A bit of background first. Sandy beach on Oahu is a bodysurfer's dream, the steep sand bar and steady swells combine to produce hollow barrels which usually pack a heavy punch. Water sucks back, energy builds, the crest peaks and then surges up and over, crashing down into a water and sand mixture that is maybe 1-2 feet deep. Reliving my youth in retrospect, bodysurfing Sandy Beach shorebreak is very much like my own experiences with chaturanga. There is a repeated rising and falling, a known dance with the self, accompanied by a parallel dance with the higher Self. Each individual wave, each chaturanga, is semi-satisfying but often indistinguishable from the next. And yet, the net sum of a session spent in the water or on the mat yields a singular whole, a unique point in time, an experience which becomes a memory.
I'll come back to Sandy Beach later.
Two emails received this week are worth reprinting, partly because of how they affected me, but more so as an explanation of what I need to work on.
"I just wanted to let you know how much I am enjoying Team Challenge. I appreciate the time that you take (Dave) to plan our workouts! I have never done anything like this in my life and I am truly enjoying it. These past few weeks I have seen myself accomplish things that I never thought were possible for a girl with Crohn's Disease. Thanks so much, & you will probably see me around next year. I'm loving it and we haven't even made it to Vegas yet...I can't wait!"and
"Thank you again today Dave, and I mean that personally- not with my CCFA hat on. Really cool to be a party of your first class taught, perfect opportunity for you to hone your craft on some open-minded friends and amateurs. Very cool experience relative to my past yoga sessions, everything from the setting to the music was a great fit.
You gotta let me know if you start teaching on a regular or even intermittent basis- I'd definitely come to your class again, the passion you have for it is contagious."It's pretty amazing to observe the effect words can have on the human heart. Word selection, tone, delivery, context, and especially intent all combine to exert a force, much like that wave at Sandy Beach, that affects me. It's often easy to brush aside these emotions, just as it's easy to ride wave after wave and not pay attention to the last one or the next one. And it's just as easy to overlook the risk that words and waves have, until something disastrous happens, a friendship disintegrates, or a physical injury is sustained in the water. My parents always used to stress out about Sandy's being the spinal cord readjustment center of the US. And certainly my own experience with words and particularly their negative effects has taught me all sorts of lessons. Words can be intense. The words above affected me greatly, primarily because they were unsolicited but also because of how succinct they are. And while they say more about the sender than the recipient, their net effect on me is substantially more than I expected.
So how does this all relate to what I need to work on? If I set the stage right, you might be confused, you might not follow my train of thought yet. And that is precisely what I am good at, presenting a confusing, overwhelming, lengthy description of my convoluted thoughts which takes a lot of mental energy to decipher. I think my mom realized this when I was 10 as I tried to explain to her how to repaginate a document in Word Perfect (remember those pre-Word days of "word processing"?) I have never been a good teacher, in fact, I've been told many times exactly how lousy I am at it. I'm a doer. I take action. I push the limits. I ride the edge. I was not born with the ability to tell anyone "how".
My sister has tremendous innate leadership and the ability to connect to individuals from all walks of life. I am different. I think we got opposite pairs of genes from our parents. My sister actually ran a small yoga business out of her home a few years ago, before marriage and children. My sister can nonchalantly shred on the mat, yoga is a perfectly comfortable home for her, an effortless extension of her Self. While my sister was doing all of this, I was a quintessential tri-dork, with dreams of Kona which, once fulfilled, gave way to dreams of fast marathons, which broke away and funneled me into dreams of ultra which may not be completely dead yet, and eventually landed me on my yoga mat. There exists quite a bit of comfort for me in athletic pursuits, I know how to push myself, I know how to not quit, it is the world of the known, the oddly comfortable.
Rewind, and take a slight detour...
Watching my father's progression and obsession with ballroom dancing has been a real life lesson for me. I did not understand it at first, but it makes tremendous sense to me now. At retirement, some people long for complacency, a routine schedule, an easieness. But for many of us, when we stop growing, we start to die. The Easa genes do not allow sitting still, for better or for worse. We are workhorses, from my grandfather selling goods door to door out of his suitcase to my father's sacrifices in neonatology, to my sister's ruthless schedule of childcare activities. When we go, we go all out. It would be unnatural for any of us to stop placing hurdles in our path just to see if we can jump over them. Despite no background, despite a surgically repaired knee, despite a complete lack of need, my father chose to pursue and excel at dancing. And now he has absorbed it, now he is pretty freaking good at it. The work shows. His reinvented Self is as shiny and brilliant as the Dr in Dr. Easa ever was, and probably at this point substantially more impressive than any of his accomplishments on the tennis court.
So, now it's time for me to get on point.
And yet, we've already arrived. This entire post _is_ already the point. If I were to ask any of my 3 regular readers of this irrelevant blog what I need to work on, the answer would be unanimous and immediate. Let's not even sugar coat it today, I did enough of that with those two quotes above.
That's it, exactly it, I don't even need to type the word "nutshell". That is my feedback from yesterday's first yoga class. That is my feedback from my own self analysis of my life. That is my challenge, what I want to improve upon, my personal growth opportunity. It is not my area of expertise, and yet I covet so dearly those who can express themselves in simple words that have great impact, just as my father covets the effortlessness of his dance instructor's grace. I'm petrified of this. I have no idea "how" to get there.
Take a look at what I've just done. I've taken a clear and obvious statement of fact, one that just about anyone who knows me realizes intuitively, and anyone who meets me can figure out in 5 minutes, and then I turned something obvious into a multi-page, barf-o-rama of a post. It's so easy for me to make unnecessary additions, so hard for me to subtract. The restless earnestness comes out of me just like the waves rise at Sandy Beach, with ferocity and often overwhelming volume.
My communication skills are the precise opposite of a bumper sticker.
OK, so, enough rambling about me, let me break down that class that affected me so much yesterday. Who knew I'd be drained to empty after 60 minutes of practice teaching. I certainly didn't. In an attempt to be more concise, this section will be in outline form.
- I got flustered before class even started, I didn't have control of the space, I didn't have control of my head, I was semi-frantic setting up, and I didn't take enough time to plan out all of the details so there was some last minute improv. And yet, I feel like I did OK with greeting my students and thanking the creators of the space, Caitlin and Meg. This part boils down to priorities, sometimes we don't do enough homework, but if we remember the most important part, the people involved, the rest just works itself out. I suspect continued attempts will yield more comfort with this part, just as my comfort at masters swimming grew slowly over repeated visits.
- My integration series was decent but not as smooth as I would have liked. I need strong cues for cat/cow if I attempt that again, and especially downward dog. It's so easy for me to ignore the fundamental building blocks, and yet that is precisely the essence of the asanas, the part of teacher training that is the most important and necessary for me to learn.
- I have no real idea how my theme was received. I'm counting on feedback I haven't heard yet to judge the authenticity angle. Beginner students have a hard time distinguishing real from bs. But I think the 2nd note above hints that I may have rang the bell loud enough to hear. This piece is the source of my apprehension today, the impetus for my morning tears. I want so desperately for those around me to see my heart as it sits in my chest, not some morphed, skewed, slanted picture of someone I am not, someone I might perhaps unintentionally purport to be. My best friend in college recognized this and often called me "misunderstood guy". I'd like to get past that, I'd like to do my part to be understood.
- Once we got rolling, especially through the sun salutations, I felt like I hit stride. But yet, with a class of 6 beginners, the weakness of my cues showed most glaringly at the beginning, before the patterns of feet and hand placement are established. Guidance is essential _before_ the chaturangas become second nature. This is the part where I need to hold the class in my hand instead of worrying so much about energizing them since the later seems to be much easier than the former.
- Core series was flat. My playlist was built around my expectations that I would already be behind on time at this point, when in actuality I think I kept on track with the timeline. I had to skip forward with the music to accomodate. I'll need to adjust that in the future. I want to come up with a plan to raise the roof on the intensity with this part. Core, particularly navasana, is where I love to crush myself the most in my own practice. I did not take into consideration that others are much more reasonable with their own self motivation. This section is the land where bumper sticker reigns supreme, there is no time for introspection when your abs are burning.
- Crescent series is an obvious one to mention modifications and yet I did not notice or even offer that option until far too late. I was too busy trying to spit out every cue I could remember, trying to solve every problem, rotate every hip, fix every leak. Teaching is about dancing in the rain, not putting on a rainsuit, galoshes, and grabbing an umbrella. The positive here is that I didn't leave anything out, and I think I might have thrown in an unnecessary utkatasana or chaturanga. Just making it through this section of the sequence feels like an accomplishment, crow marks the halfway point in the series and confidence builds when everyone is on the home stretch.
- Balancing series sucked bad. I think it's funny because this is where I struggle the most in my own practice. I have no balance. Literally and figuratively. And it's not surprising that I can't teach balance since I am so weak in practicing it and living it. Massive growth opportunities here.
- I hit the wall in triangle series. There is so much challenge for me personally in Warrior I that I just got lost. I stumbled all over my tongue through prasarita padottanasana, which might be where I push the hardest in my recent classes, where I've noticed some of the biggest recent gains, where I have loads of focus. It came out unraveled, possibly because balancing series was so shaky, possibly because I am too much in my own head about how incredibly challenging warrior I is and I didn't pay enough attention to the students here.
- I took a break in hip openers. I needed it, and I think it helped. In retrospect, I could have introduced my story at that point (such a good suggestion.) If I had been adequately aware, if I had indeed started my story time here, I might be impressed with myself. Or if I had paused more in the first 35 minutes I might have felt more comfortable with the silence in half pigeon. Instead I sort of checked out.
- Spine strengtheners brought me back to life, I always feel energized by cobra in my own practice, and I think I re-engaged here. I need to nail down a sequence though. This is one area where the different instructors vary tremendously, many throw out camel and bridge, and I think I'm realizing that I'm not going to be content with opting out. I actually looked at my watch, decided to skip them, then wound up putting them back in at the end. I never win when I bet against myself. I might as well accept that I can keep up and plan out the rotation out and stick to it. I did too many transitions here, from seated to savasana, back and forth, it made no sense and I lost all confidence with my cues. I'm not sure the students noticed or cared, The sweat levels seemed to indicate saturation point had been reached.
- I wanted so badly for savasana to be awesome. And yet, the funny thing about that is that this week I skipped 3 or 4 of my own savasanas. My savasana story, like this post, was way too long. My voice was ok, but I stumbled in a few spots, I should have had a better script. I suspect this is an area I will grow into naturally. I had to be reminded to go to the front of the class to close, and whatever I said just before my final namaste was incomprensible gibberish.
After class I felt completely drained, empty, used up. I've often wondered what the experience is like for those who teach 2 or 3 classes back to back. Obviously it's not quite as physically challenging to teach as it is to practice. I've never done 2 hot classes sequentially, but I've done a fair number of double days now and I might even consider taking 3 classes in a day sometime, it's a challenge, but not a ridiculous one. I think I wondered more about how the instructors are able to keep the sequence straight, particularly when teaching two different flows back to back. In the past I've noticed the stumbling points more than I've appreciated the seamless successes.
I think that is probably the best takeaway from this 2 month indulgence in yoga teacher training. I have a newfound appreciation for the art of a great teacher, and this appreciation applies to much more than just words spoked from the mat. I am guilty of not understanding nor adequately appreciating the beauty of proper instruction. Yes, I've always been able to recognize quality. I've always known how to cleave apart good, awesome, and incredible. But without spending time understanding the inputs to the process of guidance, a complete appreciation of the word "how" just isn't possible.
I'll end this with my own gratitude. I am so very grateful for those in my life who have supported and encouraged me, with everything I've pursued. Most of what I've done has no real purpose, is completely unnecessary, and doesn't really matter to anyone else. And yet, I've found people to rally on my behalf for all of it and they have made the entire experience rich and rewarding.