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  • Pitching the level

    In a mixed ability class getting the level right, to please as many people as possible, is never easy.

    Some people are more flexible than they think they are, some are less so.

    Some people are more self aware than others, those who are, can be trusted to come out of a posture when they need to. Those who are not, will wait, regardless of discomfort, until you tell them to move. The ones who are aware may choose their own modifications whereas others will do everything I say, regardless of whether it is for everyone, for those with high blood pressure or for those who are advanced.

    The teacher has to judge if those who quietly obey all instructions are really doing what is right for them.

    It isn't easy to do something different to everyone else so I try and encourage those who do, in the hope of persuading others to do likewise.

    I myself have eased into a modification or pose that a teacher thought was wonderful, it was, for them, it wasn't for me. I kept quiet, in my discomfort, when I could have provided the teacher and myself with an opportunity to learn something new. Not all postures suit all bodies, not all modifications suit all bodies either.

    As a teacher I have my own body, I know that I like to stretch, and I also know what to do if something hurts me. I can not always tell what all of the students are feeling, particularly as not all of them will be feeling the same thing. Some will be finding a posture uncomfortable or too much of a challenge and some will be waiting for more of a challenge. I have to find a happy medium where no one comes to harm, and yet everyone benefits.

    Whilst I know how inspired people become when I try to teach them something that takes them out of their comfort zone, and that may just be changing where I am in the room. It is easier at times to keep it safe and comfortable. I let the memory of a few people who maybe hurt themselves, without saying anything, because they wanted to do the same, or more than everyone else in the class stop me.

    Today one of the class told me something amazing about another teacher. The student had hurt herself in a class, and called the teacher to tell her that she would not be coming back and why. The teacher said 'Do you want to live with this or change it?' Luckily she wanted to change it and returned to spend a little bit of one to one time with the teacher before the next class and is still practising yoga to this day because of it.

    I think the message is, speak up, say what you like, or dislike about a pose, a class, say if something hurts or if you cannot feel any stretch, it will be challenging for you and the teacher but it won't be boring, unless people don't want to talk and just want to practise Shavasana without exploring what they feel.

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  • Yoga for Children

    Having pestered the Gloucester British Wheel of Yoga Representative for some time, a taster session for the Teaching Yoga to Children Module was held in Apperley on 18th October and I attended.

    I have been thinking of training to teach yoga to children for some time. Having children myself I had considered it previously but I wasn't fit enough at the time. As the tutor, Jane Rossi made clear, even though she is a grandmother, you have to be as fit, if not fitter than the children you are teaching and she certainly is.

    What I have discovered in looking for training to teach yoga to children is that the British Wheel courses are not anywhere near Gloucester so it will require a commitment from myself and my family if I wish to do it. So far my enquiries at my local school have not been encouraging. If I wanted to do it it would have to be for children in a school, not private classes as I teach for adults. Children are not adults, they have not finished growing and each stage of development has different needs, and necessary physical limitations so having a mixed age group class for children would not work as a class for those aged between 18 and 80 works.

    I am willing to take taster sessions for yoga into schools. I can see the benefits for children would be huge, particularly for teenagers. Yoga helps you to have the correct posture, promoting good habits, helping young people to look and feel confident. It isn't competitive and everyone can do it so it is for those who are sporty as well as for those who hate regular games and PE lessons.

    In these times where almost everyone has some kind of electronic device, smartphone, tablets, ipods yoga is excellent at helping people detach themselves from technology.

    The philosophy of yoga promotes co-operation, thinking of others, self awareness.

    As you can tell I just wish I could spread yoga to everyone, and sow the seeds of yoga in the young. I consider myself lucky that my mother practiced yoga when I was young and encouraged me to join her. I know the people in my classes show their children and grandchildren what they have learned in yoga and sometimes bring those children to class. It's amazing that it isn't taught already in schools. The only problem with it being in schools is who teaches it. One person from my class told me how her grandchild had experienced yoga in school but the teacher had not ended the class correctly which had a consequence. That is why, having done my teacher training with such a reputable organisation I would rather not teach children yoga without further comprehanesive training as I recognise the risks of not being competent.

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  • What value a yoga class?

    I am conscious that my blog tends to feature more practical and political concerns than esoteric, perhaps this is because they are the things we distract ourselves with to prevent ourselves from having to look at the more important side of life.

    I was pleasantly surprised this week by someone who wanted to pay me for the sessions they had wanted to attend last term. They hadn't actually been able to attend any, so hadn't paid. Now, when this term starts they wish to return and pay for the sessions last term that they had thought they would be able to attend.

    To them this seemed right, and, perhaps it is, but it is not a request I normally receive. Normally, if anyone mentions the cost of classes it is to try to not pay for the classes they know they will not be able to attend.

    Now, some teachers allow people to attend classes, on an adhoc basis, usually at a premium, paying more for a single class than someone would pay if they paid in advance. I prefer to stick with the system that used to be in place when I attended a class through the local college. At the start of the term, you paid for the term, no questions asked, no refunds given. If you missed a class, you missed a class. This is the basis that my yoga teacher training was provided on, with the added provision that, if you missed sessions you could pay for a catch up class. There were many ways to pay, but the more time you needed to pay, the higher the over all cost of the course. If you dropped out or could not complete, full payment for the unit that you were currently studying was still expected.

    I do allow some concessions, I don't charge extra if people need more time to pay. If anyone falls ill and cannot continue then I refund the remaining sessions, I allow people to swap classes so that they need not miss too many of the term if they go away or are ill. Not everyone can take advantage of these opportunities so I try and keep fees as low as I can, frequently running some classes at a loss, with the hope that things will pick up or another class will be popular enough to subsidise the smaller class.

    I would love to accept the offer of payment for last term, if only everyone who had ever called me and said, 'Yes, I will be there' had paid me for the sessions they did not attend I would have abundance indeed, particularly in the early days when I believed them all and ended up turning people away because I thought there would not be room for all of the people who said they were going to attend. However, knowing how many people would not pay, in that instance, I cannot take the money.

    Working for myself, calculating the cost of my time and the outgoings I have to pay, regardless if anyone attends my classes has made me value time much more. In the beginning it was enough just to price my class at a level to entice people to come. Then, I worked out how little that valued me and other teachers in the area. Possibly taking students from them by charging less is stealing from myself and them. Those who try and attend a class without paying, and there have been some, are also stealing. So now, I value other people's efforts much more.

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  • Medical questionnaires

    Someone alerted me to the fact that the British Wheel of Yoga now have a medical questionnaire for teachers to use; on their website.

    When I was training to teach yoga, the advice from my Diploma Course Tutor was not to hand out questionnaires. It gives the impression that you have some medical knowledge, which, I don't, the training for BWY may be lengthy and rigorous but it is not medical training. Yes, teachers have learnt about anatomy and physiology as part of the course but we are not medical practioners.

    If people inform me that they have certain medical conditions I do pay attention and give them alternative ways of practising but, not everyone wants to tell a relative stranger that they have a medical condition. Some are unaware they have medical conditions. Plus, I have discovered from the people in my classes that people may have the same condition but have very different symptoms.

    Yoga books and teachings are also not universal, I have been to an Iyengar class where I was forbidden from certain practices due to menstruation, practices that I would be perfectly free to practice in other types of yoga class and with other yoga teachers.

    Having been diagnosed with scoliosis myself I spoke of it to someone teaching an In Service Training day on anatomy, who also happened to be a physiotherapist, she refuted my diagnosis.

    So, yoga teachings disagree, medically trained professionals disagree, I think the best I can do is to remind people to listen to their bodies, and to have the courage to do what is right for them at that time. With yoga I have developed my personal awareness so I am more aware of when something is awry, and I have noticed the same skill develop in some of the people who come to the classes I teach, so that one person went away after only a term of classes and had investigations which led to the discovery of cancer, hopefully giving them the opportunity to have life-saving treatment.

    Not everyone has that kind of illness, not everyone gains self awareness but completing a medical questionnaire only tells you what the current situation is and would need to be regularly updated in order to be relevant and useful.

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  • Yoga for a healthy lower back

    When I first read about the research study into how yoga could help people suffering with lower back pain I was immediately interested. The main reason I loved yoga the first time I tried it was because it helped to relieve my lower back pain.

    Lower back pain doesn't care how old you are, I was 17.

    I have since found that most of the reasons I suffer from lower back pain are to do with teh way my spine is formed. These are natural curves, there from birth, not due to any accidents. I've kind of got used to the fact that I always have some kind of discomfort in my lower back.

    However, after spending a lovely Sunday at Apperley, with lots of other yoga teachers I found that the next day I did not have any lower back pain, nor the day after that.

    I had tried some of the exercises before, I bought the book straight after reading about it but, as anyone will tell you, trying to learn and follow exercises from a book is not always straight forward. Sometimes having someone else there to adjust you or make recommendations just to suit your body is necessary. This is where classes come in to their own. It is hard and almost impossible to see what you look like in some positions no matter how many mirrors you own.

    So, now, armed with this prescription for a healthy lower back I will work on sorting out my own back before sharing it with my classes. Some of my class heard that I was attending a training day with trepidation, knowing I would be likely to try it out on them afterwards. However, I only try what I know works, what I believe in and what I have learnt in this training day should be beneficial for all of them and accessible for all of them.

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