The Key to Teaching Your Best Class
Have you ever wondered how to teach a class where everything just fits together, where the movements complement each other perfectly and lead people toward an experience full of “ah-ha” moments that keeps them coming back forever and ever?
If you answered “no” to that question, you’re in the wrong place.
But if you said “yes”, I’m going to share with you the approach I use in every single class.
Pre-Covid, my drop-in classes in Toronto had 25+ people in them regularly, and I teach at times when most people have to be at work (9:30am and 12pm on weekdays).
But that’s not the only reason I know this approach works.
When I teach this way, people experience postures like they never have before. I hear the words “Well that’s the best that’s ever felt” fall out of my students’ mouths so frequently that I’m no longer surprised – I’ve actually come to expect it.
I’m not saying that to toot my own horn (beep beep!). I’m telling you that because I want your students to say that when they’re in your classes too.
That will happen when you help students understand how their bodies are designed to move. This understanding not only lets them practice yoga with a different, informed perspective; it also lets them do everything else in their lives with a heightened level of physical awareness, not to mention curiosity and confidence.
Here’s where to start:
When you look at a position or movement, identify all of the components required to make it happen. Since every pose is a combination of a bunch of different things going on at once, it can be super beneficial to break a position down into more digestible parts.
Let’s do this with chaturanga.
Look at this picture and see if you can identify all the things happening in my body.
Here’s my list:
– Wrist extension at or beyond 90 degrees
– Elbow flexion, under load
– Shoulder flexion and external rotation, under load
– Pressing strength (both eccentric and concentric)
– Scapular stability
– Core centration
– Pelvic stability, supported by co-contracting my abdominals and glutes
– Knee extension
– Toe extension
I remember when I used to teach Mysore-style classes and I’d take a student into a pose with a laundry list of instructions and they’d look at me and say “That’s too much to remember! Too many things!”
I had no idea how to teach in a more digestible way. Until now.
If you look at that list of things that go into chaturanga, it’s obvious that you can’t make all of it a priority at the same time.
Instead, pick the things you want to highlight today.
Let’s start with wrists, shoulders and pelvic stability (you could totally choose something different tomorrow).
What could you offer the class for active wrist extension that would teach them a) how mobile (or not) their wrists already are and b) how to integrate some active wrist prep into their regular practice? This is one of my go-tos.
Then if we wanted to focus on shoulders, you could do some work that highlights the role of external rotation when it comes to keeping the shoulder heads from dumping forward. I talked about this in a workshop, comparing push-ups and chaturanga to bench-pressing, highlighting how important it is to find work on the backside of the shoulder in both of these actions. Teach some movements that isolate shoulder external rotation so that people have the opportunity to work on that and experience what that feels like without having to concentrate on anything else at the same time. That’s the beauty of isolation before integration.
And then for the pelvic stability piece, you could include some prone and supine work that brings awareness to pelvic tilting and core engagement. I’d probably also do some work on all-fours asking people to find abdominal activation without letting that alter the curves of their spine – something like this.
Once I have an idea which smaller pieces/movements I want to offer in the class, I figure out how to link them all together. What are the things they have in common? How can I connect one to another in a way that would feel logical?
If you practice each of these activation pieces yourself, the similarities between them will reveal themselves.
For example, let’s say you start on all fours, focusing on the breath and establishing the neutral curves of the spine. From there, lean back and move into those wrist hinges I linked to above. After that, walk the hands forward until you’re on your belly and do some pelvic tilting, finding the difference between posterior, anterior and neutral positions. Now, bring the arms out to a cactus position for some external rotation work before pressing back to all-fours to do another round of wrists.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. But it should be progressive – building one movement on top of the next in a way that gives your students’ bodies time to adapt and figure out the possible activations. Once you’ve helped them wake up all these different parts, it will be way easier for them to put it all together in a more complex position like chaturanga.
This is what “isolate, activate, integrate” means.
I introduce that approach—affectionately known as I-A-I to those in our training progams—in Detour Method Online, and then in Detour Method Synthesis we really get into the nitty-gritty details of what it looks like to apply I-A-I in group classes.
If you’re interested in learning more about either of those programs, get in touch.
Til next time,
Published May 12, 2020