Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

Month: May 2015

Lunar flow, incense sticks and learning not to swear out loud

beachI’m nearing the end of my first Workaway placement as an actual yoga teacher at Marina Yoga in Krabi, Thailand. I’ve loved it, and I’ve learnt far more than I’ve taught here.

Each week I’ve looked with some trepidation at the schedule to see what I’m down to teach in the “timetable lottery” next. My first yoga class here was called “Lunar Flow.” “What the hell is that?” was my first reaction. It sounded like some new age euphemism for menstruation. After some frantic googling, I discovered that this is a class which involves moon salutations, a flowing sequence, more gentle than the vigorous sun salutations. With the words “Only teach what you practise,” ringing in my head, I spent the next few days practising moon salutations at every opportunity (in the shower, while waiting for my tuk tuk, in my sleep…) When it eventually came to teaching the class, I loved it. One student afterwards said to me that they didn’t know how I remembered the more complex sequence. I smiled and said, “Just practice,” choosing not to mention the incident that morning where I had fallen over practising while washing my hair.

I had similar experiences teaching new meditation practices – sound meditation, surya vipassana, chidakasha dharana – even the names scared me at first. But I realised quickly that I could learn, and practise, and if something didn’t work for me I could adapt it so that I was teaching what I felt comfortable with.

This learning to adapt applied to being flexible with my class plans too. Learning not to worry when instead of the beginners I was expecting for the vinyasa class I had planned, two students arrived wanting “advanced yoga.” Although it was important that I had planned my classes (I’m not confident enough to wing it yet!), it was more important that I let go of those plans when they weren’t right for the class.

My teacher told me that the students you need will find you. This came back to me during my first experience of teaching yoga nidra (a guided relaxation yoga practice – like yogic sleep). I was setting up the room, trying to ignore my nerves, when a student walked in. “What, no incense?” she complained. How rude, I thought, but I tried to maintain my equanimity and inner calm as I hastened to light a jasmine stick.

“Breathe,” I told my class, and myself as I guided them into relaxation, successfully, or so I thought. Until 10 minutes in, when said student sat bolt upright, scaring me so much I bit my own tongue. It was like something out of a zombie movie. “I don’t understand you,” she barked. “Use shorter words.”

“Of course,” I smiled, trying to do my best Dalai Lama impression and not panic. The longest word I had used was “sensation”. I spent the rest of the class trying to find simpler ways of saying everything. My mental dialogue went along the lines of, “Fuck, is ‘intention’ too long a word? Probably. Argh, think of something else. ‘Goal?’ But that doesn’t sound very yogic, does it? Shit, better say something, quick.” Although I kept my language simple, and my swearing internal, I fully expected my student to walk out at any point. As it was, she stayed, but complained afterwards that she hadn’t felt any connection to me. The feeling was mutual.

And yet, I recognise that just like when I was a secondary school English teacher, the most challenging students are often the ones who teach you the most.  As a friend of mine said, everyone comes to yoga with their own agenda and their own shit to deal with. That doesn’t mean I always have to accept people being difficult, but I can learn to manage my emotional reactions, and respond with kindness not judgment. I may not like the feedback, but it does teach me something. Even if I did still have to fight the urge to tell her where she could shove the incense sticks.

What happens during yoga teacher training?

Wheel poseYoga teacher training by numbers

So much happened during Term 2 of my Yoga Teacher Training in Valencia that I struggled to summarise it in words. I decided to let the mathematician in me take over instead.

Number of…

  • Days spent training:12
  • Nights slept at the retreat: 11
  • Times I woke up before the 5.45am alarm: 7
  • Times I consumed meat or alcohol: 0
  • Times I woke up so hungry I wanted to eat my own arm: 7
  • People I had contact with from the outside world: 3 (taxi driver, housekeeper and pool man)
  • Repetitions of chanting the Gayatri mantra: 108
  • Mosquitos I killed: 2 (both in the same night – we became more vigilant with bedroom security after that.)
  • Times I fell asleep on my yoga mat: 5
  • Times I fell off my yoga bolster: 1
  • Times I cried: 3.5 (the .5 I was wearing sunglasses and nobody noticed, so it hardly counts.)
  • Times I laughed so hard my belly ached: at least 14
  • Pages of revision notes made: 29
  • Times I was told off for breaking the “no talking” rule: countless
  • Poses I forgot during my practice exam class: 3
  • Poses I forgot during my actual exam class: 0 (score!)
  • Exams taken: 3
  • Exams passed: 3 (yay!)
  • Newly qualified yoga teachers let loose on the world: 9

It’s hard to remember a time when I felt simultaneously as relieved and exhausted as I did at the end of this 12 days. Needless to say, I would advise that anyone going for a Yoga Teacher Training Course learns from my mistake, and does not book flights to Thailand for two days after the end of their course. My reasoning of “It’ll be fine – I can sleep on the plane,” felt somewhat flawed by the time I arrived at East Midlands Airport so tired I could barely remember my own name. Still, on to the next adventure – yoga teaching in Thailand

 

Teaching my first ever yoga class

The Om Dome. SuryalilaWhile at Suryalila, I had the opportunity to teach my first ever yoga class. I say opportunity, but to be honest I had to be coaxed, bribed and coerced into taking the class. I was terrified. Because the thing about teaching yoga in a yoga retreat is, people know what you’re doing. And therefore they know when you don’t know what you’re doing.

But they’re very persuasive people these yogis, so I found myself at 7am in the beautiful Om Dome with my lesson plan, laying out mats, blankets and blocks. Despite the vast differences in my surroundings, the nerves were very similar to my feelings six years ago when I taught my first English class in a Teach First school in Derby. They were Year 7, and lovely, and lulled me into a false sense of security. The Year 10 class I taught second lesson were not quite so compliant, but that’s another story…

At least my class size this time was small, with just four lovely students. Except that three of the four were qualified yoga teachers themselves. I couldn’t blag this. They were all very encouraging though, and as they all managed to come in without shouting “blow job” or attempting to forcibly remove their mate’s nose ring, I decided I was onto a winner.

In fact, the atmosphere was incredibly calm (I realise given that this was a yoga class, it shouldn’t have come as a shock to me.) In guiding the class to relax and let go, I couldn’t help but do it myself, and I let myself be completely present in the space I was holding for the class. I realised how much I had missed this aspect of teaching. While I don’t claim that my English lessons were ever as calm as a yoga class (although some weren’t that far off), I always found that teaching had a way of making bringing me into the present moment. The world outside my classroom, and beyond my students’ immediate actions would drop away, and I would be absolutely in the zone with whatever was happening right there. It was mindfulness practice in action.

The rest of the class ran smoothly. I gave some odd instructions at times (“Take your foot between your front two hands” As opposed to the back two, of course.) and I did miss out a few postures, but I’m hoping no one noticed. I also discovered that guiding to class to centre themselves between postures, and focus on their breath gave me the time and headspace to think about what I needed to do next. I wondered how often I’ve been in a yoga class, dutifully checking in with my breath and taking a moment to be present, while the teacher remembers what to do next…

After the class was finished, my students were lovely, and I got some useful feedback from them too – teaching teachers does have its advantages! What’s more, I was able to tidy the room and walk out without a single book to mark, guilt-free. Teaching without hours of marking – I don’t think the novelty of this will wear off for quite some time.

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