Yoga for Your Spiritual Muscles (Quest Books, 1998)
Yoga for Your Spiritual Muscles was the first yoga book to receive an award. It won the Benjamin Franklin Gold Seal for Excellence in Psychology. This beautifully illustrated, step-by-step yoga program invites you to use yoga to strengthen twelve inner qualities—your spiritual muscles: Awareness, Acceptance, Focus, Flexibility, Balance, Confidence, Peace, Strength, Compassion, Energy, Playfulness, and Connectedness.
Just like physical muscles, your spiritual muscles need to be strengthened and toned. Each time you practice yoga, you create a new opportunity to be infused with spirit and develop the intangible qualities that create a meaningful life.
Within the pages are simple routines to maintain your home practice. You will learn yoga postures that develop these qualities as well as breathing techniques to open the passage through which spirit flows. Unlike any other yoga program, you will be encouraged to create your own postures. Yoga for Your Spiritual Muscles guides you through relaxations, visualizations, and meditations to redesign your mental landscape toward your highest potential.
You already have these qualities, or spiritual muscles, inside. Learn to embrace them as you stretch and tone your body.
“Life is a constant practice session. This book can be a coach to help you become a star.”
–Bernie Siegel, M.D., author of Love, Medicine, & Miracles
“I have been doing yoga for many years. I find it to be incredibly powerful in producing deeper and deeper levels of self-awareness, self-acceptance, compassion, inner peace, and deep relaxation. A beautiful and useful guide to help you develop your essential spiritual qualities as you relax and balance your body.”
–Jack Canfield, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul
“I love this yoga book! Rachel Schaeffer grounds the practice of yoga exquisitely, making it easily accessible to anyone, regardless of their starting point. I started doing yoga when I was thirteen and have practiced various poses off and on since then. Schaeffer’s book brings a whole new spiritual dimension to yoga that has enhanced my understanding and enjoyment of this ancient form of exercise and healing.”
–Christiane Northrup, M.D., author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom
“What more could you want in a yoga book? Wonderful exercises for your body, mind, emotions, and spirit. Powerful spiritual principles you can use in your everyday life. Postures, breathing, and meditations to reinforce what you’ve learned. You will find your physical muscles stretched, your mind inspired, your heart opened up, and your spiritual self nourished.”
–Judi Neal, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Center for Spirit at Work, University of New Haven
“A deeply joyful way to strengthen and energize your spirit while stretching and toning your body. Rachel’s imaginative approach to spiritual yoga is much like my own. I am delighted to see this book.”
–Lilias Folan, author, international yoga teacher and host of the yoga video series Lilias
“I can think of no better person than Rachel Schaeffer to help me find and flex my spiritual muscles. She is one of those rare teachers who embodies what she teaches: compassion, acceptance, patience, and strength. She imbues her love of yoga with a healthy dose of playfulness and laughter—a lesson for all of us who take life too seriously.”
–Linda Sparrowe, contributing editor and former managing editor of Yoga Journal
“Rachel Schaeffer truly makes yoga accessible to the Western mind, body, and spirit. Her approach is both practical and timeless, challenging and user friendly. The idea that we can create our own postures to develop our own spiritual muscles is revolutionary and timely. Don’t miss this book!”
–Christine Caldwell, Ph.D., author of Getting in Touch: The Guide to New Body-Centered Therapies
“Rachel’s conversational tone is comforting, inspiring, and reassuring. The way she blends everyday situations like work stress with her sense of humor makes me want to return again and again. A delight to read and a must have for wellness professionals.”
–Ruth M. Warren, Associate Director, Program Development, The Fisher Institute of Wellness, Ball State University
“A remarkable contribution to the growing body of yoga literature. Clear instructions, interesting text, and inspiring delivery. An enduring yoga book, full of insight, practical applications of ancient practices, and fun.”
–Amy Kline Gage, President Emeritus, International Association of Yoga Therapist
“I was very fortunate to have been one of Rachel’s students many years ago for my phys ed requirement at my university in New Jersey. So many yoga books focus only on the postures, and not on how the postures are linked to your mind, and your overall well-being. As a result of her influence, I know when I’ve found a good yoga studio when the focus of class is joyful and exploratory. This is not only a wonderful introduction to yoga, but also a beautifully written reference that I’ve kept on my shelf wherever I’ve moved. I still find inspiration when I read the chapters on Awareness and Acceptance.”
“Very thought provoking as well as a good read for body and soul.”
“I love this book. It is one of a kind. Easy to use. There are 12 spiritual muscles to work with. You can use the book in the order you wish. The author encourages you to make your own yoga posture. A treasure of a book.”
“This is by far the best yoga book I have ever encountered. The content, design, photography and overall feel of the book are superb. This book exemplifies everything yoga is and will be a tremendous asset to anyone wanting to start or go deeper into the path of yoga.”
“I am a former endurance athlete struggling with weight gain and back pain. I was given this book by a concerned friend. I thumbed through it, admired the exceptional quality, and placed it on my coffee table. When I could not even go for a long walk without pain, I started using the book, first choosing postures to address my spine. The benefits have been essentially immediate. It is well organized, light-hearted, and has proved to be a wonderful gift, indeed.”
–Amazon Customer Review
“Rachel Schaeffer has embraced, with considerable aplomb, an ancient subject often relegated to the “new age” bin. To the immediate benefit of those of us who are not card carrying politically correct, Ms. Schaeffer neither preaches nor patronizes- the operative word here is practical. The lovely presentation belies a simple, straightforward manual for effecting positive change in your life, period. This is the dog-eared keeper that gets sent to a brother, sister, or friend, maybe even a parent, in a fit of good will….”
–Amazon Customer Review
“I borrowed this from the library and extended my deadline. I am probably going to just buy a copy. It was exactly what I wanted. Especially it’s poses on helping you focus.”
These two complete yoga classes were originally created for Yoga Journal’s Book & Tape Source, and were among the most popular recordings for beginners.
Listen here: https://audibleyoga.com/teacher/rachel-schaeffer
Podcast interview with Rachel on her award-winning book, Yoga for Your Spiritual Muscles:
How Yoga Can Help You Rewrite Your Story, on the Page and in Your Life:
The Yoga of Self-Love: How to Treat Yourself During the Holidays:
Yoga and the Arts: Movement, Creativity and Inspiration:
FOR YOGA TEACHERS
12 Ways to Lead Yoga for Your Spiritual Muscles
- You first
Take time to connect to spirit before you begin every class. When you are connected through your own personal practice, it shines through your teaching. Do a ritual that brings you in touch with the larger picture. You may wish to pray. Before each class, or during a silent moment at the start of class, offer a prayer that each student receives the healing that they need. Burn a candle or involve the help of a higher power to assist you in your sacred role as a teacher and guide.
Create a posture that you can practice before each class. While leading, some teachers place their hands together in front of their heart (in prayer position) to draw energy from that area. Others choose to lead from their hara and place their hands over the belly or right in front of it. Discover a simple ritual that works for you. Create a mission statement that connects you to your purpose.
Ask effective questions to draw students to the inner landscape. Encourage them to ask for guidance from an inner source, their higher self, a wise being, or the body itself. Ask in such a way that the student knows to go inside, rather than call out an answer.
When you ask good questions, you assist your students in directing the focus of the mind. Remember to avoid asking questions that begin with “Why…” as they can appear judgmental. Examples of effective questions: “Where in your body does Compassion live, and how can you invite it to flow into more of your being?” “What would your life be like if you had unlimited Compassion?” “Ask yourself, ‘How can I bring more caring and Compassion into all areas of my life?’”
Another important place to use questions is in exploring sensations. Ask students to go inside like an observer and investigate the strongest sensation. “Where is it?” “What does it look like?” “Does it have a color?” “What shape is it?” “What is the texture?” “What does it feel like inside your body?” “When you breathe into it, does it change shape or texture?” “If it could talk, what message would it give to you?” “What can you learn from it?”
- Inner Eye
Right from the start, direct the attention and focus of the class inward. Messages often come in images from “the inside.” If appropriate, encourage students to close their eyes. Some students do not feel safe closing their eyes, so always give the option to keep the eyes open or maintain a soft focus. Invite them to let go of past or future events, competition with themselves or others, trying to change the way things are right in this moment. Or, invite them to expand their consciousness by taking a bird’s eye view of themselves and/or their situation. This can be extremely helpful in gaining insights that we miss when we are too immersed in life’s drama.
For short periods of time, the mind doesn’t know the difference between a real or an imagined event. Occasionally, I ask my students to see themselves perform a particular posture in their mind’s eye. I direct them to envision themselves in a challenging posture with strength, confidence, grace and ease. After, I direct them to move into the posture physically. You and your students may be surprised at the results!
Your students may also see colors in their mind’s eye. During a deep stretch, invite them to go inside and see if the sensation has a particular color or texture. You can also direct their attention to color by using the colors of the charkas, for example, to help open a specific area of the body.
- Inner Ear/Sound
Invite your students to listen for messages as if through an inner ear. In other words, they don’t necessarily need to hear a definite statement or a specific voice. Some students may feel as though they are making it all up. Encourage them to trust the many levels of consciousness.
Invite students to listen to the rhythm and sound of their breath, their heart beating, the pulsing of blood, the sound of their bones, muscles, and organs. This may seem strange, but it can awaken deep introspection into the inner realms as well as respect, appreciation and awe of the miracle of life.
Allow students to find their own inner music. Give them the opportunity to create their own sounds, vibrations, or humming. When we are giving permission to express ourselves through sound, we come home to ourselves. In my Peace classes, I teach a breathing lesson that I call “There’s No Place Like Home.” Rather than chanting “Om,” I lead my students in chanting the sound of “Home.”
Messages can also come in the form of feelings. Invite students to attune to the feelings that arise when they are in postures. Simply telling them that they may feel sad, angry, afraid, or even burst into hysterical laughter gives them permission to experience what they need to in the moment. Ask students to check in often and notice how they feel. Many don’t take the time to consider how they feel or even know how to recognize certain emotions within themselves. They can use yoga as a lab for cultivating awareness of feelings in the rest of their lives.
Many teachers read inspirational poems or passages from texts to help students tap a particular feeling state. I read Chicken Soup for the Soul to connect students to feel Compassion. On Earth Day, I invoke a feeling of care and connection to the planet by reading prayers for the Earth—preferably while practicing outside in bare feet.
I once had a teacher who whenever anyone in the class made a sound (even a sigh), she would say “YES!” This simple statement of understanding got the whole class moving quickly into deep feeling states, and created an atmosphere of acceptance.
Posture can evoke deep emotional feeling states. Encourage students to feel safe with whatever emotions arise. Memories and experiences are stored in the body in many different forms. Not all feelings can or need to be fully understood. Trying to “figure it all out” brings us out of the body and back into the mind. Instead of having to link each feeling to a specific past event or trauma, invite the students to experience feelings as they do other sensations in the body—such as heat, tingling, etc.
- Role models
We all have people in our lives that seem to embody specific qualities. Some folks are so confident that you feel more assured yourself when you’re around them.
Ask students to envision their role model for the spiritual muscle that you choose. For example, they may choose a spiritual teacher that they believe embodies the quality of compassion. Jesus, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, the Buddha, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hahn, and countless others represent compassion in action. Other students may wish to choose someone they know (or have known) personally: a special teacher, their grandfather/grandmother, or their dog. With this role model in mind, encourage them to breathe and move in the way that their role model would breathe and move. Ask them to sense the inner posture of the role model. The act of calling to mind a person that you feel embodies the quality that you seek is extremely helpful and inspiring.
You could spend every class simply reminding students to return their attention to their breath again and again. The icing on the cake is that you get to remind yourself to breathe as well. Suggest that they listen to the sound of the breath, feel it in every cell of their being, imagine that the breath is the part that is stretching them. You may ask, “What is the quality (or texture) of your breath?”
It can be challenging for some students to find their own natural breath after learning or practicing a specific technique. For many of us, learning is about un-learning. Ask them: “Who (or what) is breathing you?” “If you could remove the blocks (tensions, worries, etc.) that keep you from feeling your natural breath, what would that feel like in your body? How would you be breathing?” Encourage students to choose yet another role model—babies! Ideally, sleeping babies are peaceful. They are not worried whether they fit into a size 10 or 12 pair of jeans, or if they are fulfilling their life purpose. Let your students imagine that they are infants being gently cradled to sleep in the comfort of loving arms.
Remind students that their breath is the link to spirit. Invite them to feel inspired by spirit with each inspiration (or inhalation). Each time they let go of the breath, they exhale all that keeps them from their connection to the sacred.
The mood that you create can be enhanced by music. Musicologists and music therapists around the world use the works of Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, and other great composers to induce various states—most commonly, a state of calm. Sound is used universally for healing and releasing stress. It is a simple and pleasurable way to remind us of our essence.
Sometimes I repeat the exact same music for several weeks to create an auditory memory that reminds folks that this is a special time. In other classes, I use a wide variety of music. During my energy classes, I play fun old rock songs, or enlivening new music. When I teach ujjayi in the focus class, I play a tape with ocean sounds. In lieu of an elaborate piece of music, you could use a simple drumbeat to echo the sound of the heart beating.
Play a variety of pieces and note how you feel when you listen. Or, contact your local college for music therapists, or specialists who can suggest specific pieces to evoke specific qualities.
Tip: Check the volume before you begin playing music. Nothing can change an experience faster than having a jarring, fast-paced tune come blaring on when your intention was to lead a soothing relaxation.
Treat silence as an endangered species. Avoid talking the whole time. Be sure that music is the backdrop rather than the backbone of your classes. Try not to be afraid of silence, of trusting the void. Suggest to students that they may hear the sound of silence.
Allow space and pauses before, during and after a posture. Give room for the gap to be filled by something other than talking, noise, or music. It is within the rests or spaces between notes that beautiful music is created. The innermost secrets of a dear friend are whispered or unspoken. The sacred essence of dance is captured in a performer’s body when it is still or momentarily suspended.
For some students, music is distracting. I find this to be true particularly with musicians that are trained to listen to music for specific tempos, instruments, etc. Remember, you can’t please everybody all the time. Your students will have different preferences, moods, and tastes.
- Postural Story
Every posture tells a story. Look at the postures as symbols of the qualities that they evoke.
Imagine for each posture that you were analyzing it as you would if you were in a museum studying a sculpture. Or, consider your interpretation of a dancer in a specific pose. There is a dramatic difference between the qualities contained within the Child Pose versus Warrior I. A dancer resting in the Child Pose embodies qualities of compassion, safety, and introspection. A dancer in Warrior I evokes a sense of confidence, groundedness, and being very present.
Look at each posture, with attention first to the archetypal symbols, and then pay attention to the detail. Are the legs or arms open? If so, notice if this posture inherently offers an openness, vulnerability, or willingness to accept. A forward bend is soothing and directs your attention internally, while a back bend is energizing and generally more extroverted.
What lies beneath the physical form is what gives the posture meaning.
Metaphors and imagery connect us to something larger than ourselves. By directing attention to universal symbols such as trees, water, or stone, we can help to unify the class. Beginning students tend to feel more confident working within the framework of an archetypal image, rather than struggling to ensure that their foot is turned exactly a 90-degree angle…
Of course, safety and alignment are paramount. So, too, is listening to the body.
Nature and animal images are profound. Use imagery and metaphors in something as simple as the Rag Doll: “Imagine that your legs are strong cliffs, and that your torso is a waterfall. Feel your spine cascading down toward the floor.” In the Cobra, invite students to embody the qualities of a snake slithering around on the earth: “What would it feel like if you could ‘shed your skin’ and start anew?”
It is important to create safety when using imagery. For many people, water evokes a feeling of fear from past experiences in storms, waves, or being out of control. For others, the sun has negative connotations of being burned, skin cancer, or other dangers. In the world of the imagination, we need to direct certain images through our statements: “Choose a body of water that you like best. Know that the water is safe and purifying.” “This sun cannot hurt you in any way. It can only warm and heal you.”
When we use imagery, we bypass the logical left brain and go directly to the right brain where whole movements are understood.
- Link to the outer world
Encourage your students to expand their definition of the spiritual theme that you chose to focus on. Invite them to continue integrating this quality into their life outside of class. Suggest that they keep a journal to record their observations. I usually leave the journal assignments open-ended, but occasionally I’ll suggest a specific idea. For example, for the playfulness classes, I have my students write their journal with their non-dominant hand.
Invite students to create goals or “mission statements” for each of the spiritual muscles that you focus on. Direct them to contemplate ways of extending their experiences of yoga into the outer world. Ask simple questions when they are receptive in relaxation such as “What can I do today to bring compassion into my life?”
Remind them of the places that they have already strengthened a particular spiritual muscle: “In what way or areas of your life do you embody confidence?”
Explain that yoga is a mirror for their daily life. Invite them to draw upon the gifts that they receive in your class to integrate and assimilate into the essence of who they are.