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Have More Fun Teaching

Liven up your classes, and your own practice, with new approaches to teaching yoga.

By Brenda K. Plakans

After you've been teaching for a while, you establish a dependable set of lesson plans. If repeating the same sequences and telling the same stories is starting to feel stale, it might be time to get creative and try something new. Incorporating a skill from your nonyoga life may be just what you need to freshen up your classes and inspire your students.

Parallel Poses

An obvious place to start is with other physical disciplines in which you have some expertise, such as the martial arts, dance, or gymnastics.

Cameron Shayne created Budokon, a combination of yoga, karate, tae kwon do, and jujitsu. "Basically, I took martial arts moves and gave them a yogic expression," he says. "I slowed them down, and I changed some of the physiology and the architecture so that they would have more of an asana feel."

A strategy to linking yoga to other disciplines is to find parallels, either in the shape of the poses or the intention of the practice. "For instance," Shayne explains, "in a jujitsu escape, you're on the ground on a four-point base, much like Down Dog. You extend your leg under your body into a Bridge Pose and use it as a way to get leverage and escape." By combining these approaches, the student experiences the focused power of martial arts tempered with the balance and calm of yoga.

Music for the Mind

Music is another way to transform your students' understanding and experience of yoga. Instead of serving as mere background noise, it can be a crucial element of your lesson plan.

Musician and yoga teacher Wade Morissette created Bliss Dance as an extension of vinyasa flow. During his sessions, instead of leading his class through a planned sequence, he encourages students to let the music guide them. "I allow people to have their experience but also to feel they're being facilitated," he says. "There are words of inspiration and cues to different parts of the body to provide continuity throughout the dance, and then there are moments when I say, 'Go, be free.'"

Despite its spontaneous nature, Bliss Dance isn't completely random. Like an asana class, the evening begins with a focus on rooting and grounding and then moves up the body, often using yoga poses to inspire the movement. Morissette says, "There's definitely a progression. The beats and the grooves are much slower as people get into their bodies, and then we build energy as we start into the release work. Each journey is different. I try to let it come up organically, spontaneously, depending on the energy of the crowd."

A New Attitude

If you're designing a class for specific populations, such as children, you need to approach the material with a different attitude. Leah Kalish, the program director of YogaEd, which develops health and wellness programs for schools, stresses that everything changes when you're teaching kids. "Kids show up and they just want to have fun," she says. "They aren't trying to fix themselves and they don't have their own agenda. Teachers have to create a context that makes it pertinent to them, so it's not just busy-ness to keep them occupied."

Instead of starting with a pose-oriented class, Kalish suggests identifying a larger intention, such as learning to breathe deeply or stand tall, as a framework for asana. For a class on visualization, students may draw pictures or make collages of what they see in their minds' eyes to set the stage for breathing exercises. For a class on finding their center, students might collect objects that help them feel calm and balanced, which then leads to such poses as Tree or Crane. Kalish uses music, conversation, and partnering to help the students make connections between their personal lives and yoga.

"Kids are told what to do all day long," she says. "If I can define the activity in their minds, then what they do with their bodies actually has some power." She adds that many teachers find this approach effective with adults as well.

A Cautious Approach

When coming up with a new approach to your class, it's important to act in a careful, thoughtful manner. The varieties of hatha yoga, for example, have established traditions that are highly effective for their practitioners. People will be resistant to change if they think you're diluting a class that works for them. Keep these tips in mind when "playing" with yoga:

  • Be respectful of the technique. Make sure you have a strong background in any new practice you're trying to incorporate. Attend a workshop or teacher training, or do complete research, so that your new take on yoga is safe and effective.
  • Don't surprise your students. It's important not to spring anything too radical on your students without warning them. A sudden change could be alienating, and you might even lose students if they feel they can't get the same sense of calm with your new approach.
  • Take advantage of available expertise. Include your students in the process. You may have an expert in tai chi, ballet, or classical guitar in your class who could help you refine your adaptation.
  • Have fun. The whole point of exploring news ways of thinking about yoga is to be inspired. By coming at it from a different angle, you will learn something new about the practice and, perhaps, about yourself.
Brenda K. Plakans lives and teaches yoga in Beloit, Wisconsin. She also maintains the blog Grounding Thru the Sit Bones (http://groundingthruthesitbones.blogspot.com).
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rena

"you never enter the same river twice" as heraklitos said, a yoga class can never really be the same with a previous one...

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