Wednesday, July 2, 2014

YogaFit Training: Level 4 (Minneapolis MBF) - LONG!

This past weekend I was in Minneapolis at YogaFit’s Mind Body Fitness (MBF) conference to attend the Level 4 training.  This is what they consider their most “intensive”, covering four days from 8a till 6p every day.   From my perspective, this was not the most rigorous training I have experienced – my initial Ashtanga Teacher Training and several subsequent weekend Ashtanga workshops fit that category.  In fact, I thought this was a fairly relaxing weekend as far as trainings go. 

I would have preferred to have blogged every day, but in this day of ready internet access, getting a free and open wifi signal in downtown Minneapolis was darn near impossible.  Hotel charged for access in room, and I certainly wasn’t paying for the three hours I would be awake in the room each evening.  We weren’t provided a password for the meeting rooms – though that might have been intentional.  We’re there to focus on training, not our phones.  Minneapolis does provide wifi, but from what I could tell, you needed a secret codeword for that as well.  The standard Starbucks and Caribou coffee shops were inundated with pods and gaggles of teenage girls and their chaperones who were in town for a National Volleyball Championship and not conducive to hanging out. 

So, I’m going from memory a bit here.  

The Level 4 YogaFit session roughly covers:
The Bhagavad Gita (as translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda)
The Yoga Sutras by Pantanjali (as translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda)
Yogic Philosophy as relates to Gita and Sutras
History of Yoga
Sanskrit pronunciation (The Language of Yoga by Nickoli Bachman)
Advanced Pose breakdown

I’m going to review by topic rather than by day since we covered multiple – and often the same - subjects each day.   And I’ll do it from what impressed me most to least from my perspective.  Please recall, this is NOT my first workshop or Teacher Training experience; I did a TT200 in 2004-2005 and more worshops than I can list here.  

Ready?  Okay!  Here I go!    

Sanskrit pronunciation  (The Language of Yoga by Nicolai Backman)
For the first time in 10 years, I got a solid breakdown of the Sanskrit language, touching on vowel and consonant pronunciation, spelling and the postures themselves.  Until now, it has been somewhat glossed over or I’m expected to learn the language through call-and-response or by osmosis.   The Level 4 instructor talked us through it visually (we had our manuals in front of us), then brought that to the mat for some call-response work and association, and later, working on looking up the words for a crossword.

This was  introduced early in the weekend, and we just kept building on it. Lots of repetition which I appreciated.  Now I did have the advantage that I knew many of the asana names from the Asthanga sequence, but my pronunciation was sorely lacking. 

One student did ask, Why are we learning Sanskrit when the whole point of YogaFit is to make this accessible and non-elitist to the general population?   And now we’re bringing in that very thing YogaFit wants to avoid?    The response was that yoga comes from a very rich and ancient culture, Sanskrit is an integral part of that history, and as instructors, we should be aware of the root language of the postures we are teaching. 

The Bhagavad Gita (as translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda)
This was not my first reading of the Gita, and I have led discussion on this well known and quite epic book.  I will say straight-up I am by NO means an expert or even partial expert.  However, out of all the yogic texts I have read, the Gita is my favorite.  I did read the edition required (well, I’m about halfway through it as of this posting) and have every intent of finishing it.  I was a bit disappointed we did not spend more time on Gita – it was just a couple of hours and not really even on the story itself, more the parables Sri Satchidananda included in his translation and explanation.   I was impressed with how many people in the class had taken it upon themselves to read the book. 

The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali (as translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda)
My first introduction to the Sutras in 2004 left me more confused than “enlightened”.   Now, after 10 years, it made a bit more sense.  I appreciated the instructor having us read this out loud, and then we tied it in with sub-stories from the Gita.  Where I was at a disadvantage was I opted not to buy the recommended edition (above) because I have three other copies of the Yoga Sutras.  After this session, I might go get Sri Satchidananda’s version. Maybe…

I can’t carry a tune period.  Small animals run from my attempt to sing.  My dogs cover their ears.  But!  I can chant!  I like chanting. I like the call and response. I like the sound. I love the energy.   The instructor tied in common chants and their themes with class throughout the weekend.  At one point, several Levels came together and we did group chanting for about half an hour.  The more voices the better! 

We also discussed the use of mantra in meditation, daily life, and as a chant.  We discussed the symbol and sound of OM.  Again, much of this was refresher for me, but I appreciated hearing it again.

Add into this eclectic mix we learned about mudras (symbolic hand gestures) and how to incorporate them into a class. 

Yogic Philosophy (Kleshas, Gunas)
Not as in depth as some training I had, which I think was ok.  This can get pretty esoteric so keeping to the generalities I think was good.  This provided a base upon which to continue building and gave further clarity to the Sutras and Bhagavad Gita.

Advanced Pose Breakdown - 22 poses with a focus on arm balances and inversions
This is where Level 4 fell short of the mark for me.  YogaFit has a very strong adherence to safety and approachability in their class design, structure and philosophy.   Up until now the poses they picked to represent each level was a reflection of that.   The poses they offered for Level 4 were quite advanced even by the Ashtanga lineage.    In particular Tadasana to Dhanurasana (mountain to bow pose – a drop back) and then in reverse, coming up from bow pose to mountain.   And Vrschikasana (Scorpion) – a "general population" can barely do Pincha Mayurasana (Feather of a Peacock) unmodified and now we're learning this?!  So much for approachability and working with a general population. 

 Vrshtikasana pose; Beautiful, no? Photo from internet
In the 10 years I have been teaching Ashtanga, I have not had one student have the openness in their shoulders or front to do a dropback or pop-up.  I have ONE student in my regular vinyasa classes, and she is an ex-gymnast.   Same situation for Scorpion Pose.   The ONE student at the training who could do these poses was also a ex-professional gymnast. 

The instructor also kept calling poses incorrectly or saying that one name was the same for many.  No, not so!  Since the poses for the Level Four are also found in the Ashtanga Primary and Secondary series (and the Language of Yoga reading, which IS the Ashtanga Primary and Secondary series) I am quite familiar with most of them.   Kurmasana (tortoise) and Supta Kurmasana (sleeping tortoise) are two different poses with their own modifications.   Uttana Padanasana is NOT Matsyansana.  If YogaFit is going to require using a Sanskrit book, then they should make sure that the poses in their YogaFit manual MATCH THE BOOK. If nothing else, refer to BKS Iyengars "Light on Yoga" manual. 

I was also disappointed at how little time we spent breaking these down.  Maybe a half hour – hour each day for all 22ish?  NO discussion on the contraindications and minimal modifications offered.  I felt that when I did bring up a contraindication for clarification, I was brushed off.   It was as if the instructor felt none of us would actually bring these to a class so why work on them.  Very disappointing.

Deep breath…trying to let it go.  Let it goooo….

In conclusion, a very worthwhile training despite my issues with the posture selection and breakdown in this session.   I still recommend the YogaFit system for someone who might be thinking about embarking on a new journey for personal growth and teaching. 

Next on board will be the Anatomy and Alignment training in August, which is the session that started me on YogaFit path.  I’m looking forward to the training very much.  And I’m signed up for Level 5 next year, again in Minneapolis.