Category Archives: teaching

Why I Love Teaching Yoga

By Alexis Corchado 
I’ve always been told that I have a natural teaching ability… So after a while, I accepted this opinion as fact and majored in Elementary Education in college and substitute taught as well. 
 
But my major of choice became a drag and substitute teaching on and off for ten years in one of the worst school districts in the country wore my patience very thin. Many times amidst the chaos of the classroom I wondered to myself, “Why aren’t you teaching something you truly love with individuals that will appreciate your effort and commitment and in a loving and nurturing environment?” It was time for change and the immediacy could no longer be ignored.
 
Fast forward to spring of this year when the decision for change was finally made. After being re-acquainted with Yoga after a few year hiatus, it dawned on me: This is it! This is that “thing” I had been searching for.
 
I had instantly fallen in love with Dharma Yoga because I felt as though this was the Yoga of millennia ago; it felt authentic, natural and classical and I was in a state of fascination after that first asana class with Sri Dharma Mittra. It took me a nanosecond to decide that not only would I be a student at the Dharma Yoga Center, but that I would also enroll in the next Life of a Yogi 200-Hour Teacher Training scheduled. I decided then and there that I would teach Yoga and I knew that this would bring me joy, satisfaction, and happiness.

©Jeffrey Vock
 
Upon completing the LOAY Teacher Training (which was an experience worthy of its own blog post!), I was profoundly changed physically, mentally and spiritually and I was ready to take the gift of knowledge imparted to me by Sri Dharma and the Dharma Yoga teachers and share it with the world, or at very least anyone receptive to yoga!
 
As I sit here typing these words, I know that it was a wise decision to pursue Yoga as a vocation. 
 
So what is it that I love most about teaching Yoga? 
  • I find great enjoyment in sharing that which has impassioned me. Yoga has become my life to a significant extent. It is a love affair of sorts, and having the opportunity to expose another to the subject of my new found love is priceless.
  • I’m sure many teachers can relate to the incomparable feeling of taking a newcomer to the practice, (one who is usually full of judgments and reservations) and completely changing their outlook at the end of a class.
  • I’ve experienced with my students a shift in their perspective as well as their new found body and health awareness. I’ve observed long held misconceptions shatter and this fills me with a tremendous sense of contentment.
  • But it is the progress I observe in my students practice that is perhaps the reason I most love teaching Yoga.  In just a couple of classes I’ve seen students with very little flexibility and strength improve drastically. It is a wonder to share this with the students, some who have a tendency towards pessimism about their own abilities.
  • But Yoga being far from just a physical experience has also provided my students with a sense of what can be and what is possible on the mental and spiritual planes. I’ve taught public school teachers, who are some of the most stressed out individuals I have ever taught, and heard their praise of the limitless fruits of relaxation and gentle Pranayama. They speak of their sense of being transported to a different place, one where life is allowed to play itself out free of constraints created by time or obligations.
  • I’ve observed my students roll up their mats less jittery and unhappy than they were one hour previous. For 15 minutes at the end of class they experience a little slice of bliss. The fact that I facilitate this experience is one that I don’t take for granted no matter how many times it happens.
  • Yoga is amazing because it is a form of therapy for the teacher also.  When I’m fully present and in the teaching zone, not talking too much and giving my students the space to experience their poses, I find myself losing track of time and my own mental preoccupations. It’s just my students, their mats, and I, in one cohesive unit.
©Jeffrey Vock
 

As I complete my internship, I find myself increasingly excited about the prospect of teaching Yoga on a more full time basis. The more I teach the more aware of my student’s needs I become. Whether it’s the ongoing process of simplifying cues, offering variations to practitioners with different needs, or learning the art of pacing within a class, the challenge of instructing Yoga within itself is an element that makes me love teaching it even more.

The fruit of Yoga manifests itself in a myriad ways: confidence, physical and mental health, and a sense of who we really are beneath the veil of Maya, or illusion, are increased and nourished by this ancient practice. Being a guide for individuals on this path is what makes being a teacher of Yoga one of the noblest professions. Oh, and not many jobs allow you to come to the workplace in Prana Pants and a tank top 🙂 

 

Alexis Corchado lives in Union, New Jersey. He has been practicing Yoga for about a year and is in the internship phase of his LOAY 200-hour Teacher Training. Off the mat you can find him playing in the mountains or on the beach or dancing the night away to Salsa and Merengue. Nature is his biggest inspiration and having a sense of place is part of his passion. Alexis is forever grateful for the presence of Dharma Yoga, and all that it represents, in his life.  
 
 

Tapas for Teachers

By Liz Schindler

“Yoga is the path of purification of character and conduct (the cleansing of one’s physical and mental nature) wherein the highest state of reality and truth may shine undiminished in the hearts and minds of all beings.” –Sri Dharma Mittra
 
©Jeffrey Vock

 My Life of A Yogi Teacher Training Training wasn’t all rainbows and kittens! Well, it was mostlyrainbows and kittens, but also a whole lot of tapas. Tapas is perhaps the most transformative of the niyamas, or personal disciplines, set forth by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras as well as the basis for the “path to purification” that Sri Dharma Mittra refers to in his definition of yoga.
According to the LOAY manual, tapas is defined as heat, austerity, or burning away impurities through self-discipline.Tapas was at the beginning of my transformative journey and it fueled my passion to learn and grow and to push through self doubt. Tapas caused the deepening of my physical practice throughout the intensive ten days, fueled by my own fire and sweat. It was tapas that drove me to the training, got me through it, and forced a change in my body, mind and spirit.
       
Sri Dharma Mittra is referred to as the teacher’s teacher and for good reason! Sri Dharma is the perfect shepherd to the trainees because he didn’t only show us how to teach yoga classes, he shared his limitless experience, knowledge and wisdom.  The morning pranayama and spiritual discourse sessions were the highlight of my day and I cannot stress how challenging but rewarding the breath work was. I soaked up all the information on the kriyas, mantra, chakras, bandhas and mudras.  
©Jeffrey Vock
 
Yet there was still the element of tapas and the floor seemed to harden with each passing day and by day six easy poses were no longer easy. The pain of sitting with a tall spine (out of respect for Sri Dharma) was distracting at times but looking back I’m happy that I did it. It broke a mental barrier in my mind and got rid of “I can’t do this any longer” and replaced it with “I’m still doing this.” I read a quote somewhere that says “your mind will always give up before your body, just keep going” and I did.
The hard part was putting myself out there as a teacher and I cannot adequately express my horror as I taught my first Dharma I class to my group during the training. In contrast to my inexperience, my group was so advanced! Two of my group-mates had mothers that taught yoga and two others were already certified teachers. This was my first teaching experience ever and I was mortified. I remember my disappointment as I taught and how frustrated I was over the shakiness in my voice and the inaccuracy of my cues. But why was I so nervous? I had been falling on my sweaty face and loudly farting in front of these people for days! But suddenly their opinion mattered more than anything and I thought I was bombing it.


©Liz Schindler
 
After finishing my first practice teach (which felt like hours) my mentor Hannah Allerdice gave me an honest review of my teaching. She stressed her opinion that I would be a wonderful teacher because she could sense how much I cared about my students. At the time I thought she was just being kind, but looking back through my handy 20/20 hindsight goggles, I see she was on point. Because I care so much I was nervous and horrified while practice teaching. My drive to teach yoga stems from my gratefulness to all of my teachers for helping deepen my yoga practice and to open my heart. All I wanted then and now is to be able to share that same gift of yoga with my students.
       
By the end of the training I had more confidence in my teaching and a greater sense of sympathy for my own feelings. I made strong friendships and have new role models to look up to. I surpassed my own expectations and in turn have raised my self-expectations. The LOAY teacher training experience was truly life altering for me and I am forever grateful to Sri Dharma and all of his teaching staff. 

________________________________________________

Liz Schindler found yoga during a stressful period of her life and has returned to it again and again for over ten years to calm both body and mind. After moving to New York and beginning to study with Sri Dharma Mittra, she soon came to realize her need to share her love of yoga with others. Liz is a 200-Hour Certified Dharma Yoga Teacher. She currently lives and teaches in Brooklyn, NY.

 

    

      

For Yoga Teachers: Five Ways To Serve With Joy

By Jessica Gale

©Jeffrey Vock

Recently, upon borrowing mats from a yoga center for a workshop, I reflected on new connections and coincidences since moving to Toronto, Canada, and teaching yoga.

I thought about my growing social circle and sharing yoga with them; the yoga center I borrowed mats from; the workshop venue which was rented inexpensively to me by friends of friends (whom I had taught at home); and that all these new contacts kept me in the loop of any new jobs and opportunities and promoted my teaching.

All of this started with my eagerness to share yoga and my belief in karma yoga (selfless service). Acts of selfless service are free from the idea of receiving something in return and instead focus on the act of giving and surrender.

Selfless service will always be a part of my teaching.  The wonderful surprise is that for all I give, positive returns come back to me.  

Here are a few ways to include selfless service in your life:

·        Teach for free or barter

One of my students has chronic Lyme disease. I too had Lyme disease for several years and know firsthand that yoga helps. When I met his partner and heard of his situation, I immediately offered to teach them both. They were reluctant at first because they could not pay but they were willing and wanted to barter. In exchange, I receive muffins, preserves, and other small treats every week when I come to teach. But the real payoff and is seeing a friend recovering from a lengthy illness and there is no amount of money that can match this true reward.

For many of us, yoga is sometimes our sole profession and teaching classes for free is not feasible. However, a few karma yoga classes go a long way in helping people that cannot afford to attend but will reap the benefits of yoga.

Students, the elderly, even the unemployed with limited or no income, would greatly appreciate this and many are willing to pay in their own way by service or gifts in kind. Know the limits to what you can give and then give as much as you can.

©Jeffrey Vock

·        Teach what someone wants to be taught

As lovers of yoga, we sometimes forget that yoga can be overwhelming for some people. For example, my neighbor had difficulty with her breathing and I offered to teach her yoga. She was keen to learn breathing exercises but due to her age and inexperience, was not interested in the physical practice. While I knew that she would benefit from the physical exercises, I decided not to push it and I only taught her some simple pranayama exercises.  She found relief from the exercises and continued to talk about how beneficial it for months afterwards.

·        Share your time and your experiences

People are very curious about yoga teachers and I often find myself answering questions and sharing what I know. It can be overwhelming when you are in the midst of something or in a hurry!  So when I find myself becoming anxious or glancing at my watch during these situations, I try to remember to slow down and to share what I was so lucky to learn.

·        Volunteer

My first connection to potential students was made through volunteering. I helped out twice a week at an urban farm for some time and it was fantastic to help nurture plants and assist busy farmers. A number of wonderful connections developed from this time and it all began with selfless service.



©Enid Johnstone
·        Focus on small acts

Selfless service may sometimes seem like a tall order but really it’s not!

We don’t have to make huge sacrifices to include it in our day. Small opportunities occur around us all the time, but the first step is to slow down.

Do you need to be the first person on the grocery line? Can you hold the door for the people coming in? Would you pick up your partners clothes if it was left on the floor? 

I believe the key to Karma Yoga is to remember Ahimsa (compassion or non-violence) and to think, what are the loving acts I can do today?


_____________________________________

Jessica Gale has practiced yoga for nine years and studied Ashtanga, Kripalu and Dharma Yoga during this time. She spent the last three years studying intensely at CNY Yoga (Dharma Yoga) in Syracuse, New York and completed her LOAY 200-Hour Teacher Training at the Dharma Yoga New York Center in May 2012. She is currently completing her internship hours and hopes to achieve full certification soon. Jessica lives in Toronto, Canada.

Dharma Yoga Across the US

Q & A with Dharma Yoga teachers in the US…

This week: 

Gopi Om (Nicole Sopko) in Chicago, Illinois 


Where do you live?

I live in Chicago with my partner Dan, and our rescued dogs. I have an affinity for rescued pit bull type dogs especially since they need loving homes. Though I am not a Chicago native and I grew up outside of Detroit, this city is definitely where my heart is.


Which LOAY trainings have you completed? How did you come to do those trainings?
I lived in Philadelphia when I first heard of Sri Dharma’s teachings from others. I dedicated a day to taking the train up for the noon Master Class and my heart instantly knew that Sri Dharma-ji was the teacher for me. Following many years of self doubt and a move to Chicago, I got on a plane for each of the four sessions of the 500-hour and the intensive 800-hour training. It was a test of dedication, not to Sri Dharma-ji to whom I already felt very dedicated, but to embracing my own worthiness.


The 500-hour training took place in the winter of 2009/2010 and I had several life events take place during that time that would be considered a little catastrophic. These events were the pieces of my life that were not me falling away to make room for the things that are more in line with my goals. Being in Sri Dharma-ji’s presence and the presence of so many other aspiring yogis, I felt at peace with the changes and natural in my surrender to the will of the Divine.


When I heard about the first ever 800-hour training I knew that I could not miss it. My personal life was more stable than it had been during the previous training and as a result my mind was freer to submerse myself in the deep teachings that Sri Dharma-ji was offering. The experience was like nothing else and I still struggle to explain what I’ve taken away, but it has been absolutely life-changing.



What would you say about the people who you met during your trainings? How have they inspired you?
The people I met during the trainings inspire me endlessly! Many people I see infrequently but still feel incredibly close to. I keep up with many of them on Facebook, which is an easy tool for that kind of transmission. 

I am constantly awe-struck by the magnitude of what my fellow Dharma Yoga teachers are accomplishing. Of course, I believe it is all a result of “giving up the fruits.”

What is one practice that you do every day?

I try to offer kindness to myself, to others and to the world. I make mistakes, but I constantly practice being kind. I also practice Psychic Development regularly.



What are you currently working on?
I currently make my living in a variety of ways! I am the Vice President of Upton’s Naturals, an exclusively-vegan natural foods company owned by my partner, Dan. Upton’s primarily makes seitan, a compassionate alternative to meat. We just moved into a new production facility in Chicago that we’ve constructed to house that business and which also incorporates a small vegan café called Upton’s Breakroom

Dan and I both live and work together to operate these businesses, to which we’ve dedicated much of our lives. The new space has been designed from the ground up limited only by our imaginations and more realistically, our budget. It is a beautiful space for our employees, guests, and students to enjoy and I hope it adds something beautiful and of value to the city that we’ve made our home.


I am also regularly teaching yoga. The top floor of the seitan factory has a small by-donation yoga center called Maha Dharma. I also recently became the caretaker/owner of a second yoga center, Yoga Trek Center, in nearby Oak Park, IL. 

Both spaces offer yoga classes as well as host community events. I aim for them to both be multi-use spaces, while still keeping our intention of creating a devotional space for studying the science of yoga.



Why are these projects a priority?
I think that the main purpose of my previous “profession” was to make enough money to afford the 500-hour training and once that was secured, that job fell away naturally. 

For the first time in my life, I feel competent at what I am doing, which I think is a result of my passion for this work. Now, I just want to keep moving forward; offering whatever I have towards making the world a more compassionate place – whether that is by making vegan options more available and maybe more palatable or by offering spiritual teachings. I try to meet every situation in the way that I am most needed.


How has your experience in the Dharma Yoga LOAY program affected your life outside of training?
The experience has helped me tremendously in developing my drive, as well as to eliminate my fears of success and of failure. As long as I am offering up the fruits of this work, I know that whatever I accomplish will not hold me back from the real reason that I am here, the realization of the Supreme Self.



Can you share a little about your current teaching schedule?
I currently teach at Yoga Trek and Maha Dharma each a few times a week, as well as retreats and workshops throughout the year wherever I am drawn.

What books are you currently reading or studying?

I am currently reading Yoga and Yogic Powers by Yogi Gupta and reading it very slowly and deliberately as I try to soak in as much as I can from this text. I also always re-read the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras and attempt to “check it out for myself,” as Dharma-ji advises.

Dharma Yoga Abroad

Q & A with Dharma Yoga Teachers around the World…

 This week: Gail Super in Cape Town, South Africa


By Nicole Sopko


Gail Super is a Dharma Yoga teacher and student who lives in beautiful South Africa. She says, “I am constantly amazed by how deep this practice of yoga is. I lead a really busy life and have many family responsibilities but my daily yoga practice allows me to cope with all of this. I am deeply grateful to Sri Dharma Mittra for his teachings and to the universe for leading me to his classes.”

Where do you live and teach?

I live in Cape Town with my 14 year old daughter, one dog, two kitties, and lots of baby geckos.

I am teaching Dharma I from my home in Vredehoek, Cape Town. I created a beautiful studio in a downstairs room and I teach on a Tuesday evening from 6-7 pm. I plan on adding more classes and also to teach some workshops.

The name of the studio is Dharma Yoga Cape Town. My cats love to join me in my practice in the studio!



Which Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi trainings have you completed? How did you come to do those trainings?

I completed the LOAY 200-hour training. I used to live in NYC and fell in love with Sri Dharma after taking my first class with him on my 40th birthday. I started to attend his noon class every day. Unfortunately, a year later I had to return to South Africa. Doing the teacher training was a way for me to spend more time with Sri Dharma; steeping myself more deeply in the teachings and hopefully spreading his light.

Have the people you met during your training inspired you?

I met the most amazing people in the LOAY training. They have become lifelong friends and they have inspired me to read more of the scriptures and to spread the teachings.

What is one practice that you do every day?

Asana, pyschic development, pranayama and just sitting…every day.



How has your experience in the LOAY program affected your life outside of training?
I started to read more of the scriptures, started to develop a daily practice of psychic development and pranayama and I transitioned to a raw/live food way of life.




Do you have another job?

Yes. I am currently working on my postdoctoral research on punishment in South Africa at the University of Cape Town. My book “Governing through Crime in South Africa, the politics of race and class in neoliberalizing regimes” is about to be published!

What are you currently reading/studying?
I am reading the Yoga Vasisthasa as a well as Martin Amis’ latest book (a novel).

________________________________________________
Nicole Sopko(Gopi Om) is a Dharma Yoga teacher living in Chicago, IL where she teaches Dharma Yoga and operates a nationwide vegan natural food company alongside her (life) partner. She takes great care to be always aware of the ways in which these two responsibilities intersect and spends her time promoting compassion in all forms. She is a dedicated and loving student of Sri Dharma’s and visits New York as frequently as possible to absorb the benefits of his holy teachings in person.

Coming Home

By Barb Cooper

“Welcome home,” I thought as I walked through the door of the Dharma Yoga Center (DYC) to attend the graduation ceremony for the Life of a Yogi teacher training program. “Welcome home.”



©Natasha Phillips

Although I live on Long Island, I hadn’t been back to the DYC since my training ended in early March.  Life as a householder seemed to perpetually intervene as I struggled to complete all of the requirements for graduation while maintaining my own daily practice.  But as soon as I walked through the doors, I felt like a weary traveler coming home after a long time away. The atmosphere of the DYC was exactly as I remembered it – serene and quietly spiritual.  Just being there unties all of the knots I have inside.


Sri Dharma Mittra taught a Master Sadhana at noon, and seemed pleased by the number of graduates who had invited their families to class.  He seemed to delight especially in the children, pausing briefly once or twice to bend a seemingly boneless child into an advanced posture – and then grinning at the rest of us as he acknowledged how effortless it was for her. 



I watched him and reflected on the joy he brings to each encounter.  As a newly minted yoga instructor, I paid close attention to the way he taught, trying to learn from the master.  I saw him do something I have seen him do before and marveled at each time. It is difficult to describe, but it seems to me that he, without any fanfare or fuss, takes in the collective energy of the room  – the various physical ability levels and varying levels of spiritual knowledge – and then he lifts everyone up beyond their own best level. It is astonishing, but goes largely unremarked upon.  People just know that something special is happening in each class taught by Sri Dharma, even if they don’t know quite what it is.


That same spirit was evident as the graduation ceremony began.  First an hour of Satsang and Kirtan, and then Sri Dharma bestowed the certificates on the graduates.



©Natasha Phillips

Afterwards, he spoke with his customary wisdom and humor about the yoga teacher training.  “The teacher training is like a course in self realization because all of the spiritual knowledge – the highest spiritual knowledge – is imparted to you.  And then automatically, even in ten days, everybody will change completely. “  I know this to be true from my own experience.  When I came back from my training, I was surprised people even recognized me – I felt utterly transformed.



©Natasha Phillips

Sri Dharma went on to remind us that the point of the yoga teacher training is to help us help others.  “It is very good to see thousands of new teachers, so that with our thoughts, we can gradually change the world – send peace to the world.  That’s the best contribution to world peace – first the students should find their peace, and then they share with the other students.”


That’s really sums up everything I’ve learned from the teachings of Sri Dharma Mittra, the Life of a Yogi teacher training, and my own yoga practice.  We learn from Sri Dharma, who is much further down the path to enlightenment than we are, and in turn, we pass the knowledge we gain to those coming along behind us.  In the process, we change the world even as we change ourselves.



©Natasha Phillips


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Barb Cooper, 48, is a mother, a well-socialized introvert, a Texas-to-New York transplant, and a writer by nature and training. She considers herself a grateful observer, a recovering perfectionist, and no longer shy. Barb graduated from the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training in June 2013. She is beginning to become the person her pets think she is. Barb@sothethingis.com

Dharma Yoga Across The US

Q & A with Dharma Yoga teachers in the US…

This week: Monica Breen

– Detroit, Michigan  


By Nicole Sopko

Monica Breen is a lovely Dharma Yoga teacher who is also an artist in the Detroit-area. Her yoga studio is called BE NICE Yoga which was named in tribute to Sri Dharma Mittra’s emphasis on the first ethical rule of yoga, Ahimsa, instructing students to “just be nice.”

Where do you live?

I live in Hamtramck, Michigan, which is a little city of only two square miles, surrounded by the city of Detroit. It is probably the most culturally diverse community in Michigan, strongly represented by Polish, Arab, Indian, Yugoslav, Bangladeshi, and African American people. I’m grateful for my community! I live in an old Baptist Church (the former First Baptist Church of Hamtramck) with my husband and two rescued cats.



Which LOAY trainings have you completed? How did you come to do those trainings?
I completed the LOAY 200-hour training in 2005. I was inspired by my immediate connection to Sri Dharma’s teachings, which I felt after I dropped into one of his classes at the old studio on East 23rd Street. I returned to Michigan and continued to think about our meeting and I realized that the LOAY training had the potential to be a unique experience. I was correct!

I really responded to Dharma’s strong emphasis on the spiritual aspects of practice and its intersection with the sciences. In addition, Sri Dharma shares so many great and funny stories and it’s coupled with practical advice! His emphasizes on compassion, especially for animals is important as we enter into the seat of a teacher in our community.



How have the people you met in the training inspired you?
Our group was quite diverse with individuals from many different cities, countries, and backgrounds. I was impressed with the strong yoga asana! I made great strides with my postures by being immersed in the group, and at the same time I was completely humbled.

What is one practice that you do every day?
Seated meditation.

What are you currently working on?

I operate a little yoga studio in Detroit by the name of BE NICE Yoga. As a subsidiary of the studio we launched Project Social which is a program of events and activities which are developed by and for the community. The idea is to allow a space for the community to share and “test” knowledge and life practices which have been discovered or enhanced through the practice of yoga.

I think of Project Social as a lab where the studio community can bring their healthy and unique interests into a larger, social context. An example of a Project Social event is our upcoming Silent Nature Walk which we hope will serve to help us better appreciate nature and to investigate the intersection of ecology and yoga – all while forming stronger social bonds in our community.

Project Social aspires to many outcomes: to create interconnection between our practice and community, to be a platform for political and social exchange, to open a forum for sharing information that relates to health and well-being, and to deepen friendships within and beyond our yoga community. So far the response has been great!



How has your experience in the Dharma Yoga LOAY teacher training program affected your life outside of training?

From the program I learned that a strong and fulfilling lifestyle develops from the rigors and discipline of continued practice. With consistency and determination the division between practice and life all but disappears. Dharma helped me establish a holistic practice that includes a healthy spirituality, which is no less real or important as a healthy body or a healthy mind.

Can you share a little about your current teaching schedule?

I instruct 13 classes a week, mostly asana but include pranayama and meditation in many of my classes. My overriding philosophy is that we must meet our practice with a balance of determination and compassion. We must also be consistent. Practice evolves on a schedule that is very different than anything else we experience in our life and its timeline is much longer than I believe we really understand. I am always surprised along the way at how much I have learned and how little I actually know.



What books are you currently reading or studying?
I was just gifted the book How Yoga Works by Christie McNally and Michael Roach and I’m very excited to read it. And as always, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali…

________________________________________________
Nicole Sopko(Gopi Om) is a Dharma Yoga teacher living in Chicago, IL where she teaches Dharma Yoga and operates a nationwide vegan natural food company alongside her (life) partner. She takes great care to be always aware of the ways in which these two responsibilities intersect and spends her time promoting compassion in all forms. She is a dedicated and loving student of Sri Dharma’s and visits New York as frequently as possible to absorb the benefits of his holy teachings in person.

Ten Tips for New Teachers…

by Jason Zagaro


As you grow as a yoga teacher, you realize there is a lot more happening during a “typical” class than you may have first realized.  



When I first began teaching, my main concerns were: (1) avoiding injuries and (2) timing – how in the world was I going to fill 75 minutes? 

Time is usually something that consumes the mind of a novice teacher  – we think too much and too fast, speak too fast, move too fast…  



Patience is a virtue as a teacher and it gets developed over time. You cannot please everyone in class. Stay true to yourself; be creative but don’t stray too far from your wheelhouse. Eventually your composure, personality, structure and experience will take over as a teacher.  



The following are ten teaching tips that I have discovered over the years of being a yoga instructor:

1. Keep it simple. 
Don’t try and be the best yoga teacher on the planet and remember everything they taught you in your training. If Sanskrit words come naturally and you feel comfortable using them, then do so. Otherwise, work on filling your time and watching the room so people don’t get injured. 



2. Decide what level of preparation is your preferred method. 
Some teachers have no idea what pose is coming next. Some teachers have the class scripted to the T. Some even sequence the entire class set to the music they play. Many teachers just teach on a whim, spontaneously reacting to who is in the room. A good teacher teaches to the level of the room.



 3. Bad music is more of a factor than good music.
If the music is “bad” or inappropriate for a yoga class, it can really dampen or ruin the class. Everybody remembers a teacher who plays awful music and it can even deter the students from going back to that class. My first teacher in college had one CD and for three years he played the same CD in every class. The CD was Krishna Das’ Pilgrim Heart, which was my first introduction to kirtan. I remember my first year training with him and I thought, “This music is awful!” After constantly hearing the same songs over and over, my frame of mind finally adjusted and I began to like the CD. If I hear Pilgrim Heart being played in a yoga studio now, I get flashbacks to that time in my life. Some lineages of yoga don’t have music at all; they want you to work on calming the mind, which means no distractions from your asana class.  



4. Be grateful to your students for coming to class.
I am always grateful to everyone who comes to take my class, even if some don’t follow the code of asana class perfectly. The fact that people would pay their hard earned money, drive to the studio, part from their families or home life for a period of time to listen to what I have to say and be guided by me as a teacher really makes me feel grateful.  



5. Set the guidelines for conduct in your classes.
As teachers, we are trained, and most of us practice, patience and understanding. We understand no one is perfect– including ourselves as yoga teachers! Nonetheless, it is our responsibility to set the code of conduct for the class. Some teachers will tell me about students not acting appropriately and I always ask them if they discussed the problem with the student. Sometimes students are not being disrespectful, it is that they just don’t know the parameters of the class.  It is our job as teachers to educate them.  




6. Encourage Your Students to Practice Away from Class.

As teachers, we have instincts that grow over time. We can usually tell who has a solid home practice.  



 7. Help you students overcome their fears.
If your students have a lot of fears, practicing asana is a great way to work on those fears. As teachers we love to help those who are fearful about poses to overcome that fear. It is a process where we build the courage to take the first step, and then proceed from there.



8. Celebrate when a student achieves a pose.
If someone has been working on a pose and he or she finally gets it in the class, the teacher is just as excited as the student. To work so hard at something and then finally achieve that goal is such a rewarding concept.



 9. Pay some, but not too much, attention to your numbers.
As yoga teachers we care about bringing people to our classes and pleasing the owner of the studio where we are teaching. Numbers are not important in the concept of yoga, but revenue is part of the reality of teaching yoga today.



10. Don’t forget to take a moment to appreciate it all.
In the end, you’ve created a peaceful environment for the students and introduced the beauty of yoga and watched it transform lives. When the class is moving as one, as one heartbeat, and the students are moving in sync, take a moment to stand back and experience the gratitude of being a part of the peaceful unity that is occurring during the class. 

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Jason Zagaro graduated from the 500-Hour Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training in March 2013. He’s been studying Yoga tradition and philosophy for over eighteen years. Yoga has been the most wonderful experience that he has ever come across in his life. He started his training in 1995 with Ashtanga Yoga at the college that he attended, and later began to study and practice various forms of Hatha Yoga, Kripalu Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Integral Yoga and decided to become a certified Sivananda Yoga Teacher. 


Day Six: Flux


The Life of a Yogi
          Another day gone… This morning I could hardly believe it was the beginning of day six, and even though the morning seems like a really long time ago, I’m still having trouble grasping the fact that there are only two days left of the training. It makes me think of what Sri Dharma says about the Supreme Self: “No notions of time…” and all of that. But then again, I’m pretty sure the fact that I have no notion of time right now is more related to exhaustion than enlightenment.
          I was really tired this morning for some reason – not too sore or anything, just a general fatigue. I was a little agitated at myself, because I had really wanted to be totally alert for pranayama/dhyana and discourse with Sri Dharma (this is only the third time we’ve had him for discourse this module, so I wanted to absorb as much as possible). Even though I was tired most of the morning, I stopped being so serious and agitated at myself once Baxter started barking at Sri Dharma while he was demonstrating lion pose; it was hilarious and SO adorable.
          We had another small group teaching session after discourse (the last one of those is tomorrow, and I’ll be teaching), followed by Master Sadhana – with Yoshio today. Both of those were really fun; Yoshio’s class is just so full of love, and I’m a big fan of his sequencing and general style.
          After lunch we had a lecture with Eric on yogic scripture, which was really interesting. I started becoming more fascinated with scripture while I was reading the Atmabodha in between modules, so I appreciated the clarification he offered on some subjects, and his recommendations for further reading. I already have a bunch of books about yoga at home, and I feel like all I’m going to want to do once I go home is sit in my room and read!
          Then we had a session with Andrew regarding teaching Dharma Raja Yoga Basics, which is a course that concerns itself with the last three limbs of yoga – dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. It was cool to have a structural outline for teaching a class without asana, because that’s something I’m really interested in doing in the near future. We had Andrew for the rest of the evening as well – Maha Shakti and Yoga Nidra. The Maha Shakti was really nice; I ended up practicing near most of my small group members, so I felt really safe and supported throughout the class. That’s been one of the coolest things about this program – developing relationships with my group and a lot of the other trainees as well. I think that’s one of the things that feels different this module, actually: we are all just really comfortable with each other now, so it feels like home even more so than last time.
          Unfortunately I fell asleep during Yoga Nidra. I was CONVINCED that I wouldn’t, because I had stayed awake through the savasana at the end of Maha Shakti… But then I made the mistake of letting my attention wander just a little bit at one point, and I was so tired today that that was all it took… I was asleep before I even knew it. Oh well, I’ll have another chance at it tomorrow with Sri Dharma!
          Tonight I think it’s going to be straight to bed – there’s not enough time left to waste any of it being tired!
~Danielle

Day Five: Clarity


The Life of a Yogi
          Nothing like a little kirtan to get you energetically charged for the last three days of teacher training. I think the actual kirtan session was a little shorter this module, but it was so vibrant that it totally didn’t matter. I’m buzzing, as I’ve become accustomed to feeling after chanting in such an awesome group of people.
          Today we started with sun salutations, pranayama, and dhyana with Andrew (who was my mentor last module, and whom I greatly miss this time around). I really appreciated the whole morning – his instructions were so clear, using just enough words and always taking his time. That’s something that I have trouble with in my everyday life: remembering to take my time with things. I realized this morning that starting to just change thatmight help me become more mindful and compassionate, and really live the teachings.
          Then we had the review of the Dharma III series with Sri Dharma himself (most of the pictures below are from that – Yoshio and Melissa demonstrated for all of us beautifully). That session ran almost an hour overtime, but I don’t think anybody was upset by this; Sri Dharma showed us so many fun (sometimes crazy) variations for use in our personal practices that I kind of felt like a little kid at Christmas.
          We had a short session of chanting with Adam (stellar), followed by Master Sadhana – the last one with Sri Dharma for this training. I found it less challenging than yesterday’s practice, but the noon class is never really easy… It almost gets harder as your practice progresses, because to do all the advanced variations that Sri Dharma offers is just completely exhausting (I don’t even do all of them yet and I have a hard time tackling that practice some days). Anyway, it was a beautiful practice, and savasana was glorious.
          After lunch we finished up with assisting and adjusting, which is sort of a hard session, but not in the way you might expect. It’s difficult because all the trainees are so good at all the asanas, it’s hard for any of them to act like beginners, or do the poses badly on purpose (so that the person “teaching” actually has something to adjust). I guess that’s why we have the internship process where we have to practice teaching – because the actual situation of teaching a room full of people who are unfamiliar with the series is impossible to imitate in these modules.
          We had another small group teaching session, followed by Maha Shakti with Adam, which were both great. I really love all my small group members, and it’s been super cool to see how they’ve progressed since the last module. Adam’s class was pretty challenging, but by the evenings I just get to the point where I’m too exhausted for it to make a difference whether it’s hard or easy. The best I can do by the night practice is to try and stay present.
          Although I still adore asana, I feel like I’m finallystarting to connect with the other limbs as well, which is a really awesome step for me! Everything is just sort of coming together, and I’m starting to discover a lot about myself, particularly the nature of my ego and the habits of my mind. But at the same time, I’m starting to be more compassionate towards myself too, instead of berating myself for things that are beyond my control (like my mind wandering away in meditation). It’s a cool thing to witness… And also to begin discovering my Self as the eternal witness.
~Danielle

Yoshio & Melissa demo for Sri Dharma.
Just before the kirtan…