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.
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 woke up early one day this week and thought, what shall I do with myself? I know, yoga is on the hit list, so I better get at it! A little practice time before the house wakes up.
The morning air was seeping into the open windows of my bedroom (which we forgot to close the night before) and it was calling for some sun salutations. I headed into my practice.
Initially, I was only looking for some physical benefits of practice, but I actually gained some mental/emotional benefit that I never would have expected!
Let me back track...
My parents are moving out of my childhood home. Mixed emotions about this as I venture home to Saskatchewan for my last visit. What parts of this home are still pulling me in? Why am I so attached to a brick and mortar place?
There are very fond memories but also a sense of comfort in this place. Fast forward to this week's quick morning practice and I realize one of the things I love about my childhood house.
It is all the birds chirping!
And in this week's quick morning practice, that's what I heard outside of my OWN window!
Why I never thought to recreate the morning sounds of my childhood house in my current home is beyond me! I just needed to LISTEN for them (and open my windows from time to time!)
This week's practice gave me insight into things that give me comfort. What a great perspective and in some ways, closure to the connection to my childhood home.
How did I not hear the birds!
I've wonder for a long time about standing forward bends (Uttanasana) and it's "sister", half forward bend (Ardha Uttanasana ). Over the years, sun salutations (Surya Namaskar) have been a common and frequent sequence in my practice. Yet, I needed to know more about these two basic and fundamental poses in the sequence.
This week's practice included multiple forward and half forward bends and it got me to thinking, what is the role of these poses. Why do they both exist? Is it that the half forward bend is just for someone who has tight hamstrings or is there more to it?
As an exercise physiologist, my brain goes straight to what is happening in the body. As most sun salutations start with a standing forward bend followed by a half forward bend then back to the forward bend, my initial thought was the pairing of the two is for the purpose of stretching the hamstring. The method would be through Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching. And more specifically, through the contract and relax PNF stretch. But is this the case?
My knowledge dictates that when stretching a muscle (i.e., the hamstring) and then forcing it into a contraction via the lift into half forward bend, it will then cause the muscle to relax via the golgi tendon organ (fancy name for a proprioceptive sensory receptor organ). The second forward bend is then able to move into a greater hamstring stretch due to the neuromuscular system reacting to the force of the contracted muscle.
The challenge was that I found minimal content online or off that supports my theory.
Is this what is actually happening? Educated guess or over thinking?
Nonetheless, the benefits of standing forward bends and half bends are not only stretching the hamstrings but it elongates the spine, stimulates the belly whereby it massages internal organs, tones liver, spleen, kidneys. It is also a pose used frequently as a rest between more strenuous poses.
So, I don't have answers to my query but interesting to dissect these poses this week.
Do you know the answer?
Did you know that Sunday was a full moon? I didn't.
Did you know that there is such thing as moon salutations? I sure didn't. It took over 15 years of yoga practice to find out that there is a complement to the sun salutation (Surya Namaskar) sequence that is, oh so common. It's the moon salutation (Chandar Namaskar).
I was introduced to it during my last class with Judy and was quite refreshed with the sequence. With my little research on-line, I realized, as with every pose or sequence, there are variations. We participated in the Hatha variation during that class and since then, I've attended other classes which focused more on the Ashtanga variation of the moon sequence (Chandra Krama). Let's explore each briefly.
According to Yoga Journal, the moon salutation is considered to be yin in nature which is in opposition to the yang poses of sun salutation. Moon salutations are meant to be soothing and quieting (feminine) rather than fiery and powerful as the sun salutations (masculine).
The more recent practice of the Ashtanga yoga variation is a lengthy sequence developed by Matthew Sweeney and can be seen below in the schematic. Wow! I've been only doing the first sequence!
There is more to the moon salutation and sequence than I ever thought possible!
It starts from a kneeling position with the heels on the buttocks and torso tall. Arms reach up above the head and bow forward into an extended child's pose. From the child's pose, you move into a table top position (on hands and knees) and then press your hands and feet into the floor and rise up into downward facing dog. The sequence then follows the reverse order to end back in the kneeling positions where hands are placed in the small of the back for a slight back bend or extension.
Here it is in video form:
So, quite frankly, this little discovery of both moon salutations and moon sequence has made me once again realize I have SO much to learn about yoga, in general, AND how it impacts my practice.
Soaking up the glow of the moon,
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.