If you ever think you’re too small to effect change, try sleeping with a mosquito.
– The Dalai Lama
Part of our coursework on the six-month course involves observing three yoga classes, taking note of the teacher’s choice of language, modifications, and adjustments. For my first observation, I chose Guzel’s Sunday morning class. It was a beautiful Vinyasa flow class – one that I’ve enjoyed a number of times.
The hardest thing I found about observing was sitting there and not taking part! The second hardest was not reacting to a delightful display in the building opposite…part way through the observation, a shirtless man came out onto his balcony with one hand down his trousers. He frowned at the site of us, and seemed perplexed, as though trying to work out what we were doing. Like a gorilla, he scratched his man parts without a care in the world before gobbing over the balcony. Lovely. When observing, be prepared for distractions of all kinds!
Here are my personal notes from the observation….
Friday and Saturday’s classes were held at the Evolve Wellness Centre in South Kensington. Jonathan led us through the modified primary sequence, breaking down the poses along the way. He chose not to use music but did deploy the odd comment to put us at ease, including a joke about an over-eager Amazon delivery worker. He managed to connect this with cultivating an awareness of sound in and out of the room.
The class flowed better and, even though it was only my second time practising this sequence, I felt much less intimidated at the prospect of learning and leading these asanas for my exam in a few months time. We ended the evening with pose analysis looking at the first five poses in the standing sequence: Utkanasana, Ardha Utkanasana, Padangusthasana, Padahastasana, and Tadasana. I felt energised after class that evening and couldn’t wait to come back the next morning.
I prepared my usual pack for the day: mat, blocks, strap, notepad, pen, manuals, sustenance – including that all-important flask of tea, which my partner likes to call ‘Brit Fuel!’ On my way to class, I enjoyed seeing partygoers dressed from the night before in all states of inebriety. Some of them must have been going pretty hard because it was 8:30am…I was just glad I wasn’t hungover!
Joe led our morning’s practice. Full of energy, I was able to jump back and forth in most Caturangas. When Joe invited us to finish with 11 OMs, the class shook with stifled laughter because some people were able to hold their OMs much longer than others. Not being able to hold it for any longer, laughter rippled throughout the room. I sensed we were all trying desperately to not be disrespectful to each other – however, laughter got the better of us.
Jonathan joined us in the afternoon forstanding sequence pose analysis through till Vrksasana. We took note of adjustments, proper alignment , nd common errors. After practicing on each other, Jonathan then gave us two poses to write a script for in pairs. My partner Chris and I had Humble Warrior (Parsvottanasana) and Revolved Triangle (Parivrtta Trikonasana).
Group Yoga Class
Then something extraordinary happened. We were asked to line up our mats facing our partners and Jonathan said we would now be holding a yoga class. Say whaaa!? We took it in turns, each partner going next. It was a very profound moment for all of us to be ‘teaching’, following each other’s instructions in unison.
We were all really encouraging, be it a little thumbs-up or nod of the head. It felt like a safe space to make mistakes, after all, it was only weekend number 2! My turn came sooner than expected. Wide-eyed and full of some fear, I opened my mouth and voilà, my voice just came to me. It felt hugely empowering to guide a moving meditation, if only for a brief moment.
I thought I was doing well, but then going into Revolved Triangle, I blanked. I had instructed the class to hold up their left arms for at least three inhales and exhales (instead of one round). Everyone including me let out a laugh when I said the third round ‘And inhale…and…exhale…’ because I was clearly lost. The room then encouraged me to lengthen and twist and fold forward. Even though I’d made a mistake, it felt good because we were all learning in a positive environment.
Had someone asked me to hold an entire class that day, I would have been terrified. Instead, I faced my fear with everyone and really, we were all in the same boat!. Jonathan said some very complementary things about us and we all erupted with applause in a bit of bewilderment at what we’d just done. I felt like a Pokémon leveling up with experience points!
I’d enjoyed a large Peroni the night before with a dear friend Naomi, so naturally, it was harder to get going. Today we were at a venue in London Bridge. The room was lofty and bright and my Sankalpa was ‘To soften’ because I was feeling so stiff. Ian, another YogaLondon teacher, joined us today and my practice really benefitted from both his and Jonathan’s adjustments in Child’s pose (Balasana), Warrior two (Virabhadrasana 2) and Wheel (Chakrasana). By the end of the practice, we were all in a state of bliss.
Bandhas and Mudras
Next was a lecture on Bandhas and Mudras. It was fascinating and we learnt LOADS about the flow of prana around the body and what benefits the Bandhas bring during practice. We then did some pelvic floor work (Mula Bandha). Jonathan made us laugh by commenting that no one could look him in the eye as we squeezed our sphincters! My appetite was whetted for more yogic concepts and I was excited to experiment with bandhas in the coming weeks.
The YogaLondon tutor Sandra joined us and led an engaging class on pose analysis in balances. Then we got to teach, putting our scripts into practice! Pairing up, we had 25 minutes to teach Surya Namaskara A and B, as well as the first part of the standing sequence. My partner was great – she really knew her Sanskrit, used alignment queues and offered beautiful imagery.
When my turn came, it felt fab and flowing in the Sun Salutations in particular. It helped that we’d had time to practice these since we last met and I was guided by their natural rhythm. I concentrated on my breath and instructed as best I could. My Sanskrit wasn’t great but I just went for it and adjusted my partner along the way. It felt natural and I added in the odd funny comment. One thing I’m already planning as a teacher is to disarm the serious with humour, as I can see it really helps people relax! I finished pretty bang-on 25 minutes and it felt sort of natural teaching. My partner said she’d happily come to my classes afterwards!
We spent some time as a class providing feedback with two YogaLondon tutors, who both said how impressed they were that after only two weekends, we sounded like yoga teachers! Wow. As the weekend drew to a close, I could feel the stiffness seeping into my butt muscles and naturally my body wanted to stop there. Our homework was to learn the Sanskrit in the standing sequence, practice and listen to our bodies. Now that we’d actually taught a little, I couldn’t wait to play around at home with a script.
On my journey home, I looked at the Shard in all its glory feeling myself mirror the same strength in its splendor; and as the bus passed the future design district in London, I imagined the upturned earth was a metaphor for my yoga journey to date: foundations resetting to make way for stronger ones in the years to come.