Yoga Teacher Kristen Schneider's Practice on Cultivating Sattva

Yogis have a good reputation for being light-hearted, graceful, and joyous, but teacher Kristen Schneider takes it to another level.
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Yogis have a good reputation for being light-hearted, graceful, and joyous, but teacher Kristen Schneider takes it to another level. When I first met this beautiful beaming light years ago in Central Florida, my initial reaction was one of utter awe. Schneider's students blissfully float out of her classes with delighted ear-to-ear grins. Trust me, if she could make my clumsy, two left feet feel anything like graceful, then she's sure to leave you feeling simply angelic.

Her secret? Over the years, Schneider has developed a strong knowledge of Ayurveda, yoga's sister science of holistic healthy living, which she magically weaves into her classes to foster a sense of balance, or sattva. "I feel as though modern life is mostly a parade of to-dos," Schneider says. "Life can get a bit 'go-go-go!' Ayurveda would describe this kinetic state as rajasic." At the opposite end of the spectrum from all the fire of rajas, she says, is that run-down, burnt-out, overwhelmed, fatigued, or heavy feeling that Ayurveda calls tamasic. The goal as a yogi? To aim for that elusive sattvic balance, of course.

"Sattvic means peaceful, calm, clear, and content," she says. "This tranquility stems from noticing our tendencies to fall off-kilter and introducing the opposites to re-align us with our true nature. You know you've met your true nature when you feel like your highest self. For me, that's when I feel most creative and fairy-like. True nature is joy!"

How Kristen Schneider Sequences for Sattva

Kristen firmly believes that the way we sequence and cue as teachers directly influences how our students explore their internal landscape. "While yoga asanas are intrinsically joyous," she says, "it's easy to get caught up in the tone of the class. So my dharma as a teacher is to remind students to scan their inner atmosphere throughout the practice, so they stay aligned with their own unique version of Sattva."

Schneider begins teaching by surveying the class and then using using pranayama to either stir or settle the qualities of the mind as needed. "For example Kapalabhati is invigorating, so it's great to lift the collective energy of the room if everyone drags themselves in feeling a bit slothy from a long day," she says. "Durga (Three-Part Breath) calms rajas so it's nice to do in Supta Baddha Konasana following stimulating Sun Salutations and Standing Postures. Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadhi Shodhana) harmonizes all qualities so it's a great way to close and really seal in the sattva!"

Schneider's classes have both an uplifting and simultaneously grounding energy that moves the heart along with the body. Her students are all doe-eyed, eager, and present. "The class goes on a journey from tamasic (they're usually groggy to begin, though there are some enthusiastic exceptions) to rajasic (we get moving, scooting, and shaking) to then close and leave feeling sattvic (blissed and floating)," she says.

How to Cue Sattva in a Yoga Class

Schneider's cues through postures, transitions, and pranayama are all very unique and reflective of her intent to influence the class with balancing forces. "Words carry vibrations. Images illicit strong associations," she says. "We can shape feelings and energies by tapping into the artistic quality of language and inner vision."

Schneider mindfully speaks to her classes with the intention of painting a sattvic picture. For example, she says she might say: "Let's start in Child's Pose to take inventory. With compassionate eyes scan the way you're feeling physically, mentally, emotionally, and energetically. Know that we will highlight what feels good and what doesn't feel good will fall away naturally. If you're feeling groggy, set an upbeat enthusiastic intention. If you're feeling frazzled, notice how one word like peace, earth, or calm sends soothing waves throughout your whole body."

Then throughout the class, she keeps an eye out for "overzealous energy" in students. When she sees it she might say "Feeling spicy? Look toward the icy blue wall." She says that kind of a cue prompts students to use imagery to balance their current state and notice their reactions.

Likewise if a group seems to be having a hard time rallying, she might say, "Feeling sleepy? In these sun salutations allow the resilience and heat of the sun to enliven you. Borrow its energy."

The best part? "Students start to absorb these tools on the mat and then seamlessly implement the concepts into their daily routines," she says.

Off-the-Mat Sattva Success Stories

"Ayurveda coupled with yoga rocks my world!" Schneider says. "I'm insanely excited about it. Partially because it has helped me so much but mostly because I believe in how much it can help all of us." Here, two success stories from Schneider's students:

Too Much Rajas

"One student told me how flustered she gets when she has too many tasks, too many thoughts and too little time," Schneider says. "I suggested when she feels flighty and anxious that she sit down, eat a warm, grounding meal and listen to ambient sounds once she gets in the car to run her errands. She gleefully reported back with major improvements in her overall mood and efficiency."

Too Much Tamas

"Conversely, a student revealed how exhausted he was feeling in his day-to-day routine," she says. "He told me that he eats dinner late (usually pasta) and sleeps in until 9 a.m. He loves Yin Yoga (a style that is far more relaxed and still). I advised him to eat dinner earlier, wake up around sunrise and try a more vigorous yoga class. It must have worked for him because less than a few weeks later, he reported that he felt a new kind of energy stirring within."

6 Ways to Cultivate Sattva Every Day

Want Schneider's feel-good sattvic vibe too? Here, she shares tips maintaining it once we leave the mat.
  1. Drink warm water rather than cold to keep your digestive fire blazing and your core energy channels open.
  2. Eat your freshly-prepared meals around the same time each day in a peaceful atmosphere, i.e., minimal distractions or hurried commotion.
  3. Unplug at least 30 minutes before bed to let your mind digest the events of the day before sleepy time. This means winding down without TV, cell phones, laptops, or heated conversation. Listen to calming music and turn the lights down as you're preparing for slumber.
  4. Try to match your rhythms with the rhythms of nature. Wake up around sunrise and go to bed before 11 p.m. to avoid the rush of a second wind keeping you awake.
  5. Choose activities that bring out your true nature versus feeding your imbalances. For example, if you're feeling fiery, hot, and bothered, avoid a hot power class and try paddleboarding or a moonlight walk instead.
  6. Last but not least, this fall and winter enjoy this Ojas- and immunity-boosting milk. To make it, mix 8 ounces of warm almond milk with a pinch of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and nutmeg. (Yum.) The warmth it brings will keep you snuggly inside, while the outside braves yet another ice-pocalypse.

By Guest Contributor Taylor Harkness

About Kristen Schneider

Kristen Schneider shares her bright, shiny goodness on the yoga mat and beyond. She teaches the Ayurveda segment for several 200-hour yoga-teacher-training programs, speaks at health conferences, and lives to educate, inspire, and empower in the fields of Ayurveda, yoga, and Vedic healing. Schneider is also currently working on a book of poetry, reflections, and images due out Summer 2015 called Unlearning Untruths: Reflections from a Path on Purpose.

Schneider owns Ayurveda Orlando, where she offers treatments, workshops, and one-on-one sessions. She teaches at Guruv Yoga and Full Circle Yoga in the Orlando area. And she offers online education and an email series through Happy Health Dosha. Follow her on Instagram

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