Yoga blog High Wycombe

Stephanie Snyder: One of My Favourite Yoga Teachers

We all tend to gravitate towards certain people in life. I am not talking about physical attraction, but this kind of inner appeal, which not always can we put a finger on. There is something about these people that resonates with us and we instantly feel better in their presence. And this is even more true about yoga teachers. Yes, we can go to a particular class because there is a yoga studio around the corner from our house or its time slot suits us. However, that’s barely ever the case. We usually try a few different classes, different yoga styles, and before we know it, there is a yoga teacher whose class we keep coming back to and whose class we don’t want to miss.

Since I started practicing yoga I have found only a handful of such teachers and Stephanie Snyder is definitely one of them. Stephanie is a San Francisco-based yoga teacher who have been teaching yoga since 2000; she teaches workshops, trainings and retreats internationally, and is an industry festival and conference presenter. Stephanie comes and teaches in London once a year, usually a whole series of weekend workshops.

I first signed up for her workshops at Triyoga Studio in London four years ago, not really knowing who she was, but back then the description of her strong Vinyasa Flow practice appealed to me. Like anyone else I do tend to feel apprehensive when I don’t know what to expect, but those feelings dissipated within 15min or so of her very first workshop. From day one I have found Stephanie down-to-earth, warm, and funny; her storytelling compelling and thought-provoking, her asana practice strong yet methodical; her sequencing logical and when she chants I have goose bumps all over.

I have since attended every single workshop she has taught in the UK, I have signed up to her newsletter and I enjoy her online classes on yogaglo.com.

Over the past weekend I attended four of Stephanie’s workshops at Triyoga Camden under the title ‘Becoming Whole + Mending the Chaos Gap’. She used the term ‘chaos gap’ to describe a gap between our inner spiritual world and the outside material world, from which most of human confusion and suffering arise. I have learnt and taken a lot from her workshops, but one of the main things for me was the reminder that there is an ’unstruck and untouched’ place within all of us, to which we need to stay connected at all times. And the only way to find and be able to return to this place of quiet peace and steadiness is only through regular and consistent practice of asana, pranayama, mantra and meditation.

Flow Through Any Difficult Emotion

I’ve just completed this seven day online yoga programme called ‘Flow Through Any Difficult Emotion’ led by Jo Tastula.

Seven days, seven classes, seven emotions to tackle through yoga practice.

We all have our own unique ways to deal with emotions such as anger, sadness or anxiety, but more often than not we don’t even allow ourselves to attend to these emotions. We ignore them, we neglect them, we push them away; sometimes we even berate ourselves for experiencing negative emotions. But as an old saying goes ‘what you resist persists!’.

Yoga teaches us to welcome difficult and unpleasant feelings; to be with them without trying to change them, make them better, or resolve them. As we move through our practice, we should learn to let these feeling arise, allowing them to be what they are without analysing or judging. If we manage to do so, if stay open without an urge to react, we become more accepting towards ourselves as well as others. 

My favourite quote from the programme: ‘You are capable of holding yourself; and you’re the best person to do it. Nothing that comes from inside is ever going to be too much.’

And as Max Strom says: ‘Happiness is a choice. It’s getting a handle on our emotions within a situation, remembering that circumstances are often beyond our control, but our emotions are our own. We only need to practice our state of mind; that’s beginning of happiness.’

Teaching Pranayama

We spend our whole lives breathing, day in, day out, whether awake or asleep, paying little attention to this vital function of our bodies. We take breathing for granted without even realising how much our physical, mental and emotional state affect this subtle activity, both in a positive and negative way. But equally, breath can have a tremendous effect on our general well-being.  

Pranayama within the yoga system is often translated as ‘breathing exercises’ or ‘breath control’, but the meaning of the word has much more a deeper meaning. The word is composed from two Sanskrit words: prana meaning life force; a core energy that animates our existence; and ayama, which means ‘to restrain or control’. And the key to unlocking the potential of this cosmic force is our breath.

Breathing is automatic and easily falls into habitual patterns. These patterns tend toward breathing in the mid and upper chest and are often of a shallow nature. Breaking these patterns, however, can prove life-changing! Having said that, it is impossible to achieve any such changes overnight; it requires a regular and methodical practice. There is an unconscious fear of having to try and alter deeply ingrained breathing patterns. When asked to sit and focus on one’s breathing, most people experience a wave of panic.

Integrating breathing into a yoga practice is crucial. Although breathing should be emphasised throughout the whole class, spending just 5-10min at the beginning or end of the class working with different types of pranayama will undoubtedly have a positive impact.

On the weekend of 3rd/4th February 2018 I attended a weekend long course ‘Teaching Pranayama’ with Philip Xerri. During the weekend Philip took us through endless Pranayama techniques and gave us a step-by-step guide for introducing some basic techniques to our students in the class situation.  

It was an amazing weekend, which not only did leave me revitalised but also more confident to work with my students and their breath.

On the Upside (Down)

When it comes to inversions in yoga, i.e., being upside down whether on hands, forearms, or head, etc., people tend to fall in to two categories. Those who loathe inversions, usually for fear of falling, lack of control, or not knowing where they are in space, and those who love inversions.
I definitely belong to the second category! I find arm balances and inversions energizing and exhilarating at the same time. That's not to say that I sometimes don't get frustrated because of my inability to stay up long, but that's part of the fun and playfulness inversions represent.

Today I had the pleasure to attend Marcus Veda's 'On the Upside (Down)' workshop at Triyoga Camden. If you want to approach inversions in an unusual way, Marcus is your man. He is probably 10 kilos lighter than me, which undeniably helps when you are trying to get your hips over your shoulders, but his technique is second to none. And so is his core and his arms!

In addition to that, Marcus's sense of humour, banter and comments are as brilliant as his ease to get and stay upside down, which made the workshop even more enjoyable!

After 3 hours of trying to defy gravity my body feels knackered, but I am full of energy inside, determined to make inversions a regular part of my home practice.

Yoga for Sports

This weekend, 13th – 14th January 2018, I attended ‘Yoga for Sports’, a CPD course for yoga teachers.  It was led by Corrie McCallum from Yoga London and for some attendees it was part of their 500 hours teacher training, for others, myself included, it was a standalone training course we took either out of professional interest or personal curiosity. For me it was both.

One would think we did lots of physical practice, stretched our bodies in all different directions, developed interesting sequences for stiff athletes, delved into discussions as to how to improve their postures, but the weekend was full of stuff I didn’t even think about when booking it. Yes, we did a couple of short workshops, one for core and one for general strengthening, we devoted a couple of hours to acro/partner yoga (an interesting approach to team building!), but otherwise we listened, talked and brainstormed.

We covered loads: from basics of sports psychology, the notion of success, desired mental qualities of an athlete, fascia and asymmetry in a human body, to applying yoga philosophy when teaching yoga to professional sportsmen.

It was an information-packed weekend, which I enjoyed very much. I don’t think that any of my current students are playing sports on a competitive level, but there’s no doubt I’ll be able to use some of the knowledge in my classes as well as in my own practice.

My favourite quotes from the weekend:

‘Stop thinking of posture as a correct position and instead as a dynamic and fluid balancing act.’

‘Asymmetry in body is necessary.’

‘Training core heavily is a myth.’

‘Passive stretching just before a race/match will decrease one’s performance.’

‘Everything needs equal attention.’

‘There is no such thing as a good posture, but there is always a correct posture for whatever your body needs to do.’

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“Yoga does not change the way we see things; it transforms the person who sees.” B K S Iyengar