Now, as teachers, we know that a lot of people come to our classes mainly for the physical aspects of yoga. That’s okay, but it can also be frustrating. We know that yoga is a lifestyle with a rich set of ancient philosophies; it’s so much more than asana.
Asanas that incorporate the Yamas or Niyamas into the cues help students embody the philosophy. This can then spill over to their everyday lives. Asana has become a gateway for many in modern times.
This article will outline the Yamas with practical tips you can use to enhance your yoga teaching. In addition, I have included ways to incorporate the yamas into our lives and businesses.
Ahimsa – Nonviolence
Ahimsa gets the most attention when it comes to yoga classes and teaching, and for good reason. Yoga has the power to heal and transform. Yoga is powerful and, therefore, has the potential to harm. Teachers have a responsibility to be aware that the poses they teach could cause harm if they are not suitable for the students.
As in the Hippocratic Oath, we must first not harm. I begin almost every class by reminding my students about the concept of Ahimsa.
You can bring this up when you notice a student trying to force their body into a position that they shouldn’t be in. I tell my students that being “advanced yogis” does not mean they have to do fancy poses or attend a “Level 5” class. A true advanced yogi listens and knows their limits.
“Everything I suggest is just a suggestion. It is ultimately your decision not to do something you may find harmful. You are the foremost expert in the world on your body. “Don’t do anything that could harm you.”
Feel free to take a break at any time. Please feel free to talk to me or wave me over after class if modifications are needed to make poses more accessible.
Do not do anything to increase or cause pain in your body.
When we practice asana honestly, we choose the practice that best suits our experience and energy levels.
Truthfulness in our lives means aligning our thoughts, words, and actions. Our minds can sometimes play tricks on us, telling us things that aren’t true. For example, “I always do this,” “I am lazy,” or “This is his/her/my problem.”
The electrical pathways in your brain are literally buzzing with electricity. Your brain appears as a greyish-pink mass that is quivering and has an oatmeal consistency. This buzz is not the truth. Yoga asana is a great time to examine our thoughts.
Say: “Observe yourself while you meditate. Your mind wandering is perfectly normal. The mind is also prone to creating stories and judging. Ask yourself: “Is this true?”
“Be honest with yourself. Feel free to grab a prop or take a short break if you want. “Every day is different.”
We don’t steal in our business. Asteya can also be translated as accepting abundance. This is an important philosophy to follow as yoga teachers who run a business. You are in business whether you contract a weekly class or run a full-time, online yoga therapy business.
I think that as a community of yoga practitioners, we can support each other rather than compete. Your success and integrity in the field of yoga help me and all other teachers.
As a yoga instructor and anatomist, I consider structural compensation as a way to steal from one part of the body in order to give it to another to create the appearance of the pose. We need to be able to recognize common compensations, and this can only come with experience and anatom training.
When someone doesn’t have the flexibility in their shoulders for Sun Salutations or Warrior Is, they might extend their back and stick their low ribs to give it the appearance that their arms are raised above their heads. This compensation, however, lacks core stability and can cause back pain over time.
Notice if your body is covering up a weakness with another part. In this pose, can you achieve a balance between engagement and ease?
Breathe in abundantly, and exhale anything that holds you back.
Brahmacharya: Moderation and Conservation of Energy
Celibacy is the traditional definition. Since you probably do not live a monastic life, you certainly don’t have to interpret brahmacharya to fit our lifestyle. Celibacy is intended to prevent distractions from learning for young monks.
If you feel like you’re out of breath, try to slow down and breathe evenly. You can save your energy to help the rest of the students. “We still have one hour left.”
Yoga asanas give us the opportunity to build, slow down, and conserve our energy. Observe the energy shifts throughout the practice. You could use these techniques to change your energy throughout the day. Some poses in the bathroom? Some pranayama during a stressful business meeting? “Yoga is so powerful in transforming energy.”
Aparigraha can be translated as being non-possessive, but it also means to be grateful rather than jealous. They can compare their asanas to ours or those of other students. Sometimes, students get stuck comparing how their poses feel or look now to 10 years ago. As teachers, it is our responsibility to create a non-judgmental and inclusive environment.
Imagine you’re practicing alone on your mat, without any concern for how your poses appear. You don’t compare yourself with anyone else or compete against them. This is not a competition. “This is YOUR practice.”
How do you incorporate the yamas in your teaching, teachers? This list is only a small sample of all the possible cues and interpretations. Check out the second section of this article, “For Teachers: Infusing the Niyamas into Asana.”