By Jenny Park and Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP
What should a Yoga instructor know before teaching classes? One 200-hour course will not have all the answers. That is not meant to slight any course, but teaching requires a lifetime of study, which is devoted to a subject. If you teach kindergarten, you prepare for each session every day. If you think teaching any subject does not require continuing education, please do your potential students a favor and move on to a job that doesn’t require learning anything new. With that in mind, we’re going deep in many directions, because Yoga is a family of healing modalities. Just one aspect of Yoga is worthy of research for a lifetime.
Different teachers do different exciting things, but teaching Yoga is more gratifying for students when it’s fun. Teaching Yoga isn’t just about relieving emotional and physical pain, but also about changing someone’s life. Although teaching Yoga is quite fulfilling, it’s not all butterflies and rainbows. A Yoga instructor must overcome some challenges to remain relevant and effective. Teaching Yoga isn’t just an art, but also a science and practice. As a Yoga instructor, you need teaching techniques that inspire your students to take off the mat and light them up with some new ideas. If you are a new Yoga teacher and wish to inspire and nourish your students, here’s an attempt to answer the riddle: What should a yoga instructor know?
Consider Music to Create a Calm Class Atmosphere
Some teachers and students will scratch their heads regarding this tip and music will not work everywhere, but it might be a big draw. Some Yoga instructors teach without music, which is fine. A quiet Yoga class could be considered boring or less exciting, and that’s why you might need some soothing music to uplift your students’ spirit. Although you could enhance your class in various ways, filling the room with some calming music would be surprisingly effective and easy to do. However, a Yoga instructor would be wise to avoid playing loud or inappropriate music, since it will affect the students’ concentration. Lower-volume and soothing music allow students to draw their attention inward.
Observe and Adapt
Find out if your classes improve with calming breath music or if it invites a creative soundtrack. Some Yoga instructors have calming music playing before the class starts. Once the class has begun, play “walk-in” (warm-up) music for about 10 minutes and match the tune with the pace. Music with native language lyrics might be irritating and distracting. One of many options is to choose instrumental tracks with flowing and rhythmic tunes or even spa-like music that creates a comfortable environment. Some students prefer to listen to Sanskrit, but that’s not unanimous, and it’s a bit of trial and error with any audience. Therefore, go with the flow and listen to student feedback. Whatever makes your students comfortable will improve the class atmosphere.
Don’t Dismiss the Energy Arc
What should a Yoga instructor know about energy? Teaching a dynamic (flow) Yoga class isn’t easy since it requires you to allow the students some time when getting to the mat, and when ending the Yoga session to allow them to assimilate their experiences. Flowing Yoga sessions begin at a low pace and ramp up gradually. When transiting from moderate Yoga pace to high pace, introduce your students to simple warm-up postures and breathing tips. Feel-good postures like reclined twists and hip-openers should be practiced at the end of the Yoga session. After practicing for about ten minutes, the students should have a “Shavasana” minute and probably a 15-minute rest session (cool down) after asana practice.
Those who taught you Yoga can highly influence how you teach your students. Instead of copying their teaching styles, use them to create enriching inspiration. Most students can sense when you aren’t yourself or when you have copied some words and teaching styles from another person. When you copy other teachers’ styles and words, you don’t just discredit them, but also deny yourself an opportunity to realize your unique traits and internal creativity. Know what inspires you most before you share it with your students. Develop a playful personality and make it shine. When you use authentic Yoga techniques in the class, you influence the students to stay true to their feelings and attitude to the Yoga sessions. Some students may not like how you do it, but your relationship with them should always reflect mutual trust and respect.
As a Yoga instructor, you should also set intentions, create theme-based classes, interpret yoga philosophy snippets, interact with great Yoga teachers, know your students, practice what you teach, and offer inclusive classes. You should also read the student’s energy in the room before the class starts. Besides teaching your students some new yoga practices, you should also help them invite yoga into what they do daily on their business premises, school, workplaces, or even at home.
The Art of Sequencing
What should a yoga instructor know about sequencing? As a professional Yoga teacher, there is an endless assortment of ways to creatively sequence a series of asanas, meditation techniques, and breathing exercises to facilitate the vibrant good health and overall well-being of your Yoga students. Once you master the basic elements of a safe and effective class, you will be able to creatively engage your students in a series of postures that elicit positive emotional states, as well as strengthen and tone various parts of the body.
Accessible and Challenging
Choosing an accessible and challenging pinnacle asana (peak pose) is one of the most creative and intuitive aspects of being an effective Yoga instructor. Many teachers create a sequence of postures that are intended to culminate in the practice of a challenging pinnacle pose. A challenge pinnacle pose will be different depending on the composition of students in your Yoga class. For instance, on a given day you may have a preponderance of beginning students in your class, which will necessitate choosing a pinnacle pose that is challenging enough for your students, but not so challenging that attempting the posture you have chosen makes them vulnerable to injury.
You also do not want to choose a pinnacle pose that is so difficult for most of your Yoga students that they are not able to do the posture at all and this failure ends up eroding their sense of competency, which leaves them feeling demoralized at the end of class and ready to throw in the proverbial towel. Part of being a successful Yoga teacher is to maintain a high degree of safety in your class. Another important aspect of being a successful teacher is to keep your students enthusiastic about practicing Yoga with you!
Guiding with Grace
What should a Yoga instructor know about experience? As you gain more experience as a Yoga teacher, you will also learn how to creatively sequence your Yoga class, in order to enhance your students’ experiences of different exalted emotions or uplifting states of being. An example of this is the cultivation of peace and inner well-being. By guiding your students through a vigorous series of standing and balancing postures, which winds down into a softer, more introspective series of seated forward folds, your students will feel quiet and peaceful at the end of your Yoga class if all goes as planned.
Additionally, a state of courage and the tenacity to follow through on one’s goals is spoken of quite highly in many different spiritual texts from a variety of religious traditions. A challenging Yoga class that is accessible to most of your students will provide a framework within which to cultivate a sense of courage, accomplishment, and diligence. Challenging standing postures and arm balancing poses often come to mind immediately as poses that easily lend themselves to the development of courage and tenacity.
Posture and Energy
However, back bending poses and hip openers also help to open up the energetic areas of the body that often become contracted and closed down throughout the course of our lives, when we experience difficult or painful situations. By guiding your Yoga students through a series of expansive back bending postures, you will allow them to release some of the constriction around their heart and throat areas. The resultant state of expansion will increase the flow of energy throughout their entire being, which will uplift their spirit and engender a state of courage in their hearts and minds.
Bow Pose – For Example
Bow Pose is one of the most profoundly opening back bending postures that is quite accessible to most Yoga students. This posture is practiced while lying on a Yoga mat in a prone position. Please note: Upward-Facing Bow is a more challenging version of Bow Pose and should only be undertaken by those students who have enough flexibility and strength to practice the posture in a safe manner. On the other hand, Bow Pose can be safely practiced by most beginning Yoga students, assuming the students are able to lie on a Yoga mat comfortably and are not contending with a serious neck or back injury, particularly a lower back injury.
What to Expect
Bow Pose expands the entire rib cage area and releases tension throughout the shoulders, neck, and throat. This posture will also increase flexibility throughout the quadriceps and hip flexors. Bow Pose is usually practiced after a series of Sun Salutations, standing postures, and balancing poses. It is often practiced as a connecting pose between the standing asanas and seated postures. After your students have practiced a series of three Bow Poses for three to five breaths each, have them move gently move back into the Extended Child’s Pose, in order to release any tension that may have accumulated in their lower back area, before proceeding onto the next Yoga posture.
What should a Yoga instructor know about the history and honoring the founders? Do you ever reflect on the cultural origins of Yoga? Do you see how we owe it to our Yogi predecessors to transmit the practice with gratitude, accuracy, context, and humility? No matter what our race or ethnicity, we must not act like we created the ancient wisdom that is Yoga practice. We must offer the wisdom to our students with, and engage in as we practice, deference to those who first hit upon its essential truths and developed its practices. Why should it matter, if those Yogis have long passed away? Apart from basic integrity, it means something to our minds, hearts, and spirits.
Honoring the Roots
When we demonstrate respect to the original Yogis, we cultivate inner humility. That’s a key ingredient in many, if not all, of the Yamas and Niyamas. It also opens our minds to historical and cultural contexts. Better understanding, and then acknowledging how, when, where, and why Yoga developed positions us to better understand the practice itself. Offering acknowledgment of Yoga’s roots also leads us to greater respect and appreciation for Yoga masters after the original ones, who have continued the work of honing and growing the practice to be what it is today. It builds the same for our teachers and even our fellow students. All are involved in the process of creating the experience that is Yoga practice.
What should a Yoga instructor know about giving credit? How do we show appreciation and acknowledgment, rather than appropriate what isn’t – culturally speaking – actually to our credit? Let’s start with clarity of terms. Cultural appropriation is taking something from another culture as your own. Appreciation and acknowledgment are being clear that you are sharing in the wisdom and other gifts of another culture, and are grateful for that. You remain thankful that you are welcome in the space of what another culture has created. Yoga instructors can unfortunately sometimes engage in the former behavior, most likely not out of any ill-will but out of lack of awareness, in two main ways.
Understanding Respect and Evolution
Some teachers purposely share classical Yogic texts, quotes, philosophies, and methods without also sharing whom and where they came from. It’s akin to plagiarizing in writing. We can also adapt and “modernize” the practice to the point where it widely diverges from classical Yoga, such that the extreme change is almost a form of borrowing – without due clarity on what is what. To teachers who are purists, this can be easily seen in forms like Yogalates and Yoga Sculpt (sometimes practiced with weights). This is also why some Yoga instructors refuse to teach hybrid classes. Yet, there is always the argument about Yoga being a system that has evolved for thousands of years.
What’s the alternative; how can we avoid falling into these behaviors? The first step is knowledge. Keep your awareness of Yoga’s roots, and the major subsequent developments, fresh through continuing education. Then make it a point to share this knowledge with students. You can make concerted efforts to share the wisdom of classical Yoga through reading texts such as The Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali’s writings – as well as those of more modern Yoga visionaries such as B.K.S. Iyengar.
Delivering Wisdom and the Source
With full and proper citation, students can be clear about where the wisdom of Yoga has truly come from. This is even possible in locations that might discourage a religious or spiritual stance. One can find several wise passages and quotes in those texts that are not inherently religious or spiritual. And we can teach the Sutras in a very relatable, secular way. Explain ahimsa as non-violence to self or other, for instance, in truth quite applicable to Yoga practice itself (particularly asana practice). Anyone from any faith or spiritual background (or lack thereof) can get behind that concept.
On the second consideration, significantly altering classical asana to the point of it being almost theft, clarity of terms and methods is also important. For instance, there’s nothing inherently wrong with meshing Yoga and Pilates to create Yogalates – but without a definition of what is Yoga and what is Pilates, students are not fully made to understand and respect the traditions and values of each. The blend instead appears to be full of the instructor’s own making – when its ingredients are certainly not. Of course, effective teaching is fluid, not overly didactic, and contains concise language.
Simplicity of Truth
What should a Yoga instructor know about the source of techniques? It’s possible for teaching to be these things and offer full and due context – it just takes practice and dedication on our part as teachers. A quick mention of “Pilates Hundreds” or “this more classical Yoga asana” suffices to remind students of the traditions each comes from, for instance. Additionally, when you may have more time to appropriately expand, the powerful and essential simplicity of truths within holistic movement forms will guide you to frame them in clear and concise ways. Certainly, for the wisdom and rich histories of these teachings, we must at least try.
© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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Yoga Instructor – Our Current Perceived Value
By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP
Are Yoga instructors giving enough value to students? In this time of COVID, Zoom, YouTube, and streaming options, are we presenting Yoga in a way that will be perceived as a value? Our students are not blind to their options and they remember the lockdowns of 2020. In fact, Austria just recently began to relax their Omicron coronavirus lockdown. How can we reach our students? Well, the first priority is to go online more than we did before. We should not forget the needs of our students as we continue to teach online classes. The global need for stress management is at an all-time high. While it would be unwise to promise cures, we can give our students natural tools for stress, anxiety, and insomnia. In fact, too many people were struggling with poverty before the pandemic. If they still have a connection to the Internet, we can reach them.
Assisting Today and Tomorrow
What should a Yoga instructor know about student learning abilities and our teaching methods? Each student is unique, but there will be much less touching now and in the future. So, students who learned by watching and listening won’t have as much difficulty as the students who need physical assistance. This means some of us will have to go deeper into our teaching skill set and develop verbal assisting skills more than ever before. If we taught a daily Yoga class before the pandemic, we want to do the same thing online. This is where change forces us to become innovators.
Fire of Passion
Yoga instructors are not alike. We have different backgrounds, beliefs, genders, ages, and more. At this time, some of us could just retire and get out of teaching altogether. The younger teachers could adapt to the online teaching atmosphere and circumstances that we might find untraditional, but hold on a second! Many of us have no desire to retire. Becoming a Yoga instructor was, and still is, our passion. There’s nothing wrong with retiring if that’s your calling, but teaching is fun as the years go by. We still have a few valuable tips to pass on to our students as they continue to practice while they continue now and in the future. That said, we still enjoy giving too, and seeing, our students grow as practitioners and more.
Bringing this back to the beginning: Are Yoga instructors giving enough value to students? Yes, and we have new skills to learn. Some of us have to adapt to a whole new ballgame. What should a Yoga instructor know about teaching classes online? Do we have a choice? At the very least, we should begin to get comfortable in front of a camera. If you’ve had any exposure to Aura Wellness Center, you should know cameras and technology are a leap for most of us, but everything is possible. I strongly encourage every Yoga instructor to develop an online presence now and into the future.
© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
Yoga Instructor: Never Promise Cures
By Faye Martins
What should a yoga instructor know about talking or writing? Your credibility is at stake at all times. For most people, one of the most disappointing experiences happens when they trust a person or a product to deliver on something they promised. When they either underdeliver or don’t deliver at all, it can be pretty discouraging. One of the reasons why the beauty industry is so lucrative is because there are millions of companies that promise to provide products that will get rid of fine lines, diminish wrinkles, and other claims. So many people spend millions of dollars in order to achieve those final results. When those results don’t happen, they just simply move on to another product.
Promises in Life
The same concept is true for politics. Politicians will promise to deliver different results based on the needs of their constituents. Due to desperation and a strong desire for change, people will vote for a specific politician to rise into power. However, it only becomes a never-ending cycle of the same promises and lackluster results. While these experiences run the gamut, it’s important to protect the sanctity of Yoga and what it represents. This is why it is very dangerous to provide claims that Yoga will be able to do something that it can’t.
Custodians of the Ancient Art
The longer we live, the more we experience good times or challenging times. As children, we tended to believe what we were told, but some of us adopted doubt much sooner than others. Yoga instructors are the custodians of an ancient practice that has survived many changes and challenges along the way. It is only natural to be enthusiastic about a health maintenance system, which has roots before written language was around to record it. In those days, Yoga was taught by word of mouth.
Students Have Needs
One of the reasons why it is very dangerous for Yoga instructors to set Yoga on a pedestal in an effort to promise a cure is because each person is different. When a person enters a studio, they’re coming with their personal strengths, their mindset and their physical limitations. Whether a person is dealing with a hormonal imbalance or a broken wrist, these factors play into how they’ll be able to receive different practices and teachings. There are some people who will be able to receive yoga as a cure-all for almost everything they’ve experienced. However, that doesn’t mean it’ll be the case for everyone.
Understanding Why Students Struggle
What should a Yoga instructor know about making promises? Take a look at the simple act of floating on water. There are many people who are avid swimmers. However, some swimmers have difficulty with how to relax. As a result of their inability to relax, they struggle with how to effectively float for a lengthy period of time. They struggle to figure out how to let relax and just breathe. Until they’re able to fully process how to let go of their fears and float, they’re not likely to have a successful experience. This doesn’t mean that floating isn’t possible. They just can’t figure out how to connect their mind with their body in order to relax. This also doesn’t mean that floating won’t work for their partner, sibling, or parents. This is just their personal experience.
The same concept applies to Yoga. While one person might look at yoga and have a successful experience that changes their entire life, that might not be the experience for the next person. This is mainly because Yoga is a deeply personal experience. While you, as the yoga instructor, can help the student understand the concepts, they have to put them into practice. They have to connect their mind, body, and soul in order to gain a wide range of benefits. There may be a number of reasons why they can’t do that. So, you don’t want to make a claim that it will work for them when there’s a possibility that it can’t.
Compassion in Teaching
Furthermore, shame has no place in Yoga practice. When you promise a cure and a student doesn’t experience healing, this can usher in a level of shame because it didn’t happen for them the way it might’ve happened for the next person. Then, people start to look internally and scrutinize themselves. Compassion should be one of the leading forces of a yoga practice. Compassion and shame can’t coexist successfully.
No Medical Advice
There’s also the factor of legalities and liabilities that you don’t want hanging over you or the place where you teach. While it’s okay to talk about the potential success people can experience with Yoga, never promise medical success, because you don’t know what that individual person’s journey will look like from the most practical standpoint. Think back to the days of learning to ride a bike. Some of us struggled and had serious falls that we can still remember as adults, while others picked it up right away. A Yoga instructor is a guide to point the public toward a successful outcome, who works to prevent harm. What should a Yoga instructor know about talking or writing? Stop making promises and never promise cures.
Lead by Example
As long as you teach, you will have students who will follow you and the example you set. Your credibility and that of Yoga are on the line. If you mention anything about Yoga as an adjunct therapy, you should also know the research. What should a Yoga instructor know about research? You should, at least, know something about studies and research. You could easily access Google Scholar for detailed information about research, trials, and studies. Therefore, offering helpful information is a wonderful thing and you can share the source with anyone, but don’t promise a cure. Medical doctors recommend exercise, diet, prescriptions, and more, but they don’t promise cures. With all that said, none of us should be promising cures.
© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division