Teaching Absolutes

When I was a new yoga teacher, it was suggested that I never use music in my classes. For years, I didn't and I didn't teach in a studio that supported music during class, so it was a non-issue.

Years later, I began teaching in other studios and they didn’t have the restriction. I found that every once in a while, I’d add music to class and I thought it added something effective to the whole experience. While I didn’t think it was essential, I liked having the option to add it.

Another suggestion was to refrain from practicing with the class. I found this to be helpful as a newer teacher. On the one hand, I wanted to see students in their poses and that was hard if I was practicing and focusing on my own sensation. It was also hard if I was upside down and couldn’t literally “see” them. Also, I found it was easier to stand in front of the room and do what I wanted the class to do; it was harder to ”say” what I wanted the class to do. I wanted the challenge of learning different ways of presenting the poses and then observing how my words landed on the students.

Now, years later, I sometimes do practice with class. I find that it’s a useful tool to help create connection and a sense that “we’re all in this experience together.” While I don’t do it all the time, I do it every now and again and, like the addition of music, I find it’s helpful to have in my teaching toolbox. I also find that some sequences are much easier “shown and explained” versus just articulated. I know in some of the classes I’ve taken where I’ve been less familiar with the sequencing, it’s been helpful to have the teacher walking us through it together.

My point is this: it’s really hard to say there are “teaching absolutes” when it comes to learning how to teach yoga. Every teacher’s list of “never do’s” is colored by his or her own training, mentoring and their own personal style. Just as we suggest to our students (hopefully we do this) that they should always listen to their own sense of intuition when they practice and blend that in with what the teacher is suggesting, the same holds true for what you might hear as a newer teacher. Hearing that we’ve broken one of these “teaching absolutes” can make us doubt our effectiveness as a teacher, when it might just be that we’re receiving feedback that just doesn’t fit the style and presentation of yoga that speaks to us. This is always the challenge: are we running away from helpful feedback that will help us grow as a teacher or are we being mentored in a way that is just a different style of yoga than we wish to present? Only you will know the answer to that question.

Along with the points made above, here are some other things that may come up in your training as a newer yoga teacher:

Reading from a book during savasana: I’ve received feedback to never do this and then I’ve been in classes where it’s done regularly. In the past I was told that I’m not speaking from my heart, borrowing someone else’s words and others have said it contaminates the silence of final relaxation. Again, only you will know what resonates with you. I say if it authentically speaks to you and you can honestly say it from your heart, go for it!

Turning your back on the class to demonstrate a pose: It could be interpreted that turning away from your class cuts them off from you, energetically speaking, but then again, there are some poses, like Dancer’s Pose, for instance, that students find hard to do without a “same-sided demonstration.” Quickly doing it and then turning back to the class to see how they’re doing and walking around to give hands-on assists can be an effective blend.

Referring to God: While this wasn’t discussed with me, it was something that I battled with occasionally in my first few years of teaching. I remember being so touched by Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love and many of the passages referred to God, as it was heavily influenced by her work with A Course in Miracles. In my eagerness to share passages with my classes, I found myself hung up on saying the word God, for how was I to know what faith they were? I made a personal choice around this and so should you.

Using profanity: I remember being in a class early on and Baron Baptiste said something that, while I can’t remember the specifics, was suggesting that instead of worrying about everyone else, spend time worrying about yourself, for things are not always as they seem. In the moment, I found the use of a particularly “juicy” word to be effective in really bringing the point home. Did I find it a bit shocking in the context of a yoga class? Maybe. Did it effectively make the point? Absolutely. I’ll admit; a few times over the years, something has slipped out, intentionally or otherwise. While initially it felt ok, these days it just doesn’t feel good to me. Again, this is up to you and your personal style (this applies both to teaching as well as classes you take as a student).

Overall, here is what I’ve found. When I began teaching, it was helpful for me to have guidelines. These guidelines were even more helpful if they resonated with me and didn’t feel like unreasonable rules thrust upon me. I used them to grow as a teacher for many years; they created a wide net of support around me. As my teaching experiences grew and I became more comfortable experimenting, I began to go in different directions and play with some of the edges, so to speak. But I’ve tried to stay true to the core of the teachings that were most impactful to me as a student; because honestly, the most memorable teachers I’ve met are those that are authentic in their presentation of yoga.

Be authentic; find your own voice as a teacher. Learn from those you respect. Learn from those whose style speaks to your body and soul. Learn from those who support your growth and expression. And remember, you are always your best teacher. Be brave and teach from your heart!

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