Looser hamstrings. Less back pain. A yoga butt. Many students come to the mat for the myriad physical benefits of the asana practice, but yoga can be so much more than down dog. The eight-limbed system codified by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras more than 2,000 years ago describes a spiritual discipline that leads to greater awareness and provides guidance on how to cultivate joy and lead a healthy, happy, fulfilling life. And we as teachers and studio owners have an opportunity to introduce students to the broader philosophy of the practice, expand their understanding of what yoga can be and help them take their practice off the mat. Here are several ways to do that:
Encourage teachers to give a dharma talk at the start of class that connects yoga philosophy with things that are actually happening in the community. This both introduces yoga philosophy and makes it personal and tangible to their lives.
When teaching a pranayama or meditation technique in class, connect it to some off-the-mat benefit. For example, let them know a particular breathing exercise helps relieve stress or a mudra restores balance between the two sides of the brain. Connecting the practices to the results re-enforces the idea that yoga is more than asana and gives them practical tools to use off the mat.
Offer workshops and special classes on the broader yoga topics. If students are shy or hesitant about philosophy, be creative about how you frame it. For example, a Yoga for Stress Relief workshop could incorporate a talk on the kleshas and the underlying causes of our stress, soothing pranayama techniques, and restorative yoga postures.
Many students may not be aware of the abundance of yoga, meditation and philosophy books available. Creating a reading list to share on the studio’s website, Facebook or in the studio lobby is one way to share those resources. Or build a free library to physically share some of your favorites and discover some of your students’ as well.
Create a yoga book club where students read a chosen book and meet to discuss it. This is both an opportunity to introduce students to the many books available and a way to cultivate community off the mat.
Highlight yoga podcasts, meditation apps, interesting news articles and other resources in the studio’s newsletter or on social media.
Create a student advisory board. This can help studios and teachers understand what issues students are facing and what needs they have on and off the mat.
Get involved with the broader community so you understand what the issues are, what options are available and what offerings might be missing.
Stay ahead of your students. Continue to study, investigate and practice.
Kelly DiNardo and Amy Pearce-Hayden are the authors of “Living the Sutras: A Guide to Yoga Wisdom Beyond the Mat,” a book focused on making ancient yoga philosophy as approachable and accessible as the physical practice is today. They are also the hosts of the Living It podcast, now in its second season, where they interview yoga teachers, meditation experts, wellness pros, and creative thinkers to offer listeners inspiration and down-to-earth tools to live with intention and joy. Learn more at livingitpodcast.com.