To Om or Not to Om?

Yesterday I wrote about my first “Early Rise Circuit” class being a success (at least I hope it was!). I told you that I would tell you about two things, and the other experience I want to write about is the first weekend in my yoga teacher training.  It was Heaven and Hell all wrapped into one.  Okay, “Hell” is a tad harsh, but it was REALLY TOUGH!  We practiced for hours each day, then learned a bunch of really intense information, and finally did posture labs, where we got to break down the ins and outs of a few specific poses.  I am sore all over from all that practicing, but it is a wonderful sore.  My arms, legs, chest, back, abs, and every other tiny muscle in between are alive with a combination between feeling fatigued and excitedIf you don’t know what I am talking about, then take up yoga, and I’m sure you will get it soon enough.

The course is not just physically demanding, though; I need to learn a bunch of stuff too.  Maybe it’s my karma for making students learn about stories and symbolism in my day job.  In addition to a bunch of anatomy (which I thankfully have a pretty good handle on from my AFLCA group fitness leader training), I have to learn the names of all the poses.  Not the English names either.  I don’t get to wuss out by saying “Triangle pose” or “Downward Dog.”  Oh no.  I have to pronounce Parivrtta Trikonasana and Adho Mukha SvanasanaYa – that’s what I thought too.  I learned so much over the course of the weekend that I cannot even begin to put it into words.  Only 7 more intense weekend sessions left to go – but I’m not sure my brain actually has room for 7 more sessions worth of information!
The YogaWorks course is being offered through Shanti Yoga Studio in Edmonton, and our instructor is Catherine Munro.  She is fantastic.  Well except for the part where she makes us hold Downward Dog for-EVER.  She clearly knows her stuff, she is an excellent teacher, and she has an amazing sense of how the human body works and moves.  If I can glean just a fraction of her knowledge and expertise I will be golden.
One thing I considered when choosing which teacher training to do was the spiritual aspect of each program.  I’m sure you have all been to/heard about/watched a movie with one of those yoga classes where they sit and meditate and chant.  You know, the “Om-ing” and the chakras and that sort of thing.  I fully realize that “that sort of thing” is an integral part of yoga, but I also know that I am far more interested in the stretching and the strengthening than in any sort of chanting*.  That is exactly why I chose the YogaWorks course over some of the other options being offered in Edmonton; there seems to be a much greater focus on the physical aspect of practicing yoga, which I like.  So I was a bit surprised to come face to face with my very first Om.  That’s right – we “omed.”  We chanted too.  At the end of each day, Catherine led a call and response chant that was about 4 or 5 lines long.  The most surprising part about this (especially if you have already read the footnote at the bottom of this post), is that I kinda liked it.  I was a little nervous the first time because I didn’t have the foggiest clue what the heck we were doing, but it really wasn’t that big of a deal.  I suppose that I was already really relaxed from a wonderful and extended period of savasana, but I found the oming to be a lovely experience.  It was peaceful, and empowering, and wonderful.  Perhaps there is more to this yoga business than simply building physical strength by moving through and holding poses.  I guess I’m on board to learn all about it!
* I honour religion, and I love the idea of community – which can readily be found in a church/spiritual community – but religious and spiritual rituals freak me out a bit.  I was once asked to participate in a sweet grass smudging ceremony with some First Nations People, and it made me so nervous that I started shaking uncontrollably.  I also dated a Catholic boy from a fairly religious family for a little while, and attended a few weddings with him; the “Peace be with you” stuff made me squirm.  For real.  Not kidding even a little bit.  I think it’s awesome when people are in tune with their religion and/or spirituality, but rituals typically scare the crap out of me.

2 thoughts on “To Om or Not to Om?

  1. I’ve been doing yoga for a decade and with the right teacher (whom I know embraces yoga spiritually rather than just physically) I will say ‘om’ at the beginning and end of class because the vibrations help me centre myself. However, I still have a problem with the use of Sanskrit non-English words amongst groups of people who either don’t know what they mean or for whom using the English word would mean more to them. So, I will say namaste and I do bow in a seated position at the end of practice ( but I won’t say shanti ( – I prefer to say peace.

    After 100s of hours of yoga and hearing teachers use sanskrit terms I do know all the names in sanskrit for the main positions and all about the various chakras and bandas and, yes, I think a yoga teacher should know all about that. When I talk to teachers I do use the technical terms. However, I know that in the Western World 80% of the people in beginner or intermediate classes don’t care about the spiritual side of yoga. It is only in the advanced classes that I go to that I fully engage in what many outsiders would think is slightly ‘religious’ behaviour, including using mantras for purification.

    The one thing that stops me wanting to become a teacher is the fact I don’t yet feel wise enough to be able to share what I’ve learned about yoga with others (and also the fact I wouldn’t have time to do yoga 6 times a week – I manage about 4). I also would have your dilema about to what extent I should try and engage students in aspects of yoga beyond the physicality. I should add that I am not religious at all and yoga and the challenges and lessons I’ve learned through it often underlie my morality and approach to life and others.

    I think it’s your practice and so everyone should do what they are comfortable with, especially when trying yoga for the first time.

  2. Thanks for the valuable comment Fashion 101! You are absolutely right – we all need to decide what feels right for us, and go with that in our yoga practice. I also fully understand your mention of “not yet feel[ing] wise enough” to teach yoga; I consider myself a beginner, really. I also know, though, that there is no such thing as “knowing enough” – I hope to always continue learning and growing (in yoga practice, and in life)!

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