When I was a new teacher, I spent hours planning my classes. I was trying to emulate teachers like Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, whose classes seemed perfectly choreographed. I pored over manuals, trying to pick yoga sets that I hadn't taught before. Then I'd put time into selecting the right meditation to complement the yoga. After that, I'd go to my extensive collection of spiritual and self-help books, scanning for passages, anecdotes, and themes to tie everything together. I'd make notes on index cards to use for quick reference on the teacher's bench. I'd type, scan, and print handouts. Lastly, I'd program the music, pulling CDs and cassettes from my library (this was the '90s, folks) and placing them atop the pile of manuals and books I'd accumulated. All told, I could put more time into planning a class than teaching it.
Sometimes this kind of planning paid off. Mostly, my most ambitious plans fell flat. I rushed through the yoga sets so I could fit them all in. The meditations didn't resonate. The readings I had so carefully selected didn't move anyone.
Gradually, I swung the other way. Instead of preparing for a class, I'd grab a few manuals off the shelf before I headed out the door to the yoga studio. Occasionally, I wouldn't pick a yoga set to teach until I had already started my students on warm-ups. This way of nonplanning often yielded wonderful, spontaneous classes. Yet there would be times when I felt the class could have been better if I had just put in a little thought beforehand. Frankly, you know when you're simply being lazy.
These days, I like to think I've struck a balance between the polarities of planning and improvisation. But I'm still curious about how other teachers plan their classes. How do our masters and mentors create such seamless, resonant experiences for their students? These teachers are like master conductors, and their classes like symphonies. Turns out, the answer in yoga is the same as it is in music: practice.
See also Is 200 Hours Enough To Teach Yoga?
About Our Writer
Dan Charnas has been practicing and teaching Kundalini Yoga for almost 13 years, and he has taught at yoga centers in Los Angeles and New York City. He's recently written a book, The Big Payback: How Hip-Hop Became Global Pop.