The Practice of Authenticity
Ironically, one of the biggest challenges of becoming a yoga teacher is the very process we as teachers facilitate for our students: the practice of being authentic. Teaching will leave you feeling so vulnerable in revealing and unexpected ways. Beyond the wave of insecurities that will crash over you as you stand at the front of a room full of strangers, or the feelings of inadequacy that arise when you strive to teach well, is the very real obstacle you never knew you had to face: yourself. Your work is to unblock the channel through which the teaching flows by eliminating the patterns, blindspots, and beliefs that prevent you from embodying who you are. To be a good teacher, you need to know your subject; to be an excellent teacher, you need to know yourself.
The Art of The Edit
There is no short-cut to becoming a good teacher. It takes time and experience. The craft of teaching demands practice—as Patanjali suggests—for a long period of time, without break, and in earnest. I know what you’re thinking: “But Chrissy, what am I supposed to do while I wait for experience? I have to teach my next class in an hour!” I totally get it, navigating the awkwardness of inexperience is hard. I remember walking into the classroom those first few years feeling like a total fraud and how tempting it was to cover up my insecurities with over-instruction, fancy sequencing, or superficial spirituality. I learned quickly that this will only pull you off course and make this inherently long road even longer. Here’s my advice: Rather than trying to make up for what you feel you lack, focus on editing out what stands in your way.
Take Your Time
Time is such an interesting tool to play with on the mat. When I first started doing yoga, I needed time to move quickly. I didn’t like holding poses. In fact, I hated it. There was a very real boredom, frustration, and anger that would arise when I was asked to stay still. As a result, I gravitated towards classes that kept me moving, but really (and I could have never articulated this at the time) that indulged my undisciplined attention.
What It Means To Be Advanced
A few years ago, I was approached by a photographer who wanted to work with me. In preparation for our shoot, I was presented with a portfolio of postures to consider. As I swiped through my options, I had no choice but to respond with, “Nope, can’t do that one. And, nope, can’t do that one either.”
How To Be An Effective Sub
One of the most difficult aspects of being a teacher is teaching for someone else. While subbing is a necessity of this profession, one that offers an amazing opportunity to refine our craft, it’s not always easy or obvious. It can be challenging to navigate a space we did not personally cultivate, and it can be intimidating to face the visible disappointment or even outright resentment wafting from the students. Our mere presence puts us at a clear disadvantage: we are not their teacher!
Self-Adjustments: Ankle-to-Knee Pose
Ankle-to-Knee Pose (Double Pigeon/Firelog) has always been an effective hip-opener for my body. I typically work with some degree of tension in my hips due to compensatory patterns from muscle weakness and what I suspect are some structural variations. It’s definitely not an easy pose for me, even after almost twenty years of practice, but it has has taught me so much about acceptance, patience, and compassion.
Growing Your Classes
When it comes to growing your classes, I believe that quality is more important than quantity. In my opinion, success lies in being the best teacher you can be. Building community has always been more important to me than building a following. That said, teaching is also my profession—it’s how I put food on the table.
The Art of Sequencing
One of the principles of effective sequencing is that it should tell a story. The structure of a sequence follows an arc. There’s an opening and a warm up, where concepts are introduced and developed. Then there’s the climax, where those concepts are applied under challenging circumstances at the peak of heat. And finally, the denouement, where the story is resolved. As the author of a yoga sequence, you have to work backward. First, you must identify the most complex pose you’d like to teach. Then, you boil that pose down to its essence and strategize accessible ways to introduce its component parts throughout your class. As your students develop familiarity and proficiency with the actions, the stakes are slowly raised. Finally, you craft a cool down that neutralizes the body both physically and energetically.
Headstand: A Practice
Sirsasana, or Headstand, is a perpetual work in progress for me. I’ve made peace with this for two reasons. First, and most importantly, everything in life is a work in progress. And second, I’m not driven by a desire to do Sirsasana, or really any other pose for that matter. I want to understand it.