This fall I’ll be coming up on my tenth year as a yoga teacher. As I get closer to my teaching anniversary I figured I’d write a little bit about my process, where I see myself going in my teaching career, and reflect upon some of my favorite moments.
I recently had a friend ask me how my teaching style has changed throughout the years and what motivated my changes. Oh, boy. My teaching has changed quite a bit! I figured I’d put together five ways in which my teaching has adapted and changed over these last ten years.
These are in no particular order, but beautifully layer on top of one another.
1. Different Understanding of Flow
I came to yoga as a dancer. It was a natural transition and ultimately yoga became my new form of choreography. As a young yoga student I loved to flow and move rapidly through postures. My teaching also mirrored that style. I would put together massive sequences that would flow more than a dozen postures together on one side of the body and eventually I’d get around to teaching the other side. I truly thought all yoga classes were conducted in this manner.
Now, my classes are quite different. As I exposed myself to more styles of yoga and different teaching communities, I learned that flow doesn’t have to mean moving through a million standing postures. Flow can be simply connecting your breathing to the lifting and lowering of your arms in a seated position. In the last couple years I’ve started to lean heavily on teaching quarter, half, and variations on lunging salutations. Most students leave my classes amazed that simple movement helps warm the body and allows for a deeper connection to the breath.
Piggy-backing off of number one, I’ve noticed I have simplified my teaching. No longer are big flows the draw. Students tend to appreciate my classes for their stripped down quality. I now pack in less content in my classes. Less content let’s me thoroughly drive home the concepts and information I’m trying to convey.
In the same realm, through simplifying my classes I develop curriculum that students can follow. I stick with concepts, ideas, and families of postures for one to three months so that students can soak up the information. Yoga is a subject to be learned over time. Massive flows that change each class aren’t always the best breeding ground for learning.
3. Strength v. Flexibility
Again, I was a dancer when I was introduced to yoga. I wanted to gain flexibility so that my degage was higher. I definitely gained mobility through the practice of yoga and I appreciate my ability to easily move my hips and shoulders as I get older.
However, my teacher, Jason, shed light on the fact that vinyasa yoga often includes a lot of lengthening and stretching of muscles, but not a lot of the opposite. Take Urdhva Dhanurasana—Wheel Pose as an example. In my first few years of teaching if I taught a class on Wheel I would emphasize shoulder, spinal, and front of hip mobility. All of those things are still great and necessary! But now my classes also highlight shoulder, glute, and hamstring strengthening and engagement to support Wheel.
Especially with age, I have found students are gaining more range of motion when keeping a posture active as opposed to passive. Now there’s lots of debates on the topic, but that’s what I’ve experienced in my own practice and in the classes I teach. Plus, adding a new element to a posture just keeps things more interesting! It’s like making a posture three dimensional when you address flexibility and strength.
4. There’s More to Yoga Than Making Shapes
This is something I’ve always been aware of as a student of yoga, but didn’t always take to heart. Early on vinyasa yoga was my therapy session, my hour to connect with a community, my meditation, but above all else it was my workout. I wanted to leave a yoga practice feeling like I had been worked!
Using a vinyasa yoga practice as a workout is great, and if that resonates with you then stick with it! For me, the attachment to yoga as a physical workout had to change. In the fall of 2016 I started working out at a boutique gym, Fly Feet Running. They got me running, lifting, and working harder physically than I ever had in my life. And I loved every minute of it!
Because my physical body was getting worked so hard in the gym I was less interested in working hard in my yoga practices. Everything slowed down for me. I started to use my yoga practice as a way to slow down and nurture my body. I became more interested in doing a seated meditation practice over working handstands. Again, approaching the practice of yoga as a workout is great! But, for me, finding a new physical outlet made my yoga practice more sacred and important than ever before. That same idea has bled into how I structure the classes I teach, too.
5. I Got Older
When I started teaching yoga I was 23 years old. I was insecure, drowning in student debt, and had zero direction in life. When I taught classes I wanted to please everyone. If I ever got a complaint I would carry it with me for weeks! I would even take requests from students because all I wanted to do was please the masses.
Inevitably I got older in this last decade. I truly think getting older has created the largest impact on my yoga teaching. A large part of my teaching has simply slowed down. Getting older will do that to ya! Also, getting older means you feel less pressure to conform. This might be unique to me, but the moment I turned 30 I started caring less about how others see me. Of course I still care deeply about my students and want to provide the best experience possible in my classes, but I am now secure in my teaching techniques and who I am as a human being. My confidence has allowed for me to grow as a teacher and fully explore my style of teaching yoga without doubting or judging myself.