In order to write, read. In order to teach, watch.

Flickr/Creative Commons photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/grahamking/.

In yoga teacher training we are learning all the things that you would expect you’d learn in a teacher training specific to yoga. We learn poses, how to cater to all levels, how to modify poses, the different styles of yoga, as well as things like energy fields and chakras and essential oils.

But what was the very first thing I encountered in the very first class I taught?

Oh, there’s someone walking in the door! Oh, I’m so excited! Oh, what do I do now?

Obviously they just walked in the door. I knew how to teach poses and cue music. But what was going to set the stage immediately?

Thankfully I had been attending yoga classes as a student for about 17 years. I quickly thought to myself: “What does Mona do when I come into a room? What does Melanie do?” Every teacher I’ve had greeted me with a big smile, welcomed me into the space, called me by my name. So that’s what I did. I introduced myself, welcomed them into the space, shook their hands, asked their names and mentally noted the names for next time.

You learn by doing, of course. But you also learn by observing.

I tell my writing students that the most important thing they need to do to become better writers is not to write, but to read. Read EVERYTHING. Read every day. Read books, magazines, anthologies, web articles. Read fiction, read poetry, read plays. Listen to podcasts, watch vlogs, watch documentaries. The only way to write a good story is to read or listen to good stories. See how the masters have done it. Identify what you love and work on replicating that.

It struck me over this last teacher training weekend is that in order to become a good yoga teacher, you have to watch other good yoga teachers. What do they do, what do they say? How do they create a welcoming space? How do they cultivate the type of energy that you want to be around?

I try to expose myself to as many good yoga teachers as possible. I have my roster of teachers I enjoy in Mankato. When I travel, I like going to yoga studios. I’m always watching and observing the style of the teacher, noting what I like and don’t like.

Is there someone you consider your yoga teacher mentor, whether you are teaching now or whether you hope to teach someday?

Silence in the yoga studio

Creative Commons image. Artist information at http://www.andreminduka.com/

Today I made what is becoming a monthly trek to 815 Yoga in Rockford, Illinois. It’s quickly becoming my away-from-home studio.

I attended the beginner flow class but there at 815 I think they approach it right — it’s a class great for beginners, but experienced yogis get something out of it, too. The instructor, Nicole, tailored her directions to beginners, but verbally offered modifications for more experienced students.

What I really enjoyed about today, though, was the quiet. The building had experienced some problems lately, including the absence of heat. Nicole told us the heat had been restored (as we could tell), but the electricity was out in part of building. That meant no music today.

I have always attended yoga classes with music, and I run music in my own classes. But I’ve never thought much about it. The music has always been mellow, not jarring, and I like background music. Today it struck me that this might have been my first yoga class without music.

I loved it! Nicole offered constant verbal cues so it’s not like there was complete silence. But the absence of that additional sound created a more meditative atmosphere. Instead of taking me a few minutes to settle into my practice, I settled in right away. Perhaps it was because my mind has been spinning lately and the previous 24 hours had felt rushed and anxious and stressful. Today I got exactly what my psyche needed and I know it’s going to serve me well through the rest of the weekend.

If music is always running in the background of your classes, even if it’s super mellow, try it once without and see what you think.

A beginner class? Sure, why not?!

I seem to find myself in Rockford, Illinois, every few weeks and I enjoy stopping by 815 Yoga! This morning I attended a class labeled “beginner flow.” Don’t let labels turn you off! I’m not a beginner — I’ve been practicing yoga on and off for about 17 years. But I chose this class today for a couple of reasons. For one, it was at 8:30 a.m. and that worked well with my schedule. The other option was a 10:15 a.m. hot yoga. I haven’t yet tried hot yoga and I didn’t think I was ready for it today! But someday…

Since 815 is not my home studio, I don’t know the teachers and their styles. So in that sense, something new is brought to my practice. And also, I generally practice and teach a vinyasa flow or Ashtanga style. So being able to settle into poses and really think about them from a beginner’s perspective offered a welcome break and shook things up, so to speak.

I quickly settled into the practice. I enjoyed the slower pace and the ability to pay close attention to my breathing, posture, and alignment. The studio was slightly warmer than I was used to, and that warmth combined with the focus helped me get into the best-feeling wheel pose I’ve had in quite a while. My spine arched back effortlessly, whereas in the past few weeks it’s been pretty tight.

My yoga teacher training at Sun Moon Yoga Studios is helping me to embrace different styles of yoga and teaching me the importance of “letting go” of routine (as well as “letting go” of other things holding me back). I embraced this morning’s practice and if you get a chance to step into a different class or different studio, please give it a try!

Visiting new yoga studios

Only in the past few months have I made it a point to find a yoga studio when I travel, if possible. When I went to Duluth in August, I took two yoga classes at JEM Yoga: one was a yoga/moonlight paddleboard, and the other was a noon vinyasa class at the studio.

On Saturday I went to 815 Yoga in Rockford, Illinois. I meant to take photos at the studio when I was done with the class, but forgot…sheesh!

I will admit I like my comfort zone. I’ve been going to Sun Moon Yoga in Mankato for 15 years and it’s such a comfortable, warm, inviting space. I sometimes think, What if a different studio doesn’t have that same vibe?

But that’s a negative way of thinking. No two yoga studios are going to have the same vibe. And if I find a studio with a totally horrible vibe, well, then I won’t go back.

Both the Duluth and Rockford studios were wonderful places to practice. I was able to settle in quickly and pay full attention to my practice. It’s also fun to see what other yoga instructors come up with for a flow. I’m always challenged when I go somewhere new!

Going to a local business while traveling is also a great way to feel part of the community. You might see a part of the town you wouldn’t normally see as you make your way to the studio. It’s also great to chat with the locals, especially if you need recommendations for places to eat/sights to see/local shopping to do, etc.

God willing, I’ll be back to Duluth and Rockford before too long and I will return to JEM Yoga and 815Yoga. And when I travel to other places this year, I will make it a point to take a class at the local yoga studio. Wouldn’t it be cool to take a yoga class in all 50 states?

5 reasons why I like a morning yoga practice

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Photo Credit: Infomastern Flickr via Compfight cc

Not sure about a 6 a.m. yoga class? I don’t blame you! But that early morning practice can result in better health all day and night:

* The attention to your body lasts all day. When I do a morning practice I stand a little straighter and breathe a little deeper all day. If I go for a walk or run later in the day, I’m more attuned to my muscles and movement. I swear exercise after yoga feels easier…my legs and arms just seem to move more fluidly.

* The mindfulness lasts all day, too. I’m more apt to calmly think through situations and I’m less frazzled or stressed. I remember to breathe more.

* Have you ever woken up stiff and sore? If you haven’t, I’d like to meet you! If you’re of a “certain age,” you know what I mean! Yoga is a great way to work out those kinks.

* You are more likely to go to bed early the night before a morning yoga practice. We all know getting enough sleep is essential to good health, but it’s often something that we forego in our busy lives. I like having the excuse of turning in early. I’m also more likely to eat better and drink plenty of water the night before a morning practice. Not only do I feel healthier the day that I do early morning yoga, but I tend to make healthier decisions the night before, too. And when I get up that early, I’m more than ready for bed later in the night!

* I’m not beyond admitting that it’s great to just get the workout over and done with! There’s something intensely gratifying about getting that workout done before 7 or 8 a.m. It gives me a sense of accomplishment, like I can do anything for the rest of the day. Or if I’m just plain tired by late afternoon, I can rest because I’ve already done my workout!

And if these reasons aren’t enough for you, this article lists 21 reasons for having a morning yoga routine.

If you’re inspired, I’ll see you at Fitness for 10 in Mankato at 6 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays! A great way to start is to commit to just Tuesday or Thursday — one day a week of yoga is better than no days a week!

2018: Spark

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I spent a couple of hours on Sunday, Dec. 31, with fellow yogis and other beautiful women at Melanie Williams‘ house to reflect on 2017 and set intentions for 2018. I’m so grateful for the time to think mindfully about accomplishments, challenges, and what I’d like to do in the new year.

When it came time to draw cards, I drew the one above. Or really, the card drew me. I couldn’t imagine a more meaningful card to set my 2018 intentions.

The text that goes along with the card is as follows:

“You are a clear channel for Divine creativity.

“There is a spark of creativity in you, and you have every reason to move forward with optimism and hope. Open yourself to inspiration and allow life to show you its beauty and your part in co-creating it. This is the perfect time to give birth to an idea, start a new relationship or job, or begin any endeavor. Attraction is high as you connect with others who can co-create joyous experiences and join with you in expressing the finer aspects of life. Watching a spark turn to a flame and stoking that fire is a gratifying activity.”

I spent most of 2017 not being able to work on my own projects. I was stuck in the past and one big project demanded all of my creative attention. I finally wrapped up that project (hopefully, for good) in mid-December and turned my attention to a long essay that’s been percolating for a while. I have missed creating my own things, so I believe that’s why I was drawn to that card.

I’ve only taught a couple of yoga classes so far but the process of creating a sequence feels a lot like writing. What do I want people to take away from a class/essay? How do I build from that core concept? How can I form a sequence (of words, of poses) that will yield the results I want my students/readers to come away with?

The “co-creating joyous experiences” pertains mightily to my yoga teaching. That is exactly what I intend to do in my classes! Please join me in creating joyous experiences for your body and soul!

I’m teaching at Fitness for 10 in Mankato at 6 a.m. Tuesdays/Thursdays.

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Oils, candles, and other good stuff at the center of the room at Melanie’s on New Year’s Eve.