As students, many of us come into yoga through the physical aspect – as an exercise or weight loss program. Some come to de-stress and some don’t even know why they are drawn to yoga. Whatever your initial reasons are, these pointers may help in your journey.
Reaching Your Yoga Goals, for Students
Regardless of whether you are an absolute yoga beginner or someone with years of experience, it is essential that you let go of your preconceptions and expectations because this leads to you judging yourself, your yoga teacher and your practice. This is different from goals-setting. By all means, have a goal in mind, but having a preconceived notion of how and when to get there can lead to a feeling of frustration and disillusionment. There is also a tendency to start competing with yourself and your fellow yoga practitioners when you come to yoga full of preconceived ideas of how things ought to be. You’ll be telling yourself “why can’t I do that”, “I can never do that”, “the pose should/shouldn’t be like this” – all of which are forms of judgement and a hindrance to your growth.
Find a Studio or a Yoga Style that Suites You
Don’t force-fit yourself into the latest, most modern or hottest yoga studio to pop-up. Hatha Yoga, the branch of Yoga that helps practitioners come into enlightenment through physical disciplines is by far the most common type of yoga available. Under this are all of the styles we see around – Vinyasa Flow, Astanga, Kundilini, Anusara, Iyengar, Bikram, Jivamukti, Power Yoga, Sivananda and many more. Do your research and find out which yoga style best fits you not just on a physical level, but physiologically (meaning health-wise), psychologically and emotionally. Don’t forget that while yoga is not a religion, there will always be a spiritual aspect no matter which yoga style you choose, so take that into consideration as well. Another thing to consider is the yoga studio itself. How do you feel when you enter the studio? Do you like big and busy yoga classes or would you prefer a more intimate setting? Shop around for the one that best resonates with you. But once you’ve decided on a studio and yoga teacher, stay a while and immerse yourself in the experience.
Communicate Your Goals to Your Yoga Teacher
Granted that it takes a while to build up a good rapport, much more for trust, with anybody; it is important to tell your teacher what it is you are looking to gain from your yoga practice. For this reason, find a yoga teacher who resonates with you – your values, your beliefs and your general personality. Whether your goals are physical, emotional, mental, general health or spiritual, it will help your teacher in guiding you through your yoga journey if he or she knows the reasons for you being there. In this way, the practice becomes a partnership between you and your yoga teacher.
Give Yourself and Your Yoga Practice Time to Grow
Yoga, much like any exercise or life-style change, has short-term and long-term benefits. Yoga asana or physical practice, for example, will yield short term benefits, but will give you muscular strength, flexibility and cardiopulmonary endurance only when there is a consistent and dedicated practice. Yoga is a vast and complex system of philosophies and practices and it takes time for its benefits to be felt. You need to invest time and energy in getting to know its many aspects. But even if you are interested in only one aspect, it will still take time to fully benefit from it.
Goals Are Not Set in Stone
There is numerous anecdotal evidence to suggest that one’s initial reasons for taking up yoga changes after some time, whether this happens or not, it is important that you do not judge yourself; honour where you are in that space and time while keeping an open mind and heart, try new challenges and listen and learn from the lessons that come your way. You may not even realise if, how or when your reasons for practicing yoga changes, it may simply mean that yoga has become part of how you live your life, and that is a good thing.
Reaching Your Yoga Goals, for Teachers
As teachers, we answered the call to share what we know and to help others, if we can. Some teach because they are personally passionate about yoga and want to earn a living with something they are passionate about. Both teachers and students have their own goals that need fulfilling when starting with yoga classes, but reaching one’s yoga goals comes from understanding, trust and partnership between student and teacher.
Maintain Your Own Yoga Practice
Regardless of whether you are new to teaching yoga or a seasoned veteran, always remember that continuing your own well-rounded yoga practice is essential to keep yourself grounded – it keeps us teachers sharp in mind and body, keeps us connected to the spirituality of yoga and keeps us in touch with how it is to be a yoga beginner. It also keeps us humble and reminds us that no matter where we are in our teaching career, we are and forever will be students of yoga.
Remember: One Size Does Not Fit All
Anatomically and physiologically we are all the same – heads, torsos, arm, legs, hearts, lungs and all the rest. But we know that we are all different, unique individuals, pardon the redundant terms. The same is true for the yoga practices we teach. Take vinyasa flows, for example. Sometimes a sequence works well for everyone in a class, sometimes it will only fit half and sometimes the energy in the room just won’t go with the flow, as it were. Or when teaching one-on-one lessons, a sequence that works well for one student may not be the appropriate sequence for another. There are a number of reasons for this; it could be the general mood and energy of the room, the influence of the seasons, the time of day or something un-nameable: a “just is” feeling. These apply to one-on-one teaching as well; on top of more personal issues that may be affecting your student like their current health, emotional or mental state. It could also be their unique body structure. Medical practitioners may have determined the human body’s range of motion, but the joint articulation, muscle action and general health of each student must still be taken into consideration when teaching yoga. As yoga teachers, we need to listen to our students and adjust our lesson plans accordingly. This can mean anything from changing the vinyasa entirely, a part of it or even just the pace, focus and intention of the vinyasa flow. When we take our cue from our students, we custom-make the yoga experience precisely to what they need and this leads the way for us to offer deeper yoga practices suited to them.
Do Not Lose Your Humility and Compassion
Students pick up on the energies you put out; the scale being – can’t be bothered, sincerity in your own practice and teaching or putting yourself on a pedestal. Let’s be honest, there are teachers on either end of the scale who give the practice of yoga an elitist image. This is not the spirit and intention of yoga. Remember that yoga students approach you for a reason. Whatever their reasons are for being in your class they are looking to you to help them get there. If we remain sincere to the teachings of yoga and maintain our humility and compassion, students will have a better experience and our own teaching is enriched by this.
Be true to yourself
Ok, while I did say that we should listen, be humble and compassionate to our students, we should also remember to be true to ourselves.
If both teachers and students work together in a partnership to achieve each other’s goals, go beyond it and grow in yoga, the journey becomes one of support, understanding and trust.