Sunday, November 30, 2008

A bit more about Yoga at the Gym

First of all, I hope everyone in the US had a lovely Thanksgiving holiday. We got back from St. Paul,MN yesterday to a couple of grateful cats and a chill in the air. Today the snow is swirling down and we are on the way to our first Winter Weather Emergency here in Wisconsin. 6-10 inches by tomorrow. Hello, December 1.

The YJ article is safely in San Francisco now, but I wanted to share one of Jason Crandell's thoughts from our interview. He is a regular YJ contributor, but also teaches and is the yoga director at the Bay Club in S. F. I think most teachers that continue to teach at gyms feel strongly about the experience and their role in introducing yoga to the masses (didya see all the comments?!); Crandell is no exception. I ended the article with this quote, and I've been reminding myself of it in class all week:

"It's important that, as yoga teachers, we don't buy into the whole gym yoga thing. It's important that we teach the essence of yoga as we understand it to the people that are in front of us. That really should not be different regardless of where one goes."

I love the concept of teaching the essence of yoga as you understand it. You train and practice in a particular style with its particular rules, but you will teach yoga as an individual in the way that makes sense to you. This allows for difference and variety in all their shades, good and bad, but it is what makes yoga such an interesting discipline. It's a language full of accents and slang, newly coined-phrases and old fashioned words; but, no matter how it is "spoken," there are benefits to be had and awareness to be created.

It's such an honest way to approach the practice and keeps you focused on your own technique, rather than worrying about what is better or more authentic or whether a new student will like it. It encourages confidence in your teaching skills, but also fidelity to your training. No showing off. Teach what you know. Keep it simple.

In these days of myriad certifications, hot yoga bods and "my yoga's better than yours," this is a nice reminder. I'm not saying there isn't always something new to be learned, but, as with any teacher, you should strive to teach the subject to the best of your ability/to the best of your understanding. That's why your students are there and why they stay.

Although, please, no Iron Yoga.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Yoga at the Gym

I'm in the midst of my next YJ article, so I've been a bit quiet (not to mention, lax in my daily Up Dog). I've enjoyed my interviews, tho, as this is a subject near and dear to my heart: Teaching Yoga at a Gym.

There is often the implication (from YJ, among other places), that the ideal place to teach and practice yoga is at a studio. That was even my attitude, back in DC, where the studios I went to were much more dedicated to the practice than the gyms (not that the gym experiences were bad, but they were a lot more generic). I wanted to write a piece that would show the benefits of teaching at a gym (variety of students, steady income), drawbacks to avoid (loud practice spaces, workout mentality) and suggest ways to make it pleasant employment.

I've been teaching at the Y for almost five years now, and I like to think that the yoga experience my students get is very similar to one they would get at most studios. I've found us a quiet space in the unused dance studio (lovely wooden floors) and I have a nice stash of props. The Y is very accomodating when I wanted to add new classes or try new themes; it's been a wonderful steady gig.

And, as several of my interviewees have stressed, at the start of every session there is at least one student new to yoga. Being some one's first yoga teacher is such an honor, with such great responsibility--you could make them fall in love, or you could drive them away forever. But it's so cool to be the yoga ambassador to these students and there is nothing more satisfying that watching some one become a "true-believer" during the course of a class. Usually with shoulder-openers (at least, that's what won me over).

So, I wanted show new teachers that all the wonderful enlightening they are ready to do upon completing a training could happen at a gym. Yoga is yoga, wherever it happens--as long as the intention is good, it will be a worthwhile experience for both student and instructor. Plus, the locker rooms are usually bigger...hello sauna.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Putting PJS to rest

As I've thought about it, I'm not sure I have anything else to say about Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose. There isn't much in the way of modifications...either you stretch down to your foot, or you use a belt. What I've found to be the most interesting about it this week is how variable it is. For me, the more straightforward poses (Tree, Triangle, Down Dog) are pretty easy to assume without a lot of warm up--altho check out Nadine's discussion of Dog to see what a difference a warm up can make. Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana, on the other hand, is all over the place depending on the time of day, muscle temperature, mood...

Of course, all poses benefit from being done in the context of an extended, focused practice--but some (most) days I have very little time to actually stop and do a hour of yoga.
Excuses, excuses. So PJS can be clunky and frustrating, or smooth and elongating--even within the same 24 hours. Humbling. It works the best for me after exercising, with a careful progression into the twist and forward bend and then holding it while using the exhalations to lengthen the spine and deepen the twist.

Mostly, though, it made me think about how it's high time to let myself be taught. I'm dying for an outside class, but still haven't cleared a space in my life of freelance and little boys (I should take note of Heather's experience). There's my assignment for the next week, I guess. Go take a class.

And...since I've been doing chest openers all week with my students, let's do Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-facing Dog) next. Hello shoulder blades!