Since I’ve started teaching yoga I’ve learnt a lot about how to teach yoga. Here below are some of the ‘highlights’.
NB: Even though I’ve just started teaching yoga I did study and teach Tai Chi Chuan for thirteen years previously, so these observations are quite well established.
You’ve got to prepare
It doesn’t have to be much, but you should at least know what you’re expected to teach when you first start out.
I thought my first assisting class would just be observing, with maybe a little help correcting. Instead I was thrown in at the deep end, teaching the shoulder stand, plough, bridge, wheel, fish AND bow! I was totally unprepared for all that, panicked a little, went too fast, spoke too softly (and too hesitantly), and in general did quite bad. This really shook my confidence.
Practice with a friend if you can, but if you can’t then at least go through it all mentally before the class begins. It’ll make all the difference.
Be critical of criticisms
After my first class I received some feedback from one of the students that nearly put me off teaching completely. They were trying to be helpful, but they just ended up making me feel stupid and incompetent.
This was in contrast to the feedback I got from the teacher I was assisting which was simple and positive.
I came to the conclusion that you should only take teaching advice from other teachers. That a student (one that has no experience of teaching) can only tell you how to teach them, not other people.
Only a teacher understands the unique challenges of teaching a large group of people. Taking advice on teaching from a student is like taking marriage advice from a single person (ie: great if you want to stay single).
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing
Students who have been coming to class for a while will assume they know what’s coming next. Now often they are right, but little do they realise how unskillful such assumptions are.
When I did my TTC we had a class where the swami, during the double leg raises, suddenly switched from “both legs up” to “right leg up”. Now this was kind of random, but I just figured he had something different planned, so I stuck my right leg in the air and waited. Then I heard other students complain, him question them, them ‘correct’ him, him laugh off his ‘mistake’, etc. All the while my leg was in the air. I had received no new instructions, so I just waited patiently to be told what to do next. At which point the swami said quietly to me “Good Keshava.”
Assuming you know what’s coming next is a dangerous thing. It means you’re not in the moment, adapting to changing circumstances, but in the future thinking about God knows what. It’s like pressing the button at a pedestrian crossing, then crossing as soon as the light changes. You can assume the cars will stop because they have to, but it’s wiser to wait and make sure they do before proceeding to cross.
If a student does their own thing in class it can feel a bit insulting, but really they’re the ones missing out. They’re missing out on the instruction being given, on the feeling of being part of the group, and on the corrections that will help improve their yoga. Try to bring them back into synch with the others, but if they persist just leave them to it and concentrate on the ones that are listening to you.
Of course, if the whole group is going off in different directions, then you have to put your foot down. But if you do, then do it with love.
Yoga is for ‘adults’
Most people’s experience of learning is limited to when they were at school. Or to put it another way, when they were forced to go somewhere they didn’t want to go, to do things they probably had no interest in. Who among us, age eleven, thought “Ooh, chemistry!” Or maths? Or art? Or geography? Or PE!
Unfortunately this experience influences how they approach any classroom for the rest of their lives (ie: with reluctance).
Now many students, myself included, go to class to be pushed. They want to be made to hold a pose for longer than they would do at home. To go deeper, lift higher, and twist a little further. But there’s a difference between that and the student that gives up without trying.
Injuries aside, it’s up to the student to be responsible for their own practice. A teacher is there to guide them and help them advance as much as they can, not force them to do something they don’t want to do. They have to be adult about their yoga, to push themselves with or without outside influence, otherwise they won’t get the full benefit of the class.
Correct the group to correct one person
Singling people out in front of the group for corrections can be damaging. A student with low confidence can be embarrassed by being told what they’re doing wrong with everyone watching.
Correct individuals quietly, one on one. They are more likely to take on board what you have to say.
Or if you don’t have time (or if more than one person is making the same mistake) correct the group as a whole without reference to an individual. It saves anyone any embarrassment, and it’s likely everyone will benefit from whatever correction is being given anyway.
NB: In the same vein, when you’re in class and you hear the person next to you being corrected, listen and see if what’s being said applies to you. Chances are it might.
Laugh, smile, make the odd joke now and then. It elevates the class to a whole new level.
Recognise the difference between important and serious. Yoga is important, and should be treated as such, but it should never be taken too seriously.
How anyone can you take something where you stick your bum in the air seriously is beyond me anyway.