Tag: yoga teacher

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!]

Everfit schedule with classes by Katia Yoga

Everfit Yoga Classes in Mandalay

I’m officially on the schedule for EverFit Gym in Mandalay as a yoga instructor.  Come flow with me Thursdays at 7:10!

*At the end of May, I left Mandalay so I no longer teach classes there, but they still have a full yoga schedule.*

EverFit Location: Block-6, Unit-12, Mingalar Mandalay (New Ocean Shopping Center)


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Katia Yoga 15% off coupon for all yoga merchandise

Yoga Love Coupon

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

 

Teaching Yoga in Nicaragua. A blog about a new yoga teacher's experience

Teaching Yoga in Nicaragua: a new yoga instructor’s experience

Teaching Yoga in Nicaragua. A blog about a new yoga teacher's experienceAfter signing up for yoga teacher training, I knew I wanted to make teaching yoga my LIFE… at least for a bit.  The stars strung together to offer me a perfect opportunity.

I had my eye on yogatrade.com for yoga teaching jobs.  I debated regularly if I should wait until after yoga teacher training or join immediately to start dreaming of my life in possible yoga teaching scenarios described on the site.  One day, I got an email offering 50% off of the subscription fee.  I joined that day and applied to positions that night.  I applied for a yoga internship in the Philippines, a volunteer position at a juice cleanse retreat in Portugal and to a volunteer position in Nicaragua.  I could barely sleep that night, I was so excited.

I heard back from the job in Nicaragua by the weekend.  We agreed to interview early in the next week via Skype.  I had a great time chatting with my interviewer and relating over the mishaps that occur in a country like Nicaragua or Myanmar.  I started off by saying my internet might cut out and she laughed, saying hers was the same.  We talked about monsoon seasons and flooding.  We talked about language, food, beaches, buses, and interacting with locals.  We really hit it off.  She said she was also hiring two other yogis for the same position so I could learn from their classes too.  That really appealed to me—it would be almost more like an internship than pure volunteering.  I was also excited about the proximity to the beach in San Juan del Sur.  And I was eager to help out—the hostel had several initiatives in town I could potentially volunteer with.  By the end of the call, the position was essentially mine.  I got an email formally offering it to me the next day and I accepted within the hour.  I told one of my friends about it, and she said it sounded like the volunteer position I would create for myself if I could make up my own dream post.  I agreed; it all sounded perfect.

Throughout yoga teacher training, I had an unfamiliar confidence and determination, knowing I would really be using everything we were talking about every day, coming up soon.  When we finished our training, I doubted myself and wondered if I was really ready, but I knew I had no choice.  My flight for Nicaragua was booked!

In the week leading up to the experience, a string of discouraging events took place.  Both of the other yoga teachers bailed.  One had trouble with her passport and was nearly thrown in jail in another South American country.  The other simply said, “I won’t be able to make it either.” Also the coordinator I hit it off with left the company.  Then I heard that elections were coming and there could be violent protests.  I didn’t let any of this stop me.  In the airport, I almost wasn’t allowed to board since I didn’t have a return flight, but that didn’t stop me either.

San Juan del Sur, my first yoga teacher experienceWhen I got to Nicaragua, I stayed in the capital for one night, waiting for a shuttle to take me south to San Juan del Sur.  It left 3 hours earlier than scheduled, so I took a “chicken bus” down with a guy I met in the hostel.  I told him all about how much I love yoga the whole way (and he actually seemed really interested, though he never did come to my class).

My first day, I got a tour of the hostel, which went something like, “here’s the bar/yoga studio.  The mats and stuff are in that cabinet.  Do you have any questions?”

My first yoga class was tough.  I planned it out and practiced the day before and ran through it over and over in my mind, describing how to do each pose.  When the big day came, I had trouble with lefts and rights when I was mirroring the class and questioned how long I was holding each pose.  My biggest problem, though, was confidence.  I had definite impostor-syndrome.  I wanted to tell everyone, “this is only my first class! Sorry if I’m doing things wrong!”  But at the end, I thanked everyone for coming and they thanked me.  They smiled and seemed happy enough.  Weeks later, when I told one of the girls who had come that it had been my very first class that she attended, she said she was shocked.

I got into a good routine of teaching yoga, practicing yoga, meditating, blogging, swimming in the sea, watching the sunsets, taking Spanish lessons and traveling on the weekend.

Teaching yoga in Nicaragua. Bridge from the stage where I taught big classesFor yoga, I worked hard to create open-level classes with a collection of variations so that whoever came to my class could be challenged in their own level.  I never knew how many students would come, what their level would be, or what kind of yoga they expected.  Sometimes “students” far outshined and outstretched me, gracefully bending deep into my prescribed shapes.  Sometimes people watched me with a constant perplexed grimace, unsure of how to match their body to mine.

I followed a formula we learned in yoga teacher training to try to address every part of the body using a variety of types of poses.  One girl thanked me after a class, saying it was just what her body needed.  People asked me what type of yoga I taught, and I said I was trained in Hatha, but it was hard to know.  I thought of Pradeep Teotia describing kinds of yoga, “hatha yoga, vinyasa yoga, ashtanga yoga, aerial yoga, yoga-lates, acroyoga… some other shit yoga!  Yoga is just yoga!”  Each day, I came closer to knowing my yoga and learned from my mistakes how to be a better yoga teacher.

Sometimes I forgot my place and had to spend a long pause looking at my notes.  Sometimes people corrected me on left and rights.  Sometimes people corrected my cuing alignment.  One day I had 19 people in a space for 10.  Sometimes parades went by and I could hardly even hear myself over the music and drumming.  One time, only one student came and she didn’t do the poses I said even when I asked if there was anything she wanted to focus on or if she had any injuries we needed to work around.  I also started doing sunset yoga on the beach, which was pretty magical with the waves purring as they crept onto the beach in front of us.

In class, I tried to remember to cue moments to use the straps and blocks.  I also learned to go a little slower, breath a little more, and make people do some “weird” stuff.  I did restorative poses, chanted om and asked everyone to be still for short meditations.  I told people to stick out their tongues in Kali and made little jokes about some of the poses.  People laughed with me.  Most people who came seemed to enjoy our hour together almost as much as I did.  People would smile and sometimes thank me again at breakfast.

Eventually, another teacher did come.  It was so nice to have a yoga class to go to and to learn from.  We had lots of fun showing each other funky poses and stretches and exploring outside the studio as well.

But there were still some down-sides.  The internet came and went, as did the water in the apartment.  Sharing the small space with 8-10 volunteers was tough- no one wanted to take on cleaning.  The walk home up a dark high-way was frightening, especially after one of my roommates saw a machete-fight.  Construction started on the hostel, so I would say, “breathe in [kong, kong, kong] and out” over the hammering noises.  I felt lost sometimes waiting for my daily hour of teaching.  The wall and the roof of the volunteer apartment didn’t actually meet, so tarantulas and scorpions could (and did) crawl in.  I met a toad one night in the bathroom and a cat in the kitchen.  A praying mantis leapt into my bed another night in the dark and I nearly killed an Atlas moth in my fan when it came toward my light in the night.  Also it was just too darn hot in the apartment.  One time, the water tank leaked in through my window, drenching all of my clothes.  To top it off, I got fleas from a cat that crept in.  In that moment, I called out to the universe “ok, ok!  I hear you!  I’ll go!”  The next morning, the landlord told us to be extra careful because he saw a thief lurking by the bars that served as our apartment’s front wall.  That sealed the deal for me.  The hostel coordinator said he understood and wasn’t upset about me leaving earlier than originally planned.

Sunset in San Juan del Sur, my first yoga teacher experienceI packed up and prepared to go to Guatemala.  Everyone said San Marcos is a yogi’s dream.  The night before I was planning to fly out, I got an email from my old boss and someone had quit, leaving an opening for me back in my old job in my old world- with my boyfriend and my friends, in the rice paddies, by the dusty markets and the lazy cows, with all those adorable smiling children.  My decision was made before the actual job offer even came through.  I was back in Myanmar before I knew it.

My first yoga teaching experience was gone as quickly as it came.  As hard as the situation was sometimes, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  I learned so much from teaching every day.  I was so thankful that they let me experiment and learn and grow as a yoga teacher even though I had no experience, nothing to back me up.  They took a chance on me in a way I can still hardly believe.  I am also proud to have pushed myself and followed my passion, even if it was a bit short-lived.

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The Magic of Self-Practice: how to start a home yoga practice with tips and ideas #selfpractice #yoga

The Magic of Self-Practice: how to start a home yoga practice with tips and ideas

The Magic of Self-Practice: how to start a home yoga practice with tips and ideas #selfpractice #yogaFor many years, I only did yoga asana in a group fitness class or with a video. I needed someone to follow, someone to tell me what to do next and guide me from one pose gracefully into another.

When I moved to Myanmar, I had two dreams: that I would be able to drive a motorbike around and that there would be a fabulous yoga studio for me to practice at. Only one of those wishes came true: I bought a motorbike on my first Saturday in the country.

So to make up for the other unanswered dream, I started doing videos online.  However the electrical power supply and the internet were both unreliable. I started doing 20 minute “Yoga Download” podcasts. I liked it, but the podcasts were definitely very complete sessions—straight through from warm up to cool down. So I never felt that itch to do just one more pose, though my muscles and joints longed for more.

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Intro: My Start Slow with Yoga Self Practice

One day, I didn’t have any new podcasts so I simply rolled out my mat. That’s always the first step: roll out the mat. At first, I just sort of stood on it awkwardly in mountain pose, thinking soooo wait what do I do again?

Then I remembered sun salutations. I struggled at first with small things, like wait, when do I raise up to the flat back again? Before or after the downward dog? Or both?

The Magic of Self-Practice: how to start a home yoga practice with tips and ideas #selfpractice #yogaBut after a bit, my muscles started to engage and my mind started to connect with my body. I could feel my blood flowing and my lungs pumping. It all felt so right. I knew I needed the movement. After a few rounds, I sort of stopped again, stuck. Well. Then what?
Slowly poses started to come to mind and I threw a couple of vinyasas in here and there when I remembered. My transitions were clunky and disjointed.  As I remembered various poses, I did them. I was standing, balancing, then laying on the mat, then seated before standing again. I had a hard time remembering what I did on one side so I could also do it on the other. I just did everything I could think of! Then after a while, more and more poses were flooding my mind but I had to take savasana because I tired myself out!

The reason I’m sharing this story is to spread encouragement. It’s wonderful to start and to try asana on your own.

Starting your yoga self-practice

If you’ve been to a fair number of classes, you probably know more poses and more about them than you think. Trust yourself and your knowledge when you’re on the mat.

Get visual reminders

Look for some resources, like info-graphics from Pinterest with a whole collection of poses. Print them so you can glance at them for inspiration from time to time.  I recommend printing or buying an image or poster that’s how lots of poses at once for easy reference.  You won’t have to stop your practice to see what poses you can do next.  Alternatively, you could get a Yoga Sequencing Deck to help inspire and remember poses AND put them in order for your practice.  This particular deck corresponds with the book,Yoga Sequencing: Designing Transformative Yoga Classes which helps break down poses by levels and gives many sample sequences.

Inspirational Books

Read some yoga books, like Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit. This book is very helpful for describing the process for getting into each pose and what to focus on once you’re in it. It was great for me as a reminder of the alignment and goals of the poses. If you’re worried about hurting yourself in self-practice, this book could be the reassurance you need to find yourself on the mat.

Another fantastic book is 2,100 Asanas: The Complete Yoga Poses.  It literally has 2100 different poses.  It’s a great book to grow with.  As you become more flexible and develop more strength, you can find new poses to challenge you every step of the way.

Draw it out

Drawing little sequences for yourself so you know which poses in particular you want to tackle. It is ok to stray from the plan if you find your body actually wants to do something else.

Listen to your body

As you became more and more comfortable with poses and sequences, you’ll start to hear from your body more and more. For example from my experience, I could feel tightness in the back of my leg and I knew from experience downward dog would elongate the muscle perfectly to soothe it. Or I would just get a sense that my body really, really wanted to drop down into malasana (garland pose). That was one of my most common distractions from standing poses: desire to do malasana. I almost always give in to whatever my asks.  I think it’s good to give your body what it wants in terms of asana.  It usually knows what it needs.  There’s a quote, something like, “I listen when my body whispers so I won’t have to hear it shout.”

Pain

On the topic of listening to your body, be aware of signs of pain. In yoga, it’s good to challenge yourself and push yourself. Try new poses, new binds, new variations. However, it’s also good to stop where you feel resistance. You never want to feel real pain in yoga. Injuries take a long time to recover from, physically and mentally.

Start slow when you need to

Sometimes my body would tell me it was too tired to start so I’d lay on the mat in supta badda konasana (reclining bound angle pose) and just wait to feel the pull to shift into a supine twist or happy baby (ananda balasana). Once I got going, I often found starting a few poses begged for more and I would be standing, balancing and striving for new limits before I knew it.  Usually, a little movement will coax you into wanting more.

Some days I practice for 10 minutes and some days I have to cut myself off after an hour and a half or so because I have other things I should do. You never know what may be waiting inside that will find you on the mat.

Creating a Yoga Space

The Magic of Self-Practice: how to start a home yoga practice with tips and ideas #selfpractice #yogaOne of the other most important things about practicing is finding a good place to do it. Make sure you have enough room and set up a pleasant atmosphere for yourself. BKS Iyengar says you must find a place with good light and no insects, but I think it goes way beyond that. Make your space sing: light a Ideas and inspiration for creating your own yoga and meditation spacecandle or incense, turn on some music that reflects your mood or your practice, de-clutter, add something nice to look at or inspire you. If you have props, like a bolster or block or strap that you use, bring them to your space. If you feel at peace and at home in your yoga space, you will be much more likely to feel drawn to it and want to practice.  Click the image at the right to learn more about creating your own yoga space.

Final words of Encouragement

I’m 100% sure you can do it!  Roll out your mat today.

“Yoga isn’t about touching your toes, it’s about what you learn on the way down.” Self-practice will teach you a lot about yourself inside and out; body, mind, and soul.

Self-practice Suggestions

• Roll out your mat and start
• Trust yourself and your knowledge
• Be present
• Listen to your body

Amazing must-have book for yoga teachers and learning yogis: recommedation and shop

2100 Asanas Recommendation: Awesome Yoga Inspiration Book for Yoga Instructors and Students

I have to give credit to my sister for finding this yoga book, 2100 Asanas The Complete Yoga Poses.  When I was visiting America, she brought it over to my mom’s house to show me.  We were both really excited as we flipped through together and started trying some of the new and different shapes on the living room floor.

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Click here to check out 2100 Asanas on Amazon

2100 Asanas has really rocked my yoga world.  I find this book to be great inspiration for my self practice.  It literally does have 2100 yoga asanas, which means there are hundreds that I hadn’t seen before.  When I flip through the pages, I can’t help but think “ooh that would feel good!” about some poses or “wow, that’s something to work towards.”  It really motivates me.  I like to keep it by my mat when I practice.

One of the the hardest things for me in creating yoga lesson plans is thinking of new poses to keep each class fresh for my experienced yogis but still have do-able poses for my new yogis.  This book has a good variety of levels and variations for each pose, which helps me create simultaneously challenging and accessible classes. For self practice or teaching, I recommend this book for inspiration.