I’ve always liked teaching and presenting in general. And I love yoga. So I thought teaching yoga would come somewhat natural to me. I mean, how hard can it be? If you can do the poses, surely you can teach them, right? But maybe that was an over-simplistic view. I didn’t realize the level of complexity that comes with teaching.
My partner always says ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’. I couldn’t agree more. Obviously there are some situations where no amount of planning can ever prepare you, however where it is within your control, there is no excuse for not planning.
So, step one for teaching – plan your lessons. In all honesty, this is probably the part of teaching yoga that I have discovered I like the most. Although I’ve been doing yoga for 6 years, I’ve only incorporate self practice about 2 years ago. And when I started my home self practice, one of the things I struggled the most is trying to figure out what asana to do when! I love the vinyasa-style flow, so it was important to me that the asanas connect to each other with movement and breathe. Through those 2 years of experimenting and researching movement, static poses, and counter poses, I found my style of flow and rhythm that I now incorporate into my home practice. And lesson planning, to me, is like what my partner calls ‘playing in the mat for an hour’… and I get to call that work!
Step two – feel your asana. One of the traits of a good teacher, in my experience, is being able to get a student to cultivate awareness in various parts of their body. That could be through verbal communication, or through physical adjustment. Regardless of the method, a teacher can’t efficiently communicate this to a student until the teacher has felt it for himself or herself. It’s like they say, “You can’t teach what you don’t know, and you can’t lead where you don’t go”. So a teacher has the responsibility to really know and feel the asana. It doesn’t mean that a teacher needs to be the most flexible and strongest yogi! There will be students who will be more flexible and stronger than you, and that’s okay. It simply means that you need to feel the movement and energy in an asana before you can try to teach it.
Step three, which I find to be the hardest part – share your asana. I thought I had a great vocabulary, until I tried to teach! Every body part and sensation that I wanted to express to my students got stuck in my throat. With 2 years of self practice, although it’s helped me prepare tremendously in lesson planning, it has made vocalising the asana a lot harder. In my self practice, I feel body parts and breathe through them, never having to put words into them. But now, every feeling and sensation that I’ve experienced through my self practice has to come with a “name” so that my students can relate. Although this feels like the hardest part at the moment, I know, just like in yoga, everything comes with practice. So just like what I do daily on my mat with my asana, pranayama and mediation practice, I will keep practicing.
Last, but not least – be present. Although a teacher may have the most amazing lesson planned out, with the coolest asanas, but if your students aren’t there with you, you’ve lost the class. I can be quite loyal to my teachers, and the main reason I keep going back is the energy and rhythm of the class. A good teacher is present, and doesn’t just create the rhythm of the class, but moves with the energy of the class. He or she takes the temperature of the class throughout the class. I used to take this trait for granted, expecting every teacher to be proficient at this, not realizing how hard it is to do. When I’m trying to teach an asana, sometimes I get too involved in making sure I’m saying the right things. So much so that it’s easy to forget to check on everyone’s breathing and energy level. But just like the last step, with consistent awareness and practice, hopefully it’s something that I can learn to cultivate more and more.
I do strongly believe that everything I learn on the mat could be extended into every part of my life. And, I’ve noticed that it is extendable to teaching as well. It feels hard right now, with a lot of bumps and sometimes road blocks, but I’m confident with practice it will all come together.
Sunitha Prasobhan (@miss_sunitha), 200hr Yoga TTC Sept 2017