“Props are for Wimps!” and Other Sage Advice

About 15 years ago, a student I’ll call George showed up for my class one day. He was in his early 60s and had been a runner. But he’d chewed up his knees from years on the pavement, so he started working out at the gym where I was teaching instead. His chiropractor told him he really needed yoga and recommended my classes. George embarked on his yoga journey intent on doing the hardest poses in the most strenuous fashion, all while gritting his teeth or, alternatively, wincing.

When he first starting coming to my classes, I would directly request that he use a prop. But he ignored me. My next strategy was to discretely sneak a block next to his mat. But it would just sit there, lonely and untouched.

“Come on George,” I’d quietly urge, “It will feel a lot better.” “Props are for wimps!” he retorted with a good-natured chuckle. “I’ll loosen up eventually.”

If I knew then what I know now, I would have said, “It’s nice to be optimistic, but flexibility is not just a matter of will, it’s dependent on how you’ve used your body throughout your life, as well as your age, sex, and genetics. If you don’t use props for some of these poses, you might hurt yourself.”

George might sound like someone who doesn’t really understand yoga – self-compassion, nurturing, non-competitiveness, and self-acceptance were not on his radar.But it’s not an isolated perspective.

I once taught a workshop in a studio that had no props, well they had mats. . .but that was it. Super bare bones. I asked the studio owner about it and she said, “Well, I just don’t want my students to become dependent on them.

”Yeesh. Another studio owner once told me that if I just pushed myself harder, I would look like her in a few months. Gasp. . .Choke. . .Breathe. . .Namaste.

Even though I didn’t understand much about the science of flexibility at that time, I knew that I could hurt myself if I overdid it and I wasn’t interested in that.

I’d rather be a little tight but still able to walk in 10 years, thanks.If you have a short torso, long arms and legs, hypermobile joints, and a cheerleading history, you might make it to the cover of Yoga Journal performing any number of gravity-defying, Instagram-ready positions.

For the rest of us, there are props.

Eventually, I figured out how to help George. I started making the whole class get a block, bolster or blankets depending on what we were doing.

Everyone, myself included, would do the same pose with the prop and then I’d say things like, “You may choose to do this without the prop if you like, but I’m going to show it and teach it this way.” Somehow this shift in my teaching gave George the permission he needed to accept props.

I noticed that he began to struggle less and enjoy class more. He stopped gritting his teeth and wincing, he even began staying for Śavasana instead of hustling out with an excuse that he was late for something.

George got a little more flexible, but mostly, he started to find a little more quiet within himself, and a weekly opportunity to take a mini vacation from his strive-drive.

I believe that if yoga teachers can help people feel a bit more comfortable in their own skin, a little less stressed, and give them a chance to take a small reprieve from their self-punishing tendencies, then we’ve done something positive, we’ve given students the space to explore a way of being they may not have access to anywhere else in their lives.

Kristine Kaoverii Weber, MA, C-IAYT, ERYT500, YACEP
Director, Subtle® Health, LLC and Subtle® Yoga Professional Trainings

Yoga and Widening the Nervous System Windows

For the past 10 years, I’ve been training Mental Health professionals to use yoga to help their clients learn how to regulate their nervous systems and build greater resilience. For me, this is one of the most profound and culture-shifting potentials of yoga – we can use these practices to learn how to increase our capacity to get balanced. And we all know that in today’s world, well…just about everyone can use a little help with that.

Yoga techniques can work in the short term as soon as you learn and use them and, research suggests that with regular practice, they begin to create long-term changes in the brain and nervous system, and bias the brain toward a more positive outlook, better mind-body awareness, and a greater capacity to play nicely with others.

One of the models I use to explain how yoga helps (which comes from neuroscientist Dan Siegel’s work) is called the “Window of Tolerance”.

The window explains that the nervous system vacillates between “hyper” and “hypo” arousal. When we can find middle ground or “Optimal Arousal” we think clearly, make good decisions, and basically feel balanced. When we are in a hypo arousal state we become rigid, depressed, cutoff, and/or avoidant. And when we are in a hyper arousal state we feel a sense of chaos – agitation, anxiety and/or anger and rage.

Oh, and BTW, there are many windows in our lives. For some folks a screaming TV or child and getting cut off in traffic poses no distress, but a disorganized flatware drawer might set them off. Clearly, everyone has different levels of tolerance about different things in their lives.

For some people, some of these windows are barely cracked open. The process of widening these windows is the process of developing greater resilience.

How does yoga help?

Well yoga, through its four main “process tools” (ethical engagement, breathing practices, mindful movement, and meditation) offers a comprehensive system to widen those windows of tolerance both cognitively, and via the body/nervous system – or what the neuroscientists call both “Top down” and “Bottom up” self-regulation.

Don’t worry if you miss it, the replay will stay up on my Subtle Yoga with Kristine Weber page. And if you want to really get down into the nuts and bolts of it all, check out my courses: The Science of Slow and The Yoga and Neuroscience Connection. 

Learn the History of Yoga with Ramesh Bjonnes

A Brief History of Yoga: From it’s Tantric Roots to the Modern Yoga Studio

by Ramesh Bjonnes

Yoga is growing in popularity all over the world today, yet misconceptions about its original purpose and ancient roots abound. In this refreshing tale of the history of yoga, the author unveils the true heart of the tradition and introduces us to its most influential teachers.

Most writers on yoga have claimed that the practice originated in the ancient Vedas. An increasing number of scholars, however, find this view problematic, both historically and philosophically. According to this fascinating book, yoga did not originate in Vedic society, rather it developed among the enigmatic teachers of Tantra.

Uncovering when and where this popular path to health and enlightenment originated and how it developed over thousands of years, A Brief History of Yoga is essential reading for all those who care about the past and future evolution of yoga.

 

If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about the source of Yoga, but didn’t know where to start your journey of discovery, we’d recommend starting here. Here are two reviews to help you and should you want, download the Kindle edition for only $.99 for the next 48 hours! Click here to purchase.

 

About the Author:

Ramesh Bjonnes has traveled the world as a meditation teacher, Ayurvedic practitioner, author, and is currently the Director of the Prama Wellness Center, a retreat center teaching yoga, meditation, and juice rejuvenation. He studied yoga therapy in Nepal and India, Ayurvedic Medicine at California College of Ayurveda, and naturopathic detox therapy at the AM Wellness Center in Cebu, Philippines. He is the author of four books, and he lives with his wife Radhika and Juno, a sweet, gentle Great Pyrenees, in the mountains near Asheville, North Carlina. Connect with him via his website: prama.org and rameshbjonnes.com.

 

Reviews:

A Brief History of Yoga casts light on a very important issue i.e. the confusion of yoga with Hinduism, and Tantra with the Vedas.

I love the Hindu and Vedanta traditions for their rich philosophy, their music, their wisdom teachings and mythology. But they are also associated with some irrational or even harmful religious dogmas including the caste system, idol worship, the dowry practice (the main causal factor in the deaths of millions of girl fetuses and infants in India) and in some cases, animal sacrifice.

Ramesh’s book is a breath of fresh air for someone like me who loves the practices of yoga and tantra but does not want to be associated with the negative aspects of the historically related, but quite distinct, spiritual traditions of Hinduism.

Ramesh’s book is very well researched and written, I’ll be using this as a reference text for my meditation students.Close Your Eyes and Open Your Mind: A Practical Guide to Spiritual MeditationClose Your Eyes and Open Your Mind: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Meditation

The Monk Dude, Amazon Verified Buyer

 

I have read other books by Ramesh Bjonnes and have found them to be well researched, full of very useful information and in some ways life changing. This latest book is no exception.
There is so much written about Tantra which just isn’t so. Ramesh provides the real history and practice of the true Tantra Yoga. He clears up all of the misleading information and supplies the reader with the true facts.
I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to deepen their understanding of Tantra Yoga and deepen there spiritual practice.
Ramesh has the real life experience and provides the tools for taking your practice to the next level.
A truly sacred experience.

Jeffrey R. Donohew, Amazon Verified Buyer