Question 1: I focus a lot on the mindfulness aspect of yoga. It's the #1 reason I got so into yoga and decided to teach, because of the way it has aided me in my recovery (substance abuse, severe depression/anxiety). I can easily focus on mindfulness internally, but am struggling with how to interpret that to my students and incorporate that naturally into the physical poses (you know, the whole paying attention in a specific, nonjudgmental way). At this point in my practice it kind of happens for me naturally, but it's definitely a journey to get there, and I want to be able to teach it. So yeah, share your thoughts! :)
Answer 1: I understand what you're saying and to be totally honest, it's a real effort for me to come out with inspirational things while I'm teaching. I feel sort of cheesy and inauthentic when I do it right in the moment because my first priority when teaching is making sure their alignment is in place so no one gets hurt, but I desperately want to deliver a good message and give them something so they feel inspired and introspective. It's my goal every time. Recently, I've started to write in a journal when I'm feeling particularly inspired after a self practice (or sometimes in the middle of a self practice an idea will just hit me and I'll write it down). I then will read the entry or use it as a guide during the opening centering of a class or when the students are in a yin pose. This way, I don't have to be worrying about their alignment and I can deliver an authentic message. I hope that helps!
Question 2: Hi Candace, I have been suffering a lot of stress, anxiety, and tension for various reasons. I have a new meditation practice, but I want to incorporate about 15 to 20 minutes of yoga. Can you suggest some poses that will relax and open up my upper body, and not cause any additional tension in the chest and back area? Thank you!
Answer 2: I'm sorry you're dealing with a lot of stress and anxiety. I have been there, and can relate. The yoga for neck and shoulders sequence above may be helpful, and if you're looking to follow along to a video, I recommend trying the yoga for anxiety sequence (8 mins), and 30 minute restorative yoga. Remember that breath has a lot to do with anxiety, so you might find this post on better breathing useful.
Related: What can we learn from suffering?
Question 3: Are there poses where a modification can potentially cause injury?
Answer: Well, a modification is supposed to lessen the intensity of a pose, so I thought of a few different poses and their modifications and I can't think of one (when done properly) that would injure someone. So my final answer is not that I can think of. That being said, when the attention and focus isn't there, regardless of whether or not the pose is being modified, there is potential for an injury to occur. Take tree pose for instance. You can put the lifted foot on the upper part of the standing leg or you can modify by putting it below the knee. Regardless of whether the student has taken the modification, if they're looking around the room and wondering what they're going to eat for dinner they're liable to fall and hurt themselves. But the actual modification didn't hurt them, see what I mean?
Question 4: Hi Candace,
Great name, I named my daughter Candice. Can you help me? I cannot straighten my legs properly when I'm doing Downward Dog. Will I ever be able to, or do I have short hamstrings?
Answer 4: I think with lots of practice you'll likely be able to straighten the legs, so don't worry. Check out these 6 ways to improve flexibility and this post on tips for downward facing dog. Those tips provide a good foundation before you begin. You can follow along with this 15 minute yoga video for low back and hamstrings. I think consistency is really important, so practice at least three times a week (it doesn't have to be a full class, just 15 minutes will help) and see if you should start seeing improvement in a few weeks.