Returning to Sedona

In a few weeks, I return to one of the most magical places I’ve ever traveled: Sedona.

I’ve spent the past three weeks trying to decide how to use vacation time wrapped around the long President’s Day holiday weekend.  An all-inclusive beach resort in Mexico?  A coffee plantation in Panama?  A tree-top yoga retreat in Nicaragua?  Someplace new and someplace warm, I kept telling myself.  The world is my oyster.

But … I kept coming back to Sedona.  And now I’m booked.

I shouldn’t be surprised by the pull.  Three years ago, I spent four days in Red Rock Country and discovered a brilliant, mystical energy that’s clung to me ever since.  It was just me and a rental car, weaving along long highway roads speckled with red dust and framed by gorgeous natural rock sculptures.  I did lots of yoga, and lots of hiking.  In fact, I unknowingly hiked to one of the strongest vortex sites — aka energy sites — in all of Sedona.  I also had a goosebump-inducing New Age experience with a healer who claimed to harness the energy of angels.  That is a story in itself, for another time.

The solo journey was transformative and rejuvenating.  While I don’t seek to replicate the exact same experience, I do embrace the opportunity to make new discoveries with this return trip.  I plan to spend a day at the Grand Canyon.  I plan to do lots of yoga — lots and lots.  And I’ve even been researching past life regression therapy, as perhaps that wonderfully “woo-woo” Sedona experience could unlock something really amazing within me.  My zeal for trying new things and intense curiosity leaves that door open.

I return with an open mind and open heart.  The decision to return to Sedona just feels … right.  And that feeling, that absolute certainty, is a wonderful thing.

In the book and film “Gone with the Wind,” Scarlett O’Hara says she gets her strength from Tara, the plantation from her childhood.  Whenever she needed a pick-me-up, or to be reminded of the strong woman she truly was, she found herself back at Tara.

Sedona is my Tara.

Class Notes, Week 19: Learning what to do/not to do

The Moksha yoga teacher training program requires me to journal once each week about my experience with the poses and assignments + my practice and progress. This is part of that weekly assignment.

Being a yoga teacher trainee is not unlike being a child observing your parents, and deciding how you would raise you kids based on what you like/didn’t like and what worked/didn’t work.

I find myself making similar observations in yoga practices and teacher training sessions.  When I’m confronted with something awesome, I want to replicate the experience and share it with my students someday.  So I file it away.  When I’m confronted with something that is disturbing or upsetting, I file that away, too — but as an anecdote for what not to do with my future students.  I’ve accumulated a similar arsenal of do’s and don’ts for my possible future role as a “mother” to my own children.

Not unlike mothers, yoga teachers also nurture, cultivate, teach, cheerlead, discipline and push.  It’s a different dimension of parenting.  And as any open-minded mom can attest, there isn’t always a “right” and “wrong” way to do things.  You just do what you think is going to provide the best path that will yield the best experience for the child — or in the case of a yoga class, the yoga student.

A recent yoga class I attended provided a few lessons that joined my personal bag of yoga teacher do’s/don’ts.

The yoga teacher started class late without asking her students in advance about any injuries.  As it turned out, there was a woman next to me who had major wrist and back issues.  This teacher forged ahead with a vinyasa class that was somewhat advanced and free-flowy creative (think Shiva Rea-style), and this poor yogi next to me couldn’t participate in the majority of the class.  Much of the class also found it hard to follow, in general!  The teacher, to her credit (although a little late), tried to provide some modifications for the injured student — but the student wound up leaving the class early, clearly frustrated.  I really hope it wasn’t her first time trying yoga!

The things I took away from this: 1) Always ask about injuries at the start of class — so I can modify sequencing accordingly, and take those students with limitations into consideration; 2) Always ask at the start of class if anyone is new to yoga.  Although I know there is only so much I can control, the thought of new students leaving my class turned off to yoga forever is crushing.  I want everyone to walk away with at least one positive take-away; 3) Keep sequencing simple.  This yoga teacher was getting so “creative” she forgot some of the asana combinations.  I could barely follow it.  About 20 minutes in, I was laughing internally — and grateful for the experience, if only for the lessons it provided.

Class Notes, Week 18: Working with new bodies, more bodies

The Moksha yoga teacher training program requires me to journal once each week about my experience with the poses and assignments + my practice and progress. This is part of that weekly assignment.

I taught another class today.  At 8 a.m., five willing souls entered the Moksha West Bucktown studio for some pranayama and asana practice.  It was my first class that consisted of more than one or two people.

The quantity of students was a new element for me — as was the fact that three of the five were not close friends of mine.  Two were work colleagues and one was a friend of a friend, someone I was meeting for the first time today.  It was great to have different body types in the room, including a lone male.

I know class sizes can easily exceed a dozen students.  In fact, I’m required to teach a free (scheduled) Moksha class at some point during my teacher training, so I will be confronted with class sizes larger than five students.  I heard those particular classes exceed 20 students.  But for now, a gradual build to this size is good, as it gives me time to learn how I can best monitor classes and the individual needs of each student.  Don’t throw me into the deep end just yet, in other words!

I tried to keep two pieces of advice from Kim Wilcox in mind during this morning’s practice: 1) Try to touch every body at least once during the class; and 2) Watch for alignment safety issues.  The second one, I know, will become more challenging when class sizes increase.  After all, how can you monitor every single body in a 25-person class and keep a rhythm going?  I did my best throughout today’s practice.  But I also addressed it at the beginning of class, before we closed our eyes to begin the breath work, to put that responsibility on the students, too: “Please only go to your edge.  Don’t push beyond it.  Don’t let ego get in the way.  You’re not going to impress any of us when you twist or tweak something the wrong way.”  (I’ve found that humor and drama can help get my points across in the non-yoga world.)  Perhaps I’ll make this “reminder” a consistent part of my class opening moving forward.

I am getting more comfortable with cues; with playing around with sequencing and storytelling; and with giving gentle adjustments, especially Downward Facing Dog.  During my Friday night apprenticeship with Kim, I get a good taste of all of this while assisting with her class — and she makes time for me after the class to teach me all sorts of useful things one-on-one.  But that Friday night class is her class, students are there seeking guidance from her.  When that responsibility falls 100-percent on me, I can’t defer to Kim.  It’s way more pressure.  Good pressure, of course.  Pressure I embrace.

It still makes me go “Wow” internally when I see the lengthening of a student’s spine beneath my touch during the Downward Dog adjustment.  I gave everyone that adjustment this morning, and some spines lengthened more than other.  My male student’s spine especially.  As I continue on with the yoga teacher training (and beyond), I look forward to more little moments like that — moments of awe and wonder.  I also hope that the ones I’m experiencing now don’t completely lose their luster years down the road.

Asana milestones that come unexpectedly

I attended tonight’s yoga practice with the intent to turn inward and “detox” after a few days of business travel.  It was supposed to be a run-of-the-mill yoga practice, nothing special, no specific goals, no expectations, just a simple surrender.  But I wound up surprising myself.  In a good way.  Twice.

First: I was finally able to jump back to Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose) from Bakasana (Crow Pose).  It wasn’t entirely graceful.  But I did it.  Twice!  I’ve never done that before.

Second: With patience and effort, I was able to get into a pose I’d never tried before.  I don’t know the name.  Picture is below.  The prep is Utkatasana (Chair Pose) with the ankle over the knee.  Balancing on one foot, you then slowly, slowly, slowly place the hands on the floor in front of you … then move into the arm balance.  I did this pose on one side, holding it for a slow five-second count.  The concentration coupled elation was pretty awesome.

Unexpected rewards like this really make my day.  It’s a reminder that I’m capable of much more than I allow my mind to believe.  My body proves it to me through asana.  I should take this lesson and apply it off the mat more often.

Next time, I’m going for that straight leg. And the goofy grin.


The neti pot experiment

Before leaving on a yoga pilgrimage to India last year, I emailed our yogi leader to ask what items to pack.  Was there anything specific that would come in handy?  Things that people often forget, or fail to think of?

Among her recommendations: a neti pot.

While I did bring malaria medication, I did not pack a neti pot.  Cleansing my nasal passages with warm salt water with a tiny water can just wasn’t a part of my routine.  I did do a form of nasal cleansing following a nose job in 2010, however, and that process mirrored the neti pot technique — but it used a little squeeze bottle and cold saline solution.  It was a pre-filled bottle I’d just pull out of the refrigerator, as necessary.  It was simple, and on doctor’s orders.  I stopped when the saline solution ran out.

The yoga teacher training program gives me an opportunity to try the neti pot.  Actually, I’m kind of being forced, thanks to a question on our midterm: “Use the neti pot for one week and explain its benefits.”  It’s a fun challenge.

I learned three things in the process: 1)  Many people assume you’re buying a neti pot because you’re sick.  When I was shopping around, people kept asking me that.  Even the lady who rang me up at Whole Foods asked me if I was OK.  2)  I am terrible with the neti pot.  I spent the past seven days working to tilt my head just the right way to get that water going in one nostril and out the other — but I’d swallow it instead.  The sensation reminded me of the times when I’d get water up the nose while horsing around at the local swimming pool.  It’s not a pleasant sensation.  3)  When I did stumble upon the right technique, it was great end result to have the passageways completely clear.  My breathing felt pure and effortless.  It was a messy process — me over the sink, watering my nostrils, mucus sometimes expelling — but it opened my nasal passages up for business.  Welcome, prana!

I’ll be honest, though: The neti pot isn’t something I’m likely to keep up on a regular basis.  Heating up the water in my electronic kettle, then testing the temperature so that it won’t burn my nose, waiting for the temperature to drop (if it was too hot), measuring the salt mixture — that all takes time.  Not to mention, the neti pot itself is just awkward to use.  I am curious about re-introducing the saline solution back into my routine, however.  That process was less involved and had the same effect.

Class Notes, Week 17: Anatomy for yogis

The Moksha yoga teacher training program requires me to journal once each week about my experience with the poses and assignments + my practice and progress. This is part of that weekly assignment.

This week I began a 10-week anatomy course that’s required for my yoga teacher training certification.  I’ll spend three hours each Thursday evening — after what is typically a mentally exhausting day at work — in a Bucktown studio learning about the mechanics of the body and how it relates to yoga.

This scenario would be so much more appealing if it were held on a Saturday or Sunday morning.  Unless I can snap up a Starbucks before the start of each class, I’ll be bringing a side of mental fatigue alongside my undivided attention and enthusiasm.

However, I look at this situation like old-fashioned medicine: It won’t taste so good at first, but it’s going to improve me in the long run.  I want to get better at anatomy.  I want to understand how the bones, muscles, joints, spine, etc. work. I want this knowledge to improve my personal practice.  I want this knowledge to improve my asana sequencing.  I want this knowledge to make my classes safer for students.  I want to learn.  This is a subject about which I don’t know a lot, so there’s only room for improvement — even if I’m a bit lethargic in the process.

Thank goodness Shanna Lin, our teacher, is organized and engaging.  On our first Thursday we received a roadmap (in the form of a very detailed binder); an easy course requirement (all homework is open-book and you can retake if you don’t pass); and a very cool quote (which I scribbled down in my notebook immediately after she said it):

“The quality of your joints is the quality of your life.”

Ain’t that the truth.  I’ve witnessed family and friends struggle with hip issues, knee problems and arthritis — and it just looms large over everything they do.  Everything can become a struggle.  And they become sour and unhappy as a result.  I want to keep my joints well-lubricated and healthy, and want to help encourage this in others.  A strong body leads to a better quality of life, and that leads to happiness …

The coolest thing I learned this week, and something that’s immediately applicable to the asana practice of yoga, is the GTO reflex.  I’m still wrapping my mind around the exact definition of this reflex — it revolves around intense muscle contraction for a sustained period of time and how this helps encourage length.  Something like that.  All I know for certain is the effect was played out in an astonishing way while in class.  Shanna asked us to stand up and do uttanasana without warming up.  My fingers touched the floor.  She then asked us to bend our knees slightly and hug our chest to our thighs.  We held this position for two minutes.  After that time, Shanna then asked us to do uttanasana with straight legs again.  This time, my palms touched the floor no problem!  The entire class had a collective ah-ha moment.

I look forward to scooping up more gems like that.  And learning more about the spine.  Everything in yoga revolves around the almighty spine.  This anatomy class will help lift that veil.

Quote: Jan. 8, 2013

“Maybe it’s just picking up a piece of paper up off the floor, because someone might come along and slip on it.  Maybe it’s just deciding not to talk or eat while we drive a cart down the road, knowing that one day the distraction could cause us to hurt someone seriously, by accident.  Maybe it’s going out of our way to say something encouraging to someone at work who seems tense, knowing that this emotion will hurt them physically if they keep it up over a few years’ time.  What I’m talking about is maintaining a constant, modest, joyful state of mind which is always looking for ways to protect others from harm — all day long, just in the little world we live in.”

~ Friday to the Captain, from “How Yoga Works” (a novel)