This is the start of a series to log my thoughts as a yoga instructor, and everything in between.
Yoga is a very personal for me. Of all the interests I have picked up along the way, yoga is the one that stuck. It is something I do for myself, and not what was being expected or asked of me or that it reminded me of old memories. It is my way of listening to my own thoughts and body; to calm my racing heart and to breathe, a little deeper, to look inwards and to slow down my thoughts. It is my way of both living and escaping the physical world, even for a brief moment.
I took a while to decide to teach in a public setting, even though there are a lot of opportunities opening up. Because I was afraid. Afraid that I take something so personal and sacred to me, and change it from a stress reliever to a (negative) stress enhancer. As I silenced the noises around – of being expected to not do anything for free and to teach immediately, I remember my intention when I took up the RYT200 course: to spread the love of the practice, both on and off the mat.
Being a yoga teacher goes against everything I am used to; the attention of others to me, and having to look outwards (at the students) rather than focusing on my own practice. It challenges me to be more confident, and not be so afraid of my own voice.
Session 1: 15 November 2019 @ AOS Publika
It was a clumsy start.
I intended for the yoga students to face the the inside of the studio to avoid distractions of people walking in or past the studio but I wasn’t specific in how they should be seated, so they were seated as an odd semi-circle shape. Realising that it did not work, I redirected them to sit two person per row. Once they are seated comfortably, I said “Let’s begin.”
And that is when my mind froze, despite knowing everyone in the room. There was an instant flashback when I was 11, being called out in front of the class to read a paragraph. I stood muted and paralysed with fear until the teacher finally gave an ultimatum; speak or walk out. I walked out then.
I can’t exactly do that now.
Class Log: [Peak Pose: Active Pigeon Pose]
I started the class by asking if there are any injuries to take note of, then to close their eyes and set the intention for the practice. We started with normal breathing, then to even inhalation and exhalation.
The sequence I prepared was catered for yin style, with the final pose as a pigeon pose. There wasn’t any significant flow, just blocks of poses with simple transitions, i.e. downward dog, low lunge/ high lunge, warrior 2, butterfly poses. I went too slowly and was holding the pose for far longer than I should (because I was trying to collect my thoughts) and missed an entire series of lizard poses and seated forward bends. Because I ran out of time, I replaced the typical relaxation pose with seated normal breathing.
I closed by letting the class know my name (which was weird now that I think about it) and thanked the class for the practice.
- Some poses are very difficult for complete beginners, such as downward dog.
- Beginners tend to view props (i.e. blocks) as something that they do not want.
- Holding static stretches for extended period does not work well. Each pose could use a little variations which allows for flexibility in verbalising cues while maintaining the rule of three (three instructions per pose).
- It is beneficial to do mirror image when facing the class, such as during warm-up. Rest of the session can be done without mirror image.
- With a small class setting, there are so many hands-on adjustment to work on. Most tend to collapse to the inner side (not pressing the little toes) during lunges. The feet tend to curl inwards and outwards (not in neutral position) when in pigeon stretch.
- I only looked at the clock once and by then 45 minutes had passed. Running out of time taught me to be more mindful about the pace of the class.
- The holding of poses was too extensive without adequate warm-up.
- I kept walking to the back of the class. (I placed my phone at the back of the class so they couldn’t see me referring to the list of poses/ sequence that I forgot – a sign of huge ego).
Post Class Thoughts:
To be honest, I was a little paranoid of one unpleasant fellow would show up for my class, which is part of the reason I hesitated to teach in a public setting to begin with. As I think about it, this is a safe place for me; apart from learning martial arts, I am quite literally teaching at the place that I train at, i.e. if I fail to protect myself, I am surrounded by people who can.
Everyone was congratulating on my first official debut class (after being certified), but I didn’t feel like I gave my best – partly because I ran out of time and out of words. As I reflected back, I was subconsciously comparing myself to the teachers I attended classes to. But they have been perfecting the art of teaching over a period of time, and I have only just begun.
On the bright side, I can’t get any worse.
Session 2: 21 November 2019 @ AOS Publika
Given a choice, I would never have taught inversions so early in my journey, because I know how addictive advance poses can be and what the rush felt like, even if your body isn’t quite there yet. But I volunteered to replace my friend’s yoga class on Saturday where she had been teaching inversions and I didn’t want to break that sequence (class was cancelled in the end, sigh).
I took this class as a practice ground to run my sequence. I decided to plan an actual flow class, as how I would want to attend, and not what was being expected of me (i.e. yin style).
Best decision ever.
Class Log: [Peak Pose: Headstand]
I got a little too excited to start the class, a huge difference from the nerves I experienced the week before. Maybe a little too excited as I skipped asking about injuries and background in yoga (also because I know everyone in the room). I added gentle puppy pose and mini cobra to my warm-ups sequence for shoulder activation and thoracic spine opening.
After two rounds of Surya Namaskar A, I built my sequence around Surya Namaskar B adding one new pose at a time, preparing into the peak pose, i.e. headstand. I incorporated several poses: chair (quads engagement), plank variations (core activation), lunge variations (hip flexors stretch), downward dog and dolphin (shoulder stability) as well forward folds (hamstring stretch).
Tien, being a yoga instructor herself, was kind enough to assist in supervising the headstands. I kept check of the time, and I ended with savasana this time. You know what they say, part of the perks of being a yoga teacher is to share your Spotify playlist – and on my recent repeat: Someone You Loved by The Piano Guys.
- Class vibe was generally happier in a flow class because people can do more poses. Relaxation pose is welcomed.
- I always think about intensifying the pose, but some may be tired. It would be good to include easier variation towards the second half of the class.For example, arms down during lunges.
- Observe ankle flexibility for alternating warrior 1 or high lunge during hands-on adjustment.
- Regular practitioners will remember your flow – I missed a pose for one side because I added it on the spot. Oops!
- Improve on instructions of inversions – shoulders location and head placement.
- To control my breath better when demonstrating poses. A little rushed when trying to show variations for inversion and end up falling.
- My cool down was a little rushed. Not enough instructions for shoulder stands (alternative for bridge).
- Start by introducing oneself to provide rapport with students.
- Regardless if you know everyone in the room, start the class by asking about injuries/ experience in yoga.
- Could consider introducing what to be expected in the class – i.e peak poses and muscle targets.
- Voice intonation can be lower at the start, but loud enough so that the back of the class can hear you.
- No transition from all fours (during warm-up) to tadasana (start of Surya Namaskar A).
- Too many dolphin for shoulders stability with little transition.
- It is good to exude some of my personality in the class to make it more authentic.
Post Class Thoughts:
Although I was very pleased with everyone’s progress, I felt a little nostalgic about my own journey. There was a hollowness in my heart as I thought of the first teacher who bothered to slow down and focus all the foundation poses instead of the flow. It wasn’t to discredit the previous teachers or the two years of practice prior: I started yoga with a huge ego and a beginner mindset – to attend as much classes as I can, to push my body to its limit and to go into fancy poses without proper foundation.
I hope to emulate the same effect he had on me, to the people who practice with me. I want to be the kind of instructor that cares, to focus on the quality of the movement rather than the intensity of the flow. And that whatever that’s learnt on the mat, can be translated to how we view life.
Session 3: 21 November 2019 @ AOS Publika
As a person who injured her IT band due to flexibility in 2014, I know how dangerous the combination of flexibility without strength. It never quite recovered, even after 5 years and I can still feel that dent in my left outer thigh muscles.
Hence, when teaching a flexibility class such as middle splits, I wanted to focus on engaging the muscles rather than allow flexibility to do all the work. As a person who can achieve middle splits without warm-up (not that you should), I found it interesting to discover the limitations of other people’s body.
Middle splits is a sort of a do over class for me. In one of our practice sessions during the course, I found out that my sequence of poses are very one plan (focused stretching inner thigh only). The teacher’s feedback was that it left the students very uncomfortable and imbalanced at the end of the class. That is why a proper teacher certification course is important; just because it works for you doesn’t mean you should do it, and that it will work for everyone.
Class started 5 minutes later as it took a while for people to settle in. I started the centering process with a supinated pose, diamond leg. The warm-up was a little different, focusing on waking up the inner thighs and rotation of pelvic bones while keeping the upper body rested on the floor.
To focus on stretching of all parts of the thighs, I incorporated lunge variations (for hip flexor activation), warrior 2 (for inner thigh stretch and glutes activation), lizard variations (opening up hip flexors), wide legged forward fold (for hamstrings stretch), side lunge (intensify inner thigh stretch), butterfly, and butterfly fold.
I ended with a longer relaxation pose – 2 songs worth.
- I should have asked about injuries as there are new students in the class. Still felt a little rushed to begin the class.
- There were moments where I have no idea which side I started from because I was doing mirror image for some poses facing forward like tree pose, and non-mirror image for the rest.
- May be good to add poses to avoid rounded back – hands on adjustment.
- I have to be a little careful when improvising from the sequence to make sure that both sides incorporate the same sequence.
- I like how the class is attentive, no phones, just flowing with their breath.
- In an effort for a longer savasana, there were two songs: the song switch at the end of savasana is a little weird.
- Music was a little too loud at the end.
- Don’t be too shy.
- Good detailed points, class is not so monotonous – cheerful vibe.
Post Class Thoughts:
I do understand why it was advised to teach the pose that you can do with little warm-up. Teaching and providing hands-on adjustment provides less time for me to hold the pose. I am not in a rush to teach advance poses, especially in a multi-level class, so it is okay to teach foundation poses and provide variation for difficulties.
I noticed what I do when I am nervous – I start rambling and make odd humour. and because of that the cues tend to be a little too long. But that’s okay. That’s what we are here for, to learn and to grow with each other together. Maybe after a couple of classes, I’ll add in the cues for relaxation pose. I don’t want to overwhelm myself with too much expectations.
This journal is also a space for me to be brave, to not think too much before posting, and write from the heart.
The journey continues….