A few years ago, I shifted my teaching to be more anatomically based. I started bringing more of my own studies and training into my classes, focusing on the bones, muscles, and alignment more. I also started to bring themes into classes, focusing on different muscle groups and key actions.
I begin each class with a short talk to let the students know our focus for the class and deliver pointers about the muscles and movements involved. I do this to make the class more of a learning experience and a balance between the academic nature of the theme and the physical actions that reinforce it.
Now, although anatomy and alignment are some of my most favorite things to teach, after a while I started to wonder if it was making my students crazy. Am I getting too nitpicky with my corrections? Have I started losing my sense of the foundations of the practice?
To keep myself in line, I’m sharing with you my own teaching guidelines, designed to create a balance between the subject matter and each student’s experience, as well as give people space to just “be.”
1. Know what your theme is and be strong and confident in presenting it.
This means that whatever your theme, be sure you know the subject matter and can explain it clearly and succinctly.
2. Choose a theme that has benefits for our everyday activities, and explain at the beginning how the poses will translate to these activities.
Look for ways your theme helps your students in their daily life. That’s one of the main reasons we’re practicing, right?
If you’re working on strengthening the lower body, you could talk about running, balancing, or lifting heavy objects. If you’re working on opening through the upper body, you could talk about counteracting the stress of hunching all day over the computer and phone.
3. Keep your cues focused on the theme versus cuing on all aspects of the practice.
Once you pick your theme, try to keep your cues to reinforcing this theme versus heavily cuing students on everything. This can be hard, because as teachers, we might want to cue everything, especially if we see sloppy alignment.
But this sometimes can leave students overwhelmed and leave you exhausted.
4. Use hands-on assisting to reinforce your cues.
Using appropriate assists with students can be a great way to reinforce your anatomical theme, keeping in mind that sometimes students learn from both verbal and hands-on cues.
5. Watch your tone to ensure you stay upbeat even if you see sloppy alignment.
If you have a tendency to be a bit of a perfectionist, be sure your tone stays upbeat even if you see your students are not working with solid alignment. Look for different ways to present, cue, demonstrate, and assist, rather than sticking with saying the same thing, over and over.
6. Keep a balance between talking and silence.
Stay aware of how much you’re talking and give your students time to just be in silence too. The silence is a great way to let the theme sink in. If you stop talking and notice it sounds and feels really different, that probably means you’re talking too much.
7. When using anatomical terms, use them fully without diluting them, but watch how deep you go into explanation.
Maintain balance between what you’re explaining and how deep you go into each concept. I have trouble with this because I’m so excited about the content, but I have to remind myself that the students came to class to move, not get a lecture throughout class.
Don’t dumb down what you’re saying, but watch for going into too much detail.
8. Look for larger, non-anatomically based comments, suggestions, and statements you can make during class to keep balance between the physical and the spiritual.
One of the best ways to keep things balanced is to weave into your class statements that speak to the heart. These could be things that reinforce your anatomical theme in a more spiritual way or meaningful statements you share from your heart.
9. Make your cues action-oriented and as clear as possible.
Look for clear statements to communicate the actions you wish to see, such as “Press your heel, turn from your ribs,” versus complicated, less physical statements like “Feel how your thigh lengthens.”
10. Stick around for questions.
Once I started switching to these anatomically themed classes, I had more questions after class.
Students ask questions related to the cues, like “Can you show me how to roll my inner thighs back?” and also want to really understand why you were presenting things the way you did, and ask things like “Why don’t you want us to turn our feet out in Wheel?”
These discussions have been a great way for me to listen, share, and be of service.
I hope this helps you deliver deeper alignment and anatomy cues, or even anatomically themed classes! As always, when teaching, be yourself and have as your ultimate goal to share from the heart what you love.