Friday, September 17, 2010

East Timor in pictures

Dearest readers, this past week I have been up in the rural country, and tomorrow I am heading to Komodo national marine park in Indonesia for some underwater fun!  I will be back in about 2 weeks time so in the meantime, here are some images of this country that I love, for you all to enjoy.

And if you're in the neighbourhood... Well, come on over!

Mount Matebian (All Souls) at sunrise
Looking north towards the ocean
A girl waters the paddy fields before (hopefully!) school
Majestic Banyan
Local pots for sale
A woman sprays water over her produce to stave off the heat
This man asked me to take his picture with his goat. :)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Teachers, Students and Ethics: Oh my!

This post was inspired by the discussion on It's All Yoga Baby around the ad featuring Jivamukti teachers from a NY studio posing naked for PETA.  Roseanne ends her post asking:

"Despite these positive aspects, there still is a  slight breach of professionalism in this ad – these are working yoga teachers, who will encounter students and potential students in class and in their communities. I think it illustrates the precarious and awkward place that yoga teachers hold in our culture, somewhere between entertainer and health professional."

A commenter on her blog, Dharma teacher Frank Jude of Mindfulness Yoga (yay, new blog!), left this insight that touched me profoundly:  

"Seeing my teacher in this and other social situations most definitely helped to de-construct any potentially de-railing projections, and did so without at all diminishing my respect and appreciation for him as a teacher. What it may have done — and I think this is a good and important teaching — is make it clear to me that ‘the teacher’ is a role; it’s not about the man/woman. When I take the teacher’s seat, this understanding leads me to have great reverence for the role without taking myself so seriously."

Which brings me to muse...  When we are teaching yoga, it IS a role we are enacting for a specfic period of time.  I personally can feel it pour down over me like a cloak when the clock strikes the start time.  It's like a switch goes on, it's a muse, it's a groove!  And when the final namaste is said and the lights go on, I feel it lift again and I become myself.  And thinking about Frank's comment, I don't want my students to put me on a pedestel, to think that yoga teachers are somehow elevated people, that we don't have flaws and beliefs and good days and bad days.

In Donna Farhi's book Teaching Yoga: Exploring the Teacher-Student Relationship, the author talks about keeping "healthy boundaries" and maintaining a "necessary distance" between the teacher and the student.  In her view, maintaining this distance is a way of honouring the deeply transformative process that the student may be undergoing, and keeping it sacred by maintaining the formality of the relationship.  She also says that casual relationships with students are often more serving of the teacher's needs than the students.

Farhi goes on to say: "I have come to recognize that when a student becomes a personal friend, my ability to serve her as a teacher has effectively ended."  The key concept here is service.  Farhi isn't suggesting that you can never be friends with your students, just that the changed dynamic of the relationship and the recognition of the student as your "peer" will diminish your effectiveness as a teacher. Farhi suggests that the student may or may not decide to seek another teacher, or may be quite happy to maintain a "student-peer" position in class and a friend outside of class.

This example is specific to the student who becomes a friend.  But what about the friend who becomes the student?  When I was first teaching, I felt awkward about having my friends in my classes and found it hard to find my groove as a teacher, or would refrain from chanting at the end of class thinking "what will my friends think?".  As I have grown as a teacher I have become more comfortable with my role as the teacher and more able to easily slip into it.  And my friends who come to my classes also seem comfortable and respectful of my role: I have never had anyone try to use our friendship to modify what they get in their yoga class!

My musings also lead me to this question: as yoga teachers, how do we see ourselves?  In my yoga class, I strive to create an atmosphere that allows people as much choice as they want, a place that embraces all body types, beliefs, ages, sexualities as equals.  But outside the classroom I still have my own beliefs, body type, age, sexuality etc. that define me as a person, and that are important to my own identity. While I would never press these on anyone else in a yoga class, outside the classroom they give me guidance in my choices and make me who I am.  Where the boundaries exist are different for every different person I guess.

I live in a very small community and I teach classes to my friends, and some of my students become my friends.  Beyond these friends, I also see my yoga students at work, at the beach, in restaurants, and at parties. And (after the initial shock of seeing someone in another context!) I have never felt weird about that (I mean, this town is so small that it would be weird if I didn't see them!).  I think that if we are uncomfortable with our students seeing us outside the classroom, it's partly because we might be uncomfortable with ourselves. Perhaps we feel like we aren't living a "yogic" enough life.  So are we ourselves are holding ourselves up to some unrealistic ideal?

What do you think?  How does Farhi's "necessary distance" contrast to the notion of not putting the teacher on a pedestal?  Can you be friends with your students or teachers and still be effective as their yoga teacher or student? How do you feel about seeing your teachers or students in social spaces?  Do teachers have a responsibility to their students to live a "yogic" life off the mat?

Or should we all just go for ice-cream? ;)

Monday, September 6, 2010

I dream in yoga

Last night I dreamed that I was teaching a yoga class in a huge room packed with people.  Every single person there was a beginner, and in addition, half were Japanese tourists.  It was chaos... Everyone was facing every which direction and kept coming off the mats to crowd in front of the room to watch me demonstrating the sun salutations.  And I was telling them, no, just go back to your mats and give each other room and give it a go...  And I couldn't find a playlist that I liked, didn't recognize anything on my iPod which is when I realised in the dream that it wasn't in fact my iPod at all but Eco Yogini's iPod and the two must have gotten swapped in the last class.  :)

Now this sounds like it could have been a stressful dream but it wasn't really.  In fact I woke up highly amused.  I don't really do dream symbology but there is something kind of satisfying about trying to put order into chaos, and making the best of what ensues.

Readers, how does Yoga figure into your dreams?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Review: The Yoga Learning Center

Image from the Yoga Learning Center

Last week I was contacted through my blog by the Yoga Learning Center, a website that offers video and audio yoga classes.  They offered me a free membership to check out the site and post a review on my blog.

Given that I live overseas and don't have regular access to a yoga teacher or studio, I have often wondered if such websites could be good learning options for people like me.  So over the next few weeks I'll be trying out some of their classes and reviewing them, as well as the site in general.  Exciting! 

Site Overview

My first impression is that the website is nicely designed and it's easy to navigate, which is great.  Upon browsing around I found I liked how easy it is to search for a class that suits your purposes.  The site lets you easily browse classes by media type (video or audio), instructor, experience level or class length, or a combination of the above.  You can also save a class to your 'favourites' so that you can easily go back to a practice you particularly enjoyed.

The site presents a variety of audio and video classes including asana - physical postures - pilates and meditation practices, varying in length from about 10 minutes to 90 minutes.  At first glance there seem to be a wide variety of levels, from active to restorative, and styles including prenatal yoga, and "yoga for the young at heart" (awesome! Senior yogis rock!).  The site also provides a guide to the main asanas or postures (with photos and descriptions), a blog-style section with articles on various aspects of yoga, and a forum where members can discuss yoga with each other or post questions for the site's instructors.

One thing that I like so far is that the overall language of the site, particularly the asana descriptions, emphasise listening to your "inner wisdom" and respecting your body.  Another thing, pertinent to this week's raging debate in the yoga blogsphere, is that their asana photographs feature "normal people" (although all women) as their models.  It's a small library so there are only 3 or 4 models, but it's refreshing to see a variety of ethnicities, ages and body types demonstrating the poses.

I'm going to start testing the classes with a beginner's mind, so stay tuned for a review of some of the level 1 and 2 practices next week.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Following the signs

Royalty free image from:

Following the signs... That's what Suburban Yogini did this week, as you can read here.

We have all been through those times when it seems as though the whole Universe is pointing us in a certain direction.  It starts as an idea, that like a seed once planted begins to take root and push its way inevitably upwards.  We water this seed with our dreams, our ideas, our gut instincts, until finally it pushes its delicate head above the surface, blooming and blossoming from an idea into a definitive path, a signal marker pointing the way.  All that remains is to start down the path.

Yoga helps us to recognise these signs.  And by putting us in touch with our selves, Yoga also helps us to make the choice to follow them.  For me, this is Satya - truthfulness - the desire to be true to yourself.  Yoga helps us to realise that we are always choosing our reality - choosing how we act, whether or not to react, how we perceive a situation and what we do as a result.  Yoga helps us to live more mindfully by going from a reactive frame of mind to a proactive frame of mind.  So instead of letting our bodies, emotions and minds make choices for us, we are mindfully choosing how we experience life as it comes to us.

Where are the signs pointing for me?  Well, you'll have to wait a little longer to find out!  But there are things in the works, so stay tuned!!

Readers, what are the signs in your lives telling you?