The Approximate Yogi

Conquering life one breath at a time


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In Search of an Authentic Practice

You may have noticed lately there has been less posts about specific yoga and meditation techniques. I have been hinting I’ve been a little yoga-lite lately. This has happened in the past when I have taken a break from teaching. I took this break, firstly, to allow myself more time for some other writing projects (which you’ll hopefully hear more about later), but to also develop my yoga practice for myself, not for “yoga teacher Catie.”

I was beginning to feel inauthentic in my home practice. I was practicing, almost exclusively, kriyas I was going to teach in class that week. I found myself thinking about what I would say to the class during each exercise, reciting this script in my head. Even in my meditation, I would find myself rehearsing little monologues or things I’d tell my students to help them get back on track in the meditation -meanwhile, I was way off track!

offering up my practice to my Self

offering up my practice to my Self

So I decided to stop. I decided to give teaching a break until I cultivated an authentic practice for myself, that I could call my own, not my students. Don’t get me wrong, I think as a teacher it is important to keep up a practice for your students, and to plan well for classes, but there also needs to be a yoga that is just your own, and I had lost that.

I lost it because I lost some time, I started a new job that I had to get up a lot earlier for, I wanted to devote more time to other pursuits, so something had to give, and it was my personal practice that took the hit. But that was something I didn’t want to sacrifice, so I decided to take a break from teaching instead. I know I will come back to teaching (I miss it already), but I need to find some balance in my practice and life before returning to it. So in November I said goodbye to my classes with a bit of a heavy heart, and hoped that taking this time for my own practice will only make me a stronger teacher when I return.

Offseason Yoga

Then I stopped practicing all together. At first, I just told myself I needed a little break before starting back up. Then the holidays hit and it was easy to use them as an excuse. Then a couple more excuses came up that I won’t get into here, and before I knew it my practice was non-existent most days, a few casual stretches other days, interspersed with an earnest attempt at meditation here and there.

I don’t regret this little break. I read an article the other day about running. It talked about how even professional runners have an offseason. I liked that idea, the last couple months were my off-season for yoga.

I had been putting a lot of pressure on myself to be a perfect little yogi, so it kind of all came to a head, and I fell into what often happens with perfectionists -I got fed up and dropped it altogether. (If it’s not perfect, why bother doing it at all?)

I needed an offseason. I told myself it was nice to feel like just a regular, normal person again, not someone trying to be this enlightened being. But now I miss it, and there are no more excuses left not to get back into it.

So this morning was preseason. Rather than pick right back up where that little perfectionist yogi left off, I needed a gentler approach. If I was really going to re-discover my own practice I needed to do it in a way that was good for menot my idea of what a practice should be. It was hard to not let that perfectionist sneak in. I ended up sleeping past sun-up and my fiance woke up at the same time

But,” little miss perfectionist yogi says, “it is best to do your yoga in the predawn, it’s easier when no one else is awake and you have the space all to yourself. You’ve already failed. You should just give up and maybe try again tomorrow when you can get it right.”

Ritual of Recommitting

Okay, shutting that voice off like shutting off the snooze, I get up. I decide that even though the sun is up, the day is starting, there are other elements of my practice I could implement that would still make it comforting, still make it feel right. I return to ritual. I get up, brush my teeth, and make myself some warm lemon water. I get my cushion out, tune in with the Adi Mantra, and begin some of my favorite stretches, while taking breaks to sip my warm and soothing drink.

This is feeling good. But, besides creating ritual, I need to create a commitment to make this practice last. Choosing a kriya or meditation to practice for 40 straight days has always been a great way to keep me on my mat day after day. I choose a kriya that is something I want to work on in my life. That creates motivation to stick with it right there. But I also choose one that is short enough that I could make the time commitment to it as I build my practice back up. I pick Balancing the Head and Heart. This is a kriya I’d been wanting to try a 40-day practice of for a while now.

Again, since I’m only in preseason, rather than jump right into the full times and have my arms be super sore tomorrow, I start with the minimum times. Now they’ll just be a little sore, that good sore. So I’ll take a few days to build up to the full times, and I’ll add a few days onto the end of my 40 days.

Thank you for allowing me to share, openly and honestly, the state of my yoga practice these days. I will keep you posted on its progress, as usual, and hope to explore some new kriyas and meditations with you that I have been wanting to try for myself.

In the meantime, any teachers out there: Do you ever feel this way -that your personal practice suffers from being a teacher? And if so, what do you do to get through it?

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Why Kundalini Yogis Wear White & Cover Our Heads

Why do you wear all white?

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from my teacher training on graduation day, taken by another student

I get this question often as a teacher of Kundalini Yoga. The answer is two-part: 1) Wearing the color white is supposed to expand your aura, since the color white is made up of all of the colors of the spectrum (also all of the chakras’ colors). Conversely, wearing black, which omits all of the colors of the spectrum, shrinks the aura. 2) Teachers of Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan are required to wear white for reason #1, which sounds like a good reason to me.

Kundalini students can wear white to class as well. You may play around with the colors of the chakra system. For example, wearing white expands the aura, while wearing green projects the fourth, or heart chakra. (Read my series “Focus on the Chakras” under Categories to the right of the blog, to learn about colors associated with other chakras).

Why do you cover your head?

Is another question I sometimes get. The answer is for protection, and kind of to contain your own energy. At the top of the head is the crown chakra, and energy can enter into and out of our chakra system through it (I know this all sounds a bit spacey, but stick with me!). People project all kinds of energy -negative, positive, neutral. So, covering the crown chakra protects your own energy from any negativity, which is important for a teacher, trying to remain neutral and just teach. We don’t get caught up in the energy of our students, but hold our own.

For this same reason, some students wear head coverings as well.

me (in the middle) at teacher training with 2 other students, photo taken by another student

me (in the middle) at teacher training with 2 other students, photo taken by another student

We are not required to wear a head covering to teach, but it is highly recommended. I will say that there have only been two times I have not covered my head to teach a class, and both times I felt a little odd and disorganized. So I just cover my head typically with a white bandana. Sometimes I wear a white turban, as many other teachers do.

I will admit, sometimes I find myself questioning these teacher “uniform” suggestions, but at the end of the day I know these teachings work in a powerful way for me in my life, so I decide not to mess with it.

Please let me know if you have any other questions that I could try and answer about Kundalini Yoga.


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When Too Much is Not Enough

I’m so excited to share this lovely piece on deciding to take a yoga teacher training by guest blogger, Heather Webb. Heather and I went to school together, sharing a really transformative creative writing class in high school. We recently reconnected in the blogger world. (Check out her fantastic, funny, and honest blog frommidnightoil.)

It is Friday afternoon, and I have just laid claim to the only solitary hours I will have this weekend. My son is at soccer practice, dogs are outside, and husband at work. I’m (finally) on my sun porch, in my writing chair, drinking pumpkin spice coffee and watching the wet leaves sway with each gust of wind outside. It keeps getting incrementally brighter outside, like God is turning the dimmer switch. “Hmmm” he or she is thinking, “let’s move from near dark to ambient light”. I’m grateful, but also, it’s okay if the rain continues.

I have a list, as they say, a mile long – and it’s divided into different categories: School, Home, Heather, Colby, Dogs. There are overdue bills and a form I need to help Colby fill out to schedule his youth orchestra auditions, cleaning and unpacking from our wedding and honeymoon. Laundry. Dishes. Grading. If it keeps raining then I won’t feel the pull to head outside, walk my dogs, and ignore the piles and lists and incoming calls.

I recently saw a graphic that told us, plainly, to “stop the glorification of busy”. That here today – gone tomorrow Facebook post asked me to re-evaluate the way I moved about the world. I grew up around busy women, wanting to be a busy woman. I babysat and took my charges to the store and loved, loved, loved pretending to be a frazzled mama. I never wondered if I could be the mama without the frazzled.

So I thought about my busy-ness, about how I normally walk too fast for automatic doors. I took my thoughts to yoga, to the garden, and into my kitchen. I am a busy mama, but every mama is a busy mama, just like most modern citizens of the working world are busy people in that they have more stuff to do than time to do it in. This isn’t a me problem or a mama problem, it’s an us problem.

After all of this thinking, I decided to do something that seemed to most to be counterintuitive, but made perfect sense to me and my family. I signed up for a yoga teacher-training program. Then I took on two adjunct classes to pay for the program. csypic

Now friends, I’ve loved yoga since I was twelve years old and started doing poses from a special edition Redbook I stole from my mother. I love the release in my lower back and shoulders in child’s pose, and the strength I feel in a warrior series. It also is something that always comes last in a list of family priorities. I joke to my friends that my memoir will be called “Can I Please Just Go To Yoga?” because in any given week that is my only request. I didn’t meet any yoga friends until college, and I didn’t find a studio that felt like home until I was in my 30’s. I can mark every major event in my adult life by the poses I was practicing. I remain convinced that yoga can fix nearly everything, and I will talk about this, at length, to anyone who will listen.

Whenever I thought about teacher training, though, I thought about all of my other responsibilities. Soccer games and family time and balanced meals. It’s time now. It will be many years before I have fewer family obligations, but I am no longer accepting “crazy-busy”. I will no longer glorify busy. We could talk about mommy wars and judgment and how the busiest mom is often deemed the winner, but I think we all know this already. I’m bucking the trend, friends. Join me.

So I’m sitting here in the afternoon light, surveying the to-dos and thinking about tomorrow, my first day of yoga teacher training.

By participating in this training, and paying for it immediately, I’m actively slowing down. I may not be doing less, but I’m doing with purpose. And I am not wasting my energy on worrying about it. An old co-worker used to tell me not to run at work. “Heather,” he’d say, “you’re going to get there at the same time no matter how fast you go”.

I’m thinking about you all, dear readers, and hoping you can shed the guilt, like I’m trying to do, of slowing down. I’m reminding myself to not answer, “oh, busy” to one single person who asks how I’m doing. I’m anxious to begin something new, and proud that I am brave enough to consider my life, still full and blessed, but different.


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How I Decided To Do My Yoga Teacher Training…and How It Changed My Life

I had probably subconsciously made the decision long ago. It was really just a matter of deciding when, and even that was really already decided for me. On the surface, it appeared to be the worst timing, but it proved to really be perfect, of course. I started my training almost three years ago. It was my first year out of graduate school, my first year working as a speech therapist –and what a rough year it was! As is often the case that first formative year when you discover everything you learned in school is really just touching the surface, and the real learning just begins. I was having a rough time of it too, I do not recall that year with fond memories. So I really think I needed another focus. I’d always thought it would be really nice to take a teacher training, but it was always just a “someday” plan, rather than an actual one. This was my first real concrete experience of having a thought, then saying it out loud and watching it become reality –something I now consciously do when I have a goal that seems like just  a dream.

I can remember exactly when this thought came to me. I was sitting in my living room, flipping through a Yoga Journal and really started paying attention to the ads about teacher trainings -all these lovely trainings in exotic places. I went online and did a little scoping out, but still didn’t think too seriously about it. This was a Saturday. I was looking forward to a yoga class I was going to the next day. After my old Kundalini Yoga studio had closed, I had finally found, just stumbled upon really, another class and this would be my first time attending. I’d been taking classes in other styles of yoga, but missed Kundalini. It was in that class the teacher announced, to my surprise, a teacher training that would be occurring in New Hampshire, just a few hours away from me one weekend a month for the next 10 months, and that she was going as an assistant teacher, and that the lead teacher was this wonderful yogi and artist. My stars aligned –without ever having decided it would be Kundalini I would get certified in, the decision was made for me.

A month later I was sitting in my first class on that first weekend. And again, on the surface, the timing seemed awful, but it was truly exactly what I needed. I had had a terrible cold all week. It was also the week of my grandfather’s funeral. I was exhausted, both physically and emotionally. After spending a few days in Massachusetts with my family, I drove to the small town of Hollis, New Hampshire, to Access Shuniya Studio to begin another chapter in my life.

Picture 120

Access Shuniya red barn in the fall

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I literally look at these most recent years of my life as pre-teacher training, and post-teacher training. It was that impactful. Again, it was the perfect timing. I was learning so much in my “day job” career that year. I had just moved back to Maine, to a new city, from the West Coast, a place I missed dearly, and maybe hadn’t been quite ready to leave yet, and it was a very long winter.

But then spring came. It would take a book (or many more blog posts) to go into all of the details and all of the little revelations I experienced over the next 10 months with that amazing group of women. I’m sure everyone thinks their teacher trainer and classmates are the best, but I have to say, mine were truly the best gift for me. Hari Kirin Kaur Kalsa, my teacher trainer, just radiated kindness and serenity. Her artist’s influence over her teaching was just what I needed to reconnect with my creative self – a part of me that had been lost in hours and hours of the left-brained work of graduate school. I was a bit hesitant to take on a class so soon after graduating, but this type of learning, with my whole body, and my soul, was so different. It was unplanned that my class was entirely made up of women, but what a wonderful and nurturing environment it created. The studio happened to be blessed with an open kitchen, so we all took turns sharing in preparing our meals for that weekend, right beside the other students practicing yoga.

teacher training group photo and images we created learning about the chakras

teacher training group photo and images we created learning about the chakras

Again, I can’t go into all the details, and I probably can’t even explain them all to this day, but that training left my heart and soul open to all the possibilities my life had to offer. The positive energy it brought into my life is certainly still present today (although, of course, in ebbings and flows). Today, post-teacher training, I am a much braver person in all aspects of my life. My life is led by positivity and conviction. I don’t always know which way my path will lead, but I have yoga as a deep source to draw from when I need guidance.

And, of course, I am now a yoga teacher! That in and of itself is a wonderful addition to my life. Teaching yoga gives my life balance. It helps me keep a steady practice. I learn just as much through my teaching and my students as I do as a student. I may not always be a teacher, but it will always be there for me. Now, after having taken a break from teaching, getting back into it is again deepening my personal practice, and adding new purpose to my life. Often my yoga class is the highlight of my week.

So, if anyone feels drawn to take a teacher training I highly recommend it. It will transform your life –that’s not just good advertising, that’s the truth. Or really, if anyone is feeling drawn to pursuing anything that seems like a big risk, but is something you really want, the benefits will always outweigh the burdens –go for it!

And to those of you in the New England area, I’m happy to share that Hari Kirin will soon be doing another teacher training. You can find her Web site, with info on the teacher training, as well as other trainings she is leading, at artandyoga.com.