Refocus Your Teaching to Reflect Where You Are in Your Life

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I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can help the yoga teachers I mentor grow to become who they aspire to be both personally and professionally. My number one priority is to support and empower my clients as they strive to meet the goals they set for themselves.

Goals might come in the form of writing new flows, experimenting with sequences and cues, interweaving themes through class, landing a teaching job, planning a workshop, creating a website and marketing materials, and building a yoga-focused niche business.

While I am often in awe of what my clients accomplish based on sheer talent and ability, I am doubly moved by how willing they are to put themselves in the fire, to challenge their limits, and push the bounds of their emotional growth.

I know from first-hand experience that teaching yoga is not for the light of heart. Teaching is hard physical, mental, and emotional work. The perception that yoga teachers float peacefully through life couldn't be further from the truth. The inner turmoil can be tremendous, especially in the early years. 

I can vividly remember the nervous jitters I felt before class when I was a new teacher (if I am really honest, I still get nervous from time to time). I worried about whether or not students liked my class enough to come back (yep, that still happens). I also felt lonely with no longer having my teacher training group for support and encouragement. And then there was the anxiety about making enough money and the uncertainty around how I would ever be the passionate, influential teacher I dreamed of becoming. Over the course of my teaching career I have experienced phases of burn out and was unsure of how to get my spark back. Luckily I did and always do. That's when my mentors really come in handy!

Because I mentor teachers, I often reflect on my own growth. After all, I can't help others explore nuances in their teaching if I am not doing the same exploration in mine. It's interesting to look back over my teaching career and identify how it's both reflected and changed with various phases of my life. For instance, when I first started teaching in my 20s I wanted to practice and teach hardcore hot vinyasa; I stuck my nose up at anything else. You would never ever ever find me in an unheated class! In my 30s, newly married and with another career, the intense focus on the physical high of yoga shifted to a more balanced and serene vibe. Now at 40, a mother of two little girls and a very full life, I still like to rock out in vinyasa, but my style is more nurturing (and I am not attached to heat). I am more intent on the practical ways yoga helps us navigate the challenges of daily life. I have a greater respect for yoga philosophy, too.

In thinking about my mentoring clients and the nearly constant self-analysis they undergo as newer teachers, I recently put myself to task and did a refocusing exercise. To get clear on my own goals and reset my personal mission statement for teaching yoga, I answered these three questions: (1) who am I as a teacher? More specifically, what do I value and believe? (2) what's important to me about teaching? and (3) what experience do I desire to create for my students?

With a latte and my journal, I answered the questions and identified five focus areas to work on in my teaching:

1. Be the "respirator" for the class by guiding the breath with deliberate pacing to match the students' natural breathing rhythm.
2. Guide a physical experience and invite and inner experience.
3. Highlight practical physical benefits of poses and share about their deeper spiritual and emotional benefits and connections.
4. Don't tell students what to feel in their bodies. Instead, ask them what they sense and encourage a curiosity to learn through their bodies.
5. Teach to what I see, not from a script or memorization.

I feel renewed in my teaching since defining these goals. They align with many of the values that I apply in my life as a mother such as nurturing, guiding, and encouraging learning through exploration. 

At the start of each week I set sub-goals, or goals that align with one or two of the bigger goals. Essentially, I set teaching-focused intentions. Going into a class with clear intentions then allows me to teach with very direct, clear focus, which translates into concise cueing, purposeful sequences, and thoughtful sharing.

I encourage you to sit down with a latte (or tasty drink of your choice) and a journal and do this or a similar "refocusing" exercise. You can apply these questions to any endeavor in your life, not just teaching yoga. Set intentions on a weekly basis to help guide your efforts and self-discovery. 

To quote Sonya Teclai: "Self-reflection is a humbling process. It's essential to find out why you think, say, and do certain things...then better yourself."

I would love to know how this exercise helped you refocus your goals. Please feel free to report back in the comments!