Daily practice anchors yoga training

Photo: yoga class in Warrior I pose
Virabhadrasana I at Thrive Yoga

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.

These classes are not just a couple of Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) strung together with breath work and meditation, but 90 minutes of almost choreographed activity.  It’s hard to imagine how the instructors carry so much movement in their minds. After each session, the YTT students sit down and map out the sequences of poses, vinyasas, “mini-vinis,” modifications, cuing, props, pace, theme and intention. This exercise is a learning experience. For one thing, I tend to get swept up in the flow of the moment and barely remember what happened after the opening OM. Pooling our memories and consulting with the teachers allow us to reconstruct the game plan. Later, we can check back with the scripts for use in future classes, rather than starting from scratch.

These sequencing scripts attest to the complicated factors and variables that enter into the equation of leading a class. The YTT students are the minority in the class, but we get to appreciate fully the investment that goes in the class. To be a good teacher, you don’t necessarily have to do the eye-catching poses with long Sanskrit names, but you do need to dive deep into practice, let it light a fire, and confirm the belief that yoga is worth the pain and effort. Even if I don’t become a teacher, that’s something worth knowing.

For the regular YTT program, the training is once-a-month weekend sessions and students are encouraged to pick up as many classes as possible during the week. Although they don’t get the searing daily practice (and dragging themselves out of bed the next morning), they do have more time to absorb and process the lectures, readings and practice and measure out their medicine.

Driven to do more yoga

Photo: three yogis in kneeling repose
Cornerstone of a yoga practice

You might think that getting this heavy dose of yoga during the day would make me abstain from yoga for the rest of the day. I find that I still need my evening restorative practice, though my wife may complain, “Didn’t you get enough yoga during the day?” A couple of night I tried to skip it because I felt tired and sore but ended up getting out of bed and rolling out the mat again because I could not sleep: my mind and body were still sparking from the vibrancy of the morning session. I need to drain off some energy, relax some of the muscles wound too tightly and empty the mind.

I’ve done the 40-day renewal at Thrive (twice, in 2012 and this year), which required developing and strengthening a daily yoga practice, incorporating pranayama, meditation and mindful living. But compared to the July intensive YTT, those experiences tended to get diluted in the daily routine of showing up at work and doing the laundry. YTT is a kind of retreat without the expense of room and board. I get to sleep in my own bed and eat breakfast and dinner at home. But there is a kind of isolation similar to a retreat because distractions are minimized and practice narrows the focus of the mind.