Ever Wondered What We Talk About in Yoga Teacher Training?

I’m in the midst of a yoga teacher training right now, and thought I’d share a few of the helpful teaching strategies and mantras we’ve talked about.  Scroll down for a few of the conversations we’ve had recently, including:

  • Move with your muscles, breathe with your breath
  • What happens in Chaturanga doesn’t stay in Chaturanga
  • How Do You Encourage the Use of Props and Versions?
  • Don’t Let Rigid Alignment Rules Steal Joy From Your Practice
  • Practice Saying ‘I Don’t Know’
  • You’ll Never Know Everything About Yoga

Move with your muscles, breathe with your breath

Notice where you might have a habit of holding or bracing on your breath in moments where you need strength or stability?

Can you stabilize instead with your muscles and just let your breath flow?

I can’t remember who I originally learned this from, so I can’t credit the teacher – but it’s been so useful to me in my practice, teaching, and in daily life.

When we brace on the breath in challenging movements rather than recruit our muscles, we lose breath, technique, and the opportunity to apply mindfulness in movement.

In your practice, aim to keep your breath flowing, and draw strength from your core (abdominals, back, glutes) to move and stabilize. You might choose a lower intensity version of a pose in order to have the space to observe and make conscious choices in how you will move and breath. With practice, you can add in intensity again (if you wish) and bring the breath and mindfulness along with you.

This translates then to everyday life, when you are shovelling snow, stacking the dishwasher, picking up toddlers.

Bringing more mindfulness into how you move in everyday life can help you can maintain breath and body in rhythm.

What happens in Chaturanga doesn’t stay in Chaturanga

Whatever you are doing in Chaturanga is going to follow you into Upward Facing Dog.

Vinyasa is progressive, each movement linking to the next, so what happens in one movement flows into the next.

If your chin is leading, if your shoulders are rounding, if your core is disengaged, if your teeth are clenched, if you are holding your breath, that is going to follow you into Up Dog.

I know, sometimes we are just trying to ‘get through’ those stronger parts of a Sun Salutation to get to the pause in Downward Dog. The thing is, every pose matters, and no posture is an island. Rushing, clenching, bracing, or holding your breath in one pose is going to impact the next pose, and the next…

Choose a level of intensity, version, or use of props where you can have breath, mindfulness, and technique, and that will flow from one movement to another – through your poses and your transitions.

Yoga is all about making conscious choices in body, mind, and breath. I hope that this helps you in finding more mindfulness in your Chaturanga, and as you flow on….

How Do You Encourage the Use of Props, Variations and Versions in Yoga

How can we encourage students to get curious about using props, variations, adaptations, and accessible versions of poses?

How do you encourage students to try regressions, variations, versions, and props?

A few quick tips below, with 3 Ways to Start: modelling, languaging, and valuing adaptations.

  • Demonstrate them yourself. ‘Here are a few options for this pose, I’m demonstrating X version today, which version do you want to play with?’
  • Make props cool by using them – even when you aren’t talking about them. The mantra one teacher training introduced to her teaching is ‘props are tops’!
  • Use props and accessible versions of poses in the photos you post on social media.
  • When you teach, offer accessible options first, then add on. Aim to reduce the language that puts a value on certain versions of poses, like ‘full expression of the pose’, or ‘advanced version’. Instead, you might offer language like ‘if you want to add some strengthening’, ‘if you want to challenge your balance today’, ‘if you feel like a stronger stretch today’.
  • Prioritize technique over intensity.
  • Prioritize breath and mindfulness over intensity.
  • Speak to the essence of the pose, and then the many ways we can practice and embody that essence.
  • Create an environment of curiosity. What might a prop, a variation, or a creative adaptation of a pose bring to your practice today?
  • Speak openly about how there are many ways to practice and experience a pose. Introduce more than one version of a posture. ‘Last week we worked on X version of Warrior, today let’s play with another version.How do you encourage your students to customize their practice and embrace props, variations, and pose versions? Would love to hear your strategies, tips, and experiences!

Don’t Let Rigid Alignment ‘Rules’ Steal Joy from Your Yoga Practice

Think about how sometimes the (overt or implied) rules about alignment can steal the joy of exploring movement.

How do you create more freedom of choice and joyful movement in your classes? A few quick ideas:

Speak openly about how many of those alignment rules aren’t about safety or function but rather an aesthetic preference, and most don’t acknowledge the vast differences in how our beautifully unique bodies are designed and how they move.

Speak about how we might know if an alignment instruction isn’t working for us, and how we might reimagine alignment for our unique bodies to keep the joy in our movements.

Speak to the difference between how a pose looks and how it feels. Which will we prioritize?

Encourage inquiry, curiosity, experimentation

Talk about the difference between ‘yoga alignment’ and ‘safety alignment’ or ‘alignment options’: Is this usual alignment instruction about safety or aesthetics?

Workshop different alignment options in your classes – ‘you might try it this way, or you might find this works better for your body’

Speak to how we want to adapt the pose to each unique body, rather than adapting our bodies to the pose

Talk about how different yoga styles have different ideas about alignment in poses and how they all have merit, but they might not work well if we try to meld them together. I’m thinking of the Ashtanga Triangle, catching the toe, vs the Iyengar Triangle and its straight lines. For most bodies, we can’t do both. What will you choose today?

Okay, that’s all from me for now. What are your strategies for re-writing the alignment ‘rules’?

Practice Saying ‘I Don’t Know’

Today I thought I’d talk about learning to say ‘I don’t know’

As teachers, our purpose is to be of help, but something students ask questions or need guidance that is beyond our knowledge and our scope of practice. In these moments, regardless of how much we want to help, it’s important to say, ‘I don’t’ know’.

‘Why does my knee feel like this when I get in and out of the car?’ I don’t know.

‘Why do I feel dizzy when stand up from forward folds?’ I don’t know.

‘Why do my fingers get tingly when I reach overhead?’ I don’t know.

‘I don’t know’ doesn’t mean I don’t want to help and won’t offer guidance, but it’s an important first step in a conversation.

The next step is to refer your students to their doctor, especially if what they are asking about sounds like it could be made worse by their yoga practice – that includes joint pain, chest pain, dizziness, or nerve pain/signals during or after practice.

After referring a student to their doctor for guidance and medical clearance, you can start a conversation about safety and comfort.

If reaching overhead feels uncomfortable, we can offer another (fun) option.

If students get dizzy coming out of forward folds, they could reduce the size of their fold (perhaps to keep the head above the heart) or take a few pauses and breaths on the way up.

If knees are uncomfortable in some poses, we can offer props, modifications, or comfortable variations.

It can be hard to say we don’t know when our students are looking for guidance. But, let’s be honest, we really don’t know.

So, ‘I don’t know’ is the safest, most respectful thing to do.

You’ll Never Know Everything About Yoga

You’ll never know everything about yoga. No one does. Yoga is too vast, too deep, too varied, and always evolving.

What even is yoga? There are so many areas of study and practice. Is yoga a physical practice? A philosophy? A meditation practice? Pranayama? Mudra? Bandha? Mantra?

Is yoga even a thing we do? Or is it a life dedicated to study, or devotion, or service?

As a teacher, I have spent far too much time worrying about not knowing enough about yoga. But, putting energy into not knowing enough, or wanting to know everything, held me back from being of service, sharing those aspects of yoga that I have studied, that I do have a practice in.

If you are holding yourself back as a teacher, waiting to know more (or everything!) about yoga, some gentle reminders:

As a teacher you must be willing to make mistakes. Teaching requires humility, acknowledging we don’t know everything, we are always learning together.

There is no perfect time to begin teaching. There will be no time where you feel as though you have a handle on what yoga is. In fact, in my experience, the more I learn, the less I feel know. Yoga is that big.

Know that you will always be learning and evolving, and your ideas about yoga will change, your practice will change, your teaching will change. That is natural.

Keep learning, but also take time to integrate what you learn. Sometimes we can get caught in a trap of constant course chasing. After training or study, take some time to explore the new ideas and practices you’ve learned. Invite that learning into your practice and teaching. Credentials or course hours don’t always equal wisdom.

If you have struggled with feeling as though you don’t know enough, do you have some wisdom or experience to share? We’d love to hear it!

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