"Welcome to yoga training Methods & Techniques I," said my instructor B as she addressed our first weekend class at Lourdes Institute of Wholistic Studies in Camden, NJ. "We come together as strangers, but we leave as a tight-knit community. These are your sisters."
There are five women, or should I say five yoginis (female yoga practitioners are called yogini, male are yogi), in the YTT200 program this year. By May 2016, after 200 hours of training, we will be eligible for our first yoga teacher certificate from Yoga Alliance.
Discovering My True Self
I was excited and anxious to begin training. I started practicing yoga about seven years ago, after my husband passed away. It helped me heal my mind, body and spirit and work through my grief. It continues to provide an outlet for "letting go" and "slowing down," which is an ongoing challenge for me since retiring from my fast-paced, full-time job.
"Explore your own creative expression as a yoga teacher, " said B. "Don't worry about anything. I'm looking at your growth during this training."
Om, om, om, I breathed in and began to relax on my mat. This journey I am embarking on for the next nine months is sacred. Am I ready to discover more about my own true self? Am I prepared for what lies deep within?
Yes, yes, yes. It's a bit scary delving deep, yet, at the same time, freeing. Plus, I'm eager to improve my own strength, flexibility and balance during my life after 50 and share all the benefits that yoga has to offer with others.
The Eightfold Path
B explained the "Eightfold Path" Of Ashtanga Yoga according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, who lived and wrote a long, long time ago between what is thought to be 200 BC and 200 AD. The guidelines start at the base with yamas (restraints such as nonviolence and truthfulness) and niyamas (behaviors and observances such as contentment and cleanliness). The path moves up the hierarchy to asanas (postures), pranayama (controlled breathing), pratyahara (closed eyes to be with yourself), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and, finally, to samadhi (a blissful state of spiritual freedom).
"It is a roadmap to get to samadhi," said B. "It can be a lifelong journey. There is always a deeper experience."
Am I ready to walk this spiritual path? Yes, yes, yes. I have a strong desire to live a balanced life—mentally, physically and emotionally—during my second act.
Sequencing a Yoga Lesson
- Centering: I sat cross-legged with my body in alignment on a blanket on my mat. Centering can be done lying down too. "It's about becoming more aware of your body and your breath," said B. There was much to learn about the breath experience or, as a yogini says, pranayama. Our instructor M would cover more about breath on Sunday.
Our yoga instructor B taught us how to begin a class with centering.
"Ask students to set an intention and read a quote or piece of poetry or blessing for the beginning or end of practice," said B. (My intention lately has been gratitude for all that I can do in each moment.)
- Content: This is the main portion of a yoga class. As a first step, we learned warm-ups, including the joint-freeing series to massage all the joints in our body from head to toe. Then we studied and practiced the six movements of the spine—back bends, forward folds, side stretches to the right and left and twists on both sides.
B showed us ways to ensure that our students are safe during all of these poses, and we learned how to marry movement with breath. "Breathe steady," said B. "Whenever you expand your chest, you inhale. Whenever you round your chest you exhale. When you are going up, you inhale and when you are going down you exhale." (I hope my menopausal brain can remember all these steps. It's a practice, Judy! It's a practice, I reminded myself.)
Following warm-ups, come energizing poses, such as the warrior series and sun salutations. Then cool-down poses, like happy baby, legs up the wall and supported bridge. There will be many poses to learn in the coming months.