Fear and Loathing in YTT

Carnival of Souls

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Last night I attended my weekly teacher training class. It’s three hours of learning, questioning, bliss, rapture, correction, asana, fear, terror, and everything in between. Last night it was mostly fear, self-loathing, and a complete lesson in humility. All day long I was gearing up for the fact that I would most likely have to teach. I knew from last week’s class that we would dedicate a chunk of time to teaching three poses with ‘linking’ actions. Meaning we had to choose an instruction that we could teach in all three poses that would link the three poses together, a common thread between them.  Not everyone would take a turn, but something told me I had a good chance of getting picked to teach and I’d better prepare myself, at least emotionally. So after finishing my homework assignment, an essay on the four aims of life, I checked out the teaching syllabus of postures and practiced teaching a few of them. Everything seemed to be in order. I thought about the foundation of the pose, working my way up from the feet to the legs, to the hips, and chest. I practiced how I would mirror the students, going left when they go right, etc. I was in a good place.

So class time comes and lo and behold I’m chosen to teach the first three poses for the evening. I’m given Gomukhasana (cow-faced pose, arms only) in Tadasana, Ardha Chandrasana (half moon pose), and Parsvottanasana (intense side stretch pose). Sweet, I practiced two of those before class and spent an hour over the weekend doing Ardha Chandrasana with a senior teacher in a workshop. I’m told by my teacher that in assessment you are given 40 minutes to teach six poses, so I should be able to teach these three poses in 20 minutes. Er, ok then. She gives me a few moments to skim over my notes and come up with a linking action that I can use to teach these poses. My heart is racing, my eyes are scanning the pages but not really SEEING anything, and I’m looking to my classmates for some sense of encouragement. One of them leans over and says ‘You’ll do great, break a leg.’ ‘I probably will’, I thought. Here goes! I step up to the front of the class and instantly my mouth goes dry as a bone. It should be pretty obvious to you but I’ll say it anyway, I don’t regularly teach. I keep thinking that I need to get it together, find a few friends or neighbors or total strangers for that matter, and begin a weekly class!! But it hasn’t happened yet, hence the dry-mouthed, fearful, intense class experience!

So, I dive in. I ask everyone to come watch and then I announce the pose, define the sanskrit name, and demonstrate the pose with as little instruction as possible, defining the shape of the pose instead. At least I thought that’s what I was doing. I was interrupted by my teacher every 30 seconds or so, so she could tell me how I wasn’t doing these things. I asked the class to go back to their mats so that I could lead them through the pose. More interruptions, more dry-mouth, more feeling like everything I had learned about these poses was slipping out of my brain the longer I stood in front of the class. Uh-boy. After getting through both sides of pose #1, and feeling like ‘hurray, one down and two to go,’ I was asked by my teacher, ‘Isn’t there anything else you could teach them about this pose?’ Uummmm, YES, of course there is (brain struggling to think of WHAT that is). Let’s do it again. Another demonstration, another round of teaching the pose on the right side, then the left. Look at the students, who is struggling, who needs a belt in this pose, can they see you properly, can you see THEM,  your right is their left, use direction words not abstract ones. Wow, this could take all night. And it practically did. What was supposed to take me 20 minutes took me 37!!! Not good. If this were assessment I’d get a big fat F.

Ok, I’m not going to rake myself over the coals through this entire thing. I did do a FEW things right and more importantly, I got through it!!! When my turn was over this huge wave of relief swept over me, not just because I could slide back into the depths of the classroom and be out of the spotlight, but because I faced up to the fear of teaching and survived. Even though there were so many things that needed correcting, it was a fantastic learning experience and I felt incredibly charged up afterwards. Add to that, the newfound respect I have for my teachers. There are a myriad of things that you have to be aware of and think about when you’re in front of a class full of students and keeping all those balls in the air is HARD work. Not to mention that most of my teachers make it look dead easy. So props to them (no pun intended) for learning the art of teaching and being able to do it with grace, ease and poise.

The more opportunity I take to practice teaching, the more the anxiety will decrease. For now, I have earned immunity for next week’s class so I can sit back and watch others teach. Mmmm.

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Energizing Sequence – for when you need a lift

Yoga postures Urdva_Dhanurasana

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I woke up this morning feeling a little under the weather. Not the kind of ‘under the weather’ that comes with a cold or a flu, but more the emotional kind. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I just don’t feel myself today. Kinda down-in-the-dumps, I guess.  I was about to do my home practice, which I had originally thought would be a sequence from Light On Yoga. But after contemplating this cloud that is hanging overhead, I thought I might dip into my books and find an energizing sequence that might lift me out of this mood. I don’t generally suffer from depression, but I think from time to time everyone has days like today, where you just can’t quite get the energy you need to get on with your day. Whatever it is that’s bothering me, I hope this sequence will lift me out of this funk so I can see the sunnier side of the day! I’ve posted the sequence below in case anyone is in need of a lift:

  1. Tadasana – mountain pose
  2. Urdhva Hastasana in Tadasana – arms overhead in mountain pose
  3. Utthita Trikonasana – extended triangle pose
  4. Virabhadrasana II – warrior II pose
  5. Utthita Parsvakonasana – extended side-angle pose
  6. Virabhadrasana I – warrior I pose
  7. Parsvottanasana – intense side stretch pose
  8. Virasana with Gomukhasana arms – hero pose with cow-face arms
  9. Adho Mukha Svanasana – downward facing dog pose
  10. Sirsasana – headstand
  11. Adho Mukha Virasana – child’s pose
  12. Adho Mukha Svanasana – downward facing dog pose
  13. Viparita Dandasana – inverted staff pose
  14. Ustrasana – camel pose
  15. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana – upward facing dog pose
  16. Urdhva Dhanurasana – upward facing bow pose
  17. Adho Mukha Svanasana – downward facing dog pose
  18. Uttanasana – standing forward bend
  19. Parsva Uttanasana – standing forward bend with a twist
  20. Sarvangasana – shoulderstand
  21. Halasana – plough pose
  22. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana – bridge pose
  23. Viparita Karani – legs up the wall pose
  24. Savasana – corpse pose

This sequence came from The Women’s Book of Yoga and Health by Patricia Walden and Linda Sparrowe. If you try the sequence I’d love to hear how you felt afterwards. I’m going to go give it a try right now!

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Where did my handstand go?

 

Day 31

Image by Perfecto Insecto via Flickr

 

I have had a long love/hate relationship with handstand. For years it was the pose I most dreaded in a public class. I always seemed to know exactly when my teacher was going to call it out and I always had the same response: a wince, a roll of the eyes, and a whispered ‘aw, man, here we go again’. I spent so much time flailing around in this pose, tossing one leg up in the air while the other acted as a dead weight pulling my torso back to the ground. I worked on it at home, I tried doing ‘L -pose’ at the wall, strengthening my arms and shoulders, stretching my hamstrings, turning my hands out so my shoulders would open more, looking down, looking forward, you name it. I would ask different teachers for tips and hints at how to get myself over this hurdle, this ugly dreaded thing that became a huge mountain to climb. I wanted so desperately to spring up onto my palms, legs light as a feather, feet lightly touching the wall as they rose above my head with grace, just like all the other students in the classroom were doing. Why am I the only one not getting up? At least that’s how it felt.

One day in class I was futilely kicking up with one leg, as per usual, and my teacher said “I bet Manouso (a senior Iyengar teacher) can get you up into handstand,” and I thought, you’re probably right. He’s not someone you want to disappoint in class. So sure enough, a week later I’m in Manouso’s class and he yells out adho mukha vrksasana. CRAP! My first instinct was to quietly exit the room for a pretend bathroom break. But my true desire to finally capture this pose won me over and I diligently went to the wall with my mat and set up for the pose. I kicked up once and nothing happened. I kicked up again and that’s when I felt it – that feeling of ‘ah-ha, I almost did it!’ I was a breath away from getting both feet to the wall. I don’t know exactly what happened but it was as if all this time I wasn’t using my second leg, and in that moment my second leg came to life and sprung up to meet the other one – ALMOST! Woohoo, I felt brilliant! I didn’t get up, but I captured that feeling that made me know I could get up in the very near future.  It was like a high. I don’t necessarily think it had everything to do with being in Manouso’s class, but maybe the desire to want to do it properly in his class was just the effort I needed.

The very next day I rolled out my mat in my home office, did a few hamstring stretches, and took myself over to the wall. One kick, then two kicks, voila, I was up! I could hardly believe it. I thought I might come tumbling down from the sheer shock of it. I came down and immediately tried again. It took a couple of kicks but I made it up again. But of course my wrist was starting to complain so I couldn’t hold the pose for very long. For the next few weeks I was scared to death that the pose would leave me, that if I didn’t test myself over and over again it would vanish and become like a dream. After a few months I started to take it for granted that yes, now I had finally conquered it, it would not leave me because I had finally mastered the kick-up, I too could confidently stride over to the wall in my public classes and pop up into handstand whenever my teacher called upon us to do so. Maybe not on the first kick, but absolutely by kick #3.

So here we are, nearly a year later, and my handstand practice has fallen by the wayside as I move on to other challenges put upon me by teacher training. I have specific sequences that I’m required to practice on a regular basis and they don’t include handstand. I’ve let go of my constant investigation of that pose because I have other problematic areas like getting my buttocks to drop in viparita karani or understanding and mastering the four-block ‘fort’ set up for sirsasana. I was in Carrie Owerko’s workshop a few weeks back and she instructed us to move to the wall for inversions. First we were to do several rounds of handstand. I kicked once – no go. I kicked twice – no go. I kicked a third time – no go. Holy crap, I’ve lost it. And with that, I lost some of my confidence in general for inversions. Over and over I tried until I was a sweaty, exhausted lump. Next up was pincamayurasana. My shoulders were so burnt out from all the previous work of the day that I could hardly hold the prep pose, let alone the final one. Same again – kicked up a few times and nothing happened. What the heck is going on here? I love this pose, I practiced it regularly, I should not be having this problem. More confidence slipping away. I finished the workshop and left the studio feeling uplifted for having had such a great experience with Carrie, but terrified that my inversions had fallen apart completely. Even my headstand seemed weak and unsure.

The next day I decided to put a handstand into my home practice. Needed to get back on the horse right away otherwise some serious damage might be done. After a few tries, I made it up, but my wrist felt weak and my shoulders were still screaming from the previous day’s workshop. I came down, deflated and worried. It’s been a slow decline since then. Over the last month, for one reason or another, I haven’t practiced handstand and when I decided yesterday in my home practice to do all the inversions I could muster, handstand was not attainable. I am sad to say it has left me, at least for the time being. It’s a really good lesson for me. Reminding me not to get arrogant with my practice, thinking that once I’ve gotten to a desired place with an asana that it will just be mine from now on. Every day is a new day and every day I am a different person on my mat. I’ve heard that said many times but now I really see how true that is. In class today my teacher said that practicing at a deeper level takes humility. Because you have to throw away everything you know about that pose and come at it fresh again with new eyes and new awareness. You have to be willing to give up what you think you know about that pose and allow yourself to completely re-learn how you go into it and what actions you take. This really struck a chord with me. Obviously I have to put handstand back into my practice regularly and at the same time I have to let it go, not be attached to it and how it makes me feel when I can and can’t do it. It’s just amazing the things you learn about yourself from this practice each and every day if you really listen to it.

 

 

Once again I’m back to chasing this pose.

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Yoga Alliance Registration…Is it worth it?

I recently received my yoga teacher training certificate from a 200-hr hatha yoga program that I completed in San Francisco at The Yoga Loft. The program ended in February, but it took me a few months to finish up the apprenticeship because of my move to Los Angeles. We were required to begin an apprenticeship with a teacher from the faculty, which involves attending 15 of their public classes and then observing them for 10 hours. Long story short, it took me a few extra months to finish the observation but I finally did it! Now here we are, ‘diploma’ in hand and I’m really not sure what to do next. Originally there was no doubt in my mind what I was going to do – begin an Iyengar program following the end of the current training and register with the Yoga Alliance as a 200-hour certified teacher in the mean time. That way I’d be legit, right? I assumed that most studios and gyms would expect a 200-hour certification at the very least and having my Yoga Alliance registration would mean I had some legitimacy in the field. Deep down I realize that there are plenty of amazing teachers that probably have never bothered to register with Yoga Alliance and on the flip side there are probably plenty of registered teachers that aren’t qualified to teach. Nevertheless, it seemed like the right thing to do. Yoga Alliance is supposed to give me some kind of benefit, right? At least that is the impression I’m given when I go onto their website and wind through the laundry list of things I have to do to actually become registered with them. Ok, it’s not horrific, but there are a few things that have to be done: fill out an application form, photocopy the completed certificate from the training program attended, pay a $25 application fee, and then a $55 registration fee. The registration is only good for one year, so subsequently you have to renew your membership each year, for another $55. There’s another kicker, to keep in good standing with your registration you have to complete a certain number of hours of Continuing Education credits over a three-year period. 75 hours to be exact – 45 hours of teaching in a classroom setting and 30 hours of continuing education units, 10 of which have to be ‘contact’ hours. I think it’s pretty much a given that I will continue my education in yoga far beyond the hours I spend in my current program, but it’s kind of a pain to have to make sure I document them all and turn them in to the YA.

I guess my big question is IS IT WORTH IT? What do I get in return? Will I really not get hired by a studio because I can’t hand over proof of my YA registration? Seeing as how being registered with the YA means absolutely nothing to the Iyengar community and my certification as an Iyengar teacher is this whole discussion totally moot? I imagined that I would begin to teach in some kind of casual setting between now and the time I actually reach certification as an Iyengar teacher. So that being said, I thought it might be handy to have the YA back-up plan. Especially since I would most likely end up teaching at a gym or some kind of similar setting.

There is so much debate happening right now in the yoga world over the YA and what they are and are not doing for their members. As many of you have probably heard, states are beginning to target yoga studios for regulation and licensing. There is a huge debate over this subject on the web, in blogs and forums. Some are saying that the YA is completely useless and is simply an empty institution taking our money for zero returns. I’ve even read from some that the current belief is the YA might cease to exist in the coming years because of their missteps in the whole state licensing debate. Many yogis are outraged that the YA has done nothing to step up and defend studios from being bullied by state legislators that want to charge them outrageous fees to become licensed. It wasn’t until this current debate that I began to ask myself what’s the point? If the YA may not even exist in the next few years should I just save my $55 and hope that I can find places to teach that will base their decisions on something more concrete than whether or not I have that piece of  paper?

I’d love to hear what others think of this and if they are having the same issue.

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A workshop with Donna Farhi

About a month ago I attended a two-day workshop with Donna Farhi at the Center for Yoga studio.  Saturday’s three-hour workshop was titled ‘Coming Together- the Sacro-Iliac Joint’, and Sunday’s workshop was titled ‘Calm Heart, Calm Mind’. I was SOOOOOO looking forward to this because I have heard about Donna Farhi, master teacher, for quite some time and have read books and articles she’s written. I have been hoping for a chance to meet and study with her, but since she resides in New Zealand, and travels around the world teaching for many months out of the year, the opportunity rarely comes up. I was also excited about both themes for the workshops, as I have recently been having little twingey moments with my sacrum, and the heart-opening/chest theme is always a good one.

So Saturday I make my way over to the studio, which by the way became part of the Yogaworks empire a few years back, and it was swarming with students waiting to get into the workshop. I knew Donna was a pretty popular teacher, but I wasn’t quite expecting this kind of buzz. There were probably about 60 people in attendance. The room was set up with little cushy floor chairs because she was starting with a power point presentation on the anatomy of the SI joint. I was a little disappointed that she spent a full hour on the anatomy. Not that the information was boring or irrelevant, but it left so little time for the good stuff, like moving our bodies and relating the information to our asana practice. We had a small break and then we were back to it, mats unrolled, to begin some asana. I was excited to see what new tidbits I could pick up from her, as she is quite the esteemed teacher, with many years of practice and teaching experience. Overall I enjoyed her manner, her jokes regarding the intensity with which so many yogis practice, and her references to horses (she owns horses and rides daily, apparently). She went into a lengthy discussion about how so many teachers put beginning students into harm’s way by giving them poses like supta padangusthasana (reclining big-toe pose) without telling them how to bring stability to the hip joint while doing it. So she proceeded to put us into supta padangusthasana her way. I’m a visuals kind of person, so my instinct is to draw diagrams and show pictures to explain all of this, but that’s really too complicated for my blogging purposes. So I’ll just describe it as succinctly as possible. Basically we did the pose classically, but with two exceptions. 1- the leg that usually stays extended flat on the floor, was kept bent and out to the side a bit, at an angle, similar to ‘happy baby’ pose. 2- the leg that extends up (often with a belt over the foot, if you have tight hamstrings like me) only goes off to the side (for sup.pad. II) about a third of the way, instead of all the way to the floor. This allows the hip to open without straining the low back too much and therefore causing pain or intensity to come to the sacrum. She emphasized keeping the hip deep into its socket and bringing stability to the pelvic region. Not just hanging out in the pose and allowing the legs to open beyond what was safe for our individual bodies. It did feel pretty good and I could see if I had any pain going on that this would be a nice alternative to doing the pose classically.

After that we moved on to a little bit of partnering work and restorative poses. Not a whole lot gleaned from this portion, but always nice to rest in some restorative poses near the end of an afternoon.

Day two of the workshop was very similar to Day one. She went over another power point presentation in anatomy. One of the things she spoke about on both days that really stuck with me was the idea of working safely within the confines of our individual structure. Don’t fight your own structure. She stressed that we needed to make friends with our bodies and not force it to do things it just isn’t meant to do. To really be ok with our own limitations and to work within them instead of constantly battling them.

Another concept that she spoke about quite a lot was the image of our ribcage being a ‘down bucket’ and our pelvis being an ‘up bucket’. In other words they are shaped like buckets, one with its opening down and the other up. She talked a lot about keeping the two openings of the buckets aligned – keeping the lip of the down bucket sealed with the lip of the up bucket. She demonstrated in standing poses how when one of the buckets is tilted in the opposite direction to the other, there is instability, often causing the lower back to jam.

Virabhadrasana II

For instance, we each got a partner and one person got into Virabhadrasana II, while the second person pushed against the front knee (just under the knee, not directly on it!!) using the webbing between the thumb and index finger. If the ‘doing’ person’s buckets were aligned the weight should automatically shift straight back through their pelvis and down into their back heel. If the ‘doing’ person’s buckets were not aligned and their pelvis was tilting too far forward or their ribcage was popping forward, the weight would jam into their low back causing this area to pinch and cause pain or damage. These habits, or samskaras, of over-extending in the low back or pelvis cause instability and over time can cause injury. This whole concept is nothing new in the Iyengar system, but I’ve never had it described to me in this way. I loved seeing how the weight could be distributed just by shifting slightly in the pelvis or ribcage and I really like the imagery of the buckets. It made it simple for me to think about in the pose and to translate to my students (one day).

We went on to experiment with this in other standing poses like Utthita Trikonasana (triangle pose) and Parsvakonasana (extended side angle pose). Going inwards and finding our own bad habits and trying to create new ones. Which is the whole aim of yoga, to purify karma. Something we’ve been talking about a lot in teacher training, so I had to point that out.

We finished with a nice chest opener, Donna’s version of setu bandha sarvangasana (bridge pose). We took one blanket folded so it was twice the size of a headstand blanket and then made small 4″ pleats in it so it looked like an accordion. With a bolster under the knees, you lie back over this accordion blanket so that it is just under the thoracic spine. We put a rolled blanket under the neck, rolled only part of the way, just so the neck was slightly extended but completely supported. She kept us here for about 7-10 minutes and it felt so lovely! I’d like to add this one to my restorative sequence and the menstruation sequence. Or any day you just feel like you need to be really gentle with yourself.

Over all I enjoyed the workshop with Donna. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but I did walk away with a few ideas to chew on for the next few months and some nice alternative poses to give to any students I might come across with SI joint issues. I would recommend taking a workshop with her to find out your own perspective on her style. She definitely teaches from her own experience and does not seem to come from any particular style or lineage. I did not agree entirely with everything she said, being an Iyengar student- that happens all the time, but I think it’s good to challenge your own ideas and to really investigate why you believe something. Do I believe it just because my teacher told me so, or because I found it to be true in my own experience through my own practice? That’s where I’m at right now in my learning, trying to really be authentic to what happens in my own practice and finding the experiential truth in what I’ve been taught.

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practicing the menstrual sequence

Every month as my cycle approaches I tend to dread doing the menstrual sequence. I’ve never been a big fan of forward bends and especially supported ones. They sound like they should feel great, right? SUPPORTED forward bends. Usually anything supported feels pretty yummy and relaxing, but for me these make me feel uncomfortable and head-achey.  Manouso, one of my teachers, often says “If you want to be a popular yoga teacher, don’t teach forward bends.” So I guess I’m not alone.

So this week, when it came time to do the sequence for my home practice, I noticed that I was actually looking forward to a more restful practice. It’s been a hectic month and this week in particular I’ve been feeling really fatigued. So a slower, calming practice seemed really appropriate.

I have a pre-determined sequence given to me by the teacher-training faculty for this time of the month and it even tells me exactly how long I should hold each pose. I’ve included the sequence at the end of this post for any who would like to try it. As much as I’m complaining about it, it actually is a pretty good sequence and I must say I felt pretty good afterwards. It takes about an hour and 15 minutes to get through the whole thing if you hold the poses for as long as suggested. Depending on how available your props are and how long you take to set things up, it could go a little quicker or a little longer. All of the poses are meant to be supported in one way or another. Usually with a bolster. I’m lucky enough to have a chair and a setu bandha bench, so a couple of the poses are really quick and easy for me to get into.

supported upavista konasana

I tried really hard to open myself up to the forward bends and not just grumble through them, hating every second of it. I realized that maybe my discomfort was from my own ego not letting me prop myself up higher than I think I should. It’s poses like this that really allow you to check yourself. I have officially been checked. Once I gave myself permission to build a huge, soft, cushy wall for my head to rest on, the pose felt so much more relaxing and I could breathe into my hamstrings instead of fidgeting the whole way through. Ok, I confess, I still did a fair amount of fidgeting, but a tower of props teetering on a bolster isn’t the easiest thing to wrangle.

supported viparita dandasana

Once I got through the forward bends it was smooth sailing into sweetness. What I DO love about this sequence is getting to do supta baddhakonasana (see prior post on most loved pose) and a supported version of dwi pada viparita dandasana (two-foot inverted staff pose), which is heavenly to me! I finished with setu bandha sarvangasana (bridge pose) over my homemade bench (made for me by a fellow student in the program who is a fabulous carpenter).

Overall it was a nice sequence and I felt pretty great afterwards. I get to do it all again tomorrow morning and with any luck those forward bends will be even easier with my new attitude!

Menstrual Sequence : all poses done with support

Adho Mukha Virasana (downward-facing hero, or child’s pose – over bolster)          3 min. Adho Mukha Swastikasana (downward-facing crossed legs – head on block)             2 min. Dandasana (staff pose – sitting on blankets)                                                                      2 min. Janu Sirsasana (head-of-knee pose – fold over bolster, rest head)           1 1/2-2 min. /side Triang Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana (three limbs face one foot)    1 1/2-2 min./ side Paschimottanasana (back body intense stretch – over bolster, rest head)                3-5 min. Upavista Konasana (seated angle pose – fold arms on chair, rest head)                        3 min. Baddha Konasana (bound angle pose – rest head on chair or bolster)                           3 min. Supta Baddha Konasana (reclining bound angle pose -lie back onto bolster)              5 min. Supta Virasana (reclining hero’s pose – lie back onto bolster)                                       5 min. Viparita Dandasana (inverted staff pose – sit in chair, lie back w/ head on bolster)  5 min. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (bridge pose – on bench or lying on bolsters)                  5 min. Adho Mukha Swastikasana (as before, first pose)                                                           1 min. Savasana                                                                                                                             5-10 min.

supta baddhakonasana over bolster

Tell me what you think if you try it.

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workshop with Carrie Owerko

Carrie Owerko

I had the chance to take a workshop this weekend with Carrie Owerko, a senior Iyengar yoga teacher from NYC that teaches at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of NY. What an amazing teacher and fantastic workshop!! Carrie’s knowledge of the sutras and yogic philosophy is obviously quite extensive and she weaves this knowledge into her class in a beautiful way that really makes it accessible.

It was a three-hour workshop and she covered so many things it would take me ages to share all of it. So I’ll just touch on some highlights that I really enjoyed. First, I just want to say that Carrie has a very warm, fun-loving, compassionate personality that fills the room when she is teaching. Iyengar yoga teachers have had a bad rap over the years, sometimes described as being cold, strict, mean, or harsh. Carrie is none of those things and it is so nice to see a teacher at this level be so playful and inquisitive. You really get the sense that you are along for the ride, as she examines and experiments with poses, philosophy, principles, and ideas of the practice. Laughing and in awe of what she finds. It was a real joy to experience this.

A theme that she touched on several times throughout the weekend was the idea of approaching the pose with two things in mind: center of gravity and direction. Where is your center of gravity and where are you going? Are you moving up, down, back, forward? She’s not just meaning the direction you move in to get into the pose, but the action of the pose while you are in it. Like when you are in downward-facing dog and although your body is no longer moving, there is an action while you are in the pose, the action of drawing upwards. If you ask yourself where is your center of gravity and what direction are you going in, you can really begin to understand the pose and what the actions are. How you can refine it, change it, and explore it. We did a lot of this in the workshop. Putting our feet up on blocks for downward-facing dog, then doing the pose without the blocks to see the difference. Where does it feel different, why does it feel different, and what can I do with this information?

We worked a lot with the shoulders and the outer rotation of the arms. She showed us several variations on setting up for pincha mayurasana. First with the block in its usual place, but the arms are not belted, and the hands are on the outside of the block, even the thumbs. The thumbs rest along the sides of the block and the fingers turn out, so the upper arms rotate from inside out. This keeps the elbows from spreading out and therefore eliminates the need for a belt. It puts the shoulder blades right where you want them so you’re more supported going into the pose. Then we rolled a mat and placed it just under the elbows so the upper arms were slightly elevated (playing with our center of gravity). We used a belt this time and turned the palms to face the block, so our lower arms, wrists, and palms were like they are in sirsasana. Except the palms were squeezing the block instead of clasped. This also helps teach beginning students the arms for sirsasana.

Throughout the entire workshop she had us coming back to the turned-out hands position, repeating it for many other poses so they all linked together through this action, and showed us how the work of the shoulders and arms is very much the same for so many poses. We carried this into our sirsasana by holding the block in the same way as we did for pincha mayurasana and placing the back of the head against the block. My shoulders were insanely tired by this point, so I bobbled and wobbled the entire time I was in the pose. We then carried this arm rotation and hands-turning-out action into our work with backbends, like dwi pada viparita dandasana (two foot inverted staff pose).

dwi pada viparita dandasana

By the end of the three hours I was tired, mushy, and really happy that I had listened to my friend and signed up for this workshop. Carrie’s coming back to the institute in December and I am already anticipating her return. I can’t wait to play and laugh and see what gems she will reveal to us.

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