What Makes an Effective Teacher?

What Makes an Effective Teacher?

This article was originally published in the July/Aug 2013 issue of OM Yoga Magazine. You can read a selection of my past columns and a preview of the current issue of the magazine by clicking here.

Recently, I overheard some yoga students discussing different teachers’ classes. The consensus was that those who provided strong hands-on adjustments and physically challenging classes were more effective teachers and therefore more advanced. Of one teacher’s handstand demo, a young woman wistfully commented that was where her own practice “should” be. Aside from feeling that this lady’s practice is perfect as it is whether those handstands come along or not, I think these comments stemmed from their personal preferences for strong classes. It raised a few thoughts though, most notably: What makes an effective teacher and what is ‘advanced’?

It can be easy to think that the ability to perform physically challenging, visually impressive poses equals a good teacher; particularly as so many of the yoga images we now see feature aesthetically pleasing people in awe-inspiring asanas. Sometimes the people who can do all those things are undoubtedly brilliant teachers but in my experience it has not been because they can do those things.

After eleven years so far as a yoga student, my feeling is that the most important quality of any teacher is not the ability to do Scorpion, but the ability to create a safe space.

In creating a safe space, the adjustments question is an interesting one. I tend to adjust verbally when I am guiding a class and occasionally use a light touch. For a while I felt very bad about not doing hands-on adjustments in class, but my own experiences of being hurt as a result of being adjusted made me wary. My view changed when I trained with Judith Hanson Lasater and she mentioned that the longer she has taught over the last forty or so years, the less she physically adjusts, instead mostly using words and always asking permission before touching anyone, borne out of her own experiences. I feel this comes back to teaching from the heart.

Many of the best experiences I’ve had as a student are with teachers who can’t do the fancy poses themselves but by their presence create a safe space for everyone in the room to explore their practice.  To me, that’s the sign of a really good (dare I say, ‘advanced’) teacher.

As I continue to grow as a teacher, still new on this journey, I hope I’m able to do the same. Even if I can’t demo Scorpion for you.

Love Yoga? Teach Yoga losartan online. Check out Sally Parkes 200hr Teacher Training with the Brand New Mentoring Program to help you succeed in your chosen career as a yoga teacher. I’m privileged to be part of the teaching faculty on this course teaching Restorative Yoga and Back Care Yoga. For full details and course dates in London and Spain visit http://sallyparkesyoga.com/teacher-training/

Want to Teach Yoga or Deepen Your Yoga Practice? Laxmi Yoga 200hr Teacher Training starts in February

Want to Teach Yoga or Deepen Your Yoga Practice? Laxmi Yoga 200hr Teacher Training starts in February

Laxmi Yoga 200hr Teacher Training with Sally Parkes

Laxmi Yoga 200hr Teacher Training with Sally Parkes

If you want to teach yoga or would like to deepen your practice then you still
have time to sign up for the next Laxmi Yoga 200hr Teacher Training with Sally Parkes.

Taking place over weekends in London plus a residential week in Spain this recognised Yoga Alliance UK and Independent Yoga Network course allows you to teach internationally.

The first of the London weekends is 28th February-1st March. I’m looking forward to meeting all the new teacher trainees in April when I’ll be introducing the group to teaching Restorative Yoga and Yoga for Back Care.

For full details, plus to hear from past graduates click here to visit Sally’s website.

Laxmi Yoga 200hr Early Bird Offer until 30th Nov

Laxmi Yoga 200hr Early Bird Offer until 30th Nov

Thinking about Yoga Teacher Training in 2015? Book your place on the next Laxmi 200hr course by 30th Nov & save £250!

The next Laxmi 200hr course with Sally Parkes Yoga starts in April and takes place in Spain and London.

Graduates from every course intake since launching in 2012 are successfully teaching in the UK and overseas. I’m privileged to be a tutor on this course and look forward to meeting the next group of teacher trainees!

For more information, please visit the Laxmi Yoga Teacher Training page here.

Continuing Education with Laxmi

Continuing Education with Laxmi

“Through our yoga practice we aim to bring balance into the body so we can bring balance to the mind.”
– Sally Parkes, Laxmi Yoga

I love that there is always more to learn.

I’ve just got back from a week in Wales with a brilliant bunch of yogis: Part One of Laxmi Yoga Teacher Training founded and led by Sally Parkes.

It is a year since I began my yoga teacher training journey and in that time the learning hasn’t stopped. From learning to teach restorative yoga with Judith Hanson Lasater to studying the teaching of vinyasa flow with Shiva Rea and attending numerous workshops. I’ve continued to learn from my spondylolisthesis in my own asana practice. And mostly, I’ve learned from everyone I’ve been fortunate enough to guide through their yoga practice since I started teaching.

In the Hindu sacred texts, the Vedas, the Goddess Laxmi is the one who has the object and aim of uplifting mankind.

The above, comes from the opening page of Laxmi Yoga’s training manual. This particular training has come at just the right time for me. There have been many lessons over the past year and I knew I wanted to deepen my knowledge in certain areas as well as engage in some more self-inquiry.

I have attended Sally’s classes and retreats as a student and since starting to teach I’ve had the pleasure of joining her retreat team. With a background in studying sports and exercise science, and some fourteen years experience teaching not only yoga but also Pilates and personal training to people of all ages and abilities, Sally has a wealth of knowledge. As a student I appreciate her non-dogmatic style, her passion that yoga really can be accessible for everyone and that she incorporates all aspects of her experience into her approach to teaching. So, I’m very happy for the opportunity to study with her!

Our first week in Wales was spent studying and practising at the welcoming Dru Yoga Mountain Lodge in Snowdonia, which is also home to the World Peace Flame.

Our group consists of a mix of practitioners who have some teaching experience either in yoga or other disciplines along with some completely new to teaching. What we have in common is that we are all dedicated yogis and it was wonderful to share our range of experiences over the course of our first week together.

Partner work in Warrior 2

Partner work in Warrior 2

Outside of our regular sessions and posture clinics each day with Sally, we practiced meditation with Nanna Coppens from Dru Yoga who has been teaching for over twenty years.

I got to teach a restorative yoga class for the group, which was a real joy! For some, it was their first experience of a restorative yoga practice. Another group member who we affectionately named ‘Guru Chris’ guided us through an energising Kundalini yoga session. While Neil Phillips gave us a great insight into the principles of Ayurveda.

We are studying Anatomy and Physiology with Dawn Morse. As well as being the programme leader of the Sports Therapy Foundation Degree provided by the University of Bath and lecturing in Sports Therapy and Sports and Exercise Science, Dawn has also taught yoga (including mother and baby and children’s yoga), Pilates, personal training, sports and remedial massage and injury rehabilitation… So, it’s fair to say that Dawn knows her stuff!

With our friend Fred the Skeleton

With our friend Fred the Skeleton

Though I have a deep interest in studying anatomy this is not a subject that comes easily to me. But Dawn’s approach is brilliant. We came away covering so much more than we’d imagined possible. Certain aspects were familiar to me from study I have done so far, but I’m particularly enjoying learning more about biomechanics. And I wasn’t alone here as we even spent a whole evening of study time outside our anatomy sessions watching and discussing Paul Grilley’s anatomy DVD. I’m looking forward to studying with Dawn again when we return to Wales in November.

Friday night was Kirtan Night! It was great fun and I’ve been known to enjoy a chant :D. Along the way Nanna, who led the session told the stories of Ganesha, the Gayatri Mantra and talked about the World Peace Flame Foundation. Very apt indeed as our Kirtan was taking place on the International Day of Peace. An uplifting evening all round.

On Saturday night we after dinner we watched Yogawoman together. I’m so glad that I finally got to see it! An added treat was that one of the contributors to the movie is Laxmi Yoga course tutor, Caroline Shola Arewa who we’ll meet in October.

The week whizzed by. Yet in that short space of time so much happened. For one thing, we realised we had all taken in more that we had thought. That’s thanks in no small part to Sally consciously cultivating a great learning environment. We arrived mostly as strangers but bonded as a group very quickly.

Laxmi Yogis with Sally Parkes (far right) and Dawn Morse (far left)

Laxmi Yogis with Sally Parkes (far right) and Dawn Morse (far left)

I’m already looking forward to Part Two in October where we’ll be delving deeper into the subtle body and the Chakras with Caroline Shola Arewa. And we’ll be doing First Aid for Yoga Teachers training with Julie Cleasby – a refresher for some and all new to others among our group. To follow that in Parts Three and Four, among other things, we will be learning more about teaching special populations and the business of yoga, the latter being especially crucial for anyone seriously planning to earn a living as a yoga teacher. At each stage of the course, I’ll be blogging about the experience. In the meantime, there’s studying and assignments to be done before we meet again in October, so I’d best get on with my homework! 😀

The Necessity of Stillness

What if we took as much care with our rest as we did with say, our diet?

I’ve just completed day 1 (of 5) of the Relax and Renew restorative yoga training intensive with Judith Hanson Lasater in London. This question came up near the beginning of the day.

Often, as yogis we may put special effort into taking time over whether we are eating organically. Or gluten slash wheat slash dairy free. Or thinking about what foods to eat to give us more energy – will this or that new product do that for us?

But if what if we just rested instead?

Often we are our own worst enemies as we don’t give ourselves permission to be still. We don’t have time. We are so busy. We see taking that time out as being lazy.

We talked today about how a great deal of what is beneficial about this form of yoga is that people are still. In what other place in our lives are we truly given permission to be still?

It’s true that at times restorative yoga is seen as not ‘real yoga’, (because it looks as though you are not ‘doing’ very much) or as being for people who are new to yoga. But really it’s for everyone. After all, who isn’t stressed? (And therefore, in need of physiological relaxation.)

If you’re tired it’s hard to be compassionate towards the people around us, let alone towards ourselves. Hands up who gets tetchy or lacks the ability to focus and be present when they are tired?

As was discussed today, if your life is frantic, your practice will have that vibration. And as a teacher, if you are caught up in a frantic state then that veneer of ‘frantic’ can come across in your teaching.

That hit a nerve.

I know as a student that I have often enough picked up on that kind of frantic energy from the teacher leading a class. My life is pretty frantic at the moment and I am doing some re-assessing as a result, so this topic today really resonated with me.

I know I don’t get enough rest. I know I am stressed. I know I am sleep deprived. Who’s with me? Probably almost anyone who is breathing!

So what if we started to see rest as the necessity that it is instead of a luxury, or as being lazy? Yes, it will take practise (for some of us, a lot of practise). But we can make a start. And we can try to remember to be kind to ourselves along the way.

I am so grateful to be doing this course at this particular time, deepening my knowledge of a form of yoga that I know has and continues to benefit me. I feel especially excited at the prospect of being able to share what I am learning with others. What a privilege.

I Love yoga! And I am loving that the learning never stops.