Saturday, March 18, 2017

Yoga Instructors and Student Types - Part II

student types
By Kathryn Boland

In a prior article, I shared some views of my fellow yoga instructors about what types of students they find difficult to teach. I also asked what strategies they use to overcome those challenges, and thus best guide those students in practice. My goal with this was to open up dialogue that can help us instructors learn from each other about how we can move past personal difficulties as teachers to best serve the students who come to us. 

No matter who they are, or how they challenge us, our task is to be the strongest channels of the ancient and wise practice that is yoga. On the other side of the token, there are other students who remind us why we so love the work of yoga instruction. They’re open to trying to new things, insightful, curious, mindful, and playful. To discuss how the pleasant experiences we enjoy with these students might benefit our teaching in general, and perhaps for a bit of joyful levity, I asked those same fellow instructors the following. They responded as follows. 

KB: Not to play favorites, what types of students do you most enjoy having in class? Is there in anything in how you interact with them that's beneficial for your teaching in general? 

Tara Jackson: Hmm...I enjoy students who can allow themselves to be present on their mats in their own bodies. I understand how yoga can be scary and intimidating to the new and beginner, but it's such a joy when students are really able to let themselves drop into the moment - as opposed to letting their anxiety take hold. With these students, I can notice how my words land when I describe the next set of actions as they flow. I always try to deliver clean and clear cues to [my] students, and with this group I can really observe the aftermath of the delivery.

Johnathon Holmes: My favorite types of students are the ones who approach their practice in a playful way. I love the practice, and although it has its serious moments, there is plenty of room for laughter and fun. I’m so happy to watch students make progress in asana, but I’m even happier when they smile and laugh along the way. Watching these students practice reminds me to always approach my teaching from the same mindset.

Tiffany O’Connell: I love the students who are curious and ask questions, during or after class. I especially appreciate when they come up to me afterwards and express that they really enjoyed the sequence, or that what my message/intention was for the class was just what they needed to hear. It contributes to my purpose of making yoga for them more than just asana on the mat. It makes me feel validated in the work I do, and ultimately feel more connected to them - which isn't that the point?!

Jessica Pate: I love having students that respond! A little bit of a joke, but I have noticed (both as a teacher and a student)  that students are afraid to answer questions in class. I love when a class becomes interactive and some dialogue can open up. While we obviously don't want to be chatting the entire class, I think that taking time to pause when exploring some specific action or sensation in the body can be incredibly useful. We all are built differently, with unique bone structure, musculature and connective tissue stories. As a teacher, this dialogue gives me insight into how to better guide my students. However, on a larger scale, taking this time to share different experiences can help both the teacher and student begin to appreciate the beauty that lies in everyone's own unique experience, both on and off the mat.

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Yoga Instructors and Student Types - A Few Perspectives

By Kathryn Boland 

Do you ever talk to yoga instructor colleagues about certain types of students that you experience, and through that collaborate on effective teaching techniques for such students? As long as this does not venture into petty gossip, this can be very useful dialogue. I recently wrote an article for this blog about different types of challenging students that we encounter. Each student is unique, and a gift of presence, in his/her own way - and stereotyping never helped anyone. Yet looking at students in general categories can help us yoga instructors develop and refine certain strategies for best serving them.

I described these types from my own experiences - as an instructor, as a student, and from media about yoga I’ve taken in (books, videos, et cetera - which is also taken in through the lens of my own experience). I became curious about what types of students other yoga instructors have perceived, and how that has played into their teaching. I reached out to a few fellow instructors on the matter. These instructors are all active and experienced instructors based in Boston, MA. I hope that sharing their responses contributes to dialogue about how we instructors can best offer our knowledge, skills, and intuition as vessels of yoga for the world - to all whom we guide.  

KB: What are some challenging types of students that you encounter? Why? How do you seek to best serve them as an instructor despite those challenges? 

Tara Jackson: Some challenging students I've encountered are ones who don't know how to express what exactly they're looking for in a class. Months after graduating in 2014, I had a student after class demand from me, "make us sweat" and to move faster next class. I was so confused and offended at her tone.  The next week when I taught that class I focused on more core and a strengthening sequence.  To my surprise, although we moved slower than the student requested she noticed she gained more at this level.  She told me, "I actually struggle with planks, that was very challenging for me.  Thanks for class."

Johnathon Holmes: For me, the most challenging students are the ones who tend to “do their own thing” in class. It doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, I find it distracting.  It impacts the overall energy of the group to have one student having a “home practice” in the middle of class. I’m always encouraging students to modify or level something up if it’s available, but that is not the same as seeing a student completely ignore you and take themselves a different direction. As a new teacher (2.5 years in), I struggle with how to deal with these students - do I leave them be? Do I politely ask them to follow along with the class? Do I speak with them after class (this is what my gut tells me)? As a teacher it is my job to hold space for everyone in the class – and if a student is acting in a way that is disruptive to me or other students, it is my job to remedy the situation. 

Tiffany O’Connell:  Oooh, this is a tough one because I really appreciate having students of all levels and limitations in class because they challenge me to be a better teacher. I am an extremely sensitive person and so I would have to say when I sense a struggle with a student, be it a pose or a mental/emotional block. I will often use humor, sarcasm or a relatable experience of my own to lighten their burden. 

Jessica Pate: The most challenging student in class is the student who comes in looking to achieve something. This type of mindset is SO hard to escape in our culture because "achievement" is often used as a metric for success. Coming into a yoga class trying to achieve (whether that be a specific shape, state of mind, or feeling) can limit your experience and take away from the beauty of noticing things as they arise organically. My favorite part of the yoga practice is the unexpected. While I teach a strong, alignment based class, I try to take [my] students out of the mindset of a goal-driven practice by bringing attention to some of the intricacies of the body. By noticing small relationships within a pose and how our body and mind respond, we can start to shift our mindset into curiosity and acceptance rather than achievement and judgement.

Kathryn Boland is a Yoga teacher and a graduate of the Yoga teacher training program at: Aura Wellness Center in, Attleboro, MA. 

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The Yogic Path to Coping With Stress

By Amruta Kulkarni, CYT 500
It is possible to relieve your stress with a variety of yogic practices, including meditation or exercise. Using natural methods to eliminate your stress can prevent the uncomfortable side effects from long-term use of prescription medications. Use these types of yogic methodology to reduce your daily stress.

1: Yoga Poses and Movements
If you begin performing yoga exercise each day, then it will help to reduce your feelings of stress. Have a soft mat to place on the floor, and change into comfortable clothing before beginning to exercise. The best poses and movements for your stress include stretching or deep breathing. You might want to try child’s pose, bridge pose or cat pose to relax your body and mind. By using asana practice after work, you can enjoy your evening without experiencing stress from a difficult day. 

2: Consuming a Nutritious Diet

Another important part of yogic methodology is consuming a healthy diet. A diet that is rich in natural plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts and brown rice is recommended by yoga practitioners. In addition, experts recommend eating small portions of food to avoid obesity and its health complications.  

3: Pranayama Practice

Breath control can also reduce your stress, and this is another yogic practice that you can learn from a professional practitioner. This stress-relieving practice involves performing simple breathing exercises before advancing to difficult breathing techniques. However, after you master the breathing techniques, you can use the practice to eliminate stress while you are in difficult situations.  

4: Meditation For Relaxation

At the end of a yoga routine, you will relax in a sitting or reclining pose so that you can meditate for a few minutes. Learning how to meditate is an essential way for you to reduce stress. As you get better at meditating in a class, you can learn to clear your mind anywhere. Understanding how to meditate can help to prevent racing or anxious thoughts that can make you spiral into feeling additional stress. 

5: Aromatherapies

You can use aromatherapies such as fragrant essential oils or scented candles while meditating, controlling your breath or exercising with yoga poses. While bathing or showering with warm water, you can use aromatic soaps to soothe your mind and relax your body to relieve your stress. You can also use fragrant scents such as sandalwood or lavender in your home and workplace to relieve your stress naturally.

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Monday, February 20, 2017

The Benefits Of Moon Salutations

practicing lunar salutations
By Faye Martins

In many traditional cultures, the moon is revered as a sacred object that is one of the most powerful in nature. According to hatha yoga tradition, the lunar energy that is released by the moon also resides within every human being. It is possible to harness and channel this energy with yoga, and that is why the ancient yogis created moon salutations.

A Calming Energy

According to hatha yoga tradition, the moon and the sun emit two very different types of energy. While the sun is the source of warm, active and outwardly manifested energy, the moon is quite different. Lunar energy is thought to be much cooler, receptive, and directed inward.

This means that yoga practitioners who learn the art of moon salutations will have a great way to calm themselves whenever they need to. In hatha yoga tradition, a moon salutation is a way to calm the energy in the body. This is even more important today than when it was first invented.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that today's society is a much more fast-paced, hectic society than at any other point in history. Everyone is always running around in 20 different directions at once, and this means stress levels are through the roof for most people.

Finding Balance

The other reason that the moon salutation is more important than ever is because of the type of yoga that is practiced in most yoga studios today. In traditional yoga practice, it is thought that the two main forces that are at work inside the body are the solar and lunar energies represented by the sun and moon. The aim of traditional yoga practice is to use asanas to balance the two energies.

However, in most modern yoga studios, the asanas that are practiced are primarily asanas that channel the solar energy. The main reason for this is that many yoga studios aim is to help people get into shape and lose weight. The best way to do this is to use energetic asanas that get the body working hard, and these are the asanas that focus on solar energy.

This focus on solar-centered asanas means that most people do not get the balance they need with their yoga. That is why it is more important than ever to regularly focus on asanas that harness the lunar energy of the moon. The best way to do this is to use a moon salutation.

The traditional moon salutation draws from many classic yoga poses to create a 16-step routine that channels the feminine, thoughtful energy of the moon. Although many of the poses like downward-facing dog, child's pose and cat's pose are familiar to most yoga participants, the energy generated by a moon salutation sequence transforms these familiar poses into something quite different.

Anyone who uses a moon salutation regularly will find that they become much more centered and balanced in all aspects of their lives. They will be able to lower their levels of stress, allowing them to deal with difficult situations with a much greater sense of calm and assuredness.

The key to great yoga is balance. Anyone who wishes to find balance must look to harness the power of lunar energy. Using the moon salutation is the surest way to help find this sense of balance.
Faye Martins, is a Yoga teacher and a graduate of the Yoga teacher training program at: Aura Wellness Center in, Attleboro, MA. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Teaching Hatha Yoga Contraindications For Standing Asanas

By Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500

There seems to be no single text that lists the contraindications for each Yoga technique; the reason being - the monumental task of listing, categorizing, and matching up each technique, with a corresponding contraindication, would be a feat that would take years to complete.

Therefore, let's look at techniques, in groups, and match them to corresponding advice. Standing Postures seem easy enough for most of us, but can still be quite challenging for your legs, regardless of age or physical condition. Many commonly seen standing poses are Warrior (Virabhadrasana) postures.

Here are some cautions, which will open your eyes to modify your practice and that of your students. At the same time, always research and remain current in your knowledge of Yoga posture contraindications, because medical and sports medical research changes by the day.

General Guidelines for all Standing Postures

If pregnant, do not stand for prolonged periods of time. If you are in your third trimester, please use a chair and modify your standing and warrior poses. Most of all, unless you are an expert teacher, please work with a certified and competent prenatal Yoga teacher specialist.

Never stiffen, or apply extra isometric force, to the muscles in your legs and arms. These postures give wonderful results without pushing the limits. People can collapse from over exertion while performing standing asanas; especially when practicing on warm days, in hot rooms, and in the sun.

Never lock the joints. Hyperextension of any joint tends to lead to premature skeletal wear. Who wants arthritis earlier? You should not be locking joints in any activity, especially Hatha Yoga practice, which is designed to enhance long term health.

If you have low blood pressure, high blood pressure, or heart problems, you should be moderate in your practice of standing postures and consult your physician or cardiologist. Why are there precautions here?

People often hold their breath when practicing strenuous postures. Never hold your breath if you have high blood pressure. Be cautious about keeping the hands over the head for prolonged periods of time. 

When performing Warrior I, do not look up at your hands if you are experiencing neck problems or have a pre-existing neck injury. Warrior II: Avoid if you have diarrhea, and do not force your head or neck forward, if you have neck problems.

Warrior III and all Standing Postures: Use your core muscles, rather than place excessive stress on your joints. Proper head, neck, shoulder, spinal, back, hip, knee, and ankle alignment is essential. Never place excessive stress on any joint. When in doubt, always consult with a physician or specialist.

© Copyright - Paul Jerard / Aura Publications

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Just Use It! - Helping Students Understand Why They Should Use Props

use props
By Kathryn Boland 

Do you notice that some students display an aversion to using props? Do you sometimes struggle to help them get past that feeling? Yoga students are sometimes reluctant to use props for many different reasons, but there are a few prevailing ones. First, some feel as if using props means that they're incapable “newbies”. Second, prop usage just feels too complicated and difficult. They'd rather just flow, and not have to stall that free movement to “fuss” with props. 

Yoga students at all levels display this tendency. Novices already feel out of their comfort zones, perhaps a little out of place in a room full of folks “better at yoga” than them. They can feel like using props gives them a huge name tag labeling them as such. Experienced students can be averse to props as well, however, as the following example illustrates. 

After class one day a student new to the studio I frequent asked the owner “Are there any classes that are more traditional? I just feel as if telling students to use props is disrespectful.” The student clearly was familiar enough with yoga practice to be able to evaluate ”traditional” versus “nontraditional”. Thus, not only beginning students are hesitant to use props. In any case, I couldn't help but think to myself “Disrespectful? How is it disrespectful to teach students how to use props to enhance their practices?” I tried to hold unto the yogic value of non-judgement, but the comment truly baffled me. 

And on another point, I didn’t understand the connection of traditional versus nontraditional and prop use versus lack thereof. Case in point, Iyengar yoga heavily centers on prop use, and that is considered one of the most traditional forms around today. But I digress. Let's look at some strategies for helping students overcome their aversions to using props - and thus, allow our students to enjoy more of yoga's potential healing, empowering potential in our lives. 

1) Use your personal experiences.

While teaching one day, an instructor whom I respect and admire described how she came to understand the truth about using props - 1) that it doesn’t mean that you're a “beginner” 2) that it can be very helpful no matter what level practitioner you are. This was meaningful to me personally, as a student of yoga, because she shared this while cueing a pose wherein I thought I don't “need” a block to be stable and strong. 

Part of me - also as a certified 500-hour instructor - knew that props are helpful no matter level practitioner one is. But another, less developed part of me was confident that I don't “need” a prop in certain postures. My instructor’s personal sharing led me to take a more objective look at the matter.  
From that, I could more clearly see that sure, I may not technically “need” props in certain postures. They do, however, help me to build stronger, more stable, more effectively aligned, and more beneficial versions of those postures. Such personal sharings (as always, brief and focused on practice and the students) can, in such ways, be effective ways for helping students understand the value of using props. That holdd true despite how “good at yoga” one is or isn't (which we know has little to nothing to do with the shapes one can make and hold with his/her body). 

2)  Show students how props can help strengthen and refine. 

We as instructors are fully aware that props aren’t only used for physical support and for “bringing the floor to you” - but also for contributing to strengthening exercises and for honing alignment within separate postures. But students don’t necessarily understand this. We can show students the multi-faceted possibilities of props by using these techniques in our classes. Thus, they can experience - on many sensory, visceral levels - that props aren’t just for helping yoga practitioners achieve postures that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. This can be far more effective than telling students that using props doesn’t mean that they’re “beginners” - an argument that could fall on deaf ears, because they’ve heard it many times before without any evidence to support it. 

These prop usages include placing a block in between one’s inner upper thighs through a Sun Salutation, or in Bridge and Wheel Poses, as well as during core work (such as passing a block in between the feet and the hands while doing full-body crunches). With these techniques, students can come to see props with new eyes - as tools that enhance any person’s practice, not just those of beginners. They’ll then be more inclined to use them not only without hesitation, but with enthusiasm. 

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Balancing Teaching Yoga and Other Endeavors - Combining Passions

By Kathryn Boland 

Do you have employment apart from yoga instruction, and see ways in which both might complement each other? Do you perhaps wonder how that might work? Many yoga instructors combine teaching yoga with other career endeavors (out of choice and/or necessity). This can certainly be difficult to manage - but our practice can help us do that with  effectiveness, efficiency, and peace of mind.

Sometimes work apart from yoga instruction has not much, per-se, to do with yoga instruction. Given yoga instructors’ interests, knowledge, and skillsets, however, work apart from teaching yoga often does relate to yoga in some way - such as physical or occupational therapy, teaching other fitness/wellness forms, nutrition/dietics, and psychology/counseling. Read on for ways that the two types of work can support each other, and thus result in greater service to others and greater well-being for yourself - whichever your unique situation may be. 

1) Transfer your knowledge and skills.

Teaching yoga involves much knowledge, and many skills - creativity, clear and fluent speech, anatomy, a strong sense of how the body moves, listening, and empathizing. That's not to mention knowledge of yogic history, theory, and methodology (which, though with timeless truths, might be less directly applicable in the modern world). 

Most, if not all, of that is transferable to other work. If you're a talk therapist or psychiatrist, for example, yoga instruction experience might draw your attention to physical signs of tension, anxiety, sadness, fatigue, et cetera - such as the quality of breath, carriage of the head and torso, gaze, and muscular tension. It can also help you to more accurately read those things. Your observations and subsequent inferences can become fruitful talking points in sessions. That could lead to much progress for your patients/clients. 

In the reverse, experience in mental health work can help you learn how to hold space for those who are hurting, in non-judgemental ways. As instructors, that’s a skill that we do need in our arsenal. On the other hand, one must be careful about doing work outside of one's role in such circumstances; yoga students do not come to class to be in therapy, and therapy/psychiatry clients don't come to sessions to be in yoga class. 

Even in work seemingly less directly related to yoga instruction, such as marketing and public relations, teaching yoga can help. It can hone your skills in crafting a theme and cohesive message, and delivering it with assured language and a clear voice. In addition, the corporate world all too often engages in unethical conduct. Living yogic values can help you to encounter such behavior with grace, objectivity, and clarity. You might also be able to be a role model of ethical conduct for your colleagues, and thus help fuel a decrease in corporate misconduct (perhaps at least in your workplace). 

2) “It’s who you know.”

Every job, and through that engagement in a certain employment sector, carries with it many contacts. The whole concept behind the successful media platform LinkedIn, for instance, is to organize and activate that network. These contacts can offer useful things such as referrals, recommendations, consultation, and input for publications. 

Perhaps you're having trouble with your platform for making yoga class playlists, for instance. A colleague at your other job could perhaps help you solve the issue. That’s informal help, unless the colleague does that professionally. Some help might be more formal, with the individual having set rates and other terms for their service. Whatever the case may be, if you're going to put your network to work in such ways, take efforts to keep it professional. Ensure that everyone's clear on expectations, and that no one is compromising anyone else's paid work. 

It's similar with making sales as a yoga instructor in an alternate workplace or vice-versa. First keep in mind if you might be applying competition (such as promoting private sessions in a public yoga studio), and regard the ethical boundaries of doing so. Next, remain aware that there are times and places for advertising services. Others are not appropriate for doing that. Even so, if handled ethically and with due discretion, connections at certain jobs can lead to boosting the strength of others. 

3) Find your “slash.”

Innovation comes from developing ideas and solving problems in ways that haven't been done before. The yoga field is competitive, and bringing our own unique offerings can help ensure your business success. At the same time, you can help more fully offer yoga's gifts to more people. If you sell essential oils, for instance, you could incorporate aromatherapy into your teaching - and thus further solidify your personal brand as a teacher. If you're a musician, you could build a class form with asana as well as pranayama, chanting, other singing, and music from a harmonium or other instrument. 

These types of “slash” forms (aromatherapy/yoga, music/yoga) often work well as workshops. Those can often pay better than standard public classes, as well as boost your notoriety as a teacher. One must be careful to ensure that potential students are clear on what you're offering, if it's something notably different from a typical modern Western yoga class. 

These types of beneficial integrations and connections - as with the utilizing your network and personal attributes (as previously described) - can evolve on their own if you stay open, curious, non-judgmental, and refuse to let fear take control. We thankfully have yoga practice to help us with that. When we create and channel connections in our professional lives in these ways, we can allow the wisdom and power of yoga to channel through us. It can then to more significantly help heal the ailing world in which we live. 

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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