Articles


UNDERSTANDING THE BUSINESS OF YOGA

Published at OM Yoga Magazine

Key considerations and advice for nurturing a healthy and successful yoga business. By Fenella Lindsell

Teaching is not a goal with a finish line, it is a process. A rewarding yoga profession requires personal growth as the teaching route unfolds. By continually aiming to understand and look after yourself, we see development in many forms such as social (friendships), physical (health), mental (wellbeing) and financial (business stability). A teacher who wants to grow will see their students grow with them and this must be the foundation of any yoga practice.

Yoga as a practice was never intended to make any money, but now exists as a highly valued industry. Over the last three decades, I have seen the number of teachers grow rapidly, but I still see a lack of support for these teachers to transition from practitioner to yoga business owner. The wonderful thing is that talent is abundant, the problem is a lack of available business guidance.

Yoga has proven to help many people lead a happier life by facilitating good sleep, reducing stress and nourishing physical and mental health. For this reason, people want to centre their efforts around it and from this, a business model has arisen.

By looking back over my 30-year teaching journey, I have picked out the most important elements needed to run a successful yoga business and I have offered tips to overcome challenging hurdles. My Yoga Forever Academy Course is centred on these principles and I know that sharing these ideas will be helpful.

Adapting to your environment
Even before our world was re-routed by the pandemic, most teachers were overlooking the precipice of a rapidly changing business landscape. The last decade saw social media rise to prominence and exercise unparalleled opportunities for advertisers, business and even politics. On top of this, we had a global pandemic that put many out of business, forced people out of contact and added major restrictions to our freedom. But we are here and still going strong.

For your business to adapt and survive, you must expect that things will change. A central focus of my course is to help teachers to build an online company with zoom and in-person classes, web-based content and an engaged social media following. I did not change my business model because I like spending time on my computer, I did it because it was what the world demanded. I wanted to keep teaching yoga and through my network and experience, I discovered a way to adapt and continue doing so, during restrictions and when they were lifted.

From yogi to yoga teacher
I still remember how daunting it felt to start my yoga business. Having spent months practicing in India and onwards in London, I had confidence in my ability to begin a teacher training, explain and also guide others. However, the thought of a yoga business model seemed so distant from all this. The leap needed was from studying routines and texts to learning how to actually teach others in a rewarding and safe way.

The Academy I have built is structured around showing teachers that it is okay to ask for help. By offering mentoring sessions, providing detailed and sequenced class plans and offering access to my network and experience, I have helped teachers begin their yoga careers with confidence and a clear direction. After all, the aim of any mentor or teacher is to provide the tools for independence and ultimately, reach the point where students no longer need your help.

Confident care
It can be initially alarming when you are expected to help people with different injuries and of varied ability because you are placed in a position of trust and held to a professional expectation. I could remember the guidance from my training course but lacked the specific materials to reference when students came to me seeking advice on health and injury issues.

By creating step by step class plans that offer options for injury and rehabilitation, I have helped teachers feel so much more confident.

Offering options within class plans means teachers can focus on teaching rather than the fear of injuring people and encourage students to recognise their limitations or abilities. To ensure absolute confidence and clarity, the Yoga Forever Academy Course provides a comprehensive injury management manual. With this combined approach of tailored class plans and practical guidance from the manual, all abilities will feel welcomed and cared for. There is also clear instruction for rehabilitation both in class and through home practice suggestions.

Building a network
Starting a yoga business requires enough people to fill classes; continuing requires a network of students, teachers and other health practitioners. Knowing which route to take is important for long-lasting success and also, for making friendships with colleagues, therapists and other professionals. This network is what makes your business resilient because it takes the pressure off you as the sole provider.

What has been helpful to teachers under my guidance has been to offer introductions to relevant people and to share my experience of how I built a network. This involves advice on what kind of events to host and to attend and how to collaborate in the long-term for both professional friendships and mutual success. I offer my own experience from having run what was London’s largest complementary health centre, building a significant children’s yoga business, YogaBugs, and 30 years of teaching all age groups and running my own 5-6 yoga holidays each year.

Diverse and coherent class plans
This point seems obvious, but hard to achieve without the right guidance. Solid class plans highlight the importance of sequenced flow between postures, options for injuries and for those who want to be challenged, fun themes for returning students and the capacity to tailor for both groups and in one-to-one sessions. With all of these things comes one major asset: confidence.

I noticed that there are a lot of class plans for teachers already out there, which is a wonderful starting point. The next step is to have plans which you can work through with an experienced teacher so that limitations or uncertainty can be dealt with as they arise. I have created and filtered through thousands of class plans to find out what the core building blocks really are. What I now offer to my new teachers is the culmination of this experience and a continued open-mindedness to adapt and build on what I have.

One thing I stress is to listen to your students. These people have chosen your class and it is important to respect and welcome their feedback.

Personal growth
The difficulty with businesses is that to succeed they must be constantly progressing in size and revenue. Getting dragged into this current can lead people to forget about themselves and their life outside of finance. As with any business, hobby or practice, it will not work if you are not looking after yourself.

The benefit of being a yoga teacher is that you have access to personal growth through your work. So, don’t just read yoga nidras to your students, study them and consider how their principles may guide you. Don’t just talk about the breath, listen to it and connect with it daily. Don’t just present people with insight into the mind-body relationship, but forget about your own.

Every teacher can remember that running a yoga business means making a living from a profoundly powerful practice and we must use this practice as a platform for personal growth.




CALMING THE VAGUS NERVE

Published at OM Yoga Magazine

An exploration of the most extraordinary nerve in the body, the vagus nerve, and the simple practices that can help to soothe us and bring us greater calm.

By Fenella Lindsell

The role of nerves and the nervous system, in general, is to carry important messages from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body. This information allows us to enact, stimulate or suppress vital bodily functions like respiration, digestion and movement. The vagus nerve — also known as the ‘wandering’ or ‘vagrant’ nerve — is one of these key communicators and sits in the presidential seat when it comes to regulating our ‘rest and digest’ bodily functions.

This enquiry will clarify the function of the vagus nerve and explain how to stimulate and tone it. We’ll take a look at why ancient practices such as yoga and chanting hold a valuable relationship to this nerve.

What is it?
The vagus nerve is the longest in the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), so it plays a vital role in automated processes like digestion, breathing and the beating of the heart. By connecting the brain to many areas of the upper body, this nerve is a key messenger that regulates lung, heart and digestive tract functioning.

When we stimulate our vagus nerve, we promote better digestion, reduce the production of stress-related hormones and encourage a healthy state of rest in the body through lowered heart rate. There are several known ways of stimulating the vagus nerve such as:

  • Chanting, singing and talking
  • Prolonged exhalations
  • Splashing cold water on the face and body
  • Tensing the lower abdomen

Certain breathing techniques make use of both the prolonged exhale, lower abdominal and pelvic floor contraction, which results in greater vagal nerve stimulation and deeper feelings of restfulness. This is especially valuable if there is an extended pause between the end of the exhale and subsequent inhale increasing CO2 levels in the blood, vasodilation and improved oxygen uptake in the cells of the body.

High vagal nerve tone improves blood/glucose levels which can, in turn, reduce the likelihood of diabetes. It is also believed that cardiovascular health improves too. Low vagal nerve tone is often reflected in high levels of inflammation in the body, raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol as well as symptoms of depression.

The Om chant
The sacred ‘Om’ chant is used in the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain Dharma religions, and also many yogic practices. It is used to feel a sense of calm, bring awareness into the present and offer a meditative perspective for those who take part. Although we may not need or even want proof for the medicinal or wellbeing value of this to practice, scientific evidence has indeed confirmed some things about the ‘Om’ chant.

Enquiry (Kalyani et al. 2011) has shown that the vibration in the vocal cords caused by the chanting of ‘Om’ has a stimulating effect on the vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system. Vagal nerve stimulation treatment is used for depression and epilepsy and ‘Om’ chants are now also being considered in treating these conditions.

Another study (Kumar et al. 2010) found that Om chanting promotes a state of mental alertness with physiological rest, as well as a decrease in sensory transmission time in auditory cortices, thus heightening auditory perception.

Yoga
The nature of yoga in relation to the vagus nerve is that it involves a disciplined approach towards breathing. All yogic practices rely on controlling the breath and in most yogic practices, extending the exhalation is used as a way to deepen a stretch or pose.

This disciplined breathing is partly responsible for the sense of relaxation that follows a yoga session and as we now know, regulating the breath and extending exhalation results in vagus nerve stimulation (VNS). This means a lowered heart rate, breathing rate, improved digestive function and promoted restfulness in the body.

Contemplative action
Beyond yoga, it has been shown that the overlap between contemplative actions and VNS tend to involve a disciplined approach to breathing. Therefore, many practices in addition to yoga, such as Tai Chi and meditation also have valuable benefits to vagal function.

Summary
To put it humbly, the vagus nerve is a big deal. Now living in times that are increasingly stressful to human beings, the importance of de-stressing and calming the mind and body is paramount. These days we work through laptops in anxiety-prone, hunched-over positions and we communicate through mobile screens and emojis.

It’s not all bad, but without a counter-balance, our contemporary lifestyles can easily surpass the boiling point of what is manageable. Engaging with the practices mentioned, like simple breathing techniques, can help to bring a natural state of calm and balance out the stress of contemporary living.

With increasing support from scientific research, and millennia of tradition behind some of the practices, it’s worth considering how stimulating your vagus nerve could be a source of immense, yet calming reward.

Fenella Lindsell is a yoga teacher and yoga teacher trainer.





THE PSOAS MUSCLE AND OUR STRESS RESPONSE

Published at OM Yoga Magazine

The psoas muscle: tips for stretching and strengthening, resting and relaxing.

By Fenella Lindsell

If you are a yoga teacher, you will certainly appreciate the importance of the iliopsoas muscle, also known as the psoas.

If you are not a teacher, then you may well have heard of this large muscle that runs from the hip to the lumbar spine insertion and takes charge of back flexion and extension as well as hip flexion.

The following discussion will explain and analyse the link between the psoas muscle and the human fight or flight response.

In addition, some tips will be outlined for stretching, strengthening and relaxing the muscle with the ubiquitous outcome of a healthier quality of life and lower stress.

Movement

Primarily, the psoas muscle relates to bodily movement in the spine, hip and legs. The psoas is the deepest core muscle and connects from the mid-lower spine (12th thoracic vertebrae to the 5th lumbar vertebrae) and from here, it travels down through the hip and lastly to the femur.

The psoas is the only muscle that connects the spine to the legs and without it, we wouldn’t be able to bend over, lift our legs or keep our back from flopping over, not to mention its important connection to the diaphragm and breath.

Further, it has particular importance for stabilising the lower back, so when the muscle is overworked or unusually tight, the lower back has to take on more labour in its own muscles to keep the back stable.

Here is made evident the close link between the psoas and lower back problems.

Psoas health

Stretching, despite the idealised imaginations of some aspiring yogis, sadly doesn’t solve everything. It is important to know how the health of your psoas muscle is because this indicates whether it needs strengthening, stretching, relaxing or releasing.





THE SCIECE OF YOGA

Published at OM Yoga Magazine

Exploring the foundations behind the science of yoga.

By Fenella Lindsell

Yoga is not a science, nor should it be seen in the same rationalistic and reasonable sense as we see traditional science in the West. Yoga is a practice that should be done for no other reason than to be present and communicate silently with your mind, body and breath. Nonetheless, the developing science around yoga can help us apply the practice in broader medicinal and educational ways based on truths we can reveal about this ancient tradition. We’re here to take a look at the science of yoga, and what this means for practitioners, educators and physicians.

Where did it all begin?

Ayurvedic tradition:

The ayurvedic tradition emanates from the Indian sub-continent and has been practised for over two thousand years. It involves alternative approaches to medicine based on a mixture of herbal, meditative, dietary and yogic practices. This may be seen as the first science of yoga.

The modern ayurvedic tradition was largely influenced by N.C. Paul, a Bengali physician who began some of the first medically studied effects of yoga and was responsible for spreading them to a wider western audience.

Founders of the science of yoga:

Figures like Shri Yogendra helped begin what is now known as the modern yoga renaissance. He was a yoga guru, researcher, author and poet who established The Yoga Institute in 1918, which is now the oldest yoga institution in the world.

Another noteworthy figure in developing the science of yoga, linking yoga to the West and developing the contemporary understanding of yoga we have today was Kuvalayananda. Also a guru, researcher and educator, he founded the first journal dedicated solely to yoga, titled ‘Yoga Mimasa’. The Sanskrit for Mimasa means reflection, investigation, profound thought, or examination. He saw it as his duty to educate on the importance of physical health through yoga practice.

It is largely thanks to these founding enthusiasts that the revival of yoga has found sturdy legs in the United States and Europe, culminating over the last hundred years to its peak of practice today in the West. With these figures to thank as catalysts for yoga research, it is interesting to see what contemporary science has discovered to be true of this ancient practice.

The science today

Sometimes frowned upon for its tranquillity as a mode of exercise, yoga might take some adjustment for your average High-Intensity Interval Trainer used to fast-paced and exhilarating pressures on the body.

Despite the unusually slow pace of practice compared to some exercises, many top athletes from all ranges of activities from skateboarding to archery are utilising yoga for more than just its physical benefits.

Contemporary science has proven that yoga is associated with lower stress levels and other positive changes to the body and mind.

A study of the existing literature by Pascoe et al, 2015 found that the large majority of the studies provide evidence that yoga is associated with positive biological changes in blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol or cytokine levels. (Cytokines are substances that assist in the functioning of immune response cells.)

The nature of yoga practice is deeply centred around breathing to:

Elongate stretches as we exhale

Demarcate the start and end of a pose (i.e. hold for five breaths)

Bring practitioners into a state of presence through sustained awareness of the breath

Yoga often relies on diaphragmatic breathing, or deep breathing, which involves contracting the diaphragm and breathing deep into the belly. As yoga research has evolved, the evidence for the benefits of diaphragmatic breathing has shown: “it may also help in reducing stress; treating eating disorders, chronic functional constipation, hypertension, migraine, and anxiety and diaphragmatic breathing appears to be effective for improving the exercise capacity and respiratory function in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.” (Hamasaki et al, 2020).

A final and more frequently mentioned finding in the science of yoga is that the practice is associated with:

Improved joint strength through endurance practice

Improved joint mobility through active (rather than passive) stretching

Improved muscle strength and muscle mobility

Injury rehabilitation (particularly for lower backs)

These physical benefits have been claimed for decades but research now shows that they are true. Work from the likes of Cramer et al 2013 and Gustav et al 2013 and 2015 have helped solidify this truth through scientific methods.

Concluding

Thanks to the dedication of yoga gurus who saw the universal potential of yoga science some centuries ago, the culture has spread throughout the world and now rests, respected by groups of all kinds. As the science of yoga evolves, so may our understanding of its benefits. In a time where science is becoming the grounding truth of contemporary belief, the scientific foundations of yoga have ever-increasing importance in our lives.