What I've recently learned before, but maybe didn't necessarily think much about until now, is that a yoga class includes book ends. Book ends? Kind of like in a workout, there is a warm-up to start and a cool-down to finish. Although those are included in a yoga class, there are also two additional pieces.
1. Centering. Bringing class participants to the present and readying them for practice.
2. Savasana. Final pose. Time for the practice to integrate.
My assignment this week was to write one of each. It was somewhat tricky to write out. At first, I asked my dear Siri to help me. I spoke to her and asked her to scribe the words out for me. That worked okay. But the real work was sitting in front of my words and tweaking them to sound like the best version of what I want to say.
Here is a look at what I wrote:
Come to a seated position. Relax your shoulders take a deep breath in and a deep breath out. Let the body relax and forget the rest of your day. Leave it at the door. There's no need to think about the past or the future. Think about the present moment. Settle to yourself on your mat.
Slowly lower yourself down on your back and allow the mat to support your bodyweight. Take a deep breath in and let it slowly trickle out of your mouth. Take another deep breath in and slowly let it come out of your nose. Feel the difference in your breath when coming out of your mouth and when coming out of your nose.
Slowly take another deep breath in and exhale what feels the most comfortable to you.
As you relax into the mat, feel the weight of your body and all the contact points on the mat. Feel where your heels meet the mat. Feel for the back of the knees and where they meet the mat. Feel where your hips and low back meet the mat. Feel where the shoulders and back meet the mat. And as you reach the top of your body, feel where your head meets the mat.
Slowly take another deep breath in and exhale your body deep into the mat.
As you become increasingly still lying on your mat, start to think about a mantra or a purpose to your practice today. It might be simply “relax” or “calm” or “present”. You may make it more specific to you as “I am relaxed”, “I am calm”, or “I am present”. Create a mantra for yourself to remind yourself throughout your entire practice why you came to the mat today. This mantra will guide your practice and take you through a practice that is needed not only for the physical body but for the heart and the soul.
Slowly take another deep breath in and exhale as you say your mantra to yourself.
***few moments of silence***
Begin to connect back to the physical space and your place in the room. Begin with slow movements and when you are ready slowly lift your feet to plant them on your mat. Knees bent, facing towards the ceiling. As you feel you can bring more movement to your body, slowly lift your knees to your chest and place your hands gently on the legs for a gentle hug.
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!
At the 13th YAA teacher training workshop this weekend, I was challenge to think of the roles we play in our lives. Soon to be, I hope, yoga teacher will be one of the roles I play. And what does that mean?
Melanie, the workshop facilitator, reminded us newbies that when we are teaching yoga, we are yoga teachers. We must be cautious that we keep to our role (and our scope of practice) instead of ‘playing’ other roles we play in our lives.
It got me thinking.
Will I be able to take off my exercise physiologist hat when I teach yoga?
I suppose the mom hat will be off as well as the sister, daughter, wife and friend hat will be off too. But there is an obvious link to what I do as my profession to some of the responsibilities of a yoga teacher. The most glaring is the physical body aspect.
It might not be a total removal of the exercise physiologist hat as I won’t be able to deny proper biomechanics and alignment. But, I do like the idea that “you are responsible for you” and giving yoga students the reigns when it comes to how they practice on their mats. My job will be to guide students not dictate what they should and shouldn’t do. I suppose I already do that in my job yet, it will be a bigger part of my role and tool box as a yoga teacher.
Lending to the discussion on being a yoga teacher, we also discussed the intermingling of the word “restorative” versus “Yin” versus “therapeutic” yoga. Thinking I would dabble in these forms of yoga, it was a great discussion on the differences and not the interchangeable use of the terms.
Restorative yoga is to provide support and relaxation. Hence the word restore. This practice is not only for the physical but also for mental and emotional restoration. Yoga students are placed into asanas that allow for letting go and rest. No pain or discomfort should be present. I personally love this type of practice particularly at the end of a busy week or when I am feeling overwhelmed. It would be a gift to provide this practice to future yoga students!
Now to Yin yoga.
This yoga practice I am not as familiar with as most of my practices have been at home in the privacy of my computer screen. I am intrigued to learn more about ‘taking students to their edge’ and holding an asana. We reviewed the basics which include picking a pose, taking the pose to the ’edge’ and then being still, both mentally and physically. In past practice and also in this workshop, it is emphasized that the ‘edge’ is sensation not pain. So differently than restorative yoga, Yin yoga isn’t necessarily a relaxing process.
The final type of yoga, that is clearly different than the rest, is therapeutic yoga. Although it might be relaxing and/or take one to the edge, therapeutic yoga’s sole purpose is to focus on a specific condition or what I heard someone say this weekend, “issue in the tissue”. It makes complete sense that an asana practice could be suited to a specific condition and/or focused on a specific part of the body. This type of practice is very intriguing to me working in primary healthcare. I see people daily who are dealing with a chronic disease and/or injury. I had always seen myself teaching this type of class.
On a final note, that wraps up my workshop experience, was again more about logistics that anything else. Melanie provide wisdom and insight on class planning. I had never thought about structuring a class in this fashion but it makes so much sense. Here’s the gist:
Think of the climax, peak portion of your class; essentially what you are working on. It would include the main asana you wish the students to do in class that day. Your goal is to lead yoga students to that peak thoughtfully that they can successfully (whatever that looks like) complete the pose. After the peak, it is your job as the teacher to slowly take them away from said pose. What a brilliant way to formulate a class!
This workshop, although very focused on restorative asanas, I gained so much more insight into being a teacher and how I can teach than the physical pieces themselves.
I’ve made it over the 300 week mark. Say what?!
What an amazing journey this has been! Some would say long but I’d say worth every single week!
The asana practice for this month’s teacher training was all about arm supported poses. Quite frankly, the harder or shall I say hardest asanas out there! Before the workshop we received multiple handouts on the anatomy of the shoulder joint as well as the biomechanics of the associated joints. I took a read through ahead of time and thought to myself, we will have our work cut out for us!
The upper extremity, in some cases, is the poor, neglected area of the body. The larger, more stable pelvis tends to get all the attention. This is no exception in my practice. Yes, I use my upper body but do I really USE my upper body to my advantage? Over the years, I’ve felt my mobility start to wane as I focus more on my hip and back (this week leading up to the workshop being a prime example). Even though I prepped ahead of time, I never know what learnings will come from my workshops.
The biggest take away was about alignment. I’m fully aware of scapular retraction/protraction/elevation/depression and humerus flexion/extension but it is one thing to have book knowledge and the other to put it into practice. Judi, the senior teacher, was adamant that we had proper alignment in the wrist, elbow and shoulder joints. Her main focus was on pronation of the wrist and external rotation of the humerus.
Another way to say it was the arms acted like ropes, you know, the rotation of the rope fibres curling around to provide integrity and support. The bones (ulna and radius) and muscles (forearm flexors and extension, too many to name) below the elbow going one way and the bone (humerus) and muscles (biceps and triceps) going the other. This opposite action around the elbow joint amazingly lengthened the arm and made it as solid as a taut rope.
The triceps was the key for me. How often have I outstretched my arms without really engaging my triceps to their full capacity?
Lots…and my posture (read: that hunched forward position) definitely can show the internal rotation of my humerus!
We went through multiple variations of Adho Muhka Svanasana (downward facing dog) to ensure we had proper movements before we headed into more complex poses as Chaturanga, Purvottanasana (inclined plank), Vasisthasana (side plank), Bakasana (crow pose), Parsva Bakasana (side crow), Mayurasana (peacock pose), Pincha Mayurasana (upright peacock, forearm stand) and Adho Muhka Vrksasna (handstand).
Thankfully, the pre-work we did, although exhausting, was exactly what we needed for the advanced poses. In every asana, I continually focused on the proper alignment, always thinking that my strength and foundation is coming from my wrist, elbow and shoulder joints.
In Tadasana, we mindfully worked through proper alignment in shoulder hyper-flexion, adduction and extension (similar to the arm movement initiation of sun salutations). What might have seemed like old hat or easy movement, was very difficult to do with full attention to alignment. Subsequently, my arms had increased mobility that even showed up in Utkatasana (chair pose).
Very much welcomed mobility!
Although I write about the physical, we also dove into the third Pada of the Yoga Sutras. We talked at length about Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (pure absorption). To be honest, I see these words on paper and since they are still somewhat foreign to me, I find it difficult to recall what they mean. Yet, after the workshop, I have a better understanding of the link to mindfulness and what Samyama is (the three - Dharana, Dhyana and Samahi - together constitute perfect disciple and self-control).
So much more work I need to do more on the philosophy! Probably another 300 weeks to do so!
Can you think of anything better than to be greeted at a workshop with a hug?!
I walked into my most recent Yoga Association of Alberta workshop to be straight away embraced by the facilitator/senior teacher. How lovely was that!
We dove deep into the philosophy of yoga this session. This is where my ears perk up and I am all in. I need to be on my game, especially with the sanskrit words and their meanings. Although I am comprehending much more than when I start my teacher training, I still need laser focus on the words (and spelling!) and how to weave them into my understanding of yoga. The key pieces this time around include:
1. Right off the hop - The Gayatri Mantra…
This mantra, when recited, bestows wisdom and enlightenment, through the vehicle of the Sun (Savitr), who represents the source and inspiration of the universe. What a fitting way to start a practice. We repeated the mantra over and over while adding a line at a time. I really needed the time to process how to say the words, and let’s be honest, feeling comfortable chatting in the group. It is still something very new to me and I am not really at ease with it. Not that I don’t think it is beautiful, because I do, yet I just lack confidence in the process. Chatting a mantra reminds of a singing which over time I think will give me ease.
In my notebook, I had to write this word out three times before I got the spelling right! Pratyahara is the fifth limb of yoga with the focus on quieting the mind. I loved the analogy of a tortoise, an animal who can remove the external and just be inside. How can I be more like a tortoise and restrain my senses? Likely through my yoga practice. I would argue that my time on the mat usually requires a lot of focus, especially on the breath. When I work on my inhale for eight counts, two second retention and eight count exhalation, I am within myself. The second I fall off my breathing, then I start hearing all the noises in the room or the people around me. This might be why I like to close my eyes for a majority of my practice. It shuts out all possible visual cues.
3. Anahata Chakra
The heart chakra, Anahata, is the most central chakra in the body; it is thought to link the bottom three chakras (earth, water, fire) to the top three chakras. Interestingly enough, the element of Anahata Chakra is air which stokes the fire in the Manipura Chakra below.
Connecting the dots!
The Chakras have been very intriguing to me of late. With reading, Caroline Myss’ book, Anatomy of Spirit, I have had a greater understating of the Chakras. After the workshop, I went straight to the book store and found a Chakra book. Bought it on the spot! As always, so much more to learn!
With all this philosophy talk, we did work through some chest openers such as cobra (Bhujangasana), spinx (Naraviralasana) and camel (Ustrasana) poses. How fitting for Anahata Chakra.
Continuing to open and make my yoga practice come from the heart,
It was refreshing to get back to teacher training workshops after the holiday season. Although the break was good, I was happy to get refocused on my journey as a yoga teacher.
This workshop was focusing on the abdomen - not only with the poses we were to review and teach but also Manipura Chakra, the navel Chakra. I’m first to admit that I’ve only explored the Chakras by reading a couple articles and doing some minor research on the concept. It was interesting to not only learn from a senior teacher but also others in the room who have studied the Chakras more extensively than I.
I can’t lie, I have had some stomach upset over the past week and was hesitant to see how my body would react (good or bad or neither) in regards to the practice ahead of me.
The mental practice, however, was probably the most intriguing. In discussion about Manipura Chakra, it was discussed as the “City of Jewels” where we learn our gifts and talents (senior teacher hint…that is a quick and dirty summary of what the Bhagavad-Gita is all about; more on that another day!). Since this Chakra is considered the navel, if the diaphragm is tight then the flow of energy (prana) can get stuck or not move easily through this area. Why a tight diaphragm? Maybe an anatomical reason due to poor breathing or tight abdominal muscles (‘suck in the gut!’) or maybe related to more emotional reasons like holding on to ones fears.
I loved the quote “take courage to be who you are” which was stated by the senior teacher. Prompting to release, soften and open the navel Chakra.
As we practiced, connecting to Manipura Chakra was the thread through the entire workshop. During our pranayama practice, we directed our breath to the navel but also incorporated breath work to the pelvic floor and the root Chakra. One such sequence was on inhalation to lift the root Chakra to the second Chakra (sacral) and finally to Manipura Chakra with breath retention. With exhale, release the Chakras back to their originating positions. This was new to me and have never focused on the Chakras this much with my breath.
Our asana practice consisted of:
Urdhva Prasarita Padasana
We focused our attention on Jathara Parivartanasana (straight leg spinal twist) as it can be a challenging pose for alignment. The version we practiced as an individual and as a group was the bent knee supported (with blocks between the knees and under head) asana. Funny enough, I got to be the 'demo girl’ showing my tight scapular region. Oh was a stretch I had when supported by fellow students. I also found that I haven’t been positioning myself correctly with spinal alignment and arm placement. AND maybe most importantly, I could not necessarily connect to Manipura Chakra in the pose. Something to work on…or as the senior teacher said, ‘explore’. It was a great time to explore my version.
Needless to say, this single session was jammed packed with lots of learning. More things that I can’t expand on today but maybe another.
Oh - and how did my abdominals fair? Really good! My GI symptoms subsided and felt back to normal…if not slightly more aligned, physically and energetically.
Fired up in the belly,
“The role of the yoga teacher: take the hand of the student and lead them back to themselves.”
I just love this quote and idea of being a yoga teacher. I know for myself that the various yoga teachers I’ve had, have really done just that. Given me a space to be with myself and practice for myself to find what truly matters to me.
This was the opening to Workshop #4 of my yoga teacher training. We covered nine asanas that encourage us to work through the GROSS body. Feeling the muscles, joints and connective tissue. This is only one level of yoga practice.
What we dove into next was the SUBLTE body. I know I’ve said it before, I feel quite connected to my body. But really what I am saying is that I am connected to my gross body. The subtle body, not so much. And thus, I fully appreciated the discussion, dare I say lecture, about the subtle body.
How did we reach the subtle body?
Through the Koshas.
This idea and topic was new to me. I can’t say that I have ever heard about the Koshas before. Essentially, the Koshas are translated to “sheath”, meaning that they each fit within the next. I’d like to think of them as a matryoshka doll, also known as a Russian nesting doll, one fitting into the next with the largest being the physical, gross body. The Koshas are interconnected and are each made of increasingly finer grades of energy.
Here is a quick list of the five Koshas:
1. Anamya Kosha
2. Pranamaya Kosha
3. Manomaya Kosha
4. Vijnanamaya Kosha
5. Anandamya Kosha
Now, let me dive a bit deeper into each Kosha. The first being more of the gross and the last more of the subtle body.
- the physical body whereby we obtain energy from food sources. It is the Kosha where the root of suffering comes from.
- the energy body that is made up of 72,000 points or meridians (think acupuncture) which allows prana (or sometimes called Chi) through the body. This Kosha is key to pranayama practice. Since this Kosha is our life force which regulates the unconscious physiological processes such as breathing; if it shuts off then our physical body does not survive.
Sidenote about prana that was discussed at this workshop was that prana is present everywhere, present in the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, and the sun we absorb. It rides into the body on the air and it is not the air itself.
- the mind body where our thoughts and emotions live. The Samskaras also reside in this Kosha. Meditation and/or using a mantra helps keep this body functioning at its best by decluttering the excessive negative energy that may be bringing us down.
- the intellectual body which encompasses the higher consciousness including conscience and will. The Yamas and Niyamas fall nicely into this Kosha as a reflection of free will and acting with a moral conscious.
- the bliss body is the most subtle and spiritual of the Koshas. Generally, the average person has an underdeveloped connection to this Kosha and it is left to the sages, saints, and genuine mystics who have done the work to connect with this Kosha. Being the thinnest veil, this Kosha is what is standing between our ordinary awareness and our higher Self.
Reflecting on the five Koshas, really helped to reinforce the quote at this beginning of this post. Yoga works not only the gross body but more importantly, the subtle body. And the responsibility of a yoga teacher is to guide students to find the Koshas for themselves, potentially not even labeling them as such.
The final quote from this beautiful workshop is…
“Yoga are not the doer. Yoga will come through you.”
Reference: The Koshas: 5 Layers of Being
Off I go to my third installment of YAA's yoga teacher training this week. It is yet again with a new senior teacher, to me, so I'm ready to not only learn but figure out if this teacher is a possible senior teacher.
The plan was to focus on Surya Namaskar this week. Something I've blogged about before. Yet, this was a chance to gain some new insight into one of the most common yoga sequences there is!
Technically made up of a handful of yoga asanas, Suyra Namaskar has its history in sun worshiping. Hence, the name sun salutations. Believed to begin as chanting to the sun and morphing into movements, Suyra Namaskar was likely one of the earliest forms of yoga.
Some interesting tidbits include:
1. There are many, many sequences that make up Surya Namaskar. The version David McAmmond shared with us over the workshop seemed like a skeleton or bare bones approach. I even inquired about Standing Half Forward Bend (Ardha Uttanasana) part of the series which he didn't include. It seemed to be missing. I always have done a half way lift in my sun salutation. He seemed to think it was just some yoga teacher's iteration of the sequence.
2. Bringing of the hands together at the heart in namaste is like bringing together the sun and the moon. The two energies needing to be balanced.
3. Sun represents the energy of the day, right hand, front of the body and the male energy.
4. Moon represents the energy of the night, left hand, back of body and the female energy.
Within the Sun Salutations, we took a laser focus to Tadasana, likely because it is the starting and finishing pose of the sequence. Although a possible side tangent, we chatted about how to find the same body position no matter what position a body is in space. Other words, how can Tadasana be found in supine position, seated position and its traditional sense, standing position?
After our asana practice, we dove into some philosophy. This workshop focused on the Kleshas. Again, this was new to me.
The Kleshas are the obstacles we find in life and the attachments we hold on to. Life is ever evolving and changing and the Kleshas are our attachment to status quo. For example, if we have the desire to recreate something pleasant that has occurred; it can be suffering to oneself as we can’t recreate the pleasant situation as it was. David hinted at the involvement of ego but also ignorance and aversion.
Post workshop research, I was able to find a great article in Yoga Journal talking about the Kleshas. Noting that the Kleshas are the afflictions of spiritual ignorance that can block your progress. There are five Kleshas outlined in the Yoga Sutras (around 2.2) and they are listed below:
The inability to see things for what they are; this causes you to mistake transient, ego-related matters for permanent, soul-related ones.
The tendency to over identify with your ego; this keeps you from connecting with your soul.
The flame of desire that causes addiction to pleasure; this discourages you from leaving your comfort zone for more evolved territory.
The aversion to pain; this creates a quicksand-like cycle of misery and self-hatred that sucks you under and suffocates your will to evolve.
Abhinivesha (will to live)
The fear of death or a clinging to life; this dilutes your focus and interferes with your ability to experience the spiritual freedom that is the goal of yoga.
On the surface, yoga looks like a physical practice. But when diving deep into the philosophy, there is so much detail! On self-reflection, it is amazing how each of the five Kleshas are relatable and have occurred in my life.
Hooray for yoga philosophy and spiritual insight!
The Cause of Suffering: The Kleshas
I am super grateful for the chance to attend a workshop this weekend with Marcia Langenberg. So lucky because she only had four of us and we got to really focus on a couple interrelated topics. Topics I have a very superficial understanding of so you can imagine how interested and keen I was to learn.
The workshop was named simply Pranayama. But I'll tell you it was much more than that. We dove deep into what the breath is able to do within a yoga practice.
Relaxation - check.
Settling of the mind - check.
Changing ones habitual behaviors - what?!
I would have never thought that this was what concentrated breathing could do for me. Of course I recognize the power of the mind body connection with yoga practice but it had never occurred to me how pranayama would also influence the mind. Makes complete sense but I had never put two and two together. We dove into the topic of Samskara. A word I recognize in written form but honestly can’t say I knew what it meant.
Samskara are those ideas, thoughts and habits that we all carry. Yoga philosophy believes that we are all born with certain samskaras. Samskaras can be both positive (like good dental care) and negative (like poor self talk). Depending on the samskara, it can either keep you in a rut or move you forward in life by limiting suffering. By breaking down the sanskrit word, SAM means accumulation and SKARA means to act. Everyone builds and grows certain behaviours which dictates how we ultimately live.
This drawing demonstrates that both positive and negative samskaras exist and will always exist. It is with yoga that the quantity of each is influenced (i.e., yoga can help weaken the patterns of the negative samskaras).
Talk about a new way to self-reflect!
What are my not-so-great samskaras?
Good thing that I asked because we discussed all the “triggers” we can use to help identify our samskaras. Potentially not a comprehensive list, this is what we came up with: Body + Breath (physical self), Mind (mental, our rational thinking it out self; psychological, emotional), and Spiritual. Needless to say, they are multiple arenas where I could find some negative samskaras. But let me give you a context for the week leading up to the workshop and what I was feeling just before diving into my own samskara…
I can’t lie. It’s been a more challenging week. First and foremost, my grief encompassed me. Although, not ready to think about the anniversary of my grandma’s death, I breezed through the day back in February that she past. However, her birthday, March 14, was much more of an emotional day for me. I even anticipated it a week in advance. It is surprising how grief can come back like an ocean wave. I had been “in check” for the last six months yet, the month of March is much more difficult than I ever expected.
The physical symptoms of grief. Or what I think is the cause of my physical discomforts this month. Ya, I’m busy and yes, my body likes to react to force me to slow down. But this time was different. My GI system basically stopped working. Drink lots of water, eat fibre rich diet, exercise, get enough sleep…all done. Yet, the nausea of constipation was almost unbearable. My head went into a tales spin trying to figure it all out. Was it a problem with my pelvic floor injury? I finally realized that my emotions we on high alert as the grief rolled in.
So sitting in this workshop, I was ‘bunged up’ so to speak and only just making the connection to my emotional state and the state of my GI system. When asked what one of my samskaras was, I fought back tears and only said it was much more emotional than I thought.
However, it was probably the best example of my rut. Not the grief part, but HOW I chose to deal with life’s stresses. Keeping it all in. Not expressing my true emotions to myself and in some cases, if appropriate, to others.
Cue the mind blowing explosions!
We didn’t explore my samsara example any further. Recognizing that none of the other women in the room are psychologists, we just let it lay.
But for me, it was clear what was going on.
Not something I can solve in one pranayama practice but something to further explore with my new found knowledge of samskaras and using the breath to work through them.
Since the workshop was only four hours, we wrapped up with more useful concepts around pranayama. We even used the hand counting technique I learned in my workshop with Rosemary Jeanes Antze. I realized that a pranayama home practice would be super beneficial for me. Not just as a future yoga teacher but JUST FOR ME. Maybe a little gift to myself. Because as we learned in the workshop, “Give it up” - let the pranayama do the work! And I can’t argue with that!
Two helpful videos I found on Samskara are also listed below.
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.