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

A moment of relaxation

I’m sitting in a hammock in Ben Tre, Vietnam, a small town in the Mekong delta. After an afternoon of exploring the neighboring island by bike (the ferry across was 10 cents!), it feels good to relax with a beer after giving my legs a nice workout.

Rain is pouring and I’ve yet to make dinner plans. And that’s fine by me. This trip has been about the practice of enjoying the present, exploring my individual yoga practice and finding my way as a yoga teacher.  So far, so good.

(Next up: Can Tho–>Chau Doc–>Phnomh Penh)

Bakasana breakthrough

Arm balances can be intimidating. They require building strength in your core, shoulders, and arms. Many poses require flexibility in the hips, glutes, and lower back. They all require trust in your upper body to hold you up and also being open to (literally) change your perspective while you’re in the pose.

Bakasana (crow pose) is a pose I’ve been working on for awhile. There were two classes where I popped up into it without hesitation at the teacher’s cue and thought “wow, I could hold this pose forever!” But most times I tentitively hop onto the toes of  one foot, then the other. I realized I was doing this out of fear: what if my arms give out? What if I fall on my face? What if I hurt my neck? While all these things could happen, focusing on them has prevented me from progress. Until yesterday.

During some downtime in my hotel room in Hanoi, I rolled out my mat and placed a big fluffy pillow on it and began practicing coming into the pose. The first few attempts didn’t work. My knees slipped off my upper arms and fell to the mat, my face hitting the pillow. So I tried again. And again. I felt the familiarity of not being able to do it, and then I realized I was expecting failure. I was expecting that my arms would not be able to hold me up, expecting that I would hit my face against the pillow and that my knees would slip from my upper arms. So I took a few slow breaths and reset my expectations. This time, I didn’t expect to fail, nor was I eagerly wishing for success. I just wanted to try it. Up I went, and for 2.5 seconds, it felt great! I was in balance, on my hands, feeling weightless! Then disbelief and fear crept in and I came down with a thump.

I practiced for a while longer, one more time catching that weightless effortless feeling. It was awesome.

Yeah, yoga is about more than achieving difficult poses. But what goes into practicing a challenging pose is exactly what yoga is about: using strength without forcing, using flexibility with stability, and staying curious with the process. Oh, and going for gold 🙂

Vietnam Part I: Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, and yoga (Re)gains

BAM. M and I have just finished our first month away from the US, two months of traveling total. In the past couple weeks, I’ve started feeling at ease in the groundlessness of traveling and being on the move. I realized that I was neglecting my yoga practice (noooooooooooooooooo) and not making enough time to pursue things that were important to me. I made these changes:

1. Daily asana practice first thing in the morning. Right now I’m working on core strengthening, and I’ve got my eye on parsvabakasana (side crow) next.

2. Reading more. I’m currently reading Pema Chodron’s Things Fall Apart, which is a great read for those feelings of transition or uncertainty. Also, I’ve been reading more yoga articles to get ideas on sequencing, brush up on anatomy, and stay connected to the rhythm of the yoga world.

3. Learning Italian and anatomy/physiology. Technology is a great thing. I’m using the  Memrise app to learn both subjects. It takes about 15-20 minutes each day, and it’s great to stick to a routine and challenge my brain to learn something new. Hopefully I’ll be able to communicate with the locals when we reach Italy, our final destination, and have some background anatomy knowledge when I apply to a physical therapy program next spring.

4. Connecting. With myself via meditation and with others via yoga and mini trips we take.

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Yoga gains are kinda like gains in weightlifting. I needed to change my workout to suit my new lifestyle and stay engaged. Mind/body/soul. What I did in the US wasn’t working for me on the road, so I started engaging my brain by reading and giving it more to chew on. I engaged my soul with some reading, journaling, photography and meditation. And I engaged my body by working out the muscles I wasn’t using as much. My goal is to check in with my mind/body/soul workout regularly and change it up to stay challenged.

Hanoi and Ha Long Bay are beautiful in very different ways. Hanoi is fascinating for its non-stop river of traffic (seriously, you just need to take a breath and go for it), its intimate relationship with making food (from killing the animal to serving it on a plate, you can see it all on the street), and its culture of pushing the limits (rules are made to be broken). It can be loud and overwhelming after awhile, but there’s so much to explore.

Ha Long Bay is big and breathtaking. We were there for three days and everything we did, kayaking, swimming, spelunking, climbing, even eating, was surrounded by amazing views. If you have the chance to go, I highly recommend at least two nights on a boat. Our full day exploring the bay was relaxing and there were no crowds. I was able to get the feeling of the place without distractions.

We took photos and videos of kayaking and swimming with our GoPro too. We’ll see how those turned out!

 

Morning Yoga

This week, I’m in NYC visiting friends in the city I called home for 5 years. The neighborhood I lived in, Hamilton Heights, is growing quickly: new coffee shops and cafes have popped up every time I’ve visited this year. Columbia University continues to buy up property close to the Hudson River, inching their reach further uptown from the main campus on 116th to the medical campus on 168th. In this neighborhood and this city where people move quickly, where things change and places change and 8 minutes is a long time to wait for the next train, it’s even more important to find groundedness within.

That’s what I love about New York:  it challenges you and also gives you the freedom to be you — if you’ve got the conviction to. Yeah, anyone can find peace when meditating in a quiet candlelit room with incense burning, or at a retreat in the great outdoors. But what about finding it on the uptown D train at 59th st. when you’ve just heard someone yell “it’s showtime!” What about finding it at a crowded deli counter while you’re waiting for your turkey and egg on a hero? Even finding it on the mat in the city is something else. You might hear trucks downshifting to brake at the red light, ambulance and police sirens passing through, animated conversations in Spanish, Russian, Mandarin…all while you’re being told to move with your breath, not to rush from one pose to another.

That is precisely what I’ve learned to do. Only after I moved away from the city, spent a year going deeper into yoga, meditation and connecting with my breath was I able to come back and notice a change in my yoga practice. Besides being more confident in alignment, transitioning from one asana to another, and feeling the energy created by those around me, devoting time to look within myself this past year has uncovered a stillness and groundedness that I couldn’t see before. It was covered up by voices around me that I had internalized throughout life, telling me what I should be doing, who I should be in profession, in appearance, in having-my-shit-together.

So, when the yoga teacher this morning said “don’t rush”, I didn’t. I savored being in each pose, sensing how my body was feeling and what it needed today. I heard a semi drive by outside, noticed the toned back muscles of the guy behind me in adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog), and felt the muted vibrations from the floor as someone below us climbed up the stairs. I wasn’t fazed. I was here. Exactly where I needed to be.

On being myself

Nine kinds of distractions come that are obstacles naturally encountered on the path, and are physical illness, tendency of the mind to not work efficiently, doubt or indecision, lack of attention to pursuing the means of samadhi, laziness in mind and body, failure to regulate the desire for worldly objects, incorrect assumptions or thinking, failing to attain stages of the practice, and instability in maintaining a level of practice once attained.
(vyadhi styana samshaya pramada alasya avirati bhranti-darshana alabdha-bhumikatva anavasthitatva chitta vikshepa te antarayah)

Yoga Sutra 1.30

 I’m halfway through spending a week with my family in Ann Arbor, MI. Man, has this place changed! Lots more young professionals here, which bring more yoga studios, high-end coffee shops, bistros, and shopping, and a LOT more loft apartments. I’m happy to see my hometown thrive, and also mourn a bit the loss of the grittier side of this town.

At my parents house, the little sapling that swayed in the front yard is now twice as tall as I am! Coming back to the place I grew up, I see how much I’ve changed too. I’ve overcome challenges, learned about myself and the world around me, and I keep learning about the person I want to be.

When I interact with my parents, it is obvious how much I’ve changed. I see their perspective with adult eyes: I can understand and discern opinions and beliefs of others from those of myself. I see that the way they see the world is not the way I see it. This led to me feeling frustrated and misunderstood, which is the topic of Yoga Sutra 1.30: distractions and obstacles that come up in life.

The obstacles listed in the sutra above are pretty broad, but at the heart there are two ideas: seeing clearly and practicing. These ideas are useful in yoga, and they’ve translated well to my life too. For example, the root of my frustrations this week with my parents became clear after a chat with my sister J and my partner M, meditation and asana practice (and that beer I had with dinner last night ;)). I need to express who I am, and I need to be heard. I now see that their lack of communication is their limitation but it doesn’t have to be mine.

There is a Hindu principle, abhyasa, that Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras, also prescribed to yogis. It means sustained practice. Each asana (pose) I do, each breath I take in meditation and pranayama, each obstacle or piece of joy I come across are all part of the practice.

Here’s to enjoying the day today and looking forward to a connected and grounded rest of the week!

Work meets play!

Playtime! 🙂🙃🙂🙏🏼 #yoga #homepractice #nofilter

A post shared by So Yee (@soyeemole) on

 

I was flowing at home a couple days ago. It started as creating a sequence for my teacher training video review, and ended with moving from my True Self. You know that inner voice? The one where your gut feeling comes from? That’s the one I explore when I practice at home; it’s the one I teach from.

In moments like this, when work really feels like play, I feel like I’m in my element, and I’m living my dharma. “I have a purpose!” shouts my True Self. It was a good day.