I'd say that you could describe a yoga teacher as a space holder. - Sandy Raper
An important quality and skill set for teachers to develop is how they will hold space for their students to learn, absorb, and grow. This also applies to the yoga teacher and how they create and hold space for students within and through the yoga practice experience. In fact, I'd say that you could describe a yoga teacher as a space holder. The question for reflection then becomes, how am I holding space for my students? I would expand that inquiry to include further exploration into what can I do, as a teacher, to hold the space with integrity, inclusiveness, and safety? Below I will share some effective ways to develop and broaden your ability to hold space for your students with skill and effectiveness.
I would expand that inquiry to include further exploration into what can I do, as a teacher, to hold the space with integrity, inclusiveness, and safety?
1. How you Show Up Matters
How we hold space for others is a responsibility that shouldn't be taken lightly. In order to hold the sacred space of transformation that the yoga practice invites, a yoga teacher must first be willing to do the work that they are asking their students to do. The only way our teaching can come from a space of knowing and authenticity is that we, ourselves, have chartered the territory of inquiry and discovery that the practice initiates. Teachers must spend time in their personal practice on their mats and meditation cushions in order to experience first-hand the work that they will invite from their students.
How to become more effective at holding space for students:
Practice. Practice. Practice.
Live your yoga.
How you show up to teach a class is just as important as the actual class practice that you will be teaching. Memorizing and knowing your sequence, although important, should not be the primary focus for a teacher. A student will long forget a sequence but forever remember how they felt in the space and experience you held for them that supported growth, nourishment, and transformation within their lives. This experience provides practical relevance within our lives and the lives of our students. We can, and I'd say, we must, be diligent in our preparation by putting in the behind the scenes work that comes from time spent daily within our own personal practice. With time and dedication, the practice doesn't become some extra or external something we do - instead, it becomes a way of our being. We begin to live our yoga. We become more effective and skillful as space holders when this disciplined connection to yoga takes place within our lives as teachers. We can then show up for our students and hold this same space for them to explore and create. When you dedicate, with discipline, to your own personal practice then you will be able to teach from a place of knowing. You will be equipped to hold the space for the powerful transformational qualities that we desire our students to experience within their practice. In order to hold space safely and effectively for your students, you must be prepared. The best way I can share for preparing and evaluating how you'll show up is to be dedicated and committed daily to do the work of the practice that you will be asking your students to do.
3. Become Empty of Your Plan
Yoga teachers learn, refine, and develop the skill of teaching, through the act of teaching. If you want to become a better teacher, teach. The real-time experience of teaching reveals a lot. Teaching will reveal what areas within our skillset that are in need of refinement. Understanding a skillful method for organizing a yoga class is crucial in order for you to appropriately plan and fully show up for the students that you will be teaching. And, yoga teacher, get off of your mat! I mentioned above that memorizing and knowing your sequence shouldn't be our primary focus as teachers, however, it is required. If we aren't spending time becoming efficient at leading a skillfully planned practice sequence then we will be in our heads and out of the space of the room with our students when we are trying to lead and teach. Practice your sequence at home, within your personal practice time on your mat but when you step in front of others to teach, then get off of your mat. If we lack preparation, stay confined on our mats, in our heads, then we will no longer see the students. When we no longer see our students, we increase the risk of disconnection and possible injuries. This is no longer a safe space or an effective environment for growth.
There is also a matter of trust. Once you have developed an effective sequencing plan, you must become empty of that plan when you enter the room to teach. Becoming empty of your plan means that you develop a spontaneous approach. You teach the students that are in front you and you adapt, and even sometimes eliminate, the set sequence that you had envisioned and prepared to teach. This approach will create a connection. Students will know that they are being seen and, as a result, the teacher-student trust relationship will be built. This approach will provide much freedom for you. As the teacher, in partnership with your students, you will create a collective beautiful masterpiece of experience - all because you were willing to release your grip on your plan. Don't mistake this to mean that you should go into a class and "wing it" or lack structure. Remember the concept of trust is a factor within this experience. Your students need to know that you are thoughtful and prepared - that you have a plan. They need to know that they can trust the space that you are creating for and with them. When there is trust between the teacher and student, there is expanded room for a shared elevated intention within the practice.
Points to remember:
Balance structure with spontaneity.
4. Read Into the Energy of the Room
How do you read into the energy of the room? This concept goes along with becoming empty. It's hard to sense or read the energy of those around you if you aren't fully present with them in the room. If you are caught up in your head, not prepared with your sequence or the delivery of the class, then you will be distracted. Within this distraction, you will be disconnected from your students. When we read into the energy of the room, we can intuitively sense how we might show up better, how we will hold the space to accommodate the experience more fully. The energy reveals whether you will need to lift and support a heavier energetic load, so to speak, which will require a grounded strength of your presence as a teacher. At other times, you will be able to read into a lighter load that is required of you and that will open you up into other areas to explore within your teaching skill set for that particular practice experience. In order to adequately read the energy that is present, you must again empty yourself. You are a facilitator, someone who makes the experience or process easier. It is within our abilities to read energy that we are able to discern and facilitate with more ease.
I can remember there have been times within my teaching journey where there was an empty, eerie sense of energy within the space as I was teaching. It was, as if, I were the only one in the room. From that discernment, I knew that I had to hold true to the commitment I had made to hold the space as a teacher, a leader. It is a commitment that I hold in high regard and utmost integrity. It was within this experience that I knew I must ground myself and uplift the students that day into a foundational practice experience. I knew the work that I was called to do - teach the practice with clarity and focus. I also remember a completely opposite experience. I remember this surreal moment where I felt swept up along with the current, or flow, of all of the student's energy within the room The space was light and airy. The student's energy that day uplifted me with effortless ease. The experience felt like I was bearing witness to the creation of a beautiful masterpiece. In fact, reflecting back, both experiences were masterpieces. They were containers for experiences that were created within the practice. Real experiences of presence. Both experiences were authentic and it was important that I read into the energy of the room in order to hold the space effectively, for both.
How we hold space for students matters greatly. It is of utmost importance. It is a skill set to dedicate much time to cultivate. We are space holders. When we teach, we choose to physically, mentally and emotionally show up for our students. We must prepare. Our focus is on facilitating an experience of support for our students to explore, with safety and ease, the transformational practice of yoga.
Namaste and well wishes along life’s journey!