Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

Category: life Page 4 of 5

Five things I wish I’d known before turning vegan…

About 6 weeks ago I did something I’d been thinking about for a while – I stopped eating meat, fish, dairy and eggs. My reason for doing this was simply that the more I learned about the animal industries, the more uncomfortable I felt consuming produce which supported them. I still like the taste of meat, I don’t judge anyone else for eating it, and I don’t think it’s more “natural” to be vegan necessarily. I just don’t want to support cruelty to animals.

Here’s what I wish I’d known before I started…

  1. You need to watch your calorie intake. It’s easy to not eat enough, especially if you’re not used to eating large volumes of food. For the first few days although I felt full after every meal, I’d wake up in the middle of the night hungry and have to make smoothies at 3am. This is not a good way to endear yourself to your housemates…
  2. Equally, you can have too much of a good thing. After realising I needed more calories, I set about eating almonds, avocado and olive oil like my life depended on it. My stomach was less than impressed.
  3. You need to have your rationale for a vegan diet clear in your own mind because you’ll be asked to justify your choices. A lot. Similarly it helps to have your nutritional facts straight – people become inordinately concerned about your protein intake when you tell them you’re vegan. Weird, because no one ever cared before when I’d shun dinner for a packet of Kettle Chips…
  4. You can feel like the awkward one in the group with the special dietary requirement. You might not have a problem with this, but unfortunately I do. I feel embarrassed and end up apologising. I’m working on it.
  5. You have to check things all the time

Me: These cookies are so good, I can’t believe they’re vegan!

Chef: Erm, Jade? They’re not.

Me: Oops.

Luckily there have been unexpected benefits too…

  1. There’s no need to live off rabbit food unless you want to. Vegan food can be delicious, varied and substantial. This week alone I’ve had burritos, curry, pancakes, cheesecake, chocolate mousse and flapjack.
  2. It’s easy to eat really well and up your intake of fruit, vegetables and wholefoods without even trying.
  3. You discover great restaurants that you may not have considered otherwise, like this amazing place in Tarifa where the majority of their menu is vegan.
  4. Vegan pizza is surprisingly tasty.
  5. It feels really good to know that you’re eating cruelty-free.

So for now I’m sticking with it. I don’t know whether it’s forever. I have a history of disordered eating, so now my physical and mental health are always my priority; I’ll only do it for as long as it’s healthy for my body and my mind. And who knows – maybe one day I’ll find a way to source the occasional animal product which is guaranteed to be cruelty-free. But at the moment, I’m happy with my choices. I just need to be more careful around cookies…

If you’re interested in going vegan, have been vegan for a while, or think it’s a terrible idea, I’d love to hear from you – let me know in the comments below!

Jade xxx

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…

You’re a human being, not a human doing

I heard this expression recently, and it made me laugh. Because I am definitely a human doing. And I like that. I like being busy.

I have things that I do every day in addition to volunteering, linked to my goals in life, which I never take a day off from. Currently my daily resolutions are to:

  • Write 750 words of my journal
  • Write something purposeful – a blog or article or idea
  • Pursue some writing work
  • Research future yoga and travel ideas
  • Attend or teach a yoga class
  • Do my own self practice of yoga
  • Do core strengthening and flexibility exercises
  • Meditate
  • Practise my Spanish using the apps on my phone

They’re all things I like doing. But as I’ve tried to become more mindful, I’ve noticed that they’ve started to feel very checklist-y. Someone asked me:

“What are you so scared of that you have to distract yourself by being busy all the time? Can’t you just be with yourself?”

This threw me. Why couldn’t I take a day off these activities? What would happen if I did? How would I make sure I was “making progress”? And then I told myself to get a grip – it was only one day. Let’s face it, if achieving my dreams was delayed by one day, would it really matter?

So I challenged myself to let go of the checklist for a day.

I didn’t get off to the best start. I initially thought I could still do things that were on my list, as long as I was doing them because I wanted to, not because I felt like I should. I got up for yoga class at 7.30am as usual. I found myself in the class thinking – maybe could do my core exercises after this. I realised that this wouldn’t work. I was going to have to ban the activities on my list altogether, otherwise I would just talk myself into doing them all anyway.

So after my morning dishwashing duties, rather than picking up my laptop to start writing, or my phone to begin language practice, I stopped, paralysed by indecision. What did I actually want to do? I realised that one of the reasons I have a list is because I hate wasting time and it can take me ages to work out what I want. But I stayed with this feeling of indecision, until it came to me. I wanted to read a book in the sunshine.

Later, two friends invited me to join them to practise some yoga teaching assists. I realised I could just say yes, without hesitating because I “should” be doing something else. It felt good. On another day I would have still said yes, but I  would have worried about when I would find the time later to get “back on track” with my list.

In the afternoon, I got ready to go for a walk, then realised I didn’t really want to go, and decided to read some more instead. I reminded myself there was no need to feel guilty about the time I wasted getting ready for a walk. It didn’t matter. I let go of the need for every moment to be productive.

I noticed at the end of the day how relaxed I felt, and how nice it was to not be mentally grading my day according to how productive I’d been.

The day off my activities also helped me to discover which of them I genuinely enjoy. I missed my own yoga practice. When I started to go for a walk in the afternoon, what I really wanted to do was some yoga. And I wanted to write, not because I had to, but just because I had ideas in my head that I wanted to get down on paper. I felt excited to be able to do them again the next day. The ones I didn’t miss I decided to rethink – maybe I can achieve the same outcomes in more enjoyable ways.

Am I a convert to becoming a full-time human being-not-doing? Not exactly. I’m still quite attached to my activities, because they’re all linked to goals I want to achieve. But I have learned that it’s good for me to take the pressure off and it’s helped me to be more present too.

If this sounds familiar to anyone else, I challenge you to let the checklist go for a day too. Let me know how you get on…

Jade xxx

How present are you?

11825661_10101252416878699_1449995224029953442_nWhat percentage of your waking day do you spend being present in the moment? As in actually being where you are, as opposed to replaying past events, or internally preparing for the future. 50%? 20%? 10%?

When someone asked me that question a month ago, my best guess was 5%. That’s not good. There’s a whole wealth of research into the benefits of mindfulness, or having your conscious awareness on the present moment on your mental health. But even putting that to one side, I didn’t like the idea that I was spending 95% of my life not actually mentally being there. I set out on a one month challenge to increase this percentage. Here’s the advice I’ve been trying to follow…

Increase the time you spend doing mindful activities

I already practised yoga every day – this is the only reason my percentage was as high as 5%! But the most obvious next port of call was meditation. When I make myself do it, I love the way I feel after meditation. But I am terrible at prioritising it. So this month I actively sought out opportunities to meditate. Living at yoga retreats I’ve taken advantage of meditation sessions run by others. I’ve also tried really hard to meditate for a couple of minutes at the end of my yoga practice each day. I’ve found this does make a difference. This time gives your body and your mind chance to absorb the benefits of the practice, and leaves you in a much better place to continue the day.

Reduce contact with things that pull you away from the present

For me a major distraction from the present moment is my phone. It is horrible to admit, but sometimes I barely notice the people around me because I am messaging someone, on Facebook or scrolling through random strangers’ images on Instagram. So I resolved to leave my phone behind as much as possible. I allocated times for messaging people in the day, then during the times I was with people I dedicated myself to that. It’s been a revelation. It turns out that when you give the people around you your full attention and really listen to what they are saying, they are far more interesting than the holiday photos of strangers. When you let yourself be fascinated by what someone has to say, they become fascinating.

Notice the times you zone out

One of them is while I eat. It’s fairly common for me to enjoy the first taste of my food, and then get lost in thoughts, conversation or my phone (again!) and the next thing I know, I’ve cleared my plate. Trying to stay present while eating proved a really big challenge. Although I enjoy food, I don’t really notice eating it very much. My mind drifts so quickly. I had to really slow down, to deliberately put down my knife and fork between mouthfuls and actively try to notice what I was doing. This is still a struggle. It is true though that when you manage it, you find that you enjoy the food more, and can also notice better when you feel full.  

Make the menial tasks into mindful  ones

I’ve tried tuning in with the same mindful awareness to all the tasks I do in my day in the same way I focus during yoga. I was worried I’d find this boring. How would I cope with doing the dishes without mentally planning my next trip abroad? But when I tuned into the sensory experience of what I was doing, the way I moved and the noises around me, even the most boring of jobs became really quite absorbing. Just like with people, when you give tasks your full attention, they become far more interesting. You give yourself permission to enjoy them.

Where am I now percentage-wise? At best I’d give myself 15%. Which is good and bad. On the positive side I’ve increased my mindfulness maybe three times over. On the less good side, there’s still 85% of my day that I am mentally not there. But at least the numbers are creeping in the right direction. And I do feel better for it. Definitely calmer, and more aware of the great things that happen all the time.

I think I’m going to make it my next goal to eat a whole piece of cake without getting distracted. Let’s face it, if I can’t get it straight away, at least I’ll have fun practising…

Why it’s great to come back…

DSC_0350-2When I started travelling, I had this idea that I’d be roaming all over the place, seeing as much of the world as I possibly could. I never thought I’d come back to somewhere I’d already been. There’s too much of the world to see.  In fact, when I arranged for my second Workaway placement to come to Suryalila Retreat Centre, I thought one month (their minimum stay) might be a bit long. But I liked the look of the yoga here, so I told myself I’d make the best of it.

However, within days of arriving here in March, I knew one month was nowhere near enough. Before I even left I made arrangements to return.

So here I am, one week into my return visit to Suryalila Retreat Centre. Here’s a few reasons why it’s worth going back to a place you love…

  1. It feels comfortable. Travelling is great. The constant movement, the new experiences, the lack of a routine, and the (barely) organised chaos. But when you travel, your whole environment is constantly shifting and changing, and it takes a lot of energy to keep up. Sometimes it’s good to stop and take stock a little bit. During my tougher moments in Thailand, the thought that I would be coming back in the summer to somewhere I felt as comfortable as Suryalila kept me going.
  2. You already know the ropes.  You don’t need to learn a whole new set of systems or ask a million questions. Aside from a few inevitable but unsettling changes (the place the muesli is stored has changed – did not see that one coming!) it’s probably quite easy to slip back into a routine.  This allows you to focus right from the start on being fully present and making the most of each day.
  3. Same same, but different. You’ll always find plenty of new in amongst the familiar – not least new people. Getting to know plenty of new, interesting people and catching up with those I knew from my previous visit has been the ideal combination for me.
  4. You appreciate it more. It’s so true that you don’t know how good you have it until it’s gone. Sometime you have to go away in order to appreciate all that is great about the place you started. It’s like going back to your parent’s house after moving out and appreciating fully for the first time the joy of a fully stocked fridge and showers that actually work. Except this time I fully appreciate having beautiful vegan food, a space to escape to during downtime, and a schedule that is prepared in advance and fair.

There is still a lot more of the world I want to see and experience, but it’s really good to know I’ll be here for a couple of months. It’s even better to think that I don’t have to re-pack my backpack for a whole two months! I’m borrowing my final thoughts on this from the brilliant Terry Pratchett:

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

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…

The flipside of positive thinking

Why maybe it’s okay not to like stuff…

11143479_10101215361562849_8306339481437872885_nFor about three years I ate prawns for dinner at least three times per week. That’s not so strange you might think, except that I don’t like prawns. I’ve never liked prawns, or any other seafood for that matter. There’s something about the texture, a squeakiness, that repulses me. So why would I eat something that I didn’t like?

Partly because at some point I got it into my head that there was nothing I did not like. That any negativity was just a thought, and that I could tackle that by simply deciding to think positive things instead.

I’ve applied this to lots of areas of my life and it’s been fairly successful. Marking huge piles of books became far more bearable when I told myself I loved reading student’s writing. Attempting a difficult yoga posture became a more positive experience when I decided that I enjoyed the challenge. Terrifying first dates were a lot more fun when I decided to love the awkwardness and embrace it, knowing that the worse things went, the more entertaining the stories would be afterwards.

But I’ve realised recently that it’s okay sometimes just not to like things. I’ve been teaching yoga at Moinhos Velhos, a beautiful retreat centre in Portugal, and I’ve had the chance to try out loads of amazing new things. Most of these I’ve loved – great meditations, yoga practices, vegan recipes. But there was one night I was talked into trying Biodanza. This is a practice of self development through music and dance. The idea is that as you progress through the practice, dancing and moving with people, you get in touch with your emotions, and feel a deeper sense of connectedness to others.

The lovely teacher assured us that although it might feel strange at first, that would quickly disappear. We’d feel completely relaxed and lose all our inhibitions. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, this never happened for me. The practise that was meant to leave me with “reduced stress and an enhanced sense of wellbeing” left me cold. All I wanted to do was run away. It was a feat of endurance not to fake a headache/ upset stomach/ broken leg and leave. I don’t entirely know why it didn’t work for me – I love dancing and I’ve had a great time at a (sober!) yoga rave before. But I just didn’t like it.

Afterwards I felt frustrated with myself. I wanted to like it. I wanted to find the positive, but all I could think was, “I’m glad I tried it, so that I know not to again.” But I realised maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s alright to dislike things sometimes. We all have individual preferences. Yes, there are some things that we need to do, and they’re a lot more pleasant if we find things about them to like. But there are some things that just aren’t our preference. And that’s okay too.

So why did I eat prawns for so many years? I was in a relationship with someone who loved them, and it was easier just to tell myself I liked them than cook separate meals. When the relationship ended, one of the many unexpected positives was realising I could stop eating prawns. My travels have become as much about working out what doesn’t work for me as learning about what does, and that’s all valuable. So I’m making a promise to myself now to remember that as long as I am open to new experiences, it’s okay for me not to like stuff.

And I’m genuinely excited about the prospect of never having to do Biodanza or eat prawns again…

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

I’m sceptical about the idea of detoxing. In my experience, ‘detoxes’ tend to be a 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 a ‘everything in moderation (including moderation)’ these days…

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

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 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, sociable 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 tend to be 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 them decribing in full detail the way “things are moving”.
  3. Conversations in general become 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. But maybe one day when I feel more secure in my recovery I’ll give it a go – if only because I’ve heard that cake tastes sublime after a few days of juice fasting…

*Edit: I later discovered that two of my favourite guests had graduated from pinching apples off the tree to taking ‘detox walks’ to the local cafe for coffee and actual food. I don’t blame them at all. I only wonder how many others were doing the same…

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.

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.

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