Monday, January 13, 2014

Reflections on my Teacher

The first time I met Tias Little, I was confused. I had heard his name several times over the years, but had mixed him up with another teacher. I anticipated an intimidating disciplinarian. I was so mistaken!

First Impressions

In 2008, I registered for the Yoga Journal Conference's Teacher Track series, which enrolled me in several "master" teacher 3-hour classes, aimed at continuing and improving my teaching skills. We had several classes each day, and each teacher had a specific topic to address. We filed into the room, set our mats down under fluorescent lighting and pulled out our notebooks, anticipating some great tool or truth to be revealed to us. After 2 days of this, I was getting a bit cynical. Yes, there were some good moments, some interesting sequences that I would take back to my classes, but I wasn't learning anything new. I could have easily learned that same information from the videos that these same instructors sold in the conference marketplace. There was very little human interaction, and I felt no connection to any of these people. The teacher stayed on the stage and would occasionally answer questions, but most often asked us to hold the questions until all the material had been covered. I understood, because I have been in that same situation: the dreaded time crunch.

And then, at the end of the second day, when I was starting to feel like cattle being led from one place to the next, I met Tias Little.

The first thing he did when we entered the room was ask us to put our notebooks aside, rest on our backs and breathe as he turned the overhead lights off. The topic of the workshop was "kidney qi", and instead of beginning with lecture, he had us settling our kidney qi in a very real, practical way. Ah, this was something different, I realized.

When he did get around to showing us slides, they were all images, no words. I am someone who can easily get caught up on words, but when I'm given images, I tend to recall the concept rather than the words. This helps me to process it later in my own mind and then the words I use are authentic, not just a retelling of someone else's experience. I still remember some of the images from that first workshop. I also remember him making his way around the room to adjust us, talk to us or simply move the energy. This made him so much more real to me. This was not some canned lecture that I could simply purchase on a DVD. This was live.

The Non-Dogma Dogma

After that first workshop, I knew I wanted to study more with Tias. I enrolled in another workshop here in the Bay Area, and then saved up my pennies to go to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to study at his school, Prajna Yoga, the following year.

The students that arrive at Prajna Yoga's in-depth studies are from all over the planet. In that first week-long training, I met a woman who was originally from Ireland, but had been living in Saudi Arabia, as well as an American who was living in Ireland. Some of the students come from South America, Tasmania, Middle East, Europe, as well as all over the United States. Each person brings a unique perspective about yoga, which is added to the mix.

Some teacher trainings create a formula for teaching, and it's usually based on the teaching of one specific person. So, you pay money to be able to teach just like that person; some schools will reprimand you for teaching outside of that formula.

What I found at Prajna was a kind of loose formula, with lots of freedom to flesh out the outline with my own voice. It was so liberating!

Tias is a massage therapist, too, so his knowledge of anatomy and adjustments are legendary. When I take a class with him, I learn more about how my body works than if I had studied an anatomy book for hours.

The Breath Within the Breath

What keeps me enrolling in Tias' workshops year after year is not just the anatomy, or the hands-on assists, or the information. Tias and Surya deliver their teaching in a very skilled, very subtle way. They use their voices to move energy. Until I met them, I hadn't known very many teachers who deliberately did this. A teacher who knows how to do this will work with tone, inflection, volume, pitch, humor and imagery. Because sound is so closely tied to your nervous system, this type of cueing is priceless. It is as if each of your ears is an assistant in the practice - bolstering you when you are flagging and soothing you when your energy peaks.

I've had students express to me disappointment with subs over this exact thing. The teacher can say the same things I say, do the same practice, but if he or she doesn't understand these subtle elements, the students will notice the difference.

Another jewel for me is to watch Tias and Surya work together. Tias will often bring up family challenges in his dharma talks, to illustrate some concept of the teaching, and it's inspiring to see a family really living their yoga practice - warts and all! I mean, why else are we doing all of this, if not to be better human beings to our loved ones?

For more information about their school, see the Prajna Yoga website.

Sunday with Tias and Lorien

I will be assisting Tias in his 2 workshops at Breathe Los Gatos this Sunday. I hope to see you there and share this great teacher with you! The details are below. Register at Breathe Los Gatos - spaces are filling up fast!

Open Hips, Quiet Mind
Sunday, January 19th | 3:30pm - 5:30pm

Like the metaphor of the Frog in the Zen tradition, it is important to have open hips in order to be still and stable in seated meditation. This class is an immersion to generate fluidity in the hips through both mobilization and stabilization techniques. These hip openers are beneficial for sciatic pain, sacro-iliac dysfunction and tight hamstrings.

Supporting the Immune System
Sunday, January 19th 6:00 - 8:00pm

Having a strong defense system and strong immunity is in many regards the ultimate aim of a yoga practice. This class reviews how yoga postures can create a healthy and radiant immune system. We will review the primary function of the lymphatic system in order to discover how yoga poses aid in the irrigation of lymph throughout the body. We will explore how yoga practice works as a preventative medicine, particularly for warding off flu and respiratory tract infections. Our study includes the skin and the way that yoga postures benefit the lymph vessels under the skin. We practice sequences that are designed as a tonic for the glands and membranes, especially around the throat, jaw and upper chest. We practice shoulder-stand, twists, half-lotus, and supported backbends. We also review the ways that meditation, metta practice, pranayama and chanting help build “psychic immunity”. In particular we investigate how negative emotion compromises immunity.