Friday, March 11, 2016

Yoga Teaching Methods - To Do, Or Not To Do?

Do you prefer your teacher to be on his/her mat in front of the room, doing the whole sequence of movements along with the class? Or do you prefer verbal cues, with demos where necessary?

I've always appreciated the latter better, either as a student or teacher. Why?

1. The most important of all is that I don't want my students to be zombies. I don't want to create a situation where they are completely dependent on me. I'd like my students to have an independent mindset, feel free to ask questions, discuss, experiment & not be spoon-fed. Fair enough that some people come to yoga to empty their minds & relax, but I'm sure that after a few months of practice, one would at least know the names of the basic poses like Warrior I, II, Triangle, & how to properly execute them! I feel it is such a shame when intermediate students cannot recognize the names of basic poses, and need to look at the teacher to mimic the pose.

2. To have a decent understanding of the poses. Again, I don't want to create any dependency on me. To me, I am just sharing what I know, & spreading the joy of yoga. Yoga is such a beautiful gift, & how to not share something so beautiful? I'd like my students to personally understand & appreciate it, so that it becomes a part of them too, & they can carry it with them anywhere they go. So that they can practice confidently at home, by themselves, with a video guide, or with any other teacher. Once the fundamental aspects of the poses (safety, alignment, breath) come into play, the asanas come alive, & slowly the whole experience of yoga takes on a different flavour.

3. To me, verbal cues are especially important in a Vinyasa class. If a student fully depends on visual cues, three things happen:

i) The flow of the breath is lost
ii) The flow of prana is lost
iii) Concentration & focus is also lost

I have experienced practising with a teacher who mumbled. I did not understand a word he was saying. This led me to have to keep looking at him to understand what the next pose was. In addition to the above, it also caused unnecessary strain on my body to have to keep doing this, especially since in a Vinyasa class, the next 'new' pose is usually done after Downward Dog. So I had two options - either strain my neck & to look forward, or come down onto my knees to Cat/Cow pose to look forward. Either of which results in all of the above three things happening.

Don't get me wrong, I understand the need for the teacher to demonstrate. & I think it is logical to demonstrate in class; I myself will get my students to sit in Virasana to watch me demonstrate first if an upcoming sequence is complicated or a bit long, even if it is in the middle of the Vinyasa. I'd rather they break the flow by sitting & watching first, so they have some understanding, instead of not knowing anything & getting super confused during the flow. It's sort of like the lesser of two evils.

Even if it's 'just for those few seconds', it matters. It matters very much.

4. If I am confined to my mat, how am I to be present for my students? A classroom situation is largely for teacher-student interaction. Students come to learn directly from a teacher. This is what makes it different from practising through YouTube or other forms of visual media. The downside to practising with a teacher who is not physically present is:

i) The teacher cannot tell what level of ability the students are at, whether they are physically able to execute all the poses in their sequence, nor whether their health conditions may be a contraindication to a certain pose.
ii) The teacher cannot give tailored alignment and adjustment cues to the student. A teacher who is present will be able to actively point out mistakes & rectify them before they become bad habits.

Basically to have a teacher present while you practice is like having an extra set of eyes on you. Even if you already have a steady home practice, it is good to have someone else watch you every once in a while so that you know you are doing the right thing.

So if I stay on my mat, I can't observe and adjust my students in the poses (Also bear in mind that classes are multi-level, & sometimes some students need more guidance than others). 

5. Sometimes I teach up to 4 classes per day. If I were to demo the whole sequence, that would equate to a total of four hours of practice per day. Plus, I also have to speak while moving, which in my opinion is again breaking the flow. I have a friend who demonstrated throughout her classes, & her menstrual cycle got affected. Her period stopped, & in her daily activities she became weak & fatigued.

Here is Sadhguru's opinion as to Why You Should Not Speak During Asanas.

To some, for a teacher to prioritize him/herself may seem very selfish. & I am not sorry to say that yes, it is selfish. I cannot sacrifice my own well-being to teach. No matter how big a joy yoga is, & how much I want to share it with others, I have to do so in a way that does not compromise my own well-being. Besides, the longer I am able to teach, the more people I will be able to reach out to. Make sense?

For my fellow yoga teachers who would like to start interacting more with your students in class, I highly recommend this article by Yoganonymous:

7 Tips For Yoga Teachers: To Do Or Not To Do, That Is The Question (Or How To Get Your Yoga Butt Off Your Yoga Mat).

Enjoy & namaste! :)

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