Starting a yoga class off right, requires teachers to intentionally set the tone for the practice ahead. One effective way to do this, is by choosing and sharing a theme for the session. However, it is sometimes difficult to consistently find new resources and inspiration to provide to students. Especially, if you're having an "off week" or are simply not feeling super inspired. So to help get the wheels turning about potential themes, I would like to share some guiding questions that I often ask myself in order to prompt my thinking about what to share at the start of a class.
What will set the tone for the class ahead? You could base a theme on the physical practice ahead. If you’re inverting, maybe start with a discussion of perspective. If you’re working on hips, perhaps a discussion of emotional awareness since hip-opening is often associated with strong feelings and emotional release.
What will people appreciate hearing? I remember a teacher during an election discussing how we can ground ourselves in practice despite the chaos of the outside world. Now, as an increasing amount of attention is turned towards the Black Lives Matter movement, I’ve been discussing how love equates to effort and attention, and prompting students to think about how they can show love to themselves and others.
What unfamiliar insights or information could be shared? I know some teachers who love sharing insights from podcasts they’ve recently heard. Perhaps a recent scientific finding on the effects of mindfulness or a classic reference back to the yoga sutras.
The questions we choose to ask ourselves can have a profound effect on the experience of practitioners. If none of these questions are resonating with you, I’d like to share one more that I find to be the most consistently effective.
What has been truly impactful to me? When we think about what may reach other practitioners, why not start with what we know can work, because it’s worked for us.
With this in mind, I’d like to share one of my favorite meditation poems on breathing by Tich Nhat Hanh.
Present moment, wonderful moment.”
In this short Mantra, Tich Nhat Hanh encourages practitioners to follow the words with the breath. First, becoming aware of the breathing by thinking: “I am breathing in, I am breathing out.” Then, as practitioners realize that this has automatically made their breath deeper and slower, they move to the next section, thinking “deep, slow”. This slowness of breath will bring on a sense of “calm”, and “ease”, prompting practitioners to move to the next part of the mantra, thinking “calm” on the inhale, and “ease” on the exhale. This will invite them to “smile” and “release worries and anxieties”, thinking “smile” on the inhale, and “release” on the exhale. Lastly, they will be able to feel that they are in the “present moment”, and that it is truly a “wonderful moment”.
In The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Hanh encourages practitioners to take any two words at a time as they practice their breathing meditation, or to recite the whole poem at any point throughout the day, practicing as long as they wish. If you wish to try this in a yoga class, an excerpt fully explaining the lines can also be found here.
This can be a great, short guided meditation to use in your opening/grounding. Walk practitioners through each set of words in the mantra (in/out, deep/slow, etc.), explaining their meaning and allowing them time to reflect and breath before moving forward. By the time you arrive at the “present moment”, the group will be fully prepared for a wonderful practice.
I love to share this because it’s been helpful to me, not only in yoga but just in life. If it doesn’t speak to you, then take this as a call to think about what does. Chances are, you’re not alone in what has been impactful to you, and that you’ll come up with some great, authentic openings that will allow you to connect more deeply and meaningfully with your fellow practitioners.
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