The ABC’s of Teaching Yoga

The ABC’s of Teaching Yoga

An Effective Teaching Practice is as Easy as A-B-C


What is it that makes a yoga teacher skilled, effective, and relatable? In reality, there are as many answers as there are yoga teachers… but there are some key principles that should always be considered. These principles are the foundation of a teaching practice. Let’s call them The ABC’s of Teaching Yoga.
Surprisingly, the ABC’s are not always taught in teacher trainings, and many teachers find themselves stumbling through their classes when just starting out. But– the good news is that you don’t have to! I’ve outlined everything you need to know here.
As a yoga teacher, your teachings are an extension of your own embodied practice. So, I encourage you to first put the ABC’s into action on your own mat. From there it will be easy and natural to share them with your students.
Here’s a quick note on what we will cover:
A: Alignment and Awareness
B: Breath and Balance
C: Coordination and Connection
OK! Let’s dive into this Yoga Alphabet 🙂 Beginning, of course, with A!

A is for Alignment and Awareness:

Align The 3 Platforms of the Body:

Yoga Alignment is both intuitive and subtle, as well as intelligent and physical. Let’s take a look at the physical alignment principles, as most teachers will be guiding students through physical Asana.

The three platforms must be in proper alignment in order to have a safe and injury free practice over time. Many people get away with doing postures out of proper alignment for a long time- but then they pay for it with bad knees, achy backs and stiff necks! Alignment is as much about prevention of injury as it is about having an effective practice here and now.

As you guide your students through Asana, cue your students to Align–>Stabilize–>Elongate through the three platforms of the body. Tip: Start with the foundation! Always cue your students through postures from the bottom, up. (Meaning in inverted postures, you’ll begin with the neck and shoulders!)

Tadasana is a great posture for your students to examine their alignment at the beginning of class. It also serves as a good check-point throughout practice to see how things may have shifted.

Align the feet and ankles. Properly aligned feet and ankles will protect the knees from torquing, over-extending, or folding in an undesirable way.

Align the hips. This will guard the low back, and subsequently the rest of the lumbar and thoracic spine.

Align the shoulders. Shoulders in good alignment will protect the neck and cervical spine from injury.

It’s Not Yoga Without Awareness:

Awareness is truly what makes yoga Yoga. Without the element of focused awareness, yoga can easily become a glorified calisthenics practice. Here are some methods of inviting your students’ minds to tune-in to their bodies and tune-out what is not serving their practice. Tip: Do these exercises in the very beginning of class. Make it a priority to move awareness from the external to the internal.

  • Simple Guided Mindfulness: Sometimes busy minds are in need of shepherding. Create a channel for your students’ minds to flow with ease. This can be done through mindfulness of body (moving from head to toe), mindfulness of breath, or even a more creative visualization.
  • Deep Breathing: Never underestimate the power of a few deep breaths to calm the mind and reel in focus. The Nadi-Shodhana Breath is very balancing and calming, as is a simple 4-count in and out breath.
  • Just Sit: This can be challenging for some… But, the fruits of the practice are plentiful once the practice becomes established. Take the first five minutes of class just to sit comfortably in stillness with your students. It will benefit your students, and you!

One of my favorite ways to establish focus in my classes is with the recitation of MantraA Mantra is simply a repeated word, phrase, statement, or sound that can be voiced aloud or internally. The process of repetition provides focus, plasticity, adaptability and concentration to the mind; just as asana does for the body. I usually do this with my classes in a call-and-response method, in which I say a line of a chosen mantra (or chant) and the class repeats it back aloud. In my personal practice, I have found the use of a Meditation Mala to be very helpful in my awareness/meditation practice. You can find Meditation Malas in my shop HERE.

B is for Breath and Balance:

 

Breath Is The Best Barometer:

This is the constant thread of the practice. The breath is always, always, always available as an object of awareness. In every posture, from simple sitting meditation to the most complex twist or balance, the breath is there and willing to guide you deeper into awareness. Try it now! Close your eyes and try to follow your breath for three in-and-out cycles. You may be surprised how tempting it is to get off track- just do your best to keep coming back- it will always be there for you.

Teaching your students to be aware of their breath is essential. It is their best gauge in knowing if they are “pushing it” beyond a safe limit, or if they are slacking off when they should be “up-ing the ammo”. Tip: Offer reminders throughout practice for your students to check-in with their breath. Sometimes a suggestion to be aware is all a student needs. If students need more encouragement, up your own use of breath- exaggerate the sound of the Ujjayi Breath as you flow through Asana with the class.

Always do your best to cue every gross movement with breath. (Example: “Inhale, lift your arms overhead. Exhale, draw your low ribs in and extend your tailbone towards your heels.”)

Balance Is Key:

Yoga Sutra 2:46 states, Sthira Sukha Asanam. This can be translated into Each posture should be done with a balance of both effort and ease. This idea can be applied to each posture, as well as the trajectory for a full class.

Teach in a way that creates balance for your students by cuing postures sequentially. Reinforce the foundation of each pose before encouraging more challenge in complex postures. Even in a “challenge class” or “power yoga” class, you can offer a full warm up and cool down, so students feel both energized and relaxed at the end.

While many students are eager to fit themselves into the “perfect yoga body”, remind them that they are right where they are supposed to be. Encourage stability before flexibility, and tailor postures to fit the needs and balance the imbalances of the practitioners in your class.

Another Note on Balance: It is absolutely essential that, as a teacher, you are balanced in your own practice. Many teachers jump head-first into a heavy teaching schedule, leaving no time for their own practice. This leads quickly to burn out… and your students feel that! Make sure you are taking care of yourself, and doing your own practice diligently.

C is for Coordination and Connection:

The Art of Coordination:

Sometimes yoga can feel like a full-on body teaser, akin to rubbing your belly while patting your head! You know… you’re trying to balance on one foot, draw in Mula Bandha, focus your eyes, and breathe– all at the same time! Many students can feel overwhelmed by the complexity of it all. Remember that their coordination is being guided by yours.

As a teacher, learn to listen to your students’ subtle body language. Notice if they are hearing each cue you offer, and implementing them, before you move on to the next. Tip: Give Universal/General instructions prior to specifics. Gross motor movements should come before the fine-tuned energetics of each pose.

Always give your students enough time to integrate what you’ve said before moving on. It may take time before you, as a teacher, feel confident in your art of coordination- especially if you are teaching all-level classes. Overtime you will learn to read the room and coordinate your classes to fit the needs of those in front of you.

Connection, Inner and Outer:

As a yoga guide, you are helping your students find their own inner-connection. But it is not just your words and suggestions that they will listen to. Your own inner-connection becomes evident as you share with a group, as you speak aloud, and as you demonstrate postures.

Strive to deepen your own connection to your light within. Your personal practice becomes your teaching practice. In diving in deep to your own inner-space, you are subconsciously giving permission to your students to do the same. Tip: Share Your Energy and Authenticity.  Students want to learn from you.  Connect to your true voice.

Making an “outer” connection with your students can also help to transform their practice. Let your students feel fully seen and supported by making eye contact and personalizing cues when appropriate. Always make sure you are visible to your class, as many students are visual learners. Mirror your students if possible, so you remain face-to-face with the group.

 

 

 

Beyond The ABC’s….

A little bonus for those of you who are ready to take your teaching practice all the way to Z… Because the true art of teaching is more than mastering a few skills. It takes an honest commitment to the practice, willingness to evolve, and the ability to listen to the needs of your students. To effectively transmit the embodied teachings of yoga, practice being a teacher, not just an instructor.

Instructor VS. Teacher

Instructor: Passes on knowledge usually in a scripted manner, similar to reading from a curriculum, and may not have true understanding of what or why. They likely think, “this is how I was taught to do it,” without questioning.

Teacher: Understands the how and why behind the material, and presents material to meet students where they’re at. They modify their teaching to address different learning styles, and to engage every student. Material is never passed on without knowing why – for safety, for tradition, for challenge and self-growth, etc. 

Bonus Material!

In Application:

Included here is an example Asana Sequence to show how the ABC’s can be directly implemented into the flow of a class:

Begin in Tadasana: grounds students in alignment and awareness from the foundation

Open with Breath + Chanting: bring the body and mind away from the external and into the internal

Ardha Surya Namaskar: build up in repetition, with emphasis onalignment and breathv 

Flow through Dynamic Asanas: warm up thes and educate areas of the body that will be opening more deeply as class progresses

Surya Namaskar with Variations: add a twist/get creative, building up from simple to complex

Virabhadrasana-2 (Warrior 2): flow with externally rotated standing poses to open the hips and build strength in balance

Prasarita Padotanasana (Wide-Legged Forward Fold): bridge between right and left, elongate the muscles that have been strengthening and engaging

Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon): Cue with other options (use of props or different posture for less advanced students) with an emphasis on coordination

Garudasana (Eagle’s Pose): Move from simple to complex, with optional use of props

Svarga Dvijasana (Bird of Paradise): Continue to challenge coordination and balance

Bakasana (Crow Pose): Give options to keep the class connected and not lose the flow of the practice. Note: Know if you are turning it into a “workshop” or regular class on the schedule. There’s a difference…

Backbends: simple to complex. Be inclusive!

Seated and supine poses: restore the body and calm the nervous system before savasana

Full Savasana: Encourage your students to completely let go, and give into the deep rest they have been working towards all practice

Closing: One of the best times to deepen connection to the practice and to something bigger than the self.

 

 

Definitions from Oxford English Dictionary:

Alignment: Arrangement in a straight line, or in correct or appropriate relative positions.

Awareness: Knowledge or perception.

Breath: An inhalation or exhalation of air from the lungs.

Balance: An even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady. Stability of one’s mind or feelings.

Coordination: The ability to use different parts of the body together smoothly and efficiently.

Connection: A relationship in which a person, thing, or idea is linked or associated with something else.

 

 

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Am I the Mentor for You?

Finding and choosing a coach or mentor is an important mission and decision, and I have no doubt you have had several over the course of your life. It is critical to me that I live up to the standards and your expectations. We will be committing a great deal of time and attention together. As your mentor, I will take a very focused interest in YOU.

The process for me begins with a clear-sighted view of what your life’s goals are, both for your career and your personal life.

If you’re just starting out as a yoga teacher in the area, I want to share my network, connections and community with you to help you start teaching. If you’re just starting a relationship, marriage or family, and you’re facing the lifestyle adjustments that these transitions require, I am someone who is reaching the other end of this very exciting, but demanding, process. As your mentor I want to share my experience to serve as a model for reaching your most significant goals in the most important areas of your life.

Selecting a mentor is not just a matter of finding someone you like or feel comfortable identifying with. A mentor should have a genuine history of success. I’m continually amazed by the number of people who look to only superficially successful people as role models for achievement. Many times new teachers can make conspicuous mistakes of judgment in this area. I’ve seen far too many popular yoga teachers, no longer teaching. I don’t bring this up to disparage anyone’s teaching or business expertise, but simply to point out the need for great care in selecting a mentor whose success will stand the test of time.

Having been in the Health & Wellness industry since 1984, I have been the COO of a successful chain of Southern California health clubs, built what was called by Club Business Industry, “The Nations Best Group Fitness & Yoga Program”, hired & trained hundreds of yoga teachers and have maintained a full time, successful Yoga Enterprise since 1999. I am also a green juice and live foods advocate and am an investor and advisory board member of  Live Beaming, . Personally, I just celebrated 23 years of marriage, have two kids – Kylie a junior on a full ride soccer scholarship and National Champion at UCLA and Tommy a Junior basketball stand out in High School.

In my spare time, I enjoy our animals, traveling the world, and giving back to organizations I admire.

I hope your decision to mentor with me is based on my ability to achieve goals similar to your own, and have overcome some of the same obstacles you’re facing. Ideally, I hope I represent both what you want to become in a particular area of life and what you want to do. I hope I have arrived at or been to places similar to where you want to go.

I hope that by being your mentor today it will be a reflection of seeing what you intend to be. One of the most interesting aspects of selecting a mentor is the fact that one can rarely separate people’s tangible achievements from the qualities of their character. More than their bank accounts or the numbers in their classes, role models prove by the conduct of their lives that they’re worth emulating.

—Stacy McCarthy

A Few comments From Past Apprentice:

“I had the distinct privilege of being taught by the best, Stacy McCarthy. Stacy was my teacher in my Yogaworks Teacher Training. In addition, she mentored me for nine months in her Yoga School of Business program. Stacy is the essence of integrity and a gift. Thanks to her, I have created my own successful career in Yoga, Nutrition & Health”. Tammy Moretti, Find Your Sweet Spot

Stacy McCarthy is a true visionary leader in the community who inspires students, teachers and friends through mind, body and spirit. She empowers everyone she meets to live the life of his or her dreams. She truly embodies the spirit of yoga and is an incredible role model for anyone with a passion for health and fitness.
When I made the decision to start my own yoga business, one of the first choices I made was to hire Stacy as my mentor. When I began her training program Believe in She was just an idea. Over the course of her nine month Coaching it grew into a movement.
I truly believe that the impact of her coaching, support and experience played a huge role in Believe in She growing from an idea into a company that Red Tricycle named as the Best Mom Run Business in San Diego”. Jamie Dicken

“ One of the unique advantages of mentoring with Stacy is I’ve been able to travel with her on several occasions and assist her in her workshops and conferences which enabled me to broaden my yoga experience to OUTSIDE the studio and private homes and into the world of fitness, business conferences held at hotels/resorts, Lululemon settings, outdoor charity events, etc. All of these events have helped me to make yoga more accessible to all walks of life and got me questioning myself more as to how I could bring yoga to any setting”

Assisting Stacy’s classes has helped me to hone my assisting skills to those I might have been less comfortable assisting prior to the training (eg. the elderly and overly tight). Stacy provides tips in adjustments and modifications involving anatomy and kinesiology during classes that I’ve learned to pick up for beginning practitioners. I am better able to assess the problem and work with the different ranges of motion across ages.”

Mentoree’s Jessica Lamphere & Mandy Burstein
on set filming with me in LA…
Click on their name to see how they’re “Living Their Dream”


Yoga Subs

I love to share success stories about the students who mentor with me &  go on to create thriving, sustainable yoga careers. This is about Tammy Moretti. Tammy graduated from Yogaworks 200 hour Teacher Training & then signed up for the Yoga School of Business Coaching Program with me. She is launching Yogasubs.com a business resource for teachers to sub classes & studio owners to find qualified yoga teachers in San Diego.  She’ll be hosting the  first gathering of Yoga Subs,  Sunday May 2nd, 2010 at HAUTE YOGA.
She will be featuring some local San Diego studios and will have information regarding their  subbing policies and procedures. Below is a partial list of some of the participating studios. Read more

Yogi Training

Yogi Training

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZGFxhU4NRs]

20 Hours of Comprehensive Yoga Instruction in a small personalized setting taught by Stacy McCarthy & Dennis Dean
Each day includes:
* Daily Asana Practice
* Daily Chanting Practice
* Daily Pranayama Practice
* Daily Meditation Practice
* Yoga Philosophy- 8 Limbs of Yoga
* 3 Techniques of the Krishnamacharya Lineage
* Principles of Sequencing
* Introduction to the Rope Wall
Please contact me with any questions. Click here to register

Cost: $599 for the full week of personalized attention to take your practice to the next level.

Save $100 off your registration if paid in full by Saturday, June 12th.

Mail check to Stacy McCarthy, PO Box 132, Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067