How did yoga democratise itself and how it has become part of our daily life routine?

A few years back, Yoga was perceived like a weird spiritual related discipline that only hippies were into. So it got be questioning: how did Yoga become such a huge hype that today you cannot avoid traveling anywhere in the world without seeing a Yoga studio somewhere?

Yoga in sanskrit means “union” and a yogi will spend a lifetime trying to align body, mind and soul! 

Yoga originated over 5,000 years ago and at the time was a philosophical and meditative movement (amongst many others) trying to unite our physical world with the divine. 

The mental effort to unite body, mind and soul is much more difficult than only focusing on the physical postures. It is therefore thought that postures will only start appearing in Yoga in the 18th century and they could only start being practiced after long hours of meditation work first. Yoga has therefore evolved over the course of the years and History. The Yoga that we practice today has mostly been inspired by the 1920’s. 

The first guru to “promote” Yoga to the western world was Swami Vivekananda in Chicago in 1893 during the World’s Parliament of Religions. He gave a vision of Yoga to be a philosophical, spiritual, universal and tolerant discipline. 

In 1924, the guru Tirumalai Krishnamacharya developed a series of postures accessible to all, targeting the western world. This method which did not require intense meditation before starting any physical practice will democratize Yoga and become quite popular amongst westerners in search of spirituality and exotisme. 

In 1968, The Beatles go on a trip to Rishikesh, the city of their guru Maharishi Mahesh. Following their stay, Rishikesh will then become popular as a city of yoga and music and will attract a lot of people who want to visit the “Holy City of Yoga”. 

In 1973, the popular and controversial guru Bikram Choudhury started teaching Hollywood stars Yoga (Madonna, George Clooney, Demi Moore…). He will create his own hot yoga practice and will open hundreds of studios across the USA and abroad. 

In the 1980’s, as Yoga has become more and more “trendy” across the world, the attention sets back to its roots: India. Rishikesh becomes one of the official “yoga authentic” cities in the world. Many westerners who are into Yoga will make a stop over in the city. 

The various gurus who have helped Yoga become more trendy have also raised new questions amongst the practitioners: is yoga a practice of the body or the mind? 

Source: Marie Kock, « Yoga, une histoire-monde »

What the 200hrs Yoga Teacher Training brought me

I started my yoga journey 6 years ago by a friend dragging me for a 2 days yoga retreat in the middle of nowhere (with no internet connection). At that time I didn’t know what to expect from these two days and arrived to the retreat with a preconceived idea of this discipline: modern hippies only eating seeds and avocado gluten-free toasts and singing ohms to relax! I was pleasantly surprised at how good I felt after an intense day of stretching, exercising, singing and meditating and from that weekend onwards never stopped my yoga asana practice. 

I started practicing more thoroughly the following year as I moved to Singapore, land of the yoga clubs! To me yoga had become my new “sport hobby” as I hated having to sweat all the water out of my body by running outside. 

Throughout my six years of weekly yoga practices, I thought my ultimate goal was to be flexible and strong enough to be able to snap an instagram shot doing peacock or fancy headstand postures. 

Few months back I went through a hard time and felt depression and anxiety slowly settling in my daily life. I stopped “exercising” and felt even worse. One night my husband pushed me to register to a 200hrs YTT saying that even though I might not change want to make a leaving out of yoga it would probably help finding a new source of personal inspiration. He was so right, I do not regret a second taking some time away from home, kids, work, daily routine to focus purely on myself. 

Of course practicing 2hrs of asanas everyday has “forced” me back into a physical activity and has helped me deepen my practice, feel stronger and healthier physically but it has also been the starting point of a new journey: asking myself questions I had always tried to ignore: how do I define myself, what is my life purpose, where do I want to be in a few years time. I am still currently answering these questions with too much of my “daily life” elements, but this training has definitely helped me to start focusing on who I am and who I want to be as well as how I want to live the rest of this life more deeply. 

This training has opened my eyes and taught me that yoga is not a practice it is a life philosophy and it might take more than just a single life to answer some of the deepest questions it forces oneself to think about 😉

Teaching “ultra” beginners

The first class we were asked to teach during our 200hrs YTT was an “ultra beginner” class, and “ultra beginner” meant no downward dogs or warrior 1. 

How could we teach people how to focus on their breathing or stretch for a full 60 minutes practice? Wouldn’t it be super boring? 

The evening before I decided to use my husband to design my ultra beginner sequence. I was quite surprised to find out that, downward facing dog to him (a true yoga newbie, constantly complaining about back pain) was like doing headstand without any other support than the crown of the head to me!

I reshuffled things a little around to focus mostly on deepening the breathing, playing around with some balancing poses, including a fair amount of stretching and including downward facing dog and warrior one as the two most advanced postures of the sequence. Here’s how it went: 

  1. Sit in a comfortable position (ideally legs crossed, can be on a block)
  2. Start focusing on some breathing exercises to become more conscious of ones own breath:
    1. Deeply inhale in 1,2,3 (tummy goes out) and 3,2,1 (tummy comes in)
    2. Start Ujayic breathing by pretending to fog a mirror but keeping mouth closed
  3. Some stretching exercises:
    1. Neck rotations (clockwise, anti clockwise)
    2. Shoulder rotations (inwards, outwards)
    3. Arms in front: wrist rotations
    4. Right arm up, left arm hand on the floor, extend right arm over left side (and other side)
    5. Still on the floor, sit on toes and rotate toes (with weight of your body on the balls of your feet)
    6. On all fours: cat and cows
    7. Standing up, breath in, stretch the arms up, stand on toes – exhale, release the whole body by bending forward
    8. Rotate the arms inwards, then backwards
  4. Exercises to teach some basic postures
    1. Forward fold with bended knees, grabbing opposite elbows, rock from side to side
    2. Low lunge with knee on floor to open hips
    3. Face a wall, place hands on the wall in L shape (to practice pressure in arms and shoulders during downward dog)
  5. Hatha yoga sun salutation 5 times
    1. Inhale – arms up
    2. Exhale – fold forward
    3. Inhale – half way lift, hold: right leg back, left leg back
    4. Exhale – Knees, chest, chin on the floor
    5. Inhale – Cobra
    6. Exhale – downward dog
    7. Inhale – Right leg forward, left leg forward 
    8. Exhale – forward fold
    9. Inhale – Arms up
    10. Exhale – Stand still, arms on side of body
  6. Relaxation exercises
    1. Sit on the mat, forward stretch
    2. Lie on the mat – happy baby pose
    3. Bend knees – hold tight to the chest
    4. Still bended knees, drop both knees on right side, gaze to the left (then other side) 
    5. Lie is savasna

Building a good yoga sequence

One of the challenges I was faced during my 200hrs YTT is when, during the last week of our training, we had to come in front of the class to teach other future teachers a real class.

This was a challenge for various reasons: I had to fight away the “shyness” in me and act as if I was a tenured teacher, I had to show confidence when this was the first real class I was teaching, I knew the others had the same level as me (if not better) and I had to teach them nice sequences, I had so many things running in my head at the same time (voice tone, energy, smooth transitions, adjustments…). 

But one of the most difficult challenges for me was finding the right sequence. The sequence that I and my students would enjoy. The sequence that would reflect my personality and style. 

I would spend hours over the weekend to watch some YouTube videos or pinning some nicely illustrated yoga sequences on Pinterest, yet I felt lost in an overflow of information. Until I found a really nice cheat-sheet on how to build a yoga sequence. You need to fill the blanks according to the class you want to deliver but it guides you through a nice smooth flow. As I know a lot of young Yoga Teachers might be reading these blog posts, I thought it’d be a nice to share:

  1. [Note to teacher only]
    1. Class Name
    2. Peak pose
    3. Theme
  2. Intro
  3. Starting pose (eg. child pose, seating, standing, laying…)
  4. Breathing exercise (eg. kapalbhati, ujjayi, aloma viloma…)
  5. Spinal warm ups (eg. cat-cow, twists, side bend…)
  6. Sun salutation x times (eg. Hatha, Ashtanga A, B…)
  7. External hip rotations with Vinyasa in between and repeat other side (eg. 
  8. Internal hip rotations with Vinyasa in between and repeat other side (eg. 
  9. Standing balance poses (eg. tree, half-moon, eagle, warrior 3…)
  10. Sequence leading to peak 
  11. Peak pose (eg. high lunge, chair, pyramid, low lunge…)
  12. Counter pose (eg. headstand -> child pose, shoulder stand -> fish pose…)
  13. Seated poses (eg. baddha konasana, lotus, paschimottanasana…)
  14. Supine poses (eg. bridge, fish, reclined butterfly, happy baby…)
  15. Savasna
  16. Optional: place some core exercises in between a sequence category

You can fill out this cheat-sheet depending on the time of day, level of your students, theme of the class, mood of the day… without forgetting the essentials!