By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500
Each Yoga teacher training intensive offers something unique. Due to what is perceived as the most important factor in teaching, Yoga schools have their interns focus on various aspects. Is fitness, therapeutic application, alignment, student safety, or compassion the most important factor in teaching Yoga students? Chances are, you feel it should be a combination of these ingredients and you realize that no two Yoga instructors are alike.
New students to Hatha Yoga are sometimes stumped by the idea of setting intentions for themselves and their practice. They usually want to focus on the purely anatomical challenges, such as “setting an intention to loosen my hamstrings.” Yet, one of the powerful things about Yoga training is its ability to address mental states, as well as the physical body. Practicing Yoga, to cultivate compassion, is a wonderful way to improve one’s own life and the lives of others and is an excellent intention for practitioners of all levels.
Compassion, or “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others,” is important to wellbeing, in a very basic sense. Those who practice compassion, produce 100 percent more DHEA, a hormone that counteracts the aging process, and 23 percent less cortisol, sometimes known as the “stress hormone.” Beyond that, compassion and altruism elevate mood, help you to live longer, and deepen your spirituality.
To bring compassion to practice, try including asanas that are known for opening the heart. Some Yoga poses to try include:
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, or Upward-Facing Dog
Sukhasana, or Easy Pose
Ardha Bhekasana, or Half Frog Pose
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, or Bridge Pose
In addition to these chest openers, which literally draw the focus to the core and heart, backbends are an excellent tool in cultivating compassion. Practitioners must heed their body’s own limits in backbends, seeking a pose that is stable and comfortable, rather than a “movie star” pose worthy of a magazine cover. Backbends require careful attention to breath and focus on the process, rather than the end result, much like compassion itself.
To cultivate mental compassion, encourage your Yoga students to imagine they are borrowing the body of someone they love for their practice. If that body were stiff, or unable to complete some poses, would they be angry? Would they be gentle with their borrowed bodies? If so, why are they less gentle with their own physical selves?
To cultivate compassion for others, there is an excellent five-step practice from Ode Magazine – a print and online publication about positive news, which was founded in the Netherlands in 1995. When meeting a new person, with attention geared to the other person, tell yourself:
Step 1: “Just like me, this person is seeking happiness in his/her life.”
Step 2: “Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life.”
Step 3: “Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness, and despair.”
Step 4: “Just like me, this person is seeking to fill his/her needs.”
Step 5: “Just like me, this person is learning about life.”
Over time, these exercises will help compassion. For one’s self and for others, gradually cultivate a Yogic mindset and make Yoga a daily part of life – on and off the mat.
© Copyright 2011 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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