7 Tips For Teaching A Kick-Ass Vinyasa Class
Let’s be honest: there are tons of vinyasa classes out there these days.
What can you do to ensure yours is terrific? What are the essentials for designing a really solid class, beyond the basics (like safe sequencing, cueing the breath, and making sure no one passes out)? And how can you make your class the kind of can’t-miss experience that keeps students coming back for more?
Here are seven keys:
1. Be yourself.
Don't get your "yoga-voice" on. I've taken classes from a number of rad, funny, cool yoga teacher friends who, once they step in front of a class, totally lose their personalities and become yoga automatons. Don't be afraid to be real—to speak in your normal tone, like you would in everyday conversation, and maybe even (gasp!) swear once or twice (if that’s normally how you’d talk). People are more relaxed in the presence of a confident leader, and your students will feel at home when you’re at ease. That said…
Don't get your yoga-voice on.
2. Don't talk too much. For real.
This is the feedback I hear most often from students who have negative class experiences. Have you ever taken a class where the teacher's so eager to fill all the silent spaces that they jabber the whole way through? Honor the introverted, meditative nature of the practice. Nonstop chatter makes it really tough to settle into a meditative flow, and it can be, quite frankly, invasive, unhelpful, and really annoying. So step back. Don't feel like you need to explain everything you've ever learned about a pose or a philosophical topic in the span of five breaths. Offer the basic instructions necessary, count out a few breaths as you go along, and then STFU. Your students will thank you.
3. Keep a nice rhythmic pace, as though you’re playing an instrument.
And I don't mean choreographing your routines to the Skrillex song playing in the background. Let your vinyasa pulse like a heartbeat.
Long before I ever stepped foot in a yoga class, I played piano and trumpet. Having a strong sense of rhythm—that familiar 1-2-3-4 count that a musician knows so well, driven by a metronome, keeping everything in time—has been hugely beneficial to my teaching.
If you can keep your class moving at a nice musical clip, as though it's being backed by a metronome, your students will be better able to drop into the meditative rhythm of the breath. The Ashtanga Primary Series does this really well. As the precursor to freestyle vinyasa, study it, even briefly, and let its pace inspire you.
4. Offer an intelligent, well-rounded diversity of postures.
Sequencing isn’t rocket science. Following a general practice blueprint will ensure that your students always receive a well-rounded flow. Here’s an example: Warm up with sun salutations (or variations) and fire up the core, move into twists and standing poses, flow through a few warrior sequences interspersed with a couple of standing forward folds, move seamlessly into backbends, and then wrap up with seated poses, reclining stretches and twists, and any traditional finishing poses—like shoulderstand or headstand (or variations).
I like to sequence a class with the time-limited student in mind, imagining, for instance, a student who is a single parent who can only make one class a week. This precious hour is the rare moment when she has childcare, the only time she gets for herself, so how can I guarantee that she gets a strong, thorough, nourishing flow? I save the longer pose breakdowns for workshops and full-day immersions. This vinyasa is all about the meditative flow.
Sequence a class with the time-limited student in mind.
5. Build in core work at the beginning.
Take a few breaths to get folks fired up right off the bat, maybe after the first three rounds of sun salutations. Teach navasana (boat) variations, some forearm planks, and plank or vasishthasana (side plank) variations to get folks' cores engaged. They'll have more energy for that sort of thing at the beginning of class rather than at the end, and it will support the rest of their practice, too, making inversions, standing poses, and backbends that much stronger. Core work is a great way to build initial heat.
6. Save enough time for a quickie meditation and a legit savasana.
Yes, most of us power vinyasa aficionados love a fast-paced, intensity-driven practice. But the whole point of sweating and breathing in asana is to rid the body of discomfort and to calm the mind, so that we can sit quietly with ourselves in meditation (even if it's just for two quick minutes before savasana). So take the time to sit quietly as a group. Listen to your breath, let the sounds of the clock ticking and the cars on the street outside come and go. And remind students that the heart of this practice is really in wringing out the mental chatter so that their monkey minds can be at peace.
From there, roll right into a good long savasana. Encourage students to stay for just a few minutes. Lead them through one last cleansing exhaaaaaale. And then, stop speaking and let them enjoy the quiet. Let the emptiness and the stillness do the teaching. Sometimes silence says more than we ever could.
7. Remember: It's not about you.
Perhaps most importantly: this class is so not about you. You're not a performer. You’re not a charismatic guru. You're a vehicle for the divine. You’re a spiritual hiking guide. You're providing a road map for somebody else's moving meditation.
Perhaps most importantly: this class is so not about you.
A yoga class isn’t theater. It’s not a beauty pageant. And nobody gives a hoot what you're wearing. So don't stress about whether your pedicure looks tip-top or your outfit is hip. And don't take it personally if someone modifies a pose or has to leave early. Who knows—maybe they have an injury, or an upset stomach, or a carpool to drive?
Focus on providing the most loving, mindful, intuitive, well-rounded practice possible. And, from there? Let go and trust in the practice.
Rachel Meyer is a Portland-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in Yoga Journal, The Washington Post, On Being, The Huffington Post, RecoveringYogi and more. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/rachelmeyeryoga, and on Twitter at twitter.com/rachelmeyeryoga.