Discipline and Teaching Yoga by Example

August 10th, 2015

disciplineand teaching yogaBy: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed. 

What is the link between discipline and teaching Yoga? As a professional Yoga teacher, you have a great deal of opportunity to truly influence your students in the way that they move both on and off the mat. Of course, while you are leading a class, your students will practice the asanas according to your guidance. However, what is often overlooked is the impact that you can have on your students, both verbally and nonverbally, through the way that you approach challenges in your classes. Just as a child takes cues from his or her parents about the appropriate steps needed to address problematic situations in their lives, your students will also take cues from you about how to approach obstacles and challenges both on and off the mat, as their practice unfolds and deepens.

For example, if one of your Yoga students is having difficulty holding Plow Pose for three full minutes, it may be most optimal for your student to back off the posture and practice an alternative inversion, such as Legs Up the Wall Pose. In this situation, by communicating to your student that respecting the current limitations of his or her body and elevating the guiding principle of self-respect and self-love over the accomplishment of forcing his or her body into a certain asana, will translate into everyday situations off the mat. By elevating the importance of self-care and compassion over an external goal, such as holding Plow Pose for three full minutes, your student will learn a beautiful lesson about truly applying the principal of loving kindness to him or herself.

In this way, you will be offering your Yoga students far more than a good workout; you will be guiding them through the ancient alchemical process of Yoga! There are many different lessons and insights that you can offer to your students during the course of a Yoga class, which go far beyond the external practice of the postures and pranayama exercises. For instance, you can teach your students to respect both their physical and emotional needs during a given class, and you can also teach your students diligence and disciple, within the context of the practice.

By diligently applying self-effort to their Yoga practice, most of your students will see a substantial improvement in their physical fitness level, including their level of strength, flexibility and coordination. Additionally, many of your students will experience more calmness and sustained energy throughout their day, as their nervous system comes into a more optimal balance. A balanced practice of Yoga postures, in conjunction with a pranayama technique such as Ujjayi Pranayama, helps to restore the balance of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, which creates both heat in the body and calmness in the mind.

In order to truly benefit from a regular Yoga practice, your students will need to apply consistent effort in a disciplined manner. Although the word “discipline” may have a negative connotation from the system of punishment that has been implemented by schools and at times, employers; it also can be quite elevating. According to a number of online dictionaries, the term “discipline” can also mean a regime, exercise program or activity that develops and improves a certain skill set. On a psychological level, the application of discipline can also be expected to generate optimal patterns of behavior, especially in terms of improving one’s moral character and mental outlook on life.

Clearly, a balanced practice of Yoga postures, breathing exercises and contemplative techniques lends itself quite easily to improving one’s physical capabilities and mental outlook on life. By weaving some of the timeless wisdom of Yoga into your classes, you will further support your students in applying the wisdom of the ancient scriptures to their practice and to their lives off the mat. Furthermore, if you teach your Yoga classes in a disciplined manner, with a higher goal in mind, your students will pick up on how you approach your own professional role as their teacher, and they will quite naturally apply the same dedication to their own practice.

Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a writer and an academic support specialist. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at: enchantress108@gmail.com.

© Copyright 2015 – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Finding Your Place In, and Through, Yoga

August 7th, 2015

finding your placeBy Kathryn Boland

We hear and read a lot about finding your place. Life has shown me that there are some places where I truly belong, and other places where staying around wouldn’t serve others or me. Yoga is a practice that lends itself to this finding of our right places, attuned as it is to the physical (space), mental (thoughts), and emotional (feelings). As yoga teachers and practitioners, coming back to this offering of yoga can help us when we might be struggling in a certain setting – a class we’re teaching, a certain studio, or with a certain colleague or professional.

It can be difficult to search elsewhere when we determine that where we are isn’t our right place, realities of life and limited resources (time, money, transportation abilities, et cetera) being what they can be. Finding your place can make all the difference, however, for you and those you serve. Releasing from where you are can be easier with remembering that. It can also help to remember that your place is out there – if it isn’t where you presently are – just as it is for everyone!

For me personally, this dynamic played out with a private yoga studio (I will spare name and place details to respect the confidentiality of involved parties) where I was a “work-exchange” student (free classes in exchange for a set number of hours worked). The studio caters to middle and upper class clientele, with somewhat high-class prices and “boutique” selling yoga apparel with items up to $500.00. I began performing my work-exchange duties diligently, and the studio owner seemed pleased with my work – initially. It felt great to take classes consistently, money no longer an issue. Then certain tensions arose, with mishaps of my own and miscommunication of all involved individuals.

As one aspect of that, I found it difficult to bounce back and forth between retail, class registration, and cleaning duties. Feeling scattered as a result led me to make careless mistakes. I am also a work-exchange student at a dance studio, and my duties are all in the realm of cleaning – where I can stay focused on certain tasks until I successfully complete them. I learned that is simply how my brain works, how I more effectively function, the hard way – through seeing how my performance suffers when I have to juggle many tasks at once. I accept that is who I am, though I acknowledge that it is most likely beneficial to expand growth areas of mine such as that.

Yoga helps us to learn ourselves in those ways – such as if we prefer the challenges of creative and fast-moving sequences or executing slower, perhaps simpler series of asanas. Yoga’s principles of ahisma (nonviolence, including that upon ourselves) and satya (truthfulness, even when it comes to self-evaluation) can help us to keep our strengths and growth areas in perspective, and not beat ourselves up over the former.

As I continued to take classes at that studio, I more clearly saw how there was a view of yoga there that didn’t seem to leave room for other approaches. For instance, while taking class from the director herself, I felt energized and compelled to go up into Shoulderstand. She was guiding us students through a process of getting up there with a prop’s assistance. She came over and, somewhat aggressively – in my view – said that I needed to “slow down”. Yes, perhaps I could have been more mindful and listened more carefully to her instructions. I own that shortcoming on my part. On the other hand, from a teacher’s perspective and my feelings about the exchange aside, I don’t think that it’s appropriate to speak to a student in that tone – under any circumstances.

I added that comment to other comments from her that I interpreted as disrespectful, and to the general “boutique” atmosphere of the studio, to determine that this studio was not my right place. I also considered that the studio was an hour and a half commute for me (causing me to be late on a few occasions, which didn’t help the frazzled matters I’ve described). In such situations, I think that it’s always important to gather the facts – and from that have a fuller picture of all available options – before taking any actions that we might regret. I remembered that there is a studio a mere ten minutes (by public transportation) from my apartment, with discounted classes. I re-referenced the studio’s website and its schedule, and did some rough mental budgeting and personal scheduling to evaluate if it would work.

I like to think that yoga asana helps us to thus manage evaluating multiple factors that impact a complete whole – such as how many interacting muscular, skeletal, and respiratory factors influence the overall feeling of a pose. Yoga’s meditative work can help us to re-focus the mind on our ongoing tasks and come to Peace with a certain decision once we’ve made it. Yes, I’ve learned that yo-yo multitasking can be difficult for me, but I believe that those skills yoga has helped me to build can help me to process important decisions such as these when they emerge.

The great thing about yoga is that is what I’ve gained from it (among other gifts), but it might have very well granted something different to each of you readers. Yoga can help us build upon our strengths, and develop areas that aren’t as strong for us, because it is malleable enough to be a different practice for each person. That is why there is a different place for each of us, in our yoga practice/instruction and otherwise. Yoga can also help us to find that place and stay there.

In the end, I emailed the studio instructor and explained how I felt the studio isn’t the right place for me. As it’s never wise to burn bridges, I kept things objective and cordial. I gave some of the practical reasoning I’ve given here, and also an additional aspect about who I am as an instructor and practitioner; I explained how I’m passionate about expanding yoga to grace those who most often won’t have the opportunities to experience it, but could most likely benefit from it the most (such as low-income, at-risk youth and hospitalized individuals) – rather than an elite clientele. I offered to work two more shifts, and then I would end my work there. She thanked me for the work I did while there, and I returned her gratitude for all that I learned as a practitioner (and also as an instructor, though I never taught there) during that time.

Reflecting on the situation in hindsight, I have further gratitude for what it taught me about myself and what yoga has contributed to that person. I know now more about the nature of my right place. Yoga also helped me to find it. I’m still taking discounted classes at that studio much nearer to my home, and loving them. I will audition to be an instructor there when auditions are held in coming months. I feel at home at there – with all types of people around to laugh, joke, and practice together. I wish for all you dear readers to find your right place. I welcome your views and stories about doing so, in whatever you might be open to sharing – so please do comment below! Om Shanti!

© Copyright 2015 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Effective Themes for Teaching Summer Yoga Classes

August 6th, 2015

summer yoga classesBy: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed. 

Have you learned about effective themes for summer Yoga classes? In many Yoga teacher training programs, you will learn about organizing your classes around specific themes. This concept encapsulates the idea of constructing a sequence, or krama, or Yoga postures, pranayama techniques and meditation instructions around a specific theme or goal. This theme may be the successful practice of a pinnacle posture, such as Crow Pose or Handstand. Or the chosen theme may be centered on a process, such as physical detoxification or calming an overactive mind.

Organizing the sequence of Yoga postures, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques to support your students’ overall health and well being during each season of the year, is also a wonderful way to engage your students in a creative and seasonally effective class. During the warmer summer months, centering your Yoga classes around the practice of calming breathing exercises and cooling forward bends will help your students to decompress from the heat, as the practice calms and balances their nervous system.

Additionally, offering calming and cooling Yoga classes to your students during the summertime will help them to take a momentary break from the high intensity of activities, which many of us engage in during the warmer months. Of course, it is important for your students to feel like they completed a balanced exercise class when they are practicing Yoga with you, so guiding your students through a comprehensive series of Sun Salutations, balancing postures, backbends, and inversions, before flowing into a series of seated forward folds, is important. In this way, they will feel both strong and relaxed at the end of your class.

In order to further effectively theme a cooling class during the summer months, you may want to incorporate some restorative and supported postures into your class. Supported Forward Fold and Supported Balasana are two deeply relaxing poses that allow the body and mind to rest, relax and cool down in a very nourishing fashion. These postures are usually practiced as part of a finishing series of seated poses at the end of a class and just prior to Shavasana.

If you are incorporating these supported and cooling postures into your summertime Yoga class, it is optimal to have bolsters available for each one of your students to use. By asking your students to place a bolster next to their mats at the beginning of class, you will be able to avoid the inevitable distraction of your students going to find bolsters in between postures. If you do not have enough bolsters for all of your students, you can also use rolled blankets. If some of your students are using rolled blankets in place of a bolster, it may take three lengthwise rolled blankets to approximate the same size as a bolster.

Another lovely touch to include when your are teaching a cooling summer Yoga class, it to gently rub your students’ necks and shoulders with rejuvenating oil during their practice of Shavasana. Some essential oils that are grounding, cooling and rejuvenating are peppermint, sandalwood and neroli oil. Neroli oil is extracted from the blossom of the bitter orange tree and is both calming and helps to lift the spirit. Peppermint oil is quite cooling and refreshing. Sandalwood oil helps to facilitate a deep state of meditative relaxation.

If you decide to offer your Yoga students a minute or two of a relaxing aromatherapy neck and shoulder massage during their practice of Shavasana, remember to approach your students gently before massaging their neck and shoulders. This will ensure that you do not scare them and cause their muscles to contract! By integrating a moment or two of a blissful neck and shoulder massage with essential oils, after guiding your students through a balanced Yoga practice, you will leave your students feeling rejuvenated, refreshed and ready to continue enjoying the languid and balmy days of summer.

Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she specializes in writing customized articles that are 100% unique. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at: enchantress108@gmail.com.

© Copyright 2015 – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Teaching Yoga Classes that Build Courage

August 5th, 2015

building courage with yoga trainingBy: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed.

Can Yoga sessions that you design help your students build courage? As a professional Yoga teacher, there are an endless assortment of ways to creatively sequence a series of asanas, meditation techniques and breathing exercises to facilitate the vibrant good health and overall well being of your Yoga students. Once you master the basic elements of a safe and effective class, you will be able to creatively engage your students in a series of postures that elicit different emotional states, as well as strengthen and tone various parts of the body.

Choosing an accessible and challenging pinnacle asana is one of the most creative and intuitive aspects of being an effective Yoga instructor. Many teachers create a sequence of postures that is intended to culminate in the practice of a challenging pinnacle pose. A challenge pinnacle pose will be different depending on the composition of students in your Yoga class. For instance, on a given day you may have a preponderance of beginning students in your class, which will necessitate choosing a pinnacle pose that is challenging enough for your students, but not so challenging that attempting the posture you have chosen makes them vulnerable to injury.

You also do not want to choose a pinnacle pose that is so difficult for most of your Yoga students that they are not able to do the posture at all and this failure ends up eroding their sense of competency, which leaves them feeling demoralized at the end of class and ready to throw in the proverbial towel. Part of being a successful Yoga teacher is to maintain a high degree of safety in your class. Another important aspect of being a successful teacher is to keep your students enthusiastic about practicing Yoga with you!

As you gain more experience as a Yoga teacher, you will also learn how to creatively sequence your Yoga class, in order to enhance your students’ experiences of different exalted emotions or uplifting states of being. An example of this is the cultivation of peace and inner well being. By guiding your students through a vigorous series of standing and balancing postures, which winds down into a softer, more introspective series of seated forward folds, your students will feel quiet and peaceful at the end of your Yoga class, if all goes as planned.

Additionally, a state of courage and the tenacity to follow through on one’s goals is spoken of quite highly in many different spiritual texts from a variety of religious traditions. A challenging Yoga class that is accessible to most of your students will provide a framework within which to cultivate a sense of courage, accomplishment and diligence. Challenging standing postures and arm balancing poses often come to mind immediately as poses that easily lend themselves to the development of courage and tenacity.

However, back bending poses and hip openers also help to open up the energetic areas of the body that often become contracted and closed down throughout the course of our lives, when we experience difficult or painful situations. By guiding your Yoga students through a series of expansive back bending postures, you will allow them to release some of the constriction around their heart and throat areas. The resultant state of expansion will increase the flow of energy throughout their entire being, which will uplift their spirit and engender a state of courage in their hearts and minds.

Bow Pose

Bow Pose is one of the most profoundly opening back bending postures that is quite accessible to most Yoga students. This posture is practiced while lying on a Yoga mat in a prone position. Please note: Upward Facing Bow is a more challenging version of Bow Pose and should only be undertaken by those students who have enough flexibility and strength to practice the posture in a safe manner. On the other hand, Bow Pose can be safely practiced by most beginning Yoga students, assuming the students are able to lie on a Yoga mat comfortably and are not contending with a serious neck or back injury, particularly a lower back injury.

Bow Pose expands the entire rib cage area and releases tension throughout the shoulders, neck and throat. This postures also increases flexibility throughout the quadriceps and hip flexors. Bow Pose is usually practiced after a series of Sun Salutations, standing postures and balancing poses. It is often practiced as a connecting pose between the standing asanas and seated postures. After your students have practiced a series of three Bow Poses for three to five breaths each, have them move gently move back into Extended Child’s Pose, in order to release any tension that may have accumulated in their lower back area, before proceeding onto the next Yoga posture.

© Copyright 2015 – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she specializes in writing customized articles that are 100% unique. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at: enchantress108@gmail.com.

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Teaching Yoga Classes that Foster Courage: Postures

August 1st, 2015

develop courage through physical masteryBy: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed.

Throughout the ages, there have been innumerable stories of individuals who faced their fears and surmounted unbelievable odds, in order to achieve their ultimate goals. These goals are far ranging. Some examples of courageous individuals who achieved their goals with courage and persistence are the first blind man to climb Mt. Everest and a veteran who is a certified Bikram Yoga instructor, even though he is a double amputee. In fact, Iyengar, who is credited with being one of the very first teachers to bring the practice to the west, healed himself of a disabling physical condition, through the rigorous and dedicated practice of Yoga postures.

So practicing Yoga postures that foster courage has a long and illustrious background! The noble quality of courage is highly regarded in Indian culture and in many of the myths and stories that have been told in a variety of cultures throughout the ages. Another example of the high regard for the development of courage is the Native American practice of sending a young adolescent on a vision quest. During this traditional four day time period, the young person fasts and spends four entire days and nights alone in a specified sacred circle of only fifteen feet or so, usually on a mountaintop.

Development of Courage

The Vision Quest tradition allows enough time and solitude for the young person on a quest to become aware of his or her fears, strengths and weaknesses. In the same way, by spending a dedicated amount of time on a Yoga mat several times a week, a practitioner has the opportunity to become intimately aware of his or her strengths, weaknesses and individual ways of perceiving experiences as they arise. As different sensations, emotions and ways of perceiving the world become apparent; a Yogin has the opportunity to learn how to approach various situations by tapping into a range of noble qualities, such as gratitude and courage.

As a certified Yoga teacher, you have the opportunity to structure your classes in such a way that the series of asanas, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques that you offer to your students, generates different emotional states. Many vinyasas are particularly suited to leading your students into a courageous and optimistic state of being. Simply completing a Yoga class may be enough for many of your students to feel expansive, courageous and confident in their increasing abilities on the mat.

For other Yoga students, offering challenging asanas during the course of your class that are “on their edge” will help to further facilitate an awareness of their preconceived limitations and how to overcome those limitations. At times, the most optimal and safest way for these students to overcome their physical limitations on the mat may be to back off and practice a more moderate version of a challenging Yoga posture. At other times, pushing past their fears and attempting to do a challenging asana in a safe and monitored fashion, will facilitate both courage and confidence in their expanding abilities on the Yoga mat.

Handstand is one of the most challenging arm balancing postures, which often elicits fear in the hearts of many beginning and intermediate Yoga students. This challenging arm balance can be practiced initially on the wall, so that a student develops the requisite upper body strength, balance and coordination to practice the posture in the middle of the room, without the support of the wall. When you are teaching Handstand to your students, you may find that a number of students can practice the posture safely and successfully with some support from you.

Other Yoga students may benefit from the preliminary practice of Dolphin Pose, until they develop the necessary strength and flexibility to hold Handstand without duress. Over time, many of your students will develop the necessary confidence and physical strength to comfortably practice Handstand, either on or off the wall. As their physical abilities increase on the mat, the cultivation of a courageous “can do” attitude during their Yoga practice will positively impact the way that they relate to the obstacles and challenges that are presented to them, during the course of their daily lives.

© Copyright 2015 – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Teaching Yoga by Example: Compassion

July 28th, 2015

yoga and compassionBy: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed.

During the course of your Yoga teaching training program, you are probably immersed in a great deal of information about correct alignment principals during the practice of the postures, the intricacies of human anatomy and learning the classical Sanskrit names of the asanas. What you may not be so closely connected to is the profound importance of compassion and teaching the finer aspects of how to incorporate the teachings of Yoga into your students’ daily lives “off the mat.”

As your own personal Yoga practice begins to deepen, you will find that the transformative richness of the practice lies not only in the beneficial effects of the physical postures and breathing techniques, but also in the integration of the principals of a Yogic way of living into daily life. When you experience the power of Yoga to transform your own life from the inside out, you will naturally want to share this wisdom and experience with your own students.

One way to share the benefits of a regular Yoga practice with your students is to embody the peace, lightness and vibrancy that are cultivated in your own body and mind with your students during the course of your classes. Imagine, for example, that a new student is struggling to simply touch her toes in Standing Forward Fold, and the teacher approaches her and impatiently insists that she hurriedly touches her toes, because the class is ready to move onto the next posture!

There are an unending amount of negative scenarios that we could all come up with that would exemplify negative, demoralizing and critical behavior on the part of a Yoga teacher. Clearly, this kind of behavior would not be conducive to cultivating the positive inner qualities of Yoga that are spoken of so highly in the ancient Yogic texts, such as Narada’s Bhakti Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. Some of these highly esteemed inner qualities that are nurtured by a regular practice are patience, courage and compassion.

The word “compassion” has a many different meanings that can essentially be encapsulated by terms such as mercy, charity, sensitivity, love, and tenderness. Take a moment to imagine again that the aforementioned impatient Yoga instructor took a deep breath and remembered to be compassionate with her struggling, beginning student, as she attempted to touch her toes in Standing Forward Fold. Instead of impatiently insisting that the student touch her toes, regardless of the degree of flexibility in her hamstrings, imagine that the teacher took a deep breath and approached her student in a compassionate, gentle manner.

In this instance, the Yoga teacher through a soft touch and a quiet encouraging word might exemplify a compassionate, gentle manner or two to her student to simple breath deeply, exhale fully, and allow her body to soften and relax into the forward fold. In this way, instead of creating more tension and stiffness in the back of the legs in reaction to her teacher’s impatience, the student will be able to release tension and move more deeply into the posture than she would otherwise be able to do.

In this way, the next time this particular student is faced with a challenging situation, she will remember to breath deeply and treat herself with patience and compassion, which truly reflects the beauty and alchemical potential of a regular Yoga practice. When the lessons of Yoga “on the mat” begin to be woven into our daily lives “off the mat,” the potential of Yoga to truly uplift and inspire us becomes quite apparent. As a certified Yoga teacher, you will have the opportunity to effect long lasting positive change in your community, one student at a time.

© Copyright 2015 – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Ingredients in a Fruitful Yoga Experience

July 21st, 2015

fruitful yoga experienceBy Kathryn Boland

Challenges, Success, and Fun

How can you create classes that are a fruitful yoga experience for your students? In Dance Studio Life Magazines November 2014 issue, master modern dance teacher Bill Evans states that he seeks to offer his students three elements in every dance class – challenges, success, and fun. Challenges offer growth; without pushing the boundaries of our comfort zones, people can’t expand their skills and achievements. Success, in some measure, keeps us coming back for more. Without feeling some sense of accomplishment, after a certain amount of time and trial-and-error, we (some might argue, wisely) often move on to other pursuits. Success also brings the confidence we need to be at our bests. Fun engages students, and also puts them in a positive, confident frame of mind. That kind of mindset allows them to learn effectively. I propose that yoga students can achieve the most when we as yoga instructors offer them classes in which they can experience some measure of each of those three elements, in balance and in flow with one another.

Yoga is a dynamic and incredibly extensive practice, with a body of knowledge and accompanying practices that have arisen from centuries of yogis and yoginis’ dedicated study and practice. Consequently, there is a never a shortage of new things to learn and new skills to achieve. With each approach of a never-before-tried asana, fresh meditation approach, or yet-to-be-mastered pranayama exercise, there is a new challenge. That’s true for us as yoga instructors, just as much as it is for our students – we’re all learning together! In this line of thought, I love the quote I’ve heard from a few different instructors – “that’s why they call it a yoga practice, not a yoga perfect!” As instructors, we can serve our students best by consistently seeking new challenges in our own practices. We can then have more to offer our students.

When it comes to our actual instruction, we can do our best to ensure that each student in our classes has some reasonable measure of challenge available to them. Dear readers, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that it can be difficult to teach classes to those with twenty years of experience and newbies, all in the same class! Thankfully, yoga has tools within it to help us meet those mixed-levels challenges; along with that extensive body of knowledge and practice within yoga, there are numerous modifications for any given asana or other yogic exercise. We can guide our students to approach the level of challenge that helps them to grow, yet is realistically attainable, by informing them of some of those options. The next step is to guide them in approaching chosen variations in ways that enhance their practices. All of that takes keen observation, patience, mindfulness, and a desire to understand how they are experiencing your guidance.

Most often, some measure of success results from that kind of mindful and patient process of guiding students in an appropriate practice for them. That is necessary for sustained learning, because it most often takes the experience (physical, mental, emotional, et cetera) that something worked in order to register it to longer-term memory. That’s necessary for the learning to move from something achieved once to something that beneficially becomes habit. Over the course of time, those small successes added on to prior ones, our yoga practices build. There’s a challenge to that natural process, however; a good amount of research in psychology describes how – most likely for evolutionary survival reasons – we humans are more likely to recognize and remember negative things over positive ones.

We see that effect play out with those who want to try yoga, but are afraid of that beginner “learning curve”, or those who try yoga once but don’t go back for the same reason. As instructors, we can engage more people in what yoga has to offer by helping them to recognize their own successes – no matter how minor. That doesn’t have to be fake and plastic praise for its own sake. In my experience as an instructor, there’s always something that we can see our students have newly reached. For instance, even a new student’s focus and dedication is something to acknowledge – even if their biggest achievement of the class is a more stable Mountain Posture (hey, that’s even a victory to praise!). Setting up our students for success also comes with designing sequences that are attainable for them – yet that offer some level of challenge as well. With that delivered, we can keep newbies as well as more experienced students coming back to our classes for more.

With a dose of challenge sweetened with a bit of success, fun results. In that way, helping our students reach a healthy and enjoyable balance of those first two elements leads to the essential third. The additional magic of that balance can be a beautiful flow state, for both you and your students; challenges are surmounted and successes achieved without any one even thinking in those terms. Other elements can add even more fun. As one, creative sequencing can bring those moments of students thinking (and maybe even sometimes saying) “Ohh, ahh, thanks, I’ve never tried it like that!” Fun, and maybe even a bit of self-care, can occur for yourself as an instructor from building and rehearsing such sequencing on your own. That’s one reason maintaining your own personal practice is so essential!

Another element that can bring fun is showing a sense of humor, such as with jokes and sometimes even a bit of silliness (that stays within a professional demeanor, of course). I find, and have even shared with my students at points, that many people take yoga too seriously. Yes, it is an ancient and venerable lifestyle to follow, but that doesn’t mean no smiles and laughter allowed! The way I see it, those who teach and/or practice Laughter Yoga are on to something! In any case, showing a sense of fun and humor can make instructors seem more approachable and friendly. That can put students in the mindset to be more willing to approach challenges, and more able to appreciate their own successes. Like a cake, yoga classes aren’t quite right without all of those necessary ingredients. By honing your skills at offering classes with those elements well balanced and in flow with each other, you’ll keep your students practicing, filling your classes, and experiencing the most for them that yoga can offer.

© Copyright 2015 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

See our testimonials to find out what our graduates have to say about our selection of online yoga teacher training courses.

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How to Teach Yoga by Example: Gracious Acceptance

July 19th, 2015

how to teach yoga sessionsBy: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

Do you want more tips about how to teach Yoga by example? Like most dedicated teacher, you continually strive to make progress in your practice. Most likely, this drive to succeed comes into play in your life, both on and off the mat. As a professional Yoga instructor, you may find that many of your students will emulate your way of approaching the practice in the way that they, themselves, approach their own practice. In addition, many of your students will also model your psychological approach to difficult poses and other personal challenges that arise during class, in their daily interactions off the mat.

As a certified Yoga teacher, the exemplary bar is quite high in terms of how you nonverbally communicate the deeper aspects of this ancient physical practice and spiritual approach to life to your students. There are many different scriptural Yogic texts that enumerate in great detail the optimal way of practicing asanas and pranayama exercises, in addition to how to integrate the wisdom of the practice into your day-to-day life. Some of this detail includes advice on how to cleanse the body, how to control the unruly nature of the mind and how to best approach difficult situations in our lives.

When you begin to understand the ultimate goal of a well-rounded Yoga practice, you will develop a deep respect for the ability of a regular practice of asanas, breathing exercises and meditation techniques to balance and cleanse the body and calm the mind. A few of the most well-loved Vedic scriptures that outline the optimal way of practicing Yoga and harnessing the deep knowledge and well-being that the practice generates, in order to be more efficient in our day-to-day lives, is the Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

Both of these texts outline in detail how to integrate the practice of Yoga into every level of your body and mind. When your experience of Yoga deepens to the point where you begin to naturally and spontaneously “walk your talk” off the mat, you will find that your life begins to resonate with more balance and well being. When this happens, you will quite naturally teach Yoga by the way that you comport yourself during a class. In addition to instructing your students on how to do the various postures and pranayama exercises, the way that you approach perceived challenges and obstacles during the course of a Yoga class will have a profound impact on your students.

One of the inner attitudes of Yoga that is extolled in the Vedic scriptures is the expansive and calming nature of gracious acceptance. This term essentially means to calmly and openly accept a situation as it is, before taking appropriate action. It does not mean to simply passively accept an unacceptable or unsafe situation and to do nothing about it! However, in our fast-paced, multi-tasking culture, pausing long enough to even register how a situation is before trying to change the situation to fit our ideal scenario is often overlooked.

This sense of always rushing to change or fix a situation, in the course of only a few minutes, takes away the opportunity to see and understand a situation, or a way of approaching a problem, as a coping mechanism that has served a helpful purpose in the past, but which may be derailing our goals in the present situation. For instance, you may have a student in your Yoga class who is used to ignoring the signals of his or her body and just pushing past the pain, in order to achieve a specific physical goal. In turn, this student may be quite prone to injury if he or she aggressively tries to do some postures that are out of reach of his or her current level of flexibility.

In this example, you have the opportunity to model a state of gracious acceptance for your student, by asking the student to pause for a moment and notice how his or her body feels right now. As your Yoga student becomes aware of what his or her body truly needs in the moment, without negating, minimizing or justifying another course of action, you will have the opportunity to model a state of gracious acceptance of “what is” for your student. In this way, your student will feel more accepting of his or her own physical aptitude and level of fitness. This state of open, gracious acceptance will then allow both you and your student the ability to choose appropriate Yoga postures and breathing exercises that will truly nurture the student’s strength, flexibility and a deep, inner sense of respectful equanimity.

© Copyright 2015 – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Teaching Yoga by Example: Cultivating Patience

July 18th, 2015

teaching yoga for healingBy: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed.

How can you start teaching Yoga by example? One of the most transformational aspects of Yoga “on the mat,” is how this practice transforms our lives “off the mat.” As a professional teacher, you are probably well aware of how your own practice of asanas, pranayama exercises and breathing techniques has transformed your own life. This may have been one of your main reasons for pursuing a teacher certification, so that you are able to share the profound physical and psychological benefits of this practice with others in your community.

You may have also enrolled in a Yoga teacher certification program, in order to deepen your own experience the myriad of benefits that this ancient and time-tested practice offers to regular practitioners. Additionally, you may be interested in exploring the classical Indian scriptures, such as the Yoga Vasistha and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, that form the foundation for many of the various forms and styles that are practiced today. As you begin to explore and understand more of the layers of profound wisdom that are found in the pages of these classical texts, you will be able to offer this wisdom back to your students.

An important aspect of teaching Yoga classes that is often overlooked is the modeling of the wisdom of classical Yogic texts by the teacher during class. In other words, the teacher ideally models many of the noble qualities that are enumerated in the scriptural texts from around the world, including patience and compassion, during the course of his or her class. For example, imagine the irony of being short-tempered with one of your students, if he or she is not able to stay up in Headstand for a full three minutes!

Let’s just say, that this level of impatience would certainly not be in alignment with the advice of the ancient sages and seers of India. By personally modeling the noble qualities and virtuous actions that are recommended by the classical Yogic texts during your class, you will be providing a very real and tangible example for your students to follow. Many of these noble qualities and virtues, such as honesty, generosity and patience, are not necessarily valued in our world today.

Certainly being dishonest is not valued either, but getting ahead and multi-tasking at all times of the day and night are held in much higher regard than slowing down enough to be patient with oneself or those around us. Behavioral experts estimate that 93% of our communication is nonverbal. According to their research, approximately 38% of our communication is through the tone and cadence of our voice and the other 55% is through our body language. A paltry 7% of our communication is through the words that we use!

As a professional Yoga instructor, this means that by embodying the spirit of the ancient scriptures, including fostering an internal state of patience and compassion for your students, is of the utmost importance. Over time, your students will learn to be patient with themselves and with each other, by watching the patient and kind way that you treat them. With a consistent and dedicated Yoga practice, the wisdom that is elucidated in the ancient scriptures will begins to arise from within the hearts and minds of your students. This will allow your students to truly integrate the practice of Yoga “on the mat,” into their everyday actions in the world.

Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she specializes in writing customized articles that are 100% unique. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at: enchantress108@gmail.com.

© Copyright 2015 – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Invitatory Language in Yoga Instruction

July 16th, 2015

about language in yoga instructionBy Kathryn Boland

Language in yoga instruction is extremely important. Being invited to something – to a party, to a meaningful life passage event, even to do something that just plain feels good – carries its own special joy. It’s even difficult; at least for me personally, to put into just the right words that special feeling of allowance and/or inclusion. Invitation can also be part of when one seeks to direct another in more formalized, structured activity (that which we might not commonly associate with such simple joy). As yoga instructors, we can both direct and ease our students through using “invitatory” language. Furthermore, it opens up opportunities for students to make their practices truly their own – versus our ideas of what we think those practices should be.

The Oxford Dictionary defines “invitatory”, an adjective, as “containing or conveying an invitation”. Language with that quality suggests options and opens up possibilities, rather than commands. Yoga teachers have many opportunities to use this type of language in their instruction. One way to do so is present multiple options, using such transitional words/phrases as “perhaps” and “or maybe.” Particularly fitting times in typical asana classes to do that are during beginning meditations and closing relaxations.

For the former, an instructor might suggest setting an intention or calling to mind something one is grateful for. The instructor could then say “Or, if it feels more right for you today, simply tune into your breath and see if that helps to quiet your mind.” For closings, instructors could offer guided meditation options – such as envisioning a walk through a peaceful favorite place or a self-guided body scan – or simply time to let the mind remain silent and eased. Giving options in those ways gives students helpful doses of guidance, yet allows them freedom to put into practice what they sense will most benefit them.

When it comes to leading students through specific asanas, invitatory language has similar benefits. For instance, I often give students the option to point or flex their feet in certain postures where either is possible (such as Half-Moon and Warrior III). I explain that flexing the feet especially stretches the calves, and pointing gives the shin a good stretch – “so, perhaps try both and see what feels better for you today”. My students do typically experiment with both, and some settle on either option as best for them right then. Leaving both of those choices open also allows students with certain injuries or sensitivities to respect their bodies’ pain signals. That helps avoid further, more serious injury – as some students will continue doing something even if it hurts (as much as we might advise them against doing that) simply because we as instructors asked them to.

Guiding students in using props also offers opportunities for instructors to use language that invites instead of commands. That is especially helpful when it comes to props – because practitioners can have very varied and individual needs, desires, and past experiences when it comes to using props. For myself as a practitioner, I tend to not heavily use props, but in recent years I have challenged myself to learn more about using them through direct experience. I believe that I developed that helpful openness because many of my favorite instructors guided me in how I might use props, yet never ordered me to do so.

As an instructor, I’ve seen how one prop use I suggest is helpful for one student, yet not for another. Resting a hand on a block in Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) makes one student feel more balanced, while doing so just feels limiting and awkward to another, for example. Unique anatomies often account for such differences, and we as instructors serve our students best by respecting those variations. In most – if not all – cases, students know their own bodies better than we could ever hope to!

Just as with anything, invitatory language has its limitations. As one, beginning students often feel overwhelmed, confused, and lost if given too many options. Most helpful for them seems to be an approach that is directive, but also includes many questions and “check-ins” (as in, “how does that positioning feel?”). That way, instructors can guide such students as necessary; yet gain insights through consultation about their practice experiences at the same time. That allows instructors to guide such students in ways that keeps those experiences the students’ own.

Other instances in which invitatory language should be avoided involve those with safe positioning and alignment in specific asanas. Instructors should never lead students to believe that it’s a good option to place their feet on their knees in Vrkasana (Tree Pose), for instance. All in all, however, invitatory language allows us as instructors to guide students in executing the yoga practices that they come to understand are those that are best for them. Such a process is a beautiful part of life as a yoga practitioner. We can invite, rather than command, as we travel it with them.

© Copyright 2015 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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