To a certain extent we understand that we injure ourselves when we don’t respect our own limits. I think most of us know the feeling of being in an asana, recognizing that this is too much, but for some reason just not being able to back off. I think what’s going on is we might be acting from an aggressive desire for progressing deeper into the asana—an expression of our impatient ego. Also, the choice to push more than what we know will benefit us, I suspect is coming from a place of self-contempt. So, if we’re (if only partially) in a mental state of aggressive desire and impatience, rooted in self-contempt; no wonder we end up getting hurt. So, what’s up with this self-contempt?
How do we become the people that we are in the very moment where we push ourselves to the point of injury?
I remember having one of those wind-up ballerinas in a jewellery box: the kind who spun around, gracefully performing a never-ending high-kick with a fully extended,100% straight leg. So incredibly beautiful … and in hindsight obviously unusually thin and flexible. Am I right in assuming most girls of my generation (I’m 25) had some version of that jewellery boxes growing up, or at least yearned for one?
One of my earlier childhood memories is of being in some family friends’ garden on a beautiful summer evening. Our parents were barbequing and enjoying the relatively seldom perfect summer day, and the daughter of the house, who was a teenager, was my eager supervisor. I obviously loved spending time with this older girl, allowing me a peak into the scintillating grown-up world I perceived her to be a part of. This girl went to ballet classes, a fact that obviously inspired even deeper adoration from my part. On this particular day, for some reason she decided to dress me up as a ballerina. I can’t really remember, but it’s not unlikely that I begged her to do it. In a shining pink leotard that she herself had grown out off, my hair tied into the neatest bun, I proudly posed for a picture on the front porch. I clearly remember the slight discomfort on my scalp from my hair being pulled back so tight; the warm evening sunrays on my face. Most vivid though, is the memory of how absolutely radiantly gorgeous I felt.
Self-contempt to self-compassion
Fast forward a few years: I come across this photo in one of my mother’s good old-fashion albums. Through teenage eyes, all I see is an awkward-looking chubby little girl in a particularly unflattering outfit—the kind of “ballerina” that would be placed at the back of the stage during a casual performance for family and friends. I feel sick, irritated with the little girl in the photo for thinking she was anything like the music-box ballerina. I probably remember this moment because it was especially painful. But, I believe little seeds of self-contempt of this kind are planted in all of us as we grow up. Those moments when we “realise” we’re not thin enough, blonde enough, that our breasts aren’t the optimal size or whichever of the arbitrary standards we fail to meet. And even though we grow taller and wiser as the years go by, and learn that we need to pay attention to and monitor the way we speak to ourselves and judge ourselves … we can’t entirely get rid of the darkness.
This is where the self-contempt comes from—the darkness in the pit of our stomach that stops us from taking care of ourselves in potentially crucial moments. For instance, trying to stretch our leg out in an asana—unknowingly motivated by a subconscious and painful childhood memory, manifesting itself as a strong motivation to push our bodies to do stuff that’s not really quite available.
In order to be sufficiently self-compassionate, we might need to be reminded that every moment of this life up until now has been about becoming. At least for me, it is important that I continue to learn how to love and empathize with the beautiful (and well-rounded) ballerina in the childhood photograph, as well as with the insecure, self-contemptuous teenager that condemned the little girls’ blissfulness. Staying safe and healthy in my yoga practice becomes about respecting that both of those versions of me, though long gone, were a part of my becoming who I am in this moment. Emotional fragments from the past might manifest for better or worse at any time—so accepting and reflecting (if not exaggeratedly dwelling!) upon what we might be bringing onto the mat, can only serve us well.
I meet with Enzo on the beautiful Patnem beach one morning, way before the sun has had the chance to make the sand too hot to walk on. We’ve both already assisted in a morning class; him on the 300h Vinyasa Flow YTTC, me on the 200h Ashtanga Vinyasa Flow YTTC. We settle on a couple of sunbeds directly in front of the Shala, immediately noticing the morning silence that surrounds us—the breeze generously keeping us cool enough to think. Ideal circumstances for a contemplative chat.
I ask Enzo what’s on his mind this morning. He tells me there’s a delicious smell emanating from the kitchen, causing him to reconsider his choice of fasting until lunch time. Having stayed in the beautiful yoga village on the beach for a few months already, I have enough experience to deduct that on Mondays the likelihood of pancakes is high to extremely high. I excitedly share my insight with him …
“Noo, I don’t like pancakes,” Enzo erupts. Noticing my look of disbelief or disapproval—or probably both—he corrects himself: “Ok, ok, maybe banana pancakes. With peanut butter. As a snack.”
Bounce into playfulness
Having confirmed that he is human after all (and not a pancake-rejecting Martian), I precede to ask him about his flow-creation process. He tells me about an intuitive process, where the direction of any class is determined by his response to the specific vibe he picks up from the people in the room. He goes on to explain that this intuition isn’t something that you’re born with—or that you can purchase. Naturally though, you can book a spot on a 300h Vinyasa Flow YTTC, travel to a Goan beach in India, and learn the structure that you need as a base. The intuitive process becomes available to you once you acquire some experience with systematically building a flow, Enzo ensures me.
Just like Picasso, Enzo metaphorically exemplifies, we will only be able to invent cubism after we master the classical ways of painting. In our western minds we might observe an established and limiting duality of opposites between structure and creativity. But Enzo is clear: “The structure is not meant to limit your creativity”. It is not an either/or situation. He tells me about his own journey learning how to structurally build a flow, and how it enabled him to evolve as a yoga teacher. Rather than “yoga teacher” though, he prefers to call himself a space holder—finding this a more specific (and obviously rather beautiful) description. As the structure becomes an automatic and internalized part of you, your creative intuition develops, and you become attuned to the humans you encounter in the classes you teach.
“Learning the structure is like putting down the seeds. Then you bloom”
– Enzo (trainer on 300h Vinyasa Flow YTTC)
When I learned to build a Vinyasa Flow sequence during my own 300h Vinyasa Flow YTTC, it initially seemed a little recipe-like. It was suggested that I build my flows according to this and following that. These days though, as I am only just beginning to cultivate teaching experience, having learnt a systematic approach is gold. As Enzo puts it: before creativity becomes the natural mode, we need to internalize the foundations. This makes a lot of sense. In order to make sparkling creative leaps, one will need a structured spring board from which to bounce into playfulness. So, as yoga teachers, we need to build our spring boards, understand why and how they work, paint them in the colours we love, and finally; learn how to jump.
“Your job is to be as much of you as possible”
– Enzo (trainer on 300h Vinyasa Flow YTTC)
To become the space holder you are meant to be, Enzo will advise you to cultivate the qualities that make you you. He believes that embracing your own qualities, rather than scripturally imitating other teachers, will lead to distinguishing growth. In the teaching methodology classes on the 300h Vinyasa Flow YTTC, Enzo observes each individual’s strengths, and strongly encourages them to invest focus and energy into developing those.
As the day becomes brighter, nearing ten o’clock, Enzo and I are both keen to figure out which kind of deliciousness the kitchen crew is creating for breakfast. Gazing towards the waves, head resting in the palms of his hands, Enzo seems lost in thought as a few long moments drift by. Before we turn our backs to the beach, Enzo wants to emphasize the importance of words. As space holders/yoga teachers we speak a whole lot. The words that come out of our mouths need to be us. Coming back to my spring board analogy, I suppose what he wants to convey is that we want to develop our own technique of bouncing. There will necessarily be similarities between all yoga teacher’s—because of our common foundations—but from there you playfully refine yourselves as a teacher by becoming more you.
P.S. Some last words of wisdom for anyone embarking on their 300h Vinyasa Flow YTTC (click here to sign up!):
“This is the ideal place to be creative. The relaxed area, stunning beach, and unique social environment, fosters a mindset of playfulness. Don’t forget to have a good time!”
“Practice becomes an exploration of your strength and flexibility”
– Julia (lead trainer of the 300h Vinyasa Flow YTTC)
When I embarked on the 300h Vinyasa Flow YTTC in Goa, I wasn’t exactly excited about the anatomy part of the course. For me, learning anatomy just felt like memorizing complicated Latin words for obscure parts of the body that I wasn’t even quite convinced were even in there at all. I had the prejudice that anatomy was a square, Western science, something of which I sort of felt like I hadn’t come all the way to India for a yoga course to learn about. And I definitely wasn’t feeling those supposed parts of the body, neither going about my daily life nor on the yoga mat. My body consisted of head, shoulders, knees and toes (knees and toes). Well, feet and tummies, arms and chin as well, naturally.
However, it didn’t take much time before I discovered that Julia, lead trainer of the 300h Vinyasa Flow YTTC, taught with an approach that would revolutionize my relationship with anatomy. Rather than treating it as a separate subject, she made it a natural part of the journey of development for a yoga teacher in training.
“The thread of anatomy is intertwined through all modules—the practice, myofascial release, and even philosophy”
– Julia (lead trainer of the 300h Vinyasa Flow YTTC)
One of the first days of the yoga course in Goa, India, Julia put the twelve of us doing the 300h Vinyasa Flow YTTC into a plank position. She went on to completely transform the way I practice this popular yoga posture. She offered precise explanation of how and where this posture should be felt in the body and which sensation should be predominant, communicated through subtle alignment cues and visualizations of which directions energy should be sent.
Focusing on alignment through learning about this often-visited posture at the start of the course, Julia demonstrated her passion for correcting and working with unhealthy patterns of alignment that one might accumulate as a practitioner. Nobody’s practice is perfect, and most of us have potential for improvement even in the postures we have practiced countless times—maybe for years.
Julia tells me about having had to work through two shoulder injuries in her rotator cuff muscles. She found that she needed to work hard to correct poor alignment in postures such as plank and chaturanga dandasana, learning about the importance and implications along the way. This experience, however, allowed her understanding of the shoulder to advance to a whole new level. Now, even though injuries are never welcome, the knowledge she acquired helps her teach the anatomy of the shoulder “from a safety precautionary perspective”.
Holistically, I believe it’s fair to say that experiencing injuries and other bumps in the road, ultimately allows us to grow as teachers. Julia tells me these experiences usually make us better and more patient yoga teachers. And as she says about the teacher-student relationship: “As a yoga teacher it is your duty to make sure they’re practicing safely”. Safety though, might be an illusive concept sometimes. We just might have to experience the unsafe to understand it fully. As they say: we learn through trial and error, and even though I know this to be an undeniable fact, it is so easy to become frustrated by—if not necessarily by a serious injury—even just aches and pains in the body.
I have learned that an understanding of anatomy, of how our body works as an integrated, amazing, strong and vulnerable entity, is crucial knowledge for a yoga teacher to attain. Doing a yoga course in India, I was lucky enough to encounter teachers with knowledge from different cultures and disciplines, different centuries and perspectives, and with different personal experience that made the knowledge both more specific and relatable. Learning about anatomy in the 300h Vinyasa Flow YTTC at Kranti Yoga in Goa, in Julia’s words “helps understand limitations to your practice—encouraging students to determine their limits, bringing better anatomical awareness”.
Integrity and Pratyahara
Another important aspect of yoga that I learned from Julia during the 300h Vinyasa Flow YTTC in Goa, was the importance of understanding the integrity of the posture. Once I learnt that every posture has at least one, but often many integrities, the physical and mental experience of practice transformed. Focus came easier, as I understood the purpose and meaning of what I was practicing, at a much deeper level.
When I asked Julia how she makes anatomy so interesting, her answer was: “I make it so applicable to yoga. It very much applies to the practice”. She also told me anatomical knowledge “helps internalize more to bring about pratyahara on the mat, rather than the mind drifting”. That’s exactly the effect I have experienced after learning about integrity of postures—it’s almost like a mental drishti for me; I know where to send my breath, and my body’s intuitive small changes in response to the knowledge about integrity, really seem to make a difference.
So, obviously learning about anatomy on the 300h Vinyasa Flow YTTC turned out to be anything but boring. In fact I have learned a lot about myself—about my prejudices, how bodies function in asana practice, and last but not least: about the limitations in my practice. I’ve come to understand, for instance, that what I’ve walked around (uncomfortably) thinking was a knee problem for more than two years, was most probably a consequence of having ridiculously tight quadriceps. The knees and the quadriceps, I have realized, affect each other. Seems obvious now, and comical in retrospect, but I don’t think I’ve ever even reflected on the fact that there are muscles on the front of the thighs.
Julia’s approach to teaching anatomy has planted the seeds for both a personal practice and a future as a teacher, where anatomical awareness will surely play a crucial role.
*** Next 300 hrs in Vinyasa Flow starts 9th April—and if you can’t make it India by then, the dates for next season are also on the website! ***
FLOW ME TO THE MOON
The start of something new
This week a new group of blooming teachers have arrived at Kranti Yoga Village, and the wheels of the second round of 300h Vinyasa Flow YTTC have just started rolling. During the first few days of a yoga teacher training course, I swear you can smell the anticipation all around; and literally feel the good vibes on your skin. I’m pretty sure that anyone who inhaled deeply at the Shala this last week, had their lungs filled with pure positivity and light.
Having just had the pleasure of attending the first round of 300h Vinyasa Flow YTTC, I know it’s going to be beyond magical. Perhaps contrary to popular belief though, I’ve learnt that a crucial ingredient in most types of magic is hard work. The 300h Vinyasa Flow YTTC students embarking on this adventure, will certainly face a multitude of challenges in the weeks to come. Challenges designed to serve as the water and sunlight their inner seeds of growth need to bloom and flourish.
The first week of 300h Vinyasa Flow YTTC is filled with warm welcomes, receiving school bags and all the written material you will need, as well as meeting loads of wonderful, new, potentially life-long friends. In addition, every day (except for the much-appreciated Sunday off) is greeted with a morning practice. The morning practices can be challenging technical flows with a peak posture, mindfully working towards accessing advanced asanas, or, beautifully meditative Ashtanga led classes.
Among other things, the days also consist of pranayama and meditation classes, delving into adjustments and alignment skills, as well as both anatomy and philosophy—in other words: exploring the multifaceted aspects of yoga.
Sharing the love: Philosophy teacher Laura
“Your own self-realization is the greatest service you can render to the world”
– Ramana Maharashi
Laura is in charge of yoga philosophy on the 300h Vinyasa Flow YTTC. She is the kind of teacher that absolutely radiates real passion and curiosity about her subject. Even going through the more abstract and fluid aspects of the curriculum, she always manages to keep at least one toe on the ground, often providing laughter- and insight provoking examples from her own life. Always bringing a stack of books to class, she also implements anecdotes and tales drawing on everything from Vedic texts to more modern, popular literature.
One evening this week, I spend a couple of hours assisting photographer Mindy, shooting pictures of Laura for an advanced manual for the 300h Vinyasa Flow YTTC. As Laura seemingly effortlessly, breaths and twists her body into one of the asanas, Mindy turns to me and says:
“She’s so inspiring, isn’t she? … I used to think I liked yoga ‘cause I went to the gym and stuff. But Laura likes yoga. And she has books”
She’s so right. Laura’s knowledgeable and simultaneously humble presence is truly inspirational. From where I’m standing, Laura seems to exemplify what I’ve heard they say will happen if you have a holistic, dedicated yoga practice: asana inspiring philosophical inquiry, and philosophical inquiry transforming the asana practice. Attending Laura’s classes during 300h Vinyasa Flow YTTC was my favourite part of the day. This might have just a little bit to do with the fact that it was one of the few occasions during the day where I could sit down for more than a few minutes. But mostly it had to do with the atmosphere Laura created.
To my question about why she teaches philosophy, Laura answered:
“I teach yoga philosophy because it encourages this inquiry into the nature of the self and it is my dharma to heal myself and others through this miraculous path.”
*** Stay tuned for more glimpses into the 300h Vinyasa Flow YTTC, and to meet other absolutely amazing teachers and students ***