This past yoga teacher training weekend was probably the most crucial one for me yet. It was the first time I had been out of the house since Shane’s death the weekend prior. I felt really anxious on the way there, because I didn’t know if I was ready to face people yet and I knew I’d still be very vulnerable. But in the end I’m grateful that the training fell on that weekend. My yoga friends were exactly the people I needed to be around and everything we covered during the weekend was incredibly healing.
*Unnecessary disclaimer: There is a lack of pictures in this post just because I didn’t feel like taking many pictures this weekend.
Jillian began the evening teaching us all about prenatal yoga. This was a fairly new topic for about 75% of our group. Thankfully, Jillian quelled our fears about having a pregnant student in one of our future classes by addressing all the safety concerns we had floating in our heads. Yoga is quite beneficial for pregnancy, as it helps aid the circulatory system, and increases flexibility and the body-mind-breath connection. Many women who already have a yoga practice continue to practice while pregnant, and if they’re in touch with their bodies, they already know what they need in that practice. It’s rare that someone comes to a class for the first time while pregnant.
The takeaways for creating a safe environment for a pregnant student were:
- Encouraging a slowing down of the practice
- Focusing on restorative yoga instead of hot yoga or vinyasa classes, especially if there is a history of miscarriages
- Introducing props to find more comfort and safety in poses
- Controlling flexibility when the hormone “relaxin” begins to relax the ligaments
Some great poses for pregnant students include:
- Standing poses like tree, chair, triangle and side angle
- Chest openers using gomhukhasana arms or reverse prayer hands that strengthen upper back muscles
- Supported reclining poses like bound angle and big toe hold
- Hip and leg openers like malasana, goddess, wide legged straddle and cat/cow
While the following poses should generally be avoided:
- Anything compressing the stomach, including twists
- Overstretching in any pose, and from a teacher stance, avoiding deepening assists
- Inversions, unless the student is very experienced and wants to practice them
So we put all this newfound knowledge into practice with our own prenatal class. And the only way for us to really understand the material was to put on our blanket babies while we practiced. Sadly, I did not get a picture of them, but we basically tied a folded up blanket to our bellies with a yoga strap. Some people “gave birth” during class (blanket falling off), which provided some humor. But it was really interesting to feel what it’s like to maneuver yoga poses and be mindful and gentle with ourselves. We all felt more comfortable with the topic of prenatal yoga after our class and experiment.
Jillian ended class with a meditation, which was incredibly emotional for me. We sat in a circle holding hands while she talked about supporting each other. Everything from the week prior came flooding back, but I just embraced it. Being with my friends reminded me of all the support I’ve had and I felt so loved with two of my fellow yogis squeezing my hands tight. Even though I felt vulnerable, I let the tears fall knowing I was in the safest space possible.
Our morning started with Jillian discussing the business of yoga. She discussed necessary aspects like taxes and insurance, as well as personal career growth in the form of community partnerships, private sessions and free/donation classes to help build a student following. But in order to start any of this, the three questions she wanted us to ask ourselves were:
- Do I love yoga?
- Do I want to share this healing and wellness with others?
- Am I prepared to teach to one or many who walk through the door?
I already know that I can answer yes to all three of these questions, and my mind started working on some new yoga career goals for myself. Wrapping up our morning, Jillian shared the most important aspect of business pertaining to yoga: VALUE WHAT YOU DO. Our training and certification means that we have something meaningful to offer, so we should never downplay our worth.
The rest of the afternoon was very busy. Right after lunch our guest instructor, Tai Dorn, provided us with a session on Jivamukti yoga. Jivamukti translates to liberation of the soul, or awakening to what you are so you can live fully. It involves an intense practice and mantra chanting along with a harmonium, which Tai played for us in class. She discussed the roots and core values of Jivamukti yoga, which I really connected with. They included:
- A belief that we are all good, and bowing to each other in yoga recognizes the divine within each of us.
- An awakening and desire for a deeper connection in our lives.
- A belief in something bigger than any religion; a spiritual oneness of being with God.
- By becoming one with ourselves we can observe God, and then have the ability to observe God in others.
- If you can bring out what’s within you, it will save you. If you cannot, it will destroy you.
- If you put everything you are into everything you do, all will be revealed.
- When you speak your truth, people listen. Understand your “why?” for life.
After the discussion, Tai led us through a full Jivamukti practice. We began and ended with meditation and chanting with the harmonium, and had an intense, powerful practice in between, which really had us focusing on our breath the whole time. At the end of practice in Savasana, I had what I think may have been a sign from Shane. It was overcast out for most of the day, so the studio reflected that during practice. At one point during meditation, Tai began talking about death and our spirits, and at that moment the sun shone into the studio and lit up the room. I smiled and could feel his comforting presence. I was so grateful for Tai’s practice and inspiration that day.
Before our day ended, Carrie made us work just a little bit more in the form of a small teaching assignment. We each were to come up with a 5-minute sequence to teach the entire class, and it needed to be something out of our comfort zone. I wracked my brain trying to think of what poses or styles would fall into this category for me. We went around the room taking turns teaching, and when it got to be my turn, I decided to really open myself up. I led the group through a slow practice focusing on acceptance, because that was a topic that was on my mind for the past week. I’m not usually one to be very philosophical when I teach, but it all came out so authentically this time and I not only embraced it, but liked it. I spoke about loving yourself, accepting the unknown and what we can’t control. I felt really good about my sequence, and the three words that Carrie said to me have stuck in my mind since: KEEP DOING THAT. I realize now that the teacher within me comes alive when I am speaking from my heart, not trying to be something I’m not.
Carrie ended our day with a short mindful breathing exercise focusing on the Koshas and Vayus, which have to do with our internal energy and breath. When all of these are working together, the body can find harmony and balance and help us to find our true selves. After a strenuous day, it was nice to end with a calming and grounding practice.
Our entire Sunday was spent learning about and practicing Yin yoga with our guest instructor, Allison McGuigan. Yin yoga is a passive form of yoga that strengthens fascia, ligaments, joints and connective tissue in long-held poses. Because of the stillness, there are meditative and energetic benefits that help us get in touch with our inner selves. The goal is to practice compassion and acceptance while still pushing yourself to find your edge in a deep pose. Allison provided some guidelines and basic poses for structuring a yin class as teachers, including how to determine target areas, breath work, energy and mood of the class, prop usage and time in poses. She also discussed “chi”, which is the life force that flows through meridians in the body, which are found in the fascia. As we hold poses in a yin class, our chi is able to flow more easily as the connective tissue breaks down.
We were all so tired and sore from the day before that our yin practice was welcomed with open arms. Allison led us through a nice, long class that included deeply held poses like child’s pose, sphinx, butterfly, sleeping swan, dragon, twists and Savasana. We utilized our blocks, bolsters, blankets and straps throughout the class, so certain poses felt restorative as well. I thoroughly enjoyed practicing yin yoga, and could even see myself wanting to teach this style eventually. I loved how calming and meditative it was.
Our last activity of the weekend was a partner exercise using our knowledge and practice of yin yoga. Based on how our partners were feeling, we structured a 20-minute yin class specifically for them. This was the first time we had to come up with a customized sequence for someone just by asking what was needed in the body and mind, so it was good practice for when we’ll have to ask that of our future students. My partner was craving heart openers and meditation, so I came up with a sequence that included child’s pose, seal, forward fold, supported fish and Savasana. Throughout the sequence I incorporated 3-part breath and some visualization to aid in relaxation. My partner and I both did quite well and enjoyed creating this sequence for each other.
This whole weekend was so needed and I’m glad I showed up for it. Between the Friday night meditation, Jivamukti yoga, opening myself up while teaching and Yin practice, I felt like my healing had begun. I have said this before, but I am so grateful that this was the program and group I chose for my training. I could not imagine myself with any other people, especially after the care and compassion they’ve shown me over the past two weeks. I am continually amazed at their generosity and always feel so loved by them. I truly believe now that we are meant to have certain people in our lives, whether it’s for a short time or forever. Despite going through loss and heartbreak, I have never felt more sure of my path and have a lot of faith that I’m headed in the right direction.