With yoga more popular than ever in the United States, many individuals choose to complete teacher training programs, which offer instructor certification. After securing certification, however, instructors have to develop a client base, which often involves teaching friends, family, and others for free out of their homes. Teaching for free allows individuals to gain experience as a teacher, receive invaluable feedback, and create connections that could lead to a paying job.
Budding teachers who do not yet have studio space may need to get creative with their locations, especially in cities. While an apartment may not provide adequate space, parks, rooftops, and other unique locations can attract more adventurous practitioners.
To get the word out, instructors need to learn how to use social media to advertise. Websites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and even LinkedIn offer excellent networking and personal branding opportunities.
Many new teachers can find work leading sessions in nontraditional forums. For example, some companies hire teachers to lead lunchtime or after-work yoga classes. These opportunities can build a following of individuals who would attend classes in a more traditional setting, such as a studio. Once a new teacher has established a client base, private lessons can prove very lucrative as well.
Several forms of meditation exist, until now, little research has examined if and how these variants affect the body. Recently, researchers from the University of Oslo, the University of Sydney, and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology have teamed to study exactly how different forms of meditation affect the brain.
The researchers have initially divided meditation into two techniques. Concentrative meditation involves intense focus on breath or mantra while suppressing other thoughts. Nondirective meditation is the term for meditation that involves focus but also allows the mind to wander. The team tested 14 experienced meditators in an MRI machine while they undertook both forms of meditation.
After the tests, the team found that nondirective meditation led to higher levels of brain activity than were seen in subjects at rest. Brain activity was especially high in the parts of the brain that process thoughts and feelings. Concentrative meditation, on the other hand, caused virtually no increase in activity in these parts of the brain.
These results were surprising because they show that brain activity goes down when one focuses. In addition, the results demonstrate how nondirective meditation can actually increase space for processing memories and emotions. Typically, the area of the brain involved has its highest level of activity during rest, making it remarkable that nondirective meditation increases activity levels even more.
Yoga is among the simplest fitness disciplines around, in that it requires little or no investment in costly props, accessories, and equipment. Your own body and its capacity to stretch and relax, and your own mind’s ability to achieve a state of focus and calm, are at the center of any yoga practice. Yet that doesn’t mean you can’t use a few helpful items that can enable you to achieve your exercise goals.
Most yoga practitioners make use of some sort of mat. If you frequent a yoga studio with hard floors, this may be your most essential fitness prop. Avoid slips by getting one with a sticky rubber base that allows you to affix it securely to the floor’s surface. For around $20, you can get a good, all-purpose mat suitable for most situations. Or you could pay more and buy increased adhesiveness, resistance to sweat damage, or deeper cushioning. Eco-friendly models, made from biodegradable or sustainable materials, start at around $40.
You will also likely want a towel to absorb perspiration as you work out, or to serve as a rest for your head.
Foam wedges or blocks can assist you in aligning your body in better form. Some studios provide them, although you can purchase your own for about $10 each. Different sizes of blocks will assist you as you develop your flexibility; for example, if you can’t reach all the way to the floor at first, use a block as a handrest. And cotton straps can additionally be very helpful to secure your legs as you hold stretches. Expect to pay another $10 apiece, and if you are very tall, look for straps at least 8 feet in length.
Some yoga practitioners will want extra equipment for comfort or style, including sandbags for increasing stretches, or folding chairs that facilitate sitting meditation.
Two extremely common poses, cobra and upward facing dog, are part of a typical sun salutation. Many teachers also invite students to engage in a “vinyasa,” or a linked sequence of poses, which often starts in plank and moves to chaturanga, then cobra or upward facing dog, and finally downward facing dog. Even in more advanced classes, students may begin their vinyasas with the less demanding cobra pose before substituting it with the deeper backbend and more active elements of upward facing dog. However, beginning students often find the differences between these two common and interchangeable poses difficult to grasp.
In cobra pose, the elbows remain bent and the thighs stay resting on the floor. Rather than using the hands to support the body weight, the hands should be pulling the chest forward and you should lift the upper body using the core. In fact, when in low cobra, you should be able to lift your hands off the ground.
In upward facing dog, the hands are situated directly below the shoulders and the arms are straight. The thighs and pelvis are lifted up off the floor, so that the body is suspended from the shoulders down through the tops of the feet. Mixing up these critical differences can do significant damage to your lower back, so be sure to pay close attention to your body positioning in your next sun salutation.
If pyramid pose is not a part of your normal yoga practice, it can be a potent addition if you are seeking a pose that simultaneously opens the backs of the legs, the side body, and the hips, all while improving balance. In Sanskrit, pyramid pose is called “parsvottanasana,” which translates literally as “intense side stretch pose.” This asana is relatively simple to get into: begin by placing the feet three to four feet apart with the front toes facing forward and the back left toes pointing at a 45-degree angle. Next, place the hands on the hips, pulling the front hip back and squaring the hips toward the front of your mat. Keeping the hips square, release the hands and begin to melt forward, leading with the heart, toward the front foot.
Remember to breathe in this pose, as the gentle pulse of the breath can help guide you deeper into the forward bend. In addition to a stretch along the side body and the backs of the legs, some practitioners may feel release in the muscles along the outside of the shin. Runners often experience tightness in these muscles, and few asanas stretch them as effectively as pyramid pose. If you don’t feel the stretch along the shin, try pulling the front hip back an extra inch, or consider backtracking and spending some more time opening the backs of the legs before returning to pyramid pose.
The nonprofit group Yoga Across America, in order to spread awareness of the physical and non-physical benefits of the discipline, sponsors yoga classes specifically directed to soldiers and military veterans, at-risk students, people in community centers and homeless shelters, and other distinct populations. Yoga instructors who have worked with prison inmates, victims of trauma and domestic abuse, and other members of underserved groups say that such outreach can be extremely rewarding.
People who have felt powerless in the past can become disconnected from others and even from their own bodies. They may only have the ability to focus on a few basic postures and relaxation practices at first, and may display extremes of hypervigilance or detachment. Instructors must demonstrate patience and foster a supportive, nonthreatening atmosphere, incorporating simple means, such as rolling back and forth on a mat, of helping individuals coping with trauma recover their body awareness.
The Omega Institute and the Yoga Service Council represent other organizations that focus on expanding the potential of underserved men, women, teens, and children through the teaching and practice of yoga. These groups have held workshops that bring together yoga instructors, social workers, and other professionals to share information and best practices for promoting the well-being of vulnerable people through yoga. Teachers who have literally taken their yoga mats to the streets have reflected on yoga’s ability to heal not only individuals but also neighborhoods facing crime, violence, and the multiple stressors inherent in today’s society. Through a focus on serving those most in need, these instructors have become a force for positive change in their communities.
Yoga, like walking, presents an easy-to-do, gentle, yet highly effective exercise regimen for people at all levels of physical fitness, including pregnant women. Learning to regulate breathing patterns, and to find optimum ways to achieve relaxation and manage stress, will have great benefits for a woman preparing to go into labor. And the sense of community that comes with joining a prenatal yoga class and meeting a group of other women going through the same life-changing experiences can provide much-needed emotional support.
Most physicians consider yoga in general to be safe during a typical pregnancy, given sensible precautions. Research suggests that yoga can promote healthy sleep, lessen pain in the lower back, alleviate some of the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, and decrease nausea. Some researchers note that the chances of going into premature labor may be diminished through yoga, and that it may also inhibit development of high blood pressure.
Pregnant women should consult their medical professionals before undertaking or modifying an exercise routine. And there are a few specifics to avoid. For example, if you are unused to doing inverted postures such as headstands and shoulderstands, pregnancy at any stage is not the time to incorporate them into your yoga practice, and even experienced practitioners should avoid them later in pregnancy, or on the advice of their doctor or yoga instructor.
Refrain from performing any postures that require you to lie on your back, since this position can impede blood flow to the uterus. Avoid the hot rooms of Bikram yoga, because overheating can be dangerous to your developing baby. And remember that, because your body is now filled with the pregnancy-associated hormone relaxin, whose role is to stretch the uterus in preparation for giving birth, your other muscles are also much more at risk for injury from over-stretching and straining.