Featured, Life @ BC

Thoughts on Yoga from an Expert

Phoebe Matthews is a sophomore at BC and a yoga instructor at the Plex. She teaches Vigorous Vinyasa on Mondays at 7:30 pm, Spinoga on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4:00 pm, and Sunrise Yoga on Thursdays at 7:15 am. Notable fans of her teaching style include Rock Staffers Ian Malone and Christian Montalvo. Phoebe was kind enough to share her yoga story with The Rock. You should really check out her classes, she’s the best BC has to offer.

Teaching yoga at the Plex has been such an amazing experience so far. This is my first semester teaching at BC and I am so grateful for the opportunity to do what I love and share it with others. It’s such a gift and teaching yoga is often one of the best parts of my day. If I’m having a bad day, teaching always puts be a more balanced and centered place; it brings me back to myself.

I got my 200-hour yoga teacher training in June, and taught at a gym in my hometown all summer. It was good to get some experience teaching before I came back to BC- I feel like it made me better able to offer students a more dynamic and effective class. I learn something new with every class I teach- I’m always growing and evolving as a teacher and a person. Before I started actually teaching classes, I never really thought of myself as a “teacher,” but as I have done it more and more, I feel so much more at home in that role. It’s been a really beautiful experience to feel that change happening in myself.

Moving from the role of student to teacher has changed my personal yoga practice. Whenever I take a yoga class as a student, I find myself making mental notes of things that the teacher is doing that I want to do in the next class I take-every yoga class I take now is an inspiration for my teaching. Teaching yoga has deepened my own yoga practice profoundly. I’m a teacher, but I’m always learning- from other classes, from other teachers, from my students.

One of the things I love so much about teaching is helping students find that sense of well-being, calm, a sense of stillness and balance. I think it’s especially important at a place like BC that is so fast-paced and busy for students to take some time for themselves to slow down, to see what’s happening internally, just be with themselves, even if it’s only for an hour a week. The health benefits of a regular yoga practice are so profound, because yoga unites your physical, emotional, and spiritual bodies. I love it when I can see a student suddenly make this new discovery about themselves, about their body, in a yoga class. Sometimes I can see a student making these discoveries- they’re like, “Wow! I’ve never felt my hips that way before!” Helping students build that awareness, make those discoveries, is so important to me as a teacher, and is such a huge part of what yoga is all about to me. In our society, we’ve become so separated from our bodies-that awareness is so lacking in so many people. There’s this idea of separation that we’ve been taught to accept- that our minds, spirits, and our bodies are totally separate things. The word “yoga” literally means, “to yoke,” and I think that’s what’s at the core of yoga- the idea of yoking, of uniting your body and mind. We’ve become so separated and alienated from our bodies, and yoga is a way to return to that place, to find a home in our bodies. It’s really a profound experience to see students “coming home” to their bodies, or at least discovering a part of themselves they weren’t aware of before. And that discovery, that awareness, can lead to a stronger sense of well—being and acceptance and love.

And yoga is fun! It’s an opportunity to just experiment a little bit! I like to think of my yoga practice as an experiment. People get so attached to the idea of doing a pose “right,” and I get attached to that idea as well. We live in such a goal-oriented, striving society- yoga is a good opportunity to let go of that mindset for a little while, and just be with what is. That’s something that is always a struggle for me- I’m such a goal-oriented person, a “go-getter, if you will. Yoga is a way for me to practice letting go of that attachment to getting better, to striving, and appreciating the beauty in the moment, to experience that gratitude for what my body can do right now. That being said, I think it’s fun to see be able to do things you maybe weren’t able to do a few weeks ago-but just having that kind sense of fun, of playfulness, without being attached to the outcome, is important, I think.

This ties into meditation, for me, in a profound way- yoga for me is simply “meditation in motion.” Actually, you asked about meditation in your email-and keep in mind, I am in no way an expert in any way on any of this stuff, but I can tell you about the experiences I have had. One thing I think that is important to keep in mind as you develop your meditation practice is that same idea I was talking about earlier of letting go of the attachment to outcome. You don’t meditate to accomplish a goal, to better yourself, to change something about yourself- you meditate to be with yourself, to experience the moment fully, to simply observe what is happening.

I think a common misconception about meditation is that you’re “supposed” to just stop thinking-but that’s not realistic! We’re human beings! We’re not just going to stop thinking. Thoughts are a part of being human. I mean, maybe some people can just stop thinking, I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem realistic to me. Meditation is more about noticing and observing what is going on in your mind without judgment. It’s about taking the place of that compassionate witness, watching your thoughts as they come, and then watching them as they go, without judging anything as good or bad. It’s liberating to let go of the need to accomplish anything through meditation, to free yourself from that attachment. Of course, the paradox is that when you let go of trying to really do anything, things start to happen!

I usually try to formally meditate everyday, even if it’s just for 5 minutes a day. But there are so many opportunities in the day to practice meditation- every moment can be a practice in being present, being aware. Like I said, yoga is highly meditative for me- again, it’s a kind of “meditation on motion.” But you can make eating, showering, going to the bathroom, going to class, working out etc. meditative practices. Being fully present in these things takes a conscious effort-but that’s what meditation is about to me.

And if you’re formally meditating, it’s helpful to bring your attention to something- your breath, an image, a candle flame- that can help you stay with the present moment. I personally like to focus on my breath- but I’m not changing anything about my breath, I’m simply letting my breath breathe me. Each breath is new, each breath is different, each moment is new, each moment is different. And as your mind wanders, as it inevitably will (that’s the nature of our minds), and you notice that your mind is wandering, you can just take a moment to return to that breath, to return to that centered place- and let go of judging your wandering mind as good or bad. Meditation is a way for us to realize that we are not our thoughts. Thinking something, whatever it is, does not make it true, and it does not define who we are. Meditation is way to come into that still place, to develop that compassionate observer that is our true nature.

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  1. Pingback: BC Yoga: My New Favorite Part of the Day | The Rock at Boston College

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