Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Ain't Nothin' But a Downward Dog: Thoughts on Yoga Teacher Training

We had teacher training yesterday.  Colin taught asana in the morning, beginning with Tadasana/Mountain Pose on the floor, then moving into Vrksasana/Tree Pose (still on the floor).  It was a good thing we stayed prone for a while, because the rest of the practice was spent studying Adho Mukha Svanasana/Downward Facing Dog.  That's where things got quite spicy.  We practised ways of moving into the pose; we practised alignment and we practised adjustments.  (Some of those adjustments were spicy in themselves and I'm guessing I won't be using them in my yoga classes at Olds Fibre Week!) We talked about moving into poses in minute increments, of building poses from the ground up, working into the larger form.  We talked about breaking that larger form into separate components.

The bodies in the studio moved in wondrous ways.  I'm forever amazed at the variety and complexity of the human form.  (Perhaps this is why I always have the urge to take life drawing classes after every yoga session?)  Colin is an expert at the confident, firm adjustment; he can safely reposition core and limbs in ways I wouldn't have thought possible. There are a lot of bendy bodies in that class and several not so bendy ones, including mine, which is why I volunteered to be the test dummy for adjusting the flexibility-challenged. This is difficult for me-I have issues with being touched, for many reasons, including major surgeries; but I trust Colin and knew that he would improve my asana in ways that I couldn't manage on my own.

It's remarkable what the body can do with a teacher you trust, when you find some confidence to let go.  I bellowed through the adjustment-my apologies to the rest of the group, but sound effects seem to be mandatory with my practice-felt a brief moment of, well, sheer terror, and then, it was done.  My back was straight, my hips in alignment and for the first time in years, my heels were on the floor.  (So I'm told. Where is that camera when I need it?)  Heels to the ground was neither the point nor the goal, of course, but man, it felt good. 

Sarah arrived in the afternoon to teach anatomy.  I have several medical personnel in my family, including a couple of doctors, nurses and an Emergency Medical Technician.  I grew up in a house full of medical texts, but I've never met anyone who knows her anatomy like Sarah.  On the other hand, despite all those gory books or perhaps because of them, anatomy will not stick in my brain.  On a good day, I can distinguish between a femur and a humerus bone, but anything more involved defeats me.  This is not a good thing for a would be yoga teacher.  

My challenges became clear when we divided into study groups. Our group was chosen to teach the practical exercises at the end of Chapter Two in our text.  I got into a muddle straight away because I couldn't understand the intent of the exercises.  A fairly safe path to follow would have been to demonstrate the actions of muscles, bones and nerves in the body, but my mind was off on tangents-what would be the practical purposes of teaching these exercises in a class?  When would we use them? How could they help students and the instructor?  I took the exercise which begin in Savasana, but I was so focused on the bigger picture of how it would fit into future lesson plans that I forgot to instruct in a way that actually fit the purposes of this class.  (Ah, mindfulness, how elusive a thing you are!  On the other hand, I now have Lesson 1 in my Yoga/Meditation Class for Spinners when I'm at Olds.)

If we always focus on the mountains, we might miss the interesting details.   The "Man in the Mountain" caught my eye on our last trip to Kelowna.

At day's end, I went home tired, sore, excited, feeling like a fish out of water, like Alice when she was lost in a sea of confusion.  It was a good day. Not only did this session teach me a lot about a specific pose and the physical workings of the body, it gave me food for thought on my approaches to teaching.  I tend to jump to a larger perspective before I examine the parts which compose the big picture.  I throw paint on paper before I know what images I'm creating; I see the finished project before my beginners cast on their first stitch; I know the possibilities the Renew for Cancer classes can bring to students with practice and perseverance.  

That's not a bad thing.  That bigger picture allows creativity to flourish, helps me set goals and to continue to work through problems when things get rough, but, the fact that I am usually focused on the larger view also means that I forget that people need things broken down for them-if you don't know how to make a slip knot, you're going to find it harder to cast on your first knit stitch; if you don't know what Downward Dog is, you may have a wee problem getting into the pose.  If I confuse the femur (thigh bone) with the humerus (upper arm), my yoga students will be rightly suspicious of my ability to teach anything at all.

Sometimes, it's important to break down all the little things which make up the whole. Attention to that subtle shift in the hands will make your Downward Dog stronger.  Learning which body parts are moving in the pose can improve your alignment and prevent damage from over extension.  Building that scarf with attention to each stitch will help you catch that dropped stitch before it gets away on you completely.  It's not always the Devil in the details; sometimes, it's a Guardian.

By the way, I had a practical lesson in muscle placement this morning.  I'm so stiff, I can barely move.  It feels good.

Many parts make the Whole: photo taken in the Japanese Garden at Kelowna.

(Thanks, Barb, for the ride home yesterday.)


  1. To me, you sounded confident and focussed as you directed us through the visualization in svasana, and I was quite happy "feeling" my imaginary muscle movements. It's funny how perceptions differ, depending which side of the mat you are on!

  2. Thanks, Diane. It's a good thing to remember that perceptions are not reality!