300 More Hours of Yoga Training, Part One

A year ago, I completed my RYT®200 training, which officially made me a yoga teacher. It’s been an interesting year – I’ve been surprised by how easily a “career as a yoga teacher” materialized, allowing me to do super cool things like pay my half of the mortgage, and keep gas in my car. Yay, monies!
I experienced a very short period of overwhelm, shortly after I started teaching last year. Fortunately it didn’t last long, and for the most part, I really enjoy what I do. Sometimes I work seven days a week, but that may entail only several hours of work some days. As a habitual desk hamster, it’s been a challenge to adapt to such a fluid schedule after so many years of 8-5, 5-day work weeks. But, I’m learning to make it work by taking long lunches involving cappuccinos and an episodes of Longmire on Netflix.

This year, I have an amazing opportunity to attend Everyone Yoga School’s 300 Hour Teacher Training. When I have completed it, in a year, I will be an RYT®500 teacher. Whoa!
I am doing work/trade for part of my tuition fees. I have the honor of doing the copywriting for EYS. Right now I’m working on revising their web site copy, and I am writing their blog. The latest post, which you can read HERE, went up this week. It got me thinking.
The blog post discusses some of the “Whys” behind signing up for the 300 hour training. They are all good reasons (because I wrote them, duh), but I realized that none of them are my own personal Why. Mine requires its own blog post. So, here’s my Why.

Practicing and teaching yoga are a huge part of my life – there is no denying the billions of ways they’ve positively impacted my life. But I would not necessarily say that teaching yoga is my main purpose in life, nor is it my huge burning desire/life passion. I don’t eat, breathe, and sleep yoga (well actually I do end up teaching yoga in my sleep, after particularly long days). OMG, does that make me a bad yoga instructor to admit that?? No, it makes me human.
Yoga has helped me listen better. I’m better at listening to my own body, and I’m better at listening to my own thoughts. Studying the teachings of Abraham Hicks has also helped immensely. And I’ve come to realize and accept and admit and say out loud that my main passion in life is not yoga, it is to write.
More specifically, my desire is to connect thoughts in interesting ways – looking at things, understanding, processing, relating, expressing. Writing all of it down is the easiest way for me to get it all together.
I can’t help but feel/know/think that there is a connection between my writing, and practicing and teaching yoga. To be able to deepen one’s knowledge, even if it’s just knowledge of one’s own experience, leads to fuller expression. So as I begin another 300 hours of study, I know this will make me a better writer.
Part of the 300 hour training is a “final project.” For mine, I have received permission to blog about my training over the next year, documenting my experiences and how I am incorporating them into my life. So this is the first one in that series. I’m so happy to be writing for my yoga training.

Every path we are led to, each person we are attracted to, each choice that we make, connects to everything else. And it all comes together to create our experience. Here’s to the next chapter.

photo i took during the 200 hour training, 2016
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Balancing For Beginners

I love yoga balancing poses. Not the arm balancing stuff like handstands or arm balances – I’ll leave those to people whose elbows actually straighten, and who can support the weight of their body with the help of their bones (it’s true, I can’t straighten my elbows but somehow still manage to be a functioning human).
I’m talking about standing balancing poses.
Vriksasana (tree pose), Ardha Chandrasana (half moon), Utthita Hasta Padangustasana (hand-to-big-toe pose) – these are some of my favorites.

We don’t use our balancing skills much in everyday life, save for reaching up to the top shelf for the chips and coming off one leg in the process. Or maybe if you’re really feeling sassy, you put on your socks while standing up. But other than that, we sit, stand, walk or run…
When was the last time you took 5 breaths standing on one foot?

Many of the people I teach are new to the practice of yoga. Their feet and legs hurt when doing standing poses, as they begin to engage muscles they didn’t know they had. Their shoulders are tight and scrunched up around their ears. And when we start balancing poses… invariably I hear sighs of frustration and wobbly feet hitting the floor.
Because when we don’t practice balancing – it’s hard.

As a yoga teacher, I facilitate classes for students, creating a space for them to experience their own practice. It’s my job to watch, and to adapt the poses and cuing to fit what I’m seeing. I rarely practice yoga with them, because I am watching and helping. But when it comes to balancing poses, all that often flies right out the window, and I get on my mat, and play along with everyone else, because I love them so much. Please don’t tell the yoga police.

Sometimes, I’ll put as many as four to six balancing poses together in a row, moving from one to the other without a break in between. I could stay in balancing poses all day. Sometimes when I’m in tree pose, I completely zone out, coming into a state of bliss, and I actually forget how long we’ve been standing there.

I’ve known for a while that I’m in love with balancing poses, but until recently I couldn’t articulate why, except for the idea that they keep me in the present moment. But in the last few weeks, I’ve finally found the understanding and the words as to why this type of practice floats my boat so much.
You guessed it: they’re a perfect metaphor for how I live my life.

In my view, the process of learning to balance can be done by following a simple process. In class, we go over the following steps and use them as guidance. Some parts are written in “yoga teacher-ese” but hey, phrases like “root to rise” aren’t just trite sayings, they’re TRUTH.
I’ll let you fill in the metaphorical bits, because I know you are good at that.

Step 1: Listen to the feels
Stand tall. Can you stand straight, bringing the earth’s energy up through your body, while still feeling relaxed? Notice what you are feeling, and where. Close your eyes. Feel your feet on the ground. As an experiment, slowly begin to take yourself off balance – moving from side to side, front to back. Can you identify what muscles engage and compensate for your movement?
I get lots of different answers when I ask what muscles people feel as they move. Your muscles are accustomed to keeping you upright. But if you take yourself off center, they don’t have as much practice at this. They aren’t as strong. You will feel them more.

Step 2: Find your center
Stand on the ground, feet a little narrower than your hips. Your knees are soft – not bent, just soft. Your hips are aligned, your spine is long, shoulders are back and down, the palms of your hands face forward. Notice your feet on the mat, notice how the mat feels under all 10 toes. Balance your weight so it’s distributed evenly between both legs. Feel the strength of your core.
How often do you simply stand up tall, in stillness? How long can you do it before you get fidgety or your mind wanders from the present moment? This in itself is a great exercise. Hint: you may want to master it before moving on to balancing poses…

Step 3: Take off
From your place of strength and centeredness, take off. Fix your gaze, try tree pose. Stand tall, add some branches to your tree. How long can you balance? Can you move from tree pose into another balancing pose?
Yoga is the ultimate multi-tasking discipline. Whoever said “multitasking doesn’t exist,” never tried yoga. Can you remember to stand tall, keep your gaze soft, keep your hip open, breathe – and still stand tall – and stay in tree pose? And where are your thoughts? As soon as your mind wanders, guess what happens…

Step 4: Fall out
Your tree pose looks beautiful! Let’s try a twist. Or a backbend. How about hand to big toe? Warrior 3? And balancing pigeon? How about all of them in succession, one after another, without a break?
Keep playing. You will fall out. It’s OK. It’s fun! And look how strong you are becoming! The muscles in your feet are getting better at keeping you balanced. Your hips are stronger, keeping your balancing leg steady. Your core is rock solid.

Step 5: Do it again
If you fall out of a balancing pose, take the time to find your center, before beginning again. Bring both feet to the ground, find your center, then take off. Play. Fall. Repeat.
So many people try to hop right back into a balancing pose when they fall out. They don’t take the time to stop, recenter, and restrengthen, before they begin again.

If you don’t have a strong foundation before beginning again, if you aren’t truly centered, how will you ever have the strength to take off and fly?

And no, I’m not really talking about yoga anymore.

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The Yoga of Experience: Tell a Good Story.

I have been kind of upset with myself lately, because I haven’t written anything in so long. I mean, the last time I posted here, it was Thanksgiving time. It’s now February. Donald Trump actually became POTUS despite my incredulity of the event.  The birds are telling me that spring is around the corner.

In December, I started to get concerned that I couldn’t think of anything to write about. No stories were coming. Then my new business, SisterMade Essentials, took off and I didn’t have time to write. I certainly wasn’t complaining! Oh well then I got the flu, I can complain about that a little. It sucked. Sometimes I am so bad at listening to my body telling me to SLOW DOWN that it takes drastic measures and makes me slow down. So, I slowed down. A little.

In January, SisterMade quieted down, and I took a little time to enjoy that. But then yoga picked up. Did you make a New Year’s Resolution? It turns out that lots of people made yoga their New Year’s Resolution. Class sizes increased, things got a little busier. I taught a 3-week beginners series, that sold out, and launched a whole new class of fledgling yogis out into the world. Boom.

So then February showed up. And I began to earnestly lament the fact that I haven’t written anything in so long. Do I really have no more stories to tell? Are all the thoughts I’m having not worth writing down? And the longer it became since I wrote something, the more I felt I needed to come up with something REALLY SPECTACULAR. A person can wait a really long time for that to happen…

Then, this morning, I had a thought while meditating. OK so maybe you’re not supposed to have any thoughts while you’re meditating but sorry, my brain doesn’t work that way. I was thinking about how I had just made bread, and the dough was rising, and how the timer would go off soon and it would be time to turn the dough out and put it in some loaf pans. Not very spiritual, I know. But then I realized something. The bread I was baking, was a story. It has a beginning, a middle, hopefully not too many plot twists, but with a definite denoument, and perhaps even a deus ex machnina. The ending is pretty good, leaving you satisfied yet wanting more. When’s the sequel coming out!?

When I make SisterMade BeeBalm, I am telling a story too. I put the ingredients together, I am thinking thoughts that go into the pot with the ingredients, I am pouring my love and attention into it as I pour the heated liquid into the tins. I print and cut labels, put them on the tins, and think nice thoughts as I place items in mailing envelopes to send them off to their new home. Each item then begins its own new story, in its new home.

sistermade essentials

And every single yoga class I teach tells a story. From the moment a class starts, all the way through to “Namaste” at the end, I have the privilege of taking students on a special journey, just for them. Each time, we create a story about movement, breath, love, acceptance, meeting challenges, creating community, and rediscovery. I get to tell that story almost every day.

Sure, I’d love to be widely recognized someday for my stories. But in the meantime, realizing that I’m constantly telling them, even if I’m not writing them down, is enough. It’s satisfying and makes my heart happy.

So many stories get told by us all, every day. Each one is special, unique, sacred.

Tell a good story.

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