Category Archives: Teaching

breathing in yoga

inhale_exhale

The elegant shapes and impressive contortions of the asanas may be the most eye-catching element of hatha yoga, but yoga masters will tell you they’re hardly the point of practice.

Pranayama, the formal practice of controlling the breath, lies at the heart of yoga. The ancient sages taught that prana, the vital force circulating through us, can be cultivated and channeled through a panoply of breathing exercises. Pranayama serves as an important bridge between the outward, active practices of yoga—like asana—and the internal, surrendering practices that lead us into deeper states of meditation.

Many accomplished yogis will tell you that minding the breath is central to the practice of yoga. But take a tour of a dozen yoga classes in the West and you’re likely to discover just as many approaches to pranayama. You may be taught complex techniques with daunting names like Kapalabhati (Skull Shining) and Deergha Swasam (Three-Part Deep Breathing) before you even strike your first pose. You may find breathing practices intermingled with the practice of the postures. Or you may be told that pranayama is so advanced and subtle that you shouldn’t bother with it until you’re well versed in the intricacies of inversions and forward bends.

So what’s a yogi to do? Breathe deep into the belly or high up into the chest? Make a sound so loud the walls shake or keep the breath as quiet as a whisper? Practice breathing techniques on your own or weave them throughout your existing asana practice? Dive into pranayama from the get-go or wait until you can touch your toes? To help answer these questions and sample the range of yogic breathing, we asked experts from six yoga traditions to share their approaches to pranayama.

read more…

Excerpts of Yoga Journal article, Six Views on Breathing in Yoga, by Claudia Cummins


hip stability

Shift your focus from hip openness to hip stability.

In yoga, there is a tendency to assume that we can stretch our way through perceived problems. Consider the ever-elusive “hip opening.” We aspire to use our hip-opening practice as a panacea for all our aches and 
woes. We imagine that open hips will allow 
us to wrap our legs into fancy postures like Padmasana (Lotus Pose). But it’s possible that at a certain point, the coveted range of motion begins to work against us.

Hypermobility of the Hip Joint

Enter hypermobility, a general term that refers to an excessive range of motion in a joint, with a lack of stability to support that mobility. It can be something we are born with or something we develop through regular stretching. In the hip joint, it can also stem from weak hip stabilizers—the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and other muscles—from prolonged sitting or decreased activity. Hip hypermobility is something anyone can develop, especially in the yoga world where we focus so much on long, deep stretches to get that feel-good release.

hip anatomy stabilizers gluteus medius

Consider a classic hip opener like Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose). It can seem more like a resting pose for some people, so they continue to seek a deeper stretch in variations or harder modifications. Yet stretching those areas that are already flexible makes the hypermobility more pronounced. This might not seem like a problem initially—deeper stretching feels good, and you get the release you crave—but the surrounding cartilage and ligaments also take on the impact of your movements, which can overtax and reduce their strength and 
stability, diminishing the support that is so key to the integrity of the hip joint.

So, instead of pushing deeper into flexible areas, notice spots where you are tight or weak. Then, look instead for poses to challenge the strength of the hips, thus shifting your focus from hip opening to hip stability. You don’t need to over-analyze this; the only thing required is mindfulness to honor what you feel.

hip joint anatomy

The Five Layers of the Hip Joint

To comprehend the effects of hypermobility on the hip joint, we need a basic understanding of its five main layers, moving from deep to superficial. First, the boney structure of the joint is found where the ball-shaped head of the femur fits into the socket, called the pelvic 
acetabulum. It is surrounded by articular cartilage and a labrum, or lip, made of fibrocartilage and dense connective tissue, to help hold the ball in the socket. The joint capsule is a thin, fluid-filled sac surrounding the joint, held by ligaments, those tough but flexible fibers that connect bone to bone. Finally, atop these structures are the many tendons and muscles that effect movements.

Each of the deeper structures of the hip plays an important role in stability. The labrum deepens the socket and makes it more difficult for the head of the femur to slip out. It also plays a vital role in decreasing contact stress on the joint, 
and in ensuring lubrication between the femoral head and its socket.

The joint capsule adds another layer 
of stability, plus secretes a lubricating substance that reduces friction. Meanwhile, the ligaments that surround the hip limit how much the joint can move, preventing dislocation and wear to the deeper layers 
of cartilage—the ligaments hold the bones together. However, ligaments aren’t elastic, so once they have been overstretched, they remain that way, and their ability to support the joint is compromised.

Finally, closest to the surface, the many tendons and muscles create all the motions of the hip and stabilize the joint when they are balanced in terms of strength and flexibility.

These five layers work together. When any one layer is not functioning, the rest have to work harder to pick up the slack. 
If your ligaments are overly stretched, the muscles must labor to stabilize the joint. 
And if your muscles are weak or not firing properly, the deeper layers of the ligaments or the labrum must compensate by absorbing the impact of your movements.

The trouble is, you can’t always tell when one layer is falling down on the job. The cartilage and ligaments have less sensation and deteriorate over longer periods, meaning you may not feel pain or notice any problems until the damage has already happened. As you get more flexible or “open” in the hips, it becomes even more important to create strength in the hip muscles to help stabilize that mobility.

A good way to practice is by focusing 
on your standing leg in balancing poses. Gluteus medius and minimus are critical 
for hip stability any time you are standing upright. These muscles help to position the femoral head in the hip socket, to keep you from sinking into and wearing down the labrum, cartilage, and ligaments. A pose like Virabhadrasana III (Warrior Pose III) is a challenging opportunity to practice using gluteus medius and minimus to stabilize 
the hip of the standing leg, and strengthen those muscles so that they support you in 
all of your standing poses.

How to Activate the Hip Stabilizers

Here are three easy steps to activate the hip-stabilizing muscles—the gluteus medius and minimus—to prepare for a balancing pose like Warrior III. The key to each step is to keep the movement subtle rather than aim for large contractions. When we stabilize the joint, we simply need a gentle engagement rather than a huge action that can create tension.

1. Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). First, imagine hugging your outer hips into the sockets by drawing them toward the midline of your body. Though the movement is subtle, you will feel the outer-hip muscles gently turn on to support the joint.

2. Next, visualize riding higher in the hip socket rather than sinking in the joint. This creates the integrity of those muscles that support the joint, to help protect the deeper structures.

3. Finally, gently engage the lower abdominals, to help support the hip joint with your core.

Once you achieve all three steps, slowly lean forward at the hip crease of the standing leg to come into Warrior III without losing that support, as you raise the lifted leg straight behind you. The arms can extend forward, come to your heart, or reach backward. 
If you get tired, come out by returning to Mountain Pose.


Excerpts from Yoga Journal article Anatomy 101: Understand Your Hips to Build Stability byTiffany Cruikshank. For more info, go to yogamedicine.com.


eka pada bakasana with kino


yoga for chronic pain

yoga for chronic pain

Worldwide, 1 in every 5 adults suffers from chronic pain (Breivik, Hattori & Moulin 2005). In the United States, the number is even higher. A recent survey found that more than half of Americans live with chronic or recurring pain that interferes with their mood, sleep, ability to work and enjoyment of life (ABC News 2005). The National Institutes of Health (NIH), citing pain as the number-one reason Americans seek medical care, estimates that the annual total cost of pain in the U.S. is more than $100 billion in health care and lost productivity (NIH 2003). To address this growing problem, Congress officially declared 2000–2010 the “Decade of Pain Control and Research.” Halfway through this 10-year period, yoga has emerged as a powerful tool to help relieve the suffering associated with chronic pain.

Understanding Chronic Pain

Chronic pain triggers vary broadly and include traumatic injury, autoimmune disorders and musculoskeletal problems. Whatever the initial cause, all chronic pain shares a common effect: the frustration it causes to both sufferers and healthcare providers. By its very definition, chronic pain—pain that lasts 3 months or longer—has not been successfully managed through medical treatment or self-care. Individuals with chronic pain have typically tried—and found little relief from—an exhausting number of remedies, including over-the-counter and prescription medications, massage, chiropractic care and physical therapy.

Yoga Research Reiew

Because chronic pain is a mind-body phenomenon, many researchers and chronic-pain sufferers are turning to yoga for pain relief. Yoga integrates physical movement, which can play an important role in pain recovery, with mindful practices that address the cognitive and emotional components of pain. Studies show that yoga can reduce not only the experience of pain itself but also the emotional distress and physical disability associated with it, as well as the use of pain medication (Kolasinski et al. 2005; Garfinkel et al. 1998; Gaur et al. 2001). Two recent clinical trials demonstrated the benefits of yoga for back pain, the most commonly experienced form of pain among adults in the U.S. (ABC News 2005).

Building Self-Efficacy

Research suggests that self-efficacy, the belief that you can cope with the stress and challenges of a specific situation, is an important part of recovering from, or adjusting to, chronic pain (Turner, Ersek & Kemp 2005). Greater self-efficacy is associated with less pain-related disability and depression, even when controlling for pain intensity. Self-efficacy also predicts individuals’ willingness to use physical exercise and stretching as a way to manage pain.

Dealing with Fear of Activity

Chronic pain and fear of pain can become part of a vicious cycle: Fear leads to avoiding any activity that might trigger pain, and inactivity leads to greater physical disability and pain (Boersma & Linton 2005). Research shows that breaking this cycle, and being willing to engage in activity, is an important predictor of improvements in both physical function and emotional suffering (McCracken & Eccleston 2005).

Teaching Mindfuness

In yoga, mindfulness is the ability to notice sensation, to focus attention on the present moment and to move with conscious intention. This turns out to be incredibly important for individuals with chronic pain, as they learn to face their fear of activity and develop new ways of being present in their bodies. Along with avoidance, many individuals have learned to rely on distraction as a coping strategy. Distraction makes it possible to ignore pain and perform an activity in the short term. However, people who use distraction as a coping strategy during activity experience more pain afterward than those who stay mentally engaged (Goubert et al. 2004).

Core Lessons

Chronic pain is a complex and frustrating phenomenon. The good news is that effective yoga for chronic pain classes do not need to be either complicated or overwhelming. Research and experience suggest that the most beneficial interventions distill the practice of yoga to its core lessons: how to breathe; how to take care of yourself through conscious movement and a balance of rest and activity; and how to make peace with the present moment. These, of course, are useful lessons for all of us—not just those in chronic pain. But for those in pain, the lessons of yoga may mean the difference between the usual moment of suffering and the much-sought-after moment of ease in mind and body.

Excerpts from Yoga for Chronic Pain: Adapted practices and interventions from hatha yoga help pain sufferers learn how to cope and thrive. By Kelly McGonigal, PhD


7 tips for new yoga teachers

Greatness in any skill comes after a lot of practice, and that practice has to start somewhere. A few weeks ago, I had a text exchange with a yoga teacher who was at that starting point.

She was about to teach her first fully-booked class and, although she was a stellar student in her teacher training, she felt terrified enough to half-jokingly ask me, 10 minutes before class time, if I could teach in her place. I did not. Instead, I stopped thinking about anything else for a moment so I could quickly tell her what I thought would help her the most in that moment. A simple “Oh, you’ll do fine” wouldn’t have worked.

It turns out that the class went well and was followed with very positive feedback from the students. Here is a more detailed version of what I told her.

1. Remember why you teach.

How do you finish the sentence, “I teach yoga because…”?

Each teacher’s motivation to teach is unique, but they likely all have one element in common: a desire to share the benefits of the practice with others. After graduating a teacher training, beginning teachers tend to have so much information swimming around in their heads that they lose sight of the original reason they started to teach. Taking a moment to remember that you love yoga and that you chose to endeavor to share it works wonders for calming nerves and focusing instruction.

2. Remember what yoga is.

What is it that makes what you are teaching a yoga practice? It’s important for teachers of all experience levels to know the answer to this, though not enough of them seem to even ask themselves the question. Right now, at the starting point of your teaching career, develop the habit of reminding yourself of your answer to this whenever you need to clarify what you are teaching others to do on their yoga mats.

3. Teach what you know.

In every training, I am asked whether it’s okay to teach things you can’t do yourself. The answer is yes and no. If it’s something you can’t do because you have a broken leg, then, yes, it’s okay, assuming you were able to do it before whatever broke your leg happened. Otherwise, no.

When I’m asked this, I reply with a question, “Why would you want to teach something you don’t know?” There is such pressure on all of us, yoga teachers or not, to get to the next thing. That mentality is helpful in an area where innovation is desired. But, in yoga practice, the work is meant to point our minds to the perfect present, not to the nonexistent future. Use your practice and teaching as time to let go of needing to move on.

Teaching yoga asana to people with different body structures and skill levels requires not only knowing how the pose works in your own body, but also knowing how it works in all the other kinds of bodies in the class. If you teach a pose that you aspire to, or that you’ve just done a few times, it won’t happen.

And, while there are many things you aren’t ready to teach, the flip side is that there are many things that you know very well, and that your students don’t yet know. Teach them those things.

4. Be prepared.

Great teachers constantly adapt their teaching strategy to the students who are present. Managing such adaptation becomes second nature after years of experience, but that doesn’t help the new teacher a lot. So, I teach them to prepare each of their classes in an intelligent way, with a specific process of sequencing, then to be ready to throw out the prep as they see what actually presents itself in class.

Why draft something that you’re not going to use? Because the more you work out plans in the low-stress times when you’re not teaching, the better you are at calmly making the right choices when you’re guiding the practices of others.

5. Remember that you are teaching people.

While some teachers take on a theatrical tone when teaching, as if playing the role of a yoga teacher, the great ones communicate in a way that seems effortless and unadorned.

Every budding teacher I’ve trained thus far has been able to talk to me, one on one, clearly and effectively. Applying that same skill to a group is not so hard when you remind yourself that you are talking to people. Alternatively, teachers see their students as poses, or as tests of their knowledge or teaching ability. While it’s true that we do teach poses and that we sometimes do that better than at other times, we are always teaching those things to human beings.

Consider something that you know very well, like how to brush your teeth. It would probably be very easy for you to teach that to somebody, and you would probably speak to them in the same way as if you weren’t teaching them. There is no reason to speak any differently.

Look your students in their eyes and talk them through their yoga practice. Assuming you know what you are teaching, this strategy opens up communication in familiar territory, which helps you teach effectively in your own voice.

6. Watch your students.

Every asana has at least a few dozen points about position and effort. Common weaknesses with beginning teachers are that they say too many of these points, not enough of them, or that they say the ones that aren’t needed.

One way to give the perfect amount of instruction is to watch your students. See what they need to hear, and wait to be sure they got the last instruction before you go on to the next one. This prevents wasted time and energy, and it makes each instruction more potent. It is also a manifestation of a fundamental instruction for yoga practice, the first of Patanjali’s yoga sutras: “Yoga is now.”

7. It’s not about you.

Before I was a yoga teacher, I did a little performance work that grew popular enough for me to be scared stiff before some shows. Once, as I was gripped with fear, a friend reminded me that the audience had come to have a good time and that they were there because they thought I’d help make that happen. And then I wasn’t scared.

Remind yourself of the same thing as a yoga teacher. People are coming to yoga class to get to a better place somehow, and they’ve chosen your class because they think you might help do that. They want you to succeed. They aren’t coming to class to critique you. In fact, they’re probably seeking your approval much more than they’re deciding whether you get theirs. Make your instruction more about them than it is about you. You chose to teach so that they could practice. Speak the words that allow that to happen without fear of criticism.

Huffington Post Article 7 Tips for Nervous New Yoga Teachers by James Brown


jumping back with paige warthen

Ashtanga Yoga: Mind + Body Episode 9. Ashtanga Yoga practitioner Paige Warthen demonstrates and talks about picking up and jumping back, a movement for connecting seated postures, from the Ashtanga Yoga method.

Ashtanga Yoga: Mind + Body Episode 11. Ashtanga Yoga practitioner and teacher Paige Warthen follows up Episode 9 with more details and a demonstration of how she broke down the Ashtanga Yoga pick up and jump back movement.


breath of the gods