If you are following the insights of Bristol Yogi, Daniel Wallen, you will be interested to read his latest journal entries from this past week. He has decided to complete thirty classes in thirty-one days for January. He still considers himself new to yoga and this challenge is a way of taking his practice to the next level. Check out his take home gems from his classes with Bristol Yoga.
"01/05 Sunrise w/ Marcy
I love how different teachers use different genres of music. I have worked with five different teachers at Bristol Yoga so far and they all use music that fits their personality and class style. I enjoyed Marcy's music so much that I couldn't help asking her to write down the band's name (it was Cantoma if you're curious).
Thinking about this made me wonder what kind of music I would use in a class when I start teaching. I have been listening to a lot of classical music lately, because it helps me focus on my work as a writer... maybe I could be known as “the male yoga teacher who sets his classes to moving music that was composed by dead guys with funny hair.”
01/06 Sunrise w/ Victoria
Remember how I mentioned the concept of reference points in my first journal entry? Victoria used a transition that will serve as a good one. Hero pose is tough for me, but Victoria had us spend almost a full minute in child's pose right before it, and it made a really big difference.
Victoria told us a story about how she was in a big hurry to get to class. She lost track of time, panicked, rushed up the stairs, tripped, fell down, and ended up with a bump on her foot. She called this a valuable lesson about how it is best to stay calm and focus on the present moment, especially in times of stress.
That was relevant to me, because I sped the whole way to class this morning. I was paranoid about the possibility of getting pulled over the whole time. I usually take my showers before bed, but I was exhausted last night, so I decided to save it for the morning (bad idea). After I dried off, I looked at my clock and said some swear-words, because I only had ten minutes to make it to class.
It's funny how little things can seem like a big deal while you are going through them. I should have just drove the speed limit without worrying, because I was registered for this class, and I know Victoria would have given me a few minutes to arrive before she locked the door. Also, I am a creature of habit, so I shouldn't have changed my routine in the first place since I'm fully aware that I thrive with consistency.
01/07 Sunrise w/ Shelly
Today we practiced a movement that will help with hand-stands later (I can't do those or head-stands yet – going upside down still freaks me out at this point). I'll describe that movement just in case that helps you can picture it.
You begin in down dog, walk your feet forward a few steps, and try to kick one leg up at a time in a hopping motion. I hadn't really tried that before. It's interesting how new and disruptive challenges can make it harder to focus on poses that you already have a decent handle on (let's just say my lunges were a lot more rocky than usual!).
01/08 Sunrise w/ Victoria
I've noticed a couple of ways that yoga teachers can help their students get closer to their edge (the maximum stretch that you can achieve safely without experiencing pain). Victoria used both of them today. She had us perform a total of 14 sun salutations with these poses:
Mountain → Fold → Flat back → Fold → Lunge → Plank → Lunge → Chaturanga → Up dog → Down dog → Volcano → Repeat
This resulted in a cardiovascular benefit since the quick pace got the blood flowing and heart pumping. Conveniently, warming the body up in this way can help you get deeper into difficult poses. My hips are far more flexible than they used to be, but they're still a bit tight generally speaking. Today I got much deeper into a lunge than I ever had before.
It's worth mentioning that Victoria had the class get into a one-legged down dog before every lunge, but for some reason that makes it a lot harder for me to space my legs out, so I started to leave that part out of the sequence halfway through the class to save myself some trouble. While most people should follow the instructor as completely as they can, I feel there are times where it is okay to modify things based on what you learn about your body.
01/09 Sunrise w/ Marcy
Marcy started today's class with a highly focused segment on breath control. She accomplished this by introducing us to a technique called ujjayi pranayama, which is commonly referred to as “ocean breath” since that is exactly what it sounds like in practice.
I couldn't breathe through my nose as she instructed, but I didn't let that frustrate me. Maybe my nose was stopped up due to allergies or maybe my practice isn't in a place where that is possible yet. Whhatever the case may be, I just breathed through my mouth as deeply and audibly as I could (you know you're doing it right when your exhales sound like Darth Vader).
I recently read a book called “The Willpower Instinct.” The author, Kelly McGonigal, discusses how a meditation practice can improve your willpower. Meditation is all about redirecting your focus back to your breath when you get distracted. Likewise, success is all about redirecting your focus to your goal when you want to give up. She mentioned a neat tip that helped me in this class. To slow down your exhales, pucker your lips as if you are blowing through a straw while you release your breath.
01/10 Yoga for Every Body w/ Shelly
It seemed like Shelly mentioned a modification for the overwhelming majority of poses in this class. I made a mental note of that, because that's something I will need to be mindful of when I am a teacher. On a similar note, today reminded me of a limiting belief I had when I started going to yoga classes.
I used to see props (i.e. blocks and straps and blankets) as bad things. I was very rigid when I began and it didn't help that I was also incredibly self-conscious of that fact. If I was in a class full of people who could do a pose without assistance, I felt ashamed that I couldn't accomplish the same thing. Now I know that was silly, but I bet a lot of people feel the same way. The rest of this journal is for them.
Please don't feel “inferior” if you can't do a pose without assistance. Every person is starting their practice from a different place. The other people in that class could have been practicing for years. If you just started this month, then you're obviously not going to be as skilled as they are. Comparing yourself to other people won't do you any good. Be thankful for the body you have and be patient with the process of making it stronger. Props will help you achieve that safely, so use them if you need to!
01/11 Warm Yin-Yasa w/ Shelly
Today Shelly had us do something fun and unexpected called tantrumasana. We were laying on our backs and she asked us to start beating the ground with our hands and feet as hard as we could.
I can't speak for everybody, but I felt relieved afterward. A lot of us walk around carrying a lot of bagging in the form of stress, anxiety, and upset feelings. If we don't have an emotional outlet (i.e. meditation, vigorous exercise, or a trusted friend to talk to, then feelings can end up festering inside.
This is why I kept a private stream-of-conscious journal several months ago. My life got turned upside-down for reasons that are beyond the scope of this blog, but suffice to say I was feeling very stressed. Writing down my feelings without filter – no matter how nasty they were! – helped me get the junk out of my system every morning.
Moral of the story = if you're feeling down, try throwing a tantrum or keeping a journal (maybe even yell in a pillow while you're at it – I bet you'll feel better after the fact)." - Daniel Wallen