Friday, June 29, 2012

What we expect of Instructors: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

In the past I've talked about student quirks and what teachers sometimes cope with in any given class. I've also discussed the expectations on a student - new or not - in a yoga class. But lately I've been cogitating on our expectations for Teachers/Instructors - what things might jolt a student out of their practice, or make them shake their head and go "Say what?!"

You've been there. You cannot practice yoga and not have experienced something that made you snort in disbelief or cringe in awkwardness.

Here a few things that I've observed over the years that I've found disturbing, and I know mine are pretty mild compared to some stories I've heard.   You might have other observations - please share so we can all improve!

The Ugly

Toenail fungus. If that wigs you out just reading about it, imagine having said instructor step on your mat. Teachers (and students) please! pay attention to the condition of your feet. My gut reaction was I wanted to leap up and immediately clean my mat. I didn't want to even go near that spot so I spent the rest of class figuring out how to do asana while not grossing myself out. How's that for being yanked out of a practice?

Dried, cracked and dirty feet. Again, pay attention to the condition of your tootsies.

Coffee breath (bad breath in general). Not quite as bad as above, but it can be distracting and disturbing to be in a pose, have the instructor come over to offer advice or adjustment in the customary whisper, and be totally knocked out from bad breath. Not cool. Brush your teeth before class if you can, mints often just don't cut it.

Excessive swearing.  Actually anykind of swearing at all.  I was at a workshop with an internationally know instructor and this guy swore like a sailor.  Um...really?  Do you have to drop the "F" bomb to show us what a totally awesome Dude you are?  Made me laugh and shake my head and I couldn't take him seriously anymore.  

The Bad

Flow-y yoga clothes that aren't far removed from lingerie. As a student, I'm here to practice. Not watch you parade around in front of class in something that looks like it's come off the cover of Victoria Secrets magazine. I also don't need to see what kind of thong, boxers or BVD’s you are wearing today.

Lack of deodorant. Again, if you are moving into someone's personal space, don’t knock them breathless with lack of hygiene. Slap a little on before class to freshen up. It goes a long way.

Stepping on peoples mats. I fully admit I'm uber quirky about my mat. I do NOT like people touching it. I do NOT use public mats. Nothing grosses me out more (well, the toenail fungus thing does) than knowing someone with questionable feet stood where I'm now resting my face. As an instructor, I try very hard not to step on peoples mats.

Incense sticks. Many studios are generally small, confined spaces that may or may not have good air circulation. Please, don't leave the incense stick burning throughout class. There are scent sensitive people out there who find the smell cloying and suffocating and will react negatively to it. While I'm not scent sensitive, I can't stand the smell of four incense sticks burning away while I'm trying to move through my vinyasa session.   Phew!

Timeliness. Start and end class on time.

The Good

Learning people’s names. Yes, easier for some than others. Do try.

Check in with the class at the start. How is the class feeling that day? For example, up here in Duluth have a nationally recognized Marathon in our area that a lot of people run or volunteer at. I've learned to do a restorative flow class the Monday after the event - it encourages people to come and stretch and takes away the worry about 'making' through an ashtanga session.

Check in with the students during class. Teach yourself to recognize that the awesome sequence you came up with isn't coming across as well as you thought it would. Learn to ratchet back when necessary.

Acknowledge the White Elephant in the Room.  It puts everyone at ease.  An example, your Level II/Intermediate Vinyasa  class has a couple of drop in students who have never taken yoga before.  Let the regulars know by saying something as simple as, "we have a very mixed group today, from folks who are new to yoga to folks who've been practicing for X years. Remember to work at the level appropriate for you."  

Admit when you've goofed something up.  A simple whoops! Let's try that again, or Oops! That didn't work quite like I thought it would goes a long way.

Laugh at yourself. You are going to miscue a pose. You are going to screw up a sequence. You are going to misspeak. Instructors are human and we're multitasking when standing in front of a room. We are going to goof something up.  If you can laugh at yourself (out loud even!) it will go so much better.

Picture from the internet

Monday, June 18, 2012

Fear of Sitting Still

Sara, over on Do Restorative Yoga, is blogging about her 30 Day Meditation Challenge.  In this post:  Day 13, she noted that she had a difficult time coming to stillness this particular day and how she addressed that; which got me to contemplating about movement and sitting. 

In the Ashtanga tradition as I have learned it, one moves for an hour and a half, focusing on the breath and bandhas.  This in itself becomes a moving meditation.  A very traditional version of this would be the practice, followed by pranyama, seated meditation and chanting.

Select Buddhist lineages incorporate a walking meditation that may or may not use a path.  The practitioner follows the path inward, each step being placed in mindfulness, mind focused on the here and now.  Buddhists don't necessarily focus so much on the breath, feeling that the body can breath well enough on its own.

And I don't recall where I was at the time, but I found a similar prayer/mediation wheel based off of Native American spirituality, where the practitioner would go from compass point to compass point within the circle and mediate at each cardinal direction. 

And some people use running or cycling or swimming as a form of meditation, a way to clear the head, to think things through, or to let thoughts and emotions settle.

But what I got cogitating on was: are people really afraid of looking inward? or are people actually afraid of sitting still

It's as if there is a stigma, a black mark, something, about the act of not moving that some people just fight.  I especially see this in the A-type personalities.  NOT moving = bad!  If you aren't moving then the house isn't getting cleaned, the kids are getting shuttled, the [insert job/task here] isn't being done, you are a slacker!  Your fitness levels are going to decrease!  The kids are going to fall behind in activities!  Checklists aren't getting checked off!   There is palatable angst about just sitting.

Now, granted, sometimes work schedules, families and outside forces do dictate what a person can and can't do.  I do not want to trivialize anyone one who is juggling work schedules and families. 

Admission time: yes, I have a hard time coming to stillness - I LOVE sitting still, I just have a hard time getting there! 

So, what can a person do?  Here are some of my recommendations:

  • If you do yoga, sit in stillness before or at the end of class.  Are you able to arrive early?  Some studio's are open before class to permit the practitioners to come and just sit.  Take 5 or 10 minutes if you're able.  For some people, traditional savasana doesn't work for them - they take deep relaxation as a meditation. 
  • I purposely taught myself how to knit so I would sit still.  Yes.  The action of following my stitches and sitting still induces a meditative state for me.  I can now sit in contentment for upwards of an hour now.  Ahhh....
  • If possible (you are kid free or rise before the kids), just sit over your cup of coffee in the morning.  Turn of the TV, turn off the radio, sit and feel the warmth of the cup between your hands.  Look out the window or close your eyes.  Just take 5 minutes of quiet and stillness.
  • Taking a longer trip somewhere and you're not driving?  Plug into one of the resources Sara has mentioned, take a few grounding an centering breaths and meditate! 
Just remember to put the phone in another room, turn it to vibrate, or even just turn it off.  In most circumstances, there is nothing that can't wait 15 minutes. 

Does anyone out there have any other recommendations for coming to stillness when the body or mind doesn't want to? 

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Science of Yoga by William J Broad; Part VII Muse

This final chapter dealt with the idea or concept of Yoga as Muse from an artists standpoint, using well known actors and musicians from the 1940's through modern times as examples.  I rather wondered why this chapter was in the book; from a scientific standpoint, there wasn't much science behind this - all the other chapters had already expounded on how yoga affects our physical and mental health, how yoga affects the brain chemistry, our sympathetic and parasympathetic systems and even testosterone levels.

So yeah, if you are doing yoga it might inspire your creativity.  Your brain is flush with chemicals, your muscles are relaxed, you are rested, you've had your green smoothie because you know the importance of eating right, and you had awesome sex the night before.  So why wouldn't yoga inspire creativity? 

An odd chapter in my opinion that really didn't add much. 

So with Part VII: Muse, I will end my review of the Science of Yoga.  I will let you read the Epilogue without my commentary.  These chapter reviews are just my opinion and interpretation on what I thought was a fairly good read overall.  If you were expecting this to be an in depth look at yoga from a philosophical viewpoint, look elsewhere.  If you are thinking of doing yoga, are doing yoga, or just want a better understanding of the science behind the practice, I would recommend this book. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Science of Yoga by William J Broad; Part VI Divine Sex

This chapter felt incomplete and unsubstantial after the rest, like we crested a massive hill in Part IV and V, and now we're on the downside.  Which is not what one would think when reading a chapter on sex.

In a nutshell, yoga can improve the quality of your sex life.  It does it through the manipulation of testosterone. 

Simplified? Oh yes, but that's rather what I pulled out of this.  It seemed there was so much focus on the chemical aspect of yoga affecting sex, that it didn't at all take into account that a) people who do yoga tend to lead healthier lives, and b) if you are leading a healthier life, then generally your sex life is going to be better and c) yoga makes you calm and if you are calm, your are going to be more receptive to your partner, etc.

This chapter discussed at length the role testosterone has in doing yoga, it touched on a handful of poses that are known to stimulate our base desires and discussed at length the Kundalini practice. 

I have to say, I started to lose interest.  Not my favorite chapter.