Monday, December 25, 2017

Should You Teach Yoga Less? Take a Break?

take a break
By Kathryn Boland

Are you wondering if all the teaching you’re taking on is just too much? If you should take a clean break from teaching? In a prior article, I discussed ways to go about seeing if teaching more is sustainable, and how to go about doing that - but, alas, that can all go too far. We all need rest. No living organism can operate non-stop. Teaching yoga full or semi-full time can feel like that, like there’s always constant travel, things to do and plan, with no time or energy to attend to one’s own needs. 

As yoga instructors, we offer a lot to our students. However, if we have nothing of ourselves left to give, then that’s what it is. It’s just not sustainable. Let’s look at this first in regards to how we can sense these signs of burnout, and then what to do about them. Through it all, yogic virtues and ways of acting - non-attachment, non-judgement, moderation, truthfulness, and more, can truly light the way. Om Shanti!

1. Burn-out - the physical, mental, interpersonal, and spiritual
Before one can make healthy changes, he/she must recognize the benefit - sometimes the need - to do so. With burn out, helped by stepping back one’s set of obligations (and little else), key signs are present. Physically, you are most often tired. You might find yourself oversleeping - your body telling you that you need more rest. There are issues with appetite. Headaches and digestive pains are common. Particularly with active people like yoga instructors, you may find your muscles often very sore. 
You might feel like you’re simply low on physical energy - all too often. Mentally, you might feel like you’re in a fog. It’s hard to think through and sort out various class changes, subbing, sequencing, et cetera. You might even occasionally mix these things up, maybe even missing something to which you had committed. While teaching, you may find yourself mixing up cues, Sanskrit names, et cetera that would normally be no problem for you. 

Spiritually, you may feel in a “funk”. Your fire, your passion, your love for teaching may feel faded. It’s a symptom of depression, but also of burnout, to lose the some amount of interest in things that once captivated your attention and passion. It might not be all of these experiences, perhaps rather a different kind of burnout - an exhaustion of your patience with constant travel, a realization of serious financial deficiency. 
In your unique life situation (geographic area, etc), the amount of teaching that you’re trying to offer consistently just might not be as viable as you thought it might be. A wonderful thing about yoga instruction is its malleability; it doesn't have to be all or nothing, full-time or no classes at all. Let's take a look at that next.

2. Ok, so you’ve decided to step back - what’s next?
Let’s assume that you don’t want to leave teaching entirely, forever (though that may be the case for some people - something not to be judged). It might be the right answer for you to take a break - one month, two months, six months - whatever you feel will give you the distance you may need to come back refreshed and eager. You can use this time to delve deeper into your practice and/or yogic literature (old and new), or simply focus on another area of life that leaves you fulfilled.
Some teachers find long-term subs in cases of medical need, seasonal travel, maternity/paternity leave, and the like. This is certainly also an option if you’re looking to take a break from teaching. If you’re looking to have classes filled on a long-term basis, or scale back your classes, there are most likely many eager and willing candidates to take over (for some months or permanently). Studio sub lists, social media, and other networking can help find these teachers.  

Should you take a break, or just step back? If it’s simple logistical difficulty, scaling back might be best. If it’s a deeper exhaustion and loss of passion for your teaching, you might truly benefit from a break. It offers the opportunity to come back with a rekindled enthusiasm for yoga instruction. 
How do you decide which classes to let go? It’s certainly easy to develop attachment to our classes - sometimes partly out of force of habit, and inertia to step away from such routine. What can be deeper is a sense of pride and appreciation for what we’ve built with certain classes, especially if it’s a group of consistent, longer-term regulars. 
Doing your best to practice aparigraha, non-attachment, can help. Perhaps these classes are the ones you hold on to. Other factors include travel, scheduling, location, and pay. If It’s truly hard for you to choose, you could even compare your classes on a point system, giving your classes a certain number of points on each of these aspects (and perhaps others), and tally it all up. 

The classes with the highest numbers are the ones you keep. It makes the choice objective. Then do the legwork of sending notifications your decision to the appropriate party (or parties). Explain the situation thoroughly, but be respectful of people’s time and attention with brevity.
When at all possible, offer the professional courtesy of two weeks notice. Wishing Godspeed! Remember, as our practice teaches, no outcome is truly “good” or “bad” - all are learning experiences that contribute to who we are and whom we will become. 

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Slow-Flow - The Yin/Yang in Between

By Kathryn Boland

Have you ever taught (or taken) “Slow-flow”? Or perhaps seen a promotion for it and thought “Hmmm, looks interesting”, wondering what it’s like? The form has popped in many yoga studios in recent years. I have personally found it to be quite a relaxing and soothing, yet energizing and motivating, kind of asana practice.
It’s sort of a halfway point on a spectrum between Vinyasa and Restorative practice - a Yin/Yang “in-between". Yet “Slow Flow” is not a common part of most teacher training programs. So, we ask, how does one create such a practice - what are the tools and qualities? Let’s look at some!

1. Keep it continuous, but nothing fast. 
For instance, match movement to a steady, full and deep flow of breath. Cue “Thread-the-Needle” from Tabletop, but before resting down guide students to “re-thread” a few times - raising that arm to the sky, then re-threading (but not resting back down until the last time). Try “guitar swings”, rolling through the shoulder’s full range of motion (so that the arm makes a large circle) in standing poses. A third to try is flowing from Half-Split Pose (Ardha Hanumanasa) to Low Runner’s Lunge (Anjaneyasana), three to four times.

For an idea of speed at which to take these movements, when I do these flows in Slow Flow classes, the movement shifts slowly enough for me to cue (talk through) the movement while it’s happening. Two other tips for making this approach: first, prepare (trying it out in your body, then writing it down - or whatever you find is your best way to prepare); second, adapt in the moment by observing how your students receive what you’re offering (as we ideally always do in our teaching!).

2. Keep it more grounded than standing, and challenging, yet not rigorous. 
Most Slow Flow classes I’ve taken, and then went on to teach in the mode of, were also more gentle than most Vinyasa classes I’ve taken, yet not as gentle as most Restorative classes (or even Yin). Compared to Hatha, it does not have the same continuous flow, and is less rigorous as well (as Hatha offers intensity through holding and refining poses). When sequencing these classes, think about keeping things mainly grounded - for instance, feel free to include Sun Salutation As, with variations such as backbends, sidebends, and twists.

But cue “low” as opposed to “high” lunges (with the back knee dropped and toes untucked, yet also offering an option to take a “high” lunge version if students may prefer). Feel free to include a balance section, for all of the benefits these poses offer. Yet keep it relatively simple and accessible - such as a Tree Pose (Vraksasana), Single Standing-leg Balance, and Airplane Pose (Dekasana).
Think about keeping a majority of the class grounded on the mat - “low” lunges and variations with them, with seated, kneeling, prone, and supine poses. Perhaps save your skills at teaching more complex inversions and arm balances for your intermediate to advanced Vinyasa classes.

Come with a frame of healthy, balanced, whole-body movement and stretching - rather than a “workout” (yet that might happen for some students, and that’s just a plus!). “Core work” might happen through moving through poses, but it doesn’t fit as a primary goal in this form. That’s a beautiful thing about this form, I do think - that sense of balance, moderation, and inclusion of diverse offerings - in truth, the yogic way!

3. Follow your instincts, and let students follow their own. 
A difficult thing about learning to teach this form is its openness; there’s no set form, such as with Bikram or Ashtanga, or common convention such as with Vinyasa (warm up, “Sun As” and “Sun Bs”, balancing, grounded poses). It’s something to learn through taking classes, collaborative discussion with other instructors and studio administrators, and building your experience teaching the form.
A good thing about all of that, however, is actually that same openness; unless doing something counter to yogic teaching, anatomical science, your best judgement, and the like, you can’t be “wrong". The same goes for your students practicing under you. Guide them to the best of your ability, but beyond that, their practice is theirs and not yours (as it is in teaching any other form!).

Given the openness, and relative newness (as compared to yoga practice at large) of Slow Flow, allow space for mutual learning and collaboration for all involved parties. Hatha and the (much broader) yoga practice evolved thousands of years ago through a group of people combining their wisdom and discoveries, and so on through time - allowing for the practice to adapt to changing conditions of the world at large, yet still maintain its essential essence. Through exploring and refining this “Slow Flow” form, we can part of that development. Namaste.

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Sunday, December 24, 2017

Winter Asana - Warm Up and Energize

warm up and energize
By Kathryn Boland

Are you recognizing your students’ needs shifting as the temperatures drop? Are you looking for unique ways to help meet these needs? Winter places new demands on the body - more energy needed to keep the body warm, and more rest needed because of that.
At the same time, some offering of active practice can help lift spirits and energies.  Like with yoga instruction in general, it’s all about balancing sometimes contrasting ingredients in a way that creates something cohesive and appealing. 
First consider the class environment. With temperature, it’ll feel very nice to students to enter a warm studio. Yet avoid “blasting" the heat, so to speak, as a drastic change in temperature (going from outside to inside) can shock their bodies. Music, if used, is most effective when calming and grounding, yet with an uplifting element to it.

To open class, consider “meeting students where they’re at" - most likely craving something restful, comforting, and nurturing. Try a Child’s Pose, or - on the back - a prop-supported Baddha Konasana or Constructive Rest (its opposite - feet wide and knees knocking into each other). Guide students into yogic breath - not necessarily slow, but full, deep, and rhythmic. 

What can feel especially nice in cold temperatures is taking longer inhales than exhales. Try cueing a breath rhythm of three counts inhale, five counts exhale - and perhaps exploring other counts in the same (or a similar) ratio. It helps warm and energize the body. Also towards the beginning of class, make sure to thoroughly warm students up, before going into deeper poses, perhaps a bit more than you might think necessary; cold muscles cannot stretch as easily, and are more vulnerable to tearing (a.k.a. injury). 
There are plenty of ways to explore different types of movement- varying dynamics, planes, levels, et cetera, to keep your students stimulated and engaged through this - to the point where they might not even realize they’re still “warming up”! Getting creative in these ways can help build heat in the body, balancing the abundance of Kapha in this season with Pitta. 

Try high and low Boat Pose (Navasana), transitioning back and forth in between them. Cue Three-Legged Dog Pose to Three-Legged Plank Pose. Emphasize core activation, guiding your students to scoop the belly in towards the spine. Add in a couple more Sun Salutations or Warrior Poses than you might normally, perhaps leaving behind one or two deep sustained stretching poses in order to accommodate for that in your allocated class time.
On the other hand, winter makes us tense and tight. We scrunch up our shoulders and facial muscles, and the body’s skeletal muscle increases its resting tone in service of keeping warm. So we do need good stretching this time of year, after gentle movement to warm the body and begin that process of loosening tense musculature. 
Try cueing a swing of an arm through a full range of motion in any standing pose, and then into a half bind - movement to warm and loosen, deeper stretching to further release the muscle. Certainly include deeper stretching poses in your winter classes - Pyramid Pose, other forward folds, and the like - but perhaps not until the latter third of class. As an even further precautionary measure, ask your students if they feel warm before cueing something like Paschimottanasana or Janu Sirsasana. 

And perhaps take a bit more time than usual to truly wind down classes, to offer students the rest that their bodies may need in this season - but which modern life might not allow them to enjoy. Even if it’s a Vinyasa class, ask students to get bolsters (if available) and offer a few prop-supported Restorative poses - such as Viparita Karani, Supported Bridge, or Supported Supta Baddha Konasana - towards the end of class.  
Do your best with class timing to allow for a nice long Savasana, and a slow, gentle exit back to full consciousness. Yoga can help us find a healthy, enjoyable balance between calm and activity at any time of the year, but particularly in the winter months when the environment challenges our physical systems. Those detailed here, and countless others, are methods for that. Best of luck and Om Shanti! 

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Friday, December 01, 2017

Yoga Poses for Hikers

yoga for hikers
By Michael Gleason

Welcome to the great outdoors!  Our sprawling urban centers are always alive, pulsating with subway cars or other rapid transit, forward thinking universities and their researchers, and technology firms consistently coming out with exciting innovations.  And all of that is wonderful most of the time.  Access to coffee shops, arts and culture, and progressive or unusual ideas are a delight.  The city is awake and requires everyone to muster a definite amount of energy to keep themselves going but also to propagate all of these concepts.  

Yet, what happens when our bodies ache or fatigue sets in?  What are some of the remedies to urban life, to electricity going all the time enabling street lamps and electronic gadget charging stations to keep all the excitement going?  Where do people need to go in order to find their charging stations and deliberately go offline for a while?

The answer is wilderness.  The urban denizens already program (no pun intended) yoga or Pilates or the gym into their schedules.  But when happens when we need more than just the quiet of Shavasana after one of our favorite yoga classes or the endorphins from cardio and weights?  How do we revert back from human-doings to human-beings?  Perhaps it’s time to look at the rapid transit maps that go further than local service or check the apps and maps for something with a lot more innate green space.  In other words, move your yoga and mindfulness practice to the great outdoors.  Getting in a good hike helps with longevity and wellness and, with yoga added in, just that much faster and appreciable an amount of stress reduction.

Yoga can be done before, during, or after hiking.  The yoga poses performed on the flat, smooth floors and mats in our yoga studios can adapt easily to the natural floor of campsites, unpaved parking areas, and the hills themselves (provided none of them are slippery from condensation or ice).  

One of the many beauties of yoga is its versatility and ability to be practiced anytime, anywhere.  So all the more reason to work yoga poses into hiking.  And being flexible, or having yet to become flexible is seldom to never an issue.  

While it is established that hiking is great for stress relief, it is more important to maximize our time away from the urban centers regardless of progressiveness.

These are the more commonly performed yoga asanas connected to hiking.  It is good to hold each pose for five to seven breaths.  Take some great pictures and show them to your friends when you get home!

- A good intro is Forward Fold, once your torso is as down as possible – folding your
arms if they cannot reach the ground is always fine – really engage your hamstrings so they are prepared for the hike, have your sits bones face the sky, bend your knees so you can bring your torso down as far as possible without injury.

- Move into Downward Facing Dog, first start by getting all floors on the ground in plank pose and then raise your hips so you look like a dog stopping to smell something, the trick is roll away your shoulders and make your tailbone point upward.

- Low Lunge, from Downward Facing Dog put one knee on the ground and send the other knee “skyward”, use this as the your opportunity to press your hips together and give them a good stretch.

- In Pyramid Pose (it actually starts in Standing Mountain Pose), move your feet about one yard apart, if possible point your toes out 45 degrees, inhale and send your arms straight over your head, keep your hips facing forward, and bend down toward your right leg with your arms dropping in the promise, if you are pliable enough see if your forehead can touch your right knee, lift your torso up and gently transition to the right knee with the same challenge with your forehead

- Take a minute to get back into Mountain Pose, this general pose is one of the “halfway points” from one pose to the next as you are standing as tall as possible and seeing if you can get your back to stretch upward, a great help with posture, especially if you plan on lugging a knapsack; if you need a rejuvenating stretch while on a hike do the modified Mountain Pose: lie down your back and put your feet up on a boulder or side of a hill.

- Coming down the hill or once back at the camp site consider doing Rock Lunges, start by standing as tall as possible, put your left foot on a rock (put your ankle in your hands if you are sore), lengthen your spine just like Mountain Pose, stretch your arms up nice and high so the circulation really travels in and out of your arms, repeat by placing your left foot back on the ground and placing your right foot up on top of the same rock.

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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