It’s recommended that we never stop learning and we can keep our brains from turning to mush after retirement by learning something new. I have dabbled in yoga over the past few years and even did yoga with goats and on a paddleboard.
I’ve tried courses available online including the history of Egypt and some writing courses. I attempted knitting but did not get very far on that venture. Pete is teaching me how to golf and I do enjoy getting outside on the course in our golf cart, but I needed something more.
One day an advertisement showed up on my Facebook feed, which I admittedly spend too much time scrolling through, for an over 50 yoga teacher training program. The yoga institute is located six miles from my house in Florida so that was a positive. I never imagined myself as a yoga instructor. Aren’t those people super flexible and skinny? Don’t they emit vibes of pure Zen and light to all who meet them? And they speak a foreign language with all those Sanskrit terms? Who do I think I am – ha ha!
So I took out my credit card and signed up for the program. All I knew was that the class would meet on Tuesdays for about six months and I would take a weekend class in my choice of aerial or chair yoga certification. I’d probably opt for chair I figured as I hit enter on the application.
I arrived for our first class in October well-rested and excited to learn. Entering the grounds of Heartwood Yoga Institute and Retreat Center is like driving into a hidden rain forest filled with oversized palm trees and Live Oak trees covered in Spanish moss. The buildings blend in nicely with the landscape. I parked and immediately was welcomed by two friendly border collies hoping I’d toss them a ball, which I did. I followed another older woman as we walked towards an elevated porch-type room with all windows looking onto the grounds.
Denver taught us our first ninety-minute gentle yoga class and I felt pleased that I could do all the movements, especially that last resting pose called Shavasana. Her mother and owner Ginny Shaddock met us after class and gave us a tour of the property which includes a labyrinth, a chakra garden, an indoor yoga studio, a firepit area, meditation pavilion, a library, a small gift store, and enough rooms to house people who sign up for intensive classes and live on the property for up to three weeks.
The 14 classmates and I ate lunch together at picnic tables under the shade trees and then started the lectures and learning that would take up much of our time during the program.
We diligently opened our binders and took notes as the instructors broke each pose that many of us knew from classes, into bits and pieces. The most difficult for me then and now is remembering the Sanskrit term for each pose: so much easier to say “extended hand to big toe pose” than “Utthita Hasta Padangustasana” – in my opinion anyway.
We learned what parts to straighten and which parts to press into. Keeping the spine long and shoulders back, lifting the belly and dropping your tailbone are just some phrases we could use to help people do the pose correctly, if we did teach. Learning how to provide modifications for each pose or variations were given as well as how to use props. We asked to know the benefits for each pose which are plentiful and may eventually sink in as we teach. After the lecture, the opportunity to teach each pose to a small group of classmates was interesting and we began to bond as a group in our attempts at sounding like a yoga teacher.
With our binder and vidoes we learned the history of Yoga and the 8 limbs of Yoga or Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Ginny lead discussions on the Sutras which included topics like Karma, Ahimsa ( do no harm), Honesty, Purity, Non-hoarding, Discipline, and more. The conversations with my group of adults aged 35-75, including several raised in different countries, proved to be both interesting and enlightening.
Does Saucha mean purity of body through sweaty hot yoga or eating a vegan diet? Does Brachmachayra really mean sexual abstinence or is it more about practicing moderation – like not overeating or excessive drinking? And what exactly is Karma? When a person does something good and that individual’s positive actions seem to lead to positive consequences, that can be described as good karma. Karma is the sum of all a person’s actions, including actions in past and present lives – maybe? That could mean that bad deeds and bad actions will lead to bad karma – right? This all leads to intriguing conversations and further reading available by numerous books on the topics introduced in the 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training.
Anatomy and Physiology:
If I thought learning Sanskrit words was difficult, boy was I in for a surprise when I learned how much I did not know about the human body! Our instructor Denver led classes on body parts using Mr. Bones, a skeleton model, and a stretchy scarf to imitate muscle movements. I honestly felt like I was in a Charlie Brown TV show when she explained the origins, insertions and actions of the muscles. For example: Did you know that the Latissimus Dorsi originates on the spinous processes T7-T12, is inserted into the bicipital grooves of the humerus, and medially/internally rotates the arm. Me neither!
Of course, it wasn’t enough to take notes during class, we had to complete videos at home and take a test that required 100% to pass. For someone who has been the teacher for 30 years, this was quite a challenge. I kept reminding myself this was going to be good for building synapses in my declining and aging brain.
The Subtle Body:
The difference between Yoga and exercise classes comes down to the simple activity of breathing. Following your breath as you inhale and exhale through each pose are vital to the practice. We practiced a variety of ways to breathe like alternate nostril breathing and Ujjayi or ocean breath.
Meditation was introduced and practiced as well as assigned for homework. The benefits of meditation are worth considering adding to any home practice. Research shows it lowers blood pressure, decreases tension and anxiety, improves the immune system and elevates mood and behavior. It may even stop your brain from shrinking and help those synapses fire faster.
The Chakra system is composed of seven main areas of the body and particular characteristics within ourselves. A chakra is a spinning wheel of energy that can be balanced or found to be out of harmony. We took an assessment which determined the areas we needed to heal. For example, I discovered my root chakra was unbalanced. Healing practices include reconnecting with my body through physical activity, grounding myself by walking on grass or earth and eating grounding foods such as root vegetables. Easy enough to fix. Here’s a link to a quiz online I found if you want to try one: Chakra Quiz
We engaged in a Reiki workshop which was fascinating. We experienced Reiki on each of us in the workshop, then had a chance to use our hands as an energy force on our classmates. Hands are held a few inches away from the subject’s body, and sometimes touch the person. As I felt relaxed receiving Reiki, I gained a deep sense of appreciation for the art of energy healing. I’ve been practicing my Reiki skills on Harry, my dog, who gets anxious when we leave him home alone and on an African violet that hasn’t been blooming since we moved to Florida. Results are undetermined at this time.
The Business of Yoga:
In order to become certified, we were required to memorize three sun salutations and teach them in sequence to our classmates. Memorizing anything over the age of 55 is a stretch but somehow, by writing notes on index cards and multiple practice sessions on my own, I completed the exercise and passed the assignment. By this time, our group of 14 had dwindled to 12 and we were gathering together for Sunday brunch on one of our classmates covered lanais.
As we neared the end of our 200 hours, we planned to teach a class. This proved more challenging than I had expected but again, a great exercise in personal growth. With four of my classmates, I planned a portion of a 75 minute class on two separate dates. Each session lasted about 12 minutes and I needed to fill that time with postures that flowed using instruction including telling students when to inhale and exhale. I actually used my phone to video tape myself in practice and by watching myself was able to tweak my instruction before actually teaching real people.
As we came close to our last class, Denver took our her camera and suggested we all pose in the Chakra garden for photos. As we climbed fences and stretched our bodies into downward dogs, warrior poses and meditative trances we smiled at our new friendships and all we had learned. We discussed furthering our eduction with the 300 level teacher training offered next fall, retreats to the Bahamas and maybe a field trip to one fellow student’s home country of India. The possibilities from yoga teacher training are endless. Oh yes, and some of us have already begun to teach classes. We’ve gained confidence and joy knowing we can help others to embrace a practice we have all benefited from in one way or another.
As with any new journey, once we begin we realize, we have only just begun. So much more is available to learn about Yoga so I guarantee this will not be my last post on the topic. Stay tuned.