This is the final assignment by AHEM graduate Talia Kahan
If I have learned anything in life so far its to have goals, objectives to work towards, not plain, hard rules. I have compiled a list of 10 of these goals, and explained them in detail.
Integrate the corpus callosum, a broad band of nerve fibers that separate the left and right hemispheres of the brain (Buddha’s Brain). Modern society is filled with a divide between rational, logical thought (left brain) and creative, emotional feeling (right brain). We hear this in everyday language as we are given factual news stories without any emotional tone, or bipolar movie stars who act based on impulsive, pleasure seeking instinct. However, we possess the capacity to strengthen the connection between the two hemispheres. Integrating the two sides of our brain allows for greater learning and memory, balanced and grounded emotions, and enhanced communication and social skills.
Connecting the left and right hemispheres is especially therapeutic for yogis with traumatic experiences. Trauma occurs when the corpus callosum is weakened. As Peter Levine, famous trauma work expert expressed, body work has the potential to heal latent traumatic experiences, specifically those that are caught in the reptilian brain (instinctual). When they stay in the reptilian flight or fight response without transferring to the prefrontal cortex (rational) with a passage through the amygdala (emotional) trauma occurs. A typical traumatized person (such as someone experiencing PTSD after being raped) may have an instinct to recoil, and protect themselves or lash out in aggression and later rationalize there actions, remarking that they have forgiven their perpetrator, without any integration of their real emotions in the actual experience.
Or alternatively, they may react hostile towards men, and feel caught up in their anger and sadness, but have a challenging time verbalizing their sensations and emotions and understanding where the emotions are coming from. Unresolved traumatic experiences have the potential to be worked on during yoga classes by articulating unintegrated emotion through a physical yoga asana practice (instinctual), that also focuses on mindfulness meditation (rational), and the trauma (emotion) – thereby integrating trauma into reptilian, emotional, and rational mind.
Avoid spiritual bypassing, which is the use of un-grounded avoidance of the truth with the false belief that one is acting more ‘spiritual’ (Spiritual Bypassing Article and A Path with Heart). Spiritual bypassing allows people to avoid their pain and suffering. Prior to this yoga teacher training, like many people, I was a culprit of spiritual bypassing. I believed that I had a sacred knowledge about the universe that those less enlightened people didn’t understand. This took the form of me ignoring my emotional needs, particularly in relationships with others, so that I could be more liked and appreciated, and instead focused on the greater spiritual dimensions of my relationships.
As Kornfield stated in a Path with Heart during his reflection of his experience in the monastery, “I had hoped to leave behind the pain of my family life and the difficulties of the world, but of course they followed me. It took many years for me to realize that these difficulties were a part of my practice.” Last summer I spent time in Pachamama, a spiritual community in Costa Rica. Living there I believed that I could run away from my social challenges – not dealing with difficulties with my social anxiety, rocky relationships with my family, and challenges with food.
My solution: avoidance. I became a raw food vegan, avoided the internet and cell phones, and spent most of my time meditating and connecting to plants: voila! I was transformed. If only… the months following that time were some of the most hellish of my life. Luckily, through this training (as well as extensive psychotherapy, meditation, and the time I spent at Herb Pharm in Southern Oregon) I have learned how not to bypass my emotions, sensations, thoughts, or relationships but embrace them, work with them, and learn from them. This new way of relating to spirituality I define as being present, embodied, and learning to communicate with myself and others.This means that someone who may not recognize or feel that they are a spiritual person, but they possess these qualities, may in fact be a rather developed spiritual person. And on the flip side, someone who considers themselves spiritual but lacks these qualities, is in fact fooling themselves.
As Kornfield stated in reference to his meditation practice, “I found myself working down my chakras rather than up” meaning that he has since learned to be grounded in the here and now (first), present in relationships (second), conscious of power dynamics (third), working with his heart (fourth), and learning to communicate and express effectively (fifth) rather than intuitively transcend reality (sixth and seventh). I really appreciate this last point. I greatly empathize and relate to it. After the levels of opening in the sixth and seventh chakra centers (intuitive awareness and connection to the spirit realm, respectively), that came about largely as a result of the spiritual ethereal language that I used with my social circle in college (such as dear sister your heart is so potent, strong and warm, I feel it here with me) and the shamanic medicine ceremonies I participated in in Costa Rica, I was completely blown out of my body.
But the A.H.E.M. yoga training was one thing that help put me back in my body, and I have since been working on the ‘baser’ 5 chakras, which has been integral to my spiritual path right now. In turn, this new way of relating to my spirituality informs my yoga teaching style as it encourages a more grounded, real, and therapeutic approach that is not all spacey, but practically relevant to people’s lives. With that said I would still like to create ‘yummy’ yoga spaces that are somewhat transcendental in nature.
But I recognize that in order to do this, I must first create safe space by grounding.
Take care of myself and my emotional baggage, outside the classroom (A Path with Heart). That means seeking help with psychologists, meditating, going into nature, and creating meaningful relationship with friends and family. An unexamined teacher makes for an abusive teacher, easily crossing boundaries. Health boundaries mean not projecting on students during class time, understanding what my personal limits are in terms of relationships with the students outside of the class, what I am capable of giving energetically each day, and so on.
Some of the problems I have faced in the past and can imagine facing in the future include – judgment of certain types of ‘L.A. woman’ which usually comes from my own fears and experiences of being hurt by people growing up here that are less self aware and superficial, suppressing sexual feelings towards males – which is a strong part of my internal sensation as a young 22-year old woman, being scared that the class won’t like me because I am somehow not an effective enough communicator or teacher, meaning than I am worth less as a person, or perhaps picking up the clinginess and neediness of others as a result of my own challenges with creating healthy boundaries that is rooted in my relationship with my parents – with whom I have had a a history of co-dependency.
By examining my own baggage, I am able to create healthier environments for the students in the class and outside of it.
Learn about anatomy and the body (a.h.e.m. Textbook) understand them well and their ailments so that yoga may be a therapeutic tool rather than another means of perfecting, controlling or criticizing the body. That way when people come into class with sciatica, lower back pain, shoulder or wrists problems I can give them therapeutic alternatives to treat their pain.
The Foundational trinity – grounding, resourcing, and orienting – is an integral philosophical component to my yoga teaching style. I incorporate them into the beginning of every class I teach. The first of the foundational trinity, grounding, is to be centered by feeling present within our bodies and their relationship to the earth. I greatly appreciate grounding because “when we are grounded there is no shame or conflict about being a body, or experiencing sensations and emotions, we simply a what we are. To be grounded is to be quietly empowered.”
For many people that have gone through trauma, they cope by disassociating, thinking obsessively, rationalizing, denying, deluding their thoughts, etc. These coping strategies provide no therapeutic benefit, merely serving as tools of temporary avoidance, only to be resurfaced later on. Grounding, however, allows one to confront their shadow side with a practical and strong presence.
I particularly like the exercise expressed in my a.h.e.m manual – “Place your hands on the floor in front of you as you take a few, slow, deep breaths.” The second of the foundational trinity, orienting offers us the opportunity to bring awareness to where we are in space in order to create a greater sense of safety in the yoga room.
One exercise in my a.h.e.m. manual that speaks to this is “Sit comfortably. With eyes open turn your head slowly side to side, taking in the room around, noticing sights, sounds, smells and whatever else is present.”
The last of the foundational trinity is resourcing. Resourcing encourages us to connect to what feels strong in times of challenge and need. Resourcing is a general term that means to be in contact with sensations, emotions, colors, places, people, sounds, animals, etc. that encourages ones to feel safe, full of gratitude, grounded, compassionate, empowered, inspired or a general sense of well-being.
I appreciate the instruction, “Close your eyes and feel your breath moving in and out and notice any places in your body that feel good – grounded, strong, inspired, calm, open, or alive.” Allow yourself to return to that energy as needed throughout the class.
The sacred space container is integral to the success of a yoga classroom. Sacred space occurs through acknowledgment, uniting, and motivating. Acknowledging is a form of mirroring (a psychological term) by recognizing and stating what is already happening in the room, and connecting with students. The second quality, uniting, brings people together by allowing them to feel included. It occurs “not by forcing everyone to be the same, which of course is impossible, but by inviting them to be themselves within the context of a shared experience.” The last of the sacred container ingredients is motivating. Motivating occurs when we weave the benefits of the practice into the rest of our life.
I specifically like the instruction in the a.h.e.m. manual of inviting people to put a circle around themselves, and another around the people closest to them, and then around the entire room, offering up parts of themselves to the shared space. In Jack’s book, A Path with Heart he states that “ life is most meaningful when one follows the path of the heart. “In this life we can not do great things, we can only do small things with great love” (A Path with Heart).
This quote resonates deeply with me because it empowers people to not see the spiritual or healing path as all or nothing. Instead, it is the simple small acts of compassion that occur between ourselves, others, and the plant and animal world, are where there is meaning. This is based on the idea that spiritual experience and connection come through releasing more into what already is, rather than gaining any greater wisdom or experience.
For instance, if someone experiences pain and sorrow in their heart, instead of attempting to transcend the sensation, we go through it, embracing it as a friend and welcoming it into our home. This allows our heart to remain open through pain and pleasure, and be a continual guiding light in our life. This is because our hearts are our vitality, the seat of our passion. They are also the underlying motive of all of our actions, they are our subconscious.
This is incredibly profound because it implies that to live most fully we must let our emotions, sensations, passions, and feelings be important guides on our path. Or, as Oscar Wilde stated, “its not the perfect but the imperfect thats in need of our love.”
The idea of letting go in order to do more reminds me of my experience with the Alexander Technique. The Alexander Technique teaches people how to stop using unnecessary levels of muscular and mental tension during their everyday activities in order to be more fully present in their bodies and minds. By releasing unnecessary tension, they are able to focus on what already is, and by submitting to what is already present they come into a more holistic experience of their lives.
In relation to the actual experience of love Rumi stated, “our goal is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
The idea of submitting and releasing rather than trying to create, speaks really deeply to me and will inform my yoga practice and teaching style. I believe that once their is a basic level of understanding in the physical postures, the objective is not to do more and more (although that can be fun and cool and joyful) but to submit more deeply into what already is – holding poses for longer, improving the basics, and so forth.
This is also a theme that I hope to weave into my classes, particularly in Los Angeles, a city of people that is addicted to improvement – of work, of themselves, of their bodies, and so on.
The Practice Trinity – breath, presence, & compassion – is also an aspect of my teaching style that I would like to incorporate. Breath, can be used as a tool to enter into mindful presence, or “a humble willingness to be with what is, as it is.” By opening our breath up to the present moment we become aware of what is as it is and by doing so, ought in invite compassion towards what arises. I also want to incorporate tantric and shamanic breath into my practice. The importance and value of vipasana, awareness mindfulness mediation as a tool for therapeutic yoga.
It has become an integral core philosophy of the way that I teach, weaving in mindfulness exercises such as watching the breath, watching sensation, counting, focusing on a specific point in space, and also purposefully creating positive emotions such as equanimity and joy.
Structure of a yoga class. Class begins with grounding, resourcing, and orienting – a breathing exercise. It progresses to stretching – the hamstrings, quadraceps, quadratus lamborum, and glutes. Core work precedes that. Then alignment for the flow of the yoga classes. After that the flow begins. Then balancing poses. Then cool down. No backbends and twists in the same class. Then savasana, words of wisdom, and breath.