Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

Tag: yoga teacher training

3 Ways Science Can Be More Yogic Than Yoga

Science more yogic than yogaI’ve made no secret of the fact that as a yoga teacher, I can be pretty sceptical about some of the things I hear. I wrote here about the fact that I’m a scientist at heart, and I don’t believe in leaving your intellect at the door of your yoga class.

Recently I attended a Pint of Science event in Nottingham (so good!), and it made me think about what yoga can learn from science. Here are 3 ways that science can be more yogic than some of the yoga I’ve come across:

  1. Non-attachment. There’s a misconception out there that science is arrogant, assumes it knows it all and has an explanation for everything. My experience listening to these incredibly intelligent, respected scientists speak about their work was that they were about as far from arrogant as you could get. One of them spoke about how when the research corroborates your hypothesis, it’s actually quite an uncomfortable position to be in because you then need to try to break your own theory – to test it and probe it and search for holes in it. There is no becoming attached to the perfection of your own work, because the search for the actual truth is more important than the neatness of any hypothesis.
  2. Humility. One of the lovely things about seeing a group of scientists answer questions was the speed with which they would redirect questions to their colleagues who had greater expertise in that area. This happened regardless of whether they could have answered the question themselves or not – they simply recognised that someone else was better placed to answer it, and were comfortable deferring to their more relevant knowledge.
  3. Curiosity. During the question and answer session, the most common answer by far was, “I don’t know.” This partly comes back to the idea of humility, and being honest when the answers are not there yet. But it is also testament to the fact that scientists choose to work at the periphery of our known world. They are constantly pushing at the boundaries of what we know, asking questions and choosing areas to get curious about. Instead of seeing an unknown as something shameful, they use it to inspire them to explore further.

I’ve deliberately chosen to train with schools of yoga, like Frog Lotus Yoga International, which not only accept but actively embrace new research. I respect their approach because they adapt the way that they teach as new evidence comes to light about the safety and efficacy of types of yoga.

The history and tradition of yoga is important, and ancient yogis had some incredible insights into how the world works. But that’s not to say that they had everything right, or that their practices are always appropriate for our very different lifestyles today. So it’s good to not get too attached to one way of doing things, to stay humble and to get curious. Surely the greatest advances can be made when we respect and honour the tradition of practising yoga at the same time as applying scientific rigour, principles and investigation to what we do?

 

What happens when you do yoga for 3 hours every day

I’ve spent the last 10 days in Guatemala for the first part of my 500 hour Advanced Yoga Teacher Training with Frog Lotus Yoga. The experience has been incredible, not least because we’ve done an hour of meditation every morning followed by a 3 hour yoga workshop. This is what I’ve found happens when you do yoga for 3 hours every day…

  1. Much of what you can’t do is in your mind.

Being challenged to try new things, and to keep trying them is a really good thing. There have been many postures, like Astavakrasana (in the picture) that I’d not done before because I assumed I couldn’t do them. Life lesson there. It’s also tempting to give up when you can’t do something the first time you attempt it. But when you do try again, it’s amazing how quickly your body learns.

  1. Your body can also be the most frustrating thing.

That said, there are still plenty of postures that I feel like I “should” be able to do now after doing so much yoga, but my body isn’t ready for yet. Full Hanumanasana (splits) for example – I mean seriously, I’ve been practising every day for the last six months! But yoga tunes you into your body’s the innate intelligence and what that can teach you. Unfortunately, for certain things, the lessons are in patience and acceptance of where you are right now. It’s about trusting that with consistent practice the posture will come, when and if your body is ready.

  1. Yoga tells you what you need and when.

On a similar note, unlike fitness training, where you might set specific goals, yoga has a tendency to dictate what your body needs next. This may or may not be the same as your ideas. I came to Guatemala thinking that I’d done enough strengthening work, and it was time to improve my flexibility. I probably have improved my flexibility a little, but what doing yoga for 3 hours every day here has really taught me is that I still need to get stronger. Much stronger.  Because I’m naturally hypermobile I have muscle groups that need strengthening before I develop a greater range of motion. Yoga won’t let me ignore that in the way that I could if I was training in the gym.

  1. Progress isn’t linear.

My first morning of practice here was amazing. My hips felt super-open, I managed Dragonfly pose for the first time and everything came very naturally. I thought I’d nailed it.  I had visions of myself levitating by the end of the week. The next day, everything hurt. My legs felt like they were made of stone. Even handstands, which I usually love,were a massive effort. You have to accept that even when you do yoga for 3 hours per day, not every day is a “breakthrough day”. Some days have been about practising gratitude and surrendering to the reality exactly as it shows up.

  1. Doing so much yoga feels amazing.

Before I came out to Guatemala, I’d been doing lot of other exercise as well as yoga, like spinning and interval training. I thought I’d miss that when I came to just doing yoga. I even told myself I might carry on some fitness training in my breaks. No chance. My short breaks are spent reading my course books while trying to catch a few rays of sunshine. But I’ve loved it. My body and mind feel really good for the consistency and routine of this daily practice.

Now I’ve just got to figure out how I can carve 3 hours out of every day to practise yoga when I leave here…

Happy yoga-ing lovely people!

Jade xxx

Around the world in 80 yoga classes

I’ve done it! This week I’ve hit 80 classes of yoga since starting this blog and my yoga travels. This doesn’t include classes I’ve taught myself – just those I’ve attended. I’ve done 17 different types of yoga:

Types of yoga

Perhaps more importantly, I’ve had the privilege of being taught by 30 different teachers, whose experience ranged from 40 years to just 2 weeks. I’m grateful to them all:

Mike, Sarah, Adam, Vidya, Raphaelle, Gabriela, Roberto, Lidiya, Jess, Carl, Marcus, Lamonte, Charlie, Chetana, Jasmin, Nina, Josh, Dylan, Alex, Marina, Tara, Bob, Sammi, Richard, Drew, Tamzin, Jenne, Amanda, Cyrus, Alicia

What have I learned from my 80 classes?

There is no right or wrong.

Every teacher and every class is unique. Sometimes I’ve been taught ways of assuming postures in one class which directly contradict those taught in another. Sometimes classes are so different that it’s hard to believe they’re all called “yoga” My take on it is that it doesn’t matter too much. As long as the teacher is sharing their practice, with enough instruction, guidance and support to keep their students safe, the differences only add to the experience, and help me to stay more present.

Every teacher teaches you something worth learning.

As a recently qualified yoga teacher, I’m trying to soak up everything I can to make myself the best yoga teacher I can be. Often the flow of a class will exactly fit with the way I like to teach, or I’ll be in awe of the teacher’s creative sequences or their inspiring words. These are the classes I rush out of to find my notebook and scribble everything down before I forget it. In other classes the learning might be more subtle, and less easy to articulate. But maybe I’ll notice later in the day a shift in the way I feel. Or a week or even a month later, something that teacher said to me will come back to me, and I’ll be grateful for their insight.

Yoga will meet you where you are, but it never leaves you where it found you.

There have been yoga classes where I’ve been aching so much from some ridiculous workout the day before that I’ve told myself I could leave after the warm-up if it was too painful. There have been classes at 6am that I’ve had to almost literally throw myself out of bed to force myself to get to. There have been classes that I simply couldn’t be bothered with. But every single time, once I get on the mat, something changes. Somehow the yoga meets me in whatever state I’m in, acknowledges that and then gently moves me through it. There hasn’t been a single one of these 80 classes that I’ve regretted making the time for. So when my motivation to go is low, I do just have to remind myself that the hardest bit is turning up. Once I’m there, things are already starting to get better.

What’s next now I’ve done 80 yoga classes?

When I started my yoga travels, I told myself I’d maybe do this until September, but that was unrealistic. 80 classes is not even close to being enough. I still have so much I want to learn. Maybe I’ll aim next to be taught by 80 yoga teachers, or to try 80 styles of yoga. Or maybe I’ll let go of the numbers altogether. Whatever, I’ll never consider myself a “finished product” as a yoga teacher. I’m going to keep practising, keep learning, and keep writing. I am eternally a student.

What do you mean I have to meditate every day?

I have a confession. For a yoga teacher, I’m really bad at meditation. I try to meditate regularly, but often even three minutes feels like an insurmountable hurdle. With my recent attempts to be more mindful, I was secretly really pleased to be invited to join the yoga teacher trainees this week at Suryalila for their daily meditation session. I knew this would force me to meditate for 25-30 minutes every morning. Here’s how the week went…

Day One – Vidya our teacher eased us in gently with a guided meditation. She instructed us to gradually move our attention through our bodies and to our breath. The time went reasonably fast, perhaps because there was very little time in complete silence. Even with the regular instructions though it was amazing how much my mind still drifted away though.

Day Two  – This time we were in complete silence for the whole meditation, with only a bell to mark the start and end. To say my mind wandered would be a gross understatement. My mind took epic treks, to the point that I forgot for what seemed to be huge swathes of time that I was meant to be meditating. Afterwards I tried not to beat myself up for not trying hard enough.

Day Three – I fell and bruised my coccyx the day before (note to self – move yoga bricks out of the way before attempting new inversions…), so yoga was out-of-bounds for a day. But I was pretty proud of myself for not taking the excuse and still getting up early for meditation. Another silent meditation led to more struggles to focus. At times I would catch myself as my thoughts started to drifting into something that felt more like dreaming – maybe I actually was on the verge of falling asleep. Given the painfully early start this seems entirely possible.

Day Four – I was teaching yoga straight after the meditation, so I kept mentally rehearsing the class. In fact, it was a good few minutes after the bell that I remembered I should have started meditating. On the plus side this was actually ideal preparation for teaching. I felt really centred and calm when I started the class . I also did a group meditation in the evening, which I enjoyed a lot more and found it far easier to focus.

Day Five – after the best night’s sleep I’ve had in ages (a double dose of meditation everyday is clearly the answer to my insomnia) the morning meditation was guided instead of silent.  I liked this a lot.  We were guided to become aware of our thoughts without getting drawn into the narrative of them, and then to take our focus onto the awareness itself. I felt very peaceful and content.

Day Six –  We were back in silence, so I tried guiding myself through the sensations I felt in my body. Every time I started to feel bored or restless, I looked for somewhere I was physically or mentally holding on and consciously let go. My mind did wander, of course, but I also experimented with counting my breaths, which helped.

Day Seven – there was no group meditation today, so my roommate and I meditated together to hold each other accountable for doing it! I felt really good during this meditation – I did get caught up in my thoughts a lot, but I was able to bring myself back and to quietly congratulate myself each time I did for noticing that I’d drifted.

So has seven days of meditation made a difference?

I think it has. Just not in the way I expected. I thought that after a week my concentration would be better. I don’t think that’s the case, although I am perhaps getting better at gently bringing myself back to the present moment when I notice that I’ve drifted.

The difference I have noticed has been quite subtle. During the day I’ve felt more centred and less inclined to follow my thoughts into a spiral that affects my mood. It is only a slight change but it’s enough to make me want to keep it up.

This isn’t the first time I’ve vowed to meditate regularly though, so I’ll let you know how it goes…

How yoga teacher training changed me

beforeafterIn May 2015, I finished my 200 hour yoga teacher training. During our graduation ceremony, we were presented with a card, which had a photo of our group on the first night of our training back in October 2014. A lovely idea. Except when I saw the photo (it’s the one on the left in the picture!)

I didn’t even recognise myself to start with. Once I realised it was me, I had to fight the urge to confiscate the photo from every member of my group, and erase all evidence that I looked like that. I might be smiling but I look worn out. And the thing is, it’s not just a bad photo. I know that the way I look is reflective of how I was feeling at the time. But I’ve decided not to pretend that it never happened. I’m choosing to share it, along with the photo on the right taken on the last night of my yoga teacher training. I hope you can see the difference…

Back when the first photo was taken, I’d made the positive choice to do yoga teacher training, but other aspects of my life weren’t so great. I’d left teaching, and although I had a better work-life balance, I missed the sense of purpose in my new job. I’d also become a bit obsessive about food and exercise. Although it probably looked as if I was eating “normally”, I was over-exercising to justify eating at all, doing intensive cardio five times per week. Some days I’d run 10km and go to spinning. The week before I started the yoga teacher training, I badly hurt my back when I tried to add a CrossFit class into my already fairly manic exercise regime.

The initial 10 days of yoga teacher training were really tough. I lacked any real control over my diet and I missed running a lot. More than that, when doing yoga (unlike running), I wasn’t able to disconnect my mind from my body. Instead I was forced to notice how I much I was hurting and how tired I was. I realised what damage I’d been doing over the last few months. My muscles were tight and sore. Any attempts to achieve yoga teacher super-flexibility were laughable. Some days my back pain made it nearly impossible even to relax in child’s pose.

But despite these struggles, or maybe because of them, something in me changed during those 10 days. I noticed the pain I was in and sat with it. I found an inner stillness, a quietness that I had been drowning out. And I realised it was okay to relax and let go. I decided it was time to stop punishing my body and practise a bit of self-acceptance and love.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t start running again when I got back. Instead I committed to practising yoga every day, and channelled my physical and mental energy into that. I also relaxed my control over food and began to eat more intuitively (i.e. more!). On a trip to Bruges at Christmas I enjoyed hot chocolate, amaretto mulled wine and Belgian waffles. I remembered how good life can taste.

Later came my decision to travel, which was largely driven by my desire to focus fully on the yoga I was enjoying so much.

I could write some nice clichés here, about how I’ve never looked back, and it’s been all onwards and upwards since then, but that would be a lie. There have been incredibly challenging times – times when I yearned to go back to the familiarity of my old life. I’ve experienced volunteering disasters, dead chickens and nights I’ve been so hot and uncomfortable I haven’t slept at all. But I definitely don’t regret it.

I’m writing this while drinking fresh coconut water in a café in beautiful Chiang Mai, already planning my next trip. I’m wondering which friends to visit in Europe, and where to spend Christmas. I’m embracing the uncertainty because of the possibilities it brings. And if I ever do doubt whether I’m doing the right thing, I only have to look at that photo to know that going back is not an option.

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.

Yoga Teacher Training in Valencia: The Highlights

Why I’d choose Yoga Teacher Training over a holiday any day of the year…

Valencia pool picI spent 10 beautiful days in Valencia in October last year beginning my Yoga Teacher Training with Bahia Yoga. It was amazing. I got a few quizzical looks when I told people I was spending 10 days of my precious annual leave on a course. “But don’t you want a holiday?” was a question I was asked a lot. I did (and still do, to be honest!) but this was better.

Before I start to rave about the weather and the stunning surroundings (which I am going to, you have been warned!), it is worth pointing out that this was a serious study course, not a yoga retreat. Every day I learnt so much physically, academically and emotionally that my brain hurt and my body ached.  Despite the fact I am usually a chronic insomniac, I fell asleep almost instantly each night, which was a good job given that our alarm for morning meditation went off at 5.45am. I enjoyed the whole process though, massive geek that I am. Having spent five years as a teacher, there is something lovely about allowing yourself to be a student again, and completely focusing on learning from others.

Once I’d chosen to train with Bahia Yoga, I had a choice as to whether to study one weekend per month in Nottingham, or to do the course over two 10-day stints in Valencia. Now, I am a big fan of Nottingham – it’s my home city and I think it’s massively underrated, but I have to say, it was a no-brainer for me. The opportunity to study in beautiful Valencia, where we could practise outside, and relax by the pool during study breaks was one I could not turn down. Even the weather was on our side – it was October, but still beautifully warm and sunny.

Being so far away from everything, we were in a secluded little bubble. It was still pitch black when we got up each morning, but this meant I experienced for the first time the magic of practising yoga as the sun came up. Meals were eaten in silence (or at least we tried!) and the daily meditation practice meant I felt more relaxed and at peace than ever before.

That’s not to say that it was a humourless affair. It’s possible I’m slightly biased, but I am of the firm belief that people who do yoga are especially interesting, lovely and funny. And the wonderful people I trained with in Valencia proved my theory. It was like spending 10 days with old friends, except old friends whose stories and jokes you haven’t heard before, so you still have all the enjoyment of getting to know each other.

Admittedly this desire to learn more about each other did lead to some bending of the silence rules. Particularly around bedtimes, mild hysteria tended to kick in, as we dissected the day, whispering while we completed our homework. Decidedly un-yogic mosquito massacres also became part of our shared routine.  My new yoga buddies provided light relief when the physical practice became too intense – my favourite quote of the course came from one fellow trainee (who shall remain nameless!) who gasped after lifting up into Bow Pose. When the teacher asked her what was wrong she announced to the room, “It hurts my fanny!”

The whole experience was brilliant – I returned feeling rested, re-energised and motivated to make the changes in my life that I had been avoiding for a long time. I could not be more pleased that in April I will be returning to Valencia to (hopefully!) complete my Yoga Teacher Training. It turns out there are some things that are even better than holidays.

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