Thursday, November 3, 2011

Beginnings

Sometimes the first five to ten minutes of a yoga class are my favorite.  Don't get me wrong, savasana is the icing on the yoga cake, but there is an amazingly simple joy in the practice of simply sitting, being reminded to pay attention to your posture and breath, and pulling yourself back from the past and the future to enjoy the present moment.

Not every yoga class starts this way - some teachers like to jump right in from standing to sun salutations, others will start in child's pose or even from savasana, which is always yummy.  However, I do find that a majority of the classes I take - and all of the classes I teach - start in that comfortable, meditative seat.

Especially lately, I've really started taking my time with the beginning of the classes I teach.  I'm mostly teaching Prenatal these days, with a few random vinyasa classes or privates thrown in every couple of weeks.  I have my students come to a cross legged seat, often sitting on a blanket to slightly raise the hips.  I teach them to rock their pelvis back and forth, or even in a circle, making the movements smaller and smaller until they find just the right position so that their sit bones are firmly rooted into the earth and that their lower back curve is present but not exaggerated.  I teach a slight drawing inward of the navel on the exhale, drawing together of the shoulder blades to open up the heart, and to slightly tuck the chin down while moving the back of the head back in space an inch or two.  (With all of us on our iPhones or reading on the subway, we tend to constantly lean our head forward these days)  Then once we're all snugly settled into our seats, the attention turns to the breath.

I take my time.  I cue little things, I take snippets from other teachers that I love and find effective, and I really want to make sure my students are as grounded and present as they can be in those first few moments before we start moving our bodies.

However, I've come to realize that in my own meditation practice that I always expected myself to just kind of jump into it.  I sit on my blanket, set the timer (I use the Insight Timer app on my iPhone - lots of different Tibetan bowl sounds.  It's a gentle way to come in and out), and boom - the search for peace or enlightenment or whatever it is begins.  A few weeks ago, I decided to add some pranayama (simply translated to breathing exercises, more literally translated to extension of the life force energy) to the beginning of my practice as a neat little switch to help calm my mind.  It certainly does help and provide plenty of other benefits, but I wouldn't take a moment before beginning to center myself, so I was still missing an important ingredient to my practice.  I think part of my tendency to rush into the practice is my eternal awareness of how much time I have - or don't have.  If I'm only going to meditate for 10 minutes, I better not waste a second!  I think I should start right away and hit the ground running, so to speak.

Now, I'm doing what I'm teaching in my adult classes - find my posture, scan my body for unecessary tension, and then relax into my breath and take my time. I always teach it and I always appreciate it in my asana classes, yet I almost never did it for myself!  It's a little crazy how long it took me to notice that.  One of my personal commandments is to "Treat myself as my best friend."  In this situation, I needed to treat myself with the same consideration as I treat my students.  Whether it's a seated practice or an asana practice, it's unbelievably beneficial to set the stage by spending a few moments grounding yourself in the here and now.

An issue like this on the mat is usually a good indication of a similar issue off the mat.  However, I'm usually pretty good about the beginning of things.  I'm not a procrastinator (about most things, anyway), I never had problems with the beginnings of papers in college, and I'm usually much more game to start a project than to complete one.

I searched a little longer, and the answer smacked me in the face.  I have a really hard time letting myself be a beginner.  I'm a fast learner in general, so when something takes me a little longer to integrate into my brain or body (or both, as with teaching yoga) it gets very frustrating.  There's a huge amount of vulnerability into letting yourself be a beginner, and I've learned over the years that it's very hard for me to be vulnerable in that way. 

I recently completed an absolutely incredible teacher training - Yoga Mom, Buddha Baby taught by Jyothi Larson.  It empowered me to address the specific needs of the post-partum woman in yoga class along with baby yoga songs and exercises.  I've been looking forward to being a Mom & Baby teacher ever since I found out the class existed, but I have to still remember to take my time and be patient with myself as I develop my teaching style for this very unique class.  I'm trained and qualified - and I am also a beginner.  Especially in New York, where the atmosphere is often so competitive, it sometimes feels like you have to keep any "beginner" status a secret.  How silly is that?

Experience is my best teacher for everything, and I have to accept that that experience will involve some mistakes and imperfections.  If this were my best friend having these feelings or frustrations, I'd tell them to take their time and be patient with themselves, and that, most importantly, it's a part of life to keep learning and to be a beginner at something.  Respecting the beginning goes a long way toward sustaining you throughout your practice - whatever it might be.

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