5 Personal Experiences to Use for Teaching Yoga

When I was a new teacher, I went through a romantic break-up. It unfortunately, coincided with the opening day of a new studio location. There was no way I could avoid teaching but I could barely stop crying. I don’t have any recollection of what I said while teaching but I do recall a few tears streaming down my face as the students were in Child’s Pose.

When “life” happens, it can sometimes get in the way of your teaching but it can also give you the inspiration to introduce a particular theme, without making it about your personal story. At times, you may want to share something personal with your class and it can be a great way to show yourself to your students. But at times you may not be comfortable and it may not be meaningful to your students to hear the specifics of your break-up/injury/death in the family/challenge at work.

So what general themes can be drawn from some of what we all experience in life? Here are some ideas:

1. You injured yourself, on or off the mat, and need to modify your yoga practice:

This is such a great theme to bring into class because everyone will experience injuries at some point. Working on the mat within our capabilities on that particular day is part of a healthy yoga practice. You could use your personal experience with injury to suggest more modifications to your students, to bring in the idea of the first yama, ahimsa, which speaks to non-harming behaviors or to suggest using props. You could also speak to pushing yourself or losing the integrity of the postures because of an ideal you’re holding out there around how the poses “should” look rather than how they can be expressed in your body. You could also bring into class the idea of practicing with compassion; not as “way out” but more as a way to respect your body.

2. You recently ended a romantic relationship: 

Yoga is a heart-opening practice, both on a physical and emotional level. Many of the poses ask you to roll your shoulders back and open your chest. Poses like upward facing dog, camel, fish pose and wheel all literally “open your heart.” For someone going through a break-up, these poses can express the very feelings they’re trying to avoid and you may be experiencing the same thing. Themes that can come from this experience can be around the idea of letting feelings and sensations arise in your body in each pose, without judging them; having faith that what you want in your life and practice will show up, being true to yourself, both on and off the mat (something you may doubt after a break-up). You could also share the idea of practicing with compassion as way to help you be more compassionate to yourself in other areas of your life.

3. You recently experienced the death of someone in your life: 

Loss is part of life but a painful part. We all experience it in the form of losing someone we love, losing a pet, losing a friend. You could speak about the transient nature of things, appreciating what you have in the moment; the power of being present as a way to feel some relief from the challenges you may be facing in your life. You could speak to emotions that might be arising and having the courage to face them, rather than stuffing them down. You could talk about how yoga provides us with strength, not only in our bodies, but in our hearts and minds, so that we can withstand the ups and downs of life.

4. You’re struggling with issues at work that are creating frustration and anger:

When we struggle in a situation, we need to step back and find space, so we can gain perspective. This makes for a great theme for yoga because you can speak to how different poses give us a different point of view, literally, and this can help you gain new perspective. You can also talk about the idea of being right versus being at peace and how while you may be right, trying to prove that to others can create stress. You could speak to being frustrated in a pose and using the breath to find relief.

5. You’re having a hard time making ends meet financially: 

When we’re struggling to make ends meet, we can see the world from the view of what we don’t have, rather than what we do. This can translate to our approach to our bodies and our yoga practice; we can focus on what appears to be lacking in our practice or we can be grateful that we’re on the mat, even if we practice yoga from a restorative perspective or spend 15 minutes in Child’s Pose, breathing deeply.

The idea of bringing themes into your classroom can bring a richness and an authentic angle to your teaching, especially when the theme is infused with your personal experience. Speaking from the heart, not about the details of your situation but more from the point of view of the feelings it engenders, can inspire your students. Chances are, they have experienced similar losses or challenges. Bringing up the ideas that these challenges force us to face is part of being human, growing as a person and developing our character. Yoga is a physical practice but it’s also a wonderful way to build all of these aspects of ourselves and you as a teacher, have a way to introduce these ideas to your students, with courage, compassion and authenticity, every time you step into the classroom.

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