10 Tips for More Compassionate Yoga Teaching

I consider myself a compassionate person. But the other day, as I was teaching a class, I had a lesson in compassion. A newer student arrived right as I was about to start. She scooted in, got set up and then in the middle of class, she began to dig around in her bag. There were minutes of crinkling; the sound of a candy wrapper. I found myself distracted and caught up in the thought of what could be the cause of the noise?

Towards the end of class, as I assisted her in a pose, she whispered apologetically to me that she was sorry for the noise; she had low blood sugar and needed to eat something. In that moment, I chastised myself; how quick I was to get distracted when in fact she was just taking care of herself.

Compassion, like any other quality, needs to be practiced regularly or it’s just like an unused muscle; it loses its ability to flex when needed. Exercising compassion towards others is often easier than to show it to our own self. If you teach yoga, it’s even harder as you’ll find yourself nit picking yourself to death over the smallest things. Here’s a quick checklist that might help you keep compassion in mind:

Towards students:

1. When students come late, welcome them. As one of my dearest friends once said in class, next time that might be you running to class and hoping the teacher is compassionate about your late arrival. As teachers, we’re first and foremost students and we hope those teaching classes we take show us the same compassion we give to students when we’re in the role of teacher. 2. When first time students are unsure, uncoordinated, clumsy, noisy, asking a lot of questions and just all over the place, remember that you too were once like that. The more we practice, the easier it is to forget when we were a beginner. Often, those first interactions with you as the teacher will shape a student’s perspective for their future with yoga. 3. So many of us do check-in at studios as well as teach class. This can present a challenge as we need to be both “administrator” and “teacher.” It can also leave us flustered as students have questions about their class card, want to purchase additional items besides class and may have other consumer-related questions. Tap into both patience and compassion during these interactions, not only to keep yourself calm and centered but also to keep the atmosphere in the studio peaceful before class. 4. As we assist students, show compassion if they choose to ignore your suggestion. Forcing a block on a student or taking it personally when they proceed on their own is their choice. 5. On the flip side, as students rest, take time in child’s pose, leave early or struggle with the poses, show compassion. Your role as teacher, coach and wellness advocate means you allow for individual expression, not just hard work. For many students, resting in class while others are pushing hard takes courage.

Towards yourself: 

1. When you make a mistake in teaching, laugh it off. Acknowledge the chuckle to the class. Demonstrating lightness towards yourself when making mistakes will encourage your students to do the same. 2. When you forget the sequence, just keep moving forward in any way you can. Relax and give yourself a break. Students are generally just glad they’ve made it to their mat; they don’t expect perfection. 3. If the thoughts in your head don’t come out as clearly as you’d like, take a deep breath and move on. Think it through a bit more the next time but remember, students will always give you space for mistakes, as long as you’re being yourself. 4. Showing up full of energy for every class is an unrealistic expectation. Running between classes, sharing of yourself fully; this can tap out even the most energetic person. Be compassionate and allow space to be where you are. Find the relatable nugget of wisdom in your experience that you can share with the class without making it “all about you.” 5. Use frustration towards students and situations as a chance to examine your triggers. Even the best and most experienced teachers get annoyed, angry and frustrated occasionally. Use those as a chance to show compassion to yourself and get to the bottom of what set you off.

Yoga is a heart-centered practice; we lead with our heart more than our head. Compassion is a heart-centered emotion. The more we practice both the physical and the emotional, the bigger our hearts grow.

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