The Power of Love: Lessons from the Still Face Experiment That Yoga Teachers Can Use For A Yoga Class Theme


Greetings, my lovely Yogis, Yoginis, and Yoga teachers. I’m George Watts, a BWY yoga teacher and creator of the Online Yoga Genie Lesson Planner.

Today, I’d like to share an inspirational story with you that highlights the power of love in our lives.

So, there’s this famous experiment in the world of psychology called the Still-Face Experiment. In this experiment, a mother is asked to smile lovingly at her baby, and the baby responds with pure joy and curiosity. I mean, who wouldn’t be over the moon with a loving smile from their mom, right?

But, here’s the twist.

The same mother is then asked to look severely and coldly at her baby, and within no time, the baby starts to panic and wail.

Yikes!

Talk about a mood swing!

This experiment shows us how much babies rely on love and affection to feel good about themselves. Being deprived of empathy and affection can be just as painful as being jabbed by a needle or denied food. It’s that serious, folks.

As we grow up, we might still carry traces of the relationship we had with our caregivers in our early years. Even if our caregivers didn’t stare at us blankly, their lack of emotional nourishment may have cut us off from feeling loved and accepted.

This (lack of emotional nourishment) can make us feel a little bit off-kilter on the inside.

We may have missed out on the day-to-day approval, sympathy, and warmth that would have made us strong and confident.

Despite the darkness of the Still-Face Experiment, it reminds us of our relational fragility. The majority of us are deeply affected by how others express or withhold their love. We’re all wired to be sociable.

Luckily, as adults, we can do something that babies can’t: we can go off and seek out people who will look at us with warmth and tenderness. We can surround ourselves with loving people who uplift us and make us feel like we can conquer the world.

So, my lovely Yogis, Yoginis and Yoga teachers, remember the power of love in your life. Seek out people who bring out the best in you and make you feel good. Love yourself. Love others. And always remember that you are worthy of love and affection.

In the next section, I’ll provide you with ideas on how to use the Still Face Experiment as a theme for your next yoga class (if you’re a Yoga teacher).


The Still Face Experiment: Theme For A Yoga Class


Below are three yoga class themes I came up with after reading about the amazing Still Face Experiment.

Feel free to use the themes as inspiration for your yoga class themes, (pssst, you can use my online Yoga Genie Lesson Planner to create yoga lesson plans quickly and easily).


Yoga Class Theme 1: Heart Opening Poses


The Still-Face Experiment provides a rich theme for a yoga class focused on connection, empathy, and emotional nourishment.

Add gentle heart-opening poses (e.g. Bridge Pose) and partner yoga (e.g. Cobra Pose With A Partner) to explore the power of love and nonverbal communication.

Use breathwork (e.g. Heart Breath) and meditation (e.g. Crying Child Meditation)to cultivate self-awareness and presence, and encourage students to approach their practice with a sense of curiosity and openness to new experiences.

Infuse your class with reminders of the importance of love and empathy in human development, by providing some interesting facts from the Still Face Experiment study (see below).

Here are 10 interesting facts from the “Still Face Experiment” study that you can let your students know about during your class

  1. The study was conducted in 1975 by Dr Edward Tronick at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
  2. The experiment involved mothers and their babies, with the babies ranging in age from 2-9 months.
  3. The Still Face Experiment was designed to test how babies would react when their mothers stopped responding to their cues.
  4. During the experiment, mothers were instructed to interact with their babies playfully and engagingly, then suddenly stop responding and maintain a still, expressionless face.
  5. The experiment found that infants become distressed and protest when their mothers stop responding to them.
  6. The distress is immediate and becomes more pronounced over time.
  7. The study concluded that infants are highly attuned to social cues and depend on consistent and responsive care to develop social and emotional skills.
  8. The Still Face Experiment has been replicated in various forms with similar results, showing the importance of responsive caregiving for healthy development.
  9. The study has been influential in shaping our understanding of early childhood development and the role of attachment in human relationships.
  10. The Still Face Experiment has been cited in numerous books, research papers, and popular media as a key example of the importance of social connection.

And finally, it’s always a good idea to invite students to bring love and empathy into their interactions with others both on and off the mat.

In the next section, I’ll provide you with another Still Face Experiment theme for a yoga class.


Yoga Class Theme 2: Emotional Regulation & Resilience


A yoga class theme that could be inspired by the Still Face Experiment could be “Bounce Back From Challenges“.

The idea could be to explore how we can cultivate emotional regulation and resilience in our yoga practice, and in our lives more generally, to better cope with the ups and downs of life, and to remain grounded and centred in the face of stress and adversity.

The Still Face Experiment could be used as a starting point to discuss how our early experiences of attachment and emotional connection can impact our ability to regulate our emotions and bounce back from challenges, and how the tools and techniques of yoga can help us to build greater emotional resilience and well-being over time.

So, instead of gentle “heart-opening poses”, you could include challenging poses (or sequences) such as Crow Pose, Shoulderstand Pose, Bow Pose, etc.

In the next section, I’ll provide you with another Still Face Experiment theme for a yoga class.


Yoga Class Theme 3: The Power Of Connection With Yin Yoga


A yoga class theme that could be inspired by the Still Face Experiment could be “The Power of Connection”.

This theme can focus on cultivating deeper connections with ourselves, with others, and with the world around us.

The class can begin with some grounding and centring practices such as mindful breathing and gentle Yin stretches to help students connect with their bodies and the present moment.

Here are five centring yoga poses:

  1. Sukhasana (Easy Pose) – Sitting cross-legged with hands resting on the knees, focusing on deep breathing.
  2. Balasana (Child’s Pose) – Kneeling with the forehead resting on the mat and the arms extended forward, focusing on the breath and releasing tension in the body.
  3. Tadasana (Mountain Pose) – Standing with the feet hip-distance apart, arms at the sides, and the eyes closed, focusing on grounding through the feet and lengthening through the spine.
  4. Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose) – Lying on the back with the legs extended up the wall, focusing on deep breathing and relaxation.
  5. Savasana (Corpse Pose) – Lying on the back with arms and legs extended, palms facing up, focusing on deep breathing and relaxation.

Here are five Yin yoga poses that can help to open the heart:

  1. Sphinx Pose – This pose is a gentle backbend that stretches the spine, chest, and shoulders, and can help to relieve tension and stress in the upper body.
  2. Melting Heart Pose (Anahatasana) – This pose is a deep stretch for the chest and shoulders and can help to release tension in the neck and upper back.
  3. Thread the Needle Pose – This pose is a gentle twist that targets the shoulders and upper back and can help to release tension and promote relaxation.
  4. Fish Pose – This pose is a deeply restorative posture that opens the chest and shoulders and can help promote a sense of calm and relaxation.
  5. Extended Puppy Pose (Uttana Shishosana) – This pose is a variation of Downward Dog that stretches the spine, chest, and shoulders, and can help to relieve tension in the upper body.

In a Yin Yoga class, the emphasis is on holding poses for extended periods, typically several minutes, to access deeper layers of connective tissue and promote relaxation and release. This can require a great deal of patience and mental focus, as we learn to observe our thoughts and emotions without reacting to them.

By practising Yin Yoga, we can develop greater self-awareness and a sense of inner calm, which can help us regulate our emotions and respond to challenging situations with greater equanimity. This can be especially helpful when dealing with difficult emotions such as frustration, anger, or sadness, which are key components of the Still Face Experiment.

Overall, the Still Face Experiment highlights the importance of emotional regulation and the role that connection plays in our lives, and Yin yoga can be a valuable tool for cultivating those skills and developing a deeper sense of mindfulness and self-awareness.

As the class progresses, you can guide students through several Yin heart-opening poses (e.g. Sphinx pose and camel pose) that promote a sense of openness and vulnerability, and encourage them to explore the themes of empathy, compassion, and connection.

During the class, you can also add some partner yoga (e.g. Child Pose With A Partner) or group exercises (e.g. holding hands in a circle while focusing on opening your heart) that foster a sense of community and interdependence. This can help students experience the power of connection in a tangible way and develop a greater appreciation for the importance of social bonds and relationships.

You can also add a Guided Relaxation (e.g. Progress Muscle Relaxation) which is always very popular with students

Towards the end of the class, during Savasana, you can invite students to reflect on their own experiences of connection and encourage them to seek out opportunities to deepen their connections with others and the world around them. This theme can inspire students to cultivate a greater sense of interconnectedness and empathy, both on and off the yoga mat.


George’s Conclusion

George's Conclusion

The Still Face Experiment reminds us to love ourselves, to love others, and to remember that we are worthy of love and affection. It, therefore, makes an ideal yoga class theme.

Oh yes, I almost forgot, if you like creating yoga class themes, you’ll also love my post called 101 Perfect Poses For A Peak Pose-Themed Yoga Lesson Plan.

And, hey, you can show yourself some love by streamlining your yoga lesson planning process and checking out my Online Yoga Genie Lesson Planner. This powerful tool can transform your classes and elevate your teaching to the next level.

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