Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Do Restorative Yoga: Not Love at First Sight

The following article is by guest blogger, Satyam from Renaissance Yoga. Satyam is a Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT 500) with Yoga Alliance of North America and is also the founding director and lead instructor of Renaissance Yoga. During the 1990's, Satyam pursued and completed his yoga teacher training in India. His initial interest in meditation grew over the days, months, and years into a holistic lifestyle based on the principles and tenets of yoga. In total Satyam has been practicing yoga and meditation on a daily basis for 19 years and has been teaching yoga for 14 years, including the last 5 years in Anne Arundel & Calvert Counties (Maryland). In addition to his background in yoga, Satyam holds an undergraduate degree (B.A.) in philosophy as well as a professional degree (M.S. Ed.) in Educational Leadership & Community Education.

He writes:

It definitely was not love at first sight, and I am not even sure it was like at first sight. Mostly it was what is this at first sight.

Such is what I thought when I first encountered the phrase & profile DoRestorativeYoga on the YJ Community Blogsite.

Then last summer (2009) something clicked and I began to make more direct inquiries. How to lead a restorative yoga class? What is needed to begin? The encouraging answers came back in a warm and friendly tone, complete with pictures, descriptions and suggestions.

I "promised" to run a workshop by summer's end. It never happened.

In late fall (2009) I wrote Sara (Dorestorativeyoga): By now you probably think I am a Donothingyogi, as I never got the program off the ground. She assured me that she was not at all thinking of me like that and told me when I was ready she'd gladly help.

Time passed...

I still wasn't ready, not at all, but I had just completed purchasing dollars and dollars worth of top-of-the-line bolsters at a discounted wholesale rate, along with dozens of eye pillows.

On Dec 19, 2009, I "announced to the world" (i.e. my little corner of the universe) that Renaissance Yoga would be conducting our first-ever Restorative Yoga Workshop on January 31, 2010. The date gave me both enough time to prepare yet also held me to a "must deliver" deadline.

I then told Sara the good news and mentioned I would be in touch after I studied up a bit. I reviewed her blog, began doing restorative poses with some of my private students, and practiced with small groups as well. Lots and lots of practice working with all kinds of people, experimenting as much as possible.

About two weeks before the program I told Sara that the next step was to speak via phone, if she was so willing. I explained that I had gained what I thought was sufficient theoretical and practical knowledge to be able to benefit from a conference call. Sara said that despite her busy schedule, she could always make time to talk about restorative yoga. The call was scheduled.

I continued to put the time in and was feeling confident. I had projected that I could handle as many as 24 students, given the array of props I had. The registration numbers began to rise from 6 to 12 and then to 16.

The day of our call came and Sara gave me lots of great ideas and pointers, including adding a standing wide angle bend (leaning on a chair) before doing the same from a sitting position. She was a real wealth of knowledge on the phone - lots of great tips, techniques & thoughts that she was willing to share.

By this point, with Sara's guidance, I had "settled" on my poses, of which there would be 5: (1) Supported Bridge Pose with block and strap, (2) Supported Reclining Twist with bolster, (3) Reclining Bound Angle with bolsters, block and strap, (4) Wide Angle Bend on Chair, standing and seated, (5) Legs up on a chair.

In addition there would be a seated breathing, short warm-up, demos, followed by the poses themselves, and a long shavasana and a story. All in 1.5 hrs.

In the nine day runway into the workshop, I was feeling great and emailing Sara regularly about increased enrollment: 19, 21, 23, 24. Wow! Had to shut down registration 48hrs before the start of the workshop. Full.

Here I should say that I had planned to have everyone rotate through stations in groups of 5, doing one pose and then moving to the next station. That was Sara's normal way.

As I contemplated my situation, about 30hrs beforehand I decided it would not work for me to do that. I had told students to bring everything but the kitchen sink (blankets, towels, bags of beans and rice, pillows and more), so how would they be able to move everything from place to place. Instead I decided that I would set my 25 people up in a grid, i.e. 5 rows of 5. The students would remain in their place. Each row would do the same pose and then there would be a "wave effect". Row 4 would do the pose Row 5 was doing. Row 3 would do the pose Row 4 was doing and so on. I decided that would be the best way to manage the size of my group. No one would move, only certain props would get passed forward to accommodate the new pose. Easy right?

The day of the program I stuffed all my bolsters - 12 oversized bolsters - into my tiny car along with so many other yoga items I normally travel with. It had snowed and my car was nose forward into my driveway. The only way out was reverse. When I checked my rear view mirror I realized I could not see a thing. I went anyway. Almost all the way out - then too far to one side on the curve of the driveway and... stuck. Already I was not as early as I wanted to be and now I was immobile and no one was at home to help. What a way to begin!

With a few bursts of gas, plenty of nerves on the fray, and a bit of luck I got out. Phew!

I got to my hall, unpacked my loads of gear. And within no time, my students began arriving - all people I knew well. Within a short time everyone was set-up in the our 5 x 5 formation. Between the 25 people and all their belongings, the hall was full. The program began with breathing, warm-ups, and I demoed all the poses for everyone. Then I said, now we will begin a 5-phase sequence where they would experience each pose for 8 minutes or so.

Suddenly I was starting to think I had too many students on hand for my first ever restorative workshop. In standard yoga classes I regularly have 25+ and I have comfortably led classes for 60, 80 and even 115 participants without any helpers - and the classes always went fine. This however seemed different.

In a little longer time than I was expecting, everyone got into their first pose and I was scurrying around helping out wherever I could. Now the pose was almost over; I had about 1 minute to catch my breath before the first big switchover of the wave effect. I was a little nervous. If I had known better I would have been A LOT nervous.

I quietly told everyone it was time to pass the props forward to the next row and enter the next pose. Nothing in my 20yrs of meditation experience could have prepared me for what was about to happen.The place turned into a total fish market with everyone passing all kinds of props - chairs, bolsters, blocks & more - in every which direction and the whole room asking one another which pose they were supposed to do and how to get into it. My dear students were being so eager and so proactive - trying to do this program properly. Yet without ever having done it before and without a teacher close by to guide them through it one-by-one, it was not an easy task. Loose ends were everywhere!!

Normally when I lead classes they are tightly-knit, flowing experiences yet this restorative workshop was turning into a free-for-all, or so I thought. Somehow we got into the next pose, but the timing was now out the window, or nearly so. Once in that second pose I tried to remind everyone about maonbrta (vow of silence) and I wondered what would happen at the next transition. Little by little each one became a little smoother - or perhaps that is the way I wish to recall it. No matter what I say, suffice to say here that I was in over my head...

At one point however, about three-quarters of the way through the program, I looked out over the sea of people and belongings that filled the hall, and everyone was perfectly in place and the room was stone silent. It was the first time I felt at ease all afternoon. It was then I realized, the great magnitude and potential of this type of program. Then and there I began making thousands of mental notes of how to make it better next time.

That restorative workshop came to a close, and my faithful students filled out evals and rated the event high to the sky (lots of top scores, but I knew better). I went home, reflected on the day and blogged about it the next morning. Immediately my students graciously chimed in and commented about how great it was. Meanwhile, I was strategizing like an army colonel on how to make it better. I could not wait to get a second crack at it.

Well I got my wish - my next Restorative Workshop is scheduled for Apr 11, 2010. I hope to get another full house, but this time I'll be ready for it. I will again employ the wave technique (i.e keeping people in their spots and passing props forward) but am bringing on 5 facilitators, one per row. Each facilitator will work with the same five students all afternoon to ensure smooth and easy transitions and proper alignment in the poses. I will then be free to direct and orchestrate on the macro level, and give individual support when and where necessary. That is the main change for the next time. And yes I have dozens & dozens of other little points noted.

Some days after that first program, I called Sara to "debrief" what had transpired. I think I did all the talking as I had a lot on my mind and Sara was a great listener and gave me wonderful guidance, support and empathy. I was still "recovering" from my experience.

So that is the story of my first restorative yoga workshop - overall a great learning and teaching experience. With this first one under my belt, I feel very inspired for the next one. Certainly I will report back about it!!

Not only do I do-restorative-yoga, but I adore it...            Satyam

Sara's note: Thank you Satyam for this funny and helpful account of teaching Restorative Yoga to a large group for the first time. I love that you worked out your own system (The Wave) for making each pose possible for each person. I look forward to hearing about your future workshops. Namaskar.