Taking the Leap: Life After Yoga Teacher Training

Yoga is about flexibility and strength in postures right? I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t think that yoga was all about postures. I think many of us hear things here and there about chakras, energy and breathing but in most commercial classes, the emphasis is placed only on posture practice. Not that I’m blaming the teachers, students ask for a workout and teachers have been delivering. But if you, like me, only seek a workout or good stretch when practicing yoga, you are totally missing out. 

Yoga is more than postures. Asana is just one limb out of eight limbs. In the past couple of weeks, my mind has been expanded. Through this yoga teacher training course, I have been exposed to yogic theories surrounding human psychology, emotional issues and learning methodologies just to name a few. 

In this day an age, a lot of us can learn something from yoga. The practice of yoga has existed for thousands of years but the values and lessons taken from yoga still ring true today. Yogic values encapsulate the idea of tolerance. Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not a religion nor a cult. Yoga is simply a lifestyle, a thought-process and a guideline for humans to live their best life. Yoga doesn’t discriminate across race, culture or even gender. To embody yoga, is to embrace everyone as who they are; simply human. 

I hope that as this course wraps up, I can permanently implement some of the values and life lessons I learnt into my daily life. Some topics that really resonated with me were the topics on life-improvement and human physiology and psychology. Finding a mantra doesn’t only mean memorizing traditional Sanskrit mantras. It can be as simple as having a set of quotes to live by. When facing embarrassing or trivial issues, I have often repeated to myself “if it won’t matter in five years, it won’t matter now”. Little did I know as I was repeating this chant to myself, that all these years I have been harnessing the power of mantras! I hope to ingrain a few more quotes into my life to keep me grounded in my values. 

Another goal of mine is to keep seeking knowledge about yogic chakras and human psychology. The interdisciplinary nature of this course, interweaving traditional yogic ideas with modern scientific theories has been fascinating. I especially enjoyed learning about chakras and how they connect to modern-day life. What makes people tick? Surprisingly, many ideas in yoga can be applied towards human psychology. I want to challenge myself to further explore the relationship between psychology and physiology in the human body. 

Finally, although I started out this post stating that yoga is not all about postures, I hope that as the days trickle by after completing this course, I will continue to be disciplined about my daily practice. All in all, the past couple of weeks has been a whirlwind of new ideas and a big kick in the butt for me to improve my asana practice.

Yoga for Dancers

In class, dancers have to worry about a million things at once. The choreography, technique, alignment, expression, musicality not to mention the ever-present mirror reminding you of any insecurities they might have about their appearance. Yoga asanas let you step away from all that and just focus on the movement.

In Hatha yoga, the slow and steady progression of the class makes picking up the movement a piece of cake for dancers, so you can focus on engaging the correct muscles and lengthening in the stretches. Dancers don’t have time in technique class to go back to basics and just feel their muscles working. Taking a lower level class can be boring, and taking a class at your technical level doesn’t leave you with enough freedom between movements to explore the body. In yoga, the placement of each individual toe and weight distribution is emphasized. Moving slowly and deliberately lets you place your limbs into correct alignment with precision.

In Ashtanga vinyasa, the repetitive nature of every class provides a controlled benchmark for improvement. Dancers are so self-critical, but by executing the same sequence of postures every session, the increase in strength and flexibility is clear. 

Vinyasa yoga can help work on an often neglected part of dancer’s training, upper body strength. The repetitive chatarangas and arm balances are sure to tone up your arms for an improved port de bras. 

1) Working Turned in 

Additionally, stretching and strengthening in a turned in position is important for balancing the body. We over use our rotator muscles and need to let our body reset and strengthen with turned in exercises. Less prone to injury, because in long sustained poses no muscles will be jerked around risking muscle tears. 

2) Back Muscles

Yoga can improve your arabesque! Back strength for movements in derriere or arabesques is often lacking in dancers. With yoga, poses such as urdvu dhanurasana, bhujangasana (cobra) and salabhasana (locust) directly work with strengthening and stretching the lower and upper back muscles. Try performing a backbend sequence and notice how your back extensions feel lighter!

3) Body Awareness

Furthermore, most yoga classes don’t have mirrors. So many dancers learn to grow dependent on mirrors as a visual benchmark for how they are performing. With yoga, there’s no mirrors, no talking, no musicality. Just you, your body and your mind. Reteach your body to feel movements intuitively instead of relying on the mirror for affirmations of good alignment. This can help you increase your body awareness. 

4) Breath.

A dancer cannot reach her fullest potential until she finds how to link her breath to movement. Breath at the right times can enhance releases and sustained movements. Sharp exhales can emphasize sharp and angular movements. In yoga, breath and movement is so intricately linked it can help dancers train their breathing to coordinate with movement. The yoga principle of exhaling to expand movement and inhales to contract movement can be applied in dance to take your artistry to the next level.

So dancers, give yoga a try!

Touch-Phobia

We live in a touch-phobic society. When we are in the elevator, everyone squeezes their limbs tightly within their own impenetrable personal bubble. In the train, eye contact is avoided while everyone is crammed into a tiny car. Accidental grazes and bumps only lead to hostile stares and awkward adjustments. 

We weren’t always like this. If you observe young children, you’ll see that they are very touchy both with each other and their surroundings. The early stages of life are when our comfort level with physical contact and physical closeness is developing. Parents establish deeper connections with their children through affectionate touches. Children find support and comfort in the embraces of their parents. But as children grow older, societal, familial and cultural pressures discourage touch.

Human touch is necessary for mental and physical well-being. Our skin is the largest sensory receptor on our body. Human beings crave physical contact, but in the modern world and westernized society, the prevalence of physical touch has lessened. Cultural and lifestyle shifts have caused smaller family sizes, higher media consumption and non-physical activities in metropolitan areas around the world. Though mankind is more interconnected than ever, this fast-paced technologically advanced culture has made humans more physically isolated. 

The no-touch culture is ingrained in us from a young age, many schools now operate a strict ‘no touch’ policy in fear of pedophilia. As we grow up, many of us satisfy our need for touch through rough interactions with friends such as wrestling play and sports. Generally, fear of touch is greater between men. Touch is often perceived as a feminine gesture, conflicting with societal ideals of masculinity. Casual touches between men and women can sometimes be interpreted as unwarranted sexual advances.

In general, adults are less dependent on touch, but as we age we are likely to feel alone and vulnerable. Therapy animals have become common in care homes for this very reason. There is also a rising demand of massage therapists, physio therapists, and even professional cuddlers. 

It is a shame that touch is so discouraged because the benefits of physical interaction can improve both mental and physical health. Physical touch activates the brain’s orbit-frontal cortex, which is linked with feelings of reward and compassion and can trigger a release of oxytocin. Regular hugs can lower a person’s heart rate and blood pressure in the long term. Affectionate platonic touch has been shown to strengthen the immune system, decrease stress and reduce anxiety. 

How can physical touch benefit our yoga teaching? 

The most practical reason for having a hands-on approach to teaching is that for kinesthetic learners, physical adjustment can be more easily understood than any verbal cue. The most important thing to remember when incorporating more physical touch in your life is to do so naturally without making others feel unsafe or awkward. With touch, less is more. A light tap to remind a student to use that part of the body is more effective than forcibly manipulating. When adjusting use firm hand movements to adjust specific body parts. Physical contact, when held for too long or in the wrong places, can be perceived as creepy or threatening. Light stroking movements or fluttery fingers can be misinterpreted by the student or be considered too uncomfortable. Generally the upper back, shoulders and hands are the only acceptable places to touch between casual acquaintances.

Incorporating hand gestures and touch into teaching can help you establish a deeper connection with your students. Even fleeting contact with a stranger can have a measurable effect, such as a brief touch on your hand when returning a library card or receipt. Research has shown that even seemingly insignificant touches between waitresses and customers can yield bigger tips. Incorporating handshakes, high-fives or a pat on the back are good non-verbal ways to communicate support and cooperation. 

Using physical adjustments can also help your students feel more relaxed and at ease, and in turn, keep them coming back to your classes. When you stimulate the pressure receptors in the skin in a safe context, the body will lower stress hormones. All in all, incorporating more human touch into our lives can not only benefit our teaching practice but our overall quality of life as well. Try making an effort to connect with those around you not just while you are teaching!

Overcoming Inversions

Overcoming Inversions

Inversions. Depending on who you are this word might incite fear, calm your nerves or somewhere on that spectrum. For me, just by hearing the word inversion my hearts beats a little faster. 

I have always been afraid of being upside down. You might be thinking, hmm that is an oddly specific fear. So let me step back a little and give you some background on why I possess this deeply rooted fear. It all started with a basketball. 

When I was nine, I was playing basketball in the neighborhood with my brother when it landed on my head. Now thinking back, I’m sure being hit by a basketball is quite a tame experience. I doubt if any of you got hit by a basketball today would be traumatized by the ordeal. But here I am, a nine-year-old me who from that day on became deeply afraid of anything falling on my head. 

Keep in mind here, I was an active kid. I did dance, gymnastics (which yes, included many cartwheels, back handsprings and inversions of all kinds) and all sorts of other activities. Kids don’t have a preconceived notion of what is to come, so learning how to flip and hold myself upside down came as naturally to me as every other motor skill. But fast-forward a couple years, and the fear started to kick in. 

This brings me back to the past week at my yoga teacher training course. Since picking yoga a couple years ago to supplement my dance training, I have noticed a myriad of benefits. Many poses came naturally to me due to my dance training, and I gained strength in my arms and upper body — areas normally neglected by dancers. But the one thing I dreaded towards the end of every session was sirasana (yes the dreaded headstand). What was once a fairly standard warmup in my toddlers gymnastics class had grown into a demon of its own.

Every yoga instructor and dance teacher I’ve had has told me that getting into inversions was only as hard as it is to get over your fear of being upside down. Okay easier said than done. I was the one who couldn’t even get her legs up the wall in a yoga class. But I’m telling you, in just the first week of the course, I overcame my fear of inversions. The teachers at the yoga teachers training course were right. The most valuable piece of advice that helped me finally jump over that mental hurdle was to not fear falling. Satya advised us that after a few times falling, we would learn that falling isn’t so scary after all. She was right, with this new mindset, I went home and practiced my headstands on my bedroom wall and the thought of losing balance out of an inversion didn’t scare me anymore. 

So for all of you out there struggling to get up into your headstand, I hope this little story gave you an ounce of motivation to keep trying, and if not I hope you were at least mildly entertained by my ramblings.