Lesson planning and teaching

Yoga instructors develop a lesson plan for each class. As students, we don’t think about the amount of effort a yogi puts into planning a class to ensure you get achieve progress within one class and get value for your money and time. Certain instructors make their classes feel integrated and smooth flowing, but only highly experienced yogis are able to make teaching effortless.

If you decide to join a YTT-200 course, the training will expose you to how much effort, practice and confidence goes into becoming a Yoga instructor. In the Tirisula program, trainees are required develop a lesson plan and conduct a test class among classmates. Three days were dedicated to lesson planning. During the first day, we made and applied a plan for Ultra Beginner students; the second day was for Beginner students; and the third day was for Intermediate students.

I missed the second day (hence I am making a blog specifically about this topic), which meant that I went from test teaching for Ultra Beginner to Advanced. Some people might struggle to shift their mind-set from student to teacher — and I quickly realized that I was one of those people. Lesson planning can be challenging. Applying the lesson plan on actual students is even more challenging.

There are three key aspects to consider:

  • Student level

Students coming in will have different levels of experience and ability. So, classes are segregated between, Ultra Beginner, Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. Your style as a teacher will fit one of these levels better than the others. The trick is figuring out which one and also continually trying to improve on teaching for the other levels.

  • Program and sequence

There is a flow to the segments of a class. Generally, there is a teacher’s welcome, checking for injuries, opening chant, breathing exercise, warm up, asanas, cool down and closing chant. During warm up, you can include simple test poses to see the average ability level of the class. As for asanas, the ideal sequence is from standing, sitting, prone, supine, and lastly, inversions. For every pose, there should also be a counter pose. Transitioning between segments of the class and between asanas is also important to maintain pace, energy flow and momentum build-up.

  • Teaching technique

Aside from the lesson plan, the actual teaching part is important to rehearse. There are four key things to consider for teaching:

  • Demonstration (show to students how to get in and out of a challenging pose)
    • Instruction (guide the inhale/exhale, describe the exact movement and mention the asana name with a clear voice and relaxed but firm tone)
    • Counting (sync the breathing for consistent movements)
    • Adjustment (improve alignment and stretch with touch and motivating words)

During the course, I really struggled with applying my lesson plans. I am still at the stage where I understand the technique but am poor at verbalizing it. I fixate on recalling what the next step should be that I pay no mind to the student, which is a quick recipe to becoming a horrible yoga instructor. Being a yoga teacher is not easy, and for people like me, it does not happen over the course of a month. It’s an ongoing process of learning and applying then passing the knowledge on.

Our master trainers tell us that a high percentage of those who complete the YTT 200 do not pursue a Yoga teaching career; and I hope I do not become part of that percentage. I have a long way to go before I can say I have confidence in my lesson planning and teaching skills. I don’t know if I will make it, but I hope I do. One thing is for sure though – I learned so much from one month of Yoga teacher training than two years of being a Yoga pupil.

Taking YTT 200 with an injury

Eight years ago, I injured my left knee. I can’t recall what exactly I was doing but I’m certain it was nothing important or strenuous. I felt a sharp pain every time I landed my foot on the floor of whenever I bent my left knee. It felt like someone was driving a thin metal-cold knife right under the knee bone. But a few months passed and my knee was back to normal.

Two years ago, the same thing happened. On a random day, I bent down from a standing position into a squat to pick up some things on the floor, and the same sharp pain came back. I couldn’t bend my knee without feeling the invisible thin knife slicing through the joint. And this time, my entire knee began to swell. Climbing a flight of stairs was a struggle. Lifting heavy luggage was a struggle.

By this second bout of injury, I was already active in my Yoga practice. But the injury made it excruciating to do simple poses like chair pose. And after every practice, my knee would swell and I had to take a few days rest so it could partially (no fully) recover.

Unlike the first time, the pain had no plans of leaving me. Three, four months had passed and the trauma on my left knee remained. My movements had severely been limited.

When I attended Yoga classes, I couldn’t perform any asana that involved kneeling or the lotus position. Doing cat and cow and then moving into a low lunge was a NIGHTMARE.

My knee was stiff but its insides felt so tender. Whenever I pushed my knee beyond its limit, at the end of the class I always got the feeling that my lower leg was about to fall off – like when you lift the drumstick off a whole roasted chicken, and the cartilage and skin begin to tear. All you need is to pull it towards you and the chicken leg comes right off.

And my Yoga teachers gave different pieces of advice like strengthen my thigh and avoid placing weight on my left leg. They also suggested Pilates to help strengthen my leg.

But, rather than strengthening my left leg, I developed uneven legs. I could barely stand on my left leg without support or without the pain searing through. So, I would place most of my weight on my right leg to compensate — my right leg basically became more macho than my left leg.

When I visited the rheumatologist, he said I had early onset osteoarthritis. Because of two prior injuries, my knee has decided to have an accelerated “wear and tear.” He also told me there was nothing I could do about it other than to ensure I didn’t add to the progression. I wasn’t supposed to do any running, jumping and mountain climbing.

I was only 29 then and I had an old person knee problem. I was horrified. And one of my biggest fears in that moment was that my knee condition would require me to take a step back from doing Yoga.

But instead of slowing down, I decided this was a push towards the right direction. I took the diagnosis as a sign that I needed to find a place and time where someone would teach me, specifically and properly, how I could continue with my Yoga practice without my knee holding me back. I wanted to find a way to excel in my practice despite having a chronically injured body part.

That was when I decided to take the Yoga Teacher Training 200 course.

I had apprehensions; I was afraid my knee would act up and I would have to give up the course half way. Giving up the course was not a practical option for me since I was flying all the way from Philippines.

But lo and behold, our batch is in our last week of training and I am still in one piece. My left leg has gained strength over three weeks, which was possible because of three key aspects in the training:

  • Daily asanas that were heavy on technique (which were really challenging on certain days but beneficial every step of the way)
  • Knowledge of the muscular and joint system (I understood which thigh muscles to pull so that I could relieve the left knee of stress, pain and overextension)
  • Awareness of the fact that Yoga can really be used for therapy.

An injury will come in different shapes and forms. It might be inevitable, especially as our physical bodies get older. But it should not stop you. Instead, it should inspire you to want to get better. An injury does not mean you have to stop Yoga; rather, it means you need to take a new approach to your practice. It might also mean the current way you treat your body is not proper or optimal, and that you need to seriously make a change; and giving more attention and taking on an educated approach to your Yoga practice is a great way to start.

4/4

Why you need both physical and mental alignment in an asana

What does it mean to be “connect” to an asana? It’s tough to imagine what connecting to a pose feels like when you can’t even come into the pose.

For example, for most of my early days in the YTT 200 program, I struggled with lifting my hips up over my shoulders and wrists to do a reasonably acceptable handstand against the wall. The teachers always said we had to “enjoy the point of weightlessness” or “find comfort in the pose.” Feeling comfort might be easier if the pose involved reaching my toes or twisting my torso; I could simply reach or twist as far as my body would allow and then melt into the pose. But for inversions like handstand, you could end up injuring yourself if you thought of “melting” into a pose. Inversions require strength and control, two things I am not naturally endowed with. I also thought there was no way my two little palms could support my body weight. I imagined tipping over and landing on my back (hard!) or hitting the wall with my head.

What happens when there is no connection?

Easy. You suffer in the asana. And you find yourself counting down the minutes until a pose, sequence, or class is over. You end up hating the experience or loathing yourself. For some people, they fall back to old thinking, old ways of doing things and straining the body, or worse, they give up entirely on the pose and say, “it’s not for me.” For some, they react with self-violence, disrespecting the boundaries of their body, pushing it in unhealthy ways, and punishing themselves for it.

It’s critical to acknowledge that a huge part of this kind of suffering in a Yoga practice is due to misalignment. According to Ray Long in his book ‘The Key Muscles of Yoga’:

“By aligning the direction of the force of gravity along the major axis of the bones, we can access this strength in Yoga postures.”

And alignment can only be achieved with proper technique. With technique, you reap strength, balance and elongation.

Alignment reduces the struggle in a pose, which is important, as struggling in an asana can leave you mentally frustrated and conflicted. As human beings, it’s not unusual to have a scattered mind filled with conflicting thoughts. We typically have pre-conceived ideas, expectations and biases that, if not met, can contribute to feelings of uncertainty and fear, and lack of confidence.

In Long’s book, he writes: “Yoga postures approach effortlessness when we align the long axis of the bones with the direction of gravity.” A key word here is effortless. Another key word that master yogi trainers have said is weightless.

Be effortless and weightless, not mindless.

An essential goal in Yoga is to develop a simple mind. By simple, we mean uncomplicated, unperturbed, clear, integrated, and, essentially, aligned. Simply, other than knowing the physical technique and alignment, a third component of doing asanas effectively is mental alignment. To connect to a pose, you need concentration and mental fearlessness, which can come if you chip away at your preconceived notions. You can only do that through consistent, mindful practice that leads to improvement of technique.

In physical and mental alignment, there is strength, balance, flexibility and elongation; there is also mastery of the mind. Only in this state can you fully observe your progress and begin to enjoy coming into and being in a challenging pose. With both physical and mental alignment, you achieve a elevated type of homeostasis where you can fully grounded in a pose.

6 Master Yogi Quotes to Inspire Your Practice

In one of our lectures in the YTT 200, we were asked what our favorite quote was. There are hundreds of quotes by famous people to choose from, but when someone asks you point blank and out of the blue which quote you live by, the answer may not come easily. Picking a quote – the quote – that should define what you stand for prompts you to reflect at the very least, or make you feel vulnerable at the most.

But throughout our lectures in the program, our teachers have showered us with insight and wisdom – a few we can barely pronounce but all we can truly apply in our lives.

For this post, I’ve put together six (6) of the key insights from our Master Yogis that I think are worthy of being enclosed in quotation marks:

1. “Do what your body wants you to do, not what your mind wants you to do.” The decision should happen on its own. The body is instinctive and has a natural ability to achieve physical homeostasis. The body is able to discern what is good or bad for it and we have to be in tune with what the body needs and what it rejects, rather than allowing the mind to dictate what the body wants and needs. For example, our body only becomes hungry when we need added nourishment. Craving for unhealthy food is a psychological announcement that is formed in the mind.

2. “There is comfort in consistency.” Maintaining a daily Yoga practice is difficult for most people because you need time, discipline and persistence. But we can push through the discomfort until we are able to ride smoothly through the consistency of a daily routine, which stabilizes your mood and provides you a reservoir of energy to push yourself to do more in other aspects of a Yogic life. So, having at least five regular poses that you do daily can be a big help to regulate your mood, establish consistency, and strengthen your connection with each asana.

3. “Establish a pattern of completion. Whatever you do, finish it; don’t leave it hanging.” Completing something no matter how challenging and no matter your mood relates to the previous insight. However, this one is more on reaching your destination no matter the hurdles and distractions. I think this also links to our habit of complaining and sour-graping. When we complain and have bouts of sour grapes, we place ourselves in a state of constant pain jealousy. We build the hurdles ourselves. We also steal ourselves away from what we need to do (relates to asteya, meaning non-stealing). Without completion, there is no consistency. Without consistency, there can be no relief, growth and vitality.

4. “Find a connection with pose; don’t be a slave to it. Being a slave to something is a form of suffering.” Our masters keep saying that we must enjoy the pose. It can be difficult to hear this, especially when you are struggling to hit the right spot for a certain asana. For example, you might still have a wobbly headstand or you can’t bind in Marichyasana C and D. The frustration can get to you and ruin your mood. But if you can control and manage your mood in relation to a pose, or to any another subject/object, you do not suffer. You can let go anytime. Only then can you be a master of your own mind.

5. “Where there is desire, there is also fear.” The fear can come from thinking that we are unable to achieve the desire or that we are capable but are unworthy of attaining it. The fear could also come from knowing that once we achieve our desire, we would have to move on to another desire, challenge, dream, and, basically, any object that becomes the destination of our life – and changing this destination might require us to redefine who we are and what we represent, which can be confusing and taxing. But Yoga is less about achieving desires and more being recognizing our desires and our human tendency to fall prey to these desires and suffer in the process. As we get older, it also becomes apparent that as individuals, we have basic desires that evolve and mature. However, these desires are basically the same ones that have driven us all our lives. And if we don’t recognize the fear we attached with out basic, individual desire, the fear will also evolve and mature, bringing us further from achieving our desires.

6. “A weakness is a strength, but at the time you labeled it as a ‘weakness’ was actually an inappropriate application of a strength.” Someone’s weakness could be another person’s strength. We can also take this lesson to mean that our abilities and limitations have a proper application; we just need to be able to discern opportunities to apply them in different situations. In addition, we also learned from the YTT 200 that appearing weak and imperfect could be a strength in a Yoga instructor. Students, especially beginners, feel intimated by a muscular and perfectly shaped teacher who does elaborate poses. Instead of listening and trying, all they can take away is how far the gap is between where they stand and how far the teacher has gone. In this scenario, both the student and the teacher fail.

These are just six of the many powerful lessons I picked up from our Yoga teacher training. Certainly, there will be more as we approach the end of our training program, and as we go off into our individual Yogi journeys. But these six quotes are a good starting point to define our ongoing practice and bring us closer to the quote that would define and direct us.

Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga
In our YTT200 we learnt that there are four main paths of yoga are Karma, the yoga of selfless service, Bhakti, the yoga of devotion, Raja, the scientific approach and Jnan yoga, the yoga of knowledge.
I found hearing about Karma yoga and the action of “purifying the heart by learning to act selflessly in service of others” both very humbling and inspiring.   This is because sometimes life can feel like it’s happening at a very fast pace, so it is easy to get caught up in focusing too much on ones self and therefore easily losing track of the bigger picture, of what you are here to be a part of and how you can help others.
Many of us carry out small kind gestures for loved ones and also polite and/or thoughtful gestures for strangers on a daily basis. This may be making a cup of tea for your partner after a hard day in the office or waiting to open a door for an elderly person but I realised it had been an embarrassingly long time since I had given back a significant amount of my time in a truly selfless way.
Of course it is unrealistic for most of us to selflessly give all the time as we are human (!) and have bills to pay, hobbies we enjoy, friends and families to tend to etc etc (the list goes on…) but every now and again it reminded me that it is important to set aside time to help serve your community.  Whether it be volunteering at an organisation, organising something charitable myself or taking some unpaid yoga classes for those who are less fortunate I really want to make this one of my priorities in the New Year.
We are part of something far greater than than just ourselves and carrying out Karma practices is a wonderful way to remind ourselves!

Yogic principles in everyday life

Yogic principles in my everyday life
YAMA PRINCIPLES
From our study of Yama -Disappearance of all suppressions – which is the first of the “The Eight Limbs of Yoga” I found there were two principles that I found very poignant and therefore want to remember to integrate into my daily life moving forward.
1. Ahimsa is in the broadest sense can be defined as “non violence” to another human or animal and acting with love of all. On first reflection I found it difficult to understand the deeper meaning of this as I was focussing on the physical and other than killing the odd mosquito or spider I couldn’t see how violence could relate to myself..
However on closer look Ahimsa is a far more sophisticated concept with far more subtle meanings to consider in everyday life. These are the meanings that I would like to be more mindful of in my life.
Non violence in respect of animals
Importance of Vegetarianism – Although I have been a vegetarian on and off since I was young it made me think more deeply of the “violence” caused by eating meat and as a consequence I feel far more committed to not eating meat moving forward.
Non violence in respect of humans.
Importance of non violent speech to others and oneself –  I found this a very subtle but important use of Ahimsa as although I try not to say harmful or violent things to others sometimes when in a challenging circumstance I find my interior monologue can easily be pretty unproductive and harmful to myself. A lot of us can regularly find ourselves being our own harshest critiques and the application of Ahimsa in this way was a good reminder to be kind to oneself.
2. Satya can be most simply defined as truthfulness but once again the meaning has a far greater reach in everyday life. Although I don’t make a habit of habitually lying by any means there are times where it can appear easier to not be 100% truthful with ourselves and others. Even though these are generally only harmless excuses or “white lies” I want to be far more aware of this moving forward as it is much better practice to be honest or alternatively not say anything at all.
The other meaning of Satya that struck me as very important is “living the truth” or living authentically. I know from my own experience that often we are afraid and therefore hold back from areas of ourselves that we are scared to reveal. This is usually due to a lack of confidence, fear of what others may think and/or because the aspect in question may contradict to social norm. The use of Satya in this context reminds us that as long as we aren’t harming ourselves or others that it is healthy, invigorating and refreshing to truly allow ourselves to be who we are and not what others expect we should be. Being authentic as a person not only puts yourself at ease but also others around you as it creates a relaxed and honest energy. It essentially gives you permission to shine unapologetically in all your unique glory (whatever that my be) as there is only one you so it is good to set yourself free 🙂
NIYAMA PRINCIPLES
The second arm of “The Eight Limbs of Yoga” is Niyama, understood as the freedom from all observations or more simply the principles a Yoga teacher should follow.  I found that all of these five principles were incredibly valuable to learn and that I actually experienced the need to implement most of them at different times over the last month to help me in the course.
Saucha – Purity of thoughts
Thinking well of yourself, others and the world, not getting caught up in negativities (no matter what form they may take) or gossip and looking for the positive and good in all situations.
Santosha / Contentment
This ability to have equanimity in life is one that is challenging as most of have preferences and are easily lead by external factors including our senses and emotions which trigger both highs and lows. I have experienced this many times along the way while doing the YTT.  One example was the day I got up into a headstand for the first time and was incredibly happy, invigorated and proud of myself and then was called to cue sun salutations (which I did terribly!) and within moments felt sad, totally demotivated and incapable.
It was a real lesson to not get too swept up in external matters or material objects (good or bad) but instead focus on carrying on walking your path whilst maintaining a calm, humble peacefulness within whatever goes on, much like a tree grounded in the earth whatever the weather conditions may be.
Tapas / Austerities transform impurities
This principle is often defined as self discipline and performing positive duties. The course has been invaluable as we have all (whether it usually comes naturally or not) had to work very hard and be even more disciplined and regimented than in our usual every day life. This has been particularly challenging for me due to having a baby because I found it even harder than usual to keep my routine and self-discipline strong when enjoying very little sleep and always having to be flexible to study around my daughters needs (which are often changeable) not just my own.
However the course has really helped me to establish far stronger self discipline and encouraged me to really rise to challenges and keep going against adversities.  I am very grateful of this as it is not until you are pushed that you realise how strong you really are. I also really appreciated the opportunity to re priorities my days as I believe I had lost focus on what things served me, my daughter and my husband best best. I have loved making asans, pranayama, meditation and study priorities in my daily routine and want to keep this practice up.
Swadhyaya – Self study
Being very honest and healthily critical of yourself so you can progress with your own evolution. Looking practically and rationally at your own bad habits and patterns; how certain things affect you, your emotions and reactions because by looking at these you will be able to understand and therefore change behaviours moving forward.
Ishwara-pranidha – Worship of the Lord within us, surrender of ego
Through meditation I suppose this is a work in progress…
The Importance of Meditation
“Dhyana” or meditation forms one of “The eight limbs of (Ashtanga/Raja) yoga” however I find in my own practice (and think this may be the same for others too) that this part of my practice is too often either given far less time or often totally overlooked. The truth is that although I know how wonderful meditation is I will far more readily make time to go to a yoga class, follow an instructor online or get my mat out and practice asanas myself for an hour rather than sit down for half or even a quarter of that time to meditate. When I think about this it appears nonsensical as meditation can be done in less time, anywhere you plonk your bum (within reason) with fewer props and at no monetary charge however I find its practice a far harder discipline to keep up.
Meditation is a discipline of the mind that requires deep mental concentration and therefore it’s benefits although just as profound as practice of asanas they are not as easily viewed by the naked eye, in the way one can clearly see well defined abs or a pert bum! In addition it is hard work to motivate yourself to sit down in a quiet place, meditation lessons are far less prevalent and taming ones mind can be VERY challenging.
A few years ago I did a silent mediation retreat which was as incredible experience but I found hard to integrate into my every day life so I have been very thankful to reconnect with this practice in our TTC. Master Sree really helped guide all of us in mediations on a daily basis and it has been one of my most treasured parts of each day as it helped keep my mind peaceful and clear. Learning mudras, beautiful mantras, the meaning and how to OM has been not only fascinating but something that from now on I want to try and remember to place equal importance on as asanas in my daily routine. You wouldn’t start your day without jumping in the shower to wash your body so it makes sense that you should also take time to clean your brain!

Most importance things Yoga teaches me in life

  • Breathing

When my breathing is right, everything in my life will be right. When I stuck in difficult posture during the practice, I am really feel that inhalation and exhalation can help body go further. Breathing correctly also can help you calm and go over when life is tough.

 

  • Concentration

During my yoga practice, when I have difficulty maintaining a certain posture, what I would do is to concentrate on my breathing and balancing. It stabilises the body and bring peace and calm. That’s the power of being present. We could have thousands of thoughts in a single moment however, when you are being focus, nothing will bother you.

 

  • Know yourself

Since I started yoga, I started to understand my body as well. How flexible I can, how strong I am, how to control the muscle in my body and how to control myself. Gradually, through the body you will more understand your inner self. You are a part of nature, you are amazing.

 

  • Smile

An important enlightment I discover is, the act of smiling uplifts my spirit during the struggles especially practising challenging posture.  Therefore, do remember to keep smiling through all your circumstances in life. Keep smiling, even you hit the rock bottom, your body will know how to overcome it.

 

  • Relax

We are living in a highly urbanized society. Our mind and body are constantly feeling tensed without us knowing that. It is like an overly stretched rubber band, it bound to break someday. Hence, relaxing our body and mind is so important before you break yourself.

 

How Yogis System Implement in my daily life

After taking 200 YTT course in Tirisula, I think of the yogis system main goals is:

  • Physical Health
  • Mental Health
  • Spiritual Health
  • Self-Realisation or realisation of the Divine within us

Above all of these goals are attained by:

  • Love and help for all living beings
  • Respect for life
  • A peaceful state of mind
  • Full vegetarian diet
  • Pure thoughts and positive lifestyle
  • Physical, mental and spiritual practices

Regards to the above objectives, I have yoga experience in the past and think that physical health is the most important thing. Therefore, I have strictly set the schedule for yoga asana practices in my daily activities schedule. For me, there is nothing can affect my schedule. Practices on a certain schedule can give us a physical health, then only we can talk about mental and spiritual health. Before the teacher training course, reading is a way of giving me mental and spiritual nutrients, but after this course, I think I will begin to implement meditation as the foundation for the beginning of the day to maintain spiritual purity and peaceful. Finally, I have to admit that it is more difficult to implement full vegan diet in my life now, but slowly reducing the intake of meat is the way I can do from now and strive to be a vegan. Lastly, I hope that I can fully implement yogis system in my life.

 

 

 

Yoga and I

Yoga is amazing and it always inspires me. Every time I hit rock bottom and confuse about my life ahead, yoga always bring me back on track.

My life had been smooth and easy until six years ago. I graduated with a poor high school score despite I had done my best. As a result, I could not successfully enter to the university and faculty that I wanted. That was my first experience of failure. I was feeling down and shut myself away in my room during that time. I was really afraid to face the reality and the messy situation.

It was then I knew yoga. I was brought to yoga class by my sister. Gradually, I started to like this sport. At that time, I only treated yoga as a sport.

 

After a while, I finally found my life direction and went to the University of Taiwan to study Chinese. In Taiwan while I was pursuing my degree, I was attending yoga classes. Slowly I began to discover that after every yoga class, my heart always feels calm and stable. Most of the time I felt very happy and satisfied.

After graduated from university, I started my job in Malaysia. Without any previous working experience, I could not perform well in my job and I was under pressure. I felt I was a failure and very depressed at that time.

Until I returned to yoga, once again, yoga brought me back to the right track. I began to think more deeply about yoga, and realized a very important truth. When my breathing is right, everything will be right.

Thanks Yoga for entering my life and I am sure our story will be continued.