I’ve literally taken hundreds of yoga classes in my life, mainly hot power flows to be exact. I’ve taken so many classes by now, that my practice feels like second nature these days. I’m that yogi who can instinctually go into a pose in tandem with the teacher’s mere mention of it, or that yogi who can anticipate the pose just as the first cues start rolling out of the teacher’s mouth. I’d like to believe that I’ve seen the majority of available poses, that’s why nothing excites more than that brave teacher who, once in a while, offers an exotic new pose in class. I call it the gift that breaks our sweaty monotony.
I’m confident enough in my practice to always auto-gravitate to the first row. Right next to the teacher? Right in front of the mirror? no problem! I can do both. And I even know the Sanskrit names for some of the most common poses (Asanas in Sanskrit), all of which, give me the smug reassurance that I could take a yoga class in any country, in any language, and all I’d need to do is follow the yogi, maybe catching any of the Sanskrit pose names, and I’d be in my element. Namaste baby!
receiving instruction vs. giving instruction
Today our studies focus on verbal cuing, verbal adjustments, learning the importance of giving clear instructions to students, and being mindful of our words when speaking to the class. A good yoga teacher needs to have a very good reason for everything that’s said and done in class.
This never crossed my mind before, but receiving yoga instructions (being the student) is actually completely different from giving yoga instructions (being the teacher). Ask me to take any yoga class, and I’ll eagerly comply, but ask me to give a yoga class and I could only stand there like a deer in headlights. It’s quite pathetic actually. My brain goes blank. My confidence vanishes as if some invisible hand had lifted my skull cap and turned off the switch that powers my thinking and speech capabilities. What a mess!
As it turns out, learning to verbiage instructions for a yoga class is like learning a new language. I become painfully aware of this fact during our first training exercise this morning. My fellow teacher trainees and I are asked to practice cuing poses for the Hatha series we’ll need to be able to teach by the end of these four weeks. (GULP!)
Awkward table crunches face off
Just who would’ve thought that telling someone how to properly get in, breathe, deploy, breathe again, extend, crunch, breath again, repeat, breathe, and transition out of Awkward Table pose would be so hard!!! I’ve done this pose hundreds of times for crying out loud!– as a student, mind you. Being the teacher is an entirely different animal. I get it now!
And just like that, it dawns on me, the enormous task I have in front of me.
Becoming an artist
From now on, I’m fully aware that to become a good yoga teacher I must know what I say and why I say it. My teacher, Vikky, is great at all this. Her cues are direct, simple and brief. She says that even if the lights go out, or the music stops, even if someone faints, or throws up in class, the teacher still needs to hold it together, continue to guide the students, and own the room. She says the teacher needs to be authoritative without being mean.
A good yoga teacher is an artist. The director of a delicate symphony who carries the orchestra in perfect tempo and perfect harmony. The choreographer who knows the inner workings of human anatomy. The human chronometer, who times breathing and sequencing seamlessly. The mother who’s deeply attuned to the subtle cues of her baby (the classroom). The spiritual philosopher who shares ancient wisdom in a commanding yet compassionate and calming voice. Welcome to the art of teaching yoga!
The Yogi Apprentice