As a teacher you know there’s so much more to yoga than being able to do handstand or crow, but sometimes it’s hard to get your students into anything outside of asana and chanting OM to open class. While the physical practice of yoga is wonderful, there comes a time when a teacher wants to dig deeper and so will your students. Of course, not everyone will love pranayama, chanting, and mudras. I am sure you may have students who cut out of class as soon as you start savasana, but it doesn’t make it any less important!
When you find yourself ready to incorporate more than asana into your classes, take a moment and think back to when you started yoga. What did you enjoy besides the asana? Was there a specific chant, mudra, or breath work you enjoyed the most? What about during your teacher training, was there something you just found yourself repeating over and over? Once you’ve taken the time to think about your experience and what you enjoyed, now it’s time to think about how to add it into your classes!
Familiarize Yourself with Commonly used Mudras, Chants, and Pranayama
We already teach mudra, chants, and breathing in an asana class, but do you ever point them out?
Om, the most well known chant, which you probably are already using, but do your students know what it means? Om is said to be the basic sound of the universe and chanting it is said to bring us closer to the flow of life. And it doesn’t always have to be placed at the beginning or end of class! Using OM to reconnect the class throughout practice helps keep them in the zone and can be helpful when holding challenging poses like chair, arm balances, or any other bemoaned poses.
There are two very common mudras used in most yoga classes that you may not even realize! First is Anjali Mudra (hands palm together at the heart, thumbs gently touching the sternum), which symbolizes balance, neutrality, and centering, is often used to start and end Surya Namaskars and to help us in Vrksasana (Tree Pose). Your students are already using mudra, you just never pointed it out! A simple way to bring attention to it is by asking your students to close their eyes and breathe any time they bring their hands together at their heart. Asking them to acknowledge the difference at the beginning and the end of each flow can be a very powerful way to introduce this mudra. Second, we have what is called the Jupiter Mudra (fingers interlaced with the pointer fingers out, pointer fingers together and pointing away. Think Charlie’s Angels). This mudra is often done during Virabhadrasana I (Warrior 1) and brings forth good luck while energizing you to bust through barriers. No wonder it’s often seen in this pose!
We all know that flow classes move on the inhale and exhale, but what about holding on the inhale, flowing on the exhale? Changing up the pace of movement will keep your students focused on what’s happening versus checking into auto-pilot during another Sun Salutation. Don’t teach flow? Well, cat/cow is commonly done head up/hips up=inhale, tail tucked/spine rounded=exhale, try reversing it and on the exhale when the head rises up add lion pose to the end (tongue out, eyes to the third eye or to the nose). Bringing attention to the already know mudras, chants, and pranayama will surely spark the interest of your students.
Learn More Mudras, Chants, and Pranayama to Teach in Class
Now that you’ve re-introduced the basics to your class, it’s time for you to pull out yout YTT handbook and start refreshing your memory of what is out there! Whether you start bringing the bijas (Lam, Vam, Ram, Yam, Ham, Om), add Sat Nam, or like the sound of Om Namah Shivaya get into a nice rhythm. Chanting is singing, so make it fun and playful to keep students from feeling uncomfortable. Call and response also will allow your students to “learn the words” or playing music that is chanting like the Gayatri Mantra. Perhaps you want to switch out Anjali Mudra for Lotus (heels of hands together, palms open, pink sides and thumbs side touch, thumbs can touch the heart or just be in front of the heart) which can signify opening the heart chakra (great for a class heavy in heart openers). Last, but not least there are a TON of breathing exercises to choose from, start with what is comfortable to you and start to use them during poses you plan to hold. Breath of fire can be helpful during boat pose, it helps find the core muscles you’re supposed to be using, try breath retention during chair or the warriors (start easy with your students, three seconds can feel like a long time if you’ve never done breath work before!), or remind your students to use Ujjayi during Sun Salutations.
Choose a Theme Based on the Yamas or Niyamas
We focus a lot on physical parts of yoga: movement, breathing (feeling the breath), chanting (saying the words), and mudra (placing the hands in a specific way), but bring themes in that are part of eight limbs can feel daunting. Start easy, Ahimsa (non-violence) is a great starting point. Reminding students to back off when their bodies say “enough” or asking them to meet their bodies where they are at TODAY instead of pushing too hard are great ways to bring about the theme. While class is holding a pose speak a bit more about what ahimsa means to you and in general. Take time to go over the Yamas and Niyamas to see what they mean to you and what they would look like during practice, find poses that best represent them, and add little tidbits of fundamental knowledge into the class.
Research the Lore Behind Certain Poses
Who is Hanuman and why is he represented by the splits? Why is it called downward facing dog or fish pose? And who the heck is Ganesha and would I want to call on him? You don’t have to teach a theology class, but it can be fun to add little quips of information. If you are worried about bordering along religious talk, then do a summary of what the pose symbolizes. For example Hanumanasana could represent bridging the gap between two opposing forces or maybe going above and beyond what you normally would do. Pick what would work for your class to know and share it!
There is so much more to yoga than asana, it may feel challenging to teach more than them too. Start slow and get comfortable with the aspects you teach, because if you find them important, teaching them will feel right and be authentic!
Teachasana Ambassador Liz Vartanian is just a girl in the world who loves tree pose, BIG heart to heart hugs, and her newborn baby. She is a 200-hour certified Yoga Instructor through Yoga Yoga in Austin, TX and loves the flow and go of vinyasa, but has discovered the joys of prenatal yoga and now slowing down to discover her body again with postnatal yoga! She has taught donation yoga classes from her home studio, weekly “office yoga” classes around town, and is looking forward to teaching some Mommy and Me classes in the New Year. Her students range from 20-something coffee baristas and folk musicians to gamers and mommies to be. She can be found sipping coffee with her man, two yoga inspiring dogs, and the new wee one or chatting it up on Twitter@YogaBetty and making short yoga videos for her blog on YogaBetty.com.