I have a group of students in advanced training right now who are especially inclined toward the philosophy of yoga. They could talk to me about it all day. Other students I’ve had and other teachers I’ve known struggle with talking about philosophy period. Yet most of them are still very interested in the parts of yoga that are not asana (that is, seven of yoga’s eight limbs) and in the sister science of ayurveda.
Teaching philosophy during an asana class requires special skill, even for teachers who are interested or can gab all day about the Yoga Sutras.
I have a reputation for covering philosophy in class. When I began teaching, I was in a bit of a snit about why we spent so much time on asana when the real transformative processes of yoga happen once you have the comfortable, steady seat that asana, done well, provides. So I followed the model of my training mentor, Jean Koerner, and in every class I taught meditations that I was learning from Alan Finger.
Jean often takes on a topic from the yoga writings and, through a set of installments during class, describes the sanskrit terms and provides examples from her own life. It’s a great way to explain topics while you’re teaching class and don’t want to make people sit for a lecture. I’ve come up with a few ways of my own to talk about the nature of things, often using Jean’s serial technique, sometimes using other ways to weave ideas through class.
The more you study and practice the various tools of yoga, the more that knowledge can’t help but find its way into your teaching. But you can help by starting to make your own connections between the philosophy you study and life as you experience it. The philosophy is just an explanation of life, not the other way around. When you start to draw the connection between the experiences your reading about and the experiences you’re having, sharing it becomes easy and your stories become relevant to your students.
I’m teaching a master class called “Teaching Philosophy and Meditation in Asana Classes” at ISHTA Yoga this Friday (info and sign up here). We’ll do some exercises and brainstorming and I’ll provide some more tips. Please come!