As my journey of meditation progressed, I decided to try a different tactic with my meditation practice: loving-kindness.Read More
MindBodyBrew is ultimately about providing a space for written reflection at every step along the yoga path. We hope that by sharing assignments from our Teacher Trainees, we can expand their deep investigation into community-wide dialogue. The following is a piece written by one of our newest, current trainees, Nicholas Jon, about recent yoga classes with TaraMarie Perri and Maggie Gavin.
In classes with both TaraMarie and Maggie over the past couple of weeks, there has been a heavy emphasis on concepts related to the transition from summer to fall, and how this impacts the body, the mind, and the spirit. These ideas really resonated with me, as my life over the past couple of months has felt like one long transition: not only in terms of seasons, but also from college to the “real world,” from a set schedule to an open-ended one, and from being a practicing yogi to being a yoga teacher-in-training. It has taken me a few years to finally feel adjusted to living in New York City, but finishing school has forced me to reexamine and shift my mindset in order to adapt to new ways of experiencing the city.
The class theme of leaning into transition periods has supported me through this time and informed my daily life. A specific example that I really connected to was a class structure in which TaraMarie had us practice savasana multiple times throughout class. I have always understood savasana as having one specific purpose: allowing the work of class to set in, and relaxing the body while keeping the mind alert enough to process the physical and mental changes that have occurred. But allowing this experience to occur four or five times during one practice enlightened me to some of its other benefits. Every time I entered savasana, I had a more intense experience. The work in between was challenging, so physical exhaustion caused my body to feel more relaxed every time it was still. But at the same time, my mind became more invigorated and alert each time, with a sharper focus and a clearer ability to scan my body and notice any shifts that had taken place.
This dichotomy was a beautiful reminder of a way to cope with tricky transition periods. Though everyone has different reactions to transitions, I know they tend to overwhelm me. It’s not often that I allow myself ample time to relax and process what I’m going through, let the work I’ve been doing settle in, and get a firm grasp on my state of mind and body before allowing myself to move forward. Rather than forcing myself through transition periods, it’s better to let them happen at their natural pace without focusing on what just happened or what’s about to happen. The transition itself is just as important of an experience, and an inability to exist within it can hinder one’s ability to progress through it.
In The Wisdom of No Escape, Pema Chodron provides brilliant perspective on this subject. Her discussion of impermanence sparks the idea that our lives may actually be just one long transition from birth to death--“once you are born, you immediately start dying”--or maybe a series of extremely short transitions from our in-breath to our out-breath. In this way, the transitions that we often feel overcome by are just part of life’s natural cycle, and should be taken in stride. If we get caught up in overanalyzing these transitions or trying to escape from them, we may never feel like we've gotten to the other side of them. Even when things seem tumultuous and you might not know how to proceed, what’s important is that “you’re able to recognize [when you have met your edge] because you are open enough to see what’s happening.” If you can identify this and be okay with it, it becomes easier to embrace the fleeting nature of life, and see transitions as what they inherently are: temporary.
The following post was written by Caitlyn Johansen, a dancer, yogi, and administrator. She received her BFA in Dance from NYU, and her 200 hour yoga teacher training from The Perri Institute for Mind and Body.
Since completing the 200 hour yoga teacher training program with The Perri Institute for Mind and Body, I have been teaching yoga to private clients, at dance programs, and to office groups. I’ve also made a huge career switch, and started working in administration for large corporations. Before this career change, I worked in restaurants and studied dance at NYU. When I decided to make the switch, I was worried that I was ill-prepared for office life. However, I quickly realized that teaching yoga had unknowingly prepared me for my switch to corporate life.
Large companies spend a lot of time and money selecting, educating, and training managers. The idea behind this is that stronger management creates a stronger company. Employees count on managers to be educated and knowledgeable, communicate clearly, allocate tasks, manage time, and maintain team morale. I expected the culture of the corporate world to clash with my yoga teaching. However, I quickly began to notice commonalities in my two lines of work.
Corporations generally offer educational programs such as online training modules, live training sessions, and educational reimbursements. These educational programs serve to expand and fortify a manager’s knowledge of relevant subject matter. Ongoing education is vital to successful management, because employees are more apt to respect and trust a manager’s decisions if a manager is well educated with diverse sources of information.
As a yoga teacher, one must continue to train as a yogi. An important part of my ongoing education as a yoga teacher has been diversifying my information sources. I take classes and read literature from as many different yogis as possible. I have found that exploring a variety of yoga methodologies and practices has grown my teaching vocabulary. For example, when I experience a yoga-class-planning block, I go take a yoga class. Hitting the mat as a practitioner often inspires my teaching practice. Inspiration can come from a theme, an adjustment, or a creative sequence presented by another yoga teacher. By diversifying my yoga training, I have more knowledge to draw upon. Therefore, I am more confident that I am prepared to manage whatever situation I am presented with.
Corporations rely on managers to effectively communicate information to employees. Effective communication is the thoughtful presentation of subject matter, tone, and phrasing. When a manager leads a meeting they provide an agenda, set a tone for the meeting, and phrase their statements with care.
In the past year, I have been fortunate to teach yoga to an incredibly diverse student body. Teaching to a diverse student body has taught me to consider the class demographic and setting when deciding upon what subject matter to present and how to present it. For example, the class theme ahimsa, non-violence, should be presented mindfully to a group of military veterans or domestic violence survivors.
Tone is used to energetically support a class. For example, an early morning class of adults may need a more vibrant tone of voice to wake them out of their early morning sluggishness. On the other hand, an after-lunch group of young children may need a firmer tone to focus them during their post-lunch jitters.
Phrasing is particularly important for verbal cues.I have found that dancers are more likely to be able to locate their sitting bones than non-dancers because of their prior movement education. Therefore, reach the sitting bones on the upward diagonal may be a more effective cue for dancers, and reach the hips on the upward diagonal may be a more effective cue for non-dancers. The difference is subtle but impactful. As a teacher, I prepare myself with multiple phrasings of the same cue. When administering cues, I take note of how practitioners are responding and continue trying new phrasings until practitioners are physically responsive.
Corporate managers are responsible for allocating tasks among their teams. Task allocation is more than simply ordering team members to achieve certain tasks. Task allocation requires a manager to intelligently guide and challenge their employees.
From the moment students walk into a room, a yoga teacher allocates tasks to practitioners. Yoga teachers guide students to their spots in the room, and guide them through a series of asanas by giving verbal commands. For example, “Grab a mat and two blocks and set your mat up facing the center of the room,” and “bring the hands onto blocks and step your right foot back to low lunge.” Beyond providing practitioners with physical challenges, yoga teachers provide practitioners with mental tasks, such as, “Focus the attention on the breath,” and “bring your attention to the room.” As a yoga teacher, I have to continue to challenge practitioners with mental and physical tasks. I have found that this is particularly important with private clients, as teachers are able to customize their class plans to the capabilities and needs of one practitioner. In my past year of teaching, I have had the opportunity to guide practitioners consistently from week to week. Challenging practitioners to grow their yoga practice over an extended period of time has been incredibly rewarding.
Along with task allocation comes project management. Corporate managers are responsible for ensuring that tasks allocated to their team members are able to be completed on time. Project management is the setting of goals within a time frame, to ensure the completion of a project by a certain date. Managers often have to make adjustments to employee workloads and tasks to meet deadlines.
A yoga teacher must manage class time in a similar fashion. Beyond starting and ending a yoga class on time, a teacher manages class time through class preparation and class pacing. When I first began teaching, effectively managing class time was a challenge. I would become so excited by the students’ responsiveness to an asana workshop or pranayama that I would lose track of time and have to rush through another part of class. I have found that when I class plan, I now keep in mind what aspects of class are optional to teach and what parts must be taught for students to be well-prepared for future asanas. I sometimes make on the spot adjustments to my class plan and pacing in order to provide practitioners with the healthiest and most fulfilling practice possible.
Corporate managers determine team morale by assessing factors like resources, productivity, and accuracy. When team morale is low, managers employ strategies such as work assignments, promotions, and fiscal compensation to motivate their team members. However, a manager must employ motivational strategies to individual employees while prioritizing the needs of the entire corporation.
A yoga teacher listens to the verbal and nonverbal communications of practitioners, and makes teaching choices that best support the individual practitioner and the entire class group. Attending to the needs of the individual and the entire group is challenging. A yoga teacher must simultaneously take note of patterns occurring among the entire group and individual practitioners. A yoga teacher then tries to use verbal adjustments, physical adjustments, and self-adjustments to benefit the entire class. When I first started to teach, I would sometimes sacrifice the pacing of class to focus on adjusting one student. Through teaching experience, I have learned how to dive in and out of individual adjustments quickly in order to provide continued support to the entire class group. I have also become more sensitive to the class group’s energy when they first enter the room. I take note of whether the majority of students seem restless or exhausted and may adjust my class plan accordingly. I also check in personally with students as they enter the class. I ask students if they have prior yoga experience, injuries, and are comfortable with hands on adjustments. I have found how to balance my attention between individual practitioners and the entire class group.
In closing, I am extremely thankful for my yoga teacher training. For the past year, I have been sharing yoga with others! Beyond the sheer joy of teaching, my yoga teaching practice has made me a better employee. I shifted into a corporate job with more ease than I anticipated and my career has continued to flourish. Yoga constantly sneaks ancient wisdom into my modern life. I look forward to a lifetime of teaching yoga and being taught by yoga!
MindBodyBrew is ultimately about providing a space for written reflection at every step along the yoga path. We hope that by sharing assignments from our Teacher Trainees, we can expand their deep investigation into community-wide dialogue. The following is a piece written by one of our newest, current trainees, Lorena Delgado, regarding a mindfulness meditation workshop with Shastri Ethan Nichtern.
Ethan's lecture brought me back to my first class of yoga and meditation. I always thought that I was not able to meditate. I tried different methods, but I could not find meditation—not because I did not look, but perhaps because I was looking in the wrong place.
When I first started yoga, I had two primary motivations. First, I needed to work on my groundedness and weight-shifting skills as part of my dance training; second, I felt the need to get closer to myself. Although this second reason was part of my motivation, I was not very clear that yoga—or anything for that matter—would help. So I narrowed my motivation down to one.
My first yoga class was a great physical experience. The moment the teacher began the meditation, however, my struggle began. Several questions came to mind: what am I supposed to be doing? Am I doing it “right”? What images let my mind relax? Is it the ocean? Is it colors? White? How long am I supposed to be still? It was a nightmare—my monkey mind was racing, and I could not do anything about it.
At that time I had just decided to pursue a professional career in dance, which meant I had to move to another city to make my own living, to leave my family and friends, etc. A lot of things were happening: things that usually happen when you grow. Frequently, though, we do not get to know our struggles—instead we store them up so they can grow with us. Ha!
Several years have passed since that first yoga practice. Some changes have happened, but others, like meditation, are still a challenge.
During our weekend with Ethan, I was excited to give myself another opportunity to revisit the meditation practice. At the same time, though, I was afraid to fail. When the lecture started, Ethan’s calmness and honesty drove me into a new and interesting state of myself: a state that I believe has been maturing since the yoga teacher training practice began, but that I maybe couldn’t appreciate until that moment.
Just as before, some questions arose. This time, though, I was not expecting to understand theories, or find explanations for everything. Instead, I felt like an empty cup. This time I wanted to notice and breathe. I wanted to be present. Ethan told us to “admit that we are having a hard time,” and at that moment I suddenly realized: the result was not important anymore.
Mindbodybrew is ultimately about providing a space for written reflection at every step along the yoga path. We hope that by sharing assignments from our Teacher Trainees, we can expand their deep investigation into community-wide dialogue. The following is a piece written by one of our newest, current trainees, Mathew James, regarding one of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
I.8 viparyayo mithyājñānam atadrūpa-partistham
Misconception is mistaken knowledge, based upon a misconception of the form of the object.
According to our English language, a misconception is defined as “a view or opinion that is incorrect because it is based on faulty thinking or understanding.” It has been my experience that as humans we are conditioned to build misconceptions both consciously and unconsciously as we progress and gain knowledge. Even small children think they have an understanding about certain foreign objects, but then take the objects and misuse them in function. For lack of a better example, this reminds me of the Disney movie, The Little Mermaid. In the scene where she enchants us with her voice in the musical number, “Part of Your World,” we see Princess Ariel take a fork, known to her as a “dinglehopper,” and run it through her fiery red hairs as if it were designed to be a hairbrush. Though this may be a simple and childish example, what I mean to articulate is that many times what we see, know, and think we understand is not always the truth. Misconception surrounds us in many forms; it is not restricted to the form of material tangible objects.
One of my undergraduate degrees is in Theology with a concentration in Jewish Studies; the breadth of my research and independent study work was devoted to studying the Holocaust. I enveloped myself in literature, interviews, films, art, and discussions – nearly anything that could inform me about the historical genocide. Through extensive research I thought I had somehow brought myself closer to the Holocaust and its historical significance through acquiring knowledge. While this may be true in some respects, I was deeply awakened when I was given the opportunity to travel to Germany and Poland for immersive study and research. While there, I visited the Jewish ghettos, the significant venues that Nazi Germany occupied, a labyrinth underneath a Catholic church where a Jewish artist was hidden, and interviewed and stayed with a Holocaust survivor. Most importantly, I visited multiple death camps in Poland (Treblinka, Auschwitz, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek).
When I initially found out that I had been chosen for this research opportunity, I knew I had to prepare myself for the journey I was embarking on. Through the knowledge and information I gathered, I thought I understood what I was going to experience. As I anticipated the moment of entering the gates of Auschwitz, I contemplated what I would feel, how I would react, what I would think and say. I had expectations about sensations I would encounter, but these false notions dissolved quickly as the vastness of the death camp magnified as the bus drew nearer; my misconceptions about this moment of immersion shattered. Each piece of Auschwitz – the railroad car, the bunkers, the crematoriums, the gravesites, the exhibitions in the camp – all brought my misconceptions of how I would respond to the forefront and startled me with the truth. My experience was nothing like I had prepared for. The knowledge I had brought with me to the death camps was still valid and informative, but it was not until my feet were planted firmly on the soil of Auschwitz that I was able to honestly understand the profound power that would transform me.
Though I continue to form misconceptions, I come back to this moment in Auschwitz to challenge my false notions in my present life. I have found that in my yoga practice I sometimes form false perceptions about the journey I am going to experience as I take my place at my mat. Of course my perception is always hazy, and thankfully I am met with surprise, not always a pleasant surprise, but a revelation that leads to new ideas and deeper understandings about myself and my practice. Through my teacher training I have found that I have begun to release these misconceptions about the journey in each practice, allowing the yoga to inform me and lead me on an honest journey, not dictated by false notions and expectations.
Misconceptions are tricky and very interesting. I am grateful for having my misconceptions confronted and destroyed, because it led me to deeper understanding that I would have otherwise missed out on if I had not experienced Germany and Poland for myself. This is not to say that misconceptions are ‘good,’ but that we should allow ourselves to ask if we are misconceiving and then challenge those notions to seek truth for ourselves, rather than basing our understanding of something through mistaken knowledge.