Yoga Teacher Training: Module 2: Discover The Skills & Magic Of Teaching

Yoga Teacher training: the invaluable lessons yogis learnThe second module of yoga teacher training was a real challenge, mentally and physically.  9 days in a row is tough!  We did some soul searching and some more practice teaching.  We made more lesson plans and executed some of our own pose successions.

I was the studio assistant on the first day back.  The studio assistant helps set up the studio and observes the lesson.  Luckily, everyone brings in most of their own props (strap, blocks, bolsters, etc.) but there’s more to setting up the space than that.  There’s an altar at the front so I had to clean it, add lots of new flower petals and light candles and incense as offerings to Shiva and Ganesha.  One of the other instructors blessed the room while I worked.  At the end of the day, some props got left behind and I had to pick those up too.  I observed the asana practice and in a way was glad for my free day when I saw how hard the standing-pose and vinyasa-based class was.  It was cool to see a different instructor in action and see how he adjusted people and how he coached them.  Mark has a very likable style and everyone was laughing, along with sweating and sighing.  It was also interesting to watch my peers.  It’s interesting to see how different people react to the cues—how long it takes and whether or not they really understand the instructor’s goal.  Before and after each break, I checked in to see if the studio needed anything.

Probably the most interesting topic of this module was Ayurveda.  It’s an ancient Indian way of healing and staying healthy that goes hand in hand with yoga.  In Ayurveda, you look at your physical and personality attributes or components to determine your dosha.  Vata is light and airy, kapha is heavy and grounded, while pitta is fiery and direct.  The first test I took said I’m “tridoshic” but I doubt that I’m that well rounded.  My best guess is that I’m mostly vata with a bit of pitta.  The only way to know for sure is to see an Ayurvedic doctor.  He can take your pulse and tell right away.  We learned lots about leading an Ayurvedic life- wake up early to meditate, practice yoga, scrape your tongue, massage yourself with oils and eat a small meal for breakfast, having a big meal at lunch time, eating a lighter earlier dinner, and winding down device-free with low lights for an early night. The different times of day also have their own personality- their own dosha.  Different activities are suited to different times.  We also talked a bit about different foods people should or shouldn’t eat and the agni, or digestive fire in the belly.  Mark talked a lot about habits and how to change the old and create wonderful new using the smallest possible change- Kai Zen.  Mark also asked us about what we stand for.  I chose compassion but it was interesting to see people’s different priorities reflected in their choices- freedom, nature, care for animals, free will, equality.

In this module, Kirtan with Mei Laiwe were put on the spot to teach our peers a lot.  We were typically given about 5 minutes to prepare (though when I really teach, I’m going to put in a bit more time and care!).  It’s cool to see people move their bodies just as I say.  It’s harder than it seems though to talk about how and when they need to move what—especially lefts and rights because we practice facing our students but not doing the poses with them.  It’s hard to see what the students are doing and help them adjust if you’re busy moving your own body.  In our yoga lessons, we also talked a tiny bit about sequencing and theme-ing to try to create our own yoga classes.  We planned a couple of lessons on our own and executed a couple of poses from them with 8 peers.

We also had 4 3-hour sessions of Yoga Philosophy.  We learned about the original forms of yoga and how they evolved to include people from different walks of life.  The goal of yoga has always been awareness and removing karma.  The soul collects black karma and white karma and yoga is a good way to try to remove both.  When the soul has no more karma it may be enlightened.  We talked about death and reincarnation.  We talked about sleep as preparation for death—death is the same except that we’re reborn in a different body when we awaken.  Thinking about death and rebirth makes me feel more free to do what I feel compelled to do in this lifetime rather than worrying about other people’s expectations and preferences.  We also talked about the different stages of reincarnation.  One of the most interesting things was learning that originally yoga was only about meditation and different ways of meditating.  There were only about 16 different poses and all of them were seated for meditation until about 100 years ago and now there are over 900 poses including variations.  Yoga is meant to include 8 limbs, like outlooks on life, breath work, withdrawing the senses, etc, not just moving the body into shapes.

We also worked on some new chants and mantras.  One of the most moving experiences of the training so far was kirtan with Mei Lai.  She has such a beautiful voice and so much passion for the mantras.  Also the studio is beautiful with low lights in the evening and crickets chirping.  Before we started she asked if anyone wanted to make a flower mandala at the front of the room.  About 5 of us jumped on it.   One girl said, “I love making beautiful things!” and that’s just what we did- we made a big heart with the aum symbol in the middle.  We finished just in time to snuggle up on bolsters.  Mei Lai shines so brightly it was like pulling into a camp fire.  The room was clearly moved by the sounds of the harmonium and the group’s collective voice.

Being blessed at a Balinese Water CeremonyWe had a wonderful water ceremony too. We all walked over to the ashram and saronged-up for the occasion (sarongs and covered shoulders are temple-appropriate outfits in Bali).  We waited in a raised shelter and watched a mystical woman in yellow finery- beads and sparkles on a leopard print cushion chanting and blessing the water.  Later we went up 5 by 5 for our turn for the blessing.  We had water sprinkled and funneled over our heads.  We waved incense over us to cleanse and bring good.  We drank some of the water too- it was sweet and spiced.  It tasted like promise.  At the end we chanted and washed ourselves in the smoke of more incense, pushing the bad behind us and welcoming good.  We got flower head dresses and bracelets too.  It was a beautiful morning.

I had an appointment with Rachel, the osteopath who taught us in the first module.  We looked at my posture a bit but focused mostly on my root chakra, which is out of whack.  That’s why the love meditation hit me so hard.  I said something about not having a place of my own in the world now, and Rachel said, “yes you do,” pointing to my body.  She cracked my back in lots of different ways, did some sound therapy and put me into a deep savasana with chimes and incense of sorts.  I woke up feeling a bit lost and dreamy but in a way sort of more whole.  That night I dreamed of ceremonies and chants.  I slept deeply and only woke up about halfway in the morning.

We also did meditation and journaling on some interesting soul-searching topics.  We talked about karma; when a butterfly flaps its wings a little faster than the moment before, it creates karma.  What about our karma?  How can we reduce it?  How do we stop creating it?  Can you stop creating it in a modern society?  We talked about dharma too.  It’s cool to think about the possibility of the universe conspiring for our greater path in this world.

Emily said that this module is meant to tear us apart and the third module will put the pieces together.  At the moment, I am uncertain of course- whether or not I will really be prepared to sit in front of a class, hold the space and direct the students for a full hour.  Teaching kids is so different—there’s automatic respect and adoration.   I elicit from them and encourage them to talk and contribute.  I ask for their ideas and try to have the class centered around them.  My lessons are built around empowering them and encouraging them to do things on their own.  In this last respect, teaching yoga will be the same but the idea of me talking and commanding for a full hour is new.  Hopefully my adult yoga students will be curious and enthusiastic, rather than critical.

Next will be the third and final post about teacher training.

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