There you are on your yoga mat. The teacher is saying all the ‘right’ things. Their cues are spot on, their sequence is accessible, even their playlist is a soothing accompaniment to the class. All of these things are creating what might be considered a great class, but there is something missing. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but the energy is almost disengaging? Like the experience itself isn’t quite landing in your body.
This is a common experience, especially when you are a yoga teacher attending another yoga teachers class. You love this person as a person, yet when you are on the mat under their guidance, something is NQR
Yoga is a mind body experience, yes? So as a teacher, I understand that a majority of students coming to a yoga class have possibly been in their intellect all day. Maybe working at an office, hospital or other profession that requires them to be on their A Game and make decisions all day. When they arrive on their yoga mat, the last thing they need is more information to process.
So, if this yoga teacher is simply teaching from a framework of the intellect, as in saying all the right cues, sometimes being saturated with nearly every cue imaginable for one pose, than there is a moment when I am going to tune out of what the teacher is talking about, due to intellectual overload. Most students can absorb two or possibly three cues per pose, and usually after that, the effort of staying in the pose and listening to an endless list of alignment prompts becomes somewhat overwhelming.
Teaching from this place dilutes the ability to read the room and actually offer appropriate cues to what is actually happening. When reading the room, teachers hopefully can pick up on what the best cue to offer is, within the majority of the students that strengthens or embodies the experience of the pose. After an initial set up cue, a follow up cue is one that takes a student a little deeper into the experience which is not necessarily based on the alignment of the pose.
For example: In Warrior II there can be misalignment in stance, pelvis, rotation of legs, length in side body, tension in shoulders, loss of core etc. If I held a student in Warrior II, and went through all these cues, you can imagine how tedious this experience might start to feel. From my time on the mat, the most powerful moments were when a teacher took me deeper into an asana philosophically rather than just alignment. So perhaps I will focus on an alignment cue on the rotation of front and back legs (safety in pelvis and knees) and then read the room to sense where the energy is. Maybe at that moment the energy is distracted, people looking around or fixing clothes etc, so an alignment cue is not going to address this as powerfully as a metaphor or philosophical offering might. Something like ‘Notice right now where your mind is. What thought has you hooked?’ is going to be more valuable to the energy of the room, vs another cue about the hips or legs.
From my 20yrs of teaching movement, I have learnt the most powerful classes are the ones that people FELT something, not so much accomplished a perfectly aligned experience. The classes that shifted a students perspective of themselves seem to be much more beneficial in the long run. Besides, we all know that most cues aren’t applicable to every single person in the room. The cue we learnt might be useful for us, but half the time our role as a yoga teacher is to get people back into their bodies, and endless cues won’t necessarily do that.
A formula that might work for teachers reading this and feeling like maybe they over cue in their classes are:
- Breath – start the movement with a breath. You can never ever go wrong with cueing students to breath more consciously
- Body Part & Direction – Right leg forward | Left arm lifts | Hands press down
- Pose – after breath and body part, actually saying the pose let’s more experienced students get into the shape and gives you an idea about those students in the room that have no idea what you are talking about
- Pause – okay so we have breathed and moved towards something. Let the class settle for a moment. Tell yourself to take a breath. Look around at the students. See what is happening. Be brave and feel what is happening. And base your next offering from this.
I wonder if teachers that teach heavily from their intellect are actually slightly afraid to pause and feel or notice what is happening.? They might be the teacher that doesn’t believe in themselves or maybe holds themselves to an impossible high standard. Remember, the more relatable and human you are in your offerings, the easier students can energetically allow your teaching to move them places.
In a yoga world saturated with 200hr trained teachers, ready to take on a 25 class schedule per week, it is more important than ever to know that your role as a Yoga Teacher is so much bigger than just instructing the body to perform in a certain way. We want to liberate our students to feel a new appreciation for their experiences in yoga, that differ from their experiences in boot camp
Yoga Teacher Vanda Scaravelli puts it best when she said:
Yoga is an effortless dance between breath and gravity