The skill of observation is your most valuable tools as a yoga teacher. Effectively observing your students gives you valuable information that can inﬂuence how you sequence, instruct, and approach a class. For example, if you see that a student is struggling to balance in Vrksasana (Tree Pose), you can glean a better approach to the posture based on your observations. Depending on what you see, you might choose to focus on simple exercises to help them strengthen the arches of the feet and stabilize the ankles, or work with a block between the thighs in postures like Mountain Pose (Tadasana) or Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) to wake up the legs. Or you might pause the sequence to teach the principle of hip stability with a targeted exercise to illustrate the concept.
Reﬁning your observational skills will help you to be receptive and responsive to your students’ needs. You will learn to teach what you see, not just instruct what you know. Training your eye takes time, but these ﬁve tools to help you along the way.
Ask questions about what you think you’re seeing
When you observe a student in a posture, it’s important to acknowledge the ﬁlters through which you’re viewing them. It’s tempting to make assumptions or jump to conclusions based on what you know or believe to be true. For example, if you see a student in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) whose lumbar curve is flattened, you might also see that their pelvis is in a posterior tilt. You may assume that this tilt is the potential result of tight hamstrings, glutes, or adductor magnus. In reality, the student might just be trying to get their heels to the floor because they were taught (or assumed) that that was the goal of the pose.
The truth is, you can’t possibly know what’s going on in someone else’s experience. Get curious and communicate what you see without imposing what you think you know. Listen actively and oﬀer relevant feedback. Encourage your students to trust themselves. Work collaboratively to explore diﬀerent ways of approaching a posture, or the practice, that meet your students where they are. In the example of the student in Adho Mukha Svanasana, you might offer specific instructions to facilitate the lift of their thighs. Or you might include a prop, like a block between the thighs to drive home the action.
Don’t be afraid to ask your student about their experience in a posture. What are they trying to do? Initiating a conversation with your students about their practice can shed light on their perspective and give you an opportunity to refine their understanding and/or approach.