I just finished my second weekend of yoga teacher training, and I’m happy to say I still absolutely love it! This weekend was very different from the first weekend, in that we spent the entire time filling our heads with all things anatomy. While a bit overwhelming at times, I already have such a new appreciation for the human body and how it relates to yoga. It was so great to see my fellow yogis again and spend some quality time with them while we put all that we learned into practice.
Our weekend began Friday evening at the NoDa Yoga studio, where we met our guest instructor for the weekend, Rebecca (who really knows her sh*t). We went around the room stating how we felt at that moment and what our intention was for the weekend. This is the second time we did this exercise, and I particularly like it because it gives us a chance to check in with ourselves and really think about what we want out of our weekend instruction. I was feeling anxious for some reason, but my intention for the weekend was to be open to learning all about anatomy and get myself to a grounded place.
Rebecca began our anatomy instruction by discussing our physiological selves, as that’s key to understanding anatomy as a whole. We focused on the nervous system and breath. It was quite eye-opening to learn certain aspects of this. For example, I realized that my sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) frequently overtakes my parasympathetic nervous system (rational thinking), resulting in my being an emotional and inconsolable mess some days. Simply using the breath is enough for the parasympathetic nervous system to gain back control, but it’s something most of us don’t do often enough, or don’t know how to do effectively. We also discussed why long, slow breaths are effective in ridding the body of carbon dioxide, conserving energy and relaxing the muscles. Relaxed muscles result in stronger muscles and less risk of injury. As an experiment in controlling our breath, she had us do 3 sun A salutations, 2 sun B salutations and 25 jumping jacks as fast as our bodies would allow. Once done, we had to immediately sit and breath to get our heart rates down. Lesson to be learned: yoga postures don’t matter unless you’re breathing.
Next we talked about nutrition and “detoxing.” So basically, your body needs carbs, protein and fat to function. So those of you doing a no-carb or no-fat diet? STOP. And detoxes are a bunch of BS. Your body doesn’t need your help, and as long as you’re not overloading yourself with alcohol and eating generally healthy, you are functioning just fine. So those of you doing juice cleanses or week-long fasts? STOP. You are doing a bunch of damage because our bodies were meant to digest real food, not be deprived of it. Rebecca made a good point in that if something is seriously screwed up in your body, no amount of lemon or alkaline water is going to fix it. I had to laugh a bit as we discussed this, because I used to do all of these things at some point in my life. But I was also happy that I’m at a point where I don’t feel the need to do any of these things anymore and have a good understanding of basic nutrition.
A true body “detox” can actually be done through a specific kind of yoga practice, which Rebecca led us through at the end of the night. Yoga that involves a lot of twists, folds and deep breathing will strengthen your organs, so that if something damaging comes along your body is better equipped to fight it off. It’s also great for “cleansing” the body, and I’m not ashamed to admit that things were definitely moving around quite a bit in my digestive system afterwards on the way home!
Mr. Bone-jangles was being quite sassy this weekend. So I gave him a run for his money.
The entire second day was another head-cramming day of anatomy, this time focusing on muscles, bones, joints, tendons and ligaments and how these apply in a yoga practice. We discussed the need to find a balance between strong and flexible muscles, the different types of muscle contractions and how they apply in various yoga positions, and how to move with intention to both protect your muscles and deepen your yoga practice. We learned the names of pretty much every muscle and bone in the body (there are a TON). We discussed the importance of protecting our joints, as tendons and ligaments take forever to heal if damaged (i.e. protect your knees!). We also discussed the vulnerability of the spine, and how backbends should never be done from the lumbar (low back) or cervical (neck) spine. And most importantly, stability is everything.
To apply what we learned, Rebecca had us go through two sets of sun A and sun B salutations. Our first set was just going through them as we normally would, and with basic instruction (calling out pose names). Turns out none of us were really breathing that first time around. During the second set, Rebecca provided that same instruction, but clearly stated which muscles we should be engaging and made us breath deeply. These were fundamental yoga poses, but what a difference (and a workout!) it made when we did this. It’s amazing how we can easily forget important aspects of yoga when we habitually go through the poses that we think we know how to do. Most of us had been doing cat and cow wrong (think about that for a second if you practice yoga), and we are all pretty seasoned yogis. Cat and cow are usually seen as easy, relaxing poses, but if done correctly, you should be feeling a lot more core and back engagement.
After lunch we were led through a thigh and hip opening practice. This one was particularly helpful for me, since I have very tight hamstrings. It was great to put into practice how to both contract and relax my hamstrings in certain positions. My hamstrings have psychologically affected my practice for years, so I’m hopeful that finding relaxation there and focusing on other muscles will help me deepen my practice going forward. We ended the day doing some fun handstand work. I have a major fear of face-planting, so any poses involving balancing on my hands usually causes me to freak out a bit, and thus, not be able to do them. But we partnered up to spot each other, and even though I was up against the wall, I was able to use my core to hold myself up for a few seconds! And it felt quite empowering.
We filled our Sunday morning with a fun Instagram activity. Our homework was to select one or two “celebriyogis” and choose one photo of a near-perfect yoga pose and one photo of a pose that needs some adjustments. If anyone is a regular Instagram user, you know that people LOVE posting pictures of themselves practicing yoga. If the post is meant to inspire others, I think it’s a great thing. However, there are a fair share of “look at me” posts, and funny enough, those are the ones who usually need adjustments. I chose two different IG accounts, with both doing a version of a headstand. One was a typical forearm headstand that was done quite well. The other was of a headstand being done without arms…so a literal headstand. After all of our talk about protecting our spines, this one seemed controversial to me, and I found out during discussion, that it indeed is. It’s a pose done strictly in Ashtanga yoga and only done after a lot of practice. But, the conclusion was that it can still be dangerous, and should never be tried by the average yogi.
Later on that day, we did a few more partner activities to apply all of our anatomy knowledge. The first activity involved sequencing. My partner and I were given a peak posture of side plank with extended leg and instructed to put together a short sequence to lead up to it. The intent of the sequence was to warm up and strengthen the muscles found in the peak posture through additional poses. Because our pose utilized obliques, glutes and triceps most, we chose a sequence that involved child’s pose, tabletop, downward dog, high and low plank and then side plank. Through discussion afterwards, we found that we could have also added in dancing dog and alternating standing wrist pulls to engage the obliques even more. Moral of the activity? When putting together any sequence, it’s a good idea to figure out your peak posture first and then structure the rest of your class around it so that you’re utilizing the appropriate muscle groups.
The second activity involved all of us getting into our white/light colored clothes to draw on each other with markers…I’ll explain. The purpose of the activity was to highlight the muscles being used in a certain pose, and then discuss what those muscles are doing in said pose. In our partner groups we were each given a pose, with one person drawing on the other at a time. My pose to draw and explain was upward facing dog. While I successfully highlighted the correct muscles on my partner, I completely confused which muscles were contracting vs. relaxing…so I have some work to do there. Then I got into downward dog while my partner drew on me (picture above). This exercise was definitely a good learning experience, and it’s amazing how many muscles you end up using in even the simplest of poses.
We closed out the weekend first with a short shoulder opener and backbend practice. This required us to put our knowledge of the spine into effect. It really makes quite a difference in a pose when you’re bending at the appropriate part of your spine and moving into it with intention. It actually made a lot of poses feel better in my body than they usually do, such as camel pose. Plus, it greatly reduces your risk of injury. Following that, we briefly discussed how we can work self-massage into our practice. Rebecca showed us various muscle massages using massage balls, foam rollers, and even a rolling pin. I have a foam roller already, which has been sitting in my closet up high since my cats decided to make it their new scratch toy. But I plan to start using it to loosen up my hamstrings a bit more, since that’s always my tightest muscle.
As we packed up to go, I reflected on how much I had learned about the body in just 2 1/2 days. I never realized all that was involved in anatomy, and while it was a heck of a lot to learn, I’m so grateful to Rebecca for teaching us as much as she could in such a short time. I feel confident that I had some very high-level training in this regard and I look forward to taking it with me to future yoga teacher training weekends, and to my mat. I left that weekend with a head full of knowledge…and then eventually a tummy full of gelato.