Teaching Yoga is Tough…you get that right? I refused to accept this for a long-term, having come from a full-on corporate job. I couldn’t understand why I was tired when I was working way fewer hours. But we give our all, our body, heart and soul when we teach and this my love, is why, it is tiring.
In preparation for my 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training Course which started this weekend, I’ve been considering the role of boundaries in teaching yoga. Boundaries are about conserving your energy as a Yoga Teacher and respecting your students. The term ‘boundaries’ gets used a lot (along with ‘holding space’) but we never really stop to consider what it means and how we work with them.
Most of the time we don’t ever know where our boundaries are until they get crossed. If you’d like to reflect on your boundaries and your sensitivity towards your students boundaries consider the following categories, I’ve included a few examples of boundaries to provoke your thinking but have no judgement either way. Boundaries are personal, you set yours and your students set theirs.
- Material: What do you feel comfortable lending/sharing with your students. Do you have a system in place if you loan out books so that you get them back? Do you lug around a huge bag of mats for your students increasing physical strain on your body and then spend your spare time cleaning these mats (I’m still guilty of this)? What about students & you stepping on people’s yoga mats? If you teach a really sweaty class do you have a hand towel to place between your student and your hands when you do adjusts? Will you teach students in your home or not? Would you give a student a lift in your car?
- Physical: Where are your boundaries in terms of personal space? I like my personal space and I’m not a hugger. How do you read a student’s boundaries around being touched and adjusted? What about when students work together in partner work? This also refers to your physical time. How long are you prepared to give a student at the end of class? If a student is asking a lot of questions have you considered inviting them instead to book a one:one session with you? What about when you bump into a student outside of class. I guess I’m not the only one who’s stood in Waitrose for 20 mins listening to a student, after having asked ‘How Are You?’. My husband pulled me up again on Sunday after another long supermarket chat. He’s coaching me not to ask ‘how are you?’ unless I have the time to listen but to instead say ‘Nice to see you’.
- Mental: This comes down to thoughts, values, opinions, beliefs. How do you share the philosophy of yoga whilst honouring your student’s various beliefs? How do you stay true to your authentic self when there are so many preconceived ideas of how a yoga teacher should be? How much of your personal life and journey do you share?
- Emotional: This is one of the toughest ones. The practice of yoga brings emotions to the surface. How you respond to a student who is feeling upset will differ whether it’s just before the class starts, during the class or after class? When you ask a student how they are and they respond ‘I’m really not good’ but then give no further information how do you interpret this boundary? I currently say something like ‘Well done for coming to class, you’re in the right place. If I can support you in any way please ask’. When you’re having a tough time of things what is your process for making sure you don’t bring this into class. Where are your boundaries when it comes to the student-teacher relationship? Would you go for coffee with a student? What about romantic relationships? My boundaries are pretty strong here as I’m an introvert and I find socialising like this draining. I prefer to keep a small group of friends.
This is a complex topic but I hope this has given you some food for thought. It’s good to think through where your boundaries are and also know when, why & how to shift them. At some points or with some people you may need to firm up your boundaries and in other situations make them a little more permeable.
You’ve planned a high energy, upbeat yoga sequence designed to challenge your students, you look at the class in front of you and they’re tired, stressed and in need of something chilled out and relaxing? What do you do? You trust your yoga teacher instincts and rethink you plan!
The main critique of lesson planning and sequencing is that it prevents you from reading your students, their energy and what they need in the moment. I encourage yoga teachers to do both; lesson plan thoroughly, play and create yoga sequences that enhance your yoga students experience of the asanas and the flow of prana and then be present and adapt to the moment: watch your students as they arrive at the yoga class, observe them during the warm up and throughout your sequencing and adjust your plan accordingly, by that I mean the following:
- As your students begin, are they holding their shoulders unusually tight? If so, add shoulder opening variations to your standing sequence and some extra warm up poses.
- Have they walked in energised and full of get up and go, when you’ve planned a totally chilled out and meditative flow: Meet them somewhere in the middle to help them find balance, remove a few of your resting poses, add in some extra vinyasas, swap your pranayama to a balancing one such as Nadi Shodana.
- Do your students look exhausted and depleted: Take your poses lower to the ground (e.g. instead of a high lunge take a low lunge, switch standing or seated poses for the reclining (supta) variations), swap a few Downward Facing Dogs out for Child’s Pose. Encourage students to take it easy and honour their body, cut out a couple rounds of your Sun Salutation or Standing Poses to save time for an extra long Savasana.
- You’ve planned a flowing yoga class with emphasis on fluidity and the movement of prana but in the first couple of rounds of Sun Salutations you notice some very dodge shoulder alignment in the majority of your students during Chaturanga. Pause your music (if using), explain your going to take a little detour to workshop Chaturanga and then get back into your flow.
Learning to be observant, trusting your gut and being flexible with the content of your lesson plan will help to ensure that your students leave your class feeling looked after.
If you’d like to explore in greater detail the Art & Science of Sequencing, Laura is teaching an 8 Hour CPD day on Sunday 15th April 2018 at Rownhams House near Southampton. Find the details here.
Stuck in a Rut? Fancy Mixing Up Your Yoga Class Sequencing?
Getting a little bored with your yoga lesson plans? Looking to bring new inspiration into your yoga teaching, and mix things up for your yoga students? How about trying out some new yoga class sequencing techniques?
In sequencing a yoga class a yoga teacher draws on all their skills, knowledge and intuition to craft a journey for the body, mind and soul. Yoga students put their absolute faith and trust in their teacher to lead them on a journey that is safe, authentic and true to the teachings of yoga. This takes planning and practice, it is both a science and an art.
Lesson Planning & Sequencing
Yoga class lesson planning and yoga sequencing is in my opinion a must. I know that opinion is divided on this topic with many yoga teachers proudly saying that they don’t plan classes; I usually don’t come down heavy on anyone side of a yoga debate but on this one I am firmly in the lesson planning camp. The sequencing of a yoga class dramatically impacts your yoga students’ experience. When it’s done well, our bodies open with ease and feel fantastic but when it’s poor, the body feels tight, poses feel unnecessarily challenging, the alignment can be unsafe and the flow of prana is inhibited.
By planning and carefully crafting yoga sequences you start to teach your students rather than just lead them through yoga asanas. As a Yoga Teacher you get to truly facilitate your yoga student’s journey and create an engaging yoga experience. The science in yoga sequencing is your understanding of Asana, Alignment, Technique, Modifications and your Students Bodies, the art in yoga sequencing is in holding and creating the space for your yoga students to blossom, grow, transform and experience.
So here are a few suggestions for alternative ways to sequence a yoga class.
- Singular Pose Yoga Sequence: A great way to really teach your yoga students a posture very thoroughly, inspiring them to add it to a home yoga practice. Take one fundamental yoga pose keep repeating throughout the yoga class, use complimentary postures to teach alignment principles of the main pose and draw the energy/feel of the main pose into other posture. Such as Tadasana, Star Pose, Tree.
- Repetition Yoga Sequence: Build a yoga sequence around a repeating posture, transition, movement motif, mantra, mudra or pranayama. For instance, a flowing arm pattern you set up as a standing movement meditation, re visit as an arm variation in standing postures and then again in seated.
- Double Up Yoga Sequence: Bikram style. Perform each yoga pose twice, either increasing or decreasing the hold length. You can experiment with adding additional cues. For instance – first round physical cues, second round energetic or breath cues or visualisation.
- Wave Yoga Sequencing: Take a peak yoga pose such as crow and break it down to the easiest variation. Begin with this seed of the posture, then a warm up, revisit the seed and add the next progression, continue preparing the body with standing asana, revisit the seed, the progression and add the full posture, then counterpose. This can be used in a theme and variation approach such as variations of all fours.
- Bilaterally Symmetrical Yoga Sequence: The first half of the yoga class is mirrored and taught again as the second half in its mirror image/reverse order. This makes for a really interesting journey of observation as the yoga students experience the poses the second time they can notice changes in their body and mind.
- Book Ends Yoga Sequence: A simpler version of above. Create an opening yoga sequence and repeat in the reverse order for your closing yoga sequence so students can observe and reflect on the journey.
- Building a Chain: Take a yoga sequence such as Surya Namaskar with Warrior II, repeat right and left. Start the yoga sequence again and add on another posture to the chain, such as Pasrvakonasana, next round add Trikonasana, then Ardha Chandrasana for the final round. Can be done with easier postures and even seated sequences.
- Chorus & Verse Yoga Sequencing: Your chorus is your connecting vinyasa, the most common is the plank, chaturanga cobra/updog, down dog flow but you can create a variety of other vinyasas. A connecting vinyasa neturalises the body between sides and sequences. Experiment with other approaches.
If you’d like to explore in greater detail the Art & Science of Sequencing, then join for me an an 8 Hour CPD day on Sunday 21st July 2019 at Chilworth Village Hall near Southampton. Find the details here.