My Yoga Super Heroes

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I used to think my yoga teachers were super heroes. Now that I teach, I’m constantly tempted to compare myself to them, and the comparisons are not always favorable to me.

I want to be like them because their work changed my life. Maybe even saved it. I know I’m not exactly the most with-it grownup on the block, but can you imaging where my life would be without yoga? I can’t.

At sixteen, I didn’t have the patience to just sit and be quiet. I was anxious about everything. My brain never quit chattering. I would regularly tear at my skin until I bled. And I hated everyone and everything. Yoga became the moving meditation that allowed me to find some quiet within myself. I have Janet to thank for that.

At twenty-seven, in a panic about the grey cubicle farm that was my daily life, I turned to yoga again, this time with a different need. I had learned to make peace with my body, but could I make peace with the rest of my life? This is when Elizabeth introduced me to the real power of the breath, which gave me the ability to be present in this moment. Notably, many of life’s worries drop away when you’re living in the present rather than stressing about the past or the future. I learned to work on my problems just like asanas — one moment at a time, letting the breath be my guide.

Now that I’m teaching, I wonder if I can give my students the same things my teachers gave me, and I don’t know the answer. Maybe it’s not my job to give my them precisely the same lessons but rather to introduce them to their own inner teacher. We honor certain great teachers with the title “guru,” but the true guru for each of us is the wisdom that lives within us. Finding that divine spark within yourself feels a lot like how I imagine super powers feel. Now, if only I could figure out how to give people that.

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Yoga Sutras 1.21-1.22: Intention Correlates with Progress

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1.21: TĪVRA SAMVEGĀNĀM ĀSANNAH.
To the keen and intent practitioner, this [samadhi] comes very quickly.

1.22: MRDU MADHYĀDHIMĀTRATVĀT TATO’PI VIŚESAH
The time necessary for success further depends on whether the practice is mild, medium or intense.

 Simple advice plainly stated.

Dedicate yourself to your practice. Dedicate yourself to evolving. Be studious, and choose the most challenging practice you’re able to do. Even if you’re doing very simple poses or the most basic pranayama, practice with intense focus and utmost sincerity.

The degree of dedication you have to your practice directly correlates to the degree of impact the practice will have on your life. If you practice once a week and forget about it the rest of the time, the progress will be slow. You may forget things between sessions or just feel that you’re not getting anywhere. If you incorporate your practice into your daily life in small or large ways, your progress will speed up significantly.

If you know just one or two yoga poses or a simple meditation technique, try practicing every day for 5-10 minutes and make note of if/how it changes your day. Do you feel any differently? Think any differently? Can you apply yogic ideas such as ahimsa or breath awareness into other aspects of your day?

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How to Be a Better Teacher

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Step 1: Practice More

You can’t teach what you don’t know. Practice every day. Pay attention to the effects of your practice on your own body and mind. Deepen your awareness. Get intimately familiar with any pose or technique that you want to teach to your students.

Step 2: Modify

Study the poses with your students’ needs in mind. If they have limited mobility, tightness, hyper-flexibility, injuries or illness, look for ways to make the poses’ effects accessible despite those challenges. Use all the tools and props at your disposal if it helps the student.

Step 3: Learn from Others

Keep going to other yoga classes whenever you can. If you can’t make it to class (i.e. it’s too damn cold outside and you refuse to leave the house) study what other teachers have to say in books, blog posts, magazine articles and online videos. However you do it, just keep learning.

Step 4: Branch Out

Do something besides yoga. Especially if you’re a full-time yoga teacher, it’s easy to get in a rut of doing the same thing over and over again. Go roller skating, take a jog, try an aerobics or spin class. Challenge your body in a different way and then try your practice again. Notice how this changes your practice, and incorporate that knowledge into your class.

Step 5: Listen

When students ask questions or give you feedback, they’re letting you know what they need. They may remember pieces of breath work from previous classes, or they might not understand the alignment of the hips in a certain pose. The feedback they give you can tell you where they’re experiencing challenges, where they’d like to learn more, and how you can give more clear and helpful instructions.

Step 6: Honor the Student

Being a yoga teacher doesn’t mean you’re more advanced than the student. It just means that you have a certain skill set you can share. Honor the students’ unique experience and personal wisdom, and encourage them to honor the same in themselves. The true teacher is the inner guru, and it’s your job to help them find it within themselves.

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Yoga Sutra 1.13: Define Practice

by Darla Hueske

TATRA STHITAU YATNO’BHYĀSAH.
Of these two, effort toward steadiness of mind is practice.

Effort toward steadiness of mind. In other words, meditation.

Meditation can take many forms, such as the seated practice most people think of or more physical practices. Asana itself can be a moving meditation when we tune in to the body and the breath and make our focus single-pointed. Meditation can be done in the form of walking, singing, chanting, and even eating. Anything you do can be a form of meditation if you are practicing with your entire awareness.

Bonus: Here’s a simple meditation practice you can work with to get started.

Sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor. Sit up straight but without too much effort or strain. Close your eyes, and pay attention to your breath. Begin counting your breath — each complete round of breath is one count. Inhale, exhale: one. Inhale, exhale: two… and so on.

Attempt to focus strictly on your breath and the counting until you reach ten. If your mind wanders to other topics, start over. If you’re being honest, chances are good that you’ll have to start over several times. Remember: Thinking about how great you’re doing counts as thinking. Start over.

This exercise is simple, yet challenging and serves to show you just how much our minds tend to wander! Practice it a few times this week, and next week we’ll answer the question on everyone’s mind: When do we get to be enlightened?

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