In my last two posts (Part One & Part Two), I started our conversation about the Language of Yoga with an exploration of what not to do and began illustrations and explanations for what we should do instead.
I introduced the first of the essential language skills for teaching yoga: Knowing the Basics of the Poses. I began to illustrate the important differences between active/passive language and direct/indirect language.
Today I’ll continue that exploration by talking about how you can Nourish Your Presence.
Nourish Your Presence
On a daily basis, and certainly before you walk into your classroom, you must Nourish Your Presence. I’ve been teaching yoga for more than 25 years. Things have changed. What teachers seem to expect of themselves, and what they perceive students are expecting from them, has also changed.
An example that comes to mind is spending time designing a sequence in advance and setting up a playlist.
These are new evolutions in the yoga community. Perhaps a decade or so old now, or maybe longer-standing, my awareness of this has increased over the past 10 years through open conversations with yoga teachers struggling to teach sustainably. I understand how we got where we are today. Yet, in the conversations I have with yoga teachers entering our 300-hour yoga therapy training program, what I hear from them about this is:
- “It takes me hours to plan my class and set it to music.”
- “I have to keep creating more interesting sequences to keep my students engaged and not bored.”
- “All of this planning has become time consuming and I am afraid I am burning out on teaching.”
- “I get anxious if I don’t have my sequence planned.”
- “I feel pressured to design more intricate sequences interwoven with themes and poetry and purpose. But, while I’m doing it all, I don’t feel inspired. Instead I feel tired.”
With the celebration and integration of mindfulness into practically every aspect of modern life, what I recommend to teachers, in all stages of development as a teacher, is a daily nourishment of our Inner Presence through a simple 3-step mindfulness practice.
I also strongly recommend using this practice before you begin your class, as you teach your class, and as a template for integrating mindfulness into your class. This both lessens the internal pressure teachers seem to be feeling about teaching their classes and creates the learning atmosphere that reflects the ancient teachings of yogic wisdom.
When we feel less pressured to perform or to entertain our students, and when we’re truly trusting in the processes of the yogic teachings, the sense of self with which we walk into the classroom changes.
We get out of our own way. We also get out of the way of our students. We elicit fewer projections from them and we will project onto them less intensely as well!
Get In Your GAP: Get Grounded, Pay Attention, Become Present
- Get Grounded: Choose an object on which to rest (and re-direct) your mind. Get grounded on an actual experience in the present moment (not the narrative you are telling yourself about the present moment, nor the story you have running in your head about yourself as a person or a yoga teacher). This might be the feeling of your feet on the ground, or the sensations of your hand holding your phone as you read this blog, or the temperature of the air coming and going through your nostrils as your body breathes you. In the yoga sutras, Patanjali recommends choosing an object for your attention, single-pointed focus. Choosing is the first step to getting grounded in the here and now.
- Pay Attention: If your mind is like the average wandering mind of modern (and ancient) people, you’ll need to wield your attention. You’ll need to intermittently, yet kindly and consistently bring your attention back to this object. Dharana is the sixth limb of yoga and refers to the art of developing and sustaining concentration. This is a non-judgmental, non-evaluative, non-critical observation.
- Become Present: By repeating steps 1 and 2, you will cultivate mindful presence. Your brain will actually undergo both neurological and biochemical shifts toward your Inner Presence, also called your ventral vagal parasympathetic hum.
Practicing this on a daily basis, many times a day, in place of designing your sequences and setting up your playlists will develop your presence, a gateway to your abilities for being in direct relationship with your students, as they are, in front of you. As you hone your intuition about what’s needed in their poses, but more importantly in their practices*, this process will provide you with the inner sanctuary with you’ll teach without getting tired.
(I know in the trauma-informed conversations we’re having one of the What Not To Do’s is not to assume you might know what your students are needing. I understand you may have been instructed to assume that they will know. I will address this in another blog. Stay tuned, because what I want to share may be upsetting in a very stimulating and yet empowering way!)
We also have new “styles” of yoga, some that seem to require teaching students to do things more quickly while making sure they get “all” the pieces of the pose figured out.
Some of the drawbacks here, for both teacher and student, include the way in which this mimics the pace we expect of our lives and the chronic pre-occupations with our To Do Lists and Getting It All Done before we “Get To Relax”.
- From Downward Dog to Warrior 1: “Stepping your right foot forward. Turning your left heel down to the ground, now inhale and rise up to warrior 1. Pressing into your big toe mound, lifting your inner arch, and rooting your outer heel, feel the foundation of your pose. Good, now strongly anchoring your tailbone, squeeze your legs toward the midline and rise up out of your pelvis. Keeping your front ribs in and your back ribs broad, while inhaling raise your arms and heart toward the sky. Wonderful now exhale and release. Find yourself in downward facing dog pose.”
How might this “script” be adjusted with Getting in the GAP?
- Bring your attention to the places where your body is right now connected to the ground. Without trying to make the experience any different, simply notice that your body experiences sensations between your hands and feet and the ground beneath you.
- Breathe into this very natural occurrence.
- As you feel connected to those sensations, then exhale and bring your right foot forward between your hands.
- Inhale as you again notice the fresh sensations of your connection to the ground.
- With your exhale, slowly bring your left heel in and down to root onto your mat, while still kindly observing the sensations involved in the transition.
- Silence, while the teacher is also breathing and noticing their feet connecting to the ground (even though they are not doing the pose with their students).
- Now, with your next inhale, and at your rhythm, sweep your arms wide and rise up to Warrior 1.
- To support this transition to be more powerful, root your tailbone down and reconnect to the sensations of both feet connecting to your yoga mat.
- Silence, while the teacher breathes. Teacher observes students (not just reciting the To Do List of actions for this pose).
- Teacher could give an invitation (A): With a quality you might admire in warriors, in courageous people, or in your inspired role models, consider how you might radiate that quality through your yoga pose at this moment.
- Teacher could give a life skill (B): As we sustain this pose, notice where your attention goes. How might you bring together your body, breath and mind in this moment of your life, without judgment, without comparison, in alignment with what your body is able to do today?
- Teacher could give the pose a nuance, based on observation of their students (C): While you sustain this pose with your body, breath, and mind, energize your back leg, any amount, that enables you to feel into your left heel. Notice, again, the sensations of being connected to the ground beneath you.
- Teacher could then relate this to the tradition of yoga and integrate the students’ sense of belonging to this larger tradition. They will also be building the students’ sense of belonging and community:
- (A) In the spirit of warriors everywhere, including those past yogis and yoginis, imagine the larger radiance into which you might connect to for strength, wisdom or guidance, on your mat and off.
- (B) All of us have had to learn to relate to our body with greater respect and sensitivity, including our ancestor yogis too. We’ve all had to practice releasing judgment to discover and appreciate our body’s capacity and needs on any one day.
- (C) You might choose to imagine your back leg like a taproot connecting you to the long-standing tradition of yoga of which you are now a part.
It may take longer to teach the poses in this way. Yet, the effect on your nervous system, your students, and your class ambiance offers a much deeper value than the numbers of poses you can talk them through in 60-90 minutes.
There is more to say on the advantages of the shifts I’m recommending. I will continue in a follow-up post, Value and Engage, to explore these recommendations. For now, I look forward to hearing from you as to how you experience these suggestions in your body, in your practice, and in your classrooms.