MYSTERIOUS REMEDY, POWERFUL ROLE BY GUEST BLOGGER LAURA MILLS
Mysterious Remedy, Powerful Role By Laura Mills
Too many times I’ve attended a yoga class and exited feeling I received just what I needed. Yes, when in the mood for a yogic “butt kicking” I’ve purposely chosen a class that would especially challenge me, or when craving an easeful flow I’ve found a restorative or beginners’ class. But even when I’ve gone to a class without any idea of what I needed, most of the time I’ve still left with humility and gratitude, feeling as if the teacher had tailored the class to me.
When training to teach yoga, short of paying attention to weather, time of year, and events in the news, or else asking students before class, I didn’t learn any mystical secret for determining students’ practice needs. Yet after nearly every class—regardless of day, time or level—at least one student tells me, “That was great, just what I needed today,” or something like that. My amazement never fails; somehow, whatever I plan for a particular class finds at least one person in the right place at the right time. I don’t understand and can’t explain how it happens, but the fact that it does happen assures me I don’t need to understand something in order to experience positivity in it.
And, it humbles me to know I help make such positivity possible for others.
Oh, I knew of yoga’s ability to humble long before I started teaching. Time and again I’ve struggled in my own practice, tiring long before the ends of classes, sweating through head- and handstand preparations and other—to me—scary asana work, struggling through a hamstring injury. The further my practice developed the more help I realized I needed. I asked more questions, accepted more instruction, and with my teachers’ guidance eventually discovered a yoga practice all my own.
But now, as a teacher myself, my humility exists in a whole new dimension. When I look out into the studio before class I see students whom I know are working through physical pain or emotional turmoil or both, and many of whom are daily building deeper practices and incorporating yoga further into their lives. I can’t help but feel tremendous respect for my students, choosing yoga as their means of healing and enrichment, putting their trust into something so powerful and mysterious. And I can’t help but feel small and even a bit scared by the knowledge that, if my own experience as a student indicates anything, as their practices deepen students look to me more and more as their guide. Yes, I’ve trained 200+ hours to teach yoga, but I’m still a student myself, still feel I need yoga for my own ongoing healing and enrichment, still haven’t approached understanding what yoga is and can be in my life’s big picture. Yet in the classes I teach, when I see a student close his or her eyes during meditation, smile during Surya Namaskar, or cry in Savasana, I realize that somehow what I’ve planned for that day is doing just what it’s supposed to do….
No yoga teacher should underestimate his or her impact on students. We consciously write classes to the best of our ability, but somehow a deeper guidance takes place that leads individual, unique students into individual, unique practices where they find whatever they need at a particular moment. This is why all of us have chosen yoga, I think; we can’t explain exactly how it works, but it works, and this ultimately brings comfort and peace to teachers and students alike because it confirms our membership in something greater than ourselves. The contentment I see when I look out into the studio during Savasana confirms this for me, every class…and reaffirms what a tremendous privilege, what an incredible experience, what an utter joy it is to teach.
GUEST BLOGGER LAURA MILLS IMPRESSIONS OF A NEW YOGA TEACHER
Practice Never Perfect…Thank Goodness By Laura Mills
My first yoga teacher suggested I practice balance daily, even if only to lift one foot an inch at a time. But at the beginning of my yoga life, I barely practiced anything outside my once-a-week class. I tried to fit in a little balance here and there, but only after many random and frustrating foot-lifts did I successfully incorporate it into every day. Eventually, as my yoga life progressed, I understood that balance isn’t something to be learned once and then mastered, like tying a shoe, but instead is a process that continues throughout one’s life. As is yoga itself, so much more than a “thing to do” on a daily basis. I still get frustrated on occasion—with balance as well as other aspects of yoga—but now I recognize those frustrations as merely steps along the way on which I travel.
When I consider my own yogic frustrations, my heart goes out to my students, both beginners and seasoned yogis alike. Occasionally I notice a look cross a face; I know the look well, and I wonder what particular frustration causes it. Perhaps it’s frustration with a constantly-chattering mind or a certain pose. Speaking from my own experience: very likely.
On such occasions I wish I could tell the student my own yoga story, but in a 60- or 75-minute class those details have little place. If time allowed, though, I would share how I’ve always struggled to quiet my mind, and that even now both on and off the mat I often can’t do it. I would share how I couldn’t always touch the floor in Forward Fold or bend my knee 90 degrees in Warrior 2, and how even now on some days doing either of those seems impossible. And, while many students have already heard about my tight hamstrings, here I would add how last year those hamstrings forced me to pull back from my practice and learn modified techniques while they healed from an injury. I would also divulge that I haven’t taught Handstand yet, since I just did my first one less than a year ago, as well as that no student should expect to learn Headstand from me since in anything beyond Tripod I have yet to lift my feet off the ground.
But still, while frustrations occur, the difference between me at the beginning of my yoga life and me now is I understand that no end point or final level exists, and as a result today I am much more content in my practice. Though I continue to struggle with certain aspects of yoga, I realize that doors open and roads unfold constantly—as long as I keep practicing.
I’ve been wondering, then, how best to teach the yogic process to my students. We already convey the idea when we teach preparatory poses before full or more challenging versions, for example, or when we focus on one particular sutra or limb out of many as a class theme. And we always encourage students to “begin where they’re at” and move forward from there. Little by little, even as frustrations occur, all dedicated students grow in their practices. But in the midst of chattering minds and challenging poses, do they realize they are growing? I didn’t realize it, at least not right away.
But, thanks to my first teacher, I started to learn.
And I’m still practicing…balance, and everything else besides.
My best teaching method might then be to continue being myself—as I believe my first teacher was, and as I believe most of my teachers since have been. Like them, I am someone who adores sharing yoga with others and someone whose life yoga has changed. I have faith in yoga, and its process, with my entire being. And with this faith I practice; alongside my students, I grow while doors open and roads unfold.
MY "BEST" PRACTICE BY GUEST BLOGGER LAURA MILLS
December 1, 2101 My "Best" Practice? By Laura Mills, in the words of a New Yoga Teacher
When I was little, someone I admired advised me to achieve two objectives with my future: first, I must choose an endeavor that brings me happiness; and second, no matter what the endeavor, I must be my very best at it. Very shortly after I began teaching yoga, I knew this particular role model would be proud, for no endeavor of my past had shown me so much joy. But even now, more than six months into my teaching experience, the second objective trails a question mark.... Am I truly the best yoga teacher I can be at this point? And if not, how can I become so?
It's not a question of spending more time on class preparation. A yoga teacher can literally spend every moment sequencing poses and developing themes. Realistically, of course, that can't happen--and at this point, I believe I've found a place at which I reasonably weave together yoga teaching and practice with the other strands that together form my complete life, including the eating and sleeping, errands and chores, writing and reading, and other pursuits with which I enrich my time.
If I'm already reading, then, perhaps I should read more about yoga and yoga-related topics. Material abounds, for sure; one of the first things that struck me about teacher training, in fact, was the amount of reading material. Books about the fundamentals of yoga poses and the teaching of them, books on yogic philosophy, books on human anatomy, books on how to incorporate yoga into life off the mat...I confess that even now, six months after teacher training's end, I have yet to make my way through every last page. But even after I complete my first pass through this resource library, much more will remain to be read. Not long ago, for example, at a local bookstore I spotted shelf after shelf of translations of the Yoga Sutras (all different from the three I already own), the Upanisads, and the Bhagavad Gita, as well as books on different styles of yoga, yoga for various ailments and ages, and others. Yes, keeping the pages moving will always be an option.
But really, even while a stack of still-unread yoga books is never far away, I know that yoga-in-writing is really only a small part of what's left for me to learn. The more yoga I practice and the more yoga I teach, the more I feel as if I stand only at the beginning of a path that stretches infinitely ahead. Just connecting with other teachers and students teaches me new lessons all the time, like there's always one more way to sequence a class, one more way to incorporate a theme, one more reason why people come to yoga in the first place, and one more inspiration that brings them back class after class. In six months of teaching I have yet to leave the studio with the same mind with which I entered; at the very least, after every class I am strengthened in my knowledge that I don't know all that exists to know about yoga. And that I never will.
And actually, now that I think about it, perhaps keeping this very point at heart--with the greatest humility and the firmest commitment to yoga as a lifelong practice--is the essence of truly being my very best at this endeavor. Yes, I can continue putting my efforts into preparing classes, and I can pursue yoga-related reading whenever time allows. But I can also reaffirm my intention again and again to embrace my own studentship, letting myself just BE TAUGHT as life as a yoga teacher and everything else that I am unfolds. I can keep my heart open to the practice with the faith that, no matter how long I've been teaching, yoga will always have something left to teach me.
THE CRUCIAL STEP BY GUEST BLOGGER LAURA MILLS
I unrolled my mat and made sure the music I wanted was ready to go. Greatly anticipated, it was to be a quiet hour of yoga with a friend at my home, and thus I took great care in creating the perfect atmosphere and space. As I waited for my friend to arrive, I sat down with a jotted sequence of poses; reading over it, somewhere between Tadasana and Uttanasana the words "I love yoga" floated through my mind. I paused, struck by the words' abrupt appearance, their simplicity, and the fact that my thinking them didn't surprise me at all.
Indeed, as my practice has deepened, but most especially in the last six months as I've embraced the role of yoga teacher, such incidents have occurred more and more often--not always in the form of an unbidden thought, but definitely in a way that integrates seamlessly with the flow of the moment. One evening, for example, while mentally reviewing a class I was to teach the next day, I found myself suddenly up on my feet, moving from Virabhadrasana I to Humble Warrior to Virabhadrasana I to Plank...with joy, I had sprung out of my chair and into the sequence. With nothing in my mind except the love of the practice, my body had just started flowing.
And this tendency, for lack of a better description, hasn't restricted itself to acute incidents, either, but sometimes occurs in the form of a new pattern. One of them I notice during my early-morning home practices.... Without fail, every practice, my body and mind fight the 5:30 am clock chime, the first glow of candlelight and hint of incense, the extra effort coupled with the creaks and cracks of those initial stretches. But by the end of the first wave, my body and mind pulse with peace, content with the flow and happy in the practice. And by the end of the 60 or 75 minutes, I don't want to stop.
Another new pattern occurs each evening, when I attempt to fall asleep. Whereas I used to try to take deep breaths while I replayed the day's events and convinced myself not to let anything bother me, now I settle myself by releasing one long, deep exhale and opening myself to a rush of gratitude. No matter what occurred during the day, I truly believe I am blessed with the privilege of just breathing, of having had another day to live...no mater what. The day's events, whatever they were, don't matter nearly as much.
I definitely didn't feel this way before.
When I first started practicing yoga, it was something I set out to do on a regular schedule--go to class, then go home, then pick up the day where I left off. And though I enjoyed yoga from the beginning, knowing I did something so, so good for me in so, so many ways, with time I began to actually feel yoga: the unbidden thoughts, the joy in the practice, the peace in knowing I am, as yoga teaches, only a small part of something much greater. Feeling yoga like this is what, for me, especially since I began teaching, has distinguished between yoga as a hobby and yoga as a defining quality of who I am. And significantly, because of the yoga I love so much, little by little I've learned to love myself so much better. I hope that now, in the role of yoga teacher, I might inspire others to learn the same for themselves.
May you feel your yoga, too... Laura
THIS PLACE OF MINE BY GUEST BLOGGER LAURA MILLS
October 12, 2010 This Place of Mine.... (Thoughts of a Beginning Yoga Teacher) By Laura Mills
The need to put things in their place is what initially drew me to yoga. After some difficult years during which my life's flow drastically changed course, yoga proved itself a paddle with which I continued sailing forward. Yoga felt right; it made ME feel right, or at least more right than before...which made pursuing my teaching credentials feel especially right, so I could ultimately help others do the same.
And so, eager to teach others about re-establishing life's peace--about putting things in their place--I immersed myself in a teacher training program. And then, sooner than expected, a teaching opportunity arose, and into my first class I jumped. I'm glad it all happened quickly; if I had had more time to think before I accepted the commitment, I likely would have talked myself out of it. And true to my nature, after I accepted I struggled daily with the thought, "What have I gotten myself into?" Terrified, I wrote my first class, then practiced it at least once a day for an entire week. I mentally rehearsed it again and again. I even took the class plan to bed with me.
Was this what "right" should feel like?
The morning of the class I woke up sick-to-my-stomach nervous, and throughout the early hours I forced myself to stay busy at the risk of otherwise panicking. In fact, up to the moment the class began I focused so intently on NOT panicking that I can't explain too much else of what happened that day--all I know is that after the class I felt a surge of relief. And exhilaration, for it had gone well...which surprised me, because again true to my nature I had expected something to go wrong. Still, even with my initial happiness, afterwards I mentally replayed the class: did I cue everything correctly? Did I make eye contact? Did I speak clearly? Was my music too loud? What's landscape vision again? Was this really the right course for my life?
As my second, third, fourth and subsequent classes passed with the same anxieties and the same questions, something else emerged: a new dimension to the respect I held for my own yoga teachers. The effort in sequencing a class, the thought in developing a theme, the creativity in compiling a playlist...the amount of work involved, which I now undertook myself, revealed my teachers' love of and dedication to the practice. The thought of all they had done for me as their student humbled me. But even more than that, my realization of their faith inspired me anew...faith that, at some point, a teacher just has to let go of each class and trust that she or he has prepared enough and the rest will somehow come together.
The anxieties and the questions began to diminish...a little.
And then, a bit further along, an old feeling arose within me--a really, really good feeling that felt stronger with each class. I hadn't felt it in a long time, but here it was, back again. I recognized it when I realized I felt more excitement than nervousness before class; I recognized it when I realized I greatly looked forward to interacting with my students, many of whom I now knew by name. I recognized it when I realized I wasn't just another yoga teacher working with just another group of students, but part of a unique and beautiful yoga studio family.
And, I recognized it when I realized I was totally overwhelmed with blessings. With my attention lately so focused on yoga, my yoga-related blessings in particular were in mind.... My yoga teachers who enriched my practice and inspired me; my fellow trainees who shared so many of their gifts; my students who put their faith in me to guide them through each practice, each class; my husband who supported me in every possible way on my yoga journey. And God, the Universe, the Divine Being, who made certain that yoga and yoga teaching found me, and thus put me in my place...which is, in light of all this I am growing more certain, the right one.
Wishing you peace in recognizing your place, Laura