Tips for Sharing Yoga Philosophy in Your Classes
Listen in to a short introduction to a recent discussion I shared with yoga teachers and teachers-in-training on how you might approach sharing yoga philosophy in your classes.
Or read a few notes from the Philosophy Club chat:
A few ways you might share some philosophy in your yoga classes:
- Creating a class theme
- Sharing a reading, poetry, or song
- Introducing a Yama or Niyama from the Yoga Sutras
- Focussing on one of the other limbs of yoga – breath, sense management, concentration, etc.
- Choose a passage, sutra, or quote from a favourite text to briefly discuss
- Share a metaphor or analogy about one of the poses – for example mountain (find your base, reach up to the sky, stand your ground, take up space, etc) and then try to find the ‘mountain-ness’ in some other poses
- Share a myth about one of your poses (Virabhadrasana, Matsyasana, Hanumanasana etc)
- Use Yama and Niyama cards so students can choose their own philosophy to follow
What philosophies might you share?
- Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
- Bhagavad Gita
- Chakras or energetic anatomy – for example checking in with the physical sheath, the breathing sheath, the emotional sheath etc.
- Ayurveda – maybe the 5 elements, or concepts like ‘like increases like, opposites balance’
- Poetry, stories, songs, or teachings (ancient or modern) that we could apply to our yoga practice
- What’s happening now – weather, time of year, seasonal events, full moons, what’s happening in your community that we can bring into practice and awareness. It can be as simple as it being noisy outside the practice space due to kids playing, and how we can invite that delightful spontaneity into our own practice and allow ourselves to play.
- Try to find analogies or themes that are relatable to you and the students you are working with.
- Focus your efforts on your students: their needs, goals, aims for yoga, specific needs (cultural, faith, trauma sensitivity)
- What is appropriate in this environment: studio, gym, sports club, corporate, online
- What will work for this style of practice, length of class etc
If you aren’t comfortable with sharing philosophy, start small. Start with English language (or whatever language you are teaching in) read a sutra or share a concept, briefly talk about how that might show up in practice, then sprinkle it a few times in class, and end with a repetition of the concept and suggestion that they can take that off the mat with them.
The sutras talk about asana in these terms – sthira sukham asanam. This is an instruction that our posture for meditation or practice should be steady, stable, sweet, comfortable.
We might talk about this in terms of approaching each of our asanas with a balance of steadiness and ease or doing and not doing.
Then, next week we might speak about Abhyasa – which means effort or practice, and Vairagya – which relates to detachment, letting go. With these concepts we might talk about the balance of effort and detachment. Work, but letting go of results of the work. To persevere in our practice but remain detached from outcome.
If you aren’t sure if your students are interested in yoga philosophy, ask!
Get clear about your own interest and perspective on philosophy.
- What is your aim? Be clear about your purpose for sharing philosophy before you begin. Is to enhance a pose, invite self-inquiry, teach some history or mythology, support their home practice/yoga off the mat?
- Start with a lighter touch – a passage or a sutra as a theme and then ‘sprinkle’ that theme a few times through your class, and bookend with a closing that invites further inquiry into that theme.
- Aim to make any discussion open to interpretation – know that we all have different perspectives, lifestyles, values etc.
- Encourage inquiry, what does this feel like to you, how might this support your practice, does this feel like something you’d like to explore?
- Have a take it or leave it approach – this might meet you where you are at, or it might not be something you want to explore right now.
Take care with:
- Imposing in general – anything that feels like a lecture, moralizing, imposing or assuming shared values, or what might feel like faith-based teaching
- Don’t tell people what to think, instead offer them the teaching and let them come to their own exploration or conclusions.
- Know your limits – especially when sharing Hindu mythology, respect for the faith and culture and speaking openly about the limits of our understanding the complexities of sharing someone else’s culture, faith, or spirituality
- Trauma sensitivity – take care with discussions of death and dying (corpse pose), grief or loss, violence in mythology
Here are my questions to consider:
Are you comfortable with sharing philosophy, is there a way that you see or that you’ve found to be comfortable for you to share philosophy with your students?
Is there a teacher who shared philosophy in a way that met you where you are at, that really worked for you, inspired your practice, encouraged you to move more deeply into your yoga experience?
What concerns do you have about sharing philosophy, do you see any issues arising for you or your students?
How will you do your homework and prepare for sharing some philosophy, how might you follow up with students on what you’ve shared?