Archives for posts with tag: core muscles

Are you a person living a safe life or a person taking risks? Do you prefer to be in a safe zone or choose the difficult, walk towards the unknown and take the risk in your daily life? I continued to practice flows on chakras in this week’s yoga classes. This week, it was “manipura chakra”s (navel chakra) turn. And we would practice a flow for our inner power and jewel. The theme of the session would be whether to stay in the safe zone and do a known flow in confidence or take chances and risk and walk towards the unknown?

We strengthened the core muscles with several “asana”s (pose) throughout the first half of the session and get ready for the peak pose. The peak pose would be something that would take the students from the safe haven. We should take risk when trying the peak pose.

I decided on two different peak poses for the morning and evening session that day because the students in the morning and evening classes could do some poses well but have difficulties in some other. The aim was to get out of the safe haven and take the risk so the groups should take the risk and activate their navel chakra. So one of the groups tried “bakasana” (crow pose) and the other “eka hasta bhujasana (leg over shoulder pose). Both asanas were poses that the students were not used to and that would be a challenge, taking them out of the safe haven and take the risk.

In the session we tried “bakasana”, some students got out of the safe haven, took the risk and tried the pose. Some of them only lifted one foot from the ground while some preferred to bring their knees on their back arms and keep their feet on the ground, staying in the safe haven.

In the session we tried “eka hasta bhujasana”, I observed the same thing. Some students only stretched their hips and brought their legs over their shoulders and stayed there some of them tried to lift their hips of the ground.

What I observed that day was that what we were doing on the “mat” was directly linked with our personalities. If we were people who liked to stand firm on our feet, we were having difficulties in balancing poses and taking risks. Or if we were not taking life so seriously and considering life a fun, such poses and sessions were just fun for us. The question was whether we should take life seriously, live in the safe haven and ground firmly on our feet or get out of the safe haven and take risk? Was life something that serious? Would it harm us if we take risk and mock with life a bit?

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Every yoga class is a different experience not only for students but also for me. Not only the students progress in every yoga class but also I learn new things. Particularly when I am practicing with groups to which I feel close and with which I have a good communication, I do not think about what comes the next but the class flows. What is important is our interaction.

It was such a class when I asked the students what they wanted to do that day. The students said they felt so tired that day and wanted a calm class in which they could stretch their bodies. I had always liked calm classes however that day I wanted something active and I did not know how I could handle a slow and calm class.

When the students were on all-fours in “marjaryasana-bitilasana” (cat-cow stretch), something came into my mind. We should work “pelvic tilt” that day. “Pelvic tilt” was the exercise in which we moved the pelvis front and back. In an exhale, we were tilting the pelvis posteriorly and in an inhale we were tilting the pelvis anteriorly. If we assume that we have a tail, we were hiding our tail in-between our legs and pushing the “iliac bones” forward when we exhale and showing off the tail at the back of our hips and pushing the “iliac bones” backward when we inhale.

We tried “pelvic tilt” in “tadasana” (mountain pose), “ardha uttanasana” (standing half forward bend), “adho mukha svanasana” (downward facing dog), “padangusthasana” (big toe pose) and on our back. All these “asana”s (poses) were added in-between “vinyasa”s (flow). During the flow, not only hamstring and gastrochnemius muscles stretched but also the back muscles and core muscles strengthened. After strengthening core muscles with “pelvic tilt”, we worked out “mula bandha” (root lock).

All these preparatory poses should be followed by a peak pose. We would stand in “ardha sirsasana” (half headstand) and do push-ups only with our legs, extending the legs to the ceiling in each inhale and descending them to the level of the abdomen in each exhale. Those who thought they could not do this pose would do the same thing in “salamba sarvangasana” (shoulderstand).

That day, we realized one thing. We were not aware of the power within ourselves. Even though we think that we engage our core muscles and pelvic floor muscles, we were not using them effectively. We thought that we were efficiently engaging these muscles, however we were so weakly engaging them. If we could use our inner power in the real sense, there was nothing that we could not do. Everybody was saying the same thing at the end of class: “I was thinking that I was using my pelvic floor muscles, however I was not. I just realized what it means to engage the pelvic floor muscles together with core muscles. Everything will be different from now on. I will be open to new experiences by using all my inner power”

I do not know why but yoga classes are considered just like other physical activities. Maybe this is because yoga classes are so wide-spread in gym clubs. Who knows? Whatever the reason is, we should separate yoga from other physical activities. Why? Because yoga is the “state of being” not a physical activity, as most people think. It is a discipline and a spiritual philosophy.

You may consider yoga as just like other activities and just as something we do with our bodies. However, it is a bit different. Yoga means the harmony of the body, soul and the mind. Yoga means to unite the body, mind and the soul. Yoga means to bring together the body, mind and the soul. That is, yoga is not a physical activity but a state of being. The only relation of yoga with physical activity is “asana”s i.e. “poses.” What we want to do in yoga classes is to keep the body and breath together with the help of “asana”s, focus the mind just on what we are doing without thinking anything else and do everything with full awareness.

What is the use of talking about all these? Yes, you may ask why I am telling you all these. Because of what happened in one of group classes last week. When we are doing the “asana”s that our body is used to, like forwardbends, most of us do not have any problems. Our spine and body is used to forward bends and rounding of he spine so we do not lose the connection of the body and the breath and we can do most of the sequence without the need of the focus of the mind. However, we start having problems in backbends, balancing poses and inversions. In these asana groups, if we do not have body-breath connection, we can have problems. We may hold breath and when we do so, the poses become more challenging, The mind is so important particularly in balancing poses and inversions. What does the mind think and how it feels? Am I afraid and am I short of breath because of my fear? Am I holding my breath? Does my mind tells me that I can do this pose or does it say that I cannot? Does my mind trust my body? Is my mind supporting me or is it preventing me?

I remembered all these questions in the group class last week in which we tried an inversion. I have been working with this group for about a year. The group had practiced with another yoga instructor before me and they are also attending pilates classes twice a week, which means they are bodily and physically strong They have enough physical power to do all “asana”s. But they are having problems in “sirsasana” (headstand), “pincha mayurasana” (forearm balance) and “adho mukha vrksasana” (handstand). So what is the problem?

If we have enough physical power and if our core area and shoulder girdle is strong enough to do these poses, we first look into whether we are aware of this physical power. Let’s assume that we are aware. Then the second question is whether I can really use this power. Do I really engage my core muscles or do I only assume that I am engaging them? Can I use my pelvic floor muscles or do I only assume I am using them? Can I engage all my muscles or just asumme that I am doing so. If I just assume and cannot do the pose, then this means that I am not aware of my physical and bodily power and it is high time that I trust my power and be aware of it.

When we do so and we still have problems, another question comes. What am I afraid of? What prevents me from doing this pose? We may be afraid of falling. We may be afraid of falling in front of others and disgracing ourselves. We may be afraid of falling and injuring ourvselves. We may be afraid that we can break our necks. We may have different fears. It may be hard to look at the world from another perspective and change our routine perspective. We may not be afraid of standing on top of the head but we may be afraid of getting down from the pose. It may be hard to get on the top of the head but once we get there with the help of somebody else it may be so easy for us to stay there. This is where the mind is in business. At this point, yoga practice is separated from other physical activities. What does my mind think? Does my mind acts in line with my body and breath, i.e. soul or acts separately from these two? Does my mind support me or prevent me? Does my mind believe that I can do the pose or not? Does my mind focus on just what I am doing and live the exact moment with full awareness? The answer to all these questions can raise us to “sirsasana” or drop us from “sirsasana.”

That day, students got by the wall and tried “sirsasana” there. One of them could not rise in the pose but when she did so, she was feeling so safe and did not think of getting down. The other was thinking of how she could get down so she could not do the pose. Once she did, she was panicking that she could hurt her neck and she could not get down in a proper way. Another student could get half-way on her own, panicking there and forgetting to use the pelvic floor. She rose in the pose but she fell as she did not try it by the wall. Another student was trying the pose on her mat in the middle of class, not by the wall. However when she rise in the pose, she panicked as another student told her that she was doing it so well and she immediately and carelessly got out of the pose. When the mind hears “yes, you have made it”, it wants to hamper the body and it is successful in its attempt.

That day, we once more realized that we could not do “asana”s just only with the body power. If our breath does not help us, if we lose body-breath connection and if the mind does not focus on what we are doing, we may not do some asanas we consider as “challenging.” What differs yoga from other physical activities was the state of “being.” The body, soul and mind are in harmony and together and the picture that comes out of this harmony.

Inversions are poses that all students want to experience in yoga classes but that challenge them. To be upside down, to feel the blood flowing towards your brain, to feel as if you are flying and not to believe all this happening. These poses seem impossible at first. If you go on with yoga classes, you start to try these poses slowly. Step by step. One step forward in each trial. Like constructing a building, from the ground to the top.

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We would try an inversion in one of group classes last week. Inversions generally require a strong spine, a strong core and a strong posture. So, I prefer to begin with “sirsasana” (headstand), which is relatively an easier “asana” (pose). In my opinion, “pincha mayurasana” (forearm stand) and “adho mukha vrksasana” (handstand) are more advanced poses.

As usual, we prepared the body for “sirsasana” in the first half of class. We added “asana”s that strengthened the shoulder girdle and core muscles in-between “vinyasa”s (flow). It was time to try the peak pose.

My aim was to raise the body on top of the head by taking the control of all your body, not to get in the pose by jumping or throwing the legs to the wall. Therefore, we tried two different poses before the full pose. “Sirsasana II” (tripod headstand) and “ardha sirsasana” (half headstand) were these two poses. In these two poses, we kept the legs in the level of the abdomen and waited at that pose for at least five breath to strengthen the core and pelvic floor muscles. The aim was to get into full headstand by slowly and synchronously lifting both legs.

First, I asked the students to try on their own. Staying in half way in “sirsasana II” was relatively easier for student. Both arms and head were on the ground, which made the students feel more secure. The students who could get into this pose tried to lif their legs up immediately because they were used to it. I do not know why but we are living on result and outcome. Therefore, we do not attach any importance to the stages before the outcome. It also happened in the class. As we focused on standing on the top of our head, we did not get interested in what came before.

When I saw this, I asked the students to get out of the pose to remind the goal of that day’s class. “Our aim is not to get into the headstand. We have tried this pose for several times before and I know that you can do it well and stay in the pose for at least five breath. The aim of today’s class is to see that you hold the control of your body. To enjoy every step you take. Not to work for just the result or the outcome. Remember your math classes at high school. We used to get some points if we could not get the correct result but if our path was correct. Like math classes, the way you go, your path is important in yoga. To wait after each stage, to digest that stage and to go on building.”

Then, students tried both poses once more. After waiting in the second pose for five breath, I asked them to lift their legs simultaneously without losing the control. In the meantime, some students could not do the half headstand. I knew that they were physically capable of doing that pose, so I did not believe that they were not able to do the pose. They had strong shoulder girdle and pelvic floor and they could so easily do the “asana.” I believed they were not aware of their inner power. My inspiration was not enough. One of the students in class was interested in “life coaching” and I asked her to inspire the students, which was so effective. They realized their inner power and they got into full headstand after they stayed in half headstand. It was a real “flying”.

What did we learn from the class? There is an amazing inner power within us but we do not know how to use it. And second, we just live for the result and outcome. What about the path we take until we come to that result. The journey and the path we take step by step? To stop for a second after one step and go on after digesting that stage? Aren’t all these more important than the outcome?

Yoga always and everywhere… Just be willing to practice yoga… If you are willing to practice yoga, there is no difference between a green forest or a blue coast and a small room. Yoga always and everywhere…

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When I went to my private class last week, the conference room where we generally practice was full. Therefore we would practice in the squash hall. The hall was nice, big, parquet-furnished but a minor problem. It was too cold. It could take a long time to warm our muscles up in that cold room or maybe we could not move so easily there. And we could catch cold. We were thinking of other options when we realized that we could work in the lockers room.

When I say lockers room, do not think of a big room. A long but small room with lockers on both sides and benches to sit down in the middle. So, we placed the student’s mat in front of the door between the lockers room and the showers. I can hear you say “can yoga be done in such a place. You could have cancelled your class.” No, we decided to practice yoga that day as it was a different experience. And it was good for our progress. Maybe we could learn new things that day.

We focused on core muscles. When we were practicing “phalakasana” (plank pose), “phalakasana” variations, “utkatasana” (chair pose), “navasana” (boat pose) variations, the students said she felt so tired and exhausted and she could not go on. She wanted to slow down. First half of the class was over and we were about to try the peak pose. But it was not good to push the body hard. So I decided to slow down the class and go on with “yin” (female energy) yoga. I started to stretch the body of the student with “butterfly”, “caterpillar”, “sleeping swan” and “dragonfly.” After all these poses, she laid down and relieved the spine and body with “twisted roots.” I ended the class with a long “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose). During the entire class, there were people coming and going out of the lockers room, a high-volume music coming from the gym room beside the lockers rooms, people shouting and speaking out loud, and people trying to talk to us in the lockers room. However, nothing disturbed our attention and concentration. Whatever they say. That day was “yoga” and “yoga” was always and everywhere.

When ending the class after “savasana”, I thought how I imagined and how we ended up. We began the class to strengthen core muscles and ended up by stretching the body. We practice in a small and narrow room. Even though there were many things that could disturb our body and mind, we stayed in the moment and preserved the unity and solidarity of the body, mind and soul. We did not lose our attention and concentration.

When I went to class the other day, the conference room was again full. This time we decided to try something different and practiced in the student’s office. When I say office, do not imagine of a big office. It was an office where a mat could only be put and when you could even hit your leg to the wall when you extended it to the back. That day we went on stretching core muscles. The peak pose was “bakasana” (crow pose). The student had a bad experience with “bakasana” before. When she tried the pose, she fell down and did not want to try it again. We stopped practicing the crow pose for some time. But till when? We should deal with our fear. Wasn’t it the same in life? Could we give up and go? We should try and try and try again. As we tried, maybe the body and mind could accept and something which was so far away from us could become closer. Therefore we started by placing a “bolster” under the head. Slowly, step by step, without hurrying. Without losing the concentration. And that day in that room something unbelievable happened. The student was so calm when trying “bakasana”, she did not lose her concentration, she kept her body, mind and soul (breath) together as if she was trying a very easy pose. And it happened. Yes, she did an amazing “bakasana.” One-two-three breaths… Enough for the first try. It will progress in time. She wanted to try again and tried. And it happened again. As she did not rush, she did not lose her control and moved step by step.

We were neutralizing and relieving the body after the peak pose when somebody entered the room. People trying to talk to us and people trying to distract us this way. Always happens, everywhere happens. We were not disturbed. We preserved the body, mind, soul unity and solidarity. This was “yoga.” The body, mind and soul are a whole. To stay in the moment, to live the moment, just to be interested in yourself and just to observe yourself.

Yoga always and everywhere. A green forest where we sit listening to the noices of birds or a coast where we sit listening to the noices of the waves under a blue sky. Or a small room with only the yoga mat, my mind, body and soul. No difference. A crowded city or all alone on top of the mountains. No difference. The only difference is whether we are a whole with our body, mind and soul. If so, everywhere is always yoga for us.

Have you ever noticed that you are practicing the same “asana”s (poses) in your classes for a long time? I do not know why but we love certain “asana”s more than others or we are more used to them and we do not even think of trying a different “asana.” Then one day you realize this vicious circle and you want a change. And that moment is the moment when change and progress begin.

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I changed thanks to one of my private students. When we were trying an “asana” which was really challenging for the student, she asked, “why don’t we try this asana for a month? Maybe this way my body and mind would accept the asana and maybe I can get into this pose. Let’s practice it for a month and see what happens.” I accepted. Ok, let’s try and see. And our journey began.

At the end of that month, we had seen that the target areas of the body for that particular “asana” had stretched and strengthened and that “asana” was no more so away from us. We had made up our minds. New year and new experiences. From now on, we would intensify on a certain “asana” for a month and observe the changes at the end of that month. I decided to try the same thing in my group classes.

I do not know why but all students want to focus on the core. Maybe just because they want to strengthen their core muscles, have a upright posture, strengthen the spine and have a good-shaped navel… That is just for physical targets. Maybe because of the energies of the navel. A strong navel means a strong stance in life. A strong navel means the will, ambition and determination to accomplish our projects. Whatever the goal is, the students mostly ask me to work out core muscles when I ask them what they want. Yes, this month we focused on the navel.

Not only in my private classes but also in group classes, we all focused on the navel. We had two classes a week. In one of them we strengthened main core muscles and in the other we strengthened oblique muscles. When we focused on main core muscles, the peak pose was “chaturanga dandasana” (low plank) or “bakasana” (crow pose) or both of them. In the other class, the peak pose was “parsva bakasana” (side crow pose). When old students joined the group classes, I faced no problems but when there were new students in class, I also had to make them happy. So, when the old students were trying these peak poses, I was suggesting that the new ones practiced “parivrtta surya yantrasana” (compass pose) — which is really not an easy pose — and “uttana padasana” (legs up to 90 degrees).

In order to prepare the bodies for the peak pose, we practiced throughout the class “phalakasana” (plank pose), “vasisthasana” (side plank pose/Sage Vasistha pose), “navasana” (boat) variations, “halasana-navasana” (plow-boat flow), in “supta konasana” (supine angle pose) rolling the body back and sitting back on the hips, “utkatasana” (chair), “parivrtta utkatasana” (twist in chair), “parivrtta trikonasana” (twist in triange), “parivrtta ashwa sanchalanasana” (twist in high lunge), “parivrtta anjaneyasana” (twist in low lunge), “parivrtta parsvakonasana” (twist in side angle), “parivrtta ardha chandrasana” (revolved half moon pose), “parivrtta utthita hasta padangusthasana” (revolved hand to big toe pose), in “uttana padasana” (legs up to 90 degrees) dropping the legs to 60,45 and 30 degrees and then lifting them back to 90 degrees, “phalakasana-adho mukha svanasana” (plank-downward facing dog flow) , “eka pada phalakasana-eka pada adho mukha svanasana” (one legged plank and one legeed downward facing dog flow).

Balance in all-fours, right arm-left leg in the air and then the opposite, bringing the up hand and leg together near the navel, trying to bring the leg to the elbow in plank and then extending it to the back, bringing the leg to the navel in plank and then extending it back, bringing the leg to the opposite elbow in plank…

When it was time for the peak pose, we were lowering the body from “phalakasana” to “chaturanga dandasana.” Those who wanted were trying “bakasana” afterwards. Surely, this was the flow of the main core muscle day. When we were working out the oblique muscles, we were trying “parsva bakasana.”

Believe me, those who were having problems in plank pose in the first days got stronger by the end of the month and were no more having so much difficulties. Some students felt that they got stronger, left aside their fear and tried the peak poses. Some of them observed how stronger their core was. They tried some poses which they used to define as hard, challenging and impossible even if they did not experience the peak pose.

New year, new experiences… Nothing is hard and impossible. Just believe and work hard… We will see what this month will bring us. We should have new goals and walk though them in this new month. But we should make the goal an obsession but just enjoy the journey. When we enjoyed the journey and lived in the moment, we could see that the target is closer to us more than ever!

Yoga classes in a studio and gym club are a bit different from each other. When you step in a yoga studio, you feel peaceful and tranquil. Everybody try to be as silent as s/he can, talk in small words and not to make any noice. Sometimes you can find yourself walking on the tips of your toes. A calm, silent, tranquil and peaceful atmosphere… However gym clubs are lively and energetic. Once you step in, you hear a loud music and everybody is in a rush. People are either running on treadmills or they are trying to join a group class on time, just like Daily life. Everybody in a hurry and rush. Moreover, there is another difference between classes in yoga studios and gym clubs. As yoga studios focus just on yoga, you can find every type of yoga equipment. Unfortunately it is not the same in gym clubs. You may now think of why I am talking about this. Of course because of what happened in my classes in a yoga studio and a gym club last week. Let me begin to explain.

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Last week all my students wanted a core strengthening class. When I showed up in my class at the gym club, I asked all the students what they wanted to do that day one by one. My aim was to focus on the most preferred asana group and please the students. Every student wanted to work the core area. In general, students do not like and prefer core strengthening classes. This demand made me surprise but at the same time I was so pleased because core strengthening classes were my favorite.
I planned the peak pose as “chaturanga dandasana” (low plank). I counted the blocks in the class. You cannot usually find blocks in gym clubs but there are a few blocks in the gym club I am teaching even though it is not enough. After I counted the blocks, I counted the students and gave up the peak pose as blocks were not sufficient enough. Moreover I wanted to use blankets but there were no blankets in the gym club. So what would the peak pose be? The previous class we tried “bakasana” (crow pose) and “adho mukha vrksasana” (handstand) and worked out the shoulder girdle and core muscles. I did not want to try an inversion again and so I had to choose a different asana. I decided to try “vasisthasana” (side plank/Sage Vasistha pose) variations.
After warming up the bodies with “surya namaskara” (sun salutation) series, we strengthened both arm muscles and core muscles with “phalakasana” (plank) and “phalakasana” variations, “eka pada adho mukha svanasana” (one-legged downward facing dog), “eka pada phalakasana” (one-legged plank), “utkatasana” (chair) and “utkatasana” variations and got prepared fort he peak pose.
Just before the peak pose, we got from “phalakasana” to “vasisthasana.” After waiting in “vasisthasana” for five breaths, we did a “vinyasa” (flow) and stayed in “phalakasana” againb This time, we placed the right hand in the middle of the yoga mat and turned the body to the left and tried “vrksasana” in “vasisthasana” with the left leg. If we could do this, we lifted the left leg up and tried to grab the big toe with the left hand. This was the peak pose.
After trying the same on the left hand following a “vinyasa”, we neutralized the body in “phalakasana” and “adho mukha svanasana” (downward facing dog) and regulated the breath in “balasana” (child pose).
Following a few forwardbends and twists, we laid on our backs and calmed the bodies with “jathara parivartanasana” (abdominal twist) and “apanasana” (knees to chest pose) and ended the class with “savaşana” (deep relaxation and resting pose).
As there was not sufficient equipment in the gym club, I could not do what I planned but I had to do something similar but would not cause the same impact.
Two or three days later, I went to the yoga stduio where students asked for a core strengthening class. Now we could try “chaturanga dandasana.” We had many blocks and blankets.
We warmed the bodies up with similar asanas in the yoga studio and strengthened arms and core muscles. The only difference in the yoga studio was that we tried “nauli kriya” (abdominal cleansing method). The first stage was to completely empty the lungs and tighten core muscles, i.e. “uddiyana bandha.” Our aim was to tighten the core muscles starting from the groins up to the chest and feel the core without even doing any asana. We did every asana with a tight core area throughout the class.
It was time fort he peak pose, i.e. “chaturanga dandasana.” Every student used two blocks not to collapse and really feel how “chaturanga dandasana” was. They placed one of the blocks under sternum (chest bone) and the other under the pubic boneb They rolled the shoulders back, pushed the shoulder blades towards the coccyx and opened up the chest as if extending from the sternum. The head was an extension of the spine. The chin was neither lifted up nor it dropped to the chest. The back of the neck was flat. The arms were not opened to the sides but were kept close to the body. Every toe was touching on the ground, even the little toe. Here you saw “chaturanga dandasana.”
After all students felt “chaturanga dandasana”, I went to each students’ side and first got the block under the pubic bone and then removed the block under the sternum. Then I counted to five. “Now you can lie on your abdomen.”
Everybody tried “chaturanga dandasana” without blocks. “Inhale in phalakasana and as you exhale, bring your shoulders a bit in front of your arms, bend your elbows, bring your elbows close to your body, keep your hips and back in the same level and bring your body close to the ground. Here comes chaturanga dandasana.”
After working this much core and arm, I tried to try one more thing. To feel the core more and to “burn” core muscles. Stepping out of mats, we placed blankets under the feet and hands and got into “adho mukha svanasana” (downward facing dog). As we inhaled, we moved the blankets forward and got into “phalakasana” (plank) and as we exhaled, we moved the blankets back and got into “adho mukha svanasana.” After flowing between the two asanas for five times, we rested in “balasana” (child pose). The blankets were making the ground more slippery. If we did not keep our core muscles strong, the legs and arms would walk involuntarily, we would löse balance and fall head down. Therefore, we had to tighten and engage core muscles. Thus, “core would literally burn.”
We also completed the class in studio with forwardbends, twists, an inversion each students wanted to practice, supine twist and “savaşana.”
If I got back to the beginning of my post. The classes in yoga studios and gym clubs are a bit different from each other. I guess you have understood what I am trying to say. You cannot find the equipment in gym clubs whereas you can easily find them in yoga studios. Therefore, you sometimes act spontaneously in gym clubs ore you try to inform the students beforehand about the upcoming class. You remind students to “bring blanks” a day before the class. However, you can find everything under your hands in a yoga studio. You may not do what you have planned in gym clubs. You also wantd to do something different and teach idfferent and new asanas to your students in a gym club. You aim to strengthen and make a progress with them but unfortunately you lact equipment. You try to create and find solutions. You want them to try “trataka kriya” (gazing at candle in order to silence the mind) and you cannot find any candles. Then you put your water bottle in the middle of the class, make a circle with the students and ask them to focus on the water bottle. Once you want, there is nothing you cannot do. What is important is not to teach in yoga classes where everything is available and accessibleb What is important is to have students who are really willing to learn, do everything you can and your best despite all deficiencies, incapabilities and negative developments and to give and teach everything you can at that very moment.

“I feel like I am born, I grow, I get old and die on the mat in every yoga class.” This was how one of my students expressed how she was feeling in yoga classes. For a moment, I flashbacked to a few years ago, when I was a student in a yoga teacher training program. Our instructor compared yoga classes to life. To be born, to grow, to get old and die. When my student expressed the same idea, I could not keep myself from thinking if we were living a life on yoga mat. Have you ever felt like you are living parts of your life on a yoga mat throughout a class?

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That day the peak pose was “sirsasana” (headstand). We began the class with meditation, focused on breath, calmed down the inhales and exhales and stretched the spine with “marjaryasana-bitilasana” (cat-cow stretch). On all-fours, we tried to work out the balance by opening right arm and left leg up and then vice-versa. This was how we started to engage core muscles. As “sirsasana” was an inversion, we had to strengthen shoulder girdle and core muscles and prepare the body to this pose.
We then warmed up the bodies with “surya namaskara” (sun salutation) flows. In order to strengthen the shoulder girdle and engage core muscles, we added “phalakasana” (plank), “chaturanga dandasana” (low plank), “vasisthasana” (side plank/sage Vasistha pose) and “ardha salamba sirsasana” (dolphin pose) in-between the sun salutation series. To strengthen the shoulder girdle more and prepare the body to stay in balance, we practiced “eka pada adho mukha svanasana” (one-legged downward facing dog), “eka pada phalakasana” (one-legged plank), “eka pada chaturanga dandasana” (one-legged low plank) and other variations of “phalakasana.”
Then we laid supine to go on strengthening core muscles. We lifted the legs up to 90 degrees and brought one leg to the ground in each exhale and in each exhale we lifted it up to 90 degrees without touching the leg to the ground. When we started to feel the core muscles burning, we kept the legs at 90 degrees and started to swim in the air. We brought both legs closer to the ground without touching them on the ground as if we were still swimming and then lifted them up to 90 degrees as if we were swimming. Two “navasana”s (boat pose) and staying there four five breaths. Then, we tried to bring the body down till shoulder blades as we inhaled and we lifted our body to “navasana” as we exhaled. In “navasana”, we opened the legs to the sides when we inhaled and closed them when we exhaled. Lastly, we got from “navasana” into “halasana” (plow pose) and stood up in “tadasana” (mountain pose).
In the last “surya namaskara”, we stayed in “adho mukha svanasana” (downward facing dog) for five breaths and sat on our knees. Now we could do the peak pose. After trying “sirsasana” variation on elbows, we did the other variation in which we lifted the body on the head and arms. Then we neutralized the body with “balasana” (child pose).
We bent forward the spine more with “janu sirsasana” (head to knee pose) and “paschimottanasana” (seated forward bend). Following “jathara parivartanasana” (abdominal twist), we rested in “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose). What I had in mind at that moment was to say, “we inverted the bodies and looked at the world with another perspective. We tried to understand each other and see the world from the eyes of another person.” However, one of the students totally changed the lesson of the class. She reminded me something I learned but I forgot in time: The similarity between yoga and life.
“I feel like I am born, I grow, I get old and die on the mat in every yoga class.” Comparing yoga classes to life. When we were stretching the spine at the beginning of the class and we slowly moved the body before starting the flow, we were “borning.” When we warmed up the bodies with “surya namaskara” series, we were “living our childhood.” When we added some asanas that would prepare us for the peak pose of the day in-between sun salutation series, couldn’t we call them “youth?” Wasn’t the peak pose our middle age when we felt ourselves at the peak of our life and “the most mature”?  Weren’t the asanas we used to neutralize the body after the peak pose the same with the regression in our lives from the middle age to the elderly ages? Could we define the forwardbends and twists we did to calm down the body and the nervous system before we ended the class as the “elderly ages?” And lastly could “savasana”, literally “corpse pose”, be compared to “death” when the spirit left the body? So weren’t we experiencing the birth, childhood, youth, maturity, elderly ages and the death throughout a yoga class? Don’t you think that every yoga class is a life from the beginning to the end?

The most favorite and the most feared asanas of yoga classes are inversions and arm balancing poses. If you join yoga classes often, you are amazed with people who can do these asanas and you dream that you can easily do these asanas like them one day. Therefore, students always want to try inversions and arm balancing poses in yoga classes. Last week was such a class.
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I plan a class and think of a flow before I went to the class. However, I observe the general mood of students once I show up in the studio or gym club and can change my plans according to their needs as yoga helps us have a flexible body, flexible mind and flexible stance.
I thought to teach a class with a backbend as the peak that day. I even picked the peak pose as “urdhva dhanurasana” (wheel). A few people from the morning class joined that evening class and told me that they had not tried “bakasana” (crow pose) for a long time and asked if we could try it. New students from the morning class showed up in our class and made a demand. Could we turn them down? Surely not. That day, I changed the plans and decided on a class with two peak poses. “Bakasana” as the arm balancing pose and “adho mukha vrksasana” (handstand) as the inversion. This meant that we would use “bakasana” as a preparatory pose for “adho mukha vrksasana.”
After the opening meditation, we sat in cross-legged position and stretched the shoulder girdle. We used the arm position of “gomukhasana” (cow face pose), rolled the shoulders back and opened up the chest. Later, we opened the shoulder blades with the arm position of “garudasana” (eagle pose). We lifted the arm in front of us in the shoulder level, brought the shoulders forward and when exhaling we put the shoulders back in their sockets and pushed the shoulder blades towards the coccyx. With this flow, we tried to understand how it was like to fall on or not fall on the shoulder girdle. What we were doing here was scapular upward rotation. The most important thing in inversions was to push the legs towards each other and keep them firm, posteriorily tilt the pelvis, use root and abdominal locks (mula bandha/uddiyana bandha) and extend the spine from the coccyx towards the top of the head. Keeping the breath calm, gazing at one point and focusing the attention on a point help do these poses.
After we stretched the shoulder girdle, we started to warm up the bodies with “surya namaskara” (sun salutation) series. We continued to stretch the shoulders by interlacing the arms behind and bringing the arms towards the top of the head in “uttanasana” (standing forward bend).  To strengthen core muscles, we stayed for five breaths in “phalakasana” (locust) and “chaturange dandasana” (low plank). In-between the sun salutation series, we also stayed in “vasisthasana” (side plank/sage Vasistha pose). Inhale “vasisthasana” exhale “phalakasana”. Five times on right arm, five times on left arm. Then wait in “phalakasana” for five breaths.
We were strengthening both arm muscles and shoulder girldle and core muscles. Inhale “phalakasana” exhale “adho mukha svanasana” (downward facing dog). Flowing between these two asanas for five times. In the next “surya namaskara”, we lifted right leg up and kept the two hips square, we exhaled and got into “chaturanga dandasana” with the right leg up. Inhaling we got into “urdhva mukha svanasana” (upward facing dog) with the right leg up and exhaling we got back to “adho mukha svanasana” with the right leg up.
In another “surya namaskara”, we got from “phalakasana” to “chaturanga dandasana” and moved the body forward and backward In “phalakasana”, we tried to lift the hands up from the ground for a moment. And fears… The fear of falling down and hitting the face. The good and bad sides of inversions.
We stopped “surya namaskara” flows for some time and laid on our back to strengthen the core muscles. We lifted the legs up to 90 degrees and we brought one leg down and lifted it back to 90 degrees without putting or touching it on the ground. When we started to feel the ore muscles, we kept the legs in 90 degrees and we used the legs as if we were swimming and walked down the legs this way to the ground and without touching them on the ground we lifted them up. We strengthened core muscles with “navasana” (boat pose), rolled on our spine forward and backward and stood up with the help of the momentum.
In the last “surya namaskara”, we worked out the shoulder girdle with “phalakasana” on elbows and “ardha salamba sirsasana” (dolphin pose). Then came “adho mukha svanasana” (downward facing dog) and “eka pada raja kapotasana” (pigeon) with right leg. After waiting for five breaths, “adho mukha svanasana” and “eka pada raja kapotasana” with left leg. After neutralizing the body in “adho mukha svanasana”, we jumped outside the arms and stretched hips and groins with “malasana” (garland pose).
Now it was time for “bakasana” (crow pose), the preparation of the peak pose. Spread fingers on the ground, push the socket of the index finger on the ground, then pull the fingers a little bit backward like a paw. Then put the right knee on the back of the right arm, put the left knee on the back of the left arm and try to lift the feet from the ground. The feeling of flying. Finding a focal point on the ground and gazing at it. Channeling the attention at one point. Focusing on that point. Concentration.
What pleases a teacher the most is to see and realize the improvement of students. Students who had been joining the classes for a long time felt themselves so light and could do “bakasana” with a grace and stayed in the pose for five breaths. They saw the gift of regular attendance. Worth everything.
It was time for the peak pose. I had full belief that students could do “adho mukha vrksasana” very successfully. I showed two different ways of handstand. One was the “L-shape” handstand, with the arms on the ground and legs on the wall. The other method was to jump on the wall with hands on the ground. Every one could try whatever s/he wanted. Sometried “L-shape” handstand and some others tried to jump on the wall or tried to do handstand on yoga mats by helping each other. All students showed an amazing progress. They overcame their fears and at least tried the pose once they believed they could never do. Students who tried the pose on the wall before tried the pose on their mats this time. This was what all teachers wanted to see.
After applauding all students, we neutralized the bodies with “balasana” (child pose) and “dandasana” (staff pose). We bent forward the spine with “paschimottanasana” (seated forward bend) and laid on our backs and relieved the body and the nervous system with “supta parivartanasana” (supine twist).
The class was about to end after “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose). That day, we could derive many lessons from the class. We were closer to the people whom we appreciated but at the same time were jealous of. This meant that there was nothing we could not achieve if we worked hard. Inversions was literally inversion. As how we stood on our feet in “tadasana” (mountain pose), we placed the knees on the feet, the hips on the knees and the shoulders on the hips; in “adho mukha vrksasana” (handstand), we placed the shoulders on the arms, the hips on the shoulders, the knees on the hips and the feet on the knees. Each part of the body is over the other. We were standing on the arms. Literally “upside down.” Lastly, to focus the attention on one point. Could we focus our attention at a certain point in our daily lives? Or could we even concentrate and focus? Was we losing focus and concentration easily or could we keep our concentration and focus for some time? Could we remember the roads we were passing when driving or were we thinking “how have I arrived here? I do not know how I got here” when we reached somewhere? Could we remember what we read in five pages of a book after we read all those pages or could we not remember anything? Could we keep our attention, focus and concentration? This was just an “asana” and its reflections on our daily lives.
It is one of the hard parts of being a yoga instructor. Sometimes new students join your group classes, particularly in gym clubs and you try to adjust the new students with the old ones. You try to find a solution not to make old students be bored of the class and not to force the new students and make them have negative thoughts and feelings about yoga. And when some students with special conditions show up in crowded group classes. How? Like students with scoliosis, herniated discs and ankylosing spondylitis. This was just what happened in my group class last week.
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Before the class began, a new student came beside me, introduced herself and told me that she was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis. I knew about what this disturbance was as I had joined workshops on spine and spinal problems. But I had only theoretical information. I knew that it was kind of arthritis, it was genetic and it was first felt in the lumbar spine. I also learned that it could affect all the spine in time, increase throcal kyphosis, bring shoulders forward, narrow the chest and lead to shortness of breath. What could I advise to the student that day with this much of knowledge about the disturbance? Her doctor recommended that she join yoga classes. My advice was: “Listen to your body throughout the class. When you feel tired and exhausted or feel the asana and flow are too much for you, take a rest. Do the asanas without harming yourself and as much as your body prevails.”
That day we would focus on standing asanas, balancing poses and backbends. When I evaluated the situation before the class began, I thought that backbends would be good for ankylosing spondylitis. Backbends were stretching the chest and strengthening the back muscles. I guessed this class would be beneficial to the new student.
Following meditation, we began to stretch the spine with “marjaryasana-bitilasana” (cat-cow stretch). After stretching the chest with “uttana shishosana” (extended puppy pose), we started to bend the spine backward with “vyaghrasana” (tiger pose). Resting in “utthita balasana” (extended child), we stood up in “tadasana” (mountain pose) after a “vinyasa” (flow).
We started to warm the bodies up with “surya namaskara” (sun salutation) series. I thought sun salutation would be beneficial to “ankylosing spondylitis.” “Surya namaskara” was bending the spine forward and backward, opening up the chest and stretching the body. When we inhaled and lifted the arms and slightly bent the body back in “urdhva hastasana”, we were stretching the chest. When we exhaled and bent forward, the lumbar spine was relaxing, when we came half-way up and made the back straight in “ardha uttanasana”, when we got into low plank (chaturanga dandasana) and when we extended forward from the chest bone (sternum) in upward facing dog (urdhva mukha svanasana), we were stretching the chest. We were getting from one “asana” to another each time we inhaled and exhaled and thus we were regulating the breath.  We were lifting the coccyx upward in “adho mukha svanasana” (downward facing dog) and relieving the spine, particularly the lumbar spine.
By adding standing asanas like “virabhadrasana I” (warrior I), “virabhadrasana II” (warrior II), “parsvakonasana” (side angle pose), “utkatasana” (chair) and “trikonasana” (triangle) in-between sun salutation series, we continued to open up the chest. To stretch the chest more, we inhaled in “urdhva hastasana” and bent backward and waited in that pose for five breaths. “Viparita virabhadrasana” (reverse warrior), “camatkarasana” (wild thing), “urdhva mukha svanasana” (upward facing dog), “bhujangasana” (cobra), “sphinx” and “salabhasana” (locust) were the other backbends of the day. After all these backbends, we rested in “balasana” (child pose) and stretched the spine, particularly lumbar spine and hip flexor muscles.
We added “ashwa sanchalanasana” (high lunge) and “anjaneyasana” (low lunge) in “surya namaskara” series to go on stretching the chest and hip flexor muscles. I thought these asanas helped relieve “ankylosing spondylitis” pain. When bending the spine backward, we were stretching the chest, rolling shoulders back and stretching quadriceps muscles.
After stretching the chest and hip flexor muscles this much, I wanted to try “setu bandhasana” (bridge) and “urdhva dhanurasana” (wheel). As you may imagine, these were poses good for people suffering from anklyosing spondylitis.
Before ending the class, I also wanted to do some corework. The stronger the core was, the stronger the lower back was. I decided on “navasana” (boat) variations. So far, we did “chaturanga dandasana” (low plank) and “phalakasana” during sun salutation series and worked the core muscles. Now we would wait in “navasana” for five breaths and make the core stronger. We did “navasana” for three times. We were trying to sit on sitting bones and try to keep the chest open. Surely, core muscles were engaged. It was also a good asana to relieve ankylosing spondylitis.
With “gomukhasana” (cow face pose), we rolled the shoulders back and opened the chest up more and with “paschimottanasana” (seated forward bend), we anteriorly tilted the pelvis and kept the chest open. Thus, not only the spine was stretched but also the lower back pain relieved.
I wanted the students to practice a “pranayama” (breathing) exercise just before ending the class. People suffering from “ankylosing spondylitis” could face shortness of breath from time to time. As I was thinking about the type of the breathing exercise, I decided on “nadi shodhana” (alternative nostril breathing) in order to equalize the right and left energies of the body. In the most simple way, we sat in cross-legged position, used the index and little fingers of the right hand (or the left hand if we are left-handed) and opened closed the nostrils one by one. First we inhaled and exhaled from both nostils, then closed the right nostril and inhaled through the left nostril. As the exhale is over, we closed the left nostril and exhaled through the right nostril. After the exhale, we inhaled through the right nostril and closed it then exhaled through the left nostril and went on doing the same one by one. One from the right one from the left. To end the breathing exercise, we should exhale from the left nostril and place the hands on the knees to feel the effects of the breathing exercise on the body and mind.

As we laid supine, we twisted the spine to right and left with “jathara parivartanasana” (abdominal twist). We hugged the knees and relieved the spine with “apanasana” and ended the class with “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose).
Once I got home after class, I looked into my yoga sources and googled “ankylosing spondylitis.” It was a form of arthritis that primarily affects the spine. Other joints could also become involved. It caused inflammation of the spinal joints (vertabrae) that could lead to severe, chronic pain and discomfort. The inflammation of ankylosing spondylitis usually started at the base of the spine, where the spine attaches to the pelvis (sacroiliac joints). This inflammation could spread upwards to involve other parts of the spine and, in the most severe cases, it could involve the entire spine. As the inflammation continued, new bone forms as the body tried to repair itself. As a result, the bones of the spine began to “grow together” or fuse, causing the spine to become very stiff and inflexible. Even though new bone had formed, the existing bone might become thin, which increaser the risk of fractures. It not only affected the vertabrea but also other joints, tendons and ligaments.
According to theoretical information, because of the fusion, joints became less flexible and all the bones stuck together. Mostly the pelvis was affected at first.
So could yoga help ease ankylosing spondylitis pain? Surely yes. To alleviate the pain, the chest had to be stretched, core and back muscles, particularly the lower back should be strengthened. Moreover, breathing exercises could also help. Asanas like “marjaryasana-bitilasana”, “balasana” and “adho mukha svanasana” were stretching the spine. Asanas like “salabhasana”, “sphinx”, “bhujangasana” and “setu bandhasana” were bending the spine backward, stretching the chest and strengthening the back muscles. Asanas like “navasana”, “phalakasana” and “chaturanga dandasana” were strengthening core muscles. Lateral bends were opening the chest up and stretching the two sides of the body. Yoga practice was increasing the mobility of the body, strengthening the body and correcting the posture.
When the body was getting more and more flexible with yoga, it was also regulating the breath. When moving from one “asana” to another, we used the breath and helped stretch and extension of the chest. “Pranayama” exercises were also so helpful to people suffering from this disease. Particularly diaphragm breathing could be so helpful. Breathing techniques like “nadi shodhana” and “kapalabhati” (skull shining breath) at the beginning or end of the class was enlarging the chest and providing more oxygen to the body. “Kapalabhati” was also a breathing technique that engaged core muscles and therefore it was so good for people with ankylosing spondylitis. If we could do none of these, we could just blow up the abdomen in each inhale and bring it down in each exhale, work out our core muscles and increase our breath capacity.
After I read all these, I realized that I did something correct with my instinct. We are not doctors but yoga instructors however we could know about particularly spinal diseases as we could face any type of disturbances in our classes. We should only accept students to class after asking the students if their doctors allowed them to join yoga classes. We should remind that they could rest any time they felt tired and exhausted and suggest them that they should not push themselves hard. We should also tell them that they should check their breath and body and take a rest when they lose body-breath balance and connection. Even though we know that yoga helps relieve many physical disturbances, we should not be defeated by our “ego”s and always remember that we are not doctors. We should keep the “ahimsa” (non-violence) principle of yoga in mind and remind it first to ourselves and then to our students. We should not give harm when we want to be beneficial. Particularly in crowded classes, all students have different health problems. We should learn all of them before the class, find a moderate way of teaching that day and teach a class suitable for everybody. We can never know what we will face when going to a class. What is important is to trust ourselves, keep our information fresh all the time and be ready for every condition.