Letting go within my teaching

When I first started teaching Vinyasa I was so worried about forgetting my flows (I’m the kind of person that when I blank, I blank.  I mean mouth-open, brain blanked panic.) and giving a good class that I wrote down every single breath and movement and followed it rigidly.

As I grew more comfortable in my teaching, I started using some abbreviations and didn’t have to write out all the breaths.  And as I grew even more comfortable, I would vamp here and there, or I would just write down the parts I really wanted to remember and play the rest by ear.  If I was teaching a “specialty” class, like hip openers or shoulders, I would still write out alot of things.

As more time went by I became able to teach a one-hour class completely off the top of my head.  Came one Saturday afternoon that I simply had no idea what I wanted to do in class the next day; none of my usual sources of inspiration helped.  Even getting on the mat didn’t do much.  I didn’t panic.  I actually felt a sense of calm.  By this time I had developed enough of a rapport with my students to gloss over many errors, and I had also come to realize that making errors was not the end of the world.

So I went in to class that Sunday morning and did 90 minutes of yoga totally off the top of my head.  It was probably a very basic class.  I also discovered a new challenge:  I definitely had to do most of the flows to remember what I had done but I also had to keep myself from sinking into my own practice.  I needed to not only pay attention to what I was doing from asana to asana but keep myself from going too far within and disconnecting from the students (which, by the way, is how I know its time to get a haircut – when my bangs/hair obscure my eyes & I can’t see my students!).

Recently I took another step forward.  I had a few vague sketchy ideas for class but nothing concrete and absolutely no particular focus.  As students entered the studio, I realized I had a pretty low-key bunch with no particular physical ailments or chronic conditions.  In fact, the biggest common denominator (as with many classes, but that’s another blog!) was professionals with stressful jobs.

So I let the students teach me.  They were very focused and into their warm ups; I could hear several students make the switch to ujayi breath.  Several were deliberately slowing down their movements.  When I saw that a student or two was starting to wander, we got up and broke a sweat, but we still moved deliberately and with a focus on alignment.  Then it got practical and as we passed the 70 minute mark we moved back down to the mat … but only did three asanas (bridge supported with bolster, reclining on bolster with shoulders on mat and savasana).

This may have been the most personally satisfying class I’ve ever taught. More importantly, every student had a smile on his or her face and looked relaxed and replete.  I don’t expect to have that sort of inspiration or connection with every single class.  I do know I’ve done it once and it will happen again.  I look forward to that.