Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Teaching Yoga: Present Moment, or Prep?

When I first started teaching yoga, I'd take time well in advance of the class I was scheduled to teach to write up a sequence, and then road test it first on myself, and then on the husband.  I lived in fear of realizing I had half an hour of class time left to fill and was out of material, so I'd time it out carefully, and use song cues to know when to move onto the next section.  I would never dare enter a class without a solid, specific, plan. It worked.  Pretty well.

The trouble with being so regimented though, is when the people in the room don't match the people who were in your head while you wrote the sequence: maybe somebody has a broken toe and can't do standing balances.  Maybe an advanced student has wandered in who's looking for more than the standard warrior sequences.

When I started teaching at Namaste in Williamsburg, I still had my trusty notebook at my side...but a rule at Namaste was that you asked the class if there were any requests before you started...which could easily throw your pre-written sequence out the window if, you know, you actually fulfilled those requests.

That Fall, I decided my New Year's Resolution would be to be teaching notebook-free by the end of 2011.

The thing about free styling though, is that it feels good.  I didn't make it December before the notebook was left at home for good, and I needed a new New Year's Resolution.  Just as I had feared, every now and then, there was a moment of feeling lost at sea: unable to see clearly where we should go next.  But that wasn't nearly as big a problem as I thought it would be. I knew what to do.

"Come back to down dog...take five deep breaths..."

And by the fifth exhale, I had a new heading, and we were off.

Of course, plenty of teachers do write and follow sequences, and doing so has its perks: the class tends to all fit together and build toward a singular goal, which makes it more likely that at least one part of your body will feel different, probably in a positive way, by the end of class.

These days, I like to have a general theme in mind.  Often it's not a yoga pose, but more of a feeling or thought I want to explore on the mat, which will lend itself to certain types of poses.  It's easy to combine something that open-ended with requests, or the particular needs of my students, and as I take them through the spinal warm-up and Sun Salutations, which are very similar every time, I lay out a loose plan in my mind...usually.  Sometimes I just go for it, and sometimes...

"Exhale back to downdog, and take five deep breaths..."

Do you like yoga classes that are more freestyle, or open-ended, or do you feel more supported by a teacher who's checking in with notes and who obviously has a plan for your class?  Has a teacher ever used the 'five deep breaths' trick (or a similar one) so many times that you caught on to what he or she was really doing?

Live Omily,

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