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Episode 136: Yoga Philosophy for Beginners

In this second episode of our Begin Again series, we talk about what keeps us motivated to practice when yoga is feeling stagnant and Jason offers useful tips for teachers who are faced with the difficult (but rewarding!) task of teaching yoga to beginners.

He also talks about how to introduce philosophy to beginning students and how to motivate students to keep coming back to their mats.

Here’s an overview of the episode:

* Why beginning again can be a great thing even for experienced yoga practitioners

* Some common mistakes yoga teachers make when they teach beginners

* How to approach teaching philosophy to beginners in a way that doesn’t confuse or overwhelm

* How he navigates sharing the philosophical dimensions of yoga so that they are useful to everyone regardless of their cultural and ideological belief systems

* Tips for being a good host to new students and why he thinks that’s a key component to keeping students motivated

*BONUS: Jason explains some of the yamas and niyamas and puts them into a modern context


RECOMMENDED AND RELATED LINKS

Episode 135: Jason’s Tips for Teaching Beginners (And Beginning Again)

How to Leave a (Positive!) Podcast Review (Hint, Hint!)

Coming Soon! The Art of Teaching Beginners Course with Jason

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Episode 135: Jason’s Tips for Teaching Beginners (and Beginning Again)

Happy New Year!

With a new year comes a flood of new students into yoga classes everywhere. Many of those students will be brand new to yoga, while others have re-committed to their yoga practice.

In this first episode of our series on yoga beginners, Jason shares some tips for how to welcome these new students and make them feel “supported, but not hounded” in the yoga room.

While the series will be geared toward teachers, it’s important info for those yoga students who will be seeing lots of new faces in their classes, too.

We discuss:

* Why it’s so important to put yourself back into the mindset of a beginner if you’re teaching new yoga students

* Jason’s principles for teaching asanas, or yoga poses, to beginners–and how he keeps his classes consistent without letting them get too boring or stale

* A few strategies for making  beginning students feel more comfortable in a new environment and how to be a good host to all of your students

* How yoga teachers can keep their beginning students safe without making them feel called out or inadequate

* More on how the beginning of the year can be an opportunity for yoga teachers to reflect, learn something new, and make tweaks to their teaching approach, too

RECOMMENDED AND RELATED LINKS

Start Your Year with Self Care

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SHOUT-OUT TO OUR SPONSORS

1. LOLA is a female-founded company offering 100 organic cotton tampons, pads, and liners. For every purchase, LOLA donates feminine care products to homeless shelters across the U.S. For 40% off all subscriptions, visit mylola.com and enter the code YOGALAND40 when you subscribe.

2. Care/of is a monthly subscription vitamin service made from high, quality ingredients personally tailored to your exact needs. Their short quiz asks you about your diet, health goals, and lifestyle choices and uses these answers to create personalized vitamin packs just for you. For 25% off your first month of personalized care/of vitamins, visit takecareof.com and enter promo code YOGALAND.

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Common Errors in Manual Yoga Adjustments – and How to Fix Them

Common Errors in Manual Yoga Adjustments | Scorpion Pose Adjustment

A conversation about manual yoga adjustments (also called “hands-on assists) in yoga is long overdue. For the past five years in my workshops, trainings, and weekly classes, I’ve been advocating for a paradigm shift: I believe that yoga teachers need to stop acting like stretching machines and exerting leverage on students’ bodies to intensify or “enhance” a stretch.

Why? The answer is simple: This is a mechanically flawed approach to working with bodies and it results in countless avoidable injuries.

I’ve seen plenty of anecdotal evidence of this – and, if you’re a yoga teacher, I’m sure you have, too. During my trainings and workshops I ask students to raise their hand if they’ve been injured during a manual adjustment. There has never been a group where less than forty percent of students have raised their hand. I think you’ll agree that this is too much. As a community, we can drastically lower this number.

I’m not saying that experienced teachers shouldn’t provide appropriate manual feedback. I’m still an advocate for manual yoga  adjustments—or, what I usually call them, “manual cues.”(Listen to this week’s Yogaland podcast to hear me talk about this more.) There is nothing better in class than receiving an excellent manual cue. The body falls into place and the nervous system relaxes. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. There’s nothing worse than receiving a poor or inappropriate adjustment—the body strains, the breath tightens, and the nervous system becomes agitated.

A good yoga adjustment skillfully communicates the actions of the pose to your body so that your body understands the posture more clearly. A bad adjustment is invasive and misguided. During lousy adjustments, the teacher is either working with a lack of experience and information or an abundance of ego.

See also Verbal Cues for Yoga Poses: The Easiest Ways to Immediately Improve Your Communication

So what is the paradigm shift I’m talking about here? First, I ask that teachers stop exerting leverage on the part of the student’s body that is moving. Instead, provide increased grounding and stability to the part of the student’s body that is fixed. Let’s take Wide-Legged Seated Forward Bend (UpavisthaKonasana) as an example. In this pose, the pelvis and spine rotate forward over the thighbones—they are the “moving” parts of the pose.The thighbones root down into the ground—they are the “fixed” part of the pose. Do not add leverage to the pelvis and spine. Instead, press down on the thighbones. Grounding the student’s thighs will allow the pelvis and spine to release further into the pose without the vulnerability that comes from adding direct pressure onto the pelvis and spine. This is just one of countless examples.

Another component of this paradigm shift is to view manual cues the same way we view verbal cues. Manual cues—like verbal cues—simply communicate the actions of the pose to the student. The idea is to use your hands to communicate directly to the student’s body so he or she has a better understanding of the pose. The idea is not to use your hands to press a student further into the pose. You are not a stretching machine that is doing the pose to the student.

Here are 10 more ideas for honing our approach to manual yoga adjustments during yoga class:

First, a note about ethical considerations

While this is a huge topic for discussion in a teacher-training program, it’s outside the scope of this article. So, let me just say that teachers should never touch students inappropriately. Period. (To hear my wife, Andrea, talk about ending sexual misconduct in the yoga world, listen to episode 94 of Yogaland.)

1. Observe Before You Adjust

You’ll get pretty busy during class: you’ll be sequencing, verbalizing, adjusting, observing group dynamics, managing the clock, adjusting the tempo, and so on. It can be challenging to simply pause and patiently see a student’s body clearly. Instead, you might notice the most obvious element of a student’s pose and set your sights on giving an adjustment that involves leverage. However, it is important to observe your students before you dive in. This pause will not only help you more accurately assess the room, it will help you become grounded before you attempt to steady someone else.

2. Put Fires Out First

As you assess the room, look for dangerous or uncomfortable postures. Adjust these folks before you walk around and offer a “deepening” adjustment to someone who doesn’t actually need any help. It’s more important that all of your students are working safely than deepening someone’s backbend.

3. Create Steadiness, Not Intensity

Aim to help your students find greater steadiness, ease, and integrity in their postures. Instead of trying to increase range of motion, figure out how you can help them feel more grounded and balanced. Adjustments that increase intensity can be dangerous—especially if the student is not grounded. Unfortunately, many teachers want their students to have “breakthroughs” in their class since these experiences can build an attachment to the teacher. These types of egocentric adjustments often contribute to injuries.

4. Stabilize the Foundation

One of the best ways to adjust your students is by helping them create balanced, stable contact with the floor. If a student’s postural foundation is off, the rest of their body will have to work even harder to maintain equilibrium. Their effort will be inefficiently distributed, creating unnecessary tension throughout the body.

5. Help Them Find their Stride

It is common for students to have a stride that is too long or too short. Helping students size their stride correctly can be one of the most thorough stabilizing adjustments.

6. Know Your Student Before Deepening A Pose

Most students are near their maximum range of motion (at least in the short term) before their teacher adjusts them. This means that your students are already at their edge before you give them any manual cues. Your student is already at a stress point and any additional motion in the posture should be mild. There’s a fine line between deepening the pose and creating an injury. A very fine line.

It’s much safer and more skillful to work with a student that you know well. And, remember our earlier point: You’re not a stretching machine—don’t exert force on the part of the student’s body that is already moving in the posture. Simply use your hands to create more stability and grounding so they can release deeper into the pose on their own.

7. Take Your Time

No one likes a rushed adjustment. Hasty yoga adjustments are unsettling to the mind, body and nervous system. Take your time adjusting your students and surrender to the fact that people aren’t going to get touched 800 times in class. Fewer good adjustments are always preferable to more mediocre adjustments.

8. Observe How Your Students Respond

Sometimes when you adjust a student, you will feel them melt into the new position with comfort and relief. Other times, you will feel the student’s body resist by flinching or tensing. Sometimes a student may not want additional intensity or they’re protecting themselves because they’re nursing an injury. It’s important to observe your student’s breath and physical signals when you give them an adjustment. Sensing and responding to these signals is essential for developing skillful touch.

9. Complement Your Manual Cues with Verbal Cues

In most manual adjustments, you can only guide one or two actions of the posture at a time. To enhance your student’s pose, offer a verbal cue that complements the manual cue. Let’s say you’re adjusting your student in Revolved Triangle by stabilizing their hips while lengthening and rotating their spine in the twist. You can verbally cue them to reach through their back leg and ground their outer foot.

10. Ask the Correct Questions

Don’t ask your students if an adjustment feels good! You won’t always get candid feedback since very few students will feel comfortable telling you that they don’t feel good in the adjustment. Instead, ask your students, “Do you want more intensity, less intensity, or the same intensity?” You don’t have to ask this question every time you make an adjustment. But, if you’re going to ask them if the adjustment is working for them, this is the best way to go about it.

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Episode 93: Ending Sexual Abuse in the Yoga Community — A Conversation with Mary Taylor and Judith Hanson Lasater

Judith Hanson Lasater quote | Yoga Podcast | Yogaland Podcast

Sexual misconduct in the yoga community isn’t new. But the evolving #metoo and #timesup movements have brought to light the magnitude of the problem for women from all walks of life — including within the yoga world. (Rachel Brathen collected more than 300 of them last year). It’s opened an important dialogue about how to put an end to sexual abuse, misconduct, and other abuses of power within the yoga community.

There are a few thoughtful yoga teachers leading the way, and I talked with two of them in this week’s episode: Judith Hanson Lasater and Mary Taylor.

Judith and Mary, with AZIAM founder Alanna Zabel, shared their stories recently with Yoga Journal. Now, they’re talking with me about what they feel should be the next steps for healing.

We talk about:

* The history of ethical standards for yoga teachers and how both Judith and Mary believe these standards should evolve in the future

* How the vocation of yoga teacher has changed through the years as yoga has become more commercial

* Why it’s important for teachers to create an environment where students feel safe and empowered to say “no”

* Judith’s tip for how to listen to your body to discern if something is wrong

* Practical steps yoga teachers can take to further the discussion, support students who have been victimized to share their stories, and create awareness about sexual abuse in the yoga community

* Mary’s perspective on what’s happening in the Ashtanga community on the heels of abuse allegations against founder Pattabhi Jois

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RECOMMENDED AND RELATED LINKS

#Metoo Yoga Stories by Rachel Brathen
#TimesUp: Ending Sexual Abuse in the Yoga Community by Yoga Journal Staff
Inner Gold: Understanding Psychological Projection by Robert A. Gold
RAINN.org (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network)

Mary Taylor began studying yoga in 1971, soon after she came home from France with a grande diplôme from Julia Child’s cooking school, L’Ecole des Trois Gourmandes. She found yoga at first a means of finding equanimity during the stress of University, and it was that thread of balance that got her hooked. It was not until 1988 and finding her primary teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and the Ashtanga Vinyasa system that she experienced the profound and transformative impact that a dedicated and daily practice can have on all aspects of life. She continues to study and practice yoga and Buddhist teachings with great enthusiasm and inquisitiveness, with an eye on how the residue that is produced on the mat (and cushion) through these teachings informs and supports all aspects of everyday life.

Mary travels and teaches with Richard and also within the caregiver and hospital setting as part of the core faculty of the Being with Dying program (Upaya Zen Center) and the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Trainings. In 1988 she co-founded with Richard the Yoga Workshop. Mary is also the author of three cookbooks and the co-author of What Are You Hungry For? Women Food and Spirituality (St. Martins Press) and The Art of Vinyasa (Shambhala Publications).

Judith Hanson Lasater, Ph.d. in East-West Psychology and physical therapist has taught yoga around the world since 1971.  She is a founder of the Iyengar Yoga Institute in San Francisco, CA, as well as of Yoga Journal magazine.

Ms. Lasater trains yoga teachers in virtually every state of the United States, and is often an invited guest at international yoga conventions.  She is president emeritus of the California Yoga Teachers’ Association as well as the author of numerous articles on yoga and health for nationally recognized magazines.

Her most recent book is Restore and Rebalance: Yoga for Deep Relaxation, Shambhala Press, December, 2017. A complete list of Ms. Lasater’s nine books can be found here. She has also created numerous digital courses about teaching and practicing yoga.

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Verbal Cues for Yoga Poses: The Most Common Instructional Errors We Make When Teaching Yoga

Handstand Assist | Verbal Cues for Yoga Poses

The ability to give clear, concise, and compelling verbal cues for yoga poses is one of the most distinguishing factors of a good yoga teacher. For all the time that we dedicate to doing bigger, harder postures and projecting our prowess across the social media space, most of us could spend a little more time honing our verbal craft. Students want to hear your words. Students want to understand your words. Students want to digest your instructions and learn from them. And, the reality is that being a good verbal communicator is hard. It takes practice. It takes strategy. And, like the subject of this post, it takes a willingness to look at the most common errors that we make and learn from them.

Look, we all make mistakes. We all speak redundantly, we all flub our words at times, and we all make up weird words that don’t exist on occasion. I think I said “hamstringossity” the other day. Seriously.

With a brave heart, let’s take a look at the most common instructional errors that we all make. Let’s start to clean up these warts and then, in the Part II of this post, we’ll look at The Easiest Ways to Immediately Improve Your Communication.

Here are the most common mistakes that we all make from time-to-time while giving verbal cues for yoga poses:

Not Speaking Loudly Enough

I know it’s obvious, but few things are more uncomfortable for students than being unable to hear their teacher’s instructions. It’s not only annoying, it’s unsettling.

There are three things to consider that impede your students’ ability to hear you: First, music that’s played too loud. Second, students are often in Down Dog or forward bends which turns their body away from you. And third, that sometimes you will not be facing your all of your students while you walk around the room and assist.

Dropping Your Voice Off a Cliff

What I call “dropping your voice off a cliff” comes from the paradox of speaking loudly enough that everyone can hear you while trying to keep a calm, quiet, soothing demeanor. What I mean by “dropping your voice off a cliff” is making the last word or two of an instructional sentence too quiet relative to the rest of the sentence. Our voice drops from full volume to low volume because we’re trying to soften the feel of an instruction. So we do something like this, “INHALE, LENGTHEN YOUR TORSO FORWARD INTO ARDHA UTTANASANA; EXHALE STEP BACK INTO downward-facing dog.” We change volume too much and the end of the sentence disappears. This is one of the many things I try to clean up about my delivery in all of my classes.

Using Upspeak

Compare these two phrases: “Step back into Downward-Facing Dog,” and, “Step back into Downward-Facing Dog??” Written the first way, it’s a clear command. Written the second way it’s a question. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Right. Right? Phrasing commands as questions is a pretty common vocal inflection that we can all do without.

Adding Filler Words

I do it. You do it. We all add filler words—often unconsciously. I was teaching a 200-hr yoga teacher training in Japan and, despite my inability to speak Japanese, I heard the phrase “et to” so many times during peer teaching sessions that I asked the interpreter what it means. She said, “It doesn’t mean anything, it’s similar to saying ‘like’ or ‘uh’ in English.” Filler words and phrases such as “like,” “good,” “yes” and “uh” are omnipresent in the classroom. Notice what your filler words are and, uh, like, practice not using them!

Lacking a Declarative Instruction by “ing-ing” Your Students to Death

Listen to this set of instructions: “Inhaling, stretching your arms overhead; exhaling, forward bending; inhaling lifting half-way up; exhaling stepping back to Downward-Facing Dog.” I could go on and on and there would be nowhere to put a period because there is no specific call to action. Using “ing” is fine, but constant usage creates a run-on sentence. Be mindful of your phrasing and don’t be afraid to come to a conclusion and add a period. Instead, try “Inhaling, stretch your arms overhead. Exhaling, forward bend.”

Crowding Your Students Ears

When you give an instruction you also need to give your students enough time and space to complete the instruction. When there is a constant stream of instructions your students don’t have time to do what you’re asking them to do. Remember to take a breath or two after each cue and allow your students to integrate the information.

Using Passive Voice

It’s generally preferable to use active voice because it’s more direct and conveys more certainty to the listener. Active voice is the subject of a sentence does an action (denoted by a verb).

Passive voice is when the subject is acted upon by the verb. Passive voice is wordier and harder for the listener to decipher the meaning of the sentence. I notice that people tend to use passive voice when they uncomfortable being direct.

Here’s an example of passive voice: “The action of the iliotibial band is to assist in knee extension and provide some external rotation force.” Notice the phrases, “the action of the …” and “…is to assist.” These are passive, unnecessary phrases that don’t help our students. Instead, the sentiment could be expressed like this: “The iliotibial band helps extend and externally rotate the knee.” This phrase is more simple, clear and direct.

Again, we all make mistakes. But, we owe it to our yoga students to refine the craft of verbal cueing yoga poses. Becoming aware of your errors is the first step. The second step is to focus on the six components of making your verbal cues more accurate, concise, and digestible. We’ll tackle this in Part II of this series.

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