Teaching Yoga

judieatmorrowpreschool

When my friends learned that I was searching for a yoga teacher training program, they assumed I wanted to become a yoga teacher. I did not. I wanted to deepen my own yoga practice. I wanted to learn about the Sutras and the Gita, ancient yogic texts. What I didn’t realize, though, was that I would have to teach in my training. As students, we were supposed to teach, if I recall correctly, at least six community classes. For some reason, my teacher thought I was going to be an “amazing” (her words) yoga teacher. She told me I would get a following. She had me sub for her during my training, something most trainees don’t do.

I never enjoyed teaching. I was very nervous and insecure. I know some my fellow classmates felt the same. I reached out to experienced teachers for advice. I learned they too recalled feeling similarly as they began teaching. One or two even admitted they would take something to calm their nerves before teaching.

I felt I didn’t know enough to stand in front of a class and tell them what to do. I was scared someone was going to get injured in my class. I prayed, I sought the help of energy workers and spiritual coaching to help calm my nerves. I even had a session with a hypnotherapist. I often had to sub classes and I swear I could hear people’s voices saying “Oh shit, a sub! Ugh, I want to leave!” I did approach a few students after class to find out if they were thinking that. Why yes, they were. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a Reiki practitioner and am quite sensitive to feelings but I hated it. OK, I didn’t always hate it. I did teach a few series where I had the same four or six students every week. I knew them and they knew me. I got to know their bodies. I integrated yoga with Reiki. I did enjoy those classes. I felt I was serving these students to the best of my ability.

Even though I was nervous, I kept on teaching. I would say yes to most opportunities to teach. I approached yoga studios about getting on their schedule. It was a struggle since there are many yoga teachers in my hood. I even looked into renting my own space to teach a class after teaching six students in my living room for weeks.

And  yet…..

It wasn’t until I returned home from my trip to India last Fall that I realized, hello, I did not have to teach adults! Apparently some of my friends had given me that advice but I never heard them. Once I decided to devote my teaching to children, it was as if I had lost weight. I felt much lighter and freer.

I don’t always feel light and free when I teach kids. It’s challenging work. I don’t walk around a room teaching and demonstrating a few poses. I’m on the floor with them doing frog jumps and donkey kicks. I try to maintain their attention and focus. I’m constantly scouring blog posts and websites, taking trainings, buying books and props to use in my classes. However, I generally don’t get anxious and nervous as I used to when I was teaching adults. I do feel some anxiety before teaching at a new school or center, but it’s really not the same.

Yesterday, I read an article titled Memo to New Teachers: Be Patient. I thought the article was good until I came to the end when the author wrote “The world is full of great artists who never came to be because of a fear of being bad before they were good.” That sentenced took my breath away. Was he talking to me? Had I let fear win?  Or, was I simply following my dharma?

In my case, I believe my skills and gifts are best served teaching children. Who knows. Maybe if I had continued teaching adults, I would have overcome my nerves and anxiety. I also believe life is too short and there are many great yoga teachers. Once I made the decision not to teach adults, I wondered if I would change my mind. It’s been over one year, though, and my mind hasn’t changed. Will it ever?

Fellow yoga teachers, how did you feel as you began teaching?  Have those feelings changed the more you teach? Yoga practitioners, do you know or sense when a teacher is a new teacher or if she/he is nervous or anxious about teaching?

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Back On My Mat….Again

the mat

 

A few months ago, I wrote about renewing my love for yoga. After a while of not practicing, I felt great being back on my mat. I felt amazing. However, I spent most of my summer off the mat. I have my reasons, aka, excuses, of course. I gave tons of Reiki sessions. I started kickboxing. I did make it to a handful of classes. Some days I even managed a home practice.

But my heart wasn’t into it as it once was. I tried to be gentle and kind to myself. I knew this was only a phase. I knew it would pass. But it was still challenging for me. I didn’t feel like I was being who I was, if that makes any sense. I continually reminded myself that yoga is not just asana or yoga poses. I knew I would eventually find my way home again.

And I have. These past few weeks I’ve been taking more classes. I actually crave yoga. I think that is what was bothering me:  I was missing the desire for yoga. Without that desire, I felt off kilter. I did love kickboxing. I also love the other workout classes that I have been trying recently. The difference is that now I can’t wait to get back on my mat. I’m looking forward to practicing with my favorite teachers and practicing with new teachers and studios.

Speaking of mats, I also purchased a new mat. It’s called The Mat by lululemon. While I have heard great things about The Mat, I always shied away from it mainly because of the logo. I typically dress head to toe in lulu and I felt silly practicing with a lulu mat. Yet after reading rave review after rave review  (and seeing it released in the color Plum), I decided to purchase it.

I blogged about finding the perfect yoga mat over a year ago. That blog post is one of my most popular blog posts. Clearly there are many yogis in the same boat. Since writing that post, I have only been using my Jade Fusion mat. I find it cushiony and non-slippery. I either haven’t broken my Manduka Pro in or I have a defective one, but it’s so slippery. I just don’t reach for it since I hate slipping.

I’ve used The Mat at least three times. Pros: It’s very grippy and lighter weight than my Jade Fusion and Manduka Pro. Cons: It shows stains and it smells. When I first opened The Mat, I laid it out in my office with the windows open for a few days. My office still smells. The Mat still smells a tiny bit but it has gotten a lot better. The thing that bother me the most are the stains, aka, sweat. When I’m in child’s pose, my forehead leaves a stain on the mat. It does go away eventually, but it’s taking me some time to get used to seeing stains as I practice. That has never, ever happened to me in any of my years of owning a yoga mat.

I bet the black mat doesn’t show stains as much. If you know me, you know I love all things purple but I may get a black one next time. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy my mat as much as possible, stains and all.

Yin & Yang

cko

A few days ago, I chatted with an acquaintance about yoga. She had taken a class or two in the past and was excited about learning more. However, when she went to the class, she felt out of place. Disoriented. Out of sorts. She wasn’t familiar with the Sanskrit names for poses or even the “regular” names.

I could relate. Two weeks ago, I decided to check out a kickboxing studio in my town, CKO Kickboxing. While I love practicing yoga, I was also feeling a bit blah with my practice. I view yoga as my spiritual practice, not as exercise. It’s definitely challenging for sure, but my body was calling for a workout.  I decided to check out a class. The first class is free and I also had a coupon for a pair of free gloves so I had nothing to lose except a lot of sweat.

It helped that I know the owner, Tara. Her daughter had taken one of my kids yoga series. I got there early and she gave me an orientation. Upper cuts, jabs, round house kicks….. It was all greek to me.

As class began, I truly felt out of my element. I found the combinations hard!  Side note: when I came home, I told my husband, a purple belt in karate,  how I found it challenging to remember the sequences. He kindly informed me the correct term was combination. In yoga, we call it a sequence.

Nevertheless, I loved it. I loved the sweat. I loved the fact that I was challenging my body and my mind with something new. I realized that it had been a very long time since I tried something new. While I do try new exercise classes here and there, this class was truly out of my comfort zone.

I also think this is a great yang to my yin yoga practice.

lulu water bottle

 

Karunamayi Part III: Another Unexpected Gift

karunamayi

I was introduced to Karunamayi, a living Saint from India, about two years ago. My meditation teacher was the one who told me about her. After my first darshan, or blessing, with her I became vegetarian. All desire to eat meat or fish was totally lifted from me. When I asked her a blessing, becoming a vegetarian was not on my list! I don’t know why this happened. All I can say is that ever since that day over two years, I have had a few bites of fish and none of meat or chicken.

When I received my second darshan last year, my husband joked and asked if I would become vegan. Nothing of the sort happened. I did cry for no apparent reason, which had happened the previous year. But aside from that, I didn’t feel anything drastic had happened or changed for me.

This year, I had family from Spain visiting me. I was not able to attend the darshan but the opportunity to participate in a half day meditation workshop opened up. One of my friends was curious about meeting her and decided to join me. As we drove there bright and early, we told each other that we didn’t have any expectations. We declared that we were fully open to experience and whatever would happen that day. We were so full of shit. Of course we had expectations!

The workshop started one hour later than what was on the website. We didn’t receive any instruction on how to meditate. We spent maybe 90 minutes in her presence which included one hour with our eyes closed meditating. Darshan wasn’t part of the program. We left disappointed.

However, the next morning I realized that I had, indeed, been given an unexpected gift. During the workshop, we practiced yoga. It was a special sequence that Amma developed. When we practiced it, I felt something. I don’t know what it was, but it was something. I did have an internal debate before purchasing the book, Yoga Is Union. The Yoga of Amma Sri Karunamayi. The book contained the sequence and also a lot more information. I have never been able to maintain a home yoga practice, despite a 300 hour Yoga Alliance certification and other workshops that I have taken focused on developing a home practice.

Shockingly enough to me, I have been practicing the sequence nearly every day. Even more shockingly, I have had the desire to teach the sequence to friends. I taught to two friends last week and will be teaching it again this week. I don’t think they have had the same experience with it as I have but they told me they have enjoyed it.

I’ve begun to read the book. The author Darin Somma, who was the one who led the practice at the workshop, writes “Everyone I have the fortune of sharing this practice with has told how profound their experience is, even yoga teachers with more than 60 years of experience have told me that Amma’s teachings revolutionized their practice!” I don’t know if my practice is revolutionized. I will keep you posted 🙂

 

It Never Goes Away

times square 1

I was fortunate to be one of 16,000 yogis who participated in yesterday’s Summer Solstice in Times Square. It was great fun. I grew up in the Bronx. I still remember when Times Square was filled with prostitutes outside the nude peep shows with my mom holding my hand and dragging me along. Times have really changed. And yet in some ways they haven’t.

I practiced behind a mother and daughter. The daughter appeared to be in her 20s. She may have been a yoga teacher or just had a regular practice. I couldn’t help but notice every time she adjusted her mother or looked at her form. It was so sweet. It made me wonder if my Mom would have practiced with me. Would I have dragged her to take a class with me?

This isn’t the first time this has happened. I see mother and daughter yogis all the time. When I was at Kripalu, I saw a few. Once, a mother and daughter took my class. During savasana, final relaxation pose, I walked around doing soothing adjustments. My heart stopped when I came to them. They were holding hands. The mom was crying. I cried too.

I thought about my Mom and sent her loving thoughts. I will never stop missing her. But I returned to the present moment and continued my practice.

times 2

toes

police

dancer in times square

 

 

 

 

Yoga Makes Me Happy

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Over the years, I’ve read or heard people’s stories on how yoga changed their life. Yogis have shared how yoga helped them through a divorce or recover from an eating disorder or through another addiction. I often felt envious of these stories, as crazy as that sounds. I never felt that yoga impacted me in such a dramatic way. Yes, practicing yoga made me feel happier and I often felt better after practicing but I couldn’t relate a huge shift due to practicing yoga. 

In class this morning, my teacher shared how one of her daughters got injured and how she handled the situation very calmly. She said she was able to be so calm because of yoga. It made me think, yet again, if there was anything that I could attribute to yoga other than my defined shoulders (my teacher commented on the muscle tone in my shoulders but honestly, I just have wide shoulders).

As I practiced, I realized that while I could not, at this time, come up with something big and dramatic, yoga has positively affected my life in subtle and not so subtle ways:

1) I am a much happier person (usually) after I practice.

2) Yoga introduced me to India. And some pretty amazing yoga teachers. And the Yoga Sutras and the Gita. And Sanskrit. And Hindu gods and goddesses such as Ganesha and Kali. Jai! And the positive effects lululemon wunder unders. Hell, even my husband, is thrilled with that discovery.

3) Practicing yoga in a group setting, whether it is at one of my local studios or in Times Square during the Summer Solstice (I am so very excited to participate again on Friday) or during a jam packed class at the Yoga Journal Conference, makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger than me, a community, a sangha, even if I never see these people again.

4) Yoga has taught me about santosha, aka, contentment. I do my best to incorporate ahimsa, the act of non-violence through my thoughts, words and deeds in my life. I try to cultivate the practice of non-attachment (and it’s hard. Really, really hard). Learning about karma, spending hours discussing karma during my yoga teacher training, changed the way I viewed life. Karma makes sense to me (most of the time). Yoga has provided me some guidelines, or the yamas and niyamas, as a way to live a happier life. I grew up believing in the 10 Commandments but the yamas and niyamas just feel different to me. 

5) Yoga has also aided in my self realization. Despite my attempts to practice non-attachment, I am attached to certain “spots” in a yoga class, mainly being towards the back and against the wall. I often force myself to be in the front but still against the wall. I need to slowly work myself to practice sandwiched between other students (gasp). My mind often wanders during yoga class. I compare myself to others. Yoga has made it clear to me that I have tight hamstrings but strong shoulders and I can get into crow. 

Yoga has probably affected me in more ways than I even realize. Does it even matter, though? Yoga makes me feel good. It helps keep me calm and sane. Everything else is just icing on the cake.

Namaste.

More Than Words

nurture cards

I’ve been teaching yoga to children for nearly two years. I never imagined myself in this position and yet here I am, doing my best to serve my students. My intention when I teach kids is to get them to smile. It sounds easy, doesn’t it?  But that’s not always the case.

I teach four classes a week to children who have suffered trauma and now demonstrate severe emotional and behavioral issues. Most, if not all, do not live with both of their biological parents. Some are adopted but aren’t aware of that. Some have one or both of their parents incarnated. Some have been expelled or suspended from school at age 5. Most of my kids can’t sit still. They will tell me “Miss Judie, I can’t help myself. I can’t stop moving.” Of course sweetheart, I think, this is not your fault.

I do my best to introduce props, songs, books, whatever I can to brighten their day. I bring in my Tibetan healing bowl. I bring in essential oils and crystals. I give out coloring sheets and stickers.

I recently entered a contest to win a deck of Nurture Cards: Affirmation Cards for Children. OMazing Kids is an AMAZING website with fabulous resources for anyone who works with children. OMazing Kids offers contests on what seems like on a daily basis. I am so grateful to them!!!

I was SO HAPPY to have won the contest. Even though the cards were shipped from Australia, they arrived very quickly. I was able to use them in my classes this afternoon. I put a card on each mat. Most of the kids do not know how to read but the ones that did took pride in reading the affirmations. I read every single affirmation. As I expected, the kids loved the cards.

Some of the affirmations were “I love myself for all that I am” and “I enjoy doing my very best in all that I do” and “I am happy to forgive the people that I love.” When one of the students got that card, we spoke about forgiveness. It was such a sweet conversation.

I wish I could show you every card! I especially love how the cards feature faces of all different skin tones. I have used yoga cards with these kids before and they once asked me how come none of the kids in the cards had brown skin. Hmm, good question! Now I specifically search for cards that have all skin colorings.

Thank you Angela at OMazing Kids and Roxanne from Nurture Cards. The world is a better place because of you.