Sunday, March 8, 2009

Some Suggestions for Individualized, Breath-Centered Yoga Practice

Some Suggestions for Individualized, Breath-Centered Yoga Practice

Presented by Leslie Kaminoff to 170 students at 7am practice on Saturday, March 7, 2009 at Symposium for Yoga Therapy and Research, Los Angeles.

© Leslie Kaminoff
Please feel free to use and share these ideas with as many people as you wish. However, please respect the original language, and preserve proper attribution when forwarding.

10 teaching points:

1. "OM" at your own pace.
Everyone's breath is a different length. Let's honor that with 3 comfortable, non-competitive OM's to start and end the class.

2. Vinyasa yourself.
A salutation done in group synchrony is a powerful experience for sure, but because the breathing pace is everyone's, that means it's actually no one's. It's shocking how many experienced group-class students have never done a single vinyasa at their own pace.

3. Function over form.
Give functional suggestions instead of form-oriented instructions. Promoting the idea that there's an ideal form to the poses neglects the context that asana doesn't exist unless expressed by the unique body of a single individual. Pursuing an unattainable, ideal form only leaves the student wondering what they've done wrong.

4. Be an opener, not a poser.
Even some of the most seasoned teachers make this mistake. A student's experience is never wrong as long as it's THIERS, not yours. Class is the time for students to have their own, unique experience, rather than being told what they should be feeling. Students are very vulnerable and suggestible in class, so instead of telling them what should be going on inside, just point them in the direction you want them to look, and be open to surprises. If they have trouble feeling anything, then that's exactly what they need to notice.

5. Honor dyslexia.
The most useless and confusing words in yoga class are "right" and "left." Does it REALLY matter what side you start a pose on? All the traditional justifications for starting on the right side can be countered with equally persuasive counter-arguments. Given the freedom, most people will do their easy side first - even if they don't consciously know which side that is. In the right context, this is very revealing.
When giving instructions for any pose, try saying, "choose a foot (or hand) and start with that one - we'll get the other one next. Now, you can refer to the limbs as "first" or "front" or "back" or "other" and everyone will be much happier.

6. Try free-form counterposing.
Instead of teaching thee usual counterposes to intense asanas, give the students a few minutes to do whatever their bodies need - based on what they're feeling. Prepare to see some people do the expected just out of rote habit, which they should recognize. Be also prepared to see the unexpected and counter-intuitive. For example, some people want to go deeper into a backbend after wheel, rather than into child's pose.

7. Try free-form krama.
Krama means steps (for more advanced students). Assign your class a challenging "target" pose, which they will do after a series of self-selected, progressive preparatory practices. Afterwards, see #6.

8. Disassociate your breathing.
One of the strongest patterns exhibited by experienced students is the simultaneous initiation of breath and movement. The deepest practice of vinyasa-bandha is most easily revealed when breath and movement are consciously DIS-connected. Try starting the breath before the movement, or vice-versa. Simple idea, big topic. Buy my next book.

9. Take a stand for freedom.
Let's try to banish the words "correct" and "proper" from discussions about asana, and especially breath. Either the goal of yoga is to be free, or the goal of yoga is to get it right - choose now, because you can't have it both ways.

If you just chose freedom, you've divested yourself of that crazy idea that you had to get it right. Stay with that, and...

10. …Congratulations. Welcome to YOUR yoga.

Enjoy! Feedback welcome.

by Leslie Kaminoff