Purna Yoga: A Comprehensive Approach to Teaching
Mudras and bandhas are used to create specific flows of energy within the body. Mudras are positions of the hands, the tongue, and the feet. Bandhas are locks, the main locks being those of the pelvic floor (Mula Bandha), the chin (Jalandhara Bandha), and the abdomen (Uddiyana Bandha). For both protection and heightened efficacy, the yoga student must be taught which bandha to engage during the performance of asana and pranayama. For example, in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), Sirsasana (Headstand), Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose), and Viparita Dandasana, Mula Bandha is highly recommended after the student has mastered the basic alignment of the posture. Because the bandhas can cause severe nervous disorders if engaged without precise alignment in the posture, we should teach them to each student individually.
Ayurveda means the "science of life." As yoga teachers, we should be aware of the basics of this ancient science, especially the three doshas (humors) and how they pertain to our students' constitutions. Generally speaking, a person whose constitution is vata (airy, light, creative) should be given more grounding poses, such as standing poses. A student who is extremely pitta (hot, filled with fire) should not be given an extremely dynamic practice but one that is more cooling, featuring shoulder stands and front bends. A person who is kapha (solid, heavy, grounded) needs more dynamic poses, such as jumpings and backbends. Since not everyone is of one dosha, since doshas change over the lifetime of a student, and since different systems of the body (such as muscular-skeletal, nervous, and organic) may have different doshas, we must study this science carefully.
Even though some asana gurus have long spurned the necessity of integrating nutrition with yoga, I have found that nutrition is as important to the health and development of a student as asana. Though far too vast a subject to discuss in this article, three general principles apply. One is to stay away from poisons, including artificial chemicals, caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and refined sugar. Another is to avoid foods that create imbalance in our organic system. If a student has excessive vata, grounding foods are recommended, such as root vegetables and squashes. For kapha, pitta food is advised, such as foods containing garlic, ginger, onion, and chilies. If the student has excessive pitta, then the fire has to be doused with cooling foods such as raw vegetables and organic yogurt. A third principle is to move toward whole food—food that is natural, as close to its virgin state as possible. There is no "perfect" diet, only the ideal food for an individual. Each person has to customize his diet based on temperament, individual constitution and condition, time of year, life circumstances, and genetic makeup.
Vastu is the grandfather of feng shui, guiding the ways that energy flows through our environment and, hence, ourselves. Studying its basics enables us to help our students align themselves with their outer lives. If a student has difficulty sleeping, we may suggest that she sleep with her head facing a different cardinal point. Such understanding should structure our yoga practice as well. For example, sun salutations should ideally be done between sunrise and noon, performed facing east. While doing pranayama, it is appropriate to face either east or north.