Yoga teaching styles: What is a perfect ratio of doing the asanas with students (showing) and walking around giving instructions, fixing students’ poses?
Have you ever gone to a class where the teacher did the entire class? And never even looked back at the students to see if they needed help? I have. I didn’t feel seen. I didn’t feel helped or understood. I kind of felt like I could have just done yoga at home on an online platform.
On the other hand, have you ever practiced in a class where the teacher didn’t demonstrate a single pose and you ended up lost and confused a few times? I also have.
So somewhere in the middle seems to be the most helpful way to teach. Not too passive or stuck to your mat, but also not too active and always walking around.
Somewhere in the middle seems to be that perfect ratio between active and passive.
Some students are visual learners. Your cues may be the most descriptive and clear cues ever spoken, but for these visual learners they simply aren’t effective. Other students are auditory learners, and you demonstrating a pose without clearly explaining how to get into it may not be useful to them. Other students can see the pose, hear how to get into it, but still not understand it. These students need you to physically help them experience the pose, either through physical touch or just with your guidance.
An effective teacher can teach them all.
The important thing is to know when it’s appropriate to demonstrate, and when it’s appropriate to move around and assist.
For beginners, everything is brand new. Many of them have lost their sense of proprioception, are unfamiliar with names of poses or anatomical terms, and may be a bit nervous to be doing something new.
With beginners, it’s important to demonstrate everything. That doesn’t mean to demonstrate the pose and hold it with them, but at least give them a mental picture of the pose that they can try to emulate in their bodies.
Whenever I teach abdominals, especially to a new group, I make sure to demonstrate the core work FIRST – before I lead them through it. That way when they’re lying down and I’m no longer in view they will have a mental picture to refer to.
I also stand up and walk around while they are doing abdominals (or bridge or anything where they’re lying supine) so that I can give individualized instruction to those who appear to need it.
If you’ve been with a group for quite some time, you know you don’t need to demonstrate Sun Salutations, or Warrior poses anymore. But if you’re giving them something brand new to them, it’s helpful to show them before you ask them to do it.
For example, when I sequence in a funky arm balance or some interesting transition I typically show them first, then step off my mat and talk them through it so I can assist and give individual guidance.
“When I’m teaching I love to walk around the room and feel the energy of the students as they move, it helps me to see if they understand my cues and lets me get in sync with their breath. In my opinion, there’s nothing better than a great assist, it can take you to a whole new level in your practice so I do my best to step in and physically assist my students when it’s appropriate to help them ground and maybe find a new edge in their posture.”
Sam Okumura, Owner of Downtown Yoga & Wellness Co-Op in Las Vegas, NV
Sometimes you say “relax your shoulders”, and you hear a soft sigh and a cascade of shoulders dropping across the room. Other times, you say “reach your right arm up”, and you see different arms in all different directions moving somewhere that wasn’t quite where you meant. This is a good sign it’s time to get off your mat and connect with your students. Take a breath for you, and repeat the cue in a new way so that the class understands.
While students are holding a pose, you have an opportunity to move around the room, assist when appropriate, and help your students get the most out of the pose with individualized instructions. This is especially true in Restorative and Yin yoga.
Teaching styles vary greatly, but finding a perfect ratio within your practice can positively effect your students experience.