Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The empty teacup and the learning mind

Judi Harvin

So this man goes to see this zen teacher. He says (demandingly, as he is a very busy man) "Teach me everything you know!"

The zen master looks at him, then slowly goes to the cupboard to get a cup, which he places on the table. He picks up his tea pot, and begins to pour. Soon the cup is filled, but he continues to pour. Water begins to run over the sides of the cup and on the table.

The man watches this, confused, then yells, "Stop! Can't you see the cup is filled? Stop pouring, the water is spilling all over the table!"

The teacher stops pouring and sets down the pot. Then, he looks at the blustering man. "You come to me asking for knowledge, but your mind is like this cup, already full. Anything I add will simply pour out; there's no room for more."

I love telling students this story, and my trainees have heard it more than once. As they are embarking on a learning path, it becomes so important to learn to clear, to empty the mind.

The terms "information overload", "decision fatigue", and "TMI" are bouncing about for good reason. We have access to more information and more choices than every before. Well managed, this can be a benefit. But, poorly managed, it can lead to confusion, poor focus, and an inability to absorb and digest information.

A teacher training offers so much information that the student can feel overwhelmed. And, that's even before popping open the laptop and looking for more information to satisfy that insatiable sweet tooth that inspired students have for learning everything yoga! How does a motivated, and very busy, student handle this desire to learn more? Here are some tips:

Stay on topic.  Look back at your notes for your previous training class. List the topics that were discussed, the asanas, philosophy, etc. Study these notes. If the class left you burning with excitement, look for more information on those topics. If you have limited time for your studies, focus it here.

Resist studying ahead of topic. Just like the rest of the world, the yogic world is full of opinions and often-conflicting methods. Come to class with an clear mind. Allow your instructor to present their teachings. There will be plenty of time to learn other methods. Study one first.

Develop your personal practice. You may feel this is a ripe time to try every style of yoga, and with as many teachers as possible. This can lead to confusion when in a training. Stay on one path. Reduce the number of classes you take and the exposure to different teachers and styles. Instead, get on your own mat at home and pull out your notes. Start to study, dissect and personally experience the alignment, pranayama and meditation techniques you learned in training.

Teach it! Speak it! Share it!  While I was attending my first teacher training, the instructor of the yoga class I was attending at the YMCA decided to leave and asked me if I wanted to take over his class. I thought this would be a great opportunity, so I said yes.

My training met on a Saturday. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I studied relentlessly, solidifying the alignment and cueing I had learned. Wednesday nights I showed up in class and taught those poses. I'll tell you, it was the best way to ingest, digest and process information.

Find a willing friend or family member and start teaching them what you are learning. So many people want to learn yoga, this should not be difficult to do. Set up something regular, so you have a rhythm and commitment. Over time, this experience will not only help old the lessons solidify, but will direct your focus toward the most pertinent information in future lessons.

In only a few short months you will complete your training, and have a good understanding of the foundational principles of yoga. But, perhaps the most important skill you will learn in your training is how to empty your cup, again and again, allowing space for the next bit of wisdom.

To learn more about Focus Yoga's Yoga Immersion and Teaching Skills Training, visit our website, www.focusyogastudio.com, call Judi at 708 471 0487, or email info@focusyogastudio.com.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Keeping balance in a body that resists change

As a practicing yogi, I have special powers. I can see into the future. If I wonder where I will be and what I'll be doing 5 minutes from now, I simply take a look around me. Chances are I'll be exactly in the same place as I am right now.

I heard that nugget somewhere and it stuck with me. The more I observed my actions, I saw it was true. If I am lying in bed in the morning, trying to talk myself into getting up, there is a good chance in 5 minutes I'll still be having the same conversation. If I am sitting on the couch, contemplating getting up and doing dishes, there is a good chance I'll still be there in 5 minutes, dishes congealing on the counter. The truth is, our bodies and our minds like to stay right where they are. They don't like change.

This may sound discouraging, since we all would like to be productive and active. We all have something we want to change, and discovering that we are battling nature, human and otherwise, is not helpful. Or is it?

In Ayurveda, there is a saying "Like attracts Like". In Ayurvedic terms, this means the elements that are strongest in our systems tend to absorb those same elements from our environment. If you're a light, airy, dry, cold Vatta-type, you'll feel especially cold and stiff on a windy, frigid winter day. A hot, fiery Pitta-type might feel uncomfortably hot and aggravated after a spicy meal. And, a sweet, solid, relaxed Kapha-type might never get off the sofa after consuming a heavy hot fudge sundae!

When our elements are in proper balance for us, all is well. We follow healthy routines. We can compensate for small environmental shifts. And, because the body and mind doesn't like change, we crave foods that will keep us in this balance. We have the energy to create healthy meals and exercise appropriately. We feel strong and happy!

But, what if a strong environmental shift comes along? What if we are hit with a big change, such as a move, job loss, heat wave, hectic schedule, disturbing argument, etc? What if the forces around us are so intense they bring out out of balance?

Well, same thing, only worse. If the heat in a fiery person is aggravated, they will become even hotter, maybe looking for conflict or craving heated physical exercise. An sad experience can cause a person struggling with heaviness and lethargy to crave a lie-in on the couch with a tub of Ben and Jerry's. And a major change can cause a disorganized, airy type to resist any attempts at routine and organization, puttering aimlessly while any real production ceases, wondering where the keys are.

Yes, this is nature. This is to be expected. Yet, knowledge is power. This leads me to my final, most exciting point:

Opposites create balance.

If Like qualities increase Like qualities, then Opposite qualities decrease Like qualities. (Catchy, huh?) So, when you are feeling out of balance, (and rest-assured, you know when that is), take a look at your cravings. Ask yourself, is indulging in this activity or food-type stuff going to make me feel better? Or, will it aggravate my imbalance? Can I put off indulging in XYZ, and try something totally opposite? At least for a few minutes?

This does require detachment and discipline. You need to recognize the imbalance, and look at it for what it is; too much of something in your system. Too much heat, cold, heaviness, airiness. Then, you need to determine what the opposite quality might be, and apply.

If you are feeling scattered and unfocused, resist indulging in mindless internet surfing. Try 10 minutes of meditation. Organize a drawer that you can later look at in pride and feel more grounded.

If you feel heavy and lethargic, eat a lighter meal, such as leafy greens or fruit. Go for a brisk walk.

If you are hot and irritable, resist the cardio-boxing class. Instead, pull out your bolster. Indulge in some restorative yoga and deep breathing. Then, make yourself a decadent ice cream cone.

Yep, someone has to get the treat.