Shifting perspectives on yoga
Let’s be honest. Yoga has frequently been used in the West as an avenue for physical fitness with the odd new-age pop psychology quote thrown into the mix for good measure. However, this is shifting. Students are recognizing that mental and spiritual health are just as vital as physical health. There’s also a new respect for the history and philosophy that yoga stems from, in addition to a deeper awareness around the cultural appropriation of yoga. So how do we, as yoga teachers, honour and respect the yoga lineages we’ve learned from in a 45 minute drop-in practice?
Focus on just one non-asana related concept
Teaching yoga beyond the poses is a bit daunting as there’s so much depth to the practice that can’t possibly be conveyed in a single asana-focussed class. So in essence, it is best to focus on just one non-asana related concept and subtly thread it throughout the course of the class you’re teaching. If you’re leading a retreat, workshop or pre-registered sign-up series (so the same people are coming every week for an extended period of time), then you have the opportunity to go a little deeper. This is one of the reasons I prefer leading these types of events; I feel like I can represent the scope of yoga better with more time. That being said, the main way our students receive the benefits from yoga is through a 1-1.5hr long asana class in a studio space so it is important to know how to weave in the philosophy/history in this type of medium as well.
Sources of topic/theme/concept
The single topic/theme/concept you pick to thread through your asana class can stem from a whole variety of sources. You can glean it from traditional yogic books like the Bhagavad Gita or the Yoga Sutras, it can come from Patanjali’s 8-Limbed Path, it could be inspired by a modern book you read on yoga (I love Rolf Gates’ Meditations from the Mat for this), or it could come from your YTT text/manual or just some conversation you had in training. Once you’ve picked the topic, you need to make it relatable for your students. Start by sharing how that topic has impacted you. For example, if you picked Satya (truthfulness) from the 8-Limbed Path, you might share a story on how a moment of dishonesty in your life created significant consequences. This is a great way to demonstrate how this ancient practice of yoga is still so relevant to our modern world.
Weave the topic throughout the practice
After you share and explain your topic at the start of your class, be sure to weave it throughout the practice. So continuing with the example of Satya… in certain postures that are challenging, you could ask your students to be honest about where they’re at in the pose, and honour that. The end of the class provides you with another lengthy opportunity to address your topic, so perhaps use a reading, quote, or offer up your own words of wisdom after Savasana when your students are refreshed and receptive. You could share what you’ve learned from this concept and how your students could potentially practice it off the mat and in their lives.
Adding value to your yoga classes
Teaching beyond the poses is an ideal opportunity to increase the depth of your teaching and add value to your classes. It will truly take your instruction to the next level, it will keep your mind inspired, and it will help create a buzz around your name in your yoga community. I highly encourage taking this on and putting your own stamp on it. My advice is by no means a rule book, it is simply a method I’ve found works for me and I’ve seen work for other instructors.
For more inspiration on this topic, check out this blog post I wrote reviewing two great books for yoga teachers specifically around theming. http://yogateacherprep.com/popular-yoga-books-review/