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!

 

What makes a good yoga teacher?

What makes a good yoga teacher?  I’ve learned a lot in my first year as a yoga teacher, and in order to keep improving, I check in with a short list of things I believe are necessary to be a good yoga teacher. I’ve created this list from my experience as a yoga student practicing on the East Coast, Midwest, in Mongolia and South East Asia and also as a yoga teacher in the Midwest and in Vietnam and Laos.

Being prepared, but also listening to the room

The best yoga classes that I’ve attended or taught are ones where the teacher had a plan for the class and also read and incorporated the energy of the room into the class. Sometimes that meant checking in with the students at the beginning of class, other times it meant sensing the energy levels/flow of the room. If the students were expressing a need for something other than what was planned, the teacher adjusted their plan to meet the students’ needs.

Making it about the students, not the teacher

As a student, I notice when the teacher is focused on themselves, trying to impress the class and exude “good yoga teacher” energy. As a teacher, I notice when I am thinking about how I look or come off to the students, or whether they will think this is a good class. But when the focus is on the teacher, the students aren’t able to go inside to their deeper koshas and the teacher isn’t able to hear or sense what the students need in the moment. In these cases, the teacher is probably feeling nervous (trust me, I would know), which is a natural reaction to caring about bringing forth a great class. When this happens  to me as a teacher, I take a deep breath and remind myself that I’m here for the students and become more connected and in-tune to their needs.

Putting safety first

This one is really important to me. Providing a safe environment for students to explore is paramount to being a good teacher. For me, this means understanding the physiology of yoga and understanding that every body is different and has had different experiences. This means that poses will inevitably look different on different people. This means it’s important to understand the intent of the pose (e.g. opening the inner legs) beyond superficial cues (e.g. straighten the knee). When students feel safe and supported in class, they can do more exploring and gain a better understanding of their own bodies. They will also appreciate more the quirks of their own bodies and tailor the practice to what they need.

Keeping up your personal practice

As a teacher, maintaining your personal practice means you won’t be tempted to practice along with the class you’re teaching. That’s not your time; that time is for your students (see point 2).  It also means you will continue to develop a better understanding of the physical yoga practice. It means you will have experience in the pranayama (breathwork) and meditation that you lead in class. It means you are focused and ready to teach come class time.

Being a lifelong learner

Finally, being a good yoga teacher (or any teacher) means you don’t stop learning. For me, this means keeping up my personal practice (point 4), attending other classes and studying yoga materials: books, articles, workshops, and trainings. These things build on existing knowledge and sometimes offer a new perspective on yoga.

As my yoga journey continues, this list will evolve. I encourage all the yogis out there to create a list of their own. Knowing what qualities are important to you will help you find your dream yoga teacher or become a better one 🙂

Traveling yogi: planning ahead while staying present (on a budget)

The last couple days M and I have spent about 3 hours each morning to plan for our upcoming travel: our journey from Luang Prabang, Laos to Singapore in two weeks, our first week in Europe (Amsterdam+London/Essex+Bruges) coming up in a month (!!) and now our month in Morocco in March (post-Italy, pre-NOLA for my friend’s wedding)…this shit takes time! Doing all this on a $50/day ($75/day in Europe) budget can be challenging.

But it leads to finding gems, such as staying in a small artsy town outside of the big city for less than $500 a month and renting a motorbike to explore more of the region — and local life.

What brought me here to Luang Prabang was yoga teaching. What this opportunity has brought to me so far is a Gorgeous 2-day boat ride down the Mekong River, an unforgettable teaching experience at Luang Prabang Yoga, and a long weekend  of trekking and chilling in the luscious and local mountain town of Nong Khiaw.

Sometimes my soul is pulled forward: where will we be next year? What if my plan of applying to grad school in Italy falls through? What will we do if we run out of money? Or, on the flip side, look at all the possibilities! I could teach here, or there, or gain knowledge studying at this center, with that teacher…And sometimes my soul is so content exactly where it is: absorbing my surroundings with a good book and a cup of tea. Going to bed when I’m sleepy and waking up when I’m rested. Being in the moment, connected with my students during class. This is where the yoga practice comes in for me: understanding that life is about balancing and flowing with opposing forces. Prana and Apana. Drawing the outer left heel back but rotating the left hip forward. Letting there be “good” days and “bad” days, productive days and unproductive days, hard days and easy ones.

The bottom line is, whether I’m flying or falling, it’s all part of the yoga practice. It’s all part of life.

What is success?

This video about Hayao Miyazaki’s work came up as I was browsing YouTube today. I’ve been a huge fan of his movies for years; they speak to me as deeply as they did when I was 10 years old, but in different ways.

As I travel, I’ve been trying to figure out how I define success as a yoga teacher. What I’ve seen is: marketability + popularity –> success. And that frustrates me because that’s not how I define it.

But as I watched the video, it inspired me to define success for myself, much like Hayao Miyazaki did as he told his stories. Maybe success isn’t a rigid definition at all, but a journey carving out bit by bit as I go.

Courage to speak: learning a new language

Hello from Seattle, Washington!

The past few weeks I’ve been using the Memrise app to learn some Japanese before we fly to Japan later this week. Learning languages is something I really enjoy: it’s like a road map to a different culture. I hope to pick up a bit of the language of each place we travel to before we get there, even if it means just saying hello and thank you.

The biggest hurdle for me when learning a new language is speaking it. I hear again and again that people appreciate when you try to speak their language. But when I’ve traveled in the past, the first thought in my head when interacting with someone local is “I don’t want to sound stupid! It’s probably better if I just speak English.” I get shy. I think that they’ll judge my poor speaking skills or think that I’m stupid. I don’t speak out loud because I’m not confident that it will come out perfectly. But then I don’t get any practice speaking, and I don’t improve. So already I’ve not only judged how I’d do, but also how they would react to what I would hypothetically do. Man, that’s a whole conversation in my head that’s based on zero evidence!

It’s the way I’ve felt stepping into a yoga class where everyone seems to be on another level: super lean-yet-muscular, casually hopping into handstand (adho mukha vrksasana) or flying pigeon (eka pada gala asana) before the practice starts, hair and makeup on point (how?? Why??), and a gracefully draping outfit. I automatically start comparing myself to the others, wondering if I belong in that class. It’s part of being human: noticing new surroundings and gauging them based on quick and simple judgments. I used to spend classes like this glancing over at others, pushing myself to the furthest extent I could, holding my breath and tensing my muscles, willing myself to get “better” at yoga. I still feel intimidated in some yoga classes (especially if they begin with “advanced”). But now when this happens, I can notice my breath and come back to why I love practicing yoga in the first place. I love it because you can do it any time, anywhere, no matter who you are. This is what I encourage in my students, and I’m grateful for these moments when I feel intimidated because it helps me become a better teacher. It helps me meet each of my students where they are, for them to listen to what they need that day, and for them to practice the courage  to speak their yoga.

So on this trip, I’m going to be in many different countries where I don’t speak a word of the language. But I promise myself that I’m gonna try. It may not sound pretty, it may not make much sense. But damned if I let that keep me from opening my mouth and seeing what comes out.

Round-the-world itinerary

Edit: M asked why our US leg was not included. I’d thought of them as two separate trips, but I like his idea of calling it a warm-up. So there it is.

At the end of September, my partner M and I embark on a one year round the world trip. As we travel,  I plan to teach yoga along the way and connect with fellow yogis and anyone curious about yoga. I also hope to deepen my studies of yoga.

Here’s our itinerary::

The Warm-Up..

August: NYC

September: San Francisco, Seattle & Tri-cities, WA, Vancouver

The Main Event..

September: Japan

October: Taiwan, Thailand, Myanmar

November: Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam

December: Vietnam, Indonesia

January: Malaysia, Italy

Feb – TBD: Europe, N. Africa

Excited to embark on this journey! Can’t wait to share photos and stories like these! 😉

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Soyee Yoga FB and upcoming site!

Hey guys!

My Facebook Page, Soyee Yoga is up and running! Check out events and follow my travels as my partner and I take off for a one year round-the-world trip beginning in August. I’m also working on a site with my good friend, foodie/movie buff and talented developer Kim (check out her site here). That will be a great place to find out more about me, my yoga teaching experience and inspiration, and check out photos from my trip as well as finding out where I’ll be. Even better: if we’re in the same neighborhood, let’s connect and practice together!

I’m really excited about sharing more yoga with you, and about embarking on this trip! The roll out date for the site is the end of the summer, so stay tuned!

I’ll end with this mantra: lokah samasta sukhino bhavantu — may all beings everywhere be happy and free 🙂

Living yoga: making money as a yoga teacher

So…lately I’ve been thinking about the financial viability of being a yoga teacher. The question that’s looming in my mind is, “can I make it as a yoga teacher?” During my year in teacher training, I focused on deepening my understanding of yoga and learning how to teach it — mindfully sharing my knowledge with others. This is what I’m deeply passionate about. I’ve also been lucky enough to have another job that allows me to study and teach yoga with minimal distractions and financial stress.

But now that I’ve received my certification and have begun getting paid for teaching, my next thought is “how do I shift a bigger part of my source of income to yoga?” My goal is to exclusively teach yoga. However, I’ve spoken to my yoga teaching friends and read up on salary statistics and yoga teachers’ anecdotes online, and most of them shout, “for your sanity and survival, don’t quit your day job!” Yikes.

So how do typical, non-celebrity yoga teachers make it work? A few ways: 1) they offer overlapping services such as massage therapy, Reiki healing, nutritional/lifestyle guidance, or physical therapy, 2) they offer workshops, retreats, or teacher trainings, or 3) they have supplementary income from another source. Often it’s a combination of these.

With the pragmatics of teaching yoga in mind, I check back with myself again. How do I define “making it”? What is my intention behind teaching yoga exclusively? What am I afraid of?

***meditation break***

Ahh, some clarity! My picture of success, after setting aside my ego, is to share the joy of my yoga practice with others, and to help others see themselves and live their dharma,  or purpose. My fears are not making enough money to live off of, and at the same time letting money and egotistic measures of success cloud my intention, my message and my teachings. Fear of uncertainty of the future.

So…what’s the answer? The answer is…I don’t know what will happen. But what I can do is set up ways to share yoga in the world we live in: through classes, workshops, word of mouth, online presence, and to track how much I earn doing what I love. Since I’ll be traveling around the world beginning this fall, I’ll have a unique opportunity to connect with people from many places and with many perspectives. If anything, this will help me become a better yoga teacher. Who knows where I’ll be in 5 years? For now, I will be here, practicing yoga.


Image credit: Hanson Mao

Bliss: why I teach yoga

Why do I teach yoga?

I teach yoga because it is my dharma, my purpose. That is, it brings my whole being — my True Self — bliss! Not bliss in the newlywed, just-got-promoted, everything-feels-perfect sense, though there are moments of that too. It’s bliss in my soul. Content, at home. It feels like, “this is what I’m here for.”

When I see the transmission of yoga through me to my students, I smile inside. When they challenge themselves by listening to their breath and their body, I feel joy. When they’re able to let go of their ego, and simply be, I know I’ve done something good.

I want to stress — bliss is not perfection. It’s not the thrill of a roller coaster. It includes times of struggle, can-I-make-a-living? (Not yet.) It includes boredom, a lack of inspiration. (How can I teach today? Nothing moves me!) But it also includes gratitude for those struggles and those feelings, because it’s all part of the journey. And every time I teach another class, or try something new in my practice, or see my old practice through new eyes, it feels like home.

Dancing in the rain: accepting what life throws at you

Life’s not about waiting for the storms to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.

–  Vivian Greene

On Saturday, I went to a physical therapist for the first time. I was curious about why I was unable to go deeper into certain open-hip poses such as pigeon, agnistambasana (fire log pose), gomukhasana (cow’s face pose), and eka pada koundinyasana. Though I practiced asana 4-5 times a week — sometimes more — I was not seeing improvement in those types of poses. Aghh!

At my appointment, I told Robert what my issue was and showed him the poses that I was having trouble with. He had me lie down on a bed and bent one of my legs, swinging my lower leg left and right. In two minutes, he had the answer. (He’s good.)

“Aha!” he said, “it’s your bones.”

He explained that my pelvic bones were slightly turned in at the hips: the articulation between my femur and hip sockets (i.e. where they meet) was turned inwards, which limited my range of motion. Therefore my bone structure was preventing me from opening up into the full expression of those poses.

It might be possible to increase flexibility at my hip joints, but not without decreasing stability or damaging the joints. No thanks.

So what now?

I went to my first class since the appointment on Monday. With new awareness of my body, I was able to do each pose more mindfully. I was discovering myself in a new way. And it felt great!

Do I feel remorse that I probably won’t be able to do some of those sweet looking arm balances, such as eka pada koundinyasana, bhuja pidasana (shoulder pressing pose), or titthibhasana (firefly)? Kinda. But on the flip side, poses such as mandukasana (frog pose) and upavista konasana (seated wide legged forward fold) come easily to me.

Obstacles like this one could prevent me from enjoying and growing in my yoga practice. It could make me feel incomplete, or unable to achieve the “real pose”. Or, it could make me a more compassionate and knowledgable teacher, and grow my practice in a direction I haven’t even imagined yet. I could wait for the storm to pass, and when the next one comes, wait for that to pass too. I could spend my life waiting for each storm to pass. Or, I could step outside and dance in the rain.