The Role of Silence in Teaching Yoga
A Look Back on My Teaching in 2019
In a recent blog post I talked about how most people abandon their new year’s goals by January 19th. I’m still holding steady on my practice of walking to more places and taking exercise classes with my husband, Brian. I have some other goals, but to avoid overwhelming myself, I’m going to layer them in after these first two have had some time to become true habits.
In addition to the new year being a fresh start for new goals, I also think it’s a great place to look back on the past year and take some time to see what worked and to truly give yourself credit for those things.
I know that there are things that didn’t work last year, but I have a feeling we don’t need a reminder on those - the negative things tend to stick with us and we tend to forget about or minimize the positive things.
As I scanned back over my teaching over the past year the one thing that I found to be the most significant gain was my ability to slow down in class. I teach a very mindful yoga practice and my sound healing sessions are also about noticing and awareness. That means I need to give students time and space to actually notice without me directing them the whole time.
I think for many teachers, no matter what you’re teaching, leaving space for silence in a class can feel a bit uncomfortable. Also, when a student is new to mindfulness and noticing, that silence can be a little unsettling too. But without it we don’t actually have time to process - to be in our own bodies and see how we feel, to really make space for our breath, to notice our subtle energy, or to experience the sound of the singing bowls.
Giving Time & Space in Class
My teaching has grown the most over the past year as I’ve gotten more comfortable with giving my students space to go within and notice. In a movement class, I will often give students time to take a breath in a stationary posture or experience some “free movement”.
I define this as listening to your body, seeing what the effects of your practice has been so far, and making some movements or finding a posture that is right for your body right now. I definitely give some suggestions for those who are new during a free movement section of class, but I also encourage people to explore. The best parts of the class for me are watching students move in a way that their bodies need and seeing them truly listen, notice, and respond.
Closing a Class
The end of a class is a special time and it’s particularly important to me not to rush. This means I usually want to plan on ending my movement practice or playing the singing bowls with about 7-10 minutes left in the class. This works for me so that I don’t feel rushed and it gives students time to process and come back into their bodies and the space slowly. I have definitely taken a few yoga classes where the closing of the class was a rushed afterthought and it really left me ungrounded.
Coming out of a session, I want people to have space to notice what’s going on in their minds, bodies, and thoughts before they open their eyes and move. It’s so important to come back into the body after a deep relaxation slowly and mindfully!
After some gentle movement, I often have people roll to whatever side feels right for them and lay in a fetal position for a few breaths. Here they can notice how they feel and connect with their practice and how it affected them.
Then it’s a mindful transition to sitting and this is also a posture to notice too. We’re not done noticing yet because now I usually invite people to place their hands in prayer pose and feel that posture. See how it feels to connect to the heart center and take a few breaths. Finally, a collective ohm and my closing prayer or intention.
One of the best things that I learned in my first yoga teacher training was to send that prayer to each person in the class making eye contact with each student thanking him or her. This is one of the most important parts of the practice for me and I definitely want to have time to do this piece!
How Does Silence Make You Feel in Class?
This space for silence and noticing has come into alignment with my teaching deeply over the past year and I’m grateful for that. I’m curious how yoga teachers and students out there feel about this - do you like time to go within and reflect? Do you ever feel rushed at the end of a class? What’s your optimal way of ending class?
Let me know your thoughts by shooting me an email. Teaching is an ever evolving process, so I always love to hear your input.