Level 1 Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training Intensive, Espanola, N.M., 2011.
Paying attention to the following components can help make you a better Kundalini Yoga teacher. We have habits as teachers that can be helpful or hindering. Bringing into awareness our body-mind habits is the first step in improving how we teach what we teach. Knowing other ways of presenting gives us new options we can try on and use or not. We can instill new habits of excellence in delivering this precious technology.
How is the space held before the class officially begins? Is there music playing? Do you greet students as they come in? Is there the smell of yogi tea in the air? How do you receive your students so that they feel welcomed?
Technical Matters – Timing
Does your class start on time? Finish on time? Is there a smooth transition if there is another class after yours?
Are the exercises reduced proportionally if the full time of your kriya is too long for your allotted class time?
If you are doing more than five minutes of warm-ups, is this compromising the flow and depth of the kriya? KRI generally recommends a maximum of five minutes for warm-ups.
Deliver the Kriya as it’s Written
Read the instructions of each exercise in the kriya very carefully more than once and do the kriya yourself before teaching it to “make it your own”. Some teachers make brief notes on all the exercises with every class they teach – even if they’ve taught that class previously and are experienced teachers. Use whatever methods that deliver the kriya accurately.
If the illustration of an exercise differs from the write-up go with what’s written. If what’s written is unclear ask a senior teacher for clarification.
Do not add music during a silent meditation if it does not say to. Encourage the students to use the elements of the kriya and to go deeper by listening into the silence.
Spatial Positioning and Physical Asana
When teaching, where do you position yourself on the teacher’s bench – more left, right, back, front, centre? Sitting in the centre towards the front creates a stronger presence.
Does your physical posture support your projected presence as a teacher? Is your posture upright, alert, and open?
Are you limited by any physical conditions that might affect seeing all of the students? How will you compensate for this? Any limitations in demonstrating the asanas? Being crystal clear with your instructions or having another student demonstrate the asana will help.
Sharing the Stage
When sharing the bench with other teachers do you stay up front or move slightly back if the other teacher will have stage-time for a while?
How well do you co-teach? Are your transitions in sharing stage-time one-sided or gracefully considerate and inclusive?
How well do you remain present and engaged – is your physical posture supportive of the other teacher’s projection and stage-time?
Can you see everyone? If you’re at the same height as your students do you need to stand or move to see everyone?
Where do you lead from – do you sweep the room with your gaze? Do you stop and start on individuals…? Try both ways, experiment and notice what each approach has to offer.
What is the potential blindspot in the room for you? (In the long horizontal Espanola hall it’s the teacher’s far right – Nirvair often leaves these people as they often don’t want to be seen).
Does your music match the kriya’s energy or theme? How smooth are you using your iPod or computer’s music? Can you effortlessly include live music while you teach?
Amandeep Singh, Toronto, Ontario, KY Teacher Training, 2011.
Speech Patterns, Pacing and Vocal Projection
Many new teachers say “We’re going to…” or “Next I’ll demonstrate…” as a preamble to what’s about to occur. Preambles tend to take yogis up into their thinking and out of their present experiential awareness.
Using ummms, ahhhs, and other such speech fillers creates a subtle intrusion in the silence of the yogis internal experience that can be unpleasant and distracting.
Use direct “commands” and train yourself to let go of unnecessary speech habits. Less talking is usually more when it comes to deepening a yogi’s internal focus.
Are you talking too fast or too slow for the teaching, kriya, meditation or lay-out being shared?
How far out into the room are you comfortable projecting your voice, your sight – 10 feet, 15 feet, to the very back? How about to the far left and far right? Projecting to the back and edges of the room is a technique you can develop.
It takes intention, awareness and persistence to change long held speech patterns but the effort will help deepen your students’ focus and experience of shunia.
Using a Microphone
How comfortable are you using a microphone?
Can you cover the room visually and speak into the mic evenly? How about when demonstrating various kriyas? Practice using the mic with various kriyas without any students present.
Sat Dharam Kaur, Nelson, B.C. KY Teacher Training, 2011.
Which chakra(s) are you leading from? Is this a match for the elements of the kriya and meditation being taught? Or for the teaching being given? Practice delivering specific exercises from various chakras and sensitize yourself to the felt differences.
Learning from Other Teachers
Notice how other teachers teach. What are their strengths and how might you include some of their gifts when you teach. Solstices are great opportunities to experience how world-class teachers do what they do. Consider taking notes on what they say about exercises, kriyas and meditations and add them into your yoga manuals.
Interpersonal Challenges - Praise, Blame, Attraction, Aversion
Consider various scenarios and role-play them with other teachers to help prepare for some of the challenges likely to happen in your professional teaching career:
Who are the students you are likely to be attracted to energetically on an emotional, sexual or intellectual level? Who are the students you are least likely to be attracted to? How do your attractions and aversions influence how much, how little and who you pay attention to? How do you manage these tendencies before, during and after class?
How might you respond to a student who says in class ”That’s not the right way to do that!”
How do you respond to a student who tells you after class that they think you’re absolutely amazing and that they really, really love you and want to massage your feet? How about if they want to meet with you outside of class?
How do you respond to a student that tells you, “That was the worst yoga class I’ve ever been in. You’re not a very good teacher!”
Yogic Lifestyle Recommendations
Yogi Bhajan gave so many recommendations for what a person could do every day that when a student added the hours required to do them all, it came to over 70 hours – or about three days of recommendations! Each recommendation is a potential lever that contributes to health, vitality and consciousness. Encourage students to try out the yogic lifestyle, paying close attention to the cause and effect to find out which leveraging techniques work for them. Have your students share their successes with other yogis in class.
Not Knowing Answers to Questions
How do you answer a question you do not have a confident answer for? Can you be comfortably honest saying “I don’t know, I’ll get back to you with an answer”. Who are the senior teachers you can get answers from?
Instructions and Corrections
Are you able to notice which students are not doing the kriya as instructed? Eg. The posture isn’t correct, or the class is chanting too fast, too slow or the pronunciation of the chant is incorrect?
Do you anticipate the chants and pranayamas that are challenging for students to get right and take extra time going over and checking the details before the students are engaged in the exercise? Eg, if students are engaged in a kriya that has the palms of the hands massaging the ears they will have to take their hands off their ears to hear you if you’re talking. Also, when there is chanting or a pranayama pattern in a kriya or meditation you want students to be chanting or breathing correctly before they begin. Better to have them rehearse a little before than have to stop them and correct them once they’ve begun the set time.
How do you handle it when you realize after the class that you taught something incorrectly during the class?
and last but not least, Creating a Cosy Community and Service
How can conscious community be created during a class? Is there any time made for some socializing and sharing yogi tea? Do you offer special events such as full moon meditations? How about holding a class outside at the beach or in the park?
Have you created social opportunities outside of class time? Potluck dinners? Spiritual movies? Yogathons to raise money for a cause? A spiritual music dance? Talent shows? Breathwalk, a day of hiking in the countryside or a vegetarian picnic at the beach? A Facebook group where your students can support each other online, create buddy support systems, share yogic goals, etc?
How well does your yogic community integrate into the larger “non-yogic” community and what might you do to further facilitate this? Have an open house where you teach, have yogi tea and vegetarian food? Perhaps speak at a library, school or health fair about the benefits of yoga, and have a sampling of a mini or full class? Beautify the neighbourhood cleaning up litter in public parks? Feed those in need? Approach a service group in your area with a cadre of yogis and ask how you might help?
Sat Siri Kaur Leading Breathwalk, Kundalini Yoga Intensive, Espanola, N.M. 2011
These considerations (with additions) initiated from a discussion with Nirvair Singh during a Level One Kundalini Yoga, 28-Day Teacher Training Intensive in August, 2011, in Espanola, New Mexico. Thanks to Nirvair, the TNT prep and KRI team, group leaders, the new teachers and all those yogis seen and unseen who helped facilitate the excellence of this training.