Time Out!

IMG_3243Time Out!

Remember when we were too loud in class and our teachers’ made us put our heads down on our desks?

I’m putting my head down on my desk and taking a time out until the New Year. At least that’s my intention. Shutting down Facebook, not thinking about Practically Twisted – the blog I sporadically post on – or the blogs I have in my head with the catchy titles I won’t reveal.

It doesn’t feel as though that long ago when I announced I was headed to graduate school for my master’s in transpersonal psychology. And yet, here I am, looking at the bright light at the end of the tunnel. The school I attend – Palo Alto’s Sofia University (formerly the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology) – is a good school with a self-inflicted tarnished reputation that it is in the process of restoring. Despite the trauma Sofia experienced last year I trust the education I am receiving because so much of it depends on what I choose to put into it. And in this last term before graduation I intend to give it my all.

Meanwhile, my studies with Niroga Institute’s Yoga Therapy Teacher Training program in Oakland continue.

And, of course, I continue to teach my classes at Samyama Yoga Center in Palo Alto: a Viniyoga inspired slow flow on Monday and Wednesday mornings from 8:15 to 9:15 and my Pure Yin classes on Tuesday evening from 7 to 8:15 and Friday afternoon from 1:30 to 2:45.

There are a few class schedule changes, however. For the following two Saturdays I’ll be teaching a hatha flow from 4-5:30 in the afternoon but because I am away at Niroga for one weekend each month I’ve decided that it’s unfair to the students who want consistency in their practice and so I’ll be handing that class over to a new teacher beginning September 6th.

The Tuesday evening Pure Yin class will go on hiatus in October for eight weeks for an exceptionally cool reason. Samyama will begin the Dharma Path, its own Yoga Alliance approved 200-hour teacher training program. I am honored to be teaching Asana and Methodology with the visionary John Berg. This is going to push and pull me in wonderful ways and I am very excited! If you’re interested in a teacher-training program or would like to deepen your practice I encourage you to contact Samyama for more details. If you’ve been to our two Pathways programs then you have some idea the high expectations we set for ourselves at Samyama. We want to take you on a journey unlike any other.

Finally, I’ll be doing some traveling between now and the end of the year. I’m so looking forward to these adventures – my studies, my training, my teaching and my travel. I want to embrace them all with my whole heart.

I hope to see you in person at one of my Samyama classes and, if not, I’ll see you here in a few months.

 


Remarkable Life

October, 1966 detail

October, 1966 detail

In the next few weeks I’ll be completing my first year in Sofia University’s masters in transpersonal psychology program. There were times over these last twelve months when I considered leaving.

I chose the Global Program so I could continue to work. The Global Program allows me to study at my pace according to my schedule. Prior to Sofia my educational experience had been enjoyed from the comfort of a wooden desk, listening to real-time lectures and taking notes from points scrawled on a blackboard. Now I’m learning from the comfort of my cushy green chair (or bed), reading articles from my laptop and participating in online discussions. The learning curve has been steep, at times very uncomfortable but ultimately rewarding.

When I began at Sofia caring friends asked, “But what will you do with this?” Why would I choose to put myself into debt for a degree that, even on paper, appears to be on the fringe side of academia? While I appreciated their concern I couldn’t help but feel irritated. Of course I was irritated. I knew I couldn’t answer their question and if I couldn’t answer the question wasn’t I proving their point?

But I stuck with it. Something told me I was on the right path.

And now, a year into the program, it’s clear I chose wisely. The work that I’ve completed this year has been transformative on a personal and professional level.

As my fellow cohorts and I begin the transition into our second year the program becomes more focused. We’ll begin to connect our academic and experiential studies at Sofia to our life path. That, for me, means the work that I do as a teacher of yoga. More specifically, it means the work I do with populations who have yet to experience the new dimension and healing potential a yoga practice can add to their life.

During our second year at Sofia we choose electives as part of our course work load. I chose to apply to Niroga Institute’s Yoga Therapy Teacher Training program. Niroga is in Berkeley, founded and led by the inspiring BK Bose.

Last week I was accepted into the Niroga program, which begins in February. Yes, I’ll be taking my courses at Sofia while studying at Niroga.

Next year is going to be one heck of a year. Thinking about it makes me feel like this girl.

But I’m not a girl. Next week I turn an age where many women begin to welcome grandchildren. That has most certainly not been my path this time around. Sometimes it’s difficult to accept that I didn’t enjoy the life I imagined for myself when I was younger. You know what I mean. The house. The husband and kids. A career trajectory that guarantees a comfy retirement. But then I realize that the life I have – as small as it is – is remarkable.

My birthday wish and Thanksgiving hope is that you take a moment to really see – no matter the trajectory – how truly remarkable your life is.


Beware the YINJURY!

I couldn’t ignore the truth.  My hip was sore.  Real sore.  It was wince-inducing sore.  And while I limped in denial I began to hear stories similar to mine:  a recurring shoulder pain that increased after Yin practice; a wonky knee that ached the next day; a lower back that refused another forward fold.  All injuries reported by Yin Yoga students.

I refused to believe my beloved Yin was to blame.  It just had to be something else.  Yet, listening to these my students describe the course of events that led to their discomfort and considering my overstretched hip flexor with an objective mind the truth was obvious:  we had YINJURIES – the Yin equivalent to falling asleep in the tanning bed.  Sigh.

For a time the science of flexibility seemed to be changing like the wind.  When I trained as a sports massage therapist long held static stretches were all the rage.  Now the trend leans toward fast dynamic stretching.  I’m confused.  If science supports short and sharp stretches where does Yin fit in?  Does it hurt more than it helps?

I asked anatomist and philosopher Gil Hedley, circular strength training coach Michael Rook and personal trainer Steven Rice their opinion.

Gil offered this:

Virtually anything can be harmful or helpful.  That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to how you are feeling when you are doing something.  I’m no scientist, but I’ve overstretched and endured the consequences, and I’ve also relished the feeling of stretching and moving and enjoyed the benefits.  I personally believe that most anything you do over and over again represents a rut eventually, and like to change things up a bit myself.  While a practice is expanding you and your horizons, enjoy it.  When it becomes a tedium or mere repetition to satisfy a habit, move on.

There have been moments in my Yin practice when I’ve taken the poses almost ‘by rote’ – without thinking.  Without feeling.  Perhaps when we lose our mindfulness in the practice we open the door to injury?

Michael, who attended Paul Grilley Yin Teacher Training with me a few years ago, was frank in his opinion:

To be honest, I’m not surprised to hear about this.  The science is relatively clear that stretching before resistance training (some of my students attend Yin and then lift weights the following day) can harm performance and lead to injury.  Even more so before using kettle bells, I would say.  Personally, I don’t hold stretches for more than a minute (and it depends on the stretch).  There’s also a lot of deep flexion in many Yin poses that can play havoc with the lower back (if you’re posteriorly rotated).  Ultimately, all practices need to be tailored to the individual.

That sounds like obvious advice, but how often do teachers really attempt to do that?  In a large class that’s virtually impossible.  While it’s the instructor’s responsibility to guide the class safely, does it really come down to the individual listening to their body?

Michael then referred me to Charles Poliquin’s Blog and the Gymnastics Bodies website.

Finally, local trainer Steve “Mr. Science” Rice gave me this to chew on:

My understanding is that the ligaments should not be stretched as that will lead to joint laxity, and they don’t recover from that.  However it is also possible for the ligaments and capsule to get a bit glued together and need a bit of loosening.

Tendons of course are attached to muscles so I don’t know if they can be stretched separately.  A stretch will affect the tissue most willing to lengthen which is likely the muscle, and the length of a muscle is determined first of all by the brain. 

Traditional static stretching, like holding a yoga pose, has become depreciated in the sports world because it has been shown to decrease performance.  Current thinking emphasizes dynamic warm-up and mobility work.  End ROM (range of motion) positions are moved into and out of under control so the entire neuromuscular chain is engaged.  For example, instead of hanging in a forward bend with gravity pulling you down, walk and on each step do a high kick.  My stretches last no more than one or two seconds.

And then, just to inject a bit of controversy, Steven wrote:

Incidentally, Poliquin is a smart guy and leading fitness authority but also controversial in his interpretation of research.

So there you have it.  Static stretching out.  Dynamic stretching in.

Not so fast.  I love Yin not only for how it feels in my body but for how it soothes my spirit.  There’s no way I’m trading those five-minute dragonflies for some high kicks!  But here’s what I might do:

Offer my body more support in poses that are challenging for me.

  • Hold some poses for less time.
  • Avoid weight training for 24 hours after a Yin practice (I can assure you that won’t be a problem).
  • And then, more than anything, I’m going to listen.

Fitness trends emerge and fade, theories behind the science of flexibility change, our bodies cycle through movements that feel good and movements that don’t.

It seems that the only thing we can do is listen.


So You Just Got Your Yoga Teaching Certificate…NOW What Do You Do?

When you boiled it all down, the question my friend wanted an answer to was this:

“What do I do now?”

Deepa and I began Avalon Art and Yoga Center’s teacher training course in September 2011.  Six months and almost $3,000 dollars later we had a beautiful piece of paper to show the world that we were yoga teachers.

Hold up.  Actually, what we had was a piece of paper that said we’d completed the program.  The Avalon Teacher Training program is an intense and comprehensive six months of study.  It was worth my time and my money.  But when it was over, did the world have twenty-eight more yoga teachers?  I’m not sure.

It’s one thing to learn the techniques of teaching and another to know how to touch a student with words that describe the impact of a yoga practice or to provide support that make her feel safe.  Knowing how to instill confidence, knowing how to adjust a posture, knowing how to set the tone in the studio – it takes time and experience to develop those skills.  It takes an instinct that I’m not certain can be taught.  It’s a bit like learning that red and blue make purple.  Knowing how the color wheel works does not make you an artist.  And completing a teacher-training program does not make you a teacher.

The reality is I taught for many years before becoming a certified teacher. Instead of certification, I studied informally.  I read books and attended classes.  I asked questions.  I practiced.  I was a student for ten years before I began teaching.  I’m not suggesting the path to teaching I chose is better or even desirable.  There were holes in my “home study” yoga education I had a craving to fill.   What I’m trying to point out is that there are different paths, and maybe this push to collect certificates and to study with the flashiest Pop Star Yoga Idol (and after this past year we certainly know how quickly and how far yoga idols can fall) is blinding us to the truth that being a compassionate, effective and capable teacher takes more than a file cabinet of certificates.

So how important is that piece of paper?  I’m happy that after eighteen years I have certificates not only from Avalon but also from Paul Grilley’s Yin Teacher Training.  I could have continued to be a fine teacher without them, but they represent opportunity. They open doors.  If you choose – and for what it’s worth – your new certificate allows you to register with Yoga Alliance (which I’ve done).

But I’m through with formal training for the time being.  I’m happy to return to reading, talking with fellow teachers, attending classes in my neighborhood.  I’m happy to focus on my students and my teaching.

So how did I answer Deepa as she tried to decide what to do next?

I told her to take a step back.  I told her to find her teaching voice.

Your yoga voice – how you speak to students, the vocabulary you use to describe asana or pranyama or mudras or bandhas – it can’t be taught.  You have to find it and the only way to find it is to teach.

When you find your authentic voice as a teacher, that’s when you’ll begin to teach your truth.  And when you are teaching your truth you’ll know that the path you chose – the path that brought you here – it was the right one.

ps….Some people, by the way, are born to teach.  They’re naturals.  Deepa is one of them.  From mid-July she’ll be teaching at Downtown Yoga Shala in San Jose, California mornings and Friday evenings.  

As for me, I continue to teach my truth at California Yoga Center, Avenidas in Palo Alto and Prajna Yoga and Healing Arts in Belmont, California.  I also teach for Feinberg Medical Group and privately.


Avalon Teacher Training Program

This past Sunday marked the end of my six-month teacher-training course at Avalon Yoga Studio in Palo Alto, California. While I don’t often speak for a couple dozen or so other people (at least not all at once) I believe it’s a safe bet they’re as ecstatic as I am to see the return of a weekend for the first time since the beginning of September. I’d be lying, however, if I didn’t confess there is a part of me that will miss the gathering – the friends I made, the philosophies I embraced and the moments that tested and challenged me.

The teacher training at Avalon is unique.  Where other programs train to a certain method or school, the comprehensive 200-hour program at Avalon introduces participants to the major styles of modern yoga.  Guest instructors lead us in sessions of Iyengar, Jivamukti, Restorative, Dharma Mittra and more.

The program places a heavy emphasis on recent scholarly research that suggest the asana practice we believed was thousands of years old is actually a 20th century construct.  Not everyone is ready to accept this radical re-thinking of our discipline’s history.  For me, however, knowing Surya Namaskar arrived at the beginning of the last century and not centuries before brings a sense of relief. Understanding how asana practice evolved gives me permission to participate in the evolution.

The program also offers an examination of the yogic texts.  Most of us won’t be scholars on the subject but yoga teachers should at least be familiar with the Sutra’s, the Gita, Pradapika and Upanishads.   Fortunately, the teaching at Avalon made the philosophy of the ancient texts relevant to our hectic 21st century.

The Avalon faculty is a diverse group. Standouts for me are psychologist and author Kelly McGonigal, yoga historian Mark Singleton, restorative yoga doyenne Judith Hanson Lasater and musician Girish.  We can’t forget beloved local Iyengar instructor Shastri and Jivamukti dynamo Giselle Mari. Although Jivamukti doesn’t resonate with me, Giselle is an amazing teacher full of life and energy. She even softened my hard-edged opinion about the use of music during asana practice.

Avalon Studio Owner and Director of the Teacher Training Program Steve Farmer is a generous man.  During the duration of the training participants are invited to attend any yoga class at Avalon for free.  He encourages us to build our teaching skills by inviting us to teach free classes for the community at the Avalon studio.

All this is great.  Without a doubt the Avalon Teacher Training Program is an excellent educational opportunity. But like most teacher training programs it is not without its flaws.

I entered the program with a beginner’s mind and eighteen years of teaching experience.  I wanted to learn.  But there is an art to teaching people how to teach and I found too many guest lecturers did not have that skill.  While they are more than able to teach yoga blind folded with two hands tied behind their back, they don’t have the skill set for teaching people how to teach. I found this frustrating, and a bad attitude began to crowd out my beginner’s mind.

And while the opportunity to practice our teaching skills through the free community classes is a generous one, someone with limited prior teaching experience might find the prospect too intimidating to consider.  My feeling is that the program should offer more opportunities to teach in the classroom right from the start and that those teaching moments should include a peer review.

I am not the only one who feels in-class teaching time was too limited.  The issue was discussed in an open forum on our last day of class.  Steve easily agreed and is working to add more teaching peer reviews.

The Avalon Teacher Training Program is not perfect, but do I recommend the program?

Absolutely.  Without a doubt.  It’s the best non-residential yoga teacher-training program I’ve seen.

Why?

It happened about four months into the training. One of my long time students approached me after class.  She said, “You know, Mimm, I’ve always enjoyed your classes.  But something’s changed. It’s your teaching.  You’ve become a better teacher.”

Wow.

My first thought was “after eighteen years it’s about time.”

But then I realized that despite the moments when my beginner’s mind failed and arrogance overwhelmed me; even when I wore my bad attitude like a heart on my sleeve, I still learned. When I disagreed with an instructor, my faith in what I believe yoga is grew stronger.  And when the words I heard resonated in my heart – which was often – I learned even more.

The Avalon Teacher Training Program stretched my teaching wings.  It pushed, encouraged and enlightened me.  My confidence as a teacher has grown but more than that I now know with unstinting certainty there is room for the style of asana practice I embrace in the continuing evolution of modern yoga.  And I have the Avalon Teacher Training Program to thank for that.