Friday, November 30, 2007

Teaching From Auto-Pilot

Do you have an “auto pilot” setting for your teaching? I know there are times when I find I have taught a portion of a class without even thinking about what I taught (like driving to the store without consciously driving to the store!) There are certain poses in which we have a tendency to say the same thing each time we teach it, sometimes we even say the directions in the same order as well! Students may become lulled into class and stop being conscious about being on their mat as well. They can be thinking about their grocery list in Trikonsana and their cluttered desk in Adho Mukha Svanasana. Nothing is new to grab their attention.

Sometimes repeating the same things can be helpful. I bet you have experienced finally “getting” what your teacher has been telling you each and every time she teaches a pose. And getting the same direction on many different levels. (Tadasana and Adho Mukha Svanasana are two poses in which I feel I have found several levels of the same direction from my teacher!) Other things are so important they are essential to mention every time. And still other times, the pattern might be comforting. I like to say the same thing each time students return from Savasana because I think it helps their minds stay relaxed, there is habit in it.

Think about it for yourself. It helps keep me very conscious as I am teaching. Am I saying the same thing because I am on auto pilot? Because it is important? Because it is comforting? Or because there are many levels to the direction?

Jo’s Gems: Ustrasana Variations

I recently had the privilege of studying with Jo Zucovitch at Mind Body Solutions. She is an amazing, open-hearted teacher that gave me many great gems. I have a few I want to share with you over the next few posts. This post is for Ustrasana. These variations are incredible for opening the heart and really getting a lift in your chest. In the two weeks since I learned them, I have felt a tremendous opening in both my chest and my upper back. I hope you enjoy them too!

The first is better if your student is really tight in the chest. Turning the palms out, rest them on a bolster (or bolster with blanket or two as you can see I have in the photo). Be sure you have enough lift that you can really press through your arms. Use the press to lift your chest and roll your arms open even more. Look forward so you can see your chest and watch as you lift it up more.

The next variation won’t be possible with a student who is tight across the chest. Have her repeat the first variation if this one is too deep for her. Lace fingers behind your back. With an exhale, roll the shoulders back and down firmly. If you cannot straighten the elbows and keep the fingers laced, this pose is too deep for your shoulders. Continue with the first variation to prepare for this one. If you can keep your fingers laced, turn the palms down by taking your thumbs down your buttocks. (This move can be confusing because you can go both ways with the hands. If you go the other way, the shoulders will hunch, though.) Then go back to the bolster and again, use the bolster to get the lift in your chest.

After these variations, by the time you get to full Ustrasana, it will seem easy!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Silent Class for Thanksgiving

Awhile ago I wrote about teaching silent classes. As silent class is one in which I do not speak for the entire class. I demonstrate the pose, then they do them. It is an incredibly power class. I taught silent classes tonight as a gift to my students before the holiday. I don’t teach them very often (it is hard for me to be silent! ☺ ) so I sometimes forget just how powerful the classes are. Students are drawn into the silence and their minds truly slow down. Savasana in a silent class is deep and wonderful. I normally only teach a silent class with my advanced students. Tonight I taught it to intermediate students with a few beginners. I wasn’t sure how they would feel about it. I was amazed at how much they embraced it. They loved the experience and could really feel that their Savasana was deeper.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Quick Twists Tip

Want a fun exercise for helping your students go more deeply into twists? Have a partner run her finger up the student’s spine. We have a tendency to twist in the same part of our spine every time we twist. (It is usually around your lower ribs at T11 and T12 and L1.) We can twist in other parts of the spine, though, it just takes finding them. When someone takes her finger up your spine, you are able to “feel” more spots where you can turn more deeply. If you have chairs, do the twist in the chair. If you don’t, I find Maricyasana I to be the easiest pose to do this exercise in.

Have the student come into whatever twist she is doing. (Since you are already using partners, have the partner put her hand on the student’s head so she thinks about lengthening as she moves into the pose.) Once she is in her deepest twist, have the partner take a finger to her lower back, just above the sacrum, and slowly slide the finger up her spine, vertebra by vertebra. Have the partner go slowly enough that the student can integrate the touch and see if she has access to any twist there. Be sure to do both sides. Your students will be absolutely amazed at how much more deeply they are able to go.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Teaching Surrender

According to Patanjali and the Yoga Sutras, the last of the yoga precepts is Ishvara Pranidhana. Translated many ways, the one I use the most is “surrender” or “letting go”. Here is a great way to help students understand the concept. Using partners, have one student move into Maricyasana III. Maricyasana III is a twist in which one leg is straight out and the other is bent with the foot next to the thigh. Then you twist into the bent knee. Have the student twist to the right first, into the right knee. Have the partner place her hands on the front of the right shoulder and on the left shoulder blade. Get a good solid grip so the student in the pose gets a good feeling of being completely supported. Now, have the student in the pose release and allow the partner to support her. It is much trickier than it looks and is a great lesson in learning surrender. Those who tend toward control in their life will keep holding themselves in the pose and not be able to release into their partner's hold as well as those who can surrender or let go and trust well.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

More Alignment

In yesterday’s post, I talked about encouraging students who hyper-extend their knees or elbows to feel both sides of their joint equally to sense correct alignment. This idea can be used in sensing alignment of the body as well in seated poses and in Tadasana. Sitting where you are now, extend from the sit bones up and out the top of your head. Now, if you exaggerate the ribs coming forward (thereby lengthening the front of the body more than the back) do you feel more of the front body than the back? Reverse the action and round through the back (while still lengthening and not collapsing). You feel your back body more.

Now come back to the center and lift through the middle. We can lose the alignment of the torso in the lower back, chest, and head so make sure you have an equal awareness on the front and back of all of those areas. Can you feel it? When you have it while you are sitting, do it in Tadasana.