My Bellybutton Does Subpar Yoga

Still new to teaching yoga, I spend a lot of time afterwards thinking about how classes went, what I could have done differently, and being mindful of the students that present themselves in each class, what I could provide with a unique pose or some words that land with each of them, so that they walk away with a sense of accomplishment and passion for what they just spent their time and energy on. Hoping that sense of wanting to deliver meaningful classes never leaves, I want to strive for what will continue to challenge students but also allow them to cultivate that mind/body/spirituality connection that I’ve come to rely on so heavily in my own life.

Sometimes I walk away from class pleased with the instructions, alignment cues and flow that were delivered; and others, I wonder if English is really my first language, saying “foot” when I meant “hand,” or “up” instead of “down.” So far no one has given me that really confused look in class, but it will happen – not a question of if, but when. That doesn’t bother me. I find myself still confused when I’m on my own mat taking a class and lost in a thought that my monkey mind couldn’t let go of, or I’m really having trouble processing a cue given by the teacher. These experiences that happened as a brand new yogi and still happen even after yoga teacher training, make me want to strive to be present when cueing and precise, in order to deliver instructions that are understood. Not every phrase will land with everyone, but if I can keep the majority of the class pointing their toes in the appropriate direction, I’ll call that a win for the day.

This morning because it was 6am, I was not paying attention, my monkey mind was having its way with me, or what, I missed a couple of cues. Not necessarily missed them, but they just didn’t land; I didn’t understand what was expected of us. And one in particular was a doozy, because the teacher – who is also a mentor of mine – had to come over a couple of times and lightly poke me in the rib cage to try to make me understand how I should move. Worse, was that apparently nobody else was having a problem with this cue. We were seated on the floor in some sort of bend or fold – I don’t even remember now – and we were told to “round our backs and exhale, moving as though someone was pushing out of our bellybutton,” or “through our bellybutton.” Can’t even remember the actual cue now. Nope, even now, I still don’t understand that phrase. I rounded my back and exhaled, but couldn’t grasp the rest. Now knowing what motion was expected because I finally demonstrated it with help, but for the life of me, the concept of someone pushing out through my bellybutton is still completely lost on me. Shaking his head after class, the teacher expressed genuine concern – or maybe disappointment – that I hadn’t understood what was asked of us, with what seemed like an elementary posture cue. I really didn’t think much of it at the time, but afterwards spent the rest of the day feeling really stupid, if you want to know the truth.

Having been in the medical field for a significant portion of my past career, I truly believe I was overthinking the bellybutton situation. I love the fact that anatomy and physiology is heavily tied in with the asana practice of yoga and I’ve always been drawn to this subject matter. In truth, I had always worked above the bellybutton, as cardiopulmonary resuscitation requires attention to hearts and lungs – not bellybuttons. That’s what I did: attempted to keep hearts beating and lungs exchanging air. And now, in the time it has taken to write about this, I’ve spent more time thinking about bellybuttons than the collective of my life, thus far.

Grateful for the experience though, because it reminds me that not every phrase will resonate with every student in class. Therefore, a reminder to, state your intent for that pose, follow up with a few alignment cues, and then reiterate the intent in a slightly different way. Situations like this are humbling for me and that’s always a good lesson, coupled with the fact that it teaches a little bit of patience too… May we all be reminded of these things on the regular, lest we forget. And in turn, let’s also know what our bellybuttons can and can’t do, shall we?

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