Hanumanasana

Hanumanasana

Kamala is a Yoga Teacher Trainer for SOYA and leads the RYT200 hour extended and immersion programs in Penticton, BC.  She is the owner of Purple Lotus Yoga and is leading several workshops in Vienna, Austria this July.

Legend of Hanumanasana 

Once upon a time, there lived a couple named Sita and Ram. They lived together in olden day India. There was also an evil villain named Ravana who lusted after Sita and carried out a plan to kidnap and take her away to his kingdom in (Sri) Lanka. When Ram found out that his beloved was missing, he enlisted the help of his monkey friend and devotee, Hanuman. Hanuman had the super power of being able to make giant leaps. He’s often depicted flying in a splits-like position.  Hanuman used his supernatural power to locate Sita who was held captive in Ravana’s kingdom. However, Sita refused to let Hanuman carry her home. Undeterred, the clever monkey-god built a bridge between India and (Sri) Lanka by carefully dropping stones into the ocean. Supported by Hanuman’s bridge, Ram and his army were able to heroically defeat the forces of evil and reunite with Sita.

This Hindu tale is rich with symbolism. Hanuman is an incarnation of Shiva who symbolizes universal consciousness or the unified field of energy that is everything. Sita symbolizes the divine feminine and the nature of material reality (the world around you). Ram symbolizes the divine masculine and the quest for spirituality reality. Evil Ravana symbolizes the ego and the bridge built by Hanuman is symbolic of yogic practices.

A lesson of the legend of Hanuman is that our bodies and our yogic practices (the bridge in our story) are by nature imbued with the innate intelligence that makes all things grow (Hanuman). When these practices are undertaken with an earnest longing for our highest potential (Ram), there is a remembrance of the true, transient nature of material reality (Sita) as well as an informed and healthy relationship with ego (Ravana).

As yogins on this path, ours is a dance of Sita and Ram, of seeing the divine in everyday things. We stay committed to the practices that bridge and eventually blend our spiritual world and everyday lives.

The pose of Hanuman is an invitation to reconnect to our own courageous and devoted heart.  Take giant leaps and make bridges of practice with these steps towards Hanumanasana. It’s an amazing leg toner as well as an opener for hips, psoas and groin.

  1. From Downward Facing Dog, step your right foot forward into a lunge. Rest your back knee on the floor. Lean back with your hips to straighten your front leg, toes up, heel presses down. Spread your front toes wide and press forward through the mound of the big toe on your front foot.
  2. Lengthen your tailbone downward then extend from your pelvis out your legs as you bring your hips toward the ground.

Modification: Any lunge is great prep for this pose or you can do the pose using blocks under each hand.

  1. Press down through your hands to draw yourself together and re-enter Downward Facing Dog in transition to the other side.

Like any good story of reunion and homecoming, this pose often involves a dedicated and courageous journey. The bridge of our practices is crossed one step at a time, by putting one foot in front of the other.

Join Kamala in Vienna, Austria July 5-6/14 for workshops on Hanumanasana, Arm Balances, lower back and shoulder therapeutics. Most days she can be found at Purple Lotus Yoga in Penticton, BC.

For info visit purplelotusyoga.ca/kamala-yoga

Adhomukha Virasana

ADHO MUKHA VIRASANA

Submitted by Nicole Schweizer, SOYA, RYT200 from Red Deer Alberta

Over 40% of Canadians suffer from sleep disorders.  A recent Harvard study concluded that by practicing just 30-45 minutes of yoga a day, people fell asleep 30% faster and reduced their nighttime waking by 35%. 
Adhomukha Virasana2Restorative yoga is one style of yoga that helps you relax and let go of the daily stresses.  If you suffer specifically from hormonal insomnia, here is one yoga pose that may help you to sleep: Adho mukha virasana (Downward Facing Hero Pose).

How to get into the pose:

Start kneeling on your mat. To support sensitive ankles, place a blanket on top of your mat. Place one or two bolsters or pillows between your legs. Inhale, with the exhalation lower the chest forward and down over the bolsters. Chest and head are supported.

A blanket to fill and support the space between hips and heels brings relief to your knees. Skin on your forehead is supposed to move towards the eyeballs, opposed to the hairline. Optional, feel free to support the arms as well, another pillow will bring release. Hold for 5 minutes. To release from the pose gently push off the bolster with arms at either side and remain sitting for a few breathes before moving on.

Pranayama: 5-3-5 Inhale for 5 counts, hold breath for 3, exhale for 5 counts. If you are new to breathing exercises, start with 4-2-4.

Benefits: stimulates Parasympathetic Nervous System, relaxation response; centers and grounds; releases spine and shoulders; very beneficial for hormonal insomnia; supports digestion; gently stretches hips, ankles; releases lower back.

Precautions: Pregnancy (open knees wider, move bolster towards the head), diarrhea, knees, ankles.

Nicole Schweizer, SOYA RYT200 is leading workshops on “Yoga for Better Sleep” at Red Deer Hot Yoga. Level 1 is May 24th and Level 2 is June 7th.  In these consecutive workshop we will be looking at the definition of sleep, the types, conditions and causes of sleep disorders. You will learn how yoga can be a powerful tool to improve your sleep and well-being!  For rates, registration & questions please visit www.nicole-yoga.com

Best Birth book

Quick Tips to Best Birth

It’s your Baby. The busy woman’s guide to a stress free pregnancy and birth. 

By Rosie McCaffrey, RN, Master Social Health, IYTA

Best Birth bookThis is the first in a series of books that privileges the voice of pregnant women. It is written by my sponsoring teacher in IYTA, Rosie McCaffrey who as a nurse, counselor and yoga teacher who spent over twenty years collecting the knowledge that is held in this book.

As a thirty something, pregnant for the first time young woman, I attended Rosie’s classes twice a week. I gained many precious insights to birth and mothering, mental strength strategies and mindfulness techniques, as well as the traditional yoga techniques and pregnancy modifications that Rosie was so expertly versed in.

In “Quick Tips for Best Birth: It’s your baby. The busy women’s guide to a stress free pregnancy and birth” Rosie explores the many issues that modern women face on their journey to motherhood. The book busts quite a few myths and stereotypes, which can cause problems for contemporary women and results in high intervention rates in birth.

This book is about planning your pregnancy. Rosie advises that mental strength is as important as physical strength, and as with any journey you need to plan well if pregnancy is going to be stress free. You need to know where you are at the start, know where you want to go, what you need to bring, and who your traveling companions will be, and of course you need a map and a guide book. The section explores some of the things you can do when things go wrong, or you take a wrong turn so that you can get back on track and find the best birth outcome for you and your baby.

Rosie’s approach stems from a mindfulness practice of yoga, which is strongly supported by current research as highly beneficial through pregnancy. I believe the book will be invaluable to both pregnant women and those who teach them yoga.

EXCITING NEWS!

Best Birth coaching is taking technology and innovation to the next level in interactive book publishing.  Throughout this book you will see scanable QR codes that will allow you to watch, listen, learn, visit and download information relevant to the topics within this book. Enjoy the experience!

To find out more about Rosie McCaffrey and her new book go to www.bestbirth.com.au

Shoulder stretch

Yoga for Shoulders

The shoulder girdle acts as a stabilizer to help us carry weight in our arms and also with the support of your spine.  Alignment of the shoulder girdle is vital not only for the health of your shoulder joints, but also for the health of your spine.  Your shoulders are open when the shoulder girdle supports the natural Helen shoulders 1curve of your spine.  The shoulder muscles are conditioned for great mobility and these muscles must be balanced on all sides of the shoulder joint for optimum stability.   Every time we lift our arms, many shoulder muscles are activated and because of the structure of the shoulder girdle misalignment of the shoulders leads to misuse and abuse of our shoulders.  Below is a sample of a few of the exercises we will be practicing in this workshop:

Standing Shoulder Strap Kayaking:

a) Standing with a strap made to be slightly wider than shoulder distance.  Helen shoulders 2Hold the rings in one hand.  Flex elbows & raise arms over head & like a lat press keeping elbows bent lower strap behind neck then overhead to in front of chest.  Then keep back movement but  lengthen arms out in front.  Next kayak strap like a figure eight fashion all around body going one direction for 8 then change to other direction.

Modification #1:  Move hands further apart from each other.

Modification #2:  Shorten strap & kayak in front of body.

Standing Strap Cowboy Arms Twist:

Helen shoulders 3In Tadasana holding strap in either hand.  Flex elbows so wrists & shoulders are in line with them.  Inhale, exhale pull strap over to R.  Inhale as you return to the centre.  Exhale pull strap over to L.  Repeat several times.

Standing Strap Eagle Arms Twist:

Even if you can do Garudasana, place hands as if duplicating this pose & hold onto a strap.  Hands will be close together but not touching.  Stand in Tadasana & as you exhale, pull on pieces of strap & twist to R.  Inhale return to centre.  Exhale pull on pieces of strap & twist to L.  Keep scapulae down Helen shoulders 4back.  Repeat several times.

 

 

Yoga for Shoulders Workshop

Harmony Yoga Pilates Studio, Calgary

#200, 3160-118th Ave. SE

Facilitator: Helen Mikuska, (E-RYT500, SOYA, IYTA)

Date:         Sunday, April 27, 2014

Time:        1:00-4:00 p.m.

Fee:          $32.25 (incl. gst)

Email:         info@harmonyyogapilates to register

Phone:      403-809-1402

Tiffany Leamen

The Language of Trauma-Sensitive Yoga

By Tiffany Rose, SOYA RYT 500

Whether you are aware of it or not, you probably now, in the past or in the future will have a student who has experienced trauma. Research suggests that almost 1 in 10 civilians in Canada meet the criteria for PTSD. That means if you have a class of 20 students, 2 of them have PTSD.

( http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/almost-1-in-10-canadians-has-post-traumatic-stress-at-some-point-study-1.773448 )

Much of the language we use about trauma can have a negative or belief building influence. Describing those who are affected as victims, survivors or traumatized does not build up or empower. It is important to note that while it is a very serious condition, describing it as a disease or something that is wrong with someone does not validate or normalize their current experience. I prefer to say I live with Complex PTSD rather than saying I am a victim of it.

Here are some ways to make your class more sensitive to those who have experienced trauma. In an asana class begin to create and hold space for students to own and have their own experience.

Avoid language that is commanding or takes ownership such as

– I want you to

– You should be feeling

– Let’s, we, we’re

Avoid sexually charged language such as

– Open or spread your legs

– using street or sexy names for body parts

– negative cuing and negative verbal alignment such as “don’t do…”

Instead offer:

– I invite you to…

– What you may be experiencing in your body…

– I am currently experiencing _______ sensation in my __________. Notice where in your body you are experiencing the sensations of this asana.

– Use anatomically correct language in a neutral tone

– Say “please” and “thank you”

It’s important to remember that your students are not on their mats for you.  For many this is a private, vulnerable and scary journey to embark on.  It is important to maintain a consistently reliable presence that offers them a safe environment in which to have any experience they need to have.

Normalize and validate. Every experience is valid. It’s important to provide safety for students but also important to respect that each body is going to be carrying trauma in its own unique way and therefore each student will ultimately have to carve out their own experience. As the teacher a sensitivity and insight into each student’s ability is an important tool.

For example, some students may be at their emotional limit in a pose even though they may not be executing it in a way that seems “correct” according to our training or our own ideas about each pose.  Correcting their posture could take a student into a place of disassociation due to an overwhelming amount of sensation which he/she may not have developed the tools to handle yet.  In this case it is better to leave the student just as they are and allow them to develop the ability to breathe and experience what they feel. It is much more accessible to stay present with the breath with minimal sensation than it is to try to breathe with intensity. The only exception is if the student is in danger of harming themselves.

Lastly, including yoga nidra at the end of the class may assist students to better connect with awareness to individual areas of the body, allowing them to release tension and relax without feeling overwhelmed by trying to focus on the whole body at once.

Tiffany is a SOYA 500hr RYT and lives in Red Deer, Alberta.  She offers trauma-sensitive yoga classes and workshops.  Please visit her website www.unguru.ca

Paschimottanasana

Paschimottanasana – Sitting Forward Bend

Each morning I start my day with the thought, “I am a Spirit expressing myself through form.  How would I like to express myself today?”  Everything we do is an expression of our attitude at any given moment.  Do we wish to allow our beautiful inner Spirit to show itself outwardly through our actions? In the Bhagavad Gita, work is action.  Every action we take is part of our work during this lifetime.  Every work we do can be a beautiful expression of the Self.   For many of us we experience this joyful expression on the mat during our asana practice.  The next step is to take that joy off the mat.  Consider these words of wisdom from Swami Suryadevananda.

“Giving every work your enthusiasm, whether menial or ‘special’, is what makes every work an outpouring of the soul as it musters all one’s ability and heart. Really, there is nothing menial or mundane – these are attitudes we take towards this and that. Meniality and mundaneness are attitudes of the mind, manifest in action. We can make our lives rich, vibrant and ever fresh if we give every action – cleaning, chores, service to others, asanas, kirtan and finally meditation – every action a total action – involving every blessed ounce of ourselves as if it were the very last thing we would do in this life – we will slip off patches of dry land into the abyss of yoga. If we can learn to give a simple asana everything we have got we will learn to gather the rays of the mind and asana will lead to meditation. All the gizmos we have today distract the mind as one reaches for a water bottle, wipes and other accessories so much so that the asana stays in the realm of ‘doing’ and never becomes an expression of ‘being’ – asana stays asana and yoga stays out of reach.  Every blessed action has the potential for being yoga or an expression of being through doing. Doing is the doorway to the realm of being if we will only allow ourselves this. ”

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to be distracted during your asana practice?  The following asana is a great pose for introversion and going inward.  As you practice it, try to stay present, without distraction so the true experience of yoga reveals itself to you.

PaschimottanasanaPASCHIMOTTANASANA: PASCHIMA means “the west” This pose stretches the western part of the body, which is the entire back from the head to the heels. From a sitting position with the legs extended straight out the upper body stretches up from the pelvis, arms over the head. The upper body bends forward the hands reaching toward the feet. Relaxing into the pose creates a sense of releasing into a place of surrender and humility.

Sitting on your mat stretch your legs out in front of you. Breathe in as you raise your arms up overhead, extending the spine through the crown of your head.  Exhale while hinging from the hips and folding forward over your legs.  Stop at your first edge, or your body’s first resistance to the fold.  Notice this place of resistance, and observe how the body will gradually release, allowing the pose to deepen naturally.  With an inhalation, raise slightly upwards and lengthen the spine again, then exhale and fold forward again.  With each breath release into the pose, allowing yourself to “be” the pose rather than “doing” the pose.  Embrace the attitude of fulness, wonder and joy.  Continue to breathe, allowing the asana to become an expression of ‘being’.  When you feel it is time to come out of the pose, inhale and raise up slowly extending arms overhead, then exhale and slow lowering the arms down to your sides.  Observe the effects of your work on your mind and body.

Counter Pose:  As a counter pose, place your hands on the floor slightly behind you, pointing the finger tips away from the buttocks (or optionally, point the fingertips towards the buttocks).  Lift the hips into upward facing plank (purvottanasana). Extend through the legs to the toes as they point downwards, working towards planting the soles of your feet on the floor.  Extend through the crown of the head and lift the hips upwards.  Take 3-5 breaths, then slowly lower the hips back down to the mat.  Make small circles with your wrists to release any tension in them.

Cautions:
For tight hamstrings, please bend the knees.  You can put a rolled towel underneath them if you like. You can also place a folded blanket under the hips to tilt the pelvis slightly forward – be sure to sit with your “sit” bones near the edge of the blanket to get the pelvic tilt.  Lovingly let go, and breathe.

Benefits:
Internal organs are massaged while the hamstrings and low back are stretched.  It helps to release tightness in the hips.  This asana improves digestion and kindles the gastric fire.  It rejuvenates the entire spine.  Energetically the life force flows through the sushumna nadi.  Surrender is the important lesson this asana teaches. There is a softening and an expansion from deep within.

By Mugs McConnell, quoting from Swami Suryadevananda. Drawing by Thor Polukoshko.

With gratitude to Swami Suryadevananda for his words of wisdom.  Visit http://www.suryadevananda.org/.  Many thanks to Thor Polukoshko for his drawing.

Horse Yoga

Horses Teach Yoga Students

Discover yourself though yoga and equine-assisted learning

By Sandy Bell, Chinook Communications at Windhorse Retreat.  SOYA teacher Jo-Ann Bance will be leading the next retreat March 22-23 in Rimbey, AB.

horses_yoga The breeze strokes your face during a seated meditation.  You soften your gaze and slow your breathing, and a horse moves closer to smell your head and hands.  She stands beside you.  Another horse moves into the centre of the circle of people and horses.  She rests quietly with her head down and gently sighs.  The feeling of unity deepens.

This experience is one of the highlights for participants in workshops and retreats that offer a unique blend of yoga and equine-assisted learning.   Weekend workshops are hosted by Windhorse Retreat, west of Rimbey, Alberta and week-long retreats are at Painted Pony Guest Ranch, Costa Rica.  Our yoga partners are Jo-Ann Bance, For Our Inner Yogi, Calgary and Mary Byerly, Panacea de la Montana Yoga Retreat and Spa, Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

“We are excited about hosting the retreats at Painted Pony Guest Ranch.  The combination of people, horses and yoga is magical, especially when set in a tropical paradise of Costa Rica,” says Kay Dodge, owner, Painted Pony Guest Ranch.

The yoga portions of these “Discover You!” experiences are not about doing yoga poses with horses as props.  The horses are full partners or facilitators in horse-human interactions – a foundational belief of equine-assisted wellness.  Our activities with horses are also grounded in the philosophy of natural horsemanship; that is, horses have complex, emotional lives as herd beings.

Horses are gifted and intuitive teachers who give us honest feedback to support our personal development if we are prepared and willing to listen.  The yoga portion of the workshops and retreats aims to enhance our sense of our inner state, so when we move on to activities with horses, we are more open to learning from them.

“We expect the participants to grow with all the positive energy, but for us, it is a positive experience for the horses as well.  Natural horsemanship helps the horses communicate with humans, and our horses were certainly hooked on to the people as well,” says Kay.

The yoga practice is designed for beginners, and when possible takes place outdoors.  The practice is intended to be restorative and rebalancing.

“After a deep connection made with the horses through the equine assisted learning activities, participants easily settle into the yoga practice.  They are asked to pay particular attention to the breath and to bring awareness into the body,” says Jo-Ann Bance, instructor, For Our Inner Yogi.

“Then as we move from the stillness of Savasana, we are invited once more to connect with our equine friends,” says Jo-Ann.

horses winterEnergy flows from person to person to horse as they connect to help each other work through an obstacle course.  The human partners describe trust and patience, and the horse partners rest their heads against kind hands.  The herd is complete.

No horse experience is needed for the equine activities, and safety and well-being for all is paramount.  Sessions with the horses are on the ground in small groups.  The retreats in Costa Rica also offer cultural and spa components, and trail rides into the countryside are tailored to all abilities.

Jo-Ann Bance, a SOYA 200 teacher who is currently upgrading to her SOYA 500 hr certification.  She and Sandy Bell will be hosting workshops at Windhorse Retreat on March 22-23 and April 5-6.  Planning is underway for a week-long retreat in December in Costa Rica.  Space is very limited.  To register text or phone  403-700-7880, or email chinookcom@gmail.com.  For more information visit www.facebook.com/events

Camel

Open Your Heart in Camel Pose

Ustrasana – Camel Pose
by Joanne Scheurwater, SOYA500 teacher in Ft McMurray, AB

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”  Kahlil Gibran.

The Camel or “Ustrasana” is a chest opening pose which helps us to open our heart chakra.  Jack Kornfield says that when we open our heart and listen as if we are in a temple all kinds of great possibilities awaken.   Even miracles can happen.   Let’s enjoy opening our hearts today in Camel pose.

Kneel with knees directly under hips and legs hip width apart. Feet can be flat with bottom of foot facing upwards or heels up with weight on the ball of the foot.

This should not hurt your lower back or your neck! In yoga we never move into pain! If your back hurts, don’t bend so deeply and be sure you are pressing your pelvis forward. If your neck hurts, be sure you have tucked your chin in. If it still hurts, please come out of the pose right away.

With an exhalation, press the pelvis strongly forward and pull the thighs forward and upward.

Gradually bend your back towards the floor while at the same time lifting the ribcage and broadening the chest.

Now lift your sternum towards the ceiling, pull the shoulders back and stretch your arms from the shoulders towards the feet. If your fingertips or hands touch your heels, you may grasp them while continuing to press the pelvis forward to protect the low back.

Tuck the chin in towards the ears to protect the neck.

Continue to breathe evenly.

Come out of the pose slowly and carefully. Release the heels if you are holding them and inhale, come up evenly without allowing the shoulders to twist. Once you are up, sink down into Child’s Pose, Pranatanasana, and breathe strongly into your back. Take deep breaths, such that your back might rise towards the ceiling with your inhale and your chest sink more onto your thighs with the exhale. Take several breaths here, sending the breath to anywhere in the back that might feel fatigued or stiff.

Benefits:
Increased lung capacity, benefical for the liver, pancreas, kidneys.
Improves blood circulation to organs.
Tones muscles of back and spine.
Removes stiffness in shoulders and back.
Stretches quadriceps and llipsoas muscles, aiding sciatica.
Relieves abdominal cramping.

Precautions:
Do not do if suffering from headache, migraine, or uncontrolled high blood pressure.
Not recommended if recovering from heart attack or hernia.
Do not hold breath, be careful not to compress neck.
Not appropriate if suffering from constipation or diarrhea.

Modifications:
If sore knees, place blanket under knees.
If can’t keep hips forward, don’t grasp heels.

Back Problems: 
Take a very shallow bend and move into and out of pose slowly and cautiously.
Support the back with props or a chair padded with blankets
Take care to breathe evenly while in pose, do not hold breath.
Take care to breath deeply into back in counter pose.
Sit on chair and grasp the outside rings of back of chair, then exhale and press hips forward, lifting ribcage and sternum and moving into pose.

Heart Problems:
Move slowly and carefully into a supported pose, using bolsters, blocks and blankets or a chair padded with blankets.
Be sure to advise the instructor if you feel any discomfort at all.

Sarah Powers

Sarah Powers Finds Power in Stillness

 

sarah_ meditatingDo you find sitting for meditation uncomfortable and difficult?  Or feel that while you’d like more balance and depth in both yoga and life, your asana practice often seems more focused on achievement and attainment than on gaining inner harmony and peace?

Well, you’re not alone. In fact, it was a similar feeling that led Sarah Powers, now one of America’s leading yoga teachers, to explore ways to achieve greater harmony in her body and to feel more at ease in it when she sat for meditation. The result is what she calls “yin/yang yoga”, which combines passive and active asanas with pranayama and meditation into what for her is a very deep, integrated and satisfying practice.

When Sarah began teaching at Yoga Works in Santa Monica, Calif., in the 1980s, one of the other teachers there, Paul Grilley, led classes in “yin yoga.” Grilley had studied with Taoist teacher Pauly Zink and Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama, an internationally renowned Japanese yogi, Shinto priest and expert in Indian and Chinese medicine. Yin yoga uses long, passive holds to work on the deep, dense connective tissues of the body- the tendons, ligaments and cartilage – which are difficult to energize and open. Sarah used to take Paul’s class after her ashtanga practice and liked the deepness of his approach. So she began to look into it.

The reason for her interest was the fact that despite an intensive practice in Iyengar, viniyoga and ashtanga styles of yoga, Sarah was still not able to sit comfortably for long periods of time in meditation. While her active asana practice had increased her strength and flexibility, she found that after she cooled down she felt stiff and unable to rest deeply in the core of her body.

Reaching Deeper

As she studied yin yoga, Sarah learned that it had its greatest benefit when practiced before more active asana practice, not afterward. When we work actively, the pranic flow and circulation are directed into the muscles and superficial connective tissues. By comparison, a long-held passive pose practiced while the muscles are not yet warm allows the energy to reach the deeper connective tissues of the joints and the corresponding pathways of the meridian system. (The meridian system is composed of energy channels) The prana (or life force) stimulates and tones the joints, deep connective tissues, increasing the supply of fluids to them, making them less dense and enabling them to stretch appropriately.

As a result, we become more flexible, our joints become “juicier,” and energy blocks along the meridians are removed, enabling the organs to function better. And because the influx of prana works on the nervous system too, we become not only calmer but also more focused.

“If you never go into the deeper connective tissue,” Sarah says, “it becomes denser and less flexible-more yin-making it more difficult to go deeper into asanas and uncomfortable to sit in meditation..

For me, the purpose of doing yoga is to feel more at home in my body. I’m interested in having harmony in my body and in enabling energy to flow freely to all channels, joints, muscles and organs. Yin yoga enables me to reach levels of my self I otherwise could not get to.”

Pushing Your Edges

Sarah finds that the passive yin approach gives students a new edge to work with in their yoga practice -the edge of just being in a pose without trying to get anywhere in it. “Yin practice takes you deeper into where you are, not out to where you think you should be,” Sarah notes. “This approach challenges us to rethink what asana is about. It marries meditation and asana into a very deep practice. Some people, especially beginners, are not interested in or willing to do this -to sit inside their discomfort and just watch their reactions instead of trying to fix or change the pose. Yin yoga challenges you to sit in the pure presence of awareness. It’s hard in a different way than active asana practice, but in a way that’s more profound and satisfying as well as more beneficial to the deeper tissues.”

This doesn’t mean that Sarah has given up her active asana practice. In fact, she is continually working on deepening her yang practice, too. “We learn how to be still, but we also have to utilize our muscles and express ourselves energetically,” she says “The goal is a sattvic [pure] balance of tamasic (passive) and rajasic (active) energies -a beautiful marriage of yang and yin, effort and surrender, ha [sun] and tha [moon]. The practice of yin/yang yoga helps us learn about stillness in movement and the flow in stillness.”

Sarah finds that her yin practice has helped to facilitate and deepen her yang practice. “The ability to surrender to that yin practice becomes deeply engrained in you and carries over into your yang practice,” she says. “This keeps you from ‘overefforting’ and trying to push yourself into various poses, which increases the likelihood of injury. Plus after yin practice, you find that there is already more energy flowing at deeper levels, so you are more flexible and require less warm-up. As a result, you go deeper with less effort.”

Cultivating Wholeness

Sarah’s meditating has been primarily in the Buddhist traditions. She has studied in the U.S. and Asia with highly distinguished teachers – most notably, Jack Kornfield in the vipassana tradition, Toni Packer in the open awareness of the Zen tradition, and the Tibetan reincarnate lama Tsoknyi Rinpoche in the Dzogchen path of effortless clarity. Buddhism has given her a clear map to the mind and helpful tools for getting into silence and stillness.

She is also inspired by the teachings of Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj of the Advaita Vedanta, school of Indian philosophy based on the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita that emphasizes non-duality and holds that liberation is attained through a dissolution of all individuality. She uses these tools in her workshops because she wants to share them with others and help them experience the power of stillness that she finds in yin/yang yoga.

By Sarah Powers.  First Published in YOGAChicago, Sept/Oct 2001. Reprinted with permission from Sarah Powers.  Photo by Martin Sconduto

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