I’ve lost track of how long I’ve been regularly attending yoga classes at my favorite studio. I even have to think about how many months it has taken me to complete the 500 hours for my yoga teacher certification. I’ve recently picked up another yoga student, and I’m reminded how difficult the poses and breathing and not thinking all at the same time can be.
Down dog (one of my favorite poses, though yoga asks us to let go of preferences) is a pose that most often elicits a sigh of relaxation from me. I feel that I can hold the pose for ten minutes at a time. I’m cognizant of how much pressure it asks of wrists and shoulders, and so when I direct new students to move into the pose, I try to not keep them there a long time. However, sometimes I do ask them to move into 3-legged dog or fire hydrant, and if I don’t move them quickly enough, they give up and spend the next several minutes in child’s pose rotating their wrists, their ego chattering away about how hard it is and why are they bothering anyway. Of course, child’s pose is always available, and that’s not the point.
One of the conditions I’ve noticed from practicing and then moving into being a teacher of yoga, is that I can ‘feel’ the postures in my body even though I’m not doing them. When I instruct a student into down dog, I can feel my spine lengthening, feel my hamstrings get a little love, and automatically roll my shoulders away from my ears. Because I have a kinesthetic memory (and most instructors and athletes do) of the postures, I can recall the energetic cues to encourage the student to reach this direction or lengthen that direction. And it is this muscle memory that aids me when I work with new students by asking them to remain in the pose long enough to get a sense of it, to just begin to break up the blockages, but not so long as to frustrate the student into never returning to their mat.
It is also the length of time that I’ve been practicing that has me recognizing how still my mind becomes in the postures, and how the breath is just there. No struggle (or very little), focus on the present moment and the sensations in the body, and noticing right away when the ego pipes up to say, “Good job balancing,” or “You hate inversions”. I’m still a student, and still engage in the practice of letting go of judgements and criticisms. It is because, I think, that I’m able to ‘ride both sides of the fence’, feel the quiet space when the mind is at ease and still have postures that challenge that peace, that I can relate to my students more easily.
By asking them to move into postures that I know they can ‘handle’ as well as others that are challenging, and keeping them there for a length of time where they get a sense of it and a bit of benefit, and yet not so long that the mind gives out (which nearly always happens before the body does), I give them an opportunity to taste the benefits of a consistent practice. I really enjoy initiating students into the practice of asana, and of course the philosophy that makes the asana work as it was intended. I recently posted on my Facebook page that I smile when I see my students smile because they’ve caught a glimpse of what can happen if they practice the lesson for the session on the mat, when their mind settles and gives them just a nanosecond of silence.
As I was finishing my course requirements, I wrote 25 poems about the practice of yoga, including the Yamas and Niyamas. These I put together, along with a few other goodies, into my poem project titled, Yogis All: A Journal of Transformation Volume I, which can be viewed on my website www.myjoyenterprises.com My creative muse has churned up more poems that offer a glance into my journey as a yoga teacher. I’m thinking to set that project aside, and instead bring forth writings that might inspire new students to the practice. Perhaps they can nod their heads in understanding of sore wrists in down dog, and smile as they recognize that for the last three breaths, they were completely, whole-heartedly present. There are so many nuances to one’s practice, and they are different for everyone, but perhaps if the new practitioners were given a peek at what is possible, perhaps they won’t be so quick to feed the monkey mind, but instead take a breath, and hold down dog for just another moment, a second where the ego has not won. Namaste.