New yoga teachers will soon discover that teaching yoga is both a science and an art. There is a different world in that we simply lead an exercise and teach a class that enlightens all students and inspires them with new ideas to take off the mat.
Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years that can help new yoga teachers create a class that also nourishes and inspires their students!
1. Be yourself.
Your teaching style is influenced by your own teachers. Let these effects provide enriching inspiration instead of being willing to copy them. Students will understand if your words are not your own. If you borrow someone else’s words without crediting them, you will rob your chances of getting to know the real thing.
See yourself as one of the ways to practice asteya (not stealing), satya (truth) and svadhyaya (self-study). Do you like inspiring poetry? Find a way to share. Do you have a playful personality? Let it flash. When you model credibility, it gives students permission to open up their own truths as well. You can expect to “click” with some students but not others - and over time you will find your students, your relationship with them is built on mutual respect and trust.
See yourself as one of the ways to practice asteya (not stealing), satya (truth) and svadhyaya (self-study).
The world does not need cloned yogis. You need unique gifts.
2. FOLLOW THE ENERGY ARC.
Even if — and especially if — you teach a very dynamic asana lesson, it is vital that you give your students time at the beginning of the lesson to arrive on the mat and leave time at the end of the lesson to assimilate their experience. The start of each class with breathing awareness and simple warm-up postures allows for a transition time before gradually accelerating the sequence. The slowdown is a “thank you” to our body for a longer stay in passive, well-being postures (such as lying hip openers and reclining screws). And a long acidana is vital - I allow one minute of acidana every 10 minutes to practice. If I have time, I will also ask students to stay beyond this point for an optional 15 extra minutes of deep rest.
Most people in our world are tired and it can be revolutionary to simply give your students permission to take a deep rest.
3. Think about how and how you use music.
Used wisely, music can lift students up and enhance their practice. In contrast, loud or inappropriate music can disrupt their concentration, ignoring them rather than attracting them inward. So consider whether your teaching invites creative soundtracks or fits better with the simple music of your breath.
I play 15 minutes of cozy “walk-in” music as students arrive. I then align the pace of my tunes with the pace of the class as we climb to the top of the practice and come back to the other side. If you use music with text, choose carefully. I often find that English lyrics can be confusing and even irritating to students, so I usually look for instrumental songs and Sanskrit songs.
Choosing the right music for the style of the class - such as flowing and rhythmic melodies for vinyasa, or surrounding and spa-like songs for yin or restoration - is a great opportunity to develop your viveka (wise vision) and represent your own personality.
4. DO NOT LEAVE ASANA.
Signs of alignment and breathtaking work are vital in a yoga class, but what more could you share?
My students love the details of yoga philosophy, interpreting them to be relevant to everyday life. Many students who embark on the path of yoga through their asanas have not delved into texts like the yoga sutra, so this is a great opportunity to enrich their experiences by sharing something new. Teach not only what your students already know, but also what they don’t know!
For example, at the beginning of a lesson where tricky arm balance is the peak posture, I can begin by explaining the principles of tapas (discipline) and aparigraha (non-grasping), interpreting them as the intention of the class, e.g. “I give this to my best picture” (tapas); and “whatever happens, I am enough” (aparigraha).
In this way, ancient wisdom becomes relevant and useful in the lives of students, whether on or off the carpet!
5. EASIER TO ADD TO TAKE IT.
Timing an hour requires practice, and I usually find that things take longer than I expect. So instead of putting together a plan with a lot of exciting transitions, I’ll probably have to drop down, plan my base class, and keep some accessories in my sleeve.
And if we get there with a little extra time, you can invite your students to sit in meditation for five minutes before the acidana, which is a wonderful way to offer them a comprehensive yoga experience. Or you can offer a few minutes in a restorative posture appropriate for the class being taught - it’s a nice way to lead to their ultimate relaxation.
6. APPLY CLASSES BASED ON TOPICS.
Topics can be a very useful design framework. Topics can be peak positions, seasons, elements, the phase of the moon, a quote, a philosophical concept, an anatomical focus, or a metaphor for mythology. The list is endless, so unleash your imagination! Here in Britain, we recently celebrated Bonfire Night, when we traditionally lit a large outdoor fire and staged fireworks; therefore, as inspiration, I used a class focused on suppressing agni (inner fire) with challenging basic work and then restorative postures to make the inner fire descend into a brilliant embers.
By teaching a regular lesson, organizing around the many grouped concepts you see in yoga is a great way to expand your students ’understanding of the wider world of yoga - for example, focusing on seven week chakras, or the five prana vayus in five weeks.
7. GIVING INTENTIONS.
Defining intent makes sense. Or I do it at the beginning of the lesson when the students go to bed and with one hand on their bellies and the other on their hearts become aware of their breathing; or just before sunbathing, with eyes closed and hands in the anjali mudra (prayer position). I may offer an intention that reflects the theme of the class, such as “igniting the fire of trust and self-confidence,” and balancing it with rest and humility. Or, I ask students to set their own intentions for themselves (and offer some tips — for example, “I listen to my body and practice with loving kindness” or “greet those who arise with friendly curiosity”). I see this as taking the practice to a new level of personal significance.
8. Follow the THREE CHILIS GUIDELINES.
As a teacher, I want my students to feel fulfilled and not discouraged. Instead of offering the full pose and then “and if you can’t do this, do this,” try reversing it. Think of 1, 2 or 3 chili options in restaurant menus. First, I offer the lightest “1 chili” version, a second option for deeper work, and a “3 chili” option for seasoning things.
I also point out that just because you feel like eating a super spicy food one day doesn’t mean you always have to choose the hottest option!
9. WHEN AND WHERE.
Finally, I think about what my students did before class and what they will do after class. If I teach energetic back bends in the evenings, be sure to leave enough time to soothe the forward bends and a long sour course so that the students are not too tied up to sleep on their way home. If they have to lead after yoga nidra, with energetic sunny breathing (inhaling to sweep the arms sideways and on the head in Urdhva hastasana, blowing the hands to the heart center in prayer position), or bringing pranayama back to consciousness. exercises emphasizing inhalation.
Finally, I think about what my students did before class and what they will do after class.
At the beginning of class, I read the energy of the people in front of me - are they Fidesz and full of energy? I can start with some sitting preparation poses that combine movement and breath in order to get into the moment. Exhausted after work? I offer the rest they need - after a hard day the invitation to “lie down and stop before we start” is a pure balm for the soul!
Becoming more creative by teaching is a wonderful way to enrich your lessons and encourage students to invite yoga into their daily lives. It is always a pleasure to hear when students have started their daily meditation practice and are now more attached to themselves. Either they use their favorite pranama to calm their nerves, or they use a little philosophy to help deal with a difficult situation.
This is when we truly fulfill our role as teachers - when we become servants of our students by sharing our passion for yoga. And they will become our greatest teachers.