Yoga Beyond Asana

One of our regulars shares a particular moment; when she realised the dimension of yoga beyond asana (movement and set poses).  We share her personal story because this is one of the hardest myths about yoga to dismantle in the West.

“There are 8 limbs to Yoga, you know” the Yoga teacher kindly reminded me at the end of the lesson.

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I had just waited for everyone to leave at the end of the class.  I approached her with my concern that the movement I can muster now can hardly be called yoga – in my mind.  The doctor diagnosed degenerative osteoarthritis at the left hip.  After a decade from that diagnosis, I can’t sit crossed legged, or hold a Warrior I pose, or Crescent Moon pose, the list goes on.

But the Yoga teacher was having none of it.  She went on to say that, contrary to Western trends, yoga has at its heart the intention of liberating us from pain and restriction.  Our practice is meant to deliver us to a place where we can meditate freely and deeply.

“There is pranayama, for example, becoming conscious of breath”.

She wasn’t suggesting even for a minute that I would not do asana practice any longer.  She was helping me into taking ownership of where I can guide my own practice towards.  I was clearer on what aspects I can focus on, where I can find challenges and limitations I can learn from.

pranayama

you can do so much with your breath, remember?

Yoga goes beyond asana as we understand it.  Maybe that is closer to my experience now. Yoga for me is a field where I can find what works for me, right now in the modern world, with my unique needs and requirements.

I have been practising yoga at English Yoga Berlin in Kreuzberg since April 2018.  I now understand the importance of focusing on directing the breath and becoming conscious of spinal movement.  It’s clear to me that yoga is not about trying to reproduce the asana’s picture in your favourite yoga book. Yoga can be  so much more! And I look forward to diving deeper to learn more about what that is.

English Yoga Berlin offers classes in Kreuzberg in Hatha style and Vinyasa style, private yoga sessions, different packages of yoga for the workplacecontact us with your queries if you have any, happy unfolding whatever you do.

The Puzzle Picture

Avidal's painting on flyer

We believe Yoga to be a powerful tool that helps us assemble the pieces of our Life’s puzzle and allows us to see the big picture.

Ever wondered what the “Puzzle Picture” on our flyers means? Clelia, our Erasmus intern, reports from behind the scenes.

 

The image representing English Yoga Berlin left a deep impression on me from the first time I saw it.  It is the painting of an almost complete puzzle.  The puzzle image is of a person completing their own puzzle.  It’s an image within an image.  A puzzle of a puzzle.  I was curious, and I asked Pinelopi, my teacher of yoga in Kreuzberg.  The story she told me really resonated with me.  I want to share it with you, so here what she said.

“One day I met with my friend and artist Avital Yomdin, and told her I needed to design a flyer for my classes.  We sat and talked about what yoga means to me.  I spoke about what yoga had done for me in my life.  I realised something important as we were speaking: when I began yoga, I knew very little about my physical chronic pain.  Crucially, I also knew very little about myself, for example the space I take, the person I transform into every day.

Through the yoga classes, meditation and mindfulness techniques, I started to understand and accept myself more and more.  I am not anywhere close to knowing myself completely, as that might be, who knows, ultimate enlightenment.  Yet I feel that the process of doing yoga was like finding the pieces of the puzzle of myself, so I could put them together.  Slowly, I could form a picture of  who I am.”

 

 

We offer Hatha Yoga classes with Pinelopi and Vinyasa yoga with Juli.  Our yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcoming to beginners. We also offer Berlin business yoga, pregnancy yoga, and private yoga classes, including for people struggling with chronic pain.

Returning to the Definition of Drishti

A Return to a Drishti Definition

Almost 5 years ago, we wrote a 2-part blog about what Drishti is and its meditative benefits. From it’s Sanskrit meaning, coming to a Drishti definition in English is complicated. But as we wrote in our blogs, we can put it simply as “the gaze” or “where one’s eyes rest.” Once again, I’d like to return to the topic, but this time from a practical point of view, both in a yoga class and outside of it.

Drishti is about focus

Drishti Definition

Drishti Definition

In an asana yoga class, your teacher may ask to use your Drishti point to keep you balanced and focused. In balancing poses, we can use this point as a focus point, a point that does not move, to help steady our inner ear – where our sense of balance is located. For those of us who feel queasy in bumpy traffic or on boats, we know that staring at the horizon line can help us to overcome motion sickness. Using this focal point in an asana class encourages our bodies to find a posture in that helps us feel steady. In this sense, Drishti is a very tangible and useful anatomical tool. Where your gaze rests is a pretty good indicator of the line your neck and spine are following.

When we turn our focus towards our navels, in Cat/Cow or in Downward Dog, for instance, we are turning our focus inwards, towards ourselves. And when we look out over our finger tips in twists or Warrior poses, we keep our central line from ourselves outwards towards a blurry outside world. It helps you to quiet the mind, increases concentration and relaxation, and allows your attention to flow into whatever you are focusing it on, yourself and your connection / support to the world. It helps us to not look around and get distracted by the other people practicing in the room, which for some of us can turn to negative thoughts if we compare ourselves and how we do the postures, or worry if we are doing them “right.”

 

Another important subtlety in the concept of Drishti is in the different ways of gazing. This is a variation on the practice of detachment but specifically, a Drishti can be described as ´soft´, ´pointed´, ´wide´, ´gentle´, etc. Again, there are very practical reasons for this. Even though Patanjali never gazed at a computer screen, he could imagine what hours of single distance, harsh gazing can do to your eyes. Varied distances of Drishti, as well as varying degrees of hardness or staring in the postures, helps to exercise the optical nerves and reduce the strain that can produce tension headaches.

Early yogis and yoginis realized that the quality with which you observe something radiates through your body. Your body naturally becomes more tense and rigid, or soft and relaxed, depending on how you are looking at something. A soft Drishti promotes internal reflection, relaxation, meditation. A harder one pushes the focus externally. In our contemporary world, we often find our attention being pulled in multiple directions at once, our eyes have no time to rest on anything. A regular yoga practice can help train us to focus ourselves, but only when we take it outside of the yoga studio, do we feel the real benefits. A Drishti point can to calm our thoughts, reduce chatter and anxiety, allow our breath to flow freely, and give us something to dream about other than who posted what on Facebook.

So, the next time you find your eyes wandering, watch your mind and body, and see if you can notice how your Drishti affects you, notice how you feel when you let your eyes rest on something that you don’t normally allow them – give some attention to that plant on your windowsill, follow the path of a beetle in the sand, notice what the squirrels are doing in the tree in your yard. And next time you practice yoga, play with your gaze point and see how it affects your practice and your life.

One of our main goals in our Kreuzberg Berlin yoga classes is to educate people about the benefits of our practice. We believe that by making yourself more centered and focused you are better equipped to make an impact in the world around you. For more info about our Hatha Yoga in Berlin or Vinyasa Yoga, check out our yoga in English schedule.

A Tantric Way of Dealing with Pain

Does it hurt?  Can you do something to get rid of the pain?  No?  No problem.

You can remain content and relaxed in the midst of any experience. Including pain, sorrow, fear, or anger. Hang on… nobody said it’s easy, but we categorically say that it is possible. And not only that, it is possible for everyone.

rocksOne way I know of dealing with pain is amazingly simple: To directly experience what is happening, in a steady and concentrated way. In other words, to meditate on the source of the experience.

I have been using the Tantric meditations to deal with chronic pain for years. And, although the pain hasn’t entirely gone away, a lot of the side effects (mental anguish, fear, or other physical tensions) have disappeared.  When my knee hurts I can accept it and remain relaxed, so it doesn’t cause me any real disturbance.

Of course, if you don’t know the cause of a pain, it’s best that you seek prompt medical advice. But, if the pain is already there, you might as well meditate on it on your way to the doctor.

You will find that many pains actually disappear when you experience them in this way. Or the quality or intensity of the pain may change. Or it may move, or get smaller.

How does one do it? Simply by going to the place of the disturbance. Locate it physically with your mind, and then experience it with curious detachment. Experience it, not like you want it to go away, but like you want to know about it. Where is the center of this sensation? How big is this area? Explore it like an objective investigator; or watch it like you watch a film.

We experiment with this method during the Tantric Tuesdays at KiKi, for example, feeling a tension during a yoga pose.  We also practice some of the meditations that (like Antar Mauna) cultivate this ability of detached experience, or (like Tratak) teach the mind to concentrate intensely on one point.

I recently visited a friend, who’s also been coming to my guided moments.  I found her in a desperate state due to an intense headache.  Although she has only practiced for a few months, she has been very consistent and regular, so I felt that the meditative approach would help.  Below I transcribe her impressions of what happened next, written the day after.

I woke up with pressure in the head. Something very usual for me since I´m eight years old. Lucky that since I´m a teenager I can take medicine against it. And I do, immediately, with the first signs of pain. So hard is it for me to resist the pressure, the burning and stinging at my forehead. So with 3 pills per day I get over it and stay 2-3 days without pain, and can continue my daily life …. Therefore, I always have medicine in my handbag. Always!

 

But this morning I received a lovely massage from caring hands and I felt I din’’t want to swallow the pill. The pain got worse and then my stomach rebelled, so it was too late to take a pill. Ohhh I wanted to hit my head against the wall, like I did as girl, when the pain was unbearable.

 

I actually do not remember how I got on the chair in my room. I just remember this voice guiding me into my body, the stillness inside…. Ohh the throbbing got so heavy.. But I trusted and followed the guidance into the movement of my breath. I felt how my body was relaxing little by little, and at the same time the pain in my head became more intense. And I was guided directly into this pain. I felt the pain coming in waves and my tired body, leaning forward devoting to these waves. There was only pain and heaviness, and it felt eternal. I was awake and at the same time like sleeping, sitting on the chair. Until… Hari Om Tat Sat.

 

I just observed how my body laid down on the bed beside the chair. When I woke up, my head was completely free! I could not believe it, and noticed how I started to search for the pain. But quickly I dropped this idea and enjoyed my day.

 

Kathi hasn’t had any more headaches in the two weeks since this happened.  But she claims to be eagerly awaiting for another episode, so she can try this method again.  She also says that this experience has completely changed the way she approaches any pain or unpleasant feelings:  Now she meets them as their curious explorer, rather than as their victim.

On another post, we will write about the mechanisms that make this shift in the experience of pain possible.  For now, just take our word that it works.  Or come and practice it yourself to find-out.

Pedro teaches Tantra yoga and meditation at English Yoga Berlin.

So you want to be a yoga teacher?

Making yoga in Berlin more accessible

Small yoga classes in Berlin

At English Yoga Berlin, we get several email requests a day from brand newly-trained yoga teachers to join our team. Unfortunately, we can’t accommodate all of their requests. We pride ourselves on remaining small and community-based, because we believe small classes are especially beneficial to people who are new to yoga or those who want to advance their practice in a safer environment. At larger studios, there may be more opportunities for new teachers, but also more competition.

So you’ve got a 200 hour teacher certificate. What do you do next? How do you start?

Put yourself out there. Get to know the studios in your city. Attend classes to find out if it’s a right fit for you. Try out different studios, maybe the atmosphere is different? Once you find one you like, become part of their community. Do a work exchange, like cleaning or working the front desk. Get to know the other teachers, perhaps they need assistants some time. What does not work is writing unsolicited emails. No matter how amazing your youtube videos or your previous work experience is, nothing beats face-to-face contact. Your email will just get a standard response, if any at all, and be forgotten. This process can take some time, so be prepared to have another job to pull you through until your yoga career takes off.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

While you’re trying out different studios, keep up your training and practice teaching. Some newly certified teachers have already had years of teaching practice before they started their teacher training, and some are just brand new to yoga. And of course, many are in-between. Not only does this help you gain more confidence as a teacher, but it also helps you to build up your clientele. A yoga studio looking to hire new teachers will ask how many students they can bring to the studio. Start by teaching friends in your living room, and they will tell their friends, and that’s how your student-base grows. By-donation outdoor classes in the warmer months help to gather interest by passers-by. Once you’ve built a small following, you can begin to rent space for weekly classes or workshops.

Self-promotion.

Most people don’t equate becoming a yoga teacher with requiring marketing skills. But these days, almost any job field does. Being a yoga teacher most often means being self-employed. The work is precarious. It ebbs and flows with the popularity of yoga in your area, how many yoga studios there are, and how well you can promote your classes. Some months will leave you dry, others will be overflowing with abundance. If marketing feels overwhelming, you can start small. Make your own flyers or business cards to pass around. Start a website. If you can’t afford it, there are many free options available, even a simple blog or Facebook page does that extra bit.

Will I earn enough to make a living?

That depends. If your lifestyle has a lot of expenses, you may not be able to do it. If you are happy living a modest lifestyle and saving when you need to, it’s more possible. If you move to a small town that has no yoga studio, and people have been waiting for you, you could be very lucky. Mostly though, and especially in bigger cities with tonnes of yoga studios and budding teachers, the chances are slim. Most teachers have other jobs on the side or a partner’s support. One way that a lot of studios and established teachers earn money is through offering yoga teacher trainings. And eventually, established teachers do guest appearances and special workshops, and can get more renowned in the yoga world. Being a yoga teacher is more than simply teaching yoga.

English Yoga Berlin offers different types of Yoga in Kreuzberg. We have small yoga classes that encourage an intimate environment and increased awareness. Check out our schedule to attend a class of Vinyasa Yoga, Tantra Yoga and Hatha Yoga in Berlin.

English Yoga Berlin – Spring Offerings

Just remember in the winter
far beneath the bitter snow
lies the seed that with the sun’s love
in the spring becomes the rose

– Janis Joplin, The Rose

 

Greetings Yogis!

Here are some seasonal updates from all of us at English Yoga Berlin. We are bringing on Queer Wednesdays, a new workshop series for yoga and the lower body, and lots of fun new knowledge from courses that our teachers are attending!

Queer Wednesdays

Juli and Kanchi are bringing two new weekly classes on Wednesdays that prioritize a space for queer and trans* people to practice yoga. Click here for more details!

Pedro’s Return!

Pedro will be returning to us at the end of March bringing back Tantric Tuesdays and lots of new workshops at the Lab! Check out our schedule for more info!

Restorative Yoga Workshop Series

Juli is guiding six Yoga workshops for the lower body, based on techniques from Svastha Yoga Therapy. The workshops have a specific focus on the feet, knees, hips, lower back, menstrual pain and everyday activities. Workshops are held on Sundays 18.00 at The Lab. For a more detailed description, click here.

Growing as Teachers

We are currently expanding our knowledge through attending two new courses: Yoga Anatomy and Yoga therapy. We’ll be bringing some changes into our teaching methods at our regular yoga Berlin classes. Come and experience new ways of breathing, protecting your back, and taking care of yourselves!

We continue to be thankful for your practice and your support. We wish you a good transition into spring, lightness and end of winter!

Tips for starting your personal meditation practice

meditatorOne way to describe meditation is that it is to experience what is happening, like we’re watching a film, rather than like we’re the protagonists. To witness with detachment. And then, behind the stream of impressions, you discover the one that is witnessing. It’s like coming home.

There’s very many meditation techniques, from all parts of the world and times of history. One of the most popular is to just sit quietly following the free-flow of breath. Although some meditations use movement, many of the best meditation practices for beginners rely on sitting completely still.

Today, with phone apps like Headspace, endless amount of guided meditations in YouTube, audio files, books, etc., it is not too difficult go get into meditation. These learning and practicing aids are good and useful, but there’s no substitute for the direct guidance of a teacher, and the inspiring energy of a group of meditators sitting around you.

Once you choose a method, and maybe a class or a group of friends to meet regularly with, you may want to set a few minutes of each day to “come to yourself”. Having a daily (or semi-daily) meditation practice, as short as five minutes, will simply change your life. You’ll be wondering how you lived so long without it.

Here’s some things to consider if you want to try it out at home. Think of it as an adventure, an exploration of the inner landscape. Each day, you sit for a few minutes to go into another dimension for a little tour.

  • Find a suitable space, away from disturbance or too much activity. Make yourself a little corner for you and your meditation.
  • Find a suitable time. The best time can only be determined by you. Maybe link your meditation practice with another activity that you must perform each day (do it either before or after that activity).
  • Set a timer, so you don’t have to think about it, but also so that you meditate just the amount of time you decide.
  • Do it on a fairly empty stomach.
  • Do it without caffeine or sugar highs.
  • Consider your pose. If you sit on a chair, don’t lean against the backrest and have your feet flat on the floor. However you sit, have a straight back and, most importantly, be comfortable. When your body distracts you often from the meditation, then you know is time to review your pose.
  • Remain still. The stillness of the mind is easier achieved and maintained when we don’t move the body. The simple act of being still (not acting) activates the parasympathetic nervous system.
  • Set an intention to be there. Just a decision that you will be engaged in the meditation; for example, that you will be present (if you tend to daydream) or alert (if you tend to doze-off). Make it positive.
  • Come to the meditation without expectations. But if you do have expectations, then be aware of them and how they influence you.
  • Keep a journal. It is a great tool to chart your journey and keep your meditation in perspective. Don’t use it to analyze, evaluate or judge your meditation, simply note your experiences and insights.
  • If you ever combine your meditation with other yoga practices, do them in this order: yoga poses, breathing exercises, relaxation, meditation.
  • Breathing exercises, specially Nadi Shodana, are an excellent complement to meditation and will give you a deeper experience if you practice them before.
  • When you end the meditation, move slowly and mindfully.  But don’t try to hold on to the meditative state.  Just be natural and engage life fully. 

At English Yoga Berlin we host Tantric meditation courses.  Stay tuned for the next one, or send us an email to find-out more.  All of our Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa Flow and Tantra Yoga classes include the meditative deep relaxation Yoga Nidra, or a similar guided relaxation.  See our schedule for details.

A Brief Introduction to Kundalini Yoga

What I don’t mean by Kundalini Yoga

When you hear the term Kundalini Yoga, you may think of the white turbans of Yogi Bhajan and his 3HO. As it happens with many yogic and Sanskrit words, Kundalini is a very old concept that is today almost exclusively associated with the movement that first (or most) popularized it. Yogi Bhajan’s is merely one interpretation of Kundalini Yoga, and a very recent one at that: Kundalini Yoga was first mentioned in the Upanishads around 500BC, Yogi Bhajan’s version dates from 1968.

Born to a Sikh father and a Hindu mother, Yogi Bhajan took the teachings of his yoga guru, Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari, and amalgamated them with the Sikh doctrines of his spiritual leader, Maharaj Virsa Singh. So one could say that Yogi Bhajan’s yoga is a marriage between the Hindu and Sikh traditions (hence the turbans). He wasn’t the first to introduce Kundalini to the West (John Woodroffe did that in the 1910s), but he was the first to remove the secrecy that had surrounded these practices since the dawn of time. He was also extremely successful at spreading his teachings through his controversial Healthy, Happy and Holy Organization (3HO).

Kundalini Yoga has been closely associated to many yoga traditions for centuries, and is a fundamental aspect of Tantra.

What I mean by Kundalini Yoga

According to the tradition in which I was educated; the Tantra of Swami Satyananda, Swami Sivananda, and their teachers all the way to Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th Century; Kundalini Yoga is the science of awakening powerful dormant energies in our body.

Yoga understands man as a group of five interconnected layers, each more subtle than the previous. They are the containers of our true self. These layers are:

1. The Physical Layer

2. The Energy Layer

3. The Mental Layer

4. The Wisdom Layer

5. The Bliss Layer

The physical layer is what we know as the body. The mental layer includes our automatic thoughts and feelings, as well as the experiencing of our senses and our instinctive impulses. The Wisdom Layer, also known as the higher mind, contains our intuition and intellect, our capacity for judgment and our awareness. The bliss layer is thus called because it is experienced as a permanent state of spiritual bliss; a consciousness of completeness.

And what about the energy layer? This is the realm of aNadis subtle life force that animates our whole body. Eastern models of man agree that the body is permeated by energy channels (called Nadis in Yoga, and meridians in Chinese medicine). The energy that flows through these subtle channels, the Qi of Qi-Gong, the Chi of Thai Chi, the Prana of Pranayama, is the stuff that Kundalini is made off.

In the yogic model, it is said that there are thousands of channels moving prana through the body. Of these, three are most important: Sushumna, which runs along the spine, from the perineum to the crown of the head; and Ida and Pingala, which run in a weave alongside Sushumna. Ida and Pingala cross Sushumna at several points, at each of which we find one of the major chakras (see image).

So what is Kundalini? It is a latent energy that resides at the root of Sushumna, in the location of Mooladhara chakra. This energy can be awakened and made to ascent along the main nadi, lighting up our chakras like a Christmas tree. This event, known as Kundalini awakening, activates currently silent parts of our brain and our energy body, endowing us with all sorts of fantastic powers and abilities. This is the goal of Kundalini yoga.

Before we awaken Kundalini though, we must first purify the nadis, then awaken the chakras, and finally prepare Sushumna for the passage of this energy. This is a process that takes years, even decades, but along the way one reaps the many benefits of this sort of practice.

With only a few months of practicing the Kundalini techniques, one starts becoming aware of the prana flowing through the body. This awareness increases our perception of self, allowing us to be more conscious of our posture, our mental fluctuations, and even our normally unconscious radiation. Working with the chakras quietly develops abilities that we never thought we could cultivate, like our intuition, our receptivity and our ability to communicate beyond the words we use.

Personally, I don’t care about raising my Kundalini this year, but I have found in the practice of Tantric Kundalini yoga a ready tool to live a more plentiful and satisfying life. Furthermore, the methods of this ancient science can be used for all sorts of therapeutic and practical reasons, or simply to get more energy (stamina) and mental strength.

In his Classical Yoga lessons at English Yoga Berlin, Pedro teaches many of the Tantric Kundalini methods, such as Shambhavi Mudra, Agnisara Kriya, and various powerful pranayama techniques .

What is Karma Yoga and How Can I Practice it?

Karma is one of the most famous and, at the same time, misunderstood Sanskrit words. But its meaning is quite simple and unambiguous: Karma = To Do. All action is Karma. Of course, there is also the so-called Law of Karma, which is one of the most beautiful and universal laws, recognized both by science and metaphysics: Everything happens in pairs –cause and effect, action and reaction. And this is what people usually refer to when they use silly expressions like “Bad Karma”. Yet, in its widest sense, the word Karma means the sum aggregate of who we are; the result of all our actions, thoughts, and feelings. Swami Vivekananda compares each individual action (thoughts and feelings too) to a single blow of the sculptor on stone. Karma, in this sense, is the resulting sculpture: the sum of all the blows. Who we are.

“We are responsible for what we are; and whatever we wish ourselves to be, we have the power to make ourselves. If what we are now has been the result of our own past actions, it certainly follows that whatever we wish to be in future can be produced by our present actions; so we have to know how to act.”
(Swami Vivekananda)

marx engels

For the purposes of this post the word Karma takes is most basic meaning: Action. And so Karma Yoga is the yoga of action. Or the pursuit of self-knowledge by doing. And what is it that we should do? Anything that needs doing! Karma Yoga allows us to become more conscious by carrying-out our daily duties and tasks. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But it’s not that simple. Work or action doesn’t in itself lead to self-knowledge. Only work that is performed with awareness and detachment, qualifies as Karma Yoga. The work itself is not even that important; how we do it is what counts.

When we act in the attitude of Karma Yoga, we become conscious of our reactions, of the mental expressions of our work. Do we become frustrated with failure? Are we over-eager for the results? Do we manifest impatience, insecurity, carelessness? Through Karma Yoga we can access this knowledge about ourselves, while remaining centered. We don’t get swayed by what we discover, we simply experience. Through this practice we let go of expectations, mental or physical blockages and anything else that makes us dependent or repels us.

Do you want to try it? Next time you set down to do your work, remain present and aware, keep returning again and again to be fully in what you’re doing. Be conscious of all the tendencies of your mind (boredom, restlessness, etc.) and let them be — just do your work and be the witness of everything that happens around that.

Becoming a Karma Yogi doesn’t happen overnight. But if you’re sincere, and you stick to it, you will start noticing some very strong effects with only a few weeks of regular practice. Whether you do house-chores or sit at an office; whether you’re a volunteer, and intern or a high-flying executive; whether you’re happy with your work or not; Karma Yoga is a ready and useful tool to become more you than you are now.

Tips on Preventing Yoga Injuries (part 2)

On the second part of our series about preventing yoga injuries, we give some tips for teachers, and on how to deal with common injury points.

7. For yoga teachers – pay attention to your own needs when demonstrating poses.
Believe it or not, most yoga injuries occur to teachers rather than students. As teachers, we often demonstrate a pose with our necks craned to the side to see what the students are doing, or we move out too quickly to assist a student. It’s a job that takes multi-tasking skills. While also being aware of what the students are doing, the teacher also has to be aware of their own movements and postures.
Some tips: Ground yourself before beginning the class. Warm up.  Prepare the class ahead of time, with ample time built into the plan to demonstrate exercises while also going around to assist the students. Don’t teach options for a pose that you yourself have not practiced many times, and use caution when demonstrating new or challenging poses.

2reflections

Practical Tips for common injury points:
In any pose where the body is being supported against gravity (i.e. standing), activating as many muscles in the body as possible makes the pose easier, and causes less stress on the body parts that are doing the main supporting. So, for example, even when standing, if you activate the thigh muscles (by pulling up the kneecaps), and activate the abdominal muscles (pull the navel up and back), then standing becomes easier and less stress occurs on the ankles and feet.

Wrists:
When the body’s weight is on the hands, such as in downward dog or plank, the shoulder blades should be flat to the back (this hooks the weight onto the upper back which is stronger than the wrists), the fingers spread wide, and the palms flat (this distributes the weight). Lifting a little at the wrist, and pulling the triceps up into the armpits also helps to alleviate pressure on the wrists. If you have an existing wrist injury, you can also roll up a towel, blanket or mat, and place it under the wrists, rolling the weight forward onto the fingers and taking a little more pressure off. Pressing the heels back and down sends more weight to the back of the body, and activating the abdominal muscles helps to keep the body supported in the centre.

Knees:
Whenever the knees are bent, such as in warrior 1 or 2, or chair pose, keep them directly above the ankles as much as possible, and bending in the direction of the feet. When the knees are bent too severely, or wing out to the side, stress is put on the knee. An already-aggravated knee will get worse in this situation. And if holding the pose is too difficult, then shorten your stance – bring the back foot closer and take less of a bend in the knee. Whenever the legs are straight, pull the kneecaps up and enact the thigh muscles, this takes weight off the underside of the knees and helps build muscle around them. It also avoids hyperextension if you are double-jointed. When sitting on the heels, take a blanket between the feet or a block on top of the heels to sit up a little higher. When kneeling, take a blanket or pillow under the knees. When moving into lotus or other sitting poses that require twisting the legs up, then move only into a position you can hold comfortably. If you it’s too difficult to get close, ask for a modification.

Lower back:
If you have an already existing injury in the lower back, it’s advisable that you make sure with a doctor that doing yoga is appropriate for you. Some injuries could get worse by practicing posture-based yoga.  If you are clear to go, then pay particular attention to what the rest of your body is doing as well as taking care of your back. Abdominal muscles are key to strengthening the lower back against further injury. If your back rounds as you lower down into a forward bend, then bends the knees until your back is straight (heart forward, shoulders back, bending from the hip sockets), and pull the belly in as you bend. If your back hurts too much to do back bends (bow, bridge, camel), then don’t do them. If you can, then move into the pose slowly, keep the legs active, pressing the pelvis and hips forward and tailbone towards the knees. Turning the toes and knees out a little bit can help alleviate some pressure in the lower back as well. Also follow back bends with gentle twists and/or a wide-kneed child’s pose, and avoid deep forward bends until the lower back has had some time to lengthen again.

Neck:
If you see the neck as an extension of the spine and it moves with it, then that helps to avoid most neck injuries. The problem is our necks get a major workout as we look this way and that, drop the head if it feels too heavy, etc. But dropping the head is exactly what can cause those injuries to begin with! Keeping the neck long helps make poses like push-up easier. In cobra or upward facing dog, lengthen rather than compress the back of the neck. You should feel no folds in the back of the neck, and the chin tucks slightly in towards the throat. In poses like camel, where the shoulder blades come together, you can let your head fall back only if it has somewhere to rest. And if the head is back, don’t yank the head up again when you come back out of the pose, keep it back until you are upright and can lift your head without straining the neck. In inverted poses (headstand, handstand, shoulderstand), keeping strong shoulders pulled up and away from the ears actually help to protect the neck, rather than the instinct to pull the shoulders close.  When your neck is already injured, avoid headstands and shoulderstands.

Throat:
Particular attention should be paid in bridge and shoulder stand to avoid harming the throat. As almost the whole body weight is being supported by this one area. The throat gets compressed and if the rest of the body is not compensating, damage to the vocal chords can occur. Squeezing the shoulder blades together and pressing them flat to the ground causes the spine to lift and gives the back of the neck more space to lay on the ground, allowing the front to be more open. And move slowly into a fully vertical shoulder stand, being aware of your neck and throat as you move.

We offer yoga in Berlin, Kreuzberg. Our teachers are injury conscious and will be happy to assist you before and throughout the class with tailored variations for your yoga poses. We believe that the increased awareness that we cultivate in our yoga classes together with the suggested variations for your unique body, make a difference both to practicing yoga in daily life and to the yoga benefits you take with you after class.