Month: March 2017

What to look for in a yoga class to find your favorite teacher, style OR become a better instructor

Yoga Teacher’s Eye: what a yoga instructor can learn at a yoga class

Things to think about in a yoga class to find your favorite class or style OR learn to be a better instructorThings to observe in a yoga class

Here are a few concepts you can keep an eye out for in class if you are learning about teaching yoga.  These aspects can also help you find your favorite teacher or style of yoga if you are trying different classes.

  • style– along with the style of yoga, how does this instructor interpret it?  e.g. Is it classic vinyasa or a little slower?  Is it heavy on lunges? Do they hold the poses for a long time or flow freely between asanas?  Did they bring in a few poses from another style of yoga?
  • personality– how does the teacher add their own flair to the class? What attributes do they bring to the class that make it different from another class in the same style of yoga?
  • voice– what is the quality of the instructor’s voice?  e.g. Are they loud enough? Is their voice gentle and soothing?  Is it firm and encouraging? Does it inspire you to add energy to your poses?
  • cues– how does the instructor describe the poses and transitions?  Does it give you a new way of thinking about the pose?  Is there an alignment tip you hadn’t heard before?  Is it clear what you need to do?
  • sequencing– how do the poses flow together?  Is there a connection between poses you hadn’t thought of before? Was the class leading to one particular pose?  Were there groups of types of poses (like standing then arm balances then abs?)
  • theme– how does the instructor bring it all together?  Did the class focus on one aspect of alignment? A concept, like propping vs. collapsing vs. yielding?  Was the class devoted to the idea of peace, balance, femininity? Or one of the Hindu gods? A full moon?
  • reflection– the last thing to think about is how the class affected you.  Did you like the style? Would you prefer to do things another way if it were your class?  What did you learn?  What take-aways can you find- about yoga, any of these concepts or yourself?

Putting it all into action- my experience at a retreat

A couple of weekends ago, 2 gal-pal yoginis and I headed down to the beach for a yoga retreat and some rest and relaxation in the sun.  Since I haven’t been to a yoga class in a couple of months, I was excited to listen and learn and of course move.  I practice and teach regularly, but it’s so nice to also receive some instruction and improve my own poses and practice.

What to look for in a yoga class to find your favorite teacher, style OR become a better instructorI think since yoga teacher training, though, I will likely never see a class in the same way.  I am forever filing away phrases for cues and noting things down about transitions and a teachers’ style and personality.  In ytt, our instructor warned us about this, saying, “you will never be the same again, but that’s probably a good thing.”

At the retreat, one of the most interesting things for me was the structure of the classes.  The teachers spent probably 75% of class in standing postures.  Especially in the early morning, that was hard for me.  I’m not exactly lazy, but I’ve never been the most energetic person either.  Also, it doesn’t go with the style yoga I’ve learned and embraced.  I know many people enjoy this active yang style of yoga, but I learned during that weekend that my style is a little calmer.

I think yoga is a sort of spectrum.  There are yogis who are there for the workout and yogis who are there for the spiritual practice and yogis who want some combination of the two.  The names of the yoga practices can help identify that sort of balance that a teacher offers or a practioner desires but there’s such a range within each style, so in a way the only way to know about any given class or style is to try it.

Something else I noticed at the retreat was the use of voice.  The main instructor had a very strong voice with clear, deliberate cues.  She was firm and energetic, like her class.  She used great imagery to describe the way the poses could be gracefully transitioned and practiced.

What to look for in a yoga class to find your favorite teacher, style OR become a better instructorThe instructor gave supportive guidance in the arm balance workshop- talking with each yogi individually about their struggles with gravity, strength, balance and fear.  She showed some humility in inversions as she modeled a pose that wasn’t her strongest, still giving valuable tips and demos.  I also noticed how incredibly important it is to be personable off of the mat with each of the students.  I admired these qualities in instructors.

At the retreat, we had early morning meditations.  The instructor encouraged us not to speak before mediation in the morning, which I really liked.  It made the practice more serene and organic. I noticed in the meditation, she didn’t give direction for our thoughts.  Some styles of meditation try for a mind completely free of thoughts, in which case no instruction is needed.  I found out I prefer a meditation where the mind is focused on one train of thought, like the breath or a mantra.  It is easier for me, but it also lends itself to a practice that feels more meaningful to me.

It’s interesting how seeing a style that was quite different from mine reinforced my understanding of my preferences and my yoga style.  I had a great time and learned a lot, but much of it was about myself and my yoga.

“Yoga is not about touching your toes, it’s about what you learn on the way down.” -Judith Hansen Lasater


How to make a Mala: knotting, tassels and an introduction to malas. Step-by-step instructions and photos to guide you in making your DIY mala

Malas: how to make a mala DIY and how I was introduced to them

Malas are a string of 108 beads, usually with one more “guru bead” at the base to hold them all together.  They sometimes have a tassel or a pendant dangling below.  They’re beautiful as jewelry but even more gorgeous when used spiritually.  In this post, you will learn how to make a mala with step-by-step instructions and photos to illustrate each step.  Keep reading in our next post for how to use and activate your mala (click the image after the instructions).

[Just so you know, this post contains affiliate links]

Intro: How I got into Malas (Living in Asia)

I remember being at a mountain temple in Korea around Buddha’s birthday and they had a special celebration, including a station under the Boddhi trees where you could make your own mala.  We strung each bead with a wish– 108 prayers and hopes.  I loved it- a warm, quiet day, perfect for taking a moment for spirituality.

At a fort in Suwon, South Korea, I got to ring an ancient bell– 3 rings per person– one for yourself, one for your family (or favorite loved ones), and one for the greater world.  I thought that was a beautiful sort of way to look beyond myself.  So I tried to incorporate some wishes for myself, some for my family and some for the world as I strung my mala.

I recently visited Mahamuni Pagoda, here in Mandalay to get some beads for making a new mala.  Mahamuni is a large colorful complex known for its gold Buddha image.  I’ve been a few times to visit the Buddha and to shop some of the temple stalls.  This time, I bought mostly colored wooden beads to make my own malas.

Why 108?How to make a Mala: knotting, tassels and an introduction to malas. Step-by-step instructions and photos to guide you in making your DIY mala

Malas always have 108 beads (or 216) because this number has great scientific significance in the Hindu tradition.  The circumference of the sun times 108 is the distance between the sun and the Earth and the same is true for the moon and Earth.  Also, there are 108 nadis or energy channels in the body.  There are 54 sanskrit letters- both masculine and feminine, totaling 108.  There are 108 Puranas and 108 Upanishads.  The list goes on and on!!  So that same sacred number is used in malas.

Making a Mala: Creating the Mood

I think it’s important to create a calm, spiritual space for making a mala.  For making my mala, I found a time for just me where I could be alone with my thoughts, wishes, candles and mantra.  In a way, it’s a bit of self-care to take the time out and simply create.

I chose the mantra, Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo, which roughly translates to “I bow to the divine and the teacher within myself.”  I listened to this mantra repeatedly as I worked.

You can also choose a mantra to weave into your mala, or you could choose an intention to focus on while you bead, or focus on a wish or goal you’d like to manifest.  You want to fill your mala with that intention or goal and with love as you bead it.

How to make a Mala: Knotting

How to make a Mala: knotting, tassels and an introduction to malas. Step-by-step instructions and photos to guide you in making your DIY malaHow to make a Mala: knotting, tassels and an introduction to malas. Step-by-step instructions and photos to guide you in making your DIY mala

I recommend finding silk thread (UPDATE! now that I’m in America I use Simply Silk Beading Thick Thread) that is made specifically for beading.  I looked around a bit, but I didn’t find any here in Mandalay so I opted for local hot pink yarn instead, naturally.  If you are using thread that may fray or pull, start from the center of your mala and work out from both sides so you don’t use one end of the thread excessively and damage it.

How to make a Mala: knotting, tassels and an introduction to malas. Step-by-step instructions and photos to guide you in making your DIY malaHow to string and knot the mala

  1. Start with a single knot
  2. Thread a bead onto the string and push it all the way up to the knot
  3. Tie a new knot under the new bead carefully– wind the threaded beads through to loop the knot, but don’t pull it tight yet.  Put tweezers through the loop of the knot to hold the string directly below the bead.  As you pull the string, the knot will tighten around the tweezers and glide up them to that spot on the string just below the bead
  4. Thread on another bead and slide it up
  5. Repeat the knot process again and again… 108 times!

Once you finish stringing and knotting the 108 beads, string the 2 ends of the mala through a guru bead (a larger bead that holds both sides of the threaded necklace), creating a circle.

Tassel

To Make the Tassel

  1. Amazonite and Rudraksha Mala
    See our malas on Etsy

    Wrap thread around a small rectangle of card stock or cardboard repeatedly so the thread makes many loops (thicker thread for beading would be better here too)

  2. String the threads from the guru bead through the loops and tie them underneath the loops
  3. Either with the thread from the guru bead or a new thread (depending on whether or not you want to change the color) wrap the thread around the loops near the top to hold the loops together– knot the thread to secure it.  I used the same thread from the necklace and wrapped the 2 ends in opposite directions so they would meet nicely to knot
  4. Cut through the loose end of the loops opposite the necklace to make the fringed edges of the tassel
  5. If your ends come out uneven, you can comb them to make sure they’re straight, then trim them with sharp scissors

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Malas: choosing one, activating it, and using your mala for meditation and manifestation

Once your mala is complete, you can activate it and use it for mediation or manifestation, or wear it to help bring new energy or healing.  Also, check out “Malas: choosing one, activating it, and using your mala for meditation and manifestation

 

How to make a Mala: knotting, tassels and an introduction to malas. Step-by-step instructions and photos to guide you in making your DIY mala

Mala necklaces: how to use choose and activate your mala. Also details on how to meditate with your mala and manifest a wish #mala

Malas: how to use, choose and activate your mala

Mala necklaces: how to use choose and activate your mala. Also details on how to meditate with your mala and manifest a wish #malaMalas are a string of beads used for meditation.  They help with concentration by giving you something to focus on, but they also can have a more spiritual side.  A mala can help you to manifest some sort of wish or goal or help you find a new connection with a mantra, affirmation or even your breath.

[Just so you know, this post contains affiliate links]

How to Choose a Mala

If you’re in a store with the malas, try holding them towards your heart or your third eye, ideally with both hands.  See which one speaks to you- makes you feel something.  Often, you will be drawn to the gem, crystal or theme that you need most. Some people say that the mala will be drawn to you!  If you’re shopping online, often you will still be drawn to one that will resonate with you the most.  Most malas also have a description of the beads that were used and how they can benefit you.  Many were made with an intention or wish the mala can help manifest.

How to activate your Mala

Amazonite and Rudraksha Mala
See our malas on Etsy

To activate your mala, whether you made it, bought it, or received it as a gift, you can do a small ceremony before wearing it.  To start, light a candle or incense or make your space safe and sacred in whatever way you usually do.  Find a comfortable seat like you would for meditation- sit up tall, and straight in a calm, mindful way.  Start by getting in touch with your breath.  Focus on it and if thoughts come, allow them to pass.  Then starting from the guru bead (the biggest one that the tassel or decoration comes from) start to run the mala through your fingers, one bead for each breath.  However, this technique can be adapted to fit your needs- find your own way.  As you do this, think of an intention you wish to lock into your mala or something you would like to manifest with the energy of your mala.  Also, you can chant “Om Hrim Namah Shivaya Om” aloud or internally.  This mantra is traditional for activating and energizing a new mala.  This phrase salutes Shiva (God of creation and destruction), brings together masculine and feminine, and opens the mind to the divine.  When you finish your ceremony, hold your mala to your heart and your third eye.  You can sit for another moment if you wish.  Now, the mala is yours, bound to you spiritually through your ceremony.  It contains the power and energy you activated it with.  The mala still carries its same spiritual powers if you wear it as a bracelet or necklace.

How to use a Mala for Meditation

Mala necklaces: how to use choose and activate your mala. Also details on how to meditate with your mala and manifest a wish #mala

Before you begin, you can bow to each of the 4 directions to connect with the universe.  Or set an intention or devote your meditation to a God, Goddess, friend or cause.

Start by finding a comfortable seat.  Cross your legs or try to lotus position.  Also, you can sit in a chair, sit on a meditation cushion or bolster or lay down if you prefer.  It’s your meditation, so find what works for you.  Just be sure you can stay aware– you don’t want to be so comfortable that you may lose focus or fall asleep.  Hold your mala at the guru bead (the big one) between your thumb and middle or ring finger (the pointer finger is associated with the ego, which is undesirable).  As your meditation progresses, you will move the beads through your fingers one at a time.

Using the mala with your breath

You can associate the beads to your breath- inhale and exhale.  (Or try kumbhaka: add a pause in between your inhale and exhale by retaining your breath for a couple of counts. To start, try inhaling for 4 breaths, retaining for 2 and exhaling for 4).

Using your mala with a mantra

Alternatively, and perhaps more traditionally, you can use a mantra for your meditation.  In this case, you will say the mantra aloud or internally with each breath.  You can try traditional sanskrit mantras or mantras in English, like Thich Nhat Hanh’s inhale: calm/exhale: ease or inhale:present moment/exale: wonderful moment.  Also affirmative statements work as mantras, like “I am” for the root chakra.

Using your mala to manifest

Mala necklaces: how to use choose and activate your mala. Also details on how to meditate with your mala and manifest a wish #mala

If you would like to manifest a wish, you can ask the universe for help with each bead’s movement.

There is no limit to the mantras, breaths, and concepts you can attach to your beads for your meditation.

Sealing your practice

How to Make a Mala: knotting and making a tasselWhen you finish your meditation, bow forward to seal in your practice.  Re-enter this world slowly, taking time to bring your awareness back to your surroundings after your meditative state.

Also check out our article on how to make a mala (click the image below)

 

 

Mala necklaces: how to use choose and activate your mala. Also details on how to meditate with your mala and manifest a wish #mala