Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

Category: Teaching Yoga (Page 2 of 2)

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

Five Reasons Why Meditation Is So Hard

meditation (1)“I’m really bad at meditation.” I’ve heard this from many yoga students, and I’ve said it myself. I blogged about my meditation challenge here in fact. But what are the reasons why sitting still in meditation is so hard?

  1. It seems to go against everything we’ve been brought up to believe, in terms of striving for goals and taking action. You can read all the scientific studies you like about the benefits of meditation (and there are plenty of them – try this article for starters) but it still seems counter-intuitive that to enjoy all these lovely benefits you have to sit still and be quiet.
    2. It’s not actually just sitting there. If you come to meditation believing that it will be an easy, relaxing experience, you won’t be prepared for the sheer effort it requires. It takes focus, concentration and discipline to meditate. And that can be hard. The main feeling I used to experience on hearing the bell to mark the end of meditation was relief that it was over, and that I could stop trying to focus. This is normal, and it has lessened with time.
    3. Most people don’t understand the real purpose of meditation. The point of meditation is not to relax. Although meditation can, and does, help you feel relaxed, contrary to popular belief, that’s actually not the intended purpose behind it. The actual purpose of meditation is to understand the nature of the mind. Through that understanding, you gain the potential to harness the power of your mind, rather than being at its mercy.
    4. It’s said that your ego does not like this, which is why you experience such resistance to meditation. When you meditate, you recognise the way that thoughts and feelings arise, seemingly from nowhere, and fall away. And you realise that you are not those thoughts and feelings. You are the observer or the witness of the thoughts and feelings – a much deeper state of consciousness that’s completely unaffected by the events that happen to you. This brings the realisation that so much of what you think matters really doesn’t. Your ego doesn’t like this, so it resists.
    5. Being alone with your thoughts can be difficult. Sometimes they’re negative, disturbing, or (a lot of the time!) just plain boring. Meditation is so hard because your mind doesn’t want you to be doing it. It craves stimulation and distraction, and will try any number of things to get you to stop.

So what can you do about it?

There’s so much information out there about how to start meditating – a Google search returns 1,790,000 hits. The most crucial thing though is deciding that you want to meditate, and that you want to enough to put the effort into overcoming the challenges. It’s worth asking yourself – do you want to understand the nature of your mind? Do you want the potential to master your mind, rather than being enslaved by the random thoughts and feelings that pop into your head for the rest of your life? And if the answer is yes, meditation is probably a good place to start.

Have a wonderful week, everyone!

Jade xxx

P.S. All credit for my latest learning about meditation goes to my wonderful teacher Vidya at Frog Lotus Yoga.

 

 

How to fall in love with Savasana

Savasana“Savasana is the most important posture.”

When I began yoga, I didn’t believe this. I’ve seen the T-Shirts saying “I’m just here for Savasana,” which I find funny, because for me, Savasana, or corpse pose (i.e. lying flat on your back and relaxing completely) was definitely not what I was there for….

Toned, lean yoga body? Yes please.

Ridiculous flexibility? Absolutely.

Inner peace and harmony? Well if that’s an optional extra, sure.

But I have to lie still and do nothing to achieve that? No, I don’t think so.

But over time, I’ve started to make friends with Savasana, and I think you can too. Here’s why it’s worth a try, and how to go about it…

Four big benefits of Savasana

  1. It allows you to notice and absorb the benefits of the practice. A lot can happen physically, mentally and emotionally during yoga. Yoga meets you where you are, but it does not leave you where it found you. You need time to let yourself catch up with that and to enjoy the differences.
  2. It rests the body after physical practice. Throughout your yoga practice, you are seeking balance between effort and ease, between strength and surrender. By its very nature, physical practice requires strength and effort. Savasana gives you chance to balance that by seeking complete relaxation, allowing the body to recover and rest.
  3. You learn the skill of relaxation. And it is a skill. When you scan through the body in savasana, you have a final opportunity to find any remaining tension, physical or mental and let it go. You learn how to consciously relax.
  4. It marks the end of your practice, creating space before you re-enter the rest of the world. If you rush out straight after the last posture, it’s too easy to immediately lose all the mindful connection with yourself you cultivated through your yoga. Savasana gives you chance to take stock, which helps you to sustain that connection afterwards.

Getting the most out of Savasana

Know that there is no “wrong way” to do Savasana. Whether you are able to relax or your mind races, allow that to be. Trust that the experience you have is enough, and is what you need right at that moment.

The biggest barrier to relaxing in Savasana is likely to be your mind. Recognise any thoughts that are holding you back. Acknowledge them, and gently answer them with something kinder. For instance:

Negative thought Positive and kind alternative

It’s pointless just lying here.

Lying here allows me to absorb all the benefits of my practice.
I should be doing something more productive. I deserve this time to relax and let go after my practice.
I’m too busy for this. Savasana helps me balance the busy-ness of the rest of my life.

If you examine them, so many negative thoughts come from an underlying belief that you are not good enough as you are. Let that go. It won’t be serving you in your yoga, and it certainly won’t be serving you in your life.

See whether you can allow yourself to dare to believe that what you are already enough. Whatever you think to Savasana…

Happy relaxing lovely people!

Jade xxx

5 unexpected similarities between teaching yoga and teaching English

WarriorI’ve been teaching yoga for five months now, which is nothing compared to the nearly five years I spent teaching English in secondary schools. And it’s been a huge lifestyle change. I’ve swapped tea in the staffroom for coconut water by the pool (this is a lie… I can’t afford coconut water) and I no longer spend my weekends marking essays about Romeo and Juliet. I still don’t have weekends as a matter of fact, but that’s another story.

However, there are a few things that haven’t changed at all.

5 unexpected similarities between teaching yoga and teaching English

  1. Even when you think your instructions couldn’t be clearer there will be someone who hasn’t followed them. I thought this was unique to teaching hormonal, distracted teenagers in noisy classrooms. I was wrong.
  2. No matter how yogic and non-attached you try to be to the way your class is received, getting positive feedback from your students is up there with being told today is a snow day and school is cancelled.
  3. Conversely when the class doesn’t go as you’d hoped, it still feels like a personal affront.
  4. Students ask the most unpredictable questions. I’ve gone from, “Have you ever thought about trimming your eyelashes?” to, “What foods should I eat to open the heart chakra?” I’ve been similarly thrown each time.
  5. Teaching remains one of the most mindful practices you can do. Whether you’re teaching yoga or Macbeth, there’s something about the immediacy of instructing students and leading a class that brings you absolutely into the present moment. I love that about it.

However, one major difference? When it all starts to go wrong, in yoga it’s perfectly acceptable to stop the class and tell your students to close their eyes and focus on breathing while you remember what to do. I can’t see this having worked quite so well at school…

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.

Breatharianism, chanting and pesto…

DSC_0243~2Learning to appreciate the little things at Moinhos Velhos…

I’ve reached the end of my time teaching yoga at the detox retreat, and it’s been an incredible experience. I must admit it didn’t start so well though…

My first meal was uncomfortable. There were only two of us at the staff lunch, myself and another yoga teacher, who explained to me, “Before we eat we hold hands and chant a prayer.”  I laughed in his face.

“Are you joking?” He wasn’t. Awkward doesn’t even begin to describe the experience of trying to recover from that, hold hands, and chant a prayer I didn’t know.

Things went from bad to worse at dinner time, when they explained to me that one of the founders of the place had just been on a programme to learn how to be a breatharian. For those like me who have never heard of this before, a breatharian is someone so uber-spiritual that they exist only on light and air. No food, sometimes no water. With impressive self-control, I resisted the urge to tell them that breatharianism sounded like a synonym for bullshit.

Thankfully, the team forgave my heathen lack of spirituality and let me stay. During those first few strange days where everything felt alien and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, I found myself really appreciating the little things that did go well.

After 2 days of getting everything wrong with juicing and washing up (who knew there were so many ways you could go wrong there?!) my supervisor handed me a glass of fresh watermelon juice and barked, “You can drink this.” I almost fainted with shock at the sudden kindness.

Then a client stopped me after my first yoga class to tell me that she’d loved it. I found a beautiful walk that I could do in 30 minutes which was exactly the length of time I had between finishing clearing up and making lunch. I got to teach at 8am in the morning when it was still cool enough to enjoy a proper yoga practice without the room turning into a complete sweat box. Another volunteer made the best vegan pesto imaginable with fresh basil from the garden. I discovered the joys of pesto on toast for breakfast.

Even the mosquitos made me appreciate things more. After three nights of sleep disturbed by their horrible, “Eeeeeeeeee,” noise, getting insect repellent and a mosquito net felt like the equivalent of being upgraded to business class on a flight. And I discovered that a true friend is someone who not only will stay awake to help you find the mosquito that’s driving you crazy, but will also kill the one that has found its way inside your net (thanks Laura!).

The more I appreciated the little things, the more I found myself open to the benefits of the bigger things. I met people who were passionate about yoga, permaculture, alternative therapies and nutrition, and learnt from them all. And the experience I gained teaching yoga to the same group consistently was so valuable.

So all in all I feel very lucky to have been able to work and learn in this gorgeous place. Just don’t ask me to convert to breatharianism, or start chanting before meals anytime soon…

Things I’m learning about detoxing (without actually doing any detoxing myself…)

The magic detox ingredients

I’ve always been pretty sceptical about the whole idea of detoxing. In my experience, “detoxes” are often a more socially acceptable shorthand for, “I’m starving myself on a crazy crash diet in a bid to lose weight.” Given my intolerance for feeling hungry, and my genuine love of cake, this is not something that appeals to me. I’m more an everything in moderation (including moderation) girl these days…

But I’ve found myself teaching yoga in a beautiful little detox retreat in Portugal, and I have to say I am learning a lot about detoxing, handily without doing any myself (staff are allowed actual solid food – I did check that before I arrived!). Here are a few of my observations so far…

  1. People can fast and still be nice, decent human beings. I’m pretty sure if it were me fasting I’d be consumed by “hanger” (hunger+anger= hanger) and resentment of anyone with food. But the guests here are genuinely lovely, easy-going and happy. Impressive.
  2. Detoxing seems to bring with it an obsession with bowel movements. It is nearly impossible to ask someone how they are without being told in technicolour detail about the way “things are moving”.
  3. Conversations in general become quite bizarre. “Jade would you cover my yoga class tomorrow? I’m doing a liver cleanse tonight,” is a yoga teacher problem I had not anticipated.
  4. “Breaking” refers to the end of a fast. It does not refer to the physical or mental destruction of a person through starvation as I thought the first time I heard the question, “When are you breaking?”
  5. Detoxing involves a lot of work. You’d think that with no meals to cook, the daily diet would be simple. How wrong you would be.  There are fresh fruit and vegetable juices and broth to prepare four times a day, as well as pills, pastes, powders and supplements to measure and consume. I now understand why people would pay someone else to sort out all the hassle.

Am I tempted to try it? In a word, no. Given my history of disordered eating, I think following paths of thinking which are, “It’s only hunger; it’ll pass,” would not be good for me at the moment. But maybe one day I’ll give it a go – if only because I’ve heard that cake tastes sublime after a few days of juice fasting…

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.

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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