I can be a bit judgmental. I’ll be the first to admit it. This can sometimes hinder my full experience of new things or old things which I have stuck my opinion on. Lately, I’ve been trying to place more attention and energy on supporting what I love rather than bad mouthing what I don’t like or agree with. That being said, I’m not gonna call out by name the Yoga studio where I just took class but rather, use this experience to express my thoughts and opinions on how to effectively and safely teach Yoga. In the coming year, I am looking forward to creating some continuing education workshops for yoga teachers as well as developing a full 200-Hour Teacher Training here in Hong Kong. Through this, I hope to cultivate compassionate, dedicated, and curious yoga teachers. I consider the following skills to be things that every novice vinyasa yoga teacher walking out of a 200H program should know at least at a basic level and perhaps more seasoned teachers could be reminded of… myself included.
Use your words efficiently. Demonstrate sparingly and effectively! Yoga students are smarter than you think. If you use your words efficiently they will do what you want them to do with their bodies in an Asana class. As you use your words to teach class you are like a performer before a live audience, able to see how your words land in real time and the effect they have. This will let you know if your instructions are clear or not. I’ve subbed classes where the students have been “learning” from a teacher by demonstration for some time. They complain at first about not being able to follow along. They say that they are “a visual learner”. I do not yield. I teach with my words. I teach hands-on. The students soften around this new way of learning. I teach the bodies that are in the room and refine my teaching by how those bodies respond. This allows the student to go deeper and deeper into their body, while I watch over them. It lets them find their own rhythm and sense of self-reliance within the practice. This changes the practice from a mysterious secret which is inseparable from the teacher and turns Yoga into a gift that the teacher gives the student. It does not destroy the need for a teacher but rather, creates fertile ground for the teacher to grow and develop with their students. Demonstrations are sometimes needed; to clarify a point, communicate an action, or show an example the full expression of a pose. Demoing should be a tool of teaching effectively, not a crutch.
Breath the way you would like your students to breath. Breathing so that the entire room can hear the air rush into your nostrils is not an effective way to get your students to fill their diaphragm with the sweet nectar of fresh oxygen. It is, on the other hand, a good way to train your students into a breath pattern that will emphasize hyperventilation and anxiety. Again, use your words. Say “take a deep breath”. As a teacher, take that breath with them as well, and leave a little space for silence.
Along the same lines… Count breath, not seconds. Even if your students are not with you on every inhale and exhale, counting breath emphasizes the importance of it in the Asana practice. I noticed this today as the teacher kept us in Vashistasana (Side Plank) for ten seconds on each side. Even though I knew better, I found myself holding my breath and waiting for the posture to be over rather than letting my breath guide me to a better sense of balance or further exploration of the pose.
Lastly, and the final straw that pushed me to write this post, give your students the gift of Savasana. Always, always, always, always! Always! The world is moving so fast. People’s lives are so busy. How to rest, relax, and restore is becoming something we must relearn again and again. The offering to slow down is something we must give our students because unfortunately there are not many other places where they will receive this prompt. What to do if a student walks out during Savasana is another thing entirely. What I am talking about here is leaving time at the end of every single class for Savasana. Students may not understand the importance of Savasana at first. They may fidget, adjust themselves, open their eyes, or itch. I’ve even had a student sit up, point to their watch, and mouth to me from across the room, “When are we done?” It is your job as a yoga teacher to hold space for the group to experience that much needed Tamasic portion of class. Okay, so maybe you get excited about teaching this amazing new thing you just learned and run later into the class than expected. Get them on the floor and give them at least one minute of stillness before they rush back out to their day-to-day lives. I aim for a solid 5 minutes for regular classes and between 5-10 minutes for Prenatal Yoga classes.
- What are some of the biggest faux pas you have seen in Yoga classes?
- Are you able to identify the qualities that make your favorite Yoga teacher so helpful or inspiring?
- Yoga Teachers- what do you consider to be absolutely necessary skills to have in teaching Yoga?
- If you’ve been in my classes before, I would love to know what you think MY crutches are?