It is not uncommon for Yoga teachers to fall into the trap of spending so much time teaching that they neglect their own practice. This Axis Yoga Teacher Training student has found out early on the importance of always being a student of Yoga. As described in the following account, self-study of the asanas heightened overall teaching abilities. As student and teacher in one, this yogi now moves forward in sharing the joy of Yoga.
Throughout my time here at Axis Yoga, playing the role of the student has come very naturally. I have always enjoyed the student perspective; gaining knowledge so that I can pass it along and utilize what I learn outside of class. I have yet to fully grasp the concept that I am the one now, who is expected to become the “teacher”. In my own modest opinion, I joined this program with every intention to do just that, become the instructor but, at the same time, I do not ever want to stop playing the role of a student as well. One of the most echoing comments I heard during my teacher training was along the lines of, “you have to want to teach, in order to learn” and that right there is the most important idea to remember, it keeps me grounded and reminds my ego, I am not trying to be the best, I am just trying to do my best. With all of those ideas and thoughts tumbling through my citta at this point in the training, I decided that in my third and final experiment I would focus my energy and my personal training in the direction of teaching.
For this experiment I had more than one goal in mind. I wanted to not only take the time as it presented itself to get together with other students and friends so that I can practice my instructing and build the confidence necessary to move on in my teacher training. Also, I wanted to focus on my own personal understanding of the asana and the many postures that I was now hoping to pass along to those who were interested in deepening their own practice. I decided in the beginning that each day/night I would attempt to sit down and plan out a simple yoga class; utilizing the tools and concepts we had been learning through our teaching workshops I started off well. I found it fairly easy to start, my intentions were simple; “growing and evolving”, “hip opening”, “chest opening”, even just choosing apex poses and then working backwards from there. By week one, I had remained consistent in writing out my “lessons” and later practicing them myself at home or with others. This exercise quickly became one of the most valuable along with my sadhana practices. I found that over time, the lessons were becoming more dynamic, they involved more themes and patterns than what I had originally felt comfortable manipulating into yoga practices. The most enlightening part of it all for me was the internal understanding that came with the practices. As I was work-shopping specific asana’s for myself at home such as; Vrkasana, Navasana, Trikonasana, Ardha Chandrasana, and Bakasana I was noticing how much better my comprehension was of these poses and many more like them. After choosing a pose to workshop alone, I was so much more prepared and confident when it came to working with other students and friends in getting them into these same postures and guiding them through a full practice. My proprioception had improved greatly I was actually becoming perceptive of the “fullness” in my back in arm-balancing poses which helped me to hold them better and breath into them deeper. I was much more aware of the hips and the many ways to open them in postures such as Virabhadrasana one and two. It is thrilling to be so knowledgeable in your own body and its movements that you can verbally help others to understand theirs as well. The rewards to instructing have started to really shine for me as well as the rewards of self-instructing and self-discipline. I would not feel as ready as I do at this time in my training to go forth and help others with their yoga practices if it had not been for this personal experiment and my new sense of so many skills. I have been provided with multiple tools and concepts to take with me for the rest of my life that will always help and encourage me to keep doing just what I am now.
Near the end of this experiment I decided, “You cannot stop now”. So I have developed and remain to nurture that intention, to keep teaching myself through my instructing of others and to allow the others to teach me while I pass along the know-how that I will hopefully continue to gain as I continue to deepen and sharpen my own yoga practice. I plan on teaching a few days each week to friends and family with no expectations of making money only gaining practice and experience. A very honest and humbling realization presented itself to me as I was preparing for this paper, I have grown a great deal. From the first experiment to this last one, from day one to every day since then; It was as though I had planted myself in a garden the day I enrolled in this teacher training program. And with the nourishing hands of the teachers here at Axis and through the encouragement of all the others in the program we have all grown in this garden, into a community of glorious and flourishing pupils who will continue to spread and seed others and their lives with the compassion and nourishment we received here ourselves. I found much more than myself and my potential dharma through this program, I discovered a family of like-minded people that will always have a spot in my heart as I continue now on my own path and they on theirs. I am grateful and blessed for all that I have been taught and for all that I will be able to pass along.
Using Ayurveda and western medicine as a guide, this Axis Yoga Teacher Training student found a path to a healthier body. This student found success in making significant dietary changes by taking it one step at a time. Healthy substitutions were made gradually rather than trying to change everything at once. The end result was a combination of both expected and unexpected accomplishment and a commitment to a healthier future.
My initial interest was with the pancha karma process but after my first experiment, I fully acknowledged that I have a tendency to overwhelm myself with challenges as a means of self-punishment. While this process sounds like something I would like to do in the future, I knew it was above and beyond what I was capable of at that time. Since the start of the yoga teacher training, I increasingly realized that the current state of my food intake was affecting other portions of my life. I was so removed from the intake process that I really had no idea what I was putting into my body and in what quantities. I chose to focus on my food and drink intake due to a recent visit to the doctor when a change in diet was recommended to control my mood swings and emotional sensitivity.
In recent years, I found myself loading up on a lot of processed foods and diet sodas for periods of time until I would feel awful and sluggish and then I would go through bouts of healthy eating where I would make all of my food at home with no processed or “chemical-ized” foods. This cycle would continuously repeat itself with no rhyme or reason and very little awareness on my part. I knew that this was not healthy nor was the amount of diet soda I was taking in. As my first step in this experiment, I knew I had to cut the diet soda. I had to face the fact that I was addicted to the caffeine and/or chemicals in Diet Coke. I really had no idea how much diet soda I was taking in until I said I was not going to drink it. I sure was surprised when I went through intense caffeine withdrawal. The withdrawal was so severe; I would liken it to quitting smoking. I was not pleasant to be around as friends, co-workers, and studio mates discovered.
Given that I was so agitated from quitting Diet Coke, I knew I had to include coffee and caffeine so I made quitting as many forms of caffeine as possible part of this process. I decided that this would be my second step. I only allowed myself teas and I made sure that the teas I was drinking were either “herbal infusions” that didn’t have tea caffeine or had ginger for the focused feeling I craved from caffeine. This seemed to take a bit of the edge off but the headaches and mood swings were completely unexpected. I replaced my desire for carbonation with flavored seltzer waters that seemed to curb my grumpiness a bit. I also increased my water intake to at least 50 ounces of water a day. As I am not a huge water drinker, I planned on aiming at the 50-ounce mark with the hopes of making it to 100 ounces daily in the next month.
For my third step, I decided to compare the food choices for kapha and the list that was given to me by my doctor and I made up a list of what I could eat. From there, I chose recipes that included those items and set up a diet plan I could follow. Unfortunately, I soon realized that I was rationalizing delays in implementing this new diet. I put myself back a week starting this process because of what I explained away as the agitation from quitting diet sodas and caffeine. After sabotaging this process of my experiment day after day, I decided that I needed some self-reflection to determine why I was throwing up barricades and excuses in this portion of the experiment. After some deep introspection, I realized that I had an inherent opposition to referring to this portion of the experiment as a “diet”, a word I detest. I also fostered a deep-seated justification to eating what I deemed to be comfort, “single girl” food, an interconnected relationship from mindless eating when I was in college and while I was single. I had to change my internal dialogue to view this as a meal plan, not a diet. I also had to challenge my view of processed food as comfort food and try to break the desire to maintain that interconnected relationship I had built.
After this breakthrough, I immediately went to the store to begin this portion of the experiment. While this portion of the process has proven to be the most difficult for me and I haven’t followed the meal plan to the letter, my dietary habits have improved considerably. I had an epiphany once the caffeine withdrawals had ceased that this portion of the process could be just as successful as the first two steps by selecting unhealthy items in my meal repertoire and phasing them out gradually but consciously replacing them with a healthy substitute. I found that giving myself permission to tackle one issue at a time made this experiment easier and more realistic for future maintenance.
I also began abhyanga during this process as step four. I was intrigued by the idea of a daily morning massage because my rational was who wouldn’t want to feel like they started their day with a massage. The first issue I ran into was the smell of the sesame oil that I initially purchased in the cooking oil aisle. There was a burned smell that made this process repellant the first day. I transferred over to the sesame oil in the cosmetic area. It was later suggested to me that I might try cold pressed, unrefined sesame oil but I am waiting until I am done with my current bottle of oil. I am notoriously not a morning person and my sleeping patterns varied widely on any given day. After about a week of step four, I found that I would go to bed early so I could easily get up early to complete the abhyanga and not feel rushed. I also realized that I was waking up more easily (sometimes without the aid of an alarm) and less resentfully. I looked forward each morning and was delighted to engage in this practice. There was a whole ritual of waking up, putting the kettle on, relaxing in bed until the kettle’s light whistle would start and heating the sesame oil. This process was definitely the highlight of my day.
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