Strolling through Instagram these days, you find all kinds of impressive images of humans all over the world doing unimaginable things and preaching about expanding consciousness and connecting to various different spiritual outlets. As far as trends go, the heightened popularity of Yoga and Meditation in recent years has taken a whole new page into the way of the modern life.
As we all embark on this self development journey, lets remember how to help others, and to do this is is not by creating our expanded awareness into something unfathomable for those who simply see things a different way, but rather, bring it down into a language that can hopefully spark their own truth, in a moment of awakening their being.
Yoga Basics from a Teacher’s Perspective
Yoga is not only about the asana ( physical poses) and how well one can stand on their head, or further engage into pretzel-like shapes. But rather, is about gaining insight and awareness of your presence.
For a yoga teacher the challenges sometimes can be simply ‘the basics‘. How to go back to the basics, before your body adapted to the way of yoga asanas, and developed the awareness and strength, endurance and elasticity in parts of the body that the regular high stress functioning fellow might not have.
Having had so many students recently who were absolute beginners, has challenged me to really look into how to queue and lead my classes, so they don’t feel like “this is impossible… this yoga teacher is an acrobat”. I hope to spread awareness that in fact everything is possible. I want to express the passion I feel toward this practice, so others can, and will inquire further into the depths of their own being, rather than turning away and saying “I’m never doing that again”.
I began to separate from the yoga practice as far as asanas go, and looked into the philosophy and logic of the concept of yoga. The drive is to quiet the mind, in yoga, long enough to begin listening to the needs of the body. And these body needs really go back in history as the primal functions of our existence. Before we developed a loud talking mind and voices in our head, we simply had tiny bodies that spoke the loudest with its basic needs of survival.
Yoga Lessons from a Newborn Baby
Do you remember yourself as a tiny human? Do you remember the struggle and devotion it took as a baby, for you to stand up on your two little feet? Do you recall the process and steps you took toward the actual attempt to stand up?
A baby most certainly did not think logically and seek for the physics and mathematics of standing up nor did it, from its present point of view, consider the option as standing up, to be impossible.
Instead the baby simply began to settle in its tiny body, and observe the different body structures and how they can begin to serve it toward it’s goal : To stand up.
First, the baby begins on the back, moving its neck and head slightly, and once aware of the limbs by its torso, it begins flexing and stretching its feet and legs into the air, and perhaps pulling the feet toward the face. This is the beginning activation of the core muscles of this baby. It begins here, the growth of the core. The core, in fact, is everything. Strong core gives you strength to stand up, but beyond this, control and awareness of the other parts of your body and how they behave.
Traditionally known as the happy baby, this yogic posture comes from here, the baby becoming aware it has a core, it has feet and it has hips and knees, and they can be flexed, compressed and stretched in accordance to the spine.
Happy Baby Pose relieves the tension of the spine while engaging the opening of the hips and releasing the stress on the knees.
Around 6 months, the baby learns it can roll over. Now after regularly stretching its feet into the sky the baby developed the predominant belly muscles, forming tightness around its lumbar spine.
Now it can roll over, and when on the belly, the baby using its tiny elbows begins pushing its thoracic spine upward, whilst engaging the lumbar spine, back bending in the lower back, and using its previously tightened belly muscles.
In Yoga this is known as the Sphinx pose. The focus here is opening the thoracic spine, reversing the way gravity holds the spine, as well as engaging the shoulder blades and chest.
Raising the spine continuously, whilst supporting on your elbows, and releasing down, the baby is also developing muscular strength in its triceps and biceps and working with wrists and elbow joints. Not to mention creating flexibility and agility along the spinal column.
Once the Thoracic and lumber spine have been connected, the core, lower back and oblique muscles have been formed, together with sustainable upper arm strength, this baby is ready to raise its hips off the ground.
This posture in yoga, is called table top. The baby becomes aware of the support of its knees. And from here, it can begin to work on its motor control and balancing functions, just like any four legged creature, the baby begins crawling.
They become so fast at crawling, they strengthen their knee joints and wrists. Occasional, stopping and releasing the sit bones onto the feet, or simply the ground, the baby sitting upright strengthens the spine’s vertical postural development.
So right around nine or ten months, this baby begins to utilize objects around it to raise its spine upward from the tailbone to the neck. From being on the knees the child begins to introduce the ankle joint and soles of the feet to gravity.
First the strength in the arms and hands allows them to use objects such as coffee tables, side of sofas, chairs and so on, to raise themselves up and support their upward hold while introducing the sole of the foot to the ground.
Gravity and Standing Up
By staying in vertical position, the baby gets a sense of its ankle and sole of foot function, as it learns how gravity works, and the strength it needs to stay balanced on the feet.
Up until this point the only use for the baby’s foot, was the impression of pulling it in its mouth, as this strange thing attached to its body. The baby had no use of this foot. However, during the crawling days, the baby engaged and strengthened the muscles around the ankles. Allowed the feet to tuck underneath when it sat on its bum. Diapers clearly have slowed down its fall on the tailbone, so the baby is ok to simply land on its sit bones.
Now we are engaging the core, the gluteus and upper thighs, chest moving forward as we grab a hold of objects to push ourselves up .
In Yoga, this engagement is very similar to Chaturanga Dandasana, or the 8 pt Ashtanga Namaskar (lower knees chest chin, and come in cobra) The muscular engagement is the upper body, arms and shoulders is the same.
In chaturanga Dandasana, our core and gluteus is activated, as we control the weight down in our shoulder blades and tucked elbows lowering down.
In the baby’s case, activating the gripping factor with the fingers, the baby keeps its elbows close to its torso, engages its core , dropping his shoulders down and elongates the neck up, as it pushes itself up from the knees to the feet.
Yes it did it. It arrived at its goal to stand up, now how does it continue to develop and grow the correct muscle structure to balance without the support of objects, and better yet, begin rapid motor functions of forward movement?
The baby exhales as each time it pulls itself up to come up to its feet. Each time becomes easier, and each attempt lands into the muscle memory deeper, so eventually it becomes an automatic movement. Practice, constant and regular practice, is how we create habits in the body.
The baby now gets and begins to balance on his two wobbly feet.
Have you seen a baby stand in its first few weeks of learning to walk? They are like little snowboarders. They have slight bend in their knees, their stuffy diaper keeps their tailbone out, belly hangs forward shoulders are wide open chest forward and chin up. They learned how to counter balance their body weights… Bum with belly, and shoulders with head and chest.
This is their mountain pose, or rather the beginning understanding of mountain. So they take their first step, inquiring their motor functions, and letting the brain shoot out neurons all over the place. The simple raise of one foot and landing it forward is quite a challenge, yet today, humans are absolutely unaware of one-tenth of the energy it takes to create a step, but simply living in this auto-mechanical world of memorized movements.
The baby wobbles as it stands, and perhaps appears a bit insecure at each step it takes, and the number of times this baby lets gravity take it down, due to lost balance, is unmeasurable, because the baby does not give up, but rather each time it lands on its cushioned behind, it comes right back up.
Practice makes perfect, so this baby is relentless. Continually rising and falling and balancing and attempting the move.
More adept it gets, and more agile and strong his little chubby legs become, the posture changes. The baby becomes more in line with the spine and suddenly the tailbone tucks in, the belly pulls in, and the chest lengthens vertically with the shoulders.
This baby is now in full Tadasana (mountain pose) and secure in its step, just minutes of getting ready to run, slightly leaning forward into the bent knees and raising the speed at which the feet shift forward.
Yoga begins with Birth
At one point we all were yogis, as yoga is simply listening to the needs of the body. The baby heard its body’s needs loud and clear; “to stand up”, and devoted months to the development of such strength and stamina, to finally meet its goal.
Once this goal came to life, the child begins new challenges, furthering its physical as well as mental growth.
Sadly, somewhere along the way, around the time the ego develops, the societal pressures and expectations begin to shift the focus of the body synching with the mind, and the mind begins to run wild, and separate from the body.
Here we are today, as hardened, stiffened, and conditioned adults, screaming from the inside, to let that little kid out to walk and run and play. But cannot let go of the mind’s predeterminations, and societal expectations, so we no longer know how to become in touch with the body.
I am honored to have had such remarkable students in my classes recently. People, who have never done yoga before, people who’s ideas about yoga is incorrect, twisted, and requires certain kind of prerequisites. They came and embraced the teachings on the mat, and perhaps something within them awakened slightly, perhaps an idea sparked their interest. This is the eternal gift – to know that what we share, in attempt to expand another’s view just slightly, and bring them closer to that inner child of theirs, is a success story altogether.
Teaching yoga to those who have never tried it before, is perhaps the most challenging. How to bring the basics back to the humans who have lost touch with the functions of their body parts due to the way we are engineered and programmed to live? How to engage them, without loosing their interest and keeping their identifications in check?
How do you share that piece of you that extends beyond this heart and into the heart of another, and open up just enough to let the other guy in on this wonderfully- seeming secret of breath awareness.
This is the journey I chose to fulfill this life with. To touch the hearts of all lovely beings and aid to their inner growth and expansion, as I continue to study, learn and expand beyond this lifetime myself, and further share this knowledge, insight and gift.
Love and Light,