Sunday, March 12, 2006

Ninteenth Class

Wednesday Evening

Dave encouraged us to attend and observe classes -- not just C1s, but any CPY classes. Those who had observed classes commented that it would be very easy to get caught up trying to fix things, as having observed C1 (beginner) classes, they saw a lot of things to fix. They noted that keeping the class going is important to making students feel successful, so we should pick carefully what we try to fix, and what we let go. Other notes from observers:

  • Kids practice very differently than adults: sometimes more flexible, sometimes much less
  • Everyone in the room seemed to be in a different position
  • You can pick up cues on which pose comes next in the sequence (if you forget) by keeping an eye on the students who already know where they're going next
  • The class shows you what to say
  • integrating all of the teacher functions is still impressive

Dave commented that we should always look at the class, that doing so will tell us what we need to say and teach. Alanna remarked that the Sunday afternoon adjusting clinic had gone very well.

A teacher training student asked about how to handle pregnant students in yoga classes. Alanna responded, together with class comments, making these points: When teaching a pregnant student, try to make sure that everything the student does helps the baby. No poses that rest on the belly. No heated rooms -- while the mother can shed heat by sweating, the baby is suspended in liquid and has no heat control methods available. Avoid instructing practices that increase tapas (internal heat), such as ujjayi breathing. Avoid instructing twisting poses. With an advanced pregnancy, avoid poses that put the student flat on her back. That position can be uncomfortable for pregnant students, and some have difficulty getting up from it. Some pregnant students have difficulty resting on their right sides. Guide them to rest on the left side. In advanced stages of pregnancy, avoid abdominal work. When the abdomen is already stretched by the pregnancy, further strain can rupture or herniate abdominal muscles. Inversions should be considered on a case-by-case basis. The student's point of balance will have changed significantly. That can cause falls. Consider modifications of these postures to accomodate the student's condition. Instead of resting on the belly, call child's pose. Instead of belly-down Locust pose, instruct a modified version on hands and knees.

Much of the specifics for pregnant students depends on the practitioner. If a student has practiced yoga for years, she may be able to do much of a core power practice up until delivery. However, sometimes doctors will tell patients for various reasons to take up yoga, so some pregnant students will be first-timers. When you have a pregnant student come to practice, take a few minutes to interview her about her practice, her condition, what she expects, and how you can assist her as a teacher. That information can guide how you guide her.

Instruct the student not to extend stretches or joint flexions beyond the point at which they practiced prior to pregnancy. Pregnancy usually involves the body's production and release of a hormone (relaxin) that makes ligaments more flexible to facilitate birth. However, stretching ligaments already subject to the effects of relaxin can cause damage and should be discouraged.

Throughout all of this, keep in mind that pregnant women are not fragile. They're doing the toughest work in the world. Yoga helps.

Alanna then lectured on designing sequences of postures for free-form yoga practices beyond C1 series:

Vinyasa is the term for yoga practices that flow from one pose to the next, riding on the breath practice. Vinyasa means "to place in a special way." What gets "placed"? The asanas, the breath, the intentions. Is there a vinyasa of getting into the car? There is if you bring intention and consciousness to the effort. How often do you find yourself at home, and realize that you have no conscious memory of getting there? The medulla oblongata is the part of the brain that operates the parts of the body that work below the level of consciousness -- the endocrine system, the heart, and the breath. Practice with the mula banda (the pelvic floor muscle engagement) is designed to assist us in increasing our consciousness. Try placing with consciousness the moments of your life. Place them with love. If you aren't engaging with love, what are you doing here?

Vinyasa grana is the process and succession of changes from moment to moment with the flow of intention. It can be applied to any format -- your life, your schooling, etc. You might go to college, choose 12 different majors, pick "liberal arts," and now you're a yoga teacher. Even so, wouldn't you be a completely different person without that background? So then you graduate. But those moments make you what you are today. Why did you lose someone special in your life? What experience in your life is irrelevant to this moment? None is. Nothing happens by chance. Nothing depends on luck. Sometimes within the process, it's difficult to see the purpose for a particular event or experience, but eventually it becomes clearer. In yoga class, your intention drives the content of the class. You should know the intended outcome that the students will discover, whether it's hip openers, peacock pose, the lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu chant, relaxation, or concentration. You can have and teach usefully with almost any intention. While the students are groaning or grunting in wheel, they may miss it, but by the end of the class, they should get it.

Think of a yoga class as a paragraph -- there will be several points that lead to one statement. The words in the paragraph are poses. Connect them with intention. Pose sequences should refer to the student's existing understanding, and then build on and extend it, leading to something new and different. With even the newest of beginners, you can start them with "stand up straight." Then you can provide them with cues to get them into samasthitih, guiding their breath and intention.

General rules for sequencing poses:

Always start with the breath: inhale and exhale through the nose. Doing so warms the body, retains energy inside the body, calms the mind, and engages fully the lung capacity.

Cue inhales for posture changes that lift or expand. Cue exhales for those that lower or contract. All movement should be linked either to an inhale or an exhale. While students hold a pose, they are usually safe. Injuries occur more frequently during transitions from one pose to the next. And it is during transitions that students often stop breathing. That increases the chance of injury.

The quality of breath reflects the quality of mind. Keep your verbal cues concise. Avoid your own unnecessary motion between poses.

Sequencing poses : Begin all practices with an intention -- a kind of dedication or prayer. It takes students out of their autopilot mode, enabling them to set aside other things. CPY does not use OMs or chants for C1 (beginner) classes. They want to avoid any kind of intimidating practice for beginning classes -- just showing up in a yoga studio is hard enough for some students. Use group breathing to connect the class, not OMs. Bless them for showing up at all. Don't creep them out. Start them with what they know already, and start with them where they are today. If what they're familiar with is working out in a gym, start there. Even so, do start them with an intention. People will work harder if they are doing their practice for someone else, rather than for themselves. Also, starting with a dedication helps them deal with the unpleasant parts of practice that come up -- whether anger at the teacher, frustration, disappointment. If the student has nowhere to put what comes up, the practice can be frightening and harmful. Practicing in a heated room expands everything -- including feelings of anger, sadness, self-defeat, and self-loathing. Dedication helps them work through those. And working harder leads to transformation.

Your sequence should warm up your students. Practicing after warming up makes practice more safe. Do Sun salutations for 5-10 minutes. It provides a framework for opening and closing. By the way, there are other kinds of salutations, as well -- earth, moon, Shiva, etc. At CPY, all sequences start in Downward facing Dog. In Ashtanga practice, all begin and end in Samasthitih.

Hold postures for 5-20 breaths. If you want to encourage grounding, use longer holding periods. If you want to encourage more energy, use shorter holding periods.

Don't neglect twisting postures. They can be included almost anywhere in the practice sequence, as they are spinally-neutral.

Do not follow back-bends with forward bends or forward bends with back bends.

Generally avoid verbally formulating cues with negatives -- "Don't X; No Y." The exception is in Bridge Pose, you should be sure to instruct students not to turn their necks to either side, as doing so can easily result in injury.

When starting a backbend series, start small. Cue the less difficult cobra, bow, bridge, supta virasana, then move to the more difficult wheel or camel poses. If you were to throw in a forward bend in the middle of such a sequence, you'd reverse the building backward extension of the spine, and then you'd have to re-develop that progression before moving into the deeper bends. The same principle is true of forward bending sequences.

When creating a pose sequence for class, choose only one emphasis -- one topic sentence for the paragraph. Within the "sentences" of the sequence, be aware of rising and falling energy levels and exertion. Don't do a sequence of poses on one side that is so long that you forget the sequence to do the same on the left side.

Keep in mind the importance of counterposes. Consider paschimotanasana to counter back bends. Similarly, consider Upward Plank to neutralize and counter forward bends.

Don't skimp on savasana. People seldom take the time they need to chill. You can help by preparing the class for savasana. Instruct them that after an exerting practice, the nervous system needs time to internalize the experience. Savasana is corpse pose -- death is the ultimate letting go. If you take time in savasana, you'll prepare for the letting go of death. And you'll be ageless. Student's busyness is an avoidance technique. Talk to them about transformation. Type As don't want to stop and take time. You can help by playing uplifting music. Guide them through a relaxation meditation, using your own voice. Don't assume that students know how to relax. Before shifting into silent mode, ask yourself, "Are they ready to be left alone?" With beginners, give them a tool to help. Falling asleep is an avoidance technique, too. If you give the students a reason for why savasana is important, they'll understand a little more and may support the request.

It is important to get feedback from students. But getting feedback and following its guidance are two different things. Don't let students guide you back into their own comfort zones. They'll guide you to where they can avoid changing. Set your own boundaries. Be aware of other's egos, and serve their highest needs -- which may be very different than their egos' wants. Teach what you think is right.

In developing sequences, keep in mind that meditation is always a nice choice.

For inversions, consider shoulderstand and headstand. They align student's energy, and they can be done at any point, once the students are warmed up. Whenever, it's incredibly important to turn your students upside down. Headstand is a yogi's cure-all. No matter what the problem is, it can be helped by 5 minutes in headstand. There is a strong consensus among yoga teachers that inversions should be avoided during menstrual periods, when energies are suppose to move down and out. Going upside down reverses that energy flow. But keep in mind that all yoga postures are designed to turn energy upward, which is all counter to the menstrual energy flow. Instruct your students about the situation and let them choose for themselves.

We then divided into groups and practiced sequencing poses to lead from and to various target postures.