Teaching Yoga & Kundalini Yoga Class
Yoga Teacher’s Guide
(Please note this is now a combined document for easy reference, and part 3 has been appended below parts 1 & 2).
(If you are interested in becoming a yoga instructor you can check out my popular and affordable Online Yoga Teacher Certification Course).
My good friend and author of the great Yoga Blog PranaFlowNZ, Kara-Leah Grant, dropped me a note the other day with a suggestion that I give some pointers on how to teach the yoga techniques and meditations that I publish here on Mastery of Meditation & Yoga. I thought this was a great idea, and so would like to kick off this new topic with a discussion of how to teach a great yoga class in general first. Also, going forward I will include teaching tips for the exercises and meditations as well that make up the free yoga & meditation e-books and videos.
I obviously love to teach, which is luckily also the Universe’s plan for me and is what I was born to do according to my numerological reading, and if through this website I can help others to become great yoga and meditation teachers as well, it would just be icing on the cake .
For those who have not taken a live Kundalini Yoga class, I strongly suggest you to try one. It is quite a blast. Here is an article with my thoughts regarding the Benefits of Group Yoga Practice.
What I will present below is the sequence and details that I have found to work best in teaching a yoga class. The instructions are specifically for a Kundalini Yoga class, but they certainly apply to any other type of yoga class as well.
Typically a single class can be broken down into 3 phases. I will call them, Orientation, Warm-up and finally The Work. Below is how these come together to form a great class and a great, transforming experience for the students. In this article I will cover the Orientation phase, and in the next part will cover the other 2 phases.
One final note before I jump ahead, is that this is also a great sequence for you to follow for your own personal yoga practice.
Teaching a Yoga Class Phase 1 – Orientation:
- Get the students settled in.
- Ensure the spacing is correct for safety and comfort.
- Get their mind and awareness into the here and now.
- Introduce/Accomplish some silent meditation.
- Give a short overview of the yoga style, class structure and planned yoga set.
- Give important practice instructions to the newbies.
Yup, in every class I try to cover the above, unless there are no new students there. If all the students are veteran yogis, then you can skip items 5 & 6. To tell you the truth, such classes are sometimes more fun for the teacher, because it means the intensity can be turned up a notch and more challenging techniques can be practiced. Here now are details of each of the items above.
Items 1, 2, 3 & 4 Above:
As the students file into the class, I make sure the early ones move up and near to where I sit, as for some reason students always tend to keep more of a distance from the teacher than they need to. I don’t like to feel lonely sitting all by my lonesome at the head of the class . This is of course so that the late comes, and there always are some and you know who are , can join in towards the back.
I am also making sure during this time that spacing is good between students, which generally means that they should be able to spread both arms out to their sides without hitting anyone. In addition, I am usually pointing out cushions, mats, water, etc to newcomers as well. Shortly I announce the start of the class, and immediately get everyone to start long deep breathing.
After few long deep breaths, I give instructions to start breath awareness meditation (posture, technique, etc). I find the long deep breathing initially gets everyone to relax and awaken, and the breath awareness meditation (essentially Zazen – Zen Meditation Technique) gets everyone’s mind into the present, where all the work is going to get done. I will vary the demands of this meditation from time to time, depending on the expertise of the students present.
During this time of Zazen, the last few students generally arrive and I move onto items 5 & 6 next.
Now I give a short overview of Kundalini Yoga, what it entails and how it works. This is for the new comers, thus the veteran yogis can just tune me out and continue to work on their meditation. Specifically here I mention the mechanisms Kundalini Yoga uses to work it’s magic and also, some details of how this all helps to rejuvenate and heal the body/mind complex. You can get details on this information in the Introduction to Kundalini Yoga article.
In addition, I let the students know what the class structure is going to be exactly. I find this helps put them to ease and helps them know how the class is going to flow. I also here let them know which particular aspect of their being we are going to focus on today (the theme of the Yoga Set), as I always find sharing this information to be very motivating and encouraging to them. My class structure is generally the following…
- Meditation and orientation period.
- Tuning in to their Higher Self and the Universal Energy.
- Breathing exercises (pranayamas) to get their energy going.
- Main Yoga Set.
This part is perhaps the most important aspect of the orientation and here I now give the key guidelines I want the students to follow. Essentially the following points are covered here.
- I tell them, I will demonstrate first the pose or exercise, which after observing they do with their eyes closed.
- All breathing is done through the nose, unless otherwise instructed.
- Use the modifications for tough exercises.
- To not overdo, be careful with injuries and work around them whenever possible.
- To not compete and not worry about how anyone else is doing.
- Throughout the class to do the practice will full awareness.
Here are 2 articles that cover these and other important yoga guidelines: 10 Important Guidelines for Kundalini Yoga Practice & Essential Beginner’s Guide to Yoga Practice.
In the next part of this series I will cover the Warm-up and Work phase of teaching a fantastic yoga class.
Warming up for a Yoga Class (Part 2)
Yoga Tips for Teachers
In part 1 of the series, How to Teach a Fantastic Yoga Class, I explained that there are typically three sections to a Yoga Class. These I called, Orientation, Warm-up and the Work. In part 1 I also went over the orientation section and discussed what items one should cover in that section. In part 2 here I will cover the Warm-up phase, which when well put together, goes a long way in helping make the class a terrific experience for the students.
Phase 2: Warm-up
Don’t ever underestimate the importance of the warm-up phase. Also, don’t underestimate the benefits it bestows. A well planned warm-up, will not just help the students get the most out of the set you are planning to teach, but in and of itself will cover many areas that should be worked on a daily basis. These two points are what I take into account whenever I am designing the warm-up phase. In addition, you should also start a class by helping the students tune in to their Higher Self and the Universal Mind, to get protection, guidance and inspiration.
Here are the objectives you should shoot for with the warm-up section:
1. Tune in to your Higher Self / Universal Mind.
2. Get the students energy going.
3. Cover the must do everyday yoga stretches and exercises if possible.
4. Prepare the student’s body for the final yoga set, so they can get maximum benefit from it.
1: Tuning In
Always start a class with tuning in. Yoga is not just a physical science. It is a spiritual science and without spirit, you may as well be doing aerobics or something. In yoga, whether you have been explained it or not, you are dealing with cosmic energies, you are dealing with Kundalini & Prana. Such energies should be approached with respect, and the purpose of tuning in is ask your Higher Self and the Universe for Protection, Guidance and Inspiration. This ensures the energies do not harm you, you are guided correctly and you are provided ample inspiration to see the journey all the way back to the Source.
This tuning in you should also do prior to doing your personal yoga practice as well. There are many ways to tune in and accomplish the above. Silent prayer, AUM mantra chanting or the beautiful Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo mantra that we use in Kundalini Yoga. You can see an actual demonstration of this tuning in in the following video article: AUM Mantra Video for Starting Yoga Class.
Also, for teachers who teach classes in club and gym settings. I have myself taught in such environments and have had no problems in including this tuning in phase in those classes as well. So don’t shy away from it simply because you think the students will be turned off. Do it with confidence, and they will embrace this aspect of the class wholeheartedly.
2: Energize the Students:
After the meditation period and tuning in phase the students are calm, peaceful and relaxed… really they are tooooo calm, peaceful and relaxed , so it’s time to fire up their systems to get their energy flowing and get them going. So hit them with some powerful vitalizing pranayamas here. Here are some suggestions.
3-4. Daily Essentials & Essential Warm-ups:
Here I make sure I cover as much of the daily essential work as recommended by yoga as I can. I almost always make sure we do Butterfly Pose, which is great to start off with and we also do Forward Bend, to stretch the all important life nerve. One tip is to do these 2 poses before the breathing exercises so that the students, who have by then been sitting with legs crossed for some time, get a chance to stretch their legs. In addition, you can do these 2 exercises with Breath of Fire (or Long Deep Breathing) so you accomplish the task of firing up their energy as well.
Next in the warm-up section I will do the all important Spinal Warm-up Series. This is not just great for getting their back, hips, neck, shoulders, etc warmed up, but this set heats up the cerebro-spinal fluid which runs through the spinal cord. This is key, as it maximizes the benefit of the yoga set you plan to do later, as through the spinal cord run the main energetic channels which carry kundalini and prana up and down the primary energy centers (chakras). For some more details of how this works you can read the article Introduction to Kundalini Yoga.
One addition note, is that if your yoga set is not going to do any abdominal work, then include some navel, third chakra work in this section as well. This is also an area which one must work on each day. Here are 2 sets from which you can get some good abdominal exercises to use.
In the final part of the series I will go over the Work phase of teaching a yoga class. If you are a yoga teacher and would like to share any of your warm-up tips, please feel free to do so in the comments section below.
How to Teach a Yoga Class (Part 3)
Tips for Yoga Teachers
If you have followed the steps laid out above in parts 1 and 2, your class should be going really great already. The students should feel very comfortable, be well warmed up and should get the sense that they are in the hands of an experienced Yoga Master. Now it is time to do the more intense yoga exercises which makes up the core of the class. This is the section which I call The Work. This is phase 3 of your yoga class.
Phase 3 – The Work:
In this phase of the class you are going to do the set which you indicated to them in the Orientation phase. It is the set which you are building up to and it should be a set which has a particular theme or purpose. In Kundalini Yoga such sets are called Kriyas, and there are Kriyas designed for a very wide range of purposes. From working on a particular body system, such as the digestive system, to working on a particular trait, such as confidence, to dealing with certain conditions, such as insomnia, to working on a particular body of light, such as the Aura, etc, etc, etc. You will find some excellent kriyas in the Free Online Kundalini Yoga Kriyas E-book, but there are many more you should be familiar with already if you are a Kundalini Yoga teacher.
Objectives for Phase 3 of Your Class:
1. Give all students an appropriate workout
2. Ensure they are safe
3. Have period of relaxation
4. Ending prayers
5. Question & answer period
1-2. Give the Students a Safe Workout:
Kriyas come in all level of difficulties, but generally your class will have students with mixed levels of capability, so it is really important to have modifications for the difficult exercises in mind. This ensures that all students will be able to participate in the poses and exercises for that particular set, and that all students will get a workout relative to their level of expertise and capacity.
Also, during the set the following statements I find to be helpful:
- Don’t forget to remind them to not overdo it
- For motivation, remind them that the chance to do yoga and such spiritual practice is a rare opportunity.
- For motivation, remind them of the value of each exercise and how it is helping their body and systems.
- For motivation, tell them not to give in to their constantly complaining mind.
- For motivation, tell them to go a little further than they have gone before.
3. Relaxation Period:
After their set (which should be the end of the physical aspect of you class), a relaxation period is a must. Have them do Corpse Pose for Relaxation now, and see the details for how to instruct them for that in that article. This relaxation period is a must to maximize the benefits of all the hard work your students have done, so plan your time accordingly.
4. Ending Prayers:
At the very end of class, after the students have risen from their relaxation period, it is an ideal time for a few important prayers. Here are the 3 prayers I do at the end of every class.
To pray with power and focus, so the thoughts manifest in reality, have them inhale deeply hold their breath and then prayer/visualize. So before each of these prayers below, have them inhale, hold their breath, focus their mind and then do the prayer. Then exhale and move on to the next prayer.
- Visualize you and your life exactly as you want it to be.
- Send out a healing prayer to someone who you know needs it.
- Pray for peace and love on Mother Earth, and peace and love in everyone’s heart.
5. Question / Answer Time:
Since a Kundalini Yoga class has a certain rhythm and flow, I request the students to ask their questions at the end of class. As long as you are very clear in your instructions, have followed the guidelines laid out above and do good demonstrations before the poses and exercises, this works very well. So at the end of class, relax, sit back and allow the students who want to ask questions to do so, other students can stay for this period, or leave if they want to.
So there you have a very detailed and comprehensive guide on how to teach a yoga class. Hope all you teacher out there, who are doing this noble profession, find it useful and hope it helps make your yoga class a fantastic and transforming experience for your students.
Namaste & Sat Nam