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Take Teaching to the Next Level

I have been teaching yoga for about three years now, and I love the interaction with my students. But I can only teach by doing the poses myself. I can break out of a pose to adjust, but I have to get back into it in order to get the class to the next one. How do I get myself out of this habit?

Read David Swenson's reply:

Dear Susan,

From your description, I assume you're teaching a flowing style of class. Vinyasa-based class require a different approach than a class that does not require a flow. Even within the vinyasa-based methods, there are many styles of teaching a flowing class. Some teachers practice along with the students; others simply offer verbal guidance and may or may not use hands-on adjusting. Another method is the Mysore approach, where the students already know the sequence and the teacher does not demonstrate or verbally guide the class, but rather moves around the room and offers hands-on adjustments and advice where needed.

It sounds as though you are attempting to play more than one role in your class. I personally find that to practice along with a class has its limitations—both the teacher and students get a little shortchanged. By that I mean that the teacher is trying to practice but cannot be fully focused, needing to keep an eye on the students. And the students don't get the full attention of the teacher.

While it's nice for the teacher to practice right along with the students occasionally—it's a way to acknowledge that we are all students and one on the path of practice. In general, though, I think it is best to separate your personal practice from teaching. You'll be more focused on your class, and less exhausted from doing so much practice in one day.

To change your situation, you might explain to your students that if you lead the class verbally and move around the room, you'll be able to offer them more assistance than if you are on your own mat. If you have newer students, place them near more experienced ones. You don't have to demonstrate every asana; students can listen to your verbal instructions and use their peers as visual references. Rather than relying upon seeing you in the asana, they can begin to feel themselves in it instead.

One of the greatest assets a teacher has is to create an understanding of the individual needs of their students. This relationship may be enhanced by actively roaming the room and keeping an eye out for special needs that will arise for each student. That is another good motivating factor in learning to teach through a hands-on approach rather than from only demonstrating. It does not mean that you should not ever demonstrate an asana to your students but expand your bag of teaching tools by developing the additional art of teaching through verbal and hands on adjusting methods as well. Finally, remind your students that it's all right to make a mistake. There is no such thing as a perfect asana.

David Swenson made his first trip to Mysore in 1977, learning the full Ashtanga system as originally taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. He is one of the world's foremost instructors of Ashtanga Yoga and has produced numerous videos and DVDs. He is the author of the book Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual.

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Reader Comments


I really enjoyed your response to the question. I think that this will help me during my yoga jounary.
I have been practicing yoga for over two years now and have taken the path to become a yoga teacher with my teachers blessing.
I find that now i want to not only know about yoga, but i want to know what others have to offer.
My greatest fear is that my class will compare me to our teacher and i don't want that. I want them to take what they can from the both of us.
Should i worry about that? Or should i just focus on letting the class be.



One thing that helps me get off the mat more is to plan carefully, and practice vinyasa sequences before class. This way, I'm confident in what asana comes next, and don't feel like I have to be on my mat, moving through the poses in order to lead the class properly. It definitely takes a lot more time and preparation to teach this way, but you'll find you're able to get off your mat and "roam" while you teach. You'll also, as David Swenson said, be more attentive to your students, and able to make better, more accurate adjustments.


So interesting. I am trained in a method that specifically tells us not to practice along while teaching (as a general rule.) Recently, on a business trip, I had the chance to lead some fellow lawyers in morning practices in the hotel fitness facility. The hotel was OK with it as long as it did not appear to other guests that I was "teaching". I found it exceptionally challenging to lead even a basic practice while also doing the poses myself!

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