As we step deep into the era of yoga obsession, we see way too many photos and videos of these pseudo perfect yogis, who have extreme flexibility and glossy appearance in common, but very little substance and in many cases even less knowledge of what yoga is all about.
I personally used to be what they call a yoga warrior, I was practicing between 4 to 6 hours every day, waking up at 3 am and going to sleep early. I was a strict vegetarian, no coffee, little sugar and I applied on myself other restrictions that I don't feel to share in this contest. My practice was very rigid, morning prayers, stretching for about one and half hour, Kundalini Yoga Kriya for one and half hour if not 2 hours, and between one to two and half hour of meditation.
When it was time to teach this rigidity came across as "she is too tough".
As the years passed by, I slowly but surely changed; nowadays, my teaching is more yin oriented, and my personal practice has followed this new tune.
When I teach is mandatory for me to tune into my student's mood, observing them while they practice gives me so many clues to understand where they are, what they are feeling, but first and for most what they need. And they need kindness and gentleness; they need what we call "Feminine Energy" that's why I came up with "Yin Kundalini Yoga", a more gentle way to teach Kundalini Yoga where students don't feel attacked or diminished as they practice. My Kundalini Yoga students might not feel high after class, but for sure they feel fully embodied, present and relaxed. When I teach Hatha Yoga or yin Yoga the feedback is always the same " I feel like you made me move part of my body that I didn't know I had". This is a huge compliment, it means that I guided them to feel, and be or become more present.
A few months ago I was asked to sub for a chair yoga class at the YMCA of Montclair, New Jersey. I said yes of course.
I entered the room by not knowing what type of students would attend the class, which turned out to be packed with elderly people eager to move. Yes, old people want to move, movement keeps them alive and happy, and they know it.
The most beautiful thing about our elderly is that it doesn't matter how they feel, they get up, they walk to the gym and practice. You will not hear an old person saying "I'm too tired to move". When in a class, they welcome you with a smile, they follow every single direction you give them, they do their best, and at the end, they say: "Thank you, this was the best part of my day. thank you for being here for us". You make them feel alive, they make you feel you have done something amazing, so they make your day too. After teaching my chair yoga classes, I feel my day purpose has been fulfilled. it is incredibly and profoundly rewarding.
Later on, I discovered that in class there were a couple of people who were going through chemotherapy, some of them had strokes, others hips replacement, and some knees surgery. Whatever was their condition they were there every week, three times a week.
There were a couple of younger individuals in class that for health reasons couldn't attend a regular yoga class, but the needs of moving brought them to my chair yoga. We had all so much fun that from being a substitute teacher, I became quite popular, and I started to teach on a regular basis to the point that the reception had to stop me to let me know that everybody appreciated my work, my teaching, and my kindness.
As a professional Yoga teacher, it is important to me to know how to deliver the class in a way that everybody enjoys it; I have my ethic rules, I know my language, I play with my Italian accent, and I know each ingredient I use to make my classes special and different form any other class you have ever taken.
So what do you think are the ingredients of a great chair yoga class?
Well, dynamism, knowledge of proprioception, static stretching and dynamic stretching and how to combine them harmoniously, when it's time to laugh, and when its time to focus on focusing, knowing the difference between building strength and isometric stretching. Those are all elements that can constitute a class of chair yoga, but knowing how to combine these elements together will make the difference between a great Chair Yoga class and a not so great class. I see too many Yoga instructors improvising Chair Yoga, and I can see all the common mistakes done without awareness. it is not enough to modify poses for a Chair practice, you need to know more.
In order to know how to combine all these elements together you need to know and understand how the body of an old person works, you need to know what they need, you must know how people with injuries can perform the class correctly. In addition, while you teach you have to keep in mind those people who are undergoing chemo, or are challenged by other ailments, and you have to keep in mind that there is always someone who knows better than you, so you have to learn to really talk with grace and to never react to an old group of people.
Teaching Chair Yoga is not easy as it looks, it is not enough to put a person on a chair and make him/her move, this is a form of yoga therapy, and a yoga instructor needs to be prepared.
As a yoga instructor, you need to have experience of how each exercise works so that when its time to do the same exercises on a chair you will know how to modify it to have the same result without hurting people. Especially in style of yoga such as Kundalini Yoga, where we are instructed to never change the exercises, instructors feel that they cannot teach Kundalini Yoga on a chair. It is possible instead, as long as you have understood the physical dynamic of the exercises and the energy implication, you can bring a variation of that exercises on the chair. The point is, yoga instructors need to get ready for something that is growing in demand as Chair Yoga is.
People don't want you to master your headstand, they want you to understand the exercises physically and energetically so you can offer your classes to people that will never go on a headstand, and that most luckily will prefer to practice on a chair.
Chair Yoga is growing in demand because it is approachable, the elderly community loves it, and there are more injured people than we think that might benefit from a practice that will not strain their body and yet gets the job done.
Chair yoga teaches people what I call "Safe mobility", a safe way to move the body without sacrificing the fun and the depth of the experience.
Our cities need more Chair Yoga instructors to really serve each community at 360 degrees, and teaching Chair yoga is a needed service to keep our elderly active, healthy, and happy.
Yin Yoga was initially known as “Daoist Yoga," and it is a style of yoga that targets the deep connective tissues of the body instead to point only toward the superficial muscles. The fascia that covers the body plays a vital role in the practice of Yin yoga, which ultimate goal is to regulate the flow of energy in the body.
We have to thank Bernie Clark to have developed this practice to the west and one of his students Sarah Powers for naming it more simply “Yin Yoga.”
As Hatha Yoga teacher, I recognize the incredible importance and necessity of practicing Yin Yoga to balance the quality of life nowadays. The high speed we continuously live with to perform our daily duties both at work and at home with our family is overstressing our entire body, overloading our nervous system. Yin Yoga with its passive postures, mainly performed on the floor and limited to about three dozen, helps the whole system to slow down, regenerate and rebalance.
The first time I practiced Yin yoga, I immediately noticed that the emphasis is on finding the point in which you relax into the posture, which makes Yin Yoga unique and entirely different from the more diffuse styles of yoga we know today in the west. When I started to practice Hatha Yoga many years ago, this was the same focus. As yoga developed and became more popular in the West has diverted the attention toward a more Yang energy practice which emphasis is on active movements, superficially stimulates the muscle, and force practitioners to always be in search of balance to never find the stillness that make the practice of yoga so regenerating.
Yin Yoga softens the muscle and moves the action closer to the bone giving broader access to the body. In Yin Yoga, we hold each of the postures for a very long time from a minimum of 3-5 minutes up to 20 minutes, so it is easy to understand that this length of time for each pose can quickly transform a yoga posture in real meditation.
However, I believe that in today practice there is as much need of the Yin practice as well as the Yang practice, one would improve the other bringing natural harmony to our mind, body, and soul.
When we practice only Yang type of yoga, we overload the sympathetic nervous system, and with time we might risk procuring injuries to the body because the superficial modality we practice these postures create constant stress on joints, muscles, and ligaments. Additionally, Yang energy has a warm quality, so if we continually push our body under a warm input soon or later, we procure inflammations to our physical body. Moreover, we live our lives mostly on a Yang energy mode, always running from place to place and from one task to another, so to bring balance into our lives, we need to integrate with Yin energy which is a bit cooler and calmer. For instance, Yin type of yoga helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system which regulates sleep to name one of its functions, and when we start to activate also the parasympathetic nervous system our entire energy finds a new level of harmony.
Some of the benefits of Yin yoga are:
* Calming and balancing to the mind and body
* Regulates energy in the body
* Increases mobility in the body, especially the joints and hips
* Lowering of stress levels
* Greater stamina
* Better lubrication and protection of joints
* More flexibility in bones & connective tissue
* Release of fascia throughout the body
* Help with TMJ and migraines
* Deeper Relaxation
* An excellent way to overwrite anxiety and stress
* Better ability to sit for meditation
* Ultimately you will have a better Yang practice
As the years went by, I felt the need to change my approach, since also Kundalini Yoga was stepping too much into the Yang energy that dominates the yoga world today, and I felt people needed more of this yin energy to benefit from any types of yoga.
Therefore, I started to direct more Yin energy into my Kundalini Yoga practice and my teaching. The beauty of bringing Yin energy makes Kundalini Yoga a more sensitive method that can move your energy more harmoniously, which effects can last longer because awareness makes them real. In my opinion, the problem with Kundalini Yoga nowadays is that increasing Yang energy made the class effects of Kundalini Yoga not real enough, and only temporarily. People go back to classes to feel the same experience of highness they felt at the previous class again and again. As a result, teachers by allowing this process create students co-dependency. Like any form of codependency soon or later it breaks revealing the truth, which is that students do very little work on themselves and much work still need to happen. When we bring Yin energy into our Yoga practice, we change the games because the teacher guides the students to go within and leads them to take responsibility for what they feel; therefore, students learn to rely on themselves, to discover imbalances and redirect the flow of energy to allow reharmonization. Yin energy builds confidence and inner strength while Yang energy makes muscular strength that is neither mental nor is it emotional empowerment, which means that Yang yoga type creates an illusion of power, but we are not stable, and we are even less empowered.
I do believe in middle ways, and I know for experience that if we join forces between Yang and Yin energy we can create harmony as the sacred Daoist symbol representing the Yin and the Yang. The two parts of this powerful symbol belong to one another, and they need one another to create the perfect circle of nature and bring harmony and balance to all that exists, and ultimately peace and stability are essential to building a life in full health and prosperity.
Written by Dharma Devi
Yin yoga Teacher Training coming up soon
“I go to yoga, so I don’t think.” 😅
I was talking to a colleague the other day. We were at work, and she was getting ready to take off and go to yoga. She knows I’m a yoga teacher, but she doesn't know how competent and well experienced I'm though. However, I asked her what style she was going to practice; she replied “ Vinyasa, hot ... I need tough stuff, so I don’t think”. This answer got me a bit by surprise, but I kept my cool. I’m not judging people; we all do the things we want to do for the reasons we want. However, her answer made me think.
My question to my self is: "Is not yoga a practice to help us think? Meaning, it shouldn’t help us to become more aware and present, so maybe the thinking or better the over thinking mechanism gets balanced, and we might be able to process our thoughts with more lightness? Based on my experience with yoga, my answer would be yes to this question, but I didn't feel fully satisfied with my reasoning :-)
Then yesterday morning I saw on my newsfeed a post from a Fb friend Owen P., who posted a quote from Sadhguru “The going within is not a direction, it is a dimension.”
Here we go, I got my full answer, thank you, Owen :)
Who takes my classes knows that the first thing I do even before starting anything else is to invite students to gather the focus to their hearts and turn the attention within bringing in all that makes us distracted and not present.
In my experience, practicing yoga is a possibility to sync with your dimension within. When we turn within, we expand our sense of space and time, and both cease to exist as we can conceive them in the outer world to which they belong.
When we enter the dimension within, our limitations of space and time expand, and a new perspective can emerge allowing to access a different way to look at our thoughts, which may appear not as overwhelming as they would on regular mental activity.
Therefore, I believe Yoga is that practice which can help you to connect to the dimension within to expand the limitation of space and time and help you process your thoughts. Within this dimension, your sense of presence is enhanced by your five senses, and it is more like you are watching a movie in your mind instead of just thinking.
Connecting to this "dimension within" is one of the reasons someone came up with this yoga practice thousands of years ago.
Since space and time do not belong to the dimension within, we find ourselves not attached to our thinking when we are in that expanded state of mind, which we call consciousness. Our thoughts become more scenes on a big movie screen that we observe as witnesses. In this state of mind, we become observers of our minds, and when we observe instead of participating actively with a mental activity such as thinking is, we automatically let go on what it is not needed. If this is done, your yoga class will be more than just a moment to shut the world out; it will be an excellent opportunity to change your life inside out.
I dedicate my work as a yoga teacher to bringing people within, and this is the only reason I keep teaching. Without connecting to that intimate space within us, which is the bridge between your daily "you" and your real you, there is no awareness in our life; there is not freedom and even less healing.
We can go to yoga for whatever reason we want, but, if we do not apply more than just the physical body, the problems which confront us every day, remain unsolved. After the effects of the yoga class pass, you are back to the starting point where your thinking is a never slowing down activity that makes you trapped in your mind, which is not a reality and you will not be living in your presence, (and I mean presence and not present). You will be pushed around by your thoughts and the ideas about how things should be, based on your irrational thinking, fear, and anxiety. This state of constant worries is not living in your presence.
Living life through your mind projections would be a life in prison. Living a life in which you reside in your heart with awareness would be a life in freedom.
Our choice as always, but I would invite you to find a yoga teacher that teaches you to be in your presence and connection with your dimension within. When you see a teacher that has no fear to bring you in and help you to set yourself free, you will know you are in the presence of a great deal in town :-)
Thoughts by Simona Dharma Devi