Tag Archives: Huffington Post

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


yoga benefits for cancer patients

yoga benefits for cancer patients

Studies have shown that a structured yoga practice during cancer treatment can radically improve physical symptoms such as pain and fatigue. Additionally, according to a Harvard Medical School Mental Health Letter, yoga reduces stress and anxiety which in turn reduces heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and eases respiration. What’s more, patients who practiced yoga were also less sensitive to pain than subjects who did not, and therefore better able to tolerate treatment.

Beyond purely the physical, research at Duke University has also shown how yoga, along with meditation, can alleviate depression, anxiety and insomnia to help patients become “emotionally fit.” Medical research is revealing what cancer centers and yogic practitioners have long known, namely that “patients at all stages of health, including cancer survivors, can benefit from yoga. And the benefits are both physical and emotional.”

Here are four ways cancer patients can benefit:

1. Yoga Helps Manage Depression, Fear and Anxiety:
Depression and an acute fear of death can be prevalent in patients suffering through the emotional strain of a cancer diagnosis. Undergoing invasive or rigorous treatments may also heighten anxiety. Research has revealed that “Yogic breathing, defined as a manipulation of breath movement, has been shown to positively affect immune function, autonomic nervous system imbalances, and psychological or stress-related disorders.”

In other words, guided breathing exercises enrich the respiratory system to regulate nerves that can deeply calm both mind and body. Yoga activates this relaxation response and can thus help relieve feelings of anxiety. With the aid of supported inversions to increase circulation and guided meditation/deep breathing to let go of grief, fear, and foreboding, you can actually re-pattern and calm your stress cycles.

2. The “Mood Boost” Effect:
It’s a fact — exercise produces endorphins and endorphins improve your mood. A regular yoga practice, no matter how gentle the movements, allows the body to release endorphins so you can instantly experience a positive boost in mood.

Several studies also suggest that yoga can increase the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in regulating the nervous system and managing your mood and outlook. In addition, a regular yoga practice can boost self-esteem because you feel better about your appearance, strength, and overall physical condition.

3. Help to Manage Physical Pain:
Beside the well known and painful physiological side effects of cancer treatment, emotional stress can also produce physical pain. Moderate, appropriately modified physical activity aids in managing the physical pain that can be experienced during treatment, and research has shown that women who practice yoga specifically when in recovery report reduced pain and stress.

4. Yoga Community Can Provide Support:
A support system is crucial to coping with the emotional toll of cancer, not only for those suffering from the disease but for their loved ones as well. There is great value in the support of community for those in any stage of remission, meeting and talking with others who understand what you’re going through. Whether it’s a group setting or an online meet-up, engaging with others in a similar situation can provide a sense of normalcy and security.

So, even if you’re not in treatment yourself but have a loved one who is suffering, yoga can serve as a way to help you both deal with your emotional stress. You can take a class together or even practice at home with online videos. Either way, the calming effects of yoga provide a physically and emotionally beneficial activity you can do with each other, allowing you to connect on happy and positive terms.

Excerpts from Huffigton Post Article 4 Ways Cancer Patients Can Benefit from Yoga by Lorna Borenstein


how yoga became a $27 billion industry — and reinvented american spirituality

In 1971, Sat Jivan Singh Khalsa moved to New York to open a yoga studio. A lawyer moonlighting as a Kundalini yoga teacher, he set up shop in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, opening a school to share the teachings of the spiritual leader Yogi Bhajan. At that time, there were only two other yoga studios in the city.

In the more than 40 years since Khalsa opened his school, he has watched as yoga in America has evolved from a niche activity of devout New Agers to part of the cultural mainstream. Dozens of yoga variations can be found within a 1-mile radius of his studio in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, from Equinox power yoga to yogalates to “zen bootcamp.” Across America, students, stressed-out young professionals, CEOs and retirees are among those who have embraced yoga, fueling a $27 billion industry with more than 20 million practitioners — 83 percent of them women. As Khalsa says, “The love of yoga is out there and the time is right for yoga.”

Perhaps inevitably, yoga’s journey from ancient spiritual practice to big business and premium lifestyle — complete with designer yogawear, mats, towels, luxury retreats and $100-a-day juice cleanses — has some devotees worrying that something has been lost along the way. The growing perception of yoga as a leisure activity catering to a high-end clientele doesn’t help. “The number of practitioners and the amount they spend has increased dramatically in the last four years,” Bill Harper, vice president of Active Interest Media’s Healthy Living Group, told Yoga Journal.
Of course, much of yoga’s appeal is the fact that it can be traced back roughly 5,000 years — in a world of exercise trends and diet fads, it’s a tradition that has stood the test of time.

Traditionally, Yoga (Sanskrit for “divine union”) has one single aim: stilling the thoughts of the mind in order to experience one’s true self, and ultimately, to achieve liberation (moksha) from the cycle of birth and death (samsara), or enlightenment.

Others are more optimistic about the evolution of yoga in America, welcoming the conversations and occasional yoga-world infighting that have accompanied its rise.

“If you value yoga and the traditions it comes from, it’s a good problem to have,” Philip Goldberg, a spiritual teacher and author of American Veda, tells The Huffington Post. “Ever since the ideas of yoga came here in book form and then the gurus started to arrive, it’s all been a question of how do you adapt these ancient teachings and practices, modernize them and bring them to a new culture, without distorting or corrupting them, or diluting their effect? That’s really the key issue here.”

Of course, much of yoga’s appeal is the fact that it can be traced back roughly 5,000 years — in a world of exercise trends and diet fads, it’s a tradition that has stood the test of time. Traditionally, Yoga (Sanskrit for “divine union”) has one single aim: stilling the thoughts of the mind in order to experience one’s true self, and ultimately, to achieve liberation (moksha) from the cycle of birth and death (samsara), or enlightenment.The Westernized, modernized form of the ancient practice expresses just one component of what was originally considered yoga. The physical practice of postures, or asana, is one of eight traditional limbs of yoga, as outlined in the foundational text of yoga philosophy, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, thought to be over 2,000 years old. These limbs present a sort of eightfold path to enlightenment, which includes turning inward, meditation, concentration and mindful breathing. The Sutras make no mention of any specific postures, but the original 15 yoga poses were later outlined in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, dated to the 15th century CE, making it one of the oldest surviving texts of hatha yoga, the yoga of physical exercises.

Balancing the old and the new is the “number-one challenge” for the Yoga Alliance(YA), the largest nonprofit association representing yoga teachers, schools and studios, according to CEO Richard Karpel.

“[When] the Yoga Alliance created standards for teacher training programs back in 1999, one of the primary focuses was on respecting diversity … nobody wanted an organization to tell people how to practice or teach yoga,” Karpel told The Huffington Post. “By [2011], the balance had shifted … where the concern was more about rigor.”

The rise of “spiritual but not religious” has supported this return to yoga’s traditional teachings. More than 1 in 3 Americans describe themselves as spiritual but not religious, according to a 2012 Pew Forum survey.

Goldberg explains that this inward-facing spirituality — in which individuals, whether or not they ever set foot on a yoga mat, turn inward to develop a connection with something larger than themselves — is fundamentally a yogic one, and that in fact, we are becoming a “nation of yogis.”

“People are taking charge of their spiritual lives in a very yogic way,” he says. “That’s changing the face of spirituality in the West.”

Excerpts from Huffington Post Article How Yoga Became A $27 Billion Industry — And Reinvented American Spirituality by Carolyn Gregoire