In my opinion, it can be quite easy for people to show up to yoga and consider it as a pure physical practice. To see it as the same as any other class at the gym.
Or to be very “good” at those yoga classes, without really understanding the effect the poses are having on them.
And to be completely unable to do their own practice at home, without instructions from a teacher, not understanding what their body needs.
Yes, ultimately, by practicing for some time, the many benefits of yoga will start to creep in, along with some mindset shifts.
I, however, try to teach this to my yoga students, even beginners.
Because, for me, learning to listen to my own body and my own feelings, were what made yoga different from any other exercise. And made me stick to it.
So, I implement these four simple exercises with my yoga students.
I encourage them to follow their own breath
When possible, I encourage my students to follow their own breath, like when doing cat-cow, and other warm up exercises. I feel that it is important for me to talk less, and create the space for my students to notice how they are feeling at that given moment.
I let them tune into their own breath, to feel how the movements affect them.
And when they are ready, I even let them do sun salutations following their own breath, a big challenge for those new to yoga. I often get some confused looks when I tell my students to repeat the sun salutations we just did. And it´s okay. I tell them that sometimes you can feel completely lost in yoga. And them doing their best is all that is expected.
I create time for their own practice
Sometimes, I create free time towards the end of the class for the students to choose their own poses. That way, they can listen to their own body, and practice noticing what their body needs at that moment. It will usually be the few minutes leading up to Savasana, allowing those that want to go straight into relaxation, and others to focus on hip openers, twists, inversions and more.
With experienced groups, I have done the same in the beginning of class, allowing my students to focus on their feelings and move their body in ways that feel right, preferably with their eyes closed, before practice starts.
I lead them through a progress visualization
At the end of some classes, especially if I have had the same group for an extended time, I lead a visualization. After closing our eyes and calming our breaths, my students bring up memories in their mind from the first time they came to yoga (or when they started my classes). They see themselves on the mat, very likely quite confused, lacking either or both strength and flexibility. And then, they bring their focus to that current moment, seeing the tiny (or big) changes that have happened from the start. Realizing how far they´ve come and thanking their bodies for the effort put in.
I make it clear that the yoga practice is theirs
When I get the chance, usually when talking to students after class, I make it clear that their practice is essentially, their own. They show up to class and they make of it what they wish. I am simply there, at their service, leading the class. They should always listen to their body first. And if they need to do child´s pose when others do plank, or pigeon pose when others do a warrior flow, that is perfectly okay. And if they need to lie in Savasana the entire time, they can do that as well. I ask simply that they show up to their mat and listen to their body.
I believe that these simply tricks help my students understand their own bodies and their feelings.
I believe that realizing what pose they need at any given moment will help them to practice yoga, both in, and outside, of my yoga classes.
I believe it will help them become practitioners of yoga. To encourage them to roll out their mat at home and do a simple flow based on their own needs.
I believe that with this, I am teaching my students to listen to their bodies.
Because, to this day, it is the most important thing yoga has taught me.
Fellow teachers and students, how do you incorporate this into your teaching practice? What do you like to see from your teachers?