Being an experienced yoga practitioner is no guarantee that one will be an effective and mindful yoga teacher, yet it is impossible to separate the gifts we receive on our mats and the ones we offer to our students. In the book, “Teaching Yoga: Exploring the Teacher-Student Relationship”, Donna Farhi says, “In the study of Yoga, the teacher can lead the student only as far as she has gone herself. She can point the light only into the places that she herself has been willing to go. She can empathize with a student’s spiritual quest, and the issues that arise during that quest, only because she herself has embarked on such a journey”. It is truly this time spent alone with ourselves on our mat that ultimately become our greatest teachers and the framework upon which we teacher.
Along with a teacher’s true experiential understanding, there is another element that facilitates the proper conditions for deep yogic experience: the ability to HOLD SPACE. Yoga is a means of grounding us, bringing us back to ourselves. As restorative teachers, we want to create an environment where students feel safe and supported enough to get quiet, go within and let go of mind-body tension. By creating an external sanctuary for our students, we guide them to access an internal sacred space. This drop into a dynamic, interior stillness becomes the fertile ground for optimal health and vitality to take root in the mind-body.
Ways We Can Effectively Hold Space:
Assess Your Teaching Space
Creating a space that’s “sacred” is to open a portal into a world of connection and deep resonance. To some this is about coming home to “themselves”, to others an opportunity to be immersed in the world of spirit. As a teacher, facilitating that experience, depends upon how mindful and connected we are personally—how aware we are of our own surrounding. Check your space to make sure it flows, before your students arrive. Is there ample wall space? How does the sound system work? How many of each prop is there? Will these work for the sequence you have planned? Are the lights on a dimmer? Can I control the temperature of the room? Are there Candles? Make your own mental checklist.
Find Your Personal Rhythm
The heart of teaching is not found in one’s approach to sequencing and technical knowledge alone, but rather the rhythm in which the class unfolds. By centering properly before class, with either breathwork or a few postures, a teacher begins to quiet his/her own mind. From this place of mental quietude, we truly engage in the experience we seek for our students, and can transmit it more authentically. As I teach, I follow the rhythm of my own deep, rhythmic breaths, which creates the possibility of moving from one moment to the next in a state of seamless concentration or FLOW. It also determines the quality and tone of my voice.
Offer Individual Support
Teaching Restorative Yoga is an intimate experience. As a receptive practice, we are facilitating deep release, and our students are entrusting us with their vulnerability. Whenever possible, assist students to achieve the proper support in poses that may look uncomfortable or those that are encouraging an active stretch, rather than a passive release. Offer hand’s on assists to create more space in the body. Always announce your arrival in a soothing voice, as not to startle and if touching, place your hands on your students for several breaths first to convey your presence and their safety.
Get Comfortable with Silence
As restorative yoga teacher, it can take some time to get comfortable with long periods of silence. It can be tempting to fill the empty space with words, but remember that we don’t want to bombard our students with our own mental shatter. Your students may be having a much different experience than it appears, as they sink deep. We want to be sure not to get in their way, or our own, by pulling them back to the surface. I also set a timer and speak more for the first minute or two, gradually tapering off to allow for a private experience.
Create Mindful Transitions
If we want our students to find a meditative thread to carry them through practice, from start to finish, then it is important that we transition with ease. Coming out of poses abruptly or mindlessly can pull students out of their deep relaxation. Consider a gradual transition where you offer a verbal cue with 10 remaining breaths or sound a chime as a signal that it’s time to begin shifting. Always remind the students to slowly open the eyes and ride the breath through the transition. Offering up a simple transitionary posture (like crossing the legs, sitting on heels, or child’s pose) to settle into a fresh experience is very effective at keeping the mind quiet.