Monday, February 20, 2017

The Benefits Of Moon Salutations

practicing lunar salutations
By Faye Martins

In many traditional cultures, the moon is revered as a sacred object that is one of the most powerful in nature. According to hatha yoga tradition, the lunar energy that is released by the moon also resides within every human being. It is possible to harness and channel this energy with yoga, and that is why the ancient yogis created moon salutations.

A Calming Energy

According to hatha yoga tradition, the moon and the sun emit two very different types of energy. While the sun is the source of warm, active and outwardly manifested energy, the moon is quite different. Lunar energy is thought to be much cooler, receptive, and directed inward.

This means that yoga practitioners who learn the art of moon salutations will have a great way to calm themselves whenever they need to. In hatha yoga tradition, a moon salutation is a way to calm the energy in the body. This is even more important today than when it was first invented.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that today's society is a much more fast-paced, hectic society than at any other point in history. Everyone is always running around in 20 different directions at once, and this means stress levels are through the roof for most people.

Finding Balance

The other reason that the moon salutation is more important than ever is because of the type of yoga that is practiced in most yoga studios today. In traditional yoga practice, it is thought that the two main forces that are at work inside the body are the solar and lunar energies represented by the sun and moon. The aim of traditional yoga practice is to use asanas to balance the two energies.

However, in most modern yoga studios, the asanas that are practiced are primarily asanas that channel the solar energy. The main reason for this is that many yoga studios aim is to help people get into shape and lose weight. The best way to do this is to use energetic asanas that get the body working hard, and these are the asanas that focus on solar energy.

This focus on solar-centered asanas means that most people do not get the balance they need with their yoga. That is why it is more important than ever to regularly focus on asanas that harness the lunar energy of the moon. The best way to do this is to use a moon salutation.

The traditional moon salutation draws from many classic yoga poses to create a 16-step routine that channels the feminine, thoughtful energy of the moon. Although many of the poses like downward-facing dog, child's pose and cat's pose are familiar to most yoga participants, the energy generated by a moon salutation sequence transforms these familiar poses into something quite different.

Anyone who uses a moon salutation regularly will find that they become much more centered and balanced in all aspects of their lives. They will be able to lower their levels of stress, allowing them to deal with difficult situations with a much greater sense of calm and assuredness.

The key to great yoga is balance. Anyone who wishes to find balance must look to harness the power of lunar energy. Using the moon salutation is the surest way to help find this sense of balance.
Faye Martins, is a Yoga teacher and a graduate of the Yoga teacher training program at: Aura Wellness Center in, Attleboro, MA. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Teaching Hatha Yoga Contraindications For Standing Asanas

By Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500

There seems to be no single text that lists the contraindications for each Yoga technique; the reason being - the monumental task of listing, categorizing, and matching up each technique, with a corresponding contraindication, would be a feat that would take years to complete.

Therefore, let's look at techniques, in groups, and match them to corresponding advice. Standing Postures seem easy enough for most of us, but can still be quite challenging for your legs, regardless of age or physical condition. Many commonly seen standing poses are Warrior (Virabhadrasana) postures.

Here are some cautions, which will open your eyes to modify your practice and that of your students. At the same time, always research and remain current in your knowledge of Yoga posture contraindications, because medical and sports medical research changes by the day.

General Guidelines for all Standing Postures

If pregnant, do not stand for prolonged periods of time. If you are in your third trimester, please use a chair and modify your standing and warrior poses. Most of all, unless you are an expert teacher, please work with a certified and competent prenatal Yoga teacher specialist.

Never stiffen, or apply extra isometric force, to the muscles in your legs and arms. These postures give wonderful results without pushing the limits. People can collapse from over exertion while performing standing asanas; especially when practicing on warm days, in hot rooms, and in the sun.

Never lock the joints. Hyperextension of any joint tends to lead to premature skeletal wear. Who wants arthritis earlier? You should not be locking joints in any activity, especially Hatha Yoga practice, which is designed to enhance long term health.

If you have low blood pressure, high blood pressure, or heart problems, you should be moderate in your practice of standing postures and consult your physician or cardiologist. Why are there precautions here?

People often hold their breath when practicing strenuous postures. Never hold your breath if you have high blood pressure. Be cautious about keeping the hands over the head for prolonged periods of time. 

When performing Warrior I, do not look up at your hands if you are experiencing neck problems or have a pre-existing neck injury. Warrior II: Avoid if you have diarrhea, and do not force your head or neck forward, if you have neck problems.

Warrior III and all Standing Postures: Use your core muscles, rather than place excessive stress on your joints. Proper head, neck, shoulder, spinal, back, hip, knee, and ankle alignment is essential. Never place excessive stress on any joint. When in doubt, always consult with a physician or specialist.

© Copyright - Paul Jerard / Aura Publications

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Just Use It! - Helping Students Understand Why They Should Use Props

use props
By Kathryn Boland 

Do you notice that some students display an aversion to using props? Do you sometimes struggle to help them get past that feeling? Yoga students are sometimes reluctant to use props for many different reasons, but there are a few prevailing ones. First, some feel as if using props means that they're incapable “newbies”. Second, prop usage just feels too complicated and difficult. They'd rather just flow, and not have to stall that free movement to “fuss” with props. 

Yoga students at all levels display this tendency. Novices already feel out of their comfort zones, perhaps a little out of place in a room full of folks “better at yoga” than them. They can feel like using props gives them a huge name tag labeling them as such. Experienced students can be averse to props as well, however, as the following example illustrates. 

After class one day a student new to the studio I frequent asked the owner “Are there any classes that are more traditional? I just feel as if telling students to use props is disrespectful.” The student clearly was familiar enough with yoga practice to be able to evaluate ”traditional” versus “nontraditional”. Thus, not only beginning students are hesitant to use props. In any case, I couldn't help but think to myself “Disrespectful? How is it disrespectful to teach students how to use props to enhance their practices?” I tried to hold unto the yogic value of non-judgement, but the comment truly baffled me. 

And on another point, I didn’t understand the connection of traditional versus nontraditional and prop use versus lack thereof. Case in point, Iyengar yoga heavily centers on prop use, and that is considered one of the most traditional forms around today. But I digress. Let's look at some strategies for helping students overcome their aversions to using props - and thus, allow our students to enjoy more of yoga's potential healing, empowering potential in our lives. 

1) Use your personal experiences.

While teaching one day, an instructor whom I respect and admire described how she came to understand the truth about using props - 1) that it doesn’t mean that you're a “beginner” 2) that it can be very helpful no matter what level practitioner you are. This was meaningful to me personally, as a student of yoga, because she shared this while cueing a pose wherein I thought I don't “need” a block to be stable and strong. 

Part of me - also as a certified 500-hour instructor - knew that props are helpful no matter level practitioner one is. But another, less developed part of me was confident that I don't “need” a prop in certain postures. My instructor’s personal sharing led me to take a more objective look at the matter.  
From that, I could more clearly see that sure, I may not technically “need” props in certain postures. They do, however, help me to build stronger, more stable, more effectively aligned, and more beneficial versions of those postures. Such personal sharings (as always, brief and focused on practice and the students) can, in such ways, be effective ways for helping students understand the value of using props. That holdd true despite how “good at yoga” one is or isn't (which we know has little to nothing to do with the shapes one can make and hold with his/her body). 

2)  Show students how props can help strengthen and refine. 

We as instructors are fully aware that props aren’t only used for physical support and for “bringing the floor to you” - but also for contributing to strengthening exercises and for honing alignment within separate postures. But students don’t necessarily understand this. We can show students the multi-faceted possibilities of props by using these techniques in our classes. Thus, they can experience - on many sensory, visceral levels - that props aren’t just for helping yoga practitioners achieve postures that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. This can be far more effective than telling students that using props doesn’t mean that they’re “beginners” - an argument that could fall on deaf ears, because they’ve heard it many times before without any evidence to support it. 

These prop usages include placing a block in between one’s inner upper thighs through a Sun Salutation, or in Bridge and Wheel Poses, as well as during core work (such as passing a block in between the feet and the hands while doing full-body crunches). With these techniques, students can come to see props with new eyes - as tools that enhance any person’s practice, not just those of beginners. They’ll then be more inclined to use them not only without hesitation, but with enthusiasm. 

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Balancing Teaching Yoga and Other Endeavors - Combining Passions

By Kathryn Boland 

Do you have employment apart from yoga instruction, and see ways in which both might complement each other? Do you perhaps wonder how that might work? Many yoga instructors combine teaching yoga with other career endeavors (out of choice and/or necessity). This can certainly be difficult to manage - but our practice can help us do that with  effectiveness, efficiency, and peace of mind.

Sometimes work apart from yoga instruction has not much, per-se, to do with yoga instruction. Given yoga instructors’ interests, knowledge, and skillsets, however, work apart from teaching yoga often does relate to yoga in some way - such as physical or occupational therapy, teaching other fitness/wellness forms, nutrition/dietics, and psychology/counseling. Read on for ways that the two types of work can support each other, and thus result in greater service to others and greater well-being for yourself - whichever your unique situation may be. 

1) Transfer your knowledge and skills.

Teaching yoga involves much knowledge, and many skills - creativity, clear and fluent speech, anatomy, a strong sense of how the body moves, listening, and empathizing. That's not to mention knowledge of yogic history, theory, and methodology (which, though with timeless truths, might be less directly applicable in the modern world). 

Most, if not all, of that is transferable to other work. If you're a talk therapist or psychiatrist, for example, yoga instruction experience might draw your attention to physical signs of tension, anxiety, sadness, fatigue, et cetera - such as the quality of breath, carriage of the head and torso, gaze, and muscular tension. It can also help you to more accurately read those things. Your observations and subsequent inferences can become fruitful talking points in sessions. That could lead to much progress for your patients/clients. 

In the reverse, experience in mental health work can help you learn how to hold space for those who are hurting, in non-judgemental ways. As instructors, that’s a skill that we do need in our arsenal. On the other hand, one must be careful about doing work outside of one's role in such circumstances; yoga students do not come to class to be in therapy, and therapy/psychiatry clients don't come to sessions to be in yoga class. 

Even in work seemingly less directly related to yoga instruction, such as marketing and public relations, teaching yoga can help. It can hone your skills in crafting a theme and cohesive message, and delivering it with assured language and a clear voice. In addition, the corporate world all too often engages in unethical conduct. Living yogic values can help you to encounter such behavior with grace, objectivity, and clarity. You might also be able to be a role model of ethical conduct for your colleagues, and thus help fuel a decrease in corporate misconduct (perhaps at least in your workplace). 

2) “It’s who you know.”

Every job, and through that engagement in a certain employment sector, carries with it many contacts. The whole concept behind the successful media platform LinkedIn, for instance, is to organize and activate that network. These contacts can offer useful things such as referrals, recommendations, consultation, and input for publications. 

Perhaps you're having trouble with your platform for making yoga class playlists, for instance. A colleague at your other job could perhaps help you solve the issue. That’s informal help, unless the colleague does that professionally. Some help might be more formal, with the individual having set rates and other terms for their service. Whatever the case may be, if you're going to put your network to work in such ways, take efforts to keep it professional. Ensure that everyone's clear on expectations, and that no one is compromising anyone else's paid work. 

It's similar with making sales as a yoga instructor in an alternate workplace or vice-versa. First keep in mind if you might be applying competition (such as promoting private sessions in a public yoga studio), and regard the ethical boundaries of doing so. Next, remain aware that there are times and places for advertising services. Others are not appropriate for doing that. Even so, if handled ethically and with due discretion, connections at certain jobs can lead to boosting the strength of others. 

3) Find your “slash.”

Innovation comes from developing ideas and solving problems in ways that haven't been done before. The yoga field is competitive, and bringing our own unique offerings can help ensure your business success. At the same time, you can help more fully offer yoga's gifts to more people. If you sell essential oils, for instance, you could incorporate aromatherapy into your teaching - and thus further solidify your personal brand as a teacher. If you're a musician, you could build a class form with asana as well as pranayama, chanting, other singing, and music from a harmonium or other instrument. 

These types of “slash” forms (aromatherapy/yoga, music/yoga) often work well as workshops. Those can often pay better than standard public classes, as well as boost your notoriety as a teacher. One must be careful to ensure that potential students are clear on what you're offering, if it's something notably different from a typical modern Western yoga class. 

These types of beneficial integrations and connections - as with the utilizing your network and personal attributes (as previously described) - can evolve on their own if you stay open, curious, non-judgmental, and refuse to let fear take control. We thankfully have yoga practice to help us with that. When we create and channel connections in our professional lives in these ways, we can allow the wisdom and power of yoga to channel through us. It can then to more significantly help heal the ailing world in which we live. 

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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