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Check Your Head: Four Ways to Get Ready to Teach a Yoga Class


Shameless Plug: Enrollment for my 300-hour Training at Love Story Yoga in San Francisco, starting in February 2018 is open! Also, if you’re not listening to Yogaland… get with it. Listen here.

If you’re not a yoga teacher, you probably don’t understand the utter ridiculousness of our daily commute or schedule inefficiencies. Yes, we’re happy that we rarely sit at a desk for 8+ hours a day. And, sure, having weird times like from 2:00pm to 3:45pm off most days is nice (sort of). But, the reality for most teachers is that we’re hustling from here to there to teach our classes, sub other teacher’s classes, and (often) making ends meet by working a second job. Jumping from studio-to-studio and class-to-class can fray our nerves. This makes it difficult to settle in and be present for our students.

Over the years, I’ve acknowledged that, for most full-time teachers, this is an inherent part of the job. For me, I’ve acknowledged that 30+ weekends of the year, I will do something very similar: I’ll wake up before 5am, fly for hours before arriving in another city (usually in a different time-zone), commute to the studio and go straight into teaching a weekend workshop. I’ve learned to manage these realities more skillfully so that I’m as relaxed and focused as I possible.

I know that if I’m relaxed, focused, and prepared I’ll be present and I’ll teach a class that makes me feel good. These days, I have conscious strategy to settle in before class starts—even if only for a moment or two. Here are my four tips to check your head and make sure you’re ready to teach class.

Take a Moment to Observe Your Body, Breath, and Mood

Let’s face it, we bring ourselves into the yoga room when we teach. Yes, it would be nice to say, “I check myself, my ego, and my issues at the door.” But, the truth is that we usually don’t. Not completely, at least. So, pause for a moment before you teach—before you reach the studio if possible—and become aware of what is happening inside of you. If you’re unaware of what’s happening inside of you it’s more likely that your unconscious patterns will influence your class.

For me, the most common scenario where this plays out is when I’m jetlagged and fatigued. Usually, when I’m in this state I feel flat and I overcompensate by talking too much and making things unnecessarily complicated. Since becoming aware of this pattern, I’ve gotten better at realizing that I’m in a state where I’m likely to overcompensate to everyone’s detriment. Now, I can usually stave this off by relaxing and simplifying.

Focus on What You’ve Been Practicing Lately

I’m going to tell you something that most teachers won’t: my personal yoga practice is only vaguely similar to the classes I teach these days. I practice diligently. I have for a very long time. And, for the first 10-15 years of teaching my personal practice and my classes were nearly identical. I needed the time my personal practice provided me to prepare for my classes. Now, however, when my personal practice is too similar to my classes, it feels like I’m at work. I love my work. I love my practice. I just don’t love when my practice feels like my work. I did in the past. Now, I don’t.

These days, I focus on subtle details in my personal practice more than ever. For example, I might spend a couple of weeks in my personal practice figuring out how to decompress the superior/anterior part of my hip socket in every posture. I’m going to translate all this work into my public classes, but I’m going to do it subtly. I’m going to distill the key things I figure out in my personal practice into viable, easy-to-access instructions. I’m going to make whatever I’m doing in my personal practice a thematic and sequencing focus in my public classes. But, I’m also going to make sure that my public classes have a really solid, compelling flow that covers additional territory my personal practice may not.

So, here’s the bottom line: Your practice doesn’t dictate what you’re teaching, but it will inform what you’re teaching. We’re teaching an embodied practice and you need to be doing practices that keep you attentive to your body. As you develop your plan for class, begin with what has been resonating in your practice lately.

Have a Plan—Even if it’s just a Feeling or an Idea

Some teachers operate best with a clear, detailed plan for class. Other teachers are better with improvisation. Both models can work&emdash;and, usually, most teachers combine the two. Whether you’re a planner or a gunslinger, it is essential that you treat the class like a learning experience for your students and have an idea what you’d like your students to take away from their experience. Sure, you can leave yourself open to changing your plan, but have a theme, pace, and intention in mind before class begins.

Even better, make your classes part of a broader syllabus that reflects the body of work that you’re trying to teach as an educator. Creating a syllabus takes effort and time. But, it also helps you clarify your teaching objectives and builds confidence. Ultimately, having a plan&emdash;even if it’s just an idea or feeling that you want to communicate to your students&emdash;will make the experience of teaching easier and more effective.

Be a Good Host

Imagine that teaching a class is like hosting an event at your home where each participant has to pay $15-20 to participate. If you were the host of such an occasion you’d default to basic social protocol and be nice to everyone and introduce yourself. Remember to follow these basic rules for making people feel welcome in your presence when you teach. While you’re at it, do your best to learn your student’s names. Believe it or not, most students don’t feel terribly comfortable coming to a class if they don’t already know you. Students are often intimidated and somewhat intrigued by the teacher. Spend your energy putting them at ease. Not only is this the reasonable and humane thing to do, it will help you settle and focus on the students who are in your classroom.

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How to Teach Yoga Transitions

First, a shameless plug: Registration for my 2018 Teaching Trainings is live! If you want to move your practice and teaching forward, this training is the place to do it!

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.

5. Exhale

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.

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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.

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Episode 64: Judith Hanson Lasater — Trust Yourself First

Judith Hanson Lasater Ph.D., physical therapist, has been teaching yoga since 1971. Judith has written nine books and is one of the founders of Yoga Journal Magazine. I had many opportunities to interview Judith during my decade as an editor there, but this interview was so refreshingly different for me because I got to ask her whatever I wanted!

She shared how she found yoga, the importance of following your intuition, and her tips for learning to communicate clearly. I have the utmost respect for Judith — her body of work, her insight, her compassion and care for her students all shine through in this interview.

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RECOMMENDED & RELATED LINKS
What We Say Matters, by Judith Hanson Lasater and Ike Lasater
Restore and Rebalance: Yoga for Deep Relaxation, by Judith Hanson Lasater
The Female Brain, by Louann Brizendine
Inner Gold: Understanding Psychological Projection, by Robert A. Johnson
Study Online with Judith

WRITE A REVIEW
If you like the podcast, please leave a review or rating on iTunes! It makes it easier for others to find the podcast. If you don’t know how to leave a review, here are some step by step instructions. Woohoo! So easy!

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Episode 42: Maty Ezraty on Leading with Communication and Love

Maty Ezraty is a genuine pioneer of yoga in the U.S. One of the original co-founders of YogaWorks, Maty is a true teacher’s teacher. On this episode, Maty shares stories from her early days as well as how her practice has changed with age. She also shares her approach to mentoring teachers and students, which is an alchemy of communication, love, and meeting people where they are.

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RECOMMENDED & RELATED LINKS
Learn more about Maty and find her schedule on her web site: MatyEzraty.com

MUSIC
Velella_Velella — 3 To The 6 To The 0
Podington Bear — A1 Rogue
Shana Falana — Cloud Beats

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.

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Episode 41: Deborah Burkman — You Are Enough

In this age of insta-celebrity and everyone chasing their 15 minutes of fame, it’s refreshing to talk to a long-term, successful yoga teacher. Deborah Burkman is one such person. She’s been teaching for 17 years, in many settings, and loves her job. She’s not famous and, at this point in her life and career, she’s grateful for that.

We talk through some nitty gritty logistics, e.g., how long it took Deb to feel confident and financially stable in her teaching and how she crafts a balanced schedule for herself. But this podcast has some great reminders for trying to find contentment in any career path. One of her main messages: Find your purpose and come back to that. And know that who you are is enough.

Subscribe via: iTunes | Acast | RSS

RECOMMENDED & RELATED LINKS
MoveWith.com: Take audio classes with Deborah online. Sign up by 4/10 and enter code PRESSPLAY-DB for 30 days free!
Deborah Burkman Yoga
Video Classes with Deb on Yoga Journal

MUSIC
Jahzzar — Charity
Jahzzar — Yesterday

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.

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