I used to be scared of teaching meditation in my yoga classes. Here’s why:
- I thought my students would get bored and not come back
- I thought I shouldn’t teach meditation when my own practice was so patchy
- I didn’t know what techniques to teach the mixed level classes I was teaching
When I talked to other yoga teachers about it, I discovered I wasn’t the only one who wanted to teach meditation but didn’t know how to start. I learned from these conversations that teaching meditation is a real challenge for those of us who feel inauthentic teaching something that we haven’t already ‘perfected’ for ourselves.
Since then, I’ve offered yoga and meditation teacher training to over 500 yoga teachers and I STILL haven’t perfected my own meditation practice. So what shifted?
Firstly, I spoke to my mentor who explained that I didn’t need to be an enlightened master to teach meditation. She also told me I owed it to my students to teach them whatever meditation skills I could. Teaching yoga without offering meditation is just short-changing students whose lives could be transformed by it.
She was right. If you’re not sharing meditation with your students, you’re doing them a great disservice. That doesn’t mean you have to make them all sit like statues and contemplate their navels for hours on end. But you could be making a huge difference to their wellbeing by offering them some simple meditation tools to help them manage stress and be more productive.
The second thing that shifted was my fear. Once I believed that my students really NEEDED the meditation practices I could teach them, the fear dropped away. It stopped being about me and whether they would react negatively to my teaching. Instead, I became focused on the students and what would serve them best.
I tackled my fear of boring my students by starting with some active meditations - walking, moving and making sound. Teaching active meditations also tackled the question of how to teach meditation to mixed level classes. Offering simple moving meditations and short guided practices allowed me to support students of all levels.
So that’s what I did. I reduced the asana component of my classes by 7 or 8 minutes and added in some moving meditations - You can see an example of one of my simple moving meditations in the video below.
Once I felt confident with the moving meditations, I moved on to guided meditations. These started out as quite elaborate and detailed (“imagine your walking in a beautiful garden and you can see birds, flowers trees etc.”) and became progressively more simple as I started to trust that my students would engage with a few minutes of quiet concentration (you can hear an example of a simple guided meditation I taught here).
So how did my students react? Most of them loved it. Some didn’t. That’s ok. You can never be all things to all people. You also cannot teach exactly the same thing for your whole career in the hope that your students will stick with you.
As your own practice and understanding of yoga matures, so will your teaching. For me, that meant incorporating meditation into my teaching. The students who didn’t want to do that went elsewhere. But, as it turned out, more students wanted in their practice than I had imagined.
Eventually, I was teaching a minimum of ten minutes meditation in all of my classes and, due to student demand, I set up separate 30 minute meditation classes. These special classes included a small amount of gentle movement and pranayama (breathing exercises) to prepare students for meditation plus a longer meditation practice. They were super popular.
As a yoga therapist and yoga teacher trainer, I believe passionately in the power of meditation. Not every student is ready to meditate, and not all meditations are appropriate for all students, but meditation is an important aspect of yoga. If we don’t offer our students the opportunity to learn meditation, we’re holding back something really precious.
Free meditation cheat sheet for yoga teachers!
Nikola Ellis is the founder of Adore Yoga, yoga therapist, counsellor and teacher trainer. She conducts regular trainings that help people of all ages, shapes and abilities enjoy the benefits of yoga and meditation, including Meditation Facilitator Certificate Trainings; Level 1 200hr Teacher Training and Post Graduate Yoga Teacher Training in Mental Health, Adaptive Asana and the Foundations of Yoga Therapy and a highly regarded professional 650hr Graduate Certificate of Yoga Therapy.