One of the most important ingredients for teaching yoga is to have your own strong and regular practice. Being a good teacher means, among other things, creating an environment in which your students are able to open their hearts and really learn. This can only happen when there is a connection between student and teacher.
A somewhat surprising way teachers can lose or compromise this crucial connection is through too much demonstration during their classes. Of course, some amount of demonstration is perfectly fine and, in fact, essential for teaching. For example, leading a couple of Sun Salutations at the start of class to warm up, or demonstrating the safe alignment of a specific asana to beginners.
However if you notice that your demonstrations are becoming so frequent that you basically ‘join in’ the whole class, ask yourself why? Is it because it is beneficial for your students?
Are You Squeezing Your Own Practice into Your Teaching Time?
If so, you are not alone: leading classes more and more through demonstration whilst simultaneously ditching self-practice is a trap that many busy teachers may fall into. When time is stretched between teaching, other work commitments, family, relationships and busy lifestyles in general, a regular self-practice is easily neglected. We might rationalize this with thoughts along the lines of ‘it’s ok, I’ve been fitting some practice in at class’.
Asking yourself whether this may apply to you is crucial because too much active participation in your classes will be damaging the connection between you and your students, hindering the capacity for learning each of your students inherently holds.
How? Firstly, and simply, because your students do not have your full attention. Injuries, recurring difficulties and unsafe alignment may all go unnoticed because you are focused on your own actions. It’s pretty hard to scan around the room when you’re in a deep forward bend! Unintentionally, you will also be discouraging your students from taking their attention inwards, as their eyes and focus will too often be trained on you. This may also have the undesired effect of intimidating or demoralizing students, limiting learning through feelings of frustration or inadequacy.
But also, too much active participation is harmful for you. When demonstrating an asana in front of a class you are not fully present in your body; you may push yourself, or neglect your weaker areas, and because of your decreased mindfulness invite the risk of an injury. Lots of us will teach two, three classes in a day; this is going to take its toll pretty quickly if we’re also joining in.
Try Teaching Yoga Without Joining in (too much)
Strive to only demonstrate and participate when necessary, and always stay within your body’s boundaries. Develop new habits, for example, if you’re teaching a peak pose, ask a willing (warmed-up) student to participate in the demonstration. Talk the student into the pose and explain to the rest of the group what is happening. You will open up the environment to a different quality of teaching and also empower your students.
Make these types of changes to your teaching style, but don’t ignore the underlying reason why you may have fallen into the habit of ‘joining in’ during your own class: a non-existent or infrequent home practice. It is through your own practice that you will preserve your connection with yoga, and find the inspiration to continue teaching. If you are struggling to carve out the time, or find the motivation, then try something new, for instance a yoga challenge or a guided online yoga program which can be inspirational and a source of new sequences, ideas and philosophies from experienced teachers. Most of all, re-establishing your own self-practice will remind you to remain a student yourself!
By returning to your own regular practice you will free yourself up and ensure you are in a position to commit yourself fully to your students while in class – and that is essentially, what teaching yoga comes down to. By keeping your personal practice and teaching time separate you will deepen the quality of your teaching, and the quality of your teaching will in turn will be continually nurtured and inspired by your own practice and inquiry. So go ahead, if you are reading this at home, step away from the computer and roll out your mat!