A summary guide to the principles and standards of teaching Yoga

“There are two kinds of people…”

“Those who don’t do enough Yoga and those who do too much yoga.”

Krishnamacharya

  1. The breath movement is the body movement- unity of body breath, mind.
  2. The breath envelopes the movement- starts before the movement and ends after the movement stops.
  3. The inhale is from above as receptivity, the exhale is from below as strength- strength that is receiving.
  4. Asana allow for bhanda — the intelligent cooperation of muscle groups.
  5. Asana, pranayama, meditation and life is a seamless process- Asana & Pranayama (sadhana) that which can be done, and meditation (Dhyana ) is a siddhi or gift.

Asana Guidelines

  1. Do your yoga ! — Yoga is a daily practice — to be done actually and naturally but not obsessively.
  2. Soft hands in prayer pose — as if you could hold a flower without crushing the petals. Cave in the hand, cave in the heart.
  3. Breathe through the nose with the mouth closed, using ujjayi breath in the dynamic and stationary aspects of Asana.
  4. Return to a regular breath and rest between poses allowing the breath and heart rate to return to normal.
  5. Breathe into the upper chest — the chest expands in all directions. On exhale the stomach flattens first and the abdominals come in and up pushing out air and deflating the chest.
  6. The movement is not too fast and not too slow- You’re just having a good breathe.
  7. Standing postures, standing twists, kneeling postures, supine postures, inversions, backbends, twists and forward bends- In that order.
  8. Eyes open in standing postures and closed in all other postures.
  9. A significant pause after inversions to allow internal organs to adjust to their new relationship.
  10. The breath is the guru to the asana. You can cheat the body but you can’t cheat the breath.
  11. There are four parts to the breath. Inhale-pause-exhale-pause — gradually lengthen the pauses between the inhale and exhale. “

“Inhale and god approaches you. Hold the inhalation and god remains with you. Exhale and you approach god. Hold the exhalation and surrender to god.” Krishnamacharya.

The inhale and exhale with their retentions are of equal significance in asana. Inhale as limbs move away from the torso — exhale as limbs move towards the torso.

Empathy vs Sympathy

Empathy: to understand and share the feelings of another.This is quite different than sympathy, which implies feelings of pity and sorrow at someone else’s misfortune.To have empathy it is necessary to refrain from judging the other person. Instead put yourself in their shoes and imagine yourself in the same situation. Empathy implies a shared experience; sympathy implies separation, feeling sorry for someone else’s experience.In a teaching context you will meet people who are in all sorts of situations, some of which might be difficult for you to accept. However, it is vital that you put aside negative judgment and remember you are simply there to transmit whatever this person needs from you.They have not come to you to be judged!

Consideration: being careful not to harm or inconvenience others, thoughtfully bearing in mind the other person when making decisions.

Consider the needs of the person, even little details like whether they like the windows open or closed.

They are paying for your service, and most people will appreciate knowing you have made the effort to increase the pleasure of their experience.

Friendship

Friendship: a mutually pleasing relationship.

You are not a teacher with a capital ‘T’, as in: I am the big head honcho around here, and you lot are beneath me! The spirit of transmitting what you know about yoga to someone else should take place in the context of friendly exchange. Exchange is the important word here: you are not just giving, not just teaching, you will benefit and learn from the student as well.

Yoga is about relationship, relating to real people in the real world. There is no denying that a certain power dynamic inherently comes into being as soon as you have a teacher and some students. However, keeping a firm grip on the principle of ‘friendly exchange’ will ensure that the power differential does not become imbalanced, and that the whole situation does not take on a ‘precious,’ over-formal quality.

Safety

Safety: not merely just the absence of danger, but a sense of confidence and security. First and foremost, you must ensure the physical safety of your students.

It is the teacher’s responsibility as to what happens in the class. At all times you must be careful and vigilant, especially when you have a student who seems determined to over do it.

Second, the emotional, mental safety must be attended to. Students who are abused, criticized, insulted, ignored or made to feel inadequate are not likely to have a very pleasant experience.

Similarly if the atmosphere of the class is tense, strained, or too formal, then the free exchange of learning is stifled. Keep in mind that you as a teacher will influence the mood and character of the class.

Yama and Niyama the common sense social and personal principles in daily life

“If the yamas and niyamas are practiced, one will have universal compassion toward all living beings and internal purity. Practice of the yamas and niyamas is also good for society. Personal peace and order in society will arise from their practice. Their absence leads to problems between father and son, king and subjects, and husband and wife. Therefore, all must follow the first two limbs of yoga.” — Sri T Krishnamachaya

My teacher would say that the practices of the yamas and niyamas natural arise from a natural and appropriate yoga practice, and that they are actually the result of practice. I have seen this happen in my own practice as well as with other students. Suddenly, or more likely, gradually, one cleans and clears up, and the observamnces of all the other limbs of yoga, including the yamas and niyamas occur gradually and naturally. One soon cleans and clears up their closet, their body, their mind, their relationships, and their relatedness to all things. The alighnment inside suddenly becomes SO clear that one has no choice but to be in right relationship. with the yamas and niyamas and suddenly finds that they can’t not NOT do the right thing. Perhaps this is what. Krishnamurti meant when he wrote “The freeman has no choice”

Mark Whitwell

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Mark Whitwell has worked as a Yoga teacher around the world for the last 45 years, and is the author of four books on Yoga. https://www.heartofyoga.com/blog/