The Truth About Teaching Yoga

It is a job where you get the attention, the control, the freedom, students looking up to you, friends envying your flexible hours and people coming to you telling you yoga teachers are sexy and you are one of those – instant ego boost!

But is it?

Despite the often glamourised life, teaching yoga has its fair share of the daily grind. It can be fun, inspiring, fulfilling but it always boils down to the commitment to show up 100%, be fully present and give you best.

Here’s the hard truth that you need to hear if you are an aspiring yoga teacher or you are thinking of signing up for your first yoga teacher training.

  1. Some days you just do not feel like going to class

You will feel like the most uninspiring person in the entire world. Guess what? You show up, and leave everything outside of the practice room.

2. Some days you are sick

If you are lucky, someone would cover your class. If you are not, you suck it up, show up and teach the best you can.

3. Some days you step into class and you KEEP fumbling upon your words

Speak slowly, and stay calm. This is when your meditation and mindfulness practice comes in handy. Do not panic, be compassionate.

4. Some days you are nursing an injury

Any body might encounter an injury at some point in time. When you are nursing one, forget demos. Use the power of verbal cues. Practice leading a class without demo-ing even when you have a perfectly capable body and tons of energy.

5. Some days you are nursing a broken heart

For whatever reason. It is your job and duty to shake off those emotions and distractions during your time in class and be fully present for your students.

6. Some days you have no idea what to teach

Don’t just walk in without a plan. Talk to people, read articles on sequencing, watch videos. Don’t wait for inspiration and ideas to find you – seek them out.

7. Some days you get disillusioned by the yoga world

“It’s not supposed to be like that!” Reality is reality, business is business. Don’t work for a studio whose beliefs and practices don’t align with yours. Don’t partner with people who do not share your beliefs. Dig and set your own values, then follow that path. But always re-examine your choices with the new knowledge and insights that you gain along the way.

I meant for this to be a skeptical sounding post, not one to encourage people to step into teaching without considering the hustling aspect of the job. Step in with your eyes open, ready to work hard. Teaching is heavy responsibility, where people entrust you with their bodies and listen carefully to every single word you say in class. People dedicate a portion of their days to what you are bringing to the mat, hoping to feel better at the end of their Shavasana. Practicing and teaching are totally different, practicing can be a hobby, but teaching should never be treated as one.

Things You MUST Do After Hot Yoga

It’s Tuesday morning and I struggled to wake up at 5am for an early morning hot yoga class.

No regrets showing up. Now, there’s a list of things to do after a hot yoga session.

1. Say a bunch of great stuff to yourself!

You made it!!! Your day just got more productive! Thank yourself for coming back to the mat and doing something great for yourself.

2. Shower

Duh.

3. Wash your face with facial foam

Makes SO much difference to your skin.

4. Change your panties

You can hide but you cannot run from infections.

5. Drink up!

Water. Maybe a wine or beer 🙊

6. Eat up!

Post-workout is the best time to eat those carbs and let your body make it’s magic!

7. Do whatever you like!

The Best Time to Meditate?

The best time to meditate is when you are rested, not when you are exhausted.

When you are tired, Yoga Nidra (Yogic Sleep) will be ideal – 30 minutes of Yoga Nidra is equivalent to 4 hours of sleep!

You will get the most benefits from meditation when you are fully focused and awake. If you sit down in quiet contemplation with a specific sankalpa (resolve/intention) you can clear your mind and settle your emotions, thus allowing you to see your thoughts and situation in a much clearer manner, without the disturbance of overwhelming emotions and distractions from the mind.

I’ve curated various meditation exercises under my Be Here Now Mindfulness Series. Pick one and stick with it for 30 days – you’ll find yourself being more present with the people you love, and you might just stop forgetting where you left your phone and keys!

Yoga for the Office Worker

It’s two days before the end of my yoga teacher training course at Yoga Vidya Gurukul in Nashik, India. During this period I have been so blessed with new knowledge and insights that I want to bring home to my yoga classes. One constant in my mind throughout this month of training was people whose bodies struggle with long hours of sitting at the desk.

When we had a short individual presentation session about any topic of personal interest, I spoke about this short little article that I wrote – Yoga for the Modern Day Office Worker. To my surprise (maybe not yours!), many of my course mates got interested and wanted to take a look at what I have written. They gave one simple reason – because working in an office sitting and hunching over computers is the story of their lives and they feel the effects that it has on their minds and bodies.

I’ve never thought of putting this up here, but these people inspired me.

In this article, we are interested in common physical and mental issues faced by the otherwise healthy individual and how these can be reversed/prevented.

PRECAUTION: If you do have any existing issues (e.g.: severe back/spinal issues, heart problems, blood pressure issues, pregnancy etc.) please consult your doctor before practising.

The incidences of lifestyle related ailments such as high blood pressure, heart conditions, and diabetes are increasing drastically virtually everywhere in the world. Because of the effects yoga practices have on the body and mind, regular and consistent yoga practice can aid in minimizing lifestyle related ailments, helping individuals prevent other serious physical, mental, financial and social burden.

Office workers typically presents one or more of the following postural traits:

  • Forward head
forward-head
Source: corewalking.com
  • Kyphosis
kyphosis
Source: ipcphysicaltherapy.com
  • Protracted shoulders
protracted-shoulders
Source: askthetrainer.com
  • Elevated shoulders
elevation
Source: oganatomy.com
  • Anterior/posterior pelvic tilt
pelvic-tilt
Source: mbmyoskeletal.com

These postural traits disturb the skeletal and muscular systems’ natural positions and tend to be the results of sitting on chairs and using electronic devices for extended periods. Common complaints resulting from these are headaches, neck and shoulder stiffness/pain, low back pain, insomnia and digestive problems.

Psychological issues that office workers tend to face are:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Anger

Hatha yoga consists of the following contents:

  • Shatkarmas: 6 cleansing techniques
  • Asanas: postures
  • Pranayamas: control of vital energy
  • Mudras: psychic gestures
  • Bandhas: energy locks

We will be focusing on Shatkarmas, Asanas and Pranayamas as they offer massive positive effects, and are the most accessible to the masses. Practitioners should further explore mudras and bandhas when they are ready.

How to Use the Following Content

This is not a how-to-do-kriyasa, asanas and pranayama post. The intention of this post is to offer you a bunch of practices that you can do to target specific areas in your body. If you are unsure of how a certain asana looks like, simply do a quick google image search and you will see how the final posture looks like.

  1. Follow recommended frequency of shatkarmas (cleansing techniques) according to what is listed.
  2. Everyday, choose one or two asanas (postures) from each category (e.g. backbends, twists, inversions etc.) to practice. You don’t have to do all categories every single day – just remember to mix things up so that your body is balanced
  3. Sequence asanas as such: warm up (sun saluations), supine (lying on back), prone (lying on belly), sitting, inversion, standing, relaxation
  4. Practice pranayama after asana

Shatkarma:

Jalan neti –  for relieving stress, anxiety, depression, anger, any imbalanced emotions

This cleansing technique also helps to open the nasal passage, prevents colds and sinus problems. Headaches caused by blockages in the nasal passage can be relieved too.

Learn how to practice jalan neti here.

Practice once every two weeks.

Kapalbhati – for energizing

This is a convenient cleansing technique that can be used anywhere – at home, work or even in the car. It removes excess carbon dioxide and purifies the respiratory system. It also helps to improve digestion, remove lethargy and promote clarity of mind but should be avoided if one has anger issues.

Learn how to practice Kapalbhati here.

Practice everyday, work up to five rounds of 1 minute, 120 strokes per minute.

Asanas

Asanas should be practiced to counter the aforementioned postural imbalances, and to increase strength and flexibility, providing more stability to the spine. It is important to breathe normally and try to relax into the postures. Should pain be experienced, the practitioner should come out of the posture. As a guideline, each posture should be held at 70% of one’s maximum effort and preferably for an extended duration to reap maximum benefits.

Backbends are important as hunching and forward bends are very prevalent during the day. Backbends help to relieve backaches and are great to counter forward neck, protracted shoulders, elevated shoulders, kyphosis and they also help to lengthen the psoas (hip flexor) muscles. Beckbends are energizing and are especially therapeutic for people with depression.

Poses to explore:

Bitilasana (cow pose)
Bhujangasana and variations (cobra pose)
Shalabhasana variations (locust pose)
Setu Bandhasana (bridge pose)
Dhanurasana/Chakrasana (wheel pose)
Matsyasana – should also be done after Sarvangasana/Halasana as a counter pose (fish pose)
Ushtrasana (camel pose)

Forward bends are important to stretch the hamstrings, which tend to be shortened from long duration of sitting. Lengthened hamstrings, psoas muscles and low back muscles will help to bring the pelvis closer to its ideal position. Forward bends also create a compression in the abdominal region, stimulating the digestive organs. The forward bending action provides a sense of calmness, reducing negative emotions. It is important to avoid hunching the thoracic region, which further causes the front body to collapse.

Poses to explore:

Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend)
Prasarita Padottanasana (wide legged forward bend)
Veerabhadrasana (gracious warrior)
Ardha Padma Bandhasana variations, sitting or standing – also a hip and shoulder opener (half lotus bound forward bend)
Parsvottanasana (pyramid pose)

Side Bends and twists are hardly required during the day hence should be practiced to keep the spine supple.

Side bends help to create space around the respiratory system, strengthen the intercostal muscles and thus help the body to be more efficient in energy consumption. This will reduce lethargy and increase work efficiency during the day.

Poses to explore:

Ardha Chandrasana – there are many poses that people call ardha chandrasana, but I mean this:

half-moon
Source: remediespoint.com

Trikonasana (triangle pose)
Parighasana (gate pose)
Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (revolved head to knee pose)
Utthita Parsvakonasana (extended side angle pose)

Twists help to strengthen the oblique muscles, reduce fat in the abdomen, stimulate the digestive system and are also very beneficial to people who suffer from chronic backache and stiffness in the back.

Poses to explore:

Kati Chakrasana (standing twist)
Ardha Matsyendrasana variations (half lord of the fishes pose)
Parivrtta Trikonasana (revolved triangle pose)
Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (revolved side angle pose)

Inversions not only slow the ageing process and improve blood circulation, but are also especially beneficial to people who experience headaches as blood supply to the brain is increased. Inversions also help to improve concentration, thus enabling one to be free from negative thoughts and emotions.

Poses to explore:

Sarvangasana variations (shoulder stand)
Halasana (plough pose)
Shirshasana (headstand)
Uttanpadasana (legs raising pose)
Prasarita Padottanasana (wide legged forward bend) – also stretches hamstrings, can be used as an alternative for Shirshasana
Adho Muka Svanasana (downward facing dog)

Balancing poses improve concentration, strengthen the legs/arms and neuromuscular system which improves body coordination, which is important in preventing falls as one ages.

Poses to explore:

Arm Balances
Mayurasana (peacock pose)
Bakasana/Kakasana (crow/crane pose)
Bhramacharyasana variations – also a hip opener
Tolasana (scale pose)

Standing Balances
Padangusthasana (big toe balancing pose)
Garudasana (eagle pose)
Vrikshasana variations (tree pose)
Virabhadrana I – also a backbend which stretches hips and hamstrings (warrior 1)
Virabhadrasana III (warrior 3)

Hips opening are important to help relieve tension from the hip flexors, the knees, and especially the lower back. Traditionally, hip openers were used to prepare the body to sit relaxed for the practice of pranayama, chanting and meditation.

Poses to explore:

Aakarna Dhanurasana (arched bow pose)
Padmasana (lotus pose)
Saithalyasana (animal relaxation pose)
Sukhasana (easy pose)
Baddha Hasta Gomukasana – also opens shoulders (bound cow-face pose)
Eka Pada Hastasana – also a twist (hand to leg pose)
Malasana (garland pose)

Core strengthening asanas help to tone muscles around the torso area, helping to support the spine, taking load off the lower back. The core muscles are not only the rectus abdominis (aka six pack muscles), but also consists of the obliques (sides) and back muscles. In fact, the deeper core muscles: transversus abdominis, multifidus and pelvic floor muscles are the most crucial in supporting the lumbar spine. Thus, it is important to strengthen the muscles around the entire torso region, not only the front. To strengthen the deeper muscles, it is also more efficient to do static core exercises/asanas.

Poses to explore:

Abs
Navasana (boat pose)
Plank pose
Dolphin plank pose

Obliques
Vasisthasana (side plank)

Back
Shalabhasana variations (locust pose)
Purvottanasana (upward plank pose)
Reverse table top pose

Relaxation asanas are extremely important to help relax the body after physical/mental exertion. It is thus crucial to conclude our asana practice with a relaxation posture and very deliberately send our awareness to each body part, scan for tension, breathe and let the tension go.

Poses to explore:

Shavasana (corpse pose)
Balasana (child’s pose)
Matsya Kreedasana (flapping fish pose)
Makarasana (crocodile pose)

Here are some other asanas/movements recommended for various physical issues that officer workers might encounter:

Pawanmuktasana (gas releasing pose) – relieves constipation and gas from large intestine
Neck Movements – relieves tension from neck
Adho Muka Svanasana (downward facing dog at the wall) – stretches shoulders, hamstrings, calves and realigns spine

Wall-dog.png
Source: absoluteyogacros.co.uk

Pranayama

I use the term “pranayama” very loosely here, just to mean “breathing exercises”. No kumbhaka (breath retention) is recommended here, unless the practitioner is ready for it.

The practice of pranayama relaxes the body, helps the mind to focus, improve the body’s systems’ efficiency and helps to clear emotional clutter.

Recommended pranayama:

Cooling: for summer, stress, anxiety

Abdominal breathing
Deep breathing with 1:2 ratio
Anulom Vilom (alternate nostril breathing)
Sheetali/Sitkari
Ujjayi
Bhramari (humming bee breath)

Heating: for winter, cold offices, depression, lethargy

Fast breathing
Surya Bhedan – not to be done when one is experiencing anger/frustration or heat in body

Practitioners should first try to discipline themselves to practice from all the above categories on most days of the week, slowly working up to a daily and longer practice. For a more holistic lifestyle and maximum benefit, one should also take his diet and schedule into consideration.

LESSONS FROM TEACHING YOGA

I was speaking with the love of my life who’s about 2,000 miles away from me. Let’s call him S.

“Sometimes I wish that I could live my life the way I teach my classes.”

The question went the way I crafted it to – S asked “why?”

I said,

“When I teach, I step into class, most of the time only with a general theme. For example, a peak pose, a particular muscle group, or maybe a particular movement. Sometimes, I simply set an intention for myself. For example, to slow my speech down, or to simply be aware of what the students in this class needs.

I don’t plan my classes in detail. I step into class with that intention/theme, greet my class, prepare them for what I hope is yet another right-on-point-exactly-what-I-need yoga practice. I switch on the music, and there we are, flowing through a mini metaphor of life.

Teaching yoga has taught me that setting an intention for whatever we do in life could be the one thing that makes all the difference.

Sometimes Titibhasana (a pretty advanced arm balance) lingers in my head as I step into class. But as I ask my students about any existing injuries, I find out that three of them are dealing with wrist injuries. Being in a class full of arm balances isn’t exactly the best idea if you have wrist injuries.

I could either

  1. Stick to my plan, or
  2. Throw my Titibhasana plan out and trust that I am still able to teach a right-on-point class safely”

Teaching yoga has taught me that being present is more important than having a plan. Because plans can fail, but being present is just neutral, there’s no failure or success. You are just, you know, present to respond to whatever might come up.”

At this point, I could hear the excitement in S’s voice. An excitement that I missed, an excitement that I have not heard for so long.

I’m a planner. I hate uncertainty and I always have difficulties dealing with uncertainty. Sometimes it gets into my relationships. I could hear it in S’s voice. He was thrilled. I’m not sure over what, but I think he was thrilled to hear the articulation of my desire to translate this mini metaphor of life into actual life.

But I was frustrated with myself. For being able to do it at work, but finding it so challenging to be done outside of the studio.

I continued my monologue.

“During times like this, sometimes I have to deal with a mini panic attack. I wreak my head, thinking ‘what to teach what to teach what to teach?!’ All these while very calmly instructing my class to ‘inhale deeply, exhale completely’

I allow myself to breathe with them.

As I take long deep breaths, I am present, my nerves are calmed and my brain starts to work under less emotional influence. With a few more grounding breaths, I am able to hold space for others and offer myself from a grounded and calm place, rather than a frenzied and anxious place.

People appreciate calmness because how much calmness do we actually experience during the course of our days?

When I lead my class through a series of poses, I don’t have the luxury of hours and days to contemplate the next pose. The best that I can do is to think slightly ahead and make decisions then and there. Sometimes I make bad decisions, sometimes I make a bad move and the transition gets a bit awkward. But it’s not the end of the world. It’s not the end of my career. It’s not the end of the class. It doesn’t turn the class into a bad class. It’s just a mistake I made and I can always turn things around. Sometimes I switch my creativity button up a notch and deal with it beautifully. Sometimes I apologise and then proceed to take a better step instead.

Teaching yoga has taught me that making decisions don’t have to be hard. There is no absolute right or wrong decision. When you make a decision, you and your environment can and will work around it.

Because of the nature of the yoga studio that I teach at, until the moment I step into class, I wouldn’t know the mix of students I’ll be teaching. Sometimes I face a power class full of beginners, sometimes I have advanced practitioners in beginner classes, sometimes I have a mix of beginners and advanced students in a single class.

These ‘unpredictable’ classes forces me to walk in the shoes of my students, not pre-judge them based on what I see. As I practice empathy, I am able to offer better options to cater to the needs of different students and not leave anyone feeling under or over Om-ed out.

Teaching yoga has taught me to empathize. Especially empathizing with people who struggle. It leads me to ask myself, ‘what can I do to make things better for them?’ As I ask, sometimes it’s hard to not follow up with action.

Never underestimate the power of empathy.”

I adjusted my earpiece and took a sip of tea from my oversized mug, smiled through the camera to that beautiful face smiling back at me, wondering when we would meet in person again.

I gathered my thoughts,

“When I first started teaching, I used to give certain cues and expect a certain result in the bodies that I see. Sometimes it’s frustrating because certain people simply don’t respond to certain cues. As I allow myself to approach the issue with curiosity rather than having fixed expectations, my route to the desired result becomes a lot more pleasant.

Expectations of how other people receive information from you will inevitably lead to frustration if the results don’t match your expectations.

Teaching yoga has taught me to let go of expectations, and approach situations with curiosity, and know that there is no one fixed route to where I wish to be.”

S and I continued our conversation late into the night. His voice was what I wanted to hear as I drift off into sleep. As I fell asleep that night, my heart tugged at me, telling me to do something…