Tag: sequencing

A personal story of challenges and wins of teaching yoga in Mandalay

Teaching Yoga in Mandalay: Difficulties and Joys

A personal story of challenges and wins of teaching yoga in a foreign countryAfter yoga teacher training in Bali and teaching yoga for a month in Nicaragua, I decided to return to Myanmar, which had been my home for 2 years already.  I missed the life I had there, but I was also determined to bring my new passion as a yoga teacher to my Mandalay world.  This post is about the wins and challenges of teaching yoga in Mandalay.

 

The Search for a Yoga Shala (Space)

Before I even went back to Mandalay, my friends told me about a new gym that opened in town, “a fancy one,” they said.  They were thrilled about the classes it provided and the caliber of the equipment and the space.  They encouraged me to get in touch with the owners to see if they needed any more yoga instructors (the local Myanmar staff had been given a short training by a guru who had flown in from India).  Unfortunately, the gym responded that they were fully staffed.

On arrival in Mandalay, my next plan was to find a space that I could borrow for yoga classes.  I posted in expat forums and asked around, but no one had any brilliant ideas.  There were a couple of leads that volunteered their hotel or hostel, but they didn’t follow through.

So I tried going door to door to the hotels in town to see if they had a vacant conference room or lawn space.  The receptionists mostly looked at me either like I was trying to scam them or like I was asking if we could do alien seance dances in gold unitards in the lobby.  They each gave me a resounding NO in turn.  I never got the chance to talk to a manager or owner.  I felt so small and so lost leaving most of the hotels.

Mandalay Hills Yoga Leggings and the Mandalay Hills (Myanmar)
Click to see the Mandalay Hills Yoga Leggings

Although I had really hoped to separate my kindergarten teaching/home-life (we lived on the school campus) from my yoga teaching, I realized a fantastic space was sitting right under my nose.  Or directly above my head, really: the roof of our apartment building.  It was a huge flat, empty tiled space.  It overlooked lush green rice paddies flowing into the distance until the landscape climbed into rows of mountains to the East.  The towns’ roofs and treetops to the North extended all the way to iconic Mandalay Hill.  The sun set over the roof and painted the clouds in pinks and golds everyday between 5:30 and 6:30 depending on the season.  Monks’ chants sometimes floated in on the breeze and migrating birds passed overhead in season.  What a perfectly serene and beautiful place for yoga!  I’m tearing up just thinking about it now that I’ve left again.

 

Rocky Beginnings with my Classes

I started out with donation-based classes.  I felt like I was too new to demand money for my class, which I regret in retrospect.  I wish I’d valued my knowledge right from the start.  In the end, it’s a matter of self-worth.  Teacher training wasn’t cheap and the 10+ years of practice I’ve put in to learning yoga myself wasn’t easy.  People asked what charity the money was going to, shocked to find out it was just for the lesson.

A personal story of challenges and wins of teaching yoga in a foreign country

I also wish I hadn’t given myself permission to start simply with flowing asanas, pranayama and meditations; I wish I’d gotten wild and weird right from the start with funky themes.  I found as I grew into theme-ing that I was more invested in the classes and ideas came to me more freely in relation to the concepts.

 

After a couple of months of weekly classes on the roof, I got an email from the fancy gym, Everfit.  They decided to expand their yoga offering and wanted me to come teach.  Myanmar style, they asked if I was free that very day for an interview.  I agreed and we chatted for 20-30 minutes.  They gave me a tour of the gym, asked briefly about my experience and gave me the job on the spot!

I was thrilled.  I started the next week.  I misunderstood how much they were going to pay me, which made for an awkward situation later.  I was also under the impression that there would be a translator working with me to assist with alignment cues, which was not true.  In spite of these misunderstandings, I pushed on with both classes.A personal story of challenges and wins of teaching yoga in a foreign country A personal story of challenges and wins of teaching yoga in a foreign country

 

Because I posted regularly about my weekly classes in an online expat forum, people started to recognize me from my thumbnail sized photo. When I met new people around town, they’d say “OH you’re the yoga teacher!” and tell me about how they’ve been meaning to come to the classes on the roof.  I became “the yoga teacher” instead of Katia.  But I guess that’s good PR!

 

Wins and Joys as a Yoga Teacher

On the roof

With my roof classes, it was fun to see new people come to yoga.  It was good to chat a little and get to know them before we started- feel out a little bit about their personality and their yoga experience.  I tried to remember names so I could thank them personally after class.  This practice helped boost my confidence.  I am used to 5-year old faces staring at me, but it’s harder for me to hold the space for adults, but I’m getting better.  Sometimes I’d use these facts together and try to calm everyone’s nerves with a little humor, saying “if you have any questions, feel free to shout them out at me at any time.  I also teach kindergarten.  Trust me, I’m used to it.”

A personal story of challenges and wins of teaching yoga in a foreign country
Click through to see our malas on Etsy

And people did shout out questions at me.  And I was surprised that I usually had good, meaningful answers.  It was fun to get into the nitty gritty of poses and talk yoga.  I also enjoyed talking through the alignments and seeing people move their bodies ever so slightly to better their pose.  It was also fun for me to try out some more advanced sequences when it was just me and some of the fab girls I knew could take it.

Toward the end, I added some funky themes and made people think about funny things.  I believe we all learned a bit more from that.

I stopped giving the classes a little before I left and I got some great feedback from some of my favorite students about my growth.  They also asked if there would be more sessions.  That was a boost for sure.

At Everfit

At Everfit they essentially left me alone to do what I pleased.  The owners touched base a couple of times about how many regulars I had and if I had any suggestions for the space.  I passed on some comments from the students too.

The classes were fun- a really unique and intense experience.  Often the yogis who came to class were new to yoga and English.  Sometimes men would grunt loudly as they tried to stretch their tight, tense gym bodies.  Sometimes people would face the back when I said come to the front and it might take a while to get them turned around.  There were some classic, epic mistakes and I tried hard to keep my composure and gently, cooly guide people into position and ideally bring them over to the zen side.

A personal story of challenges and wins of teaching yoga in a foreign country

I modeled a lot, even alignment cues, sometimes moving my body in to the wrong place so I could show how the yogis could move their bodies into proper position.  I’d say things like “bend the front leg” and simultaneously squat and lean a bit deeper, looking at my leg.  People got it! When they had uncertain looks, I smiled to encourage them and they smiled back.  It took a lot of attention and energy on my part to see the things that were going wrong and show motions that were active and vivid enough to make it clear what needed to be changed.  I felt like I was physically bridging the communication gap.

In this space I also learned about making the ambiance right.  I had to play with a loud air conditioner, an echo-y room, a sound system and my voice to find the perfect combination of noises to create a calm space where my calm cues could be heard.

Here I also learned to find the right level and the right number of asanas.  I was proud the first time I followed my plan from start to finish and it was right on the dot for timing.  I have practice with improvising a few minutes here or there from teaching kids- no problem!  But I was more proud to understand my audience well enough to make a perfect plan.

There were a few expats that came regularly too and I befriended them.  They came with smiles, a sense of certainty with the cues, deep questions and sometimes they even brought friends.

My last class at the gym was the most full I’d ever had.  Every mat was taken.  It was great way to go out.

Amazonite and Rudraksha Mala
See our malas on Etsy

In the End

I’m so happy to have pursued teaching yoga in Mandalay even when it seemed impossible.  I learned and grew a lot as a teacher and as a person.  I’m pleased to have shared my passion for yoga with so many others.  I am looking forward to moving on to a new place where hopefully I can take some more yoga classes myself and hopefully share the beauty of yoga.

[Just so you know, this post contains affiliate links below, meaning if you click through and purchase something I will receive a commission. I wouldn’t recommend it if I didn’t love it!]

What to look for in a yoga class to find your favorite teacher, style OR become a better instructor

Yoga Teacher’s Eye: what a yoga instructor can learn at a yoga class

Things to think about in a yoga class to find your favorite class or style OR learn to be a better instructorThings to observe in a yoga class

Here are a few concepts you can keep an eye out for in class if you are learning about teaching yoga.  These aspects can also help you find your favorite teacher or style of yoga if you are trying different classes.

  • style– along with the style of yoga, how does this instructor interpret it?  e.g. Is it classic vinyasa or a little slower?  Is it heavy on lunges? Do they hold the poses for a long time or flow freely between asanas?  Did they bring in a few poses from another style of yoga?
  • personality– how does the teacher add their own flair to the class? What attributes do they bring to the class that make it different from another class in the same style of yoga?
  • voice– what is the quality of the instructor’s voice?  e.g. Are they loud enough? Is their voice gentle and soothing?  Is it firm and encouraging? Does it inspire you to add energy to your poses?
  • cues– how does the instructor describe the poses and transitions?  Does it give you a new way of thinking about the pose?  Is there an alignment tip you hadn’t heard before?  Is it clear what you need to do?
  • sequencing– how do the poses flow together?  Is there a connection between poses you hadn’t thought of before? Was the class leading to one particular pose?  Were there groups of types of poses (like standing then arm balances then abs?)
  • theme– how does the instructor bring it all together?  Did the class focus on one aspect of alignment? A concept, like propping vs. collapsing vs. yielding?  Was the class devoted to the idea of peace, balance, femininity? Or one of the Hindu gods? A full moon?
  • reflection– the last thing to think about is how the class affected you.  Did you like the style? Would you prefer to do things another way if it were your class?  What did you learn?  What take-aways can you find- about yoga, any of these concepts or yourself?

Putting it all into action- my experience at a retreat

A couple of weekends ago, 2 gal-pal yoginis and I headed down to the beach for a yoga retreat and some rest and relaxation in the sun.  Since I haven’t been to a yoga class in a couple of months, I was excited to listen and learn and of course move.  I practice and teach regularly, but it’s so nice to also receive some instruction and improve my own poses and practice.

What to look for in a yoga class to find your favorite teacher, style OR become a better instructorI think since yoga teacher training, though, I will likely never see a class in the same way.  I am forever filing away phrases for cues and noting things down about transitions and a teachers’ style and personality.  In ytt, our instructor warned us about this, saying, “you will never be the same again, but that’s probably a good thing.”

At the retreat, one of the most interesting things for me was the structure of the classes.  The teachers spent probably 75% of class in standing postures.  Especially in the early morning, that was hard for me.  I’m not exactly lazy, but I’ve never been the most energetic person either.  Also, it doesn’t go with the style yoga I’ve learned and embraced.  I know many people enjoy this active yang style of yoga, but I learned during that weekend that my style is a little calmer.

I think yoga is a sort of spectrum.  There are yogis who are there for the workout and yogis who are there for the spiritual practice and yogis who want some combination of the two.  The names of the yoga practices can help identify that sort of balance that a teacher offers or a practioner desires but there’s such a range within each style, so in a way the only way to know about any given class or style is to try it.

Something else I noticed at the retreat was the use of voice.  The main instructor had a very strong voice with clear, deliberate cues.  She was firm and energetic, like her class.  She used great imagery to describe the way the poses could be gracefully transitioned and practiced.

What to look for in a yoga class to find your favorite teacher, style OR become a better instructorThe instructor gave supportive guidance in the arm balance workshop- talking with each yogi individually about their struggles with gravity, strength, balance and fear.  She showed some humility in inversions as she modeled a pose that wasn’t her strongest, still giving valuable tips and demos.  I also noticed how incredibly important it is to be personable off of the mat with each of the students.  I admired these qualities in instructors.

At the retreat, we had early morning meditations.  The instructor encouraged us not to speak before mediation in the morning, which I really liked.  It made the practice more serene and organic. I noticed in the meditation, she didn’t give direction for our thoughts.  Some styles of meditation try for a mind completely free of thoughts, in which case no instruction is needed.  I found out I prefer a meditation where the mind is focused on one train of thought, like the breath or a mantra.  It is easier for me, but it also lends itself to a practice that feels more meaningful to me.

It’s interesting how seeing a style that was quite different from mine reinforced my understanding of my preferences and my yoga style.  I had a great time and learned a lot, but much of it was about myself and my yoga.

“Yoga is not about touching your toes, it’s about what you learn on the way down.” -Judith Hansen Lasater