A student’s practice through empowered teaching

Although yoga is my intimate mental, physical and spiritual practice, the learning support through observation, a teacher’s assessment and communication cannot be replicated or replaced.

-Elizabeth McIntyre– 2020 VYC Ambassador – Nanaimo

Elizabeth has been studying Yoga since 2007. She has had the great privilege of guiding classes and workshops for a range of different folks, and the unparalleled joy of pioneering the Young Yogis Summer Camp at her home studio, Oxygen Yoga & Fitness Nanaimo. Her practice is intersectional, inclusive, and body positive; she utilizes trauma informed teaching practices and strives to reify a culture of consent (Ahimsa), especially in bringing yoga to kids!  Elizabeth received her practical Yoga training in “Traditional Hatha Asana, Pranayama, Meditation and Yogic Philosophy” at Ayur Yoga Eco Ashram in Karnataka, India. She has also studied Teaching Yoga to Children with Jacqueline Maloney more recently at Semperviva in Vancouver.

Prasarita Padottanasana is not an asana for the feint of heart; literally, it is a posture where you invert your head below your heart, spread your legs wide ,thrust your ischial tuberosity (ahem, “sit bones”, aka bottom bits) upward and have no idea what you look like. Time slows and (depending on the humidity level around you) ideally you start drinking small blissful beads of sweat through your nostrils. If you’re in a group setting you definitely have someone’s ischial whatsits in your personal space bubble and are working very hard to utilize the diaphragm calmly to continue the pranic flow of breath. Then, just be. With only a few months’ practice, this is a posture that will invariably see improvement. But it will never get easy; this will never be a place of relaxation.

Practicing this asana is a joy and a challenge. Perhaps you know you’re really opening into the posture when more perspiration coalesces between the folds behind your ears, meanders through the roots of your hair, drops off of the top of your head, or audaciously drips right from that apex between your triangulating legs onto the alarmingly wide space of mat below you. You begin to value your often unappreciated but ever stabilizing pinky toes, your lungs that fill majestically (even if somewhat desperately) with air, and the earth itself (or flooring) as it evades your endeavoring reach. The greatest joy and challenge of this posture in my practice has been that I realized, with the supportive assessment of a wonderful teacher, that I had essentially been doing it all wrong for about 7 years. Although yoga is my intimate mental, physical and spiritual practice, the learning support through observation, a teacher’s assessment and communication cannot be replicated or replaced. I am so grateful to my teacher, for this seemingly brief assessment, which has transformed the work I have been doing on my self for years and will continue to practice as long as I remain in my physical body.

Committed to my daily solitary practice at home, for many years it was not until trying a no -commitment community drop in, for a change, at a hot yoga studio locally here in Nanaimo, recently, that I was assessed in this posture. Jen advised me so gently that my upper body should be passive in attainment of the asana. A small detail perhaps, but it has affected me tremendously. I am humbled by the magnanimity that only another person can provide as a teacher, assessing. I believe this is a piece of a universally necessary power: learning and growing with support. Assessment in its formative role is empowerment; it is how we learn what a subject has learned and offer them support to reach further. We see them, hear them and know what they need, but can only offer it to empower their own continued work. In kindergarten it may be how to hold a pair of scissors correctly, or how to write one’s name, but in every instance we can only empower a learner’s own practice. They must choose whether to use it, but a good teacher’s assessment provides the choice. And as poet Nayyirah Waheed says “the greatest teacher will send you back to yourself”.