In yoga we are taught that experience is essential. The benefits of doing yoga far exceed the gains that occur from merely reading about yoga. Rather the practitioner stretches, breathes, meditates, relaxes, practices and perfects. It is a journey that must involve doing.
As a yoga teacher I have learned to provide my yoga students with experiences. I want students to leave class relaxed, stimulated, excited, and loving yoga. So as I teach, I “read” the class. I look for signs of boredom and frustration. And I differentiate on the spot, providing accommodations in terms of alternative ways to practice a posture and also varying the time limits and duration of sets, as well as the warm ups and the relaxation periods that are inserted between the more demanding or vigorous practices. I also consider the age appropriateness of the yoga and have learned to modify instruction for toddlers and seniors, as well as for adults recovering from illness or injury. Runners may have tight hamstrings, so stretching this “life nerve” is important. People sitting at computers often benefit from poses that provide counterbalance. For them, spinal flexes may be important for opening up the sacrum and hips and also pulling their shoulders down and back.
Evening yoga may differ from an early morning practice.Weather even impacts how we proceed with class. For example, there is a “rain catcher” set that works very well on rainy mornings and a cooling breath (used to reduce fevers) that I teach when the room is particularly hot. On days when students are tired, we may have more relaxation and perhaps some breath work to raise the energy level. When I notice one or two students needing more help I may give the entire class some general prompts. Sometimes I conduct lengthier demos. Sometimes I tell more stories.
As I have taught yoga I have learned to incorporate music, to share some of my life with students, to talk about my own practice and the practice of advance practitioners. I share about the joy and challenges of a week long annual workshop in the mountains in New Mexico. I talk about how I approach sets that are more difficult, about how sometimes I feel better immediately, and about how sometimes the benefits of a set are best realized as it is practiced over time and mastered. We discuss diet, sleep, heart, mind, and caring. Students learn about my passion for yoga, how I prepare for yoga, how I make time in my schedule, and the discipline I bring to yoga. They know about my trips to India, about books I have read, and about how I apply it to my life. Occasionally, I even share about the history of yoga and the yogic philosophy for our future.
I have learned a lot about teaching by teaching yoga. Yogi Bhajan, my master teacher, taught us to challenge students; to be demanding and help them push through their limitations, yet to uplift students. He told us to be “forklifts” and “lighthouses” — to light the way for others. I am certain that these same principles are applicable to many circumstances, including instructing children and youth.