Sunday, January 31, 2016

Pranayama and Meditation in a Yoga Class

about pranayama in a yoga class
By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed 

Recently, I was reading an article that is posted on the website of a well-known spiritual teacher about the state of harmony, or "niscintata" in Sanskrit. The Sanskrit concept of niscintata encompasses a balanced and equal state of harmony, both with oneself and with one's surroundings. This is a tall order, to be sure! In our fast-paced culture today, living in a balanced state of harmony with oneself and one surroundings is usually not on the top of the priority list. 

Generally speaking, most of us prioritize our time in such a way so that we are able to meet our personal and professional goals in an efficient manner. Although it is admirable to be able to pick your children up from school on time, pay a mortgage payment by the due date each month or complete a task that your boss has given you in a timely and efficient manner, if you do so in such a way that your well being is compromised, an enormous variety of health problems may develop over time. 

The traditional emphasis on living in harmony with oneself and one's environment has the ability to reestablish a sense of being grounded and at peace in both your body and mind. If you are teaching Yoga classes on a regular basis, you will probably have noticed that many of your students come into class in a rushed and harried fashion. This is usually due to the fact that many of your students have a lot to juggle on a daily basis. 

As a certified Yoga teacher, you are in a particularly advantageous position to help nurture a state of harmony in the lives of your students, both on and off the mat. As you are probably aware, moving systematically through a balanced sequence of Yoga postures on a regular basis helps to release tension, strengthen the body and calm the mind. When you add the practice of the traditional breathing practices of Yoga into the context of your classes, the energizing, balancing and centering effects of the practice increases exponentially. 

In addition, if you structure your Yoga classes in order to allow 5 - 10 minutes at the conclusion of the physical practice of the postures for your students to rest in the calm center of their being through the practice of meditation, you will be substantially nurturing a state of inner harmony. Practicing pranayama exercises prior to meditation will help your students to be able to meditate more easily. Pranayama, or Yogic breathing exercises, can be practiced either at the beginning of a class or at the end of class, just prior to meditation and Shavasana. 

Ujjayi Pranayama, or Ocean Sounding Breath, is often practiced in conjunction with the flow of the physical postures, particularly in vinyasa-style Yoga classes. If your students correctly practice Ujjayi Pranayama, the right and left hemispheres of the brain will become more balanced, and they will experience a calm, energized sense of well being at the end of your class. By linking together the practice of pranayama with meditation, your Yoga students will be much more able rest in a state of awareness that is free from mental agitation and worry. 

For instance, practicing Alternate Nostril Breathing, or Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, will profoundly help to balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain, as the body and mind are soothingly calmed and grounded in the present moment. By leading your students through the practice of Alternate Nostril Breathing for 3-5 minutes prior to engaging in meditation, the fluctuating thought waves of their minds would be quelled. If all goes well, they will experience an absence of mental agitation, at least for a few moments at a time, which can ultimately pave the way for the experience of profound inner peace. 

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:

© Copyright 2016 – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Pranayama for the Seasons

pranayama for wellness
By Kathryn Boland

Have you noticed that certain pranayama techniques can help heat our bodies, while others can cool them down? That some can raise energy levels, and others help us to harness and  channel our energies? Do you remember these points from your yoga teacher training? In the original yogic methodology - that set of practices for optimum wellness that began to formulate thousands of years ago (yes, something extending far beyond the physical asana practice that many in Western culture know of as yoga), physical practice prepared the body for the breath regulation practice of pranayama.

Both, but especially pranayama, can prepare our bodies for meditation. One way that the breath practice can do that is through helping to minimize physical sensations - including being too cool or too hot, very languid or very energized. In that way, pranayama can be an effective tool for managing the intense physical sensations that can come with the extremes of each season or climate.
In the midst of winter here in the Northeastern coast of the US, I’ve been guiding my students in – and personally practicing – pranayama techniques for keeping warm. Ujjayi Breath  can help to heat our bodies, through cultivating a slow release of the warmth in the body’s core out through the breath channel. That warmth and energy can also extend through to our physical peripheries, if we coordinate breath and movement as well as allow release of tension (which could block that energy flow).

On a socio-emotional level, winter can come with the feeling of just wanting to hibernate like bears, to just stay inside and remain sedentary. For some people, such a feeling becomes serious enough to be a diagnosable mental health condition – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), in which lack of sunlight leads to depressive symptoms such as lack of energy and low motivation.

Ujjayi Breath can help ease those symptoms, and generally raise energy levels in those who experience them at less than a clinical level, through that same cultivation of energy flow through the body. This type of breath especially supports Vinyasa-flow type practices (which can very effectively raise physical heat and energy in and of themselves), because it helps practitioners to maintain awareness of asana practice’s rhythmic flow as we coordinate breath with movement. To further raise energy, we can make our inhales longer than our exhales. In Ujjayi Breath, it is relatively easy to purposefully create and continue with such breathing ratios.

Kapalabhati Breath, an even more purposefully rhythmic breath of forcefully “pumping” out air on exhalations, can similarly increase heat and energy. Thus, it can also be helpful for dealing with winter’s cold and tendencies towards low energy. This type of breath is especially helpful for helping to maintain the quick rhythmic flows of Kundalini yoga kriyas, though it does not as well match the somewhat slower (yet not stagnant) movements of Vinyasa flows.

In the midst of winter, I’m also looking forward to summer (though enjoying the graces of beautiful snow and getting cozy with loved ones!). In that much warmer season, Sitali Breath can help cool the body. It is sometimes called Dog’s Breath, because it includes a slightly extended tongue – similar to a dog panting to keep cool on warm days. That’s an example of nature’s wisdom that we humans would do well to follow! To execute Sitali, we curl the tongue and let it slightly protrude out of the mouth. We pump air out on exhalations in a rapid rhythm, similar to when executing Kapalabhati. This exercise allows us to release heat from our bodies through our exhales.

In warm temperatures, we also sometimes have frantic energies. Long days with energized bodies can lead us to feel like we can conquer anything, like we can do it all. Such energy can lead to anxiety when issues arise with everything that we’re trying to do, or when we can’t meet our own expectations for what we thought we could get done. High temperatures can also make tempers flare. The continuous, forceful exhales of Sitali Breath can help us to release such anxieties, reign in our energies, and feel calmer.

Bharamari, or Humming Bee Breath, can also be quite calming. In this pranayama practice, we make the sound of a buzzing bee through creating a hum in the throat, which we also constrict through keeping the tongue behind the teeth.  With any of these pranayama exercises, seated positions (Padmasana or Lotus Pose, Sukhasana  or Easy Pose, Virasana or Hero’s Pose, et cetera) can feel grounding in and of themselves; when one feels overheated or overly anxious, it’s a common recommendation to sit, relax, and let the body re-regulate.

Overall, pranayama practices are ancient techniques that can help us to keep living our lives to the fullest even when temperatures become extreme. In a world where global temperature change is making those times more common and more significant, such effects will become even more necessary and appreciated. As yoga instructors, we’re poised to share that with the world.

© Copyright 2016 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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Friday, January 29, 2016

Yoga for Teachers and School Professionals – Rationale and Methods

school professionals
By Kathryn Boland

Do you teach teachers or other school professionals? If you haven’t, have you considered marketing yourself to such students? I have various private yoga students, from all different backgrounds and professions. In particular, however, I seem to work with several teachers and other school professionals – not in any branding/self-marketing attempt of my own, but just somehow by the luck of the cards. I have noticed several commonalities (as well as differences) in these students – such as in why they come to yoga, what they gain from it, and ways in which I can adjust my guidance in yoga practice to best serve them. 

One of these students, for instance, is a middle-school science teacher.  She came to yoga as a method of healthy physical exercise, but which is much more than just that – a form that also benefits our cognitive, emotional, social, and spiritual selves. On the other hand, she is a scientist, and therefore reluctant to commit herself to things that lack support from rigorous, empirical research. Yoga not only has a history of thousands of years of development and refinement, but a growing body of 20th and 21rst century research that bears out its healing and empowering benefits. 

School professionals range from scientists like her, to literature and language specialists, to historians, to mathematicians. Whichever discipline such professionals have extensively dedicated themselves to learning about (as is necessary to teach others), yoga has something for them to latch unto. For instance, literature/language professionals can find a relating point in texts such as the Yoga Sutras and The Bhaghavad Gita. Historians can delve into yoga’s very interesting, deep, and yet-unfolding history. The body bends and shapes into geometric shapes and angles through yoga practice, something to help mathematicians gain interest in and learn about the practice. All of that goes to show how we might be able to market yoga practice to school professionals, as well offer verbal instruction and other class offerings  – such as in analogies, images, and selected readings – that they can relate to. 

Benefits For School Professionals

What can school professionals gain from yoga practice? All of the advantages that anyone can, but a few offerings in particular that can incredibly beneficial. Schools can be very chaotic environments, with many young ones’ emotions and behaviors stuffed into often all-too-small buildings. Teachers must balance helping children to meet their socio-emotional needs with teaching them to ever-increasing educational standards (“teaching to the test”). Administrators must balance meeting students’ and faculty/staff needs with ever-tightening budgets. Violence and turmoil can reign, particular in low-income and inner-city environments. 

I remember how that same science teacher, in a recent session, felt very grateful that I started our lesson with a long, restful Child’s Pose; she told me that “there was a fight at school today, and the cops came – so I’m a little shook-up.”Yoga practice can offer a calm space after those types of days in educators’ lives. It can offer consistency and balance, when their workdays might feel so apart from those things. Physically speaking, teachers go from standing for long periods lecturing to sitting for long periods (with such tasks as correcting papers and designing lessons plans). In that same sense of balance, yoga can offer their bodies a more integrated equilibrium of rest and work. It can also train them in elements such as healthy alignment, weight-bearing (carrying heavy books, anyone?), posture, and use of their breath/voice. 

We as yoga teachers can offer practices that particularly target these factors in teaching educators through offering a blend of yin and yang energies in our sequencing and pacing (unless students strongly desire otherwise, or if medical reasons lead one to prevail over the other). We can help students to feel elements such as how they hold their weight while standing through keying into alignment in Warrior Postures, Mountain Posture, and countless others. Even seated postures such as Dandasana (Staff Posture) and Virasana (Hero’s Posture) can cue educators into the nature of their postures, and learn what adjustments might be beneficial for them. 

Concerning the throat and voice, Simhasana (Lion Posture) can be a great stretch for throat and neck muscles that are strained from hours of lecturing. With weight-bearing, cues such as spreading the hands wide and placing weight throughout them when they bear weight, as well as finding micro-bends in the knees in certain postures to avoid straining ligaments, can help teachers understand how to be gentle on their bodies through the demands of their active work days. In my view, helping to guide this class of professionals to their greatest possible well-being is important because they have in their hands a precious resource – the next generations of humankind. 

Those whom they teach and guide will shape the world of the future – one that will be  peaceful or fraught with turmoil, where we will nurture the environment or degrade it, and so on and so forth. In a related point, exposing teachers and other school professionals to yoga also offers a gateway to exposing schoolchildren to the practice. More and more research is showing that the practice can be incredibly advantageous for youth, in many ways - even in helping to raise test scores! 

For instance, another student of mine who is a school psychologist referred me to the physical education department at her school. In fact, considering marketing to school professionals, we can connect with such school departments as well as teachers’ unions. In any case, there will always be youth and those who guide and teach them for a living. We yoga instructors can offer our expertise in order to help them do their jobs with more skill and grace, and to help them live fuller lives. For sure, we can offer something great by teaching the teachers! 

© Copyright 2016 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

How to be the Most Popular Yoga Teacher in Your Community

sense of peace
By Bhavan Kumar

The yoga industry is booming right now with students becoming teachers and many people choosing to tackle the 200-hour yoga certification courses. In this field, it is important that you have a certain quality of teaching that stands out from the rest. Yes, generating marketing materials, such as colorful fliers, developing a web site, and other advertising promos can help bring in more students. However, the trick is to getting students to come back. 

Attendance is one of the top concerns of all yoga instructors. How can you be the most popular yoga teacher in your community? Keep reading for great tips on how you can connect with your students effectively.

The connection between you and your student is extremely important. No matter what situation we are in, whether it is in a yoga class, or simply shopping in a nearby store, we like to feel as if we are appreciated. Make an effort to shake the hand of every student that comes to your class. Ask them their name, how they are enjoying the class, and encourage them to come back again. Ensure them that you want to help them achieve their yoga dreams, instead of making them feel as if you are only interested in their money.

If your students come back, and more than likely they will if you made the first connection, then continue to get to know them. You do not have to pry too much on a personal level, but find out what they do for a living, what they are wanting to achieve from the class, how much experience in yoga they have, etc.

Aside from the personal connection, the way that you reflect on your students also plays a large role in how well your yoga services will grow. Always leave your troubles at home. We are human and it can be hard to sometimes not remember the problems we have outside of work, but separating your personal life from your yoga life is a must.

Your students are there to learn from you and you are there to inspire and motivate them. Which brings us to making your students feel safe and cared for. The environment should be positive, with everyone motivating each other. Small acts, such as ensuring the newbies who come to your class that no one will judge them regardless of what stage of yoga learning they are in, will give them a sense of peace.

While connecting on a personal level is vital to your business, the professional level of instruction is also important to mention. First and foremost, you are in business because of these wonderful students. Always show up to class on time, and give extra time after the class is over to talk to your students. Don't leave the minute that your instruction is over.

Physical boundaries is also a topic that needs to be addressed and is categorized in the professional department. If you are a yoga teacher who does help students learn through physical assists or adjustments, be sure to speak with each student about this before you conduct this type of learning. Some students, especially the newer learners, might not be comfortable with someone being in their level of comfort.

By communicating with them, you can guarantee that you are on the same page and will not step on any toes, so to speak. Yoga is personal, but you can connect on a more personal level by devoting the appropriate time and attention to your students. By paying you for your services, they trust you with their overall wellbeing. Respect your students and they will return to your class again.

© Copyright 2016 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Monday, January 25, 2016

How The Internet Changed Yoga Teachers

yoga teacher education
By Kimaya Singh

The Internet is a creative tool that has made life easy or complicated. It is now easier to pay bills, link with friends and family members, purchase products and even learn the course of your choice. Yoga teachers, on the other hand, have found much relief through sending information online. First of all, teachers can reach as many students as possible and send them the latest newsletter to stay in touch. When it comes to Yoga teacher education, the main factor to consider is the manner of how you intend to absorb all of the new information within your field. 

It is annoying to jump into numerous websites that have limited information on what exactly you need. In this case, finding a well-organized web site that is related to yoga topics such as the recent studies and student safety could be handy to any visitor. An ideal site should have content that gives teachers tips and useful information. Instructors use the Internet for continuing education and pass on the lessons to educate their own students.

Video Channels

There are many choices from YouTube to paid subscriptions. It really depends on what you are looking for, because there are many different styles. If you are looking for variety, Aura Wellness Center has lectures for teachers and a series of 3D "How to Practice Yoga at Home" Vinyasa videos that you can use for warm-ps, salutations, and flows. 

Reaching out to Students On the Internet

Teachers have never been able to reach so many students before thanks to the Internet. Maybe you want to reach a larger audience, share your knowledge, or write a manual to help students. Some teachers use the Internet to advertise their annual retreat. What ever your reason, here are some other ideas to help you educate others, and learn new skills in the process.

Make Use of Podcasts

Ideally, as much as the podcasts will require more tools, they are the best option since they deal with the spoken voice. You can be creative enough to post the podcast on blogs or websites. The only secret is to make it downloadable on any MP3 player or PC. With this setup, it is possible to run interviews and provide many presentations. Podcasts are exciting as anyone can listen to them anywhere and it's less dense than an average blog.

How Much Time Do You Really Have?

Website creation is not for everyone, but a blog or a social media presence gives you good reach for minimal effort. The creation of content and maintenance of a website needs extra time. The inclusion of photos and diagrams also need to be done on a regular basis since your online visitors will expect new information on a daily basis.

Bringing yoga lessons online is very rewarding, as more students will be reached in an interactive and efficient manner, but maybe you would be better to develop a Facebook page. There are also some online groups specifically about yoga training that could be beneficial to your students as they will share and learn from various sources and other experiences.

Embrace Social Media Networks

The Internet works better through networking. Yoga teachers should, therefore, come up with a Facebook page and create a community that will amass many students and yoga lovers to like and join them. Other useful resources could be short tutorials on YouTube, Google Groups, Pinterest, among others. Marketing yourself online as a yoga teacher has many benefits as it increases your student enrollment and makes you better as you will keep on learning while you engage with different people online and respond to their comments. Facebook and AdWords also have paid local advertising options, if you want to build a local presence.

Gravitate to Your Niche

Yoga teachers are specialized in different areas, and it is better to be focused in the area where you are familiar. For instance, if you are a vinyasa yoga instructor, then it's ideal to specialize for the yoga that is meant for fitness oriented students. The yoga studios as well should as well be inclined on a certain niche to bring ultimate results.

© Copyright 2016 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Yoga for Office Workers

employee assistance
By Sangeetha Saran

The modern office worker has a lot to be thankful for from retirement plans and health care options to Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and other perks geared toward making working life a little more healthy and less stressful. Even as nice as all of that might be, it still doesn't repair some of the health and comfort issue associated with desk jobs. This is where yoga can help!


We all know what terrific benefit yoga can provide in terms of correcting poor posture and the damage it can cause. For those whose lower backs are on fire after a long day at the office, their seated posture can easily be the culprit. A regimen of beginner level yoga postures and breathing exercises can help put this right without having a chiropractor involved. Some may find the Hero Pose (Virasana) quite helpful in creating good posture.

Weight Gain

No one ever wants to admit that their job is making them obese. Yet, working at a desk does not require as much physical labor in comparison to jobs of the past. Unfortunately, obesity and weight gain can open them up to a world of unnecessary health issues, including high blood pressure and diabetes. Learning to incorporate yoga into their lives can help combat weight gain due to a sedentary lifestyle. This can be done through scheduled classes either before or after work or by bringing yoga into the office during lunchtime or other regular breaks. While yoga may not strip away the pounds, it will help tone, strengthen, and maintain what lies beneath them.

Lowering Stress

A little stress can help focus the mind. A lot of it can cause unwanted consequences that affect both physical and mental health. To keep stress below toxic levels, people in high-stress positions would do themselves a big favor by adding yoga to their weekly, if not daily, routines. According to an article in Complementary Therapies in Medicine (2007), yoga was better than other relaxation techniques for reducing stress and anxiety levels. Many students find the Child Pose (Balasana) and the Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana) both quite conducive to stress reduction.

Yoga is not just for athletes and the overly health-conscious anymore. It is a discipline for which many people can benefit; especially those whose jobs have them desk-bound much of the day. Yoga can be used to improve posture, combat weight gain and relieve stress, all of which improve the quality of life of those employed in offices.

© Copyright 2016 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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