Several years ago, I had an experience that changed my teaching for good. I had been teaching yoga for about three years when one day, I arrived to teach my class and realized I had left my lesson plan at home.
As a recovering type-A personality, I always had a well thought-out sequence and a cleverly crafted class theme printed off ready for each class. So needless to say, showing up ‘unprepared’ to teach my class caused a small amount of panic. My mind raced, hands sweaty, my breath shallow and rapid, I was in panic mode.
I sat down, closed my eyes, and took a few deep breaths to steady myself and focus. I reminded myself that I became a yoga teacher to help heal the world. I hoped to create more peace one student at a time, so they could go out and spread that peace to their world. As long as I could guide them from that place and with intention, how could it go wrong?
I opened my eyes and decided to take requests for the class. I did an opening circle and asked my students to let me know if there were any tight or sore spots that needed extra love that day. As my students shared openly, an unfamiliar calm washed over me. It was like the wiser part of myself had taken over. I was no longer nervous, and I knew everything was going to be fine.
I gave myself permission to teach from my heart instead of my head. The sequence flowed together with little effort or thought and it was beautiful. After class, something unusual happened. My students were extra grateful, and one by one told me it was the “best class ever.”
According to heartmath.org, “In the new field of neurocardiology, for example, scientists have discovered that the heart possesses its own intrinsic nervous system—a network of nerves so functionally sophisticated as to earn the description of a ‘heart brain.’ Containing over 40,000 neurons, this ‘little brain’ gives the heart the ability to independently sense, process information, make decisions, and even to demonstrate a type of learning and memory. In essence, it appears that the heart is truly an intelligent system.”
So it seems that heart-centred teaching may be the most intelligent choice, after all! I thought I was teaching unprepared because I’d forgotten my class plan, but in truth, I just needed to drop into the inner teacher that was already within me.
Ever since that day, my inner teacher shows up in other ways while teaching. Sometimes, I will have an intuitive spark that I should share something of my own life experience off the mat, some big picture lessons gleaned from my own life (and hard knocks). Whenever I give myself permission to share those insights, it always hits home for my students and is “just what they needed to hear.”
The opening check-ins with my students is now a standard practice. Although I have many go-to themes I can work with, I rarely create a firm lesson plan.
As long as I was attached to my lesson plan, I couldn’t truly be open to the subtle messages that were there all along. It wasn’t until I got out of my head, surrendered my plans, dropped into my heart, and allowed my teaching to come from a place of service that I truly learned to teach.
If you are a teacher who wants to teach more intuitively, here are some ideas to get you started:
- Build your intuitive muscles: This starts with your own practice. Before you jump on your yoga mat and start doing your practice, pause, sit down, fold your hands over your heart, and drop in. Ask your heart of hearts, “what do I need from my practice today?” and allow those answers to be your guide.
- Spend time alone with others: Go out on your own to a place where there are a lot of people, like a coffee shop or a farmers market. Close your eyes and see if you can sense the energy around you. Then when you open your eyes, write down anything you felt or sensed. It doesn’t need to be clear or make sense yet; you are just practicing listening and feeling.
- Take it slow: Ask for requests; keep your lesson plan but allow some extra free time for unplanned movements. Then at the start of the class, ask your students if there are any sore or tight spots that they want to focus on. Use that extra class time to address those.
- Allow yourself to be perfectly imperfect: If you’re like me and are a recovering type-A personality or a perfectionist, then just assume right now that ‘mistakes’ will happen. Without the security of your lesson plan, you might fumble your words and your transitions might not be totally smooth. That’s ok! When they happen, make light of them. You are human, your students want your presence, not your perfection.
- Teaching this way may take time to feel comfortable. Like any new skill or mindset, it will take practice for it to feel natural.
Nowadays, I end all my classes asking my students to “Bow your head in humility to the wisdom within your own heart,” which serves as a reminder both to my students as well as myself.
By learning to drop into the intelligent wisdom within my own heart, it has brought out the healer in me. When I teach from this place of intuition and service, amazing things happen.