Teaching Yoga Off the Mat

Often new students in my corporate yoga classes will ask, “Why don’t you do the poses with us?”  They initially grumble stating it would be easier for them to learn if I was on my mat practicing with them as I teach.

The reality is a teacher practicing in front of the class is a visual and mental distraction for students, completely taking them out of their practice and into the teacher’s.  It’s not about watching the teacher.  Asana practice is about getting to know one’s self through self-exploration, self-awareness and self-acceptance.

To start, practicing yoga asana is not about how the poses look; it’s what they feel like.  Teaching by cuing only is a very empowering way for students to discover and feel the poses for themselves.  Learning to experiment with a teacher’s words regardless of what it might look like (i.e. playing with variations in each pose) is a fun way to find what works best for one’s individual body.  Self-exploration is key to a fulfilling asana practice.

Second, yoga is physical, mental and spiritual training for the entire body including the senses; hence by not demonstrating while teaching, students are forced to use their ears.  In turn, this can help students improve their listening skills in all areas of life improving their sense of self-awareness.

Another essential sensory organ (though they all are important) to the asana practice is the eyes.  Every pose has a focal point known as drishti.  Drishti in the asana practice helps keep the student physically in the pose as well as mentally on the mat.  As the external drishti is set (and not on the teacher), the student can then shift their gaze internally, tapping into the sensations of the pose and experimenting deeper.  Setting the eyes to a fixed point will help relax the nervous system, which will relax the student in the pose. Using one’s senses on the yoga mat to remain calm and focused will ultimately benefit them off the mat.

Third, asana practice isn’t about forcing one’s body to look a certain way in a pose.  Related to the first point above, yoga asana is about “feeling” your body and learning to accept yourself just as you are.  I want my students to find and feel their own Crow Pose  (Bakasana) rather than trying to look like me, or a picture in a beautiful yoga book.  Everybody’s body is different, so Bakasana is going to look different for each student.  Self-acceptance is the lesson to be discovered here.

To conclude, it’s empowering for students when they realize they don’t need a visual to do yoga.  Everything they need is already inside of them.  I’m just guiding them on how to access their own personal power through self-exploration, self-awareness and self-acceptance.  And all of this takes self-discipline.

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