Sunday, April 10, 2016

Teaching Yoga Students About Witnessing

teaching yoga students about witnessing
By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

One of the more subtle aspects of teaching Yoga is the transformative internal process that occurs over time. You may have noticed in your own practice that your mindbegan to quiet, as your body became stronger and more flexible. The dynamic psychological benefits of a Yoga practice are as powerful as the many physical benefits that this practice offers to regular practitioners. There is usually a fairly predictable process that happens internally during the physical practice of the postures and pranayama exercises, which helps a Yogi or Yogini to let go of mental habits that may be impinging on his or her peace and well-being. 

As you began to truly sink into your own personal Yoga practice, you may have noticed that many disparate negative thinking patterns became illuminated by the relative quietude of your own mind. Although your awareness of these negative thought patterns may have been disconcerting, your awareness of them also allowed you to question the validity of those thoughts and release and transform any unnecessarily dimming mental constructs. In the same way, when you are teaching a Yoga class, many of your students will also begin to become aware of habitual negative thought patterns that are undermining their peace of mind. 

By teaching your Yoga students how to transform difficult emotions when they are on the mat, you will empower them to recognize and transform negative thinking patterns in their daily lives. The ability to become aware of negative thought loops that undermine one's health and happiness is one of the invisible treasures of a consistent, dedicated practice of asanas, breathing exercises and meditation techniques for both you and your students. However, as this internal awareness begins to grow, the emotions themselves may feel too overwhelming to tolerate for some of your students. 

In order to help your Yoga students to transform difficult emotions in a manageable fashion, incorporating the practice of "minding the gap" may prove to be quite helpful. The mindfulness practice of minding the gap essentially means to take an internal step back from difficult emotions when they arise and witness the thoughts without becoming overly identified with them. This process creates some internal distance from the thoughts themselves, which helps to prevent a student from becoming completely overwhelmed by habitual negative thinking patterns. 

When we can witness our thoughts instead of becoming completely identified with the thoughts themselves, the underlying internal conditions and external circumstances that give rise to the negative thoughts can be more easily identified. With this identification, a Yoga practitioner can choose to change his or her personal situation, in order to create a more conducive environment for cultivating peace of mind and happiness. As the ability to take an internal step backward and witness how and why difficult emotions arise becomes more finely honed, a Yoga student has the opportunity to begin to cultivate a more positive state of mind. 

In practice, there are three steps to minding the gap between thoughts. The first step is simply allowing the thoughts to arise into conscious awareness. The second step is to take an internal step back and witness the thoughts and the emotions that arise with the thoughts. During a Yoga class, there are many physical postures that will release both physical tension and the memories that have been somatized in those areas of tension. When this happens, gently reminding your students to continue to breathe into the tension will help them to tolerate difficult feelings and sensations without numbing out by holding their breath. 

The third step in this mindfulness practice of transforming difficult emotions is to allow your students the time to gently expand their awareness to include their own personal situations and the unresolved life events, which may be adding more fuel to the proverbial fire. This expanded awareness will generate an opportunity for your students to shift both their internal thinking patterns and their external environment so that a more positive state of mind can begin to emerge. By allowing enough time in your Yoga classes for your students to move mindfully through the practice while integrating pranayama exercises into the flow of the postures, you will provide them with an opportunity to truly transform difficult emotions into a more optimistic and positive state of mind. 

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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1 comment:

parvezbdjsr said...

Its really very valuable article for yoga teacher.