Last day - Yoga teacher training

To kick-start my return to regular-life programming, I stayed up late and saw Camera Obscura live at La Tulipe tonight.

We had decent seats behind the sound guy. Right before the encore, I glanced over to see him stretching behind the board. Neck rotations. Arms straight up in the air. And then, he squirmed his hands between his shoulder blades into reverse prayer position.

My first reaction was, "Can I go ten seconds without thinking about parsvottanasana? Or is it parsvakonasana? AH!!"

But ten seconds after that, I smiled and thought, "How lucky I am to see yoga in everything, in everyone."

The word being bandied about during our last class today was bittersweet. How we all wished that we could stay in the studio cocoon just a little longer. And yet, how much we all needed to return to our lives in the outside world. The other words frequently heard in those last precious hours were thank you.

The decision to enroll for yoga teacher training came after considerable reflection. I was prepared for the physical rigours of the intensive program. I read my texts early to prepare my mind. I even stocked up on tiny comforts to get me through the inevitable rough spots.

What I did not expect was how my life would be impacted by my fellow students.

If you're ready for it, yoga can help make your heart so open that no heartbreak - no matter how big - can ever close it again. Thanks to the support and encouragement of my 25 fellow students, I was able to follow - and stick to - the path, even when the temptation to just go back was strong. If my heart is stronger, more open today, it's because I was loved and well-taken-care-of for 30 yoga-filled days. I only hope that I was able to return the gift.

So I'm ready to be in the world again. Or in the words of Tracyanne Campbell et al: I'm ready to be heartbroken.



What? You don't know that I've been taking a yoga teacher training course for the last three weeks? Read previous installments here, here and here.

First, the disclaimers:

I am privileged to be participating in this yoga teacher training program. Not everyone has the means or the time for such an endeavor. I am very lucky.

I also have the privilege of going through this experience with 25 charming, intuitive and entertaining people who never fail to support me with their spontaneous hugs, good advice, crazy jokes and free massages.

I have learned vast amounts of information in the last couple weeks thanks to wonderful teachers who have given us so much of their time and energy.

I have even - against all odds - become friends with my body.

That being said, I am definitely homesick. I miss my friends, I miss my old pleasures, and I definitely miss my old rhythm. So the following list is not a complaint about the rigours of the TT program, it's a love letter to all the friends and adventures waiting for me on the other side.

I miss:
  • spending late nights on my back balcony
  • cruising around Mtl with my girls and Timmy HoHo
  • falling into the sounds streaming from my iPod
  • french fries from Rumi
  • afternoon Gmail chats about robot zombie lizards
  • collecting the nacho chip tax at the office
  • making baked goodies for my coworkers
  • wearing bangles, occasionally applying mascara
  • chasing my niece and nephew until they almost throw up
  • And so many others...
Five more days until I come down from this yoga high and am thrown back into the real world. The real challenge will be finding a way to combine all my old pleasures with my new pleasures.


Yoga injuries, loving a kapha and making a necktie smile

Some random facts to underline my progress thus far:
  • I have yoga callouses on the inside edge of many fingers.
  • I had a meditation injury (tweaked sciatic nerve thanks to a badly placed wooden block).
  • Top three things I see every day: my feet, my hands, my cleavage.
  • Invite yogis to your house. They're fun AND they clean up. My whole class came over for a potluck last night and I couldn't pull the tea towels out of their eager hands. If they had stayed any longer, they probably would have tucked me in and sang me a lullaby too, the darlings.
  • As I have a pitta constitution, I would probably be happiest with a kapha-dosha man. That means I'm looking for a man of larger proportions, with thick smooth skin, and rich wavy hair. He must also be calm in thought and speech, have an element of steadiness to his step, and have serenity in his smile. Apparently he will be a long, heavy sleeper too. So a mix of Danny Devito, the Dalai Lama and Sleeping Beauty? Good thing I like a man with a belly.
  • And finally, walking around downtown Mtl in yoga gear will get you all kinds of stares from the neckties and cardigans. The only reasonable thing to do is put more swing in your thing, and give them a show they'll never forget ;)


Snaps from the studio

Where I spend my day

What I spend it doing

Who I spend it with

Thanks to Jacques for the great snaps.


Day 13 - Yoga teacher training

Or, the Day that Too Much Vata Got the Better of Me.

Or, a Spectacularly Bad Morning at YTT.

When I woke up from an uneasy sleep, my knee was feeling a little tender (I got too fancy yesterday) so I travelled by metro to take it easy. I noticed on the way out that my hair was dry and puffy, but I didn't bother trying to fix it. No time. By the time I put myself on the meditation block, my allergies had also started tweaking, but I tried to remain positive as I began deep breathing.

Ten minutes in, with my legs in extreme external rotation and the block pressing up against my flesh, my sciatic nerve twinged on one side. It felt like a knitting needle inserted through the middle of my buttock and down the side of my right thigh. I gasped almost silently, rearranged my legs and tried to breath through the discomfort.

I managed to alleviate the pain through breathwork, but my mind was soon untethered and a strange spiral began. During walking meditation, I couldn't shift my consciousness into my feet - and it felt as if there was a barrier between my feet and the floor. During the second sitting meditation, the sciatic nerve was quiet but the SI joint on that side was tender - and an old groin injury on my left side also joined in the cacaphony.

My frustration was complete - just as the yoga practice began. Tears mixed with the mucus running from my allergy-piqued nose and my mind continued to unravel like a poorly-knit sweater. I hated my body. Intensely. My muscles were contracting around the injured areas and I quickly became stiff. Now sweating profusely, I also felt fat. My right nostril was burning.

I practiced the cooling/grounding techniques we had learned the day before, and I modified the high-level practice Allison was meting out to suit my current state. But I was still completely detached from my body and my mind was in a cloudy stratosphere.

I was so broken, by the time I got through lunch and my belly started to inflate with painful gas, I couldn't even muster the tears anymore. This morning was, I thought, the most spectacular failure.

Afternoon lecture: Ayurveda

Still with me? Keep reading - we're almost to the gravy.

What is ayurveda? It's traditional Indian medicine, based around your particular dosha, or constitution. If you've ever purchased shampoo, then you can understand the difference between the three doshas. Here's an oversimplification for you:
  • Vata is Dry Hair. If you're predominantly vatta, you dry out quickly and require warmth and oil for balance.
  • Pitta is Normal Hair. You may be glossy, but to maintain balance, you need just the right complement of dry and oil.
  • Kapha is Greasy Hair. To correct imbalances, you need some warmth and dryness to cut the grease and add some bounce.
If your predominant dosha becomes hyperactive (because of environment, diet, etc.), there are negative consequences throughout the mini universe that is your body.

I am mostly pitta, with a healthy dose of vata, and a pinch of kapha. As our ayurveda teacher began detailling the principles, it became plausible to me that in the last 24 hours, my pitta had dropped and vata was running rampant through my system.

Some of the characteristics of a vata imbalance:
  • dry hair/skin
  • inability to sleep well between 2-5am
  • lack of concentration
  • feeling of not being grounded
  • generalized aches, sharp pains, stiff and painful joints
  • anxiety, agitated mind, self-defeating thoughts
  • intestinal bloating, gas
Now whether or not you put any validity on ayurvedic principles, you can understand the comfort that comes with having your troubles named. When you have some sense of where your physical problems may be coming from, it's empowering because you begin to believe that you can do something about it.

The basis of ayurveda is that if you know your body, you can help your mini universe find healthy balance. As soon as the lecture ended, I felt lighter because I was more confident about reconciling the morning's events. My body was simply reacting to pressures, and I chose to observe the reactions, rather than ignore them. I brought all my attention to the symptoms in order to better understand them, and I began exploring changes that could influence my body's complaints.

Day 13 was not a stellar day - but it was an excellent lesson in how to listen to your body. And reassurance that yes, I am learning!


Day Ten - Yoga teacher training

Why is a shower so comforting? I just took the longest, hottest shower in the history of the world and am essentially ready for bed.

Except I have to read. And my notes need some attention. And I don't have a lunch for tomorrow. And So You Think You Can Dance is on.


So the fatigue has set in - and it arrived exactly when I expected it would. My body has finally caught on that this new schedule isn't as transitory as it was hoping, and it's been whining the last two days. Mild complaints from the lumbar spine. Groans from the hip sockets. Occasional bitching from the sciatic nerve.

Thing is, I'm getting enough sleep and food. The part that's kicking me in the butt is the rhythm. As a copywriter, you quickly learn how to ride the waves of your creativity, arranging your tasks to suit the time of day. If you know that your attention span dips between 1-3pm, you research or read industry blogs. When your eyes get tired, you gossip with your colleagues by the espresso machine for a change of scenery.

This new rhythm requires me to be conscious and attentive every minute of our eight-hour day. My teachers are a wealth of information and every word is gold. I can't burn off restlessness by chatting with Marty or watching Steve and Marco play foozball. I have to be in top form or else I'll miss something crucial.

I have to be present in every moment, obviously!

So to help my body relax (and stop complaining), I've taken extra measures. More hot showers. Better snacks. Reading in bed for a better transition to sleep. There may even be a pedicure in my future.

Bref: I'm listening to my body and taking the necessary measures. I already felt more energized today. That being said, I will now watch SYTYCD for an hour and then get me to bed.


Day Eight - Yoga teacher training

So happy. Just so happy.

Every day of yoga teacher training is a challenge, but it is blissful work. I am learning so much about myself and the bodies we've been given. With each passing day, I am more convinced that this path is right for me. For the first time in ages, I feel like I am engaging in purposeful work.

And then today, Allison clarified what makes a good yoga teacher. It goes something like this:
  • People come to yoga with different issues
  • A good yoga teacher must have enough information to deal with all said issues
That doesn't mean that a yoga teacher must become a one-stop treatment shop for every disorder. Essentially, a good yoga teacher must help students be comfortable in the body that they have through breathwork and asana. It is then up to the student to take these lessons in compassion and loving kindness, and generate change in all aspects of his/her life.

And that's why it's so important for a good yoga teacher to know her body. If you can't accept your own body, how can you help someone else find that kind of peace?

That kind of responsibility may seem daunting - and not for the faint of heart - but it does not scare me anymore. I was mildly agitated by worries when she first uttered the words, but while reviewing the Bhagavad Gita this afternoon, we read a passage that swept the most strident doubts from my mind.
It is better to do your own duty
badly, than to perfectly do
I may not turn out to be the greatest yoga teacher of my time, but a yoga teacher I must be. So, yay!

NB. Our challenge for the week is mauna, which is the Sanskrit word for silence. This means, when not in class, teacher trainees must maintain silence. Those of you that know me well have probably just uttered one of two phrases:

(1) "She won't last 15 minutes" OR (2) "That's something I'd like to see"

Either way, I'll let you know.


What passes for humour at the yoga studio

Sitting on cushions on the floor of the studio, having breakfast and chatting with Sven. On the wall behind us there's a metal cut-out of the OM symbol hanging on a nail.

As I pour tea, my elbow brushes the metal cut-out and it bangs against the wall.

Sven: Om-wrecker.



Day Five - Yoga teacher training

Eugene explained on Wednesday that a good yoga teacher must help her students discover and understand their bodies. In order to do this, a good teacher must first know her body well.

That's when I realised that one of the goals of teacher training is to learn my body well. And it was a timely discovery too, as it greatly helped me get through the first truly intense day of training.

Let me backtrack a little.

Since I've become more dedicated to my practice (some 18 months ago), my body awareness has significantly increased. I have felt blood circulating in my veins, bones sliding against muscle, and organs shifting. My skin sensitivity has also increased, resulting in shivers whenever a stray hair brushes my arm and immediate prickles when someone touches my skin. I have also felt a bead of sweat break from a facial pore and slowly glide down my cheek. I'm still not ticklish, but I'm definitely more awake to how my body reacts to the environment around me.

Already orbiting in the increased-sensitivity stratosphere thanks to hormones - and still feeling the effects of two days of femur-grounding poses - my body underwent additional opening exercises today. Namely, supported supta virasana (restorative) twice, which creates compression in the lumbar spine for a slight back bend, and a restorative backbend over a chair at the end of the day.

I wasn't in the chair for long. How come? Had my first spontaneous cry.

This is not surprising. Having been taken out of my every day life (and its stresses), I am now solely existing in an environment designed to help me soften the tensions in my body and bring compassion to the tensions in my mind. For the last year and a half, my body has been priming itself for these tears - for the shedding of repressed griefs and suffering. The teacher training program has created a haven for such breakthroughs.

All the stress that I've been packing into my lower back has finally cracked open. I didn't get a chance to get the tears out properly - because I had to immediately counterbalance with a forward bend to protect the vertebrae - but now that the door is open, I know that these old fears will pass.

I cannot tell you how grateful I was to feel the tears on my face, to feel sobs undulating up my esophagus. This is why I signed up for yoga teacher training - to free up the space inside me for new challenges, new projects and new feelings.

I feel as if I took a big step today. How did I celebrate? Reading my books over a nice sushi dinner. Weeding my garden. And an early bedtime, of course.


Day Three - Yoga teacher training

As the days go by, the 26 students in the teacher training program are slowly getting to know one another. There's a lot of "I'm sorry, what's your name again?" and "Where are you from?", but no one minds answering.

Today, I got to talking with Van and she said something extraordinary:

"The yoga studio is the only place where there is no gap between what I'm doing and who I want to be."

Can many of us say the same about our own work? Can you?

Ps. I know, I know, I'm fixating on the Icelandic poppies. But more stuff is blooming soon, so there will be more variety shortly.