I’m in that stage in my yoga teacher training where I’m realising how little I actually know – that uncomfortable stage of the learning curve called ‘conscious incompetence’. But going back to basics can be both challenging and beautiful.
We have spent a lot of time with our teacher (Elena Voyce) working on poses we’ve all done hundreds of times before. The difference is that we’re doing them in a way that really makes us feel what we’re doing, rather than think about what we’re doing. With Elena’s guidance I’m learning how to engage the right muscles and notice how different parts of my body affect each other, whilst also correcting my alignment in poses that have become familiar and comfortable over the years.
Last weekend we spent a whole morning working on Chaturanga Dandasana (four-limbed staff pose, or ‘yoga push-up’). Now, we all had a hunch that we might be doing a few things wrong in this pose – it’s a notoriously difficult one to master. Little did we know that most of us simply can’t do it at all! Once we were taught which muscles we should actually be engaging, most of us could barely get into the pose, let alone hold it or move ourselves in and out of it into plank or upward facing dog. Unsurprisingly, we have been sent away with some basic exercises to work on over the next couple of months so that we can build the strength and gain the awareness we need do this pose properly!
In many ways, as someone who has been practicing yoga for years, this is all a little disheartening…but at the same time, it’s teaching me the importance of going back to basics, slowing down, and really feeling a pose, rather than just going through the motions of a sun salutation sequence once again. It’s a wonderful feeling to spend time in each pose, developing more awareness of my body and breath. Awareness is what yoga is all about after all, and I’ve been enjoying putting this into practice at home.
I’m also beginning to understand what Elena means when she talks about the difference between teaching from your head and teaching from your heart. I will only be able to teach from my heart when I am teaching from my own experience of feeling and being in each pose, noticing what happens to the flow of energy, what my muscles and joints are doing, and what sensations are awakened in my body, mind, and heart. Oh and, of course, acknowledging when it is time to back off and go back to basics!
By learning to feel these things myself, I will not only deepen my own practice but will be a more effective teacher as a result (hopefully!). This will rely on communicating to my own future students in a way that helps them access some of this awareness themselves, which will be the challenge for further down the line in the training. But for now, I’m enjoying the process and I know that my knowledge and understanding will continue to evolve over the coming months.
There will be more to come on this, I am sure! In the meantime, do share your thoughts below if you’ve had experience of going back to basics – whether that’s in your yoga practice or any other area of your life.