3 things that I found out after teaching for 3 classes – Ultra Beginner, beginner and intermediate level.
1. I want my class to be simple, easy to follow and accessible. I’m not chasing the class for fanciful and Instagram worthy poses. The consideration is how can people who have not done yoga, feel welcome to the class, and yet sweat for a fulfilling session. The lesson should be planned with sufficient poses (don’t need to be ambitious), logic in the sequencing and proper pacing. Think about the student profile, e.g. can they stay standing for many standing poses.
2. Prepare and think about what I want to say during class. Don’t just stand there, demonstrate the pose and count the breathing. Research about the common cues that are given and how to integrate in my script. Then, practise and stick to the script closely! I’m never good with speaking freely. Next step is to walk around, adjust, and while still talking to them. Avoid repeating same few words like “try”, “okay”, “slowly”.
3. My eyes should be focusing from the feet, knee, hips, shoulder and back alignment when teaching. They are like the teacher’s drishti or gazing points. It is easy for the eyes to check if students are doing it beautiful than correct alignment. I must on always focus on the alignment points so that these are the areas to adjust if necessary.
Backbend helps with:
- Improves posture, spine flexibility and mobility
- Strengthens the back, help alleviate back and neck pain
- Improves breathing
Often, people do not practice backbend properly, as a result, they injure their back instead of alleviating their back pain.
Some tips to improve on your backbend:
1. Do not extend from the lumbar spine area.
The lumbar spine is naturally arch and quite flexible and mobile. This is is the area where most people focus on backbend since it can bend easily. However, too much of extension at lumbar spine will cause pain around the area.
2. Lengthen the spine to allow greater spinal extension and focus on extending the thoracic spine
The thoracic vertebra has a bony piece that sticks out towards the back of our body known as spinous process. If the spine is not lengthen before extension, these spinous process are compressed, creating a “jam” feeling. This limits your ability to bend. This will cause the person to bend on his lumbar spine.
3. Avoid engaging the gluteus Maximus and focus on internal rotating the thigh at hip joint area
Our gluteus Maximus is one of the biggest muscles at hip and it externally rotates our thigh outwards. You will notice your right feet will tend to point outwards rather than forward. What this means is that it creates more range of motion, which allows us to easily slip into bending our lumbar spine. To prevent this, avoid engaging the gluteus Maximus. Instead focus, on internally rotating at the hip joint, lift our knee caps and press onto our feet, with our feet toes pointing forward. This helps to minimise bending at the lumbar spine.
Guna is a Sanskrit word for quality or attribute. There are 3 gunas:
- tamas: state of darkness, inertia, inactivity, and materiality.
- rajas: state of energy, action, change, and movement
- Sattva: state of harmony, balance, joy, and intelligence
While we strive towards sattva and reduce tamas and rajas, it is impossible to posses sattva only. There are elements of tamas rajas in us.
Our ashtanga practice reflect all these 3 gunas, how they exist together and how they affect the way we should live.
Tamas: When we practice on the mat, we should strive to engage the muscles required to do the pose, and not without engagement, i.e. the inertia to not do things. Do not be lazy. Set to finish what we started. But our body need rest, and hence tamas comes into play, in the form of shavasana. So Tamas is not entirely bad.
Rajas: It’s about the energy, the activeness, the movement. Our vinyasa should flow with energy, generate the heat within us. We should have the energy or the fire, find this energy when doing any task. The energy will give us the motivation to carry on. But too much of rajas is also not good. We expend our energy unnecessary and send ourself to state of inertia. Thus, there is a need to control our rajas.
Sattva: It’s about harmony, how am I feeling calm and at peace with ourself. Similarly, when practising on the mat, we should find stability within our pose, breathing normally with calmness. We should be focus. There shouldn’t be any rush. We shouldn’t be panting. It is in this state; that we realize what and why we are doing this.
Hence, all there gunas plays a role to our life and our ashtanga practice reflect these attributes. Next, we need to reflect upon ourself after practice and evaluate how to mainly the gunas within us.
The Ashtanga full primary series seems daunting. Given our busy schedule and crazy demands on our body, it seems hard to find the willpower to step onto the mat to practice. What can we do to find this willpower or discipline to do so?
- Finish what you start
Before you start, set aside the time required for your practice. If you can’t allocate the usual time needed to complete your practice, consider cutting your practice. The point here is to do something that is reasonably that you can complete.
A short practice of sun salutations, standing sequences and closing sequences are suffice. Sometimes, even doing 5 rounds of Sun Salutations A and B are good enough.
Once you determine the sequence you want to finish, roll your mat and place one foot in. Hopefully, this will spur you to kickstart your practice!
And while practising, focus on your practice and tell yourself to finish what you start. Don’t leave the mat until you finish the sequence you planned for.
- Do beyond expectation
We need some small wins in life to motivate further. This is no different on our mat. Today, you can decide to hold longer in your headstand, upluthih. Or it can be as simple as holding your breath slightly longer than usual.
Doing beyond expectation creates some small wins, which will then motivate yourself – “Yes, I did it. Let me try more the next time”. But remember to look after yourself. Don’t push too hard if you are experiencing pain.
- Spend your energy wisely
We have experienced tiredness when we practice ashtanga. The thought of this may deter us from practising. So, learn to spend your energy wisely.
Don’t intentionally expend so much energy when moving into the poses; don’t squeeze your muscles when holding on to poses, you just need to engage enough to stretch; control your breathe, it should be consistent and easy, you shouldn’t feel out of breath.
Hope the 3 steps does help to improve your ashtanga practice or any other yoga style.