Teaching the Philosophy of Yoga to Students: Practical Tips

Graham Burns, a contributor of Yoga Teaching Handbook, offers practical advice when introducing traditional and philosophical ideas of yoga when teaching students in these simple tips.

by Graham Burns

So, having decided which aspects of philosophy you would like to bring into your teaching, how do you approach that task in a way which will be accessible to your students? Here are a few practical ideas.

  • As with all yoga teaching, it is important to meet your students where they are. Some students will love to hear more about the philosophical ideas of yoga; others will (to begin with, at least) simply want to stretch their hamstrings. Don’t expect everyone to understand, let alone relate to, what you are saying – and, of course, in the spirit of Sūtra 1.33, show compassion to those who might be suffering in their effort to take it on board.
  • Introduce ideas in layman’s language before introducing complex terminology. For example, talk about the ‘self’ before introducing the term ātman. If you use Sanskrit terms, explain them unless you are absolutely certain that your students understand what you are talking about.
  • Have a clear intention. What exactly are you trying to convey? Try to convey it in a way which is true to the spirit of the teaching, even if you don’t directly cite texts or use Sanskrit terminology. Often, a reasonable paraphrase of a teaching can be more accessible than a strictly accurate translation.
  • Try not to confuse teachings from different sources and traditions too much. Yes, the yoga traditions over the centuries have influenced each other, but try to understand the origins of what you are teaching: this will aid your understanding, and, as a result, that of your students.
  • Similarly, try to be consistent, or, at least, explain any inconsistencies. If you present one idea one week and an opposing idea the next – which might be a perfectly valid thing to do – remember to explain why you are doing this. Otherwise, students are likely to come away confused (and/or think you don’t know what you are talking about!).
  • Keep it simple. One or two ideas per class clearly expressed is better than a number of ideas which are confused, inconsistent, or poorly explained.
  • Finally – and importantly – use philosophical ideas as pegs on which to hang your class sequencing. For example, if you choose to talk about balance and equanimity, consider which practices might both challenge your students’ equanimity and encourage it, and structure your class accordingly.

 

Ultimately, whether, and to what extent, you bring the more philosophical teachings of yoga in-to your teaching is up to you. But, from a set of traditions as deep and as rich as the varied traditions of yoga through the centuries, it seems a shame if, as teachers, we ignore them completely. Perhaps the final – and most liberating – teaching which you can give your students is that which Patañjali gives us about stilling the mental spinnings in Yoga Sūtra 1.39: yathā abhimata dhyānādva, which we can loosely translate as ‘or meditate on whatever you like’.

 

Yoga Teaching Handbook explains how to develop yoga teaching into a successful business. Covering everything from how to be creative with sequencing, to setting up and running a studio space, this book shows how to refine teaching skills and is an essential handbook for all yoga teachers and trainees.

Read more about Yoga Teaching Handbook here.

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