Chair Yoga Promotes Student Safety: Eagle Pose

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

about teaching chair yogaBy: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

Over the last few decades, the popularity of Yoga has grown by leaps and bounds. Experts now estimate that the number of individuals who practice Yoga regularly is in the millions in the United States, not to mention the rest of the world. As Yoga classes continue to become more and more mainstreamed, new people will continue to discover the life-enhancing benefits of a regular practice of Yoga postures, pranayama exercises and relaxation techniques. Being able to truly relax is one of the most profoundly important skills for maintaining good physical and mental health.

In our task-driven world, which is often fueled by seemingly endless to-do lists, many of us are unable to unwind and truly relax, even for ten or fifteen minutes a day! This inability to relax is a serious impediment to maintaining a strong immune system and good mental health. A well-rounded practice of Yoga poses, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques helps to improve strength, coordination, balance, flexibility, and improves one’s ability to relax deeply. For those of us who are relatively physically fit, practicing a traditional format of Yoga poses is not a problem.

However, there are many specialized groups of Yoga students who need the support of props and modified postures, in order to engage in a full practice of Yoga poses safely and effectively. Some groups of students who may need specialized instructions, modified postures and an assortment of props, are elderly students, students who are living with chronic health conditions, or students who are healing from an injury that has negatively impacted their balance and coordination. All of these groups of students can benefit greatly from a regular practice of Yoga, by utilizing a chair as a supportive prop during class.

Teaching Chair Yoga classes that are fun, safe and engaging is an art in and of itself.  Chair classes improve student safety by offering students who are prone to fall or whose balance and coordination is impaired in some way, the opportunity to engage in a full Yoga practice with the safety and solidity of a chair to stabilize their balance. There are wide assortments of Yoga postures that can be modified to be practiced with the assistance of a chair, without substantially diminishing the effectiveness of the postures.

For instance, the upper body movements of many challenging standing Yoga poses can be safely and effectively practiced with the use of a chair. A flowing series of standing asanas, such as the Warrior series, Standing Forward Fold and Eagle Pose, all can be modified to be practiced with the support of a chair. Eagle Pose, or Garudasana, is traditionally practiced standing on one foot. This challenging posture improves balance, coordination and strength throughout the legs. It also releases tension throughout the arms, upper back, shoulders, and neck muscles, while promoting the laser-like, focused gaze of an eagle.

By teaching this posture in a modified version while seated in a chair, your Yoga students will still gain the release of tension throughout arms, shoulders, neck, and upper back muscles, in addition to strengthening their ability to focus on a singular point on the horizon. Simply have your students sit comfortably on their chairs with their feet flat on the floor and lead them through the arm movements of Eagle Pose with their breath. As they inhale, instruct them to raise their arms to shoulder height with their palms facing away from their bodies.

With an exhale, have your students wrap their right upper arm underneath their left upper arm and press their palms together, while they keep their upper arms in a straight line with their shoulders. Remind your Yoga students to keep their gaze on a singular point on the horizon, while they hold Modified Eagle Pose for three to five breaths. With their next exhale, instruct your students to release the posture and pause for a moment to feel the expansive energy generated by this pose throughout the upper back, neck, shoulders, and arms. When they are ready, repeat Modified Eagle Pose on the left hand side.

Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a writer and an academic support specialist. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at: enchantress108@gmail.com.

© Copyright 2015 – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Maintaining Healthy Rituals in Busy Modern Life

Friday, March 27th, 2015

yoga instruction from a mentorBy Kathryn Boland

Yoga practitioners are no strangers to healthy rituals, yoga being a formalized (yet adaptable) practice that one can regularly execute for enhanced well-being. Many yogis and yoginis find a sense of peace and stability in an active morning asana practice (such as with Sun Salutations), a before-bed restorative and/or meditative physical practice – as well as other forms of practice in any other parts of the day in which it might be beneficial for them. Countless modern individuals, however, find it difficult to maintain rituals in the forms of regular wellness practices.

New Years’ Resolutions can be a key example; some begin with the best intentions to maintain a certain healthful daily practice (one within yoga or other wellness modality). Those individuals begin highly motivated and truly enjoy the initial effects of such practices. Then family, work, et cetera obligations – and sometimes all-too-common drops in motivation, from fatigue or other effects – sideline those best intentions. They come upon March and laugh at, or even harshly criticize, themselves for having yet again abandoned their New Years’ best wishes.

I myself am certainly not exempt from that group of those who have found themselves in such a cycle of setting and then leaving behind healthful practices. On a positive note, however, I have found how to incorporate certain practices into my life that work into my busy schedule and that are flexible in the midst of unexpected changes (and, as the saying goes, nothing in life is guaranteed but “death and taxes”).

For instance, I have formed my own personally meaningful mantras and spiritual practices that I perform as settling-to-sleep and waking rituals. Before jumping into bed, I read a short passage from a Roman Catholic prayer book, and as I rest my head I repeat to myself “God loves me, and all is well”. As I awake (after turning off my blaring alarm clock), I repeat to myself “God, let your light shine through me today”. These practices align with my Catholic faith orientation, but are transferable to any faith system. That flexible approach might be an avenue into regular meditative practices for those who might initially resist them because they see the practices as exclusively Buddhist or Hindu practices.

Other practices I perform at these times are similarly available to most anyone of any faith/spiritual belief system and physical ability. As we understand the body and mind are connected in complex and powerful ways, those mental practices would not help me settle into sleep or wake as they do without also attending to my body. After that Catholic-inspired mantra I repeat while settling into sleep, I move into a measured breath practice of four-count inhales and four-count exhales.

In basic pranayama theory, lengthening exhales to be longer than inhales induces relaxation – so such a counted breath practice with longer exhales than inhales could be helpful for those who find falling to sleep difficult (and the same for those mid-night walkers, as perhaps an alternative to counting sheep). I do the same breath practice after my morning mantra, which could be also be adapted for those who have trouble awakening – having longer inhales than exhales to stimulate the body and mind.

When rising to my feet, I release my hands by my sides and perform a gentle (yet firmly aligned) Mountain Posture. I try to sense my feet grounded into the floor and how I am carrying my weight. I then clasp my hands and stretch to each side. This helps me to release tension, “check-in” with my body’s energy on that day, and begin to wake up my sleepy muscles. Such a simple physical ritual can be adapted in numerous ways for different bodies’ capabilities and needs.

For instance, those who are anxious can especially concentrate on grounding and releasing tension with whatever simple yoga (or other somatic therapy) postures/movements. Those who struggle with depression and low energy can conversely gently bring in movement (such as easy shoulder, head, and bent knee rolls) to help bring energy into their bodies. That energy can come into their minds for increased liveliness and vigorous outlooks towards life, all day long. Such rituals can take as little as two minutes, which most anyone can commit to his or her own wellness (yes, we are all busy, but often just a bit of re-prioritizing can open up space for healthy practices). The same rituals can be expanded to take longer, if you might find the time and need for them on certain days of the week (such as weekend mornings, when some people have a bit more time to rest up and recover from busy weeks).

The possibilities are endless for finding rituals that are part of what you normally do every day, and therefore won’t be so easily left behind when life’s inevitable curveballs come your way. For instance, my Clinical Dance/Movement Therapy professor spends a whole day once a week – privately and peacefully – packing her bags for her separate Dance/Movement Therapy groups and dance classes that week. Doing so feels grounding, comforting, and gives her the assured and confident sense that she is ready for the week ahead. Another professor of mine always lights candles as she unwinds at night, a relaxing treat that she knows she can look forward to no matter comes her way in the midst of hectic days.

Whatever your life might hold, it just takes a bit of curious exploration and mindful commitment to find healthful practices that you can regularly maintain. Such rituals can make a world of difference in how you come to approach both consistent and unexpected stressors, as healing and dependable despite any and all of them.

© Copyright 2015 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Venturing “Off the Beaten Path” In Yoga

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

about teaching yoga classesBy Kathryn Boland

“I took the road less traveled by, / and it has made all the difference” wrote acclaimed poet Robert Frost. I took in such lines along with my Cheerios and bedtime stories as a child, my father being quite a fan of the poet. Going beyond words on a page, my father has shown me the value of exploring the unknown – through his own life and through how he has guided me to live my own. A recent example of that effect was when visiting him in Florida, he took me to a hidden gem of a gift shop/art gallery. It was accessible only via a windy, dusty road. The closest available bathrooms were in a restaurant about one-hundred yards away, and a wooden sign greeted us as we entered the shop.

Amidst this “quaintness” (as one might describe it), in my humble opinion, were some of the most unique and accomplished works of craftsmanship that I’ve ever had the pleasure to view (and I say that having been a frequent visitor of many Smithsonian Institutions and the National Gallery of Art while I lived in Washington DC, and presently a regular at the Museum of Fine Arts where I live now in Boston, MA). Those works included various types of Florida-native sea life crafted in various media – made to hang from ceiling-tied strings (like piñatas), rest on fire mantel-places, adorn kitchen appliances, and more. Other, perhaps more traditional paintings beautifully depicted scenes of local wildlife and their habitats – with a skilled balance of abstraction and realism. Pleasantly awestruck, I immediately understood my father’s girlfriend’s statement that the store is “incredibly unique, something not to miss”.

I believe that my experience with this little shop has much to inform us as yoga practitioners and instructors, and/or reinforce our core beliefs. Considering traditional yoga theory, Patanjali advised us to remain open to new experiences. Doing so can help us to feel more personally fulfilled, serve others, and ultimately reach our life’s dharma or purpose. The modern age changes how we might do so, however, quite different from what Patanjali might have envisioned in his day.

For instance, 2014’s Western culture offers an immense amount of opportunities to engage in yoga practice (not to mention the mind-blowing amount of more general media, other information, and ways to productively spend one’s time); new yoga studios are opening up all the time, online sources for yoga practice videos and related articles are abundant, and there are countless numbers of books and DVDs that can guide individuals in practice. On the one hand, that diverse availability advantageously offers individuals many different avenues through which to pursue their own personalized yoga practices. On the other, it can all seem like a lot of overwhelming “white noise”, so to speak.

In order to find something to pursue in the midst of what can seem like too many options, some individuals flock to what others are doing. Hence, the phenomenon of trends. Though I fully believe in seeking social support in the form of others’ views of what they’ve tried, I propose a different route. I challenge you, dear readers, to try something “off the beaten path”, as the saying goes. You might just find a hidden gem like that great little shop in Florida. You may come to see that going down that dusty road was well more than worth it!

For instance, as practitioners we can try a new class that might not yet have attracted all that many students. In general, trying classes apart from the ones we’ve frequently found ourselves taking can challenge us to grow and help us to avoid falling into comfortable ruts. In another way of trying out the unexplored, we can give that new studio – tucked behind buildings and down a one-way street – a confident shot.

A tricky-looking arm balance or inversion intriguing you, yet you’re hesitant to try it? Take a deep breath, face your fear, and ask a knowledgeable instructor to guide you through it (granted, that instructor evaluates that you have the physical abilities to safely execute it). Would you like to build a home practice, but you hesitate to practice without the guidance and assurance of an instructor? Lay out your mat in an open and quiet space in your home, take baby steps with postures and flows that you are comfortable practicing alone, and your practice will build. In an even larger cultural scope, we can dare to defy current trends by passing up that packed “Pump it Up Power Vinyasa” class (meaning absolutely no disrespect to such styles, as a fan of them myself!) in favor of a physically gentler Yin or Chair Yoga, or even strictly meditation, class.

For instructors, we can “take the road less traveled by” through challenging ourselves to grow in the same ways – taking classes, visiting studios, consulting sources that ourselves and others might not yet have discovered are indeed valuable. Our teaching styles can also be beneficially unconventional. If we find ourselves always guiding certain advanced students in our classes (because we might – understandably – want to push them even further to their potentials), we can shift our focus to see what other perhaps more novice students can offer. We can also take (healthy and measured, albeit) risks with alternative approaches to guiding students through postures or imparting yoga philosophy, amongst other elements that we offer in our classes. Whatever the case may be, whomever you might be as a practitioner or instructor, venturing away from the conventional can indeed “make all the difference”.

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Yoga for Cancer Recovery: Releasing Tension

Saturday, March 7th, 2015

yoga for cancer - extended child poseBy: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

Facing a cancer diagnosis can be shocking and terrifying for many people. A cancer diagnosis can “come out of left field” for many people and cause so much distress and heartache that the person may become immobilized in the face of such a serious health crisis. However, being proactive in the face of a cancer diagnosis and the ensuing treatments has a profound ripple effect on your ability to navigate a challenging situation with as much grace, dignity and ease as possible. There are many different ways to help support your mental and physical health if you are diagnosed with cancer.

One such way is to engage in a regular practice of Yoga for cancer with postures, breathing exercises and stress relief techniques, such as Yoga Nidra. If you are Yoga practitioner and you are struggling with a cancer diagnosis, creating a structured practice that is appropriate for your level of health will help to support you through a very challenging time in your life. If you are undergoing cancer treatments, including surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy treatments, it may be necessary to adjust the type of Yoga practice that you engage in by subtly shifting the balance of your time on the mat towards a more restorative and stress-relieving practice, instead of a strenuous series of Yoga postures and breathing exercises.

There are many ways to modify your Yoga practice, in order to meet your physical, emotional and spiritual needs when you are facing cancer. One way is to engage in a slower, more restorative flow of postures, which deeply releases tension throughout the body and mind. If you are feeling weak or are still recovering from a surgical procedure or other cancer treatment, practicing simple poses can help to safely and effectively release stress and tension throughout the body. If you are a seasoned Yoga practitioner, it may feel quite frustrating at first to slow down your practice in the face of a cancer diagnosis.

However with time, patience and the willingness to adjust your practice to appropriately match your physical, emotional and spiritual needs on any given day, you will find that your Yoga practice becomes a life raft in the midst of a very turbulent sea. Although many of us may feel that we are only truly practicing Yoga if we flow through a series of very strenuous Ashtanga Yoga postures and fiery breathing exercises, the practice of Yoga traditionally was focused on creating ease and spaciousness in the body and quietude in the mind, so that a Yogi or Yogini was more easily able to sit in meditation for an extended period of time.

* Extended Child’s Pose

Extended Child’s Pose is a very accessible Yoga posture that will help to release tension throughout the front of your torso, heart area, throat, shoulders, neck and upper back. When you are ready to practice Extended Child’s Pose, come to a kneeling position on your Yoga mat. If your knees are sensitive, place a folded blanket underneath you for padding. With your next inhale, raise your arms over your head and gently press your palms together in Prayer Position.

With an exhale; bring your arms back down to your sides and your hands in front of your heart. Repeat this flowing movement two more times with your breath, and then come to rest on your heels. This movement will help to coordinate your breathing with the movement of your body. It will also help to begin to gently release tension throughout your upper torso, arms and shoulders. To move into Extended Child’s Pose, place your cupped hands at the front of your Yoga mat with your arms comfortably stretched out in front of you. Adjust the position of your knees on your Yoga mat if you need more of a stretch.

Sink your chest down towards your Yoga mat, while you “suction cup” your hands into your mat. Focus your gaze at a point on the floor approximately 6-12 inches in front of you. This will help to increase the stretch throughout your heart area and throat. If your neck bothers you, do not look up; keep your neck in a straight line with your spine as you gaze at a comfortable point on the mat between your arms. Hold Extended Child’s Pose for three to five complete, full breaths, and then release the posture and come back to a kneeling position on your Yoga mat.

Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a writer and an academic support specialist. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at: enchantress108@gmail.com.

© Copyright 2015 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

See our testimonials to find out what our graduates have to say about our selection of inexpensive hatha yoga instructor training intensives.

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Chair Yoga Promotes Student Safety: Standing Forward Fold

Friday, March 6th, 2015

affordable yoga teacher training courses and programsBy: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

For many Yoga students who need modifications and supportive props, in order to safely practice a full series of postures and breathing exercises, Chair Yoga classes can be enormously helpful. Practicing asanas with the support of a chair allows students who are contending with a wide variety of health issues to engage in a comprehensive Yoga practice, without undue anxiety or risking their current level of health. There are a number of specialized groups of students who benefit substantially from a fully supported practice.

Some of these groups include Yoga students who are recovering from surgery, older students, students living with chronic diseases, and students who are recovering from head traumas. Any one of these special consideration groups of students will be much more able to fully engage in a Chair Yoga class without feeling anxious that they will fall and injure themselves, or that the practice itself will be too hard for them. As a certified Yoga instructor, if you are able to offer your students a modified sequence of postures that utilizes the support of a chair, your dexterity and marketability as a Yoga teacher will increase exponentially.

In other words, you will have the flexibility to teach Yoga classes to a much more diverse population of students. By increasing your teaching skills to encompass instructing Chair Yoga classes, you will be able to lead classes in hospital settings, retirement communities and holistic health facilities of all kinds. In addition, you will be helping to spread the experience of the multiple benefits of Yoga to groups of students who may not otherwise feel comfortable signing up for a Yoga class.

* Modified Standing Forward Fold

There are many different Yoga postures that can be practiced in the context of a Chair Yoga class. For instance, many of the standing postures can be easily modified to practice with the support of a chair for balance and coordination. Some of the most easily modifiable standing postures include Eagle Pose, Tree Pose and Standing Forward Fold. Standing Forward Fold is a quintessential standing posture that is practiced in almost every Yoga class.

The benefits of Uttanasana, or Standing Forward Fold, include stretching out the calves, hamstrings and the back of the knees. Standing Forward Fold also relieves depression, anxiety and fatigue, as fresh blood and oxygen is circulated through the brain. In addition, if this posture is practiced with the support of a chair, tension is released throughout the front of the torso, shoulder and neck muscles, in a similar fashion to practicing the advanced version of this asana with the forearms clasped behind the calves.

To guide your students through the modified Chair Yoga version of Standing Forward Fold, have them stand approximately three feet behind their chairs with their legs hips’ distance apart. With an inhale, instruct your students to raise their arms overhead and place their hands in Prayer Position. With their next exhale, have your students bring their arms down and place their hands on the back of the chair in a straight line with their shoulders and neck. If any your students are uncomfortable raising their arms over their head, simply guide them into the posture without the initial arm movements.

For those Yoga students who need a little more of a stretch, ask them to move their feet away from the back of the chair, until their arms are more fully extended. Encourage your students to hold Modified Standing Forward Fold for three to five complete breaths, if they are comfortable in the posture. When they have completed their practice of Modified Forward Fold, with an inhale, instruct your students to bring their arms back over their head into Prayer Position, and then back down to their sides with their next exhale.

Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a writer and an academic support specialist. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at: enchantress108@gmail.com.

© Copyright 2015 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

See our testimonials to find out what our graduates have to say about our selection of inexpensive hatha yoga instructor training intensives.

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The Advantages of Mentorship Part II – Strategies for Starting and Maintaining

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

Advantages of yoga instruction from a mentorBy Kathryn Boland

In the first post of this series, I described some advantages of seeking mentorship as a yoga instructor, and/or offering your services as a mentor to another budding instructor. Some of you dearest readers might have wondered how you can offer time, energy, and mental space to that endeavor – given how you already likely juggle several important and demanding things such as your existing yoga teaching and practice life, family and other social life, other jobs, perhaps even higher education and/or service work – and oh yes, taking care of yourself, remember that one? Below I offer some ideas for incorporating mentorship into what you already likely do as an instructor and practitioner.

1)    If you are a young and “green” (so to speak) teacher, seek the guidance of more experienced teachers through taking their classes and asking any questions afterwards. After almost every yoga class that I have ever taken, instructors have said some variation of “I’ll be sticking around for a little while, so if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, and I’ll be happy to talk for a bit.” As you begin to develop stronger relationships with certain teachers through becoming a regular student of theirs, ask if they might benefit from you “assisting” their classes. If you’ve been a diligently practicing student, they will likely have noticed – and appreciated – your practice skills, knowledge, and dependability. Most teachers are more than glad to have an extra demonstrator or pair of hands to make physical modifications, I’ll warrant.

2)    It can help to connect in an atmosphere apart from the studio, with casual atmospheres helping some to be more genuine and open (dropping that sometimes artificial “yoga teacher uniform” that some of us don, for instance). If you are like one of those budding young students above, ask if that senior and respected teacher might be available to catch a cup of tea with you after a class of theirs that you might regularly attend. Even if he or she only has a half-hour to offer, what you might learn in that half-hour could be invaluable to your own instructor knowledge and development.

3)    If you are among a group of teachers in a private studio or other yoga-offering institution (such a gym/fitness center), to obtain similar advantages you could organize a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly similar meeting over tea – or perhaps a potluck, with rotating host responsibilities (according to everyone’s availabilities and interests). In my experience, people are more than happy to come and share their views in a welcoming and collaborative atmosphere (and the incentives of food and drink never hurt). What your “team” of teachers could envision together then could be indispensable for what you all could then offer your students, as well as yourselves as instructors.

4)    If you are an experienced teacher, and have the time and willingness, seek out any young students whom you might observe with those knowingly curious glances, good rapport with others in the yoga community, and rapidly strengthening asana practices – those and other signals of true instructor potential. The methods in which you can connect with and guide them are as described. I believe that all of us instructors have observed that our students can sometimes teach us more than we could ever teach them. Consistently acting in the even closer mentor-mentee relationship could only enhance that effect for mentors.

5)    If you might be interested in a certain population or style of yoga (such as the elderly, or Kundalini Yoga), seek out local offerings such as classes and experienced teachers in those areas (connecting with them as described above). If those do not exist in your locality, LinkedIn and similar professional networking sites can help you to connect with specific professionals knowledgeable and experienced in particular areas – and yoga is no exception. For instance, through LinkedIn I have connected with both Diana Ross, E-RYT (who specializes in yoga for breast cancer patients and survivors), and instructor John Groberg (creator of SpiralUp Yoga, a system of daily practice for those who find it difficult to maintain a consistent practice). I chose to connect with them because of my interest in their work and their populations of focus. They graciously offered their knowledge and well-wishes to me as a developing instructor, from which I gained concrete know-how and confidence.

As I see it, and which I have observed from direct experience, those small efforts can be more than well worth it. As fellow teachers, I would love to hear your suggestions pertaining to, challenges with, and other thoughts related to “supervision”/mentorship in yoga instruction – so please feel free to post your responses below.  Thank you for reading and sharing, and let’s keep the invaluable discussion going – for ourselves and for those whom we serve with our instruction! Namaste!

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The Advantages of Mentorship Part I – Seeking and Offering Guidance and Support

 

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The Advantages of Mentorship Part I – Seeking and Offering Guidance and Support

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

best yoga teacher certification courseBy Kathryn Boland

In addition to being an E-RYT, I am also in graduate school for Dance/Movement Therapy. In the field, consistent supervision with a qualified professional is not only advised – it is most often required to practice. Guidance from another wise individual is not a foreign concept in yoga, as I am sure you as a qualified teacher are aware; swamis and gurus handed down the practice to those eager to learn from them, resulting in yoga surviving to be the practice we know it as today. Some yoga instructors continue this tradition through often seeking wisdom from a trusted mentor and/or colleague instructors. Novice teachers also often commonly learn from more experienced teachers through “assisting” their classes – helping out by demonstrating, performing physical assists/cueing, and the like.

On the other hand, some yoga instructors pass up the opportunity to learn and grow as teachers and leaders in the practice by keeping their challenges, curiosities, and accomplishments to themselves. Given that there are many different online and text resources promoting certain beliefs and practices, in those cases misinterpretation can easily occur. Without questions for and face-to-face guidance from more qualified and knowledgeable instructors, a novice teacher could share a certain view with his or her students, or a certain modification or sequencing style, that could be inaccurate and even physically injurious for them to carry out.

For instance, I have found that I took a certain way of transitioning to one asana to another, or manner of moving into and remaining in one, to be accepted knowledge – only to have one or more experienced teachers tell me that those firmly-believed concepts of mine are not right for certain students or even not advisable (for whatever reason), period. I have thankfully never had a student injure him or herself under my instruction, but that could have certainly easily occurred since without those instructors’ warnings.

I only wish that I had sought that same guidance sooner if I was unclear on any particular transition or sequencing style, rather than accepting something as truth that is not. This preventative guidance can be even more necessary when working with specific populations with characteristics and needs calling for extra care and attention. For instance, Jessica Knochel, 200 Hr instructor and R-DMT (Registered Dance/Movement Therapist), describes how “I teach women suffering from disordered eating, substance abuse, depression, anxiety and trauma. Collaborating with my colleagues and supervisors with trauma training is vital in my development as a teacher and clinician.”

In other cases, I ask more senior instructors their views on something that I have heard divergent opinions on. For instance, I had heard both that is more important for the knees to remain grounded in the mat than the shoulders, as well as vice-versa, in Reclining Twist. I collected a few views on this and ultimately came to my own that would then guide my future instruction. In the end, I believe that the best judgments are made by following instinct and intuition after relevant information-gathering. The latter most effectively comes from curiously seeking the guidance and knowledge of those who are more experienced than oneself.

Mentors can also be a support system for those times when we experience the growing pains that come along with developing into more accomplished instructors. Joy Ruben, E-RYT 500 and R-DMT, describes how “I remember in my 500 hour training I was run down spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I was in the middle of the flame of transformation, and I wanted to flee! A 15 minute talk with a mentor was enough to heal my worries. Without that support, I may have given up.”

At other, less troubled times, mentors can be part of the informal socialization that can be sorely needed self-care for any and all of us. Knochel tells how those she and those she encountered in her teacher training “still text, call, Skype and email about our practice and the challenges that come up for us on and off the mat.” Formal or informal, in all different situations and for all different purposes, a helping hand is a helping hand and someone to listen is someone to listen. I think Ruben says it perfectly when she states that “mentors are valuable in all areas of life, and since we know that everything is connected, that means they are also valuable when it comes to teaching yoga”.

For all of those reasons, I advocate for every yoga instructor seeking guidance from another qualified professional on a consistent basis – as much as life’s inconsistencies and obstacles allow. Though such a consistent practice might seem difficult to maintain, there are methods to conveniently incorporate it into yoga instruction work. I’ll offer such concrete avenues in the second article in this series, so stay tuned!

© Copyright 2015 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Improving Yoga Student Safety: Formatting a Class Wisely

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

making yoga classes safeBy: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

One of the primary ways of improving Yoga student safety in class is to format your class wisely. This essentially means to lead your students through an appropriate sequence of postures that matches their current level of ability and aptitude for Yoga practice. Although formatting a class wisely might seem quite straightforward and simple at first, choosing a challenging, yet manageable series of Yoga postures to present to your students can be a bit tricky if you have a mixed level class, or if you have a group of students who are practicing at very different levels of ability and experience. Formatting a class wisely can also be challenging if you have a number of students in your class who are healing from a physical injury or recovering from a recent surgery.

The first step to determining what kind of Yoga sequence, or krama, to offer to your students is to assess the general ability level of most of the students in your class today. Remember that you may have to modify the sequence of Yoga poses that you planned to lead them through, if you get to class and find that your students need a faster-paced class, or a more restorative class, than the one you had planned on teaching! The dexterity to be able to quickly modify the sequence of asanas and pranayama exercises that you had planned to teach will come with time, as you gain more experience as a Yoga teacher.

It is also important to take into consideration the advertised level of the class and the environment in which you will be teaching. For instance, if you are teaching Yoga to a group of teens at a runaway shelter, the level of ability will differ substantially from teaching Yoga to a group of fitness buffs at a local health club. In the same way, teaching a multi-level class to a dedicated group of students in a professional Yoga studio will differ substantially from teaching a Yoga class to a group of people at a local community center, where you will most likely have a group of students with very mixed levels of ability.

Also, taking into consideration the time of day that you are teaching a class is an important criterion for determining the Yoga postures that you will offer to your students. For instance, if you are teaching an early morning class at 6 a.m. you may need to begin slowly, because most people will be quite stiff at that time of the day. On the other hand, if you are teaching a Yoga class at noon or in the early evening hours, most of your students will feel more limber than they would early in the morning. This enables you to start your class off at a more vigorous level than you would early in the morning.

As a professional Yoga teacher, you will be able to quickly evaluate the fitness level of most of your students, especially if you are acquainted with most of your students. Making sure that there is adequate time for your students to communicate with you about any physical challenges they may be experiencing is one of the critical elements to having enough information to format your class wisely. Setting a 10 or 15-minute time slot aside, either prior to or just after your class, when you are available for your students to speak with you personally, will facilitate good communication between yourself and your students. This personal communication will help you to determine the most therapeutic sequence of postures to offer to your students.

Speaking with your students individually will also give you the opportunity to guide your students to other levels of Yoga classes, or other styles of Yoga, if necessary. For example, if you have a few students who are struggling to keep up with the sequence of asanas you have chosen to teach, or you have a few students who seem to far surpass the ability level of the class that your teaching, you may wish to recommended that these students go to other Yoga classes that more closely match their ability level. As you begin to ascertain the overall level of most of your students in the classes that you teach, you will more easily be able to lead them through a sequence of asanas that is both accessible and challenging, while still maintaining the safety of your students throughout the practice.

Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a writer and an academic support specialist. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at: enchantress108@gmail.com.

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Improving Yoga Student Safety: Modifying Yoga Poses

Sunday, February 1st, 2015

Crescent LungeBy: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed 

A very effective way of improving Yoga student safety during a class is by modifying the postures and using appropriate props when needed. By modifying Yoga postures and using props when necessary, you will help your students to move in and out of poses that are challenging, in a safe and effective manner. Using well-placed props and modifying postures will also allow you to teach challenging multi-level Yoga classes in a safe manner.

Another benefit to modifying Yoga poses for your students is that the repertoire of postures that your students can practice safely will be greatly expanded. For instance, many beginning students may have difficulty fully extending into Triangle Pose. If this is the case for a number of your students, by providing those students with a block to help support the correct alignment of the spine in Triangle Pose, you will be enabling them to benefit from this fundamental Yoga posture, while still maintaining the safety and integrity of the pose itself.

When you comfortably master the art of modifying Yoga poses, in accordance with your students’ ability levels, you will find that you are able to safely teach Yoga classes to a mixed level students in a variety of environments. This skill is particularly important if you are teaching Yoga classes to a group of students who drop into class on occasion, and who may not have a regular practice established at home. For instance, if you are teaching Yoga classes at a local community center or at a health club, you may find that a number of your students only drop in sporadically, which may limit their ability to practice the postures correctly without the use of modifications and props.

When you learn the art of modifying Yoga poses and using props, you will be able to safely lead your students through a challenging sequence of asanas. For example, practicing back bending postures correctly can be very challenging for most beginning students. This is particularly true if your students are not very physically fit, or if your students are quite athletic and the front side of their torso, shoulders and legs are very tight. By practicing a modified back bending posture with the use of well-placed props, these students will be able to truly benefit from the expansive and energizing nature of back bending poses, while still maintaining their safety in Yoga class.

* Supported Reclining Goddess Pose

Reclining Goddess Pose is a very effective, gentle back bending pose that most Yoga students are able to perform safely. By offering your students the support of a bolster or rolled blanket underneath their thoracic spine, you will be further supporting their comfort and safety, while they practiced this restorative back bending posture. Before leading your students through the practice of Supported Reclining Goddess Pose, make sure that you have enough bolsters or blankets available for each student to use while they practice the pose.

Supported Reclining Goddess Pose is usually practiced towards the end portion of a Yoga class, and often just prior to Shavasana. When you are ready to lead your students through the practice of Supported Reclining Goddess Pose, ask your students to place a bolster or rolled blanket near their mat, if they are using the support of a prop today. As they lie down, have them place the bolster or blanket horizontally across the top of their mat and just underneath their shoulder blades, so that the expansion of their heart is more fully supported in a comfortable fashion.

Next, instruct your students to place their legs in a diamond position with the soles of their feet gently pressing against each other, and then ask your students to lie back on their mats with their arms comfortably at their sides and their palms open to the sky. Have your students practice Supported Reclining Goddess Pose for a full five minutes before asking them to roll to their right side, and then gently push themselves up into Easy Seat. This gentle back bending Yoga posture will leave your students feeling peaceful, expanded and energized, as they move through the rest of their day or evening.

Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a writer and an academic support specialist. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at: enchantress108@gmail.com.

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Yoga for the Winter Blues: Japa Recitation and Chanting

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

yoga for winter bluesBy: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

As we enter into the heart of the winter season, it is not uncommon many people, including Yoga practitioners, to experience a low level form of depression. Some of the symptoms of low-grade depression are a lack of motivation, pervasive sadness, a sense of hopelessness, and regret. If you are vulnerable to depression, during the wintertime these symptoms may be exacerbated if you do not spend enough time in the sunlight. Natural sunlight helps to boost your mood by stimulating your body to produce serotonin.

When serotonin levels are in a normal range, you are much less likely to suffer from depression. The low-grade form of depression that often develops when there is a lack of ample sunlight is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. However, if you find that you suffer from these symptoms for an extended period of time throughout the year, you may be suffering from a more serious form of depression. If this is the case, it is highly advisable for you to seek out the assistance of a professional healthcare provider or therapist.

Engaging in a regular Yoga practice that includes a series of asanas, pranayama exercises and meditation techniques will help to keep your body and mind healthy and balanced throughout the winter. Two Yogic techniques for boosting a low mood that I have found to be highly effective are the repetition of sacred mantras, known as japa, and the chanting of sacred names or syllables. These are classical Yoga techniques for shifting negative thought patterns and for enhancing the flow of pranic energy throughout the body.

* Japa

Although the practice of japa might seem intimidating at first, it is actually quite straightforward. All you do is repeat a word or short phrase for a dedicated period of time. The simple act of focusing the mind on one word or phrase helps to free the mind from focusing on negativity. The singular act of repeating a sacred word or phrase also helps the mind to quiet and rest.

Usually the mantra that is chosen is considered to be a sacred syllable, word or phrase, which helps to ground the mind in divinity. If you are unsure of which word or phrase to use when you practice japa, repeating “om” is a very good choice. The vibrations of the syllable om resonates with the very creative pulsation of the universe. By repeating om silently or out loud for a period of time, you will align yourself more closely with the divine energy that surrounds us all.

* Chanting

In the Yogic tradition, chanting entails the singing of sacred mantras  for an extended period of time. I have found the practice of chanting to be one of the most effective ways of bolstering a low mood. Not only does Yogic chanting help the mind to release its grip on negative thinking patterns, the vibration of the sacred syllables, mantras and names of gods and goddesses helps to profoundly shift and enliven the energy in the body.

When your energy increases and flows more freely throughout your body, you will feel better and be able to more optimistically move through your day. If you are not sure how to begin the practice of chanting, there are a number of free websites that offer a wide diversity of classical Yoga chants. Different arrangements or ragas will have different effects on your mind and body. Some ragas are more introspective, well other ragas are exhilarating. You may wish to experiment and chant with a few different videos or tracks, until you find a style and a rhythm that suits your individual nature.

During the cold winter months, maintaining a steady Yoga practice, with the inclusion of japa recitation and Yogic chanting, will help to keep your heart and your mind light and positive. When the weather permits, spending time out in the sunshine is also an important aspect of mitigating depressive symptoms during the wintertime. Additionally, remaining socially engaged by spending time doing activities you enjoy with family and friends will help to warm your heart and banish the winter blues.

Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a Yoga and health-related freelance writer and academic support specialist. She is currently accepting writing assignments and may be contacted at:enchantress108@gmail.com.

© Copyright 2014 – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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