One of the most gratifying things in my life is when I see someone light up talking about their yoga class experience. “I understand Mountain pose now,” said my student Carlene, with twinkling eyes and a huge smile. As a fairly new yoga student, she shared that she hadn’t had a clue as to why this pose was so important, or how it could make a difference in her mood or life, until that day’s class.
While Carlene was in a variation of Mountain with her arms at her sides, I had suggested that she visualize one of her favorite mountains. “Imagine the base of your mountain and follow the contours up to the peak. Remember, this mountain is centuries old, it has stood up to all the elements. It is strong and resilient. Recall now how you, too, have faced challenges and are still standing. Feel your own strength and integrity grounding into the earth, then reaching upward. Lengthen your spine, press your crown toward the sky, and root your feet into the earth. When you are feeling low in energy, when your shoulders droop and you sense fatigue or lethargy, come into Mountain pose. Stand your ground and breathe deeply. Your mood and energy may change!”
As Kripalu Yoga teachers, we’ve had the unique opportunity to study in a setting that accessed and nurtured the many levels of experience available to us within our yoga practice. How do we translate the depth of that experience to our students? How do we empower them to trust themselves to cultivate an in-depth relationship with yoga, even if they are fairly new to the practice?
One answer is to lead posture flows in a meditative way by incorporating visualization and affirmation into a flow. While most students understand that yoga strengthens and improves flexibility, guiding them into a mindful practice with visualization and affirmation highlighting the various benefits of the practice can often turn them on to yoga’s healing benefits as well.
For example, in Setu Bandhasana, or Bridge pose, first remind students to build their posture with integrity, aligning knees over ankles and using the shoulders and arms for stability, allowing the span of the “roadway” between the “piers” (the upper legs, hips, pelvis, and torso) to be supported by a strong foundation. Then you can add another layer to the experience. If you know that some of your students suffer from asthma and other breathing disorders, for example, visualizing and affirming that their lungs are decongested and clear offers an alternative to the fear and constriction often associated with these conditions. There may also be an opportunity for an emotional release if you guide them in allowing the heart to open and shine upward.
A focus not only on breath and sensation but also on images of the organs, bones, joints, muscles, and tendons activated and affected by the asanas take the student to a new place of empowerment and understanding. Couple this with pranayama, meditation, and deep relaxation, and your students may get turned on to the depth of experience available to them, and to their own healing powers.
Vandita Kate Marchesiello, E-RYT, is a senior teacher and faculty member at Kripalu and has been mentoring yoga teachers in various capacities for more than 30 years. www.yoganowandthen.com