Adventures in Teaching Yoga- A Small Class Was a Blast

small class

August has been a lil funny. With no real dog days I think that most folks in Dirty Jerz have been hanging outside- enjoying the weather. I’ve been doing longer rides on my bike and have enjoyed taking Dakota on leisurely walks when typically in August, I’m keeping her inside to stay cool. Class attendance at the studios where I teach has been hit and miss. But rather than worry about small class sizes, I took the opportunity to play with my teaching style and make deeper connections with my students.

Small classes can create a mini-workshop atmosphere. Without breaking the pace or flow of a class, I’m able to make specific adjustments allowing students to have real aha moments in their body or mind. Last week during small hot class I found that one student asked a few questions about a few poses. It was a great moment for her and the other student who had the same question. But because it was just us- the conversation didn’t take long and we were able to get back to the meditative aspect of the asana practice.

After class both students thanked me profusely and said it was a treat to be able to get one-on-one time with a teacher.

It was a treat for me too.

Namaste y’all.

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Adventures in Teaching Yoga- Prison Yoga (Liberation Prison Yoga)

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This is a teaching on a Tibetan word: shenpa. The usual translation of the word shenpa is attachment. If you were to look it up in a Tibetan dictionary, you would find that the definition was attachment. But the word “attachment” absolutely doesn’t get at what it is. Dzigar Kongtrul said not to use that translation because it’s incomplete, and it doesn’t touch the magnitude of shenpa and the effect that it has on us.

If I were translating shenpa it would be very hard to find a word, but I’m going to give you a few. One word might be hooked. How we get hooked.

Another synonym for shenpa might be that sticky feeling. In terms of last night’s analogy about having scabies, that itch that goes along with that and scratching it, shenpa is the itch and it’s the urge to scratch. So, urge is another word. The urge to smoke that cigarette, the urge to overeat, the urge to have one more drink, or whatever it is where your addiction is.

 

– Pema Chödrön

 

Hooked.  It’s been a part of my dharma talks in my studio classes. But when it came up as a topic for my Riker’s students, it felt sticky and tricky. A lot of the women in my class are at Riker’s for alleged drug related offenses. Because of my hammer personality I tend to see all problems as nails. However, I thought that approaching addiction from a unique angle may bring a new perspective. To add a little more tension to the mix, the B side of the dorms had their bunks searched in the middle of the night- so needless to say things were running a little…

When I got there- everyone was still cleaning up. The A side of the dorm didn’t have a teacher that day- so instead of sitting around waiting for the B side to get ready- I decided to do yoga with the A side as well.

 

Before our practice we talked about attachment and how the asana practice can get the mind ready to meditate. Taking it a step further we discussed how meditation can help us deal with that ‘hooked’ feeling or itch that Pema brilliantly articulates. I made our practice a bit tougher than usual, discussing throughout how when we work our bodies hard it helps clear the mind and is a distraction from looping thoughts or old stories that we tell ourselves. As a class we went through sun salutations, warriors, lunges, standing backbends, balancing poses and a brief standing meditation. By the time we hit the floor everyone (including me) had worked up a bit of a sweat.

 

I brought my copy of Start Where You Are by Pema Chödrön and read a paragraph before guided meditation. One of the students translates for a friend who doesn’t speak any English and I found her voice soothing as I guided the class to a place of stillness.

 

When I finished a few students helped me take the mats and bolsters to the B side where I found some students ready and waiting. A few of them told me that about the search. They were ready for yoga. With this side feeling a little more tense we worked even harder. It was a good move. Every time we came to a balancing pose I reminded them not be attached- to the pose, to expectations…to anything. Everything changes because nothing is forever. We could have gotten down and dirty with the murky shit that surrounds addictive behavior- but they have group all day. In the moment it felt right to take a yogic approach to letting go.

 

And when we were in tree the Jane’s Addiction’s song Jane Says started playing in my head. In a brief moment I thought about addiction and some of the dumb things that I did in high school and college (and who are we kidding in my twenties)…it’s a roll of the dice. I was never addicted to drugs- but easily could have been. A one bad decision can lead to another. And when addiction gets hold all the great parenting and supportive home structures can’t save you. There are less differences that one might think between people inside jail and outside of jail.

When I’m there I focus on the things that make us the same.

When I am there- we are all yogis.

We are all the same.

 

By the time we were on our mats the room was breathing differently. It still felt a little tense but it was decidedly better than when we started. I used to think energy was woo-woo- but you can sense how a room feels and that’s not bs. The guided meditation helped to dissipate more tension. And by the time we ended, things felt better. I won’t say that things were great because I can’t imagine that a yoga class can take away the fear from a late night/early morning dorm search- but there were some smiles of relief and the question that never gets old. ‘You’ll be back next week?’

Definitely.

Namaste y’all.

 

 

 

 

 

Adventures in Teaching Yoga- Riker’s Island (Liberation Prison Yoga)

BKS

“True concentration is an unbroken thread of awareness.”
― B.K.S. IyengarLight on Life

 

The walk to the 800 bed dorm is now familiar and I begin to recognize guards, bus drivers and inmates who aren’t even in the dorms where I teach. Last week I was stopped by someone in the Beauty Shop (yes, there are some elements that do remind me of Orange is the New Black) but it was closed on this Tuesday morning. I chatted with Carmen and Ms. Gregory while waiting for Anneke and Maia.

We decided that the theme would be anxiety. This was great and I suspected that it would be a welcome discussion topic. As I rolled the yoga cart to the B side of the dorm, I was thrilled to see over 20 faces. Everyone was ready to go and prepared to write, asking for paper. My plan of writing before class is the way to go for now. I thought of my own morning and how I used to be more diligent about writing down some thoughts after meditating. (Note to self: practice what you are teaching, Oneika. And stop referring to yourself in the third person).

‘Anxiety is the topic for today,’ I stated. A collective round oh yeses was heard around the room. I knew this would be a perfect topic. We talked about the negative aspects of anxiety and I asked everyone how they knew when they were anxious. One student said the thought of living a clean and sober life made her anxious because she didn’t want to mess up again. This got a lot of nods from the group. A profound observation. I had already planned a class but thought I might switch things up after hearing that remark and seeing the nods of agreement.

Our writing  focused on the practical- what things could we do when we felt anxious? The answers were thorough. Lots of conversation today. I also like how students who may not speak up stay involved and follow the discussion.

At the top of our mats we held our bodies and breath, squeezing our faces and muscles tight. I had them hold the breath for quite a few seconds and then we let everything go. Smiles all around. Next, with arms everyone turned their palms so they faced each other. I asked them that imagine they were holding anxiety in their hands with a backbend we built some momentum and with an exhale we launched it forward to let it go. Folding forward into a deep bend we felt the back of the body open up.

As promised I delivered a longer meditation. Ms. Gregory mentioned after class that even women who were sitting and watching participated in the meditation. I’m already working on the meditation for next week.

This is yoga. And it’s liberating.

 

Namaste y’all.

 

 

Guest Post! Discount Yoga By Kellie Murphy

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By Kellie C. Murphy

My practice got a little too expensive in the Fall. My regular studio is a quaint little dojo in Moorestown that can hold about 12 of us on a crowded Saturday morning. I got to the point where I couldn’t afford to pay the $144 per 12 classes what with Christmas coming up and many of my other major expenses — like my car insurance bill — being due. This isn’t news to anybody as many folks are struggling financially and the non-essentials needed to be cut out, at least for a little while. And for that little while I allowed the lack of funds to interrupt my practice. Well, there’s never a good time to neglect your practice, but the holidays are definitely NOT that time. I was going out of my mind! What to do?

I began practicing at home.

I found a number of great online resources, many of them free or at a very low cost, that helped me to continue my practice and get some much needed exercise and stress relief, without breaking my already strained piggy bank.

I found a website, Yogaglo.com, that hosts more than 2,000 practices in all different yoga styles and for any and all skill levels. The membership costs just $18 per month and your first 15 days are free. This is not only perfect for those of us that are broke, it’s perfect for beginners who want to try different styles and to get over that initial bendy, twisty embarrassment beginner yogis may feel when practicing in public in the beginning. There are also some great full-length practices on YouTube that are absolutely free.

This isn’t to say that at-home yoga is preferable to in-studio yoga. Nobody gets the full “namaste effect” of a practice by staying at home alone. Yet if it’s a matter of some practice to stay limber and keep the mind clear and the spirit strong rather than no practice, then by all means get your yogi on at home, and after savasana send love, light and your purest namaste out to your yogi peers in your mind. Trust me, this works.

Just remember to breathe and to be kind to yourself.

Namaste!

Two Of Kellie’s Favorite YouTube Yogis:

Esther Ekhart of Ekhart Yoga…

LINK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NoX35pqk5ZY&list=PLhheL8XkvsRYM4UGbvM9g_P2PB5cjtbHr&index=3

Vinyasa Flow with Ali Kamenova…
LINK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2Gb2UBEYzQ&feature=share&list=PLhheL8XkvsRYM4UGbvM9g_P2PB5cjtbHr

Kellie is a freelance journalist and yoga enthusiast who’s been practicing for about 15 years. You can read more of her work via her website www.KCMJournalist.com and follow her on Twitter @KCMJournalist.

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Cheerleader Yoga – You Can Do It

kino So check it.

I have an unhealthy obsession with trying to hop forward to handstand. It’s down the road, but I like to think one day I could get there.

In a workshop we partnered off trying to stack the hips over the shoulders. With a yoga buddy standing in front of you they served as a wall and could gently guide the hips back down with a gentle nudge. That’s assuming you could get the hips to lift that high.

The whole act of hopping forward scared the crap out of me though I was in no danger of getting my hips that high.

None. Nada. Zip. Zero.

But I’m a determined chick. I found Kino MacGregor’s video on floating forward. I was still too chicken to do it without the wall.  However, that aside, I followed Kino’s direction. And I practiced and practiced.

Though I was sure I was getting closer, I wasn’t sure how far I had to go.

Until today.

My friend Jessica teaches an early morning hot vinyasa class that gets the juices flowing. After class, we were talking about hopping forward. I was demonstrated my lack of progress.

But then, a new element was added.  I got some encouragement. Bam. I was up. My feet were planted, but I was in handstand. Excited, I sprung up!!

Someone said, “You just needed a few cheerleaders!”

Ain’t that the truth.

We could all use a few cheerleaders along the way.

Yoga is community. Yoga is support. Yoga is cheerleaders telling you that you CAN do it.

I’m so grateful. Cheerleader yoga.

Namaste y’all.

African warriors, dancers and cobras

Do you know about the Africa Yoga Project? If not, please go right now and check them out!

Namaste y’all.

Yoga & Joyful Living

Sometimes you come across ideas worth sharing. This is one of them.

Thanks to the Africa Yoga Project over 250,000 Kenyans a year get to practise postures that can not only transform your body, but your mind. The project’s 52 teachers roll out their mats everywhere – yes, really. Everywhere. In prisons, schools or special need centres. They also teach members of HIV support groups, pupils at deaf schools and travel to rural villages.

So why is the language of yoga universal?

Because yoga’s language is the language of universal postures which speak to all of us, touch this very special, sacred space within us. No matter if we’re clad in Lululemon practising in NY or in a wonderful red traditional dress performing side plank in Kenya. But then, words are just words, and nothing illustrates the project’s impact better than – exactly, photos.

(All images…

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It’s Not the Size of the Pose but the Motion of Your Flow

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I love Friday night yoga. The vibe is mellow. The playlist always has a moody, sleepy, sexy feel. I may have made up the sexy part, I’m projecting.

Whatever.

It’s also a hot class. Vinyasa in a heated room on a Friday night. So yeah- it is sort of sexy. Scratch my previous apology.

Last night the focus was about alignment and looking inward to find a deeper expression of a pose.

Juicy stuff.

My stance was wide in my warrior and I felt like I could float up and root down as I tried not to make my head bop too much to Alana Davis and Queen Badu. But damn, music can provide that little shift that changes my head space. It gets me all up inside a pose. Tickling it from the outside in while my breath zigs and zags magically and collides with my heart.

Sometimes class is that good.

Sometimes it’s just cool to fcuking groove on your mat.

Yaknowwhatimsayin’

What a way to end the week.

Because Daba was teaching, I knew I’d be in for some aha moment- it was just a matter of when.

It came after a focused standing series. We transitioned to the floor and did a hand workout.

Hand relevés and finger splits.

By mindfully stretching the fingers and shifting weight to the fingers I was able to take adho mukha svanasana to another place. By rooting my hands into the mat, my hips felt like they could reach up to the ceiling while my booty headed to the back windows…

I know, right?! There’s such a thing.

Will I ever stopped being amazed by discoveries in yoga? I hope not.

Subtle but powerful movements make the difference both on and off the mat.

This is yoga, providing tiny movements and big changes.

Namaste y’all.

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