Yoga Teacher Training Day 12: Forward Folds

While Saturday was about twists, our Sunday session was all about forward folds and a continued discussion of the core. This time, we focused on the back. Specifically we talked about ways to ease back pain with yoga. We also did another full morning practice, and did some “cupcake yoga” teaching in the afternoon.

Mindfulness and Health

We started the day with a discussion about mindfulness. It’s a key theme that has come up over and over again throughout training. Yoga is all about mindfulness. Becoming more mindful can help us improve our daily lives, and our personal health is no exception.

We had a really interesting discussion on how our thought patterns can affect our health. Our teacher training talked to us about affirmations, and spoke about how we should try to make them positive. For example, instead of saying, “I am not sad”, we should say, “I am happy” instead. This is because our brains often miss the “not” part and skip ahead, which can create the unintended affirmation, “I am sad”. Yikes! Not what we’re looking for.

We also talked about different ways we think about food and eating and how it can affect our health. It was a difficult discussion for some of us, because food can be fraught in our culture. I was reminded of an article I read a little while ago that diets are essentially placebos. The article talks about multiple studies that have shown that it isn’t so much what we eat, but what we¬†think about what we eat that counts. If we think something is fattening or bad for us, it will be. Conversely, if we think of our food as fuel for our daily activities, our guts respond in kind. It’s strange how little we still know about the mind-gut connection, but the emerging science is fascinating.

Kurmanasana Practice

We were able to do another full morning practice, ending with a peak pose of kurmanasana, or turtle pose. I really enjoyed this practice. Again, taking the time to deeply explore the different types of forward folds and how they feel for me will be extremely helpful when teaching future students about the poses.

Kurmanasana is a very deep and difficult forward fold. In the full version of the pose, your chest is on the ground, your arms are under your legs and bound behind the back, and the legs are crossed behind the head! Luckily, we didn’t go quite that far. We did do several variations on the pose, though. My favorite was a restorative version where we rested our legs and our torsos on the bolster. I could have nearly fallen asleep.

Let’s Talk Forward Folds

After our practice we discussed each type of forward fold more in depth. There are three basic types of folds: supine, standing, and seated. Supine forward folds are generally considered the most accessible, while seated are the hardest for a lot of people.

Supine forward folds are those that are done while laying on the back on the floor. They’re generally considered easier than the others because the spine is in a neutral position and there is no need to work against gravity. Supine folds are poses like apanasana (knees to chest pose) and supta pandangusthasana (reclining hand-to-big-toe pose).

Standing forward folds are a little more difficult, since we have to work both with and against gravity to fold. Our legs and spinal erector muscles must hold us up while the backs of the legs and the back muscles release as we fold. Standing forward fold and pyramid pose are both examples of standing forward folds.

Seated forward folds can be difficult for some people. This is because there is less room for the legs to move around, while simultaneously dealing with the effects of gravity, although not to the same degree as standing folds. Personally, I really like seated forward folds. I find them to be deeply relaxing. Some examples of seated forward folds are paschimottanasana (seated forward fold) and the above-mentioned kurmanasana.

Group Asana Lab

In the afternoon, we broke into small groups to work through some forward folding poses. Each group was given a handful of poses to talk about. We were to discuss our cuing, how we might offer props, and different ways to teach the pose. Then we selected one of the poses to teach to the group.

Our group had supine forward folds, with the exception of kurmansana. However, one of our group members actually knew a supine version of that pose too! We decided to teach the recline kurmanasana pose to the rest of the class. As usually happens, I was the pose model. The group member who knew the reclined version of the pose taught, and a third group member offered prop suggestions. Each group did a really great job presenting their pose.

Working with Back Pain

We spent some time after the asana lab talking about back pain and joint pain. We talked about some issues that students face with these types of pain and ways to help prevent the injuries in the first place. Of course, principals of universal alignment are key!

We also talked about some poses to avoid with certain types of pain. For example, excessive twisting and folding can be difficult for students with back injuries. That doesn’t mean we need to avoid all of those types of poses if we encounter a student with an injury. It does mean we need to encourage that student, to take the practice more slowly and to move with more care. We should encourage them to take alternative movements if necessary and perhaps even take time to simply rest and heal rather than continue practice.

Cupcake Yoga

We ended our weekend with a round of cupcake yoga. You may recall me talking about it before. Our teacher trainer has a little stuffed toy cupcake. Whoever has the cupcake has to teach a yoga pose. She usually has cards that contain a pose or a category of poses, and we have to teach what we flip over.

There was such a huge improvement in everyone from the last time we did this exercise. Everyone has gained in knowledge, confidence, experience. I ended up being last, and I was to teach a seated forward fold. I chose to teach the simple paschimottanansana pose and got some good feedback from my classmates.

We’ve only got three more training weekends left. Time is flying by! I’m both looking forward to being certified to teach and getting sad that it’s going to be over so quickly. I’m trying to enjoy every moment!