Have you ever heard this mantra by Deva Premal & Miten in a yoga class? I loved Deva's voice before I even knew the meaning of the mantra. The following is what I've learned about the Gayatri Mantra...thought I'd share it with you!
Last time I was in NYC, I stumbled upon a Sweaty Betty store...and instantly became a fan of their clothes! The quality is spot-on, they fit amazingly well, and their styles are great! It's my new favorite place to find yoga-clothes!
Yoga chairs can be an expensive investment! So, instead of buying yoga chairs for $70 each, I followed a tutorial on YouTube, and transformed ordinary folding chairs into backless yoga chairs that Iyengar himself would be proud of.
I just got home from taking what I would consider a terrible yoga class. It was bad on so many different levels. I KNOW, I know, we aren't supposed to be judgmental....but it got me thinking about what I would have told my teacher today, had she asked for input. This doesn't come from a place of ego...there's no "my teaching style is better than yours"....promise! This ultimately comes from a place of concern for the safety of the students in the yoga class that I took today.
SO, here is some unsolicited advice for my yoga teacher today (which may or may not include a mini-rant about the importance of savasana)...and hopefully it can help you teach your class with a little more awareness and sensitivity to those taking your class.
Open your eyes. Not figuratively, LITERALLY. Literally open your eyes and look at the class. Are they able to do the simple warm-ups? Do they seem extra stiff? Are they young and fit? Super bendy? Or older and less flexible? My teacher today had her eyes closed...a LOT...and when they were open, she was fully engaged in her own practice at the front of the mat. How do your students look when they are in the poses? Are they getting close to blowing out a knee? Can you give them a verbal adjustment to help avoid a knee-blow-out-situation? You have to open your eyes to see.
Teach people not poses. It's almost a cliché among teachers, isn't it!! It starts with that "open your eyes" step in #1. Look at your students!! And THEN determine what you are going to teach...that might mean that your super-challenging class needs to be thrown out the window. Teaching Ardha Chandra Chapasana (sugar-cane pose) to a group of mostly 55+ women who can't hold Ardha Chandrasana (half moon), AND who can BARELY do a lunge with ease is NOT a great idea. This is what my instructor did today. Yes, I was impressed that she could go smoothly from one balance pose to the next..but her students were frustrated, and more seriously, had an increased risk of injury because they were ATTEMPTING those poses with little to no instruction, and absolutely no modifications.
Be logical in your sequencing. Work up to your challenging poses. Working toward Bakasana (crane)? Make sure you do plenty of core so that it helps your students learn how to use their abs in a way that will increase their chance of success in this pose. If you don't have a peak-pose, think about the progression of poses...You learned this stuff in teacher training, I hope. My teacher today had the following poses SPRINKLED in her class: ustrasana (camel), matsyasana (fish), baddha parsvakonasana (bound side-angle), virabhadrasana 3 (warrior 3), supta virasana (reclining hero), ardha chandra chapasana (sugar cane pose) and bakasana (crane). There was no logic to her sequencing...ESPECIALLY considering her class' abilities. There should be no sprinkling of challenging poses in a yoga class.
Watch what you say. Please can we stop the yoga-speak? Don't just say something because it sounds "yogic". Take the phrase "let it go". When you say "let it go" what do you mean? What do you want us to let go? I think it would be more beneficial to cue our breath or alignment than to tell us to "let go" in Virabhadrasana 2 (warrior 2). That happened in a class this week. Soften through the shoulders? Sure! Unclench our jaws? Absolutely! Not just a generic "let it go" please. Today we were told to "inhale love...and let it go". I'm not so sure that I wanted to let go of love today. But...maybe it motivated me to do this post...I'm feeling extra snarky.
Let your class savasana. Come ON teachers...you KNOW this is important, don't you?! Then shut the hell up while I'm trying to savasana, and give me more than 2 minutes. Seriously! Guide me to relaxation, and then let it be quiet...or, as quiet as it can be...I can relax to the sound of weightlifters slamming their giant weights to the floor upstairs MUCH more than I can with you reading some passage from a book you like.
You've gone out to get your drink on with your girlfriends...What's next?!...Schedule a detoxifying yoga class after your night of debauchery! More and more brides are seeing the value of yoga for calming their nerves before their big day. It's a fun thing to do with your very favorite people! AND, it will help you de-stress, feel confident, and present for your special day!
Here are some ideas to make your pre-wedding yoga class extra special:
- Buy matching/personalized yoga mats for your bridesmaids! Try ClaireBella, My Custom Yoga Mat, CafePress, or Your Yoga Mat.
- If a personalized mat is too steep for your budget, make some lavender eye pillows! Here's a great tutorial on Make It Do. Or, check out Etsy...they have a ton of different ones to choose from...I love these from Pacha Mama Body Care....or these (with removable covers...a plus!) from Heather Shawn.
- Ask your yoga teacher to have a heart-centered class. Open up your heart...and the hearts of your bridesmaids...
- Request a special reading...chances are, your instructor will have special quotes or words of inspiration that will be perfectly fitting.
- Turn the event into a brunch with your girlfriends...or a spa day...endless possibilities!
I have used this meditation at the end of class for years. It's adapted from yogi, Shiva Rea's, Yoga Journal post, and I think it's a great way to help focus the mind internally. Here is a link to the original in Yoga Journal.
5-step Meditation Practice - Dwelling in the Lotus Heart.
Find a comfortable seated position. It can be in a chair, on the floor, on a yoga mat, with your back against the wall, or however you'd like for the amount of time you intend to sit. Setting a timer is a great idea...so you don't have to worry about the time. I love using the Insight Timer app. Rest your hands comfortably in your lap, elongate your spine, and soften your shoulders. Take a few deep breaths, and soften any tension in your body with your exhale.
- Begin by reading the following passage from the Upanishads: “Bright but hidden, the Self dwells in the heart. Everything that moves, breathes, opens, and closes lives in the Self-the source of love. Realize the Self hidden in the heart and cut asunder the knot of ignorance here and now.”—The Upanishads (Translated by Eknath Easwaran, Nilgiri Press, 1987)
- Bring your attention to your breath. With your next inhale, bring your awareness to the center of your chest. When you exhale, notice any sensations that you feel in your chest. As you keep breathing, continue to notice sensations in your chest...or...as yoga teachers like to refer to it: your "heart center". What does your heart center feel like? Heavy? Light, Warm? Whatever you sense there, just notice.
- Next, imagine a beautiful lotus flower in your heart center. Imagine it's petals opening with every inhalation. Stay with this image of the lotus in your heart. Let your awareness rest there.
- You can stay with this image of the lotus, or imagine your heart expanding and allow the feelings of love to come up. When other sensations, feelings, or thoughts come up...just notice that they are there, and watch them pass on by. Or, you can let each one rest on the petals of the lotus. Continue to allow your heart to expand with each inhale.
- Bring your hands to Anjali Mudra (prayer hands) at your heart, and complete your meditation with a moment of gratitude or reflection. You can bring your awareness to your heart at any time during the day...it will help you to bring forth feelings of love, which is often needed in our crazy swirl of life!
One of the highlights of our trip to Morocco was visiting a school, and getting to spontaneously teach the kids a little yoga! SUCH fun! Our family stayed in Tighdouine, a tiny town in the middle of the Atlas Mountains, and a friend of our guide, Hamid, was a teacher at a school in Talatast, about 20 minutes drive away from Tighdouine (over a river & some seriously bumpy roads):
The kids were attending an after-school program..they were kids who wanted to be there, we were told...who wanted a bit more education. This is not a touristy town...they might get a few people through who are hiking through the mountains, but most of the kids don't see strangers too often...so, our family was definitely a different sight to see.
The kids spoke primarily Amazigh (Berber), and then possibly Arabic, and maybe a tiny bit of French. They sang us songs (kids singing ALWAYS brings a tear to my eyes...does this happen to anyone else?!), the teacher told us about the school, and wrote our names in Amazigh on the chalkboard.
They had questions...and we were thankful for interpreters! First, they wanted to know what kind of jobs we all had...and I thought for SURE they were going to ask my daughter about her hot-pink hair...but they all wanted to know more about yoga.
I know how to say hello and thank you in Arabic. I can count in French, and I don't know a drop of Amazigh...I was worried at first about not speaking the same language. But really...they just copied the moves that I made. They had no worries about doing the pose "right"...they know how to breathe, and could watch me demonstrate. The kids were so open to learning, and excited to try something new, it was absolutely heartlifting!
We were speaking the same language...that of yoga!
A fantastic graphic. I found this on Tumblr...it's a great visual to use if you are having a bit of anxiety. Inflate your lungs deeply as you watch the shapes expand, and exhale as the shapes disappear.
This quote speaks to me. I've always felt such peace and calm when at the ocean... The blurry photo was taken while on a sailing trip in Mexico...near Sayulita...I can almost hear the sounds now...aah...
Aum is often called the “sound of the universe”. People can get a little freaked out about chanting OM (or AUM) their first few times. I was. It just seemed weird at first...but the more I practiced, the more I loved the vibration...ESPECIALLY with a big group of people.
The infographic above is a detail of the symbol for AUM, and provides a little deeper meaning about it....but for beginners, here's what's up:
The AUM chant is actually 4 sounds: 1. A...sounds like "aaahhh". The vibration begins in your chest.... 2. U...sounds like the o in "home". You will feel this resonating in your throat. Go ahead, make the sound, and put your hand over your throat. It vibrates! (this isn't ALL just hippie-dippie stuff!) 3. M...sounds like "mmmm". This sound that can be felt in your head. 4. Silence. take a moment after chanting to feel the vibration, and listen to the stillness.
Benefits: The vibration that resonates in your body when you chant has both physical and physiological benefits! It can bring a sense of calm and focus, it can decrease blood pressure, increase relaxation, and the vibration can give a little massage to your chest, throat and head.
Still don't want to chant? Then don't! As a yoga teacher, I've chanted many times in a room of new students not wanting to! Here's a little secret...even if you don't chant, you still reap the vibrational benefits from the others who are chanting. It's all good.
Do you regularly chant in your yoga class, or at home in your personal practice?
What kinds of expectations do you have for yourself? For others? What if you could sweep away the cobwebs of doubt, and have only the highest expectations about the things you could achieve?! What would that feel like? I absolutely LOVE This American Life on NPR...and this episode really spoke to me. It's totally worth an hour of your time. Click HERE to listen. ( I attempted to embed the player from NPR, but failed! sorry!!)
What do you think?!
How a well meaning high school yoga teacher can perpetuate gender stereotypes.
I'm proud to be raising a feminist daughter. Not sure how it happened, really...but I'd like to think I played some role in my 18 year old's awareness of gender bias, and desire to make things right in the world. She is in the process of working with her high school administrators to update the dress code during her senior year there. Equality works it's way into her circle of friends, too...She has friends of different ethnicities (even in our very homogeneous suburb), different interests, different sexual orientations...it's a pretty great group of kids that she hangs out with! Yep. I'm a proud mama. But enough about me and my kid, here's what's going on in her yoga class:
Her high school offers yoga as an option for PE...which, as a yoga teacher, former studio owner, and lover of all things yoga, I think is fantastic! Sweet, right?!
I was pretty surprised when she told me that the handful of boys in the class are made to practice in the front of the class. The reason? Well, you've probably guessed it...so the boys won't check out the girls' butts during their class, and make the girls uncomfortable.
My daughter and I both believe that this is wrong...and I'm so glad she brought it to my attention! I wonder how often this happens in other yoga classes for teens?!
What's so wrong with keeping boys in the front, you ask?!! Well...
1. The notion that boys can't control their impulses around girls is preposterous...and that it's the GIRL'S behavior that disrupts the learning environment is ridiculous. When it's assumed that boys can't control themselves , it becomes a girl's responsibility to keep from showing her butt (or cleavage, arms, legs, etc. etc.). This in turnpromotes "rape culture"...by taking any blame from the boy, and puttingit on the girl.This can become a HUGE problem down the road. Studies show that college aged women have a high risk for being victims of sexual assault. I firmly believe that allowing boys to believe at a young age that they aren't responsible for their actions can contribute to justifications by them before/during/after an assault. It's the "she was dressed like a slut and was asking for it" mentality that is so prevalent in our culture. This same type of thing happens with the dress codes in school...the notion that girls need to be covered because boys can't control their lustful desires when they see a bare shoulder...it distracts from the learning environment. Humph.
2. Why should boys automatically be guilty, and girls innocent? Boys aren't the only teens with raging hormones.Until they commit an offense, shouldn't boysbe allowed to practice yoga where they feel most comfortable?
3. Who's to say that girls aren't checking other girls out...or, that boys aren't checking each other out! Should it be ok to pretend that LGBT teens don't exist? That this is only a boy-girl issue? I think not.
Sure, a high school yoga teacher might have some eyes wandering during class. However, it's the teacher's responsibility to keep an eye out for her students...both for safety in the asana, as well as making sure that more of the students' attention is on his or her own practice, and not on the person practicing on the next mat. These 1950's-era gender stereotypes should not have a place in a yoga classroom. Sexual advances in yoga class of any kind should not be tolerated (at any age!) and should have consequences when they happen in a high school class, but boys should not be punished in advance for something they didn't do.
Fortunately, her yoga teacher was incredibly understanding when my daughter talked to her about it. She hadn't considered the message it sends to the students...and when she spoke to the school administration about it, she found that it is school policy to have the boys in front. REALLY! So, I'm proud to say, that my daughter was able to have the administration change their policy, and now boys and girls are assigned their places in yoga class alphabetically. Hurrah!!
Yoga is a practice of turning our attention inward, and has SUCH a great benefit to teens...I hope they all can now find peace on their mats.
Another lovely image found on Tumblr...