Gillian Buckley Yoga & Wellness
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How My Yoga Teaching Changed in 2020

It’s natural that an instructor’s teaching and practice change over the course of their career. And while there’s a lot of negative things that can be said about 2020, the turmoil of the last twelve months has led to what I feel is exponential growth in my teaching and in my yoga practice. I feel so good about the type of teacher that I’m becoming. Here are some of the changes that I’ve noticed this year.

1. Hands-On Adjustments

January 2020  Performed hands-on adjustments (with permission) because that’s how I like(d) to practice. I was pretty heavy with the massage during restorative poses and savasana.

December 2020  Leaving aside the fact that I’m currently not allowed to leave my mat during classes, I’m not sure I will ever go back to giving hands-on adjustments in drop-in classes. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and learning about the power dynamics in yoga classes. Some students may not feel safe to say no to hands-on adjustments or massage. The PTSD and trauma that will be left over from this pandemic makes me feel uncomfortable with the idea of touching students in class, with or without permission. Obviously, when a workshop explicitly says it has hands-on I will do adjustments. (I can’t wait to resume my restorative workshops with Thai massage as soon as I can.)

2. Creating Space For and Actively Welcoming BIPOC and LGBT Students

January 2020  I relied a lot on the idea that “all are welcome” and felt that if a student didn’t walk through the doors of a studio space that it was their choice.

December 2020  I’ve been doing a lot of learning about how the language that we use, the images that we show, even the music that we play during classes, might make people feel excluded. I’ve started using my pronouns. I’m focusing on including more diversity in my marketing images and encouraging the places where I teach to do the same. Mostly I’m learning about the gaps in my own knowledge from teachers outside of the white, female, straight mold and putting myself into situations where I am in the minority. It’s been heavy work, but work that’s been needed for a very long time.

3. Cueing

January 2020  Gave specific instructions on where the body should be in space. There was a lot of focus on how the body looked in a pose. Sometimes I would adjust bodies, either physically or verbally, to “fit” the pose.

December 2020  Now that I’m not in the same space as many of my students or can’t get close to them, I’ve shifted my cueing away from how a pose should LOOK to how a pose should FEEL. Often I’ll ask where students feel the stretch. I like to encourage students to move intuitively during class. Insisting that I know what will feel best in someone else’s body seems almost ludicrous now. 

4. Music

January 2020  I loved my playlists. They were a mix of traditional “yoga” music, along with pop and indie hits. Sometimes the unexpected oldie. I would plan my playlists to “pick up” when the class would become more active. They would slow down when we would do gentle stretching. They were timed so I never needed to look at a clock when I taught.

December 2020  Pop music feels like a distraction. In March when we shifted to online classes and could no longer play music, the silence was deafening. I hated not being able to walk around students in a class, nodding my head to the music. But now that we’ve been back in-studio, I’m having a lot of trouble with pop music. It feels like one more unwelcome stream in a brain with not enough bandwidth. I’ve been playing my playlists here and there, but I feel like I can focus more on the students when there is soft spa music or classical piano in the background.

The 2020 that I thought I would have was very different from the 2020 that I had (and it’s not over yet). It has been a rough year with so much loss. But, for me, there was actually quite a bit of growth that happened when I let go of what I thought a yoga teacher “should” be and allowed myself to acknowledge all that I have to learn. I’m not sure that I will look back fondly when I think about 2020, but it’s a year that has changed everything.

What has been the biggest change you've noticed in 2020? Tell me below.

Hi, I'm Gillian.

I’m obsessed with helping women live their best lives. Together we'll use yoga and mindfulness to build confidence, reach goals and have some fun!

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About the Author Gillian Buckley

When she's not teaching yoga classes or wellness workshops, Gillian can be found doing boot camp in the park, spending time with her kids or developing her latest and greatest kombucha flavour.