Class Notes, Week 2: Teaching my parents

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 that weekly assignment.

The program pace is picking up.  This past week involved a lot of memorization, reading, yoga practice and coloring of anatomy charts – all squeezed into pockets of time when I wasn’t engrossed in the responsibilities of my full-time job.

My time management skills are being put to the ultimate test.  So far, I give myself a B+/A-.

While I’m grateful that this program forces me to put work “to bed” each night (and on the weekends), I hope that my personal pace can withstand fatigue or burnout.  I also want to ensure that I’m leaving room for family, friends and cultivating new relationships.  I don’t want to turn into that girl who gets sucked into her yoga community, similar to how an infatuated young girl might cling to a new boyfriend and forget her good friends.  “Oh, Erica is too busy with yoga tonight.  Whatever.  Don’t bother inviting her.”

One great way to stay plugged into my family and friends is by sharing my education with them – and putting theory into practice.  After all, who doesn’t like a free yoga class?  (Aside from the uber-macho male.)  Plus, at this weekend’s training, Daren encouraged us to start teaching outside of class.

I decided that my first lesson would be with the most supportive people I know: my parents.

My parents are also ideal because they do not practice yoga.  During these past few weeks, I’ve been working with limber peers who know their basic poses and proper alignment.  My parents, on the other hand, don’t know sukhasana from savasana.  And, they’re not young – relatively speaking, of course.  At 59 and 60, respectively, my mom and dad are baby boomers with achy joints and tight hamstrings.  The perfect beginners!

Another unique challenge: My mom is stroke survivor with limited mobility and aphasia.  This means her speech is extremely limited, and her cognitive ability is questionable.  Patience and a slow pace are a must all of the time with her.  This morning’s practice, however, opened my eyes to just how little she is able to process when it comes to basic communication.  Yoga classes require attention/response to verbal cues.  My mom just wasn’t good at this – not without watching me demo a few times, or without me physically guiding her into the correct position.  This was heart breaking, but motivates me to want to work with her even more …

I arrived at my parents’ condo at 6:15 a.m., carrying two mats and a relatively loose idea of the practice structure.  I wasn’t expecting much, so my intention was to keep it basic-basic-basic.  By keeping it simple, this would also help me hone basic cueing skills.

Ultimately, this is what I included in our practice:

  • Sukhasana + Anapanasati (breathing)
  • Four movements of the spine in Sukhasana
  • Table, Cat/Dog
  • Chakra Vakrasana
  • Tadasana
  • Savasana

What I observed over the course of this 40-minute mini-lesson:

  • I liked telling my parents what to do!
  • Slowing down my speech helped me process my thoughts better, and it slowed down the pace of class.  This made things clearer for my parents aka my students.
  • I’m sure I heard this before from another teacher:  While in seated, I used the analogy of a marionette on a string, being pulled from the top of the head, to articulate the lift of the chest of lower back ribs. Not sure if it’s a “proper” cue, but it helped to reinforce the lift and eliminate the back rounding.  I noticed an immediate change in my parents’ postures, for the better.  That was gratifying.
  • I gave my parents time to focus on their breath and allowed them opportunity to play around with cat/dog on their own, moving with their breath.  (My dad really took to this; not surprised, given his study of TM.)
  • Demos were critical when we got to vinyasa, i.e. Chakra Vakrasana.  They saw the sequence and watched me exaggerate the breath movement before doing it themselves.
  • I got hung up on the inhale/exhale cues during Chakra Vakrasana.  I sometimes found myself cueing inhale when it should have been exhale, and vice versa.
  • I used Sanskrit once: to name Tadasana (as in “Ta-da!  Good morning, sun!”).  It’s the way I remember the name of the pose, so why not pass it on?
  • You don’t need a lot of poses to fill a practice.  Focusing on a few key poses or vinyasas, and going slowly, can be just as effective.  It was for my parents.
  • My mom has really tight hips, and it hurts to keep pressure on her right hand for too long.  Modifications will be necessary.  As will lots of demos, done with incredible patience.
  • My dad has a rounded back in downward dog.  (I don’t know how to give adjustments for this yet.)  We didn’t stay in downward dog beyond the C.V. flow.  But I already know that this is a pose I can work on with him.

I am extremely grateful that my parents were students in my first yoga class.  Not only was it helpful to practice with people who won’t cast immediate judgment on my fumbles … but it also turned out to be a wonderful memory.  The memory carried me through what would have otherwise been a highly stressful day at work.

The lingering thing that bothers me, however, is what was magnified with my mom: Her ability to process what people say to her, and subsequently the world around her, is worse than I realized.  Much worse.

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