Not only are there many facets that make up a great yoga class, there are also lots of different opinions on what actually constitutes a great yoga class. Different strokes for different folks, as they say. But regardless of your teaching style, your students, or the type of class your are offering, here are five simple tips for teaching a better yoga class that can apply to absolutely anyone.
1) Build the Container
- Plan a Beginning – Middle – End, and I don’t just mean in your sequence. You are holding space for your students during the time of their practice. That space needs a container. How do you plan on starting the practice? Do you have a theme? A story? Are you going to start class with a breathing exercise or meditation to help center/ground your students? What’s the middle point of the practice? What’s the energetic peak (more on this later)? How are you going to end the practice? Do you just get your students out of savasana and say goodbye (We’ll talk about a Call to Action further down this post)? How do you tie your ending to the beginning and middle? How does your voice support the framework of your class? These are all important questions to know the answers to when holding space for your students.
2) Make it about your students
- It’s never about you. It’s about your students. So once you step into the seat of teacher, set your ego aside and serve your student’s needs. If you are sharing a personal story, make sure that you relate it back to your students because: it’s not about you, it’s about them. If you have a certain way of doing things, but it doesn’t work for a particular student, them let them do things their way because: it’s not about you, it’s about them. I don’t mean be an overachieving people pleaser. If you try to please everyone you’re likely to just piss everyone off. Be your authentic self, but your responsibility is to your students, not to uphold your ego or image. So leave your ego at the door. Can you make every single thing you do in that class room be a gift of service to your students?
3) Know your peaks and valleys
- Whether your are teaching to a Queen/King pose or offering a potpourri class (touching on a bit of everything), it’s important to also know where your energetic peaks and valleys are. A lot of teachers use the term “peak pose” to signify what I might call the Queen pose, but I use the terms to mean different things. To sequence to a Queen/King pose means that all postures in the class serve that one pose in one way or another (as opposed to sequencing a potpourri class where students get a little bit of everything). But your Queen might not be your peak energetic experience of a class, it could be a floor posture towards the end of class, for example. Knowing your peaks and valleys allows you to know in a general sense where your student’s energy levels will be guided throughout the class and it will also help you to understand how to play with the pitch of your voice throughout the class. You’ll likely want a stronger, more energetic voice during your peak, but a calmer, more grounded voice during your valleys, like your intro and closing. How you navigate your peaks and valleys is a large part of building a container of space for your students during the practice.
4) Know your Soundtrack
- Do you plan on having music or not? Some people love music during their practice, others: not so much.
- If you plan on playing music in class, then it’s important to know where your energetic peaks and valleys are. When creating a playlist it’s important to understand the container you are creating for class, the pacing of your class, and the overall mood. You don’t want super fast paced energetic music for a mellow Yin class, nor do you want sleepy meditation music playing if you are doing a fast paced power class, or while you are doing something like core work in the practice. You want music that suits the energetic vibe on the practice.
- Let’s say that you don’t plan on using music at all. Wonderful, AND, there will still be a soundtrack. What’s the soundtrack? The students breath and your voice. So it’s still important to know the various peaks and valleys of your sequence and class, and it’s also important to make sure your students are breathing.
- Something I will often do in a class where students aren’t breathing very much and seem to be low in energy is to get them laughing or making silly sounds. Whatever pose I have them in (usually tadasana or downward dog, but it can be any pose), I have them close their eyes, inhale and exhale with a silly noise. Having them close their eyes makes them feel less self conscious and making a silly noise diffusing some of the social tension of people feeling weird about taking strong audible breaths. Sometimes it may take 2 or 3 attempts at this before the room really breaks the ice, but MAN-O-MAN do they start breathing after!
5) Call to Action
- This is, in my opinion, one of the most important things we can do as teachers: offer a call to action. Students having time out of their day to come to a yoga class is huge, but given the hectic pace of life, students often jump right back into their day without any consideration of the practice. So remind them and give them something to do! How can they bring the practice into their lives? Bring your theme into it. How can they continue the message of the theme of your class throughout your student’s day? As you close the container of your practice with them, open up a new container for them that extends into their day and life!
So what do you think? What are some other universal tips that teachers can use no matter what type of class they teach or style of yoga they offer? I’d love to hear in the comments below!