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Ignite Mentorship Teacher Training Part 2: Making Postures more accessible to Students

 

“If you are feeling something you are doing it” Bernie Clarke, Semperviva

 

For this next section of the training it will be a recap of what I learned regarding postures. How we feel in postures, how to demonstrate, options we can give, how ego can take over a shape, how doing less can be more & finally why breath is so important.

 

Listening to our bodies can be really difficult as most of us live in our heads. Yoga is about bringing our awareness from our thinking mind to areas in bodies we want to work on. For example, if the teacher demonstrates plank pose and you are in it shaking, stressed and the mind is creating numerous ways of how to harm your teacher…. ease off a little. Place your knees on the floor, start taking deep breaths into your lungs so the body can relax. The body will still be working but now you feel the challenge & can truly benefit from your work because you can breathe. Yoga is all about “No pain, no pain” We do not need to be in pain to think a posture is working, if we feel a challenge and we can remain in a shape with integrity & breath then we are in the right place.

 

As a teacher it is our responsibility to guide our students into the best shape possible for their bodies. Reminding them of all the different options we can take in a pose and to choose the option which works for them the best. Providing 3 options of the same pose can make a shape more accessible to a wider rage of students. For example, if you would like your students to try tree pose demonstrate 3 different options in tree pose.

 

  1. Option one: Hands in prayer & left ball of the foot placed on ground and the heel resting against the right ankle
  2. Option two: Hands in prayer & left Foot placed on shin above ankle
  3. Option three: Hands in prayer & Left foot placed inside right thigh

 

For extra challenge in all the above students could raise their arms in a V-shape over their heads and maybe try closing their eyes if it feels good……its ok to fall out of the shape.

 

Julia mentioned as a teacher we should remain in option one to show our students that they don’t always have to go to options two & three and for new people in your class option one will be more accessible. I believe this is key to making your classes more accessible to a wider range of students. Offer options but let your students know that they are only options and not requirements. You as a teacher need to demonstrate that by taking your own ego out of the equation and support the majority of your students while still offering challenge.

 

Julia reminded us that we need to encourage our students to be kind to themselves, ensuring they can breathe and constantly asking how they feel in a shape. Notice if people are pushing too hard, muscles are shaking and the breath is lost. Ask your students how would this shape look if you did not feel pain or stress, encourage students to ease off a little and find their breath, bring their awareness to how they feel after that adjustment. We need to constantly remind our students to bring their awareness to a shape and to notice if they are pushing too hard or not enough. The breath will be the guide. If the breath is lost the student has gone too far, if the student cannot feel challenge ask them to go a little deeper but still breathing deeply. People need to feel & be aware of their bodies more.

 

If we need to verbally assist a student in a shape Julia advised to ensure we compliment them first, like great breath work or this looks great before offering an altered shape. This will encourage the student and it wont feel like they are being corrected as they are doing something wrong. You are only offering another option that may feel better. After assisting ask how it feels, if its good let them stay there, if not let them decide where they would like to be or offer another option.

 

If you have very flexible students in your class and you notice they may be hanging out deep in a pose ask them to ease out of the pose so they avoid hyper extension and to create more strength and stability in the shape.

 

Julia mentioned that we as teachers should always verbally assist first before attempting to physically assist. Be mindful of how you physically assist as everyone’s bodies are different and you do not want to injure anyone. Ideally if you want to physically assist you should take more training in this area.

 

Before physically assisting any student, you should ask for consent. This can be done before class by asking your students while their eyes are closed if they want to be physically assisted or get them to place a token in the front of their mat to indicate they are good with physical assists. Really helpful & safe physical assists can look like:

  1. Placing your palm gently on the top of a student’s head and asking them to push up into your palm so they sit up taller
  2. Placing your palm between their shoulder blades in plank and asking them to push your upper back into your palms to avoid slumping into the shape
  3. Placing your palm in front of their bent knee in lounge and ask them to push their knee into your palm
  4. To encourage deeper breathing place your palms on the students back & ribs and ask the student to breath into your hands

 

These are all simple adjustments that give the student the control of the movement. After your assist always ask the student if that feels better or worse? Ensure to ask closed ended questions so a conversation doesn’t start in the middle of your class;-)

 

The postures we focused on day 3 of our training were:

 

  1. Childs pose
  2. Saddle
  3. Tabletop
  4. Downward dog

 

 

We focused on each posture and went through many different options of how we could alter a posture to make it more accessible.

 

Childs Pose

Childs pose is often considered a resting pose, Julia reminded us that for many people it does not feel like a resting pose. This is where we can offer options to students to help them relax into the pose more.

 

Knee Issues:

 

If your students have knee problems suggest placing a bolster between their knees and calves. Let them rest their bum on the bolster.

 

In addition to the above a bolster could be placed under the student’s chest and a blanket placed on top of the bolster behind to add more height.

 

Variation:

Another option for child’s pose could be wide knee child’s pose.

Spreading your knees wide and sitting back on your heels or bolster with your arms placed down the centre of your body turning your face in one direction and after a few minutes switching to the other side

 

Tip:

Always have the student rest their head on something, do not let the student hang their heads. Students can rest their heads on a block, bolster or stacked fists

 

Arm Variations:

 

The student’s arms can be placed:

  1. Alongside the body, palms facing up or down
  2. Stretched out in front actively pressing palms into floor

 

Point to note:

The above will depend why you are teaching the posture; do you want the posture to be more restful or more active?

 

Julia advised to encourage your students to make space and to take up space ensure to remind them to take a workable shape where they can breathe deeply and mindfully.

 

Saddle

 

Saddle pose can be difficult if you have knee problems. The below is an option the students can try but if it is painful in the knees ask your students to take a different pose.

 

Knee Issues:

 

Place 2 foam blocks end to end on the middle of your mat with a bolster placing lengthways on top.

Saddle the bolster by placing both knees and shines alongside the bolster and lowering your bum on the bolster. Encourage the student to stay here if that feels good.

 

If the student would like to take it a step further reach back with your arms and place hands on two blocks behind you while reaching your chest to the sky. If the student does not need blocks, they could place their hands on the floor

 

Tip:

  • A tip Julia gave us to cue to help with the back bend it to ask the students to lift their hips and tuck their tail bone under and lower their hips to the bolster.

 

  • Also, if you see your students’ knees begin to lift, they have gone too far and should ease out of the pose.

 

Table top

 

This is a great posture for opening the chest but it may not be accessible to everyone.

 

An alternative shape which provides the same chest opening is:

Sit crossed legged with 2 blocks placed behind you shoulder distance apart.

Reach back to your blocks placing your palms on each block and shinning your chest forward, if the student would like to take it a step further, they could lift their hips and draw them forward also.

 

In the traditional form of table top where the student can hold the shape offer different hand variations:

 

  1. Fingers can face towards the feet or
  2. Fingers can face away from the feet

 

Tip:

For students whose knees are splaying out too far or to add more heat to the posture place a block between their thighs and get them to squeeze the block.

 

 Downward Dog

 

Downward dog can be considered a restful pose in yoga however people who have wrist issues do not find this shape very restful!

 

Wrist Issues:

 

Other options that can be offered to students with wrist issues are:

  1. Puppy dog
  2. Dolphin

 

 

If students’ wrists need more support in downward dog offer them to use a wedge.

Place the wedge about foot down from the top of the mat. Fold the top of the mat over the wedge to prevent the wedge from slipping.

The students can then place their palms on the wedge.

Tight upper back

 

If you notice students whose upper back is humped in this posture ask the students to place blocks underneath their hands which will move the pressure of the pose to the back body and give more space for their shoulders and back to straighten.

 

 

Tight calves & Achilles tendons

 

Ask the students to slightly turn their toes inwards to create more space in their lower back while lifting their abdomen. Pressing heels downs and lifting up toes.

 

Another option would be to place heels on a wedge or bricks underneath heels

 

Point to note:

Ensure your students are feeling the stretch in the belly of their hamstrings in downward dog and not in the area at the base of the bum…. if this occurs get your students to bend their knees to avoid injury to the hamstring.

 

High blood pressure/vertigo/dizziness:

 

Get the students to use the wall for downward dog.

Placing their palms of the hands on the wall and walking their legs away from the wall until their back and arms are in line and they feel a stretch in their hamstrings. The head should be kept above the heart. Encourage your student to push into the wall with hands

 

The above concludes with Part 2 of this 3-part series of blogs on our Ignite Mentorship training with Julia Dotty.

 

Please feel free to offer any other insights you have or if you have any questions & feedback please feel free to leave a comment.

 

Chat soon,

 

Theresa xxx

 

Ignite Mentorship Teacher Training Part 1: Help Make Classes More Accessible to Everyone

Both George & myself completed our 200-hour yoga teacher training in June 2018. We loved it; it was something we wanted to do for a long time.

Since then we both have been teaching free classes. George signed up as a volunteer in the YMCA on Burrard street In Vancouver, his class is 7:00am every Thursday. George also subs evening classes in the YMCA when he is needed. I offered free classes for the summer to my work colleagues, which we scheduled every Tuesday after work for 8 weeks in Queen Elizabeth Park. The owner of the company who I work for also requested private sessions with her every Thursday at her home. It was great to get teaching straight away after the training.

George continues to teach in the YMCA. Personally, I have put teaching on hold since December until after my pregnancy. I am 30 weeks pregnant now and want to focus my energy on rest in the evenings and my own practice of movement. Making the decision to slow things down felt right for me.

We both knew the realities of acquiring a paid position after the 200hr was next to near impossible. Vancouver has lots of yoga studios and many yoga schools which pump out a magnitude of new teachers each year. Getting paid work in a studio as a new graduate would be highly unlikely. Therefore, we both made the decision to volunteer for 2 years, do a lot of self-study and increase our knowledge even further by taking as many courses/ trainings that appealed to us. After this period of practise and self-study we would be ready to share our teachings with a group of people & get paid.

Julia’s Doty’s Ignite Mentorship training with semperviva was one of those trainings that we both wanted to take. Julia is a teacher with semperviva and also part of the faculty for teacher training. We love Julia’s classes, her humour, emphasis on the breath and warm manner is what we love in a teacher. She is extremely knowledgeable and we wanted to learn as much as we could from her but also what the course was offering.

This training was created to make yoga classes more accessible to more people. It was designed to teach teachers to use props to help people with & without injuries to access a shape in a more beneficial way. How to be mindful of your voice, the words you use including the use of traditional Yoga language so you can encourage people from other religious and spiritualities to feel comfortable and safe in your class. Yoga truly is for everybody but we as teachers need to be mindful of how to make it more accessible to everybody without losing the integrity of the practice.

The first exercise we were asked to complete was to answer the following 3 Questions in our notebooks:

1. Describe your first yoga class, atmosphere, location, music, studio. How did it make you feel, why is it so clear in your mind?

2. Think of a yoga teacher that really inspires you and list 3-4 of these qualities?

3. What are the 1-2 obstacles that are holding you back from teaching how you want to teach?

We were instructed to answer the above questions to help identify what kind of teacher we wanted to become. Julia explained the teachers you love the best have the same qualities you have and their teaching style is similar to how you would like to teach. This was really helpful as a new teacher because there are so many different styles and methods of teaching that it can become over whelming. She also mentioned that it took her at least 5 years to find her own style. As new teachers we need to give ourselves time to try out different styles and different forms of yoga to see what we are naturally guided towards more. Julia’s openness and honesty about the first few years is what I believe new teachers need to hear. For the majority of us, we don’t know our niche yet. Time, practice, trainings and self-study are what we need in order to arrive to our happy place.

The first key and most important aspect of yoga is breathing. This is where are training began. Julia thought us all how-to breath properly and how to show our students to breath properly. Focus the student’s attention to their current breath and guide them how to breath deeply into their rib cage and back, to expand their lungs to the fullest capacity. We placed our hands on our upper ribs (bra Hight) and felt our ribs expand and collapse with each breath, another option we used was tying a strap around our upper ribs, just under chest area to feel the strap move in and out with each breath. This technique of breathing is also thought be Max Strom who Julia admires and has done multiple trainings with.

Teaching students how to breath will change their lives. Deep quality breaths help our bodies rest, digest, improves our immunity and most important helps people to relax & sleep better. Sleep deprivation is a major issue in our society and if we as teachers can help people sleep better, we are having an enormous positive effect on our student’s life. Breathing is the most important aspect of all classes; this is what will help student the most once they step outside of the studio.

Giving students options is important to make our classes more accessible. Offering options in all the shapes by advising what props we can use and giving alternative gentler shapes is key to making the same class accessible to people with injuries and bodies that cannot get into certain shapes. Remember we can only offer alternative shapes to help our students but it is their decision whether they take the shape or not.

The options do not only stop at the physical shapes. The traditional use of “OM” at the beginning and ending of each class may freak some people out. When people do not understand the meaning behind something their imagination can bring them to all sorts of places. We as teachers should explain why we “OM” and that its completely personal and voluntary to participate in. “OM” helps us take deeper breaths and slows the breathing down at the start of the classes therefore helping our students get grounded. Offering different versions on “OM”, humming, vocal or silent are good for people who want to participate but are uncomfortable hearing their own voice. Religious people may want to avoid altogether so give the option to remain silent and maybe repeat their own prayer in their head each time “OM” is used. The option of not using “OM” at all is also a reality, it will depend on your class and the environment you are teaching in.

Sanskrit the traditional language of yoga I find extremely hard to say and cannot remember the words for shapes except for “Tadasana” Mountain pose and “Shavasana” corpse pose. For some teacher’s Sanskrit is in important in their practice and they want to use it throughout. However, students who are new to yoga and join their class will be confused by the words and will not know what pose to take. Most people know downdog, cat/cow, easy pose, warrior pose but in Sanskrit, I cannot even remember. Julia mentioned its important if you mention a pose in Sanskrit to follow it up with the English translation, this has automatically opened up your classes for new students to join. Only use Sanskrit if it feels comfortable to you and you are not limiting your classes by using too much. For me the only Sanskrit I use is Shavasana because I don’t like saying corpse pose, everything else will be in English. That’s my personal choice. You really don’t want to hear me butchering these beautiful words in an Irish accent which I cannot drop! Lol!

Julia gave the following 4 pointers on how to teach to a broader range of students:

• Teach by example: Beware of your body language, don’t fidget, use appropriate hand gestures and demonstrate what you want the majority of your students to do. For example, if you want your student to use props demonstrate by using props, if you want the majority of the students to stay in option 1 of a shape instead of option 3 demonstrate in option 1

• Teach by what you say & the order of how you say it: Breath should always be priority in our classes, this should always be the most significant thing we complement our student on, we should be encouraging our students to breath more and not pushing more. Are your students able to breath comfortably in a shape? If not ease back and find a different shape so they can breathe.

• Teach by what we don’t say: beware if the only positive feedback we give our class is how one or two people look great in a handstand while the majority of people are in child’s pose.

• Teach by touch or lack of: Be conscious of assisting students into poses as we are not anatomy experts and everybody’s body is different. You do not want to harm any student or be liable for harming anyone. Use as many verbal and visual ques as much possible before assisting any student. Only assist if you have received training and are comfortable in this area.

My very unique note taking skills, unreadable hand writing & stick men…..nobody ever wants to use my notes! lol!

The power your voice can have in a class is significant. Julia mentioned to keep our voice authentic and not put on a “yoga “voice. Ask yourself is your voice the same in class as it is after class when a student asks a question? Be loud enough so everyone can hear you, about twice as loud as normal conversation voice. (depending on studio size) Avoid using the upper inflection at the end of your sentences that sounds like you are constantly asking questions! Super annoying and you will lose students because of this.

Be mindful of any curse words or slang you may use and avoid using them in your class. Some teachers do use these words but curse words and slang do have a negative energy and can affect how people feel. Anyone who has lived through trauma or abuse may find these words especially upsetting. Best to avoid. Remember we are encouraging as many people to come to yoga to feel safe & secure.

One of the students in this course recommended the book “The Hidden Messages in Water” by Masaru Emoto which explains how words can affect us. It’s on my reading list.

Speak in a command form, give instructions but in a kind way as if you are speaking to your best friend. Slow down your words to speak much slower than your usual speed. Record your voice during classes to see how you really sound and this will help you improve your teaching in areas you may never have noticed you needed to work on.

The above information is so beneficial to teachers and everything mentioned will help make our classes more accessible to more students. We as teachers have a lot to work on and we may not see the results for many years but everything mentioned above will mould us into better teachers and hopefully encourage a much wider & diverse group of people to arrive to our classes. Our classes should be open to everyone, we as teachers need to know how to make this happen so more people are exposed to the wonderful benefits of the breath and shapes.

Hopefully you enjoyed Part 1 of this series of reflections on our training. A special thanks to Julia and semperviva for providing such a beneficial course.

In the next blog in this series we will include how to make the popular poses more accessible to people with injuries, limitations and pregnancy by using props. And lots more wisdom & advise from Julia.

Have a great week.

Chat soon,

Theresa x