Ever wonder how yoga teachers prepare and what they do before class? Preparation comes not by just practicing a particular posture that will be taught, although important. Instead, consider these two key elements within this principle of preparing to teach:
Be a yoga teacher to prepare to teach. Understand the nature and the transformative vehicles found within the yoga practice. Understand that the practice is a lens in which we see the world and take steps towards making peace with the change that is consistently occurring. This acceptance will aid in the creation of the experience our student’s wish to have on their mats and in their lives. Each time we, and our students, step onto our yoga mats, we reconnect and live out this transformational concept. We, as teachers, must prepare to offer this opportunity within our classes to help others arrive at this same understanding. Being grounded in this principle and understanding equips the teacher with the ability to step into a room and teach from a place of knowing - a place that the teacher has personally experienced - and a place where the teacher can genuinely ask others to experience the disciplined work that is required within the yoga practice.
Technique is also an important element within the concept of preparation. Techniques which include preparing mentally, physically and emotionally. Being willing to evaluate, and re-evaluate, the effectiveness of the techniques that you use as a teacher to prepare to step into and hold space as the teacher in class is a valuable refinement tool. Refinement within your techniques of preparation may be required daily, seasonally and consistently.
Preparation technique tips:
• BE happy in your body - workout, cross-train, eat and rest well • Practice yoga daily - meditate, pray - do what’s possible with consistency • BE willing to seek guidance, self-study, read spiritual and wisdom teachings • Take time to connect with your class before you start teaching • BE inspired - pursue that which speaks to you and your passion • BE prepared.
One of the things I love about teaching and practicing the Vinyasa (flow) style of yoga is the ability to vary the pace - set the tempo. Whether it’s the pace or length of holds, there is a beautiful ability to experience a fresh encounter just in the way that the tempo or rhythm is adjusted. In recent years and evolving within my personal practice and teaching, I have come to appreciate more the experience of slowing down. When we slow down and lengthening the time we remain in the postures, we can sharpen our awareness to the interior subtleties. Moving slower and becoming more thoughtfully organized in the transitions invites the ability to encounter the spaces in between the poses. For the Vinyasa teacher, the tempo is the baseline of the class and this even applies to other styles of yoga, as well. The teacher has the ability to set the tempo and rhythm that can quickly move practitioners into a concentrated effort of attention within the experience being created. This principle of teaching is powerful and the tempo and rhythm of a class has the ability to stand on its own. When the teacher sets the right pace then everything else begins to fall into place and there isn’t any need of trying to add anything “extra” to the experience. Within the vehicle of a well-paced class the student has all they need to experience the transformative effects found within the yoga practice. For the teacher, dedication towards becoming a skilled “facilitator of flow” opens up the ability for the asana practice to support the type of transformation that is sought out for the students we teach.
I love the juxtaposition that can be created within the asana practice by varying the degrees of tempo within the same class sequence. This juxtaposition invites the brain to stay attentive and the nervous system can recalibrate within skillful movements supported with steady breath awareness. This creates a powerful experience of the present moment. Varying the pace offers time for students to explore and listen intuitively for guidance to create their own unique experience on the mat. Within the varied tempo, we may receive invitations to linger - to build strength within longer holds and find more stability within the stillness.
What tempo does:
• Determines level of intensity • Teaches pranayama • Teaches alignment • Teaches method - approach - mood - being
What is being emphasized within the asana practice? It is more than just the physical expression of a shape of the body. Emphasis connects us to a deeper understanding within the interior and the potential that is available to us to create a strong mind-body experience. The teacher has the great opportunity to invite students into this understanding through the sequencing of the class and the emphasis placed within the class setting and practice experience. Within skillful sequencing, the teacher has the ability to highlight the emphasis to be found within each segment of the sequencing framework. Emphasis placed on length of holds, tempo, and innovation within sequencing has a direct correlation to how effective and elevated the class experience has potential to become. Emphasis comes as an expression of the teacher’s own understanding and practice, as well.
Questions to ask regarding emphasis within your teaching: • What are the learning goals - what do I want my student’s to learn? • What contribution can I make as a teacher towards my student’s experience regarding emphasis? • What benefits will be accessed through the emphasis I’m choosing?
Through our preparation and emphasis we are able to create connections with students and help guide them to make the connections they desire within the practice. As we teach, we are learning. The idea of student and teacher become interchangeable. A good teacher must become clear on the beliefs they are emphasizing within their teaching. The teacher will then strengthen their ideals and beliefs through this principle of emphasized teaching. Teachers must teach what they need to learn. We become better teachers through the act of teaching, and through this experience we learn and grow. “Every good teacher hopes to give his students so much of his own learning that they will one day no longer need him. This is the one true goal of the teacher.” - The Course in Miracles
Look in. There is a concept called “living your yoga” that I love. This concept and way of living expands the yoga practice to encompass big picture thinking and to eliminate any compartmentalization of just applying the practice within certain areas of our lives. Instead, the yoga practice becomes relevant when it is applied to all areas of our lives. Within this mindset, we become immersed in the practice and it becomes our preferred way of living at all times. This concept requires contemplative self-study of knowing the practice in a way that we can truly incorporate the teachings into our daily living. It is a disciplined and dedicated effort. To effectively teach others, we must teach from the only place we can; from who we are, and where we are in the process. In order to teach the practice, we must know the practice for ourselves.
We are constantly teaching something to someone. Our actions, our thoughts and where we place our attention all demonstrate and teach others about what we believe and what is important to us. It is the same in regards to teaching yoga. We teach our students what is important to us within the practice through what we emphasize. Through this demonstration and emphasis within the teaching setting, the teacher also learns.
“We can teach from experience, but we cannot teach experience.” - Sasha Azevedo
The practice of yoga postures (asana) is just one piece of self-study within the practice. The physicality of asana is a reflection of a much bigger experience awaiting the practitioner. This physical expression is often the first impression of yoga that is primarily “seen” in the beginning. An exterior reflection that barely represents what is taking place on the interior within us, however, this is a place to begin.
I often reflect back to when I began practicing yoga. This was my first impression of the yoga practice. I can still see myself looking in; looking into a room where a group of people were moving and transitioning their bodies into varying shapes. I was intrigued. Instead of looking in, I wanted to step in, to know more. I felt an invitation that day. to come in. I had a sense that what I thought I was “seeing” was only a glimpse into a profound, life-changing experience that was awaiting me.
The yoga postures are certainly a necessary vehicle - a disciplined piece of self-study. They are vehicles that helps to take us on a journey; a sustained journey of a lifetime. A journey to live into and out of our yoga practice. This journey for the practitioner requires the principle of self-study from us. The pursuit through wisdom teachings that inspire and challenges us in our thinking. Self-study calls us to explore, linger and to trust with faith in a discipline that will take us into unchartered territories. Territories that may feel foreign at the start, yet feel like coming home at the same time.
Self-study is like a road map for this adventure that awaits us through the journey of the yoga practice. Self-study helps us gather information and tools to support our steady progression along the entire path of this practice. Through the trusting, we find guidance for the experience of living on and off the mat and we come to see that there is beauty in not arriving,. There is a fullness to be found in being right where you are, in the present moment. It is a practice of becoming aware of this present moment.
Living your yoga requires daily discipline and a willingness to be and become uncomfortable and vulnerable to seek and see truth through the tensions of life change. Self-study equips us with the ability to trust in the process for growth and transformation. Through this disciplined effort, we do what’s possible with consistency and find the ability to create the quality of embodied ease and the release of effort and struggle softens.
Self-study habits to cultivate:
• Seek cultures, communities and relationships that support healthy living, accountability and feedback. • Cross-train within the yoga practice. Explore a variety of styles, teachings and practices to support an expanded view.
“As a teacher of the practice, self-study is a requirement. It is mandatory in order to teach and guide others from a place of knowing.” - Sandy Raper