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Ignite Mentorship Teacher Training Part 1: Help Make Classes More Accessible to Everyone

Both George & myself completed our 200-hour yoga teacher training in June 2018. We loved it; it was something we wanted to do for a long time.

Since then we both have been teaching free classes. George signed up as a volunteer in the YMCA on Burrard street In Vancouver, his class is 7:00am every Thursday. George also subs evening classes in the YMCA when he is needed. I offered free classes for the summer to my work colleagues, which we scheduled every Tuesday after work for 8 weeks in Queen Elizabeth Park. The owner of the company who I work for also requested private sessions with her every Thursday at her home. It was great to get teaching straight away after the training.

George continues to teach in the YMCA. Personally, I have put teaching on hold since December until after my pregnancy. I am 30 weeks pregnant now and want to focus my energy on rest in the evenings and my own practice of movement. Making the decision to slow things down felt right for me.

We both knew the realities of acquiring a paid position after the 200hr was next to near impossible. Vancouver has lots of yoga studios and many yoga schools which pump out a magnitude of new teachers each year. Getting paid work in a studio as a new graduate would be highly unlikely. Therefore, we both made the decision to volunteer for 2 years, do a lot of self-study and increase our knowledge even further by taking as many courses/ trainings that appealed to us. After this period of practise and self-study we would be ready to share our teachings with a group of people & get paid.

Julia’s Doty’s Ignite Mentorship training with semperviva was one of those trainings that we both wanted to take. Julia is a teacher with semperviva and also part of the faculty for teacher training. We love Julia’s classes, her humour, emphasis on the breath and warm manner is what we love in a teacher. She is extremely knowledgeable and we wanted to learn as much as we could from her but also what the course was offering.

This training was created to make yoga classes more accessible to more people. It was designed to teach teachers to use props to help people with & without injuries to access a shape in a more beneficial way. How to be mindful of your voice, the words you use including the use of traditional Yoga language so you can encourage people from other religious and spiritualities to feel comfortable and safe in your class. Yoga truly is for everybody but we as teachers need to be mindful of how to make it more accessible to everybody without losing the integrity of the practice.

The first exercise we were asked to complete was to answer the following 3 Questions in our notebooks:

1. Describe your first yoga class, atmosphere, location, music, studio. How did it make you feel, why is it so clear in your mind?

2. Think of a yoga teacher that really inspires you and list 3-4 of these qualities?

3. What are the 1-2 obstacles that are holding you back from teaching how you want to teach?

We were instructed to answer the above questions to help identify what kind of teacher we wanted to become. Julia explained the teachers you love the best have the same qualities you have and their teaching style is similar to how you would like to teach. This was really helpful as a new teacher because there are so many different styles and methods of teaching that it can become over whelming. She also mentioned that it took her at least 5 years to find her own style. As new teachers we need to give ourselves time to try out different styles and different forms of yoga to see what we are naturally guided towards more. Julia’s openness and honesty about the first few years is what I believe new teachers need to hear. For the majority of us, we don’t know our niche yet. Time, practice, trainings and self-study are what we need in order to arrive to our happy place.

The first key and most important aspect of yoga is breathing. This is where are training began. Julia thought us all how-to breath properly and how to show our students to breath properly. Focus the student’s attention to their current breath and guide them how to breath deeply into their rib cage and back, to expand their lungs to the fullest capacity. We placed our hands on our upper ribs (bra Hight) and felt our ribs expand and collapse with each breath, another option we used was tying a strap around our upper ribs, just under chest area to feel the strap move in and out with each breath. This technique of breathing is also thought be Max Strom who Julia admires and has done multiple trainings with.

Teaching students how to breath will change their lives. Deep quality breaths help our bodies rest, digest, improves our immunity and most important helps people to relax & sleep better. Sleep deprivation is a major issue in our society and if we as teachers can help people sleep better, we are having an enormous positive effect on our student’s life. Breathing is the most important aspect of all classes; this is what will help student the most once they step outside of the studio.

Giving students options is important to make our classes more accessible. Offering options in all the shapes by advising what props we can use and giving alternative gentler shapes is key to making the same class accessible to people with injuries and bodies that cannot get into certain shapes. Remember we can only offer alternative shapes to help our students but it is their decision whether they take the shape or not.

The options do not only stop at the physical shapes. The traditional use of “OM” at the beginning and ending of each class may freak some people out. When people do not understand the meaning behind something their imagination can bring them to all sorts of places. We as teachers should explain why we “OM” and that its completely personal and voluntary to participate in. “OM” helps us take deeper breaths and slows the breathing down at the start of the classes therefore helping our students get grounded. Offering different versions on “OM”, humming, vocal or silent are good for people who want to participate but are uncomfortable hearing their own voice. Religious people may want to avoid altogether so give the option to remain silent and maybe repeat their own prayer in their head each time “OM” is used. The option of not using “OM” at all is also a reality, it will depend on your class and the environment you are teaching in.

Sanskrit the traditional language of yoga I find extremely hard to say and cannot remember the words for shapes except for “Tadasana” Mountain pose and “Shavasana” corpse pose. For some teacher’s Sanskrit is in important in their practice and they want to use it throughout. However, students who are new to yoga and join their class will be confused by the words and will not know what pose to take. Most people know downdog, cat/cow, easy pose, warrior pose but in Sanskrit, I cannot even remember. Julia mentioned its important if you mention a pose in Sanskrit to follow it up with the English translation, this has automatically opened up your classes for new students to join. Only use Sanskrit if it feels comfortable to you and you are not limiting your classes by using too much. For me the only Sanskrit I use is Shavasana because I don’t like saying corpse pose, everything else will be in English. That’s my personal choice. You really don’t want to hear me butchering these beautiful words in an Irish accent which I cannot drop! Lol!

Julia gave the following 4 pointers on how to teach to a broader range of students:

• Teach by example: Beware of your body language, don’t fidget, use appropriate hand gestures and demonstrate what you want the majority of your students to do. For example, if you want your student to use props demonstrate by using props, if you want the majority of the students to stay in option 1 of a shape instead of option 3 demonstrate in option 1

• Teach by what you say & the order of how you say it: Breath should always be priority in our classes, this should always be the most significant thing we complement our student on, we should be encouraging our students to breath more and not pushing more. Are your students able to breath comfortably in a shape? If not ease back and find a different shape so they can breathe.

• Teach by what we don’t say: beware if the only positive feedback we give our class is how one or two people look great in a handstand while the majority of people are in child’s pose.

• Teach by touch or lack of: Be conscious of assisting students into poses as we are not anatomy experts and everybody’s body is different. You do not want to harm any student or be liable for harming anyone. Use as many verbal and visual ques as much possible before assisting any student. Only assist if you have received training and are comfortable in this area.

My very unique note taking skills, unreadable hand writing & stick men…..nobody ever wants to use my notes! lol!

The power your voice can have in a class is significant. Julia mentioned to keep our voice authentic and not put on a “yoga “voice. Ask yourself is your voice the same in class as it is after class when a student asks a question? Be loud enough so everyone can hear you, about twice as loud as normal conversation voice. (depending on studio size) Avoid using the upper inflection at the end of your sentences that sounds like you are constantly asking questions! Super annoying and you will lose students because of this.

Be mindful of any curse words or slang you may use and avoid using them in your class. Some teachers do use these words but curse words and slang do have a negative energy and can affect how people feel. Anyone who has lived through trauma or abuse may find these words especially upsetting. Best to avoid. Remember we are encouraging as many people to come to yoga to feel safe & secure.

One of the students in this course recommended the book “The Hidden Messages in Water” by Masaru Emoto which explains how words can affect us. It’s on my reading list.

Speak in a command form, give instructions but in a kind way as if you are speaking to your best friend. Slow down your words to speak much slower than your usual speed. Record your voice during classes to see how you really sound and this will help you improve your teaching in areas you may never have noticed you needed to work on.

The above information is so beneficial to teachers and everything mentioned will help make our classes more accessible to more students. We as teachers have a lot to work on and we may not see the results for many years but everything mentioned above will mould us into better teachers and hopefully encourage a much wider & diverse group of people to arrive to our classes. Our classes should be open to everyone, we as teachers need to know how to make this happen so more people are exposed to the wonderful benefits of the breath and shapes.

Hopefully you enjoyed Part 1 of this series of reflections on our training. A special thanks to Julia and semperviva for providing such a beneficial course.

In the next blog in this series we will include how to make the popular poses more accessible to people with injuries, limitations and pregnancy by using props. And lots more wisdom & advise from Julia.

Have a great week.

Chat soon,

Theresa x