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Cultivating a Teachers Practice

Originally Published Jan 8, 2021

One of the best things about the first teacher training I took was its emphasis on a personal, or home practice. It was something that I had already developed, mostly due to the financial constraints of being a young dancer in New York City. I had the funds for a gym membership, and— at most— one yoga class a week. Keep in mind that this was twenty-one (gulp) years ago, so there was no Instagram or YouTube. But I did have a Kundalini VHS tape and a Rodney Yee DVD that I did until a scratch forever froze him in Warrior 2.

Five years later I was in a teacher training that prioritized showing up to your practice no matter what, even when you did not want to. That’s solid and sound advice for building a practice of anything or changing a habit. Being successful in any endeavor means that you must develop some willingness to surrender to the ups and down that come with reality. Practice isn’t perfect. And a tenant of the brand was to 'teach your practice', so the expectation was that what you taught in class was what you did on your mat that day.

Ultimately, this meant that most of my “practice” was choreographing what I was going to teach. For many years I taught a style that was known for its creative sequencing, and as a dancer this was both appealing and satisfying. I don’t want to or mean to diminish that experience or that style, but the reality was, that on top of an already grueling and demanding schedule I was trying to squeeze in more grueling and demanding practices. It was unsustainable, and as you can imagine, I was injured -- a lot.

This lead me to seek out other disciplines and methods of yoga, including Katonah Yoga®, which is the most prominent in my teaching today. If I were to sum up the theory in a few words I would say it is a practice of context. Nothing is arbitrary, everything is useful and the way you do one thing is the way you do everything. The latter takes the onus off having to overplan and prepare your classes and also gives you the freedom to utilize your practice for your personal needs.

You don’t need to do everything, or mark everything you teach. Spend time on what is useful to you, which includes exploring our blind spots. Afterall, if we teach that yoga is a transformative practice that one can use, then we should set aside time to actually test it out and use it.

So what should we practice? Here are some useful things to keep in mind when thinking about and setting up a home practice that compliments a teacher’s busy life:

  • Set aside 5 minutes to start. If you have more time great, but try not to make your practice so precious and daunting that you won’t do it.

  • Consider your energy reserves. If you have grueling physical demands in life (who doesn’t), maybe allow yourself to use this time for a restoratives or pranayama.

  • Consider other circumstances of your life, like the time of day or the season. For instance if you are practicing at night, it’s probably not a time for big back bends. If you are practicing in the morning, do things that help you get up and go. If it’s winter, prioritize grounding work and rest.

  • Home practice is different than group practice so maybe save the warriors and the like for when you are playing with others and keep your alone time centered on the more interior work. This is your time to tune your instrument. When you are teaching you are leading an orchestra.

  • The work you do on your mat will seep into your classes, so try not to worry about having to sequence or plan everything. For example, the insights you have in a hip-opening sequence will carry over to the standing work you teach

Want to dive deeper into this work?…

The first week in my Form.Function. Flow. 15-hour course is devoted to exploring Katonah Yoga® theory and developing a home practice. Stay tuned for next dates!

Also, check out my teacher, Abbie Galvin’s Home Practice Book

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