sarah

Instructing from the Ground Up. By Sarah Powers

Patanjali’s linked concepts of “sthira” and “sukha”–effort and ease–can help structure your teaching. Learn how situating your instruction between these two poles can help your students find harmony.

In describing the qualities of asana with the adjectives “sthira” and “sukha,” Patanjali uses language very skillfully. Sthira means steady and alert–to embody sthira, the pose must be strong and active. Sukha means comfortable and light–to express sukha, the pose must be joyful and soft. These complimentary poles–or Yin and Yang co-essentials–teach us the wisdom of balance. By finding balance, we find inner harmony, both in our practice and in our lives.

As teachers, we need to help our students find that balance in their practice. Our instruction should assist them in an exploration of both sthira and sukha. In practical terms, we should begin by teaching sthira as a form of connection to the ground, and then move to sukha as a form of lighthearted exploration and expansion. In this way, we can teach from the ground up.

Manifesting steadiness (sthira) requires connecting to the ground beneath us, which is our earth, our support. Whether our base is comprised of ten toes, one foot, or one or both hands, we must cultivate energy through that base. Staying attentive to our roots requires a special form of alertness. Our instruction should begin there by helping students cultivate this alertness at the base of a pose. I will demonstrate this form of instruction for Tadasana, the blue print for all the other standing poses. The principles of Tadasana can be easily adapted to any standing pose you wish to teach.

Tadasana

In all the standing poses, steadiness comes from rooting all sides of the feet like the stakes of a tent. We need to teach students with high arches to pay particular attention to grounding their inner feet, and show students with fallen arches to move their ankles away from each other.

After rooting the feet, we move up, reminding students to draw the kneecaps up, the upper inner thighs in and back, and the outer sides of the knees back. This allows students to notice whether their weight feels evenly distributed between the right and left leg, the front and back of the foot, and the inner and outer thighs.

Next we should remind our students to adjust the pelvis, allowing the weight of the hips to be above the knees and ankles. This often requires them to draw their weight slightly back in order to allow the point of the coccyx to face down. In this alignment, the tailbone is not tucked nor lifted, but merely directed down between the fronts of the heels. Those with flat lumbar spines will need to allow the tailbone to move slightly back, moving away from tucking, while those with over-arched backs will need to encourage the tailbone to draw slightly in.

We should then instruct our students to lengthen the side waist, lift the top of the sternum and relax the shoulders down the back, aligning them over the hips and ankles. They should bring their heads above their shoulders, aligning the chin in the same plane as the forehead. Finally, they should relax the jaw, allowing the tongue to float freely in the mouth and the eyes to soften.

Once our students have attended to steadiness, the other qualities of alertness and comfort become accessible. They are now ready to bring their hands into Namaste position and reflect on their motivation before beginning their practice.

NatarajasanaEncourage your students to view this grounded base as their home base, the foundation from which they can create, explore, and at times expand. From there, they can navigate to a place of ease or sukha. Just as steadiness requires and develops alertness, comfort entails remaining light, unburdened, and interested in discovery. By teaching this quality, we encourage a balanced equilibrium rather than impose rigid rules for alignment. This helps students develop a natural respect toward their bodies and themselves, while encouraging them to fully inhabit their bodies. They can then learn to move away from commanding their bodies to perform poses, and instead breathe life into them from the inside.

With sthira and sukha as the points on our compass, we can organize our teaching and help our students enjoy exploring their places of limitation and liberation in every pose. As a result, regardless of your students’ individual abilities, their practice can focus on celebration and refreshment.

At a deeper level, the way we practice and teach yoga poses mirrors the way we live the rest of our lives. As we reflect on our practice and our teaching, we can use yoga as a tool for developing greater insight into ourselves and the world around us. Sthira and sukha can then become not only tools for teaching or understanding yoga, but also principals that help guide the way we live.

Sarah Powers will be leading the SOYA Annual Retreat with her husband Ty Powers this coming June 6-8, 2014 in Naramata BC.

Reprinted with permission from Sarah Powers. Published in Yoga Journal, September 2005,  Photos added by Mugs McConnell

Runners Twist

Runners Twist

Runner’s  Twist

Submitted by Mugs McConnell, ERYT500.  Photo of Gail & Amy  at the SOYA Retreat.

Runners TwistThis is a nice gentle twist that can be done in both directions. It can be used as preparation for Trikonasana (Triangle pose) or for those days when you want a gentler practice. We learned it from Dharma Mittra at the SOYA retreat in June.

Come into table pose and step the left foot forward, between the hands. Leave the right knee down on the mat directly below the hips, forming a 90 degree angle at the knee.  Both hands are placed on the floor as in table pose.

Move your left hand to the inside of the left foot, beside the arch. Raise your right hand up towards the ceiling, rotating your torso to the right, and looking up if it is comfortable on your neck.  Create a nice long line of energy through both arms. Breathe evenly and smoothly while holding the pose.

Revolved Runner Twist

Return the right hand to the floor and move the left hand back to the outside of the left foot. Keeping the right hand beside the arch of the left foot, raise the left hand up towards the ceiling. Rotate the torso to the left.  Create a nice long line of energy through both arms. Breathe evenly and smoothly while holding the pose.

Be sure to spend equal time in the pose on both sides to promote balance in the body.

Benefits

  • Improves digestion and circulation.
  • Increases the synovial fluid of the joints. Spine becomes more flexible and hips move more easily.
  • Opens throat, chest and shoulders, which may help to increase lung capacity.
  • Reduces discomfort from backache, neck pain and sciatica. Helps to relieve muscular problems in back and hips.
  • Tones roots of spinal nerves and the sympathetic nervous system, and brings fresh blood supply to spine.  Beneficial effect on entire nervous system.
  • Massages abdominal muscles.
  • Benefits gallbladder, spleen, liver and bowels. Kidneys and abdominal organs are activated and exercised.
  • Relieves menstrual discomfort.
  • Stimulates lymphatic system.
  • Brings peace of mind.

 

Cautions and Modifications

  •       For tender or injured knees, place a folded blanket under the back knee to give it extra cushioning.
  • Twists tend to compress the diaphragm.  As you inhale, lengthen the spine and as you exhale, revolve gently into twist.  Pause and lengthen again on the inhalation and rotate farther with the exhalation.
  •         Do not let the cervical spine do all the work – the head and neck should follow the movement, not lead it. For neck pain and discomfort, look down.
  •         Be conscious not to over-twist in the more mobile areas.  Try extending the movement into some of the more resistant areas.
  •        Some twists in combination with forward bends can strain the back.  Watch range of motion for lower back or sacroiliac joint strain.

How do I know when my Nadis are Purified?

How do I know when my Nadis are Purified? 

By Marion (Mugs) McConnell, ERYT500, SOYA, SYVCA, Canadian Representative for IYTA

During the immersion portion of our Yoga Teacher Trainings, we engage in a steady practice of Nadi Sodhana for two weeks, morning and evening. The purpose of this is to get established in this pranayama practice for the purpose of purifying our nadis.  A very good question came up during a study session in our training, “How do I know when my nadis are purified?”

 

My first response to the question was, “When the prana is able to go into the sushumna” but of course the next logical question that came back was “How do you know when it does that?” There are certain things that occur, like unmani avastha, a state of deep concentration where the breath stops and the mind becomes still (Hatha Yoga Pradipika Chapter 2 verse 4-10).

 

Swami Sivananda says in his book “The Science of Pranayama”, when the nadis are purified there is a “lightness of the body, brilliancy in complexion, increase of the gastric fire, leanness of the body, and the absence of restlessness”.  He says in the first stage of purification perspiration arises without effort, the middle stage is the tremor of the body, and the last stage is levitation in the air” (or in a broader sense, siddhis begin to appear).

 

When you do a cleansing fast, you really notice the difference in how you feel during and after the fast. It is difficult at first, and you may feel rather ill as the toxins are cleaned out.  As time passes, you begin to feel lighter and brighter and terrific!  It is similar when you do yoga practices to cleanse the nadis.  At the start you may not feel too well as blockages begin to release.  Blockages in the nadis often manifest themselves physically, so you may feel symptoms such as headaches, emotionally off balance, or one nasal passage becomes blocked.

 

Gradually, over time through the cleanse you have more energy and more clarity too. You feel good about yourself and your discipline and the results are generally quite delicious. There is a peacefulness that comes with the cleansing of the nadis because the thoughts are no longer jumping between the right and left brain… the union of “ha” and “tha” has brought this into balance and we experience santosha or contentment.

 

But nadis can become impure again if you, for example, reinstate junk food into your body, smoke, allow negative thoughts to run untamed, or cultivate ill intentions. So the nadis don’t necessarily stay purified if you don’t keep up your practice on all levels, on and off the mat.

 

When we do our yoga we are working with more than the physical body. Our sadhana also affects the astral body (which includes the emotional and mental aspects of our being), and the causal body (which involves our spiritual well- being).  Each layer of maya we uncover takes us closer to another vritti or samskara to perhaps deal with. As we change and develop our thought patterns through our yoga practices (ie: how we respond to new circumstances) they reflect the cleanliness of our nadis.  Pure thoughts = pure nadis, and negative thoughts such as fear or anger = not so clean nadis.

 

In Chapter 2 verse 4-10 in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika we discuss the cleansing of the nadis.

 

Nadis(4) When the nadis are impure, breath cannot penetrate into the sushumna. Then the yogi achieves nothing, nor can he reach the state of deep concentration [unmani avastha].

If there are blockages in our 72,000 nadis then the prana, or life force, is impeded in its flow.  Nadis are the energy channels for the flow of prana, the life force that brings movement to our bodies and thoughts.  The chakras are transmitters of this energy, and they have the potential to transmit both positive and negative energy depending upon where our thoughts and behaviours are centered.  Therefore, this energy is expressed or manifested in our outward actions through our body.

I often say “I see myself through the reactions of others towards me.”  If I am angry or annoyed, this will create a reaction in others that reflects my state of mind. If I am angry or annoyed, I am distracted (attachment) and I cannot concentrate.  My state of mind is a reflection of how purified my nadis are.  As yogis we are constantly trying to live a higher life and increase the supply of prana through the nadis to the sushumna. Only then will we feel peaceful and therefore be able to reach the state of deep concentration.

(5) Only when all the nadis, which are still impure, become purified can the yogi practice pranayama successfully.

(6) Therefore one should practice pranayama with the mind in sattvic condition until the sushumna is free from impurities.

Here we are back to the basics of the yamas and niyamas.  A sattvic mind is essential for success in ALL practices of yoga, and definitely during the practice of pranayama.  Pranayama is the ability to control the movement of the life force. It establishes intention and focus.  A wandering mind means the prana is being dissipated away from the task at hand – yoga or union with the Self.

A sattvic mind is reflected in our outward expressions through our body.  Kindness, compassion, understanding, patience, a peaceful presence, loving actions; these are all outward expressions of a sattvic mind.  By practicing the positive expression of your True Self regularly, steadily, and catching those negative thoughts before they get a chance to have any power, it will help you to maintain the sattvic state of mind, particularly during pranayama.

Sattva must become established in thought, word and deed. This may seem like far too much of a challenge, but we are given the tools to change our thought-waves from negative to positive in Patanjali’s yoga sutras where we discover the mind is made up of “manas, buddhi and ahamkara”.  Manas is that which records the incoming information from the senses.  Buddhi is that which classifies this information as truth, untruth, etc.  Buddhi is normally clouded by the ego, the ahamkara, and therefore classifies information under the influence of the ego.  This is because we are more in tune with our “ego-personality” than we are with our Spirit.

The Spirit is rich with the qualities of love, peace, compassion, non-judgment, etc. The ego-personality has the potential of both positive and negative qualities because it is in this manifested world.  Therefore, we must establish the habit that each time the mind receives information through the senses, we pause before judgment. We don’t make assumptions, we don’t jump to conclusions, but we filter the information based on the higher principles of yoga beyond the ego, and then classify the information according to the principles of the Spirit.

Let me give you an example.  An older couple lived in my community.  The wife passes away in the fall, and I went to Mexico for the winter.  When I returned, I was walking by the man’s home and saw a woman going in the front door. I immediately assumed he had remarried.

Recognizing my quick assumption, I immediately stopped the thought wave of him being remarried to further assess the situation before I jumped to conclusions.  She could have been his sister, housekeeper, friend… there were numerous options!

Manas had recorded what it had “seen” through the eyes (senses).  My ahamkara “ego-personality” immediately influenced the buddhi to classify this information based on the assumption the man had remarried.  I caught myself by observing my thought waves, and thus stopped the influence from the ego-personality, allowing the buddhi to reclassify the information as based on no truth whatsoever.

Simple example of how we control our thought-waves. Not a very important situation (and really none of my business), but this is how our mind works! So by putting this process of observation into practice on the little things like this will create a new standard of observation for when we encounter the bigger, more important circumstances in life where we really need to see things “clearly”!  No matter how unimportant the circumstances may seem, it is always important to establish yourself in Truth, sattva, a pure mind.

Yoga is the control of thought waves in the mind. To emphasize how important this is for our yoga practice and the purification of the nadis, I quote from Yoga-Age.com, “If we now become aware that every breath we take is in a sense pranayama, we can readily realize how frequently we damage our delicate psyche with an impure or bad thought. In the long run we shorten our lives with every negative gesture in deed, word, or thought by overburdening the conductors of the life stream with these impurities.”

Now, for the last few verses in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika on the process for cleansing the nadis:

(7) Assuming the padmasana posture, the yogi shall guide the prana through the left nostril [chandra = moon] to the ida nadi, and, after having retained the breath as long as possible [in kumbhaka], should exhale it through the right nostril [surya = sun].

(8) Then he should inhale through the right nostril, do kumbhaka according to the rule, and exhale through the left nostril.

(9) Inhalation is [always] through the same nostril as the previous exhalation. After the breath has been retained to the utmost possible limit [until perspiration breaks out or the body begins to trembler, one should exhale slowly–never quickly [since that reduces the energy of the body].

(10) Take in prana through the ida nadi and exhale it through the pingala. Then take in [new prana] through pingala and release it through ida, after having held it [in kumbhaka] as long as possible. The yogi who has perfected himself in the yamas [having thus developed the sattvic mind] will purify his nadis in three months [of practice].

So, how do you know if your nadis are purified?  Watch your thoughts and watch your actions, and they will reflect exactly how purified your nadis are. And remember these wise words from the Katha Upanishad, “When the five senses and the mind are still, and reason itself rests in silence, then begins the Path Supreme.  This calm steadiness of the senses is called Yoga.  Then one should become watchful, because Yoga comes and goes.” 

Resources:

Hatha Yoga Pradipika, commentary by Swami Vishnudevananda

How to Know God, The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali, commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

The Science of Pranayama, by Swami Sivananda

The Upanishads, commentary by Juan Mascaro

Yoga-Age.com

Yoga Alliance

Yoga Alliance

Yoga Alliance credentials are the premier form of recognition for yoga teachers. If you become a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) you will be awarded a specific designation based on your level of training and experience.  Registration with Yoga Alliance is a globally recognized credential that helps ensure that yoga students can find knowledgeable instruction and training programs.

Chair Yoga

Yoga – The Parkinson’s Way

Chair Yoga for Parkinson’s Disease and other Movement Disorders.

Article by Rhona Parsons, SOYA500 Hour Yoga Teacher in Vernon, BC

WHAT IS PARKINSON’S DISEASE?     PD is the second most common degenerative neurological disorder after Alzheimer’s disease.

PD is caused by a loss of dopamine (a chemical in the brain that controls the way messages travel from one nerve cell to another) in the area of the brain called the “substantia nigra”.  The cells that produce dopamine begin to die, reducing the amount of dopamine.  The symptoms of Parkinson’s appear when over half of the dopamine cells are lost.  The progression of the disease and accompanying symptoms vary with each person.

WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON SYMPTOMS OF PARKINSON’S?

  • Resting Tremor – repetitive shaking movements that often occur in the arms or legs at rest

  • Rigidity – increased stiffness in muscles and joints

  • Bradykinesia – “slowness of movement”

  • Balance and Postural Impairment    (Parkinson’s Society British Columbia)

Most of the evidence showing that yoga is beneficial in slowing down the disease’s progression is, for now, anecdotal and comes from yoga instructors, people with Parkinson’s disease, and physical therapists.  I have been working with people who have Parkinson’s Disease (PD) for the past 10 years and have seen firsthand how Yoga and stretching has helped them with their balance, flexibility and mobility.  It connects them with their breath (which keeps them present and reminds them to slow down), it induces relaxation which helps control tremors, activates affected muscle groups, teaches them where their body is in space and how it should move, and takes them to a place of calmness.  I’m told that they feel more limber and taller after the class, and more relaxed.

Most people, when they are first diagnosed, notice that one side of their body is more affected than the other; this can eventually cause an imbalance in their posture and gait.  Stiffness in the body’s core is one of the most debilitating symptoms of PD because it hampers a person’s ability to walk across a room or simply stand upright.  When we walk, our body is meant to naturally twist at the waist, bringing one arm forward with the opposite foot, keeping the rotation in our trunk and helping us move with ease and grace; this is our natural gait pattern.

Although the specific effects of PD can differ significantly from person to person, people with PD may be particularly prone to problems in their feet because of the difficulties they can experience with gait, posture, cramping in the feet, and balance which increases their chances of falling.  Abnormal foot function can cause a person’s stride length to shorten, increasing the amount of time both feet remain in contact with the ground.  Rigidity in the ankles can also cause normal gait loss and a shuffling action can predominate.  A flat-footed gait can produce foot, leg, and knee pain and reduce ability to absorb the shock of ground contact.  All this can lead to falling, which in turn instills fear of falling again and the person begins looking down which unfortunately begins to create a flexed spine.

Chair Yoga with twistRestorative twists poses can help prevent rigidity for people with PD by strengthening the trunk and increasing flexibility through the waist, and bringing focus on posture.  This helps to reduce stiffness in the body, help maintain a normal gait and a sense of balance, and improve mobility. By working the muscles of the trunk, we can help our clients come back to a normal gait, which in turn, will affect their overall posture.  (See Seated Chair Twist in this enews).

Rhona Parsons CPT, RYT500, SOYA, IYTA  is Registered Yoga Teacher, Master Trainer of Bender Ball, CanFitPro – FIS, PTS and Stott Pilates Instructor.  She leads workshops for Yoga Teachers on Yoga for Parkinsons Disease.  If find out more about her upcoming workshops, or to invite her to lead one, please contact her at pilates4life@hotmail.com.  If you would like to read her full Specialty Project on “Chair Yoga for Parkinson’s Disease and Other Movement Disorders”, please email us at info@soyayoga.com.