Bones used for our 500-hour Yoga Teacher Training session
A careful look at the bones and joints reveals whether a yoga student can physically do a pose. Although most yoga poses can be attained with practice, the position of the body in certain poses is predetermined by a student’s bone structure. A student might spend years dedicated to learning a certain pose which is physically impossible. All students should be reminded of this reality.
Simple tests by certified teachers who are well-trained in anatomy can help students understand their bodies. Knowledgeable teachers can help you see that:
♦ Getting your knees down to the floor in supta baddha konasana depends on your hip joint. Externally and internally rotating the legs in a relaxed seated position will show the limits.
♦ You’ll never float from chattarunga to a seated position if your arms are a few inches shorter than your torso. Sitting upright with your arms hanging at your sides and hands flexed will give you the answer.
♦ You can’t safely do a headstand on your forearms if your head is taking the weight of your body rather than your forearms. Put your hands over your shoulders onto your back to determine if your head and forearms align to protect the neck.
♦ Whether or not your heels reach the mat in downdog depends on your ankle joint. If your knee does not extend forward of your ankle in a low lunge, your heels will also be far from the mat in downdog no matter how much you stretch your hamstrings. (Note: we should never extend the knee forward of the ankle in yoga unless you are doing this gentle test with a teacher!)
When you have your heart set on mastering a certain pose, finding out the truth about the limitations of your body can be devastating. We are surrounded by media displaying ”perfect” bodies in “perfect” poses. However, these ideals are not possible for everyone.
Deep down we all know that yoga is not entirely about the physical. In fact, it’s hardly about the physical. We’re strengthening our minds and spirit. Even so, we might need an arm around our shoulders to cheer us up when we have to give up that vision of the ultimate pose.
On the positive, the truth can free you from the bondage of a quest for an unattainable body image. You won’t be pushing against a wall that can’t move. Use your energy for something even better!
Many people have expressed an interest in seeing my yoga with chairs. I teach different versions of chair yoga. In some sessions the chair is used as an occasional prop. In other classes the students do all the poses sitting in a chair.
I was delighted to have Karin Zeitvogel ask to video one of my classes for the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service· She’s finished up her graduate degree and currently interviewing at agencies. Here’s an extremely professional peek into the class I teach for Thrive Yoga at the Sunrise Community, Bedford Court, in Silver Spring.
Thanks to Karin for all her hard work putting this footage together! We all enjoyed watching it with great excitement and even some happy laughter.
Often when people hear about yoga in chairs, they think about the older population or those who have physical disabilities. Although I have been teaching yoga in chairs at an assisted living community with wonderful results, people of all ages and ability levels practice this type of yoga. The trend’s growing.
The stretches and bends of chair yoga have been practiced in offices for years. Many companies offer classes and instruction specifically for the workplace. Short physical and mental breaks combined with deep breathing can relieve stress and increase performance.
Elementary schools offer yoga to students in their seats. We all know how kids have difficulty sitting still. Allowing a class to stretch, move, balance, and breath for even 5 minutes can result in better concentration and a fresh outlook.
Students and adults also contend with physical ailments from our tech overload. Bending over computers and cell phones causes neck, back, and shoulder pain which can easily be countered with a few good yoga poses scattered throughout the day. Many people on long plane flights enjoy the benefits of yoga in their seats for many of the same reasons.
Chair yoga can be empowering for those who are overweight and learn to adapt poses with chairs. All of our bodies are so diverse. Yoga poses can reflect those differences. When yoga makes people physically aware of their bodies, they can embrace their bodies and practice in creative ways.
My chair yoga routines always start with an exploration of a breathing technique. Then after a warm up from head to toe, the yoga poses work every part of the body building strength and flexibility in the arms, legs, and back. Many students find the conscious relaxation at the end of practice to be their favorite part.
As they say, “If you can breathe, you can do yoga.”
Because of all of these life situations, chair yoga will continue to grow among people of all ages.
This week I met an older gentleman at an event. During a brief book discussion, I mentioned I was training to be a yoga teacher. He excitedly explained he had been one for 25 years.
After the event he spoke to me about teaching yoga. Deep down I knew what he said to me was true but I had never verbalized the thoughts. I stood in awe as he summed up exactly what you need to do as a teacher in ten minutes. His students would often come to him and ask “How did you do that?” He generously shared his secret with me.
This was experience talking.
We need to be reminded that many have gone before us and completed the exact same endeavor we are attempting. They give us the gift of wisdom.
He started by saying “Don’t be afraid.” We all experience times of fear and doubt so these are the most encouraging words you can offer.
As I continue on my journey, I’m depending on many people to share their knowledge with me. This includes my students, especially my husband who provides feedback to me on all my home classes.
If you seek to learn with an open heart, you’ll learn in each mindful moment from those with years of experience and those with none.
Last weekend during a restorative yoga class (my first one), I had an amazing experience involving the “subtle body”. In these classes you comfortably hold poses with props for long periods of time. As I settled into a position on my back with my chest expanded, a picture of my husband popped into my head accompanied by a strong wave of the love I always feel with him. As this experience was developing, I didn’t question the reasons but rather immersed myself in the happy moment. Then our teacher said, “This pose opens up the heart Chakra.” I thought “Oh my goodness, really? It really does!”
For the first time, I had personal proof of the existence of my subtle body. Along with this realization came the acknowledgement that yoga influences the energy in my body in ways I don’t fully understand.
If you haven’t studied the ancient yogic systems of India and the Buddhist Psychology of Tibet, you probably have never heard of the Chakras, Nadis, and Prana of our subtle bodies. In addition to these doctrines, the Chinese Taoist alchemy and Japanese Shingon Esoterism also describe a subtle physiology with focal points connected by a series of channels which move the life force within us all. When I first learned about the subtle body in yoga teacher training, I noted that many people believe in its existence without any scientific proof. Obviously you can’t see these with x-rays or MRIs. My deep-rooted love of philosophy leads me to study beliefs, but always with an analytical eye.
A recent article on the science behind our smart phones and tablets highlighted the power of the energy in our bodies. Capacitive touch screens work because of the energy from our fingers. A gloved hand, pencil, or stick won’t work because these objects don’t change the charge on the screen. I started to marvel at how our bodies interact with energy.
What if you could control this energy? I’ve participated in meditations and breathing exercises in which we attempted to picture and move the energy through our Chakras (the focal points of the energy system). During one 90-minute yoga class we experimented with bringing life force energy in through the crown of our heads. I’m not sure I was doing anything.
But now I’ve had this blatant collision with my subtle body. I’ll pay even more attention to how my energy is flowing. Many people who practice yoga admit to strong emotions during their asanas. As my yoga journey continues and deepens, I’ll study these connections.
Do you have experiences with your subtle body to share?
The most interesting fact I’ve learned in Yoga Teacher Training is that yoga originally had absolutely nothing to do with physical poses. What? No pretzel moves? Well, there was one pose: sitting comfortably. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Book 2, Sutra 46 states “Asana is a steady, comfortable posture.” That’s not as easy as it seems for long periods of time. People have difficulty sitting still, so yoga was developed over time to include all the poses we know and still develop today.
So what was yoga about all those centuries ago when it began, and more importantly, what does it offer for us today? Yoga is knowing ourselves and controlling negative thoughts in our daily lives. From the beginning yoga emphasized proper breathing, meditation, and diet. See, things haven’t changed much in thousands of years! The Sutras advise staying away from pleasures because they can bring unhappiness afterwards. This is a difficult one to accept. However, in many ways, the Yoga Sutras resemble the Ten Commandments by advising non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, and non-greed. They encouraged people to be clean (purity) and to do their best without worrying about the outcome (contentment). People should not cause pain and should accept pain. Practice leads to a certain detachment bringing a better life without constant desires for material things. The Sutras offer practical advice about what to do with evil people and those who intend harm. The ultimate message is to stop going to the outside world for happiness, then these instances don’t matter.
If you think you can’t do yoga because of physical challenges, think again. Everyone can find poses to practice then combine each movement with good breathing. Moving with poses begins the yoga journey. I practiced for over a decade before trying meditation and now I have even greater challenges and purpose. I don’t think I’ll ever reach the state of “Samadhi” (bliss) but I’ll certainly enjoy continuing to try and notice the changes in my everyday life because of yoga.
Most of us take our breathing for granted and never give it a thought. After all, the diaphragm is an involuntary muscle. We breathe just enough air to function but perhaps not enough air to clear out toxins.
For the past month I’ve been paying attention to my breath once a day and journaling about my observations. When under a work deadline, I tend to hold my breath. During the pain of a tough workout or physical therapy, I don’t take the necessary deep, prolonged breaths. Give it a try. How are you breathing now? Are your breaths shallow? Do you pause?
During yoga, I do breathe well. Since I practice vinyasa flow, this is no surprise. The intent is to connect breath to each movement. At first my yoga practice involved learning the poses and finishing each class. Over time I learned to concentrate on deep breathing throughout my practice.
One of the easiest places to recognize your breath is during yoga. The challenge is to spread this awareness throughout the day. Typically we take about 16 breaths per minute but we are capable of taking 10 deeper breaths which brings better health to our whole body.
I’m not there yet. Last week I decided to breathe deep while driving to a store on a busy road. When I arrived, I didn’t remember when I stopped breathing deeply but I doubted it was half way. I have a long way to go.
One book, Breathe In Breathe Out: Inhale Energy and Exhale Stress By Guiding and Controlling Your Breathing, explains the importance of breathing correctly. The book details circumstances and diseases with case-by-case stories of regular people and famous athletes. Some of the most successful athletes had to learn how to breathe properly to truly dominate their sports. We don’t realize how breathing affects everything that we do – our health, sleep, fitness, and stamina.
If you want to give better breathing a try, take time to try an Abdominal Breath. Place your hand on your abdomen to start. Inhale deeply and slowly as your abdomen expands like a balloon. Then let the abdomen fall as you exhale slowly releasing all the stale air. Push all the air out each time. As babies we did it all the time! This is our natural breathing.
A few easy extras to add:
1.) Imagining you are breathing into a painful part of your body,
2.) Lifting your shoulders on the inhale then releasing them and sighing on the exhale, or
3.) Imagining yourself filled with a white light on each inhale.
In my yoga practice, I use alternate nostril, Ujjayi, and energizing breath. All of these techniques are outlined in the book and I intend to add them, and many others, to my classes. In yoga we study Pranayama “the art of placing the mind in the breath”. Group breathing is possible in a class.
As we grow older, we lose flexibility in our lungs. Using our lungs to their full capacity throughout each day will help reverse this aging. Fill that abdomen!
Currently I am studying to be a yoga teacher. I hope to breathe well for all 200 hours!
People are born with extra ribs and vertebrae and fewer of both. Men and women’s bodies are not created equal. Underneath our skin lies a world of limitations and possibilities.
One size does not fit all when it comes to the human body. When a man comes into a yoga class and immediately realizes that his knees stick up toward the ceiling in a seated position, while every woman’s knees rest much closer to the floor, he may feel discouraged and think “I’ll never be able to do this.” Since men are not made for childbirth, their pelvic bones aren’t the same as a woman’s. However, their broad shoulders and slim hips make inversions easier. Some people are not physically able to raise their arms straight up next to their ears. Others may be able to move their arms even further back behind their heads which can create shoulder problems. Our range of motion depends on the shape of our bones, the condition of our ligaments, and our resting muscle tone.
In the same way that each yoga pose must start with the strong foundation of proper foot placement, all yoga instruction must be based on a comprehensive knowledge of the human body. As part of my yoga teacher training, I spent a weekend studying anatomy at Thrive Yoga with Kristin Leal. Our readings, demonstrations, and discussions have introduced me to an entirely new language and very crucial, practical knowledge.
Often yoga students strive for the “perfect” pose. “Is this right?” we all ask. But does it matter if we can do the most advanced versions of a pose? Of course not! The goal of yoga is enlightenment!
Anatomy also holds the true secret of yoga. All day long we sit, walk, run, and sleep with our bodies in similar positions. Yoga leaves us feeling wonderful when poses bring our bodies back into symmetry with reverse rotations, back bends, and joint adduction.
Every student, no matter the sport or physical fitness routine, requires the proper instruction for safely. Students must be given the freedom and empowerment to make sure they make the right physical choices while practicing. The only way to navigate through a yoga practice is to listen to your inner teacher without your ego making demands. If you ask, your anatomy has the answers.
After my weekend of intensive anatomy study, I continually discussed my newfound anatomy tidbits with my family. I couldn’t stop visualizing the image of a fountain spouting information from the top of my head. This is how I know I really want to be a teacher. I fill myself up to the brim with knowledge and can’t stop myself from spreading it around. A yoga teacher must have a vast and continually expanding base of knowledge with a sure footing in anatomy.
Along the way I've discovered a love for blogging. First for my local community with RockvilleCentral.com and almost immediately with TryingNotToBNeg.com because I needed to express my thoughts beyond Rockville, MD.
My company, Online and In Person works with businesses, organizations and individuals to build community and improve communications. I also share Yoga Online and In Person as a 200-hour registered yoga teacher (RYT) on my way to being a 500-hour RYT! I love to teach beginners, power sequences, and chair yoga!
Please share your thoughts here. It always means a lot to me!