Please note: this post was written to elaborate on topics I discussed in a workshop held at Texas A&M on 3 June 2017 for Yoga and group exercise instructors.  However, you don’t have to be an instructor to get something out of it. 🙂

What can we learn from transitions?

Think about the last time in your life you had to make a transition.  Maybe transitioning from high school student to college student.  From living on your own to living with someone else.  Transitioning from independent person to part of a relationship or vice versa.

How did you deal with that transition?

Maybe you saw it as an obstacle and looked for a way around it.

One of my roommates during college was very very different than me.  I knew from about day 5 of living together that signing a year lease was a bad idea.  It was going to be a difficult transition.  I looked at living with her as an obstacle and chose avoidance as my strategy for dealing with it.  WRONG CHOICE.  That situation ended in an argument, loss of money, emotional pain, feeling taken advantage of and an irreparable relationship.

Maybe you saw your transition as a moment to define yourself in a new way.

I have a tendency to be a conformist.  It is my way of handling new social situations.  If I’m like everyone else then everyone else will like me right?  A few times in my life I have made what I thought were very close friends by trying to be something I thought they would like.  Guess how many of those friends I talk to today? Yep, none of them!

So a transition has to be dealt with in two ways.  First, we have to go THROUGH it.  Immerse ourselves in the change and focus on why we were given this opportunity.  Remember that we can always learn a lot about ourselves in times of change.  Second, we have to be who we truly are.  Use the tools that we know work for us to cope with the transition period and come out on the other side with our identity intact.

I my life, right now, I am going through one of the biggest transitions yet.  The transition to motherhood has affected me physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually…. basically, on every component of wellness.  And I will be brutally honest when I tell you that this has NOT been a smooth transition.

When I was first pregnant (before I even knew!) in July 2016, I was traveling in Bali. While in Ubud, I went to several yoga classes.  Something wasn’t right.  I could do advanced asana, but I left the classes physically drained.  In fact, there were a few days when I didn’t even leave the hotel bed.  As I became more and more pregnant things kept shifting and changing.  I stopped doing yoga for the rest of the first trimester.  That was a terrible idea.

You see, yoga has been a part of my identity before I even knew what yoga was.  As a child with attention deficit difficulties and a mother who didn’t want me to be on drugs, I learned aspects of yoga (and other movement-based activities) as a coping mechanism to help me focus. So, when I realized I was going through a transition, I avoided dealing with it and left a part of myself behind.

In November 2016, I rolled my mat out again and began practicing.  It wasn’t pretty and was often hard to get motivated, but I felt more at home in my body after each practice.  By moving through Asana every day I was able to feel how my body was changing, transitioning, into the body of a VERY pregnant woman.

After I had Alice, my world was tumultuous.  I had no idea who I was with all of these hormones and feelings flowing through my body.  It was BAD! I knew that I needed to get back on the mat.  That was the only way I could make sense of yet another MAJOR physical transition. Through the practice of Yoga, I could relax and refocus my attention on what was changing.  What started as a physical necessity became a way to mentally and emotionally get back on track.

Did you know that is where the physical practice of yoga really stems from?

The physical postures of yoga were introduced solely to release excess physical energy so spiritual enthusiasts could meditate in stillness for hours.  While your participants most likely aren’t seeking hours and hours of meditation, they are probably coming to you to release excess energy.  Participants will describe this “excess energy” to you in many ways – “I’m tight/stiff,” “I’m stressed out,” “My back/hips/knees/ankles/wrists hurt,” “My mind is racing.” Sound familiar? Luckily, more and more western medicine practitioners are seeing the benefits of sending people to Yoga classes for help.

This is where we, as yoga instructors, must step up our game.

It is not enough to simply throw out a few Asanas that we like, say Namaste and send them off into the world.  We are obligated (yes, we really are, I will stand by my words on this) to give our classes the tools that they need to deal with life.   We have to understand that the body REALLY DOES speak the mind (a great book by Deb Shapiro by the way!!).

And it all starts on the mat.

I can hear you now…

“All of this philosophical talk is all well and good, but how am I supposed to address this in the 1 hour I have with my participants?”

Simple. SHOW them a harmonious practice.  Focus on smooth physical transitions from the second they walk into the room until they walk back out into the world. If we create physical harmony, we leave room for the mind to find peace as well.

Here are 5 ways that you can put this into practice today:

1)      Start your practice with Pranayama (a breath practice). Breathing deeply through our nose turns on the parasympathetic nervous system and allows our participants to feel relaxed during Asana. Try it right now.  Shut your eyes and take 10 deep breaths through your nose.  Isn’t it GREAT!?!?!  What better way to welcome participants into their practice.

2)      Move through your Asana (postures) in an organic way.  If you can only do one of these 5 things THIS one is it!! Literally, focus on the transitions from pose to pose.  Even if your class isn’t labeled “Vinyasa” you should link poses in a way that feels natural.  The easiest way, in my opinion, to create a truly harmonious flow is to video yourself going through a personal practice.  Don’t worry about doing advanced poses.  Do poses that come easily to you and maybe make a few modifications. Just do what feels good! Later, you can watch the video and take notes of what did/didn’t work to incorporate into your class.

3)      Use uplifting music with a message of peace and love.  Avoid a TON of lyrics because they can be distracting.  Instead, know when and where to incorporate the lyrics into your practice. For example, a great place for lyrics is a place in class where there is minimal need for cueing. Below is an example Yoga class playlist. (Note: this playlist is ever-changing so feel free to follow and hear what I use in my Yoga practices/classes on a daily basis.)

4)      Avoid OVER CUEING. This is where I STRUGGLE!!!!!! I have done a lot of studying of yoga, Pilates, and functional movement, so I have a tendency to get VERY picky about form and alignment.  This can really frustrate participants.  Instead, focus on allowing them to move within their body if there is NO HARM being done.  Think “AHIMSA” – no harm physically, but also no harm mentally.  We don’t want people to leave feeling like they are doing things “wrong.”

5)      Give AMPLE time for Savasana.  I have been there, you are really in the groove with a great practice only to look up at the clock and realize you only have 2 minutes left!!  So we rush them through a relaxation and send them on their way.  It happens.  So, as a teacher, remember that Savasana is where the magic happens.  Make it the focus when you are planning your class.  At least 10% of the total class time should be spent in Savasana.  This is how we transition our class from individual participants to a community.  The best transition of all!

Was this helpful? Would you like to hear more yoga teacher tips? Leave a comment below!

Peace, love and always changing,