When you’re teaching yoga, there are so many suggestions you can give your students. Even in the context of just one pose, there are many tips around alignment, breath, focus, gaze, muscles, bones and spirit. If you were to suggest even just one from each category, you’d be holding the pose for longer than they could tolerate. So, as a teacher, you’re trying to say what will be the most helpful as well as what make the most sense, given what you see in the room from your students.
In the past few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with a general theme:
I’ve found that these 3 things can be applied to any pose to create solid alignment, promote strengthening as well as relaxation and relax the mind as well as build the important skill of how to pay attention to just one thing (rather than multi-task, as we do all day). I’ve also found that setting a foundation for a pose that will support, create solid alignment and build strength is one of the biggest challenges many of us face. We often have little sense of what’s going on with our feet because we’re more concerned with how the overall pose looks. Remembering that the whole pose is a reflection of what is at the floor is a wonderful realization. I’ve also worked with students who believe they need to step long or deep in order to get value from the pose. Despite things like wobbly ankles, bowing knees and discomfort, they soldier on, thinking it’s the ‘right way’ to do the pose.
As a practicing student or teacher, here is some more explanation to illustrate each concept:
Foundation: When you come into a pose, be it standing or on the floor, think first about the base. If it’s your feet, are they straight forward? If it’s on the ground, do you feel like you can push up (if that’s the primary action of the pose) in a solid way? If not, move your foundation until it works for you. So many students feel they can’t move once they come into a pose, but this is just not true. Yoga is a fluid practice, and, unlike gymnastics, you don’t need to ‘stick the landing!’ Move your feet around until you feel good.
Breath: Of course, yoga is a breathing practice. Of course in every class, you will hear tips on breathing and cues to breathe. After a while, we can become immune to the reminder because we hear it so often. Just remember: when it gets harder to do a pose, that’s when you need to breathe more. When you’re getting distracted, that’s when it helps to focus on the breath. When you want to promote a feeling of relaxation, that’s when you must breathe.
Gaze: I can honestly say that as a runner, gaze is one of the most effective things that yoga has taught me. To focus on one spot while I run, a bit in front of me, and only barely notice what’s going on around me has been the best way for me to conserve energy and stay focused. On the mat, the same thing applies. We can get caught up in what the people around us are doing or just let them be and focus on our experience. Gaze becomes even more critical in balancing poses but overall, it’s just so important to every pose that we enter it, set our eyes and breathe.
With yoga, there is much to learn. Remembering that it’s a life-long practice can help take much of the pressure off of us and allow us to explore and grow. Be where you are now and practice fully and enjoy the process.