Tuesday, October 27, 2015

My mantras

I'm not very traditional when it comes to meditation. I meditate pretty much everywhere. I don't necessarily close my eyes unless I feel very clouded at the moment. I find meditating in the car works well for me as I can be alone and able to afford some quiet time. Two things seem to calm me down instantly are a warm cup of tea or a long ride. I don't mind traffic as I think it's an opportunity to be by myself and plenty of time to think and meditate without distraction of music. Over the years, I have many mantras that I have recite often while driving/meditating. Here are a few if you'd like to know

Sometimes I'm not a very nice person but most the time I am loving and kind and that's good enough. I think I'm improving as a human being but I find it hard to change myself completely. Honestly, I don't know if I'd be happy being 100% loving and kind. When someone hurts my feeling purposely and repeatedly, I just don't see the need to be nice and all kind about it. Now I'm a little older, I discovered another option to let go off the relationships that bring out the worst in me.

I love my husband and he's doing his best. This got me through the first few stressful months of being a new mom. Breastfeeding meant I was on all the time. Even when I'm not breastfeeding, I was pumping. My chronic hives became uncontrollable accompanied with hot flashes. It made me very cranky. My perfectionist and control side sometimes got the best of me. I sometimes yelled at my poor husband for being not efficient enough, not being a good enough dad, not caring enough...but seriously, deep inside I know I can't ask for a better husband. When we're in pain, running on a couple hours of sleep while being responsible for a little human whose only way of communication is crying, it drives us to our darkest place. She was lactose intolerant, when she's not refusing to latch on the breasts, she would punch the bottle after every sip because she's hungry, frustrated, and having gas pain all at once due to the milk. We both went through so much as new parents, he really tried his best, I had to keep that in mind. While I complained like it's my full time job, he never said anything unkind. He was always there for us, feeding me while I feed our baby. Putting her to bed while I take a nap. Cooking/getting us food while I pump milk. Giving massage like a millions times a day. He has done so much. You'd think I would understand but my mind was clouded with the baby cry. So I started this mantra in the midst of it all. It worked. It grounded me and my expectations of others.

She can't speak. Crying is the only way for her to communicate with me. Instead of getting frustrated, hating myself, hating the fact that I had a baby, or hating her for keep crying, I focused on listening to her, listening to different types of cries. She taught us her different cries. A one second cry meant I peed my pants. A longer 5-10 seconds meant I'm hungry. Kicking the bottle meant the milk hurt my belly. Her various sounds meant hold me, carry me around the house, keep walking until your legs turn jelly. She's precious. It took us time but we finally realized she's a great communicator, we just need to become good listeners. And we did, for her. This mantra has helped me so much in being more patient with my daughter. It's almost like when you say Namaste at the end of class. It means 'The light in me see the light that resides in you'. It means I can see how beautiful your soul is beneath all the masks you may put on. It means I may disagree with you, you may even be a bad person sometimes, I still see the light in you that want to shine through.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Are We a Core Obsessed Culture?

Like most Americans, I've been a little obsessed with my core. Could it be because our brain has been hardwired that a strong core means this? A beautiful abs like Jillian Michaels?

If you live with low back pain, knee pain, or even sciatica, by all means, you need to strengthen your core, but make sure you understand what core is and how to strengthen it first. It's not just our abs. It's our abs and more. If we keep focusing on getting that six packs and flat tummy with crunches, what we will end up with is a very nice belly and a very weak back. Hello low back pain and knee pain! Have you found yourself doing "core" work every day, everything is about the "core"? When was the last time you contract your back as much as you did with your "core"?

What is core, anyway?

As I mentioned in the beginning, I was so into strengthening what I thought was core that I neglected my backside. Only the past few years, I started spreading this balance and knowledge into my training and I've felt a big difference in my body and energy. I feel sturdy and very balance on my feet. The benefit showed itself more profoundly during pregnancy. I was healthy, never in pain, was able to maintain a gentle yoga practice and climbing throughout.

What I have found works for me is a combination of rock climbing, a softer and more mindful yoga practice, and Yoga Tune Up with a focus on rolling with therapy balls.

Hopefully you've found this post helpful or at least pique your interest in learning more about core stability and strengthening before diving deeply into action.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Beginner Yoga Student Survival Guide

I'm glad you've finally decided to take your first yoga class. Congratulations on this big step. It takes huge effort and motivation to make it happen. Many years ago, I came to yoga hoping to lose weight. After a few short months of regular visits, I shredded all the extra weight I gained due to bad diet and stress. I went from size 4 to 0. I could have stopped going but I didn't because in addition to weight control benefit, I felt happy and became more positive after every yoga class. Somehow, I became a calmer and nicer person, not only at home, but also at work. Believe it or not, I used to yell and lose my temper very often. Yoga doesn't only help me to look better (other exercises can do that too) but also feel better in the inside. So, welcome to your first class. I'm writing this guide hoping to help you navigate this new practice and maybe have a good experience and fun as a beginner.

1) It's a workout so be prepared to sweat. Many came to yoga thought it'd be a very relaxing and stretching on the floor kind of exercise but ended up sweating a ton. It could be a very strenuous exercise.
  • Bring water. Take small sips during class
  • Wear a top that a little more fitted around the chest area, a little lose around the belly is fine.
  • Don't wear socks, you need your bare feet to grasp the mat
  • If you have a mat towel, bring it. Beach towel will work too
2)  Come 10-15 minutes early to introduce yourself to the instructor. Please let us know if you're new. If you have any injuries, definitely inform your instructor. In my class, I do offer special variations for your condition if you talk to me before class.

3) Pick a spot in the back row and in the middle. Learning yoga is like learning a new language. You may need to watch, observe, and mimic for a few weeks until you get the names of all the poses. Correct alignments and strength will come with time.

4) Please don't come to Power Yoga, even if you're an avid athlete. Yoga is a different sport on its own. As I mentioned above, treat it like a new language. You could be fluent in Spanish but still can't speak a word in Vietnamese. It's like that. Start out with a Gentle or a Vinyasa Flow class. If you're reading this blog, it's very likely you're going to my class today. My classes are beginner friendly. It doesn't mean that it will be easy, it's simply implied that I offer many variations. We often start a pose with a beginner variation. As you hold a pose, others may take on more complicated (not neccesarily harder) variations.

5) If you get very tired during class, unable to breathe, feel a little nauseated, take a break, in child pose. I know it's very tempting to just sit or lying on your back, but don't. You don't want to release all the engagement in the core and muscles that you have built up. Stay in child pose, it's the best pose for recuperation. Just like you don't feel bad when someone who studied Vietnamese for many years speak fluent Vietnamese in front of you, don't feel bad when others don't need break and you do. You're not weak, you're just new. When we're new at something, it's hard because in addition to doing a pose, you have to listen carefully to every single freaking instruction, and you have to look around to see what everyone is doing and how they're doing it. It's so much work. That's why you're tired.

6) Get your props for every class: 1 block and 1 strap. Do use your props. Even if you're very flexible, sometimes you still need prop due to your anatomical proportion. Props are your friends, not enemy. Using props are not a sign of your weakness. In fact, prop can make a pose so much more challenging. You'll see. So have them handy around your mat.

7) Ask questions. I often get "How do I do headstand?" from first time students. This is like asking me to teach you how to sing in Vietnamese while you haven't yet learned 'Hi' and 'How are you?". It's hard for me to teach you after a first few classes. But I will, ask me that question again in a few months. So ask many questions, but ask the ones related to basic poses. Those are more important, those are your foundation. Good stuff will build on top of those. Good questions to ask:
  • Can you show me how to do Warrior 1?
  • Can you show me how to do Downward Facing Dog?
  • Can you look at my chaturanga?
  • My knee doesn't feel good during this pose, can you give me a modification?
  • What exercises can I do to relieve the tightness in my shoulders?
8)  Yes, you will lose weight, give it a few months. In addition to fitting in your clothes better, you will definitely feel better. If you go only once a week, it may be only barely enough to keep you healthy. Yoga is not magic, diet and stress management outside of yoga room are just as important. I recommend practicing 2-3 times a week.

I'm very sure you have more questions and concerns that I did not cover in this short guide. Hopefully I get to see you in person and you can ask me then.

Have a good practice. You're only beginner once. Have fun with it.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

How To Teach With Compassion

1) Give variations for difficult poses
I remember when I just started going to yoga, it wasn't love at first chaturanga. I hated it. I couldn't do a single pushup. I was weak and not flexible. I often wished someone could have given me more adjustments and help with how to do a pose, any pose. My practice changed when I started taking classes with Cindy. I love her juicy adjustments and great alignment cues. Her cues just work for me, some I didn't get at first, but then one by one it came to me, it starts to make sense as my body and practice evolves. However, my practice has never been that impressive. I've never moved like a ballerina. Most days, I resemblance a big and not-so-muscular dude. Maybe that's one of the reasons why I can't dance. My very humble beginning is a constant reminder for me to take care of my new students. I always offer variations for challenging poses or modifications for different conditions because it gives my regulars something to work towards to and beginners a pose that is more palatable. I know what it feels like to just sit there, watching others flow from one advanced pose to another, had nothing to do, just wanna pack my mat and leave. It's ego shattering. The people who can't do most of these poses are those who need yoga the most. Give them options so they can have a smoother start or just a gentler practice if they choose to. I always give Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, and etc to a peak pose so nobody would feel left out, everyone is doing something. I always emphasize and encourage everyone not to stay in Stage 0. I encourage them to work towards it. If they don't feel safe coming to the full expression of the pose today (or ever), stay at its variation, and still get the benefits

2) Don't over teach beginners
Beginners are eager and willing to try out anything. They came with an open mind, a willing body, a big ego, and sometimes high expectation of what their body can do. Regardless of their background, whether they can do a pushup or not, I usually only give them a few adjustments on things I consider red flags, 2-3 adjustments max during their first class, then I let them be. I think it's confusing and overwhelming enough to learn all these poses. I'm here to support and guide everyone's practice. I'm not a yoga nazi. Giving too many corrections make students feel like a failure. It's not nice to continuously distract someone and keep telling them "No, it's wrong", "do this, do that." They're new, their alignments are probably off. Sometimes it seems like they don't even listen to you, only because they have no idea what you're talking about, or they can't see or feel their alignments. As a beginner, I remember thinking (very loudly in my head): "What the hell is external rotation?", "Dude, my ribcage doesn't draw in", "Stop telling me to engage my abs, it's freaking engaged, okay!" So as a teacher, I've learned to be patient with regulars and beginners alike. People often just have a hard day at work or at home. They probably need a pat on their back in child pose or a shoulder press in savasana more than anything else. Some day, most of us just need a human touch, someone to tell us "You're doing okay", or "I'm here for you."

3) Set students up for success
If you have a peak pose (often challenging pose) in mind, make sure you set everyone up for success by preparing their body and mind properly. It sucks to see all your hard work go to waste. It sucks to feel like you're sitting out, watching others do their things, watching those "advanced" students doing crazier variations. It's defeating. It hurts our feeling. It sucks not to be able to even try the pose. Proper preparation is a way to take care of your students.

4) Read the mood of the room
Sometimes I walked into class and find everyone in savasana, it's a sign that I need to warm them up slowly and give everyone a sweet and longer cool down sequences. It's an art to work with people's mood. It's our way to connect as a teacher. You don't need to tell them I care about you or I know how you feel, they will know it, just by the way you guide their breath and movements. If most my students seem active and looking for a challenge, I'd give them a challenging class with weird combination of binds that are often accompany a different pose, so their mind will be engaged and become focused, end with deeper (more flexible) floor sequences to challenge their ego. My goal was to switch students from a physical mindset to a mental and inward awareness. I'm still working on reading the room. Sometimes I don't do a great job but I always try to best.

5) Give hands on adjustments
Hands on adjustments are nice. It doesn't have to be a correction, a shoulder press in savasana is a nice gesture. It's always my favorite. It really helps me to relax. Sometimes I didn't realize I still hold in tension after class. Since I become a teacher, I don't get adjustments often. I really miss it. I think other fellow teachers are afraid that it hurts my feeling. I'm actually okay with it. I love adjustments. Hands on adjustment can be a little intimidating at first. I was against it in the beginning due to my fear of hurting others. However, the more I teach, the more I become more comfortable with adjusting students. I started with a simple shoulder press in savasana, then move on to lengthening the spine in downdog. I focused on different adjustments/assisting in Down Dog for a while. My following ones were: Half Moon, Tree pose, chaturanga, and Up Dog. After these, I became very comfortable and started doing it in different series targeting back, twist, forward fold, arm balance, and inversion. This is a essential skill, it makes you stay connected to others and in a way make you a better teacher. It just takes practice.

6) Be kind with your words
When working with students on challenging poses, be kind with your words, try not to remind them of what they cannot do, focus on what they can do and how to get to their goal. For example, instead of saying "if you can't do A, do B, do C", try "Here are some other fun options you can try out: B,C. These may work better with your body."

7) Remind yourself it's not your practice
Avoid practicing in class because our job is guiding and helping students. I do stay on the mat more if the majority of the class are new students, but I stay for only the first side. Once we switch side, I go around and assist everyone. I also stay in the pose with everyone if it's something core related or repetitive moves so I can feel what they're feeling, so I can stop and switch when I can sense my muscles getting fatigue, most importantly, I can tell them exactly which adjustments they may need as my body was needing it as well. When I teach, I focus on students' practice and their capacity that day, not what I have on my plate and what my plan was. It's a delicate balance to challenge students without pushing everyone over the edge.

8) Don't over demonstrate
By over demonstrate I don't mean demonstrate too many times, it's too many advanced variations that nobody could get to. It's a demonstration of what you can do, not what you think a student should try out. It's a show off of your practice. It's good to impress your students from time to time, so they have something to work towards to, but don't show off at every single class. I've been to a class where there was zero student could do a pose after the first demonstration, yet the instructor keep on demonstrating the next advanced variation of that pose anyway. Now that is a demonstration nobody needs. 

9) Observe your students
Hone our ability to observe students are important. Observation is the key to distinguish a caring and kind instructor from the one that only teaches asanas. The first thing you do when you walk in the room, watch what everyone is doing. Are they stretching? Are they already doing handstand? Are they in savasana? How do their backs look in child pose? How their wrists look in table top? How flexible are they during warm up? All these details are important because it's when we decide whether to modify our peak pose (or throw it out) and add in extra warm up or stretches to prepare students for what to come.

10) Have your own practice
One of my teachers once said "you have no business in teaching yoga unless you have your own regular practice." It may sound harsh but as a teacher, I have to agree. It's irresponsible to teach others and not having your own practice. I can't stress enough how important having a home practice is. That's where I learn about a pose, play around, pretend I have weak shoulders, no core, one arm, one leg, lower back pain, and figure out how to modify. I don't often teach a pose unless I can find many variations that allow many bodies to approach it. One of my injured students told me yesterday after class that I was the only teacher who actually showed her how to modify instead of telling her to take care and modify. You won't learn these skills unless you practice. And by practice, I don't mean kicking up to handstand a few times a day, take a savasana, and call it a practice. It could be a "good" personal practice, but it's not a sufficient one to prepare a teacher to teach.  Workshops are great, taking other teachers' classes are great, but eventually we have to step up and find our authenticity.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

“Be Yourself. Everyone else is taken.” Oscar Wilde

"Be yourself" means that I have to accept my imperfections. I can't do handstand in the middle of the room and that's okay. I can't balance on my head and that's okay too. I still can't fit in size 0 clothes and that's okay.

"Be yourself" means I need to stop comparing myself to others. We're all strong and beautiful in our own way. I love my thunder thighs, love handles, and T-Rex short arms.

"Be yourself" means I should feel grateful for the life I've been given. It's okay to celebrate my success however small it is.

Seriously, I'm typing with 2 hands, my legs are under a warm blanket, sitting next to my husband who is enjoying his game while our baby is sleeping through the night. This is a blessing. I'm content.

Decide to be your unique self today because it may be our only way to happiness and contentment.