Alignment Observation, Eagle Eye, Verbals Assists and Physical Assists
Approach.. The " A" of Aum (OM) is Intelligence. Proficiency, Technique, Efficacy & Skill, Understanding, Sensitivity in approach.
Remain. The "U" of Aum is Stability. Direction, Certainty, Reliability, Anchoring, Informing.
Depart. The "M" of Aum is Connection. Understanding, Clarity, Trust, Art, Nurturing, Care, establish a deeper connection with the student.
This is a simple guide for asana yoga teachers for numerous styles of yoga that provoke & inspire the use of verbal assists eagle eye & hands (feet, knees, head, etc) on assists as a means of healing, informing and getting students into the potential of their unique body while you as the teacher are sure to understand & become sensitive to just what that is.
The means in which an Asana Lab can be expressed is:
1. Global Eagle Eye: observing the current mood of the overall setting due to the energy of the day, the alignment of the stars, news in mass media, holidays, time of week, time of day and type of population of class. Adjust accordingly. This is where a teacher begins to sense the group collective as well as to move the energy of the room, looking from all angles and corners of the room without touching anyone but thoughtfully making the approach inward, closer to their energic boundary as to begin shifting the energy of the room.
2. Personal Eagle Eye: observing the current mood of each student from the neutral canvas of Tadasana mountain pose (or seeing mountain pose in every pose), move sequentially in order, free of preference in students. In eagle eye observation, a teacher observes the state of a particular student from all angles, getting side profiles, sensing their mood of today, what their body is saying today, where their patterns are in the way in which they hold their body up and what they need to address. Note if they have injuries or are going through clear life changes. A body is like water. It changes daily. Adjust accordingly. This is where you respect and understand their particular canvas & begin to develop compassion and empathy as to have taken the time to notice them specifically.
3. Verbal Assists: Working sequentially, this is where you opt to give verbal cues and clear articulation to a student as to assist them in feeling a pose for themselves and making the correct adjustments. This invokes greater Self awareness. This is a very empowering tool. It is done in positivity, sequential clarity and directness so that you have time to move on to the next student. As a teacher, work on editing your language so that you are succinct and concise as to be sure your message is understood. Once you find language that fires up a response, repeat it.
4. Physical Hands On Assists: Working sequentially, this is where you assess that touch would be informative or helpful as to offer them greater depth and clarity. This is done with the permission of the student. It is never the same, robotic assist after assessing what they need that day.
Most humans, due to past suffering of the pains of relationship, sexuality, intimacy, or even trauma, can possibly have many barriers and walls that a teacher must perceive and have great sensitivity to. Always give the student the free will and power to choose or not choose touch. Use assist cards to place the power into the students hands.
In a classroom setting, when given permission, it is a profound and sacred opportunity to break those walls down so that they are unveiled. The "art" of hands-on assists, when appropriate, can be mutually beneficial, getting us all more open & alive more quickly. All relationships should be mutually beneficial and symbiotic. The teacher will get the chance to learn just as much about you and body types in general by getting in there with you as you as a student learn from the information the hands of the teacher wish to convey to you without speaking. Often, no talking is what a student needs, dropping out of the mind and into their body.
*Note...Think sequentially. What is the priority and what are common anatomical mis-alignments in the many diverse body types and variance of poses....Here, the pelvis has a tendency to tilt forward in Virabhadrasana II, so broadening spiral of the legs outward creates a space that informs the top of their pelvis back to move back, realigned. Working things out sequentially, they can then lower their hips so they are straight across from the forward knee, as Virabhadrasana II is a wonderful pelvic alignment pose.
Why Alignment Observation, Eagle Eye, Verbals Assists and Physical Assists?
I have found I learn faster and can work with greater depth and focus on my unique canvas, the body, with these 4 considerations that we call Asana Lab. I have also found as a teacher that I get closer to the students, get into a deeper level of compassion for their struggle and all human struggle, and unite in more profound relationship when they see me working hard to be with them and assist them, be it energetically, verbally, or with hands on assistance.
I also enjoy & we will discuss the art of vocalization, articulation, positive speech & direct speech with 5 Bindhu's that we utilize to call out the names of all poses quickly with a dynamic & creative voice. Voice comes in many forms in yoga, be it singing, mantra, philosophical discussions and dialogue, inwardly and outwardly. Verbal assists are perfect spearheads of thoughtful triggers for narrowing down the needed energetic release in each asana.
Hatha Yoga and the path of asana is a “marg” (path) is a physical experience. As yoga teachers, get in there physically with the students and actually do something... “act” with them in their efforts. As students work on their physical poses, energy and memory is activated or released. This means these accessing these tools as a teacher also becomes psycho-kinetically, karmically liberating and spiritually enhancing experience. Our Asana Lab tools can be a gateway for weaving into all of the sheaths, or koshas of the body, beginning with the thickest, most gross form layer, the “Annomaya kosha", the “food” body.
Yoga itself means to yolk and to create union. Yoga is the art of relationship. All things are in relationship. The art of Asana Lab gets both the student and the teacher into right relationship and to work out relationship barriers or fears as it is far more intimate and therefore must be far more respectful, committed, sensitive and thoughtful. Coming into a circuitry of symbiosis with another being in healing endeavors is very liberating for both parties. It can help bring all things into right relationship within our physical lives, all of us benefitting.
* Note...Uttita Hasta Padanghustasana. Do what best serves THEM. Do not be tentative in their balancing pose. Instead, either move out of the way or get in there right away with grounded confidence. Balancing poses are about strengthening our focus. Since they are concentrating more, if you are nervous, the thought waves are felt and it will throw them off. Like a Mother, get in there and assist whatever they need right away without thinking about it.
This is the best place to approach our sincere offering and profound understanding of asana to a student and just how transformative it can be, to serve them with the sensitivity of the heart. The proof is then no longer in the words alone but in walking the talk, in actually feeling it in every cell of our body. With these tools in our Asana Lab, the compassionate jewel of the heart is actuated in being closely with another in full trust. As yoga teachers, being committed to this physical activation adds a whole new level of fulfillment to the experience of teaching as it does to the student's practice when they are ready to receive.
*Notice overall (global) and individual Gross Form misalignments Example: they are on the wrong leg or wrong pose
6. Notice common/global & individual misalignments (Alignment is more detailed than Gross form & takes an even more keen, refined eagle eye. See their skeletal system. Not just their flesh or periphery) of individual poses. Example: Trapezius shortening the neck. Chin (hyoid bone) popped forward. Leg hyper-extends with knee in front of ankle.
1. Stay interactive with the students. You are in conversation. Do not sit down. Be sure when addressing them with sequence and transition, whenever possible, they can see you before you make a personal hands on assist. Example: Side plank, Vashistasana Right side: Walk over to the right side BEFORE this pose happens so once then get into it they see you talking to them face to face.
2. Just like a theatre performance rule, do not turn your back on them as a whole. It would be such a rare case that you would need to do this.
3. See them. When using your eagle eye, from time to time walk to places where you can see the best view of all of their bodies just as though you were watching a demo of a yoga pose.
When you personally have set a stable foundation for yourself it will be safer for both you and them. Then you will have the confidence required to take them deeper into things and more advanced poses. They will sense this too. They must trust your grounding & skill for optimal efficacy. Your job is to notice when it is time for a student to advance and how far to take them. They are counting on you to notice this and to be the one to guide them securely.
1. Gross form misalignments are first. Example: serious safety issue, wrong leg or wrong pose. (Gross form mis-alignments are always address first before micro detailed Alignments)
Understand the effect your presence has on them and ensure them of a symbiotic, empathetic approach. Parsva Utitta Hastapadanghustasana.
1.Discern your economy of time. The goal is that everyone gets touched or personally addressed energetically in some way. This is my personal goal and I am always a bit disappointed if someone is left out. If you were the Divine Mother, would you leave even one sacred precious being out?
2. Know what bests serves them beyond what you wanted to offer or want to give them. It is all about them. It is their time.
3. Over time, get to know their bodies and individual needs in keen, detailed observation. Do not approach everyone the same way. Know who has a shoulder injury. Know who has scoliosis, or a kyphotic spine... this type of thing. Then when you get to them, you already know what to do and not to do.
4. Note mood and attitude…see when someone is in a particularly unusual mood.
5. Note particular body types…Organic or Muscular… for possible injury prevention. In general, more organic or flexible yogis injure themselves far more easily. In general, Vatta Dosha (those with a lot of air in their constitution) are sensitive to touch due to their nervous system and have thinner skin. Because of this, do not push vattas quickly.
6. Discern right away if you are actually assisting them or throwing them off. If their breathing changes, if they contract, if the energy shifts with many walls up, back off immediately. Remain humble and caring.
7. Discern if they need you to actually assist them into it more or if what serves them is to make it more challenging. Beyond being incorrect assists all together according to a good understanding of anatomical alignment, I also often receive assists that I do not really need nor do I understand what they were trying to tell me.
9. Are they getting it? Discern whether they are actually getting what your hands are saying. If not, you may need to either adjust your assist or verbalize something (as little as possible and by being direct) with them so they understand.
*Ask yourself... WHY am I doing the assist that I am doing? Am I going through motions or is this purposeful? Be sure you have a good answer that serves the student in the Highest.
1. Quick informative tap. Example: Tap the quadriceps instead of constantly repeating verbally “activate your quads”. Example: tap the right leg when you articulated “right leg forward but they brought their left leg forward. Example: Tap the knee if it rotates in/out in in Warrior II.
2. “Vayus” (winds) of the body. Know how energy flows in the pranic body(the pranamaya kosha)... down, side to side, spirals, up & all pervasive). Remember, the Energy sheath is the next less dense sheath or kosha interweaving into the physical.
There are many ways to assist one pose. Be careful to not fall into your own personal set ways of doing things by default. Engaging the scapula and lifting the arms for a broader chest and heart opening.
Here is a library of ideas for personal hands on assists. *For more detailed explanations on how the energy is moving and how to perform the assist, come to or schedule a lecture & workshop "The Art of Hands-On Yoga Assists". (a manual is coming soon)
Vinyasa Sequence Within Surya Namaskar:
Sun Salutations where traditionally created to bow in connection with the life & light giving Source as we recognize something so stunning rising above us that we are humbled, lowering ourselves onto the ground in respect and gratitude. It is a moving prayer that we flow through too clean up our thoughts, speech and hearts. It is a full prostration using the entire body we have been given, moving any small, densely cloaked energy off of us to better align with the magic and light bearing life force that sustains us all. This helps us to remember our connection and the connection of all things in our lives to this Source, committed to it. Our bodies can then be fully embodied conduits, useful in the process of our happiness and in serving others. Surya Namaskar is a warm up. You are meant to flow and get out of our critical mind into the full body of your experience.
Some standing poses:
Standing poses are meant to ground us and establish a deeper connection to the earth. They activate the downward flow of energy within us, the "Apana" so that we are more consistent, reliable, well established and trustworthy. Standing poses build confidence, mobility and agility. They require great strength in our foundations, sequentially where it all must begin. Standing poses often require balance so focus is increased, bringing the thinking mind into the full body. This invokes more security and courage, both needed as a yogi and yogini.
Some Forward Folds:
Forward folds open the back body, known as the Universal Body, as it is less individualized. They strengthen and tonify the front body and internal organs, giving them a good squeeze. Forward bends slow the energy down and bring the energy in for deeper contemplation, groundedness and steadiness.
Some Back Bends:
Back bends open the front, individual body, where our features are more personal and more fully exposed into our outer experience, moving us forward. The back body and spine is predominantly strengthened. The energy of backbends goes faster, goes up and goes out, thus back bends tend to activate the nervous system. Backbends are governed by the leg and come from the base of the heart. The heart represents the Wisdom mind and the entire "body" consciousness we reside in.