5 key elements that yoga teachers may miss that keep them struggling with delivering fantastic class content week after week with ease.
What are these five key elements’?
You may already be using the elements in a seasonal way in your yoga teaching! Do you say to your class as Spring bursts into life ‘Spring is the time to get moving, detox, shed your winter skin and make movements that help to release the Winter chill’? Even if you don’t know the details of Elemental Yoga, this advice is based on the Five Ayurvedic Elements and the Ayurvedic Elemental Wheels of Creation, Destruction, Support and Control.
The Five Elements are Ether, Wind, Fire, Water and Earth.
Other than expanded class content and inspirational class planning ideas, why might knowing the five elements and the ayurvedic wheels be the most important thing you learn for yoga class planning? It’s easy to be left with a lack of commitment to our class plans and even a lack of confidence in our class plans when our we don’t find them personally stimulating, interesting and full of possibilities AND know that the foundation upon which they are built on is rock solid. I know what it’s like to think ‘is this really the best way to pull together a ‘detox your inner you’ workshop or a ‘winter meditation flow’ theme or even a ‘low back pain 6 week course’ or a 121 with a student who is asking for a great sequence to improve her IBS symptoms. Understanding the elements can free all the knowledge that you have accumulated over years of yoga teaching and/or help you to ‘file’ your new learning in a way that you always pull out the right yoga-info for the right moment.
A good friend of mine was teaching her seasonal yoga class and explaining to her class that as it was Winter, they were going to ‘fold inwards’ and draw into their centre - calming body and mind. A particularly inquisitive student asked why they would be slowing down in Winter when it was cold and the body needed movement to warm up. This teacher knew that she had planned the forward fold sequence to match the instrospective darkening of the Winter season, but she was lacking the ‘element story’ that would answer EVERY question that could be asked or wondered. She was left feeling uncertain about her class plan and even the information about her ‘Winter Calm’ workshop she had planned for the weekend ahead. She worried ‘What if there where more questions regarding the content?’. Understanding the Elements leaves no stone unturned when understanding your yoga content choices and leads to a feeling of confidence and ease with both planning and delivering the message in class.
How can you avoid this information/confidence dip in your yoga classes is ‘Elemental(s) my dear Watson’. When you understand the Elemental Wheels of Creation, Support, Control and Destruction, you will never feel without inspiration, creativity or confidence in your Seasonal Yoga Classes, 121’s, workshop themes, remedial classes or online yoga video content again.
Let’s look particularly at the Elemental Wheel of Support and how to use it as a Seasonal Class!
The Elemental Wheel of Support looks like this:
And it is called ‘ALAMBACHAKRA’
Each of the Elements ‘supports’ the next one in line.
Ayurveda in Season
The ancient ayurvedic texts state that accumulation in the body is liquified by rising temperatures and this has a disturbing effect on agni (digestive power). CS.SU.6:22 – 26 (with translation)
Spring is linked with the Element Ether. Ether is the element of potential energy. You feel your energy is like a match that is waiting to be lit or a car spinning its wheels before take off. Your energy is there driving and expanding but it hasn’t been used yet! In order to support your student’s energy in class it is wise to use a Water based class.
lThis is the time to ask your students to be creative and find their own way a little. Let them try things and explore without huge long diatribes of explanation. A great thing to explore in Winter is use of all the limbs! Get your students up to standing poses and use the arms and legs right the way to the fingertips to the toes to explore their internal rivers of circulation.
Even though the remedial recommendation in Spring is called ‘ruksana’ or ‘drying’ it is actually about drying via release, which is supported by the Water element flows. During Spring, the most important thing is to keep the exit routes open and flowing in order to allow the natural detox (drying) to have a good result. Our Water practices are about keeping the exits open, the flow going and internal cleanse (cell waste being removed) functioning well.
The ancient Ayurvedic texts state that during the time of the Early Summer the sun evaporates the moisture of the earth by its rays. You do not suffer from any diseases in this season if you practice a seasonal regime. Physical exercise should be given up during this season (this means no sweating and excess/challenging movement). Daytime naps are appropriate in an cooled environment. CS.SU6:27 – 32 (with translation)
Early Summer is the Element of Fire. BANG! Your match lights or your car screeches forward accelerating faster and faster. You are challenging your edges and finding new ground and you notice something about yourself you never knew was there. A light has gone on. A transformation has occurred!! During the Early Summer you can use an Ether based class to bring balance.
lDon’t give this heat away with crazy fast flows and core work! A great way to bring in the Ether element in class is to use neck release work, voice-work, Ujjayi instruction (right from the basics) for beginners, chanting, kirtan and funnily enough, no pun intended, laughter yoga, to open and use the throat chakra in class.
The recommended remedial Ayurvedic recommendation in Early Summer is lightness and freshness. In Ayurveda practices are given for their lightening effect. The Ether Flows are an ideal way to work with your yoga practice in the Early Summer.
In the ancient Ayurvedic texts it is written that the body and digestion are weakened during the period of dehydration. It is weakened even further if there is a lot of rain during the season. The digestive power is affected and, consequently, it is advisable to benefit the ‘agni’ with medicinal practices. CS.SU6:33 – 40 (with translation)
Late Summer is the Element of Earth. The big drama, hilarity, sparks and heat and excitement has unfolded and you are left with a happy feeling of the fun and warmth still with you but the adrenaline is gone and you feel calm, warm, still and peacefully relaxed. This Season is balanced by a Fire element class.
lInvite in fun and a sense of exploration and challenge. Be mindful that you are not creating a sweaty, hard-core, gym-type class but your classes should be great fun, challenging and warming. A great way to do this is to invite your students to dive into their core work. Core work is challenging, hard-work AND can be surprisingly stress-busting when guided skillfully.
The Ayurvedic recommendations in Late Summer are medicines which increase the power of the digestion. In Ayurveda practices are given for their effect on agni. The Fire Flows increase the power of the digestion in the Late Summer.
In the Ancient Ayurvedic texts it is written that during Autumn excess heat, which has accumulated (during the previous Early Summer and Late Summer seasons), now becomes inflamed.CS.SU.6:41 – 48 (with translation)
Autumn is the Element of Wind. Now you are looking for what to do next. Searching. Watching. Sensing. Every part of your mind and senses and body is alert and ready. You are a radar for where to turn your attention next. An Earthy class is great for Autumn.
lAllow a feeling of grounding into the classroom. Slow the class down a bit without letting it get boring or stale. A great way to do this is to keep the class fun and exciting using props, blankets, straps, chi balls and blocks to bring the Earth element up to the student and your student down to the Earth.
We learn that the Ayurvedic recommendation in Autumn is to treat excess heat without chilling the body. In Ayurveda foods and medicines are given during Autumn for their ‘stambhana’ (containing) effect. The Earth flows have a stambhana effect upon the body during Autumn.
In the ancient Ayurvedic texts it is written that during the Winter months the digestive power of a human being possessing good health and strength is enhanced due to the external cold and how it restrains the heat inside the body and does not let it out. The internal heat increases in the digestion making it stronger so it is capable of digesting any food substance irrespectively of its heaviness and the quantity ingested.
If you do not feed this strong digestion and it does not get the proper fuel, the digestive fire affects the nutritive fluids of the body, the digestive fire consumes the tissues of the body (autolysis), and this will cause the mind and the colon to be aggravated. CS.SU.6:9 – 18 (with translation)
Winter is the Element of Water. You start to get a sense of what you are looking for and you find there is a stream of possibilities; a river that leads where you are going; a sea of knowledge that you are to be basking in. You dive in and go with this flow that is just right for you. You are banking your winnings too! Connect with your students and provide a Wind Element class. Use the power of the Wind Element to nourish the Water Element by helping create flow of hydration throughout the body:
lThink about spine length and making room between every single vertebrae. Think about moving the joints with a traditional yoga practice such as pavanamuktasana series 1-3. Give time for your students to STOP and connect to each pose and THINK about what they are doing and feeling. A great way to do this is to use mudra and explain each mudra and to incorporate lots opening and closing arm movements. Add in bhastrika and a variety of pranayama for beginners (instruct basic styles of breathing and work on breath with pose - basic vinyasa).
The remedial recommendation in Winter is to improve nourishment and lubrication. In Ayurveda medicines are given in Winter for their brmhana/nourishing and snehana/lubricating effect. The Wind flows both nourish and lubricate the body during Winter by circulating and delivering the important Water element to the whole body.
Each of the Elements are key when learning how to develop and design classes that balance the seasonal effects within the bodies of our students. The Support Wheel above is a great way to lead the student into their Seasonal work and it is lines up perfectly with Ayurveda’s seasonal recommendations or ‘Rtucharya’ from the ancient texts.
When we learn about the 'Four Ayurvedic Elemental Wheels' we can see the ways that good health and poor health are created Element by Element and understand how to work better with our 121 clients . It also becomes fun, exciting and easy to design themed classes, fresh, powerful seasonal content and remedial yoga therapy workshops such as ‘yoga for stress’ ‘yoga for low back pain’ ‘yoga for anxiety’ ‘yoga for immunity’ ‘yoga for good digestion’ ‘yoga for creating energy’ and so on.
If you're interested in learning more, please book in for the 'Elemental Yoga Design' workshop with me here!