Being able directing students toward a conscious practice, in which they are responsible for their movements.
Have you ever had this experience as a Yoga Teacher?
You are teaching your class and showing one asana. You are demonstrating that asana on three level, from beginner to intermediate to advanced. When students start practiced, some of them with less capability of being able to do the final pose will go directly toward this one. They will not think, just reproduce the final asana they have seen, wether it is because they already forgot how to get into the pose, wether they are not awarded for their own body and think they can manage it.
When it happens, instead of adjusting the student I walk toward their mat and ask them why they want to forcibly lengthen their legs while their back is fully rounded. Or I just asked them “are you comfortable”, then the answer is “no”, then “In that case, what can you do to change it from uncomfortable to comfortable?”.
I want them to be able to understand their body through their personal experience.
Catching, grabbing the big toe – Padanghustasana, Trikonasana, Uttitha Hasta Padanghustasana
It does exist a difference between grabbing the big toe because “we should” and grabbing it for a reason.
Most of the time the grabbing or catching happened because we want to stay “connected”, for instance for Uttitha Hasta Padanghustasana, if the big toe is simply pulled toward us, except a huge pain at the ligament, nothing will be really happening.
However when we start to grab it, and at the same time we are pulling it toward the torse, the big toe is pulling front then we start creating an opposition, which will connect our shoulder and the scapula together. Therefore the torso will be facing front and not on the side.
Or for Padanghustasana, the shoulders will not be toward the ears but gliding down the spine by the action of the scapula and the trapezius muscle (as well rhomboids).
In the case we can not grab anything for Trikonasana, then the hand will go on the tibia bone, still there will be opposition, in order to open the chest and the shoulder.
Opposition is the secret of alignment and keeping one asana active.
Hand(s) on the floor – Adho Muka Svanasana, Parshvakonasana A & B, Ardha Chandrasana
One hand on the floor is not here for nothing.
Hands on the floor are having action, they can press back, toward the ceiling, vertically and horizontally. For Adho Muka Svanasana if students are complaining of too much weight on their wrist, this will give you an indication on how they are doing the posture and the body weight spreading.
In Parshvakonasana, the hand on the floor is pushing against it, in order to twist the torso, we can bring weight on it 5% to 10% maximum.
Same as for Ardha Chandrasana, the hand on the floor will have the action of pushing against in order to keep the shoulders on the same line, at one point there will be no weight on the hand.
Being stable – Vrikshasana, Natarajasana
Unless internal ear problem, the lack of stability comes from a lack of standing muscles for which we do not know how to use properly.
For Virkshasana, if the foot inside the tight is simply resting, then nothing will happen. The foot inside the tight need to push against it, in order to allow the opening of the knee on the side, therefore better hips opening, better stability, neutral pelvis and spine erected.
Natarajasana needs a good quick, the ankle should be as far as possible from the gluteus, but the hand holding the ankle should create a resistance in order to keep the alignment of the shoulder facing front. It is like using an archery.
The more the back leg is active the best the balance will be.
Feet on the floor – Virabhadrasana, Parshvotanasana, Prasaritta Padottanasana
There are two schools, one is “spreading the mat”, the other one is “swallow the floor”.
For my part I am swallowing the floor.
Keeping hips aligned when both of legs are not on the same line can be tricky. However when the concept of moving back the right hip and pushing front the left hip starts to become assimilate it becomes easier. By doing this micro movement from feet, we are activating the muscles from the posteriors side of the body.
That is happening in Virabhadrasana I.
Prasaritta Padottanasana : one of the best image we can use is “squeezing a ball in between your legs”, the movement comes from the inside toward the outside and automatically the pelvis will be in neutral and passive state.
Sitting Asana – Dandasana, Paschimottanasana
Dandasana is for instance a very active asana. A lot of things are happening there. Heels are pressing against the floor in order to avoid hyper extension of the knees, femur bone slightly outside, sitting on the seat bones, coccyx directed toward the floor, hands on each side of the hips pressing against the floor, shoulders going backward without bombing the torso, spine erected toward the ceiling and accessory chin toward chest for Jalandara Bandha.
Speaking about opposition in Paschimottanasana, the head want to reach front, while the shoulders blade are going down, sliding along the spine.
Poses are never “fixed”
There are 5 to 9 to 12 breathes, during which you can lengthen, fold, press, twist, decompress, release, in ordre for the prana to circulate freely in the body.
The breathing is of course the first thing to do, at all time. Drishtis as well will take place as the body is going where the eyes are gazin.
As a yoga teacher, instead of assisting our student we should make their responsible, of their own practice, give them all keys in order to understand why they are folding forward, how they should do it, what do they feel while doing it from a certain pattern, being able to remove that pattern if necessary.
We can not teach what they “should feel” as it is very personal from one point of view, but how to move.
In order to understand the asana, it has to be practiced. Book will help but will not replace a real practice.
Some teachers talked a lot about chakra and bandhas while teaching, that is good, however theses actions happened lately, after a regular practice.
I do believe that the teaching should be simple, without bringing too much technical things that won’t help. Simple instructions are necessary, inhale lift up, exhale fold forward, on the side, backbend. Instruct your student how to come IN the asana and how to dismount it.
We should not make people believe that all of our chakras will be activated by practicing Trikonasana. We should be able to assist our students in a comfortable position with the less movement and proper breathing. Then only we shall be able to bring them toward a more holistic practice.