• Aoife McHugh

Stretching Myself: Becoming a Yoga Teacher

5 ᴛʜɪɴɢꜱ ɪ ʟᴇᴀʀɴᴇᴅ ꜰʀᴏᴍ ᴍᴏᴅᴜʟᴇ ɪ

1. ʏᴏɢᴀ ɪꜱ ɴᴏᴛ ꜰᴏʀ ᴛʜᴇ ꜰʟᴇxɪʙʟᴇ, ɪᴛ'ꜱ ꜰᴏʀ ᴛʜᴇ ᴡɪʟʟɪɴɢ

This is written on the door of the YTT studio and it could not have been any more welcoming for me! Many people, (myself included) assume you have to have the litheness of Simone Biles to partake in yoga. Luckily for me, (my hips and hamstrings are tighter than a clam with lockjaw) yoga has a place for the nimble and the not-so-much! If you're a malleable creature then you will excel at poses like backbends and if strength is your forte you will nail asanas like handstands. Yoga is akin to a five star resort for the mind and body and it is absolutely all inclusive. 

2. ᴅᴏɴ'ᴛ ᴡᴏʀʀʏ ᴀʙᴏᴜᴛ ᴛʜᴇ ᴛʜɪɴɢꜱ ʏᴏᴜ ᴄᴀɴ'ᴛ ᴄᴏɴᴛʀᴏʟ

This is one of my mantras in life. Yoga places the highest emphasis on the most important thing we can control, our breath. Yoga breathing is known as pranayama and is the foundation of practice. During yoga, it is important to inhale when you are opening your body and exhale when you are closing your body or moving downwards. The direction of movement must follow your breath. This brings a rhythm and a flow to your movement and without it you are not fully embracing your practice. In addition to this, we learned about chest breathing, nostril breathing, belly breathing and a detoxifying breath movement known as Kapalabhati. 

ʙᴇɴᴇꜰɪᴛꜱ ᴏꜰ ᴇᴀᴄʜ ᴛʏᴘᴇ ᴏꜰ ʙʀᴇᴀᴛʜ:

Chest Breathing: Allows the lungs to fully inflate and frees the joints of the ribs, upper neck and back. (We also used a tightly rolled blanket and placed it under the bra-line to really feel the release!)

Belly breathing: The basis of meditation, it reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and regulates bodily processes. 

Kapalabhati: (Fire breath) Generates heat, dissolves toxins, enhances digestion and energizes the body and tired eyes (removes dark circles). 

Nostril breathing: Calms the Central Nervous System. It provides equal amounts of oxygen to both sides of the brain, sharpens concentration and mental clarity. 

3. ɢɪᴠᴇ ɪᴛ ʟᴇɢꜱ

Asana (body postures/poses) means nothing if your legs are not engaged. Always start your practice by planting the four corners of your feet on the mat, ground yourself and flex your toes like you're at the pedi bar. Follow this pattern the whole way up your body. Lift the kneecaps, turn the inner thighs towards eachother. Engage the core, straighten the spine and release the shoulders. Everything should be stacked! Now you're free to move! When you're working on folds or seated stretches, always make sure the feet are engaged in order for the stretch to be effective. If you're as rigid as me, a yoga strap and bolster will become your new best friends here!

4. ᴅᴏɴ'ᴛ ᴛʀʏ ᴛᴏ ʙᴇ ꜱᴛʀᴇᴛᴄʜ ᴀʀᴍꜱᴛʀᴏɴɢ ᴡʜᴇɴ ʏᴏᴜ'ʀᴇ ᴀᴄᴛɪᴏɴ ᴍᴀɴ (ᴏʀ ᴡᴏᴍᴀɴ)

We have all seen the Yogis of Instagram who have the pliancy of a sea lion (they can rotate their hind flippers under their bodies and walk) who knew!? That will teach me to judge on appearance alone! Fair play to these super flexible folk but if you're not fully there and you're pushing yourself to get the pose, cease and release! When it comes to asanas, always prioritize integrity over depth. It is better to bend your knees during down dog to ensure your spine is straight rather than compromise your alignment altogether. There is no shame in the gradual progression game!

5. ʏᴏᴜʀ ʙᴏᴅʏ ɪꜱ ᴀ ʀᴇᴄᴏʀᴅ ᴏꜰ ʏᴏᴜʀ ʟɪꜰᴇ At the very start of our training, we learned how to sit. As Alexander The Meerkat would say: "Simples." Not quite. While this might seem like an easy task, some parts of your body might choose to resist. Shortly after I began meditating (cross-legged on my bolster) my body started to tremble, my upper back was throbbing and my right leg went numb. This was my body's not so subtle way of telling me "I don't go that way." My response? "You don't now, but you will." My line of thinking is:  𝕀𝕗 𝕪𝕠𝕦 𝕨𝕒𝕟𝕥 𝕥𝕠 𝕔𝕙𝕒𝕟𝕘𝕖 𝕪𝕠𝕦 𝕙𝕒𝕧𝕖 𝕥𝕠 𝕓𝕖 𝕨𝕚𝕝𝕝𝕚𝕟𝕘 𝕥𝕠 𝕓𝕖 𝕦𝕟𝕔𝕠𝕞𝕗𝕠𝕣𝕥𝕒𝕓𝕝𝕖 My body has many signs of the activity it has engaged in for the past two decades, football, HIIT and running. Stop/start movements that have caused me to become quite stiff. Meditation not only allows me to check in with the most tense muscles but it also raises my awareness of them. I try to focus on these areas and breathe into them. Blockages can also be caused by stress, so taking time to be aware of them, is the only way to free yourself. In addition to this, meditation it is a great way to set your intentions for the day, as time passes, you can then catch yourself in a negative moment and gradually return to the centered, calm space you inhabited that morning.  I started this post with the mantra that adorned the studio door and I will end it with one that resides on the wall inside: "Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self." I may not have an itinerary and my muscles might be tight but *what I know for sure is I'm excited to take flight.

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©2020 by Aoife Mchugh.