Anxieties and self-doubt

Today, I taught my first yoga class at Echo Yoga in Makati. I have always loved practicing in this place because this is where Yoga For Life started (at the same time as Medical Plaza Ortigas classes started). I was so excited and looked forward to this teaching gig as sort of a homecoming. I really planned well for this class, writing my lesson plan down, and giving it a couple of dry runs. By Thursday, I was so excited and I thought that I nailed it. Lying down in savasana on my mat, I was smiling to myself and thought, my students will enjoy this.

This afternoon, I would say I took off strong, experienced some turbulence mid-flight, but eventually landed my “passengers” safely down. And this is an apt metaphor because I think the “airplane” pose or dekasana did me in. But allow me to deconstruct my mind “mid-flight” because I think I learned a lot from that experience and it is something that re-ignited my passion to keep on teaching yoga.

Basically, I panicked. I panicked at the thought of my students physically suffering from the poses that I have put them into. And then it all went downhill from there. I lost track of my  sequence, I confused my left and right, I didn’t keep the time well, and I didn’t get to do everything in my plan. I did get my students to do counterposes to balance the backbends that we did this afternoon, and I got them into a savasana. But I really felt bad after class, and on the drive home.

I was trying to analyse the situation and find out what went wrong for me, and I realised that it was overly ambitious for a back-to-basics workshop, and that I haven’t had a lot of  experience in teaching a very mixed class of advanced yoga practitioners, beginners, and first-timers. Most of my experience are with teaching a demo class with my fellow yoga teacher trainees, who are basically advanced yoginis, and teaching a demo class with yoga beginners and first timers. I basically had a baptism of fire this afternoon.

I talked with my fellow yoga teachers to let some steam out – more like get some sympathy – and they embody what I love about the yoga community. I got nothing but kindness. My fellow teacher Kit who is a yin yoga teacher reminded me of ahimsa and sent me a spell of kindness so that I wouldn’t beat myself out – Wingardium Ahimsa! My fellow teacher and mentor Pau told me that I did a good job and that this is a part of my teaching experience. And he also gave me a big virtual hug. Of course, I have to make special mention to my fellow teacher Oliver, who assisted me during classes – kindness in action. I love them!

In the end, I realised that an important part of being a yoga teacher is taking every experience as a lesson and use every learning to grow. At our very core, we all remain students of yoga… for life.

Chest-openers and backbends for the New Year

I’ve started teaching with Yoga For Life in January 9, 2013 and I found it fitting to open the class with a chest-opening practice to celebrate the arrival of the New Year.

Chest openers and backbends are extroverting poses that allow us to open ourselves up to the world. Many people experience fear, anxiety, or discomfort whenever they practice backbends, even the gentle ones, because we are often afraid of exposing ourselves as vulnerable individuals.

The sequence that I have chosen gradually opens up the chest area, stimulating the anahata chakra or the heart center. The anahata is the fourth chakra, counting from the mooladhara chakra or root chakra at the base of the spine, and is located along the spine, across the base of the heart. The anahata chakra is the source of love, compassion, and empathy, and is also where enlightened thinking begins. We often tell people to follow their hearts – follow their instincts and inner selves – when they are confronted with a difficult situation that requires a decision.

The Chakra System

Anahata Chakra. Anahata Chakra is located at the heart centre. It is a green-coloured, twelve-petalled lotus flower that symbolises compassion, love, and empathy

When we place our hands together in prayer position or anjali mudra at the base of the heart as we chant “AUM”, we reconnect with the source of that eternal sound, which is said to originate from the base of the heart. The anahata chakra is a green jewel, a twelve-petalled lotus, and it helps to visualize this at your heart centre during your practice.

I begin the practice with some abdominal breathing exercise. I think the best way to stimulate the chest is to allow the lungs to be used to its fullest capacity by encouraging abdominal breathing. This actively expands the space of the lungs to take in air by drawing the diaphragm down towards the stomach, and actively drawing the navel towards the spine to expel as much stale air as possible. This will then encourage the lungs to take in more fresh air, energizing the chest area.

Next, I did some chest opening arm seated stretches to warm up, followed by a modified Hatha surya namaskar A sequence. In this sequence, I emphasised on opening the chest in the low lunge or equestrian pose. I encouraged students to bring their gaze forward and actively draw the shoulders toward the back, to open the chest. As we progressed, we lifted the arms to the sides, hovering the torso over the leg.

Hatha Surya Namaskar A. The Hatha Surya Namaskar A or Sun Salutation A is different from other traditions, such as Ashtanga Yoga, but the goal of this moving meditation remains the same – energise the body and quiet the mind.

If it is available to them, I also gave them the option of interlacing their fingers behind their backs and then bringing the torso to an upright position, and then bringing the gaze up to the ceiling, opening the chest. Students have the option of staying in baby cobra, or doing a full cobra, or going to an upward dog, encouraging them to acknowledge the opening of their bodies and progress to a deeper pose. We held our cobras/upward dogs for five breaths.

In the next sequence, we modified surya namaskar B to use warrior I as a base pose for standing asanas. Triangles, warrior II, and modified side-angle poses can be used to emphasise on opening the chest. A really helpful trick is to place the lifted hand on the small of the back, rolling the top shoulder backwards to open the chest, and then raising the arm up laterally back to the full pose. If students are flexible, revolved triangle and revolved side angle poses can further increase the awareness of the opening of the chest.

Balancing asanas are not usually considered as chest openers but I modified some of the poses to suit the purpose of the class. For the tree pose, coming from hands in anjali mudra at the heart centre, I asked them to open the arms as wide as the bent knee and use the back of the hand to push the bend knee toward the back, squaring the hip with the shoulders, and creating awareness of the open chest. From here, we proceeded to the full tree pose by raising our hands out and up.

Full Tree Pose.

Full Tree Pose. Before getting here, rest the back of the hand in front of the bent knee and give it a nudge toward the back, squaring the hip with the shoulders.

I also used warrior III as a base pose for ardha chandrasana and parivritta ardha chandrasana (half moon and revolved half moon pose). I first moved them to a variation of warrior III with the arms spread out to the sides (also known as airplane pose or dekasana in some schools) and then encouraged them to open themselves to one side in ardha chandrasana, and from there, revolve to the other side.

Warrior III Variation

Warrior III Variation. Dekasana or airplane pose is a variation of Warrior III that can be used as a starting point for Ardha Chandrasana and Parivritta Ardha Chandrasana

We held many of the standing and balancing poses for a longer period and I decided to start cooling the practice down with counterposes using forward bends and twists. I really like going into a deep and long paschimottanasana (standing forward bend) after such an active sequence. As they laid themselves down, we also did some reclining twists to release the tension in the lower back. And for here, the students proceeded to a relaxing savasana.

I used a visualization exercise called “Blades of Grass”, which I composed myself. The relaxation asked the students to focus on the anahata chakra and imagine blades of grass growing from their heart, symbolising an openness to new experiences and new challenges in the coming year.

On January 26, I lead a more dynamic backbends and twists workshop, given that I expect students to have gone back into the rhythm of their yoga practice for 2013.

Namaste :)

My Yoga Teacher Training So Far

I haven’t been able to update you about what has been happening to my yoga teacher training so I’d like to make this quick update while I take my break from my Uni readings.

It’s been almost three months into the course and I can say that I have improved a lot, holistically, in terms of understanding the asanas and the pranayamas and I have gained a better appreciation of yogic philosophy and the yoga system as a whole. I expected to improve on my asanas and not only am I now able to do a headstand by myself, I also became more familiar with my own body, which I think is one of the most fundamental ways to improve the yoga practice. I know my body better, hence I know if I can push myself to my limits or pull back a bit.

The good thing about about learning yoga holistically is that you also acquire the attitudes or perspectives that will ensure you success in your future practice, which in my case will hopefully lead to a teaching career. Or at least an opportunity to teach. I have said that my main purpose in training to become a yoga teacher is so that I will be able to lead Yoga For Life classes. I haven’t really thought much about making a living out of it. But who knows.

I’ve also had a change of perspective in terms of my view of meditation. I have problems keeping focus and this is why I don’t like meditation, but interestingly enough, meditation has really helped me in terms of improving my focus! Now that I’m forced to meditate, I find it actually enjoyable and I’m now looking forward to meditation classes. I haven’t found the opportunity to set aside some time for daily meditation, but most of my daily commute, I dedicate to meditation. 

Life has been busy lately, with Uni and all the assessments. I’ve also been traveling and I felt a lot better after I’ve gone traveling for some reason. When I got back, I became sick. It must be all the stress of the first assessment deadline leading up to the mid-semester break. But after that I really felt much better and much more engaged with life. This must be also the reason why I decided to pick up this blog again and resume writing. This last bit sounds like rambling but I just want to share how much better I feel now compared to a few months ago! And I look forward to regularly updating this blog again!

The Many Paths of Yoga

I just came home from my yoga teacher training class and in today’s yogic philosophy, history and culture class, we were confronted by the idea of the four streams of yoga and the eight limbs of yoga. A lot of clarifying questions have been raised about the concept of yoga having four streams and eight limbs, and where do we locate hatha yoga in this scheme of things?

I think the problem is the conceptualisation of “yoga” itself. Yoga for many people is a physical exercise, which is not entirely a wrong conceptualisation. Based on my personal studies, I have developed a personal understanding of yoga as the state when your inner self unites with the greater consciousness of the universe. This oneness or union is the very root of the word yoga, which is a Sanskrit word that means to join together. For linguistic nerds, like me, the English word yoke is a derivative of the Sanskrit yoga, as Sanskrit and English belong to the same language family.

The fours streams of yoga discuss the ways through which people attempt to attain this union. One of the streams, karma yoga, is about selfless giving of oneself in service to others without expecting anything in return. Through selflessness, people who practice karma yoga will attain union with the universal consciousness. This is a common practice across many world religions where charity is considered as a virtue.

Bhakti yoga on the other hand is union through the expression of loving devotion to the divine, a practice that is also popular in many religions. Many Christians have been canonised based on their unwavering faith and devotion to the divine being. Practitioners of bhakti yoga believe that by devoting their time and effort to the worship of the divine, they will feel closer to nirvana.

Through jnana yoga, practitioners can approach divine union through philosophy and intellectual pursuits. The question of “who am I?” and the search for the true self will lead the yogi to the attainment of enlightenment.

The final stream, raja yoga, or royal yoga is the path where the known form of yoga comes from. Raja yoga uses the control of the mind, the body and the psyche to attain increasing levels of consciousness, all leading towards samadhi. Raja yoga is based on the wisdom of the Indian sage Patanjali, who devised the eight limbs of yoga, which includes the asanas (physical postures) as its third limb.

These four streams may diverge into different paths but they all root from the same cause: man’s search for a higher sense of being. And they will all eventually converge as they reach the final goal, which is enlightenment.

I’ll discuss the eight limbs of yoga in my next journal entry and the different schools of yoga that are widely known these days. But I’ll do some research about them first. But that’s all for now.

Namaste!

One of my most favorite images of all time

The Left Brain and The Right Brain

If your left and right brain can speak, what would they say about themselves?

“I am the left brain.
I am a scientist. A mathematician.
I love the familiar. I categorize. I am accurate. Linear.
Analytical. Strategic. I am practical.
Always in control. A master of words and language.
Realistic. I calculate equations and play with numbers.
I am order. I am logic.
I know exactly who I am.”

“I am the right brain.
I am creativity. A free spirit. I am passion.
Yearning. Sensuality. I am the sound of roaring laughter.
I am taste. The feeling of sand beneath bare feet.
I am movement. Vivid colors.
I am the urge to paint on an empty canvas.
I am boundless imagination. Art. Poetry. I sense. I feel.
I am everything I wanted to be.”

Nirvana, according to a neuroscientist

This is one of those videos that will profoundly change the way you view your self in relation to the Universe. The “Enlightenment” and the industrial revolution, which ushered in the Age of Reason has certainly dimmed our already narrow view of our amazing selves. We have tended to ignore more and more our intuition and instinct and relied on “solid facts”, “tangible evidence”, “material information,” and things that can be measured, heard, felt, smelled, seen and touched in the physical sense. We focused on our differences and our boundaries, instead of looking at our similarities and connectedness. Watch this video and you’ll know what I’m trying to say. This, ironically, is the best “empirical” evidence of how we are one with the Universe.

Meditation

For some people, meditation conjures images of ascetics sitting still in a lotus pose for a prolonged period of time. In a way, this still holds true because this is the form of meditation that classical yoga schools teach up to this day. Meditation is one of the limbs of the classical eightfold path of yoga, which intends to bring us to a state of single-pointed concentration, which then leads the union of our spirit and the universe, commonly referred to as samadhi, bliss or enlightenment.

The popular notion of yoga – the asana or the physical practice – is actually just one of the limbs of yogic philosophy. Again, asana’s purpose is to bring us to the final goal of samadhi, through physical postures that allow us to be aware of our breathing, which then allows us to be more introspective, which then facilitates meditation.

Asana, in a way, becomes a moving meditation, once you’ve mastered the awareness of your breath, and the flow of the postures, thereby allowing you to just focus your attention on your thoughts.

Today, I found myself in a similar state of mind, as I was walking through the Sydney Harbour National Park, from Manly Beach to Manly Cove. After a long walk, I realised how still my mind was and how even my breathe and my pace were. The thought came about after an initial realisation that I am in the middle of nowhere with no other person in sight, not alarmed with the situation, but at peace with my surroundings. There were moments when I would think of the possibility that I would fall off a cliff, straight into the Pacific Ocean 100 meters below, or get bitten by a poisonous snake and die on the spot, but more out of its humorous implications (like, how will it appear in the next day’s papers) than out of fear.

At one point, I saw myself as a dot in the middle of this thick bush. In a peninsula jutting out into the Tasman Sea, in a huge continent west of the Pacific Ocean, in a blue and green dot in the vast expanse of the solar system, in a white spark somewhere in the Milky Way, spinning away from the center of the universe. But will the universe be the same without me? If I were not here, will everything be as real as others perceive it? Is the universe really out there, or is it really just a spark in my neurons?

The goal of yoga is the union of our spirit with the universe. Those who have reached the final goal say that this union is a beautiful experience. But I guess it starting with the realisation that the Universe and I are one and the same. It cannot exist without me. I created it as much as it has created me. And so is it true for the each and everyone of us.

Namaste!

First Day at Yoga Teacher Training

Yesterday was my first day at yoga teacher training.

I woke up later than planned and missed the 9:13 Sandringham train and ended up taking the 9:33 train 20 minutes later. I got to the Hampton Yoga Centre at 10:03, where the Victorian Institute of Yoga Education and Teacher Training (VIYETT) holds office. I thought I was late but there was still an ongoing yoga class in the main studio and as it turns out, Saturday sessions start at 12 noon. So I was two hours early. Not bad at all because I haven’t had a proper breakfast yet and I am yet to receive my materials for the training.

I dashed out and headed to the nearest café where I had poached eggs on toast and a latte. I really should be cutting out coffee from my diet but I don’t think I can do that anytime soon. I would have to plan it out. Anyway, I got back at around 11pm to get my stuff. Don’t you just love it when you get handed goodies at the beginning of every new life event? Receiving my books, my yoga mat, my blanket, my block and my strap, I felt like I was back in grade school when you buy all these books and notebooks for class and wrap them up in plastic cover. Simply put, I was very excited. At the same time, overwhelmed. I missed the first week of class and I’m now trying to cover two weeks of lessons and tomorrow, it’s gonna be officially my third week in class.

The training started at 12 noon with Sally leading us into an asana practice. Sally is a beautiful lady who is soft-spoken and radiates an air of kindness. She was also the one who handed me my stuff. We focused on standing asanas in yesterday’s training, with Sally correcting our postures and alignments as we do our poses.

By the way, it was a big class of around 20 or so people and most of them were ladies. There was only one other guy and he was also starting that day. So I kinda felt good that I’m not alone in my boat. After two hours, we finished with our asana practice and discussed the theories behind them. I’m really excited about this aspect of the teacher training as there is so much to discover. We also discussed theories behind pranayamas and general hatha yoga theories.

After theories, we all headed out of the studio for a twenty-minute break to have a quick bite. I had some water and grapes from a fellow student and got to talk to some of the other students. I think we’ll learn more about each other in time.

Back in class, Anna, the course coordinator, took over the class to discuss shatkarma – purification practices, and relaxation and meditation techniques. Anna is very motherly and you can sense her deep wisdom and knowledge of hatha yoga. Her relaxation demonstration was amazing – I fell asleep! But only deep enough that I was roused from sleep by the gentle humming of an aum chant.

After five hours in class, I really feel the need to work hard on my theories because there’s a lot to catch up on. After catching up on my reading, I would need to catch up on my practice as well. I allowed myself to rest this weekend, given that I’ve barely recovered from my 24-hour trip from Manila to Melbourne via Singapore. I feel slightly settled in now but there’s still a few kinks that I need to smooth out. Here’s to a really amazing 2012! Namaste.

Ultimate Gift of Kindness

Back in Melbourne from a five-week trip back home to Manila, I apologise for not being able to update you on my progress as a yoga teacher-in-training through my journal entries. But I would like to begin this update by sharing with you the best news of all that I am the recipient of the ultimate gift of kindness from sources who choose to be anonymous and I respect their choice not to be named. Thanks to them, I am assured of funding for my teacher training program, and a lot of peace of mind. :) I will forever be grateful.

I think the ultimate gift of kindness is the one that allows you to pay it forward. And with this gift, I will be paying kindness forward for the rest of my life. I think to be proven of my belief that kindness has never gone out of style is a calling to prove that kindness begets kindness. I have a plan in mind. In the next few days, I will be sharing with you what I want to do and hope you’ll be able to participate in it.

Thanks to everyone who through their kind thoughts have helped move the heavens and allow the Universe to respond to my call. You will all be in my intentions. Namaste!

I Need Your Help

Humility is knowing that we need help and humility in action is to ask for help when we need it. The time for humility has come for me and I would like to put that humility in action.

I applied for a yoga teacher training position with only my intention to help the Yoga For Life community in my hometown of Manila and armed with my full faith in human kindness. I have gone in knowing full well that there are financial costs involved, costs which are not exactly within my reach at the time of application.

The acceptance letter below shows how much the course costs over a period of one year. I have been in verbal agreement with the VIYETT on making smaller payments over the year, but I would have to produce the AUD 900.00 initial deposit one month before the course commences. I have until 31 January 2012 to pay for the initial deposit.

Letter of Acceptance

Letter of Acceptance

I can probably come up with half of that amount (AUD 450.00) but I would need help on the other half. My only source of income at the moment is my fortnightly contribution to living expenses which I am receiving as an Australian government scholar. I work part-time but since I am on holidays in Manila for a month, I won’t be earning anything for one month.

If you would like to help me raise the amount of AUD 450.00, please let me know by contacting me directly via email at benedict.bernabe@gmail.com or via Facebook at facebook.com/benedictbernabe. It can be a loan or a donation in Australian dollars or Philippine pesos (I will bear the transfer fees). Please share this post to your friends who might be willing to help.

Pride deprives others the opportunity to help because it builds an insurmountable, self-containing wall. So at this point, I am bringing down this wall and humbly submit to your kindness. Namaste! :-)