As I stepped into the studio to teach this morning, I was struck by the idea of teaching the first class of 2016. I’ve been teaching since 2002 so that’s a lot of “first class of the New Year” feelings I’ve had. Today as I taught, I looked to tap into the feelings I was having around teaching. Some have to do with teaching from the perspective of someone that’s been at it for over 10 years, but many of these feelings and ideas are perfectly applicable to newer teachers. Here are 10 teaching ideas for you to consider for the year ahead:
Keep it simple. My brand’s motto is, “Keeping Yoga Simple” and it reflects my commitment to focusing on the basics. This doesn’t mean the yoga is SIMPLE, per se, but instead means that I like to focus on anatomy, alignment, grounding into the foundation, breath, gaze…. these are just a few things that fall into this category. Especially if you’re a new teacher, stick to the basics. You’ll find it’s very easy to try to make complex sequences and pretty soon you’re in over your head and you’ve lost the attention of the class.
Do as little yoga as possible. The more you do, the less you see. The more you do, the less you connect. The more you do, the less you are able to speak to what you see. Commit this year to practicing less with class and see all the new things that you can speak to in order to help your students experience each posture fully. Especially if you’re new, roll up your mat, put it away and challenge yourself to stand in front of them and be seen and heard.
Look for places where you can be quiet. There is always something to say but resist the urge to speak all the time. Give yourself and your class the gift of silence so that you can allow the mind to rest. The is especially important as we start the New Year and people may be feeling pressure to commit to all sorts of new health related goals. Allow the silence to give their mind time to process all they may be feeling.
Say just what you need to say; no more, no less. Along with using silence generously, only say exactly what you need to say and that’s it. I’ve noticed in my own teaching, I throw in a few extra phrases like, ” try to work your leg a little higher” versus “lift your leg higher.” That’s just one instance but you get the idea. When we say less, the impact is greater. The words land more clearly and the impact of the statement isn’t diluted by a bunch of extra stuff.
Assist students, but make it meaningful. Whether or not to assist in class is always a big topic for blog posts and conversations between yoga teachers. Unless I’m teaching a private session, my assists these days generally fall in the category of “instructional” assists versus “deepening” assists. These are very directed assists that might not even involve a lot of hands on the student but involve placement of a block and/or a specific touch to reinforce the key action. Vague assists or very deep assists that involve a lot of touching or even rubbing of the temples, massaging the head or laying your body against that of the student needs to be strongly considered before proceeding (again, this is a huge topic and this is my opinion).
Look for small ways to share from your heart but make the class about the yoga. There is always a balance when we teach. We’re conveying yoga information but through the lens of our own experience. This is what often makes one teacher’s class very different than another’s, even in a studio where the sequence is the same. When we speak from the heart, it’s a great way to build connection with class. But when we do it too much, it can be a distraction and shift the class to being all about us. Keep the focus on the yoga but be willing to sprinkle in a little of your thoughts too.
Relax and be natural. Oh, this one. You’d think after 13 years of teaching, I’d have a handle on this but it’s still one of my hardest things. This reminds me of when you go to the dentist and he’s about to start drilling and he says, “Relax!” Hey, let’s face it. Standing in front of a class can be a bit unnerving. This also can shift depending on what’s going on in your life. Some days, you’re completely into it (this usually happens when you return from teacher training) and other days, you wish you could get a substitute to cover. Remember, the best way to start for you is the same as for your students: breath, gaze, foundation. Feel your feet. Stand in one place. Take a deep breath. Begin. Once you do this for a few minutes, you’ll find yourself relaxing and pretty soon, the class will fly by.
Speak in your own voice, rather than pretend to be someone else. I love being inspired by other teachers. But it’s inevitable that after I return from a training or workshop, I’ll find my intonation, my phrasing, even the sequences I pick will mimic that of my teacher. This is natural. “Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” right? Well, yes, but remember, YOU have your own voice, your own way and while it’s great to be inspired, stay true to you.
Don’t be afraid to BE the teacher. What does this mean? It means do what needs to be done, without hesitation. That could mean you feel the need to stop the class to demonstrate something you see a number of people doing incorrectly. It could mean you give a prop to someone who doesn’t have one. It could mean you hold a pose and ask students to return to it, even if they are on “auto-pilot” and have moved on ahead of you (use this one judiciously). Whatever it is, if you’re aware of what’s going on (rather than in your own practice) you’ll find lots of opportunities to do this. Do it without fear and clearly. “Let it be” versus looking for student reaction. If someone asks you a question about it after class, explain why and don’t apologize. This is part of being a teacher.
Always be learning. One of my biggest concerns about the yoga industry is the cost of training is quite high and as teachers move into teaching full time, as their only source of income, they become less able to 1) afford training and 2) afford to lose teaching revenue for up to a week while they are in training. This is one of my biggest challenges to learning with teachers in person so I am always, ALWAYS looking for creative ways to learn. This could involve local trainings for one day, reading books, online courses and staying connected to blogs by teachers you like.
Enjoy your teaching this year, friends. Know that as a teacher, you’re expressing what you love and helping people tap into their love for yoga as well. You’re being of service in a unique way and sharing a time tested way to stay healthy.