Yoga today is a dizzying (and contradictory) landscape. It’s a workout. It’s a spiritual practice. It’s a way to relax and check out. It’s a way to focus and check in. It’s the discipline of advanced postures. It’s not about the postures. It’s all about “safe” alignment. Alignment is bullshit.
As an aspiring or current teacher, you are going to go to trainings and workshops led by charismatic, persuasive yogis and hear competing theories and experience radically different approaches to theming and cueing and sequencing. If you stick with teaching you are going to change your mind and change your practice many times over. That’s healthy. But at each and every stage of your growth as a teacher, you are responsible for asking yourself this question: Why do I teach yoga?
And I don’t just mean a vague sense that yoga is great and life-changing. I mean really, specifically, “Why do YOU teach yoga?” What does rolling out a mat and twisting and bending into various shapes do for you, day in and day out?
“Why do I have to get so clear about this?”, you ask. Well, because when you’re a yoga teacher, you are answering this question every time you teach.
And strangely – as passionate as you are about yoga – this question can be hard. The specifics can be difficult to pin down or express. What helps? Well, struggling through the process of answering. Like yoga, you have to show up for it every day. There are lot of layers to peel back. And, of course, things change over time. So, you can’t just ask yourself this question once and then say, “Box ticked!”
Here’s one way to get started.
STEP ONE: Set a start date and period of time. For example, say that this will be a 3-week commitment and mark it in your calendar.
STEP TWO: Before you begin your 3 weeks, write down the answer to these 2 questions:
Why do you practice yoga? What are the specific qualities of yoga asanas (postures) that help you? For example, is it the repetition of movement? The speed? The challenge? The stillness? Being on a mat? A quiet space?
What is in your daily practice? For example, do you have the same basic set sequence of postures or lots of variation? Is your practice generally more dynamic or more still? Does it include meditation or breath work? (These are just examples – describe whatever you think is important)
Write your answers in an unstructured, free-form way. It can be words, phrases, bullet points (if you’re hyper-organised) Don‘t get bogged down in the structure.
This will give you an idea of why you THINK you practice yoga. And that’s a start. It’s kind of like a hypothesis. And, using the scientifc method, now you’ll put it to the test.
STEP THREE: Keep a practice journal. Just like a food journal, this will help you track how often you practice, how long, what postures, and how you feel before and after. For each journal entry, write down 1) how you are feeling before the practice 2) what you did during the practice 3) what (if anything) changes after the practice. If the effects of a practice hit you hours later, try to go back and capture those too.
STEP FOUR: At the conclusion of your designated period of time, sit down and read through your journal. You will probably learn things you didn’t know about your practice. You might notice what you do a lot and what you avoid. You might notice that you hate slowing down or speeding up. You might notice that immediately after a practice you feel vulnerable but later you feel more stable. You might notice that while one hamstring stretch feels good, doing a whole practice of them leaves you feeling a little sore. You may discover that what you wrote in the beginning (your hypothesis) is pretty consistent with what you actually do. Or you may find that it’s not. I don’t know what you’ll discover. And chances are neither do you!
Studies show that we THINK we are very good at predicting outcomes when in reality we are not that great! That’s also been my experience. Sometimes I get it right, but just as often I get a little (or a lot) wrong…
Whatever you discover, this is HOW you start to build your teaching foundation. It comes from and through YOUR practice and the things you feel and notice in your own movements.
For more ideas and exercises like this one, join my Yoga Teacher Mentorship Groups. You’ll enjoy spirited discussion with other teachers about what it means to teach yoga. You’ll get weekly emails with key themes from our discussions and resources like inspiring articles and podcasts. And you’ll get class-planning exercises and tips.
ONE spot remains in the June group (Sundays on June 16, 23, 30, and July 7). This is your last chance to get the Intro Rate! Contact me (email@example.com) for details.
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