Monthly Archives: March 2011

That time I totally lost it

It’s a good thing I’m so interested in learning about kids, because on Sunday I certainly acted like one. And I’m glad, because I felt my feelings and released them and once I’d been counseled I was filled with absolute calm. It was a peaceful catharsis and I am grateful for it.

But still. I’m nearing thirty and I had a temper tantrum.

I’ve always been a devoted and attentive student; partly because I’m a nerd and partly because I want teachers to like–secretly to love–me, and I’ll do everything I can to earn their approval and affection. Also I like to succeed and I am smart, so tell me what needs to be done and I will do it. I am comfortable with achievement, but I believe it requires effort.

I have been trying hard to not expect to be special as I train to be a yoga teacher. There are so many of us in my training class, and we are all individuals with sincere motivations for taking the training. We have plenty in common but are each inherently different, and I don’t necessarily relate to everyone in my class even though I know I should, because we are all inherently the same.

So even though I’m okay with not being particularly special, on Sunday I had a hard time watching people who frustrate me get special attention. And so I got frustrated. And then I cried like a big, big baby for a long, long time.

When I had the chance I ran for the bathroom but someone was already in there and another student intervened, coming up behind me, palms over my heart, breathing into my back and attempting to soothe me. But it wasn’t until a teacher approached us and took me into the hallway that I was able to really calm down. It was in gasping sobs that I explained my reaction and my frustration.

I was upset because my peer hadn’t done her homework. And she was practically bragging about her negligence–definitely not apologizing. I actually understand where this person was coming from, and respect her needs and choices. But she was also laughing, acting glib. And she was wasting time and disrespecting something I am working very, very hard for. And while I was unsure whether my own effort was being recognized, this person was getting a good deal of attention. Squeaky wheels may get the grease, but credit ought to be given to those who oil their own axles.

The teacher, bless her, simply repeated back to me what she’d heard. Hearing my own words and her interpretation of them really did make a difference, just like all the articles I’ve read on good communication suggest. Active listening is actually effective, and within minutes I’d talked my way through the situation and become calm.

It’s only a few days later but it feels like a lot longer. I’ve had a busy week, and last night I was workshopping with some fellow trainees and I mentioned my breakdown so casually, offhand. Most of them hadn’t even noticed. (I can believe this; it’s a crowded room and before I made a run for the bathroom, it wouldn’t have been so obvious–I was just hunched over in child’s pose, shaking instead of resting. Trying not to make sounds as I sobbed.)

And it was fine! I felt fine discussing it, they felt fine acknowledging the validity of my response, the subject shifted and that was that. No big deal. No lingering shame or embarrassment. And even more encouraging, I also assisted in a class last night with the same teacher who listened so sincerely on Sunday. I’d meant to thank her for her guidance, but the timing never felt right and then it didn’t seem necessary. It happened, it’s over, why bring up the past when we are already in the present?

So even though “public tantrum” is not my preferred mode of expression, I am glad I allowed myself to vent–my feelings had been building up for weeks but haven’t bothered me since. It is healthy to let go of what is no longer useful, and I’m grateful to the child in me for prompting a much-needed release.

Yoga for the young

I don’t want to be too dramatic, but I miiight have found my calling. I learned about kiddie yoga at a training session this weekend and I loved every minute of it. Of course I can’t know for sure until I actually work with some children, but pretty much everything about this aspect of yoga education excites me.

Before I decided to teach yoga, I’d considered many careers related to education. First I decided to get my masters in library science and become a children’s librarian, but I soon realized I was much more interested in storytime than information technology—I’d be better off working at a kids bookstore, except that I didn’t really want to work in a bookstore full time. Next I became passionate about becoming a guidance counselor. I’d come to understand the importance of processing emotion, and it broke my heart to think of young people with no skills for coping with their pain. But aside from not having the right pre reqs for grad school, I acknowledged that I have no desire to be locked down to a traditional schoolday schedule. Then I tried my hand at teaching reading and writing on a volunteer basis, this time to adult literacy students. I confirmed through that experience that while I love sharing knowledge and inspiring self-improvement, I’m not really cut out for by-the-book work sheets and desk instruction.

By the time I quit my tutoring gig I was an avid yogi, so when the prospect of teacher training popped up at the perfect time, it was an instant answer to the long-lingering question of what the heck I’m here on the planet to accomplish.

I know my mission in this life is to share love. It’s a strong message I’ve received from my deepest core, and I’m grateful for the understanding. But the specifics of how exactly I’m meant to share that love have yet to materialize. I do know that getting certified as a yoga teacher feels 100% like a step in the right direction, so I’ve been letting the question of my destiny hover in the background as I focus on life’s daily challenges, trusting that the answers will come when I’m ready for them.

And teaching yoga to kids might be one of those answers. This weekend a new road unrolled long before me and I am eager to explore it further. I immediately connected with the ideas discussed, and thoroughly enjoyed the techniques we practiced. And while the approach may be different, all of yoga philosophy is most certainly applicable to kids, because kids are fully human. In some ways kids are more human than most adults, because they are still innately aware of their connection to the energy of the universe, which some call spirit or god and I like to label as love. It is easier to tap into their flow, to go with their energy and guide them toward controlling their breath and managing their feelings, all while allowing what is. There is less resistance–though there also is plenty. They are, after all, fully human.

But in general, kids don’t mind being silly; they’re not as self conscious yet and this makes for wonderful learning opportunities, and also allows for fun. And on a selfish level, teaching kids means I get to be childlike on a regular basis. (Sure, I spent the last hour singing and jumping around—it’s my job!) I also like that teaching youth requires utmost honesty—they can tell if you’re insincere and then they won’t trust you, and you can’t be a good teacher without trust. (This is true for adults too, but less immediately obvious.)

I truly care about education; I think everyone benefits from awareness, and I want to cultivate it on both individual and group levels. Let me teach the kids during school or after, the teachers before or on the weekends. We all need it, I want to give it, I’m here to serve. This is something I am good at, that feels natural and challenging in a purposeful way. And since children are indeed the future, sharing the tools for exploring their inner and outer landscapes seems especially worthwhile and rewarding.

Hands-on service

At the end of the yoga class I took tonight, the teacher read a quote by George Bernard Shaw. “I am of the opinion,” he said, “that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.”

I resonate so strongly with that perspective, but I have heard the quote before and I didn’t always see it this way. At a logical level I’ve always understood the value of humility and public service; I was in the youth group at church and did my share of volunteering. One spring break in junior high, I even did community service every day instead of hanging out by the pool. I don’t remember enjoying the work, but I knew it was important. And though I continued to volunteer in college and after–as a mentor and a tutor, mostly–it often felt more like a duty than a joy.

Now, however, I derive true pleasure from service. Maybe it’s just that soup kitchens and homework help aren’t my things. Or maybe it’s that I’ve matured, found a stronger spiritual center. Whatever the reason, teaching yoga actively fulfills the notions I’ve been nurturing: Giving is better than receiving, loving is better than needing, faith is better than fear.

I’m confident in my knowledge and eager to share it; I’m no better than anyone around me, we’re all the same, and we all need the same thing: Love, mostly, but also acceptance and encouragement. And in yoga, sometimes a simple hands-on adjustment can convey all of that.

When I adjust people in practice, I do not wish to change them, only to guide or suggest. A gentle tap on a knee to nudge it back over the ankle; firm pressure on a heel to help ground a posture; the press of a shoulder to facilitate release of tension. Small gestures, given with confidence, care, and respect; offering assistance but not critique.

I have fresh firsthand experience how wonderful this type of guidance can feel, because in the class I took before the one I helped teach, a fellow teacher trainee was assisting, and she used my body to practice making adjustments and help me deepen my postures. She did a great job and surprised me with a knee/calf/ankle/foot massage near the end of final savasana that my aching joints sorely appreciated. So when she decided to stay for the following class, the one at which I was assisting, I was eager to return the favor while getting in some adjustment practice of my own.

I was a little nervous about touching people’s sweaty bodies, but as it turned out, I was so absorbed in my work that the sweat scarcely registered. It’s only salt water, after all. And the wet is from honest exertion, and I respect that. More significantly, I know how incredibly good it feels when a fellow instructor overlooks my own perspiration and guides me into a deeper stretch.

So I touched people tonight–only when I really thought I could help them, and I’m sure I made mistakes. But I was truly trying, and the effort was fulfilling. I felt like I was being of genuine service, like my energy was useful. It really was a privilege to be in the room, offering what I had to give. And that felt fantastic. As Shaw put it, “this is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one.”

Being still

It can be the hardest thing, doing nothing. Allowing your mind to race but not chasing thoughts, allowing the urge to fidget but not giving in to movement.

I can move my body, but I choose not to move my body. It is this physical decision that paves the way for calm, for when I am still, the only thing rising and falling is my breath. And when my focus is on my breath, I fully connect with my body. I am present and aware.

Be still. Kelly Clarkson has a song that I loved at first listen but certainly did not credit with spiritual significance. Yet years later, now that I’ve started to pay attention to what’s going on inside and around me, her refrain echoes in my mind. “Be still, let it go.”

When we are still, we can discover the truth of what’s happening. We can become observers of our own wonderful and active minds, and we can accept what we experience.

I always thought yoga was about twisting into various unlikely positions, so it fascinates me to learn and understand how yoga, in all its movement, is truly about stillness. About connecting with our deepest selves, and thus the source of creation, and letting love flow freely. We don’t achieve this bliss through the act of power yoga or other asana–we relax into it as reward for our honest efforts.

Seriously, get a neti pot

As allergy season approaches, the best advice I can offer is to use a neti pot. This simple method of natural cleansing will do wonders for your sinus passages. Firstly, the flow of water assists in the removal of debris, allowing for better breathing. Secondly, the salt in the water kills bacteria, aiding the immune system. And thirdly, the habit promotes personal care and discipline, two qualities essential to yoga.

We drip snot and blow our noses because a lot of the gunk that gets collected needs to be released. Our nasal passages are lined with miniscule hairs called cilia that pass dirt and debris over their wavy little heads, like concertgoers passing a crowdsurfer, with smooth precision. Nothing refreshes these hardworking hairs more than to be flushed with warm salty water and relieved of their slimy and/or crusty burdens. Like taking a swim in a temperate ocean, using a neti pot clears out the sinus passageways with gentle thoroughness, allowing air to pass through more freely and be better filtered.

What’s more, while the salt water is finding its way around the turbinates of each nostril, it dehydrates the bacteria it encounters. This benefit is especially useful if you are prone to bacterial sinus infections; using a neti pot is an effective alternative to antibiotics. (I’m not clear on whether it’s wise to kill healthy bacteria along with the harmful germs, but there is definitely medical precedent for the “kill ’em all, let god sort them out” approach.) Salt water can also reduce swelling of the nose and throat linings using those same death-by-dehydration powers to remove the extra fluid that’s causing the swelling. So gargling salt water in addition to flushing out the nose doesn’t hurt.

Last but not least, one must cultivate patience and persistence in order to regularly use a neti pot. Sometimes the water doesn’t flow right away; sometimes it drips steadily for what feels like forever. And throughout it all, the breath requires awareness. Maybe it’s the breath-based aspect that qualifies neti pot use as a form of yoga; it does keep the nostrils clear, and supposedly breathing in and out of both nostrils at the same time can bring you to bliss. (Normally we just use one nostril at a time. Let me know if you want to know more about that.) So neti = clear passageways = effective breathwork = bliss. Bliss that you can move toward with a simple addition to your hygiene routine. Does it get more convenient than that? You can really do yoga standing at your sink. Breathing carefully through your mouth. Patiently tuning in to the drip and the flow. Staying present and honoring the body.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Your nose needs a neti.

Attitude adjustment

Over the last week or two I’ve been becoming brave. I still have fears and doubts but I am taking action anyway, behaving “as is,” because, well, I am.

I am a giver and a teacher and a leader and a lover of life. Yoga is for everyone and I want to share my personal knowledge and experience. But even more I want to encourage individual exploration.

I believe that once you know what you want, it is quite often possible to achieve your goal. If you want something passionately, you will work for it; you will find the courage to stand up for your desire, to show up for your life.

Sounds great in theory. But what if you don’t know what you want? For years, I didn’t–or I’d stopped remembering that I did. But more recently I’ve realized how important it is to feel free and unconstricted, and I’ve allowed my heart to open and my awareness to expand. I can feel the life force in my body and my spirit soars with joyful recognition.

I feel fantastic when my energy is not suppressed or blocked, when it flows unchecked on its natural course. I allow emotions to be acknowledged and felt, and I release them when it is possible for me to do so. And when I ask myself questions like, “what do I find infinitely fulfilling and worthwhile?,” I get answers.

Yoga is worth work. Worth the effort of making time for the mat, and the physical effort of exploring the body. And for me, worth hours of study and experimentation, worth taking on emotional challenges, questioning beliefs, and learning discipline.

I want to teach because it feels like the right thing for me to do. I am so grateful to be enrolled in a training program that takes me and my potential at my word and provides me with the opportunity to let my light shine. If I want to teach well, I will. And slowly but surely, I’m gaining the crucial clarity and confidence that I need to be my best. How exciting is that?!*

*(Answer: VERY!)

Anusara sadness

All I knew about Anusara yoga before tonight, I’d read in a NYT article about its founder. I’m a huge believer that alignment is a crucial aspect of asana, if not the most important part of a physical practice, so I liked that the Anusara style puts major emphasis on alignment. I also support the translation of yoga’s core values into a message of personal empowerment and awareness that’s easily digestible by western culture.

So I was psyched to learn that tonight’s training would be led by an Anusara instructor. I was hungry for a taste of something new.

And now I’m sad.

I don’t know if it’s worth ruminating on this feeling; I know it will pass, and it’s certainly not fair to say the Anusara style is responsible for the emotion. Goodness knows I hope it’s not, and I plan to try another class. Because the gloriously frustrating thing about yoga experiments is that they are hardly scientific. I can’t replicate my experience any more than I can tell you how it felt for the person on the mat next to me.

All I know is that I was brimming with enthusiasm upon arrival and floating on a soft cloud of sadness when I left.

Which most likely just means the yoga was effective. My heart opened, emotions released, I relaxed, and now I’m feeling what came up. Simple, pure, true.

Current feelings aside, the style did place the expected emphasis on alignment, and I appreciated the teacher’s repeated and patient clarification of a proper cobra: lifting with the heart, absolutely not crunching into the lower back. She put us in a few poses that were almost familiar but not quite, so that they challenged my body in a new way and brought me to a different edge.

She encouraged us to relish the edges and the challenges, because life is full of them and we have the power to choose our actions. She asked us to focus on our foundations; on our fingertips clawing into the mat and the edges of our feet firmly rooting into the floor so that muscles engaged all the way up to our backs.

I learned to feel rooted and grounded and secure. Leaning into a prayer twist while in a crescent lunge, I encountered my usual shaky wobble of the back leg–until the teacher asked us to remember that we had the strength and freedom to create our own stability. I dutifully redirected my focus to those back leg muscles and suddenly–stillness. Solidity. Who knew?

The inner me, apparently. That higher self of mine is so full of truth and desire, I was told, that it made my very existence possible. The universe may not be just, but it wanted me to be here. My life wants nothing more than for me to be true to my own essence. To follow the path that is uniquely mine. Bad things will happen along with the good and the important thing is to take part in it all. To embrace existence with radical affirmation.

I dig all that, especially the concept of indiscriminate gratitude: Being thankful for everything in my life, whether I like it or not, has resulted in personal miracles that continue to abound. So I’m on board with Anusara for the most part. I can willingly step into the current of life and go with the flow.

Which for now I guess means honoring my sorrow. It’s vague and specific at the same time, and I can appreciate that it’s the honest outcome of an open heart. Because we closed the class with an energy practice (disclaimer: not an Anusara technique) that made my chest swell. We sent love to tsunami victims in Japan, and to people in our lives who needed it, and to each other. And then we OM’d, so many times that it became a constant sound for long minutes, a heavy, hearty vibration of humanity and comfort.

A nice reminder that we’re all in this together, however it feels.

Teaching for one

Tonight I taught my first class ever!

To myself!

I ended eleven minutes early and I know I forgot superhero pose and I forgot to offer the bind at the end of left side angle series and I don’t recall offering it all during the crescent prayer twists but whatever, I talked for fifty minutes straight and got a pretty decent workout in the process!

It was a good class for me, and very helpful to notice where I felt stuck. I was determined to teach professionally, so even as I realized mistakes I pushed myself to continue, voicing a correction if necessary but maintaining a tone of calm and control. Keeping an even speaking cadence also meant I couldn’t push myself too hard; if I became out of breath, I had to slow down and give “the class” some time to relax.

And sure I missed a few points here and there, but we’re talking first time here! I had every expectation of referring to my notes; I wasn’t initially trying to test myself, only to have a personal practice. My body was craving asana, but I wasn’t up for studio practice; I didn’t leave there last night till eleven and I’m still on the mend and eager to be healthy for this weekend’s training, so I needed something low-key. I struck a compromise: I’d practice gently alone, and rehearse dialogue while I was at it.

Good call! Teaching myself provided the physical release I was seeking and gave me unexpected reassurance of my potential as an instructor. I’ve been studying, so I knew I was starting to get a feel for how each cluster of postures interacts and transitions to the next, but it still surprised me that I remembered nearly the whole sequence.

The sooner I know the sequence, the sooner I can get into a classroom and assist. The thought terrifies me but it excites me too. I’m almost afraid to study any harder, since the more confident I get the closer I get to calling my own bluff: Do I really have what it takes to teach?

I almost wish I’d recorded my dialogue tonight, but I’m not yet sure if audio of my own voice would help me or just make me cringe. And it’s not like I’m aiming for a repeat performance: I already know I’ll never teach exactly the same class twice.

Instead, I’ll just try again soon.

Welcoming weakness

I am not supposed to be writing this. I am supposed to be taking a 6 p.m. class and then attending a workshop on consciousness and art and creativity. I have been looking forward to the workshop for a week, and planned to write a post about my (presumably) enlightening experience there.

But instead I am in bed, having chosen my body over my head.

It was an agonizing decision, because I have a hard time acknowledging weakness. I thought it should have been enough that I forfeited last night’s hot yoga practice in favor of a quiet evening and an early bedtime, especially since I’d taken it easy the previous night.

I had an exceptionally long and intense weekend of training, and I felt completely drained by the time I finally got home Sunday night. I’d been warned that there might be some fallout from all the energy I’d stirred up over the weekend and consequently went to bed as soon as I could. But before I went to sleep, I packed a bag for the next day’s hot yoga class.

Monday morning, I recognized the pain in my throat as a sign that I needed to take things slow, but I still came to work prepared to head to the hot room afterward. It took till 2 p.m. for me to admit I wasn’t hydrated or healthy enough to for ninety minutes of sweaty moving meditation. And after all, I consoled myself, I’d really given my all over the weekend; I deserved a night off. I felt indulgent and generous as I granted myself a reprieve and left my mat at the office.

Of course the implicit part of that bargain was that if I rested last night I’d be healthy today. And yet here I am, feeling worse than before! I know I’m not alone; my class listserve has been slammed with emails from trainees in varying degrees of physical distress. But it isn’t fair. I’ve been following the rules: I’ve been going to bed early every night since Thursday; I’ve been eating healthy and taking my vitamins; I haven’t had a social engagement in more than a week.

And so I was really looking forward to tonight, to some low-pressure time on the mat and the chance to soak in some knowledge on topics that truly fascinate me. And I could have gone–I could be in class right now, completing a flow and allowing myself plenty of rest in child’s pose. (While I was still mentally arguing my case for being active, I even told myself I could stay in child’s pose for the entire class.) And I could have dragged myself to the workshop, convincing myself that attending a lecture doesn’t require energy (and ignoring the fact that commuting definitely does).

But, for maybe the first time, I’m putting my body first. It was begging me for bed–a hint I picked up on when I found myself compelled to take a thirty-minute savasana (aka nap) on my lunch break. And as much as I wanted one night off to be enough, it wasn’t. As much as I want to be doing yoga right now, and to be learning about consciousness later, I’m not.

Because like it or not, I am unwell. It is huge for me to accept this, to stay away from the studio and from an earnestly anticipated learning opportunity. I am stubborn and a hard worker and I like to stick to my plans. But it’s not considerate to bring germs into a public space. (I feel bad enough about going to the office, but calling in wasn’t an option.) And though I’ve unfortunately seen enough coughing yogis to suggest otherwise, it is not useful to practice while under the weather. Rest, not exercise, is what heals.

So for tonight, my yoga will be welcoming my weakness rather than resisting it. And as disappointed as I am to miss out on the activities I’d so gladly made time for, I am proud of myself for listening to my body and respecting its needs.

Festival of Meditation and Spirituality

I picked up a flyer on the lower east side and thought I’d let everyone else know about this free meditation and spirituality festival.

It already started, but there are still events every night this week, culminating in a weekend workshop. The website says reservations are required, but I called and you can just show up for everything except the weekend workshop, which is still accepting pre-registration. I’m definitely planning to attend an event or two; I don’t have much meditation experience but trust I am welcome, as are you. Check it out if you’re interested/in town!

Private practice

This evening I took advantage of one of training’s biggest perks: access to an empty studio.

An empty studio means that instead of orally rehearsing my dialogue while strolling the streets of Manhattan, I have the opportunity to try my hand at verbal instruction in a designated space, with real-life students, aka fellow teacher trainees, following my voice. (There is also a much lower chance of being mistaken for a crazy person.)

The catch is that the studio is only available when it’s not being used for a scheduled class, which at night isn’t the case until 9 p.m. I originally thought this was impossibly late–I’ve been so tired lately that if I had my way I’d be heading toward bed by 9 on most nights. But in truth I almost never get to sleep before 11, so I decided I might as well start making nighttime yoga part of my routine.

Tonight I helped the closing instructor clean the space (including the bathroom, whoa!) and was rewarded with the privilege of lingering for private practice. Another trainee did the same, and we were lucky enough to have the company of a third person who has already completed training and recently begun teaching. So the other trainee and I took turns guiding each other through the first few minutes of a basic sequence and then trading critiques, and we were immensely aided by the observations and insights of our more experienced peer.

I guess I’m officially a yoga dork, because I sincerely enjoyed discussing the details of each posture and how to teach them. I can’t remember the last time I felt so fulfilled from studying! Considering I took a full class before the dialogue practice I’d expect to be exhausted after three hours of yoga, but in fact I feel light and elated. Turns out, my body, when given the chance to properly enjoy it, LOVES vinyasa yoga!

With just three of us in a quiet room I felt free to explore my movements and soak in the feeling of every shift of my body. And thanks to a very useful adjustment, I now know what it feels like to have a flat back–and this in a posture I’d never questioned. That is to say, I had no idea my back was arched in half lift, but apparently it was, and now I know how to get an amazing stretch from the crown of my head straight to the tip of my tailbone, deliciously elongating my spine.

My body is so happy with me, so grateful I have found a way to move in gentle ways that make it strong. It feels GOOD to be strong, just as it feels good to identify my weaknesses and allow them to exist, as opposed to pushing past them.

Sometimes I will sink to my knees during push-up plank and that is fine, it is not even less than, it is a full expression of the posture. Whatever I do in any given moment is simply enough, provided I am honoring my breath. What a relief, to be enough at all times! And that feeling of contentment travels way beyond the mat, so I’m especially glad to have found it tonight.

Going with the flow

One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed between Bikram yoga and vinyasa is something my studio calls “the flow.” Vinyasa encourages fluid movement and you don’t often stay in a pose for more than a breath or two. This, I’m discovering, is a useful and rewarding way to practice, but I’m finding it as initially challenging as I first found the hot room.

People have told me they find the idea of staying in a very hot room for ninety minutes intimidating, and I can certainly see their perspectives. But I think moving constantly for sixty minutes can be equally off-putting. Because in Bikram, though yes, it is HOT, you use the breath to hold still in a posture and delve into its nuances. In vinyasa, the movement is much faster, which is fine—as long as you know what you’re doing.

Yoga postures can be deceptively simple. Take downward dog: Palms and feet on the mat, hips in the air, body forming a V shape, head hanging heavy. Seems basic enough. But while this pose is easy to approximate, without specific knowledge of the nuances, it can feel awkward, especially on the wrists. (In fact, wrist pain is the main reason I’ve always disliked downward dog–a posture conveniently not included in the Bikram sequence.)

But with a few tweaks, downward dog becomes comfortable: Putting pressure on the knuckle joints instead of the fingertips made a world of difference for me, as did spreading out my fingers instead of keeping them together. And if I lift into the pose from a tabletop position (where I’m on my hands and knees with my wrists directly under my shoulders), I can be sure the length of mat space between my hands and feet is proportionate for my body. Armed with these adjustments, the same pose that once hurt my wrists now strengthens my upper body.

Which is good, since vinyasa class involves a lot of downward dog.

It also involves a lot of “the flow,” which means going from downward dog to push-up plank to a lower push-up-type move to upward dog and back to downward dog, all in the space of two breaths. During the course of a class, various postures are linked together through this repetitive sequence. The flow takes about five seconds to complete, but it’s taken me about five hours of discussion and demonstration to understand the details of how I should be positioning my body.

Before those five hours of training, I thought I was doing okay in class, mimicking the people around me and going through the motions. But now I understand that, while I wasn’t risking my life or anything, I also wasn’t getting the most out of my practice. With acute awareness of my physical movements–and how they pair with my breath–the flow feels smooth and empowering, not frantic and confusing. It’s feels good to know what I’m doing, and I look forward to helping others gain similar confidence.