Refine Your Instruction: Delicious Yog-ahh

by Juliane Arney on Sep 08, 2009

Group Ex Skills & Drills

Use these five tips to make yoga classes extra special.

Yoga is yummy for the body, mind and soul. Good yoga teachers know how to turn their classes into cravings students can’t live without. If you’ve added yoga to your format repertoire, you’ve most likely mastered several teaching techniques that translate smoothly to the yoga studio. In this article, we’ll break down five specific areas you can further develop to make the next class even more of a delicious treat.

1. Flow: Map the Journey

When breath and movement unite, external distractions dissolve and time is transcended. This “flow” is one of the most addicting effects of yoga. Plan a class that supports flow and students will find their bliss. Create sequences that minimize transitions, and ensure classes have a logical effort progression. The following examples will get you started.

  • Transitions. Instead of creating a series that moves from standing to seated to standing and then lying down, organize standing poses in one segment, seated in the next and prone at the finish.
  • Effort Progression. Place vigorous pose sequences, or those that challenge strength and stamina, in the first half of class. Gradually wind down to passive postures and hold longer in the second half. Gently guide students to end with relaxation.
2. Asana: Create Endless Expressions

The manner in which you move into and out of poses, and the variations you teach, can make even the most basic yoga pose feel new. Learn or create three different setup approaches for each pose, three ways to release from the pose, and three variations to change the asana once you’re in it. Here are some examples for setting up warrior 3:

  • From crescent lunge, reach arms forward, torso over front thigh, and shift weight onto front leg until back leg lifts.
  • From mountain pose, balance on one leg with arms extended overhead. Stretch lifted leg behind body while lowering torso parallel to floor.
  • Standing at wall, create right angle with body, press hands on wall, torso parallel to floor, feet under hips. Lift one leg back to hip height while pressing wall away. Release hands from wall and sweep hands back toward hips.
3. Touch: Adjust or Inspire

The appropriate use of touch from a caring teacher can open a student to a new expression of a pose, help direct her energy or offer powerful encouragement. Pair touch with a verbal cue of praise and watch students thrive! Learning how to safely (and artfully) execute hands-on manipulation takes dedicated training and an understanding of each body’s potential and limitations. While you continue your training in this area, here are some examples of safe, appropriate touch you can begin using now:

  • Downward-Facing Dog. Lightly smooth your hand over a student’s fingers to emphasize connecting all the knuckles to the mat.
  • Camel Pose. Tap the index finger at the heart center (chest) and draw an imaginary line of energy up to the sky, guiding the student to lift up and out of the lower spine.
  • Warrior 2. Using fingertips, gently straighten student’s arms to aim straight out from shoulder.
4. Intention: Offer a Goal

“[In yoga] there is so much to focus on, I can’t focus!” I overheard this comment in the hallway of my favorite yoga studio, and how true it can be. Great yoga teachers act as filters for students’ focus, defining both a physical and mental/spiritual goal for each session. Offer an intention for each class. This simple act can help direct your students’ efforts, bring clarity to your teaching and provide satisfying closure. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Open and Close Class With the Same Pose. At the start, ask students to gently observe sensations of tightness or resistance in the pose. End class by returning to the pose. Celebrate the space and comfort (no matter how subtle!) that has been created. Examples: Seated spinal twist; seated forward bend; bridge pose.
  • Pair Physical and Spiritual Themes. Draw parallels between physical postures and life lessons based on how students approach the pose and how they react to its effects. Examples: Hip openers: “Giving up the struggle”; twists: “Breathing in the space you’ve got.”
5. Connection: Foster Awareness of Others

The mindfulness of yoga fosters a vulnerability that can open students up for more interpersonal connection. Facilitate “organic” ways for students to become aware of each other, and take this opportunity to connect on a deeper level with each person in class. Here are some ideas to help you get in the flow:

    • Shift Focus. Use students to demonstrate poses. Your student models do not have to be perfect, nor do they have to leave their mats. Point out one aspect of alignment on your model that will help the class connect with your cues. (“Look how Jenny extends her arms without lifting her shoulders.”) In this way, students become aware of others in the room, instead of always focusing on you.
    • Move Your Energy. Teach from several locations in the studio so you have the chance to be near multiple students. If you find yourself pacing the room, which can come across as anxious and unconfident, practice moving with purpose. Take a cue from stage actors and walk to your new “mark,” pause and breathe before moving again.
    • Practice Shadowing. Continue teaching as you come alongside a student and do the pose as his “shadow.” He should feel your shared energy and sense that you are “doing yoga together.”

Regardless of whether you’re new to teaching yoga or it’s a staple in your offerings, these five simple techniques will help you refine your approach and ultimately engage participants on a deeper level.

IDEA Fitness Journal , Volume 6, Issue 9

© 2009 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Juliane Arney

Juliane Arney IDEA Author/Presenter

Juliane “Julz” Arney is a dance-fitness specialist with 18 years' experience, lead master trainer for Schwinn® Cycling professional education, author, group exercise programming consultant and th...

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