Teaching the Niyamas in Asana Class
In classical yoga, Patanjali placed yama and niyama before asana on the eightfold path. But most modern students learn asana first, without reference to the other essential limbs on the tree of yoga. If you teach hatha yoga, it can be difficult to ground the teaching in classical philosophy. Here we offer ways to seamlessly incorporate the five niyamas into an asana class.
There are several ways to incorporate the teachings of saucha. The first is to teach students put away their mats, props, and blankets in an orderly manner, with all the edges aligned, so that no one else will have to arrange them. This practice will help students cultivate an awareness of their surroundings.
Tell your students to be mindful of other students' mats and to refrain from stepping on them as they cross the room to get props or go to the wall. Not only is this a hygienic practice, it also teaches the importance of keeping the energy of their own practice distinct from the energy of others. In asana practice, the mat represents the world-the way we treat our mat reflects the way we treat our world. As we teach our students to handle their mats with care, we are helping them learn the essence of respect for all things.
Tell your students that when they sit in straight lines or circles, the energies around them flow in an orderly fashion, and this keeps the energy of the room clean. If the mats are not arranged in an orderly way, one student's energy interferes with the energy of another. When students are positioned neatly, a synergistic effect takes place-the effect of one student's work and energy helps the rest of the class do the pose. Likewise, the energy of the collective group helps each individual do the pose.
Chanting om or leading similar chants at the beginning of class creates a separation between the outward focus of the normal day and the inward focus of the yoga practice. Chanting om again at the end of class seals the energy of the practice before moving back out into the world. Such a separation of energies is, once again, saucha.Samtosha (Contentment)
During an asana class, tell those students who are working excessively hard that it is time to practice samtosha, being content with what they have attained. Encourage them to accept that they may not yet be ready for what they are attempting to do. Remind them that if they can't get into the deepest version of a pose, it doesn't mean that their poses are "bad." Instead, they are simply as good as they can be today, and they will be better tomorrow. In Light on Yoga (B.K.S. Iyengar, Schocken), you won't see a single pose in which Iyengar looks tense or upset. If you notice students' faces contorting and overexerting in a pose, tell them to stop and reestablish a calm breath and the feeling of samtosha. Only then, in that spirit, should they resume the practice of the pose. This quality of contentment leads to mental peace.
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