On Teaching Reflection
Nina Reis

It is important to me that my teachings always reflect what is going on in the world around us. These influential events can include holidays, graduations, seasonal changes, phases of the moon, etc. — and yes, the political landscape and world events. 

Some of my most recent class topics have been:

  • Liberating Anahatta (Heart Center) & Listening Well

    I ask students to consider, how well are you listening? This is such an easy concept to integrate into their bodies and breath. Of course, there are social dimensions as well. Are they listening to reply, or are they listening to truly understand? Are they listening well to others, particularly those with whom they don’t agree?

    Physically, the class emphasizes backbending. Every pose in the sequence is preparing them for the next, and this provides me an opportunity to talk about “preparing yourself as you wait for opportunity.” This is a prominent Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practice. The current time is ripe with opportunity, and I reminded them of that truth.

Poses: Wheel and Flip dog into Wheel.  

  • Expansion & Contraction

    I offer the experience of both contraction and expansion in a positive and potent way. As I tell students, there is a time to draw inward and collect yourself, and there is also a time to expand and “go big.” Like yin and yang, students’ lives will have pieces of each. I invite students to assess the intention behind the contraction: “Are you contracting to isolate yourself? Or are you contracting to collect and ground yourself?”

Poses: Visvamitrasana & moving meditations.

  • Releasing Fear

    I never start my class by saying, “Today we are going to release fear.” Instead, I open with a quick dialogue about the kidneys and I help them understand their location in the body. In TCM, the kidneys hold fear (and it is also winter’s organ), so we’ve been doing lots of work in that area of the body. Then, when I ask them to “breathe into your kidneys,” they know where that is in their body.

    This class theme also ties in the concept of devotion, both mentally and physically. I ask students, “What are you involved with and how are you participating? How are you participating with your breath, with your positioning, with your thoughts, with your actions?” I share the thought that, “to be truly devoted, let your mission be single-minded to your goal” — meaning, do just one thing. I remind students that they don’t have to save the entire world or fix everything in their body right now.

    Poses: Twisting Janu Sirsasana, Half Parighasana variations

My experience has been that students have loved these classes. There have been many tears and hugs after. My students appreciate when I dive into what’s really going on. And I don’t have to be blatant with my words; they know what I am talking about.

Of course, I do prioritize my own self-care and grounding. I never listen to the news going into class or on my commute to class (this also goes for Facebook or any social media). Listening to the news does not create a grounded space for me to teach from. I catch up on the news after I’m done teaching.

I get on my mat several times a week. I practice what I’m teaching before I teach it. I sit (meditation) everyday and I take notes after (not during). That’s how I come up with what I’m going to teach. I make time for self care: a bath and quiet time are so important for me with two little kids. I get a massage and acupuncture when needed. I get out in nature as much as I can (almost daily) even on ugly days — it reminds me to let go and reconnect. Every day starts with prayer before anything else.