Ayurvedic Practices for Spring

Spring Cleaning.

As important for our homes as it is for our bodies and souls. We are born with a natural intuition but when keeping up with the demands of modern life, it’s easy to forget where we came from. Ayurveda inspires us to return to harmony with the natural impulses of the world, and the more we can tune into our natural impulses, the easier it is to find our way back into balance and health.

Balancing Kapha Dosha

Denver Clark, C-IAYT, ERYT-500, LMT #89197

Photo by mitbg000 on Pexels.com

Spring Cleaning.

As important for our homes as it is for our bodies and souls.

In the ancient practice of Ayurveda, we learn of the 5 great elements.

Earth, Water, Fire, Air & Ether.

These 5 elements combine into 3 primary Doshas that represent the energy of all living things.

Every person, animal, food and season embodies a specific balance of these energies and from the end of winter through the beginning of Springtime is the time of Kapha Dosha, or the elements of Earth and Water. These elements embody the qualities of Dampness (think melting snow or spring rains), heaviness and cold. The continued darkness of late winter and early spring, coupled with these energies in the atmosphere begin to impact our physical energy and mental state, leading to the wintertime blues. To combat these feelings within and without, our body naturally desires the opposite. We reach for warm, stimulating foods with spices such as ginger and cinnamon. We long for the warm summer sun and begin preparing our bodies for heat by increasing our levels exercise and minimizing heavy foods from our diet, we begin to lighten our homes by cleaning out closets and donating the things we no longer need, practicing non-attachment.

We are born with a natural intuition but when keeping up with the demands of modern life, it’s easy to forget where we came from. Ayurveda inspires us to return to harmony with the natural impulses of the world, and the more we can tune into our natural impulses, the easier it is to find our way back into balance and health.

Below are a few practices you can incorporate to help you ride the transition into Spring gracefully.

  1. Wake up early – The circadian rhythms of the clock have energies and between 6-10am is the time of Kapha dosha. The later we sleep in, the more difficult it becomes to awaken. Setting the alarm for 5:30am allows us to rise with the lightness of Vata time of day, when air and ether are more prevalent, when the atmosphere is infused with quiet and spiritual energy. This also inspires us to be more productive during our day, fighting off that heavy Kapha sluggishness.
  2. Shift toward lighter foods – Kapha embodies the qualities of density (earth) and moisture. When the atmosphere gets cool & dry in winter, it’s no wonder we reach for dense and heavy root vegetables and thick stews. Now is the time to apply the opposite energies to our diet. Light, warming and simulating tastes such as cinnamon, ginger and turmeric and smaller more frequent meals can help us avoid sluggish digestion and a feeling of heaviness in the body that can transfer to our mental state. Kapha taste is sweet, cold and oily (think bananas & avocados), so try to minimize those flavors during this time and favor drying, pungent, bitter flavors instead such as apples, broccoli and cilantro. You might also look into an Ayurvedic “cleanse” with a mono-diet of healing Kitchari for 3-21 days to soothe the digestion and reset the system.
  3. Get moving – The antidote to depression is movement. So is the antidote to stagnant, Kapha energy in body and mind. Get out in the warm sun (even if the air is cool, the sun can help counteract that!) take a walk, breathe fresh air and stimulate your circulation with warming, invigorating activities. Lifting weights can also help you channel the stability of Kapha into productive energy that fuels your body, mind and soul. 30 minutes a day is enough.
  4. Set Goals – The blessing of the damp, cool earth brings with it new growth in nature and it can do the same in our personal lives as well. Now is an excellent time to sprout new seeds of growth, challenge yourself to begin a new habit and stimulate your inner Tapas (fire). What are you most excited about? Lean into the energy of renewal in spring. Sit with your journal, make your vision board, speak your desires aloud. Now is the time!
  5. Pay attention to your breath – The clearest way to invite Prana (life force) into your body is through the intake of the breath. BKS Iyengar says that the inhale is the intake of cosmic, universal energy. The pause at the top is the union of the cosmic with the individual, the exhale is the sharing of individual energy with the universe and the pause at the bottom of the breath is the moment we witness the union of our own energy with the cosmos. By focusing our attention on conscious breathing for a few minutes every day or even through practicing stimulating breath techniques, we can inspire movement of stagnant energy and improve our vital functions in the gross physical body as well as the flow of energy in our subtle body. Bonus points for practicing this outside in the fresh air!
  6. Practice loving self-massage – Using a light and absorbent oil such as sweet almond oil, we can practice abhyanga massage (self-oil massage) to stimulate cardiovascular and lymphatic circulation, increase muscle tone and bring self-love energy into our body and mind. You can even incorporate your favorite essential oils into a custom blend if you like **Check out our Abhyanga oil tutorial here** This can be done in the morning or evening to reset the nervous system and support better health. If you already have a lot of Kapha energy, you may also want to consider purchasing a garshana glove. This is a raw silk glove that can be used for self-massage to stimulate and enliven the body and can be a better alternative to oil for those who already have a lot of oil in their skin. Dry brushing is also wonderful. Remember to always massage from the end of the limbs inward to return lymphatic fluid into circulation.

Happy Spring to you and may you flow fluidly through this changing of the seasons into a bright and brilliant Summer!

New Yoga Teachers – Do you make these 7 common mistakes?

Denver Clark, C-IAYT, ERYT-500

There are now over 15,000 yoga teachers in the United States and many more worldwide. The entire globe is benefiting from the life altering effects of the practice of Yoga. It’s a beautiful thing that so many people are looking toward holistic practices to find balance and obtain healing and yoga teachers now have a platform to help others in a way never before seen. Of course, “with great power comes great responsibility” and now that millions of people are practicing yoga, there is a great need for teachers who can introduce the practice safely, sustainably and responsibly.

As we grow and expand as teachers, it is common for our own practice and beliefs to evolve. Learning new things, changing our approach and correcting past mistakes show that not only are we teaching yoga, but we are living it as well.

Below are 7 common mistakes I see new teacher making after 15 years in the Yoga Industry…

  1. Attachment to the lesson plan – I know it’s intimidating to be a new teacher in front of the class and of course we want our classes to be “good!” to feel seamless. We often spend hours agonizing over the perfect sequencing, playlists, themes and poetry to share. But what happens when a person walks into the class you’ve planned and they can’t do half of the postures on your list? Believe me, this happens more quickly and more often than you may think. A lesson plan can act as a magic feather yes, but if we aren’t tailoring our class to our students because our ego needs to complete the “plan,” then we are showing up for ourselves instead of them. Practice thinking on your feet and  changing the plan. Watch your students. Respond to what you observe and get comfortable asking for questions and feedback. It may take practice not to take that feedback personally, but I promise it will help you grow as a person and a teacher in ways you never imagined.
  2. Apologizing – New teachers often assume that they’ll be received better if they make sure everyone knows they are new. They may open class by telling students that they recently completed training, or apologize before class even begins because they are new. When they inevitably make a mistake they stop the flow of class to say “oops” or “sorry” before correcting themselves. What many new teachers don’t realize is that this innocent apologizing actually steals your student’s experience. Instead of enjoying their practice, they begin to worry about your comfort and success. We are all human and we all make mistakes. If you forget to do the pose on the other side, just keep going. You have the choice to fold it in later or forget it. As long as your intentions are pure, your class will stand on its own, regardless of the perfection of the sequencing or anything else. In all honesty, I much prefer a teacher who shows they are real than one who seems as if they never make a mistake. It gives me permission to be real as the student too and that is a wonderful gift.
  3. Speaking in absolutes – People drawn to teach yoga are helpers. They want others to feel good and heal in the same ways they themselves have experienced through yoga. Because of this, new teachers often frantically strive to learn absolutely everything about everything all at once, and then make sure to say everything they know every single time they teach a posture or practice. This includes rattling off lists of “contraindications” for poses and often results in teachers saying things such as, “if you are pregnant never ….” Additionally, once we experience the positive benefits of a practice or posture, we may assume that everyone else feels those same benefits or needs them. What works for you may not necessarily work for someone else. Where you feel a pose isn’t necessarily where your students will feel it and that’s perfectly okay! The practice is still helping even if someone isn’t experiencing it the same way as you. Be mindful of the desire to tell students where they will feel a pose or telling students that a practice will “fix” something. Get comfortable with the word “may.” Allow yourself to invite students to explore and let them in on the possible things they might experience but then let them have whatever experience they have and validate that all of it is good. Just showing up and practicing is enough.
  4. Calling out students by name – I once inherited an entire class full of students from another teacher in town because that teacher had made an “example” of one of them thinking she was helping. The student was so mortified to have been called out by name that she left and all of her friends left too! I made a point after hearing this story to never ever make an example of a student in my class. I have personally been called out due to my flexibility or strength as the “example” and it always makes me feel uncomfortable. My favorite part of a yoga class is the anonymity I have and the space it provides to be on my own mat, in my own body with my own thoughts, allowing everything and everyone else to fade away. Whether you are correcting or praising someone, the purpose of the practice of yoga isn’t to compare it is to explore and grow. If you need to help someone with a correction for safety, give the cue to the whole class. That person will listen and others will also benefit from the cue.
  5. Stepping up or down modifications – You’ve probably heard it before: “If you can’t do A, then grab a block and do B..” or the infamous “If you want MORE….” This kind of language implies that there is a better or worse way to practice yoga. This is simply not true. Because every body is different, every pose will look and feel different to every student. If you want to incorporate modifications and options (As I highly encourage you to do) try giving them “popcorn style” so your students decide based on feel instead of what option will be the hardest or best one. This helps create an environment where students are truly listening to their body in the moment and learning more about what works for them on that day at that time. Svadhyaya (self-study) is the goal of yoga. Try using modifications to encourage more of this instead of promoting arbitrary ideal. Your students’ mental health will flourish.
  6. Offering props without context – I am guilty of playing devils advocate on this one. If I am in a class and the teacher says “if you want, you can grab your blocks here.” I will almost always ask aloud “What do we do with them?” Perhaps a bit distracting (here I go showing that I am human) but honestly I have seen so many brand new students completely lost in a class who could benefit greatly from the use of props if they only knew how to use them. Luckily, since I first started teaching we have seen a shift in the industry to more acceptance of props and I no longer experience push back from students when I offer them. In fact, I have made it my goal to incorporate props for everyone in the class and then offer the option to “use them or loose them.” I find that this invites students to explore in ways they may not otherwise because they assume props are for “lesser” students. If you can, try using the props to make the practice harder as well. This reframes the relationship to the prop and makes everyone feel more comfortable using them. The more explicit we can be in the way we use the prop (the angle, position, the where, how and why) the more we empower our students in future classes where we are not teaching. This keeps them safe and gives them options no matter the current state of their body.
  7. No silence in savasana – This one depends on the clientele. I don’t feel the need to leave a lot of silence in my classes with older students in chair yoga who may use the class as a social experience. They often already have a lot of silence in their life at home. However, the average age of yoga students is between 30-45 years old. Culturally this means that your average student is coming from a life inundated with noise and stimulation. Work, television, family, partners, children, traveling, shopping, doing….. it never ends. All day long there is noise and color and multitasking. The nervous system of these students is in hyperdrive. They need sensory deprivation. Silence. A reminder of how to just be rather than always doing. So take 3 minutes or so to read your poem, spray your essential oils, adjust their shoulders but then leave them alone. Give your students the gift of silence, even if only for 5 minutes. Their nervous systems will benefit and they’ll get a little taste of the magic that yoga and meditation have to offer. In a 75 minute class, shoot for 8 minutes minimum of savasana and if you need to “Sell it,” be ready with a list of benefits. Once our students have bought into the why, they will be more likely to try it and feel the why for themselves and that makes for lifelong practitioners.

No matter where you are in your teaching journey, the more you learn the less you know. This is a beautiful thing. The simple act of showing up and sharing this practice with intention and love means you are already a good teacher. My hope is you continue to sit with new information such as this and question how you teach – forever. This is what keeps us growing and learning and living our yoga and inspires our students to do the same. Keep sharing, keep practicing. The world needs you. Thank you.