Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Teaching Thanksgiving in a Yoga Class: Relaxing

prevents you from relaxing
By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed.

During the frenetic pace of the holiday season, you will probably find that many of your Yoga students are desperately in need of a dedicated period of time at some point during their week when they can simply just relax. Although many traditional cultures value periods during which they have leisure time to dedicate to socializing with others, creating art or beautifying their environment, our current culture tends to more highly value being busy, constantly multi-tasking and getting financially and professionally ahead of the proverbial eight ball. 

Of course, setting goals and working towards those goals is highly admirable and inspirational. The drive to accomplish one’s goals may have been one of the primary motivating factors for your success at becoming a certified Yoga instructor. However, when this drive to always be active and accomplish your professional or personal goals prevents you from relaxing, the underlying stress can wreak havoc on your immune system, and even predispose you and your Yoga students to developing symptoms of depression, anxiety and insomnia. 



In order to help your students to relax when you are teaching a Yoga class, it is important to offer them a balanced practice of physically challenging postures and restorative, restful poses. One way to do this is to create a sequence of Yoga postures that is balanced between active, vinyasa-style Yang postures, such as flowing Sun Salutations, challenging standing poses and arm balances, with more Yin-style poses, such as seated forward folds and supported heart openers. 

Supported heart opening Yoga postures are particularly good for helping to alleviate symptoms of depression. Many of the emotions associated with depression, such as a sense of helplessness, hopelessness and an overwhelming feeling that one’s cup is always and permanently half-empty, are often alleviated when the physical constriction around the heart chakra is released, during the practice of supported heart openers. In addition, supported heart openers are very restful and relaxing, which is a nice counter-balance to the busyness of the holiday season. 

Supported heart opening Yoga postures also help to cultivate a sense of fullness and gratitude, which ameliorates some of the feeling of lack that so many people experience when they are stressed, tired and/or depressed. As a professionally certified Yoga instructor, you can help your students to experience a sense of fullness and thanksgiving, by weaving a number of back bending and supported heart opening asanas into your classes. A few wonderfully relaxing, restorative heart openers are Reclining Supported Goddess Pose and Legs Up the Wall Pose, especially when practiced with a small rolled blanket supporting the back of the heart area and an aromatherapy eye pillow. 

Legs Up the Wall Pose is a very accessible Yoga posture that can be easily practiced by most students. To lead your students through the practice of Legs Up the Wall Pose, ask them to move their Yoga mats to an empty wall space in the studio with the short side of their mat flush up against the wall. Before they begin to practice Legs Up the Wall Pose, ask your students to make sure that they have one rolled blanket and an aromatherapy eye pillow near their mat, so that they can easily place the rolled blanket lengthwise on their mat and the aromatherapy eye pillow over their eyes. 

Of course, if you only have non-scented eye pillows for your Yoga students, that is fine as well! Just the simple act of withdrawing their sense of sight for a few minutes while they hold Legs Up the Wall Pose will help them to relax more deeply. To begin, ask your students to place their mats in a perpendicular fashion against the wall and a rolled blanket horizontally across their Yoga mats at the approximate height of the bottom of their shoulder blades. Next, ask your students to place their left buttock against the wall, and then gently swing their legs vertically up the wall and place the eye pillow over their eyes. Hold Supported Legs Up the Wall Pose for five full minutes. 

Supported heart opening postures are often practiced towards the end of a Yoga class and just prior to Final Relaxation Pose. As your students rest and relax in the restorative heart opening posture that you have chosen, you may also want to gently lead a short contemplation focused on gratitude or thanksgiving. As your students become more aware of the many positive aspects of their lives, their hearts will begin to be filled with a sense of gentle fullness. With this sense of fullness, many of your students will be able to truly relax and restore their life force energy, as they rest in the abundant well being that you have helped to nurture in your Yoga class.

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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