Good yoga instructors make teaching look so easy, but after observing a yoga class this week, I realized just how difficult it can be.
I was fortunate enough to be able to watch one of my instructors lead a level 1 class. Until recently, I assumed that teaching beginners would be a good way to ease into teaching because you aren’t leading students in complicated arm balances or instructing them to invert. In theory, the sequences are pretty straight forward—half sun salutations, standing poses like Warrior 2 and Triangle and maybe some simple twists.
The reality is so much more.
There were about 30 students of varying levels in the class from brand-new-to-yoga beginners to people I practice with in level 2/3 classes, but my teacher focused her instruction to the level 1 students. There’s a real skill involved in talking to students in user-friendly language—instead of telling students to flex their triceps muscles you tell them to firm their outer arms. She limited the Sanskrit names of asansas and kept the instruction simple and clear. She introduced breathing techniques slowly and she talked a little about philosophy but in simple terms that everyone could relate to in their day-to-day lives.
When you take a class you only hear about 1 out of every 3 words the teacher says, so it was eye-opening to hear how much she kept reinforcing the actions of the body and proper alignment from the start of class through to the end. She did it verbally and she’d stop the class and demonstrate both the way you should look and the way you shouldn’t.
After watching her class, I realized how important it is to choose your words and make them meaningful. Not only is the instruction important but the pitch, rhythm and volume of your voice carry your energy.
In training they remind us to cultivate our delivery, but in the beginning it’s probably the biggest challenge because we have to take all this information and somehow assemble it into a cohesive practice. Thank God imitation is the sincerest form of flattery because most new teachers mimic their own teachers until we learn to develop our own style. We quote them, imitate their tone and teach their sequences.
The scholar Krishnamacharya said, “When you have learned something very well, then the way you express it is different than the way you learned it.”
I hope I can learn this very well.