Almost a Teacher

 

Linda Parks bday -resized

The always joyful Linda Parks, a teacher through and through, celebrating her birthday on the next to last weekend of teacher training.

“I’m almost a teacher,” I heard myself explain in yoga class yesterday when someone noticed that I knew where to place a strap for a restorative pose.

After I got home I started thinking about that baffling explanation. Almost a teacher? What does that mean? In nine days I will finish the last weekend of yoga teacher training. Does that mean automatically, “Bang! I’m a yoga teacher now?” What difference will nine days make? What have we been doing in classes, practices, and training for almost a year now?

Trust the Process

Remember my earlier blog post, Trust the Process? The first weekend of training I was so frustrated, didn’t understand much of anything, especially the hieroglyphics of those long sequences our teacher/guide Melody White wrote on the board, and I told her, “This is so confusing. I just don’t get it.” Her response that she had been teaching this for 10 (or more) years, that it works, and to “Trust the Process,” did nothing to convince me.  “Yeah, right” was my thinking.

Well, guess what? It DOES work! And I do trust the process now!  Whaaatt???  Yes.

I’ve taught a few classes in yoga teacher training, but always closely tethered to my “paper” of about 14-17 pages of gigantic font with a meticulous string of written sequences (hieroglyphics) and detailed cues, which I mostly read from standing, seated, prone, or on my belly as I tried to multi-task, reading poses, demonstrating poses, and watching classmates do poses.

Tethered No More

Then about two weeks ago, I met with another teacher and a fairly new student to practice. The other teacher offered me a chance to practice teach a little, and I hesitantly agreed to teach the beginning Attending the Spine sequences only, then turn it over to her.  After instinctively going through back extension and flexion, hip circles, lateral flexion, and easy twists, it seemed natural to warm up with sun salutations, then keep moving and address hip flexion and extension, external hip rotation, hamstring and shoulder openings, more back extension and more difficult twists.  It also seemed natural to move from one pose to another while in certain points of orientation we had learned and practiced so often.  While in one pose, my mind automatically thought of a similar pose and I cued that, moving from sequence to sequence, even attempting a “two full rotational mandala” that is unique to Melody’s Samdhaana Yoga.  It felt great!  No paper to hold while I tried to teach.  I was aware of what I was doing, and why I was doing it.

When I turned the class over to the other teacher, she looked at the clock, amazed, “You just taught a one-hour and ten minute class! You may as well do the restorative pose and go to Savasana.  We’re done!”

Becoming

So, I’m having to re-think the “almost a teacher” category.  I’ve been becoming a teacher this whole year of yoga teacher training.  Actually, I became a teacher at about 8 or 9 years old, the day I dragged my little brother out from under the bed by his ankles and made him memorize a list of spelling words for a test I would give him.  I’ve been a teacher since the day in 5th grade I imagined and announced that I was going to be like Mrs. West and teach school. I designed my own grade books, and penciled in grades for imaginary students.  That became a reality when I actually did begin teaching 4th grade in Mt. Airy, so many years ago.

In Melody’s email of our last homework assignment, she recapped all we have learned in this year of training. It covered so much more than just sequencing and poses, including techniques both anatomical and energetic of physical, subtle and causal bodies.  We have learned simple to complex breath techniques, energy work and energies that make up the world, anatomy, philosophy of yoga, physical and mental constitution, doshas, prana life force, chakras, meditation, seven moving principles of the body, and cultivation of the soul and spirit.

The syllabus did not include the inspiration, growth and expansion each of us has experienced in our yoga journey to our own higher consciousness, or the bonds we have formed with like-minded yogis. It did not mention the life-changing and life-long practice that yoga has cultivated in us. Teacher and student have united and merged into ONE-NESS, which after all, is what yoga is all about.  I am a teacher.

Copyright 2018 Linda Parks. All rights Reserved. Used with permission.

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The Cleansing Power of Yoga

This morning in my quiet time I was reflecting on the metamorphosis of two days of yoga teacher training at Sacred Space with Melody White as our guide/teacher/trainer, and how filling and cleansing it was.  Eyes closed, I visualized a fish tank I used to have, and suddenly I saw so many analogies appearing in my inner vision. My colorful Neon Tetras, Deluxe Guppies, Swordfish, and Mollies were swimming through the water, as thoughts darted through my mind.  The most vivid analogy, however, was of my periodic cleaning the grungy fish tank in the sink, running pure cleansing water from the kitchen faucet into the tank and over the top.

fish tank 2

The filtering system in my fish tank, for all practical purposes, kept the water clear and pure, but as I raked my fingers through the tiny gravels at the bottom of the tank, a surprising amount of gook arose, filling the previously clear water with leftover decaying fish feces, uneaten rotten fish food, and who knows what else? Maybe even some sloughed off epithelial cells made their way up and over the top under the powerful running water. The constantly running filter system in the tank sadly does not filter all the trash out.  Hunkering down amidst the gravel and tank art lurks unseen and undealt-with emotional trash.  Sometimes this microscopic trash has been hiding and blocking pure cleanliness for years.  Scum forms on the glass near the bottom of the tank, obscuring clear vision.  How wonderful and empowering to cleanse from the bottom up; all the unneeded old stuff goes up, out, over the top, and down the drain!

Yoga practice on my mat rakes its fingers through my fluidic body and mind, cleansing my being, floating my gunk to the surface to be dealt with.  Under the pure running tap water of Melody’s direction, as well as our guided breathing techniques directing the flow of breath and energy through our very cells, gunk is washed over the top of our fish tanks, and out, down the drain.  This energetic work, with expanding inhales and exhales, energy cleansing and ridding of toxins and toxic thoughts, fills me with purified energy.

inflatable-characters

At the beginning of “the process” (I don’t call it a “class” anymore), I step onto my mat sometimes with a lot of anxiety, all scattered, unfocused and ungrounded, akin to those air-filled balloon people you see at car lots, beckoning, flapping and waving back and forth in the wind.

Other times when I come to my mat, I am annoyed, confused, or despondent, stressing over something from the previous day or morning: worry over finances or what may happen or not happen in the future, some barbed comment that was aimed at me, some barbed comment I aimed at someone else, some failed goal I attempted, my weight, my health, the weather, clutter, unanswered correspondence, you get the picture. When I’m in my super-stress mode it may be worry over global warming, war, violence in the world, the national debt, human trafficking, poverty, abuse, addictions, taxes.  My monkey mind is in overdrive when I step onto my little piece of rubber mat, seeking relief.

Melody starts the process by having us do some prana building breaths (life force breaths), gathering energy in the form of simple and invisible air.  I’ve learned to place a high value on breathing now.  It used to be something I did unconsciously; air was just “there.” Now I am conscious of actually pulling life-giving breath into my lungs and very cells.  On our backs, we do cleansing breaths, then three-part breathing: inhaling into lower belly, rib cage, chest and shoulders.  After a few deep, calming, cleansing breaths, lying in stillness, I feel myself relaxing and feeling focused and grounded, in touch again.

The rest of the practice is filled with feel-good movement, with stretches and openings for hips, back, shoulders, hamstrings, twists, mandalas, and warrior poses.  My body feels as if I am swimming with the dolphins.  The process ends with soft music in a relaxing cool-down. I am keenly aware of my life-enhancing breaths.

At the end of the process, I step off my mat feeling lighter, cleansed, refreshed, encouraged, hopeful, and eager for life.

Thank you, Melody, for pouring yoga’s cleansing water through my fish tank gravel, and restoring me to my best self. I’m breathing much easier now.

Copyright 2018 Linda Parks. Used with Permission.

Christmas is a Time to Love

heart shaped stones - cropped

“Oh, look! Almost a heart!” The pebble replies, “Sometimes we are not perfect, but people love us anyway.”

I find myself many times holding this perfect yardstick up to others—and to myself! It’s a struggle, though, to identify what is perfect, what is a perfect heart? How much easier and effortless to just simply Love What Is. Let it be. Love. Unconditionally.

I was remembering a song from Psalty’s Christmas Calamity  that my students did years ago, got curious, and found a wonderful rendition on YouTube of “Christmas is a Time To Love.”

 

For me, this simple song and message remind me to just love. All the crazy Christmas activity, presents to buy, parties and get-togethers to attend, cards to send, extra calls, texts, emails, mail, decorating, family functions, driving here and there, crowded stores, and frustrations when these things aren’t the way we want. I’m singing that song in my head at the Wal-Mart checkout line to remind me that Christmas is a time to love.

So, this Christmas, my list is:  1. To love. That’s it.

I read an article about the 1914 Christmas Truce agreement between German and British, Belgian, and French troops during World War I. Both sides agreed to climb out of their trenches, put down their rifles, and have a quiet Christmas eve and day of singing carols in their own language, exchanging gifts, and maybe a soccer game. Later it was back to the business of war, but I’ve wondered why, if they could practice peace for a short time, why couldn’t it last?

xmas truce

So, I also decided that even after Christmas, I will have at the top of my To Do List:

  1. To love.

That’s it.  I will continue to practice love even when the Christmas season is over.  It should be a fun experiment!

The Bible says to let all that we do be done in love. Dishes, decorating, talking and listening to people, shopping, driving, paying bills, appointments, everything. Let everything be done in love.  The Bible also says to love one another.  So there. That’s what we are to do.  Love everybody, even the ones we consider “imperfect.”

Love is the most powerful force in the universe, and yet one of the most misunderstood.  There are so many facets of love, the Greek language has from four to six different names for what English just calls “love.”  The differentiation goes up the chakra system from erotic love (eros), to friendship and brotherly love (philia), playful love (ludus), longstanding love (pragma), self-love (philautia), to agape love, which is selfless, charitable love for all people.  C. S. Lewis refers to agape love as “gift love,” and in Buddhism it is “metta,” or universal lovingkindness.  What a wonderful gift this Christmas (and after) to give love to everyone with whom we come in contact.

I Corinthians 13 is considered the Love chapter.  This season I choose to give and receive as a continuous flow, seeing and treating each other from a higher perspective.  “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends. Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Copyright 2017 Linda Parks. Used with permission.

Tree Pose

A few years ago I went to a Parks family reunion. There, plastered on the wall, was a huge family tree with names near the trunk of our ancestors, all the way from the 1800’s (maybe even 1700’s) and out to the tiniest branches of new babies.  As I gazed, amazed, I also felt a twinge of failure as I looked at my branch, which ended abruptly with my name.  Beside mine was my brother’s name with his spouse, branches full and blossoming with names of his children and grandchildren, continuing the Parks family name. To me it was a visible reminder of my failure to achieve the most basic of successes, marrying and bearing children.

One morning I came across this picture of a tree in all its glory with branches lush above the ground, but underground is another tree, just as lush and gorgeous.  That underground tree is called the root system. Without this vital root system to support the visible tree, to take in nourishment from rain and minerals in the soil of Mother Earth, the visible tree branches would not survive.

tree

The tree goes through yearly and seasonal changes, sometimes green and full; sometimes popping with reds, oranges, and yellows for a time; sometimes barren of all leaves.  The root system, however, remains through the changing seasons, supporting and taking in nourishment.

Every morning I sit quietly and alone, praying for my family members, supporting and nourishing them underground, so they can grow and flourish to their highest and most glorious potential above ground.

When I do tree pose in yoga class, I teeter back and forth on one leg, arms raised worshipfully above my head in such a beautiful display of ancient Vrksasana, ever mindful that my pose could not stand without that leg supporting it. We don’t notice the leg, though. Many successful ventures noticeably flourish above ground, highly visible, talented, creative, and productive. Unseen, unnoticed, and underground remains the supportive root system of people working silently and continuously, just as beautiful and important as the tree above.

It is helpful to note, too, that sometimes we are the supportive root system, but sometimes we are the beautiful above the ground tree, full of succulent fruit, lavish leaves, and flowering branches.

Copyright 2017 Linda Parks. Used with permission.

Trust the Process

“I can’t do Yoga Teacher Training; I can’t do a headstand, and I’m too old.” Three months ago I postulated these reservations as I considered signing up for the upcoming training at Sacred Space yoga studio. A recent Registered Yoga Teacher graduate, older than I am, assured me that yoga is much more than standing on my head, age doesn’t matter, and that I could indeed do yoga teacher training.

So here I am, with two weekends of training under my belt.  Saturday my frustration level was pretty high, though, as we finished what seemed like hours of taking notes and listening as Melody White, our “guide” wrote boards full of movements and cues for sequences we had just done on the mat. The mat work was an enjoyable, flowing, feel-good pattern of familiar movements; but when we sat in front of the board for a written analysis of the sequences, that was another story. “You may as well write hieroglyphics up there, Melody. This is so confusing. I just don’t get it.” I got the first few sequences, but after several more, I was lost, as it got more complicated and confusing. Toward the end, my brain just checked out.  As we took a break, Melody reassured us, “I’ve taught this for years, and it works. Trust the process.”

Trust the process. Yeah, right. Then I remembered my own days of teaching school, and I knew from experience she was right. After fifteen years of seeing the progress my fourth graders made, nine years of missionary kids at all ages, and eleven years of multi-aged English language learners, all progressed as expected. I always loved seeing how my students arrived as beginners, then grew proficient as they learned so much during the school year, right on schedule, and just as my years of experience told me they would. It does work. Trust the process.

This morning I was thinking about the process, and remembered the first student I taught to read. I say “taught” as maybe the wrong word, since “educate” means a leading out of what is already inside the student.  I no more taught Jonathan how to read than we have anything to do with a flower growing and blooming from a tiny seed we plant.  The blueprint is already there, in the seed, in our brains and cells, a blueprint for the growing stages, for the full-grown manifestation of completion. Maybe we guide the process, but we certainly don’t control it.

trust the process photo cropped

Jonathan’s mother brought him to my little one-room school in the basement that first day in Kenya.  At 5 years old, he was an adorable, sweet spirited, shy and gentle tiny little boy with eager big brown eyes.  “He knows some of his ABCs, but he can’t read,” his mom offered. My throat closed.  “He can’t READ??!!” I kept my thoughts to myself. I had only taught 4th graders in Mt. Airy, and they all could read, write in cursive, and had memorized their multiplication facts when they first came to my class. I had never taught anyone to read from scratch, and didn’t know if I could. I had to pray about that one, and the answer God gave me was, “use your gut instincts.”  So we started with learning the alphabet, consonant and vowel sounds, and word families with simple three-letter words. Day after day I read to Jonathan, just for the pure pleasure of reading, but also to demonstrate letter and word sounds. We just kept working on words, sounds, reading.

One day I pulled a book from the shelf, opened it, and we sat side by side to read. Curious, I asked him to read some of the words aloud to me, eager to see how much he could do.  To my surprise, he read a whole sentence, then another and another! I reached for his wiry arms. “Jonathan! You’re reading! Who taught you to read?” I thought maybe he had been getting some extra tutoring at home or somewhere.  I’ll never forget the loving way he turned his head and eyes up, looked at me, and matter-of-factly replied, “YOU did!”  I honestly did not know when it had happened. “When?” When did I teach him to read? Trust the process.

Copyright 2017 Linda Parks. Used with permission.

Teaching Yoga?

I am nearing the time when I need to take continuing training in order to maintain my yoga teaching certification.  Difficult to schedule, perhaps, but not difficult to find – there are still hundreds of things I’d love to know more about – if anything, there are far more trainings than I have time for.  However, I was thinking the other day that the first few years of teaching yoga should count as some sort of training in themselves – because nothing has taught me more about yoga than teaching yoga.

Heather Elliott 1

Yoga is intensely personal – no matter if you’re in a class of 50 or a private class, where you are is where you are, and yoga must meet you there.  The most amazing thing about yoga, I think, is that it always does.  No matter where you are, yoga can be right there with you, supporting you and helping you to excavate deeper and deeper into your self to teach you what you need to know.  Hyper-flexible?  Yoga will admire that, but teach you that flexibility requires strength.  Impatient?  Yoga will offer lots of quick rewards, all the while holding out on some things.  Goal-oriented?  Awesome, you’ll be doing peak poses in no time, but you’ll realize that’s not the point.

As a teacher, it’s hard to hit your stride.  It’s hard to sort out for yourself what sort of teacher you are – and no matter how many teachers you’ve had, or how much you’ve learned from them, you’re on your own when it’s your class.  And it’s startling to learn whether or not you like teaching, where your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher are, and what you really think about yoga.

I’ve been teaching yoga weekly for nearly 2 years, and I feel pretty comfortable, now.  But here’s the truth:  you can’t teach yoga.  You can guide yoga, you can offer yoga, you can model yoga, you can demonstrate yoga, you can talk yoga, you can explain yoga, you can report on research about yoga – but teach yoga?  Nope.  If you’re trying, though, you will find every place where you are challenged by yoga.  Every place where you are unsure, every place where you don’t understand as well as you thought you did, every place where you were flat out wrong.  And that’s okay.  In fact, that’s yoga.

We ask our students over and over and over again to be true to themselves – to be honest about where they are, recognize sensations, play on the edge, challenge themselves, be open, give themselves a break, stop comparing, and just be.  And I’ve learned more about how to do that by trying to teach yoga than I did in the decades I practiced beforehand.

A regular in one of my classes made a point of telling me the other night that he really liked the class we’d just done.  He was beaming and his eyes lit up with happiness.  And I was so pleased that it had connected with him – so happy to see him so happy – and immediately I started to think about how the class had been constructed and whether there was something that I could do more of in order to give him that experience more often.  And then yoga caught up with me and I stopped.  Because that class hadn’t been a class I’d normally do – it was done in order to incorporate something another student had asked about – it was a far more traditional Iyengar style class than I’d usually teach.  Which is the style that he likes.  And in order to make him that happy more often, I’d have to teach something that isn’t really my thing.  I’m all for it sometimes – it’s fun to have students request things – I research, I plan, and we try it together – and we both learn something.  But all I can offer with any consistency is me – what I bring to the mat as a ‘teacher’ is the same thing I bring as a student:  myself.  And no matter what anyone else favors or wants or does, all I can offer is me.  Yoga taught me that.

I don’t think any of us are yoga teachers.  Some of us are yoga models, some are yoga demonstrators, some are yoga explainers, some are yoga guides, and on our best days – those days that we are living the practice – all of us are yoga facilitators.  It’s called a practice for a reason – yoga itself is the teacher, and we all always have more to learn.

Copyright 2017 Heather Elliott. Used with permission.

 

Infinity

If you check Sacred Space Online you will see several yoga classes incorporating an infinity pattern sequence into the routine.  One day as I did this up and down continuous flow on the yoga mat, I envisioned an analogy to life’s path.  Life is an infinity pattern and symbol. It is not linear from birth to death, with a definite beginning and end.  It is not even circular, where, though continuous, all is equally on a flat playing surface.

infinity

Rather, life is a Figure 8 Infinity on its side, ups and downs, highs and lows, meeting always at the same shared dot in the center of it all, a vertex/vortex of sorts. The center dot is the reckoning place of it all, a resting place if you will, a place to catch your breath in retrospection and reflection, and also in preparation for the next exhilarating mountaintop experience, or low of the valley. Events, feelings, relationships, highs and lows, good times and bad, all meeting eventually at the center of our being, to evaluate, assess, analyze, and then move on to continue flowing on our path of infinity.

Copyright 2017 Linda Parks. Used with permission.