The journey to Nosara began at 4:15am on Friday November 4th. Darren and I woke up at 3:45am. He drove me to the airport and we said our goodbyes : ( When I got in to Atlanta, I met with Natalie and we found Arjuna, one of the assistants that would be renting a car and driving us to Nosara. Our flight was grounded on the tarmac for about an hour before we actually left. I dozed and watched movies, my ears popped like crazy, not especially enjoyable. Stepping off the plane in Liberia was HOT! We picked up our rental car and once on the road we stopped for some local food: rice and beans with veggies and salad. It was great. The drive in was by far the first memorable thing of the trip. The pot holes once we reached the winding dirt road in to Nosara were insane!! Some of them were the size of a vehicle. Arjuna avoided most of them but one crept up out of nowhere and I thought the car was going to flip. We made it though. Natalie and I settled in to our rooms and then met for dinner at the Cafe de Paris. It gets dark here by 6pm, and I mean, pitch black, so the walk home from dinner at 7:30 was not fun ... alone in the jungle with only a flash light. Scary. I slept well and the next morning went down to Robin’s for a muffin and smoothie. Natalie and I explored a bit, did some groceries (which were not cheap) and then met Kelly and we all went to the beach. The sun and waves are beautiful. We were told to shuffle our feet in the sand when walking in the water to avoid stepping on any sting rays. After leaving the beach we met Sarah and a local tico cracked open a coconut for us while we stood in the shade talking. Fresh coconut water tastes amazing!!! That night 6 of us had dinner at Marlin Bill’s. One of my roommates Annie arrived and joined us, as well as Sarah’s roommate Mariah. Everyone I’ve met so far has seemed great and I’m really excited to get started tonight.
This first week has involved having a lot of information thrown our way in order to begin our personal inquiry of Yoga. What has this meant to me? My practice thus far has been predominantly physical, so one of my intentions for these next five weeks is to discover the other layers of this rich experience and find ways to integrate them into my daily experiences. We’ve learned about the historical perspectives of Yoga including various definitions, its Shamanic Roots, the common categories of the many Yogas, the Sutras, the Koshas as well as the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga and how the 8 limbs of Yoga practice interact in daily life.
Our schedule starts every morning with a 2 hour practice at 6am after which we are encouraged to walk to the ocean and go for a swim before going home for breakfast. The air next to the water contains more negative ions which in turn provide us with more Prana energy ...or something like that. We are usually home by 9:15 and then have time to have a quick shower, a big breakfast/lunch, and catch up on some reading. Our afternoon sessions are 3.5 hours long and are broken into two halves, the first half involves some chanting (more on that later...) and a lecture, and the second half of the afternoon is spent learning and teaching postures by using hands on assists (something you can all look forward to me practicing on you when I get back). I love teaching the postures and really enjoy breaking them down in order to appreciate what each one of them means, finding out all of their benefits. In the afternoon we have a 4 hour break that allows us to spend some time at the beach, do homework, make food, sometimes nap and then head out to our evening sessions for a final 2.5 hours involving more chanting, movement and lectures. I’ve been fortunate enough to share all of these experiences with two wonderful roommates, Annie a school teacher from the UK and Laura Ann a fellow dancer from Colorado.
The approach to the training is very creative, graciously fulfilling the artist in me. In our opening session we were all given a box of oil pastels and told that at any moment we were tuning out because the lectures were getting too long, we are encouraged to pull out our colours and fill the pages of our manuals with drawings. Our teachers emphasize that yoga is an experience that is about making a journey into who we already are. It’s all already there; we just have to trust it. Our personal yoga journey involves “unlearning” patterns to figure out what is more fundamental, but the un-layering of our self is messy. Are we willing to accept the consequences of being ourselves? Yoga is an evolutionary experience. Yoga is a human experience. We are simply humans learning to be human together.
This week has also been a week of first times: first time tasting fresh passion fruit, first time seeing a sea turtle and howler monkeys, first time surfing and first time chanting in a yoga class. There are lots of cool things to do here and on Sunday afternoon I cautiously took my first surf lesson. The thought of surfing seemed terrifying, but I promised myself I would try it while I was here and figured I should do it sooner rather than later in case I enjoyed it and wanted to do it some more. I stood up on my second attempt, and fell plenty of times after that to make up for it. I definitely need more practice. I’ve also had my first experiences with chanting since being here, and although I’m not completely into it, it is growing on me slowly. I think my hesitation comes from the fact that I feel slightly “culty” sitting in a room with 40 people with my eyes closed, humming words that are in a language I don’t understand. I’ve found that the odd time I’ve managed to let go of those pre-conceived ideas I’ve enjoyed myself. Although it certainly isn’t a spiritual experience for me, something significant undoubtedly occurs when a group sings in harmony... any of us theatre goers can attest to that.
In terms of anatomy, we’ve started watching some Paul Grili material which led to some interesting debates on hypo/hyper extension. We’ve spent a great deal of time discussing structural alignment and the different approaches that various types of yoga take: from the feet up, from the head down, from the core extending outwards, etc. No one type of yoga has the whole picture, because Yoga is an evolution. One reason so many contemporary Yoga systems have evolved in the West is because the individuals that “created” the sequences we refer to as Iyengar, Kripalu, Shivananda, Bikram, Ashtanga etc, found that these particular sequences worked for them. These sequences will work for others as well, and some will appeal more to one person than another. The important thing to remember being, we evolve as humans, so why wouldn’t yoga evolve too? On that note, I will leave you with an excerpt that I found in our manual that particularly appealed to me from Osho, The Path of Yoga:
“Yoga is pure science just like mathematics, physics or chemistry ... Yoga is pure science. (...) Yoga has nothing as far as belief is concerned; Yoga doesn’t say to believe in anything. Yoga says “Experience.” Just as science says “Experiment,” Yoga says “Experience.” Experiment and experience are both the same; their directions are different. Experiment means there is something you can do outside; experience means there is something you can do inside. Experience is an inner experiment... Remember that Yoga is existential, experiential, experimental. No belief is required, no faith is needed – only courage to experience – and that’s what is lacking.”
More to come after week 2
What a week, and what a contrast to the first one! It has rained (HARD) at least once a day, if not ALL day, for the past week. The initial sunshine, enthusiasm and excitement of the first week has shifted towards a much deeper and raw place of discovery. I suppose the daily highs and lows are simply a magnified image of the weekly ebb and flow. By allowing ourselves to thoroughly witness the sensations, riding the experience and suspending our natural reflex to stop anything unpleasant that is stirred up, we’ll eventually discover balance. We have the ability to place our awareness wherever we want, but we are selective about it. We’re allowed to be messy. Our mat is a place where we can go to sit, be present and explore ourselves. The challenge of the big picture being, we develop feelings and emotions about these sensations, and these feelings in turn become thoughts, which become the concepts and beliefs that we identify with, defining our personality and self-image. Accepting ourselves as we are is the first step towards non-judgemental self awareness.
We spent a significant amount of time this week discussing pain and how these sensations have a direct correlation to our emotions. “What we resist persists”. Pain isn’t eternal ...even if it feels like that sometimes. While it is important to honour the protection mechanisms our bodies have, by peeling the word “pain” away from these sensations, we’re able to approach them differently and regain trust in our organism. It doesn’t always have to be about pushing through to reach a certain level. It can be about establishing a relationship with our body and discovering balance. As yoga educators it is not our responsibility to diagnose, treat and prescribe, which I think will be challenging assuming all we want is to help, and for our students to enjoy their experience. It has been suggested to us to ask questions and provide them with insight into themselves instead, enabling them to make their own discoveries.
This week we (finally) delved into the theories behind the bandas. I was eagerly awaiting this part because I had no clue what “bandas” were and our teachers have constantly been saying “engage your bandas!”. Turns out, our bandas are basically three muscle areas that keep us from collapsing with gravity constantly pressing down on us. Mulabanda holds energy in the pelvic floor and Amba, one of the amazing/hilarious directors of the program describes it to us as “ladies, tighten the vagina and men, pull up the scrotum”. HA. She loves these words and uses them at least once a class, followed by, “there, I said it”. Uddiyanabanda is the strength in our “guts” when we “swallow our navel” (again, Amba’s words). A note about Amba, there is nothing precious about this woman, and I love it! She’s hilarious and brilliant. Finally, Jalandarabanda is a lengthening of the cervical spine by slightly tucking the chin towards the chest, opening the base of the skull and preventing energy from escaping. Together the three bandas allow us to go deeper into our bodies, allowing us to expand our consciousness outwards.
We’ve continued moving through posture techniques and have nearly finished breaking down the Nosara Vinyasa flow. I love focussing on one posture at a time and being able to transmit all of the benefits and hands on assists. Associating a story to a posture helps me relate it to a moment in my life, which makes it that much easier to transmit the energy of the posture to the student. I’ll have to adjust to not having the time to attribute ALL of these additions during a regular class (which we get to lead next week!!). We have to remember when teaching that it isn’t about us, we are holding the space for the students to take in THEIR experience. As a teacher, we start from a place of personal truth, cultivating friendliness with happy people and ignoring with indifference the wicked. Accept that we can’t please everyone, because as teachers we will be blocked if we expect certain outcomes. If we personally identify ourselves with the successful performance of the techniques we teach, we are creating an environment for ourselves to feel like failures. “By learning to be with ourselves, regardless of the immediate outcomes we perceive in our yoga practice, yoga teaching and in life at large, we cultivate a permission in others to be with themselves.”
So what happened this weekend when we actually had a bit of time off? A few of us were introduced to one of the hotels here that makes AMAZING pina coladas with fresh pineapple, coconut cream and well... rum : ) Six of us spent Saturday afternoon there sipping on a tropical cocktail and enjoying some sushi while eagerly discussing what week 3 has in store. In our Saturday afternoon sessions we do a review of the week we just had, and get a preview as to what the next week holds. This week we’ll be moving into the methodology of teaching and will be designing our own classes that we will then get to teach in our fourth and final week. On Sunday after our morning class a group of us went for brunch at the Guilded Iguana, another hotel that is a 35 minute walk down the beach from where we’re staying. In the afternoon I attempted a second surf lesson and swallowed a LOT more water than the first time. Still enjoyable, but much more exhausting. The waves were messy and I just felt like I was constantly being shoved under water. I’ll give myself one more lesson with an instructor and then I’ll start renting a board on my own and playing in the white water : ) Good news: no sharks here, just the occasional sting ray so we have to shuffle our feet in the sand as a precaution.
Weeks 3 and 4
I’ve combined weeks 3 and 4 into one summary as they seemed to bleed into one another. I sit here now as a brand new yoga teacher. Wow. Writing and reflecting on my journey, there is a lot to absorb, more than is possible in an afternoon, but I will attempt to temporarily close this chapter before the opening of the next Experiential Anatomy training that I begin tonight.
The first part of our week began by exploring the yogic process, the cycle of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Brahma consists of the process of creativity itself, our resourcefulness, our willingness to learn and create space for creative learning, nurturing our ability to spontaneously birth something new. Vishnu is the ability to nurture this new creation, expression, or way of life. When we’ve found something that is of value to us, something shifts within us and our desire to nurture this new found expression sets in. Following this, a time comes where we outgrow this expression. This is Shiva. The desire to move forward, to let everything go in hope of discovering something new, is so strong that it seems worth the risk and we propel ourselves into the unknown yet again. When an experience becomes too little and other things start dawning on us. Throughout this cycle, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, all of the prana within us is alive. There is a time and place for everything to unfold in its own way. Developing our yoga practice enables us to open ourselves up to greater possibilities. Our mat grows as we grow, and it is where we go to learn from our experiences.
As our awareness shifts, we wake up to our ability to create this space for ourselves, and as teachers, for others. A space where one can nurture their sense of self and continue to grow. A space where we are available to be impacted by what is, as it is; claiming our lives and moving to where we’re interested in next. Yoga is the place in our self that we go to, to willingly accept whatever arises. There is permission to be who we are, as we are. Once we see ourselves for who we are and understand that we aren’t good for feeling good, or bad for feeling bad, we accept our polarities and understand that we are not fixed beliefs, but individuals with the ability to witness these beliefs.
Throughout the third week we began taking a closer look at relaxation as a learned skill. Slowing down the mind to the time of the body and entering this altered state of consciousness requires incredible focus in order to engage other dimensions of ourselves so that energy isn’t scattered (and we don’t just pass out). So why is Sivasana at the end of our class so important? Scientifically speaking it lowers the blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol and helps relieve chronic pain and insomnia. On a more esoteric level, it helps us develop the muscle of awareness, rejuvenates, regenerates and sensitizes us, decreasing stress and increasing our creativity as well as our ability to experience pleasure in life. Well isn’t that great; but now how do we relate that to the students who simply want to run out of the room when class is over? I suppose it is about generating an interest in relaxation, inspiring them to enter the NOW by making it pleasurable and meaningful. As yoga stimulates the kundalini and awakens the chakras, it is important that we take time at the end of a class to let things settle and absorb, balancing our autonomic nervous system and creating that feeling of total bliss that follows a great class. Relaxation is as vital and important to our life force as the food we eat. The intention of Savasana is not to fall asleep but to enter a state of Pratyahar, awakening our ability to draw our awareness inwards.
About half way through our third week we delved into the Chakras!! So incredible. They represent the map of our story, a way of perceiving ourselves in order to map our existence, without trying to sell a belief. Understanding them offers us the choice to consciously participate in the evolution of our organism, and my experience with them was quite intense. Without going into details, one of our morning practices was designed with each of the 7 Chakras in mind, and a conversation with the teacher following class provided me with an understanding and appreciation for the path my life has lead me down throughout the past 2 years. Now that the overwhelming feeling has settled, I feel incredibly curious to learn more about them... and I think Santa has a book about them for me next week!
Next was the journey of creating our first class! While we developed our Vinyasa, they emphasized the importance of setting an intention, and making it dynamic while including the things we love. Planning is priceless as it gives us a place to put all our thoughts, but plans are useless. There is an energy that happens in the doing that cannot be replicated in plans. So we were instructed to design it all; dot every I and cross every T, but then be willing to let it all go on our mat, and let the prana flow. Once we create the backbone to what we want to teach we can play with it by exploring the 6 movements of the spine, different orientations to gravity, different energetic polarities, and using the transitions between postures to create rhythm and balance in the brain. Transitions will create momentum which in turn will increase physical capabilities, support concentration and induce meditation. So off we went that weekend to design our classes!!
I was the first to teach in my group, 6am on the Monday morning, and I could not have been any happier with the outcome. It was a high unlike any other I have ever experienced (until I taught my second class this week ... more on that later). I was in a group with 5 other wonderful women and the support I felt from them is what allowed me to explore ideas that I’ve dreamt of for months, uniting my passion for dance with my love of yoga. I taught in a beautiful open studio shortly after sunrise, overlooking the jungle tree tops and the ocean. I will never forget it. I included elements anatomy, explored concepts from the axis syllabus, lead them through a movement improvisation followed by a vinyasa flow, all to the sounds of some awesome jazz music. It was truly multi-dimensional and it came from within. I am proud. The feedback I got was wonderful, encouraging and insightful. I bit off a lot by choosing to include so many elements in 90 minutes, but I knew I was in an environment that would support me and help me refine my practice. Each member in my group taught their own wonderful class over the next two days, resulting in 10 hours of yoga within 36 hours. My body has never felt so open.
The end of the 200hr month came fast but organically. We were never expected to understand everything, only to stay open and not misunderstand the experience. It is not a linear process. It is not all the hijackings that happen along the way. It is where we land. Yoga resides in our being and it grows with us like poetry in motion. We can respond to the intelligence within and trust our inner process when we give ourselves fully to the experience, parking our interest in the depths of our creativity. Through intuition each one of us had a hunch that it was worth pursuing this journey, deeply knowing that this journey would better ourselves. Now that we’ve found this sacred place, we are able to stand here resolute to the process with no attachment to the result, assuming all responsibility for whatever arises and to see what happens on the other side. This is our ability to establish ourselves in our true nature. Our consciousness tells us that no low will last forever and that life is a learning process unfolding. Appreciate the experience as an experiment where you can learn from whatever happens. As Don so beautifully said, “the spine is the axis of time; pull it back, move it forward, look at it from a different angle, and twist it to find a new perspective. We are grounded by our sits bones in the present. The hero is not a hero until he sits down and digests the warrior’s experiences. The hero is the willingness to let the lessons come. It is better to practice your own yoga imperfectly and messily, than to try and practice someone else’s yoga perfectly.” So let’s do it for the purpose of learning. As teachers we must remember that our students don’t have to go through what we went through to practice their yoga. It’s their journey. Our job is to connect them with their journey.
Our graduation ceremony was special, as I am sure all of them are. Don and Amba are two incredible people who have shared their love of yoga and fostered each individual’s passion and individuality. I am grateful and proud to have accomplished this small part of the journey, and my enthusiasm for what is next is effervescent.
FINAL THOUGHTS - Closing moments
I am so in awe of this afternoon’s experience. Thank you to every single one of you beautiful souls for so graciously sharing your stories. I laughed and cried, and feel so honoured to have had the privilege to witness every one of us experience that moment. The words you shared were inspirational. Below is merely a handful of some of your accounts that profoundly resonated with me.
We are human beings learning from our experience as we go. Sharing this information and our experience is our will and our wish.
I’ve been happy this whole month. Let’s just stay happy.
Trust that someone is there to receive what you have to offer.
No one is going to fully understand and appreciate how beautiful this place is or how amazing our experience has been, unless they see and experience it for themselves. It is our experience. What we take from it and share upon our return will touch those we share it with, but it will forever remain our experience.
Yoga is an incredibly infinite performance art that creatively integrates amongst other things: movement, music and voice.
Discovering the fun of putting all of the elements together is a gift.
It is important to share our truths.
I must get in touch with the teachers whose presence has graced my path and thank them for contributing towards helping me find mine.
How do we provide an experience for yogis who are already having their own experience?
Do the yoga you want to do. Teach your yoga.
Keep everything in perspective. When you’re scared and nervous about teaching a class, if that is the scariest thing you’ve ever had to do, well isn’t that great!
I will not abandon myself.
This is bliss. This is yoga. This is why we do it.
Feeling vulnerable and naked is uncomfortable, but being in an environment where we feel safe to be as so, is wonderful.
Trust the process. It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.
Thank you for witnessing.