The intricacies of being a good yoga teacher

Thanks to my past experience as a part-time art teacher for small kids as well as conducting dance workshops, the concept of teaching isn’t exactly new to me. I’ve always enjoyed the experience of connecting with others through sharing something that I was passionate in to others, and hence teaching professions when it comes to various art forms always intrigued and excited me. That was why when my friend Mandy asked me to join the yoga teacher-training course with her, it honestly didn’t take me long at all to say yes.

After joining the course however, I then learnt about the level of intricacy and amount of keen observation/experience required to be a good and effective yoga teacher (which was incredibly different from any teaching experience I had). From the get go, we were exposed immediately to the concept of body identification, which allowed us to identify the student’s potential strengths and weaknesses. This would then guide how we can best support the student during the yoga class. For example, if a student has narrow, downward sloping shoulders but wide hips, the student could be strong at standing postures, but has probably weaker shoulder and arm strength that would make it difficult to support their body weight. Hence, we should pay attention and provide support for him/her when attempting inversions. If a student has uneven shoulders, it could reflect that one side of the body is stronger than the other, and hence we can provide support for the student when he/she is doing an asana on their weaker side.

In the first week of the course, I remember coming home each day honestly being boggled by the amount of details to note for each asana and the anatomical knowledge required to best guide others to use the right muscle in each gesture. I think the acute   judgement of what to look out for in each asana really comes with experience, and I gained a new found respect for all the yoga teachers for being able to pull off each class in such a seamless, satisfying and informational manner. Little did I know the amount much work has to be put in behind the scenes. I guess it’s like the saying, “the more you know, the less you know” – learning more about yoga each day has revealed to me the vast amount of knowledge that I was still unaware of and made me realise that there is always so so much more to learn :””)

Later in the course when we put our hands into lesson planning, we were then exposed to the various layers of the class that we should pay attention to in the class. From crafting the lesson in a way such that pacing, transitions and the asanas flowed well, to the communication skills required in order to convey clear instruction and connect with all students, as well as the right knowledge of what muscles/drishti/breath/directions come with each asana – the list goes on. There is also a need to be adaptable and student centred, providing modifications, adjusting the lesson plan according to the experience level of each student and how they are feeling in order to make it a comfortable and intentional experience for them. While it was undoubtedly challenging, I was glad to have had this learning opportunity to truly experience what it is like to helm an entire class and to also notice the different teaching styles of others.

What I really appreciate is that beyond the yoga profession, the things that I learnt from this course – from yoga philosophy, anatomy as well as the keen sense of detail when it comes to teaching – can be applied to my everyday life and inform my teaching method in other areas such as dance as well. While this one month intensive has definitely helped me to improve and expand my practice when it comes to asanas, I’ve also gained a new found appreciation and deeper understanding of the role of the teacher. As this course is slowly coming to an end, I am thankful for the growth that has come with this journey and am heartened to be able to grasp a little more about the art of teaching through the exchange of experiences and wisdom from the masters and all other classmates 😊

My Yoga Journey

I started Yoga back in 2017 because I had minor back pains due to my physically demanding job as a flight attendant back at that time. I signed up for a 1 year package at a yoga studio, in hopes of stretching my muscles and preventing any more back problems. I attended mostly stretch and beginner yoga classes around 4 times a month for a year. It was useful, and when coupled with more proper movement precautions when working, my back pains decreased. With yoga, I was able to increase my range of motions and flexibility. I also gained more body awareness and with some core control, I was better able to protect my back while working. 

As I transitioned to a corporate job, my life became sedentary and I was looking for a way to keep myself active, Yoga once again came to my rescue. I had  signed up for a classpass package and started exploring different exercises and studios. I tried boxing, spin and barre, but decided I still preferred yoga the best. I dislike cardio exercise, and I found yoga to be the only exercise that could increase my heart rate, and make me break out a sweat without realising I am ‘sweating’. Thus making me do cardio which I dislike and normally cannot maintain doing. It was a great way for me to keep fit in a way that I like. 

After practising yoga for a while, I also realised that I usually walk out of yoga class being in a better mood than I was walking in. This was especially helpful when I attended yoga class after a busy and stressful day at work. I find that the 1 hour physical practice allows me to practise dharana. As I fully concentrate on doing the asanas, and focus on my breathing, I was able to keep my mind off any distraction, and immerse myself in practice for that hour. After practice, I usually find my mind to be clear and relieved of stress. I feel refreshed, calm, peaceful and happy. I find this amazing because I had expected myself to feel ‘tired’ after the physical workout, but instead, I feel less tired than before the class. I always walk out of the yoga studio to the bus stop with light steps and feeling thankful that I came to practice. 

During the Circuit Breaker period in Singapore last year, I found myself practising yoga daily using the ‘Downward Dog’ application on my iPad. It helped me keep fit physically, gave my day structure and was something for me to look forward to. It helped keep my mind clear. 

As the pandemic affected my job, I found myself out of a job and being lost as to what to do, yoga and this Yoga Teacher Training (YTT), once again, came into my life and gave me a daily purpose for this month of joblessness. This YTT surprised me with the amount of Yoga theory and philosophy that we learn. I was surprised as I had expected it to be more focused on asanas. However, I am also surprised as these unexpected teachings and knowledge seemed to have come at an extremely timely period of my life. I am very grateful for this.

This is my yoga journey so far, and I know I will be happy wherever yoga brings me next.

Yamas in a material and results-oriented society

Living in Singapore where we pride ourselves in our fast-paced, efficient culture, it is honestly not easy to resist being caught up in the rat race and material achievements. Since a young age, comparisons and competition are encouraged such that we will be motivated to work harder, achieve more and ‘do well’ in the future. The notion of being ‘successful’ spurs us to participate in things that we don’t truly enjoy or see meaning in. But what does being successful really mean?

 

I think many of us are (or have experienced being) largely motivated by comparisons, as well as the fear of not being ‘successful’ – whatever this means to us. In large part, me too. Yet, before this course, I don’t think I’ve actually considered what success actually means to me. Instead I’ve let society define my idea of success – having a good-paying or high-ranking job, maybe a nice house, nice clothes, being able to afford various material things. As a result, we wind up in the hustle culture and partake in various behaviour that do not actually serve us.

 

Learning more about yoga philosophy through this teacher training course has helped me reflect more about my desires and how I lead my life. In particular, the introduction to yamas – a guide/diplomatic management of how we can best act towards ourselves and others – reminds me to be more in tuned with myself, what my body needs and don’t let comparisons/greed/ego drive my actions. In particular, the concept of Aparigraha which translates to ‘non-possesiveness’ reminds us that we should be content with what we have and have a non-grasping attitude towards the things in life. This yama conveys that we should be aware of what serves us in the moment, to not be concerned or possessive over the outcomes and to let go of things when the time is right. As Krishna states:

Let your concern be with action alone, and never with the fruits of action. Do not let the results of action be your motive, and do not be attached to inaction’. 

 

Reflecting on my daily life, it dawned upon me that a lot of the accomplishments that I strive for are partially due to the ego of wanting to appear accomplished. Similarly in yoga practice, I often find my mind being distracted by the final outcome of a beautiful posture.  Keeping Aparigraha in mind allows me to realign my thoughts and focus on the joys of the present – to appreciate and be content with the current moment, be it in yoga practice, dance, studying or teaching. To not be possessive of the outcomes and material achievements, but to simply let the enjoyment of the current moment lead me forward.  

 

Furthermore, as someone who sets quite high expectations for myself, I can often be rather critical of my performance and easily stressed. Learning about Ahimsa, which refers to ‘non-violence’ or ‘non-harming’, I am reminded to not let negative thoughts takeover, and to be kind to my body and my mind. Negative thoughts are said to be harmful not only for the mind, but also for the body as the secretion of cortisol (stress hormone) lowers the immune system, making us more susceptible to illness and pain. Remembering Ahimsa in daily life for me, means respecting my boundaries and listening to my body – while challenging myself to grow, I should never push myself to harm. Applying this to school, this could mean taking care of my mental health and not overworking or partaking in too many side projects. In yoga practice, this could be knowing my limits when performing challenging asanas as well as taking care of injuries instead of aggravating them for the sake of practice. 

 

Integrating these yamas in my daily life and practice will be a continuous journey and a process of unlearning different cultural ideals that has been ingrained in my system. Common notions such as ‘no pain, no gain’ often push us to neglect the well-being of our body and keeping pushing, keep grasping for more. For example, in my past dance training, instructors and dancers often push their bodies beyond their limits, encouraging hyperextension for the sake of aesthetic appeal and training rigorously even with injuries, leading to unsustainable practices. In university, it is a norm for students to have all-nighters, rely on caffeine and unhealthy foods and overwork themselves such that they will have a good portfolio. 

 

Undeniably, it might take a while for me to be more in tuned with the present in this fast-paced and results-oriented society. But through yoga, I find myself slowly learning to be more present, focused and accepting. The practice on the mat provides me with respite from negative thoughts and comparisons as I take the time to listen to my body. While I can’t say that I can entirely escape from social pressures and comparison, I definitely find myself being clearer in what serves me and negative criticism and distractions hold much lesser space in my mind. Studying yoga philosophy has definitely provided apt reminders and lessons applicable to my daily life, and I’m keen to see where this journey takes me! 

Effect of Yoga on Muscular System

My yoga journey in 2020😔,but I not exactly remember what the date or month, but I remember I go to yoga class with a stiffness or muscle tightness from a high impact workout.Before yoga, I was really into normal fitness and at that time yoga wasn’t offered in my fitnesses club. I been lookinh for years something (anything) that wouldn’t stress my whole body. My first class attended was calm yoga class and it was a true waking for me ,I left the class feeling lighter, calmer and it healed me;physically,mentally,and emotionally and make my day! I felt so gratefull.
Yoga is good for holistic well-being period, for those whose believe in rigorous workout & sweeting it out.Have to agree that yoga is more effective than any workout at the gym, it has lots of benefit, with range from mental health and muscle. The efforts of yoga on Muscular system it’s more than being a from of exercise it change the body cellular level.
Yoga balance for entire body from muscular skeletal the organ and system and balance around the joint, similarly make me more flexible, yoga brings more space to my body. Provides a peaceful mind and healthy body.  I believe yoga is responsible for altering the fluidity in the body there by reducing any stiffness. More yoga and more movement-less diseases. Doing yoga regularly makes you able to feel change almost immediately,it’s feel more space in the body and reduce the risk of heart disease, improve lower back pain, improve of asthmatic and reduce anxiety too.

I realised the other day that I started my consistent yoga practice, I always come to yoga class like Vinyasa yoga feeing happy. Day after day, month after month,  I really enjoy yoga practice, I am so happy and I can feel little bit more flexible than before.I ask my yoga teacher, I want learning more about yoga,and She recommend me to join at Tirisula Yoga, the next Week I’m decided to join the course YTT 200 hours ,and in here I am learning a lot of new things that I can’t explain one by one . I’m don’t  know what is Yoga philosophy before?
I’m so please I’m learning/studying here at Tirisula yoga course,I learning lots new things.and also I meet lots amazing people this group class.

My relationship with Yoga

My first encounter with yoga was about 4 years ago. I was in school and we had to do it every Monday for one semester as part of our cross-training module.
Back then, I didn’t really enjoy yoga. I found it too slow and repetitive (since whatever is done on the right side will be repeated on the left side). The warrior poses were my worst enemy. My teacher would shout “LOWER!” from across the room when I was already shivering and shaking.

My favourite pose? Well, I’m sure you can guess what it is.

After that semester, I stopped practising yoga. Yet somehow I am here writing this blog post about my yoga journey today on the 21st of May 2021. The girl back in 2017 would have never imagined she would one day go back to practising yoga, let alone attend a YTT course. It’s interesting how life turns out, isn’t it? I’m always so amazed by the way life unfolds and how everything seems to link together at the end of the tunnel.

How I came back to yoga was because of my mental well-being during the lockdown in April 2020. I followed along with the videos on YouTube by Yoga With Adriene, which I highly recommend because I love her voice, and it made me feel a lot calmer and happier. I didn’t really understand how the physical act of yoga could help me manage my emotions (which I now know), but I kept going because I wanted to get better and improve both physically and mentally.

Around August 2020, I thought of expanding my knowledge in yoga and take up a YTT course so that I could have more career options in the future, but I didn’t take up the course back then because the lessons were going to be delivered online and I wanted to learn in person. I let the thought go and continued to practice yoga nonetheless. 

Then in April 2021, I came across a YTT advertisement by Tirisula and I just had a very strong urge to do it.
Like it was meant to be?
Like it was screaming to me “JUST DO IT” (perhaps it’s because I’m just an impulsive person).
So I asked my friend Xuan if she was interested in it and wanted to do this together. And she said yes!!! *cues wedding music*

So here we are, on the Friday of the 3rd week of our YTT. I’m just really happy and thankful. 

From seeing yoga as a workout that I hated to a self-help tool, it made me realize that perspectives can change— and it’s okay if it does. If we can accept it with an open heart and mind, we will open ourselves up to more possibilities. Who knows, it may even create a new beginning.

— Mandy, 3 May YTT 2021

How I started my yoga journey

In 2015, I attended my first yoga class to accompany a friend who wishes to improve her flexibility. Although I had no interest in finding out more about yoga, I enjoyed the body movement and the after-class feeling very much. So I kept doing it and believed that the endorphins created during yoga practice made me calm and helped me when I was lost. 

About one year after practising yoga, my life started moving towards the direction that I desired. I had a new job, moving into a new place, met my ex-boyfriend, and most importantly, I have a career goal to motivate myself. So I shifted all my focus in my career, worked 10 to 12 hours a day, and spent extra hours learning. And I stopped practising yoga. 

Three years passed by quickly; I finally get the role that I wanted and started meeting the financial goal I set. And I started feeling unhappy and unsatisfied. I knew that I am not in the right state, but I don’t know how to improve it. And I think of yoga. I decided to make yoga a part of my life even though my understanding of yoga is still limited to Asana, focusing on completing those instagramable postures. 

At the end of 2019, I had an opportunity to take some time off in between jobs. So I decided to book myself a yoga retreat in Bali, Indonesia, because it was a trendy thing. (Yes, I was very superficial) The irony, this retreat turned out to be one of the life-changing moment in my life. I felt the energy during chanting and relaxation and the peacefulness and concertation that meditation could lead you. Heard other’s share their personal experience on how yoga changed their life. And experience a deep connection with my body I have never had before. I was overwhelmed and fulfilled. Halfway through the retreat, I was informed by the new company that I’ve been laid off. I did not take this news well but I’ve regained my positive thinking after hours of yoga and mediation practice on the same date. I hold on to that feeling and returned to Singapore. I believed an even better opportunity would come and I took my time to practice yoga while doing job interviews. Two months later, I received a great offer and finally had the courage to move on from the relationship that I was in. 

After the Covid-19 pandemic hit us, and yoga studios were forced to close in 2020. Unfortunately, I lost the habit of practising yoga over time.

Earlier this year, I suddenly have this random thought of doing a 200-hour yoga teacher training course. And decided to signed to sign up for the yoga teacher training course in just a few hours. I was not sure why I had this kind of eager but I still followed my instinct. 

Two weeks in the four weeks course, I cannot explain the process that I am going through – it is heart-warming, overwhelm and satisfied at the same time. My routines are changed, my ability to concentrate has been improved, and I enjoy study and learning very much.

Yoga Philosophy – Swadhyaya

Study thy self, discover the divine.

— Patanjali’s Yogasutra, II.44 [31]

I question a lot about most of the things, and usually it’s easy to find the answers with a few clicks. 3 weeks into this course i have been asked more questions by the Master that couldn’t be searched as quickly in my head as google.

  1. How do i define myself?
  2. How would others define me?
  3. How do i want others to define me?
  4. How do i think about the world around me?

I mean, it is not difficult to pick out a few personality adjectives to answer and close off the topic when i get the similar questions going through a job interview, meeting new people, to somedays questioning in the head when going through a setback. But again, who am i really inside? What are the gifts of me that can be shared with the world? Some people are born with the gift of great self esteem and while I didn’t grow up liking myself, i tried different ways to push different buttons and boundaries to try divert the negative energy to positive one.

Swa = Self, Dhyaya = Study

Taking away our profession, external projected labels, Swadhyaya is about looking deep inside us and identify who we really are.  It starts from observing and be aware of your feelings when you relate with different people, observing how we feel when Commuter A (or yourself) grumbling behind Commuter B who is casually strolling in headphones watching video on the phone without judgement but assessment. Assessing your feeling why somedays you just didn’t want to talk to anyone at all, assessing why you yawn a little more on other days.

This self-study, in Yoga, is not merely contemplation of one’s own motives and behaviors, but also of one’s circumstances and the environment one is in, assessing where one is in one’s life, what is one’s life direction, if and how desirable changes may lead to a more fulfilling Self.[50][52][53]

As i grow older, as much as i feel that the discovery of my inner self has gradually developed, i still do not have the immediate answer to the questions right now, and the journey goes on..

“Nuat Phaen Boran” 

A traditional Thai massage therapy combining acupressure, Indian Ayurvedic principles, and assisted yoga postures using the “Sen-lines” alias energy-lines.  These 10 “Sen” are thought to be “windows” to the body where disturbance to the flow of energy results in sickness.

(Chart of Thai “Sen” Lines -Sunshine Massage School, Thailand)

The Therapy

The recipient remains clothed during the treatment but will be positioned in a variety of yoga-like positions during the course of the massage, where the body is compressed, pulled, stretched and rocked combined with deep static and rhythmic pressures in accordance to the designated lines (“sen”) in the body.

How does it relates to Yoga?

Interestingly, these “sen” lines are aligned with the chakras and it was believed that working on the energy lines with massage can break the blockades and stimulate the free flow of Prana and help to restore general well-being enabling healing properties at both emotional and physical level.

 

 

Examples of the similarities to Nadis per the Yoga philosophy which the Divine energy flows:

  •  Sen Sumana = Sushumna Nadi  
  • Sen Ittha = Ida Nadi
  • Sen Pingkhala = Pingkala Nadi

These 3 Nadis connect our chakras and run vertically, from the base of the spine to the head. Ida is situated on the left, Sushumna in the center, and Pingala on the right.

 

Yet, at the same time, those who are familiar with the Chinese Meridian Acupuncture system in turn will find many similarities.   For example:

Sen Sumana = Sushumna Nadi = “Ren Mai” (Chinese). 

Therefore, it is fascinating to find that regardless of origins, knowledge or background – we find ourselves back to YOGA.   A union, that in your experience, everything has become one.  (Jaggi V,)

 

Meditation with Singing Bowls

I’m not one who can sit still or lie down in Savasana and meditate through the complete quietness without having passing thoughts through the minute, and therefore have explored different methods to quiet the mind through while focusing on holding through yoga poses, swimming, walking in the park, to even trying out sensory deprivation tank. These have worked pretty well and as much as I enjoy the moving concentration, i find that i was unable to reach a deeper state of it.

Recently during one of the practice while we close in Savasana, i was pleasantly surprised by a tone that surrounds the room. I could feel the sound vibrations sending goosebumps to my body while wondering if it was an instrument playing or was it a from speaker. While the sound kept echoing i decided to stop questioning and allow myself to just enjoy the moment and go into deeper relaxation. Our instructor then introduced us to the Crystal bowl that she was playing and there, i am intrigued.

So just yesterday after a day of cycling and practicing ashtanga sequence on the mat, I remembered Master Sree mentioned that meditation has also helped him relief the tiredness and soreness from the physical training when we were on the topic during lesson. While i didn’t have a crystal bowl with me, i did a search on youtube for a 15mins Tibetan singing bowl and got myself to savasana. Of course the sound from the speaker wasn’t as great as the real crystal bowl experienced in the studio, but it worked pretty magic! Was it full relaxation or was it meditation, i don’t know. But i managed to get myself into a deeper state and 15mins went by really easy and comfortably, and i must say it really did help relief that ache on that glutes from cycling.

So while i have found what works for me to start, I have also seen improvement with the help of constant practice of yoga. And i look forward to the day that i will be able to sit through a longer period of meditation without any assistance.

Why I practice yoga?

My yoga journey started 10 years back, but it was intermittent and general practice of Hatha vinyasa. The real practice started 2 years back after my medical check-up with visceral fat level touching the red line.

By then I stopped most vigorous sports like marathon and badminton that cause pain to wrist and knee, and also swimming which I find hard to see improvement of reducing body weight and it only trained certain part of body.

So I signed up a yoga studio package as I know it should be moderate exercise and force myself to be disciplined on regular practice.

The very first few weeks there changed my mind, my weight dropped 5 kg and I never sweat so much by just doing stretching poses on a mat. I was addicted and report to studio daily for 3-4 classes, in the morning, during my lunch break, in the evening…Until I injured my thorax muscle twice and force to take a long break.  

During the recovery I realised even for Yoga if I did it excessively will not do any good to the body. So I started to choose gentle classes that can prepare myself for longer journey and most importantly to prevent further injuries.

Surprisingly when I did that I can see faster and greater improvement, and I felt the benefit even more. Slowly, I able to do many poses gracefully and breath longer than before, which I started to felt the ‘easiness’ and enjoyment of yoga.

Eventually it led me to the idea of joining a YTT to learn more and help people go through their journey with no injuries (hopefully). As I replied to Master Sree for his question on why I join YTT, I said “In yoga, I realised that the more I learnt, the less I know.”