Judgement in yoga – 6 Tips on How to Avoid it

I am surprised every time when I adjust a student’s asana and they apologise. Thankfully that doesn’t happen often! What it does tell me is that that student is either judging her/himself or is afraid of being judged by the other participants or the teacher.

A while ago I attended a class I haven’t been to before and when the opportunity arose, took flying crow. It is a fairly advanced asana (there are other far more advanced than that!), which I enjoy doing and like to practice as my left side is not nearly as balanced as the right! While doing this, I heard a comment from the teacher:  “Remember folks, this is not a competition.” She must have seen a reaction in some of the participants and was letting them know that.

Years ago, early on in my teaching days there was a fellow teacher who reasonably regularly attended one of my classes. I noticed her often rolling her eyes or frowning and shaking her head.  Naturally, as a beginner teacher, that nearly threw me completely! Another teacher, also early after our training course, liked to slap the floor to get me to come over and then she would point out something she thought I should adjust in a student, or if she thought I should be doing something differently.

Yeah – I know. Really bad behaviour, right? The last two are (very real, unfortunately) extreme examples of judging that does happen. I confided in a more experienced teacher and as we talked, and her assuring me that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my teaching, I realised that  the judgement has so much more to do with the judger than it has to do with the judged.

So, if you find yourself feeling critical of how you practice, or if you are afraid of being judged by others, here are some tips:

1  Practising yoga is not a competition.

Yep – that first teacher was absolutely right.  And yes, there are competitive personalities wherever you go. Just try to remember that you aren’t there to compete.  You are there for your own practice, whatever “level” it may be at. (This is one of the reasons I never ask a new participant what “level” they are at.  It only makes opportunity for labels. And if you are a teacher worth her/his salt you will get a very good idea, well before the first round of sun salutations ends, how experienced that person is. And a teacher would use that knowledge only to help with cueing and adjusting poses, offering modifications and possibly the pace.)

2  A good teacher would never judge you.  

Not in the negative way that would label you. Don’t be afraid. Your practice space is safe. So is your learning. And if you ever have the misfortune to land up in a class where that happens, use your power: don’t go back to that class. Or perhaps have a chat with the teacher. There is also always a chance that perhaps you might have felt judged but in reality weren’t. Nevertheless, here is something else that would be good to remember: keep trying different classes and different teachers until you hit on someone whom you feel comfortable with and feel you can learn something from.

3  Get out of your head and into the practice.

Seriously. When we practice yoga, that is what we are doing. Not analysing, not wondering how we are doing, not thinking about what to make for dinner or what the student next to you thinks of your practice. We practice yoga.

4  Remember older poses you couldn’t do before.

Just remember the first time you mastered crow pose. When you first saw it demonstrated, chances are you thought something like: “That looks so hard.  I wonder if I could do it.” Then you did progress! That’s how I advise students to think about poses that look really difficult. Chances are that some of them are, but with persistence and practice, you will learn how to do them. That is what we do when we attend a yoga class, after all. We go there to learn and to practice.

5  Judgement says more about the judger than it says about the judged.

We all see life through unique eyes, with our unique experiences and interpretations behind that. Perhaps the person you feel judged by (if they really are and you’re not just afraid they might) does that because they feel uncertain. The thing is, we can’t possibly know everything. Allow for that. Just remain true to yourself. And to your practice.

6  Yoga practice is your time and your effort.

Remember why you went in the first place. You wanted something out of practising yoga. Own your time and your effort. Don’t allow real or perceived judgements spoil that for you.

By the way, these tips work in other situations in life too! Try it, you might just notice the usefulness of that.

Wishing you lots of happy hours of practice.

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Where Does a Yoga Teacher Find Inspiration?

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Where does a yoga teacher’s inspiration come from? As a teacher you, of course, want to start every class knowing you have something to offer your students. You would like every student to take something away with them. So it remains a constant process (and so much learning) for me.

1. Surf the net. Of course, the first place one tends to turn to is the internet. Browsing sometimes brings ideas. All we need is a tiny seed. I have found one or two blogs where a wonderful person offers a list of ideas.

2. Books. I have a wonderful collection of books on yoga, yoga instruction, assisting, the Sutras, philosphies, and so on. A mine of ideas.

3. Let your students guide you. It is important to me that I don’t completely structure a class from beginning to end. I have, from time to time, walked into a class and simply started teaching–allowing the energy in the room (whatever it may be) to guide me. Many students joke a little that if they want to find out what is going on in the instructor’s life, they just have to go to class.

4. Poetry. I have often gained ideas by something that caught my eye; a quotation or a poem. Students have often asked me for a copy of something I read in class. Sometimes I print a few copies that my students can help themselves to after class.

5. Listen to your heart. Perhaps you felt an emotion when something happened during your day. Maybe you felt gratitude or wonder. Explore that. You could pretty easily build that into a theme.

A while ago I came across an idea for a class I wanted to teach: I wanted to explore the idea of loving something about yourself that you don’t really like.

A few hours before class I spotted, quite by chance, a quotation by Herman Hesse: “We are not going in circles, we are going upwards. The path is a spiral; we have already climbed many steps.” This was profound for me, as I recently spent two years grieving the betrayal of someone I really loved. This quote spoke to me. While I am very much over the heartbreak, there are times when I know we might all feel a little stuck. So I shared this quote with my class and we talked about circles and we talked about doing our asanas so many times during so many practices, and yet always finding something different or new. I just love the idea of spirals (so positive and encouraging), and of course they offer so many opportunities for twisting poses, or exploring circles of energy with asanas like Padangusthasana (big toe pose) or Natarajasana (dancer’s pose).

The wonderful thing about finding inspiration this way is that you can talk authentically about it, as it is something you are thinking about. You are speaking from the heart and sometimes from experience. The idea develops as you go along. You feel that you are in a conversation with your class. It is so encouraging when you see students nod in agreement with something you’ve said. That, in my view, is really connecting with the practitioners in your class. A little laughter goes a long way too.

I think it is a good idea to have a reasonable idea of what you want to do with your class before you arrive, but you should also be prepared to completely, or at least partially, abandon your plan for what is in your heart. Life, as it happens during our day, is where the inspiration lies. That is what everyone can relate to. We are all learning as we go along.

Om Shanti Om – may you find peace.
Published in My Yoga Onlilne Thursday 29 May 2014

Resilience

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Today, 25 April, is ANZAC day in New Zealand and Australia. Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. It commemorates the battle of Gallipoli, and is an important day of rememberance for New Zealanders.

I think about what it took for those soldiers to get through the horrors they were experiencing. It seems to me, from reading several papers on that subject, that it boils down to… yoga. Seriously. The basic trinity at work in yoga is Balance, Strength and Flexibility.  Those three principles are what get us through life. A balanced view, strength to do what needs to be done, and flexibility in being adaptable.  And in seeing the view of another. Getting the whole picture as much as we can.

This week in my classes I want to examine the importance of flexibility. So how can I convey that in my classes? By teaching students to find, to look for, the flexibility in asanas. In the strong warrior – where is the flexibility? In Uttanasana – forward fold – examining how the mechanics of the pose work on a physical level as well as a mental one. As a teacher I can see all too clearly in a class when someone is in a fold (or many other asanas they may find difficult) and their thinking stops them from finding the asana.

When demonstrating something like Uttanasana, Eka Pada Koundyinasana (flying splits) or Hanumasana (splits) I can often see on participants’ faces: “Yeah.  Right. You want me to do that.” If we can learn to think: “Hm.  I wonder how it is done?  What do I need to do to get into that pose?” That, right there, is flexibility. Being open. To learn, to see and recognise limitations such as physical ones for example. And importantly, to work with what you have.

I promise you: if you think you can’t, then you won’t.

Darwin noted that it is the adaptable, the flexible species that survived. That is the meaning of evolution – changing with circumstances to adapt.

I learnt that if one anticipates and resists pain, it makes it worse. If you are open and work with what you have, you may even go away from that pain with something new. Something you may have learnt and most certainly with a notch or two more resilience!

Those soldiers experienced and had to deal with things most of us never see in our entire lives. They had to find ways to get through those experiences. Life offers us choices. In everything. Even doing nothing is a choice. So when we have to deal with pain or suffering or difficult people or difficult situations, can we be flexible? Do we keep coming up to a brick wall, or can we see if there is another way around that obstacle?

In my next article we will examine how to become physically more flexible. We will take some of the asanas like Hanumasana and look at how they work and how we can make it more accessible.

Namaste

Listening to your body

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When we do yoga we engage in a conversation with our body. I always encourage my students to observe, closely, what their bodies are telling them. Just in that moment. Because the constant is change. Doing Utkatasana hundreds of times does teach us that there is always a different element. Our minds, our bodies, our emotions are always changing.

Standing in mountain pose encourages us to notice and to learn that we can stand alone, without support. That we can stand strong for what we believe in. Halasana – plough pose – puts us in a place where we can become introspective. We face our secrets. Delightful secrets, some a little less so. What is our choice of response to those? In Uttanasana or another pose like shoulder stand, we see the world from a different perspective. What is our interpretation of that then?

I compare it to having a conversation with another person. We notice the body language – someone taking a peek at their watch might mean that they want to be or have to be somewhere else, and so is not fully present. Facing you directly with a relaxed stance means that they really are comfortable and interested talking to you. Tiny little clues to what might be going on in that person’s mind.

So is the conversation we have with our bodies when we practice yoga. Perhaps when scanning the body one might find something a little rigid, a little out of balance. What is the emotion behind that? What is my choice of response to that? Do I approach it with ahimsa (non-violence)? Do I approach it with tenderness and respect? What if I find something that feels really good? Do I see it with asteya – truthfulness?  Is there apiragraha? We need to observe with no judgement. Just like a witness.

Doing yoga, for me, is a journey of learning. About myself – how I translate the world. The choices I have. How I want to conduct myself. Learning is growing, the antithesis of stagnancy. It is learning about compassion, for others. To see others in myself and myself in others.

And then, to use and to share what I learn, as I go about my daily life.

Grounding

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A good stance and posture reflect a proper state of mind” Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido

As humans who are able to stand on our feet, we are able to see far into the distance. Our horizons are further and our world bigger than our four legged animal counterparts. We have developed our skills for reasoning, for imagining. Unfortunately, as our brains are located higher from the ground we tend to lose touch with the earth. As humans we tend to live in our heads more.

To be healthy and stable we need to feel our connection with the earth more. In yoga – whether we move or are still, we feel our connection and our relationship with the earth and gravity.

We can also feel our groundedness and our connection with the earth during our daily activities – we can feel our stability and balance by simply being aware.

Here are a few other ways we could also ground ourselves.

Gratitude

By thinking of all the many things you have gratitude for brings your attention back from daily worries and anxieties. There are often things we don’t really think about that we can be thankful for. Think about your hard working legs. Or your breath. Or the fact that you are here at all. To learn, to experience, to feel.

Awareness

Being aware and present in the moment, just as it is and with no judgement or no story or opinion helps to keep us centred. Simply experience what is in that moment. That is the meaning of karma: doing what you are doing when you are doing it. We can have so many distracting things – demands, sounds, emotions, thoughts.

Connecting

Connection with others brings us a sense of belonging. Being part of a community – whatever the kind – helps to ground us. Feeling connection coming back to you is grounding.

Acknowledging our vulnerability

If we accept and acknowledge our vulnerability we are then able to connect – it means that we are more open to others. We have peace in ourselves. Consider the fact that everyone, no matter how it seems to you, has vulnerability.

Taking time

Most of us spend a lot of time rushing from one place to another, or work to deadlines which means that we sometimes do things in autopilot. Often we have many things to deal with at one time. Slowing down allows us to pay attention to an activity, so that we can enjoy what we do when we are doing it. Noticing what is – and noticing what arises.

Engaging with sincerity

To do what you intend to do and being true to who you are is engaging with sincerity. Others notice insincerity. Do what is right for you but be kind. Engage wholeheartedly in what you do.

Kindness and compassion

Engage in kind behaviour, say kind things and think kind thoughts. With sincerity. I saw this somewhere: before you say something, THINK. Is it True? Is it Helpful? Is it Intelligent? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind? Knowing that you are helping others in a kind way, is truly grounding. It also says more about you than it does about the other person. The opposite is true too.

Practice yoga

Of course! This is a yogi speaking, remember? Seriously though, yoga does help us to feel grounded. Exploring what arises in asanas, helps with learning. Most asanas ask us to ground into the earth. Standing poses and even poses on the mat. Feet are grounded. Sitbones are grounded. Balance helps us to feel grounded. The essence of yoga is to achieve steadiness and balance. Yogas Chitta Vriti Nirodah – yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. To do things effortlessly.

I send you love

Om Shanti Om

Amanda, Metta Yoga

http://mettayogalife.wordpress.com/

Yoga to help relieve shoulder tension

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Yoga is, in my book, the best way to relieve tension anywhere in the body or the mind. Yoga, practised regularly, relaxes muscle tension, while strengthening them too.

Here is a list of poses that would help relieve tension around the shoulder area:

1. Balasana – child’s pose

Child’s pose is a very good way to start a practice or a rest pose during a vigorous flow. Coming to hands and knees, press your hips back into your heels.  Open the knees a little and then rest your belly and chest on your thighs.  Arms beside  you, palms up. Allow your shoulders to melt downward. This is a gentle way to start warming the shoulders.

2. Bharadvajasana I – seated twist

Sit upright with legs extended in front of you. Now tuck the heels in next to the left hip. Drawing a breath in, turn your shoulders to the right. Idea here is to stay gently grounded in the sitbones while extending the spine upward. With an inhale lift and with an exhale, turn a little more. Keep your gaze over your right shoulder. Try to keep your shoulders at the same height and the neck soft. Chin is either in neutral or for a slight added stretch in the neck, tuck the chin. Hold for a few breaths. Come centre, tuck heels next to the right hip and turn the other way.

3.  Supta Baddha Konasana – reclining goddess

This is a wonderful pose I often use in both yin and vinyassa (yang) classes. This pose offers a stretch across the chest and release in the shoulders. Lying on your back, put a bolster or a block between the shoulder blades. Bring the soles of your feet together and allow your knees to fall open. (If that is too intense, just leave the legs long and resting on the mat.) Rest your arms by your sides. You will notice if you turn your palms up that will increase the rotation in the shoulders. Support your head or if it feels good allow your head to drop back – this will stimulate the thyroid.

4. Prasarita Padottanasana – wide legged forward fold

Standing with your legs wide, slightly turn your toes inward. Bring your hands to behind your back and interlace your fingers. (If that is not accessible to you, hold a towel or a strap between your hands.) With an inhale, lift your chest and roll your shoulders back, extending the hands backward. On the exhale bend forward, keeping your knees as bent as much as you need. Allow gravity to draw your hands over your head.  This creates a lovely rotation in the shoulders.  Hold this pose for at least eight breaths.

5.Setu Bandha Sarvangasana – bridge pose

Lie down on your back and bend your knees, feet hip width and on the mat. Breathe out, press your feet into the mat and raise your buttocks, lifting the sternum towards the chin. Elongate the back of the neck into the floor and breathe deeply.  Reach for your feet with your hands, while rolling on to your shoulders. Keep your head still with your nose pointing up and gently press the back of your head into the mat, all the while lifting the hips. This can be done supported – with your hands under your hips, or a block. As you breathe and your body starts opening, try to walk your shoulders closer to each other and reach your hands towards your feet. This will help open the chest. Move your chest toward your chin. This pose is also great for calming the mind.

6. Supported Forward Bend

This pose is meant to release and relax your neck. With your legs crossed, sit on the floor in front of a seat and place a pillow in the seat. Pull the chair towards you and rest your head on the pillow, with your arms just under your forehead. Gently stretch the neck muscles by dropping the chin to the chest and breath in and out while resting your head on the pillow.

7Ghomukasana arms

This pose is great for helping to correct posture where we have rounded shoulders and chin moving forward – this is what happens when we sit in front of a computer! Sit up straight, legs extended. Lift your left arm straight up, palm turned inward and thumb pointing to the back. Bend that arm and reach down between the shoulder blades. Now extend your right arm to the side, thumb down and palm facing back. Bend the arm, bring the elbow in to the side and reach up between the shoulder blades. Take a hold of the other hand. If this is a little hard, use a strap between the hands. Lift your heart and press into your sitbones. Keep your chin in neutral and the neck soft.

8. Savasana – corpse pose

This pose is often used in meditation as the intention is to relax completely. Lie on your back, arms by your sides. Spread your feet apart and allow them to drop open.  Arms are by your sides, palms up. Allow your fingers to curl up naturally. Lift your shoulders, broaden them and then let them melt into the mat. Breathe deep, smooth breaths.  Support your body where you need to. Sometimes a bolster under the knees feels good, or between the shoulder blades.

9. Yoga off the mat

When you are sitting down, come to the tops of your sitbones, gently draw your belly in.  Lift your heart and allow your shoulders to slide down your back.  Keep your chin in neutral and a good distance between the ears and shoulders. This is a good posture to hold when you are standing or walking too. Keep the tailbone gently tucked under.

Keep moving your body! It is joyful, gives us energy and keeps us healthy.

Namaste – Amanda