Ānanda: Joy On All Sides

Photo taken by Veronique Carlos

Photo taken by Veronique Carlos

In my experience, yoga always boils down to relationships. Perspective is no exception. Our perspective on a situation depends on how we're relating to that situation. The first two limbs of yoga - yamas & niyamas - are all about our relationship to self and others. I often find my yoga practice mentoring me in my relationship with my partner, with my family, and with my friends. Really, with anyone I relate to.

Ānanda is a Sanskrit word that means bliss or joy. One of my teachers, Manorama, refined this translation for me when she said that the Ā in Ānanda means "on all sides" so the word Ānanda means "joy on all sides." 

This translation opened up new notions around how perspective is literally everything. The way we see the world, the way we see ourselves, the way we see others, forms the structure of our experience. What if we took that translation of ananda and applied it to our perception of the world? What if we could see a situation, another person, ourselves, on all sides?

Take a loved one. We often see them within the context of how they relate to us. But what if we could step back and recognize all of their roles? They could be a sister, friend, daughter, mother, librarian, runner, musician, lover of poetry, coffee bean roaster, chess champion. They could be a whole host of things. And if we can make space to appreciate all of those roles, we can see them on all sides.

By doing that, we let that person shine. We open up possibility for them to share their gifts, their art, their passion projects. It can help us reanimate a part of a relationship that has gone numb. It can motivate us to turn to them and say show me your art or ask what do you love right now? Even if we don't understand that thing at all, the curious undertones of our question will alight a deeper bond.

Photo taken by Veronique Carlos

Photo taken by Veronique Carlos

Here's an exercise for you: take someone in your life and write down all the roles they play in life. Then pick one you might not know as much about and ask them about it. Ask them to show you more of it. 

Do this exercise with yourself. Watch your imagination oil itself loose as you expand the boundary of what you know about yourself. As you remember the colorful spectrum of yourself, your interests, and your desires, your perspective will naturally grow and stretch. You'll begin to inhabit your potential and maybe even dig deeper into an important area of your life that wants attention.

When you feel stuck or doubtful, take space to see on all sides. This allows us to step out of the confines of one conclusion - and really, of separation - into the more boundless horizon line of choice, of option, of freedom. 

Here's to the multitude of you & all you have to offer this world.
With love,
Sarah


Be a part of our next 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training!

Photo taken by Britt Shattuck

Photo taken by Britt Shattuck

Applications are now open for both of our upcoming teacher trainings at Sangha Studio in Burlington, VT! We're offering a summer immersion program that starts June 24th as well as a longer format training starting in November. Here is a general idea of what we will cover in this summer's training:

  • Alignment-based vinyasa

  • Philosophy of Tantra

  • Sanskrit 

  • Meditation techniques

  • Yin, Restorative Yoga + Yoga Nidra

  • Anatomy

  • Teaching Methodology [all of the components that go into teaching a group class]

  • The Business of Yoga

  • Adapting your teaching for different types of students

All of these topics, and more, will be presented through lecture, group work, dharma discussion, practice teaching and practicing yourself. The summer immersion will give you a chance to dive deep into the teachings and be a total student for 5 weeks so you can soak it all up.

If you are interested, read more details here. And if you have any questions, please feel free to email me (sarah@sarahdiedrick.com) and I'd be happy to talk more about it. If you are a resident of Vermont, you can apply for VSAC to receive funding for the program.

How to Teach a Memorable Restorative Yoga Class

You’re not giving the student the experience. You’re creating the container for the student to have the experience themselves
— Judith Hanson Lasater
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There are a few factors, in my opinion, that shift a Restorative class from good to great. Some of the words that come to mind when I think of a true Restorative practice are:

  • Support

  • Relaxation

  • Space

  • Letting go/letting be

  • Deep reflection

As a Restorative yoga teacher, we can enhance these qualities for our students by the way we approach and, relate to, the practice. I’ve found, through both practicing and teaching Restorative yoga, that attention to detail can be the difference between a good restorative class and a great one. In fact, attention to detail is the impetus for the profound letting go that Restorative yoga is known for.

Below are three crucial factors that I believe should be incorporated into a Restorative yoga class. Prop detail, honoring the nature of the practice, and extending care are all ways you can shine as a teacher and optimally offer the benefits of this powerful practice.

(make sure to check out the bottom of this article for more resources on Restorative yoga and how to deepen your own practice!)


  1. Prop specificity

If the Restorative practice has taught me anything (about yoga & life) it’s that the more specific and attentive I am, the more freedom I experience. Think of it like a relationship, where clear communication and boundaries inspire a sense of freedom and ease. Same goes for this practice. Clarity and specificity in prop setup can lead to the same sense of freedom and ease. That feeling of getting something off your chest when you express your truth? That’s the feeling I’m talking about. I try to bring the same sentiment into my Restorative practice and teaching.

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Props = boundaries. Props are the very thing that create the container for the student to experience relaxation within. The more time and attention put into prop setup prior to settling into the pose, the less distraction the student will experience in the time that they are holding the pose.

Bottom line: be meticulous. It may feel overboard but it’s worth it.

I like to think about symmetry and support when I’m setting up the prop. The props should work to meet the body, rather than the body working to meet the props. Build the props up to the student as much as needed so they don’t have a sense of holding their body up or unnecessarily engaging their muscles in any way. Set up the props in an even manner so the student can hold the pose symmetrically, bringing the body into balance and alignment.

The body has an intrinsic desire for balance

Props are what encourage the body to find this balance, and therefore, settle back in to their instinctual habits. If you practice true restorative yourself, you know how important props are (the more, the better!). Which means you believe it. Which means you can teach from that place of belief, and therefore, confidence. Because…how could you not offer your students the chance to experience this same incredible feeling?

Bottom line: The student’s comfort is your number one priority. Props are the ticket to that comfort.

2. Let the practice speak for itself

Pratyahara is a great companion to the Restorative practice. Pratyahara is known as ‘sense withdrawal’. It can be thought of as limiting external stimulation or distraction (within your control) so that you may pull your senses inside to quiet your nervous system. This is the difference between jolting at the sound of a water bottle falling versus feeling little to no shock in your system when it happens. Restorative shifts us from a reactive state (being low-key shocked at a sudden noise) to a responsive one (noticing the sound without being affected too much).

It’s a sign as to the state of our nervous system - whether it is on guard (sympathetic nervous system) or relaxed (parasympathetic nervous system). Restorative yoga triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting a sense of calm and lowering stress levels. Doesn’t that sound like just what you want and need? The practice counteracts the number of stimulants we add or set off in our bodies (coffee, stress, busyness, etc.) - shifting us from being on edge to backing away from our edge. Let the practice speak for itself. Think of ways you can create a space that will help your students slip away from the external world and sink back into their subtle awareness. Think: consistent and calming.

For me, this comes in the form of: either no music or very soft, consistent ambient-style music; little to no assists, periods of no talking on my end so that there is space and silence for the student to just be. All of these factors allow the students to be in their own experience and, over the course of the pose, fully immerse in that experience rather than being taken out of it by a sudden change in music, touch, smell, etc.

On the other side of that, there are 4 tenets of the practice that help enhance this idea of pratyahara. They are:

  • Quiet

  • Dark

  • Warm

  • Still

The more of these you can incorporate in the practice, the more your students will find that blissful relaxation they are looking for. Encourage them to add layers of clothing or more blankets for warmth; invite them to place something (eye pillow or bandana) over their eyes or a blanket hood over their head; promote quiet either through no music, quiet consistent music, and/or taking time to not talk as much, leaving room for space and for their own self-contemplation; promote stillness in the way you set up props prior to resting in the pose.

3. Care. In different ways.

Care is the most important thing you can offer as a teacher of Restorative yoga. Care can come in different forms during a class: helping a student with their setup, bringing someone a prop, telling your students to give you a silent signal (like a hand on the belly) to tell you they would like your help, reminding your students that you’re holding space for them the entire class. All of these things create a safe space. And we all know that when we feel safe, we let go. We release our tense muscles and our stressful thoughts and we r-e-l-a-x to the max.

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I like to think of this as a mothering practice. When we support ourselves with props, it’s like we are being held by someone we love. We are learning, through this practice, to give back to ourselves. We are mothering ourselves. So, as a teacher, how can you think of yourself as a mother figure - one who is caring, compassionate, observant, and insistent on their student’s comfort, safety and space? Don’t be afraid to ask your students, more than once, if they feel comfortable or if they need anything. It exhibits your care and fosters a sense of trust between you and your student.


Interested in becoming a Restorative yoga teacher? And/or deepening your own practice?

I’ll be leading a Restorative yoga teacher training in Costa Rica March 2-9, 2019! Through this training you will receive 25 hours of continued education credits and will be certified to teach Restorative yoga. This will allow you to teach Restorative to group classes & private clients as well as deepen and refine your understanding of this style of yoga through your own personal practice.

Interested? Want to learn more? Click here to get more details and feel free to email me with any questions or thoughts you might have!


Other resources for Restorative Yoga:

Conditions for Calm by Roger Cole

Relax and Renew by Judith Hanson Lasater