The Language of Yoga: Part Six – Engaging Your Whole Brain, continued

The Language of Yoga: Part Six – Engaging Your Whole Brain, continued

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As we were discussing in the last installment, engaging your entire brain is a momentous task throughout the teachings of yoga. This undivided attentiveness allows oneself to truly embrace and explore the many sensations, and the non-verbal communications between the body and oneself.

We might realize that the time we had dedicated to [this or that] really cool experience is now gone! No super cool meditation thing. No time for the wonderful chanting. Shorten the savasana.  We’ve got to get those poses in that make the students feel like they had a “good” class.  Here, we veer into our left brain to provide more content to our students, but we lose the possibility of a right brain experience nourishing them through sensing, mindfulness, meditation, restorative yoga, pranayama, chanting, or the deep integrative rest of savasana. We also keep ourselves more anxious in the process. We, too, would benefit from the relaxing, integrating, and re-weaving experiences of our more right brain yoga tools.

We are also drifting farther from our teachers’ presence within us. Our awakened teachers transmissions aren’t infused with urgency, haste, complexity, or pressure. They’re expansive. To be more near to them in our hearts, we can make a profound shift by simply remembering how expansive they are!

Yoga Remedy: When you start tossing overboard, at least in your mind, practices or poses that you had hoped to share, the sort that bring the whole brain to harmony, such as listed above, stop. Pause and breathe into your instinct to provide the most nourishing experience of yoga that you can. Remember, yoga makes an impression on every aspect of the students’ koshas. You’re teaching people not poses. Longer hamstrings will not be as life-changing as repeatedly experience an integrated brain state. And, the inner koshas both store the tension patterns of the students’ mind, which flow outward into their bodies to create the residue of physical tension and difficult sensations in muscles; AND these inner koshas are where more powerful healing can occur.

Once you’ve breathed yourself through this one, and come back to the emulation of your teachers’ expansiveness, commit to keeping at least one of those practices in your sequence. And, if it’s actually realistically too late to do it (because it’s new, it needs an explanation, etc) move your class toward a more familiar integrating practice, while being kind to yourself.  If you resist the urge to veer into what you could have done, how you could have sequenced this, and so on, your brain will not need to activate the process of self-judgment (though it will tempt you think that this self-judgment will help you improve next time).

I recommend that the timing for reflecting in this particular way is such that you’re not likely to fall into your inner critic’s tempting evaluations of you.

Lessening the coloring of a thought:

“That was a really bad class!”

“I felt challenged teaching that class.”

“I offered my best, within my resources today.”

“There were good parts to the class. And, I was sincere in my offering.”

“I am still learning (or reminding myself) about pacing and timing.”


(4) At other times, it may be the case that we’re actually wandering off into the right-brain, genuinely losing track of time, losing the cohesiveness of our classroom, forgetting how some consistency and order help brains to relax, or …

Unhelpful self-chatter is the kind that further hijacks us. I know it feels true in the moment. Remember your right-brain may have gotten activated (made uneasy by a sense impression) and your left-brain is coming in to tell you why you’re uneasy (often not kindly nor from a full-spectrum perspective, since the part of our brain that could provide this for us, the neo-cortex, is getting overridden by the instincts we have in our dog and cat brain for fear).

To save ourselves from mental habit wandering too wildly out of control, we might do any one of these things:

Yoga Remedy: Keep your self-empathy channel open. In my book, Hunger, Hope + Healing, self-empathy is one of the vital stages of recovery. Here, I’ll share it through the tools of Hindsight, Present Sight, and Foresight.

Present Sight: You could say to yourself, “My dog and cat and lizard are likely struggling right now. This is not a time to evaluate my self-worth. This is a time for self-empathy. Maybe I feel restless or agitated, much like my dog or cat would be when I lose track of time, cohesiveness, rhythm, consistency, or routine (imagine when you forget to feed them on  time, when you change up a familiar routine, or if you were to dash off to your regular walk and then zig back to the house or zag to…). Let’s breathe in kindness and breathe out fear. Let’s make the exhale two counts longer than the inhale. In fact, let’s do this for our students too!”

Then you can watch your brain, and your classroom, coming back into rhythm (pacing the breath) and connection (doing it together) and toward the parasympathetic flow (with a longer exhale).


Hindsight: As you realize you’re in one of your mental wanderings, it is entirely possible to look lovingly and wisely back at potential contributing factors. If you came to class today under-resourced, why?

Looking at The Body Dashboard (also from HHH), were you rested enough, hydrated enough, nourished enough, or cared for enough? This hindsight reflection can be done without self-judgment; as well as, without other-blame. When we free ourselves from those mental patterns, we also move ourselves to higher ground, from where we can act with greater self-awareness and self-agency. This helps us to wisely steward our experiences.

When I was a younger teacher of yoga, I would occasionally decide that staying up late to watch a movie with my partner was more nourishing than my regular sleep routine. I taught early morning yoga classes at the time and my personal practice was before my public class.  When I stayed up way too late, I was not acting as wisely with myself as I would now recommend to you.  It affected my class as well as the rhythm of my entire day. If class went okay, I might feel like I “got away with something”. As minor as this might sound, if you extrapolate out into a larger habit or pattern, you can see how it can become a detrimental practice.

Another loss I experienced here: the transmission of my teachers could not come through as well when I was under-slept. Our bodies need proper rest overnight for the basic and daily housekeeping chores that occur when we are sleeping. I could still wake up alert and enthused about the upcoming class, but my body noticed the less than optimal sleep in my first forward bend or downward dog. There was a residue. This residue dampened my connection to my teachers’ presence in me.

(Had this been the result of, let’s say, nursing a small child, tending to an ill family member, or some other duty, then, of course, we integrate our duties with our vitality as well as we can.)

Before you hear me saying yoga teachers can’t have any late night fun, please consider that teaching yoga places you on the path of yoga. And, in fact, yoga doesn’t recommend late nights; it recommends early mornings.  As well, what is more fun? Watching a late night movie until after mid-night, or feeling your vital best with your community? Being out of integrity or in integrity? Caring wisely for yourself or playing catch up for the expenses on your vitality caused by less than optimal living?


Self-empathy in action: When hindsight offers you a clear reflection about your contributions to being less than centered when teaching, try on speaking with yourself in this way:

“I am learning from my present moment about my past actions. In this reflection, I am actually practicing yoga right now. One definition of yoga is Skill in Action. I am learning about how actions have outcomes and how to steward skill in action for myself next time.”

“Last night (or yesterday, or…), I made a decision based on competing needs (this is an important concept! We DO have competing needs and learning to juggle them is also learning about growing into ourselves.)  My need for connection seemed more important than my need for rest.  Today, I am seeing the outcome of my actions. Even small degrees of regret are enough for me to learn from. I do not need to collapse into recrimination with myself about this.”


Foresight: This is the art of Wisely Stewarding your future (even if the future is like a “micro-future” – it’s happening in the next hour). From a present moment perspective, we look ahead at what’s required, what’s nourishing, and how to balance competing needs with our inner dharma.

What’s required means what’s on your schedule? What will it take to keep your commitments to those things? (ie. Are you driving around town for 4 hours on a day to go teach 3 classes?) What will you need to do to steward this day wisely? When will you rest, eat, hydrate, slow down, drive more thoughtfully, how will you transition from one class to the next, how will you navigate the potential for a student hooking you after one class without them knowing they’re making you late or causing you to rush off for your next class? How will you create the yoga of this day? If you imagine this all through the lens of your brain, how will you support your right brain’s need for basking and awe, with your left brain’s need for responsibility and timeliness? How will you nurture your dog, cat, and lizard, so they’re not stressed to keep up with your basic housekeeping needs and your hard-wired needs for safety and connection? How will you maintain your connection with your teacher’s’ transmission? Can we be both rushing and remembering the deep inner equanimity of the Dalai Lama or Thich Nhat Hanh?


Wisely stewarding also means looking honestly at both short term and long term needs and considering how you create balance in tending to these.  I don’t know anyone who has regretted maintaining a life that allows them to stay tuned in to their teachers’ grace or wisdom, embodied and respected on a daily basis.  I do know people who have regretted mis-spending their vitality and health on a crazy schedule.  Similarly, I don’t know anyone who has aimed to tenderly respond to a student dynamic with their teachers voice in their hearts; and I do know teachers who later regret mis-handling a student exchange because they were under-resourced or over-whelmed when an innocent student (with needs of their own) approached them after class.

Being the best version of ourselves is a gift to us as well as to those around us. Keeping this in mind, when we practice Wisely Stewarding the best version of ourselves, even if it means increasing our tapas (our self-nurturing discipline), we can do so with joy not resentment. (The navigation of personal and interpersonal needs will be a lifelong journey. Perhaps teaching yoga provides you with a heightened or more focused need to explore this. If this is an area where you find yourself struggling, I would recommend we set up a private consultation for you.)


What words might block our students’ from experiencing a well-intended transmission from us? Are there words that magically open the vibrations for such transmissions?

In the crazy world of yoga advertising and Westerners’ capacity for misunderstanding (and being misled), I do prefer that teachers consider not using language that implicitly or explicitly suggests Absolutes, Declarations, Getting It or Not Getting It, and Being Approved Of or Not Being Approved Of. We may not even realize this sneaks in to our classrooms. As such, we may also not realize the detour we send our students on when we insert such things. If you have been teaching for any amount of time, you’ve probably met the student who still feels that If Only [this asana or this range of motion or this totally quiet mind] could occur, then they would be allowed through the gates of yoga into ‘having made it’. Such concepts are already so strongly conditioned into us as Westerners, in our educational, athletic, artistic, and career systems, in our medical system, and in our materialistic and consumeristic culture. Yoga classrooms are places where we can lessen the influence of such conditioning. We can even go so far as to reveal that this conditioning exists.  And, further yet, to dissolving this conditioning and offering a new paradigm.

As we reveal such conditioning, may I recommend that we don’t make the systems that conditioned us “bad”. To dissolve conditioning, we don’t also need to set up a dichotomy where those people with those sorts of thoughts or that sort of susceptibility to such conditioning are bad or wrong people?

To explore this part of our conversation, I recommend going back to read the prior blog: “Not disturbing the luminous moments”.

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Sarahjoy Marsh, MA, E-RYT 500 is a yoga teacher, yoga therapist, and author with more than 25 years of experience in the field of yoga. She is the founder of the DAYA Foundation, Yogajoy and Living Yoga. Her book, Hunger, Hope and Healing can be purchased from Amazon.

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