Teaching my first yoga class

Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.

— Margaret J. Wheatley

Happy International Women’s Day!

I’ve learned in my life that reflecting back helps me appreciate my journey and recognize what I’ve learned. Today I’m honoring the first yoga class I taught a year and a half ago.

It was for a practice group with a fellow teacher trainee and two of his friends. Both of his friends were new at yoga and eager to learn. I’d prepared a 60ish minute flow and carefully selected one of Shiva Rea’s flow mixes to play in the background: introspective but not distracting. I was really nervous about what they would think of my class.

As we settled onto our mats to begin, I felt my heart pounding and all (three pairs) of eyes on me. It was thrilling and scary. I asked them to bring their attention to their breath and begin to go within. As their eyes closed, I gazed at my *very first* students with nervous excitement and remembered this: it’s all about them right now. I had a Matrix moment. Time slowed down and I let go of my ego, instead scanning the energy of the room. What did they need today, and how can I help them find it? After they finished setting their intention and we Ommmmmed, we started moving together. My cues were basic and direct and I confused the left side and right side a few times, but it didn’t faze me. I had clicked with them, and I was guiding their energy through the practice. It’s such a high, being connected to my students and feeling their trust in me, trust that I could and would serve them by being their guide. It’s this connection and exchange of energy that I chase. It pushes me to be a better yogi, a better teacher. It motivates me to practice creatively, try new perspectives, read more do more be more. It forces me to say “not now, ego” and listen to the needs of myself and my students.

Here are some reflections from other yoga teachers about teaching their first class. Happy yoga-ing!

 

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Look ma! It’s my ego (again)

“When we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something … but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen.”

— Joan  Didion

Compassion Course: Weeks 1 & 2

I plan to do a weekly series on my thoughts and a-ha moments from my Non-Violent Communication course, published every Friday to kick off the weekend with some love for yourself and those around you. Jai!

I’m currently two weeks into a one-year online Non-Violent Communication (NVC) course with New York City-based Thom Bond, founder of NYCNVC. I chose to take this course to deepen my understanding of myself and how I interact with the world around me. I think it will be especially enlightening as I am traveling around the world, beginning in two months!

In this last month that I’m in Champaign, IL, I also meet once a week with other NVCers at Green Yoga Spa, a lovely house and spa run by longtime yogi Mary Wolters. In the last two weeks, we focused on needs and judgements. The main idea is: everything we do, we do to fulfill a need. This is an eye opening concept to me, something I’m pondering as we delve deeper into the course. It’s a simple statement, but woooosh! It’s powerful. Pretty regularly, I meet people who do or say things that baffle me. People that have had vastly different life experiences than I, with different (and sometimes conflicting) perspectives and attitudes. Sometimes it’s hard for me to see where they’re coming from. That’s when the judging happens.

In our meetings, we identify feelings that we feel as a reaction to a conversation or action with another. Then, we connect those with needs that we had associated with those feelings. That is pretty eye-opening in and of itself. Kind of like “oh, so that’s what my feelings are for. I didn’t know they could be so useful!” The second part is an even bigger whammy: doing the same process for the other person. What were they feeling, and what possible needs were they trying to meet?

When I think about the violence happening this week in the US between police and Black Americans, my first reaction is frustration and helplessness. Frustrated that the problem is so deeply embedded in our law enforcement system, and at the lack of awareness and acknowledgement by so many in this country. Helpless because I feel like I’m on the outside looking in. What can I do to change things? I can voice my support to my black friends, to the black community, that I stand with them. But real change comes when we unite and see each other. Real change comes when we see our very real and very different experiences growing up Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, rich, poor, gay, straight. How can we make this happen? How do we unite the law enforcement community with all of those they vowed to serve and protect?

Compassion is a word I come across all the time, but what does it really mean? I love this take on it: compassion is love in action. It applies to actions toward yourself and towards those around you. I think if we practice this by being compassionate towards our own feelings and needs and by recognizing and honoring the feelings and needs of someone that seems so different from ourselves, then we have a chance of truly uniting and enacting real and meaningful change.

On balance (my no-asana sick yoga practice)

This has been an interesting week! I came down with the stomach flu last Tuesday and spent the week recovering from fever, stomach pains, and digestive issues. Ugh. Thankfully, my agni (fire of digestion/metabolism) is pretty much back to normal. Since my body was telling me to SLOW THE HELL DOWN, asana was not an option. But here’s how I did yoga anyway (without really knowing it):

I was out of balance

Boy was I.  My digestive system was definitely off balance, and so was my day to day life. Spent the first day in bed, angry at myself: “Why now?? Why did I get sick, when I’ve got x,y,z to do??” As if I had control over when or if I got sick. As if this was a terrible, terrible sickness (it was not — though it sure felt like it at the time). As if missing or postponing what I had to do was the end of the world. Hello asmita, my funny and contrary little ego! How much you’ve taught me by puffing up my own importance and bursting that bubble again and again.  But how is this yoga?

I was doing a balance pose! Like swaying in vrksasana (tree), wobbling in garudasana (eagle), or tumbling from ardha chandrasana B (half moon B),  I was off balance, and my mind and ego had some choice words to say about it.

I was meditating

Ok, this one I was aware of doing. I put on some guided meditation and did some reclined (OK, sweaty fetal position) meditation. Greeted my thoughts, tried to punch my ego to submission, fell asleep, woke up and took some Tylenol, tried meditating again with reduced fever/delirium, tried to punch my ego a little less, and phew, that’s enough for now.

Did I reach samadhi? No. Did I become aware of my thoughts and feelings about where I was? Absolutely.

I was building awareness

By watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, no less.  A show where the main characters are living unbalanced lives, with unchecked egos, while being blatantly unaware of all this.  How on earth is THAT yoga?

It helped me see my own ego. The over-the-top situations the gang get themselves into in the show often end up biting them in the ass, and hilariously so. It helped me realize how funny the ego is, the belief that you are separate and unique from everyone else. Seeing the humor in my own anger, misery, and self-centered thoughts, I was able to laugh and become more present, to be where I was.

All in all, it was a good week.  In our teacher training book club, we’re reading The Fire of Love by Aadil Palkhivala, and last week we discussed the chapter on Balance.  Aadil makes a great point about the appearance of balance vs true balance.  Though we’re often told there’s a right way to balance our lives — by eating right, exercising right, acting right, thinking right, feeling right, being right — the act of balancing isn’t static. In fact, sometimes it’s balancing to do something that may appear imbalanced to others. This week I lived that. I slept most of the day, didn’t eat much, watched tv, and didn’t leave the apartment. If I lived every week like that, I’d be in bad shape. But this week, it was just what I needed.