Teaching Tips

Every Thursday get a quick dose of teaching love. Tips are posted on Pinterest & Instagram as weekly refreshers of insight and inspiration.

Never stop exploring your craft. 

The most essential part of any seated forward fold is to ground the sit bones. As students stretch further into these asanas, the sit bones tend to lift off the mat, causing undue strain on the SI joints. Encourage your students to continuously root their sit bones down as they fold forward.

Be careful how you cue backbends. We often hear teachers tell students to squeeze their butts in back bends like bridge pose. However, what we really want to do is soften. The gluteus maximus is a hip extensor which is why students tend to squeeze it, but it also is an external rotator and that combined with back bending is what puts the undue pressure on the SI joint. An easy way to tell if a student is squeezing their glutes is by looking at their feet. Often they will turn out due to the external rotation.

We often flow quickly through Uttanasna and Ardha Uttanasana with little instruction as part of the sun salutations. However, the repetitiveness of this asana makes it especially important to emphasize bent knees for students with back issues and tight hammies. Plus, as we know from teacher training, it’s never a good idea to lock the knees in standing asanas.

When teaching the sun salutations, cue that students either float (jump) to Chaturanga or step back to Plank from Ardha Uttanasana or Uttanasana. Jumping to Plank is very jarring on the low back and can aggravate lumbar problems and/or cause lumbar issues over time. Be sure to keep your students safe while practicing asana.

The asymmetry of the hips in Warrior I can cause pressure in the low back and SI joint. It also introduces a torque into the back knee joint that can be painful to many students (especially those with knee injuries). Encourage students who experience pressure in either the low back or back knee while in Warrior I to square their hips, lift the back heel and come into a Crescent Pose. Furthermore, in regards to the complexity of Warrior I, consider introducing Crescent Pose before Warrior I in Surya Namaskar B as way to introduce important alignment principals and ease the body into the complexity of Warrior I.

Do you teach this 3-limb variation of Chaturanga? Although it offers a challenge for advanced students, consider the long term impact this can have on a student’s low back and the sustainability of their practice. Mark Stephens explains, “This undermines the stable foundation of Chaturanga Dandasana; the integrity of Four-Limbed Staff Pose is lost to an asymmetrical three-limb variation that compromises balanced movement into Upward-Facing Dog. Done repetitively, this can destabilize the sacroiliac joint and lead to potentially chronic lower back problems”.

The classic Shoulderstand brings the torso and legs directly above the shoulders. While this provides a full inversion, it also brings significant weight to bear on the delicate cervical vertebrae, which presents a risk of injury, especially with long-term practice. In this variation, a slight angle is maintained between the legs and torso, providing a larger area to distribute the weight, protecting the neck.

As yoga teachers, we’ve experienced, learned and gained so much from yoga that it’s hard for us not to share all we know. Yes, students need verbal guidance, but when we talk constantly throughout class, we run the risk of over stimulating our students, and prescribing our own values. When we provide the space for silence throughout class, students find their own way and real transformation takes place. As teachers, we are laying the soil, but students are planting the seeds.

When setting up for Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), often times students will reach back and grab one ankle at at time. What happens though, is they pull their spine into extension and then into rotation as they reach for one ankle at a time. Spinal extension and rotation as the same time puts undue strain on the lumbar discs. Especially for those with back pain or injury, this can cause serious harm. Instead, instruct students to reach back simultaneously and grab both ankles at the same time. If they can’t do so, help them with a strap.

When an oxygen mask descends in front of you on an airplane, we all know the rule- put yours on first before assisting others. Applying this concept to our daily life, only when we take care of ourselves can we effectively care for others. Self-care is one of the most important, yet most forgotten, things you can do as a teacher. Take time for yourself, so don’t burnout giving so much to others.