Wednesday, November 9, 2011

More on the Horizon

Well, its been a busy few days at home with emails, phone calls, writing projects and lots of time on my mat. Thank you everyone who took time to send me and Darren words of encouragement about the School of Yoga. The School of Yoga will offer courses and trainings in various locations over time but first look for our offering in Tucson, AZ at Yoga Oasis and in San Marcos, TX at The San Marcos School of Yoga.  Darren and I are working on the curriculum now so expect more details to come and soon we will even have a website. (You can tell we are figuring this out as we go along, right? Its not like we are without ideas and experiences to draw upon but honestly we didn't plan to leave Anusara Yoga until the day we resigned so its not like we had some perfectly orchestrated and smooth exit plan.)

One thing I know we both want to do is streamline the  200-hour Intensive/Teacher Training curriculum towards personal practice through asana exploration, contemplation and introductory pranayama and meditation. The teacher training will be asana-focused, not philosophically-focused and will be aimed at helping new and seasoned teachers understand the postures and how to teach them in the scope of a 90-minute public class. One thing that I have noticed over the years is that with the curricular emphasis being so heavy on philosophy, heart themes and alignment principles, a huge chunk of knowledge isn't being conveyed. I call it "pose knowledge".  We both want to re-infuse the alignment of asana, not just "actions" and put the intense philosophy and heart themes a bit on the back burner. I see that as an advanced teaching technique and not necessary in order to be inspiring.

I am passionately interested in helping teachers find an authentic voice for their words of wisdom and the deeper teachings they may have to share, but I am not convinced that heart themes are always the way to do that nor do I think the belong in the introductory teacher training curriculum. The amount of time they take in training just isn't optimal, nor is the amount of time new teachers are devoting to try to get good at them. They could be learning how to sequence better, how the poses fit together, how to use props, how to say more with less, etc. instead. I see so many other teaching skills as more essential when you get right down to it.

(Okay, so that is another difference...I told you there were some differences that would emerge over time. Like, think about it- I was an Anusara Teacher Trainer who wasn't convinced that heart themes are necessary! That's a conflict. I mean that little thing is central to our method and super important to John. And I used heart themes in every class and am pretty damn good at training other people in how to use them also. So, its not like a big and huge philosophical conflict but still, relative to teaching methods and outcomes, its huge.)  

And before everyone out there who loves heart themes rises up in defense of the heart theme, let me be clear: I LOVE A GOOD THEME. I do. And I think that  they can really help bring meaning to the asana. I am into the conscious use of metaphor in life- on and off the mat. I see the benefit. Please do not share with me all the reasons to use them. Don't you think after 12 years of teaching this stuff I have a good list of reasons myself? I get it. I do. I just do not think that heart themes, by definition, help make classes better.  And I also think that  many times they are cumbersome, time-consuming, false and distracting. And, call me crazy, but I am pretty sure I am going to be able to still be pretty darn inspiring without them. And I think the beginner teacher has enough on their plate without having to tie an alignment principle to an adverb. I mean really, using them as a tool is fine by me. I will still teach people how to use them but requiring them is not my thing. I can't make a case for it as a requirement.  I just can't. (There I said it. Oh, the freedom!)

And speaking of upcoming training opportunities, I have a 100-hour teacher training coming up here in Texas. The training takes place over three long weekends and we will cover some pretty fun stuff. (And even heart themes! Oh the irony...)  If you have questions about the training, let me know.   For information you can also see the program description by clicking HERE.

All right then, until next time!


PerfectSpeed said...

Amen! And hurray for Yoga Skool! Much more needed than yoga style-kool... Seriously, though, thanks again for putting into words what I have quietly grappled with for some time now, but what has, as it does, turned out to be an opportunity to make my practice work for me - as a practitioner of the practice, as a teacher of the practice, and as a wife, among other things.
I can't wait to study more with you. Please be in touch about anything you are planning/thinking of in the DC area (we are friends on Facebook, for example). Thanks.
Anna K. McGlew

Patricia said...

Dear Christina,

Much respect & appreciation for you and your decisions, explanations & reasoning. You & Darren have brought new freedom to me & my teaching. I get it & agree with you.

I am highlighting & underling paragraphs in your new book... to weave into my classes and... life!

I feel like I know you so well from your writings and seeing you occasionally.

here is the link to the photos I took of you and Squaw Vally

Patricia Becker
Palo Alto

Dale said...

I think that spending less time on teaching heart themes is a great idea (no that any is asking :-) for several reasons. First, yes, it is an advanced topic, and seminaries spend lots of semesters trying to teach preachers in training how to actually preach - to clearly and effectively transmit their heart/faith experience to the listener. That is a huge amount of time.

Next, really, I think you're either a natural at this, or you're not, and it's going to be painful and a bit intimidating. It can really suck the good energy and confidence out of a TT class.

And I hear alot of teachers who try to use a heart theme, and do so inconsistently (me, for example), or give a theme that is frankly baffling to the class, or just start babbling bullsh*t with emotion words in it (and I've listened to myself do this, too.)

Finally, I personally, in more than a decade of practicing Anusara (arguably listening to the best heart themes) remember very few times when the heart theme really resonated with me & became an integral part of my practice experience that day.

I used to practice at the feet of Liz, and she is a master of communicating the wisdom of the heart. I could listen to that woman teach for hours! We don't even share the same worldview, philosophy, or religion, but her words are so powerful that she takes my heart on a journey that I feel the richer for. But even there, in my practice, the theme doesn't really integrate into my postural practice - in fact, I might actually be paying more attention to thinking about the theme, and maybe not as much as I could thinking about the asana....

Finally, some of my students do benefit from my heart themes, but this is almost always when I craft it well, deliver it well, and then draw on it throughout the class to emphasize the attitude that I hope they will manifest represent in their poses that day. That doesn't come together very often, and I've done it hundreds of times.

So, yeah, good graduate work :-).

Barefootlotuss said...

I personally never fully aligned with the idea of "heart themes" and don't feel like the absence of them necessarily detracts from the experience of yoga or diminishes yoga. In some cases depending on the skill of the teacher, they can be ungrounding, distracting or lead to a feeling of being encroached upon or preached at. Having said that, a teacher's alignment with a truth or insight can create an atmosphere that leads to a more profound connection to yoga.

Scott Newsom said...

Christina, very interesting comments. I am seeing other advanced yoga teachers and yoga teacher trainers make similar comments and I see this as a sort of subtext to the process of developing standards not only for teaching yoga, but teaching teachers to train other Yoga teachers (huge gaping hole there in yoga). We need to take more steps toward systematic identification of the foundational elements of teaching Hatha/Vinyasa Yoga that do generally apply across different major styles and focus on those in our 200-hour trainings. Standardization like that would also allow for a meaingful certification process for yoga teacher training at the basic level. Then, with that foundation, each teacher would be free to develop their own syle while keeping their students safe. Huzzah!

Elizabeth said...

Interesting thoughts. I suspect--but don't have any actual knowledge--that in the beginning, those working through the Anusara teacher training curriculum were already yoga teachers with plenty of "how to teach the asanas" under their belts and that now that is less true (as most people come to the teacher training are taking it as their first/onyl training).

On a a totally different note, I hope you and Darren continue to teach using technology (e.g. via YogaGlo, Yoga Therapy Web, etc.) so that if we can't go to you, we can at least stream you to us :)

Julie Taylor said...

Thanks for this new layer. I get it, and I agree.While heart themes have their uses, not everyone in the room may connect to it and in a way may exclude them from honoring their own experience. The asanas have much to teach us on so many levels; I'm not surprised BKS Iyengar once said that we are beginners for the first 20 years of practice!! Wishing you and Darren all the best - new limbs on the tree! Exciting!

erinhoulihan said...

I think the recent events and your decision to retire your A. Certification (and the process that led up to it) is really fascinating. There is one A. Inspired teacher at my studio, and she's fantastic and seems to have this unbelievable knowledge of the human body. But I agree with some of the previous comments that the heart-orientated themes rarely resonate with me. I can never seem to wrap my little head around them. I would literally have to be in a certain mood or headspace to even take that class, and now I see that Anusara yoga just doesn't do it for me. Before I thought "I just cannot go that deep today". For me, it's the yoga class with one simple pearl of wisdom, quote or thought that gets me searching/inquiring for more. My yoga experience in the beginning was exploring asanas and put your hand here, leg there, shoulders down. I feel with just asana alone is a huge door opener in and of itself. Physical, yes, but with physical awakening, so follows the heart, mind, soul.

oh another thought..there have been a couple of times where the heart theme just fell apart in class. So I do think you have to know what the hell you're doing. Thanks!!

ConnerB said...

As an initiated Kriya yogi first, in the tradition of Paramahansa Yogananda, and as an Anusara Inspired teacher second, I've always found the Anusara system lacking when it comes to meditation and pranayama practice. I draw on my kriya training to get my students deeper into the core of practice...meditation and pranayama. So kudos to you for recognizing this and putting more emphasis on this in your new teacher trainings!

Regarding heart themes, I've always felt the same way as you. They were difficult for All OF US in Anusara teacher training to grasp. My thoughts are if we're going to practice asana let's practice asana!

I was just happy that I was trained in Vinyasa and Anusara because the vinyasa training taught me how to better sequence and teach a class. The Anusara training taught me the principles of alignment and I was so grateful to have found it! The two together made me a much better teacher. So hopefully you and Darren will be able to create an even better system.

All blessings,

gretel said...

I am super excited for your & D's new yoga school! Especially after reading this. I like a good theme as a student. But as a never-taught-a-real-class-before teacher in the middle my first teacher training, the theme part stresses me out. (Remember the exercise in TT2 where we had to: talk our group into the post, find the common misalignment, relate that to the theme, do a demo with commentary about the theme, then get them back in to the pose? WAY over my head.) What you said in TT1 about elevating the general level of teaching by safely and effectively getting students into and out of poses with basic alignment cues really resonated with me. I'm looking forward to more on that in TT3! I have so much gratitude for your teaching Christina.

kwajnman said...

These frank statements about heart themes make me feel so relieved! I have felt and been made to feel all wrong for not 'getting' the heart themes and now it seems it not only me. The quality of the yoga is actually what makes a difference for me.

Roo said...

Hi Christina,
I'm excited to meet you in Flagstaff Dec 2. I'm also joining you and Darren through your immersion and beyond. I love your blog.
Many Blessings, Paula