May 28, 2011

Three things new yoga teachers should know about teaching yoga.

1.       Be Authentic
Be yourself.  Reflect on what is important to you in the role of someone who is sharing yoga with others.  When we honor who we are and what we have to offer, our light shines brightly.  When we lose touch with our personal style of teaching or try to imitate others, it is obvious to our students because when that happens, the energy shifts – it doesn’t flow – and they can feel it.

You were born – with potential – with goodness and trust – with ideals and dreams – with greatness – with wings; you were not meant for crawling, so don’t… you have wings – learn to use them and FLY! ~ Rumi

2.       Set a welcoming environment
Be friendly. Be filled with loving-kindness and compassion. Be inquisitive. Welcome students as if you have invited them into your home.  We do not know why a student decides to join our class or studio – unless we ask them.  When we ask questions and really listen to the responses, we are demonstrating a genuine interest.  This is the first step in letting others know they matter and we value them.  This may seem obvious, however not every teacher/studio does this well.  Teacher/studios should set a purposeful intention of welcoming students with open arms.

I was a new student at a studio recently and was given a clipboard with the instruction to have a seat in the waiting area and fill out the new student registration form.  Nothing else.  No questions, no ‘welcome to our studio’.  Nothing. This is not uncommon. I can recall times I practiced at local (New Hampshire) studios as well as visiting studios out of state (Massachusetts, California and North Carolina) where the person greeting students or the teacher leading the class did not prioritize setting a welcoming environment. Be curious and ask students why they came to your studio, how they found you, where they are from, if they have anything they would like you to know about their practice and/or if they have any injuries or physical restrictions.  As Oprah said on her last show (insert a sniffle here) – when you are talking to someone, really listen and let them know that what they are saying matters to you.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. ~Maya Angelou

3.       Meet students where they are at
Be present. Build upon setting a welcoming environment. As students continue to return to your class, pay attention to them.  Continue to get to know them and their practice and it will be easier to meet them where they are at because you will learn more about them, their practice and perhaps even about their life off the mat.

Recently one of my friends (a yoga teacher) told me a story about how she went to a yoga class and encouraged three of her friends to join her.  One of them had a regular practice, one had practiced a few times and one had never taken a class before.  The teacher did not welcome them properly (see #2) and did not know how long they had been practicing or if they had any physical limitations (tight hips, knee injury).  The teacher began the class by leading guided meditation and did not check in to see if the students new to her class were familiar with how to ‘sit’ comfortably. For those of us who have been practicing meditation for awhile, we may be familiar with the concept that ‘sitting’ can be uncomfortable and meditation is more than the physical seat, however, for newer students who are figuring out if yoga resonates for them – we have a responsibility to help them understand they have options for modifying their practice (whether it is Asana, Meditation, Pranayama, etc).  Over the years, I have heard many students express that they did what the teacher said because they thought that was how they were suppose to do it and they, too, should be able to do it that way.  If we have students in our class who are at different levels and we do not let them know they have options – how  will  they  know?

There are thousands of teacher training programs around the world where you can learn how many vertebrae are in the lumbar spine, the correct alignment of Utthita Trikonasana, effective verbal cues and the difference between an adjustment and an assist.  All of that is important in terms of teaching yoga and keeping your students safe and injury-free so they can maintain an asana (posture) practice for years, however, none of that matters if they do not come back to class. And it is likely that students will not return to our class/studio unless we set the intention for an overall excellent experience.  If we do not ‘see’ our students, if we do not listen to students, if we do not meet our students where they are at relative to their physical and spiritual practice, we miss the opportunity to hold the space for yoga to transform.

Contained within each of us is the capacity to turn ordinary moments into extraordinary moments. All it takes is but a moment of attention. ~ Govinda Kai

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