One of my favorite quotes from Jason is,”I believe that we should embrace anything and everything that helps us and our students be well.” On this episode, we dive into the meaning behind that quote and why it’s important to advocate for our students to try other modalities if needed. There are times when yoga teachers feel pressured to know all of the answers or to make a diagnosis and there are also times when we unintentionally make our students feel guilty if they’re not finding healing in the yoga room. Jason dispels these ideas and helps teachers cope with not having all the answers.
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Transitions in yoga—and life—can be choppy, unstable, and erratic. Below, you’ll find five essential concepts that make all transitions in yoga more smooth and skillful. You’ll also find three transitions to incorporate into your practice and teaching in order to refine your mindfulness in the space between your postures.
Essential Concepts for All Transitions
1. Slow Down
Slowing the movement between postures will helps you tune into the subtleties involved. In particular, you’ll observe which muscles have to engage in order to maintain your balance as you make your transitions. I encourage you to take an extra 2 or 3 breaths in your transitions on occasion—especially in the more accessible transitions like in between standing postures.
2. Pick Transitions as Your Class Theme
Focusing on transitions may change the pace of your class, which might feel challenging for students who are accustomed to a faster pace. A skillful way to get students onboard is to make it the theme of your class on occasion. Let your students know that transitions will be your theme and you’d like them to pay particular attention to the space between postures.
3. Focus On the Transfer of Weight
The key to making a skillful transition is to focus on the movement of your weight. This will help you counterbalance your body where its necessary. Essentially, you want to limit the weight of your body from moving too quickly in any one direction. Bringing your attention to your core (specifically your pelvis and lower belly) is usually the most effective way to tune into your weight as it is transitioning.
4. Take Time to Stabilize and Land
One of the challenges with transitions is that they can undermine the quality of the posture that you’re moving into. I always tell my students that they need to land on the note, not bulldoze their way through it. Each pose in a flow—or each pose within a transition—should have its own individual resonance. So, when you transition into a pose, don’t rush. Take your time and land. Stabilize and maintain the pose that you’re transitioning into.
Most transitions are done on the exhalation. Remember, your muscles are usually contracting more strongly between the postures (when moving slowly) than they are in the postures. It’s hard to take a decent inhalation when your body is more tensile. You can, however, take a nice, long exhalation through the course of most transitions. Exhaling during transitions may also help you settle and focus your attention.
Transitions to Explore and Practice
Warrior II to Half Moon Pose
This is such an important set of transitions because it’s common and accessible—and, even more, it lays the foundations for transitions between all of your standing postures.
The key instruction for moving into Half Moon Pose is to place your bottom hand on the floor or block and step your back foot much closer to your front foot before taking off moving into Half Moon. Once you do this, simply lean weight forward so it is split between your bottom arm and standing leg. The key to transitioning back to Warrior to is to slow your movement down by continuing to lean the weight of your upper body into your standing leg and arm while you very slowly step your top leg back to the mat.
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Transitioning into Handstand
There are a few tips that can make the transition to Handstand more effective. First, practice the transition without trying to get all the way into Handstand. Think about the transition into Handstand as it’s own practice—it’s own set of variables to develop without the stress of trying to make it into the pose. This will free you up to learn the technique of the transition.
Second, imagine that your standing leg—the one that you’re jumping up with—is like a pogo stick. You want this leg to feel like it’s pulling straight up when you jump instead of swinging backward. The motion of pulling the leg straight up will help move your pelvis forward instead of flinging it backward.
Third, press your fingertips very firmly into the floor. You should grip the mat with your fingers in order to give you a larger base to balance on—and, because your fingertips are instrumental in keeping your balance. Yes, there are many more details involved in transitioning to Handstand, but these will get you moving in the right direction.
Click Image Below to Enlarge
Malasana to Bakasana
This transition focuses on transitioning your weight from your feet to your hands. It’s not easy, but it’s simple. Students often make the mistake of trying to lift their feet up in the posture, but the real transition here is forward not up.
From a deep squat with your hands on the floor, focus on shifting your weight from your feet forward into your hands. Instead of having your students do Bakasana only once and stay as long as possible, have them practice moving in and out of the pose 5 or 6 times in a row while focusing on the transitions.
We’ve all had the same gut-wrenching, heart-breaking thought at some point while teaching a class, ‘This is not only the worst class that I’ve taught, this is the absolute worst class that has ever, ever been taught in the history of yoga.’ In fact, the qualification “at some point,” is me being generous. We’ve all (yes, ALL) had this feeling more than a few times. Since you’re a consummate professional, highly-trained in objectivity and managing your emotions, you probably finished class without burying your head in the bolsters or breaking into self-absorbed tears. But, honestly, what do you do with this voice, this feeling of not being fully engaged or clear when you’re teaching? Well, let’s start by looking at the facts:
It probably wasn’t as bad as you think
Seriously, it probably wasn’t as bad as you think it was. Teaching yoga is a raw, vulnerable experience and sometimes you beat yourself up about it. People often talk about the importance of being authentic. What gets left out of this discussion is that being authentic means showing who you really are and expressing what you truly care about. Wearing your heart on your sleeve isn’t always easy or pleasant — especially if you feel that you aren’t communicating or engaging well. When this happens, your inner narrator may be telling you that class is much, much worse than it really is.
Even if the class was as bad as you thought, well…
You just taught the worst class in the history of yoga? OK. It’s time to let it go and move on. This is what you’d tell someone else, right? If class was truly lousy, chalk it up to being human. You’re not a robot and even the most accomplished professionals have off days. If you don’t watch sports, it’s time to start in order to get some perspective. Not every top-notch pitcher throws an excellent game every time. In fact, none of them do. And, thankfully, yoga students are infinitely more kind in the midst of an off night than sports fanatics (especially if you live in Philadelphia).
Remember that the students are having a different experience than the teacher
Are you ready for some ego-busting news? Students are not hanging on your every word or vibe. Students are paying attention to you but they’re also having their own experience. They are doing yoga, not just listening to you pontificate. Trust that even if you didn’t deliver your most soul-stirring class, your students had the opportunity to breathe, move their bodies and have their own experience. Even more, they probably feel better after class than they did before class.
A few more things to remember when you bomb
-You’re human and you’re teaching a live class. This means you’re going to trip over your words, feel energetically flat, forget the second side of a sequence, and mismanage your time on occasion.
-You have the opportunity to learn and grow from your mistakes. Be as objective as possible about what didn’t work in your class and learn from it. As teachers we’re committed to growing and learning — which means that we’re not already perfect.
-Breathe in the challenges of teaching your class and your flustered emotions; then breathe them out and let them go.
-Be comforted by the fact that all teachers go through this, including the most popular and most well-respected teachers. In fact, my advice is to get used to moments like this because they never stop — you just get better at contextualizing them and letting them go.
As yoga teachers, we’re committed to the wellbeing of our students. After all, our bottom line is to help people reduce their suffering. We even commit to ongoing, continuing education to help provide more skillful service. Yet, we often ignore how easy it is to injure ourselves–or become overly stressed out and ungrounded–when we teach. No, our job isn’t too dirty and there are plenty of other vocations that carry much greater risk. But teaching yoga presents plenty of physical and emotional challenges. Here are few ways to keep yourself healthy, safe and grounded while you teach.
It seems safe, easy and effective to demonstrate postures in class. You just pop yourself into an arm-balance, backbend or twist to visually express what you’re teaching. The problem is that you’re cold, a little adrenalized, and focused on the outward appearance of the pose—oh, and you’re probably always doing your demos on the same side. Sure, there is a time and place for demos, but the list of injuries that occur from seemingly simple, innocuous moments like these is frighteningly long. So, if you need to demonstrate please remember not to max yourself out. Check yourself if you realize you’re trying to impress your students. And, when it’s appropriate, have one of your students provide the demonstration since they’re already prepared for the posture that you’re teaching.
Be Mindful When You Give Adjustments
When I teach trainings, I ask students to raise their hand if they’ve been injured while receiving an adjustment. Unfortunately, 35-40% of the room usually raises their hand. If I were to ask a room full of teachers how many of them have injured themselves while giving an adjustment, I’m willing to guess that the percentage would be similar. Giving adjustments can compromise your body if you’re not focused on your own alignment and sensations. You can also make matters worse for yourself if you’re already experiencing a knee, lower-back, or shoulder injury and you ignore them while teaching. Providing good adjustments is nice, but give yourself permission to prioritize your own safety and comfort in the process. If you’re overly fatigued or nursing an injury, it may be in everyone’s best interest to take the day off from giving adjustments.
Remember to Breathe
Every time you tell your students to breathe, pause and take a breath yourself. Doing this will help you stay grounded, relaxed and focused as you teach. Staying grounded, relaxed and focused will make your classes even better and help stave off fatigue and burnout.
Trust the Power of the Practice
Teachers (including myself) have a tendency to be very critical of themselves. When we’re overly critical or lack confidence in our ability to teach, we start to over-effort. We forget that the yoga class is NOT all about the teacher. It’s about the transcendent, timeless experience of doing the practice. In order to stay grounded, relaxed and comfortable as a teacher, you have to trust that the practice is inherently transformational and that you’re simply facilitating your students’ experience. You’ll stay happier and healthier if you let the students’ practice do the majority of the work.
Be Kind to Yourself
Teaching yoga can be an emotional rollercoaster—and, it will certainly expose aspects of your personality and ego that other aspects of the practice don’t. Be mindful of your inner-narrative and practice kindness towards yourself. Doing so will decrease stress and help you weather the challenges that arise
We’ve gotten many questions recently about teacher training that we decided to do an episode that answers common questions. Doing a yoga teacher training is a huge investment — both financially and in terms of your time. It can be a wonderfully transformative experience, but it’s worth doing your research and thinking about what is going to best meet your needs.
Jason and I talk about: * Whether you should stick with a local teacher or travel to do a training with a well-known teacher (his answer might surprise you). * Considerations in terms of format — monthlong intensive? two week modules? six months of weekends? * How vital it is to continue your education even after completing a foundational 200-hour training * Are there different things to consider if you just want to deepen your practice vs. wanting to teach? * Plus, we talk about what types of information and skills an advanced 300-hour training can provide.
Last thing: We are in the midst of content development and would love to know what you’d like to see more of, so we created a super quick 6-question survey. We’d love it if you’d spend a minute of your time offering us feedback! Take the survey here.
WRITE A REVIEW If you like the podcast, please leave a review or rating on iTunes! I’m learning that it really does help others find it and it helps me to know which episodes resonate with you! You can also follow me on Twitter @yogalandpodcast.