Wednesday, June 22, 2011

persistent practice and dharma, imperfectly carried out.

It's interesting to me (and maybe to no one else) to take note of how my practice of yoga has evolved, shifted and changed over the past year, so I'm going to (attempt) to do so in this blog. Which is to say - this is a self-serving, self-indulgent sort of blog, and mainly only for my own documentation and processing. I'd love to hear your feedback and thoughts - but please understand I'm not writing with an audience in mind, per se. =)

A year ago right now I was driving two hours, round-trip, to go to a hot yoga at a studio in Evansville, Indiana about five times per week, as the best possible preparation I could think of for going to Yoga Teacher Training at Kripalu for a month, along with taking a once a week class in town. Where I live, there is not a single yoga studio - there was, at the time, one class a week taught at the YMCA (where I currently teach four classes a week). It was a basic Hatha class, led by a lovely and talented teacher, to be sure, who made a very positive impact on my life, and really encouraged me in my yoga journey to becoming certified to teach, but as it was an all-levels class, it really didn't offer me consistent growth opportunity. Even in Evansville there isn't a lot of opportunity for yoga; I thought a hot yoga practice would really challenge me, and help me with my two weaker points at the time: strength and balance. (Flexibility has always been my strength in yoga, but we all know it's not just about being bendy!) And I think the hot yoga WAS an excellent pre-training for the yoga boot camp that is Kripalu YTT.

After Kripalu, of course, my entire practice completely shifted and transformed. I came away from Kripalu with such a deeper understanding of yoga, on the whole, and my practice went from being something that kind of made me feel good to truly being sadhana - a spiritual practice of compassionate self-awareness and learning to tolerate the consequences of being myself. In September and October I did a lot of Kripalu practices: audio practices from Danny and Grace, Stephen Cope's video, and then a lot of PERSONAL practice, something I really had no experience with prior to Kripalu. I started teaching at the Y in mid-October, so my personal practice started blurring with my class planning, which is both a blessing and a struggle, as I'm sure many yoga teachers can attest.  My practice during these months was very strength oriented - a lot of the Kripalu classes I have on audio (and the way I was trained and the classes I took at Kripalu) focused a lot on holding poses for longer amounts of time - really exploring the alignment and the breath as the pose was sustained. Hold Warrior I and II for long periods of time, repeatedly throughout a 90-minute practice, and tell me that isn't strength training at its best. Hi, really big quads and very developed hamstrings. (So now I had flexibility and a LOT of muscle strength. Still not so great at balance. =)

In late November I had a horrible car accident (I wasn't hurt, thank goodness) that really threw me for a loop, and in December, I discovered Yogaglo. Sometimes I feel like I owe Yogaglo my sanity - my love for the site has encouraged at least six people I know of off the top of my head to join, and it has been a life-saver for me. On the Yogaglo site you can track your practice; there is a calendar that shows you how many hours of video you viewed each day of the month. I was shocked and mildly impressed when I went back through my calendar - I've done a LOT of Yogaglo practices. I have averaged six to nine hours a week on Yogaglo since mid-December! I discovered my yoga-teacher crush of all crushes, Kathryn Budig, on Yogaglo!

So, January through March was a lot of Yogaglo, which caused me to transition from Kripalu-style practices to a lot more Vinyasa Flow, which I do adore, even though my heart will always belong to Kripalu. I started incorporating a lot more Vinyasa into my own teaching as a result. This led me to explore further weaknesses (that seems like a negative word, and I don't mean it in negative way) in my physical asana practice, and I enrolled in Kathryn Budig's heart-opening, back-bend workshop in Nashville at the beginning of April. April and May, then, became ALL about heart-openers, and something about the workshop style in which I learned them with Kathryn took me back to my Kripalu days; I started exploring, in my personal practice, a lot of long sustained heart-openers and psoas stretches. This was a great, great thing - something I absolutely needed - and I did see the reverberations off the mat in my personal life. But then at the beginning of June I started struggling with some deep shoulder pain that is VERY much related (maybe physically and emotionally) to my hyper-focus on back-bends. (Even today, my shoulder not bothering me at all anymore, I felt the the reminder of the feeling of injury in the spot ONLY while doing cobra pose as part of a Kathryn Budig level 2 Vinyasa Flow class.) I had to take about two weeks off from yoga - the third week I started back in Danny's gentle Kripalu practice, which is VERY gentle, to say the least, and have slowly been building in some Vinyasa practices on Yogaglo. I've become very aware of where I need to back off (only very gentle back-bends for me these days) and where I can still find a lot of support in my abilities (hamstring and hip-openers are making my heart sing and rebuilding my confidence) and THAT in and of itself is part of the practice, right? Being AWARE of your body, your breath, your spirit - knowing when to be strong, and when to surrender, even to taking it easier than you think you should. Maybe I STILL haven't mastered balance in my physical asana practice (I fall over all of the time, but I try to laugh at myself) but I'm getting better at balancing challenging myself without HURTING myself!

So my own practice has had ebbs and flows - has shifted with me both in response to AND in informing my life off the mat - and yet all the while I've been teaching regularly. I am less aware of how all of this has affected the classes I've taught - but without really sitting down to think about it, I'd guess they have followed a very similar pattern. I know, at least, that I taught a LOT of heavy-duty heart-opening classes in April and May. I taught a LOT of restorative classes right after my accident. And recently, while dealing with this shoulder injury, I've found comfort going back to my roots in terms of teacher training, teaching more traditional Kripalu style classes.

My practice teach evaluator at Kripalu told me that she knew being a yoga teacher was my dharma. That felt a lot easier to believe ten months ago, fresh off a month in the Berkshires. What she also told me, that is actually easier to believe now, or at least to understand, is that it takes at least a year to find just the beginnings of your VOICE as a yoga teacher, and that the voice is constantly evolving. I haven't yet been teaching for a full year, and I don't know that I've found my voice just yet (I'd really like to do a focused Vinyasa Flow Teacher Training program and explore that further) but I at least can look back and know that I've been present for the journey, and that the journey IS happening. That's something, right?

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