Friday, April 29, 2016

Spinal Decompression With Yoga Postures

neck and back pain
By Kimaya Singh

Have you experienced neck and back pain after a long day of sitting at home or at work? In the modern era, as we have increased the amount of time we spend sitting at our computers at work or our televisions at home, we have inadvertently placed increasing amounts of strain upon the skeletal components in our necks and backs.

Prior to modern times, people simply did not spend so much of their day in a seated position to develop these problems. Most people found themselves working in jobs in industries such as agriculture that required physical exertion or manual labor. During these times, people actually exercised as part of their daily work duties. In contrast, many people today do work at their desks on computers or by standing all day, often in the same position, and do not have the opportunity to exercise.

One consequence of prolonged sitting or standing in the same position for most of the day is that the spine becomes compressed. This means that strains develop in and in between the discs of the spine, which can create discomfort. Causes for this discomfort certainly include the natural water loss in the spinal column but also the force of gravity that ultimately causes the process of thinning between the discs in the spine. Discs serve as cushions between the vertebrae and when they become strained, the body experiences stiffness, nerve problems and actual pain if the condition is not addressed in some way. This condition is what is known as spinal compression.

Although the process of spinal compression is a natural consequence of ageing and of sitting for prolonged periods of time, the condition can readily be addressed through the use of yoga exercises. These exercises can help to pump the spinal discs back up and to bring needed water supplies back into the discs for a healthier back and neck. The following are just a few typical stretches and exercises that can be used to achieve more optimal spinal disc health.

Fortunately, we can use yoga exercises that have existed for thousands of years to decompress our spines. Assuming that yoga exercises are done correctly, they all in some way help to alleviate spinal compression and its symptoms. Please consult your physician prior to using yoga exercises to treat spinal compression.

Cat Stretch

Particularly effective in treating problems in the lumbar region of the spine, the Cat Stretch helps to relieve pressure. Sitting, facing forward, and resting your body on your knees and elbows initiate this move. Once you are in that position, use your abdominal muscles to arch your lower back upward. After you have arched as high as possible, remain in that position for approximately 20 seconds and then return to normal. Repeat as often as desired.

Knees to Chest Repetitions

Doing the Knees to Chest Pose relieves compression in the lumbar spine and in the discs. This exercise is fairly simple in that you begin by lying on your back in Shavasana. Slowly raise your knees up toward your chest and use your arms to grab hold of the shins. Take deep breaths while bringing your knees as close to your chest as possible with your arms and hands. A blanket could elevate your head, while your tailbone could also be slightly elevated by the nature of the pose. Hold this position for ten seconds and return to the starting position. Repeat ten times.

If you repeat these exercises along with many other decompressing yoga poses, you should experience noticeable benefits, one of which is the surprising feeling of being taller! Your sense of coordination, balance, and flexibility will all be enhanced by regular yoga practice. The back pain you once experienced will quickly disappear as you use yoga to decompress your spine.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Teaching Yoga Classes that Foster Courage: Bhastrika Pranayama

relaxation techniques
By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed.

There are many different ways to structure Yoga class. Of course, the way that you structure your Yoga classes will largely depend on the composition of the students in your class. For example, if you are teaching a group of senior citizens in a retirement home, the type and pacing of your Yoga class will be far different than if you're teaching a group of college students in the university gymnasium! With creativity and experience, you will find that there are a great many variations and nuances to creating an effective, challenging and safe Yoga class that can be modified to accommodate a wide diversity of students.

When you are creating a sequence of Yoga postures, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques to guide your students through during the course of your class, it is important to keep in mind the students whom you are teaching and the underlying focal point of the class itself. Many Yoga instructors use the guiding principle of performing a pinnacle pose as a foundation upon which to string a series of asanas during their class. For instance, if you are teaching a beginning to intermediate Yoga class, and the pinnacle posture you have chosen is Crow Pose, you may want to guide your students through a series of beginning balancing postures and hip opening poses, so that they can practice Crow Pose in a safe and successful manner. 

On the other hand, you can also structure your Yoga classes around the enhancement of different inner states, or bhavs, such as peacefulness, compassion and courage. By structuring a class in a such a way that the class itself fosters these uplifting emotional states of being, you will help your students to truly embody and integrate the lessons of this ancient practice into all areas of their lives off the mat. When your Yoga students begin to learn that they can move through their preconceived limitations and achieve the goals that they have set for themselves in a safe and successful manner, their self-esteem and sense of competency will increase naturally, which will positively impact their day-to-day lives. 

* Bhastrika Pranayama

A very effective Yogic breathing exercise is Bhastrika Pranayama. Bhastrika Pranayama, or Bellows Breath, helps to clear away the cobwebs in the mind, invigorate the entire body and release deeply held mental stress and tension. This vigorous pranayama exercise also helps to oxygenate all of the tissues in the body and increase the flow of the lymphatic system, which will boost the functioning of the immune system and enhance overall health and well being. 

Bellows Breath is one of the best pranayama exercises to practice just before guiding your students through a series of physical Yoga postures, because it fans the flames of their inner fire, or agni, which energizes a student's practice. During the practice of Bhastrika Pranayama, each inhalation and exhalation should be complete and deep. The ratio of each inhalation and exhalation should also be equal. When you're ready to teach your students Bhastrika Pranayama, have them come to a comfortable seated position on their Yoga mats. 

If any of your students have hips that are tight and are uncomfortable with sitting directly on their Yoga mats, have them sit on a folded blanket underneath them for a more comfortable position. This breathing exercise can also be practiced in a chair, as long as your students sit comfortably erect and place both of their feet directly on the floor. 
When your students are ready to begin the practice of Bhastrika Pranayama, have them slightly contract the back of their throats. By contracting the back of the throat slightly, the intensity of this pranayama exercise will be increased naturally and gently. 

The contraction of the glottis at the back of the throat is this same pressure that is created during the practice of Ocean Sounding Breath, or Ujjayi Pranayama. In this way, the fiery aspect of this pranayama exercise will be naturally magnified. Guide your students through several rounds of Bhastrika Pranayama. When they have completed their final round, ask your students to sit for a moment and feel the energetic clarity and the fullness of heart that has been generated by this fiery pranayama practice. Both of these inner qualities are seminal to fostering a courageous state of being.

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 specializes in writing customized articles that are 100% unique. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at:

© Copyright – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Yoga Teacher Tips to Keep Student Interest

during your yoga classes
By Bhavan Kumar

If you are a yoga teacher, then it is essential to keep students interested in enrolling in classes several times a week. Students who feel bored by their instructor or the classroom environment may decide to take classes from a different teacher, leading to a loss of income for a yoga business.

One: Change Yoga Pose Routines

When you use the same yoga pose routines each session, your students have no reason to come to a class because they could do the same routine at home. Switch it up by doing some movements in a different order or trying a new type of pose to keep your students enthused.

Two: Rearrange the Classroom

Do you always stand in the same place in the classroom while teaching students? Move to each side of a room to create a new environment or stand in the middle of the classroom with students placed around you instead. Change the positions of floor mats too so that your students have a new perspective while working on their poses.

Three: Music during Yoga

Have you tried using music during your yoga classes? Music can change the way your students feel about yoga by creating energy or relaxation. Some students will enjoy the rhythm from music while attempting a new pose. You can choose music with or without words in styles that include classical, jazz or country.

Four: Adjust the Classroom’s Temperature

Changing the temperature of a classroom can affect your student’s muscles and joints while they perform yoga movements and poses. Specialized yoga classes that take place in hot rooms are designed to increase the body’s heart rate to improve the cardiovascular system. Alternatively, completing a yoga routine in a cold classroom is an excellent way to burn more calories to lose weight.

Five: Use Aromatherapy during Classes

To change your students’ moods during a yoga session, burn aromatic candles or essential oils. There are floral, citrus and herbal fragrances available such as peppermint, lavender or orange that can make students feel less stress or more energy while they practice poses and movements.

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Friday, April 15, 2016

Safety in Physical Cueing and Adjustments – Asking First and So Much More!

asking first
By Kathryn Boland 

Do you feel as if you are collaborating with your students when you physically “cue”, or adjust, them? Or are you changing their body shapes and qualities in certain ways without their input? Have you ever noticed or thought about the difference? I recently have been thinking about this consideration, actually more out of experiences as a yoga student than from my teaching experiences. I noticed how some teachers were adjusting me in certain ways without my contribution – essentially fine, but which could have been dangerous in certain cases. 

In one of those instances, I’ve recently torn a right hamstring. I’ve been doing my best to make mindful and diligent adjustments, so that my practice remains enjoyable – rather than painful, as well as to avoid injuring the area further and adding more scar tissue. I also do my best to let the instructor know about my injury, but it sometimes slips my mind (and the teacher doesn’t ask at the beginning of the class, which is always of course a good idea!). Other times I’m rushing into class right on time, grabbing props as the instructor is giving opening words. I don’t want to interrupt. I suspect that I’m not alone as a student in both cases.

In any case, in one class last week I was becoming warm, and my torn hamstring was feeling all right. My body was telling me it would be all right to go for a Wide-Legged Forward Fold without a block. I folded, and walked by hands back, just to the point where my hamstring reminded me of its vulnerability. I breathed there. Then I felt the instructor behind me, pressing her hands gently into my low back to lead me to fold further. I exhaled more and refrained from asking her to stop, because I don’t want to damage the torn hamstring further. Sometimes yoga students, such as myself in this case, find it difficult to speak up in such ways. 

There’s another problematic aspect to her otherwise gentle and skillful cueing; I didn’t see her coming, and I didn’t expect her touch until I felt it. She also placed her hands close to a vulnerable and sensitive area – emotionally and physically, particularly for women – the sacrum. I know this teacher, but she doesn’t fully know my past – what if I was a sexual abuse survivor? Unexpected touch at this area could certainly have triggered me, if that were my personal history. So, let’s back up a bit – what would have been a more mindful and safer (emotionally and physically) way for her to approach this cueing? 

Before even placing hands on me, it would have been wise for her to say “Kathryn, I’m just going to put my hand on your low back to help deepen your fold”. Then I would have known she was coming. After slowly beginning to apply this pressure at the area, it would have also been wise for her to ask me something like “Does that feel all right?”. I would most likely have felt more willing to tell her that I was refraining from folding deeper because of my torn hamstring. Such “checking in” statements open a door for students who might otherwise have trouble speaking up to tell a teacher that their physical adjustment actually isn’t welcome. 

I’ve experienced a second situation like that recently, this one with Gomukasana (Cowface Pose). I was attempting to get deeper into the posture in my own timing, with my own riding of breath. I suddenly felt my instructor, a man whose classes I take often, push my shoulder-blades in and my mid-spine up. I completely trust him, and I enjoyed the deeper stretch that he did help me to access – so at the time, I smiled and whispered a thank you. Thinking about it later, however, the experience didn’t sit me with well; just as in the past instance, I didn’t see him coming. In fact, I had my eyes closed. If I were a sexual abuse survivor, it could have been very triggering for me. Add to that the fact that he is male. 

So, in addition to the better approaches that I mentioned with the last instance, there are a couple of other notes of caution that this instance demonstrates. Firstly, it’s particularly important to alert a student that you will be physically cueing them if he/she has his/her eyes closed. Obviously, he/she can’t see you approach in those cases, and your touch is totally unexpected. Maybe the student could hear you step closer, but that’s nothing to depend on. 

It’s additionally important to ask before physically adjusting a student, or at least gently and mindfully explain your intentions, if you are the opposite sex of the student. Unless you know the student like a family member, you don’t know that the person doesn’t have abusive relationships with members of the opposite sex in his/her past. You don’t know that your touch alone could put him/her in agony, simply because it leads the student to remember the pain of a past relationship. We yoga instructors aren’t doctors, but – like doctors – our first intent should be to do no harm. That established, the guidance and caring that we offer can lead our students to flourish. 

Yoga is a beautiful lifestyle of coming to greater wellness. On the other hand, there is potential for making physical and emotional pain worse rather than better (particularly with asana practice, as I have focused on in this article – but that fact is also true of yoga’s other disciplines). Students bear responsibility for creating their practices to be healing and empowering, rather than further damaging – but so do we instructors, as the ones who guide them in those practices. So, please, before you physically cue a student without his or her input, act to include them in the process. They might have important information about themselves that could make you think twice before proceeding. 

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