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Long time no post…

I’ve been doing a lot of subbing the past few weeks as you can see from my schedule. I subbed (twice) at Garden State Yoga (:)) which went well enough for them to allow me to teach a steady Thursday class at 4:30. I am very fortunate to be able to teach there as well… when it comes to yoga community I have yet to be at a studio that has a better one. A huge part of yoga is community, and in fact that is probably one of the main parts of yoga that has helped me in recovery so much.

I am also going to start teaching a beginners’ class in Clifton, NJ on Thursday nights at 8:00pm.

The past week I’ve been really noticing how different aspects of my practice on the mat are being carried into other areas of my life… in particular stress management, patience, and breathing. For example, I took the GRE’s this past Monday (and did well… thank God)… and was a nervous wreck before hand. I really really tried hard to stay positive though, telling myself things such as “You are prepared and will do well” rather than “Please just let me do well.” I’ve found it’s more effective to be proactive than giving up our fate to the universe which certainly has more important things to focus on than my GRE score.

Anyway, the day before the GRE’s I was frantically looking for some sort of restorative class for either that night or the morning of but couldn’t really find one. After talking to my friend and fellow yoga instructor I decided that the best path for me would be doing my own practice before the exam. So I went on the Yoga Journal website and found poses that were good for stress and anxiety relief and worked up a sequence for myself. It was basically sun salutations (which really do wake you up extremely well) and a lot of back bends. Afterwards I sat down and did an 8 minute meditation using the mantra “I am prepared, I will do well.” I think the meditation did work as it was supposed to. It sort of helped my thought process and I think helped me internalize more positivity. I actually really do enjoy the feeling post-meditation and just need to get myself into a steady habit of doing it. You’re supposed to, if you can, meditate for the same timeditation muralme every day, so I just need to pick a time and make it happen. I just finished decorating my bedroom though and I put up a meditation mural on the East wall of my bedroom so perhaps I can start now. I want to get a little table though to set up somewhat of an alter.

I also decided that I want to start running again. I’ve always been a pretty bad runner I suppose. It’s not that my body can’t handle it, because I am definitely in shape, but I have such a hard time breathing! I used to blame it on exercise-induced asthma which I was diagnosed with when I was a child, but I don’t think I actually have it. So yesterday I went running and really focused on doing yoga breathing while running. I don’t know the mechanics of running or how you are technically supposed to breath, but I found that breathing in and out of the nose at an even pace definitely helps me go for longer. I also really worked on forcing myself to breath from my diaphragm (the stomach) rather than the upper chest and that also seemed to help. Needless to say I ran 2.5 miles without stopping which for me is awesome since I haven’t really run since October when I hurt myself doing so.

Other than all of that the end of the summer has been sort of slow I suppose… nothing particularly enlightening to discuss. I’ve basically just been letting the benefits of having a good community of friends and support sink in because it’s something I feel I’ve been missing out on for a very long time. It’s hard to be a good friend to others, no matter how much you want to be, when you are being a good friend to an eating disorder. I’ve found myself saying “I had an eating disorder” past tense recently which sort of scares me in a good way… facing your fears is another part of yoga that I am starting to integrate into my life… Embracing the unknown with curiousity rather than running from it.

So the past week I’ve been teaching and learning a lot. It was sort of like a crash course in teaching, as for me at least, and I think for most people, the best way to learn is by doing. Last Tuesday I taught my regular class at my internship and it was so difficult to teach because everything seemed to just be going wrong that day. First my iPod didn’t work, then the speakers didn’t work, then a therapist told 2 boys they could take the class, and then there was a huge fight outside of the yoga room that I had to break up. I decided that I would change the class and make it solely relaxation for that night since that is what the girls clearly needed, but it took so much out of me!

That aside, I have taught a class every day for the past four days. Two at the Secaucus Recreation Center, one at the Caldwell Community Center, and the regular one at the rehab. I’ve been trying to practice the sequence that I want to do for my Sunday class at Garden State Yoga (AH!) but I’ve had to modify it slightly each time. Sunday’s class was a more gentle class and I thought it went pretty well, the ladies seemed to really like it, one of them asked me for my card (which I don’t have) and a few of them showed up for my class there this morning as well. Monday morning I taught a class at the Caldwell Community Center and it was also sort of difficult for me because I had such a broad range of people there. Some older women, some younger women, and one who I know also goes to Garden State and could clearly do an advanced class. I ended up practicing my sequence for Sunday, but I think it was probably too hard for the class. It was kind of good that I did it though because I realized it’s too long and that I have to take some things out of it. Danielle said that that is a reason that teaching at community centers and the YMCA is so difficult – you never really know who is going to show up. You might have an awesome power vinyasa class planned and find out every person in class has never done yoga before and you have to change everything…

Which leads me to the lesson I learned from that. Up until yesterday I had been planning my classes out SO carefully… literally writing pose for pose, which I thought was being a good novice teacher. But I think it was sort of holding me back and making it harder for me to simply feel what the class could and could not do. When you plan something out so carefully and then something doesn’t go as planned, it seems like everything else gets messed up as well… suddenly everything else is pushed off or goes out of order, and I know for me I get flustered. So instead I’m trying to see the “big picture” I guess you could say and instead of planning a class out pose for pose, I’m starting with a general idea of what I want to do and what I want to work on, and going from there. So, for instance, Sunday I’m planning a class around loosening the shoulders. I got rid of my step by step plan and decided that there are 3 main things I want to do, and I’ll go with the flow sort of for the rest of the class. Instead of devoting 1 minute to this and 1 minute to that I’m going to break the class into bigger chunks – 15 minutes for stretching and sun salutations, 10 minutes for warriors, 10 minutes for a different standing sequence, and the rest on the floor. I tried that last night and this morning and it worked out better for me. It made it easier for me to walk around and personalize the class more instead of getting lost in my own head.

I’m definitely able to see how this yoga lesson, like so many others, can be taken off the mat and applied to my life. I’ve always sort of been a control freak… very meticulous and detail oriented, always afraid that if I leave something to spontaneity or if I do just ride the flow of whatever is going on, that I’ll make a mistake… but you miss so much only concentrating on the minute details of life. If you concentrate on a single blade of grass you miss the beauty of the whole field, if you focus on the one mistake you made for the day you miss all of the positive things that happened the rest of the day.

It relates a lot to anorexia as well. Planning meal for meal, calorie for calorie, what you will take in and what you will put out, playing the never ending number game with your food and your weight and the size of your jeans. Being forever consumed in all of those little, completely unnecessary details, causes you to miss out on everything else life has to offer – and actually usually, though possibly unconsciously, that’s the point. If you count the minutes between meals you don’t have to focus on whatever bigger things are causing you pain… but you are also missing opportunities to help yourself and recover. I spent a lot of time sad and lonely wondering why I had such a hard time relating to people and forming connections that I so wanted and needed and I was unable at the time to realize the reason I didn’t have all of that was because of the attention I was giving to my weight. It’s a vicious downward spiral. However breathing and taking a step back to see the big picture of what life actually is beyond the little details, dealing with the bad times but also fully embracing and acknowledging the good times and your successes and good luck, can really shift a person’s perspective on what life is and could be and what is actually important. It definitely takes practice and work, just like yoga, but speaking first hand as someone still definitely working on it but that has come so far, it’s worth it.

When I was doing my teacher training at Inner Light Yoga Center my instructor was simultaneously taking a year-long immersion in a type of yoga called anusara. I learned a bit about it through the teacher training and it seems like something I would really enjoy, though I haven’t actually gotten to an anusara class yet. There is a studio I’ve heard good things about only about a five minute walk from my house (literally) but still I haven’t found the time. Soon I will.  One of the books I’m “reading” is called “Yoga from the Inside Out” and it is a book about body image and yoga from the perspective of a student of anusara.

Anyway, anusara yoga is set in alignment and it translates to “following your heart.” In my yoga class tonight the instructor reminded us of the 3 “A’s” of anusara yoga, action, alignment, and attitude and this reminded me of a class I took yesterday at the studio. I was watching a new student at the studio taking a class because I was on the mat behind her. You could visibly see her frustration. After class she told me that in one of the poses she was actually crying because it hurt so bad… here is what I want you all to know, straight from a novice teacher.

If you are ever in a yoga pose and it hurts so much that it brings you to tears you need to back off. A certain amount of pain is good, and you know the kind of pain I mean. The kind that has you saying, “Oh this hurts, but I like it.” If you like the type of pain that brings you to tears you are truely a masochist and need to come see me in 3423 years when I finally have my doctorate in psychology. Anyway, all joking aside, I’ve been told a few things by some instructors that I think are important to know and that I’d like to share.

First, in a yoga class you shouldn’t give 100% of your energy all of the time because it is not realistic. Seth at Garden State Yoga says that you should be giving about 85% percent during the class and that sometimes that percent goess up if you are really feeling it, and at other times it goes down, but yoga is hard and if you push yourself the entire way you are going to burn out. This is something I’m constantly working on and in a workshop was actually told to come off of my ego and take a break. A lot of peopel are ego driven and don’t want to back off, as if they have something to prove. However, it says a lot if what you prove to yourself is that you can back off, that you know when to exert and when to relax, that you can respect your body enough to listen to it.

Second, and related, Danielle has said often that you should push yourself to your optimum and not your maximum. Again, when you push yourself so hard you have nowhere to go but down.

The main thing that watching this student reminded me of, which Danielle also talks about, is that you take the lessons you learn on the mat off the mat with you, and vice versa. If you are pushing yourself to tears on a yoga mat chances are you push yourself that hard in other areas of your life and that is probably detrimental and exhausting. If you fall out of a yoga pose and get angry at yourself, or give up and don’t try to get back into it, chances are that happens to you in other areas of your life as well. If you don’t reach your own expectations, if you don’t get the promotion, if you literally fall… do you automatically judge yourself? Do you live by extremes and throw in the towel? Or, when you fall out of a pose in yoga do you laugh at yourself? I’ve often heard “it’s only yoga” and realistically it’s only life and it should not be taken so seriously. You miss a lot when you take yourself too seriously and you stifle the growing process. For a child to grow they need to be given room for error and to learn from mistakes otherwise they live in constant fear of failure… it would do us all well to remember that when dealing with ourselves and our inner children on the mat and off.

So the first Sunday of every month Garden State Yoga has a class called “Vinyasa Vibes” where they bring in musician Scott E. Moore to play the guitar while we do a warm restorative flow class. I think I’ve been to four of them since my time at Garden State and tonight’s so far was my favorite. I’m such an intense person that restorative classes are really good for me, and though they are hard for me and I don’t necessarily enjoy most of them, they are necessary. It’s important to be able to relax and appreciate your body and your mind and slowing down is hard for a lot of people. Vinyasa Vibes however is never difficult for me because it is slow without being boring and therefore my mind doesn’ wander… as much.

However, tonight my mind was wandering during savasana (I try so hard to control it most of the time with the mantra meditation I posted about previously) and I just let it without trying to control it and I’m happy I did. You know that feeling you get when something really touches you and you sort of feel like you want to cry, but you don’t actually cry? That’s sort of how I felt during savasana. The love in the room for each other, for ourselves individually, for the studio, and for the practice of yoga in general, was almost palpable; I could feel it and it was overwhelming. It basically reinforced why I love it so much and why I want to teach it.

I’ve spent most of my life really feeling terrible in many respects. I guess it’s sort of a vicious cycle. People treated me badly so I felt bad and I treated myself badly and because I didn’t like myself I tried to overcompensate by being too giving and too sensitive which just set me up to be treated badly and walked all over, thus fueling the cycle. This past year, or I guess more accurately these past five months, have really changed my perspective on life and on people. I used to be a misanthrope (GRE WORD), my motto was “I hate people”…seriously… and honestly I’ve heard many other people say that too. But you get what you give; the energy I put out there was simply getting returned to me. I’ve been working so hard on myself this past year and really making a huge effort to be positive about life and people and it is getting returned to me in huge ways.

There are four paths to yoga… raja, jnana, bhakti, and karma. Karma yoga is the yoga of service or action and it is the path of yoga that teaches you to be mindful and thankful in all that you do. It’s sort of the yoga of selflessness I suppose – doing things without the expectation for being repayed. At Garden State I’m a ‘karma yogi” meaning I help keep the studio in order in exchange for yoga, so I suppose it isn’t true karma yoga. That said, for me it is. I do it because I love doing it and I am so thankful that I get to do it and be a part of such a special place and that I’ve gotten to know such amazing people. Therefore by giving of myself to the studio and by treating myself better through yoga I have received friendship, happiness, and a sense of security that I have never felt.

When you can find people who share the same interests as you, whose lives have been affected in similar ways, there is an underlying connection there that needs no words. Yoga is about so much more than a tight body – it’s about health, peace, and community. It’s about allowing yourself to feel good and be calm and relaxed. I want to be able to share with people that side of yoga that you don’t hear about as often, that doesn’t get written about in magazines (unless it’s a yoga magazine) and doesn’t get featured on entertainment TV. The side of yoga that can be so healing and so life changing. Yoga literally helped to save my life, it has helped so many others, and it can help even more – I’ve seen it and I truely believe it.

I think this post was sort of a disconnected tangent – but, I wrote it with feeling – with the main point being that tonight’s class reinforced why I want to teach yoga. I think it’s important to remind yourself of why you want to achieve your goals, why you are passionate about certain things, so that you have something to fall back on when things get hard and the motivation starts to slip.

My life was changed by yoga about a year ago when it became the main catalyst for me to overcome anorexia. Ever since I have been practicing daily and graduated a 200 hour teacher training one month ago. I am constantly learning about yoga and about myself in an attempt to spread the benefits of such a holistic practice.