Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tips for Teachers: Part II

At the grand opening party of the Life in Synergy Studio in Boston this week, I ran into an aspiring yoga teacher and reader who mentioned that she enjoyed an August post called Tips for Teachers. Turns out, there's more where that came from. Here are a few additional rules of the road that have come to mind. You'll notice that they're more ideological than technical, this time, because I think both types of feedback are useful. Please feel free to add your own insight by posting a comment.

Practice What You Preach: Of course, this is easier said than done, but I firmly believe that how you conduct your life off the mat is just as significant, if not more so, than whether you can develop a sweet sequence of poses or recite the Bhagavad Gita during class. Sadly, there are lots of yoga teachers who fail to "walk the walk." They might laud compassion in one breath and speak hateful words with the next or chastise students for the same very behaviors in which they engage when no one is looking. Yet, yoga teachers are human too, so none of this should be surprising. Nevertheless, if you want to teach yoga, your aim should be to live it- with your words, thoughts, and deeds.

Speaking of deeds, engage in spiritual politeness and spiritual activism: Two esteemed teachers shared those terms with me recently; Patricia Walden coined the first, while Lama Surya Das introduced the second in his keynote address at this year's Global Mala event. Neither needs a definition as their meanings are intuitive. Get a jump start on your spiritual activism by attending this weekend's workshop, Put Your Money Where Your Mat Is, at the Roxbury Preparatory Charter School (near the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).

Honor the Tradition: Yoga is several thousands of years old. It originated in India. Its purpose is not solely to chisel your butt cheeks (my apologies if this comes as a shock). If you want to teach yoga, you simply have to pay homage to the yogis, luminaries, seekers, and sages that came before you. You don't have to agree with them. You don't have to make your poses look like theirs, but you need to acknowledge their teachings and acquaint yourself with the origins of this sacred art. Think of yourself as an artist, chef, or scientist. Before you re-write the rules, you need to study the classics, learn the fundamentals, and understand the work of your predecessors.

Set Healthy Boundaries: Yoga can be pretty touchy-feely; [meaning, closeness is fostered among strangers quickly; either because there can be a mere postage stamp-width separation between your mat and someone else's or the personal nature of themes and feelings often discussed in a studio setting- thank you, Juan, for the prompt to clarify], which is fine. However, the openness of the environment should never be misused or abused. You, as a yoga teacher, set the tone for the class and studio. If you're giving some chicky in the front row googly eyes (again), you better believe you're generating a certain, ahem, undercurrent. If teaching yoga is going to be your profession, treat it as such. Act professional.

Support Your Peeps: It's a shame when yoga teachers go all "downward dogfight" on each other. Instead of undermining one another, talk up your colleagues, trade ideas, and help each other grow- not just within your own studio but across studios, styles, and state lines. You don't benefit from discouraging students from studying with other teachers; instead, you appear territorial and insecure, and you dilute the path of your students' study.

Infuse Poses With Purpose: Make sure each pose that you choose has a purpose, and infuse the flow of your sequence with a sense of purpose as well. Don't worry about waxing poetic or providing the perfect assist. Have a plan for your class, and enjoy the way you build it before the eyes of your students. Your job is to give them an enlightening experience from start to finish. To that end, you need to be mindful of how the class is developing at all times. Avoid languishing in an asana too long for little to no reason; skip flourishes that aren't built upon the fundamentals, and, above all, communicate consciously. Explain the purpose of a pose, and occasionally tie that purpose to a larger theme. It's the best way to help students unite their minds, bodies, and souls, which is, coincidentally, the objective of yoga.


juan antonio fernandez said...

touchy feely?

Ame said...

Thanks so much Rebecca. I think it's safe to assume that I am the reader you ran into at Life in Synergy, and I appreciate this post as much as I did the first. My teaching journey is just beginning, and it's great to have advice from a seasoned pro. Any ideas about how to get over first-class jitters? ;)