As we start to wrap up our month of “teaching tips,” I’d like to share a bit of my journey as a teacher and how I found my way to teaching in the 216 style.
My Teaching Journey
Before I started teaching, most yoga poses were second nature to me, having grown up as a dancer/athlete. And as a dancer/athlete I had extensive knowledge of what “practice” meant: something done consistently over an extended period of time (a paraphrased interpretation of sutras 1.12-1.16).
The studio where I began my consistent yoga practice, and where I did my first teacher training, was devoted to this idea of “consistent practice.” They required us, as beginning teachers, to teach a set vinyasa sequence 25 times before we were allowed to deviate from it to add other poses.
I learned that this consistent, repetitive practice was crucial.
In my own practice, it gave me freedom to delve deeper into Self and to let go of the physical body. Likewise, as a newer teacher, teaching the same sequence many times helped me to let go of what I was saying so that I could see my students, give adjustments, and add a bit of dharma.
Too much of too little
After teaching my first 25 classes, and then teaching consistently for two years after that more or less in the same vinyasa style, something changed. It was as if the very thing that allowed me to see my students in the first place, “consistent practice,” had now turned into a mundane process that was blinding me. I was in autopilot mode teaching 8-12 classes and privates each week: in each class, I was teaching similar sequences, similar poses, with similar adjustments and cues.
Something needed to change. I realized I was doing a disservice to my students.
I dedicated the following year to continuing education programs, and I quit teaching group classes and only taught private sessions. Want to know my biggest take away from that year?
Teaching is conversation!
What we say in class should be based on something we SEE in our students. It’s not enough to just rattle off cues because that’s what we’re taught to memorize. We need to use cues that respond to what we actually see our students doing. If we can recognize their confusion for what it is, then we can, together with our students, figure out the path to clarity. That path may be different for one student than for another; we must find multiple ways of saying the same thing rather than constantly using the same habitual cues.
Perhaps this is just my personal experience, and the solution isn’t so simple. But six years after my first teacher training and still there are times when I’m tired or unfortunately preoccupied that I see myself slip right back into autopilot. When this starts to happen I remind myself to look at my students, see what is going on in their bodies, and if something needs to be adjusted I find a way to communicate. Conversely, if I do not see anything that needs addressing, I take it as a moment for silence and breath, not for just another generic cue.
Yoga is a practice. Teaching yoga is a practice.
Practice is something done consistently over an extended period of time. For yogis, there is no end to this practice, it is just something we show up for each day and any possibility.
Over time, practices will change and grow, but this change is not about the direction the practice takes us or an end goal. Practice is what gives us awareness, the ability to see others and our own Self… and start a conversation.
Keep the conversation going, yogis!
PS. My year of continuing ed included taking part in the inaugural session of Yoga 216’s Functional Anatomy for Yoga Teachers course. I can’t say enough about the impact this course made on my teaching. Check it out and see whether it’s the right continuing ed for you.
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