Peace Pole

Yoga & Karate: is it such an unlikely blend?

by Dorothy Fizzell, SOYA, E-RYT500, IYTA

Many people wonder how I can practice both yoga and karate-do.  People say “Yoga represents harmony, peace and compassion, while karate represents violence, war and intimidation.” For me, the practice of yoga and karate are complimentary and compatible.  Both traditions are part of who I am, and both are integrated into every aspect of my life, every day. They are my way of life, my journey.

Do (doe), in Japanese, means “the Way”.   “Do” is derived from the Buddhist Sanskrit “manga” meaning path.

In “Sword and Brush” by Dave Lowry, he says, “The Way is a journey of the mind and the spirit and, ultimately, the soul.”

Yoga has eight limbs, of which asana is one.  In order to really “know” yoga, one needs to become proficient in the other seven limbs as well.  One aspect of karate is the perfection of techniques used for self-defence, and for strengthening the body.  However, there are other elements which must be incorporated if one is to become truly competent in karate.

In karate there are expectations and rituals to show respect and courtesy at all times, to serve each other, to take care of each other, to be humble, to persevere, to be diligent with the practice, and to practice moderation.  Despite common belief, true students of karate believe in non-violence.  This is Reigisaho and equates with the Yamas and Niyamas.

Breathing is critical to the practice of karate.  In yoga, kundalini rests in the abdomen and is raised by controlling prana and clearing the nadis. In karate, energy, (ki), is stored in the abdomen and is the seat of the body’s power (tanden).  Breathing gives life and power to posture and the movement of the body, whether one is doing yoga or karate. Proper movement will not happen without correct breathing.

In order to become skilled in karate, one needs to give much attention to the mind and how one should develop oneself.  “The essence of Budo karate can trace its origin to Bodhidarma, an Indian prince and Buddhist priest who travelled to the Shaolin temple in China in the early 6th Century.  He developed the “chan” philosophy (chan is zen in Japanese), saying enlightenment was sought through meditation, rather than practicing rituals or studying religious texts. He developed martial arts as a physical regiment to accompany the mental discipline of meditation.”

Karate means literally “empty hands”, usually taken to mean fighting with no other weapons other than the body.  However, looking deeper, students of karate are working towards “emptying the heart and mind of all earthly desire and vanity.”

The place of practice for karate is the “Dojo”, or Way place.  It is considered a sacred place, students bow before entering, never wear shoes in the Dojo, clean the floor (soji) to prepare the body and mind, and to show respect.  Before training, a few minutes are spent meditating to prepare for the physical practice. The body must remain relaxed to maintain the internal connection to the “universal energy” and to correctly execute techniques and have efficient flow of motion.

Awareness of the internal experience of connection to all beings, of energy flow and control, are all essential to the perfection of both karate and yoga.  Without this awareness, karate and yoga merely become the execution of physical techniques that are missing the “Truth” or meaning.

Samurai warriors used two sounds that were sacred in their practice – “Aa” and “Mm”, or Aum in Yoga.















This is the entrance to Musashi’s cave near Kumamoto.  Musashi was a famous Samurai who wrote “The Book of Five Rings” (earth, water, fire, air, and ether).  These match with the elements of the first five chakras.

The mantra used in the Chito Ryu style of karate:

We who study Chito Ryu Karate Do,

Shall always remember the Spirit of the Samurai,

With Harmony, Dedication and Smart Work,

We shall reach our goals.

Similarly, in yoga we have a sacred mantra used by SOYA yoga and many other traditions:

Loka Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu

May the whole world attain peace and harmony.

Two physical practices, two paths, and each of them moving towards the Truth or realizing the Self. Namaste

DDorothy-Fizzellorothy Fizzell is passionate about her yoga and karate. She has been practicing yoga since the late 1970’s and trained as a SOYA yoga teacher in 1995-1996. Dorothy is a lead trainer for the SOYA teacher training program in Vancouver (Surrey), which is held each fall from September to December.


What is Yoga Sadhana?

By Helen Mikuska, SOYA, E-RYT500, IYTA,

Yoga Sadhana means “spiritual practice.” The word “Sadhana” in Sanskrit means “an effort exercised towards the achievement of a purpose.” In this sense, every effort is some kind of Sadhana, because it leads to the achievement of some intended goal.

The value of a daily physical and spiritual yoga practice helps to keep us grounded.  For the majority of us, we find it difficult to maintain a daily yoga practice with the demands of work and family schedules.  Yoga Sadhana is the means to let go of the ego, personal agendas and attachments and is a discipline undertaken in the pursuit of a goal.  It can be used as a tool to help work on yourself, to re-discover the purpose of your life, to help open doors and to let you live your life as you desire.

What are the Benefits of Practicing Yoga Sadhana?

  • Commitment – You are putting yourself first and allowing yourself to grow further in your yoga practice.
  • Discipline – By practicing yoga regularly, it will help to build discipline (quieting down the mind and the ego) and will bring us inner peace.
  • Evolution – If you find yourself stagnating, this is your opportunity to commit to a daily practice as a means to make  sure that every single day is just a little bit better than the last one, no matter what else is going on in your life.
  • Foundation – Yoga Sadhana is like planting a tiny little seed in the garden. Every day you practice you water it and it

The first aspect of Yoga Sadhana is to choose to practice (how about a yoga retreat?) and the second aspect relates to regularity – doing something at periodic intervals.  This disciplined practice allows one to learn from it and enables one to make it a regular life habit.  In this one day retreat, we will practice Kriyas, Pranayamas, Asanas, Mantras, Meditations, Mudras and Yoga Nidra. 

KriyasKriyas – Are known as Shatkarmas which are body cleansing practices of the physical body.  Shatkarmas not only have a positive effect on our well-being but they also purify our mind helping us to develop an inner awareness.  Both body and the mind become lighter.  Shatkarmas aim at mental, moral and spiritual elevation.

Pranayamas – These breathing practices are also essential for cleansing and purifying the respiratory tract. They help to maintain the flow of blood (toning the nerves, brain, spinal cord and cardiac muscles) and protect the internal organs and cells.  They strengthen and free the mind, sharpen the intellect and illuminate the Self.   Sample pranayama below:

chairChair Pranayama for Chest Breathing – Place a pranayama bolster or vertical piece of foam against chair back.  Sit against it in the chair with it between shoulder blades.  Focus breath to the space between your shoulder blades.  Modification:  Place folded blanket on chair seat for comfort or blocks under feet if they do not rest on floor comfortably.

Asanas – The principle of movement can be seen in all the activities of the body (nervous system, muscles, joints, circulation, digestion, etc.) and with movement there is life. Where there is no movement or activity there is decay and death. We are somewhere in between these two states.

Mantras – The practice of Japa is a method of spiritual communion through the repetition of the Sanskrit mantra and practiced with the use of a mala.  By continued repetition you create certain vibrations in your system.  The recitation of the mantra fills the mind with spiritual vitality. An easy mantra to start with is So Ham, which means I am one with the Creator and all of creation.

Meditation – Meditation trains us in concentration. The practice of going inside is of fundamental importance in the process of evolving the aspects of personality through yoga.  When we develop the ability to relax our mind at will, it gives us a sense of mastery over the vagaries of the mind and allows us to maintain it in a positive state.

mudraMudras – Mudras are “closed energy circuits” and every part of the hand is linked to a specific part of the brain.  Bending, crossing, expanding and touching the fingers or particular portions of the hand, stimulating reflex zones and meridians has a direct effect on the body and mind.   Sample mudra below:

Creating Caliber-Living Life with Full Expression, Accomplishment & Success Mudra – This mudra will help you maintain your core identity under stress.  It stimulates your inner resources, giving you a sense of expansiveness & confidence to live from your destiny & inner truth instead of your fear.  In Sukhasana (easy crossed-leg sitting), with both elbows relaxed at sides of body, raise your right hand up to level of your face.  Hold fingers straight together & pointed straight up with thumb relaxed & palm facing left.  Bring the left hand up with the palm facing the body & fingers pointed to the right.  Hold fingers together with thumb pointing up. The tip of middle finger of the left hand touches your right palm.  Hold this mudra so that you first look right over the index finger, then slowly raise it & look into centre of the left palm.  No special breath.  Let your heart chant the mantra you love the most.  Concentrate on your palm.  Carefully gaze at palm & meditate on the lines on your palm.  Your vision will start enlarging.   Hold 11 minutes

Yoga Nidra – Yoga Nidra literally means “yoga sleep”, which facilities a deep state of relaxation which works at the subconscious level.  It refers to the state that one will experience that is between wakefulness and being sound. 

Helen Mikuska is a lead trainer for the SOYA 200 hour yoga teacher training in Calgary Alberta, held annually in July. She is holding a One Day Spring Yoga Retreat to Rejuvenate your Body and Mind on Sunday, May 29th 9:00 a.m.-3:30 p.m. at Harmony Yoga Pilates Studio.  To register contact Helen at

Shanmukhi Mudra

Sarva Dvara Baddha Pranayama: all doors closed

(another sneak peak from Mug’s book)

Sarva means “all”, dvara means “door”, and baddha means “bound.”  All the doors or gates where prana can escape are closed.

Sit comfortably and apply shanmukhi mudra (cover the ears with the thumbs, eyes with the index fingers, nose with the middle fingers, upper lip with ring fingers and lower lip with the baby fingers.) Keep the finger pressure light the nostrils to allow for breathing.

Breathe in slowly through both nostrils, visualizing the prana flowing all the way down to the muladhara chakra and filling the space up to the throat chakra. During the “pause” at the top of the inhalation, concentrate on the ajna chakra. Then begin a slow, controlled exhalation through both nostrils, releasing the power of the senses with the breath. Repeat several times, if comfortable.

00 LettersYogaMastersCoverA more advanced version of this pranayama is to have intentional breath retentions while visualising the ajna chakra. This pranayama leads one to pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses). As we withdraw the senses from the outward-moving consciousness, we awaken the inward-moving consciousness and the divine light of the third eye. Awakening the third eye gives us knowledge of the Self.


Excerpted from Letters from the Yoga Masters: Teachings Revealed through Correspondence from Paramhansa, Yogananda, Ramana Maharshi, Swami Sivananda, and Others by Marion (Mugs) McConnell, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2016 by Marion (Mugs) McConnell. Reprinted by permission of North Atlantic Books.



Grow superfoods on your countertop:

by Jools Andrés, E-RYT200, RYT500, SOYA lead trainer in Vancouver. Used with permission from Jools’ blog, 

If you want to improve your nutritional habits and eat more fresh, raw food, nothing beats sprouting. Sprouts are rich in vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that aid digestion and protein assimilation, and are a true living food. You can have a continuous supply of salad and saute vegetables cycling through your daily intake at all times with very little outlay of money, time, or materials.

What you need:

  • wide-mouthed jars
  • cheesecloth
  • sturdy rubber bands
  • a colander or strainer
  • seeds (always use organic seeds)

If you have never sprouted before, start with easy alfalfa. Put 1.5 tablespoons of alfalfa seeds in a litre/quart-sized (or larger) jar. Add an inch or two of cool tap or filtered water. Let soak for a maximum of 4 hours. 
Cut several layers of cheesecloth to fit generously over the mouth of the jar and secure tightly with a rubber band.

Drain the seeds, rinse with fresh water, and drain again. Invert over a strainer or colander placed over a bowl or in the dish drainer over the sink. Rinse and drain morning and evening for 4-5 five days. Try to keep in a darkish area of the kitchen.

To refine the presentation of any sprouts, submerge them (fully grown) in lots of cool water in a large pot or stainless steel bowl. Swirl them around gently but thoroughly with your fingers to remove as many seed husks as possible, then gently return them to the jar. Take a moment to regard how they sparkle with life. There will be a little production loss, but it is worth it as it makes the sprouts extra tasty and they tend to stay fresh a little longer.

Drain the sprouts well and place them in a brighter location (never in direct sunlight) for a few hours to let them green up, then cover with a tight lid and place in the fridge.


Mung bean sprouts

Add variety

clover (similar to but sweeter and paler than alfalfa)

lentil (can be eaten raw or lightly cooked; nice in mixes)

mustards: canola, radishes, broccoli, etc. (some can be very zingy!)

fenugreek (strong “curry” overtones; best in mixes in small proportions; can be bitter when cooked)

garbanzos (excellent lightly cooked or in raw hummus)

black beans (crunchy and potent; best cooked lightly)

mung beans (excellent in stir fry or lightly steamed for warm salad)

buckwheat (sprouted and re-dried; great over your favourite breakfast cereal or sprinkled on salads)

Find mixes you like. I prefer beans, buckwheat, and lentils just barely sprouted, probably within 48 hours of initial soaking. The exception is mung beans, which take about 7-8 days. I grow them in complete darkness to reduce bitterness and maintain a pale colour. I sprout brassicas and mustard in very small amounts (1 teaspoon or less of seeds) and start new batches every 4-5 days.


Sunflower seed sprouts


A couple of years ago I started growing microgreens, indoors and out, and manage to easily produce year-round greens for salads, sandwiches, and smoothies. Microgreens are much easier to digest than fully grown plants, so their nutrients are assimilated more readily by the body. Soil is needed as a medium for growing these potent and incredibly delicious sprouts, which can create minor involvement with composting and soil recycling. This is a rich process that brings its own rewards and takes very little time or space–more on that another time.

Start with sunflower sprouts. Plump and substantial, I love these in smoothies at breakfast or a handful as garnish for any dish.

Use a flat, drainage-efficient growing vessel with trays underneath to protect from leakage. (I use dense compostable paper trays that I save from organic nursery bedding plant purchases. You can also use plastic trays cut from blueberry or strawberry packs from the supermarket.) Purchase a small bag of organic soil if you don’t have access to the ground somewhere. A spray bottle is nice to have on hand for frequent misting.

Purchasing online with West Coast Seeds or another seed supplier is more economical over long term than buying the expensive, tiny packets available (when you can find them) in health food stores. Find a supplier that honours heirloom seed integrity (non GMO/GEO) and uses organic growing practices. Try arugula, beets, Chinese cabbages, kale, peas, and others for a great variety of tastes and textures. Harvest when the first leaf pairs are fully opened and before the secondary leaves form.

It takes me about half an hour a week to have a constant supply of these scrumptious dietary powerhouses. Be patient and learn from any unsuccessful attempts. Once you get the hang of it, it can become a pleasing ritual. Best of all, you will be blown away by their goodness.

Thank you for reading.


joolsJools Andrés, E-RYT200, RYT500, is a lead trainer for the SOYA Yoga teacher training in Vancouver. She and artist Kathleen Ainscough are holding an immersion retreat entitled “Creative Embodiment: Portal to the Present” combining yoga and creative expression on April 8-10 on Bowen Island. Visit the website at

Mung bean and sunflower sprouts photos by Jools Andrés.

Yoga Sutra

Samadhi Pada

The Secret of the Yoga Sutra, “Samadhi Pada”,

by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait

A book review by Robert McConnell

Sutra 1:33

“Transparency of mind comes by embracing an attitude of friendliness, compassion, happiness, and non-judgment toward those who are happy, miserable, virtuous, and non-virtuous “

For those of us who have walked down the path of yoga, we find the answers to our questions appear before us (whether we consciously or unconsciously ask), and usually they appear in unexpected places.

Last fall Mugs and I were struggling with the actions of one of our neighbours. We really didn’t know how to react. We didn’t want to have emotions of dislike, fear or loathing, but his presence beside us was creating turmoil in our life.

Five months earlier I had begun reading the commentary on the first chapter of The Yoga Sutras by Pandit Rajamani Tigunait. As I delved into the book, I read this sutra and it changed our attitude toward our neighbour. It truly brought peace to ourselves and to the relationship with our neighbour, because despite what he had done, he still was hoping for our compassion.

Yoga SutraDue to the fact that this one sutra made such a large impact in my life, I started reading the book again from the beginning – this time with a pencil in hand and sticky notes to tag all the wonderful jewels that appeared on every page. I don’t tend to read a lot of yoga books, but when one captures me I embrace its teachings and allow them to become a part of my yoga and life.

It took me another 4 months of reading to get through the book. It gave me a winter of study and yoga practice, and I look so forward to sharing these learnings at the upcoming SOYA 300hr Teacher Training in God’s Mountain in April.

Pandit Rajmani Tignault is the spiritual leader of the Himalayan Institute which is where I have been studying yoga since 2012. Panditji is the author of 15 books based on Tantra, specific to the Sri Vidya Lineage.  He holds two doctorates, has studied under great yoga masters, and has acquired the siddhis (spiritual powers). His awareness of God came to him at an early age. His intellect, spirituality and whole being is what commands so much respect throughout the world and from myself.

This is a book that is written from the heart reflecting his years of training, experience and practice. He is sharing the techniques as he himself has learned them. As he says in the book, “I have strictly followed the guidelines Patanjali himself has set forth”.

Although I have read and studied other commentaries on the sutras before, none has ever changed my thoughts, feelings and practice as this one has. The depth and insight Panditji has shed on chapter one of the sutras is exceptional – I do believe I will be reading it many more times before chapter two comes out.

If you decide to read this book, make sure you have a pencil and sticky notes in hand. Take your time, reflect upon how his words relate to yourself, try the techniques he shares, and as Panditji says, “Remove the veil of darkness and allow your intrinsic luminosity to illuminate both your inner and outer worlds.”


DSC09973Bob McConnell is a 500hr yoga teacher (SOYA, HYI). He is a SOYA owner and graduate who has been practicing yoga since 2009, and following the Tantric teachings of Pandit Rajmani Tigunait since 2012. Bob will be teaching a six class series which includes meditations for the Ajna Chakra, at Breathe Yoga Studio in Sorrento, BC on Wednesdays 7:00 to 8:30 starting April 27th. Click here for more info.

shoulder stretch

Yoga For Neck Pain

Is Life Giving You a Pain in the Neck?

by Helen Mikuska, ERYT500, IYTA, SOYA

Neck pain is a common complaint for many of my yoga students. Generally, muscle spasms in the neck muscles are due to poor posture, work habits, or a lifestyle that results in neck pain.  We may find that we sleep with a crooked neck, hold the phone to our ear with our shoulder or work at the computer for hours with the shoulders tensed.

Most people can expect to experience some degree of neck pain in their lives and often do not experience a complete resolution of symptoms. It isn’t unusual to have 50-85% recurrence within 1-5 years of the initial complaint.

Less serious neck pain may be interpreted as a general feeling of stiffness and muscles aches.

Chronic neck pain is associated with head and face pain, headaches, jaw discomfort, upper back, shoulders & arm pain.  Tingling in fingers, achy arms, or a vice-like pressure encircling the skull may also be related to neck pain. A slumped posture that can lead to neck pain may also compress internal organs, contributing to respiratory, circulatory and digestive problems as well.

shoulder stretch for neck painYoga postures help stretch the tight muscles and strengthen the weak ones, cultivating flexibility, stability and ease of movement. They can help to release physical and emotional blockages, facilitating in a healthy flow of prana. Yoga helps to shed light on one’s habitual stress patterns and emotional reactions. Many asanas can help to reduce stress and tension in the neck area. Here is one yoga stretch to release the rhomboid muscles.

Standing Wooden Dowel Shoulder Warm-up[Rhomboid Release] Stand in Tadasana with a wooden dowel in your hands.  Place the dowel over your right shoulder & reach around with left hand to hold the lower end of the dowel behind your back.  Press the wooden dowel into your right rhomboid muscle, creating pressure as you slide the dowel up and out. Press firmly into the muscles like a deep massage.  Repeat several times.  Then change the angle by lifting the front of the dowel up higher and repeat again for several repetitions.  If you feel any “crackle,” stay there and work with it for a while.  Release the dowel and repeat on the other side.

Helen-MikuskaHelen Mikuska co-leads the SOYA 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training in Calgary every July with Mugs McConnell. Helen is leading a workshop on Yoga for Neck Pain March 20th, 1-5pm at Harmony Yoga Studio in Calgary, AB. This workshop includes the practice of Yogic Shatkarmas, Pranayamas, Asanas, Mudras, Meditation & Yoga Nidra. For more information please go to her website.

gentle yoga

Extra Gentle Yoga

Extra Gentle Yoga: A free video class AND a discount on her retreat!

By Natasha Scott, E-RYT500, IYTA, SOYA lead trainer for Penticton, BC

One day a co-teacher asked me to substitute teach a gentle yoga class for her. I had no idea how to teach this as I had never in my life been to a gentle class. To prepare myself I started taking gentle yoga classes so I could know and learn about them. I as blown away!!

As a teacher I found gentle classes much harder to teach. Often there were people with physical issues that needed awareness and compassion, much more so than what I find in flow classes. I soon realized I needed to learn more about gentle yoga.

It was in my stars that I would be connected with fellow yogi and friend, Neil Pearson – Canada’s top physiotherapist for Chronic Pain. Life would have it that he was going to offer a course for yoga teachers and physiotherapists on chronic pain. I took that course and was his first ever graduate (and I look forward to further courses with him!)

It was through this course that I knew I wanted to create a yoga class beyond gentle; a class for calming the nervous system in profound ways. A class to honor and invite all students with injuries and illnesses who may have been scared to go to a regular yoga class. This is how my Extra Gentle Yoga was born. The asanas are mostly done while seated, lying on the back, or legs up the wall, I also include restorative and supported asanas. There are no standing asanas, nor poses on the hands and knees as as these can often be limiting.

I have been so inspired by my Extra Gentle Yoga students that I have created a video for their continued practice and for others to learn how to teach extra gentle yoga.  It is now on SOYA’s youtube channel for all to view!  I hope you enjoy this practice!  TAKE Natasha’s CLASS ON THE SOYA YOUTUBE CHANNEL!

Natasha2Natasha Scott, E-RYT500, is a Lead Trainer for the SOYA Yoga Teacher Training program in the Okanagan. She is leading a fun and adventurous Summer Yoga Retreat at God’s Mountain Estate August 4th to 8thwith hiking, yoga and SUP, great food and more! And because it is the month of LOVE, Natasha is offering you $200 off the retreat, valid this month only! Pay your deposit for this wildly beautiful retreat you will receive a $200 shot of love discount!

Yoga Pose

To See or Not to See

To See or Not to See – That is the Question 

 by Mugs McConnell SOYA, ERYT500, IYTA

Back in 1978 I did my initial yoga teacher training at the Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas. Swami Vishnudevananda and his disciples worked diligently to train us in the science of yoga philosophy as well as the skills of being a teacher of asana. Every day we practiced the Sivananda sequence, memorizing how to lead someone in the surya namaskar (sun salutation) without doing it with them, observing if a student’s shoulders were up by their ears in bhujangasana (cobra), and if toes and knees were aligned with the hip in janu sirsasana (head to knee pose). I worked hard to sharpen my observation skills and develop the ability to assist a student in finding relaxation within the alignment of a pose.

When I left the ashram I ventured out to attend classes with other teachers from other lineages. One day the teacher was doing the class along with the students. She was a full participant in the class. I thought to myself, “Why didn’t I think of that? All this time I have been watching my students do the asanas when I could have been doing the yoga with them and getting in my personal practice at the same time!” I decided to give this time-saving practice a try!watching as lying down

Fortunately, it wasn’t long before I picked up a Yoga magazine and read an article on this very topic – yoga teachers were becoming too busy to find time to do their own personal practice. Their solution was to participate alongside their students and do the class with them. The concern of course, is who then is watching the students? Who is seeing to their proper alignment and responding to their progress? Who is noticing if they are able to follow the verbal cues correctly? Who is noticing facial expressions to see if someone is injured or in pain? This is the job of the yoga teacher.

The article came just in time! I was just about to change my habit of leading my class to becoming a participant in my class. Saved by the bell! Ever since then I have kept my personal practice completely separate from when I teach so I can focus on giving my time and attention to the students.

This brings to mind a great quote from yoga master Erich Schiffmann that speaks volumes of our task as teachers.

“The purpose of yoga is to facilitate the profound inner relaxation that accompanies fearlessness. The release from fear is what finally precipitates the full flowering of love. In this state you will love what you see in others, and others will love you for having been seen. This is the softened perception of the world that yoga promotes.”[i]

Let’s take a look at some key words in here.


Our job as teachers is to help facilitate, meaning “to make easier or less difficult – to assist the progress of a person”[ii]. How can we do this if we cannot see the students? There are two key ways to facilitate the progress of your students. One is to demonstrate all new and major poses, pointing out the correct alignment and ways to modify the pose to make it easier or more challenging before the students gets into the pose.  The second way to facilitate the progress of your students is to observe them while they are doing the poses. Seeing each and every one of them, and moving around the class if our view is obstructed. This way we can see if they have understood our cues and demonstrations, and if they need assistance to find the safest and most stable alignment in the pose.

This leads me into the next set of key words in the quote from Erich Schiffmann.

“You will love what you see in others…”

How beautiful that is to look at our students and see not only their progress but also our own. It is a gift to notice watching - been seenhow they have responded to our words and learn how skilled we are at helping them to find relaxation in the asana through correct alignment and personal modifications.

If we put ourselves in the shoes of our students, the suggestion to “modify the pose as you need” really has little meaning. A new student may not even consider lowering their hands to their hips in virabhadrasana (warrior) to accommodate their shoulder injury if they have never been shown this modification. Potentially they could simply believe they can’t do the pose at all. However, once taught how to modify to accommodate the shoulders, the student benefits from the strengthening of the core and legs while working on their balance.

Our students show up at class ready to follow our guidance and instructions. Our ability to modify the asanas for them is directly related to their fear – fear of not being able to do yoga well enough, fear of failure, fear of pain. Each time we facilitate a student in finding the place of sthira and sukha or stability with ease, we succeed in removing another layer of their fear and reveal a greater feeling of success. In the words of Mr. Schiffmann, we “facilitate the profound inner relaxation that accompanies fearlessness,which is the purpose of yoga.

And now for the last key words in the quote from Mr. Schiffmann.

“Others will love you for having been seen.

Our students will love us for noticing them, for helping them to relax into their yoga practice, for guiding them to the options they never thought of. When we look at them and really see them, they feel noticed. They know that we care and we know they are there. They begin to trust that we will offer them guidance and assistance if they need it. They will want to show up for us and for themselves. They will feel loved. It may be the only time all day that a student feels noticed, seen, and loved.

Tips for watching your students

Some people are auditory learners and some are visual learners. If we want to reach everyone in the class, then demonstrate new or major poses along with verbal cues and instructions. If you like to teach vinyasas, demonstrate watching bridgethe flow first, then guide students through it verbally.

For all supine poses, ask the students to watch the demonstration first, before they lie down. There is no way students can see our demonstrations if they are lying down, without crooking their necks or straining their backs.

Rule of thumb: If we the teachers are lying on our backs as in setu bandhasana or supta eka padangusthasana, then we are demonstrating the pose. If the students are laying on their backs, then we the teachers are standing up and observing their breathing, comfort level and progress.

After each class, ask yourself what you learned from your students. If we can’t remember seeing the progress or alignment of a student, then be sure to observe them next time. This way we will learn to share our attention and expand our observation skills equally, so all the students have been seen, not just the ones in the front row.

Learn how to guide students through surya namaskar without doing it with them. Start the movements as guidance, mimic the actions to help you follow, but never lose sight of them. If they are in down dog, we can be standing and observing who has a round back and whose wrists are aligned and those who may need guidance to be stable in the pose.

If you like to teach Vinyasa classes, then demonstrate new flows for your visual learners. Then verbally guide the students and watch them as they follow your verbal cues. Offer our assistance and guidance with kindness and care. Ask permission to touch if a physical adjustment is required. If no touch is desired, then use verbal cues and demonstrations to help.

Observe how students breathe in the asanas. If their breath is choppy, suggest modifications so they can soften the pose to a point where their breathing can become smooth. Observe students during pranayama too, to ensure no one is struggling. If your classes are too big to observe everyone, consider making them smaller.

I do actually join the group in meditation – however I often take a little peek just to be sure everyone is okay.

Continue to educate yourself. Sometimes teachers don’t “look” at students because they don’t know what to do if there is a misalignment. Teachers are welcome to come and retreat at the SOYA 300 hour upgrade teacher trainings (as a retreat or the full training) to enhance their ability to observe and modify poses amongst many other things! This is a strength of our teacher trainings!

As a final note, I feel disappointed after class if I realize I missed “seeing” a student. I learn so much from them and they teach me about myself. They are the whole reason I am standing in that class in the first place. They teach me then and there if I need to tone down the class I planned or kick it up a notch. They give me direction about what to plan for the next class by showing me what they are ready for. I would not be the teacher I am today if I hadn’t learned to observe their breath, their struggles, and their victories.

Mugs-listeningMarion (Mugs) McConnell, ERYT500 is a co-owner of SOYA with her husband Robert. She has been practicing yoga for 43 years, teaching yoga for 38 years, and training teachers for 21 years. She is the Canadian representative for the International Yoga Teachers Association, a Board Member for Yoga Alliance, and the author of Letters From the Masters: Teachings Revealed from Paramhansa Yogananda, Ramana Maharshi, Swami Sivananda and Others.

[i] Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness, by Erich Schiffmann




Viparita Dandasana

Viparita Dandasana

Viparita Dandasana: Inverted Straight Rod Pose for Arthritis

Submitted by Helen Mikuska, E-RYT500, IYTA, SOYA lead trainer in Calgary, AB

Arthritis is inflammation of the synovial joints of the body and is one of the most common of all disabling diseases, afflicting 1/10 people.  Arthritis is a crippling degenerative process which can eventuate in irreversible destruction of the joint.  The condition is characterized by pain, swelling, redness, heat and loss of function in one or more joints.  Those most often affected are the large, weight-bearing joints (hips, knees and ankles) and the small joints responsible for repeated, finely articulated movement, such as the fingers.  In the science of yoga arthritis is not considered tViparita Dandasanao be a disease in itself, but rather one symptom of a widespread metabolic and pranic malfunction which begins early in a person’s life.  Yoga offers a way to arrest this progress.  In fact, in the early stages, before irreversible damage to the joints has occurred, a complete reversal is often possible.  In the later stages, yogic practices can reduce drug dependency, maximize remaining mobility & function in joints and make one’s life more tolerable and acceptable.

Viparita Dandasana is a very restorative asanas for arthritis. You will need some props for this restorative pose.

propsa rectangular bolster

a small cylinder bolster

3 foam blocks

2 blankets

3 eye pillows (if you have them)

Place a foam block at top of the rectangular bolster, and a folded blanket on top the block (where the head will rest). Place another folded blanket below that (to rest thoracic spine). Angle the two foam blocks to either side of bolster on the mat (to rest your forearm and hands on). Sit in front of this setup & place the cylinder bolster under knees. Recline back & enjoy pose. Add eye pillows to rest in palms. Place another eye pillow over the eyes. You may remain in the pose for up to 15 minutes. Enjoy!

Benefits: Improves breathing & circulation throughout the body. Relieves tension. Pose can be used during pregnancy.

A “Yoga for Arthritis” workshop will be presented by Helen Mikuska, January 24, 2016 from

1:00-5:00 p.m. at Harmony Yoga and Pilates Studio in Calgary. In this workshop the practice of yogic shatkarmas, pranayamas, bandhas, asanas, mudras, meditation & yoga nidra will be covered as well as a diet component with recommended foods and herbs to reduce inflammation in the body. $50.00 (incl. gst) contact


Persistence & Patience

Practice Notes: Persistence & Patience

By Jools Andrés, SOYA, RYT500, E-RYT200

It only takes me a couple of minutes to walk from my home to a busy esplanade that attracts large numbers of casual strollers, power walkers, joggers, and serious runners each and every day of the year. On some days there are outdoor tai chi classes, kite surfers, and skimboarders. Others attract bird watching or photography clubs. I like to practice standing and balancing asana far out on the sand at low tide among the squirting clams and squawking gulls. From morning’s first light until darkness transforms the day into night, many come to enjoy the fresh sea air, the flat terrain, and the safety provided by an open public space.

Now, such a busy place brings out the people watcher in me for certain. I see cane-toting elderly and wheelchair-bound folks of all ages; there are children, babies, and smooching young lovers, people of many colours and nationalities speaking many languages. Most are well mannered, but when people litter, for example, I can get up on my high horse. After all, I try to leave nature as clean or cleaner than I found it. Huff. Grumble. Even though my intention is to notice and temper my egoistic reactions, avoiding ensnarement by judgmental thoughts takes more self-awareness than I manage to consistently muster. So far.

One cool, windy morning in early January I found myself observing a woman who was slowly jogging toward me. She was quite heavy and her gait was lopsided, with restricted mobility on her right side, and her shoulders, neck, and head were shifted sharply to the left. She looked to be in agony, labouring to breathe, her face red, and her brows knit.

The former competitive runner in me jumped right up into that lofty saddle. “She won’t keep that up for long! She should be kinder to herself and walk her way to her New Year’s fitness resolution.” My negative thoughts immediately displeased me, but I soon forgot about them. And her.

Several months and hundreds of joggers passed. Meanwhile, I had been increasing my time on my meditation mat by consistently sitting first thing in the morning and last thing before bed each day. I acknowledged my ego’s resistance and made myself give over to the part of me that said it was time to meditate and listen. Over time small shifts in self-perception became evident. I noticed that I was more forgiving of my own mistakes and, little by little, confidence in my abilities increased. And I started to experience these changes as expanding outward, resulting in fewer and milder critical responses to others.

Like most things, progress in yoga has its ups and downs. Many meditation sittings leave me feeling that I have just spent twenty-five minutes thinking and worrying, like I already do much of rest of the time. Complete lapses in practice are a thing of the past, but over the years I have had to really force myself to get back at it at times. I continue to battle for dominance over the internal jabbering so that the quiet, essential me can prevail. Without question, it’s the delightful little tastes of oneness that manage to peek through the mental muck that bring me back. Pavlovian, perhaps, but those are the rewards I seek.

One day not so long ago, after nearly seven months, I saw the same woman jogging toward me. I remembered my previous, ignoble reaction. Here she was, all this time later, still working very hard on her own behalf. She was still heavy and awkward and she still had a strained look on her face, but something about her was clearly lighter, easier. She exuded a kernel of inner glow, a softness.

“Bless her heart.”

What? These totally unexpected words simply burst out from inside my chest. Where had that come from? I had never even used that phrase before.

A flood of compassion for this strong-willed woman rose up in me. I felt grateful to witness her struggle and the gradual, real results of her work – she was no different than I was. I felt grateful for the awareness that I must persevere in my own practice to be able to see truth and beauty in others.

A deep appreciation for persistence and patience, and the words “bless her (or his) heart,” seem to be bubbling up frequently of late, both on my mat and out there on the promenade of my small world.

Thank you for reading.

Prem and Om,


joolsJools Andrés is a writer, editor, and yoga educator from White Rock, BC. She co-teaches the SOYA Vancouver 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training with Dorothy Fizzell. Visit