Hatha Yoga is essentially a self-practice, so as teachers, we are being most direct and to the point when we create opportunities in our classes for students to explore for themselves and experience self-connection and direction. This means getting them to make their own decisions about such things as how long to stay in a pose, how to respond to non-specific movement queues, such as "move your spine like a snake" or invitations to "make the movement your own, it doesn't matter if it looks the same or different as anyone else". We could even let them to know that the standard alignment for poses which is usually recited by teachers is just a template and that the ease, stability, concentration, & relaxation in a pose trumps specific alignments. Trumps, get it? I don't either but man, the US election is everywhere I look on the internet these days!
One of my favorite ways to set up this kind of learning experience is to lead a vinyasa sequence of about 3-5 poses. Here's a pretty standard one many teachers use.
Here's what to do...
1. If necessary demonstrate or explain the sequence step by step first, or lead the sequence slowly with key points of each pose in as few words as possible.
2. Lead the class through the sequence as vinyasa 3-5 times, conveying rhythm in the flow by the pace and rhythm of your cues and breathing in and out of each pose.
...Exhale, step forward
Inhale, Warrior I
Exhale, Warrior II
Inhale, Reverse Warrior (not shown, from Warrior II back hand down to the leg, other arm up)
Exhale, Side Angle
Inhale, Hands Down
Exhale, Step back to Plank & Down to Chaturanga
3. Repeat the sequence, now holding each position 3-5 breaths. Give additional cues and adjustments now and any insightful commentary relevant to what is being practiced(external or internal!) but as usual, use as few words as possible.
4. Now instruct the students to repeat the sequence on their own, with no queues. Tell them to relax more in each pose and breath deeply for as long as they feel able. Tell them when they are done to rest in Child's Pose, or Mountain Pose, or other asana depending on the direction you want to take. Tell them to focus on the sensations within.
In this format, any sequence of Asana can become a powerful entry into a flow state of concentration for the student, even if they walked into your class and had never performed a single yoga pose or that sequence. And, by the last round of practicing this sequence, they would be doing it completely on their own. Also, you will neatly have an opportunity to invest more into observing your students' practice since you don't need to talk or think about what to say, and as everyone knows...theres something magic about action in silence.
Teaching Yoga for inmates has been shown to drastically reduce rates of reincarceration all over the world.
Most people turn to criminal acts or violence and even drug addiction a recent study shows, because of only one reason. Disconnection. They were unsupported in some way, treated badly, or felt lack in fulfillment of their basic human needs. It's an easy response to such conditions to shut down emotionally, to protect from further emotional suffering. However...this numbing of our heart's compass leads people to be able to commit unfortunate deeds with little or no remose, complicating their karma, and further isolating themselves from support networks.
It's sad too, but in many modern countries the prison system is also a mutli billion dollar industry, in which large corporations influence the political and legislation system, push laws that make it easier to detain or imprison people for more and more things which means they can build more and more prisons. Inmates are also employed for the pathetic wage of nearly 1-4$ per day which means more big profits for the industry selling their work even to companies like Starbucks, Boeing, and Victoria's Secret. See how much nonsense we stop supporting when we buy small industry, locally crafted products? This practice is also a threat to other established and emmerging industries where people could lose their jobs as they go to the cheaper labor of prison inmates.
Yoga has had such great effect to keep people out of prison because it reconnects them to themselves. Our emotional and physical bodies are very connected, and when one starts to move the body through the challenges of practices, we ellicit emotional responses... but we do it without the external trigger which cause those emotions. By persistent practice, we gain understanding and mastery over those situations which caused the emotions and are able to direct our lives with compassion and empathy. All people are our brothers and sisters and where and when we can, we should provide them the connection that heals old hurts and brings a brighter future.
When I have time I go to teach AcroYoga to the inmates on Koh Samui. I have to teach in my limited Thai language and we get by! A few other of my friends who teach have also been and many of the students there have really taken to the practice. AcroYoga is especially amazing because it brings even more that element of human connection that gives the human spirit strength.
George is the founder of Sajeeva Yoga School, and a practitioner and teacher on the journey of exploring life, truth, purpose, and
Yoga technique, Yoga in Asia, Yoga Workshops, Teaching Methods, Asana Alignment, Yoga Tips, Breathing, awareness, mindfulness, spiritual journey, yoga lifestyle,