Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

I know I get gushy about this probably more than people want to hear it, but I really really love my job. There has never been a single class where I’ve left and thought “Wow, that was crappy” or “Man, I totally just wasted my time.” In every single class, someone has an ‘a-ha!’ moment or at the end of class, there are big sleepy smiles. I get to put a little awesome in someone’s day and it is the best feeling ever.

It makes me sad that I’m leaving this area, just as I’m starting to REALLY have a following, but it’s nights like tonight that convince me I’ll keep teaching wherever I’m at. 

First classes are hard. I used to get really nervous that I’d trip over my words or give fumbling descriptions, or that someone would injure themselves. Now I don’t really get nervous. I worry that someone will leave and not have enjoyed the class, but that’s a subset to making sure that everyone in the room feels comfortable. I think I’m pretty successful at that. First classes are tough because there is SO MUCH STUFF going on in every stretch that you can’t talk about all of it. So trying to get enough in that people can choose the work they want to do, without overloading them or chattering nonstop, is a fine balance to strike.

Based on the feedback I get from students, my style seems to be very approachable and laid back. I show that I don’t take it too seriously and the students get comfortable pretty quickly. I also talk about how I’m lazy and cheap, so I think that helps. ;)

So yeah. Tonight was a nice class in a new place. Makes your brain work differently!


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Tonight’s class was awesome.

Warrior III (Virbadrasana III) is a challenging position because it involves balancing on one leg, bending so that the length of the body is parallel to the floor (hamstrings! glutes!), and extending the arms forward to lengthen the spine and open the chest. Keeping the hips parallel to the floor (as though you were going to balance a tray on the buttocks) makes it even more work. The toes, feet, and ankles have to compensate for fluctuations in your balance. Squeezing the thighs together activates the gluteus minimus and draws strength into the core – as does engaging the shoulders and hands.

With a lot of asanas, the internal voice takes over. “I’m not flexible enough. My balance isn’t good. I don’t look like s/he does. I’m not doing this right. I’m going to hurt myself. I look ridiculous.” It’s a classic fear of not fitting in or not being ‘good’ enough. It’s the biggest challenge in any exercise class but (it seems) especially in yoga because people are trying to tune into their bodies.

For that reason, I like to balance a challenging position with a *more* challenging position. I use blocks and any additional props to help facilitate the work, but in my experience it’s most effective to face the fear than to modify away from it.

In tonight’s case, We started with the normal breathing and hamstring stretching. Then we walked through sun salutations. Cat and cow stretch, flying angels, dolphin, seated spinal twists, and standing side stretches. Once everyone was sufficiently warm, I introduced Warrior III. Everyone got two blocks – one for the front of the mat and one to hold. We placed the block on the mat by doing a forward fold and lining the block up with the shoulder for the best support.

To start, we came into the position without the arms. Hinge forward, extend the back leg.

The second time, we came into it and engaged the arms by squeezing the block – either under the chest or with the arms extended forward.

The third time, we did the modified version – hands on the blocks (use the block you’re holding to balance on the floor block if necessary – and focused on extending the back leg while keeping the hips parallel to the floor.

Then we switched to Half Moon. There are any number of ways to come into the position, but we started by folding forward, placing a hand (or two) on the block and extending the back leg. Then we opened the front of the body toward the long end of the mat (as though your back is pressed against a wall). It’s balance work, core work, hip stretch, and arm work. It’s tough for a lot of people and the most common reason is fear.

It feels unnatural. It feels wobbly and sometimes unsafe. And the internal voice takes over.

This is why I emphasize props. Everyone has structural differences and structural limitations. No one’s stretch looks exactly like someone else’s. Props help you feel more comfortable trying to get where you’re going and help you do it safely.

One of my students said, “I can’t do this.” While I never want someone to feel that limited in a class, I love that she felt comfortable saying so. And then I got to help her fly.

By providing support at her hip, I kept her from feeling like she was going to topple over (for the same effect at home, do this with your hips pressed against the wall). The first time, she was tentative – not wanting to release and open up her chest. Once she realized that she had support and could feel safe, she let go. And when we switched to the other side, there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation before she opened right up. It was completely awesome.

But that’s not the best part.

After Half Moon I talked about how one of the best things about yoga is that it keeps you humble. If your concentration is off, balance is more difficult. You have to recognize the limitations of your body in each asana. Yoga is process oriented rather than goal oriented – and your process changes each time you try something.

We went back to Warrior III. And everyone came up immediately, very little wobble and great extension. And they HELD it. Not indefinitely, obviously, but long enough to not just balance, not just lift, but also lengthen their bodies. I told them not to think about lifting themselves up – think about it like flying. And when we got done with both sides, everyone had HUGE smiles on their faces. What seemed really challenging five minutes ago wasn’t NEARLY as hard as they’d thought it was. They had huge confidence because they’d just faced a bigger challenge. Confidence makes all the difference.

Pushing your boundaries can be good. Trying new things makes your brains work in new ways, but it also gives you a different view of yourself when you’re done. And even though Half Moon seemed really difficult today, there’s something you can do tomorrow that will make you think differently about it. 

It’s an amazing feeling to be able to convey the ‘journey’ part of yoga in a class and see that everyone left the room lighter.

The woman I assisted came up to me after class and we had a conversation about the fear of flying. She left feeling better about how she practices and about her own abilities.

That’s what I’m here for. 


I also used the mix I posted yesterday in class and it was really well received. A pretty great blend of upbeat and mellow tunes that led to JUST enough dancing and smiling.

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In my classes lately, I’ve been doing a lot more sun salutations + variations (warrior I, warrior II, triangle, extended side angle, et cetera). It works really well to warm the students up but, more importantly, reinforces that while Sun Sals are a very basic series, you can use them to build your own yoga practice. The most common complaint from new students is that they’re unsure how to establish a home practice. Sun Salutations is the key to success. It is a basic series of motions with infinite potential for variety.

I tend to start with the modified version (knee to floor in lunge, modified plank, modified plank push-up rather than up dog) and then gradually increase the level of work (knee away from floor, holding plank longer, more difficult variations on updog/locust, extended down dog positions). It builds heat in the muscles steadily and more importantly reinforces the series of motions. If you forget what comes next, do the next thing you remember. My hope is that because we keep going through them in class, you can do them on your own in the morning/evening/whenever you get a few minutes and that’s what builds home practice.

I HOPE that’s what it’s doing anyhow. Sun Salutations are also comforting for me. Limited amount of concentration, maximum amount of muscle effort. It’s like reading a book you love for the 137th time, you know where it’s going and you still like getting there.

Speaking of books, I’ve been on an intensive reading kick lately and have cranked through about 5 books in the last three days. Some have been better than others and I’m definitely discovering some writers I’ll keep looking for.

Microbiology continues to be intensive. Lab exam next week.

Yes, I watched the debate.

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Instead of making a yoga post, you get a yoga bullet: good point about teaching in a gym- lower price makes the classes more accessible. Challenging point about teaching in a gym – more likely to have brand new students and fairly experienced students in the same class. I think I generally balance it out pretty well.

Having already exposed my (not so) secret love of Wipe Out, I figured I’d also comment on my other reality faves. Currently I’m also watching the Denise Richards show, Flipping Out, and Shear Genius.

The Denise Richards show (Denise Richards: It’s Complicated) has become a surprise favorite. I think the title is ridiculous, but I would *totally* hang out with that chick. She’s kind of shockingly normal, all things considered, and has a great sense of humor about herself.

Flipping Out. AMAZING. I can’t say how MUCH I love this show. Jeff is a nutbag. He’s a completely self-aware nutbag who ALSO has a sense of humor about himself. That’s got to be pretty rare. Also, wickedly talented at remodeling houses. Mostly I watch for the crazy.

Shear Genius is the hair version of Project Runway. The challenges are more interesting than I had expected they would be, mostly because the stylists also have to take into account what their clients want. They don’t get a blank slate to start with and sometimes that workes entirely against their purposes. Also, Daniel and Charlie are BRILLIANT.

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Today’s yoga included hanging out in the rain. I love rainy days and this one was particularly nice because it stayed warm. So I stood out in the breeze and rain and just stretched. Nice deep breaths of that clean, wet air, deep side stretches, big crescent lunges.

That provided inspiration for my class tonight. We did the usual cat/cow/dolphin and then moved to sun sals with lunge variations. And then we went to lunges followed by pigeon prep. Pigeon is one of those asanas that people seem to love or hate, and ocassionally learn to love.

I find it to be really comforting and rarely get a deeper hip stretch than folding forward in prep. I think about trying to lower my entire abdomen – belly to collarbones – to the floor. Even though I don’t make it all the way down, thinking about having that weight distribution helps to lengthen the front of my body. And before I come out, I do a twist (though I didn’t inflict that on students tonight).

I provided more handstand pointers and then came home for a dinner of Thai Chicken Pizza (which was more delicious than I thought it might be).

Today I got a spray tan and let me tell you, if you can do it – do it. I’m a pale girl and it only took about 15 minutes to get the whole thing done. 5 hours later, I’m a light golden brown (which is as tan as I’ve ever been in real life) and not worried about skin cancer. Well, not any more than usual. But I’m tan! And it didn’t require lying outside sweating!

I also finally uploaded pictures from my house project (that which ate my life for a couple of weeks) and of my hair color/cut progression in the last month. I feel far more accomplished than I should – especially since I’ve got an Anatomy and Physiology exam this week.

Speaking of which, I need to review some slides.

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It was rainy and warm tonight, so I wasn’t sure if there would be a lot of people in class (which sometimes happens when the weather is bad) or no one (which happens more often). It was more of a middle ground, with 4 students – one new, one second-timer, and two returners.

The new student had some yoga experience, which is always interesting because every teacher has a different style and many have different ‘methods.’ For example, many teachers have students “roll up to standing” from a forward fold. I don’t. Ever.

While I’m not a fan of One True Wayism, I am a believer in physics. Rolling up is bad for lower back vertebrae because it places the fulcrum in an unsafe and unsupported location. My opinion, your mileage may vary. I should also mention that my only other hard and fast yoga rule is that the only WRONG way to do yoga is if it hurts. Yoga should not hurt. NOT EVER. If you’re in a class and something hurts, stop what you’re doing (back out of the position) and flag down your teacher for assistance.

Rather than blog a specific asana today, I thought I’d talk about hands.

When students are on their hands and knees, they often complain about wrist pain – some right away, some after an extended time in Table positon, et cetera. It’s completely normal, the same thing happened to me when I began practicing, but there are ways of alleviating this compression.

1. You could buy a wedge. A yoga wedge will provide a bit of lift under the wrist which will help relieve the pressure.

2. You could roll up the edge of your mat a couple of times and place just the base of each palm on the padding.

3. The most effective method (and the one that will ALSO make method 1 and 2 more helpful) is weight distribution throughout the hands and fingers.

You can practice this from a seated or standing position (hands on a table or counter) or on the hands and knees. Bringing the shoulders in line over the wrists will bring more weight into the hands, so you can alter that position in order to avoid putting too much pressure (read: pain) on any one area.

Spread the fingers wide so that there is (roughly) equal distance between each finger and the first finger and thumb. You can also cup the fingers slightly in order to help balance the weight. Press down with the fingertips and then lower each knuckle to the floor. Your lowest knuckle is actually in the top of the palm of your hand, so press down through each of those knuckles as well as the full length of each thumb.

Your hand is going to get tired. But if you press the weight out through the length of the fingers, you should feel as though you can ALMOST lift the base of the palm away from the floor – don’t lift it, but but pressing the weight out through each finger will take the pressure off of the wrist. It helps to strengthen the hands, the forearms, and the muscles which support the wrist joint.

If you don’t practice like this regularly, the muscles are going to fatigue pretty quickly. That’s okay, just use method one or two to help support you while you build the strength necessary. There’s a similar method for the feet which helps to strengthen the toes, ankles and calves.

One of the weight lifters asked me for handstand tips tonight, which was kind of fun. Even though weight training and yoga have similar results, there are fundamentally different approaches that change how you think about how you’re getting to where you’re going. Makes for good conversation. ;)

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Yoga Month is fast approaching, so I have to figure out what kind of classes and options would be helpful for both new and returning students (I’m open to suggestions!). I’m very excited that the gym is participating. A lot of people complain about yoga classes in a gym environment, but for all the negatives there are a lot of positives.

The room may not be as quiet as some would like, or as conducive to meditation, but they are very open and flexible with their scheduling and can afford to offer some of the least expensive yoga classes I’ve ever seen (I think right now it’s $5 a class). It makes yoga more accessible to more people and that’s what keeps me coming back there.

Tonight’s class was fun because I got a lot of questions. I love questions in yoga class, which is not true of all teachers. That same adage you used to hear in elementary school – “If you have a question, someone else probably wants to know the answer too” – is completely true. It also lets me draw attention to things that I might not otherwise be talking about, which means the students can broaden their practice or think about asanas differently.

I also had a student ask about Yoga Toes. I’m sure they’re a great invention and make perfect sense for some people. I prefer the free version: sit indian style on the floor (or sit with your legs crossed on a chair/stool) and interlace the fingers of your hand between your toes (left leg, right hand/ right leg, left hand). It looks similar to weaving your fingers together, but with your toes. It can be difficult depending on how much flexibility you have in your toes, but just work the fingers through to whatever point you can. Then alternate wiggling your toes and fingers in order to help stretch your toes. Do that several minutes a night, every night, and you can save yourself about $45.

Strong, flexible toes lead to better balance as we age. If you *don’t* practice stretching your toes they will invariably narrow together, which creates a weaker base. You can also focus on strengthening your feet/toes in practice by gripping the toes into your mat, lifting the instep of the foot away from the floor, and pressing down with the toes, ball of the foot, and heel while emphasizing weight distribution to the outside edge (pinky side) of the foot.

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