana is a central exercise in yoga teacher training. We’ve spent a lot of time on it since the first day of the YTT intensive. Each teacher has taken a different approach and all the students are encouraged to develop a keen eye for detail in alignment. Students also enjoy bending their alignment so that we can find targets for adjustment. After all, each one of us already has perfect alignment in all asanas (not!). It’s a delicate balance between allowing yoga students to express their bodies freely, and avoiding alignments or habits that could injure them or prevent them from advancing in their practice. Since this is a 200-hour training, we won’t tackle the more advanced asanas. Continue reading Photos of an asana lab at Thrive Yoga teacher training→
Yesterday, in the practice session, I realized that I had been handicapping myself by segregating myself as a “non-teacher trainee” in the Thrive Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) program. With that status, I was withholding myself from the full spectrum of learning activities.
Over the first two weeks, I’ve been swamped by experiential, sensory and mental overload (asana, pranayama and meditation practice, reading, the pace of the classes, physical fatigue, the limited opportunity to absorb the material and experiences, all crammed in an intensive format). I relieved the pressure by tricking myself into filtering out a lot of “teacher training” part. I could go home and chill without feeling guilty about not accepting the full spectrum of assignments.
But by half-heartedly committing to the YTT program, I was depriving myself of a chance to be an open-hearted participant. Susan Bowen and her team are preparing yoga instructors — that’s their strong suit.
Yesterday, while writing about the teaching practice and my frustration, I stumbled on a way to understand the need for a different attitude: “Taking ownership of my yoga practice” is a shift in perspective. It’s the activation of the “inner teacher” that is often mentioned in the literature. I am not a passive recipient of cues. Becoming the antagonist requires taking on the role of instructor, creating and delivering a coherent sequence of yoga asanas (and other activities and conditions) that will lead to a fulfilling practice.
I battled monsters on the yoga mat this afternoon when I did my first practice teaching in the Thrive Yoga Teacher Training (YTT). But these monsters were of my own making. I spent the weekend planning and practicing my assigned sequences, but I also created some hairy, over-sized, unruly beings that captured my mind when I needed to be centered and grounded. I acknowledge that I was afraid of them, but I battled “bravely” to get through my demo
I thought I was going to get a weekend off after 12 straight days of yoga teacher training (YTT) at Thrive Yoga. But we will have mid-term exams and our first 20-minutes of demo teaching on Monday. I am not afraid of the written exam: the test just reminds me how far behind I am with the reading and the homework. The practice teaching is a whole different story.
Remember, I’m the guy who’s taking YTT for the deep immersion in yoga, the sweat and the me-time, not because I want to get as new career as a yoga instructor. Put me in front of my classmates and teachers, and I become a quivering heap of stuttering, Sanskrit-impaired, body-blind jello. This weekend, I will draft versions of my sequence script, critique my cuing, record my voice, watch myself recite it in front of a mirror, act it out in the living room, recruit my wife and daughter for rehearsal, and probably become so wound up that I naturally unfold into a fakir contortionist. Continue reading The dirty little secret of yoga school→
One of the perks of yoga teacher training (YTT) is that you do a lot of yoga (duh!), in the case of an intensive program like Thrive Yoga‘s, everyday. We take a class first thing each morning. Right now, I’ve had 10 days in a row of classes (really 13 since I started my consecutive streak on July 5, but I get my first full day off this coming weekend). These can be grueling classes, such as the one Monday when we had a hot vinyasa class with the room’s street door open to the DC area’s humid heat wave. I ended up drenched, my sweat soaking my clothes and yoga towel, and pooling on the mat. Other times, mercy is shown by offering a yin class (long holds of mainly passive poses using props) or a change of pace predominantly focused on the legs (today). But don’t think that even these less intense classes don’t leave their mark on tissues and mind.
The morning class at Thrive has a roster of top-notch teachers (Susan Bowen, the owner herself and two high-energy instructors, contrarian Sarah Winsatt and Jivamukti-trained Kirsta Block) who put together challenging classes. Some sessions may be extensively thought-out while other times the instructor improvises as she reads the class, adjusts to the needs and skills of inexperienced students, or cues modifications for more advanced students. Continue reading Daily practice anchors yoga training→
Recently I checked the class schedule at Thrive Yoga and realized that the original cast of teachers, except for Susan Bowen, the founder and owner, is no longer teaching there. Some current teachers were students on day one (along with me). That gave me pause.
I don’t know the reasons for the turnover. I know several have returned to their “real-life” professions or decided not to give up their free time to teach yoga. In addition, Susan has decided to use instructors that have gone through the Thrive Yoga teacher training program. Rockville is a suburban enclave with a handful of yoga studios spread out across the landscape while Washington, DC, or even Bethesda have more density in students and studios. Students also seem to churn through Thrive, with a few becoming the core constituency of the studio. Since I have not surveyed other studios, I don’t know if this flux of teachers and students is just how yoga works in the States.
But this realization made me examine the strange contraption called yoga teacher training (YTT), which seems to have become the main vehicle for propagating yoga across the American landscape. Just flip through Yoga Journal‘s print advertising or the local listing for teacher training, and you will see a mind-boggling array of options. What are we supposed to make of this proliferation?