Just before my Ytt course began, my husband attended his very first yoga class at the gym and when I asked him what he thought of the class, he said “the voice of the teacher is so important- she/he has the ability to either calm or stress the student.”
We were halfway into Ytt and the time had come for us to cross over to the other side…to begin our own teaching practice! It was then that I realised how accurate he was! Going out there and directing your students (many of whom may be first-timers) into a correct pose (from the starting to end) definitely looks easier than it seems! Like with any new thing you try for the first time, it was tough!
Naturally, since we were all new to yoga teaching, many of us found ourselves fumbling as we tried to demonstrate the pose whilst simultaneously trying to remember & articulate the corresponding instructions, cues, pauses and breathing.
We struggled to find our ‘teacher’ voice (the right tone, pitch and volume) and found ourselves mixing up our left and rights, mispronouncing asana Sanskrit names and often got our inhales and exhales off!
On day 3 of teaching practice, we took it a step further as we had to demonstrate our technical understanding of getting into a pose and then make corresponding adjustments – all this whilst still keeping within the timing of the pose, Cuing accurately, observing everyone and maintaining the flow of the sequence.
For some strange reason, being in front of the mat and teaching, got me thinking of stand up comedy: It takes a lot for a Comedian to just use his voice (words, tone, pitch) to hold the attention of the Audience, to transport them through a story sequence until it peaks & they ‘get’ the intended joke! Then he smoothly needs to transition them out of that Joke and go on to build on his main story/theme by introducing his next sub-story of the sequenced story telling comedy! And so he continues this cycle of start, flow, peak, finish, transition into next step. So the flow into the joke and the flow out of the joke, the pausing and holding the laugh all got me thinking about yoga teaching. The yoga instructor needs to have a story/theme made up of a few sub-storeys with starts, flows, peaks, pauses, finishes and he/she needs to seamlessly communicate these movements in the right sequence, maintain the flow by building on it before introducing the next part of the sequence, and ultimately ending off with a peak pose. And off course to transition to the final closing, she/he again needs to use his words & cues to direct the students and achieve the desired result.
This is quite challenging, as so much is going on in a short space of time-you need to be think quickly, be spontaneous yet technically precise, you need to look right, sound right, move around right….whew, talk about a juggling act!
Lesson planning requires well thought out sequencing & strategy and teaching (expressing/delivering your knowledge) seems to be more an art! That’s why they say “the art of teaching is not in the amount of knowledge Teachers have to disperse, but rather in the skills and abilities they have to reach and engage each student”.
And that’s where our brilliant Teachers come in, imparting their experience & wisdom to us. During the technical alignment session, we were taught what to specifically look for in a pose wrt positioning, muscle engagement, twisting, aligning e.g the twisting of the arm to lock it for Marichyasana C.
We were reminded that teacher adjustments is there as opportunity to not only correct students, but also for the teacher to connect (touching within a safe personal space)with her student. But we should always take care to adjust safely!
Practice practice practice , we were encouraged to go on practicing our teaching and not stop!
More importantly, from the feedback received, a common thread was presence and authenticity of the teacher! When you come to teach, you need to bring your your true self to the mat, it is from there where your depth of self, meditation & asana practice shines through.
We were encouraged to dig deeper and truly ask ourselves “why do we want to teach Yoga”. Master Paalu encouraged us find the reason from a selfish context to sustain our motivation to teach.
Digging deeper into my reason I know that I want to first teach myself and improve/deepen my practice consistently to rise above my current limitations. Thus, I should use each practice teaching session as an opportunity for my growth, as by teaching others, I will get to teach myself too (which is what I ultimately want).
There are many resources available as to how to teach successfully, these are a just a few steps we can follow:
1. KEEP YOURSELF BALANCED
2. DEMONSTRATE AND EXPLAIN IN DETAIL
3. INCORPORATE THE ART OF BREATHING
4. DESIGN YOUR CLASS AROUND YOUR STUDENTS
5. ENGAGE IN EFFORTLESS COMMUNICATION
6. COMMIT FULLY TO YOUR OWN PRACTICE
7. ALWAYS KEEP LEARNING AND CONTINUE TO EVOLVE
So to my fellow classmates in Ytt, May we always remember that this is a learning journey and it’s a Long way to go – Life never stops teaching us, on and off the mat. Let us not stop being a student, regardless of how experienced we may become!
By practicing teaching these last few days, I now have an increased respect for yoga Teachers that not just deliver smooth yoga classes, but also touch and help transform lives positively!
I can also now appreciate why we say the guru prayer at the end in gratitude to the yogis of this sacred yogic lineage ‘ I bow down to all those who have come before me and studied the art of yoga’.