Survivor’s Guide to Teaching Yoga When Life Throws You a Curveball

Six months ago, my daughter Sofia-Rose was born, bringing me happiness I could have never imagined and obliterating my daily practice beyond all recognition. I was so hopped-up on adrenaline, oxytocin, and optimism (not always my strength) that I thought my practice would continue to look and feel the same as it had for the last 15 years. More accurately, I was delusional enough to think that her birth would inspire even greater dedication to my practice—that it was my shot at a complete renewal, a total overhaul in which nothing could get between my mat and I.

Yes, I love her to the point that it makes me tremble. Yes, parenting has taught me more about patience, breath, and life in 6 months than the rest of my life combined. No, I wouldn’t trade her for the world. And, no, I don’t want to write about these obvious facts: I’m writing this to tell you that in the last 6 months my practice has crumbled to a shell of its former self, my shoulders feel like they’ve been beaten by Barry Bonds, and it’s starting to make my teaching suffer. Even more, I’m writing to share some practical tips for managing life changes while staying honest and authentic in your teaching.

  • Don’t press too hard:

When baseball players are in a slump they sometimes perpetuate it further by pressing—or, becoming overly eager to make something happen. This undermines their ability to relax and respond to the game in a skillful way. I’ve noticed the same thing in myself at times. When my teaching becomes stale, I often overcompensate by trying too hard—I’ll get too wordy, too complicated and too hurried. If you’re going through a challenging phase in your teaching, allow yourself to step back slightly and let the practice shine. Minimize the impulse to overdo and trust that the practice itself will be enough for your students.

  • Be transparent with your students—but not overly indulgent:

Never make class about you and what you’re going through. After all, the students are paying you—you’re not paying them for group therapy. At the same time, it’s nice to be relatively transparent and acknowledge what is happening in your life (at least in limited doses). Students appreciate the reminder that you’re a real, flesh and bone person—and, that yoga is a practical, accessible practice for everyone (and, at all times). It’s likely that many of your students have experienced what you’re currently experiencing and this may help them connect to you and your teaching even more deeply.

  • Don’t radically change your class or teaching style:

It’s important to be consistent with your students. When teachers go through a significant transition in their lives they sometimes make abrupt stylistic changes to their teaching. While it’s important to be relatively transparent, it’s essential to provide a consistent experience for your students. If you’re teaching a Vinyasa class, don’t randomly teach a Yin or Restorative class because you’re tired or overwhelmed. Sure, you can play with the pace, but be responsive to your students and provide them with the class that they paid for.

  • Practice, even if your practice looks very different than it has in the past:

My practice looks and feels much different than it did 6 months ago. It’s shorter, milder, less frequent, and less focused. But, I’m still practicing—even if it’s only 25 minutes of simple forward bends while folding my baby’s laundry (good heavens, how is there so much laundry…). I still connect to my breath, do the occasional sun salutation and unwind my shoulders as often as possible. I also make sure that I have 1 or 2 longer, more focused practices each week. So, instead of being attached to the way you were practicing, determine what, where and when you can practice and savor it.

Jason Crandell was recently named one of the next generation of teachers shaping yoga’s future by Yoga Journal for his skillful, unique approach to vinyasa yoga. Jason’s steady pace, creative sequencing, and attention to detail encourage students to move slowly, deeply, and mindfully into their bodies. Jason credits his primary teacher, Rodney Yee, teachers in the Iyengar Yoga tradition such as Ramanand Patel, and ongoing studies in Eastern and Western philosophy for inspiring to him bring greater alignment and mindfulness to Vinyasa Yoga.

Jason is a contributing editor for Yoga Journal and has written over 13 articles for the magazine and website – many of which have been translated internationally (including Japan, China, Italy and Brazil). His integrative and accessible teachings support students of every background and lineage, helping them to find greater depth, awareness, and well-being in their practice – and in their lives. Follow Jason on Facebook and Twitter.

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