Teaching for Realsies

Well, I did it.  I finally worked up the courage to talk to the owners of Indigo about letting me teach.  We settled on a Monday night class at 6:30PM and a Wednesday morning class at 5:30AM.  Yes, I typed that correctly, 5:30AM.  I want to teach at that time because that is the time that I want someone to teach me!  The only 5:30AM classes at Indigo are at the hot studio, and I’m still a little suspicious and distrustful of my ability to maintain 100% consciousness at the hot studio. So I wanted to give other early risers like me the option of non-hot yoga before work.

I’ve only taught one class so far.  I had 3 students – a very intimidating audience made up of my husband, my YTT friend Angela, and my friend from work, Beth.  The class went well overall.  I started it off with some seated meditation and some gentle twists.  I wanted to give people a chance to wake up a bit before doing anything too vigorous.  The rest of the class was made up of the usual suspects – sun salutations, wide legged folds, lunges, back bends, etc.  I didn’t really have a “theme” for this class; I just tried to find asanas that are good for waking up the body.  But I found that I missed having a story to tell about the class. It adds a nice bit of cohesiveness and direction.

Initially I am planning on doing a little experimentation to see what works – both for people who come and for myself.  Right now I am feeling a little overwhelmed by the possibilities and options – should I focus on a certain body part?  a certain “type” (soulful yoga)?  breath work?  athletic?  calming?  I know it’s important to build your “brand,” so that people who come to your class know what they are getting themselves into.  But I’m afraid that if I settle into my “thing” too soon, I will end up doing the same kind of class over and over again.  Maybe my thing can be experimental yoga – people can come to my classes to learn a little something new each week.  That would encourage me to keep reading and learning about yoga too.

We will see how it goes.  My sequence for next week was stolen directly out of our Yoga Sequencing book.  But I figured that’s legit because the writer was putting it out there as an example.  I figured I would try teaching someone else’s sequence and compare that to how the students and I feel when I teach one I develop completely myself.

The class I taught on Wednesday morning was an Hlo original.  The people who came (who are all friends and loved-ones, mind you), said it was good.    I felt a little choked at first – the words just didn’t want to flow out of me.  Was I nervous even though I had such a kind audience??  It had been a couple of weeks since I had taught, and I’m hoping that was the cause of my nervousness.  Hopefully teaching every 3 days or so will help me improve exponentially.

If you are a yoga teacher, please give me some advice on how you come up with class ideas and how you end up finding the voice and style that works for you!

Yoga Practice Class #2

I taught my second community (aka free) class at Indigo on 5/20.  Here are my notes for the class, so you can get a general idea of what I covered.

Calming, evening class

Sorry for the poor quality of the picture, but if I wait to get a better scan, I’ll never end up making this post. 🙂

I wanted to design a class that would be relaxing, help people to sleep well, and that would target some common areas of pain for people – shoulders & wrists.  I think that’s probably too many things to focus on in one class, but I’m new and learning, so why not try it and see if it works, right?  Right??

I started out the class the same way that Max Strom started out our day-long intensive at the Dubuque Yoga Fest – with chest breathing in the easy-cross-leg position, a gentle twist, and then chest breathing in horse stance.  I made some (what I considered to be) hilarious quip about horse stance being named such because it looks as if you are riding a horse.  The class indulgently smiled at me.  Yoga students are so nice.

I did far fewer sun salutations than I did during my first class. I filled the void with more therapeutic moves – wrist stretches, twists, lots of child’s poses. I also kept reminding people to relax their faces – especially the furrow between the eyes (my furrow is over-developed and needs massive amounts of work!). I also encouraged them to put that slight Mona Lisa smile on their face.

Then I closed the class with a gratitude meditation. I encouraged people to think about someone indispensable to their joy and happiness.  I asked them to steep their bodies in that positive emotion during the 5-7 minute savasana.  As savasana wound down, I walked around and put a little card on everyone’s mat.  I spent 5 minutes that morning cutting up watercolor paper and writing “GRATITUDE” on the slips of paper in purple ink. Next to the word, I drew a little smiley face. 🙂  When I closed the class, I told them they could take the cards as a reminder to focus on the things they are grateful and to keep smiling.

I stole/borrowed that idea from Sadie Nardini.  She said she gave Hersey’s Kisses or other little treats to her students to show how appreciative she was that they came to her class and enabled her to live her dream. I really liked that idea.  Plus I have  shit ton of art supplies because, you know, some day I’m going to become an artist.  This was a good reason to use some of them up.

The class of 14 was over 30% filled with my friends and loved-ones, which really helped keep me calm.  But even people who are not beholden to love and support me really seemed to enjoy the class.  As people were walking out, everyone was smiling and chatting.  It made me SO happy that I was able to help a few people become a little happier for an evening.

So, again, I totally loved teaching again.  Shannon said something today that really rang true to me. He said that teaching is a meditation. And I can totally see that. You can’t focus on anything else. You need to stay in the moment and focused.

My next community class isn’t until 6/17, but on the 11th I’m teaching a group of friends after work, and then in late June I’m teaching a lunchtime yoga class at work. I’ve received clearance from HR to officially teach a class at work, but I’m doing a practice session with my close work-friends first. If that goes well, I’ll send an invite out to our whole branch and see who shows up.  I’m really nervous about that one though – teaching yoga to people I kind of know and who I want to think well of me is intimidating!  All these people know the work/Project Manager/Business Analyst -Heather. Not the yoga-Heather who measures chakras and has been annoying all her office-mates with YTT news over the past 6 months.

Speaking of which, YTT is drawing to a close. Our last day together is the 17th. I am SO SAD it’s ending.  But I’m so happy I experienced it.  I am so happy I signed up for this class.

Well, that’s it for the night. It’s time for me to crash.  As always, thank you for reading! If you’re a fellow yoga-lover or teacher, please let me know what you love and/or hate in classes that you take or teach.

Take care!

The sickness of busyness

Ugh – boy do I have it.  Life lately has been rather insane.  Mostly it’s insane with good stuff – yoga teacher training, the yoga festival, meeting friends for supper, visiting the parents, doing yoga observation hours, exercising, reading, making water kefir, cooking, working on the garden, planting flowers. These are all things I love to do, but Jesus Christ, it all takes so much time!

And there is so much more that I WANT to do. So many more books to read, things to paint or draw, blankets and coozies to crochet, walks to take, podcasts to listen to, friends to keep in touch with, writing to do.  But I just don’t have time.  I really need to just quit my job.  That’s the only way to get my life back in balance again. 🙂  But, unfortunately, I don’t think that can happen any time soon.  There are too many classes I want to take, too many yoga clothes I want to buy, and too much eating out that I want to do.  Hopefully yoga will help me reign in all these wants, and I will eventually find that I have just enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that I need to do to make me happy.

ANYWAY, had another great day at YTT today.  We learned how to teach a stress management class that you can do in a corporate setting.  This is something that I am very interested in, since it’s the world I live in every day. I’m surrounded by people who are even more busy and more stressed out than I am, and I would love to get them a little relief.  These people SOOOOO need yoga. Well, everyone needs yoga, but these people that I care about and work with daily would be so much happier with some yoga in their lives.  I’m going to ask HR if I can do some free 30 minute lunch hour sessions. It will help me get my practice hours, and it will also help me gauge the level of interest at the bank for these kinds of things in the future.

The rest of the day was spent learning about how to use the wall to teach people correct alignment in asanas, learning about adjustments for certain postures, and in doing some practice teaching.  Oh, and in getting free strawberry plants, sugar cookies cut out in asana shapes, and handmade chapstick.  Awesome. This is the kind of people we have in our YTT group.

But now I am severely beat.  Severely. I ran this morning for 3 miles, which I used to do with regularity and almost without effect. However, I don’t run as much as I used to due to the aforementioned disease of business.  So when I do run, crap, am I ever beat afterwards!

Anyway, I hope you are having an excellent weekend!  Tell me, if the company you worked for offered free lunch-time yoga classes, would you go?  And if so, what would you want to learn/do??

Yoga Adjustments and Exercises for Office Workers

Good morning and Happy Mother’s Day!  I’m sitting at my parents’ kitchen table, listening to their gargantuan fridge make creepy noises, looking out over their grassy lawn, past the farm across the road, and skimming over the undulating fields speckled with farm houses and tree, topped by a blue, lavender, and white sky  It’s a pretty site to see in the morning – better than the row of houses and garages that I see from our house in the morning.  It’s very convenient living in the center of town, but I miss the quiet and the views of the country.  Maybe Tim and I can start following the www.mrmoneymustache.com way of life (save 40%+ of our income) and retire to a cute little country house somewhere before we are 65.  With a massive garden and a solid internet connection, we’d be all set.

Anyway, I digress. I really meant to talk about 2 things this morning. 1.  My experience assisting one of my YTT friends with her Community class yesterday, and 2. Some final notes from Max’s day-long intensive.

My friend, Angela, taught her first Community class at Indigo yesterday, and I offered to be her second – someone to walk around and adjust people and to just generally help out.  As I was doing it, I realized that for me personally, just standing at the front of the class telling people how to do the asanas is easier than walking around and adjusting them!  Adjustments are so much more personal. I really hate conflict, and even though giving adjustments is a beneficial and helpful thing to do, to me it still feels a bit like you are telling the student they are doing something wrong.  CONFLICT.  It’s hard for me to do!  Also, I find that it’s hard to clearly communicate how you want the student to alter their behavior.  I think that comes primarily from talking quietly, so as to not disturb the whole class with the one-on-one instruction.  I am kind of whispering, and the student is kind of whispering, and neither one of us is really understanding each other.

After the class ended, one of the students asked me for some help with her downward dog.  Now THAT – just having one student who you could fully explain things to – was more my cup of tea.  So far, I do not like giving adjustments in a class setting, but I do like giving them one-one-one, where I can more clearly communicate with the student.

As with all things that make me uncomfortable, it was a good learning experience though. I am sure that the more times I do adjustments, the more comfortable I will feel with them.  We only have 3 YTT weekends left, and it sounds as if we are going to be doing A LOT of practice adjustments during that timeframe.  At first I was kind of disappointed because, honestly, giving adjustments is my least favorite part of the training.  I would rather be DOING yoga, learning about the philosophy, learning about anatomy, or learning about sequencing. But after Wednesday night, I realize that I really do need more experience in this area.

Hmm.  This is already kind of a long post. Let me just tie this up with a few more quick tidbits from Max’s class.  There are still a ton of points to cover, but I want to focus on the tips he gave us for office works, since that’s a pool of folks I’m interested in teaching.

If you have an office job, I’m sure you are already familiar with the effects on your neck, back, and shoulders of staring at a computer all day.  Everything gets tight and weak, and the whole front of your chest starts to collapse.  Max taught us a few asanas that are good for stretching and strengthening these areas.

  1. Cow face arms.  Here is a really good tutorial.  Max says to do this exercise for 60 seconds on each side twice.  If you work at an office, buy a strap and do this 3 times a day (while you are sitting in on yet another boring conference call, perhaps 🙂 ).  I need to talk to my fellow Wellness Team committee members at work about getting some of these straps for our employees!
  2. Reverse Tabletop.  The arms and shins should both be vertical – you may need to step your feet out farther than you think to get the correct alignment in this pose.  Point your fingers out to the side, then back towards the head, and finally towards the feet. Make sure knees don’t splay out or in.  If you have wrist issues, you can sit cross-legged and put your hands behind you, testing out the different hand positions.
  3. Downdog.  Max had some good suggestions for people (like me) who cannot get their heels to the mat.  Bring your feet wider (as wide as your mat, even), and elevate the hands using a stair step or a block.  Practicing this way will help you eventually get your heels to the floor.

And that’s it for today!  I hope you enjoy your Sunday!

Random Yoga Teaching Tips

It’s Friday!  I am so glad.  It’s been a trying week, being back in the real world after a weekend of chilling out in Blissland and then having Monday off.  I’m definitely ready for the weekend.

This morning I’m going to share a few quick tips that I learned in Max Strom’s Inner Axis day-long intensive.

  1. Breath work affects our minds more than the postures.
  2. The fastest way to improve your speaking skills is to record yourself.  Max records himself teaching a class 2 times a week. He uses a small recorder slipped into an arm band.  Then he actually listens to it and essentially takes his own class to see how it flows.  Do any of you do this?  If so, how do it?  What tools do you use?
    1. Take responsibility to say exactly what you mean.
    2. Don’t talk too softly or too quickly.
    3. Be careful about raising your voice at the end of a sentence.  This makes you sound as if you lack confidence.  This is something I need to work on, especially at work!
  3. Probably about 1/3 of our class attendees is sleep-deprived.  A lot of this is due to the blue light emitted from electronic devices.  The light makes our brains think the sun is still up, so the brain doesn’t secrete melatonin, and we can’t fall asleep and STAY asleep.  Help people by teaching a class that helps people sleep better.
    1. Here is a tip I’ve read from other sources – wear a pair of orange goggles at night.  The orange will block the blue light.  Tim and I both wear these when we look at our e-devices at night.  You look kind of nuts, but it helps you sleep!
  4. Teach from a universal platform.
    1. Be careful with religious decorations in the studio (no Buddha statues in the bathroom!).
    2. Be careful of mentions of specific Gods or religions.  You can have a very spiritual class without mentioning any specific religion.  Be inclusive so everyone feels comfortable.
    3. Teach all levels of a posture – easiest to more difficult. The most difficult postures should be taught one-on-one, not to the whole class.
  5. Adapt to your students – teach what they need.
  6. Teach the WHY.  Why breathe from the chest?  Why position your body in this certain way?  Why do yoga at all?  Inquiring minds want to know. 🙂

Research has shown that people can only easily remember 5-7 items, so I’m going to stop there.  Granted, I kind of cheated because I have sub-bullets in there, but I’m leaving them!

Hope you have a fabulous Friday and that you can get outside, get some sun, and that you can spend time with people you love today.

Teaching my first public class & a list of recommended reading

Last night I taught my first public class through Indigo, the studio where I am doing Yoga Teacher Training.  When we first started YTT, I honestly could not imagine myself teaching. It seemed completely overwhelming and nerve-racking.  All those eyes, looking at you,waiting for you to tell them what to do, trusting you to make them feel better and not hurt them, watching, waiting…  It seemed so intimidating.

And then we did our first adjustments to our fellow students – how could I get comfortable touching people I don’t even know???  And then we taught our first Sun Salutation to 5 other classmates.  I couldn’t even remember how to do a Sun Saluation.  Mind. Blank.  Then we took turns teaching ONE asana at a time to a group of beginner students.  I think my first pose was side plank.  Super easy asana, but Shannon had to give me little cues to get me started.  All that is to say, it was hard to imagine myself standing up in front of 15 people teaching a sequence of several asanas.

But I did it.

And it was awesome.

The class went really well!  I followed the template that I posted yesterday.  Overall the sequence flowed fairly well. I left out a couple of asanas in the interests of time.  I had 3 friends who attended the class, and I’m going to follow up with them today to see what they thought of the pacing, the volume of my voice, the clarity of my instructions, and the difficulty (or easiness!) of the class.  Immediately after the class a few students said thank you and that they thought it was a good class.  Hopefully they really felt that way!

I’m so glad that I entered this YTT program. I have learned so much, and it’s helped me to see that I am capable of more than I thought.  I haven’t reach my peak yet at 38. ;P

I think I promised a list of recommended reading from the Dubuque Yoga Conference, so here is that list.  Man, I wish I had more time to read!!!

And that’s it for this morning!  Thank you for reading today. If you read any of these books, or check out any of these resources, let me know what you think.  Have a great day!

Beginner’s Yoga Sequence

I don’t have much time to write this morning.  I am teaching my first public yoga class tonight, and I need to practice my planned sequence! I practiced it yesterday morning, and it was about 15 minutes short. I added a few asanas last night, so I need to run through it and see if it works.  Here’s the sequence.

Beginner's yoga sequence with breath work
Beginner’s yoga sequence with breath work

Thoughts?  Questions?  Comments?  Concerns?  Well wishes?!  I will take whatever I can get!

That’s it for today.  Tomorrow I plan to list out all the book recommendations we received over the weekend.

Have a great day!!


YTT – Observations

To obtain our YTT 200 Hour certificates we have to practice teach for 10 hours, and we also have to observe other certified teachers for 10 hours.  I began my observation hours today by watching Shannon, one of the co-owners of Indigo, the studio at which I’m doing my YTT training.

I go to Shannon’s vinyasa class almost every Wednesday night and Saturday morning.  These classes are very energetic and challenging – exactly the kind of yoga on which I thrive.  However, during YTT Shannon talks often about his lunch-time class, and it sounded like a totally different ball game – a bit slower paced and not quite as intense. As a beginner teacher, I think I will feel most comfortable teaching a slower-paced, more beginners-type class, so I wanted to check this out.

I took today off since I had YTT this weekend – I needed a catch-up day.  So I went to the noon class at Indigo and watched Shannon. I learned so much!

1.  First of all, I was amazed by the capabilities of the crowd.  I would say that at least 50%-75% of the class was past 60 years-old, but Man!  They were a flexible, sociable, impressive bunch of yogis.  Several of them were way more bendy than me, and they had flawless form.

2.  The “feel yourself grown taller through the crown of the head” cue is amazing.  Whenever Shannon used it (in Mountain Pose or Vira I or II), I literally saw everyone grow an inch taller.  Take that, gravity!

3.  People are happy doing yoga.  Everyone seemed happy to be in that space, there with their friends, taking care of their bodies, doing something good for their flesh and spirit.

4.  It’s easier to see bad alignment when you are looking at a group of people versus just one person.  It provides comparison, which is very helpful.

5. I at least have *some* good instincts.  One woman looked as if her knee was bothering her. I wanted to give her a blanket for some extra padding, but I didn’t want to interfere with the class.  Eventually Shannon came over and gave her a blanket.  Validation!  I was right. 🙂

6. I wrote down all the asanas that Shannon used, and I’m going to borrow his sequence and use it as a template for some practice teaching.  The sequence I have been using is made up of poses I am very comfortable with – asanas that are pretty easy for me to explain. I’ve been shying away from using poses that are a bit more complicated. Borrowing Shannon’s sequence will help bust me out of that comfort zone.

So one hour down, 9 to go. I plan on observing at least 5 different teachers.  I think it will be really interesting to examine everyone’s styles.

Next Wednesday I start practice teaching a real class at Indigo – eeeeeeek!  Technically one of my co-YTTers will be the primary teacher, and I will be the assistant. It’s still nerve-wracking though!  I’m excited and super nervous.  I hope I don’t pass out. 🙂

Take care, have a most excellent evening. 🙂

Breaking my teaching cherry

I did it. I finally kinda sorta taught someone yoga.  My friend Marta was gracious enough to let me come over this morning and “teach” her some yoga. I say “teach” in quotation marks, because it was more of a conversation than teaching, but I’m still counting it!

Since it was just the two of us, I was super informal. I started out by teaching her about ujjayi breathing, which is a fundamental part of vinyasa yoga. Despite it being an integral part of the practice, Marta had never learned it before in any of her yoga classes!  We then moved on to a very simple, basic practice – cat/cow tilts, sun salutations, vira I and vira II, lots of planks, chaturanga, spinxes, etc. We did some bridges, twists, inversions, and then corpse pose.  During savasana, I gave her a little neck and face massage, and then I did this relaxation technique that one of our YTT trainers taught us.  While the student is laying on the floor, you pick up their legs and slowly swing them side to side (in a figure 8) as you lower them back to the ground.  It feels amazing.

So, how did it go?  Here are my observations.

1.  It’s really hard to remember right and left!!  I don’t know if I will ever be able to mirror, meaning if I’m facing a class, I will be moving the right side of my body, but I’ll need to instruct the students to move the left side of their body. How can something so simple be so confusing??

2.  It’s much harder than I anticipated to demonstrate yoga whilst also explaining to the student what they should be doing. It was easy for me to get out of breath.

3.  It’s a good idea to initially practice with someone who is as patient and easy-going as Marta! I lost my place a few times and stopped and sat down to explain things, and she was totally fine with that.

4. Despite doing quite a bit of yoga and reading a TON about yoga, when you are trying to explain to someone else HOW to do it, a lot of the information flies right out of your head.  I think I’m going to update my class notes with a couple of key cues to use for each pose.

5. I thought the sequence that I wrote up would last about an hour, but boy was I wrong! It was about 1/2 that, and that was with us chatting a bit during the flow.  I need to think about how long to stay in each pose. I think I moved us through them too quickly. My struggle is, it’s hard to keep track of how many breaths we stay in a pose because I’m talking during them!

Overall, I really enjoyed sharing what I’ve learned with Marta.  She said she enjoyed it too because in all the classes she’s taken, no one has really shown her individually how to do the pose or explained to her the proper alignment.  I think that’s just a byproduct of going to classes with lots of other people. Even in classes labeled for beginners,  teachers don’t spend a lot of time explaining things.  It DOES disrupt the flow, but I think that for people just starting out with yoga, it would be really helpful to get the mechanics down before doing a truly flowing sequence.

It was a good experience.  I need more practice though.  For our YTT program, we have to do 10 hours of community teaching. But I want to do more one-on-one teaching with my friends and family before I go out and teach strangers!  Also, teaching Marta helped me realize that I really need to study anatomy more. I know the basic muscle groups, but it would be nice to look at a person and understand what the muscles and bones are doing beneath the surface.  So much to learn!