As a new yoga teacher, I taught my first class with joy and gratitude. This was the opportunity I had prepared for, practiced for, waited for. To my surprise, I had very few butterflies.
Fast forward a few weeks, and my nerves kicked in. Was it a fluke? Was I doing OK? Why aren’t my students smiling? What comes next in the Journey Into Power sequence? I said exhale when I meant inhale!
Then a fellow teacher at the studio gave a powerful piece of feedback: Look at your students, and teach to them. It sounds simple, right? But it also took courage, and it requires me to be fully present in the room.
What does it mean to be present? As we ground down in child’s pose, teachers often tell you to leave your day behind. Forget what happened earlier or what’s left yet on your to-do list, and be here. Truthfully, being present is one of the most important things in your yoga practice.
But what does that actually mean, as a teacher and as a student?
Commit to your practice
First and foremost, presence is physical. We owe it to ourselves as students to be in the room. Commit to a regular practice that puts you physically in the studio space, and make that time a priority. In the summer especially, that can be hard — we know! Vacations, outdoor adventures and kids’ summer activities can all play a part in a summer siesta from your practice.
Lucky for you, Evolution has designed a summer challenge to ignite our competitive spirits, where each student tallies the number of times he or she practices in July, and the studio with the highest percentage takes home the glory. You decide what that looks like for you: A steady schedule of three classes a week? A double header on Saturdays? Set a goal and create a winnable gap.
As a new teacher, it’s easy to feel as if I’m in the studio often. But sometimes a week or even two weeks go by without taking a class. It’s then that I have to re-commit. For me, growth as a teacher is absolutely connected to a regular personal practice, and to the opportunity to learn from other teachers as to how they create practice and presence.
Be where your feet are
Once you’re in the space, be where your feet are. Even when you’re physically in the studio, it can be difficult to stay fully mentally present. As a teacher, when my mind wanders, I begin to teach from what I “know.” This pose after this pose; cue to inhale and exhale. As a student, I lose my mental presence in poses when my body is still. How much longer do I have to do this? What pose is next? What am I going to eat for dinner? I forgot to call my sister. I need to pay my rent. Did I remember to turn off my hair straightener?
By bringing our thoughts to where our feet are, we create the mental presence that allows us to commit fully to the pose and explore what’s possible in our practice — and for teachers, in our teaching. What do our students need?
Foundation can be a great tool to create both physical and mental presence. Bring your attention to your feet, your hands, and your core. Even in your very first child’s pose, press down with all four corners of your palms. As you move into downward facing dog, root down through your heels. Hug in through your core. Be where your feet are.
Baptiste Yoga gives us incredible tools to remain present in our practice, and one of them is breath. When you’re building tapas and creating heat: breathe. When your practice gets difficult and the pose feels challenging: Breathe. When the effort is followed by ease: Breathe!
Just as one example, I often find myself — as a teacher and as a student — mentally checking out in half-pigeon. As a teacher, I check my watch, I consider what poses I will cue for the remainder of class. As a student, I try to determine how long the teacher will keep us in the pose. If I’m feeling particularly tight in a practice, I find myself holding my breath. It takes a consistent return to presence to remind myself to keep my breath moving.
As a culture, we are rewarded for multi-tasking, for operating off our “head knowledge” and rote demonstration of what we have learned. So it’s no surprise that we can easily lose the sense of presence in our yoga practice. The challenge for students and teachers alike is to step outside, of both the chaos and the routine, to be fully present in this moment.
What’s possible if we commit to being here, now?