The importance of doing a self practice didn’t really become clear to me until just recently. In my TT, part of the program was to do a self practice twice a week for the duration of the program, but I just don’t remember any discussion about it, or the purpose of it. I’d always done a home practice so I just continued mindlessly on my way with what I was doing. Once I started teaching fairly regularly, I would run through my sequence for the week’s class to see how it felt – were there any awkward transitions, was I pushing the sequencing too hard, that sort of thing.
What I’ve found, though, is that the self practice for a yoga teacher is more than just a test run of a sequence. Rather, it’s a place to find new ways of doing yoga, of transitioning, of sequencing, and of cueing. Here’s where a teacher brings value to the class: experience and thoughtfulness as discovered in a self practice.
Let’s start with how experience relates to self practice and teaching. A lot of the teaching I do is improv – teach to the students I have that morning, not the students I want – so it’s difficult to plan a sequence out. Because every class is different, I need experience with a lot of different styles of yoga, and a lot of different sequences. In my self practice, I’ve done whatever it is my students are feeling, and I can see that as I teach. As an example, if I recognize the students are struggling because I’ve been in that position before, I can adapt and ease up on the sequencing, go into child’s pose, or slow down.
A second point related to sequencing. While it’s fun to sequence on paper before a class, every now and then in your home practice you’ll bump into a cool sequence just by accident, or by experiment. The other day I did a locust pose – fingers interlaced behind the back, then to plank, then into side plank R/L. The locust pose really opened me up for the side planks for some reason. I put it into play in my classes. Wouldn’t have found that reading a book or looking on the web.
Next, when I refer to “thoughtfulness” I’m talking about listening to that narrator in your head when you are doing your home practice. You should have it tuned to talking yourself through the practice at least every now and then. What are you going to hear? First, you’ll talk your way through “shape of the pose” cues and listen to how they sound and how your body reacts to them, the same cues you use in class. By this I’m referring to basics, “step your right foot forward into a lunge” sort of thing. If you find yourself saying “engage the energy in your chakras and extend it through your energy center in your right leg as you gracefully and with heartfelt sincerity place the sacred soul of your right foot onto mother earth …”, your body will tell you that’s not working. So you can stop your practice, think about an appropriate cue, and try it out in your head.
Secondly, every now and then you’ll spontaneously find out something in your self practice that feels great (or for that matter, that doesn’t work). Like today I was in child’s pose, walk your fingers over to the left, and I placed my right hand flat on the mat and used that to push my right hip back toward my heel. It actually lengthened and opened my right side and felt good. *That’s* a great cue, and a great move to share with your students – “place your right hand on the mat and press back into your right hip – feel how it lengthens and opens your right side”. Same for pressing down with the back foot in a low lunge, which helps lengthen and open the front of that leg’s hip. Found it out doing a self practice, turned it into a cue.
These are some reasons why teachers should be doing a self practice. What have you discovered and brought to your teaching through your self practice?