Relax and Breathe
Hi, my name is Carolyn Young, I was born in Trinidad and Tobago, but I grew up and have lived most of my life in Venezuela. I have lived in several different countries but currently, live in Venezuela with my husband and our two sons. I must admit that this is my first attempt at writing a blog.
In July 2015, I traveled to Miami Beach, Florida to study at the well-known Miami Life Center with my teachers Kino MacGregor and Tim Feldmann. I wasn't the only one; there were 26 of us from all around the globe. I would spend the next 5 weeks practicing Ashtanga yoga, chanting the yoga sutras, studying anatomy, practicing pranayama, counting in Sanskrit, learning, chatting, laughing, the list goes on... spending most of my day with this group of amazing people. In the end, we completed our Ashtanga Intensive training. I kept in touch with a few lovely ladies after our Intensive Training, and this project, Finding Isvara, started taking shape. As a way to introduce ourselves, we decided to start with the feedback we received from our training. Before I tell you more about the training and the feedback I received from my teachers, I’ll give you a little background.
At 14, I remember having to take Spanish lessons because my sisters and I had to start attending local Venezuelan school. I didn't like having to talk in Spanish--what if I made a mistake, what if they didn't understand me, what if they laughed or made fun of me for not being able to communicate? This was FEAR. Fear of being ridiculed, and being shy didn't help.
As I got older it got better; now I purposely make an effort to make eye contact and interact with others. At times I still feel nervous talking in front of other parents or teachers at school or worse, a group of pre-teens, strangers or a class full of yoga practitioners. I still make mistakes sometimes talking in English or Spanish but I’ve learnt to take it easy, to be less serious, laugh at myself and have fun.
In my late teens, I joined the gym, which I loved. At the time it was aerobics, step, and weight training. I remember subbing the aerobics evening classes one summer, music blasting, just jumping around and making up sequences. Not much talking involved, you counted by holding up your fingers and people followed along.
I didn’t know what yoga was; I had never taken or even seen a class. I thought it was slow, stretching exercise for older people. There was a time I was interesting in meditation, which I read about in books and tried to practice, but I didn’t quite understand what it was all about. In 2005, while pregnant with my second son, I decided to try out a classic Hatha yoga class. I loved it. I went to class 3 times a week until the end of my pregnancy, and started practicing again soon after giving birth. In 2006, my husband was offered a new job and we moved to Saudi Arabia. There, I had the opportunity to go to yoga class every day for several years. I tried different styles of yoga like Iyengar, Hatha, Ashtanga and Yin; I took meditation classes and workshops. It was such a change from the gym--no mirrors, no music, no equipment; strangely I didn’t miss the gym, not one bit.
I remember one year, while on our family holiday in Thailand, I began to feel stiff, my body ached and I was very irritable, so I decided to go to the hotel gym. There, I practiced what I remembered from yoga class and I instantly started feeling better. It was then I realized I had to continue practicing this “yoga-thing,” not only for the physical benefits but mostly for the emotional benefits. With the encouragement of my yoga teacher at the time, I completed my first 200-hour yoga teacher training. My plan wasn’t to teach, my intention was to know more. I wanted to be able to practice on my own, while on holiday or wherever and whenever I wanted to. That was when I began my home practice.
The style of yoga that really stuck with me was Ashtanga Yoga, and it’s what I practice daily. Maybe it’s because it’s a sequence, because it’s structured, it’s dynamic, and you have to find this balance between strength and flexibility. You have to be focused on what comes next, but at the same time, you have to relax and not have any expectations on what your asana is going to look like.
After a couple years of home practice, I attended a 2-week Retreat in Koh Samui, Thailand with Kino and Tim; there, I learnt about the breathing aspect of Ashtanga Yoga. Before this, my practice was only physical, like a workout. Once I understood the vinyasa, combining breath with movement, my practice changed. Instead of focusing on the asana, my goal is to focus on my breath while I move from one asana to another. Don’t get me wrong--I love the physical challenges of Ashtanga Yoga, but I know that’s not what the practice is about. Plus, there is so much I still have to learn.
I had taken workshops with Kino and Tim in the past and I knew the Primary Ashtanga Yoga sequence and postures, but I wanted to know more; something was missing. My main reason for signing up for the Ashtanga Intensive at Miami Life Center was to learn more about pranayama practice, the yoga philosophy, chanting and to improve my teaching skills.
One of the assignments during our Intensive Training was teaching a class in front of our teachers. I remember being so nervous my hands were sweating, my heart was pounding--it’s still kind of a blur. And the feedback I received was exactly how I felt, nervous and fidgety. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was something along the lines of slowing down, speaking up, being myself and stop fidgeting. Receiving this feedback did not surprise me because I knew it was true, I knew I could do better, so much better.
Another assignment during our training was the asana presentation. We were each assigned a posture for the presentation. when time came to present it, I presented it for Tim. Tim was our teacher for Mysore practice, and during practice one morning he told me, “Don’t try so hard, your asana is good. Focus on breathing and relaxing.” This piece of advice is so important and valuable; I remember it almost daily. I tend to overthink things, take things too seriously and forget to enjoy the moment. For this particular presentation, I did my research, I studied, I really prepared, I even filmed myself. Oh my gosh! What an eye opener it was to actually film myself and see exactly what it is I do. The feedback from Tim was great, I knew the material, I had practiced. I was nervous but I was decided and focused on what I was doing.
As our Intensive Training continued, the feedback I received was good and encouraging. I was told that when I focused on what I was doing, observed the class and assisted the students, I was more engaged and that when I spoke up, my true voice came through. I continue to study and review my anatomy and my Sanskrit counting; I’m still learning and have a lot more to learn. I get on my mat and practice every day, even if some days all I have time for is a few Sun Salutations. The truth is I love sharing what I know about yoga, and although I still get nervous at times while teaching, I’m not going to let that stop me from being myself and doing my best!