Teaching From Your Practice

“Yoga is a light, which once lit, will never dim. The better your practice, the brighter the flame.”

   ~B.K.S. Iyengar

Iyengar Yoga Props

Today I had the very frustrating experience of teaching two yoga poses to my cohort and completely losing the entire class. Reflecting on where I went wrong, I have come to the realization that (a) I need to understand the physical limitations of my students better and anticipate their needs, (b) I cannot expect that the pose I want to teach is accessible for everyone in the way I would like to teach it to them, and (c) I need to preach what I practice.

A quick recap of the class will shed light on the reasons for my frustration. After a failed attempt at halasana (plow pose) without props, I moved swiftly to setu bandha sarvangasana (supported bridge pose) with a block. I practice both postures with regularity, so I feel as if I know them well. I decided to teach halasana without props, because I meant to have the students roll in and out fairly quickly. Mistake number one. Well over half the class was unable to get into the pose without the blankets for support. In my attempts to help the students get into the pose correctly, they ended up staying in the position for far longer than I originally intended.

Conversely, with the second pose, had I left the prop out of the equation (a wooden brick in this case), I feel as if there would have been less confusion all around. The blocks were being placed underneath the tailbone any which way but the way I instructed. At one point I got so frustrated that I asked everyone to get out of the pose and watch me demonstrate for them prior to continuing on with the instruction. Once I began to demo, I felt better about the outcome of the session. I felt as if I was able to take control of the mess I created and provide my students with the experience I wanted them to take away from the asana.

Oftentimes, I feel like an imposter in teacher training. Because the program is drawn from Hatha yoga in the Krishnamacharya tradition, much of what is covered is vinyasa based, a form that is derived from the Astanga series developed by Patthabi Jois. Here is the kicker: I have absolutely no intention of teaching vinyasa yoga. In fact, I plan on enrolling in an Iyengar Advanced Studies program as early as next year. In spite of this, I keep trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I keep trying to teach like a vinyasa teacher.

From this point forward, I intend to take note of the points listed above. I will think more critically about where I need to make adjustments in the practice to leave room for people’s different levels of ability, I will release the preconceived notion that my students have a working knowledge of the asana and how to correctly use props, and I will teach what I know from my own experience. Most importantly, I will teach in the style that I practice and not be apologetic for my practice, even if it is not the popular way to go.

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