FEBRUARY 2018 WEEKENDER/// YOGA GAMES/ SWEDEN Words by Schooler Claire Hennigan @therealyogadoctor
Friday I’ve been a member of Sunday school yoga for a while now attending Workshops and meetups when I can. However a new opportunity opened up to go away for a whole weekend to Stockholm for the yoga games. I felt like this would be a really fun trip and a few international teachers were going so I thought HELL YEAH. The weekend came about quickly-I was excited but also a little nervous as I didn’t know everyone super well. However that soon didn’t matter as as soon as everyone was so friendly and made me feel very comfortable and included. A flight and a sleeping tablet too many and we arrived in Stockholm. There was only a few classes on on the Friday as the festival was just getting started.
I decided to go to a workshop called mantras and molecules with David Stringer- mainly as Michael had said he was amazing live. It turned out to be an intimate workshop about mantras, chanting and some of the science behind it and was a really interesting start to the festival, it was not something I usually do- exactly how to start off the festival being open to new experiences. We all went for a big meal at the end and early night ready for the next day.
Saturday We all set off early- with our packed hotel lunches for the festival. Starting with the one that brought us all together- Michael James Wong’s Just Breathe session. Having been to quite a few of these before, and always really enjoy them, it was a great way to set our vibes for the day. It was a good ice breaker for people who had arrived by themselves- I made New friends with some of the other attendees by doing the looking into someone’s eyes game, and also meditating back to back. After this I went to my first flow class - one of my favourite teachers Rusty Wells. He did not disappoint and his classes are so fun, with a constant smile on my face. I flowed with Sammy, Nicola, Abby and Darren right at the front and we were in constant giggle and left with a lot of love and kindness in our hearts. Next on the list was another with Michael James Wong- this time a ladder flow with everyone and also David and Jenny doing a great job demonstrating. The whole room felt connected and happy. Even got a chance to Take a wee walk around Stockholm and got a famous cinnamon bun. We were lucky to be there when Stockholm was a beautiful day of blue skies and snow. The day finished with a losing something meditation with Jody Shield and then a Kirtan gig with David Stringer which even involved an electric guitar. The whole crew was up dancing and singing. Ending the day at a beautiful restaurant with everyone.
Sunday No one made it to the 8am classes, however everyone made it for the famous boys of yoga class with Michael, Adam hustler and Matty G. We got taught from all of them which was incredible to see all their different styles. Adam was slightly annoyed with Michael's taste in music- who doesn’t want to flow to Mysterious Girl by Peter Andre? After that we chilled it down with some much looked forward to restorative sleepy time. Final thing of the day was another episode of Rusty Wells again centre front row.
The yoga games was a truly fantastic experience, aside from the incredible yoga and teachers, the main take home from the weekend was the community. I feel like I’ve been so lucky to connect to so many other lovely souls about 30 of them. Leaving with lots of new friendships and connections. Learning to not take anything for granted and feeling blessed. Thank you everyone for a beautiful weekend. I feel so lucky to be a part of this every growing community and support. Thank you for everyone who made the trip so special I can’t wait to yoga with you all soon :) and massive thank you to Michael James Wong to who this whole community would not be possible. The lovely Schooler Avni has also written a blog on her website if you want to know even more about the SSY Weekenders- find it here.
February 2018 Sequencing with the Chakras/// Mona Lisa Godfrey SSY Feb was held in The brand new FRAME studio in Fitzrovia. The space is absolutely gorgeous. Light, spacious, airy with a palm print wallpaper studio. Every Instagrammers wet dream.
As usual SSY started out with our favourite hugs and high fives. Once we had made some new friends and greeted old ones we got down to business.
This month's topic was a popular one, the CHAKRAS. As someone who enjoys having data and empirical evidence, I’ve never been too sure about when people talk about the so called wheels of energy. However, I was in good hands, we were lucky enough to have the wonderful Mona Lisa Godfrey mentoring us this month. One of the first things Mona said was that Chakras are about feeling, they can’t be explained or intellectualised, just felt. In order to start to tune into these very subtle energies it’s important to get quiet and still. So together we got comfy, snuggled under blankets, closed our eyes and started to meditate. Mona led us through a beautiful visualisation of the Chakras, starting for the root chakra to the top. These are the Chakras in order as explained by Mona. Each chakra is married to an element and a sound mantra. MOOLADHARA- Root Chakra LAM Deficient: Scattered, ungrounded, overweight. Excessive: Heavy, lethargic, overweight Balanced: stability, beautiful form SWADHISTHANA- Sacral Chakra VAM Deficient: Rigid, Stiff, dry, numb Excessive: Poor containment, watery, sloppy, Balanced: Full, yet contained, graceful movement MANIPURA- Naval Chakra RAM Deficient: Weak, passive, tired Excessive: Controlling, dominating, constantly active Balanced: mastery ANAHATA- Heart Chakra YAM Deficient: Fear of intimacy, judgemental isolating Excessive: Co-dependant, desperate for love and attention Balanced: Radiant, joyful, generous VISHUDDHI- Throat Chakra HAM Deficient: shy, quiet, constricted voice Excessive: talks too much, loud, scattered Balanced: Truth, coherence AJNA- Third Eye Chakra AUM Deficient: Denial, cynicism, close-mindedness Excessive: Delusion, hallucination Balanced: Clarity, vision, wisdom SAHASRARA- Crown Chakra SILENCE Deficient: materialistic, disconnected, cynical Excessive: Overly intellectual, spiritual addiction, spaciness Balanced: Realisation, grace, enlightenment, bliss We then split into groups each tasked with theming a sequence around a chakra. Then we finished with our family class, our very own SSY Sunday Roast, we’d already prepared the ‘ ‘meal’ (class) and now all there was left to do was to share it with our new/old friends. Tips for Sequencing with Chakras 1. Unless you have a long time with students such as a retreat or you’re doing a special workshop try and make sure you touch each chakra. 2. Speak from the heart. Perhaps even close your eyes and stop and pause before you talk to your students. 3. Practice using the language of the Chakras for example if you’re working with Mooladhara , go slow, use words like root, anchor. If Swadistana, fluidity, movement, freedom. 4. If you’re not comfortable with using he language of the Chakras that’s okay, it’s enough to create a moment in the class which just allows space for students to stop and feel. 5. Sound is powerful, even using the chakra mantras can help you to focus in/activate a chakra. 6. Do the work for yourself. Taking the yoga beyond the physical asana. Meditation, stillness and quiet. This is how we will be able to listen and feel more for ourselves. SSY JANUARY 2018 Words by Schooler Flora Duguid Captain's Class An evening of community, inspiration and support
January saw the first SSY of 2018 and a very special Captain's class led by Lauren, David and Suzie. On the chilly eve of 14th January, over 50 new and old Sunday Schoolers gathered for a yang to yin class followed by community time. It's a very special group of people to connect with. I graduated from my yoga teacher training in mid-December and after an intense training where you really bond with your fellow teachers, it's incredibly supportive to be part of a close community of teachers - sharing ideas, values and learning together. BLOK vibes Each month, SSY is hosted in a different studio. This month we took over BLOK in Clapton. It's a beautiful space - located in a refurbished victorian tram depot - full of original features - exposed brick walls, vaulted concrete studios. It has a gallery-space kind-of-vibe and housed all 50 schoolers comfortably! Captain's class Lauren, David and Suzie led us through a SSY Captain's Class. Lauren kicked if off with a beautiful warming flow, focussed on community. This really resonated with me, especially being my first SSY and I was really moved at the support and sense of community immediately surrounding me. We literally used others to support our physical practice (ahh Lauren, that warrior 3!) and then delved deeper to consider how we can take all the good yoga we practice on the mat and share it with the rest of the world. A very playful, connecting and trusting practice! Next up was David who centred practice around the theme of inspiration. If there's ever an inspirational yogi - it's David Kam, who literally takes his yoga off the mat every practice by developing a beautiful 'mat-less' flow! This got pretty playful as we twisted and turned, crawled, dragged and floated ourselves across the room! Ahh and now time for some sweet, sweet restoration! Suzie grounded us back to the mat with her beautiful supportive restorative yin. Beautiful words led us into a meditation and some super self love yin.
Community time BLOK has a beautiful cafe area which was the perfect space to host some post-yogi-eats and community time. It's so special to be able to take the time to chat, learn from each other and foster friendships with a really inspiring group of teachers. Not to mention the sweet-feast we indulged on (I'm yet to track down the maker of those chocolate cookies..!!) The evening really touched and moved me - to connect with this special group of people so sooner after graduating from my YTT. We practiced as a community, soaked up inspiration and created a safe place to lean on each for support. And most importantly, left with more friends than we came with. Thank you SSY - excited for the next one and some school trips in the pipeline!!
INVEST IN REST/// The Psychology of Restorative Yoga
Senior Mentor Dimuthu Fonseka / Words by Schooler Laila Manji
The people October was full of loads of new schoolers and some good ol’ veteran schoolers to reunite with. New schoolers got the best welcome and it's one of my favourite parts each month to meet new friends and find out about more new teachers and what they are up to in London. It's an incredible community to be part of and one that doesn't end on the mat. I've done community events, local classes and socials with my new friends and best of all you can chat yoga all day long and they don’t think you’re nuts! The space Each month SSY is hosted by a different studio with a new energy. It's been really fun to explore different parts of London and some of the studios are just magical. This month took place at The Lodge. Space in Surrey Quays - it's a cool community space with a great cafe and an airy, bright yoga studio. In a very cool part of town! The teachers SSY brings together different senior teachers to share their wisdom on an area of expertise. We were super blessed to have Dimuthu Fonseka this month who shared her passion and experience of restorative yoga with us in the most chilled, meditative way! Everyone was so blissed out at the end, feedback was all wow man amazing! She talked us through how to translate traditional yoga poses into more a more restorative, mindful style - using movement, language and intention.
The learning The heart of restorative yoga is turning the gaze inwards and encouraging self-enquiry in your students. Creating somatic embodied awareness in the student so they experience the felt sensation in their body. We are so used to focusing on the pose itself that it was challenging to go further into this and think about how the pose feels – so how can you set up a student to go inwards and experience this? - Moving slowly and deliberately slows the tempo of the class down and creates space for the body to give feedback to how a pose feels. - Props support the body so that there is no tension or pressure and the body can relax fully into stillness - The language you use as a teacher can help the students keep their awareness focused on the internal sensations in the body. - Asking students questions can help them think about where they are feeling things in their bodies - Using seated or lying down poses allows the body to let go fully and release any tension. It was fascinating to shift our thinking from yoga being about getting students to the end of the pose as we would normally teach and instead seeing it as a process of holding them in the middle of the pose and seeing what feelings that creates.
The practise The real magic of SSY happens when we get out of the "classroom" and onto our mats. We got to practise what we learnt on each other in small groups and then to the whole class, taking the teachings and putting it into our own words and style. This is the part of the session I find most daunting and most exhilarating. The feedback is constructive, and encouraging, and this month I got to teach a restorative pose to the group. I did a variation of a spinal twist and while I was nervous to start, I got into my flow and loved playing with words and reading the energy in the room to bring the class into a simple resting pose. It's a fantastic way to try out what you learn and sound out the words in front of a friendly audience before taking it into the wider world. Best of all you get feedback from MJW and Dimuthu which is awesome learning! The biggest take away for me this month was that the more I get to practise, the more I can refine my experience. The first time I was picked to teach I was dreading it and SO nervous. Now I see it as so lucky to be chosen as where else can you find such a receptive crowd to practise on! I also really identified with the subject this month as I've done some deeper work on mindfulness recently so restorative yoga fit perfectly with the other applied practises. These sessions give you a chance to explore a niche area more and also access to an amazing senior teacher with the experience to guide you further! I’m already excited about the next session and what we will learn, as well as some awesome books I borrowed from the SSY book club – all the benefits of new yogi friends with a whole new library to borrow from! See you at the next one, Laila
The Science of Pain/ Danny Orchid/ SSY October 2017
words by Schooler Ness Wheeler
October’s Sunday School, on the subject of ‘The Science of Pain’, explored why we hurt and to teach with more awareness of people’s responses to pain
The session was held at the newly established CORE Clapton, the Centre for Osteopathic Research and Excellence. During the week, CORE serves as a training centre for newly qualified osteopaths, a clinic for affordable osteopathy and an event space for start-ups and community-led initiatives. The event room upstairs where the session was held is beautiful - high ceilings, enormous windows and stark white walls. We dithered around the edges of the room at first, for fear of disturbing the peace, before Michael ushered us in to sit on one of the blocks in the circle in the centre.
Part 1 – An introduction to pain
We started with a Hunger-Game-style survival test. Each contender chose their weapon and took their place in the centre of the block-circle arena…
Sorry, bad joke. The session actually kicked off with an introduction to the ‘Master of Pain’, CORE’s co-founder, Danny Orchard. Danny writes the pain curriculum for the British School of Osteopathy, the oldest college of osteopathy in Europe, lectures around the world on the subject and is a general pain-pro.
He started by speaking about why we hurt and explaining that pain is more complex than simply being a sign of muscular damage – it’s a reaction to a collage of experiences, memories and associations (including linguistic or visual cues that we associate with danger - the colour red, sharp objects, blond comb overs…).
A TEDx video that Danny sent after the session gave a useful example for understanding the things we explored during the session. In the video, Lorimer Moseley, another master of pain, gives the example of himself walking through the Australian Bush and feeling something brush his left leg. This activates the nerve receptors in the leg, which send a message up the spinal cord, along the neurons, to the brain. The brain then evaluates the severity of the threat and reacts by effectively asking itself whether it’s been in a similar situation before and whether it resulted in any severe damage to the body. Because Lorimer grew up in the Bush, his reference of this particular sensation is the feeling of twigs brushing his leg. Without being able to see what it was that touched his leg, and so not having a visual to contradict this assumption, his brain tells him it’s fine and he continues walking. Next thing he knows, he’s waking up in hospital. The thing that touched his leg was in fact a venomous snake sinking his teeth in. Six months later, Lorimer is walking through the Bush and feels something brush his left leg again. It’s sufficiently intense and similar enough to his past experience, to send a danger signal to the brain reminding him that last time he felt the same sensation, he almost died. A searing pain in his leg incapacitates him until someone points out that the thing that brushed his leg is in fact, a stick.
From the way I understand what Danny was saying and the TEDX video further explored, pain is a result of the body working out what is the best way to deal with a situation in order to survive. Sometimes this results in false signals being sent to the brain that we need to protect something that doesn’t actually need protecting. These signals stop being useful and informative, when they prevent the body from doing something that’s not dangerous and is maybe even beneficial. Which brings us to yoga…
Danny put this into the context of a yoga class as a useful way of understanding why people react to certain asanas. The memory of physical damage to the body, like the snake bite, means that the body instinctively tries to protect itself – maybe by drawing back or by refusing to repeat the same movement. It helps to identify the ‘soft edge’ and the ‘hard edge’ of pain - the ‘soft edge’ is the healthy heat that builds in the thighs after a few moments in Utkatasana, the ‘hard’ edge comes in when you push the body beyond its limit, for example forcing yourself into a deep hip opening without warming up, and, as a result, damaging the muscles and ligaments in the hip. The body remembers being pushed to the ‘hard edge’ of pain and the resultant physical damage and so, next time you approach the same pose, the brain will automatically trigger the same danger signals and you’ll be prevented from going as deep. Over time, this can reduce a student’s range of movement.
We spoke about how understanding the distinction between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ edges of pain, means moving away from a Boot Camp, ‘no pain, no gain’ style approach to teaching and instead learning to understand a student’s limits and react accordingly. This may sound obvious but when you put it into practice, it transforms your approach to adjustments, the language you use to cue and the way you deal with injuries. This idea has a strong appeal to me and I’m sure to many teachers. It’s this therapeutic, mindful approach to moving the body that distinguishes yoga from other sports and fitness classes.
We covered loads more but I’ve waffled enough about something my brain is still processing so go see Danny and the real experts at CORE for a bone MOT and more thorough guidance.
Part 2 – Putting it into practice
We then got into pairs for a role play – one person playing the teacher, the other the student with an injury. As teacher, you had to ask questions about the injuries - some more outrageous and made up than others - and then give advice about what to watch out for in class. I worked with Graham, who made a painfully real case study as he’d fallen on his head from Urdhva Dhanurasana and had damaged his spine. I tried to control my wincing and offered what advice I could about things to avoid and pay attention to throughout a class. We then switched over and he offered his advice about dealing with my far less severe shoulder pain (a result of sitting at a desk during the week and launching myself into handstands every lunch break...).
Part 3 – Teacher time
With all of this information still fresh in our heads, we put it to the test with the standard Sunday School practice class. Five yogis’ names were picked from the mat, and took it in turns to teach the class. There was the general group duck of head as Michael and Danny picked out the names. We took a break and the lucky five went off to do a speed-planning session. With the teachers out of the room, Danny assigned ten people phantom injuries to flag up throughout the class, testing the teachers’ ability to think on the spot and guide students accordingly. I was given weak wrists and had a great time getting into the character of a crippled downward dog…
We ended with feedback from the ‘wounded’ on how well they felt the teachers responded to their injuries. As always, it was great to have a chance to praise and learn from the comments given.
Part 4 – Finish with a twizzle
We finished with a twizzle - swishing from side to side with floppy arms, for those not in the know. Danny explained that he uses the twizzle as a way of distracting students while he assesses their range and mobility in the shoulders and neck because it stops them from seizing up in the upper body. Most of the Sunday Schoolers transformed this into a Kundalini organ massage.
A mandatory group Sunday School photo, a gift for Michael for being so great and a cake, to celebrate the Sunday Schools 20th session birthday, ended an interesting and informative session. Big thanks to Danny and the SSY team for organising it.
SSY Weekender///PRANA FESTIVAL/ September 2017 words by Schooler David Pearce --- Recently Sunday School took the Yoga out of the classroom and onto the road, heading to the Prana Festival in Gothenburg, Sweden. Around 20 of us made the trip from London for the weekend festival, arriving Friday morning and leaving Sunday evening. Whilst it was a long way to go for a couple of days, it was totally worth it! An 8am flight from Stansted meant a very early start on the Friday to get the Express from Liverpool Street. Too early for some it seemed, who, naming no names, in the daze of a late Thursday finish, apparently misjudged what time they needed to set their alarm (you Kam always rely on at least one student on any school trip to nearly misses the bus…!). The tone for the weekend was immediately set once a few of us were together – all laughs and good vibes! The journey was full of them, and increased with each person who joined the entourage, with lots of friendships between people who see each other regularly, some who’d met before and were getting to catch up/know each other better, and completely new connections being established – the airport is a magical place.
After a quick breakfast to refuel after the early start we were on the plane ready to roll…or not – Ryanair had other ideas. As we were delayed getting onto the plane we’d apparently missed our take-off slot, and were told we’d have to wait on the plane for an hour for another one. You could definitely spot the yogis on this flight, as whilst everyone else made sure their ire was heard, those heading to Prana maintained their yogi zen and couldn’t care less. If anything it was great as it meant more time napping (my choice), chatting, and apparently a peanut butter snacking party between a few!
After a flight and taxi ride later we were at our hotel for the weekend, the Scandic Rubinen, on Kungsportsavenyen – the main boulevard of Gothenburg. I believe all of the London crew stayed there, (as well as a lot of other teachers on the festival line-up and some out of town attendees), which was great not just for ease of communication and organisation of the SSY crew, but it meant we really did get to spend the whole weekend together. The hotel was lovely, with free, very good wifi (useful for the weekend whatsapp group and social media fiends), the largest breakfast spread I’ve seen in a hotel, boasting over 100 items (some hardcore yogis had Tupperware with them and were able to take a few items for snacking through the day), and was only a 10-15 minute walk from the festival!
Friday afternoon was spent wandering and eating our way around the city, until the weather turned a little too wet and we were forced to seek refuge and refreshment in a quaint establishment, before heading back to the hotel and then out for an amazingly delicious dinner at The Barn, accommodating all the fussy yogi dietary requirements. (Be warned though, Sweden is an expensive city to visit – I must have spent close to £100 on food over the weekend, including snacks and dinners out, and food at the festival stalls.)
Saturday morning was rather wet but we weren’t going to let the weather dampen our spirits, and we headed en masse to Trädgårdsföreningen (The Garden Society) - a park and horticultural garden in the centre of Gothenburg, where the festival was being held. We arrived early to collect our festival bands and avoid queuing in the rain as much possible. We were also each given a printout of the classes we’d selected to attend when we purchased our tickets, which we’d need to show to get us into each class – super efficient from the Swedes indeed! (Don’t worry though, if there was a class you wanted to attend but hadn’t registered for you could if there was room (which there always was) after those who had booked got priority entry.)
In supportive team spirit we all head over to Michael (James Wong)’s first class of the weekend in the Palmtent. This was no popup tent, nor a gazebo erected over a patch of grass with a piece of felt to separate you from the mud, but an impressive 180 person (p), laminate floored, four ‘walled’ structure complete with decoration, stage, lighting, sound tech, and ushers to welcome you with a smile, check your printout and band, and ask you to remove your shoes just inside to minimize the effects of the rain inside the space. It suddenly hit me that this wasn’t a low budget, group of hippies in a field event, but had some serious time, effort, organisation, and capital behind it to provide all the yogis in attendance with a fantastic experience!
The festival comprised of three tent stages: Lagerhuset (90p), Flowtent (180p), Palmtent (180p); the indoor Trädgårn stage (120p); an outdoor music stage (open to anyone in earshot, including members of the public passing through the park); and a SUP yoga station (7p) on the river running along a boundary of the garden. Between the tents were the food trucks catering the festival (Rollin Bistro, Frill – The Frozen Smoothie, Filipinofusion, and the super delicious Burrito Bros), and numerous stalls promoting local yoga studios, brands, clothing, accessories, etc.
Depending on which classes you’d booked (/how ambitious you’d been with the number of classes you’d booked and actually wanted to attend) depended on how much free time you had between classes to eat, hang out, and just enjoy the festival vibes. Luckily the weather had improved and it allowed the majority of the London crew to reassemble and chill out for some refuelling, a quick group photo, and debrief of evening plans
Sunday brought much of the same, including some sunshine – not that I really got to enjoy it though as apparently I’d decided to go all out for the last day with two 90min classes and two 75min classes, giving myself max 30 mins between things to eat something. No regrets this end though, as that day just flew by and I got to practice some fantastic classes with amazing teachers. The line-up for the festival was a mix of well know international names (Dylan Werner and Rusty Wells to name a couple), some London-based teachers, and more local Swedish teachers. This was great, and offered me (and others) the chance to practice for the first time in a foreign language, which was a really cool experience (albeit challenging and actually quite humbling – like doing a yoga class for the first time again, looking around at everyone else trying to figure out what was going on!).
After a quick shower back at the hotel and a speedy pizza (unless you were MJ) at a nearby restaurant it was time to head home. The majority of us were flying back that evening on late flights (so we could get the most out of the festival), but some were either staying on an extra night or off to another destination, so goodbyes were said and hugs given. We were sad it was over, but all on a high from the weekend. Whilst the yoga over the weekend was great it’s not what made this short but sweet trip so fantastic for me; it was the people. The opportunity to connect with myself on the mat over those 10 hours of practice I did was great, but what I really appreciated and took away from the weekend was the yoga off the mat - making new friends, building on old relationships, and simply connecting, laughing, and smiling with amazing people with whom this shared love and appreciation for yoga draws us together as a community. Thanks all who made it such a great weekend!
UPSIDE DOWN, SAFE AND SOUND/ Chris Magee// September 2017 words by Schooler Darren Hunter-Smith --- SSY is like coming home for me, not least because my wife has been running away on a Sunday evening every month to help organise for a while now, but also because all the wonderful people I have met here feel like one big family. I've attended a few sessions now and all have given me a new insight into a different path of yoga that I may never have experienced before in such detail.
Another Space was the new venue and inversions was the game. And I don't know about anyone else but I felt like a VIP having the run of such a sleek and stylish space. The newly enrolled and veteran schoolers that started to filter in through the doors never fail to bring a smile to my face. It's always lovely to see the community back together and with new fresh faces that bring a new energy of excitement and sometimes apprehension of what is to come.
This was especially true for this session as inversions seem to be the thorn in many a yogi’s side. However, Chris Magee, our guest teacher and head of yoga at Another Space, was very quick to ease the nerves and point out that it's the journey not the destination that's important. And Chris was excellent at explaining the foundations of all inversions and the reasons why it's so important to have this strong foundation in place as well as explaining the functional anatomy key to going upside down. The best thing about SSY is that you get to put into practice what you have learnt straight away. Working in smaller, intimate groups takes the pressure off and allows for more informative and personal feedback. It was in these groups and pairs that I found the session to be most beneficial, I've always learnt better in a more practical environment.
As always, the session ended in a short class lead by 6 students, picked by random. All of which had to teach a section of a class and cue a warm up leading to an inversion. This is always such a daunting task for any teacher with any given experience, however everybody is so supportive and generous with their feedback that nobody ever needn't be worried. This nurturing environment breeds such confidence in teachers and I saw first hand how much each person grew. The skills of guest teachers like Chris is only part of the puzzle that makes SSY fit together, it's the community that continues to grow, who support, question and give key informative feedback that really help this community flourish and become better yoga teachers and all round nicer people.
BEYOND THE INHALE/ Rosalind Southward// July 2017 words by Schooler Paul Selvey --- I was initially drawn to SSY as a place to meet likeminded Yogis and to enhance my teaching confidence. That was 5 months ago and this is now my fourth session with previous sessions covering Meditation, Yoga Nidra and Yin Yoga. The sessions I have attended have given me an inspiring insight into other paths of Yoga and led me to further study. Every session has translated in some small way into my own classes. Health Town is a lovely venue with a studio in the basement of a health food store. Not just any health food store, it’s an Aladdin’s cave of healthy food and drink, beautiful packaging and interesting delights. The five star studio is fully stocked with Yoga equipment, mirrored walls, dance bar and a beautiful wooden floor.
SSY always delivers good information passed on by experience teachers as well as instilling a great sense of community. I remember when I arrived at my first SSY session. It was a bit like turning up sober to a party with no friends. It was daunting meeting so many qualified yoga teachers all with different experiences and learning’s from all over the world. Because the welcome from the SSY team is so friendly, you are quickly immersed into the gathering of like-minded yogis sharing experiences and passion for yoga. The session opened with Michael James Wong giving an introduction to SSY and Ros Southward, our guest teacher for this months subject, Pranayama. David Kam warmly welcomed the newest of the SSY students and made them feel part of the community.
Ros led a very informative class covering lots of Pranayama techniques. We practised many of them in small groups, taking turns to witness the experience of the practise, as well as learning to instruct. Ross’s class covered Ujjayi Breath, Nadi shodhana, Surya/Chandra Bhedana, Bhramari, Kapalabathi, Sivananda breath, Uddiyana breath and Sitali Breath. Ros’s passion and knowledge about the breath is immense. Hearing her stories of how the breath promotes healing, how it can; energise/relax, heat/cool, control feelings/emotions in the body and mind with personal experiences to illustrate is truly inspiring.
The dreaded part of each session for me is the teaching at the end. Usually three people are chosen at random to teach the whole class. Personally this is a bigger test than the final lesson of my 200hr TT course. Even now, despite teaching five classes a week, I find this challenging. To teach what you have just learnt to a room full of yoga teachers puts you very much in the spotlight. With very little preparation, having to rely on improvisation to such an audience is so empowering. You find a flow and a natural way of teaching from within, rather than a well-rehearsed script. This week there were eight student teachers. Each and every one was incredible and very different. During each of the SSY sessions I have attended, I loved seeing the timid, nervous students transform in just a few minutes into confident flowing and natural teachers. This is such a big step in any new teachers progression.
I am grateful for SSY and my growing network of yogi friends. This learning resource is incredible value and has created opportunities and contacts to further my personal and professional yogic path of discovery.
Paul Selvey Instagram: @powerflowyogauk @paul.selvey_inspired @paul.selvey_arch
ACRO YOGA JAM / Dustin Brown /// June 2017 On a beautiful sunny Saturday (I know, controversial) SSY had an AcroYoga Jam on Primrose Hill. It was an open day so everyone was welcome, teacher or non teacher, we even had dogs join us! Walking into the park I couldn’t see anyone, until I saw a bunch of people attempting handstands, clearly some of the SSY crew had arrived already… As always the meetup started with hugs and high fives, ensuring that we achieved SSY’s motto “Leave with more friends than you came with.” Yoga teaching can be quite a lonely and individualistic profession, especially when your first start out, so this community gives you an incredible network or support and love.
This SSY was a little different to our usual meet ups, with less structure and more play, led by the ultimate ninja Dustin Brown (not just a super yogi but a black belt and a surfer. The session began with a few partner exercises to warm us up and a couple of games like the Ninja Challenge, where you battle it out until your opponents ‘lose’ both their arms (non-violently, of course). AcroYoga is basically partner yoga with a flyer, a base and a spotter. We got into groups making sure we went with people we didn’t know and started to play. It took quite a few attempts to get the hang of it, to connect and calibrate with our partners but after lots of falling and laughing went on, pretty soon everyone was successfully flying! Acro is all about trusting your base and your spotter to catch you and connecting to your inner child when things go wrong!
After a couple of hours of Dustin showing us all the cool things we had our picnic, simply catching up and chilling with old and new friends, basking in the sun. After lunch, we learnt acroyoga therapeutics, helping to stretch out our partners in a nourishing way. After that is was pretty much a free for all with lots of playtime, people helping each other with handstands, arm balances, drop backs, all things yoga! Perfect way to start a sunny weekend!
YIN IT TO WIN IT / Emma Peel /// June 2017 Words by Sunday Schooler Katie Hooper --- I arrived at Yogarise Peckham on a balmy summer’s Sunday evening and soon enough the school bell rang. The schooler’s took their seats in a circular mat formation, MJ, Susie & David invited all ‘newbies’ to stand up and introduce ourselves to the group. About 7 or 8 of us, we stood rather awkwardly and addressed the rest of the group with fragile smiles and hesitant fragments of who we were and why we felt compelled to join the community. MJ then invited the community to come up and hug each of us in turn. And I mean really hug. The founding principle at the very core of Sunday School Yoga we later found out was simply to leave with more friends than you walked in with. Needless to say I ticked this box 22 times over within the first 6 minutes. With the community ethos and feel-good induction firmly addressed and out of the way, the content of the session was led by the gentle and luminous Emma Peel. Clearly incredibly knowledgeable about the world of yin, Emma simplified the emotive intention of the practice into some wonderful takeaways for schooler’s to build upon. Before a single asana or seat had been explored, I was already prepared to approach the session with an open, playful curiosity. Yin is practising awareness of your boundaries, to explore your body as a child explores the world,to be in the driving seat of your own practice, determining shapes and space removed from performing the aesthetic of the pose. And perhaps most importantly, becoming a teacher of Yin is to hold a safe space where students can creatively explore all of the above, arriving at an interest in the uniqueness of having a body entirely different to anyone else’s.
Owning the silence Armed with this new information, we began to approach the teaching of yin with a focus on the hip joint. Emma then taught us a simple series of yin poses aimed at working into the hip joint and connecting areas of the body, (square pose - dragonfly - square pose, and later a deep low lunge liberating the psoas and associated adrenal tension) for us to teach our fellow schooler’s in pairs. The beauty in diving straight into a practical ‘teaching’ scenario with the SSY community was that it allowed no time for fear, doubt or hesitation. Laughter, humility and total acceptance carried us through. Being grouped with two other schooler’s who teach dynamic, fast and ‘yang’ styles of asana and flow was also amazingly helpful. We all found one element of the delivery bizarrely challenging, being simply to shut the hell up and own the silence. I learned that if you allow your students the silence, the space and the solitude in which to caress and explore their own boundaries, the invitation to bring back equilibrium arises. Even if this is simply through a series of 2 or 3 two minute poses in a power yoga finishing sequence, we open up the possibility of addressing this duality. This is perhaps, the most immediate and inspirational tool I can personally take from our session with Emma, and bring into my next dynamic class.
Duality of self - A celebration not a weakness Of all the schooler’s I met, we shared one universal quality when it came to identity. Each person was in the process of combining yoga teaching with a second career or income stream. We were lawyers, photographers, data scientists, mothers, consultants. We were all in some way balancing our yoga teaching with an entirely different construct of ourselves, trying to find synergy and purpose creatively between the two wherever possible. Emma said something that really resonated with me when advising on how to approach the final phase of a pose, when your mind is fighting the discomfort and unwilling to surrender to the impermanence of the moment and its associated difficulty.The balance of yin and yang is ever present with the in and out of our breath. The inhale and the exhale are at play in every moment, always available to us. Our lightness and strength and our ability to be both passive and active, preserver and destroyer, are already contained within every moment. We are natural multi-taskers balancing alternate flows of energy all the time. The knowledge that we can be two things at once, if not many more, should be something we celebrate and infuse into our practice and our teaching. In the words of BKS Iyengar; ‘The pose begins when the urge to leave it arises.’ It is what happens next, as we decide to move towards the edge of our boundaries with discomfort rather than run from them, that the lifelong student of yoga arises.
NINJA SCHOOL w/ Charlie Kelly /// August 2016 --- This month’s “NINJA SCHOOL!” took place in The Life Centre, Islington which is definitely one of the most gorgeous studios I’ve ever been to. After a relatively long journey with my friend Ying (sadly I’m not a Londoner yet!) finding that The Life Centre was tucked away down an inviting cobbled street in Islington was very much a welcome surprise. I signed in, stuck my name tag on my monthly offering of a piece of fruit (in my case, a banana), wrote down a pose I wanted to know more about on a bit of paper, popped mydonation in a jar, gave a few hello’s and hugs, and headed into the studio.
A mat lay in the middle of the room, with a singing bowl, chimes and ‘the jar of intentions’ sitting on it. As usual, we sat in the circle (of life!) and once again caught up with those from past SSY’s, or met the yogis new to the community. The school bell then rung and the friendly buzz of chatter died down. We were ready. I have to say, I was feeling good and not nervous at all, this SSY being my 3rd, but at the beginning I was pretty jittery - although those jitters were calmed down as soon as we’d been introduced because everyone is so lovely and welcoming there - you get met by Lucy to check your name in who’s always so smiley and nice, if you get confused you’ll be sure to get help from equally smiley David or one of the other schoolers, and then of course you have your main mentors Michael and Emily who always make you feel very much a part of the SSY tribe. Our afternoon started with an introduction of our mentors for the afternoon: Emily Clare Hill, Michael James Wong and guest mentor Charlie Kelly. Collectively and individually these mentors have so much helpful knowledge that they’re willing to share, and it’s not like they become our sole yoga gurus and do everything that they say - the attitude is very much take what you like and what you believe and leave what you don’t, but be willing to try.Then came the icebreaker - we all stood up and had to hug or high five each person, and include an introduction if we didn’t know the person already. Naturally, with a group full of yogis, there were mostly hugs, bear hugs (Charlie Kelly = best hugger) and trio hugs and if there weren’t hugs there were high five’s that turned into hugs (that was a lot of hugs for one sentence!).
We then moved onto something that’s really resonated with me (resonated as much as a gong). We wrote down on our pieces of paper, that lay on the blocks in-front of us, one fear about teaching/being there that day, and once we’d done that we went around the circle and shared them out loud. Although these were all very real and raw fears we all had embedded in us, as soon as everyone said their fear and you realised you had that fear too, it diminished more and more. “I’m afraid I’m not good enough”, “will hurt somebody”, “leaving my mat”. Yep, yep and yep. That’s another thing about SSY, connecting with others and realising you’re not the only one who feels ‘that’ way. Being a yoga teacher can sometimes feel quite lonesome; you’re a one man band, walking (on feet or hands) around town sharing your passion which is great but equally you do it alone. You have different individual kinda awkward timetables, you create your own sequences, playlists, up your social media game, do your own admin, etc, etc. And sometimes i feel like i get a bit caught up in my head analysing all the things I feel I’m doing ‘wrong’ as a yoga teacher because I don’t know what everyone else is doing or what they’re feeling. But at SSY you get to share the behind the scenes, and finding out that other yoga teachers (many having much more experience than me) still have different particular fears and obstacles was really reassuring, and SSY helps to get rid of those fears. It helps you evolve as a teacher and re-ignite that love for sharing something that is designed to be shared: yoga.
Then came GAME TIME! I always love game time - they’re always productive-yet-uber-funny yogi games. This month’s game involved having a group of people free-flowing in the middle of the room and the rest of us (initially, the majority of us) had to walk through the room and try not to get touched. A yogic twist on a party game, what could’ve been better! The aim was that the “teachers” group had to walk cool-y, calmly and collectively through the room - so not sprinting and hopping over the “flow-ers”. Some had tactics, they avoided the ones with the big moves (*cough* Michael Wong *cough*) and went around some of the less crazy yogis, but eventually we ended with one winner…. Lorena Rodrigo! Afterwards we had the point of the game explained and it was simply about how when you’re teaching a class and moving through the room assisting, you’ve gotta make sure you don’t get in someone’s way! Yes, it’s respectful of the student to do as you say but sometimes they might get their right’s and left’s wrong (a struggle I deal with constantly!), or maybe they wanna flip the dog and become a wild thing… it’s their practice and as a teacher you have to respect that and also make sure you don’t get in their way/get hurt yourself. Next up we talked about the differences between assisting and adjusting. An assist is helping someone out, and an adjust is kind of like ‘fixing’, but can imply that you know more about the students body than they do. Uh oh, that’s where it all goes wrong. I highly doubt that any yogis out there want to cause harm (because of ahimsa, and general yogi loving-ness), but sometimes an ADJUST can cause a little ouch-y that doesn’t feel too good. You ever experienced that? I have. These ouch-y adjusts could be big forceful actions or even gentler movements that make your body feel awkward and just not quite right, and the thing is is is that everyone’s body is different. Whether that difference is gender, weight, height, age, skeletal differences, muscular differences, we’re all unique. For example, let’s use the usual textbook names; Bob’s warrior 2 might look different than Sally’s, but if they both feel good and empowering then that’s their warrior 2 - unless Bob or Sally are doing something so out of alignment that could cause them an injury or pain, you probably don’t need to go over and externally rotate their knee for them. On the other side of the spectrum, an ASSIST can feel really good.
In my classes I must admit I don’t do assists very often. Partly this may be due to having new students coming to class every now and then and I feel, as a very visual and kinesthetic learner, that it’d be helpful for me to do it and them to kind of ‘follow along’ (although I know this could mean that they’re not finding the poses in their own body). It’s also partly because I’m not very confident with assists due to the fact I don’t do them enough (and we talked about this too, how it can be scary to ‘practice’ your assists on students, so tip 1: practice on family and friends to gain confidence!) and also because I have this big fat nasty fear of hurting someone. It’s not like I’m a Wreck It Ralph lookalike, but I just have a massive scare of hurting someone, whether that’s emotionally or physically. That is why this SSY felt extremely beneficial because we basically got time to practice assists in a safe and helpful environment where people would tell you if an assist felt super ‘yummy’ or a little bit awkward. We then learnt some more tips and tricks to help out with assisting using the two acronyms: VALID and SAFE. Each word broke down and we learnt how and when to use assists, including how to support the student physically and what you could do (so maybe your assist would be deepening the posture, lengthening, or helping out with their personal alignment). Alongside learning about these, we were also told what to do if something did go wrong, and how to respond. One of the main lessons I learnt from this Sunday was to become a ninja when assisting. Obviously you don’t want to cause a scare, but it’s best to move quietly and swiftly - you get in, do your thing, and get out again, no messing. It stays clean and simple, and most importantly safe and helpful for the student.
After going through a few assists, mostly using downward facing dog, in the centre of the room, we broke off into three mini groups, each group having a different mentor. This was a really nice way to break it down even more because although we are a big loving group, it was really helpful to split off into smaller groups so we could really get into the nitty gritty of certain assists with the help of each mentor. From those mini groups we split off into two’s, staying in the same area as the rest of our group, and worked on some of the postures we’d each written down at the beginning of the session. We then came back together as mini groups and went through some assists with our mentors and any questions we had. My group had Michael Wong as our mentor who showed us through some pigeon assists, deep backbend assists, upward facing dog assists, and other postures we wanted to learn about. Then came the group class. Usually these classes are led by a schooler from each three groups, but as this month was all about getting hands on, Emily, Michael and Charlie each did 1/3rd of a class with different mini groups assisting. Again this was a reallyproductive time to try out assists, and get used to moving around the room in a structured way so you move around each student. At the end of the class we got back into our original partners, and learnt savasana assists which are basically the nicest things ever. We called ourselves either person A or person B, and both of us got a go at a savasana assist, the first one being led by Emily Clare and the second being Charlie. Not gonna lie, afterwards I was definitely ready to go to sleep (thanks Eva if you’re reading!). We all then congregated into the centre to form a circle with our knees touching as we took a mini ending meditation, passing gratitude onto all the teachers around us. And that was this months SSY! Afterwards we headed for the pub for some drinks (or, a water in my case as the baby of the group) and a little chat to remind us that SSY is also there for the community and support of like minded yogi friends. Although it is amazing to share yoga with students, being able to share and learn in a space like SSY is a really incredible opportunity. It’s a productive and really fun way of spending a Sunday, and the community of SSY is so warm and lovely that it actually makes me smile in savasana. It’s that kind of goodness.
SUNDAY SCHOOL REPORT --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- JULY BLOG ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
BE PREPARED w/ Rachel Perry /// July 2016 Words by Sunday Schooler Hari Kalymnios /// 20/7/16 --- Sunday July 4th was my second trip to Sunday School Yoga, having first gone in June. Being a new teacher I was really happy to hear about this community that Michael (James Wong) first told me about that he and Emily-Claire Hill are creating. For four hours on a Sunday we meet to learn from more established teachers and guest mentors, practice our skills in a safe environment and most importantly get to know other teachers. Being a teacher, like being an “solo”preneur or freelancer can be a lonely experience. Even now as I write these words, it’s 2pm and I’ve only just left the house to get out into the park and write this article. I’ve been caught up in my home office doing the things to help drive my coaching, training and speaking business forward. So it’s great to have communities like this which are specific to your industry where people can share, collaborate and grow together.
Like I was on my first visit to Sunday School Yoga (SSY), there were a large number of (somewhat apprehensive looking) new teachers congregating by the Trippspace entrance. Not sure what was awaiting them. I felt a little smug (if I’m being totally honest), as I had at least been to SSY before. Not that that meant I would know what was going to go down. It’s different each month. More that I knew I would come out of it the other side! As in June, we started by sitting in a big circle. A welcome change from June, in my opinion, was the fact that the name tags (and fruit - to be explained later...) were already positioned. So there was none of that “who should I sit next to?” business, that goes on in people’s head. Well, it goes on in mine anyway! As people started to take their seats, I did notice one big change from June. I was (apart from Michael, of course) the ONLY boy there. Where are all the boys of yoga on a Sunday? OK, maybe it was partly due to the Euro 2016 championships going on...? First, a brief intro into the format of the day - more shocked/scared faces! Especially at the prospect of teaching the room full of other teachers a 15 minute segment at the end of class. Then, it was ice breaker time. Something new this time. And pretty challenging I must say. We had to stand up (not the challenging part!), then, in a circle go round the alphabet saying any asana (pose/seat) that began with that letter of the alphabet. If we were stuck, we could say an English one with that letter, but then had to say the sanskrit translation. And demonstrate the pose. For example, if it was ’T’ when it got to you, you could say “Trichonasana”, or other T poses, if you knew the sanskrit. Or you could say Tree Pose (as long as you knew the sanskrit for it), or Tripod Headstand, or any other English pose name beginning with T.
Some letters were dropped as they didn’t (we think) have poses, X, Z and a couple of others. My letter however was “I” and despite my best efforts of using “Invasana” (meaning any kind of inversion. Yes, I did just make that up on the spot! But isn’t it all made up by someone at some time?), I had to take a seat. I’ve since taken a look at my yoga book and couldn’t find a single pose beginning with “I”, so I think that I was a little short changed on that one! As is tradition at SSY, there is some kind of offering. This time it was a quote that means a lot to you. The quote I chose to write down was “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm” by Winston Churchill. I think quite apt for a yoga class, especially the budokon one’s I often teach, because we must “fail” our way through the poses before we get it. (Although truth be told there is no failure and any pose we do, is perfect from the beginning - in my opinion). We had to, whilst our eyes were closed (for some reason - possibly to demonstrate trust, vulnerability), find our way to the centre of the room and drop them into the special bowl. I felt particularly wary in this segment as I walked with outstretched arms to ensure I didn’t bump full on into anyone. I later thought that having outstretched arms could have been worse though. Why? See my note about being the only boy (with 20+ women), and where I might inadvertently find my hands.... well, you understand! And then we had to find a partner! Mine was Grace (“Hi Grace”, if you’re reading this!). If you’ve ever tried to partner up to someone in a room full of people walking around blindfolded you know that that’s quite a funny task. Although, again for me, being a little mindful of my surroundings! There was some nice connection moments after which we all took our seats and then found new partners to connect with and keep a bigger connection going between all of us. We then had a little meditation and took our seats in the circle again. Then the lovely Rachel took us through our teaching module. All about preparation and planning for classes. The thing that struck me the most was about the method she used for prepping. Deciding on a theme, then what words exemplify that theme (3 or 4 words). Then what would be the crescendo pose to work towards which those words would exemplify. And also 3 or 4 poses that would build a student into that. And then some kind of quote (from your head or elsewhere) that could cement the whole thing! We were then put into groups of three and given a theme. And then had a very short two minutes to come up with the additional words, big star pose and building poses and quote. I don’t know my group ever managed the quote, but we did pretty well on the other elements. Surprising given the time. Then one of use would have to teach a different group for a few minutes. I found this pretty challenging to be honest. I’m used to teaching my sequences and the cues I use - as well as demonstrating (particularly with budokon, which is pretty unusual), so standing there and being given 3 minutes to take them through 3 poses, into a power pose and have it all make sense. Well, it was a fun challenge! The thing is this. Sunday School Yoga is all about testing, trying out and trusting yourself. Teaching yoga after all is about trusting yourself. Finding your Truth (whatever that might be for you individually) and then standing in it. Let your students take what they need to at the moment from you. I think that becoming a better teacher is partly to do with how well you know the mechanics of it all, but mostly about being someone that can inspire, lead, push and get the best out of their students. I’ve certainly been to classes where the teacher has known all about the poses, the sanskrit, the cues and then what.... I was left with nothing to inspire me to come back again. Those that knew what they were about. Had an example I wanted to follow. A philosophy I admired. A personality I liked. A style that pushed me, tested me but showed caring and genuine interest in me becoming better. They are the people that keep me going back to them. As a new teacher we might be petrified. I haven't taught that many classes. And I remember my first class as a cover. The teacher asking me for cover had no idea I’d never taught before. I was bricking it thinking I would screw up. But then I thought “Sod it”. Let’s just do this. I’ve done many speeches in the past. I’m used to speaking in front of crowds, and besides, they won’t know if I’ve missed something out. You will be different in drawing on confidence. Confidence comes from competence. And competence comes from confidence. How to get both? By coming to Sunday School Yoga and testing in a safe space. By continuing to teach wherever, and whenever you can. By recognising that you will fail from time to time. I know a very successful yoga teacher who is well known around London and online. People see her in magazines, in shop displays and teaching tons of people at shows. Her classes always packed. But yet, it took her about 5 years to get to to that point. For years she was teaching groups of 3 or 4 people. Taking the 7am private slots (getting up at 5am to do so). And for ages couldn’t seem to break 15 students in a class. But this practise paid off eventually. And it will for you too. If you put the work in. Take the classes. The good, the bad and the ugly!
Back to class. To put all we had learnt into practise, we then had a full length class. Taught by 5 teachers at SSY. How were they picked? Back to the fruit and the quotes. Each quote was placed on the wall into fruit groups (I was a rhubarb. Apparently in case I was tempted to eat the banana, if I was in that group!). The quotes from each group that resonated best with Emily-Claire Michael and Rachel was then read out. The author of the quote became the teacher. And the other “fruit” teachers, the assistants. I was picked to teach in June, so I had an inkling that even if my Churchill quote was chosen I wouldn’t teach. So I ended up assisting in my segment. Which was also a learning experience as I don’t really assist much in my class. Until students are familiar with the unusual budokon moves it is easier to have them follow along - else I use too many words to get them into the pose. (With them each ending up in a different pose probably!) Once all five teachers had been through the round, we had a great shavasana (my favourite pose!), then a lovely heart to heart meditation with the person we happened to sit next to. Sitting back to back we focussed on our heart space and fell into bliss. And now for a reward for all our hard work. At the beginning of class we all offered a chocolate (asked to bring ahead of time). These were placed in the middle and we each took a different one home. I dived straight for the Om Bar (thanks to whoever bought that one). It was a flavour I’d yet to try. Om Bar Centers with a gooey and melted centre of coconut and vanilla. A great reward after a great session. I loved the choccie so much that I had to buy another one while visiting Whole Foods the following day! (Hey, we may be yogi’s but we still have the excitable child craving chocolates inside most of us too!) So that was my second experience of SSY. You been before? Coming to a future one? Apply, get accepted, and accelerate your development as a teacher! Hari K.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- JUNE BLOG --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- READ THE BODY, NOT THE POSE w/ Lolo Lam /// June 2016 Words by Sunday Schooler Lorena Rodrigo /// Photos by Jahan Khan, Cranberry Media 12/6/16 --- This month I am honoured to have been given the opportunity to write about Sunday School of Yoga. Although the word "school" might sound a bit daunting, these sessions are more about bringing young, newly certified yoga teachers together into a very special community, a "teachers playground".
his June's session was hosted at YogaRise in Peckam Rye, a beautiful space within a very interesting building. Stepping out of Peckam Rye station was a bit of a journey into the unknown. After having travelled for two hours from Reading to South East London, it felt like entering a magic world full of African beats, amazingly colourful dresses and interesting foods and spices. The studio space was very bright and felt very welcoming, especially after Michael's introduction, "We are not here to tell you what is right or what is wrong but to have fun".
I still very well remember attending a Jivamukti immersion about a year ago with both Michael and Emily-Clare and thinking these two people are so cool but they are not just cool, they are very accessible and their way of leading the sessions is always very enjoyable and fun. So what actually happens at one of these sessions? For all of you who attended last Sunday's session my thoughts will sound familiar but I guess I am not writing this post for you guys, but for all the other newbie teachers out there who are still thinking about whether they should join us and if it is worth it. Ok, here we go, this is what happened; brace yourselves as it may be scary!!!
First, introductions. Michael and Emily told us about their background and introduced this month's senior guest mentor, Lolo Lam. Lolo is not, in her own words, a little Asian man, but a kind of shy, humble, awesome Rocket teacher who teaches classes based on the School of Tough Love (her own words again). She is kind, caring, generous with her views and compassionate; the perfect cocktail for a perfect teacher and we were immensely blessed to have her as guest mentor. Not surprisingly she used to be a nurse and her teachings come from the heart in a very nurturing and nourishing way. After the introductions we had a little opening ceremony.
We had all been asked to bring a long stem flower to the session as our monthly offering, as well as writing three words on a card reflecting our mood and how we felt at the beginning of the class. Both flowers and small papers were placed into two jars in the middle of the room and at the end the session we got the paper back so that we could see whether our mood had shifted or if anything had changed. For me "Blessed, Calm and Happy" stayed the same but at the end of the class I had to add "Empowered" after the power Vinyasa flow class. This was a beautiful small ceremony that really makes you think introspectively before and after the session. The offering was blessed with the mantra "Om Namoh Gurudev Namoh" used for “tuning in” to the divine flow and self-knowledge within each of us, calling out all our past present and future teachers and the teachers within ourselves. We also got to pick a fruit which determined what group we belonged to. Mine was the peach group, but there was also banana group, apple group and passion fruit group, if I remember well.
Next was the ice breaking bit and what could be better than the famous rock, paper, scissors game to make people forget about their shyness. I must say I was devastated to lose the last round but very happy for lovely Lena to win it, she totally deserved it. Once we all felt at ease and at peace with each other came "Lolo's take on alignment". This was all about demystifying old patterns in the ways that us teachers do and say things. We saw how we mentally read scripts because that may be the way we were taught in our schools and is how we have always done it - but it might not necessarily be the right way of doing it. I just wanted to summarise Lolo's workshop on alignment with some of her beautiful quotes: Teach the body not the pose. Look at the students and see the students. Concept of alignment (asana does not have alignment, people have alignment). Don't do the pose, experience the pose. Perfection is a matter of perception. With all these striking concepts floating in the air we moved onto the practical exercise: Cuing people into asanas while blindfolded; this was so much fun, especially for me as English is not my first language and sometimes I find it really hard to explain things without demonstrating them; but it really gave me an insight about how to explain things in a simple way without using the names of the poses. Trying to integrate Lolo's ideas into our teaching was both challenging and exciting and it definitely helped me in the way I teach my own classes.
I actually dedicated my Monday classes to Lolo and to her idea of experiencing the poses as opposed to just doing the poses. After all of this and a little break / snack time where I got to enjoy and savour one of the best chocolate and berry cakes I have ever tried in my life (and I am sure if you tried it you'd agree) came the asana practice. Five teachers were chosen from each of the fruit groups. Each of the teachers taught a sequence in their own style. Also people who belonged to the fruit group of the teacher teaching at each time could assist and adjust the rest of the group. I had an amazing experience doing Budokan, which I had never done before, and it so much fun. I am now even thinking of going to one of Hari's classes to experience it in its all force. All of the teachers were great and when it came to give them feedback I am sure it was all positive and constructive. Lolo's comments on their teaching were encouraging and insightful, she has a great understanding and perception of the teaching methodology and this is a great exercise for us teachers to reflect in our good old ways.
Unfortunately all this fun had to come to an end and, after a very juicy savasana and the feedback session, came the closing ceremony where we were given the card with our three feelings and asked to reflect how we felt after the class. A very simple cord with a bead was given to each of us to remind us about this community once we left the building. Sunday School of Yoga is the perfect place to meet new people, to exchange ideas and to be with like-minded people with similar interests. It's given me a great opportunity to develop new skills, improve my teaching methodology and grow into a more experienced yoga teacher. I love that it is establishing a sense of community and a sense of belonging within this amazing London Yoga Tribe which is a melting pot of different schools, traditions and ways of teaching but that all come together as one big community.
The sessions are witty, fun, enjoyable, packed with games and exercises and very well thought out; but if I had to just pick one thing I enjoyed the most it would definitely be the incredible mix of people from different countries and different schools all with the same passion: "a love for Yoga". Namaste! Lorena
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- MARCH BLOG --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- BRINGING YOU INTO YOUR TEACHING w/ Tania Brown /// March 2016 Words by Sunday Schooler Margaret Manning /// Photos by Luke Ayling, Woods Lodge Photography 20/3/16 --- Candles framed the edge of thirty blue blocks, spaced out in the shape of an oval on the studio’s sprung wooden floor. A box full of fruit sat on the table in the foyer, ready to be ransacked and used for the purpose of sorting people into groups. The rumbling of the overground could be heard through the arched ceiling of rustic brick work. The yogis lined up outside the studio door, waiting in their leggings, mats strapped over their shoulders, eager to be let in. This scene describes March’s edition of Sunday School Yoga, and the ambitious yoga teachers outside were ready to share, teach and learn.
This was the second month running of Sunday School Yoga. The ring leaders behind the buzz, Michael James Wong and Emily Clare-Hill waited to greet the newbies and returners alike. They were there to create a comfortable space for yoga teachers to unite and share stories, tips and wisdom.
The seasoned Tania Brown was this month’s guest mentor. A teacher for twelve years, Tania has found her place in London’s growing yoga scene as a veteran yoga teacher. This month’s edition was called “How to be YOU in YOUR teaching.” The knowledge gained from bringing thirty yogis into a room and sharing best practice is boundless. Learning from one another is such a valuable tool.
We used the studio as a safe space to practice body scans and a variety of body awareness exercises. We talked a lot about being genuine, authentic, true to oneself. The main ethos of the night seemed to be, “Be yourself.” We explored different ways to allow you to be yourself in your teaching, and how to make for a safe space that allows students to come to the mat and be themselves. We discussed ways of making students aware of their own bodies, to notice the subtleties in the body that they brought to the mat on that particular day. We offered simple silly tricks such as fluttering lips in a downward facing dog to allow practitioners to leave egos at the door. We centered, we balanced, we concentrated, and most of all, we were ourselves. Tania explained when a teacher is truly being oneself, it gives permission for the students to be themselves as well. “Don’t be me, be you. Live your truth and you will be amazed at what happens to your students.”
So what does it look like when put into practice? I began to wonder, how can I learn from someone else about how to be myself? The evening started with each yogi writing his or her own personal mantra on a small slip of paper. This is where the authenticity and permission to be oneself began. After writing the mantra, we placed it in a jar, and sealed it with a chime.
After that, we each selected a clothes pin from a pile. Each had a sanskrit yoga pose or exercise written on it. A mysterious aura surrounded these clothes pins, as we were not told what would come from them. It unfolded that each sanskrit posture was written on two separate pegs and without words, we had to find the other person in the room who had the matching pin. We did so by acting out the pose we chose. Once found, partners had to maintain the posture until all partners located one another. This was particularly entertaining for those yogis who got stuck with quite advanced poses. One particular crowd pleaser was the male yogi who chose Surya Yantrasana, sundial pose, and had never tried it before. His success at entering the asana was met with a raucous round of applause. After getting to know our partner, each partner took it in turns to introduce the other partner to the whole group.
Then came the mystery fruit unveiling. There were five groups of fruit from which each person selected one type. We split into groups of three based on the type of fruit we ended up with. In our small groups we each took turns teaching the other two. We used different techniques we had discussed and tried them out on one another. It was a safe place to try something new, to add things to the proverbial bag of tricks. Feedback was honest and helpful.
Then came the pinnacle of the evening, the Sunday School Yoga 75 minute class. Yogis from each fruit group had the option to attach his or her name tag to their piece of fruit if they wanted to teach the whole group for 15 minutes. The names were drawn, Becky Pate, David Kam, Kate Lister, Lily Richardson & Minna Skirgard each led their own authentic 15 minute flows. While the yogi with the fig taught her 15 minutes, the 5 other students who had picked figs were adjusting around the room. This way, everyone has a role. The bravery of those who volunteered to stand at the front and teach such a daunting crowd is admirable but the rewards they reap are great. The experience of being able to teach such an advanced group of practitioners and to actually get quality feedback from students who know their stuffis huge. The adjusters also get a lot out of the experience, as they get to watch the class for 15 minutes and pick up ideas from one another on how to safely adjust in a particular pose.
I was one who sat back and admired the five brave teachers this time around. But watching each of them in their element, trying out new things, giving bits about themselves up to the practice to help introduce their true selves was an incredible learning experience. I was immediately able to take tips and tricks from this session and apply them in to the classes I teach throughout the week, with more confidence in myself.
My biggest takeaway is the knowledge that if I truly am myself while teaching, it will show and the benefits that my students will reap from being allowed to be themselves will keep them coming back to their mats. “Me-you-us,” Tania kept repeating. “Be yourself. This gives your students permission to be themselves. That’s when the magic starts to happen. That’s when they figure out who they really are. Live your truth and you will be amazed at what happens to your students. Me-you-us.”
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- FEBRUARY BLOG --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- THE ART OF CUING AND STAYING IN THE FLOW w/ Michael James Wong /// February 2016 Words by Sunday Schooler David Pearce /// @daretomove /// daretomove.co.uk Photos by Luke Ayling, Woods Lodge Photography 7/2/16 --- Yes, the strikethrough is intentional and not just to look funky, but I’ll get into this later. I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the inaugural Sunday School Yoga – a four hour gathering of yogis in their first 1-3 years of teaching, where experiences, opinions, concepts, and ideas could collectively be shared in a safe, non-judgmental space. It was so safe in fact that I was told the organisers refused to allow any studio managers, who were extremely interested in attending, to come and observe. And why wouldn’t they be!? With some of London’s best newish (but already established) yoga teachers, as well as some amazing up and coming ones all together in one room practicing their teaching skills it would potentially have been a showcase of teaching talent where studios could effectively mass-audition and pick their favorites. But luckily this wasn’t the case, as it would have drastically changed the energy in the room and intention to the evening. The workshop wasn’t about demonstrating how good a teacher you are, but instead actually take some time to analyse and develop how you teach, and practice something new in an environment where it was ok to mess up, forget cues, stumble over thoughts and words, and not worry about it because the pressure of it being a class people have paid for had been removed. When the idea of the workshop was mentioned to me I thought it sounded great, and as a newly qualified teacher I was super keen to get involved in something that could help improve my newly acquired skills that I’m still discovering and endeavoring to develop. I assumed it would be quite an ad libbed affair – how wrong I was! I didn’t begin to realise the scale of the vision and professionalism of the project until I began receiving the emails and got a sneak preview of the Sunday School Yoga (SSY) website. To be honest I probably should have know better, what with it being the brain-child of international yogi-entrepreneur Michael James Wong (MJW), who’s already brought us the likes of the ever expanding Re Boys of Yoga movement, and Emily-Clare Hill, lululemon UK’s first ambassador and this year’s face of OM Yoga magazine. Accompanying these two awesome teachers was the lovely guest mentor Rosalind Southward – a certified Forrest teacher who teaches Forrest and Yin in Peterborough and Cambridge.
Informed with the where and when, and instructed to bring yogawear (obviously), a yoga mat (because “we know you’re picky and like your own”), a pen and paper, and a piece of fruit(!), that’s pretty much all the info I had going into the evening. I must admit that I was a little apprehensive being in a room full of (what I like to call) ‘proper’ teachers (people who actually do this for a living, as opposed to myself who is still very much finding his feet with his one class a week outside of his actual office job), feeling like somewhat of a fraud by daring to consider myself a peer of these amazing people. But then my yoga practice kicked in and I decided not to sweat the small stuff but instead just go with the flow. Besides, I was lucky enough to already know all the mentors and the majority of the schoolers, so it was more like just being in a room of happy, understanding friends than on a stage in front of critical, intimidating judges.
Armed with a curious pineapple I arrived at TripSpace in Haggerston – an apt venue on my account as this was where I’d spent every weekend for the two month up to Christmas completing my 200 hours teacher training – it felt like old times, especially considering some of the evening’s attendees had also been my coursemates. After hugging numerous people hello and grabbing my name-tag at registration we were each asked to pick a piece of fruit from a makeshift Dharma-wheel fruit-bowl (gosh it’s a versatile piece of kit!), have a yearbook-esque photo taken with it by the event photographer, and find a space in the oval-shaped perimeter of blocks that had been lain out. SUNDAY SCHOOLERS /// FEBRUARY
MJW welcomed us to the space and proceeded to give a brief overview of the evening, and the purpose for putting together the Sunday School project. We were each given a piece of card and asked to write down our reason for becoming a teacher, and then place it in the jar of intention, which was situated in the middle of the room on a solitary mat. I thought this was a nice touch, and immediately brought us into a state of mindfulness.
In true big group ice-breaker fashion we were each, mentors included, asked to stand up, say who we are, why we practice/teach yoga, and why we’d chosen the fruit we’d picked from the bowl (choices were between apple, pear, orange, banana, and pomegranate, though this depended on how early you’d reached the bowl). It was so interesting listening to all these amazing people share their truth behind their practice and teaching, as well as the comedy the majority of the fruit explanations invoked. This created a fantastic mixture of insight, appreciation, and calm amongst everyone, and set the tone nicely for the remainder of the evening.
The topic for SSY:Volume 1 was ‘The Art of Cuing and Staying in the Flow’. After a quick demonstration from MJW of cuing a simple sequence the topic was opened up to the group for a brief discussion. It was interesting listening to everyone’s ideas, with the great thing about it being that there was no definitive answer – it was all just a matter of sharing experience, opinion, perspective, and self. And this was the underlying message to the workshop – that the mentors weren’t there to tell us what was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but share things we might find useful from their collective years’ teaching experience. This being said, we were then given what could be considered the ‘theory’ section of the school experience – the three C’s of cuing:
CALLING IT (1) – the instruction to the student so they know what they’re doing, includingthe breath
CUING IT (2) – stating alignment points to help them better arrive in the posture
COLOURING IT (3) – adding a bit of personality/imagery to keep them engaged and help them connect with the intention
The best way to explain it would be a quick example – let’s take transitioning from downdog to warrior 1: “(1) Inhale virabhadrasana A; (2) step the right foot forward between the hands, spin the back heel down, square the hips, (3) reach the arms to the sky as if holding a beach ball up towards the sun.” Ok, so my colouring still needs a little bit of work, but you get the idea.
To help us practice this we broke into small groups where we could take turns teaching one another a simple sequence, with the focus being on the three C’s, rather than the sequencing itself. Often breaking a large group into subgroups can me a boring/messy task, but not on this occasion: we split into our fruit groups based on the piece we’d selected from the bowl at the start. So simple, but it’s these nice little thoughtful but uniquely quirky aspects that make something so great, especially when you don’t see them coming.
After having an attempt in our groups on our own we were then tasked with trying it again, but with the cuing taking on a specific theme, as selected by someone in the room. Themes thrown out included ‘ninjas’, and ‘the ocean’ – not your most conventional yoga-related topics. I can honestly say that was the first time I’d cued a “downward-facing ninja”, but that’s not to say it will necessarily be the last… .
Whilst it did result in a lot of comedy throughout the room, when we stopped to discuss as a collective how it went there was a general consensus that it was actually pretty dam hard. Multiple people, myself included, expressed how once they had to get creative with their cuing even the simplest of instructions became challenging, with there being a lot of stumbling over words, excessively long pauses, and even total mind blanks. And that was the point of the exercise – to realise that it’s easy to get stuck in the pattern of saying the same thing over and over as a teacher without allowing yourself much creativity, which is understandable as once you’ve found something that works you tend to just stick with it. But the exercise allowed us the freedom to try out something new and fun, and if it went wrong then it went wrong, no harm done, just the appreciation that introducing some uniqueness into your teaching style can be something to be mindful of in the future. Swiftly moving on with the evidently precisely-structured evening, we were told that after a quick break we’d all be practicing a 75 minute class together, but with the twist that it was going to be taught by us! Each fruit group would teach a 15 minute segment, with one member taking the lead and the rest of the bunch adjusting. As it was a democracy the top banana from each group wouldn’t be picked; instead we were given the opportunity to put our names forward, should we want to, by attaching our name tag to our piece of fruit and leaving it in the bowl during the interval. Having only started my studio class five days previously, and as I’ve actually never taught flow, being Ashtanga and Rocket qualified, I didn’t find the prospect very appealing, so decided to leave it this time. This, however, didn’t stop a certain rotten orange volunteering my fruit on my behalf (with the best of intentions, of course) whilst I chatted unawares. Alas, my name wasn’t selected – the universe agreeing perhaps that it wasn’t time just yet for me to take on this challenge.
Everyone who stepped up and taught was amazing, and I have the utmost respect and admiration for them, not just because they were so great, but as I can only imagine how daunting teaching a room of your peers might be. After the practice we returned to the oval with which we’d commenced the evening, where everyone was asked to give one positive comment to one of the five teachers, and one piece of constructive feedback to another, ideally not repeating anything that had been mentioned already. Whilst an extremely beneficial exercise, it can be a very difficult thing to be a part of – not only for the person receiving the feedback, but also for the one providing it! Obviously receiving criticism isn’t always easy, especially when you feel inclined to defend yourself but have to practice santosha and just take it on board. Everyone was so fantastic that thinking of a positive wasn’t a challenge; the constructive (NOT negative) on the other hand proved to be more difficult, especially when it’s a room full of supportive friends who appreciate everyone’s awesomeness. However, the fact that it was from a friend may have made it easier to accept as you know they’re not attacking you, but critiquing out of love. What was interesting to note was the difference of opinion from person to person; for example, one of the teachers put us through a killer abs session in their section, which some gave as their positive feedback, whereas others as their constructive criticism. Personally I loved it, but I guess this nicely demonstrates just how subjective even a yoga class can be (and is a reminder to anyone reading who hasn’t done much yoga that it’s worth trying everything and anything until you find something that clicks with you).
After closing the space MJW placed a jar of pound coins in the center of the oval and encouraged us to take one, asking only that we do something positive with it. For me, these little thoughtful touches are what made Sunday School Yoga such a great event, with this one gesture in particular really encapsulating the philosophy and intention of it’s soul, just as the strikethough represents, as MJW explained when I asked him: “Yoga is what brings us all together. Sunday School is more about the community than anything else; the strike through represents that the community is at the heart, and that it’s not ALL about yoga, and sometimes we can do other fun stuff as a community.” If you take a look at SSY’s instagram you’ll see they’ve posted numerous statements where part of the text has been stricken through as a way of getting to the heart of the message – you can read the whole statement, or you can read the statement without the stricken text, and you get a different take on the message, which I absolutely love. Whilst asana is the most obvious aspect of yoga, to me the community side of it is just as important and valuable, and is a big part of why I love it so much. This event was a great representation of how yoga can be so much more than just the physical practice; not only did I pick up some useful ideas and contribute towards improving my teaching abilities, but I got to spend a few hours laughing, sharing, and sweating with some amazing, inspirational people. At the extortionate price of 5 whole pounds (a suggested donation to help cover the cost of hiring the venue) this was certainly money well spent.