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.
The other day I was driving down the street and the extremely bright yellow foliage of a tree plunged me into the moment. You know how it is, I was driving along in full brain mode having left an early morning board meeting with little time to travel to the first yoga class I would be teaching. Ideas from the past (the meeting) were mingled nonstop with thoughts of the future (getting ready to teach yoga).
The tree immediately vanished all those thoughts. As I slowed down and looked intently at the tree, I noticed the bright blue sky behind it, and then the sunshine all around.
The change of leaving my brain and coming into awareness of that moment was so sudden. The contrast was so obvious. Awareness crashed into me. The rest of the day I noticed everything in every moment.
Without my yoga and meditation practice and training, I wouldn’t have even realized the downside of constantly being in my brain. Life is different for me now. I know the power of presence.
Anyone can start by forcing yourself to notice every detail of your situation then build on it and notice the pauses between your thoughts. Being present doesn’t have to mean meditating but rather really noticing your world.
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.
I’m not going to lie. After chickening out 23 years ago, I was nervous and spent a day deep breathing in anticipation of my first hang gliding lesson. Every moment was spent convincing myself there was no reason to be anxious.
To my delight, the instructions for hang gliding sounded exactly like a yoga practice so I started to believe I could do it.
After strapping your harness onto the glider, you lay in a prone position that turned out to be the cobra pose with hands on the bar, elbows pulled into the body, legs extended, toes pointed, and back bent.
You pick a focal point in the distance. In yoga practice and meditation we call this the drishti. Throughout the flight you keep your eyes focused on this distant point.
You must breath and relax. The instructor would even cue breath before you started running off the edge of the dune.
My first flight went exactly right but then I crashed on the next two. My second landing was much worse than the first. When I lamented in frustration to my instructor that I’m a yoga teacher and I should be able to do this, he was obviously perplexed, “But with yoga you don’t have wings strapped to your back and go off a 200-foot sand dune.”
People may believe that yoga is separate from the rest of your life, but the consciousness, breathing, and awareness are meant to enter every moment of your day. I try to not to leave my yoga on my mat. Besides, both physically and mentally, hang gliding was exactly the same as yoga. I was too tense, kept a furious grip on the bar, and kept forgetting my focal point. When I looked down, I went down hard.
Another instructor was called over to assist. He insisted I use only two fingers to hold the bar so I would know I wasn’t in control. He picked a new, closer focal point and forbid me to anything but run and stare at that dune with the trees. His instructions worked. I flew gently and gracefully landed on my feet.
Success. I felt a difference during my next run. My yoga was with me for my victory flight.
Lately I dive into the day without meditating. Upon waking, I take care of a few tasks, turn on the laptop, check notifications, confirm my schedule, and check the news. With my world swirling in my mind, I sit down and clear my thoughts.
Call it my own private little power meditation.
While referring to his recent study at the University of Washington, David Levy said, “Meditation is a lot like doing reps at a gym. It strengthens your attention muscle.”
The ability to push your thoughts away gets stronger the more you practice. As you use different techniques, the ability to clear your mind grows. I’ve been stepping up the mind exercise and increasing my strength by taking the time to stop during the day and meditate when I have a lot on my mind.
People can go on meditation retreats then be unable to transfer their newfound peace to daily life so we know this is a difficult task.
In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle writes about the challenge of being able to stay conscious in everyday life in those moments when something goes “wrong”.
Only the way in which you deal with them will show you and others where you are at as far as your state of consciousness is concerned, not how long you can sit with your eyes closed or what visions you see.
We each find our own ways to deal with all of our moments but meditation has been proven to help. I’m seeking ways to expand my practice.
“Knowledge without action is useless. It’s not what you learn, it’s what you live.” Kyla Dillard
Upon completion of our 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training, I toasted my fellow teachers with this quote. I picked it because of the surprise ending. As I was reading, I thought it would say “it’s what you do” and immediately loved “it’s what you live”.
Our course of study not only made me a yoga teacher, the program changed my life. I’m not the same. Beyond gaining the confidence to teach to a room, I learned a tremendous amount about myself, right down to every breath I take. The intensive meditation, pranayama, and subtle body study opened up a whole new world to me, a world I can now share. I live differently.
On our final day we took turns speaking during our last circle meditation. When it was my time I pointed out to everyone how much we had improved from the first time we were told to teach poses back in February to the final class we each designed and taught in June. We had traveled far across the vast expanse of lessons and practical tests to an amazing ending.
The ability to teach yoga was a gift from our instructors. A gift we worked hard to accept and can now pass on to others. When I see people challenged, stretched, and completely relaxed during a class, my heart opens. Yoga is about unselfishly giving people the ability to live in the moment. For me, yoga is about caring for others. My intent is to share yoga with people who normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to practice. I’m on my way.
I didn’t know how much I would love teaching yoga!
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?
Practicing 3-Part Breath will help increase the depth of your breathing and decrease any tendency to hold your breath. In this video, I teach 3-Part Breath in 3 minutes. If you take a few moments and give it a try, I guarantee you’ll be feeling better and more open. You might even discover more about your actual breath. Did you know it had 3 parts?
I’m learning to teach yoga, meditation, and pranayama (breathing techniques) such as this one!
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.
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!