Yoga classes are usually a time to relax and deliberately empty your mind of daily worries, while exercising your muscles. The enduring popularity of yoga comes from its unique ability to engage the mind and the body. Sadly, some Hatha yoga teachers venture too far into the mental and spiritual aspects of this ancient art. Spiritual yoga classes have a dark side.
Teaching Hatha yoga classes requires a balancing act. Some of your students are looking for an intense workout, while others are seeking a meaningful conversation with their bodies, minds, or the greater universe. If you lean too far towards the spiritual side of yoga class, you will alienate fitness-minded students. You can guide students in the general direction of a spiritual experience, by opening your classes with a breathing exercise or time for meditation, but keep it short to avoid losing the interest of your more active students. Students, looking for a deeper practice, can spend personal time practicing meditation or private time seeking your guidance – just make sure your students are aware of their options.
Students of Faith
All of our students enter classes with a belief system. Some may have no religion, while others are active participants in all that their religion has to offer. For deeply religious students, attending yoga class takes courage and an open mind. Many conservative spiritual leaders see yoga as a religion or a gateway to the occult. Spiritual yoga classes can perpetuate this misconception. Focusing on your own religious beliefs, during class time, can push away those who have different beliefs. Yoga can be a beautiful tool for preparing the body for meditation and inner spiritual journeys, but students must be able to apply their yogic practice to their own personal religions. If you strongly desire to share your religion, consider teaching a specific class that incorporates your beliefs into yoga practice, and leave religion out of your Hatha sessions.
A few unscrupulous yoga teachers may set themselves up as cult-like figures who cannot be questioned. As with many charismatic leaders, these gurus may abuse their control over their students. These teachers may harass students, or even touch them inappropriately, while pretending to adjust a student’s pose. As an honest, loving instructor, you want to keep your image as far away from these seedy teachers as possible, and that means avoiding the dark side of yoga classes.
Spirituality is a key feature of Bhakti, Karma, and Raja classes. However, physical-based styles, such as Hatha and Vinyasa, don’t need to touch the deeper aspects of spiritual beauty. Eventually, students who practice for physical purposes, for years, will find their own spiritual beauty based upon their own religion. Therefore, don’t sanitize your lessons by removing all traces of deeper meaning, but remember to stay safe. Make spiritual practices an optional part of your Yoga school. Keep your energy positive and welcoming to all who step into your studio and respect the diversity in all of your students.
One of the biggest problems, with organizing classes, is labeling them appropriately. Students are not mind readers. If a class is challenging, religious, restorative, flowing, spiritual, hot, or for pure beginners – that class should be properly labeled and a description should also be assigned to it. The yoga instructor, who teaches the class, is best suited to describe what a student would expect to experience in each class.
Therefore, be completely honest about the aspects that you bring into your classes. If you teach a one-hour Hatha yoga training session, your students aren’t expecting 15 minutes of mantras, 15 minutes of yogic breathing (pranayama), 15 minutes of relaxation, and 15 minutes of meditation. What are they expecting? They expect to practice postures (asanas) like they see on television. Yes, there is more to yoga than asana practice, but don’t expect your students to come back if it appears that you are engaging in trickery.
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