30 September 2016

sadhana suggestions for yoga teachers

                   
                    Related image

Personal practice

Following on from my previous post about yoga practice for yoga teachers. Personal practice is called sadhana, & sadhana is done for many reasons, & many different intentions.

Some yoga teachers just l-o-o-o-ve doing postures, & they will spend hours each day, or week, mastering poses. If this is you, & you don't have much time, you can do:

  • a session or more each week
  • or even, every 14 days, on particular poses that you are working on. 
In these cases, be methodical. 

Being methodical in learning a hard pose: eg hanumanasana

As an example. if you are working on hanuman asana, (the splits), do some:

  • hip looseners
  • stretch the backs of your legs
  • & start by attempting the pose on cushions
  • always help your body! Using props when you are working towards accomplishing a hard pose, is excellent
  • I would also recommend stretching the fronts of your legs 
  • also stretch you lower abdomen too, but stretching the hamstrings is the main stretch to do first, for hanuman asana. 
You can also just attempt a difficult pose, each day or evening for a few seconds each time, & this is a really good way to attempt hard poses, because your body:

  • gets used to doing the poses
  • & gradually eases into them. 
Not everything has to be a mission.

Other sadhana suggestions

For those who love to do a full, long, routine, the same suggestion applies about doing it less often, if you don't have much spare time. 

Once, or a few times each week for your longer routine, & if you can condense it into a smaller routine to do more often, this will keep you able to do the poses, & will help your teaching enormously. You can still hold the poses that you include, but for less breaths. 3 breaths is fine.

Another suggestion, especially for new teachers, is to fit in a few sessions of groups of poses, for yourself. 

For example, you could do some standing poses in a session, or some backbends, starting with easy poses, working up to the hardest that you are doing, or some forward bends. If you include a twist with each session, that would save you have to do a twist session. 

You might even like to do a session occasionally on inversions against the wall: handstands, forearm stands, shoulderstands, headstands.

Not all practice needs to take a long time

A practice session like those mentioned can be, say, 10 minutes at a pinch, to 30 minutes. This will ease the angst about being a yoga teacher, & actually fitting in some work on the poses, for yourself. 

And for the new teachers, it also helps in learning the finer points of the poses.

There is always the option of going to another yoga teachers' class, just for your own benefit. I seldom do this myself, not as an ego thing, but because I don't feel the need to. And that is because I still do some postures, regularly.

A doable minimum

And, by finding a way to keep up with the physical side of yoga, here & there, you would then feel okay about just fitting in:

  • a few easy poses, like cats and warm-ups
  • or a couple of sun salutes/surya namaskara, in the morning
  • & maybe rest in the 1/2 shoulderstand before bed. 
I'm not suggesting that every teacher does all this, they are just suggestions for you to mull over, to see if there is something here to suit you.

Just looking at variables, there is nothing wrong with doing your sun salutes in the afternoon, instead. Even just a few times a week.

To be honest, if you are stressed, I'd skip sun salutes & do some floor poses.....gently. Relax with each exhale. 

When I first started yoga, I knew a yoga teacher who had 4 children & a husband who disliked her practising yoga ("no comment" on this!) She did 10 minutes each night, of the "classical" poses: 

  • cobra
  • locust
  • bow,
  • wist/ardha matsyendrasana
  • forward bend
  • shoulderstand
  • plough
  • headstand. 
  • She held each for 1 minute. Another great option.
Not forgetting pranayama and meditation

At the other end of the spectrum are those who want to spend a long time each day doing advanced pranayama & long meditations. 

Which is also wonderful...but so impractical if you are:

  • teaching a lot
  • travelling to teach
  • & maybe have a family. 
For those of us who have done this.....honestly, the teacher is lucky to even get regular meals! Let alone fit in any long sadhana. 

What I have done, for about 6 years, is regular, shorter meditation, & do a longer one as a deep meditation, when I have more time, even if it's only once a week. 

Your shorter, daily meditation, is the important one! It is the one that keeps your emotional & mental equilibrium on an even keel, plus it enables us to go quickly into a meditative state without too much fluffing about.

I have noticed that if it's hard to maintain long sessions of daily poses, it's just as hard to maintain long, regular periods of intense pranayama & meditation. 

But when we start from a shorter base time of practices, they become easier & easier to maintain. Then, when the time presents itself...we are able to do more, & it's not a great awful thing hanging over our heads. Yoga is meant to be enjoyable.

"never, ever, underestimate the power of regularity"

Never. And it's more important than the amount that you do.

And of course, we do have times when we are lucky to even fit in a few sun salutes & a quick meditation! 

Sometimes, other things must take priority, such as when you are sick....& here, rest, sleep & abstinence from practices, are the best sadhana. 

Or, maybe you are getting up so early to travel to teach....in this case it would be a major stress to do some sadhana first. 

Sometimes we just have to work with how our life is. And fit in a bit of practice around it.

26 September 2016

yoga practice for yoga teachers

                             Related image

Getting real about yoga teachers and their own practice

I saw this article here about yoga teachers, especially those who have taught for many years, & their own practice.

I have been living the yoga life for decades now, & along the way, have learnt a thing or two. 

I have seen yoga teachers shrink in height as they get older, & I am sure that this is due, not only to their diet, but also to their non-practice of physical yoga. 

When I hear someone say that they "do yoga all day long", I know that this is supposed to mean that the teacher is immersed in: 

  • witnessing/drastha bhav
  • detachment/vairagya
  • constant practice with all of this/abhyasa. 
But this is not always the case.

Sure, one can float around in lovely states of mind, from the energy generated by teaching classes, & of course, we are meant to develop drastha, vairagya, abhyasa, as a direct result from our own practice. 

The real fruits of yoga come from a real practice

Note, that it is from our own practice, that the fruits of yoga emerge within us & our lives, & it is our own practice which not only maintains them but also keeps them developing. 

Teaching alone will not do this. 

And if we are relying on an outside (yet, internal) source of energy & consciousness during our teaching...this is transitory, & can end at any time, whereas the fruits of one's own practice, remain.

Adjust your practice to your age and needs

The article that I read, talked about how the yoga teacher's practice does change as one gets older, & that they should not try to keep up with a 20 year old whom they are teaching. 

Which, of course, is quite logical. You can bet that most 20 year olds are not going to be turning up every day for 60 - 90 minutes of hard asanas. And neither should the yoga teacher. 

Practising hard yoga every day can be stressful & can cause:

  • inflammation
  • bad back
  • or joint problems
in some people. But, without the strong poses to build strength, the body can deteriorate.

Some poses build strength

Not all of the poses build strength. The more strenuous asanas such as:

  • warriors
  • trikonasanas (triangle)
  • wide legged forward bend
  • planks
  • chaturanga (like an elevated push up...the downward phase)
  • down dog/mountain
  • updog/cobra
  • locust with head & legs raised
  • chair pose
  • arm balances 
they do indeed all build strength. Especially when held for 5-8 deep breaths. 

You don't have to do these every day

Body builders do not do strength poses every day. They often do strength training on alternate days, giving the muscles time to repair, & whilst yoga purists might disagree, I think that this is excellent. 

If you are holding these strengthening poses & are time crunched...think about doing them 2 -3 times a week, as in a series. 

Yoga teachers do need to practice what they preach, & if we are teaching these poses, it will not hurt to do them ourselves. But it need not be everyday. Strength training of any sort is excellent for bone health, & for muscle tone.


When I first started yoga, we didn't do down nor up, dog, warriors, chaturanga, planks, etc, as difficult poses which we held. And I do know that yoga is not about the body beautiful. And I am quite familiar with the frustration that we older yoga teachers can have, when we know that people come to yoga for their fitness. Yoga does give fitness, definitely. But it is done through just doing the poses, regularly, without holding poses. Just doing them.

I have seen older yoga teachers get unwell from practising too strenuous yoga everyday, & others losing muscle & bone thickness from just doing a bit of wimpy stuff here & there. 

For most of us teachers, time & space for ourselves is difficult, so I recommend doing a basic everyday routine for suppleness & also for hormonal health. 

Do the harder poses a few times a week. If you do some morning sun salutes, you can do just a few with excellent posture, or do a few more, but a wee bit faster, without being so fussy about correct form. 

Of course you can do more asanas than this...but make it doable & easy to maintain.

Go upside down in the evening...1/2 shoulderstand is excellent. Do a few poses in a restorative way, on the floor.

Pranayama and meditation

It's not just the physical that we need to do. Do some pranayama. To do advanced pranayamas, & a lot of it, regularly, seems to produce another sort of imbalance, different from not doing any poses. 

I have seen a few older people get a bit batty, by just emphasising advanced pranayama with mudras, without doing much in the way of asanas. 

And too much meditation....(I should be so lucky.....) ...a yoga teacher of long duration doesn't require much effort to enter into a meditative state quite quickly. But we do need to balance it with some physical activity.

It's good to do some easy warm-us

I also do a couple of sessions a week, of joint loosening exercises. My first yoga teacher was 78 when I met him. No-one in the class had his stamina nor suppleness. He did the same set of flexibility movements, every morning.  Not the pawanmuktasana series, it is a bit different. 

I often think that these sort of movements are like a "missing link" with asanas. If you do them a few times a week, your whole body will respond quite dramatically & you won't have to try so hard with the poses.

Teaching a lot of yoga, & maintaining your own wellbeing at the same time, is a question of balance. But above all, it should suit you & your life.

4 September 2016

more breathing in the poses

                 Image result for vintage cobra pose yoga at home

I like to do warm-ups

I like to do warm-ups at the start of my own practice, & in a class. When I first learnt yoga, they were called flexibilities. 

For beginners

For a beginner class, I do quite a few flexibilities, because they help a person do the actual postures. 

And those more advanced

For an advanced class, I use the poses with bhastrika here. Often, I'll do a standing twist to start, moving rapidly, from side to side, blowing the air out forcibly as I twist...not mukha bhastrika, just blowing. This really loosens the body.

Cats for deep breathing

Sometimes I start with child, then cat. As we perform cat pose, we quite naturally do deep breathing on the inhale, & with a big squish at the end of the exhale, we are forcing air out of the lungs. Then when we breathe in again, we breathe deeper still. 

So this is good for anyone who has:

  • been unwell
  • a beginner
  • asthmatic
I also teach breathing ratios using the cat pose to increase the breathing capacity. 

In/brief pause; out/brief pause. 

It sets the scene for deeper, relaxed breathing in a class. And this in turn, relaxes emotions, & mind.

Then I get ratios going: 

  • for beginners, people with small rib cages, breathing problems: use in/4 counts; hold in/2 counts; out/4; hold out/2
  • next is 6:3:6:3
  • then 8:4:8:4. 
  • most people find the 8:4 ratio enough. 
  • generally, people prefer the 6:3 count, especially women. 
I don't advise continuing these breathing ratios breathing in a class, with other poses; it's hard for people, & just doesn't make sense. Some people, usually men, count very slowly. 

I advise counting to a heart beat rhythm, as it's very harmonious. 

Doing child, before cats, after, or both, also aids breathing due to it's restorative effect on the adrenal glands.

Tiger pose for breathing

For a thorough effect on improving lung health, doing asanas where we create a compression action, is also helpful. the easiest way to do this is the tiger pose: 

  • on all fours, exhale as you lift 1 leg up behind you
  • inhale as you bend the knee forward towards the head, rounding the back. 
So, it's reversed breathing. Just 3x each side is all that we need to do here.

Teacher tip

I really want to be clear that people with small lung airways, asthmatics, emphysema, people prone to bronchitis, people who are, or have recently been, smokers, they should not be given too much of cat ratios, & tiger, at once. Build up lung health slowly.

Unless a yoga teacher has had medical or physiotherapy training, they are yoga teachers, not therapists! So, take care, & keep the ego out of it. If a student has a real breathing problem, they need to find out from their doctor what they can & can't do, & may need to be referred to a physiotherapist. 

Although I have 40 years experience teaching, & a lot of knowledge & experience with applying yoga to various problems, I know that I do not have the knowledge nor training of a medical person nor a physical therapist.

Other poses aid breathing, too

Some postures force air into various parts of the lungs, just by virtue of moving into the pose, & holding it:

  • cobra pose/bhujangasana is a must for me, because it pushes air into the bottom part of the lungs
  • as does the camel/ushtrasana.  
Rest after

I like to rest in child after the camel, which of course is the obvious counterpose, but a great child variation is to cup your chin in your hands, with elbows on the floor. This forces air into the mid-lungs. 

You can also add this

Then, for those with no neck or shoulder problems, put your hands flat on the floor either side of the head, in the usual child, push hands into the floor & roll onto your crown. You can do this dynamically: roll up; roll back to child, then hold the last time, in the pose, which is sometimes called the hare pose, sometimes known as pranamasana. 

Going up & down in the pose, forces air into the small top part of the lungs. Rest after in child. This whole sequence is highly beneficial for the lungs.

Standing poses

With standing poses, each time you raise the arms out to the sides, you are creating an action which forces air into the side parts of the lungs, an area often overlooked. You are creating an expansion. When we do trikonasana/triangle, we are strengthening the diaphragm, thereby improving lung health.

Twists force air into 1 lung lobe, we have 2 lobes, a left & a right one. Holding a seated twist is the easiest way to do this.

The postures themselves, do much of the work of lung improvement.