I was tasked this week to find a beginner student and teach them Surya Namaskara A with the understanding that teaching a beginner this sequence is not recommened! And this is what I found...
I inquired with my patients if anyone was interested in trying some yoga with me. A 29-year old female (who will remain nameless due to confidentiality) was open to trying what I had to teach her. She has never set foot in a yoga studio as she doesn't feel comfortable with her beginner ability. Attending the regular program, Open Gym, we offer at the Southside PCN, she was having difficulty moving today as she had hurt her back over the weekend. Chronic back pain is ongoing for her and she treated it with an adjustment at the chiropractor earlier in the day.
I was able to provide a centering that seemed okay with her. She was comfortable to lie on the mat and close her eyes while I did a toe to head scan. We continued into the teaching of Surya Namaskara A where I first demonstrated the sequence with modifications that I thought would work for her (hands on thighs in Uttanasana, no half Uttanasana, onto hands and knees to plank, cobra instead of upward facing dog, back to hands and knees before downward facing dog). She tried four cycles through the sequence with recognizing right away that Uttansana was not an option for her today. Instead we lowered arms towards the ground into a squatting position then into hands and knees rather than bending forward. I offered to bring the floor to her (via a chair) but she preferred to not do any forward folding.
After four rounds, we moved into Savasana where we practice a balanced breath for 4-, 5-, and 6-counts and then I was silent. I allowed her to rest for about 2-3 more minutes before I led her out of her practice and back on with her evening.
In discussion with her afterwards, she appreciated how "I changed" from my regular self (i.e., quieter, calmer voice). She felt successful with the movements she could do and if time permitted I would have preferred to block out the individual poses themselves in a prolonged fashion. She noted that the centering was somewhat anxiety inducing (she had trouble settling her breath) but found she was much more comfortable in the final Savasana.
Overall, I felt comfortable with the teaching. Time went very fast and it was very clear that trying to teach a beginner student Surya Namaskara A in its entirety is very challenging. As noted, it would have been better to teach each asana first (probably over many weeks) and then piece it all together as the full sequence after many weeks of practice.
The exact words my four year old son said to me the Sunday night after 14 hours of yoga teacher training. We proceeded to practice ‘his practice’ of made up poses on my two sticky mats. I have no idea how he came up with so many moves - 20 plus! I was so proud of him at the end when he knew to close with Namaste. How sweet!
This momma was away from her family a large part of the weekend and it was so sincere that my youngest wanted to connect with me through yoga. He knows I just can’t get enough!
Fourteen hours over three days is hard to summarize into just a simple post. But let me share some of the highlights.
Friday night was the first session of my new Teacher’s Training. Kinda confusing, I started Yoga Within’s 200 hour Teacher’s Training to help fulfill not only my hours and senior teacher requirement but also to provide the much needed structure and community I was looking for in my training.
More time, yes. More practice, yes. More knowledge, fore sure!
But right from the beginning my decision to take on more was solidified with the beautiful presence of Melanie and other senior teachers. We participated in a marigold ceremony, or what I like to call it, to represent a new beginning and initiation to the program. Each new student was welcomed to the circle and presented a small marigold. Tara Woltjen
provided a detailed back story and meaning of the marigold. Some of which include marigolds as a sacred offering to the Gods and promotion of cheer and good relations in relationships. It was a thoughtful and elegant way to begin a new page in my yoga journey.
The following day I needed to switch group, literally, a jump back into the YAA’s Teacher Training program. The focus of this workshop was the Bhagavad Gita, headstands (Sirasana) or supported headstand (Salamba Sirasana), and a brief review of pranayama (Kapalabjati and Bhastrika). I can see how they all fit together. The common thread was the head and/or skull.
Right off the hop, we dove into the Bhagavad Gita. Although I’ve read parts of it, I still need to take a deeper look. For one who is very pro-peace, reading about war isn’t one of my favourite past times. Yet, our discussion opened my mind to inquire about the themes in the Bhagavad Gita not necessarily the obvious story line. Can I see the struggle of Arjuna and his inquiries with Krishna as a reflection of the human struggle and connecting with God?
Needless to say, I’ve got more reading to do and to be honest, I a bit more intrigued now. What I did like most about learning more about the Bhagavad Gita was that it was written as a love song. Something that I don’t completely understand yet, it leaves me more to learn!
With all the talking, I almost forgot about the asana practice we had coming. It was headstand! ***sense my fear and uncertainty***
Although there was fear, I don’t think the fear was rooted in truth. I was super nervous about trying it but solely because I thought I’d need to literally put all my weight on my head. Never really been taught how to do it, I clearly had no idea.
Teddy, the senior teacher, took us through multiple progressions to the final wall supported pose. I hadn’t realized how important the forearms and shoulders are for this pose. Ninety percent of the weight should be in the arms with only a small amount on the head. We worked on mountain pose, cow faced pose arms (Gumukhasana) and eagle pose arms (Garudasana). Also on downward facing dog and wide leg forward fold (Prasarita Padottanasana) with the sole purpose to prepare for headstand.
We finally went to the wall to give the asana a try. With clasped hands right up at the wall, the head is cradled in the palms and the forearms are firm (pressing into the ground), it is then and only then that it is safe to try to get the legs up the wall.
Slowly I walked my feet up towards my face and what felt smooth and somewhat magical, my legs went up and I was in head stand. The fear vanished as I was completely comfortable in the pose. Now I respect it takes a lot of pre-work to get to this place and respect that I am only just beginning my headstand journey. It isn’t going to be something I teach any time soon as it is known as the King pose!
Headstand’s mystic and anxiety-rising appearance is not longer. I am incorporating it in my home practice and look forward to the pose. It’s completion brings along a bit of a [head]rush and I’ve been following it with a supported child’s pose then a bridge. It is important to follow the headstand with a shoulder stand (the Queen pose, of course). Although I struggle with the shoulder stand (getting the chest opening), it is nice to pair these two together for my home practice.
What a whirlwind weekend of yoga! I can’t lie…I loved every minute of it!
Aspiring Yoga Teacher
I've practiced yoga since I was a pre-teen and have always found it to keep me centered. I will be a teacher one day and this is my journey to discover teaching and practice.