Teaching yoga is hard! Much harder than I thought it was before I actually tried it myself. There are so many choices to make and so much to think about while putting together and teaching a class: physical poses, transitions between poses, breathing practices, meditation, chanting, music, spirituality, a physical theme, a conceptual theme, the language you will use, readings to share, the timing of each pose or section of class, the energetic quality or flow of the class… Ack!
As a new teacher, it’s a lot to pay attention to and it can be overwhelming. I sometimes felt like there were just too many options to choose from and I found myself either paralyzed by too many choices or creating a 5 hour lesson plan for a 90 minute class.
I quickly realized that I needed a way to focus my efforts. So I came up with a “teaching mantra” that combines a few different pieces of advice that have come my way since I started teaching. That mantra is: Teach with intention.
It’s easy to get caught up in your own little world as a new yoga teacher. To focus on planning your sequences, beefing up your knowledge of anatomy, and working out how you’re going to make a living without killing yourself in the process... You can easily lose sight of the bigger picture of what you’re actually trying to achieve.
Something that always gets me back on track is this notion: “Teach from your values.”
It’s something I’ve heard Judith Hanson Lasater say on more than one occasion. She (and now I) recommends that you identify your highest values and keep them at the forefront of your teaching. The value Judith usually uses as an example is her belief that the first responsibility of the yoga teacher is to reflect the innate goodness of each student. This idea drives all of her teaching.
In my classes over the past couple of weeks, I've been focusing on the theme of noticing and cultivating rhythms — rhythms in the breath and body and rhythms in the seasons and in one’s life. Which made me think about all of the ups and downs I have experienced from week to week, or even day to day, while teaching yoga.
I've been teaching for long enough now to see these ups and downs as part of a rhythm and a process of discovering balance. Once I feel like I've gotten the hang of one aspect of teaching, another deficit happily brings itself to my attention.
I recently listened to an episode of On Being where Yo-Yo Ma talked about music and performance with Krista Tippett. Since I usually have my yoga-colored glasses on, I couldn’t help but connect what he was saying with my experience of teaching and doing yoga.
Here's an excerpt about performing on stage:
MR. MA: While I’m on stage, you’re all my guests, because that’s sort of like the unsaid agreement. So while you’re my guest, if something bad happens on stage, I often think of Julia Child, you know. Oh, the chicken’s fallen on the floor! Yes. Oh, well pick it up and put it right back. And, and you know what? Everybody’s with you.
That’s just some damn good advice... in many respects.
It’s also the title of this 2 minute video in which Leslie Kaminoff, co-author of Yoga Anatomy, talks about a basic principle of healthy movement: distributing movement throughout the entire body or getting “a little bit of movement from a lot of places rather than a lot of movement from just a few places.”
When we do the same movement over and over again, we wear out certain joints, overuse certain muscles, weaken our overall systems, and increase our risk of injury.
I graduated from my yoga teacher training program one year ago in September. I can hardly believe it. It’s gone by incredibly fast, I’ve learned a ton and I still have oh-so-far to go. One of my favorite things in the past year has been talking to other teachers and trainees about our experiences, our challenges, our brilliant ideas and solutions, our beliefs about yoga, and our perspectives on teaching.
As I began to gather ideas for this blog, I realized that this would be a great place to continue that conversation. I hope that some of you will join me here to discuss yoga, teaching and the challenges of being a brand-spanking-new teacher.