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Less is More: 5 Practices I Let Go of to Break Open My Yoga Teaching and My Life

Teaching Yoga | Yoga

In the beginning, my growth as a newly minted yoga teacher was all about piling it on: extra hours of physical asana, myriad ways to sequence a 75-minute class, how-to books on anatomy, philosophy, yoga for golfers, for runners, for people who hate yoga, and so on.

I also put in bigger investments in workshops, teacher trainings and hardcore boot camp-style-Chaturanga-til-you-puke immersions. Before long my head was spinning so fast I could barely distinguish between a left and right in Downward Facing Dog.

Thankfully, three years into my teaching gig, I’ve discovered newfound joy by letting go of a handful of practices I’d been relying on to validate my worth as a teacher.

These days, I’m connecting to my students in a way that one more gong-yoga-for-beginners or twist-out-your-emotional-baggage teacher intensive can’t. If your teaching, or practice, is feeling uninspired, try less instead of more. Here’s what to let go of, and what you’ll gain as a result:

1. Your Yoga Mat

That’s right. Teach without your mat! My mat at the front of the room served as the ultimate hiding zone. I glued myself to it whenever I feared a student was judging me (which was pretty much all the time in my first few classes).

Not until a studio owner I worked for insisted I ditch the mat was I finally able to notice my students and teach to what I was seeing in their bodies versus what I thought looked and sounded cool.Get off your mat. Move around the room. See what’s happening, look your students in the eye and let them know you are fully present to their needs. Not your insecurities.

2. Your Playlist

Silence. Oh Lord, it’s quiet in here. Funny how, as a student, I savor the quiet space my teachers allow in class, only to feel completely naked without background noise when I’m at the front of the room.

Because my patience with technical troubleshooting the studio sound system is akin to a two-year-old in mid-tantrum, through default I’ve managed to let go of my dependence on music in class…and discovered the gorgeous symphony of breath provided by my wonderful students.

Teaching sans music has made me a better teacher, and allowed me to effectively pace the practice in sync with my students’ breath, creating an opportunity for everyone in the room to tap into this powerful source of life—the breath.

If not every class, try ditching the music at least once in a while and notice the difference.

3. Your Words

“…but I have so much to say!” Well, spewing out too many cues and stories is another sneaky hiding zone. It’s taken me time to recognize my students aren’t coming to class for an anatomy lesson or embellished story of how my cat can rock Upward Facing Dog.

They want guidance and inspiration, but also quiet space; quiet space to slow down their hyperactive minds as they discover their bodies. Keep your cues brief, simple, and understandable and save describing the finer points of the Ischial Tuberosity for your next workshop. The Sit Bones will do!

4. Your Need to Please

I recently videotaped one of my yoga classes, and after reviewing it, noticed how many times I said, “try to…” and “see if you can…” Not very empowering!

A little further digging revealed that I, like many “diseased-to-please” people out there, struggle with telling others what to do. But our students are here for that very reason. So tell them what to do and offer modifications if they can’t. They’ll still love you. Really.

5. Your Scorecard

"Why does Betty Badass teacher always get more students in her classes than I do?"

In the beginning, I obsessed over my class numbers in comparison to other teachers. I beat myself up over small classes; “what was I doing wrong?”

Actually, nothing. I was learning! And it takes time to build classes and loyal students. Other factors play in too–weather, time of day, class format, and so on. Once I quit looking at class counts and started really appreciating the few who showed up to my classes, I became a better teacher.

And guess what? My classes grew. Funny how that works.

How about you? How do YOU bring to life the ‘less is more’ concept in your teaching, your practice, and your life?

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