I recently was interviewed by Niraj Shah from The Present of Yoga who wanted my “senior” or established teacher’s perspective in helping those who are just finishing their yoga teacher training or who are new to teaching yoga in the community. So, I reached out to some of my students who are in different stages of completing their training from Yogacampus, to hear what they would like answered as they enter this career in yoga teaching.
Niraj picked out his top 5 he wanted answered and I have written about the remaining questions below. To listen to the interview follow this link to www.bit.ly/ZephyrTPOY
How do you make sure your classes are enjoyable for all the different levels of student who attend?
It is always challenging to work with different levels of understanding and abilities. I try to design my sequences starting from a more simple asana gradually gaining more complexity as the sequence progresses. At the same time I try to have that same sequence energetically direct the student from the external to the internal subtle experiences. In other words as the sequence gets more physically and mentally demanding, the subtle body (energetic body) is less tasked to find a balance within the sequence at all stages.
I do encourage students to listen to their own ‘inner teacher’ and give them options in preforming stage 1,2,3 in order to give them back the responsibility in deciding to “turn the volume” up or down depending on their needs that day.
I also plant the preamble or theme of class throughout. For those who are new, sometimes it goes in one ear and out the other as they can be so distracted with the physical feat of a pose they don’t usually hear it. However my more advanced students use the injection of yogic philosophy to inspire them to travel deeper in their practice, even if it is a simple pose.
What’s the best way to teach your students to listen to and take care of their own bodies during class?
I always try and make sure students feel comfortable “taking a break” or slowing down by repeating throughout the class options, like take child’s pose, downward dog or vinyasa. I offer different stages and make an emphasis that usually stage 1 might be the most profound. Humour also snaps people out of self punishing, distraction and taking the practice too seriously.
If I sense that it is a challenging class (physical or energetic) I have them pause in between kramas (linking sequences), either standing or sitting, so which to digest, listen and assimilate the energetic residue of the sequence, instead of pushing through. Reminding them that they are “human beings” not “human doings.” It is kind of like eating at a 3 Star Michelin restaurant and powering through the meal without ever stopping and noticing the subtle flavours. I know people who approach their practices like this and never taste the benefits of the practice.
Do you teach different sequences/ explore different themes in a public class as opposed to a one-to-one or private class?
I always plan my public classes and choose the theme and sequence for each week (which can vary slightly depending on the “weather”). This gives the student an experience of what it feels like to do the same sequence through the week and notice in themselves how they react to it as they change (dosha imbalances) every day. It also teaches them techniques in how to bespoke their practices to meet their immediate needs.
With my private clients, if I know what they are going through, I might loosely pre-plan to guide them. However, I usually open myself up and trust I receive divine intervention to guide them as I don’t know what I will be working with. I enjoy bespoking the practice to the private client and their needs, not imposing what I want to do. This is where study, practice and trusting your intuition comes into play. I am forever a student but not just a student of yoga. I open myself to psychology, physiotherapy, massage therapy, acupressure, nutrition…the list can go on. I find if you are an amazing student, you will be a great teacher.
Are there any poses you would only teach in a one-to-one session, rather than in a class?
Yes, there are poses that if I teach them to a class the majority wouldn’t be able to do it safely or effectively. These poses I find are for workshops or small groups which I know the students and trust they have the ability to take responsibility for themselves. It is important for me as a teacher to progress the level of yoga to students that are conscious of the potential of hurting themselves or that they know how to energetically conserve and not “burn out” or “dry up” or “spin out.”
In a multi-level/ability yoga class any of the Sirsasana/Headstands, Urdhva Dhanurasana/Full Wheel or just any of the poses that only two or three people out of 30 can do, I avoid. I have learned from watching other teachers in multi-level classes, that demonstrate extreme yoga poses then ask the students to do them, are really just doing it for their ego, not in service to their students. I try to make my classes powerful, interesting and accessible not to exclude people, but to include.
One-to-one, I will guide them through the stages, making sure that we have time, correct alignment and they have the strength, stamina and self-knowledge in why they are preforming the pose.
How do you take your teaching beyond asana to introduce your students to the more subtle aspects of yoga or the philosophical/ psychological context?
As most of my students know I am a big fan of preambles. I always start with introducing philosophical and psychological yogic methods. I enjoy weaving them through an asana class, flavouring the experience for people to feast off of what comes up in experience for them.
I also love sharing practical application of certain yogic topics in class like Koshas, Gunas, Kleshas, Kriya, Doshas, Chakras, Granthis, and more. Using my stories, my teachers and my students experience to tell stories. This excites me and through my enthusiasm I hope to attract students to apply them to their practices and beyond the mat too.
How do you make sure your Om’s are in tune if you don’t have a very good singing voice? And what if no-one joins in the om?
Pray! I have a terrible singing voice and never know what is going to come out. I do know choosing a higher pitch is uplifting, where going low can be dangerous as one never knows how people will follow. Lower OM is grounding. Practice OMing at home. Become comfortable and familiar in your range. Try just one opening or closing OM. There is no rule regards to how many. From my understanding we OM verbally 3x to represent waking, sleeping, dreaming states and the last OM is silent representing Turya, the 4th state.
There are certain religions that don’t like yoga chanting, however a yoga friend of mine who lives in Italy, was able to make OM more accessible for those who struggle with it being sinful. She said, what do you do when you have a lovely meal? Ohummmmmmm. So OM is at the end honouring the wonderful class you just had.
How do you avoid giggling if someone farts very loudly?
Oh, if you are like me and stuck in your “lower chakra” development, any bodily function will make one laugh OUT LOUD. It takes a lot of self-control and distraction to not laugh and therefore publicly shame a student. I have been known in the past to say it as it is, most yoga is wind releasing poses, it happens. Most of the time, the British, want you to ignore it as if it didn’t happen and carry on. After almost 20 years living in London, I have adopted that attitude, turn away and crack on with the next pose. Oh, and don’t look at anyone who is shaking with laughter, it will start you off!
You have been teaching for over 18 years, how do you always keep things refreshed and avoid getting bored?
I consistently study and practice. My practice has changed over the years and I hope it continues to evolve as I do. I see myself subscribing to the title “seeker” to know myself better, to understand human nature and to remember what I have ultimately forgotten and that I am apart of the whole. I am awake and at any given time, I just have that very human defect of forgetfulness. I teach what I need to learn and in being of service to others as they awaken through yoga, I feed my soul’s purpose (being a teacher).
What would be your top 3 do’s/don’ts tips for new teachers? sequencing?
- Teach appropriately for your audience’s level, ability, injuries, ailment, etc. Create a class that includes everyone, not excludes. Donʼt overwhelm the students with too much Sanskrit words, concepts or Yogic Philosophy to show them what you know and leave them feeling even more alone, confused or less than.
- Teach from the simple asana to the complex asana. Start with a dynamic breath-centric movement to static holding with breath focus. Encourage the students to observe, feel and sense the practice from the outside to the subtle inside. Be prepared to modify. Teach from the modification to the peak asana. Build from the ground up!
- Teach and sequence to have a Sattvic effect: balancing, restoring, reconnecting even if the class is Sattva-Rajasic class: stimulating, dynamic class or a Sattva-Tamasic class: restorative, restful. Leave time to digest, absorb, integrate and reflect on the effects of the asana, krama and practice. This will help with burn up or out.
- Don’t stop studying and practicing. Keep up the commitment for yourself. Fill your spiritual, physical and energetic well, so you are best of service to your community. Also, be in contact with your teacher to keep yourself accountable and responsible in how you are passing down these teachings, rather than making stuff up. All great teachers have amazing teachers of teachers. Seek one to carry a living practice to your students.
- Don’t impose or exploit others. See teaching as being of service. Students should perform the asana for their body that is most effective and powerful for them and that shape doesn’t need to look like the ideal asana found in magazines. Encourage students (and the teacher) not to force their body to fit the asana. Keep healthy and ethical physical, energetic and sensual boundaries, to protect your students from you and yourself from the students. People of all stages of mental, physical and emotional vulnerability enter a class, we never know what they are going through. Be mindful and compassionate with your motives and how you navigate your interaction, adjustments and conduct in class and outside of class with your students. Don’t exploit sexually, monetarily and/or energetically your position as a guide/teacher/healing facilitator.
- Keep your ego in check. Apply the Yamas & Niyamas to your practice and life as well as your teachings. Svadhyaya: self-study, self-reflection, self-inquiry, self-knowledge is so important for a healthy ego and compassionate heart. Yoga is about Self-Mastery of Knowledge and the Powers/Siddhis one can attain. Yoga makes one very powerful, however if you are an arsehole – yoga will just make you a powerful arsehole. Power without Knowledge is dangerous. Knowledge without Power is ineffective, so give your energy to both. Finally, you don’t know everything and are (presumably) not a trained as a doctor, psychotherapist etc. Reach out to other professionals when your student needs more than a Yoga Teacher’s help. I also work with other professionals by referring my clients to who them and then I consult with those professionals. Respecting Doctor/Patient confidentiality, but sharing information to treat client more effectively is a real benefit to the client. I have a skilled chiropractor, an osteopath, a physiotherapist, a personal trainer, a podiatrist, a EMDR trauma therapist, a CBT therapist, a drug/alcohol treatment centre, a child psychologist and more that I often refer clients to. All of whom I learn from and deepen my understanding that it takes more than just me to support a student/client. Let go of your ego and remember “I don’t know” can be the most profound statement to learn.
How do you explain the popularity of an ancient art/philosophy that came from the foot of Himalaya thousand years ago to our hard-core urban current western environment?
In every culture there are forms of dance, movement, physical disciplined practices, etc. There is a way of using the body to have spiritual experiences as well as the basic maintaining good function of the body, process of emotions, trauma, hormones and creating mental clarity. We as human beings have a unique capacity to experience something beyond our common conscious thought. By using the body as a refined tool in which to train the mind we receive an evolutionary upgrade where we have a greater impact to whatever we direct our attention to. I feel there is so much wisdom from the origins of Yoga that directly apply to managing life now in this era of suffering, over-stimulation, elation, fear, over-work…the list goes on.
However, we now view yoga as a commodity and if we can objectify, sexualise and trademark it, yoga becomes big business with regard to customer consumption. Ugh. This is the world we live in today!
The subtle body is not a subject that is really taught in depth in teacher training courses, what advice would you give new teachers who want to learn more about it and weave it in their classes?
Study with a teacher who can introduce and point you in the direction in which to experience it first and then start to teach it. A lot of what is written is not always true: Half-truths. Most of the concepts of deep subtle body teachings you receive from a respected teacher.
However, studying cannot be overemphasised. Topics I would suggest: Gunas, Koshas, Chakras, Granthis, Nadis, Mudras, Kriyas, Prana Vayus…there are many teachings that can help other seekers understand these concepts. These are different maps that take you inwards, however they are not the same map. They interface with each other and a good teacher can weave them into a practice. This takes patience, practice and time.
I have a list of recommended reading on my website that I would point you to.
How do you deal with people with injuries you’ve not heard of before?
I am honest with the student. I am not a trained doctor or therapist. I am honest with them. I would research it, ask my teacher/mentor or a professional doctor to advise me and get back to them.
The most spiritually profound statement one can make is “I don’t know” it’s okay. Ahimsa, keep them safe and ask them to take care of themselves during the class and once you have more information then you can help bespoke the appropriate modifications or suggestions needed.
How do you build a good base of private clients?
Word of mouth mainly. A website and business cards is helpful if you cover classes, meet people in other environments that give you the opportunity to spread the word. Private clients want reliable, responsible and respectful teachers. Make sure you are on time and consistent. Life is very busy for people and that hour for them they are looking for support and space to process life. Be kind, compassionate and have boundaries.
After graduating a 200hr yoga teacher training, how soon after is it a good idea to do advanced 300 hour teacher training?
This is a difficult question as there are many factors that will shape everyone differently. However, I recommend taking some time to put into practice what you have learned and feel confident in what you teach. I myself am still a student and every time my teachers have a week long training in London I am on it. I do online courses about yoga, trauma, neurology, etc. I take other courses not relating to yoga, however compliment my teachings. Be a great student and take time to absorb it in yourself and practice passing it to your students.
How do you keep up to date with discoveries in anatomy studies?
I take trainings with my teacher Doug Keller who specialises in applied anatomy and physiology. Even if I have done the workshops before, I always absorb more and he always brings new ides and perspectives to the subjects. I also do online courses via www.yogainternational.com and other platforms. Read tons of books and have tons of reference books. Always a student!
What are the biggest obstacles you face as a yoga teacher?
Balance. We are natural nurturers and guides. We are teachers and students. We are of service to our community and to our families. Getting the balance of where, how much and why we give our energy is very important to keep in check. There is only so many hours in the day. A lot of teachers stop practicing as they are working so hard travelling and teaching all over to make enough that they are exhausted and slip into bad habits and lose their commitment to themselves. This leaves a teacher resentful as they are not feeding themselves a practice that keeps them balanced and thriving.
Another obstacle is that everyone wants to be a yoga teacher. In big cities it is saturated and there is a lot of competition. Studios, gyms and events don’t pay very well. A lot of people think that they will be able to leave their jobs and make a good living as a Yoga Teacher, however they quickly become disillusioned with how hard it is to establish oneself. This leaves people supplementing their income and becoming frustrated.
The last thing I can think of at this moment is how you want to come across as a teacher. I started teaching well before websites and social media became a source of attracting students. I didn’t have a website until 2 years ago, which my husband had to strongly suggest that this was the “way of the future” as if I was this primitive beast that only relied on word of mouth. I always knew I wanted to be a “great” yoga teacher in my community and as social media started becoming more of a platform to share the interest of yoga, I embraced it. But I also saw yoga teachers objectifying and sexualising it to get followers and sell it. This confused me. I love studying the physical shape, skill and technique. However, I found that it (more and more images on social media) started creating separateness aiding in the negative behaviour of comparing one’s insides to someone else’s outsides. This, in my opinion, promotes a feeling of being less than, as the observer can’t do that particular pose or doesn’t have that bendy body. So I have made a conscious decision to try to post pictures of me in hopes that people think, “I would love to feel like that” rather than “look like that.” We attract a crowd, so be very careful in what message you are sending out there as the young, naive and the perverse will be seeking your services.
To listen to the interview follow this link to www.bit.ly/ZephyrTPOY