Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Teaching Autumn Yoga Classes that Open the Heart: Sphinx Pose

open the heart
By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed 

One of the most creative and rewarding aspects of being a professional Yoga teacher, is the opportunity to sequence your classes in such a way that you allow your students to deeply benefit from this transformational, ancient practice. There are many different themes and intentions that can underlie your choice of various Yoga postures, breathing exercises and meditation techniques that you offer to your students. One guiding theme for choosing a certain series of asanas, pranayama practices and relaxation techniques during the course of a Yoga class, is to use the cues of the earth around you, including the wisdom of the changing seasons.



As I write this article, the brilliantly colored leaves of the fall season are gently wafting through the air and settling into patterns along the ground. This is the time of the year in the Northeastern United States when the deciduous trees around us burst into brilliant colors, and then gently drop their leaves to the earth below. As the trees release their leaves to the earth, the seeds below are softly ensconced in a blanket of colorful foliage. By taking into consideration the seasonal aspects around you when you are creating a sequence of poses to teach during a Yoga class, you will help to facilitate your students’ awareness of the flow of the seasons, and you will also help to align and infuse their practice with the wisdom of the natural rhythms of the earth. 

In the autumn season, both the energy of fullness and release are accentuated. A wonderful way to honor this natural rhythm is to teach Yoga classes that open the heart. By opening the heart, your Yoga students will be more able to release muscular tension, negative emotions and rigidly held thought patterns that tend to reside both in the front and the back of the heart chakra, and also in the shoulder, neck and throat areas. When these areas of tension are released, the life force energy is more able to flow unimpeded throughout the entire body and mind. This enhanced flow of prana will facilitate the detoxification process, as well as energize and nourish your Yoga students. 

* Sphinx Pose

Sphinx Pose is a very accessible, beginning heart-opening Yoga posture that most students can safely and effectively practice. Sphinx Pose can be practiced either during the initial portion of a Yoga class, when your students are flowing through a series of Sun Salutations, or it can be practiced after a series of standing postures and balancing poses. Sphinx Pose effectively opens up the front and the back of the heart area and increases the flow of blood and fresh oxygen throughout the abdominal region. This gentle back bending posture also releases tension in the front of the throat and the back of the shoulders. 

When you are ready to teach your students Sphinx Pose, have them come to a prone position on their Yoga mats and rest for a moment with one cheek flat on the mat. When they are ready, with their next inhale ask your students to place their elbows directly underneath their shoulders with their fingers pointing straight ahead, as they expand fully into Sphinx Pose. As they hold the posture, remind your students to keep their elbows in line with their shoulders and the palms of their hands flat on the mat. Instruct your students to continue to breathe slowly and deeply, as they gently press the palms of their hands against the Yoga mat and progressively expand their heart area with each successive inhalation. 


Ask your students to hold Sphinx Pose for 3 to 5 complete breath, and then release the posture with their next exhale and rest the alternate cheek flat on the Yoga mat. When they are ready, repeat Sphinx Pose two more times. At the end of their practice of Sphinx Pose, you may want to recommend that your students slowly move back into Extended Child's Pose, in order to release any tension that may have built up in the lower back area, during the practice of this gentle back bending posture. Before continuing on to the next Yoga posture, ask your students to come to a kneeling position on their mat and quietly reflect on the expansive quality of Sphinx Pose. 

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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Friday, October 02, 2015

Teaching Yoga to Brand New Students: Introducing Props

teaching yoga training sessions
By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

The fall season is often a time of year when people begin a new exercise regime or sign up for new activities. This is also true of Yoga classes and workshops. At this time of the year, you may find that you have a number of brand new students in your classes. Guiding a group of mixed level students through an hour long Yoga class is often challenging. When you have a number of brand new students in your class, effectively teaching a mixed level class that meets the needs and expectations of more advanced students, while honoring the needs of new students, can entail quite a bit of teaching finesse. 



As a general rule of thumb, having an ample supply of appropriate Yoga props available to your students is important. In this way, you will be able to safely and effectively lead a group of mixed level ability students through a balanced sequence of asanas. Most of the props used in Yoga classes help to facilitate students in their practice of personally challenging postures, without sacrificing practicing the poses in correct alignment. As a certified Yoga instructor, you are well aware of the necessity and importance of practicing the postures in correct alignment. 

When you are teaching Yoga to brand new students, the use of props can be intimidating, to say the least! Just walking through the door of a Yoga studio may have caused waves of anxiety and trepidation in the hearts of some of your new students. Brand new students may feel intimidated by the easy camaraderie of your regular students, as well as the foreign sounding, Sanskrit names of the postures and the fashionable Yoga attire of many of the class attendees! New students may also have concerns about their physical limitations and about being able to practice the poses safely and comfortably. 

In order to put your brand new Yoga students at ease, it is optimal to greet your new students personally and introduce yourself. It is also important to have your new students fill out a health questionnaire, so that you are aware of any particular health problems with which they are contending. In addition, by being available during class for any questions, as well as for ten minutes or so after class to address personal concerns, your new students will feel more at ease during the initial phases of establishing a Yoga practice. 

Remember that your brand new students will be unfamiliar with the Yoga poses, and most will be completely unfamiliar with the Sanskrit names of the postures. In order to make the practice a little more “user-friendly,” you may want to introduce the postures with the English names, such as Eagle Pose, Tree Pose or Child’s Pose. In this way, the names of the postures will correlate with the form of the postures themselves. In addition, by having a set of Yoga props with you at the front of the class and briefly reviewing how to use the props for a few minutes at the beginning of your class, the brand new students in your class will feel more comfortable identifying and using the props at the appropriate time. 


As your new Yoga students begin to understand the flow of the practice, and the modifications and props available to them to help make the practice more accessible to them, they will begin to relax and be able to enter more deeply into the postures and breathing exercises. In addition, by warmly inviting your new students to approach you with any questions about their practice, they will feel much more comfortable returning to your class again and again. Soon, your brand new students will become dedicated practitioners, as the myriad benefits of a regular Yoga practice becomes evident in their own lives. 

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

Please feel free to share our posts with your friends, colleagues, and favorite social media networks.