When it comes to yoga lately perfectionism is seen as the main objective for most students thanks to watching yoga influencers on Instagram and all over the internet. However, that is not what yoga is about.
Yoga is about the union between body and mind. It is about learning to connect to the body in order to release tension, become or stay fit, increase flexibility, and tap into the breath for a bit of calm when things get too crazy.
As yoga teachers it can be hard to stay focused on this as so many students come to our classes wanting to do the harder poses like Handstand, Crow, and Bird of Paradise without taking the time to build up to them. Not only that, but they want to look like the perfect model without thinking of the factors that got the model to look that great in the first place.
When we allow perfection to take center stage, we set the groundwork for suffering instead of soaring.
Perfectionism is full of judgement. Instead of experiencing the fullness of each moment and allowing growth and connection, we allow negative energy to permeate and stifle this space.
As Power Yoga instructor, Baron Baptiste states in his teachings, “Precision, not perfection is the goal.” Precision requires mindfulness. Mindfulness of your body in the pose and mindfulness of how that feels. When you use precision to create stability in your poses you begin the journey that enables growth and connection to your personal power.
So, how do we stay true to the teachings of yoga, ourselves as authentic instructors, and our student’s needs?
Return to the Basics
Remind your students that yoga is about increasing flexibility and connecting breath and body. Gradually more advanced poses become more accessible. However, in the meantime, building a solid foundation is the key aspect to increasing strength and flexibility.
Focus on proper alignment and let your students know that by mastering the basics they are on the road to more advanced poses. For example, if they learn the technique of holding a squat, they are on the path to building a stable foundation for Crow pose.
If you teach flow classes, slow down to remind your students to slow down and in all forms of yoga break down the anatomical benefits of each pose and how they build upon each other.
Focus on the Breath
Teaching Pranayama and conscious breathing is so important. Especially in a fast-paced world where instant gratification is the norm, learning how to tune into the breath to slow down and pause is crucial. Adding a breathing exercise at the beginning of class is a wonderful time to set the tone of your class and allow your students to settle into their mat.
Depending on the energy of the class it is also nice to add a breathing exercise to the end of class in preparation for final Savasana.
One of my favorite breathing exercises to start class is Nadi Shodhana, also known as alternate nostril breathing. This is a wonderful breathing technique to center your mind and ground your energy by bringing balance to the Nadis - the energy channels within the body, in order to ensure the free flow of prana/life force in the body.
Sitting straight, close one nostril with your finger, breathing in through the other nostril, then close the other nostril with your finger and open the closed nostril to allow breath to flow freely. Keep alternating from side to side.
Set a Good Example
After teaching just a few classes, most of us come to the realization that we are not always going to have a flawless class. We are going to say the wrong word that was meant to be inspiring during a class but did not come out the right way. We may forget a pose in our sequence, or mix up our right and left, or fall out of Tree pose.
All of that is perfectly fine! In fact, it is wonderful because it shows our students that no one is perfect and all that matters is how you respond and move on.
It also relieves the pressure in teaching from a place of memorization and script-like focus and allows more authenticity to come through.
I remember the first time I could not stay stable in Tree pose to save my life. I started talking about how it is okay to wobble because a breeze could be blowing through the tree and it took more energy to try to fight it when you could just go with the flow and see where the breeze takes you.
That moment created a connection with my students and was proof that it was okay to not hold a perfect pose.
Connect with Your Students
Take the time to get to know the people who come to your class. You do not have to become their friend but getting to know what brings them to their yoga practice and your class is invaluable information to have to serve them better. It also provides another reason for them to do yoga beyond the look of a perfect pose.
Remember you are also a student learning from them in every class you teach.
Arrive early and stay after class. Encourage feedback from your students by letting them know you are available after class.
Be honest throughout class about the advantages of each pose and how you feel in those poses so that they learn the benefits of each pose and start to pay attention to how their body feels.
Smile throughout class and encourage them space to draw in awareness and be able to answer the question “Am I grounded?” or “Do I feel supported?”
Remember that the class is not about you, but about them. Relieving their tension, providing a space for them to open up, connect to their body and breath, and explore yoga.
It is also important to remember that you will not be the perfect yoga instructor, but you will make a difference and continue to learn. I am constantly grateful for my yoga practice and the ability to share this practice with so many people on a regular basis. It reminds me to practice what I preach and be the change I want to see in the world.