By Tania Taravati Turcinovic
Think about a great Yoga class that you attended. What made that class great? It could have been as simple as where your own body and mind were on that particular day. Or it might have been the space, or the other students. For most students, it was probably the teacher. So, how do you teach a great class?
Teaching any style of Yoga class involves many layers of skill and understanding. Teachers can keep their teaching skills strong by keeping a commitment to their own practice, attending other classes, and trying to maintain a continuing education approach. Beyond understanding asana and other practices themselves, there are some key elements that help a teacher lead a great class.
I began serving at the Integral Yoga Institute of New York in 1996. I have been through a long journey of holding different positions there while on my own path. From working as a food store cashier to serving as one of the administrative managers, I have covered all the bases. For several years, I was one of the teacher trainers, and I spent a considerable amount of time in the role of teacher coordinator. I have had the pleasure of attending thousands of classes, and I have faced the challenge of giving many teachers feedback on their classes.
Teaching an Integral Yoga class has its own special nuances. There are boundaries and guidelines to our format and offerings. For me, what is most special about an Integral Yoga class, is the focus on an inward journey for the practitioner. Serving as a guide on this journey has been one of the most satisfying roles of my life. I have always strived to be an open channel for the teachings and to keep my teaching skills strong so that I may be a better guide. The following are a few tips to help achieve this goal:
- Use your practice—don’t do your practice
There are many ways in which this comes into play. I often encourage new teachers to remember to use their own practice so that they can be an open channel for the teachings. Keeping the spine lifted and the chest open allows for a clear channel for the breath. From this place you can remain more aware. We all know this, but utilizing it is sometimes forgotten.
When standing to teach, remember to find your own Tadasana first. With your feet rooted down, skeleton balanced, breath flowing, the words will come with ease. This sounds very basic, but I have witnessed many teachers coming out of alignment to lean over to one side, cross their arms, bite their finger nails, and shift their hips while they say “Um” or other verbal fillers. If you use your alignment and breath, the mind will become clear and the teachings will flow. This flow facilitates the moving meditation. Think about what you are teaching and embody that.
Teaching time is not the time for you to do your own practice. If you do your own practice, then you are not able to see all of your students and you will not be able to help them find comfort and ease. When I witness a teacher who is doing the majority of the class along with the students, I also see them missing some key moments. If you are doing the asanas, then you will not see the man in the far corner who is twisting his knee out of alignment as he tries turning his hips for Warrior I. He doesn’t know that he should try to widen his stance and adjust his feet for a more easeful pose—you need to guide him. You will not see the woman who is overarching her spine in downward dog, or the man who could really use a prop to elevate his hips in Paschimottanasana, or the woman who is hurting her cervical spine in Fish Pose. You need to be there for the students. Come off the mat, onto your feet, and see what is front of you.
- Authenticity in speech
Be who you are. This is very challenging. We all have experienced either being, or listening to, a teacher who puts on a great show with his or her voice and modulation. There are some typical personas we take on as teachers …
Read the rest of this article in the Fall 2015 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.