Himalaya Yoga Valley Centre

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Born Again Yogini

When I found out I was pregnant I had some pretty clear visions of the mother to be I would be…Radiant, glowing, peaceful and maternal. I often struggled being these things when I was not pregnant so I am not sure why exactly I thought that surging hormones, rapid weight gain, rabid mood swings and back pain would bring forth these qualities, but a naive first time mother can dream.

I was also sure that I would be fully immersed in a yoga practice that would support me in pregnancy, labour and motherhood. I’m going to be honest here- I have never done less yoga than when I was pregnant and now 1 year on from the birth of my son things have not improved much.  But I’m OK with it. Here is the story of how I learned to really practice non attachment.

During the early stages of my pregnancy I was in India, feeling extremely hyper vigilant and suddenly terrified of anything that might harm my unborn baby- perhaps it is maternal instinct but everything felt like a major threat- the water (mineral water boiled THREE times), the food (what about the GERMS!), my beautiful dogs (what about the PARASITES!), and sadly my yoga practice… I was sure- even with all of my yoga education that somehow my practice was a threat to the safety of my pin head sized miracle growing in my belly.

I know now, looking back, that of course there was no threat from my yoga practice- quite the opposite, but I also know that I needed to listen to my instincts; hide in my bedroom and plan my escape from India, back to Europe as quickly as possible because if I had not done those things I would have cracked up.

When I got back to Europe I was 5 months pregnant and the fear surrounding my practice evaporated. But then the exhaustion set in. I just could not muster enough energy to get out of bed some days let alone complete a modified sun salutation. I started to feel like a yoga fraud. I was a yoga studio owner and educator who was spending the majority of my time on the couch watching Say Yes to the Dress using my rolled up yoga mat as a tray table to eat bowls of popcorn from. I was terrified the yoga police would burst through the door and arrest me. Every week I committed to taking a pregnancy yoga class with our amazing pre natal guru Lisa at Himalaya Yoga Valley and every week I fell asleep, or showed up 20 minutes late because I was too slow walking to our studio and every week I felt like a yoga failure without even stepping foot into a yoga class.

Finally, when the tiredness passed at around the 6 month mark, I sprung back in to my practice. I felt invigorated and at peace, edging slowly towards the hallmark card pregnant yoga lady that had been so far, so elusive.

And then one week into this glorious phase of pre natal yoga joy the cracks started to show.  In my rib. All through my pregnancy I had a terrible cough- according to my obstetrician this was common and it would clear when I had the baby. During a particularly strenuous coughing session I cracked a rib and ended up in the emergency room in excruticating pain. Through the tears I asked the midwife if labour would be this painful. She just smiled at me and said nothing. Kind soul.

I was sent home with no drugs and advice that I should rest. I could not move, sleep, walk long distances or even pick up my yoga mat to use it as a tray table (these were dark times) and the thought of yoga was laughable. I spent the next two months trying to manage my injury as baby grew bigger and bigger and my expanding ribs screamed at me for relief.

I could not wait to go in to labour and experience the gentle birth I had worked towards all through my pregnancy. I had coaching from the most wonderful midwife and yogini Bindu, from Bindus Birth Preparation. I was extremely confident that my body was entirely designed to deliver a baby in a peaceful and positive way and although I expected pain I was prepared for it all.

And then my waters broke- and we rushed to the hospital without the bag I had packed and had sitting next to my bed for the last 4 months, without my birthing ball, without my hospital file and without any money to pay for the taxi. Because I was prepared and calm you see.

In the hospital they noticed that my son’s heart rate was a little high, that I seemed to be progressing a little too fast and that perhaps he was in distress. I won’t go in to the details of my labor experience because I truly believe that gentle, positive and happy births are possible and they are also not the ones you hear about enough because they are not as exciting. I don’t want to add to the negativity that expectant mothers face with dramatic horror stories void of the beauty that is bringing life into the world. I truly believe that women are at their most powerful when birthing and this power is often depleted by the fear that is instilled in us from the minute we conceive.

Unfortunately I ended up in an emergency situation, it can happen. Mostly it doesn’t. I’m beyond grateful I was in a hospital and that it was 2014 not 1914 and there were things that could be done to make sure my baby arrived safely and without injury into the world. The birth was extremely traumatic- physically and psychologically for my baby, my husband and I, but I genuinely believe that is an exception rather than the norm. In my case maybe I could have been more balanced in my view of birth and included the possibility of struggle or emergency and it would have benefited me as I actually of believed I would do a few yoga breaths and he would pop out. Not so for me but doesn’t mean it’s not possible ladies!

But here is the great part. In my arms was the most beautiful creature I had ever laid eyes upon. I never thought he could be more beautiful than he was that moment they placed him on my chest but he just keeps on keeping on being more and more perfect every day-in fact not a moment passes where he doesn’t get more beautiful.

OK, babyswoon over! What about my yoga practice? Now that the pressure was off my ribs, the cough was gone and the stitches were dissolving, would I roll out my yoga mat and get back into it?

Sure I would. For exactly 30 seconds before my little bundle of screeching joy would demand to be breastfed or held or sung to or have his nappy changed.

Here was the new mothers yoga sequence I developed.

Inhale, raise the arms

Pick up baby and breast feed for 15 minutes 

Exhale, fold forward- for the first time in your yoga life try NOT to focus on the area between your perineum and anus. No, seriously. Don’t.  Wait a few months.

Pick up baby and breast feed for 30 minutes

Inhale, half lift

Pick up baby and breast feed 12 minutes

No time for forward fold 

Clean runny poo off your yoga mat and out of your hair

Exhale, forward fold

Do the laundry. Are you crazy? Why are you doing a sun salutation? You have to wash 678 baby gros. 

Burst into tears and accuse your husband of being a selfish twat because he went to the shop for 6 minutes.

3 second closing Savasana. 

Accidentally pass out and wake up to screaming baby. 

Feel free to use that sequence and make it yours ladies…

So, my postpartum practice started off shakily and really I am not sure how much better it has gotten in the last year in terms of physical practice but here are a few things I have learned about yoga and being a new mom.

I have to look after my babies momma. He only has one, and no matter how busy, tired or stressed she is she deserves to be well nourished, practice self care through yoga and to have a little time for herself. These days my practice is usually much shorter but much better than the first few weeks of motherhood. I try to take 15-20 minutes in the morning to practice Surya Namaskar, some standing postures, grounding seated postures, inversions and most importantly pranayama and that is enough.

This may not seem much to yoga folk like the old me who had a lot of time to invest in my physical practice but I have truly come to appreciate the middle ground approach that is taken by people here in India to incorporate yoga into their lives without attachment to the outcome. I am so grateful to be able to have that time, the incredible benefits of that practice, no matter how short and to be able to go back to being a better mother than before I stepped onto my mat.

Your baby will bring you closer to enlightenment. One of the most life changing aspects of parenthood that no one can prepare you for is how vulnerable you become. You can not negotiate with the love that takes over. You can not play games, avoid commitment or run for the hills like you can with any other relationship and that can be terrifying. The greatest spiritual growth I have experienced did not come from chanting mantra, reading the yoga sutras or deep in meditation- it came from having to face a love so great, so powerful that it left me entirely open to the possibility of real loss, pain and of course immense joy. I found the courage to face that love with an open heart and I am proud of the spiritual growth that took place for that to happen.

Yoga is about letting go. Hindsight is 20/20 and I know now that during my early days of pregnancy and perhaps after my son was born I could have done more in terms of a physical practice but I think as new mothers we have so many expectations to meet- from ourselves, the world, our families and of course our little people. If yoga becomes another expectation or burden it can lose it’s joy. For me it brought me guilt rather than peace. Of course I know that was not yogas fault, it was me being hard on myself and I wish the me sitting here now could reach back in time and say- it’s OK, you’ll get your practice back, enjoy this time.

Yoga can only make things better. Try to find space for yoga in any way, shape or form. It doesn’t have to be a 2 hour practice, it doesn’t have to be any asana at all. It could be a 5 minute meditation, a 15 minute pranayama session or if you are willing to ask most people will jump at the chance to help- get someone to watch baby for 30 minutes or an hour and get into a restorative or dynamic practice. Your baby will benefit so much from your yoga practice.

The early days are hard and wonderful and maddening and magical and one thing is for sure- they get easier. Your baby will go from needing constant care, attention, and feeding in the early weeks to happily playing on his own mat while you crack on with your 40 minute practice in the later days. Trust that you will get your practice back, that at some point you will reemerge from the shadow of your babies constant needs and that when you do you will find your way back to your mat.

Someone told me to imagine my sons life like a string of pearls. His infancy, they said is only a few pearls on that string and I would forever regret missing any of it. It’s true. Time flies, enjoy your baby. Practice Ahimsa with yourself, forgive yourself, let go of expectations and look at what you have achieved. It’s right there in your arms.

For  practitioners who become parents there can be a huge contrast between your practice then, and your practice now. I think we need to support each other in understanding that every single situation, baby and parent is unique. Many of my peers and mentors never saw any changes in their yoga practice during and after pregnancy and that is completely possible too. Embrace whatever comes your way, take what you can get in terms of time and space but don’t fight the most wonderful change that will ever come your way.

I would like everyone to know that this article you read in 5 minutes only took me 3 months to write during nap times.

Peace and love to all the new moms, the wonderful supportive dads and the beautiful squidges they have created!

Eveanna

 

Forget Your Juice Fast – it’s time for a Digital Detox

Many of us who practice yoga do so with the aim of cleansing the body and soul through a regular practice. Often we support these practices with a healthy, Satvic diet- we are concerned about the cleanliness and health giving properties of what we put in out mouths in relation to our yoga lifestyle, and rightly so! Why put all of that effort in to a regular yoga practice to undo it with poor diet choices? Part of a yogic lifestyle includes conscientiousness and awareness about the quality of our diets- but what about our mental diets?

Do we pay enough attention to what gets in to our psyches and minds on a daily basis? Why don’t we scrutinize the morsels of information we consume the same way we do our food? What we ingest mentally has a major impact on our health. Perhaps it is time we started looking at consumption from a holistic standpoint not just in relation to food.

Most of us seem to spend a majority of our time online on Social Media sites. A positive aspect of Social Media is the fact that we can connect to each other all over the world in a way that we never could before, stay in touch with people we love and discover new things and people thousands of miles away in an instant. There are however some problems with a “poor digital diet” and having awareness of them may help us get healthier and avoid potential damage to our emotional and mental health.

Waking up your inner 5 year old

If you want to check how enlightened you are have a little browse around your facebook friends pages and see which emotions rear their ugly heads.

Jealousy? Envy? Shame? Anger? Bitterness? All very human and often inspiring emotions that can motivate us to improve, when based on real situations.The problem with peoples versions of their lives online (and our emotional responses to them) is that they are entirely one dimensional and usually marketed with all of the best bits and not much of the mundane which makes up their reality.

A friend recently told me that she unfollowed me on facebook because my life in paradise made her so depressed. Sure, living in Goa is pretty darn fabulous and yes I am extremely grateful for my life but alongside the sunsets are the 16 hour work days, the toilets that no one else will clean but me, the rubbish on the roads, the endless bureaucracy, the 2 hour wait for 10 photocopies, the constant power cuts…the list goes on. Do I Instagram the pictures of the toilets I have to clean? No. That’s reserved for the sunsets! Do I update my status “just saw the most amazing pile of garbage on the side of the road with rats feasting on it #feelingblessed!” no, I reserve that for when I see dolphins in the sea! I would probably unfollow me too…

Tip: Remind yourself that the version of peoples lives that you see online is not exactly the truth. Celebrate peoples happiness whilst remembering that life is never just one thing. People have ups & downs just like you do. Accept that nobody and nothing is perfect (including yourself for hoping it rains on your friends 3rd Caribbean holiday this year) and focus on your blessings.

Loss of connection

Would be a good thing- if it was our internet connection. We are overloaded with images, opinions, voices, trends, anger, nasty comments, unrealistic expectations and messages. From all of this information how much of it actually helps us to grow, to become better people? When do we actually connect with people and more importantly with ourselves anymore? Every spare moment we have seems to be filled with reaching outwards through smart phones and computers rather than looking inwards and getting healthier. Spending the day on the internet can leave us feeling exhausted and disconnected. We almost forget we have a body! Falling into the vortex can leave us drained and empty rather than refreshed and energized.

Tip: Commit to a specified time where you are connected to the internet daily and stick to it. If you use the internet for work, commit to not using it at all outside of work hours. Commit to being a little old school… do things that used to make you happy like walking in nature, reading a book, writing a letter to someone you love, listening to music, meditating. Whatever it is make sure it is real, that it is in the actual world rather than on a screen in front of you!

Other peoples Milestones weighing you down

It seems that everybody has the perfect job, family, car, relationship, marriage and baby making faculties. Feeling inadequate can happen to the strongest of people in real life, never mind being inundated with other peoples endless achievements and milestones online. A single colleague of mine in her 20’s told me she was considering IVF because every person and their cat had new babies in 2013 and they all posted pictures of them on facebook.

For people who may have been going through life at a perfectly normal pace the pressure builds, the internal clock starts ticking louder, the feeling that whole world except you is getting engaged, getting married, adopting a dog from a shelter, having babies, learning to crotchet- the whole lot!

Social media can make you feel left behind and left out. Remember you are unique and so is your journey. Comparing yourself to someone else won’t help you get where you are going any faster, in fact it will probably slow you down. As Oscar Wilde said “Be yourself, everyone else is taken”. You are an individual- there will never be another one of you, that is already your greatest achievement. Celebrate it!

Tip:

Stop comparing yourself to the girl you went to high school with 15 years ago who you haven’t seen since and start working on your own goals based on your actual wants and desires. Celebrate the fact that you are single and have no baby vomit on the back of your jumper! Or celebrate the fact that you are happily married and never have to spend another Sunday alone. Whatever it is, wherever you are in life, be nice to yourself and start looking inwards instead of around. What we focus on grows, make sure it’s yourself rather than other people.

Keyboard Warriors 

People behind their keyboards, alone in a room without their mothers minding their manners for them are often at their worst. A combination of no accountability, no eye contact with their target and no human to human contact often makes people forget their manners and ethics. Sometimes people go further and become downright nasty. I have seen people post things on social media that they would be mortified to say out loud. Arrogance is disguised “speaking my mind” bullying and unkindness is delivered without thought for the receiver and often people are left with a heart full of toxic energy from people they may not even know. When we look at someone and speak to them we smile, hold our bodies in a certain way, reach out to touch and connect. The same words typed that can cause so much injury may be received with a laugh and smile were you sitting across from each other. Be mindful that the humanness of our interactions are often lost.

Tip:

Be Kind. Ask yourself if you would say what you want to type to a persons face. Remember that whatever you write is often your only reputation. When someone offends you with an offhand comment consider that something may have gotten lost in translation. Avoid internet arguments and if you get in to one ask yourself if you would call the person you are arguing with for serious advice. If not- then don’t pay too much heed to their opinion online either.

Know your friends

I have over 1000 “Friends” on facebook and about 7 in real life.True friendship grows, the seed of friendship is planted, watered, nourished with time and attention and it weathers many storms coming through reinforced and stronger. Real friendships are earned not gained at the click of a button. If we spend all day online with our friends what happens to our real relationships? Should we not spend time with those who actually know us, who know our vulnerabilities and our strengths, those who really know us? Before social media we needed to work for our friendships. We had privacy and boundaries, we let people in in fractions based on the trust they earned though us. With social media friendships have become as instant as our messages. How many of your “friends” would still contact you if you were offline? Those are your real friends. Value them.

Tip:

Call your best friend for a chat. Catch up with someone you have not seen in a while. Spend time with someone you love. Make eye contact with someone who knows your history and communicates with you silently. Make a new friend in real life by starting a conversation with a real person.

What would happen if you switched off your phone and computer for 2 whole days or even 2 hours a week? Why not try it and post your feedback here I would love to know your thoughts and observations.

Love from India

Eveanna

Salute the Slow to see your Surya Namaskar Grow

Why do we rush our Sun Salutations? How can we flow without rushing? With so many parts of our lives on sped up, stressed out auto pilot shouldn’t we be doing the opposite when we hit our mats?

On an early morning Goa beach walk I came across a friend practising Surya Namaskar and marveled as I always do at the indigenous grace of yogis from India. His Surya Namaskar looked like prayer in motion and I could see by the ease of his movements that he was immersed in his practice entirely not just physically. The flow was so beautiful that I sat down to watch and I had no doubt the Sun felt suitably acknowledged with such a pure practise offered to it. I wondered…why don’t I look like that when I practice? Because I am not a man from North India I hear you say. No, I mean why don’t I look how he feels? Or why don’t I feel how he looks? 

As a gift to myself and the people who live with me I have been consistently committing to an early morning Surya Namaskar practice irrespective of how busy my day is- 14 hour Yoga Teacher Training days, running two yoga schools on opposite ends of the earth & having the huge responsibility of looking after people from all over the world when they come to India can sometimes have you reaching for the coffee pot instead of your cotton mat early morning.  As a way to make sure my practise is not lost in the sea of busyness I commit to at least 8 Surya Namaskar A & 2 Surya Namaskar B every morning and try my best for an afternoon practice too. Great right?

Well actually I had been getting a bit of an unusual twinge in my sacroiliac joint and my wrists were not feeling the best and to be quite frank sometimes with all the huffin and puffin on my first Sun Sal B I extended my Savasana and left out the second one…As you can see I’m also practising Satya which means being honest about the fact that I wasn’t loving Surya Namaskar B and sometimes the whole Surya Namaskar sequence felt a little stressful.

I mentioned it to my friend He of the Graceful Practice over coffee (I could have said herbal tea but there’s that Satya again). I commended him on his artful Sun Salutations. His reply has transformed my morning practise in less than a week. “People believe that Sun Salutations are a warm up- it is a complete practise in itself and even in 10 lifetimes you will never even begin to reach the depths of Surya Namaskar”. Oh. So no skipping that last B for this life then?

I got to thinking about the depth of Surya Namaskar…why do we treat it as a shallow practice?

We talk about this depth at Himalaya Yoga Valley Centre- we tell our trainee teachers that Surya Namaskar was developed by the great yogis & sages past to bring a 12 hour spiritual practice into a condensed version for us regular souls who don’t have 12 hours a day or a cosy cave where we can work on ourselves.

The practice of Surya Namaskar is a complete practice it was never a “warm up”but somehow especially out of India it has gotten this tag. Yes of course it warms up the muscles and the joints but it does so much more than that. It purifies every chakra in the body, improves the health of the spine through movement in different directions , it has a hearty inversion, it energizes and restore all systems of the body and most importantly when practised correctly it flows with such ease that we experience Pratyahara (sense withdrawal/moving inwards) and eventually stillness. So why was I rushing and missing out on so much?

I wondered how we can as teachers and students get the grace back into our Surya Namaskar?

Here are some ways to bring awareness to your Surya Namaskar. If you are a teacher I encourage you to bring these elements into your class especially for more advanced classes where these practitioners have often disconnected from the finer detail of this practice

For one round of your practice hold every individual posture within the Surya Namaskar series for 5 breaths. Try this once for a week and see how it affects your practice. It has really done wonders for mine.

Tadasana

How is your foundation posture? Ready to bring you towards a state of bliss? This posture needs to be solid enough to carry you through your entire series.

Check in:

  • Weight evenly distributed between 4 corners of the feet
  • Quads engaged
  • Bandhas engaged and Ujjayi breath activated (if part of your practice)
  • Shoulders back and down
  • Lifting through the spine
  • Body entirely engaged with prana and energy

Raising the Arms

Here we lengthen the body whilst staying rooted and stable in our foundation. We really open up the chest and this is a great opportunity to deeply oxygenate the lungs and thus support our practice to come.

Check in

  • Shoulders away from the ears
  • Lumbar region not overextended by opening (not over extending) the thoracic  area whilst engaging mula bandha
  • Bringing front ribs down to avoid rib flare
  • Feet and legs stable with energy rising upwards
  • Using our dristi and extending without compromising space at the back of the neck

Folding Forward

Our first flexion of the spine after opening and extending in the previous motion.

Check in

  • Weight evenly distributed between four corners of the feet without leaning into the heels or toes.
  • Neck in line with spine as we fold into the pose
  • Shoulders away from ears
  • Straight spine. Avoid bump in thoracic area in your forward fold- you may need to bend your knees to maintain a straight spine.

Half Lift

This extends the spine after your first forward fold flexion and is a great posture for the well-being  of our spine especially disc health.

Check in

  • Neck in line with the spine
  • Hands on shins and knees bent if necessary (to encourage straight spine)
  • Chest open
  • Step back to plank and lower to chaturanga if your landing makes a noise when you jump back (this means you need to develop more core strength to support your jump back instead of dumping weight on the lower back when you land. This strength will come with time and also by utilizing your bandhas)

Chaturanga dandasana

A great strength building posture that will carry you through to up dog with integrity when done correctly. If you need to then drop to your knees chest chin for some time then do so and enjoy!

Check in

  • Hips and lower back aren’t sagging towards floor (especially after jumping back) 
  • Elbows are in against the ribs when coming from plank to chaturanga not flared out
  • Shoulders are away from the ears and not dropping towards the ground.

Urdva Mukha Svanasana

Upward facing dog is a wonderfully uplifting pose that opens the heart fully whilst stretching the hip flexors and building core strength and rhomboid strength.

Check in

  • Using dristi to focus without compromising space at the back of the neck (imagine a tennis ball at the back of the neck when looking up- this protects the cervical spine)
  • Micro-bending the elbows to avoid hyper-extension
  • Shoulders away from the ears
  • Hips off the floor (unless modifying in Cobra)
  • Mula bandha engaged to protect the sacroiliac joint
  • Udyana bandha engaged to act as a brace for the lower back
  • Front of shoulders stacked over wrist joint

Adho Mukha Svanasana

As the head is lower than the heart down dog is an inversion that detoxifies and invigorates whilst using a range of mostly underutilized muscles to hold us in place. It is a great all over stretch and works wonders on tight hamstrings and opens up the back muscles whilst strengthening the arms and legs. Also excellent for the health of the Thyroid.

Check in

  • Shoulders away from the ears
  • Grounding into all areas of the palm, middle finger facing forward and middle toe in line with the center of the heel.
  • Micro-bend in the elbows to avoid hyper-extension but also to utilize our arm muscles to hold us in this posture instead of hanging out on our ligaments and joints. Absolutely everybody can micro-bend hyper-extension or not to build strength and integrity and avoid long-term wear and tear.
  • Back straight bend the knees if you need to. Don’t compromise a straight spine because your ego wants your heels on the floor. Any arch is the spine in this pose will really remove most of the benefits.
  • Gaze at the naval only with neck still in line with the spine

Warrior in Surya Namaskar B

Although we are only in this posture for a short time during  our Sun Salutations we can still benefit greatly from practising with integrity and mindfulness here.

Check in:

  • Hip Square! You may need to raise your back foot to square your hip. If you can keep your back foot down with the hip square then do so. However without square hips in this posture we can not fully stretch out the hip in of the extended back leg. If we can’t get the full stretch the hips aren’t opening to their full potential and we won’t be able to eventually square our hips with the back foot down. We also lose integrity in the spine if the hips are not square here. Again don’t let your ego throw your alignment off- it really doesn’t care about your progress! 
  • Knee over ankle. Stack the joints to protect them
  • Shoulders away from ears and front ribs down
  • Space at the back of the neck whilst extending
  • Tail-bone tucked under to protect the sacroiliac joint

Breath

Many practitioners hold their breath without even realizing it during the practice of Surya Namaskar. Our body is being challenged by an unusual range of movement and it is easy to either lose our breath or for our breath to follow the postures instead of the other way around.

A fundamental element of any dynamic yoga practice is that the asana follows the breath. If our breath follows the asanas we can not link the asanas through breath which makes a for a flowing practice. With every extension we begin with an inhale, with every flexion we begin with an exhale.

Here is where Ujjayi breathing can be really helpful. Not every tradition practices Ujjayi breath and bandhas but during your Sun Salutations where your body may need extra oxygen to support these more invigorating postures it may be helpful. Try it out.

Meditation

When you have spent some time on your alignment utilize the fact that you are fluent in this sequence to develop it into a moving meditation where you can deeply connect with yourself and drop away any tension you are holding. Be fully present. Try doing one round of your Sun Salutations with your eyes closed and your breath as your soundtrack.

For the last week I have given this practice the respect it deserves as a complete practice. I have committed to being concious & aware of every movement. I have let my breath lead instead of my mind and body, I have reconnected with a practise that I have been taking for granted and I am so grateful for this opportunity to grow through mindfulness.

Namaste Yogis!

We will leave you with this video of Lalit practising Surya Namaskar for a little inspiration 🙂

With love from all the crew at Himalaya Yoga Valley  xxx

Turning our most challenging asanas into our favourite teachers

Theres always one…that ever elusive bakasana, the head stand that can bring tears to your eyes even though you’ve only ever thought about doing it, the forward fold that just won’t unfold. Most everyone has an asana that seems to always be just out of reach and sometimes even smirking at you..

One of the most important things I have been taught in India as a yoga student is that even when that asana is finally in reach we still don’t get to “own” it. Have you ever “Conquered” an asana on Monday only to face plant while trying it on Tuesday? Ever suddenly lost the ability to practice Tree posture and found yourself shaking your hips like a belly dancer instead whilst depserately trying to maintain balance- even though your tree seriously rocks the forest normally? Yep that’s yoga! Teaching us impermanence, humility and non attachment every time we practice.

I met a wonderful teacher in Rishikesh who prescribed “no asana for you!” when I complained about not being able to “do” an asana. It was not the instruction I expected. I wanted to talk weight-bearing and the likes not sit on the yoga naughty step… I literally had to sit in the class while everyone else practiced around me and have a good old think about why I wasn’t allowed to join in. It didn’t take long to realize that if I couldn’t appreciate all of the amazing feats my body was performing without grasping for one asana that I couldn’t “get” maybe I did just need to sit for a while and contemplate my attitude. I saw the greed in my intention and looking back I can see how that greed was coming from a place of inadequacy and self-doubt rather than a more healthy approach of achieving without getting stuck on the outcome.

We have hundreds of students attend our school every year and I have found that the right kind of Scorpion can really teach a student one of the most important lessons of yoga. Not the lesson of inverting with our feet touching our heads but rather the lesson of Ahimsa- Non Violence.

Often we see students trying to practice many of the advanced asanas without the principle of Ahimsa. Many students arrive with injuries which occurred because they have pushed their bodies too far. Ahimsa certainly applies to the physical world but our inner world should also be considered when we want to take a non violent approach to our practice.

Many students also present with inner injuries from practicing asana without Ahimsa. We have had students come to our school feeling entirely defeated by their entire asana practice because they cant’ “get” a certain posture. This trend of “getting” an asana seems to on the increase since yoga boomed as a physical practice in the west. People have begun to move from a peaceful, connective internal practice to worrying about why they can’t do what the girl or guy on the mat next to them can.

Teachers that bring competition, pushy language and comparisons to their classrooms are doing their students a serious disservice and quiet often injuring them as well. I have a friend who tore her hamstring on her first yoga class when a teacher told her to “push past the point of flexibility”. Ouch. In so many ways.

Yoga should challenge us physically without ever being violent in nature. Anyone who has taken Lalit’s classes will be aware that it’s no walk in the park! He is a teacher who expects discipline and commitment from his students but you will also often hear him say “don’t push, don’t force”. Progression and achievement are both positive parts of practicing yoga. They also come naturally when we stop pushing our bodies and start respecting ourselves by challenging without forcing.

I really “got” that posture I was complaining about when my teacher taught me to sit still and realize that I didn’t need to “get” it in the first place. Yes I can now physically get into the posture I try not to do so without the awareness that if I don’t that’s ok too.
Yoga is a complete science. Not paying attention to the non physical aspects of this science can create major imbalances both within our practice and in our lives. As teachers it can be hard to deliver a class with all of the elements of yoga as it was originally designed to be practiced however there are some things we can do to promote Ahimsa for our students.

  • Be an example- we always encourage our teachers to modify some asanas during their class. At our drop in centre in Goa the wonderfully accomplished teachers we employ will often only go into the posture partially whilst using props. Our students who are new to yoga really appreciate the permission they receive to use modifications. It’s also important to show our limitations as teachers which removes competition and students putting you on a pedestal.
  • Honour the source- Lalit will always mention his masters during class, either by doing a certain mantra for teachers or just letting people know that he received what he is teaching from somewhere else. This practice is very common in India and this can really eliminate the greed and ownership that can sometimes crop up in yoga.
  • Encourage positivity- Yoga is meant to be enjoyable and make us happy. People are often surprised when they travel all the way to India and their teacher cracks a few jokes and has a giggle. You can encourage peace, stillness and connection to the self but warmth and laughter at the right time can bring all of the above into people’s lives. Enlightenment means to get lighter, not heavier.
  • Awareness- bring awareness to the fact that the practice of yoga asana is just that, a practice that expands to our entire life. Even if outwardly someone has achieved what looks like the most optimal yoga asana practice but on the inside they are beating themselves up then its just someone making shapes while being hard on themselves. One of our wonderful students summed it up when she shared with the class “It’s a yoga practice not a yoga perfect”.
  • Physiology- when our body is stressed it shuts down rather that opens up. If your students are shaking, straining are holding their breath or are in pain the body will not reward them by opening up the muscle for more exposure to danger. It will however shorten the muscles and close off in an attempt to protect itself.
  • Some light reading- encourage your students to read up on the 8 limbs of yoga. The most simple, effective and all encompassing guide every student and teacher has to refer to.

Enjoy your practice everyone!

Much love from all of us at Himalaya Yoga Valley Centre xxx

www.yogagoaindia.com

Namaste from our Thailand Teacher Training :)

Namaste to all of our students past and present and welcome to those of you who we are yet to meet! The team at Himalaya Yoga Valley Centre are excited to get posting about all things yoga and yoga teacher training related.

We finished up an incredible season in Goa and at the moment we are in Thailand with our April TTC (Teacher Training Course) group and what a fantastic group of trainees we have! Having graduated hundreds of trainees at our school it never ceases to amaze me how unique each group is and how much each individual trainee has to offer on their own path to becoming teachers.

We are nearing the end of week one and trainees have just began to work on adjusting each other and leading the morning meditation, chanting and pranayama classes in pairs. At the end of this week the trainees will start teaching the yoga sequence they have been practicing to each other in pairs.

It is a huge leap from student to teacher and one that the whole team get a serious buzz from being a part of. After a short time teaching in pairs the trainees move on to teaching smaller groups and finally the whole class! The entire training and progression of the student’s is deeply rewarding and humbling but all of the teachers agree that our greatest reward is on that last week; being at the back of the classroom and watching a trainee teach a class with confidence and integrity and then thinking back to day one…huge transformation in such a short time!

During week one of our training our students immerse themselves fully into a deep ashtanga practice under the guidance of yogacharya Lalit- Lalitji is our school director and lead yoga teacher. From day one there is a really strong focus on deepening the students practice of the modified primary series and an equally strong focus on precise alignment and integrity within each posture. A lot of old habits and misalignment get ironed out at this early stage with the aim to have our teachers as great examples of integrity for their own students when they go on to teach.

Lalit has studied with some of India’s finest yoga masters including those from the Iyengar tradition. He blends a dynamic Ashtanga practice with Iyengar alignment techniques and they serve as a wonderful compliment to each other. It’s amazing to see how the body opens up when postures are practiced in the correct alignment. We start to see a softening and deepening when the joints and limbs are stacked properly, hyperextensions are corrected, weight is distributed evenly and the body stops resisting because it begins to feel secure at an organic level.

No doubt this first week is really intense for our students. There is a lot of physical and mental sweating taking place! As trainees who are going on to be teachers they have a lot to learn and not just in the field of asana.  Yoga asana is a core component of our training but there is so much more to learn as well. Honouring our masters before us and the traditional practice of yoga as a unified system means we teach much more than just the physical aspects of yoga.

 Alongside the traditional practices such as meditation, kriyas, chanting, pranayama trainees are also learning about Yoga Philosophy, Ayurveda,  Anatomy, Ethics, Yoga business, Classroom management, sequencing and of course teaching yoga 🙂  We take peoples dream of becoming yoga teachers very seriously indeed and our curriculum is teaching outcome focused. Trainees spend a significant amount of time on teaching practicums. It can be a big leap for the students but this is where the magic always happens right outside our comfort zone! So yes it is an intense first week but a really rewarding one too for both the teachers and students.

Onwards and upwards yogis and yoginis!

Our next post will be on the art of adjusting keep an eye out for it

xxx Much love from Koh Samui xxx