Look Ma, Two Hands!

jason crandell

This past weekend, I had the good fortune of studying with Jason Crandell at Moksha Yoga Chicago. I first became familiar with him last year when I embarked on a Yoga Journal 21 Day Challenge. They had a variety of different instructors, but I always particularly enjoyed his online classes. He seemed very no-nonsense and accessible. I was more than happy to find out that he’s a really great teacher in person, as well. He’s got a great sense of humor and I definitely learned some invaluable arm balance tips (it was an arm balance workshop.)

Jason first started out with a story about how with all of his traveling to different countries, he decided he wanted to learn different languages, German, Japanese, Spanish, etc…Then, he realized that he actually didn’t want to LEARN those languages, he wanted to KNOW them. I found that to be very timely with my last post about handstand. I don’t want to learn it, I just want to be standing on my darn hands, already! He stressed that it isn’t the outcome that’s important, but the process leading up to it. Just because we work really hard, doesn’t mean we will always nail an asana, but once we step back, deconstruct, question, and approach it intelligently, we’ll make more progress. Love it.

We then went on to learn four different versions of vasisthasana. Confession, I am no fan of vasisthasana, so again, my ego kicked in as the versions got progressively more difficult and my ability to maintain my balance decreased. Oh well, at least I gave it the ol’ college try! I have a feeling in order to make peace with vasi, I’m going to have to spend a little more time with it. Again, I want to KNOW how to do it and do it flawlessly without having to work at it. Patience, grasshopper…

After we went through the vasisthasana segment, we moved on to bakasana. He told us a great story about how he doesn’t interact with his Facebook page very much, but one of his friends who works at Facebook helped him understand some measurement about what kinds of asana photos people respond most favorably to. More advanced asana didn’t perform terribly well, but bakasana was a winner. The logic behind this is that bakasana  at first appears difficult, but is ultimately accessible.

I remember my first yoga class when the teacher demonstrated it for us and I just turned to my friend and, pardon my French, said, “no fucking way.” Lo and behold, a few months later, I was in bakasana and haven’t looked back since.

We learned three different versions, two I nailed, one…not so much, but I did get close! I was quite pleased with the workshop! And, at the end, he again reminded us that it’s more important to focus on the action than the outcome. So, I am going to keep slowly working on my arm balances and skip the stress part of not being perfect.

Good At Yoga

Since my “graduation” from teacher training a week ago, I’ve gratefully accepted congrats from friends and colleagues. Very  heartwarming. However, this exchange inevitably leads to, “I would like to do yoga, but I’m not good at it.” Le sigh. But, it’s my task, nee mission, to let people know that asana, advanced asana, is only a tiny part of this massive moving organism that is yoga. Unfortunately, I’m still guilty of wishing I was “good at yoga.”

Case in point, I was in a particularly challenging class the other night. My normal vinyasa 2-3 class, with this particular teacher, is usually only very fast-paced, ashtanga-style, which presents its own set of challenges  when my old rotator cuff injury sparks up sometime after my tenth chaturanga. This class, however,  was very top-loaded with arm balance variations, forearm balances, handstands, full iterations of eka pada rajakapotasana, “advanced poses” etc…All well and good, but here’s where my ego gets in the way.

I can’t do a handstand. I can’t do the full form of eka pada rajakoptasana, there are a lot of things that I can’t do (yet?) And it still makes me a little sad.  For a long time, I felt like it was the one barrier between me and full yoga teacher-hood. I wanted to dive into the world of yoga teaching a few years ago, but I was worried that I wasn’t “good at yoga.” At that point, asana was my main focus (and I know I’m not alone!) All I saw was photos of yogis who were, as I imagined, “good at yoga.” Fortunately, over the years, the more I studied and made pranayama and meditation a more substantial part of my practice, I realized that asana wasn’t the end-all-be-all. Even more reassuring, I have had the good fortune to work with teachers who inform the students that there is no “good at yoga.” That you could spend the entire ninety minutes of class, in child’s pose on your mat and you are still practicing yoga!

A few days after that class, I brought my handstand conflict up to one of my yoga teacher friends (ooh, I love that I can call them yoga teachers instead of yoga teacher trainees!!) This particular yogini informed me that she’s been working on hers for THREE YEARS (this woman is quite adept at her physical practice, so the knowledge that she didn’t just kick up one day was very reassuring.) And then she reminded me that it’s the practice, the journey, that’s important.

Of course, the other extremely crucial element that I somehow manage to forget is that I actually have to PUT IN THE WORK. I’m not quite sure where I got the idea that by practicing vinyasa for a few years, I would all of a sudden be the next Kathryn Budig, who looks as comfortable on her hands as I feel on my feet. I actually have to work on the damn poses and if I don’t, I can’t feel sad that I’m not rocking pincha mayurasana in the middle of the room. I’m a quick one, right?

That said, while I still battle my ego, at least I am aware of the absurdity. I do feel that it is my duty to remind myself and others that there is no “good at yoga.”

I AM (finally) A YOGA TEACHER!!

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That’s right, totally certified. I haven’t stopped smiling since my “graduation” ceremony last night. We had a fantastic gathering at the studio where we shared our memorable moments. A lot of laughing, some tears (of joy) shed…It was just incredible that so many of us had the same pivotal moments along the way. I’m sure I mentioned several blog posts back about my crying in kundalini class. Well, that class made several people’s lists. It really was an amazing bonding moment. I am fortunate beyond words to have been brought together with a group of people who are all so wonderful and unique, yet we’re all sort of “one.” One girl requested a rolling OM and pardon my french, but that shit rocks. It was awesome. Then, we went out afterward and talked and laughed and hugged and had a few non-sattvic adult beverages and had a really wonderful time. Another girl  had brought bindis, so we were all wearing them.  Numerous people stopped us to ask what the heck we had on our foreheads. A few people even asked for some. I took some great pictures, which I was very much looking forward to posting today after I’d edited them.

I woke up this morning, still smiling. Absolutely beaming. Glowing. Floating. I walked to the bus with the biggest grin on my face, which stayed there until I got off the bus and descended the stairs to embark my train. I put my  hand in my pocket to pull out my iPhone to check the time and wouldn’t you know it? GONE. Nuts. 

I had had it just minutes before and had put it back into the pocket of my long, puffy black Chicago Winter coat and this guy bumped me and sort of blocked my way, so I had to push past him when I exited the bus, so my gut tells me it was him. I had to file a police report, a report with the Chicago Public Transit Authority and my phone network carrier along with blocking and deactivating my poor missing phone. Even though it frankly sucked in a huge way, I just let it roll off my back.

I’m still completely cool as a cucumber. The only thing I am quite sad about is the loss of the photos of me and my beautiful friends on the evening of our new beginning. I so hope my photos somehow got backed up in the cloud. I am not eligible for an iPhone 5 for 10 more days, so I have this sad little $14 pre-paid phone. But, it does the job. I showed it to a colleague who made a funny comment that I had to “re-learn an outdated technology.” Seriously, I got a text as a test from the guy at the store and I was poking the screen trying to get something to happen and then I realized, yes, this certainly is no smartphone. At least he made me laugh when he said, “NO ONE is going to steal this one…”

All that said, I’m still absolutely ecstatic! I have several new possible opportunities that I’m trying to firm up. It’s all so exciting. I can’t wait!

Teaching kinda rocks!!

ImageWell, my Saturday Teacher Training class came and went. I was a little nervous about getting up in front of class and teaching my peers. We had a 2 hour period to fill, going around the room, each teaching short sequences. I had nothing prepared except a thorough review of the notes I’ve taken on the asanas covered in class. After at least 12 of my classmates got up to teach, it was my turn. Oddly, I wasn’t nervous at all. It was actually slightly exhilarating! I ended up not even teaching anything we’ve covered in class, instead opting for a hip-opening sequence, starring my fave: baddha konasana. Then, my turn came around a second time near the end, but we were very near the end of class, so I had to rush through instructing shoulderstand.

The next day, I got together with 2 of my classmates and we met at another studio to practice teach. I finally got to do what I’ve wanted for ages: start the class with an opening meditation. For some reason, I just LOVE that part. I love the transition from the hustle and bustle of pre-class life where the external world is so heavy on your mind, to the journey inward. I love slowing down. Slowing down thoughts and breathing and just softening into the space around you. I even led my very first OM chant! This was quite a step for me because sometimes I get a little creaky in OM. In fact, one time, I was in class next to one of my fellow trainees and my voice cracked like Peter Brady’s in his “Time To Change” era (ok, this might not resonate for the younger crowd, but if you’ve seen it, you’ll know….) We both ended up laughing. I couldn’t help myself. But, in this OM, my voice remained steady. Afterward, my classmates told me they really loved the opening sequence and they thought it really set the tone for practice. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!

I am so excited to really dive into teaching. I only have TWO classes left until I “graduate.” As I’ve said before, it’s so bittersweet.

Only Three Classes Left in Teacher Training

Gyan Mudra

Gyan Mudra

Such a bittersweet feeling…

Part of me is relieved to have my Thursday nights free again and to actually have TWO days off per week instead of the one I’ve had for 7 months. The other part of me is incredibly sad to be leaving the training program. I’ve met some really remarkable individuals and couldn’t be happier with the lovely group of people I’ve spent so much time with over these past months. I know it isn’t the end of the road, but as is customary, people get busy, schedules are difficult to coordinate and eventually you slowly drift. I hope that isn’t the case. In a way, I imagine it won’t be, since we’re tied together by a stronger force than just having been thrown together for a far less personal journey.

At any rate, today we get together for class to practice teach the class. Generally, we approach our practice classes by learning the alignment cues and verbage to instruct our students how to get into the asana, then we break into small groups and practice teaching each other. Only one other class have we each taken turns standing in the front of the class, instructing all 25 of us. It was a “round robin” class where we had to make an intelligent decision about which asana would most closely complement or counter the asana taught before. Lucky for me, my turn was after my very graceful and flexible dancer classmate came up and taught ardha chandrasana on one side. I was the last student, so I’d already prepared a savasana sequence. Foiled!

Round Robin, get it??

Fortunately, I’ve made my peace with Half Moon over the years. I used to HATE it. I could never maintain my balance, half of which was caused by fear of falling, so I wouldn’t even fully try. But, I got up there and taught to the best of my ability. Once I stood in front of everyone, I wasn’t nervous, which is strange because I have a long history of being absolutely PETRIFIED of public speaking of any sort.

I’m glad to have had that experience early on, because I’m a little nervous today. I have faith that when I stand in front of class this afternoon, it’s all going to fall into place. As one of my trainee friends said the other day, “think about it. We’re all in the same place.” True dat. It’s not as if ALL of us are even close to being expert teachers. I’m among a safe group of peers. No one’s going to laugh behind my back  if I forget a cue or say “right foot” when I mean left. It’s all good. Until then, I will just take a deep breath and when I get to the front of class, I’ll teach what I know, from intuition and my own personal practice, instead of sticking to a script.

Aside

Missing in Mexico (and missing Mexico!)

Courtyard in San Angel, Mexico City...an oasis of loveliness

Courtyard in San Angel, Mexico City…an oasis of loveliness

Holy moly! It’s been quite a while since I’ve updated my poor lonely little blog! I have no good reason except life kinda got in the way (as it tends to do…) I went to Mexico in February to celebrate my brother’s birthday and visit a friend. Oh, the city is so very lovely. Sure, there’s quite a bit of graffiti and a little bit of wear and tear, but the buildings! and the parks! Love. I have dubbed Coyoacan my “new favorite place in the world.” There’s a zocalo there, surrounded by lots of lovely restaurants and outdoor seating and we planted ourselves for a good few hours, enjoying the mild summer-like weather, the people-watching, and of course, some tequila. I could’ve stayed there for the rest of my life and died happy.

Renee + tamarind margarita in Coyoacan = VERY HAPPY RENEE

While I was sitting there, I realized I was really having a yoga moment! Sure, I wasn’t practicing asana, but I was FULLY present. I wasn’t thinking about the past or the future. I was feeling the air on my skin. I was letting my eyes take in the color, the movement. I tasted that tangy-sweet tamarind margarita and the salty-crunchy queso fundido con chapulines. I had great conversation and lots of laughter and couldn’t imagine anything else. It was beautiful. Who knew I would find a moment like that in a city of over 20 million?

If you can find presence there, you can find it anywhere.