Yoga On The Go

Yoga On The Go…

Easy tips to help you stay committed, consistent, and at home in your yoga practice when you’re abroad


The yoga sutras teach us that the level of achievement we will receive from our practice depends on the intensity with which we bring ourselves forth. Sutra 1:22 says The time necessary for success depends on whether the practice is mild, medium or intense. The Sutras also tell us that we must practice earnestly and consistently (Sutra 1.12). (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Sri Swami Satchidananda).

In other words, these practices only work when we do! Yoga requires us to sometimes put the practice first, to catch ourselves when we’re making excuses not to get on our mats, and to cultivate consistency and follow through amidst our busy lives. In the throws of weekly schedules, this task is already a challenge for some.

So, when things are really shaken up (like when there is family in town, and you just can’t get to class— or when you’re literally across the globe), how do you remain steadfast in your yoga ritual?

As a traveling yogi I have found a few helpful solutions to this conundrum… Throughout my career I have spent weeks at a time in hotel rooms in foreign countries, have woken up early for 5am flights, and have been sleep deprived and jet lagged before teaching 4 hours of workshops. The title may sound luxurious, but sometimes it takes all the gusto I’ve got just to keep going on with a smile. And the amazing thing is this: I could never do this without my practice. The act of coming to my mat, and into my heart by way of the breath…. there is no cup of coffee (even in Italy) that can do the same thing.

Here are my best tips to keep you consistent when you’re on the go. You can use these practices in your everyday life at home, when daily life is shaken up, or when you’re traveling short or long term.

  • Invest in a light weight yoga mat – Make sure you pack a mat in your bag! There are many travel mats that are under 1lb, and super easy to pack in a carry on. Make this item as necessary as your tooth brush. When you arrive in your hotel room, lay it out in a welcoming place as you are putting away your clothing and toiletries. When you wake up the next morning, step on your mat and commit to staying put for at least 15 minutes.

 

  • Keep your practice simple – Not sure what to do when you’re practicing on your own? Find familiar patterns of movement, and make those your ritual. Sun Salutations, Gentle Core Work, Supine Twists… Just begin moving, and see where your body takes you. If you are not confident creating your own flow, there are literally thousands of online and digital classes to follow along with! (I have a few here)!

 

  • It’s all about the breath – Whether you’re sitting still or scurrying through train depots, your breath is always, always, always available as an object for your awareness to settle upon. A simple breath technique to use on the go is the Box Breath. To perform this breath, inhale on a slow count of four, hold for a count of four, exhale for a count of four, and hold out for a count of four. Repeat up to 12 times. To help your mind remain centered on your breath, you can internally say to yourself, “Breathing In, Breathing Out,” with your in and out breaths respectively.

 

  • Ideal times to practice – Before you let your mind jump into planning mode, remind yourself to settle down and tune in! Practice first thing, only after using the bathroom and drinking some water. It can be challenging to get back to your mat once you allow yourself to carry on with the day. To avoid bypassing practice, make it your first and last activity of the day. The mind and body usually experience a bit of stress while traveling, making deep sleep more challenging and less satisfying. Restorative yoga before bed will combat the wear and tear of travel, and will help you to rest well.

 

  • Keep a journal handy – Svadhyaya (self study) is an integral part of the yoga practice. Journaling while you travel is a fabulous way to document novel experiences, and to keep track of your inner experience. When we travel we are faced with so much new information, thoughts, and ways of being all at once. Keeping a journal will help you to sort through and make sense of these impressions.

 

  • If nothing else, Meditate – If you have time for none of the above, take (at very minimum) five minutes in the morning and in the evening to practice sitting meditation. Set your timer, and commit to sitting with ease for just five minutes. Tune in, listen deeply, release the tension of the body, and feel your aliveness. Your body, your breath, and your awareness are beautiful miracles that deserve your attention (no matter how busy you are). If you need assistance in meditation, there are a number of apps and podcasts that are available free of charge.

 

….et Voila! You are all set to roam the globe without leaving your yoga practice at home. Your body, mind, heart, and yoga teachers will all be glad you remained consistent 🙂

And Remember: The outer and inner journeys are yours to explore, learn and grow from. Wherever your path takes you, enjoy the ride.

 

Namaste,

XO,

Stacy

The ABC’s of Teaching Yoga

The ABC’s of Teaching Yoga

An Effective Teaching Practice is as Easy as A-B-C


What is it that makes a yoga teacher skilled, effective, and relatable? In reality, there are as many answers as there are yoga teachers… but there are some key principles that should always be considered. These principles are the foundation of a teaching practice. Let’s call them The ABC’s of Teaching Yoga.
Surprisingly, the ABC’s are not always taught in teacher trainings, and many teachers find themselves stumbling through their classes when just starting out. But– the good news is that you don’t have to! I’ve outlined everything you need to know here.
As a yoga teacher, your teachings are an extension of your own embodied practice. So, I encourage you to first put the ABC’s into action on your own mat. From there it will be easy and natural to share them with your students.
Here’s a quick note on what we will cover:
A: Alignment and Awareness
B: Breath and Balance
C: Coordination and Connection
OK! Let’s dive into this Yoga Alphabet 🙂 Beginning, of course, with A!

A is for Alignment and Awareness:

Align The 3 Platforms of the Body:

Yoga Alignment is both intuitive and subtle, as well as intelligent and physical. Let’s take a look at the physical alignment principles, as most teachers will be guiding students through physical Asana.

The three platforms must be in proper alignment in order to have a safe and injury free practice over time. Many people get away with doing postures out of proper alignment for a long time- but then they pay for it with bad knees, achy backs and stiff necks! Alignment is as much about prevention of injury as it is about having an effective practice here and now.

As you guide your students through Asana, cue your students to Align–>Stabilize–>Elongate through the three platforms of the body. Tip: Start with the foundation! Always cue your students through postures from the bottom, up. (Meaning in inverted postures, you’ll begin with the neck and shoulders!)

Tadasana is a great posture for your students to examine their alignment at the beginning of class. It also serves as a good check-point throughout practice to see how things may have shifted.

Align the feet and ankles. Properly aligned feet and ankles will protect the knees from torquing, over-extending, or folding in an undesirable way.

Align the hips. This will guard the low back, and subsequently the rest of the lumbar and thoracic spine.

Align the shoulders. Shoulders in good alignment will protect the neck and cervical spine from injury.

It’s Not Yoga Without Awareness:

Awareness is truly what makes yoga Yoga. Without the element of focused awareness, yoga can easily become a glorified calisthenics practice. Here are some methods of inviting your students’ minds to tune-in to their bodies and tune-out what is not serving their practice. Tip: Do these exercises in the very beginning of class. Make it a priority to move awareness from the external to the internal.

  • Simple Guided Mindfulness: Sometimes busy minds are in need of shepherding. Create a channel for your students’ minds to flow with ease. This can be done through mindfulness of body (moving from head to toe), mindfulness of breath, or even a more creative visualization.
  • Deep Breathing: Never underestimate the power of a few deep breaths to calm the mind and reel in focus. The Nadi-Shodhana Breath is very balancing and calming, as is a simple 4-count in and out breath.
  • Just Sit: This can be challenging for some… But, the fruits of the practice are plentiful once the practice becomes established. Take the first five minutes of class just to sit comfortably in stillness with your students. It will benefit your students, and you!

One of my favorite ways to establish focus in my classes is with the recitation of MantraA Mantra is simply a repeated word, phrase, statement, or sound that can be voiced aloud or internally. The process of repetition provides focus, plasticity, adaptability and concentration to the mind; just as asana does for the body. I usually do this with my classes in a call-and-response method, in which I say a line of a chosen mantra (or chant) and the class repeats it back aloud. In my personal practice, I have found the use of a Meditation Mala to be very helpful in my awareness/meditation practice. You can find Meditation Malas in my shop HERE.

B is for Breath and Balance:

 

Breath Is The Best Barometer:

This is the constant thread of the practice. The breath is always, always, always available as an object of awareness. In every posture, from simple sitting meditation to the most complex twist or balance, the breath is there and willing to guide you deeper into awareness. Try it now! Close your eyes and try to follow your breath for three in-and-out cycles. You may be surprised how tempting it is to get off track- just do your best to keep coming back- it will always be there for you.

Teaching your students to be aware of their breath is essential. It is their best gauge in knowing if they are “pushing it” beyond a safe limit, or if they are slacking off when they should be “up-ing the ammo”. Tip: Offer reminders throughout practice for your students to check-in with their breath. Sometimes a suggestion to be aware is all a student needs. If students need more encouragement, up your own use of breath- exaggerate the sound of the Ujjayi Breath as you flow through Asana with the class.

Always do your best to cue every gross movement with breath. (Example: “Inhale, lift your arms overhead. Exhale, draw your low ribs in and extend your tailbone towards your heels.”)

Balance Is Key:

Yoga Sutra 2:46 states, Sthira Sukha Asanam. This can be translated into Each posture should be done with a balance of both effort and ease. This idea can be applied to each posture, as well as the trajectory for a full class.

Teach in a way that creates balance for your students by cuing postures sequentially. Reinforce the foundation of each pose before encouraging more challenge in complex postures. Even in a “challenge class” or “power yoga” class, you can offer a full warm up and cool down, so students feel both energized and relaxed at the end.

While many students are eager to fit themselves into the “perfect yoga body”, remind them that they are right where they are supposed to be. Encourage stability before flexibility, and tailor postures to fit the needs and balance the imbalances of the practitioners in your class.

Another Note on Balance: It is absolutely essential that, as a teacher, you are balanced in your own practice. Many teachers jump head-first into a heavy teaching schedule, leaving no time for their own practice. This leads quickly to burn out… and your students feel that! Make sure you are taking care of yourself, and doing your own practice diligently.

C is for Coordination and Connection:

The Art of Coordination:

Sometimes yoga can feel like a full-on body teaser, akin to rubbing your belly while patting your head! You know… you’re trying to balance on one foot, draw in Mula Bandha, focus your eyes, and breathe– all at the same time! Many students can feel overwhelmed by the complexity of it all. Remember that their coordination is being guided by yours.

As a teacher, learn to listen to your students’ subtle body language. Notice if they are hearing each cue you offer, and implementing them, before you move on to the next. Tip: Give Universal/General instructions prior to specifics. Gross motor movements should come before the fine-tuned energetics of each pose.

Always give your students enough time to integrate what you’ve said before moving on. It may take time before you, as a teacher, feel confident in your art of coordination- especially if you are teaching all-level classes. Overtime you will learn to read the room and coordinate your classes to fit the needs of those in front of you.

Connection, Inner and Outer:

As a yoga guide, you are helping your students find their own inner-connection. But it is not just your words and suggestions that they will listen to. Your own inner-connection becomes evident as you share with a group, as you speak aloud, and as you demonstrate postures.

Strive to deepen your own connection to your light within. Your personal practice becomes your teaching practice. In diving in deep to your own inner-space, you are subconsciously giving permission to your students to do the same. Tip: Share Your Energy and Authenticity.  Students want to learn from you.  Connect to your true voice.

Making an “outer” connection with your students can also help to transform their practice. Let your students feel fully seen and supported by making eye contact and personalizing cues when appropriate. Always make sure you are visible to your class, as many students are visual learners. Mirror your students if possible, so you remain face-to-face with the group.

 

 

 

Beyond The ABC’s….

A little bonus for those of you who are ready to take your teaching practice all the way to Z… Because the true art of teaching is more than mastering a few skills. It takes an honest commitment to the practice, willingness to evolve, and the ability to listen to the needs of your students. To effectively transmit the embodied teachings of yoga, practice being a teacher, not just an instructor.

Instructor VS. Teacher

Instructor: Passes on knowledge usually in a scripted manner, similar to reading from a curriculum, and may not have true understanding of what or why. They likely think, “this is how I was taught to do it,” without questioning.

Teacher: Understands the how and why behind the material, and presents material to meet students where they’re at. They modify their teaching to address different learning styles, and to engage every student. Material is never passed on without knowing why – for safety, for tradition, for challenge and self-growth, etc. 

Bonus Material!

In Application:

Included here is an example Asana Sequence to show how the ABC’s can be directly implemented into the flow of a class:

Begin in Tadasana: grounds students in alignment and awareness from the foundation

Open with Breath + Chanting: bring the body and mind away from the external and into the internal

Ardha Surya Namaskar: build up in repetition, with emphasis onalignment and breathv 

Flow through Dynamic Asanas: warm up thes and educate areas of the body that will be opening more deeply as class progresses

Surya Namaskar with Variations: add a twist/get creative, building up from simple to complex

Virabhadrasana-2 (Warrior 2): flow with externally rotated standing poses to open the hips and build strength in balance

Prasarita Padotanasana (Wide-Legged Forward Fold): bridge between right and left, elongate the muscles that have been strengthening and engaging

Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon): Cue with other options (use of props or different posture for less advanced students) with an emphasis on coordination

Garudasana (Eagle’s Pose): Move from simple to complex, with optional use of props

Svarga Dvijasana (Bird of Paradise): Continue to challenge coordination and balance

Bakasana (Crow Pose): Give options to keep the class connected and not lose the flow of the practice. Note: Know if you are turning it into a “workshop” or regular class on the schedule. There’s a difference…

Backbends: simple to complex. Be inclusive!

Seated and supine poses: restore the body and calm the nervous system before savasana

Full Savasana: Encourage your students to completely let go, and give into the deep rest they have been working towards all practice

Closing: One of the best times to deepen connection to the practice and to something bigger than the self.

 

 

Definitions from Oxford English Dictionary:

Alignment: Arrangement in a straight line, or in correct or appropriate relative positions.

Awareness: Knowledge or perception.

Breath: An inhalation or exhalation of air from the lungs.

Balance: An even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady. Stability of one’s mind or feelings.

Coordination: The ability to use different parts of the body together smoothly and efficiently.

Connection: A relationship in which a person, thing, or idea is linked or associated with something else.

 

 

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Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha

Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha

In a media world – How do we practice yoga authentically?


I have a friend who is just starting his yoga journey. He began practicing yoga to improve his health, but when he looks at yoga on social media he’s left with the impression that yoga is only about touching his toes, twisting into a pretzel, or hand-standing on a perilous cliff… Encouraging, right?

I think he’ll find some solace in this….

The research is valid that a consistent practice of yoga can relieve back pain and lower blood pressure; and the most recent study published in Frontiers in Immunology suggests that yoga and mediation can actually “suppress inflammation-promoting genes and genetic pathways, and can actually undo the physical and mental effects of stress, and reduce the risk of disease, at the genetic level.”

This is the yoga that yogis have practiced for centuries, and is detailed in the second verse of Patanjali’s yoga sutras: Yoga Chitta Vrtti Nirodha (Yoga ceases the fluctuations of the mind). The ancient practice of yoga is not about touching your toes, it’s about liberating your mind from the redundant, recycled, unnecessary thoughts that constantly pass through our heads.

The power of yoga is its ability to connect us to the deepest part of our inner self so that we may finding lasting health and peace. When we heal the mind, we heal the body.

The past decade has seen the packaging of an ancient practice in a way that makes it accessible and attractive to an emerging yoga community. The modern yogi’s challenge, then, is staying faithful to the antiquity and integrity of the teachings, not slipping into commercialism or diluting the practice.

 

So. How can you make sure you’re really practicing yoga, and not just glorified calisthenics?

 

For me, I practice authentically by practicing awareness of mind. If my mind is racing, competing, or judging the person on the mat next to me, I know I’m not doing my practice. If I am going over my to-do list for the day (or for the next three months), I know I’m not doing my practice. If I am still mulling over the guy that cut me off on the way to class, I am definitely not doing my practice.

But when, in the midst of the effort of each pose I am serene, focused, and full of breath, I know am doing my practice. When I choose to love my body, even when I’m tired, achy or injured, I am doing my practice. When I tune in and feel more than I judge and think, I am doing my practice.i

I come back to the teachings. I come back to the Sutras, like Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha.

The real practice of yoga is deeply intimate. Only you, yourself, can truly tell if you’re immersed in the depths of stillness that come from complete surrender to experience. Only you know when your mind is still. And only you can attest to how that makes you feel… But I’d bet it makes you feel pretty darn good. I bet you breathe a little easier, that your heart rate normalizes, that you sleep better at night, that your injuries heal faster…

So, don’t worry about what the social media yogis are doing. They have their practice to do- and you have yours.

Yoga is so much more than handstands, and so much more than a weekend get-away. It’s a lifelong commitment to bettering yourself, a constant inner-looking (Svādhyāya), a daily remembering of the power of your thoughts, and lasting peace that comes from the stillness of the mind.

Yoga Chitta Vrtti Nirodha. Yoga is stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.