I was having a conversation with a group of new teachers recently in the midst of conducting one of my anatomy training sessions. We got into a discussion about what our highest aim is as a teacher. I say “aim” because I hesitate to use the word “goal” in the context of yoga. As with any discussion about yoga, the goal is, there is no goal. But, we can look at what we are aiming for when we teach as a way around the concept of a goal.
In this discussion, I was sharing with the group that my focus as a teacher is to help people take the body mechanics of yoga poses and the essence of the stress management piece of the practice (read: breathing) off the mat and into their lives. It’s not to teach them poses per se, but more to focus on how each pose has nuggets of anatomical wisdom that we can apply to our body all the time. Along with that, it’s not about teaching different kinds of pranayama per se, but more the essence of how deep breathing helps us feel more relaxed.
Perhaps this all seems obvious to you or maybe you’ve not thought, as a yoga teacher, about what your highest aim is. Why would we? We can get caught up in our day to day sequences, the challenges of certain poses or focusing our classes on anatomy so that they’re learning experiences for students. These are all wonderful things to share and much of what I teach is in these areas. Sometimes, though, it can be helpful to take a step back and think of the big picture. This can be hard when we develop an affinity for a certain style of teaching and our classes take on a certain tone. But the longer you teach, the more helpful it can be to take a step back just so that you can be sure you’re teaching in alignment with your highest aim.
I’ve taught children’s yoga for just about as long as I’ve taught adult classes and in most of my kids classes (older than toddler age) I share how they can use yoga techniques off the mat as well. This really applies to children in their pre-teens and teens because they’re dealing with so much stress and it doesn’t always occur to them that yoga could be used outside of the space where we’re holding class. Nor does it occur to them that the breathing and stretching we do can be used to help in times of stress.
This same approach is my focus for teaching. We see our students so little when compared to all the hours in each week. The time we have with them is precious and the challenges we all face off the mat to stay healthy are many. The parallels we can make while teaching our classes between what we’re doing in the safety of the studio and how it will help us off the mat is a wonderful thing we can share.