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Roll out your yoga mat or pull out your meditation cushion and discover everything you've wanted to know about yoga & meditation. Whether you've been practicing for many years or you consider yourself a newbie, there's something for everyone to learn with the Danja Yoga Info Series. There's no need to be intimidated by terminology, complicated practices, and trendy studios. The information below will give you the knowledge you need so that you can experience all the benefits these practices offer and not miss a thing!

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Your Invitation to Begin – Atha Yoga Anushasanam

It’s here, 2023 has finally arrived, and boy oh boy the last couple of years have been a doozie haven’t they? Well the good news is, we made it and for better or worse, we are here!

Yoga & Mindfulness Through a Pandemic – Part 3

Shared by Danja Yoga Co-Owner & Lead Teacher Training Facilitator, Daniel Sernicola, with written reflections by our Yoga Teacher Training students. The following is the second of five short essays written by our Danja Yoga Teacher Training students. These students are in the middle of a 200-hr training that began in September 2021. They graduate in …

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Yoga & Mindfulness Through a Pandemic – Part 2

Shared by Danja Yoga Co-Owner & Lead Teacher Training Facilitator, Daniel Sernicola, with written reflections by our Yoga Teacher Training students. The following is the second of five short essays written by our Danja Yoga Teacher Training students. These students are in the middle of a 200-hr training that began in September 2021. They graduate in …

Yoga & Mindfulness Through a Pandemic – Part 2 Read More »

Yoga & Mindfulness Through a Pandemic – Part 1

Shared by Danja Yoga Co-Owner & Lead Teacher Training Facilitator, Daniel Sernicola, with written reflections by our Yoga Teacher Training students The following is the first of five short essays written by our Danja Yoga Teacher Training students. These students are in the middle of a 200-hr training that began in September 2021. They graduate in …

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Breath and Yoga

It has been said that, “Yoga postures are different shapes in which to explore the breath.” Indeed. Yoga is all about the breath. One of the first things we learn in yoga class is how to breathe using the whole torso. Many people breathe shallowly, contributing to anxiety and stress among other health risks. When taught to breathe properly, people come away from their first class in a state of bliss. It is quite possibly the first deep, full body breath they’ve experienced in a while.

Lessons from Meditation and Mom

Daniel Sernicola / January 2022 Author’s note: I appreciate the opportunity to not only share my love of meditation, but to also honor my mother. She inspired the Danja Yoga Community Fund so that others can know the healing power of yoga & meditation. Through it, her legacy and love of life continues. Like my …

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10 Tips for Going to Your First Yoga Class

Going to a yoga class for the first time doesn’t need to be an intimidating experience. With some preparation and these key tips, you’ll let go of fears and set yourself up for success as you navigate your way into any yoga studio

Wear comfortable clothing like you'd wear to the gym. Most yoga classes involve some degree of movement. Wear comfortable clothing that won’t restrict your ability to move freely. Shorts, sweatpants, t-shirt, and tank top are all appropriate.

Be prepared to be barefooted (though you may wear socks if you'd like). When you arrive at the yoga studio, be prepared to leave your shoes – and socks in the lobby. Yoga is typically practiced without socks because our feet tend to grip yoga mats better bare than when in socks. Socks can encourage slipping and even lead to injury.

Bring a bottle of water to stay hydrated. You're allowed to drink water during a yoga class! Just be sure to keep the bottle close to your mat so no one trips over it! Breakable bottles are discouraged. Sustainable bottles are highly encouraged

Come early so you're not rushed. Always arrive a little early to your class. This gives you time to let go of anything that happened prior to your arrival. It also gives you time to get checked in, use the restroom, and find the perfect spot for your mat

Bring a mat to class. Yes! Bring your own mat to class. Many studios have mats you can rent or borrow. Mats at  studios are cleaned after each use (we hope!). However, it’s assumed that no one is cleaning the mat as well as you’d clean it for your own use! If you don’t have a yoga mat, you can easily purchase an inexpensive one at Target.

Remember why you're coming. Maybe your doctor suggested trying yoga or maybe you’re working to become more flexible. Whatever the reason, know why you’re coming. This can help be a motivator on the days you don’t want to climb out of bed to hit up an early morning class.

Let go of expectations and have fun. The more you let go of expectations in a yoga class, the more likely you are to have fun and benefit from the practice. It’s tempting to see the yoga superstar in the front row and try to emulate their practice, but remember, it’s not a competition! Our bodies are all different and what feels or looks good for someone else may not resonate with your body. Yoga isn’t necessarily about how poses look; it’s about how the poses feel in the body

Eat after class and not before. Doing a forward fold with a belly full of food or drink does not feel good. (Trust me on this one!) You’re encouraged to bring a protein or snack bar to nosh after your class or on the ride to your next destination.

You can leave class to use the restroom. No one is going to judge you if the spinal twist you just did loosened up the bowels! You’re allowed to leave the room to head for the restroom. (In fact, it's encouraged!) Yoga teachers see this all the time and it’s far less embarrassing and noticeable than you think. Just be sure to come back to class!

Be patient and keep going to classes. Yoga works best as a consistent practice. Some results are seen immediately. Other results take time to show up in your life. At times, you may not notice the full effects of your yoga practice until you stop going to classes. While we don’t encourage you to stop, we do encourage you to be patient and know that not everything happens at once.

Beginner's Guide to Meditation

We’ve all heard about the numerous benefits of meditation. Less stress, lower blood pressure, being fully present, increasing patience, and boosting creativity. Sounds amazing, right? Sometimes starting a practice can be intimidating.We’ve all asked ourselves, “how do I meditate when I can’t empty my mind of thoughts or sit still? Where do I begin? Why can’t I shut my mind off!?” There’s nothing wrong with you, you’re awesome as you are. You just need to see and discover it! Meditation is like peeling an onion. As we uncover layers of ourselves, we discover that we’re not so bad after all! We begin to see ourselves and the world through a different lens. We realize this goodness has always been a part of us. The sun is always shining, we just need to move the clouds to see it!

That’s where our trusty guide to meditation can help. We use many of these techniques at the studio and over the years have seen people transformed and renewed. Below you’ll learn what to do when the mind seems to be going haywire and you can’t focus. Hopefully, you’ll see that meditation isn’t torture and you’re not forced to sit perfectly still. You can relax into your own meditation practice. And for goodness sake, if you have an itch during meditation, scratch it!

Know your why. Before starting meditation, think about your "why." What is your motivation for wanting to meditate? Knowing your "why" can be a helpful motivator for those times when you may not want to meditate. Some reasons you might choose to meditate could be so you to understand your pain, lower your stress, connect better, improve focus, or reduce brain chatter.

Set a goal. We usually recommend that new meditators set a goal. For your first few weeks, you might want to try meditating 3 days out of the week for 3 minutes each time. The next few weeks, practice 5 days out of the week for 5 minutes each time.

Be consistent. It helps to practice meditation in the same spot each time you meditate. To add to that, meditate the same time of day for the same amount of time.

Be gentle with yourself. For a practice that's meant to bring calm and peace, we sure do tend to get upset with ourselves when we think we're doing it wrong! There's no wrong way to meditate and there's no off switch on the body to stop our thoughts. We even think while we sleep!

Remember that wandering thoughts are normal. Whenever a thought arises in your practice, notice it and let it go. Some meditation teachers suggest thinking of your thoughts as clouds floating by in the sky or cars of a train passing by. Sharon Salzberg suggests envisioning your meditation as walking into a party and seeing an old friend across the room. You make your way over to your friend and along the way notice the other party guests. You see and hear them, but don't stop to talk to them. The goal is to reunite with your friend. In the case of meditation, that friend is the breath.

Be kind to your mind. Remember that some people spend their entire lives meditating. It's called a practice for a reason - because we are practicing! Drop any negative self-talk. Would you be upset that a 3-year-old can't sit still? Usually the answer is no. If you wouldn't say it to a 3-year-old, you probably shouldn't say it to yourself. Look, everyone's mind sometimes wanders during meditation. Meditation teachers even have a very technical term for it: MONKEY MIND! Picture an energetic monkey going bananas. Our minds can do that too! It's fine to have thoughts, just don't get carried away by them!

That’s how to practice! Focus your attention. When the mind wanders, reel it back in. And above all, be kind to yourself.

5 Trauma-Sensitive Tips for Speaking to Your Yoga Students

By Daniel Sernicola

Originally published in Yoga Journal, December 2016. Updated in January 2022.

“The words you speak. Your tone of voice. Your inflection. These are all considerations,” says David Emerson, author of Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga.

“Trauma survivors are often attentive not only to what is said, but also to how it is expressed.” As teachers, we never know what may trigger someone. But being more aware that there is likely someone in the room who has experienced trauma and implementing some strategies that may help them feel more at ease could help encourage them to continue coming to class to experience the healing benefits of yoga. Plus, we can all benefit from a reminder to be more mindful with our speech.

Slow down. “Using a slow, soothing tone of voice will help foster a calm atmosphere of healing,” Emerson says. He reminds us that, as teachers, “we are cultivating within our students the ability to slow down and to experience each moment in time.” Make a point of being clear, concise and slowing down when giving cues and instructions, so students can hear and understand what you’re asking of them. Students tend to emulate our behavior and energy levels. If I’m feeling calm and collected or high-strung and energetic, it’s reflected in my students. The tone and rhythm of your voice should include pauses and variety of inflection, being careful to avoid monotone cueing, which may cause students to stop listening or lose interest. Avoid rushing through poses. Rushing defeats the purpose of yoga since many come to slow down their choatic lives and destress. You may get to a point in class where you realize you are short on time. Let it go. Skipping a few poses is better than rushing.

Remind students they're in control. Emerson recommends emphasizing words and phrases that invite the student to make the practice their own and remind them they’re in control of their own body—which is very important for trauma survivors. He suggests using language such as “notice,” “be curious,” “approach with interest,” “allow,” “experiment,” “feel,”and the like. “This promotes a mindful approach to yoga in which there is no right or wrong, just experimentation and curiosity,” he says. “We are working to build a sense of empowerment within our students over their own bodies and their own experiences. They are in control of making the ultimate decision about what feels right to them.“

Empower students with choice. Emerson describes trauma as “an experience of having no choice,” whereas yoga practice offers “opportunities to have different physical experiences where one can make a variety of choices about what to do with the body.” You can emphasize choice in your languaging by reminding the student that if a pose is painful they can always stop and by providing options for various poses. Sage Rountree masterfully offers options while eliminating judgment with the phrasing “If you’d like to spice it up, do this…” or “If you’d like to make it sweeter, do this…” These phrases immediately remove judgement from the practice.

Choose your words with inclusivity in mind. Use gender-neutral and inclusive language, avoiding statements such as, “this may be easier for men than women” or “men have tighter hamstrings.” Using those kind of terms automatically creates judgment and false perceptions in students’ minds. Our society has been conditioned to acknowledge two separate genders, male and female, which does not include the possibility that gender identity can be fluid and not fixed. By using inclusive terminology, the fluidity of gender identity unfolds in our student’s lives and barriers are broken down that can exclude gender-variant or transgender students. Try using the word, “they” in place of “he” or “she.” The use of masculine or feminine pronouns in teaching may confuse or offend some students. By using inclusive language, you’re letting each student know that they are valued and there’s a place for them in your classes. Do not assume your students' gender. It's perfectly fine to ask what pronoun they prefer. Yoga teachers often get stressed about using an incorrect pronoun. 9 times out of 10, if you apologize and ask for the correct pronoun, both the student and teacher can learn and move on from the incident.

Let go and laugh. Having the ability to laugh at your own mistakes—whether they be in cueing, mirroring, or even falling out of a balance pose—will generally put students at ease and help them relate to you. This takes the pressure off of the students to make every pose perfect and encourages them to take the lens of judgment off themselves, inviting self-acceptance. I’ll never forget the time I was teaching a pose and fell out of it creating a “thud” on the studio floor. I laughed, my students laughed, and we continued on with the class. We face judgment in so many areas of our lives, yoga classes should not be one of them. Approaching yoga in a fun, lighthearted, and compassionate way will likely keep your students coming to class

Author’s Note: This is an edited and updated version of part 3 of a 4-part series I wrote for Yoga Journal in November of 2016. As my teaching style has evolved through more experience and studio ownership, it seemed appropriate to revisit these articles, dust them off, and give them an update with a fresh perspective. In 2020, Covid-19 began to spread, changing the landscape across the world and opening the doors for discussion on mental health and trauma. Experts and new studies conclude that nearly every person on the planet has experienced trauma either first hand or indirectly.

5 Ways to Make Every Yoga Class More Restorative and Therapeutic

Originally published in Yoga Journal, December 2016. Updated in January 2022.

One of yoga’s primary aims is to bring us squarely into the present moment, which is especially important and especially difficult for trauma survivors. Present-moment experiences offer trauma survivors a chance to live “without feeling or behaving according to irrelevant demands belonging to the past,” according to Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., author of The Body Keeps the Score. But it’s also more challenging for traumatized people than non-traumatized people to be present, says David Emerson, author of Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga. The good news? We can all get better at it with practice. “Over time through a mindfulness practice, we can build a map of the mind, notice our habitual thought patterns, and develop patience and compassion for our minds,’ says Christopher Willard, PSYD, author of Growing Up Mindful: Essential Practices to Help Children, Teens, and Families Find Balance, Calm, and Resilience. Here, a few key strategies for helping trauma survivors—and everyone else—in your yoga classes get grounded and present

Anchor the mind. “All practices that strengthen concentration or mindfulness use an anchor,” Willard says. He recommends inviting students to rest their attention on something—the body, the breath, movement, the senses, an image, numbers, a word or phrase—to anchor them to the present moment.

Cultivate mindfulness from the ground up. I start almost every class with students lying down. They are led through a small body scan awareness beginning at the feet, traveling to the arms, and back to the head. From there, they are invited to turn their eyes inward and begin to explore the mind then drop awareness into the heart. The prompts of inquiry questions are helpful here: Does your mind feel active or calm? Is your heart beating fast or slow? Does your heart feel heavy or light? Throughout the class you can ask questions such as, "How does this pose feel? What sensations are you feeling? Where are you feeling those sensations?"

Be sure to include breath practice. We are seldom taught how to breathe and yet, a number of studies “cite evidence that yogic breathwork may be efficacious for the treatment of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder and for victims of mass disasters,” says Amy Weintraub, author of Yoga Skills for Therapists: Effective Practices for Mood Management. She suggests using three-part breath and breath retention among other techniques, adding that “control of the breath not only enables language but gives us a measure of control over our mood.” Ancient yogis knew that breath regulation could help manage and regulate feelings and moods Studies have shown that breathwork may be helpful in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, and for victims of mass disasters. “Finding and experimenting with new ways of breathing may be a way for folks to feel better in their bodies,” Emerson says. Breath practice is an effective tool all students can take home and use to help with anxiety outside of class. Try the 7-11 Breath, as taught by Christopher Willard, PSYD. He suggests breathing in for a count of 7 and breathing out for a count of 11, suggesting that this practice can reset the breath to “regulate, shift, and stabilize energy and mood.”

Give a nurturing savasana. For some, Savasana is the most welcomed pose of a yoga class. For others, it can be a difficult and uncomfortable experience. Offer choices for resting by providing suggestions on how to set up for Savasana or encouraging students to do what feels comfortable for them: sit up, lie down, use a bolster under their legs, a folded blanket under their head, a folded blanket over their belly, or a blanket to cover up with. Encourage students to close their eyes or soften their gaze, knowing some may only feel comfortable keeping their eyes wide open. Remind students that Savasana will only last a few minutes and that they can come out whenever they like.

Take it to the next level with Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra is a yoga practice also known as yogic sleep. Though this guided progressive scan of the body students are invited to move into a deep state of conscious awareness sleep, which is a deeper state of awareness and relaxation. Yoga nidra works with the autonomic nervous system which regulates processes of the body that take place without a conscious effort (heartbeat, breathing, digestion and blood flow). This system also includes the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Many populations have benefited from Yoga Nidra including those suffering from anxiety, trauma and PTSD. Don’t be surprised if your students fall asleep, as their mind is able to release and relax in this deeply grounding practice.

Author’s Note: This is an edited and updated version of part 4 of a 4-part series I wrote for Yoga Journal in November of 2016. As my teaching style has evolved through more experience and studio ownership, it seemed appropriate to revisit these articles, dust them off, and give them an update with a fresh perspective. In 2020, Covid-19 began to spread, changing the landscape across the world and opening the doors for discussion on mental health and trauma. Experts and new studies conclude that nearly every person on the planet has experienced trauma either first hand or indirectly.

5 Ways to Establish Safety, Trust, and Boundaries in Your Yoga Class

Originally published in Yoga Journal, November 2016. Updated in January 2022.

For some students, coming to yoga class can be a scary experience. David Emerson, author of Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga, encourages yoga teachers to “pause and recognize how brave it is for your students to just show up in the room.” He encourages teachers to create a safe place for them to begin to befriend their bodies through the yoga practice free of judgment. “The focus is not on the external expression of the form but rather on the internal experience of the practitioner,” he says. Use these 5 strategies to help trauma survivors feel more comfortable

Start gentle and encourage self-awareness. Try incorporating gentle poses at the beginning of class and invite students to "tune in" to themselves. I start almost every class with students lying down. They are led through a small body scan awareness beginning at the feet, traveling to the arms, and back to the head. From there, they are invited to turn their eyes inward and begin to explore the mind then drop awareness into the heart. The prompts of inquiry questions are helpful here: Does your mind feel active or calm? Is your heart beating fast or slow? Does your heart feel heavy or light? When teaching beginners, make the class approachable and teach in a way that does not require students to need a break. Telling a student to go into child's pose to rest may make them feel embarrassed and judged because they can't keep up with the rest of the class.

Encourage students to make the practice their own. "Teach cat-cow movements linked with breath at the beginning of class to provide an opportunity for students to find and honor their own rhythm", Emerson says. Letting students know that everyone in the class may have different movement and breath patterns eliminates judgment. Our job is not to get our students to do the perfect Instagram pose. First and foremost, we encourage students to feel good in their bodies. As teachers we can let go of the desire for perfection. When we accept our students as they are, our students accept themselves.

Provide hands-on adjustments only with permission - or not at all. Emerson says there are the three types of touch in a yoga class: visual assists (when a teacher demonstrates or models the pose), verbal assists, and physical assists.

“For the yoga teacher to put her or his hands on a student is a serious decision that requires thoughtful deliberation,” he says, reminding teachers that many forms of trauma involve some sort of physical violence. My thoughts on adjustments have changed over the years. When this article was originally written in 2016, giving students permission cards to place at the front of their mat seemed like a great idea for empowering them to make the choice on whether or not they wanted adjustments. My experience has been that even with a choice, many trauma survivors have a desire to please their teachers and will often allow them to make adjustments - even when not welcomed. Adjustments should be used sparingly and mainly in advanced classes with students the teacher knows well and has an established relationship with. Even then, if using adjustments, teachers should let the student know they are approaching (i.e. "Behind you."). Then, ask the student if they want an adjustment each time BEFORE placing hands on them. As a general rule of thumb, avoid adjustments all together. Instead, choose to use verbal adjustments addressing the entire class and not the individual student. Even in this scenario, verbal adjustments should also be used sparingly. We can take this a step further with lessons learned during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many students are already anxious about practicing yoga in person. Hands-on adjustments require that a teacher be in close proximity to a student and the student gets touched to be adjusted. The pandemic has taught us that many are uncomfortable with closeness and touch since both could not only traumatize more, but also make a person physically sick.

Establish consistency in your classes. Emerson emphasizes keeping the format of classes similar since our duty as teachers is to “cultivate a safe, stable, predictable environment in which our students can have their own experience and then to do our best to support that.”

Help make space for each student. As students arrive to class, encourage them to find a comfortable space for their mat. When students are invited to make choices, it is empowers them. Some students may want to face a door or window as a way of knowing who is entering and exiting the room. Others may want to be in a corner providing them a full view of everything and everyone in the class. Some will prefer a front row space while others feel more comfortable in the back row. Our advice is to place your mat where you’ll be teaching and give students the autonomy to choose where to place theirs.

Author’s Note: This is an edited and updated version of part 2 of a 5-part series I wrote for Yoga Journal in November of 2016. As my teaching style has evolved through more experience and studio ownership, it seemed appropriate to revisit these articles, dust them off, and give them an update with a fresh perspective. In 2020, Covid-19 began to spread, changing the landscape across the world and opening the doors for discussion on mental health and trauma. Experts and new studies conclude that nearly every person on the planet has experienced trauma either first hand or indirectly.
 

5 Ways to Create a Safe Yoga Space for Trauma Survivors

Originally published in Yoga Journal, November 2016. Updated in January 2022.

For yoga to heal, it is essential to be able to open up and be vulnerable on the mat. That’s why it’s important to consider the physical elements of the yoga environment to create a practice space that feels welcoming and safe to all students—and particularly trauma survivors. David Emerson, author of Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga, recommends having the room set up before students arrive. Try these 5 trauma-sensitive tips before teaching your next class

Adjust the lighting. “If you have a choice between bright lights and very low lights, you go with the bright lights,” Emerson says. “Dark or dim rooms tend to be more triggering [for trauma survivors] than bright rooms.” At the beginning of class, it is encouraged to ask students what they prefer. At times, a dimly lit room can allow students to focus on their practice instead of worrying about being watched.

Consider privacy. Emerson suggests windows should be covered somehow, not “open and exposed.” When working with traumatized youth at a youth facility, we cover the windows to limit as many outside distractions as possible and offer privacy so our youth are more present in their practice. We’ve found that our youth are more likely to pay attention and focus on their practice if they feel they have the privacy to be themselves. In the studio setting, our windows are frosted to allow light in and keep distractions out. What we don’t want to do is create an environment where a student feels extremely enclosed in the room. This can lead to feelings of claustrophobia. Instead of focusing on the class, students will be focused on the class end so they can find freedom.

Select music and sounds with care “Part of our yoga practice is expanding our awareness and refining our senses with a focus on what is harmonious. Sound plays an important part in this because it so profoundly impacts our nervous system,” writes Max Strom in A Life Worth Breathing. He adds, “To help bring harmony into our lives—meaning, first into our nervous systems—sound and noise must be considered an important factor.” Yoga teacher Jake Hays suggests listening closely to song lyrics before adding it to a playlist. “Avoid music containing words and phrases about death, break ups, violence, homophobia, and sexual or racial undertones,” he says. “Alternatively, look for genres of music that are ambient in tone and blend into the background.” He recommends sourcing non-top 40 hits through internet radio apps. When chosen with care, music can be an effective tool for connection. Music is not to be viewed as “bad” for yoga classes as it can help put some students at ease so they can benefit more from the practice.

Minimize outside noise. Emerson recommends trying to minimize external noises. “The idea is to help your students stay grounded and in the present moment,” he says. “Some important symptoms of PTSD to understand in this regard are hypervigilance (being constantly on the alert for danger), an exaggerated startle response (being jumpy or easily startled), triggered responses (being reminded of the trauma), or flashbacks (feeling like the traumatic event is happening again). Dissociative flashback episodes can be triggered by noises similar to those present during a traumatic event.” Outside noises may not always be avoidable, though. In that case Emerson suggests naming the noises as they occur. For example, “That was a large truck that just went by.” In meditation we encourage students to notice thoughts, but not acknowledge or get carried away with these thoughts. This same methodology can be applied to outside noise. Students can be encouraged to hear it, recognize it, and not let it take them away from their practice.

Help make space for each student. As students arrive to class, encourage them to find a comfortable space for their mat. When students are invited to make choices, it is empowers them. Some students may want to face a door or window as a way of knowing who is entering and exiting the room. Others may want to be in a corner providing them a full view of everything and everyone in the class. Some will prefer a front row space while others feel more comfortable in the back row. Our advice is to place your mat where you’ll be teaching and give students the autonomy to choose where to place theirs.

Author’s Note: This is an edited and updated version of part 1 of a 5-part series I wrote for Yoga Journal in November of 2016. As my teaching style has evolved through more experience and studio ownership, it seemed appropriate to revisit these articles, dust them off, and give them an update with a fresh perspective. In 2020, Covid-19 began to spread, changing the landscape across the world and opening the doors for discussion on mental health and trauma. Experts and new studies conclude that nearly every person on the planet has experienced trauma either first hand or indirectly.

5 Ways to Make Every Yoga Class Approachable for All Students

As a beginning yoga teacher, I immediately realized the old adage, the more you think you know, the less you actually know. My yoga teacher training prepared me to teach a decent class, but what I wanted to really know was how to make classes approachable for all students so they continue returning week after week. Here's five tips to meet your students  at their level and help them feel welcome, supported, and safe

Greet students and discover what brought them to class. It may sound simple, but many teachers skip the important step greeting students and helping put them at ease. Introduce yourself to students and ask what name and pronouns they like to be called. There is no sweeter sound to a person's ear than their own name. So learn it and use it. Ask students what brought them to class. Did their doctor suggest coming to lower their blood pressure? Are they trying to be more flexible so they can reach their feet? Are they looking for a cardiovascular workout? Are they looking to add a little bit of calm and chill to their life? Finding out what brought them to class can provide a lot of insight to you as a teacher. Most students are coming because they've heard about the benefits of yoga including becoming more flexible and calming minds. Give them what they came for. 

Avoid showboating your yoga knowledge. Knowledge is power and sometimes too much knowledge can be a complete turn-off to students. Liberal use of Sanskrit, anatomical terms, and yoga philosophy can be intimidating to newer students. It's tempting to lead a class and call poses by Sanskrit names or want to share something amazing we've just learned in a weekend workshop. Is this really meeting students where they're at or giving them what they came for? Many times the result is confused students wondering what the teacher is talking about instead of experiencing the full benefits of yoga. It can even be a barrier preventing them from returning to your class or they may give up yoga entirely. As yoga teachers, we teach because we love yoga and want to share this passion with our students. Remember, most people come to yoga first for a physical practice and eventually catch the spiritual component. It's something that can't be forced

Make broad statements in your teaching. Most yoga classes cannot possibly give the individual student the attention they need. When teaching, make statements that speak as broadly as possible to your class so every student feels you're directly speaking to them. Avoid singling students out while giving verbal cues. Address the entire room. If one student would benefit from a verbal cue, there's a good chance other students could benefit from a sweeping statement. Yoga can be intimidating enough without a student feeling embarrassed they were singled out.

Be body positive. Remind students to listen to their body. After all, they're living in it and know it best! We aren't as much yoga teachers as we are facilitators helping students get to know themselves better. Remind students that yoga isn't competitive and their poses don't have to be perfect. The goal of teaching is not to get students on the cover of a yoga magazine.  It's to help them feel good in their body. All bodies are different and won't practice yoga the exact same way. So, all poses won't look the same. Avoid shaming students' bodies or making statements about burning off calories. Give students opportunities and suggestions for exploring how their bodies move, what creates tension, and what feels great. Encourage students to notice sensations in their bodies. Help them discover how their physical bodies move and how their minds react. Let them know that your class is a safe place to experiment not by telling them, but by teaching in a way that encourages exploration. When advertising, stay away from themes of weight loss and body improvement. New Year's ads are infamous for encouraging students to be a "new you." What's wrong with who they already are? Encourage students to try a new view and see themselves through a lens of compassion.

Promote yoga respectably on social media. Use your social media to invite people behind the curtain so that they can see how yoga influences your life. Be deliberate in your posts and allow readers to become swept up in your yogic lifestyle. Years ago someone told me that what you put on social media is what comes back to you. I've found this to be true when it comes to teaching and promoting classes. At the beginning of my yoga career I posted many shirtless photos and found I was attracting only muscular men to my classes. It pigeonholed my teaching and most people didn't realize I also taught women. Lately, I've noticed a lot of cringey takes on the word, Namaste. This can water down your teaching and make students not take you seriously. Like it or not, it's also a form of cultural appropriation and can be interpreted as offensive - even when that's not your intention. Promote yoga positively and your students will develop love and respect for the practice.

 

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Articles about us.

Danja Yoga Opens in Olde Towne East

Columbus Underground

By Nancy Alkire | December 17, 2020

“If we can help just one person become more calm and in touch with their body, we have done our job,” say Daniel Sernicola and Jake Hays, the owners of Danja Yoga. They started their week with 45 free yoga classes.

Located in Olde Towne East, Danja Yoga opened its doors to the community with a fully-masked open house on December 12, 2020. Tours showed guests a spacious, 4000 square foot studio with a state of the art energy-recovery ventilation unit that pumps fresh air into the 4,000 square foot space

“This is one thing we have put extra money into to keep people safe,” says Sernicola.

The studio rooms at Danja Yoga are designed to invite students to come as they are and practice without judgment. There are warm, hardwood floors and 3 gender-neutral restrooms. In the center of the space is a roomy storage and seating area like the “ma” of Japanese architecture, explained Sernicola.

“It is a space between that unites everything. It is like my ma who holds the family together.”

“It reminds us that we take the calmness of yoga and meditation not just into our lives, but into the world,” says Sernicola.

Classes at Danja Yoga will feature well-trained, professional instructors, progressive teaching methods, and a non-competitive atmosphere.

Each teacher amplifies Danja’s goal of bringing yoga and meditation to students in a supportive and judgment-free environment. In addition to a regular schedule of yoga classes and teacher training, there will be specialty classes for athletes, substance-abuse recovery, body image, trauma empowerment, cancer patients and more.

“It has been in process for 3 years.” said Sernicola. Planning and thoughtfulness are widely evident at Danja Yoga. Compton Construction did construction using architect Chuck Paros’ designs. “Paros listened to how we wanted a place where people could feel safe and know immediately that they were part of something and belonged here,” says Sernicola. “For example, our office is right up front and very open; we want our students to know that we are available.”

Danja Yoga also features a room that can be use for live-streaming classes.  Under normal circumstances it would be for a small 6 to 8 person session, but it will be used for Zoom classes for the time being. Opening during the time of COVID-19 was not part of their plans, but as Sernicola said, “I decided to take the cards dealt — my hopes and dreams never included a pandemic!  —with a great team around me and encouragement, after 3 years in the making, our studio has opened.”

The area includes a hand-painted mural created by Columbus artist Lisa McLymont with the motto ‘The world is our field of practice,” by Reverend Angel Kyodo Williams.

“Yoga is something everyone can do,” says Sernicola. “I think that you’re going to love what we have created.”

 Danja Yoga is located at 1125 Oak Street, Columbus, OH 43205. For more information, visit danjayoga.com.

New Olde Towne East Studio Wants to Bring Yoga to Broader Audience

 

The Benefits of Doing Yoga in Addiction Recovery

Vertava Health Ohio | May 28, 2021

Long-term drug or alcohol use can destroy someone’s physical health, mental health, and overall well-being. While getting professional care at a substance use treatment center is the most effective way to get started on the road to recovery, healing completely takes time. Yoga may be a good outlet for some people in recovery and aid in this healing process.

The Benefits of Doing Yoga in Addiction Recovery

From hot yoga to yoga with baby goats, the practice has taken many new turns in recent years. While trendy, yoga can be a powerful tool for many people, including people healing from substance use. In fact, there may be several benefits of yoga in recovery for some people.

Improve Physical Health

Although yoga may be a low intensity exercise, it can still be good for someone’s physical health. Especially for people in recovery who are trying to heal from years of substance use and have likely neglected their physical health for just as long, there are several potential benefits of yoga on the body in recovery. Research suggests that yoga can improve cardiovascular as well as respiratory performance and overall health.1

Decrease Stress

Early recovery from addiction can be stressful. You are attempting to change your entire lifestyle while combating drug cravings and battling withdrawal symptoms from a drug detox. Not only is this stress harmful to your physical and mental health, but also it can lead to relapse. Fortunately, yoga has been shown to significantly decrease stress when practiced regularly.2

Increase Self-Awareness

Part of successful long-term addiction recovery is developing better self-awareness. This self-awareness helps people understand what triggers cravings as well as how to deal with them in a way other than turning to drugs or alcohol. Some evidence suggests that yoga can improve a person’s self-awareness and alter their perception.1

Promotes Better Sleep

Many people in early recovery struggle to get good sleep as their body adjusts to life without the substance it became so dependent on. One of the ways to improve sleep in recovery may be to practice yoga. In a study of the elderly, daily yoga was shown to improve the quality of sleep.3 Another study of women with sleep problems found that yoga intervention helped manage their problems and improve their overall quality of sleep.4

Pain Management & Relief

Another one of the benefits of yoga in addiction recovery is that it can help with the management of chronic pain. For someone who went through opioid addiction treatment, painkillers are not a viable option to help with any chronic pain problems. Instead, yoga may help. A weekly yoga class for people with chronic lower back pain was found to increase mobility more than standard medical care. Yoga has also been found to help with fibromyalgia, arthritis, migraines, and other chronic pain conditions.5

Improve Mental Health

There may also be several mental health benefits of yoga in recovery. Because mental health is often tied to substance use, the journey to lasting recovery can be a mental struggle. Yoga has been shown time and time again to decrease anxiety and depression while also improving a person’s overall well-being.1 While it can be hard to get started, there may be so many benefits of yoga in recovery that you could be missing out on. Daniel Sernicola of Danja Yoga explains, “Yoga is wonderful for refocusing the mind, calming the chaos of difficult emotions, and working stress and tension out of the body. Yoga brings ease to the body and mind.  Addiction often causes one to feel great disconnection from the rest of the world and yoga promotes reconnection and union with all.” At Vertava Health Ohio, we focus on evidence-based treatment modalities but also incorporate ancillary programming such as yoga or meditation into our treatment programs to help people in their journey to comprehensive healing. To get started today on your path to recovery, contact us now.

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Techniques & Practices.

Shamatha (Calm Abiding)

How to Practice

Body

  • Begin by taking a comfortable seat. The key word here is "comfortable." Meditation isn't torture! So take a moment to find ease. Loosely cross your legs and allow your knees to fall slightly below your hip bones. Sit up straight and make yourself tall.
  • Allow the hands to gently rest palms down on the thighs. 
  • Slightly tuck your chin. 
  • For this meditation you can keep your eyes open. Begin to gaze at a spot about two to four feet ahead of yourself on the floor. Make sure its a soft gaze and not an intense scowl!

Breath 

  • Are you breathing right now? (I hope the answer is yes!) This is your natural breath. There's no need to change it. Begin to notice the breath as it enters the nostrils and leaves as you exhale.

Mind 

  • When your mind wanders, come back to the breath using it as your anchor. Imagine a huge ship in the ocean tossing its anchor overboard so that it can float in the same place and stay on course. Each time the mind wanders, remind yourself that you're breathing and begin noticing the breath again

Benefits

  • Invites us to be more present in our work 
  • Allows us to connect with friends and family in a genuine way 
  • Invites us to be present for both the pleasurable and painful moments in life 
  • Wakes us up to what is going on in this very moment 
  • Cultivates powerful mindfulness that optimizes the interaction between attention and awareness 
  • Develops stable attention 
  • Develops strong inner strength 
  • And it helps us to be a little nicer and more kind!
  •  

Metta (Loving Kindness) Meditation

You can do this meditation seated or lying down. Recite the phrases aloud or silently in your mind, Each phrase plants a seed of loving wishes in our hearts. Once that seed is planted, it has no choice but to grow! As you contemplate the phrases, it helps to envision the person your sending loving kindness towards.

May I be filled with loving kindness.

May I be safe from inner and outer dangers.

May I be well in body and mind.

May I be at ease and happy.

There's several steps to this meditation. First, begin with yourself and then extend it to others. Each time you swith to a different person, replace I, with they, we, all beings, or even a person's name. Allow yourself time to genuinely reflect on the phrases and their meanings.

Self — Begin the practice by cultivating love for yourself. When you love yourself, it's much easier to extend that love to others. As RuPaul says, "If you can't love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?" She's got a point! One who truly loves themselves won't harm others. One who loves themselves will tune into the energy of loving-kindness and understand how awesome it would be if every person in the world felt this feeling in their heart and readily shared it

Now let's send Loving Kindness to others:

Respected Person — Such as a spiritual teacher, pastor, mentor, and/or counselor. It may even help to visualize them sitting in front of you and doing the meditation with and for you.

Dearly Beloved — Close family member or friend. These people might include parents, relatives, spouses, partners, children, and friends.

Neutral Person — Someone you know, but have no special feelings towards. These are people you don't usually think about at all. You may not even know their name! They could be the barrista who made your drink at Starbuck's this morning, the UPS delivery driver, or even someone you glanced towards when stopped at a traffic light.

Difficult Person — Up until this point, the meditation has been fairly easy. Here's where we really start planting those seeds of loving kindness - and watering them - a lot! Think of someone you are currently having difficulty with. This could be your nemisis, mortal enemy or family member you have conflict with. Why send loving-kindness to your enemies? The reason is simple. If your enemies are well, happy, and peaceful, they won't be your enemies! Plus it kind of softens your heart towards them and makes you not dislike them as much!

All Beings — Envision the whole Universe—the Earth, the stars, plants, animals, reptiles, amphibians - you get the point! Think of everything you've ever experienced or thought, every being you've ever met, and all those you will ever meet. Send them loving kindness too.

 

Mindfulness Techniques

These are a few of the mindfulness techniques we've encountered and appreciated. We've gathered them from various sources and hope they help you live in the present moment. Why do you want to live in the present? So you don't miss anything

Class and Meeting Breathing. When you go to classes or meetings, make a card that says BREATHE and put it somewhere where you can see it. Whenever you feel agitated, bored, antsy, anxious, or feel your mind wandering, look at the card. The reminder to breathe will help you to stay in the present moment. Take silent deep breaths, in through your nose and out your mouth. The point is to concentrate on your breathing. 

7/11 Breath. Breathe in for a count of seven.
Breathe out for a count of eleven.

3 - 2 - 1  Contact. Notice the three places where your body makes contact with the world. Your feet, legs, and arms are obvious ones, but also notice your skin meeting the air or touching the fabric of your clothes.

Breathe x 3. Breathe in,
Expand your body.
Breathe in, 
Expand your mind.
Breathe in,
Expand your view.

Buddha's Breath. Breathe in for a count of eight.
Breathe out for a count of twelve.

4 - 7 - 8 Breath. Breathe in for a count of four.
Hold for a count of seven.
Breathe out for a count of eight.

Focused Breathing. When you have negative thoughts, try to sit down, take a deep breath and close your eyes. Focus on your breath as it moves in and out of your body. Sitting and breathing for even just a minute can help.

 

Tibetan Box Breathing

Box breathing, also known as Four Square breathing, is a powerful, yet simple, relaxation technique that aims to clear the mind, relax the body, and improve focus. It's used by Navy Seals because it improves mental well-being, boosts brain performance, changes the body's response to stress in the future, and helps deactivate the fight, flight, or freeze response.

  1. Close your eyes. Breathe in through your nose while counting to four slowly. Feel the air enter your lungs.
  2. Hold your breath inside while counting slowly to four. Try not to clamp your mouth or nose shut. Simply avoid inhaling or exhaling for 4 seconds.
  3. Begin to slowly exhale for 4 seconds.
  4. Repeat steps 1 to 3 at least three times. Ideally, repeat the three steps for 4 minutes, or until calm returns.
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