Some 80 million Americans were expected to try yoga last year, according to the 2016 Yoga in America Study (Yoga Journal & Yoga Alliance 2016). Couple this statistic with the continuing effort to entice baby boomers with new and effective movement class designs, and you get a sense of the opportunity yoga provides for dedicated teachers with skill and creativity.
One way to change things up is by offering a fusion class that blends yoga and poetry. While some yoga instructors include poetry by playing background music with poetic lyrics or by reciting a single poem to “set the intention” of a class milieu, a true fusion class is unique in that the reception and integration of inspirational poetry into students’ consciousness are just as significant as the asana (physical posture) and pranayama (breath work) practices.
Spiritual development tends to increase in the second half of life (Wink & Dillon 2002). In a complex and divided age, many adults are seeking ways of living that resonate more genuinely with their innermost selves. Parker J. Palmer, in his book A Hidden Wholeness (Jossey-Bass 2004), used poetry to help readers understand “the journey toward the undivided life.” Together, poetry and yoga address this integrative journey by creating a two-pronged approach toward greater self-awareness, personal integrity, interest in the common good, and other heightened states of being.
Throughout this yoga-poetry fusion class, short segments of inspirational or thought-provoking poetry are repeated as mantras, acting in the same way as prayers or chants in religious settings or as the choruses of songs or the repetition in rap music. Using mantras places an emphasis on word phrases that help with the process of paying attention.
Let’s see how the class works.
These guidelines will help your sessions succeed:
- Be sensitive to new learners. Teach a style of hatha yoga appropriate to the fitness level of your participants. If they are new to yoga, a gentle yin-style class or “yoga for back care” is a great way to start. Adult motivation to learn is enhanced when you remove or eliminate components of the learning environment that lead to fear of failure (Wlodkowski 1993).
- Choose poses that can be easily modified; use blankets and blocks for support.
- Select poems in the public domain or poems you have obtained permission to use.
- When pairing poems with poses, let them complement each other.
- Use two speaker systems, so that you can simultaneously play poems and soft rhythmic music with no lyrics. I use the Beats™ Pill, which works really well as a second system. If you have only one system, you can omit the music. Pre-record short segments of poetry, and plan to repeat each one as a mantra two to four times. Poetry mantras should take 20–30 seconds, or approximately five to six slow, deep breaths, per (pain-free) asana—enough time for participants to release and relax into the postures (Vad 2004).
To read more about fusing poetry with yoga to deepen students' appreciation of both, please see "The Poetry of Yoga" in the online IDEA Library or in the June 2017 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.