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 s