Having been active most of my life and as a dancer, I’ve been blessed with teachers who go beyond the dance as a movement and performing art to teach me invaluable values and principles in life. I have in some capacity trained others in dance and functional capacity and have imagined teaching yoga to be similar – be good at postures, both in terms of physically attaining the postures and the theoretical aspects of the postures (which muscles are engaged, how to safely practice the postures, variations, breath, benefits) and the ability to teach should come naturally.
Yet as I learn more about yoga and more specifically teaching yoga, I’ve come to realise that it was so much more than that. There is an incredible amount of information that a yoga teacher is capable of sharing and it goes way beyond the physical and emotional aspects in instructing most sports.
This was best captured in “Teaching Yoga: Exploring the Teacher-Student Relationship” by Donna Farhi who countered “in what other profession must one take into account the physical, psychological, physiological, emotional, and spiritual condition of an individual, and speak to all these dimensions in the course of teaching?”
This realisation has opened me up to the wondrous and world of possibilities in teaching yoga, but simultaneously, the responsibilities a yoga teacher bear not just in the studio but outside of the studio.
As Master Sree constantly reminds us through his classes “(he is) learning together with us”, that is how I now envision what it means to teach.
The best and only way to teach would be to practice what I teach.
In yoga sutra, one of the very first yamas we learnt was ahimsa.
a·him·sa: nonviolence towards oneself and all living creatures; an attitude of universal benevolence; the spontaneous expression of the highest form of love; the complete absence of violence from mind, body and spirit (Adapted from Yoga with Adriene)
Ahimsa extends beyond the concept of what we do unto others to what we do to ourselves. It redefines the fine line between pushing our limits and knowing when to stop pushing ourselves. As a fitness junkie (as much as this term makes me cringe, I do identify with it), I have, countless a time, pushed myself to work out hungover, sleep-deprived, sick, or injured. Having spent 12 years in dance training, a year and a half in functional training, and 3 years practicing yoga, I’m no stranger to injuries. My dance background has provided me with good knowledge on correct postures and how to prevent injuries but injuries remain inevitable. The belief that training when you’re tired makes you a better (read:stronger) athlete and that age-old adage “what doesn’t kill you make you stronger” have been ingrained in me. As much as I hate to admit it, they are, more often than not, himsa – committing violence to my own body.
Of course, there’s a need to distinguish between training when fatigued and training to fatigue. There is scientific evidence to support that training when fatigued can make one a better athlete through maintenance of strength and postural control.
No one could have said it better than B.K.S. Iyengar – “the pose begins when you want to leave it.”
But when does one cross the line? No one would know this better than ourselves and the onus is on us to treat our bodies with love. It has been, is, and will always be a continuous journey of learning about our body, our potential, and our limits.
I started practicising yoga regularly in late 2016 and this continued for another 1.5 year till I picked up high-intensity interval training at F45. I committed to training almost every day at F45 – five to six times week is a given, any less and I’d feel tremendously guilty for missing a work out. To ensure that I get to work out every day, the only way I could build it into my work-life schedule would be to get my work out done before work every morning. I would wake up at unearthly hours at 5.45am, leave my house at 6am, and start training before 7am. For someone who’s not naturally a morning person (a night owl, in fact), it remains a struggle waking up in the morning to date but I rationalised it as instilling discipline in myself.
F45, as a regimen and as the name of the work out suggests, is extremely intense in nature and physically demanding given that it works our heart at close to 80% of our maximum heart rate throughout the entire work out, for a good 35 to 40 minutes. Trainers often encourage and push us to challenge ourselves further, to jump faster, lift heavier, do more repetitions within the time limit given. In addition, given the community factor, one tends to push oneself harder when working out alongside other people. All the factors have pushed me, both physically and mentally.
Practicing yoga regularly again has been refreshing, to say the least. It brings back fond memories I have of where I first picked up yoga in Shanghai, practicing postures and inversions (yet still struggle with inversions years on).
Over the past year, I found myself going to yoga whenever I experienced higher-than-usual levels of stress or muscular tension. It is my go-to to take my mind off and to mindfully reconnect with my body. It is almost the opposite of F45 in its pace and forces me to take a step back to slow.
Yet coming back to practicing and delving much further into the spiritual and philosophy of yoga have led me to reconsider my current lifestyle…(to be continued)
During my very first YTT theory class (which was already the third official session), Master Sree asked “What is our reason for doing YTT?”. And he said, “everyone has a samsara, a reason for being and a reason that brought you here”.
Samsara: a Sanskrit word for the repetitive cycle of death and rebirth. Its literal translation, according to Yogapedia, would be “wandering through”. It encompasses the concept of reincarnation and the fact that what an individual does in their current life will be reflected, through karma, in their future lives.
What was my true motivation for doing YTT?
Indeed, this was a goal I’ve had ever since I started practicing yoga in three years ago in Shanghai and it is one of my 2019 resolutions. But I was never found sufficient resolve throughout the years to do the course, if not for a decision I made on impulse.
What am I looking for here and how am I going to find it?
I cannot pinpoint what it is that nudged me to or why now but I trust that my samsara has led me to Tirisula, to delve deeper into the practice of yoga, and to take my first steps towards teaching.
This block of 10 weekends, long as they had sounded before the course started, fleeting as they are now that we have come to the end, has given me the time and space to be introspective. Just as Master Sree has encouraged us to think about what we want to get out of YTT – by extension, think about what we want out of our lives.
What gives you meaning? What energises you?
And here we have it –
“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.”
– The Bhagavad Gita