After work today I attended a tech session on warm-ups and savasana – though the class was primarily focused on warm-ups. Which was actually nice for me, in that I feel like the class I had just two days ago was full of content that could largely be applied to savasana. So personally (perhaps ‘selfishly’), having tonight’s tech be skewed towards the warm-up side of things was good by me.
The instructor began this evening’s class with a brief discussion of why warm-ups are important, and why we should do them in every class we teach. Rather predictably, most of this content was ‘common sense’ (though I am learning that what I think of as ‘common sense’ isn’t always so ‘common’). At any rate, some of the primary purposes for warm ups in yoga include: heating the body/stretching the muscles, opening the joints and spine, getting blood flowing…. But there were also a few warm-up purposes the teacher stated that are perhaps a bit more subtle, including: helping students become more aware of their bodies, bringing students into the present moment, awakening the nadis/energy centers of the body…
After discussing why we should do warm-ups, the teacher then made a few comments about how we should lead the warm up session of a yoga class. I was reminded of several good teaching practices, including:
- Helping students understand that yoga (and especially warm-ups) is about “a slow exploration; an allowing rather than forcing”.
- Giving students permission to listen to their bodies, to do what feels steady & comfortable to them, and to not be concerned with ‘needing’ to do what anyone else in the class is doing (including the teacher!)
- Supporting students in becoming more aware of their own bodies. (A nice way to offer some guidance on this point can be to say something along the lines of, “As we warm up, notice if there are any differences from one side of your body to the other…”)
From this discussion, the teacher then led us all into the main section of the tech session; namely, experiencing a whole variety of warm-ups. We did warm-ups on our back (including knees to chest, rocking from side to side, spinal twists, whole body stretches, directing breath into specific parts of our body, body scans, face stretches, eye stretches, and on and on…), warm-ups while seated (some of these were sun breaths, figure 4 hip openers, hand and foot massages, neck and shoulder rolls…), and warm-ups while standing (including twisting the trunk and ‘flopping’ the arms from side to side, chest and hip rolls, sun salutations, roll-up in rag doll…)
All in all, I think we performed probably close to 20 or 30 different warm-ups; and we barely scratched the surface of what is possible. Truly, there are hundreds (thousands?) of different warm ups that can be done in a yoga class; a teacher is only limited by his/her own imagination, and willingness to explore and experiment. And I find that concept to be incredibly empowering and freeing. I have spent one full year learning the right way to perform various asanas (as well as developing understanding around how a pose can impact a person at not only the gross physical level, but also the subtle energy level, and the even more refined emotional and spiritual levels…); being able to now apply that knowledge in new, novel ways is, well, the ‘art’ of being a teacher. Composing, creating, inventing – that’s all part of the fun of being a teacher.
Just before ending the tech session, the instructor then briefly discussed how to successfully (and safely) transition from the warm-up section of a yoga class to the more vigorous/intense ‘main section’ of a class. And at this point in the discussion, the teacher made a comment that really resonated with me: “Take care to have your students transition as mindfully as possible; it’s in the transitions where people hurt themselves.” Yes, the time between leaving one pose and entering another (i.e., the transition) is the time where a yoga practitioner is most vulnerable to injury; holding a pose is relatively safe, it’s the “pushing into” or “falling out of” a pose where people can get hurt. However, I think this concept of being mindful and careful during times of transition holds very true in overall life as well – as it’s the big life transitions where people are more susceptible to getting hurt. If I’m well-established in my every day routine, life hums along… It’s when I look to make a change (any sort of change, even a positive change [like a new job, new relationship, move to a new home, heck, even a new hobby!]) that I’m more likely to over-exert towards the new, and/or just ‘fall out’ of the old, and increase my chances of hurting myself somewhere in the midst of all that change. Once again, I can see how the messages of yoga apply so much more broadly to my life at large; and I’m happy to learn various lessons in the relative safety of the studio, as opposed to the much messier, complicated, precarious world-at-large.