Class Notes, Week 1: Diving in

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.

My favorite yoga teachers make it look so easy.  After spending this past weekend learning yoga fundamentals — which included a swirl of Sanskrit terms, anatomy and how to cue “basic” yoga poses — I am already in awe of what they are able to distill and articulate in a one- to two-hour class.  I have so much to learn.  So, so, so much.  It’s humbling and exciting at the same time.  The eager part of me wants to absorb everything at once and get this thing started; the practical side of me recognizes that this is going to be a very long road and patience must be practiced.  In this case, practicality (and patience) needs to prevail.

Although I originally signed up for this program with a so-so desire to actually teach-teach yoga upon its completion, I’m already noticing a shift in this assumption.  During this first weekend’s lesson and training, we were thrown into the fire and asked to teach anapanasati (“mindfulness breathing”), plus asanas such as adho mukha savasana (downward dog) and the cat/dog vinyasa.  Nothing like putting theory into practice on the first day, after just a few hours of discussion!  It certainly gave me a jolt of anxiety.  It also gave me a sneak peek into something exciting: I like teaching yoga.

It just wasn’t clear that first day.  I was terrible.  And so nervous.  We were paired up with our fellow teacher trainees to teach.  There was comfort in this, as we’re all inexperienced and all a little (or a lot) nervous.  Yet I still fumbled while trying to stay “on script” with my first two teaching attempts: guiding anapanasati and articulating the four movements of the spine in table pose.  I clung to the piece of paper in front of me with both attempts.  I was thinking too hard about what to say and when to say and how to say it.  How do I instruct the positioning of the hands?  When do I guide the inhale?  The exhale?  How many different ways can I ask open-ended questions about the breath?  Why do I sound so foolish?  Too much thinking!  To much thinking!  I am terrible at this.

The second day I eased up a little bit, giving myself permission to loosen up on the pseudo-script in front of me.  Instead, I concentrated on helping to guide my student — versus focusing on selecting the “right” words and worrying that I was throwing all of the “necessary“ instruction into my dialogue.  This was easier.  Not easy.  Just easier.  I  need study and practice, lots of it, to help me become more knowledgeable, concise and confident.  Having the one-on-one instruction from the teaching assists definitely helps, along with an honest trainee teaching partner who isn’t afraid to bruise my ego with constructive criticism.  While I still wasn’t great with this third teaching attempt, my confidence increased a sliver — and that small improvement felt like a huge victory.  Plus, I actually enjoyed explaining the mini-lessons to my partner when guiding her through down dog.  That made the moment even sweeter.

Some key learnings for me when it comes to teaching:

  • First, name the next pose in the practice. (blueprint)  Second, give the alignment. (lay the foundation)  Third, give the action. (build the house)
  • When explaining the alignment and/or action, pepper in the benefit of that specific alignment or pose.
  • Don‘t speak too much, let the student process and experience.  (“Do a couple of rounds on your own.”)
  • When demonstrating, exaggerate what not to do.
  • Key words to help a student internalize: “notice” and “feel.”
  • Encourage a student to experience without judging.  Awareness is key.
  • Remind the student to breathe.  (“Come back to your breath.”)
  • It’s easier for me to guide and give cues when I am practicing the pose alongside the student.  I can see what I am doing and interpret/translate better.

What has helped to enhance these preliminary lessons is putting it into outside practice.  I attended a few Moksha classes this weekend, outside of the teacher training program, and definitely paid more attention to how the teachers were cuing.  I also incorporated things I learned into my practice, such as adjusting my downward dog and reciting the translation in my head: “Bend the elbows out to the side, wrap the elbows in, straighten the arms.”  I hope that my outside practices don’t always turn into one giant learning lab, as I don’t want to lose the ability to get lost in personal practice … but I have a feeling I’ve already jumped down the hole that makes me forever a student-teacher.

In sum, it was an energizing first weekend of training and reinforced my commitment to continue.  I just need to let things sink in naturally, practice as much as possible and allow myself to make mistakes.  Lots of them.  I really liked Daren’s analogy for us: As new students, we’re like a well-water faucet that’s been turned on for the first time.  The water at first is going to come out a brownish color.  But let it run for a while, and it will eventually begin to flow crystal clear.

Leave a Reply