Five Simple Ways to Ignite Your Teaching.

Via Sean Conley
on Aug 11, 2012
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1. Teach to the Physicality of the Poses

As teachers we are looking to create a space that allows students to practice being present and aware. By asking them to pay attention to their feet, hands, hips, shoulders and spine, we ask them to become conscious. It keeps their focus on what they are doing at that moment. We are not asking them to perfect the poses. We are asking them to feel what they truly feel. This simple practice of awareness is the magic key and allows students to get out of their heads as they move away from the intellectual to the intuitive and it sets their hearts free. Teaching alignment-based yoga not only keeps students safe, more importantly it gets them present.

2. Use Clear and Concise Language. Keep a Beginner’s Mind.

“Simplify, simplify, simplify.”  ~ Henry David Thoreau

Yoga is practicing the art of simplicity. The beauty of the practice lies in its simplicity. While teaching the physical aspect, use essential language. The verbiage needs to presented in a manner that is simple and allows all to understand and take action. Students generally do not understand words and phrases such as, engage your thighs, spark your fingers, energize your bandhas, etc.

The words should be descriptive and should prompt action in people’s bodies.

Use simple words such as, squeeze, lift, pull or reach.

Avoid overuse of unneeded words and phrases that can slow down the energy of the class. For example: start, and, so, let’s begin to, next we will, from here we are going to do, now let’s do this…

Instead, just give the direction:

Reach your arms to sky

Press the outer edge of the back foot down

Pull your belly up and in

3. Balance. Remember Sthira Sukham Asanam as you Build the Poses.

“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.” ~ Thomas Merton

While teaching to the physical, remember sthira sukam asanam:

one part steady one part free

standing firm while letting go

strong yet easeful

stability with lightness and happiness

When teaching to the foundation, begin with the feet. This ensures that the students feel grounded and secure. From here, move on to the freedom experience of the pose.

For example, in Extended Side Angle we can feel our feet pressing into the floor with vigor and strength. At the same time, we can experience our chest, face and hearts softening, relaxing and opening.

During our yoga practice, we can discover this balance on our mats. Feeling strong and grounded in our feet, yet open, alive, allowing and free. This balance will eventually permeate into our daily lives. So we practice finding balance on the mats with the idea of experience balance off of our mats.

4. Gems: Support your quotes and metaphors by bringing them to life.

Quotes, stories, metaphors and other gems can be very powerful and useful. Sometimes it helps to support them by briefly stating how they relate to yoga or how it relates to the specific pose you are teaching at that time. Saying quotes just for the sake of saying a quote has a hard time landing with students and usually falls flat. Find quotes and stories that really resonate with you and your life at that moment. When they come from the heart they will be genuine and have more of an impact.

5. It’s About Them, Not Us.

When we teach, we are sharing our love for yoga. Put personal agendas aside concerning what you want out of your teaching. When we teach, we teach to share—not to look smart, look good, appear spiritually advanced, etc. The focus is always on creating an environment and space for the students to tap into their inner teacher. So if the teaching is more about us and not them, we have crowded their space. Teaching with selflessness is paramount for students to have the experience they deserve. It’s not easy, but it needs to be given ongoing attention.


Editor: Brianna Bemel


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About Sean Conley

Sean Conley, along with his wife Karen, founded the Amazing Yoga Studios in Pittsburgh, PA. They are co-authors of Amazing Yoga: A Practical Guide to Strength, Wellness, and Spirit. They lead Power Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Trainings in Mexico and Costa Rica. They have 4 kids who sometimes tag along with them to these amazing places. Sean bounced around in the NFL for 4 years. But after injuries and getting cut by a number of teams, he moved on and luckily stumbled into yoga. He believes yoga is an incredible way for all of us to practice healing ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And at the same time, we can help heal the planet. Yoga can change the way we think, eat, talk, and interact with others. Website: Facebook: SeanFacebook Twitter: @Sean_Conley_


17 Responses to “Five Simple Ways to Ignite Your Teaching.”

  1. Mamaste says:

    Just intro'd on FB to: WOW, Health & Wellness & Yoga.

  2. lisa says:

    thanks for these simple, concise ideas…they reinforce what I work towards doing every time i teach a class. nice article.

  3. Sean Conley says:

    thanks Mamaste!

  4. Sean Conley says:

    hi Scott, thanks for taking the time to read the article. have a good one.

  5. Sean Conley says:

    thanks Lisa. glad you enjoyed it. best of luck with your teaching! – sean

  6. […] Five Simple Ways to Ignite Your Teaching. […]

  7. Shawna says:

    Great tips! I love them all. In my teacher training with Frog Lotus Yoga, our instructor really emphasized # 3. And I've found it so helpful during my teaching to be direct. I recently pinched a nerve in my neck and was unable to really 'show' the poses for a while, and this clear, concise cueing really came in handy. And gems…I'm always searching for gems, and I find that the more I let go and truly speak from the heart, the more I find my own gems to share with my peeps.

  8. blissful216 says:

    Great article! I especially liked the reminder to keep things physical. 🙂 I've noticed sometimes the best way to bring someone back tot he present is to really immerse them in the pose. When the mind is focused on the mechanics, everything else floating around in their head settles……at least during class. 😉 Thanks!

  9. Silvia says:

    Great article! Great tips and well written! Right to the point! Thank you!!!

  10. Great piece. My favorites are 4 and 5 – I always try to open my classes with a dharma talk on a certain theme I am offering/exploring with my students, and find that I build the practice i offer them around that. Not only does it add depth and context to the flow for my students, it is also a helpful tool when you might not know exactly what you want to do with them – it gives you a concept and groundwork to build off of. Very useful. And of course, ALWAYS remembering that it is, indeed, THEIR practice at all times, not yours. You offer and hold a safe space. The rest is their thing, and detaching your ego from that with worries of how you're coming across or how you benefit from what's happening in the studio is a great exercise.

    Looking forward to reading more from you!

  11. Sean Conley says:

    hi Shawna, thanks for reading the article. hope the neck is feeling better. you are right on about the gems. i love how you express that. thank you. – sean

  12. Sean Conley says:

    thanks blissful for checking it out. best of luck with your teaching! – sean

  13. Sean Conley says:

    thank you Silvia, glad you enjoyed it. best wishes! – sean

  14. Sean Conley says:

    thanks LongtimeSY, for taking the time to read the piece. best of luck with your teaching! – sean

  15. Myrna M says:

    Thanks for the article! I am glad to hear that I am doing something right – I am doing some of those things already in my teaching. Good to hear about your studios in Pgh. I used to live in Pittsburgh and was practicing and teaching yoga there also. In fact, I lived in South Side for 3 yrs. I wish your studio had been there then!

  16. […] teachers and aspiring teachers, we have a vested interest in the power of yoga. We have felt its presence running through our […]