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Advanced Yoga Teacher Training 2023-24

Our 2023-24 300-hour Advanced Yoga Teacher Training is complete. Although a few administrative pieces are left for them to tie up, most of the hard work is done 😊

Ten months ago, we welcomed a group of hopeful yogis (above) eager to advance their understanding of all things yoga. It was a privilege to help them grow their yoga knowledge and skills. The students trusted us, the faculty (Zahir, Paul, and Laura), to elevate them physically, spiritually, and intellectually. It was a responsibility that we thrived on, and I was determined to give them real value for their money. While most people were sitting around watching Netflix (nothing wrong with that, by the way!), I dissected studies, researched, and read books. I wanted to ensure that the team and I had all the tools at our disposal that their investment warranted.

We started the training 10 months ago by examining the deeper relevance of a text called the Vigyan Bhairav Tantra, the birth of yoga and Tantra. What is the meaning of yoga? If we are a work in progress and commit to a discipline to seek, learn, and be better, then we practice yoga.

Snippet from the manual -

I read a quote: "If you feel lost, disappointed, hesitant, or weak, return to yourself. Return to who you are, here and now and when you get there, you will discover yourself, like a lotus flower in full bloom, even in a muddy pond, beautiful and strong."

"So, Parvati has found herself through introspection. She has fallen into the abyss of reality. She is at the point, the very threshold of no-mind. Her mind is silent, and her heart is joyous. Shiva does not say this directly, but what Shiva implies is that all you are—luminous and omnipresent—is your being. You have always been the goddess. Divinity in human form. Now that you have shed your skin, you have discovered Bhairavi. You are beyond, yet you can't see it. You only need these final techniques. Practice one wholeheartedly, and you will know for yourself. You will come to know Yourself."

And that is the true essence of Yoga. We discover our own being.

We put spirituality aside (for a bit) and delved into movement science beginning with the sensorimotor loop. How our hands and feet (and other parts) send messages to our brain, which then relays that information back to our muscles. What is the relevance of this in yoga poses? How can we use our nervous system to support us rather than fight against us, which happens so often in yoga poses?

What is Neuroplasticity? - Neuroplasticity refers to the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. This allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or changes in their environment. How does this understanding help with yoga?

In the image below (left), I'm drawing and talking through the complex nature of the cervical spine and the nerves that exit this region. On the right, the anatomical variabilities in the pelvis are explained. Also discussed is a really important principle for all yoga teachers to understand: the tilting of the pelvis. When we forward bend, should our pelvis tilt anteriorly or posteriorly?

I wanted our students to understand the science behind what I say is the single biggest mistake in physical yoga. That we adopt a position (or pose) and assume our muscles stretch as a natural consequence. The truth is a little more complicated than that.

Images above - The complicated nature of Downward dog. The pose (and all others) don't work unless our bodies have sufficient oxygen. Here we work towards mastering our breathing pace as we perform the pose.

We aimed to understand injuries. What is the relationship between demand and tolerance? Injuries occur when the demand on our body or body parts exceeds our tolerance. We manage injuries by either decreasing demand or increasing tolerance, or both if our lives allow us that luxury.

Snippet from the manual -

"Injury is defined as the physical damage that results when the human body is briefly subjected to intolerable levels of energy".

We went back to the basics of what it means to be human: the cell. The basic unit of life. Our body is made up of trillions of these cells, like Lego pieces held together in a matrix. To understand the cell in simpler terms, we used the analogy of a construction site, with the nucleus being the foreman's office holding all the blueprints (the DNA). We examined what the cells need from us to create energy and what can go wrong with them. What is a gene mutation, and how do stress and smoking affect us at a cellular level? From the tiniest cell to the lungs, we explored how millions of oxygen molecules travel from the atmosphere into our nose, down our windpipe, and into our lungs. From there, they hitch a ride in our bloodstream via our Hemoglobin (the taxi) and travel far distances until they reach the furthest cell. And why do some cells travel around the body with a traffic cone on their heads? And what role does the heart play in all this? We used the analogy of the heart being like a pump in a bathroom, creating the necessary pressure to pump blood to the furthest regions of the body. Like a pump, you may find in a shower (I appreciate this is somewhat of a metaphorical explanation of a complex biological process).

How can we forget our day of Acro/Partner Yoga with Julee?

Click for the full video

And what about breathing? How do we breathe? Is there an optimal way to breathe? Does the body 'stretch' when there is insufficient oxygen? How does the body respond to low oxygen levels?

Are you a belly breather or a chest breather? Does it even matter? Does our anatomy dictate this? What dictates our anatomy? Genetics? Geography?

We discovered the physiological sigh (Google it) as the most effective way to bring us back from a stressful state into a more peaceful one. And what of carbon dioxide? Often, it's thought that CO2 in the body is a bad thing. We learned that this is another one of those misconceptions. CO2 plays a vital role in the respiratory system and the regulation of blood pH.

The image above right - Laura shows how we can feel breathing, making a difference in the forward bend. What adaptions should we advise if the student in forward bend has lower back pain caused by a bulging disc? Would this pose benefit the student or trigger their pain? The answer, of course, is - IT DEPENDS. Here, we discuss what to look for.

We further explored the complex nature of back pain. Is there such a thing as universal back pain? We discussed how one person's back pain can be triggered by a movement (or pose) that is therapeutic for another. So, one size does not fit all. As yoga teachers, it's important to know what triggers a student's pain before making recommendations, or we can (and often do) make things worse. Context is everything.

How about anatomical variability? Does everyone have the same skeleton? We discussed how our movements as children affect the shape and movement potential, not just of our pelvis (our center of gravity) but of our entire skeleton.

Above, Karen and Tomomi are applying theory to practice. Here, Tomomi places a small towel under her lower abdominal region to prevent the pelvis from tilting anteriorly. This can alleviate lower back pain for someone like me who has limited tolerance for "lumbar extension," meaning backbends can cause discomfort in my lower back. By adjusting the pelvis or stabilizing it with a prop, this pose can transform from being painful to therapeutic.

We delved deep into the universal nature and appeal of Krishna’s philosophy, as well as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Is Patanjali speaking in general terms, or is he asking us to find personal meaning in his words? There is no singular or collective truth in yoga, only a personal awareness and understanding of the 'truth.'

We took a closer and, at times, personal look at trauma and how it can create illness, both psychological and physiological. Is there a link between emotional trauma and Crohn's disease? There is certainly anecdotal evidence of this, and the data is slowly starting to support that hypothesis as well. How does childhood trauma end up affecting our biology?

Above - Paul leading an afternoon of reflections, practice history, sequencing, and workshops.

We explored Yin Yoga (below), and I raised eyebrows at the claim that Yin Yoga strengthens the "Yin tissues" of the human body- the fascia, tendons, and ligaments. This is a dubious claim in my scientific understanding of the human body. But as I said to our students, that doesn't mean it isn't true. Perhaps more education is required from me to understand it fully.

Below, Emma and Tomomi find peace in the Yin module.

And the ultimate aim of the course? Inspired by the work of Robert Sapolsky, I wanted the students to understand the science and eventually articulate in simple language... 'why zebras don’t get ulcers.' What happens at a cellular level when we are chronically stressed? What damage does long-term over-exposure to the hormone cortisol do to the body? And is cortisol itself all bad? How can we use cortisol to our benefit in yoga? Tip: You can’t do your handstand without this hormone meandering around the body.

All this and SO MUCH MORE. The entire 10 months was a fascinating journey. I could wax lyrical endlessly, but I'll refrain. I am eternally thankful to the students for making the year so enriching. It has reminded me of the incredible fortune I have in doing what I do for a living.

I am thankful to my fellow teachers, Paul Allen, and the love of my life, Laura Akram.

And a final congratulations to the students and teachers who have endured 10 months of battles and soul-searching. From the image below, starting on the left, Karen, our very own Emma, Nikki, Dev, Zaccy and I, Oorooj, Tomomi (who each month travelled all the way from Sweden) and Maria.

To the students, there's one key takeaway to hold above all others. Whenever you're invited to impart the insights from your advanced 500-hour yoga training, let your response be grounded in the phrase "it depends." If you can say this with genuine understanding from within, you have mastered Yoga 😉

Some Feedback -

Zahir Akram - eternal seeker

If you're eager to delve deeper into the world of yoga, we invite you to explore our Yoga Teacher Training program. Whether you're starting from scratch with our entry-level 200-hour course or seeking advanced knowledge with our 300-hour course, our training equips you with the skills to become a certified yoga teacher. However, this journey isn't limited to aspiring instructors alone. If you share the same passion for learning and desire to expand your understanding of the art you adore, like me, then this course is perfect for you.

Embrace the opportunity to deepen your love for yoga.


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